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 to please company management, which is why we established the now infamous SNEWS® Editors' Voice PR Awards four years ago. We felt it was high time to recognize a stellar performance in the face of so much stellar and, well, not so stellar execution.
The bottom line is, we don't need continual harassment, endless pestering, and nonsensical and fluffy no-news press releases. To do our jobs well, we need relevant and timely information, a conduit to the powers-that-be for interviews, products to test, and sometimes – we admit it – we want it last week. PR folk that help us to do our jobs well should be commended because, without them, our lives would be infinitely more challenging.
We've been told by past top vote-getters that our awards have not only made better PR people out of some, but also led the companies they represent to appreciate what they do a bit more. We trust the award continues to recognize those agencies and individuals who raise the bar for everyone, make our jobs as journalists easier and, consequently, better serve the companies they represent. 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 their jobs.
Here's how our award balloting worked
Ballots were sent to 300 select media representing the crème de la crème of the editorial world of free-lance and staff writers representing newspapers, magazines, radio, web publishing, television and film. 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 awarded 5 points for each first place vote, 3 points for a second place vote, and 1 point for each third place acknowledgement. Points were tallied and the winners were determined.
And the top twelve vote recipients are …
Any agency or person who earned a top-12 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-12 are, in no particular order:
PR Agency: Backbone Media (SNEWS® Editors' Voice Agency Award Winner—2001, 2002), Stanwood and Partners (SNEWS® Editor's Voice Agency Award Winner--2003), Fendler Communications, CGPR (Chris Goddard PR), Kristin Carpenter Public Relations, BCOC, True North, Ingrid Niehaus, Base Camp Communications, JAM Media (Julie McFadden), Coral Darby Communications, and Momentum Media PR (Alycia Cavadi).
In-House PR Person: Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear (SNEWS® Editors' Voice In-House PR Award Winner—2002, 2003), Nate Tobecksen of Nike, John Cooley of Marmot, Ann Obenchain of Kelty, Jill Pagliaro of The North Face, Boo Turner of Montrail, Paul Done of Sugoi, Carey Porter of Cascade Designs, Jennifer Lind of REI, Jennifer Magill of Patagonia, Emily Petterson of Columbia, and Cynthia Amon of W.L. Gore. (Kitty Graham, formerly of Cascade Designs, was our 2001 winner, but is no longer in the industry.)
And the winner of the 2004 SNEWS® Editors' Voice PR Agency Award is:
Kristin Carpenter Public Relations
First, it should be pointed out that holding a press conference at Hooters to present her client's products during a recent Outdoor Retailer trade show had no bearing on the vote -- though we're sure it didn't hurt (she also offered a line presentation with pedicure option for those less Hooters-inclined.) What that unique outing made clear though is that Kristin Carpenter, a journalist in a former life, and her team thinks out of the box to establish relationships and connections with editors. Ultimately, successful PR is all about relationships.
Kristin and her team showed this year that they work hard to know exactly what we pushy media want, and equally important, what we don't want. Her contact with us is frequently timely, and appropriate -- never too little and never too much. She never shoves herself in our faces or fills inboxes with nonsense PR. Quite a few comments came in praising her for sending press packets in pre-labeled file folders sized to fit perfectly into a standard hanging file -- talk about being in tune!
And the winner of the 2004 SNEWS® Editors' Voice In-House PR Person Award is:
Paige Boucher of Mountain Hardwear
Paige wins for the third year in a row and is clearly making a bid to establish dynasty control of the award. While Boo Turner finished only a few points behind Paige, the rest of the pack was so far behind it appeared all were conceding victory to Paige before the year even began. Every writer who commented on her in the ballots said Paige continues to be 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, treats all editors with equal love and attention (including ones she has had little or no contact with before) 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:
- Be accessible -- You all have access to the web, so use it to your advantage. There is no excuse to not keeping your websites updated with the accounts you represent, with the name, email, and direct phone or extension for the staff member responsible for each account. When a member of the media does call your offices, please expediently handle that media request. If a message is left, please return it. If an email is sent, please respond to it. If the person responsible for the account is on vacation or out of the office, have someone else simply respond to the message so the journalist who made the inquiry is not left feeling ignored. If someone needs help on a pressing deadline, someone else should be informed enough to pitch in.
- Don't waste time -- Enough with the press releases that promote nothing but a waste of paper and the media's time dealing with it. We have said this each year in one way or another, but this year we're going to be very blunt: DO NOT send out a press release unless you actually have some news that is worth talking about. Unless you are sending your release to a publication interested in color trends, know that most of us really don't care about your new color wave. And while we are happy that you are selling products, we definitely don't care that George's Gargantuan Sports decided to carry your full product line; selling your products to stores is what you are supposed to be doing, remember? If that's news, then it's a sorry state we're in.
- The media's job is to write the news, not make your company look good -- A "balanced" story or coverage of your company that begins with a press release you may have sent out doesn't mean publishing your side of a story only, as much as you'd like to see the media only write about awards or gush over new products. While some media will waste publishing space and insult their readers' intelligence by simply reprinting press releases without any calls or individual research, a good reporter will always seek to write a balanced story. Balance means two sides, and we believe it is 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 you perceive as "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 because you are a pain to deal with. Keep communicating in a positive way (That's PR 101). We really do love and prefer to print both sides.
- Treat all of us equally, not based on the publications we are working for -- If your job is to represent your client's or your company's products to the media, that means all media, and not just the ones you think you should care about. Too often this year, select media commentary on the ballots point to media who received no call-backs, no return emails, or only minimal assistance from PR folks when the publication was not of a national scope. Different story when the same media contacted the same PR agencies and folk, this time on an assignment for a major national magazine -- PR folk practically fell all over each other in a rush to provide volumes of information. Believe us when we tell you, that kind of inconsistent treatment only earns you and the companies or products you are trying to promote disdain and the distinct possibility you won't be first on the affected media's "must-call" list for the next story -- not exactly the goal we think you are trying to achieve.
- Stop sending so much junk! -- If it does not fit in an 8.5-by-11.5-inch file folder, don't even think of sending it. Stop trying to get noticed by being cute with what you send. Watch the media in a press room sometime for an education. We will grab information that fits easily into a briefcase or backpack, but only after stripping it of all unneeded extras and tossing those in the trash. Workbook? We'll take one, but only if it is appropriately sized. A one- or two-page summary of new products and trends? We'll take that. No creative wrapping please -- plastic envelopes and even glossy portfolio folders are a waste, not to mention they speak volumes about your company's environmental stance. No photos, slides or extra stuff. If we need them, we'll ask for them. Better yet, create a place on your company website where we can log in and download images, updated product information and miscellaneous other bits when we need it.
- If you sent it, we received it -- If your news is targeted to the audience the media is trying to reach, and if your news is actually relevant and 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. DO NOT call simply to check if we got the press release you sent. That is a waste of your time and ours. That said, there is difference between calling just to see if we received an email, and calling, after noticing your releases are not getting picked up by a particular media source, to ask if you should be crafting your news in a different manner to better meet the needs of that media source. Calls that are intended to improve relationships and better personalize communication are always welcome -- well, not always, but they should be. Media that don't welcome such interaction are clueless.
- Enough with "media are idiots" approach -- While we will fully admit to not being infallible, and to infrequently having moments of incomprehensible stupidity when crafting a story, please realize most of us carefully research stories and probably know way more about a topic than you might imagine. So, 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, not a lecture. 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 further investigation into a story is warranted. Good editors will also be happy to print corrections to facts in a story, if warranted, as long as they don't feel they're being abused in the process. Oh, and if there are factual errors, do let us know so we don't make the same mistake again.