While the vast majority of my career has been in journalism, I have worked on "the dark side," public relations, public affairs and corporate communications. Let me start by saying that I have nothing but respect for the HARD work that they do. If things go well, others usually take the credit. But if things go badly, the finger is usually pointed in their direction first.
Now that I'm back on the journalism side, I go out of my way to be respectful to PR professionals (not that I wasn't before). I thank them for relevant pitches, I send links/PDFs for the stories they pitch (they have to have something to show the client) and I praise the good ones to their bosses. And when I get a pitch from a professional that has nothing to do with my current beats, I send a very polite letter asking them to take me off their media list, since I don't cover what they are handling.
But like with any profession, there are good ones and bad ones, and I think the proliferation of digital and social media tools -- Facebook, Twitter and site-scraping tools, to name a few -- has exacerbated the problem of misdirected pitches. My beat is pretty simple -- anything to do with business aviation/corporate jets. But with so much information and so much technology, I'm seeing a virtual flood of press releases for everything from dating sites to movie reviews (none aviation related) and everything in between.
Recently, I ended up in what became a battle to get myself removed from a list that promoted restaurants. At one time, I covered the airports industry, and in that beat, I did cover new restaurant concepts coming to airports. But I left the airports beat last December. No names will be used (although I'm sorely tempted).
I received several copies of the exact press release on a new restaurant opening in a major airport. It would have been a piece of news to interest for the reporter covering airports, so I replied to the PR person and told her this, also giving her the name, phone number and email address for that gentleman. I didn't hear a peep back. But as the event got closer, I kept getting email blasts pitching the event and asking me if I was going to cover it.
I emailed again several times and tried to go to the firm's web site to remove me from their lists. No reply to the email and I was still getting the releases. I even tried calling the name on the press release and kept getting a community mail box. The releases were coming fast and furious and no one was returning my calls or emails.
So I went for the nuclear option -- I called the firm's client directly and explained what happened, complete with copies of emails, calls made and attempts to remove myself from the list. I assured them that despite their overly aggressive PR firm, a story about the new restaurant would probably appear in the newsletter.
About 10 minutes after the call, I got an email from the PR person blasting me for going over her head and "tattling" to a client. I called her and tried to explain what had happened, but all I got was a string of expletives and threats. I hung up and called her boss, who was much more reasonable.
I did finally get my name off the list, but was all this necessary? No. And it looks like I'm not the only one with this experience, as posted on The Bad Pitch Blog. We're all professionals and we all have a job to do. And those jobs are getting scarcer and requiring us to all do much more with much less. I just hope we can all learn from situations like this and work together for mutual benefit when we can.