Thou Shalt Learn To Take Your Hands Off The Steering Wheel
During the research phase of my upcoming book “The New PR,” I made an effort to reach out to as many creative and innovative people I could locate for case studies, commentaries and observations. Nearly everyone I contacted was very happy to donate their time and wisdom for this offering.
But there was one considerable exception: a financial services company that specializes in loans and investment products to U.S. military personnel. I received a copy of a very clever case study from that company about how they orchestrated a successful readership survey for their internal quarterly magazine. It was impressive and it would’ve been perfect for my book. But you won’t find in the book when it comes out later this year, simply because their PR person was a control freak.
My communications with this PR person began in a rather benign manner: I sent her an e-mail asking I could cite her company’s case study in the book and if I could send a few questions her way to clarify aspects of the case study.
The PR person responded: “Our CMO has asked if our company name will be published with the case study and also if we’ll have final approval rights before this is printed?”
Obviously, this is a curious response. Why would I publish an in-depth case study and not mention the company’s name? Also, why would they need “final approval rights”? I asked after that last point and received this response: “We’re just wondering if we would be able to see what is being written before it is published.”
As a writer, I normally do not allow the people I am interviewing to see articles before they are published. However, in this case I didn’t see any harm in letting the PR person see the coverage I was planning. I informed the PR person that the CMO could see the article before it is submitted for publication – but I intentionally stopped short of giving that CMO the final sign-off on what was written.
The PR person clearly sensed there was something missing in my okay, because then I received this message: “I have confirmed that if we can have a signed agreement that says we’ll be able to approve the final content before being published and that our company name will be published with the case study, you may use our case study in your book.”
Now this is a bit unprecedented – a smallish financial services provider demanding a “signed agreement” saying they can “approve the final content before being published”?
Guess what? The company’s case study is not in the book. And simply because I am a nice guy, the company and its ridiculous PR person (and equally inane CMO) are not being identified by name.
This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it is frustrating: PR professionals who don’t know when to take their hands off the proverbial steering wheel and allow other qualified professionals to drive the story. I can understand the concern about misquoted in print (I’ve been there myself – in the New York Post, no less!). But making blatant demands to control editorial content should not be the goal of a PR professional (or, in this case, a genuine PR amateur).
This should go without saying, but I will say it: if you are not comfortable having your company or executives involved in a particular forum, politely decline. Do not demand to have total control of editorial contents – journalists don’t take that seriously and you’ll lose what could easily have been wonderful coverage. In this situation, the company’s case study didn’t wind up in print – it wound up in the garbage can!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book “The New PR” will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)