Paul Aguirre-Livingston is an editor with Viva magazine, a women’s health and lifestyle publication distributed primarily though Loblaw and its affiliates, and Canadian Jeweller, a trade publication for the jewellery industry focused on design trends and business strategies. From producing 16 issues a year since 2008, to freelancing whenever he’s not knee-deep in copy, he works with way too many (mostly lovely) publicists daily from L.A. to Mumbai. He’s also very opinionated, as you’ll read. (Which we love him for!).
How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
It all starts with a name. Every morning I go through my emails quickly (which can reach 200 to 250 daily, depending on the time of year) and flag ones from contacts I recognize. The best part, however, is that these people generally don’t need to pitch me because we’ve created a dialogue and they throw out ideas they think I might be interested in. If I don’t recognize a name, the subject line is equally as important. Because of our strong emphasis on health, your revolutionary new fat loss pills will probably do me (or, more importantly, my readers) no good.
Another way I get ideas or a great way to bounce ideas off me is to approach me in person at an event or chat me up if I swing by to one of your product launches or previews. I personally respond well to interpersonal communication that isn’t via phone or email (especially not the phone: I don’t have time to sit and chat randomly or extensively between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and if you do catch me, I’m probably only half-listening – sorry!). At this point, I’d probably be more receptive to a tweet asking for a chat (maybe it’s a generational thing).
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
I like people – and I like working with people – who embody these qualities (that, I’m swiping directly from H&M, where I worked once upon a time):
– Own Initiative;
– Being Straightforward;
– Fast Pace and Constant Improvement;
– Common Sense.
These points really do speak for themselves, and they’ve truly become pillars I try my best to work by.
Notably, I want to highlight teamwork and being straightforward. I have readers, you have a client; reps and editors need to remember to work together in the best interest of these people. Yes, you get client feedback, but I get reader letters, so this whole cycle isn’t even about us in reality. If either is unsatisfied or feels betrayed, you better believe we’ll hear about it. Being straightforward also means letting me know what the status is on a certain project, interview, photo request: don’t blow smoke in my face by not responding to my emails or telling me you’ll check and get back without actually getting back. That’s just common sense.
What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
I seem to have either the best or the worst luck when it comes to dealing with PR professionals. We all make mistakes (myself, daily), yet I seem to run into these challenges most often:
1. Honesty. I appreciate honesty (some would say it’s synonymous with being straightforward). Sure, I like to share dual responsibility in the follow-up process, but when I do it twice and you still can’t give me a straight answer, chances are I’ll stop chasing you and probably take a break from working with you for a few issues. As embarrassing as this may be to admit, I was actually mislead by a rep about an annual event thrown by a very high-profile company that I feature regularly, only to find out that the agency had invited another editor in our office. When issues like these come to light, it makes everyone uncomfortable. The agency or the brand has every right to choose whom they want to invite, but we’re all adults here, there is absolutely no need to pretend “it’s not happening this year.” Not cool – and not professional.
2. Short-sighted. Yes, we all love blogs, bloggers and websites. But remember: I work for a magazine, and we try to work as far in advance as possible. If I’m running on schedule, then chances are something I ask you for today won’t appear in print for another two months. So that “now now now” attitude I see developing – and it is global, to some extent – needs to be toned down just a little bit.
3. Recognizing opportunities. Further to my last comment, when it’s not online, some reps groan and drag their feet because you’re not one of the “big” magazines. I’ve actually been asked ridiculous questions like, “What value is it to us to have the magazine attend X event?” or “What coverage can we expect if we allow you to attend?”. Relax, you’re not planning the Met Gala. If I’m actually emailing you about something, then chances are I have my reasons and something has struck an interest. Regardless of whether I just tweet about it or give you a full-page feature, I try my best to absorb and make something useful out of everything I see or attend. For example, I was recently invited to the opening of a new event space. On the surface, it’s just another party and has no direct interest or coverage to the publications I write for. However, I was so taken with the space that, at time I’m writing this, it looks like we’ll be shooting our six-page fashion spread there for our winter issue.
4. Know an outlet’s brand and ask for information if you don’t. Get to know a publication’s (or a website’s) mission and readers before you pitch us or deem it not part of your “media strategy.” For example, when I started at Viva, I sent out a mass email to the reps I’d worked with and the good ones got back to me admitting they’d never heard of us and wanted to know more. In fact, we have a circulation of 220,000 copies across Canada in the country’s largest grocery chain – pretty substantial. The publication reaches consumers who wouldn’t normally pick up a Glow, Elle Canada or any of the other “big” publications for various reasons, but we feature a lot of the same things (in different ways), so they still get the same information without even realizing. Reps fail to recognize that, and I’m sure the same is true with various other outlets that aren’t household names.
What happened to that saying “all press is good press” – or is that just another “spin” invented by some rep?
Your pet peeve (pertaining to PR)?
1. Yes, you’ve got to do the grunt work. Nothing annoys me more than receiving two (or four!) of the same press release. From time to time, it’s not a bad idea to go through your media list and update it, ensuring names, addresses and phone numbers are correct – and this includes deleting duplicates. I once got a package addressed to me at the right address, but saying that I was with Elle Canada. I’m sure there’s a bright-faced intern who would gladly go over these details for the chance at agency experience.
2. Know what is magazine-appropriate when it comes to images. If you don’t know what we mean when we say “high resolution, 300 dpi” you’re in trouble. Nothing is worse than getting a cheery “Here’s your image!” email only to find a 55KB attachment. Get real and get in the know. Also: no, shots with your digital camera of cheesy portraits on a couch (although high-resolution) will not work either. Think about the aesthetic and quality of any given magazine or simply ask yourself: “Would I submit this picture to Vogue?”.
3. Professional courtesy. Every new issue, I try my best to send a written note to the rep and a few copies of the magazine, especially if it’s something that took a lot of work or an (unfamiliar) agency I’m trying to build a better relationship with. The least you could do is send an email back acknowledging the package, particularly if I email you to see if you received it. The same goes when getting introductory emails from new editors or writers; it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the fact that they’re reaching out to you and asking about your clients.
Doesn’t that make your life easier?
Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Dear Editors: Let’s remember to acknowledge the PR Wins from time to time. These firms and their reps not only work hard to get our attention, but also work hard for us when they do. We’re not nearly as quick to share our gratitude and mutual success, as we are our disappointments or frustrations. (And why not give it some hashtag love: #prwins).
P.S. I’m happy this column exists. It’s important for us to talk constructively about an industry that we’re all a part of so that we can grow, evolve and continue to produce great things.