Public Relations Etiquette

Chuck Zimmerman

When I bring up PR etiquette in a conversation it usually generates a few chuckles. Now why would that be? Maybe I should refer to this as public relations professionalism. Whatever you want to call it the recent Ag Media Summit provided several opportunities to comment on it. During the event’s InfoExpo I had two situations that provide a real good lesson in what “not to do.”

The first one involved me walking to a scheduled appointment with an exhibitor to conduct an interview. While walking past a certain exhibit one of the people in the booth grabbed me by the arm, stopping me and “asking” if I could interview their representative who was at that moment already being interviewed. I explained that I had a scheduled interview and could come back later. My arm was still being held and further pressure was applied verbally to stay. I don’t know about you but even though I like a good welcoming hug, I’m not fond of being grabbed. Needless to say I did not return to this booth.

Another situation involved me in conversation with my scheduled appointment and prior to starting me interview (audio recording), a PR professional from another booth walked in between me and the person I was speaking with and proceeded to try to start a conversation as if I wasn’t there. I had to speak over the shoulder to my contact and say that perhaps we could finish if this was more important. Turns out it wasn’t and they were told to come back. Needless to say I did not visit their booth.

Other situations like this have happened at InfoExpo before and at the NAFB Trade Talk. I’ve even had a PR person turn me around and ask me to come to their booth and interview their client while I’m in the middle of an interview with my microphone held up and obviously working!

Perhaps as these sessions have grown they’ve become too competitive. What do you think? I’ve been told that some clients are judging their PR reps on how many interviews they score and they keep score cards. But does an interview mean a story is published or aired or posted online? No!

If we had 81 booths at InfoExpo and I know the NAFB Trade Talk is full too then it is physically impossible to conduct an interview or even have a meaningful conversation with every exhibitor. I would love to do so btw. This means I have to prioritize and it means that generally speaking, I or any other ag journalist I know, have to try to see our major supporters first. That means those who are spending money to support our medium and media outlet. I think this is a subject for a separate post so I’ll leave it at that.

I think we expect that the PR professionals exhibiting understand our situation as journalists and realize that even if we can’t conduct an interview during the show we can always follow up afterward by phone. The majority do and I really appreciate their professionalism. It’s the few overly aggressive or perhaps unaware who are really doing their client or company a disservice. Would love to know your thoughts. Have you experienced this? Have suggestions?

Public Relations

Comments 8

  1. it’s happened to me too often to count. In San Antonio, though, justice was served. I was in the middle of an interview when a ‘gentleman’ holding a cell phone as a recording deviced stepped between me and my subject and started asking questions. The man I was interviewing looked startled for a second and then said, “Kindly get the hell away from me. I’m talking with Chuck.”

    It was cell phone man’s turn to look startled.

  2. it’s happened to me too often to count. In San Antonio, though, justice was served. I was in the middle of an interview when a ‘gentleman’ holding a cell phone as a recording deviced stepped between me and my subject and started asking questions. The man I was interviewing looked startled for a second and then said, “Kindly get the hell away from me. I’m talking with Chuck.”

    It was cell phone man’s turn to look startled.

  3. I remember you talking to me about this and, gladly, can say that none of the folks you mention in the article are on our team. Unfortunately there are a few over aggressive PR professionals that spoil the pot for the rest of us. In general I would hope that other PR professionals practice the sort of etiquette that you and others in your profession would assume to be common sense practices. At our agency, common sense tells us that getting an interview is important, but not at the expense of ruining a relationship with the media. Perhaps this sort of topic would be a good one for an Ag Relations Council meeting?

  4. I remember you talking to me about this and, gladly, can say that none of the folks you mention in the article are on our team. Unfortunately there are a few over aggressive PR professionals that spoil the pot for the rest of us. In general I would hope that other PR professionals practice the sort of etiquette that you and others in your profession would assume to be common sense practices. At our agency, common sense tells us that getting an interview is important, but not at the expense of ruining a relationship with the media. Perhaps this sort of topic would be a good one for an Ag Relations Council meeting?

  5. Post
    Author

    After talking with several people about this I just thought it needed to be said. It really is the exception to the rule but happens often enough to get you riled up. It is one thing when you’re in a live news situation and competing with other reporters for an interview. That’s another situation when you just come to realize that there is no “respect” for others. But in a relaxed atmosphere of a trade show or a media room it’s just uncalled for to be as aggressive as some of these PR professionals have become. I think it’s an excellent topic for an ARC meeting. Good idea.

  6. Post
    Author

    After talking with several people about this I just thought it needed to be said. It really is the exception to the rule but happens often enough to get you riled up. It is one thing when you’re in a live news situation and competing with other reporters for an interview. That’s another situation when you just come to realize that there is no “respect” for others. But in a relaxed atmosphere of a trade show or a media room it’s just uncalled for to be as aggressive as some of these PR professionals have become. I think it’s an excellent topic for an ARC meeting. Good idea.

  7. That is so unfortunate and sad to think that public relations professionals would interrupt another colleague while in the midst of interviewing! That is anything but professional.

  8. That is so unfortunate and sad to think that public relations professionals would interrupt another colleague while in the midst of interviewing! That is anything but professional.

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