Last year's inaugural SNEWS Editors' Voice PR Awards exceeded our most humble expectations. With the debut of the award, we hoped to establish a standard for the creativity and the energy the media need from PR folk beyond sending us ridiculous promotions or pestering us endlessly, sometimes with fluffery that has no bearing whatsoever on anything that person has ever written about or would ever care to.
Ah, journalists and PR folks -- it's a love-hate relationship forged out of necessity. A good PR contact is worth his or her weight in gold to a journalist, and, of course, to the company he or she represents. We media admire all the effort and energy that good PR communication requires, especially when you have to deal with so many whiny, self-centered, "I need it yesterday" people like journalists -- yeah, we're talking about ourselves, the collective media. Of course, we just as quickly despise those who waste our time with worthless drivel and reams of meaningless paper or useless promotions.
Enter stage right for the second-annual round of the awards: On the heels of last year's Editors' Voice awards, our fellow media compatriots have told us the PR world has sharpened up its act, and we're grateful for all of us, whether that's because of or in spite of us! We've also heard from many PR folk who thanked us for last year's awards process and information, telling us too that many learned how better to communicate with the media as a result and, best of all, many received job offers too. And we've heard from many companies who told us they made interviewing and hiring decisions using the award as part of their decision. We're honored, a bit speechless and -- we have to admit -- somewhat stunned. Wow, now that's the power of the press!
We hope the award continues to recognize those agencies and individuals who raise the bar for everyone and make our jobs as journalists easier, and consequently serve the companies they represent better. And we hope and trust that the award also serves as a means to spawn improvement for PR agencies and individuals who seek to become better at the job counted on by so many members of the media.
Here's how our award balloting worked
Ballots were sent to 143 media friends and acquaintances representing the crème de la crème of the editorial world of free-lance and staff writers from both outdoor and fitness. Each editor or journalist was asked to provide us with his or her top three choices in each of two categories: best PR agency and best in-house/company-employed PR individual. While SNEWS provided a comprehensive list of PR agencies and in-house folks for voting consideration, editors were encouraged to write in the names of agencies or individuals they felt worthy of recognition if the names did not appear on the original ballot.
And the proud vote recipients are …
Any agency or person who received multiple mentions for award consideration can be very proud of the accomplishment since we journalists are a very notoriously picky -- OK, OK, egotistical and even jaded -- bunch. The multiple vote winners are:
PR Agencies: Backbone Media (last year's SNEWS Editors' Voice Agency Award Winner), Stanwood and Partners, Fendler Communications, CGPR (Chris Goddard PR), Freebairn and Company, Carey Kerns, Alan Taylor, Campbell Consulting, Horizon Communications, Base Camp PR, Fecko, Pale Morning Media, Peak Exposure, Gibson Communications, Heart Communications, Ad HOC, Ingrid Niehaus, BCOC Whatsup, and Meridian Communications.
In-House PR Person: Kitty Graham of Cascade (last year's SNEWS Editors' Voice In-House PR Award Winner), Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear, Hal Thomson of Patagonia, Gary Flemming of Head, Nate Tobecksen of Nike ACG, John Cooley of Marmot, Ann Obenchain of Kelty, Matt Foster of Gerber, Ted McGuinness of Karhu, Cynthia Amon of W.L. Gore, Terri Young of Filson, Jill Pagliaro of The North Face, Lee Weinstein of Nike, Ashley Deverey of Lowe Alpine, Matt Miller of Atomic, Leslie Bonnyman of Timberland, Gigi DeYoung of JanSport, Michael Collins of REI, Emily Kaplan of Columbia, Boo Turner of Montrail, Charity Emmons, formerly of the Nautilus Group, Julie King of Life Fitness.
And the top three vote getters are…
For PR Agency: Backbone Media, Stanwood and Partners, Fendler Communications. (SNEWSnote: CGPR and Pale Morning Media were nipping right at the heels of Fendler -- only one and two total votes behind, respectively.)
For in-house PR person: Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear, Nate Tobecksen of Nike ACG, and Hal Thomson of Patagonia. (SNEWSnote: Kitty Graham of Cascade, John Cooley of Marmot, and Ann Obenchain of Kelty were a mere two, four, and five votes behind Hal Thomson respectively.)
Talk about tight competition! Oh, and we feel it would be remiss not to mention Lu Setnika also of Patagonia. Hal, as good as he is, wouldn't be getting half the kudos he received were it not for her working hard in the background.)
And the winner of the 2002 SNEWS Editors' Voice PR Agency Award is:
A summary of comments from the voting media about the PR Agency award (you really didn't expect us not to have a vocal opinion and to just shut-up-and-vote, did you?) As Backbone has gotten bigger, the group has slipped a bit in terms of personal service in the eyes of many of our voting media. Still, Backbone Media epitomizes the ideal PR program. It is worth mentioning here that Stanwood and Partners finished a mere two votes distant. It was said of both Backbone and Stanwood that they know the products of their clients sometimes, it seems, almost better than the clients themselves, and equally important, they understand the needs and markets of the publications they work with. They don't bombard us with press releases about stuff we couldn’t care any less about, and they work extra hard to be sure whenever the media make a request, it is filled and delivered as requested on or before the deadline -- even if that deadline was, in media parlance, "yesterday." They are also very adept at working with media to provide newsworthy stories about trends that might have only a slight relationship with a product they are representing, and that, my friends, is why Backbone and Stanwood clients receive all the coverage they do.
And the winner of the 2002 SNEWS Editors' Voice In-House PR Person Award is:
Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear
A summary of comments from the voting media about the in-house PR person award: "She rocks!" "A darling!" "Responsive." "Helpful." "Friendly." "Always gets product samples when needed." "Accommodating." "Doesn't waste my time." We could go on. Aside from the "darling" comment, Nate Tobeksen of Nike ACG, who finished only five votes distant, garnered similar effusive praise (We love you, Nate, but the word "darling" has never entered our minds when talking about ya.). Both receive top marks for their willingness to work with media on stories that are good for the industry and not just because of what it will do for the company each represents.
Lessons From Missteps
Wonder why your company or agency sometimes gets less coverage than you might wish for and perhaps sometimes more scrutiny than you would like? Wonder why you did not receive more votes -- or even one vote -- from this year's media panel? Perform a little self-analysis using the following summary comments from our voting panel. These represent true-life experiences:
- Quit pestering!!! -- This was mentioned by every editor (for the first time, a unanimous kvetch). Editors are receiving upwards of 100 emails, faxes (arggggghh!!!!!), and press packets by snail mail each week. IF it appears newsworthy or worth following up on, we will. If your news is not appearing consistently, ask yourself if the news you are sharing is worth printing by the people you are sharing it with. Contact the editor and ask him or her how you should be communicate your news and then deliver it as requested.
- Keep it simple -- This was the number two complaint. Stop it with all the damn photo attachments and creative backgrounds! If we need pretty photos, we'll ask for them. If we want emails embedded with logos and flash, we'll ask for it (but don't count on us ever wanting those). Give editors the news clean and mean so it downloads quickly -- especially important for editors who travel frequently and end up accessing press releases by email over a land line in some hotel at midnight.
- Get acquainted -- Know thy editor and know the magazines you are sending press releases to. Nothing is worse than the calls (and they've started already) prior to trade shows from new staff or assistants or even interns who've been given the thankless task of contacting editors they've never met, from a phone list they just got handed, to set up appointments. This also happens when agencies and in-house staff work to update media lists or call to find out editorial calendars. Nothing is worse too than a cold call asking if an editor knows about "Company A" and their products when that editor has been writing about "Company A" for years -- or even already has an appointment at the upcoming show. (SNEWS note: We can really relate to this one. Each month we get calls from folks asking for our advertising schedule and rates -- Hmmmm, if you knew who we were and had bothered to glance at our "publication," which in this case is the web site with a clear link to a page called "What is SNEWS," you'd know we don't accept advertising.)
- Don't whine -- If you don't like the way a story or a review was written, do yourself and your company a HUGE favor and don't call up the media to lecture us about how we have clearly not done our research or we clearly don't understand the issues or ask why we never write anything positive. Most editors have no problem discussing a story, but it needs to be just that, a discussion. Remember, whether it's fair or not, editors always get the last word. Good editors won't abuse that power, but just the same, it will be used if deemed further investigation into a story is warranted.
- Remember, there are two sides -- A "balanced" story or company coverage doesn't mean your side only, as much as you'd like to see us only write about awards or gush over new products. Balance means two sides, and it's our job to find another side or opinion, if it exists, and print that too. Shutting down communication because we gave you a bad review or -- ohmigash -- printed something "negative" only makes us very curious and inspires us go after the other side even harder. Keep communicating in a positive way (That's PR 101). We really do love and prefer to print both sides.
SNEWS View: Do yourself a favor and hand this to your corporate folks who are paying you to be a flak for the company message -- a couple of points from our side: Just because the company came out with a new color wave does not mean the media will stop the presses and grind out a story. New color waves or a new zipper placement or a new belt on a treadmill typically aren't really newsworthy -- to anyone but the designer and perhaps the company president. Also, no company can have good news all the time. Get used to it. The media's job is to report the news -- some take that role more seriously than others to be sure. A good journalist, a real journalist isn't satisfied with a basic press release with canned quotes. Anyone can reprint one of those. A good journalist seeks to present all sides to a story allowing the reader to make up his or her mind about an issue. A good PR person works with good journalists (if the company allows that to happen) to present a story that is balanced, accurate, and -- even if perceived as negative by the company -- as low in fire and brimstone as possible. Stonewalling journalists never works. Smoke screens never work. The more misdirection or non-communication occurs, the more a journalist will dig until he or she unearths a story -- and the media always manage to unearth a story. Be sure it is the story you would most like to see in print. Be honest and open (to a point -- no need to reveal family secrets after all) and the news, if not super positive, will likely be more balanced and take on a less investigative tone meaning it becomes less a factor and disappears from the minds of the readers far more quickly.
If you're a corporate exec reading this -- learn to work with and trust your PR people. If they are as good as you should expect, stories will always be fair, balanced and you will garner much more respect from the folks writing the news, which can only serve you best in the long run.
Until next year, then, and the third-annual SNEWS Editors' Voice PR Awards.