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PR Fail Story: Relations are Two-Sided, Not Self-Serving

on September 13, 2012

I just had an experience with a PR rep who reached out to me, wanting me to engage with her client. I responded that I’d be interested, and added that I was also interested in her client for professional reasons, and wanted the dialogue to be mutually beneficial. Her response was I’m sorry I can’t do that, and ended the conversation.

Holy CRAP! Who does that?

Here’s the email exchange. I have replaced the names of the PR rep, her client’s name, and the companies involved.

Hi David,

First, I’d like to introduce myself as a member of the COMPANY X social media team at PR COMPANY. Please feel free to reach out to me in the future.

Second, I’ve noticed that you often blog about companies’ social media engagement and I thought that you might have some interest in chatting with Andrea, the digital lead of the social media team at COMPANY X. Andrea can speak about the social media strategies employed by COMPANY X, and more specifically she can address the company’s brand journalism site, COMPANY X BRANDED SITE.

COMPANY X BRANDED SITE also hosts the video series BRANDED VIDEOS, (and then adds a description of the branded videos).

Any interest in talking to Andrea about COMPANY X, social media and brand journalism? Feel free to touch base with me so I can put you two in contact.



(links to  client site were included but removed)

It just so happens I was close to closing a deal with COMPANY X many years ago and it fell through. They’re a huge company with many divisions. I responded as such:


I’d be happy to talk with Andrea about COMPANY X, social media and brand journalism if Andrea would like to talk with me about Spark Media Solutions and our style of brand journalism. A few years back COMPANY X actually approached us about doing some work for the security division. Because of poor timing, we were not able to make a deal in time, but I would happily like to reengage COMPANY X again.


Maria responds:

Hi David,

I’ve heard of Spark Media Solutions before, great work. Unfortunately, I can’t speak for COMPANY X about their business engagements. I think we had a misunderstanding here, my apologies.

Maybe in the future we can collaborate on a different project.

Have a nice week!



The response was rather abrupt and I thought she misread my intentions, so I followed up:


There’s no reason you should know about my previous engagement.

The purpose of my email was not to sever conversation. I’m open to a discussion, but I would like a two-way mutually beneficial dialogue rather than a PR person just trying to get me to write about their client’s company.


Her response:

Hi David,

I completely understand and I would love to help you if I could. However, I can’t offer you the type of insight or access to the COMPANY X team that you’re looking for. But again, I will keep you in mind if there is an opportunity for us to work together in the future. Thank you for your time.



Uggh, there is so much wrong with this.

She initiated a request for a conversation with her client. While not spelled out, it was obvious that her intention was to get me to write about how her client does brand journalism, and the specific site she linked to in the email.

OK, so that’s what she wants to do. That’s fine. But wait a second. The script that she developed in her mind didn’t play out exactly the way she wanted it to. Somebody also had a motive that wasn’t exactly the same as hers. Instead of doing what normal people do and adapt for the situation, she shut down.

While she said very nice things all the way through, the end result is she didn’t want to fulfill my request at all. It came off as “we do it my way or we don’t do it at all.” My request was just as wanting as her request. No demands were made. It was just a conversation. It’s kind of insulting that she simply would not.

For example, say you said to someone, “Could we grab lunch and talk about these new job opportunities I’m interested in? I think you’d be a big help and I’d love to get a referral from you.” You say, “Sure, but your current boss is someone I’d really like to get to meet and was wondering if we could talk about what’s going on at your company and what possible opportunities there might be for my business.”

What would you say to that? Would you say, “No, I can’t do that. I don’t have that type of access”? No, because only a self-centered jerk would say that. You would be happy to help out because they would be fulfilling your request. It’s how humans treat each other.

Stop blowing people off

Unless you landed in America yesterday, we all know the line “I’d love to help you if I could” is what we say to people when we don’t want to help or we’re too lazy to help. All I asked for was a mutually beneficial conversation. How difficult is that? There’s no obligation attached to my request. I didn’t ask her to make me a preferred vendor and sign a six-year contract.

All I asked was that I could open up a dialogue again to explore the possibility of working with the company as a brand journalism firm.

I don’t know what she read into my request because she responded with “I can’t offer you the type of insight or access to the COMPANY X team that you’re looking for.” Just say to your client, he’s happy to talk with you, but he’s also going to be inquiring about opportunities at our company as well. That’s it. What more do you need to do?

The last line though is the kicker: “I will keep you in mind if there is an opportunity for us to work together in the future.” Of course you won’t. Because for us to work together we’re going to have to build a relationship first, and that starts with a conversation, a mutually beneficial conversation, and you’ve made it very clear that you don’t want to do that.

PR firms are usually very helpful

If someone at that PR firm wants to help me, they will help me. In fact, that’s always been the case with PR firms for which I do have conversations with and do have relationships with. We actually have mutually beneficial conversations all the time. It’s the way the world revolves. We all help each other out.

More on social behavior…

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Creative Commons photo attributions to GDL studio, Search Engine People Blog, amslerPIX, and Johnny Grim.


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