Journalists often speak of their interest in covering trends, and tying your clients to larger issues in the news can be a fruitful tactic. This was probably the thinking when I received a press release about a Pennsylvania hospital’s efforts to “go green.” Normally, it would have gone straight to the delete bin, but since I’m originally from the Keystone State and have some interest in green business practices, I gave the email an extra look. It turned out to be from a company that had just signed a contract to supply the facility with biodegradable trash bags.
Now, I’m all for using eco-friendly materials, but the press release made it sound as if the place had just built a new emergency room from recycled bean sprouts: “We’re delighted that such a prominent institution recognizes the contribution [our product] can make to reduce the environmental impact of its daily operations. Our commercial product can be tailored for all kinds of applications and offers an important way for health care facilities, which by necessity generate large amounts of waste, to do the right thing for our environment.”
Fast forward. An email arrived from a PR firm in Arizona promising an expert who could discuss hospitals’ efforts to improve “the patient experience.” The expert, I learned, is the CEO of a company that makes patient gowns.
Let’s set aside the fact that both emails were woefully off-target (I’m actually sort of grateful, because they provided nice material for a column). What they have in common is that many folks would charitably call them a “stretch.” Both cited legitimate trends, but each was missing a key ingredient: A newsworthy (or quote-worthy) client.
The world is full of academics, consultants, patient advocates and healthcare executives who can discuss the patient experience, and I’m going to talk to a guy who makes hospital gowns? It’s possible that he has some identifiable credentials that make him qualified to speak on the topic, but this was not clear from the email, aside from a vague statement that he’s done “extensive research.”
Reuters News Agency editor Stephen Trousdale summed up the challenge nicely: “Our interest is to write a good story about a trend or an issue. Your interest is probably to get your client’s name in the paper. Those interests are not aligned. Figure out ways to align them.”
As an example, he pointed to the Heartbleed security bug. “If you represent a security company. . . and if you think you can offer some useful information about what consumers should do about Heartbleed, then get in touch with us, because that’s a good way to get your client’s name in the newspaper.”
However, it works only if you have a client who’s a good fit for the topic. More than one journalist has commented that it’s the quality of the clients—not the outreach—that really sets the valuable PR pros apart.
You may not have the luxury of choosing A-list clients, and even Joe’s Corner Garage deserves representation if it has a legitimate reason to engage the media. But you also have to be realistic—and set reasonable expectations for your clients. There probably are outlets that could find a place in their coverage for a trash bag company or gown maker, perhaps a local newspaper or a niche trade publication. But if you make too much of a stretch, you’re likely to hurt your credibility, and your client’s as well.