How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
With great difficulty.
About 95 per cent of what I write about is determined by the film distribution companies’ release schedules. Much of the other five per cent is targeted by ambitious editors trying to impress their managers by copying things they’ve seen in other publications.
That said, the best way for someone to get my attention is by offering an extraordinarily interesting original exclusive story for a national audience that doesn’t require a lot of work on my part. (There – I’ve given away the whole enchilada).
Falling short of that, start with an email, followed two days later by a phone call with, if possible, an explanation why this story is something my publication wants to be a part of.
Though I try to remain objective about the merits of any particular story, I feel slightly more receptive toward a publicist who is aware of my publication’s readership and my role there and isn’t simply carpet-spamming the media on the chance of scoring some newspaper real estate.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
An editor I once had said the most important factor determining anyone’s future career success is the check mark on his or her grade two report card that says: “Works well with others.”
I doubt there ever actually were such check marks on grade two report cards, but the point is valid: Patience, good humour, knowledge of the subject and good organizational skills are greatly appreciated, even if we never tell you so. If you don’t get the story you want this time, you can still leave a positive impression that will pay dividends later for you and your next client.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
I think the worst mistake is when publicists take rejection or negative coverage personally. The best publicists, from my perspective, have to be both type-A in their dedication to their work and self-effacing in their professional relationships. Your success depends on making the client and the journalist look good, whatever you privately believe about them.
Your pet peeve (relating to PR)?
The quality of materials is important: Wrong dates and DVDs that don’t play (an incredibly common phenomenon) make life much too stressful.
Also, you should assume that all journalists are amnesiacs: You may have done a great job back in May announcing that one-week run of that must-see film at the Royal, but could you remind us two or three more times closer to the opening? We live in the racket of tomorrow’s deadline.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I always hope that publicists make buckets of money to compensate for all the painful tongue-biting they have to do.