Tech Reporter: The Digital Ass Kissing from PR People is Off-Putting

I've written about bad PR practices before. The lack of strategy. The reliance on media. Yesterday I read an article on Digiday that hit on another bad PR practice - poor media relations tactics. Coincidentally, earlier in the day and prior to reading the article I actually had a conversation with a friend about this very topic. We were discussing the dated approach many PR people in tech use to interact with media. "Ass kissing" is the term we used - PR people who intrude on reporter's personal lives, desperately pushing and trying to "build relationships" so much so that they become friends with journalists. Or at least they think they've become friends.

Then I read that Digiday article, which is a Digiday Confessions Q&A with a tech reporter.

One of the questions was about the culture of the industry, how the reporter sees it through his/her work. The reporter's answer:

In tech, there is little separation between work and personal life, so PR people follow you on Instagram, friend you on Facebook, invite you to birthday parties, like they’re your friends who happen to just know all this stuff about you because they have built elaborate dossiers. I always find it really off-putting when I get emails and they know all kinds of things about me they got on my Instagram account. “Digital ass kissing” is an actual strategy they sell to clients, where they try to build a rapport online with reporters. We’re putting the info out there, so it’s sort of our fault.

Digital ass kissing... Guess we weren't far off calling it ass kissing.

How interesting is that? This reporter finds this PR approach "off-putting". The really alarming part is that there are many, many senior PR people who are teaching younger ones that this type of friending, or actually let's call it what it is - stalking, described by the tech journalist is the right way to do the job.

Why don't PR people get it? Times have changed. This industry simply fails to embrace change. There are far too many PR professionals who still think they're operating in the '90s or aughts. They don't operate strategically, they rely far too much on media coverage and now a journalist is saying they don't even practice good media relations.

All three of these missteps show a failure to adapt to new technologies. As social media emerged, PR people were reluctant to jump on board. And when many finally did, rather than learning how to make social media a valuable component of a marketing mix, they shortsightedly simply used it as a tool to communicate with media.

I can pitch a reporter through a tweet or a LinkedIn message.

I can learn more about a journalist by friending them on Facebook or Instagram.

I can pitch them short stories for their blog.

No, no and no. PR people didn't get it. And they still don't. There are a lot out there who aren't comfortable advising clients about social media and would rather rely on what they know, or maybe after reading that article it's more accurate to say they rely on what they think they know, which is media relations.

When is this industry going to get with the program?

Stop kissing ass when you pitch a reporter.

Image from justbereal.co.uk
Image from justbereal.co.uk

So what is the right way to pitch? Really understand a reporter's job. They write stories. They don't want to hear about your client or your company. They want to hear good, balanced, well-rounded story ideas. Those PR people who say the most important part of the job is "relationships" - they're wrong. That's more dated thinking. The most important part of media relations is now the ability to tell a compelling story, and do it succinctly. Journalists don't want lengthy email pitches and they certainly don't want you calling them all the time. They have a lot of stories to choose from, so it's your job to make yours good.