Some folks in public relations relish the opportunity for their clients to respond to journalists in e-mail.
The message can be crafted, measured and direct. Really, it ought to be a great opportunity, but most times, in my experience, I see the difference between a wizard in media manipulation and some hack. The lessons are for reporters and PR reps alike.
I always want to do the interview in person. If not, phone is the next best – of course, there isn’t a real throwback journalist on the planet who say differently. Live chat, video conferencing and IM interviews actually serve a purpose, so in the formal setting the worst of them all for accuracy and meaning is the prepared statement, particularly the glib sound byte sent to your inbox.
I admit I get lazy sometimes. As a freelancer, when a communications director offers to send a response to the single question I have does seem more efficient on my end. One less call saves me money, as lost in time and effort, and, really, phone minutes. I know often those responses never actually come from the person to whom they’re attributed. If it’s just the voice I need – no real grilling or digging necessary – gosh, it’s hard to push for what just eats into my time.
So here’s your opportunity PR folks. Think of it: the exact phrase or point or message you want, filtered and catered to your vision, without tinkering and the wandering minds of journalists, editors and newspapers. It’s stunning how often I get rambling, indirect crap.
While I’d tend to think even a controversial statement is better for you than boring, I’m not naive enough to know that’s often seen as a risk not worth taking. But, according to my own count, in the past month, I have taken exactly nine prepared statements – all e-mailed to me from either PR consultants or a company or organization’s devoted communications director – for a variety of publications. Of the nine, I found just one to be on-point, direct, terse and really worth quoting.
In fact, of the other eight, not even a portion of the graf-responses I got would be worth writing down if I were interviewing the person myself. What’s more, of the nine, really, all of them were written to be read, not written to be said, so it was painfully clear they couldn’t be actual quotes.
Forgive me, but I think this is one of the many reasons so many journalists really have a deep aversion for PR folks – the bad ones ruin it for the rest.
So communications folks, here is my advice. If you’re writing a response to be attributed to someone, or even if you are quoting your client or employer, give me something that actually answers the question, that reads like a human being might say it naturally, and is never more than two sentences. And, in my experience, you probably shouldn’t try to be funny, because, gosh, I haven’t read many successful attempts at that by communications folks.
This can serve you better. Give me something short, and to the point and you’ll probably see it in there un-chopped. Every time a journalist agrees to an e-mail response, see it as an opportunity to craft something really worth seeing in print.
Old ass icon from PERB.