Below is the full text of an exchange with an unnamed journalist who happens to write for a very powerful East Coast daily. Our exchange raises some interesting topics for discussion with regards to the overlapping roles of PR people and journalists.
The exchange was infuriating for me because we as PR people spend a lot of time hearing about journalists who can’t stand when PR people pitch them material that is inappropriate to their beat, or don’t respect their deadlines, or commit any number of other cardinal sins. In this case I think the journalist showed no respect for my client’s time and the process the client has in place to ensure journalists do in fact get a timely response.
The order of events is as follows:
In the middle of last week the reporter left a voicemail for the CEO of a company that hasn’t sought his attention in the past. (We have specifically avoided him because our story seemed too technical for his beat.) The voicemail simply said that he’s working on a story and that two *very* large and powerful players in a related space have said less than flattering things about my client's technology. There was no urgency or mention of a deadline in the voicemail. I recognize that the job of a daily news reporter is filled with deadlines and perhaps I failed my client by not instilling that constant urgency in him. However, as he was offsite Wednesday and Thursday and there was no urgency in the message I did not receive it until Friday.
At no point did the reporter try and contact the person listed as “media contact” on the company's Web site (me). When I received the message I did a quick review of what the journalist has written recently and returned his call. His outbound message was that he was on vacation through Monday. I left a voicemail and sent the following email:
Hi [NAME REDACTED],
Left you a voice mail but wanted to be sure you had my contact information
handy. Not sure if you're still working on a story about [the very large players] , and still need [my client's] input.
If so, please give me a call. We're happy to talk but I want a sense of
what the others have had to say before I get our CEO on the phone to
If we're beyond your deadline, we'll just read it in print and go from
there. Hope you are having a great vacation.
The Usher Group, Inc.
[Phone number included in the original]
AIM: usher6236 | Y! Usher62_36
The writer responded by cc’ing the CEO as follows: (Actually, his message contained 3 cc addresses, each of them a potential permutation of the CEO’s email address)
From: [NAME REDACTED]
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2005 2:38 PM
Cc: [CONTACT ADDRESS REMOVED]
Subject: Re: [my client]
I am very very disappointed that [CEO] chose not to return my call when I needed him. [your client] is too small, and in too fast moving industry, to bounce things to PR agencies that take days to be responsive to urgent calls, not to mention agencies that want to ask inappropriate questions about other reporting we have done.
If [your client] wants a relationship with The [daily newspaper], [CEO] can call me directly.
Today on behalf of my client I responded with the following email, cc'ing my client's CEO as well as the newspaper's managing editor as follows:
[NAME REDACTED] –
The [daily newspaper] is important to [my client], but their CEO is not at your beck and call. [my client] is an [specific technology] infrastructure company and I’ll address what that might have to do with your story, but I do try hard not to waste the time of media who aren’t going to understand and likely not cover our story. I am listed as the media contact on [my client's] Web site to ensure that journalists of all stripes do get access to the spokespeople they need to hear from in a timely manner. It is my job to be at your disposal, and had you called me directly – at any point – we would have been able to meet any deadline.
Instead, you called a CEO with whom you have no prior relationship (or any relationship with the company or it would seem much knowledge of the company itself) and said in a voicemail that [two very large and powerful companies] have less-than-fantastic things to say about [my client's] technology. Our CEO was in customer meetings until Friday, not that this is any of your business. You didn’t indicate urgency, you assumed that your name and publication was enough to stir anyone, certainly the CEO of growing company that might benefit from a “relationship with The [daily newspaper],” as you put it.
When I got your message I responded immediately. Before [my client] wandered into a battle fought by giants, I wanted a bit more perspective and I apologize if you found my message insulting. [my client] does not offer [competing] solutions, therefore, we don’t compete with [the really big players] and we don’t compete with [their primary competitors] either. We do however arm some of these companies with technology tools and services. For your reference, [one significant competitor to the two companies you mentioned] is not a customer, though [another of their significant competitors] is a partner. [the first of these competitors] selected [the open source version of my client's technology] on which to build [a new product], and they probably did this because [of specific key benefits]. If there are a lot of applications you want to embed with [a particular derivative of this type of technology] and reliably deliver them as a service to other applications and/or people anywhere, [our stuff] just plain works (and it has also been sanctioned by the primary standards body, the IETF.)
If you would like more information about [my client or their technology], feel free to contact me. As far as a response, to [the really big players'] comments, it would be inappropriate for me to respond further without more context.
As to [my client's] relationship with The [daily newspaper], feel free to drop me a note or call anytime.
Now I understand the job of reporting is difficult and I try hard, not always successfully, to respect the media’s time and send pitches only to the people for whom they are appropriate. Is it too much to ask that the priorities and time of my client be respected as well?
The reason my client lists my name as the only media contact for the company is to ensure media calls get the attention they require.
A small company that has dedicated PR resources is a company that respects the role of the media. My role is not to get in the media’s way and run interference; it is to ensure that when your call comes in it is elevated to the appropriate level, quickly. That is not the role of the CEO nor should it be. Respect a CEOs time, even if you have no respect and/or appreciation for the role of PR, it will save everyone some unnecessary effort.