Gwen Moritz

Listen Up, PR People

Gwen Moritz Editor's Note

Listen Up, PR People

I was invited to speak to a class of public relations students at the University of Central Arkansas last week after exchanging some tweets with their professor, Dylan McLemore. He asked journalists for tips or horror stories, and you better believe I have plenty.

As I prepared to face the bright, shiny faces of tomorrow’s PR professionals, I pulled out a column on the same subject and realized — yikes! — it’s been six years since I wrote it.

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The stuff that comes to my inbox tells me that it’s not a moment too soon for a refresher.

I’ll start with general advice:

♦ Familiarize yourself with the publications/products you are pitching to. Nothing is more amateurish than pretending that every story is a fit for every news organization. What’s more, it’s inefficient. If you pitch a story that is not a fit for Arkansas Business, you have wasted my time, which is all I care about. But you have also wasted your time and your client’s money, with nothing to show for it.

♦ Write for your intended audience — that is, reporters and editors — not for your client. I know the temptation to flatter the client in a press release is mighty, but the more it looks like a vanity project, the less it looks like valuable news.

♦ Educate your clients. They need to understand that what is hugely important and exciting to them may be just one of a dozen similar developments I see in a week. If you don’t temper your clients’ expectations with a dose of reality, it’s not going to be me they blame.

♦ Don’t mistake advertising for news. It’s not news that a business has allowed potential customers to look at a product. It’s not news if a franchise company is looking to sell franchises. Get back to me when your new franchisee is starting to invest in real estate or payroll.

Now, here are some specific techniques that separate the pros from the wannabes:

♦ Fill your press releases with solid, factual information — who, what, when, where, why and how. Don’t try to dazzle me. Just make sure I understand the news and why it matters to my audience. And spell names correctly. (No, really. You’d be amazed.)

♦ Insist on professional portraits. Your clients may want to be cheap, but a good, high-resolution portrait is money well spent.

♦ Paste your release in the body of the email, even if you feel you must also attach a document. When you receive as many releases as I do, it’s just easier not to have to open attachment after attachment. PDF releases are the worst.

♦ Attach photo files to your emails. Photos embedded in a document or PDF are almost always too small for good print reproduction, so I generally just ignore them. That photo you cropped into an oval and embedded in your release looks lovely, but I can’t use it.

 For the love of all that’s holy, give digital photo files actual names. Don’t send me ABC_001.jpg. When someone here has to figure out who is in the picture and rename the file because you were too lazy, it creates one more opportunity to get someone’s name wrong. And that won’t be good for either of us.

♦ Use Associated Press style. The hallmark of any quality product is consistency, so you need to adopt some standard style. It might as well be AP, since that has become the news industry standard.

Arkansas Business readers certainly realize that stories pitched by “flacks” aren’t all we write. Not even close. In fact, sending a press release to every reporter in the state is a great way to make sure your news will be treated like a commodity that my readers can get from multiple other news sources. (If I’m going to engage in pack journalism, I want to be the leader of the pack. Give your business news to Arkansas Business first and let the others follow.)

Still, our Movers & Shakers section depends on press releases, and I’m always on the hunt for a good story, no matter how I first learn about it.

If you have a story to pitch me, bring it on. But I never forget that I’m working for my readers, not your client, and the best PR professionals don’t forget that either.

Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.

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