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Below the Beltway / Entertainment

Flack Yourself: Gene vs. PR, the Sequel

WASHINGTON -- This just in:

Dear journalist: As a media relations trade publication servicing public relations professionals, my job is to help ensure that my readers have accurate info about you so they can send you the best quality PR pitches. Please answer the following questions. Thanks! Jim.

Happy to oblige, Jim! I'll take 'em one at a time.

(1) Which specific beats and topic areas do you cover?

Poop, pee and sex, mostly, with a subspecialty in character assassination. My favorite targets are public relations professionals, because they are a hoot. Their entire existence teeters on a ludicrous lie they tell their clients: that they are tight with the media. To most of the media, communications from PR people are as welcome as mosquitoes at a hemophiliacs' picnic. A PR pitch tends to be an enthusiastic description of a product or service that is so lame it actually needs the help of a PR professional. As pitches go, they're particularly slimy -- not like spitballs so much as snot balls. Loogie balls. Sure, someone has to catch them, but we don't have to be happy about it.

(2) What do the best PR people do to grab you, to get your attention and make you want to work with them?

Theoretically, I'd be willing to work with a PR person trying to sell me a story about the impending death of PR due to the sudden, simultaneous, slap-to-the- forehead realization by everyone in the entire world that PR is a silly waste of time and money. But that's, you know, unlikely. Anyway, your question is predicated on an unsupportable thesis: that there is a "best" PR person. That's like asking what is the "best" crotch fungus. I'll pass.

(3) What are some inappropriate pitches (i.e., material that PR keeps sending you that you don't cover or pet peeves you may have about PR people)?

I already covered this a bit in Question 1, but it's a subject I never get tired of. I'm particularly appalled by "crisis management," which is a highly paid PR specialty involving extricating rich people and their avaricious corporations from humiliating situations, such as when the CEO has been caught stealing panties from laundromats or gnawing on a roasted human thigh. Usually the resulting campaign of rehabilitation through PR involves strategic subject-changing that's no less transparent than when a guy whom you've just caught in a lie gestures frantically at something behind you and says, "What's that?!"

(4) Can you briefly tell me about a PR pitch that resulted in a story? What was it about the pitch or PR pro that sparked your interest?

Many years ago, I read a PR pitch that was describing a new line of decorative throw pillows as though they were the Bayeux Tapestry. You could smell the pungent stench of desperation. That gave me an idea: I started calling PR people and offering to write something favorable about their clients' products if the PR people would disclose humiliating things about themselves that I also would print. Not many declined this opportunity to snivel, to curry favor with a client by utterly debasing themselves. One PR professional told me how her husband had left her for a younger woman; another, how his butt was so big that he blew out his pants at a publicity event. One woman said that she was once so hung over in college that she accidentally appeared on a basketball court, for a game in which she was playing, naked from the waist down.

I'd hoped that that column, as withering as it was, would convince PR people to stop sending me their crap. It worked for many years, but evidently has been forgotten. Maybe this one will do the trick!

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Gene Weingarten's email address is weingarten(at)washpost.com.

Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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