PR … Oh my, the trade can elicit groans and bad jokes from journalists everywhere. Yes, we all have horror stories. But in the glee to share the bad, we sometimes forget the good stuff, the golden PR people out there who make our lives easier while also getting their companies great exposure in the media.
So in order not to sound like horribly jaded and negative journalists all the time, SNEWS® established these PR Awards three years ago. That way the good would get the recognition it deserved. OK, OK, we were perhaps also being a bit self-serving since we thought the awards would also serve to erect a higher rung for which all PR folks would reach in their creativity, energy and responsiveness. We don't need continual harassment, endless pestering, and nonsensical and fluffy no-news press releases. We need information, a conduit to the powers-that-be, products to test, and sometimes – we admit it – we want it yesterday.
But the truly top-notch PR people know their job is to get done what we need to get the best news coverage for their companies. A great PR person is worth his or her weight in gold to a journalist, not to mention to the company for which he or she works. We know it's not an easy job all the time to satisfy us demanding journalists as well as company management. And we've been told by fellow scribes that our awards have not only made better PR people out of some, but also led their companies to appreciate what they do a bit more.
That's all good stuff. So here comes PR Awards, Round 3. 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 400 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. We received over 200 ballots back by the voting deadline. 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 -- many did just that. We tallied the votes giving 3 points for each first place vote, 2 points for a second place vote, and 1 point for each third place acknowledgement. Points were tallied and the winners were determined.
And the proud vote recipients are …
Any agency or person who earned a top-10 recognition 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 top-10 are, in no particular order:
PR Agencies: Backbone Media (two-time SNEWS Editors' Voice Agency Award Winner), Stanwood and Partners, Fendler Communications, CGPR (Chris Goddard PR), Kristin Carpenter, Peak Exposure, Pale Morning Media, Fecko, True North, Cercone & Brown.
In-House PR Person: Kitty Graham of Cascade (first year SNEWS Editors' Voice In-House PR Award Winner), Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear (last year's SNEWS Editors' Voice In-House PR Award Winner), Hal Thomson of Salomon, Nate Tobecksen of Nike ACG, John Cooley of Marmot, Ann Obenchain of Kelty, Jill Pagliaro of The North Face, Ashley Deverey of Lowe Alpine, Boo Turner of Montrail, Paul Done of Sugoi, Lu Setnicka of Patagonia.
And the top three vote-getters are…
For PR Agency: Backbone Media, Stanwood and Partners, and CGPR and Peak Exposure in a tie. (SNEWSnote: Pale Morning Media, Kristin Carpenter, and Fendler Communications were just out of the running for top three, mere votes separating each. Carpenter is to be saluted as this is her first full year of PR work. Doubtless it helps that her roots are as a journalist, so she knows what the media need.)
For in-house PR person: Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear, Kitty Graham (ironically her position was eliminated at Cascade Designs two days before we tallied the results), and Nate Tobeksen of Nike ACG. (SNEWSnote: The remaining folks in our Top-10 list were all just out of the top three by a vote or two here and there -- it's the tightest race we've tallied.)
And the winner of the 2003 SNEWS Editors' Voice PR Agency Award is:
Stanwood & Partners
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?)
Stanwood & Partners and Backbone are both heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition and completely dominated the first place votes cast -- together they represented over 80 percent of the nods. Backbone was the winner of our last two PR awards and still commands respect, but numerous comments from media are indicative of their slip from the top -- as they've gotten bigger, they've also gotten less personal and less attentive. We know, we're a selfish lot and want to feel as if each of us is the most important person in a PR person's life -- even if we know you're dealing with hundreds of us media slime each week. Sigh. Stanwood grabbed the first place recognition even as that company has continued growing for the reason Backbone didn't -- each of the staff has a firm grasp of how essential it is to stay in contact with the media and jump through figurative hoops to be sure the service they are providing is personal.
It is worth noting that Stanwood was singled out by many of our voters for the simple fact each member of the team takes the time to learn the needs of the media they are pitching stories too. This means our time is rarely wasted and, best of all, we get story ideas from Stanwood that are more often than not, right on the mark for our readers -- no easy task.
Both Stanwood and Backbone are to be applauded for delivering the information in the way we media request it, and for working hard not to bombard us with meaningless press releases written only to prove to a PR agency's clients that the agency is actually doing something.
Most important, and Stanwood really excelled at this over the last year, the entire Stanwood team takes the time to talk to media about story ideas, even though some of those story ideas may have little bearing on their client's products or services. And this, dear readers, is why Stanwood clients get the coverage they do. Stanwood has established itself as a credible, accessible, and informed advocate more concerned about ensuring a story is well reported and that reporters have the resources they need, than simply getting their client's names and product into print, on the air, or on TV.
And finally, more than one voter mentioned that Stanwood and Backbone are fast, accurate and always displayed a sense of humor, even when the media request was last minute (typical) and obscure.
And the winner of the 2003 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:
Paige wins for the second year in a row -- in a landslide no less -- and not just because she's fun to have a beer with after a long day of trade show pounding or story research. Every writer who commented on her in the ballots said she's a writer's best friend when the story deadlines are impossible. Paige knows her company's products inside and out, even to the point of remembering products in the line years ago. She's enthusiastic, not pushy, and -- gasp -- will actually tell a writer if a product is right for a story or not, instead of simply trying to jam a product into the writer's hands just to get Mountain Hardwear coverage.
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:
- Don't be a pain -- Ever find yourself calling or emailing the media to find out why a story hasn't been published related to the press release you sent weeks or months ago, or why an editor has not responded to your calls or emails? Ever find yourself calling over and over and over? Ever wonder why the media seem to duck your calls or emails? See the first and second sentences and read them again -- carefully. If your news is targeted to the audience the media is trying to reach and if your news is actually newsworthy, it will get printed. If not, it won't. Period. If your news is not getting coverage, take a look at what you are submitting -- carefully.
- Know the needs and desires of the media -- We know of several editors at key magazines who have told us they actually screen all their calls around deadlines because of the deluge of calls they receive from PR flacks trying to ensure their client's products or services are mentioned or stories told. If you are one of these folk, you are actually doing your clients a disservice. Ever wonder why the media seems to duck your calls or emails? See the first sentence in this paragraph. You MUST understand most media receive upwards of 100 press releases and an equal number of calls and email pitches each month, sometimes each week. You want to be special to the media? Limit your calls and emails to meaningful pitches. Take the time to ask the media what you can do for them from time to time, so you know what we are looking for in terms of story needs. Each call to each media contact should be different to the point that you are clearly seeking to meet the editorial needs of that publication or broadcaster. We still get pitches at SNEWS and GearTrends from PR folk wanting us to run travel stories or write about the latest golf club trend -- talk about not knowing who you're talking too!
- Pity the poor intern -- Nothing is worse than the calls that avalanche in 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. Your agency really does look very stupid when you or an intern make a cold call asking if an editor knows about "Company A" and their products when even the most basic amount of homework would make it clear that the editor has been writing about "Company A" for years, is on a first-name basis with the president of that company, and probably already has an appointment for an upcoming show.
- 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. Good editors will also be happy to print corrections to stories if warranted, as long as they don't feel they're being abused in the process.
- 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 the media 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 or threatening to pull advertising because the publication printed something "negative" only makes the media very curious and inspires us go after the other side even harder or worse, start ignoring you and your company completely. Keep communicating in a positive way (That's PR 101). We really do love and prefer to print both sides.
- Be newsworthy (Hand this tip to your corporate head) -- While we would expect you to be passionate about all that goes on at your company, expecting your staff PR folks or your hired PR agency to simply turn out a press release a week to be sure your company is always in the news is not only bad practice, it is a practice that will ensure your company receives virtually no coverage at all. Why? Because if you adhere to the "release a week" method of PR, we begin to expect the release and expect it to be simply fluff, which nine times out of ten, it is. DO NOT send out a press release unless you actually have some news that is worth talking about. LISTEN to your PR staff or agency on this one -- that's what you pay them for. Just because your 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.
- No company has good news all the time -- 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 as evidenced by many so-called news services and trade journals these days -- certainly not SNEWS or GearTrends! Press releases are NOT news. 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 good 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.