Friday, November 16, 2007

Old School New Economy PR Guidelines

The recent online discussion about Wired editor Chris Anderson's "outing" of lazy PR people inspired me to dig up some PR guidelines I wrote for Fast Company magazine in the late '90s.

They're no longer on the magazine's Web site because they were linked off my team bio page and I no longer work there, but they might still be interesting and useful. Courtesy of my friend Paul, I'm reprinting them here verbatim (sans some URLs), as they once appeared on the site. Some of the new economy speak might seem quaint, but take what you will.

Caveat: I no longer work for Fast Company. Please don't email me pitches for the magazine.

Heath's PR Guidelines

Do you work in public relations? Do you want to pitch Heath a story for Fast Company? Here's how.

Do you work in public relations? Do you want to pitch Fast Company magazine a story? Do you want to do so in the most efficient, welcome, and successful way? Here's how.

In the new world of work, time is a precious commodity. Here at Fast Company, it's no different -- and it might be in even shorter supply. As we work to find the stories we want to tell, we frequently work with public relations professionals. Those relationships can be productive and rewarding -- even fun. They can also be inefficient, frustrating, and unproductive.

If you work in PR and travel in circles that overlap Fast Company's, you've probably pitched us a story, client company, or person to profile at one time or another. You've also probably tried to schedule a conference call or a meeting in our offices. And I'm sure you've learned that it's not easy. We're pretty clear, driven, and focused on the kinds of stories we want to tell. As you are. And when those needs don't overlap, it can be a challenge.

This page is intended to help you hit us harder -- more directly, with more focus, and more in line with the work we do. However, even if you do everything I suggest on this page, I can't guarantee that you'll succeed. We move at a pretty fast clip, and windows of opportunity close as fast as they open. Sometimes, timing can be everything. But there are things you can do to work smarter with us. Here's the short course.


Know the magazine
If you've never read an issue of Fast Company, don't even bother calling or emailing us. Please. Read the magazine. If you can't find a copy on your local newsstand or in your office, check out our Web site. I'd give you the URL, but you're already here. That's a good thing.

There are also Web resources you can use to better acquaint yourself with the kinds of stories we tell, how, and why. [The press section] can serve as a basic introduction to the magazine: who the founding editors are, why they started Fast Company, and what we've done to date. The [Fast Company Mission Statement] outlines the goals of the magazine. Our [writers' guidelines] aren't just useful for freelancers; they can help you cast your pitches in the language we speak. And our [media kit] expands on our mission, the magazine's market, and more.

Lastly, [the resources section] can direct you to descriptions of the magazine's core themes, section and feature types, and examples of the Big Idea pieces we've run. It's helpful to know how we organize the magazine and categorize the stories we publish.


Know the staff
If you want your pitch to reach the right staff member, be sure to acquaint yourself with the people on the Fast Company team. Our [team roster] lists everyone involved in the day-to-day workings of the magazine and Web site. By clicking on team members' names, you can access the person's profile page, which offers information on their background, role at the magazine -- and for some staff, a roundup of articles they've contributed. The [directory of Fast Company email addresses] can also help you figure out whom to email about what. Use these pages to determine who does what kinds of pieces -- and pitch accordingly.


Know how to work with us
I'm sure everyone at Fast Company has their own pet peeves about and ideas for how PR people can do their jobs better, but mine are probably pretty good advice to follow when dealing with everyone on the FC team. Some of these tips are small beer, granted, but they'll make your -- and our -- jobs easier.

1. Email is king

If you can email us information, it's always preferred as the first point of contact. There's no need to waste paper, energy, and time sending faxes or snail mail if you can email something. If you email us, please try to direct your email to the most appropriate person on staff. Realize that our staff is small, that we all like each other, and that we all talk to each other -- if you email everyone on staff, it doesn't necessarily increase your chances of getting in the magazine. If you email us, do not attach documents to your email; if it's worth emailing, it's worth emailing in the body of your message. Personally, I don't like downloading attachments, don't like them taking up space on my hard drive, and don't read them. Please don't send them to me. If you email us, do not use that little receipt requested function. I never send a receipt to notify people that I got their email, and it's not necessary -- it's the Net; it works. Most of the time. And if you email us, do not fax it to us, mail it to us, or call us on the telephone to see whether we got your email. We did. And if we need to get in touch with you, we will track you down like hunting dogs. (We're the dogs, not you. The dogs are hunting.)

2. Phones aren't always fun

Like I said above, if you email us, you don't need to call us to follow up on the email. In fact, phone pitches are rarely productive or efficient. More often than not, the whole time you're talking, I'm thinking, "I'd rather just read this," and then when you pause to inhale, I'll ask you to email me what you just said anyway. Similarly, phone briefings are also rarely productive or efficient. I never take them. I'd rather read a news release. And if I'm working on a story that your client will fit in to, I'll schedule a one-on-one, focused interview. If that happens, please don't shepherd the interview call. We'll need the source's phone number eventually for fact checking, and I'd rather call them directly than have you call me or conference call us all in. Likewise, if that does happen, please don't use the speakerphone. I can't understand everything people say, it's harder to distinguish voices if there's more than one person in the room, and if I'm taping the interview, it's harder to transcribe. Whine, whine, I know, but it's bothersome.

3. Meetings aren't always neat -- or needed

Every month, I get about 100 meeting requests and invitations from people. As much as I like meeting people face to face -- heck, I'm the staff coordinator for the Company of Friends -- meetings aren't always necessary. Most people who want to meet with us are on a media or analyst tour. That means that they've got an agenda, a PowerPoint slide presentation, and a limited message they want to send. Sometimes, that's fine -- like when I'm working on In Gear and want to demo a new tool or technology. But most of the time, it's a waste of time. We don't do product news. We don't do merger news. But we do want to learn about what your company does, how the organization works, and who its thought leaders and change agents are. Be ready to scrap the slides and talk to us like people talk to each other -- freeform, flowing, fun. If you need PowerPoint to get your message across, you're sending the wrong message.

Also, be on time. When we schedule meetings, we often tuck them in to an already-busy day. Most of the time, I set aside 45-60 minutes for meetings with visitors. If you're late, we have less time to talk. Our offices can be a challenge to find because of the Big Dig, but that's why we provide [maps and directions].

And to back up some, when requesting a meeting, please be clear about who's coming, when, and why -- in fact, put all that at the top of your email. I can't even count how many meeting opportunities I've missed because I had to hunt for the visitors' availability details, got frustrated, and set the email aside to read later.


That's not so bad, is it? If it is, I'm sorry. I'm not an ogre. Really. But I do have a lot of work to do, and I know that you do, too. Let's work together.

Seems like there are some consistent, common frustrations among high-profile journalists and editors. In the end, I think it comes down to knowing what a publication covers, knowing how to reach out to, and how. Can that be that hard?

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