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Miscellaneous Thoughts for Your Utility’s Public Relations Department

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

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  • Aug 4, 2022
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For most of us, there aren’t too many pressing matters as we enter perhaps the drowsiest time of the year.

Between the oppressive heat, vacations and general malaise, it doesn’t seem like much is happening. That holds true in both the media and public relations worlds. But while there isn’t any hot topic to discuss, a few reminders are important.

Time is NOT on your side

One of the biggest pet peeves for the media is sources that don’t follow deadlines.

When a reporter or editor says they need a comment, photograph or anything else by, say, 4 p.m. Thursday, that means 4 p.m. Thursday. It doesn’t mean first thing Friday or 9 a.m. on the following Monday.

Sources then seem surprised when that news story they were counting on doesn’t materialize or appears in a scaled-down format.

Moral of the story: Honor requests as soon as you can. Turn in things well before the deadline.

Vacations are not an excuse

This happens throughout the year, but is especially prevalent now and will be again during the last two weeks of the year. Whatever media outlet you’ve been pursuing agrees to write about or film your pitch. The problem is (for you anyway) that a key source or sources are on vacation, out of town or even out of the country and, therefore, unreachable.

Uh, no.

Unless your key sources are over the age of 80, they undoubtedly carry cellphones with them and, hence, are always reachable (unless they’re in the wilds of Alaska, deep in the Amazon or some other remote locale).

They may not like to be bothered, but if the story’s important enough to your utility, they need to make a little time – unless they don’t want the story to happen.

No photos are not an excuse

This is more of an issue for print journalism than radio or television, but many outlets no longer have photographers, mine included. That means we often rely on photos from sources, especially since COVID still has us doing most of our work remotely.

You would think sources would seize the advantage of providing great images to use. And you would be wrong.

We often find sources telling us they have no current pictures of who or what we’re writing about – or provide lousy low-resolution photos. We need 300 dpi or better.

Given that even the cheapest cellphone camera can take pretty good pictures, go nab a few photos yourself. As for the source on vacation? Tell them to have someone take a photo of them.

Speak plainly/can the jargon

Use small words instead of big ones. And while every industry has commonly understood terms among fellow practitioners, the person in the street won’t know what you’re talking about. Unless the story is going in the trade press, stick to the stuff people know – like “power,” “current” and “power lines.”

Avoid venue shopping

Anyone who’s watched one of the permutations of “Law & Order” or other cops/courts shows is familiar with how defense attorneys look for judges who might be sympathetic to their case.

A variation of this practice happens with the media, too. After being rejected by an outlet, the PR practitioner will try someone else at the outlet, then another and so on, hoping to find someone who might be interesting.

Bad idea: Journalists talk and don’t take kindly to someone going over their head. You may get your story, but you may get an enemy, too. And if that enemy is someone who regularly covers your utility, you may win the battle, but lose the war.

Know the outlet

Plenty of people make pitches that there’s no way the media outlet would cover. For example, my “day job” paper is in Philadelphia, and we almost exclusively cover local things. Anyone who looked at the paper for more than five minutes would realize that. Yet I’m still regularly pitched about things happening in, say, Chicago that have no local connection.

Even worse, know what various people do at a media outlet. As an editor, I still get calls from people with circulation issues. PR people aren’t nearly that bad, but many don’t know who to contact. Don’t just randomly call or email.

Don’t “help” me

Plenty of PR people think they’re being helpful by offering to provide a prewritten story about what they’re pitching.

No!

For one thing, no self-respecting media outlet is going to take what you write and just publish it verbatim; it violates all journalistic practices.

Second, there’s a big difference between journalistic writing and public relations. All writing is not the same.

Third, it’s a good way to annoy a journalist, which is what this post will help you avoid.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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