Media mistakes 1: we’ll do your marketing

For the end of the year I’m going to start something a bit new. I’m going to cover the top ten errors people make in their media relations. This will be a subjective view of stuff I’ve seen going wrong; nobody is claiming this is objectively or scientifically researched.

The first error I want to highlight is that people so often think journalists on the trade press are there as an extension of the marketing department. We’re not.

It happened once early in my career, this would be late eighties or early nineties. It’s happened a number of times since.

A clash of objectives

On that first occasion I’d gone to interview a company that was in the business of invoice factoring. They helped many companies which would otherwise have had to wait for settlement of all invoices.

I spoke to them, they told me who a lot of their clients were and how much they’d saved them. I made the mistake – with hindsight – of saying that my readers would be very interested.

Their faces fell. They told me I couldn’t tell the readers any of this. They said I was not allowed to divulge anything they’d said.

Let’s get this clear: I arrived at their invitation after they’d found me on the magazine’s masthead (it was in my MicroScope days), listed as a “reporter”. There was no attempt at subterfuge. I’d been working on an article on avoiding insolvency and thought they might be relevant.

I asked them why, if they didn’t want things reported, they’d invited me at all. They spluttered a bit, said they thought it might be nice to meet me, but that they’d thought I’d write the article up from their brochure.

Complaints and lawyers

It got worse. Although I agreed not to name their clients (and didn’t), when the article came out they wrote in and complained that instead of a company profile I’d worked their company into a piece on insolvency (much as I’d explained when they first called and arranged the appointment, funnily enough). They still felt that I’d breached some sort of confidentiality in spite of my never having agreed to any such thing.

I was hauled in front of our company lawyer, who agreed I’d done nothing wrong and these people were basically very naive and that the guy calling himself “marketing manager” had no concept of what marketing through third party channels such as the press actually entailed. Nonetheless, being hauled in front of the lawyer in my early twenties was not a pleasant experience (he was perfectly nice, I should add). It shook my confidence quite needlessly.

I’ve had variants since. People asking to check my copy not for accuracy but for their messaging (answer: no). People offering to review their own books for magazines I edit (answer: you must be joking, only they weren’t). People objecting when I try to be objective rather than fawning over their corporate image.

Frankly it’s not what the job is about. If you want a marketing piece written there are agencies who will do it – and as a freelancer I might take it on myself. But when I’m there as an independent journalist, accountable to my editor and above all to my readers, you might gain an awful lot from co-operating but you don’t get to call the shots.

The press, quite simply, is not part of your marketing department.

This is my 100th entry on this blog, started earlier this year. Many thanks for reading. It will be the last for 2015 – for the next couple of weeks I won’t want to write it and you won’t want to read it! If you need any of my services early next week, I’m around – but basically, between the 24th of December and 4th January I think my readers and I deserve a restful break – have a good one!

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