“The best way to do it [get better in PR] is to try and meet as many reporters as you can and learn about their lives. Forget about PR people,” says Ed Zitron. Photo: Ed Zitron / CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped, flipped and colour edited

The Brit who killed the importance of press releases answered questions on the popular social media site, Reddit, Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what PR expert, and former journalist, Ed Zitron had to say.

The full thread from Ed Zitron’s Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread is here, but if you just want the top 10 questions he answered and his responses, have a look below.

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QUESTION #1 from whut_a_tunt: I notice a lot of schools now offer a Public Relations major. What, if any, part of your job can be taught in a classroom?

Ed Zitron: PR classes are mostly useless. Why? Because they’re taught by people who don’t do PR anymore, or who aren’t good at PR. If they do PR, look up their website, check out their client list. Look at what they’ve worked on recently. I’d put money on the fact that if they have worked in PR in any recency, they’ve got a weird crappy website and bad clients. However this will not stop them garbage-vomiting all over their students.

[…] Their distance from the real world is ruining PR for thousands of new PR students. Who are already in the class for the wrong reasons anyway. They’re acting like PR is all big campaigns and fancy things, when it isn’t.

The lack of pitching education in PR is the dumbest, most backward thing. It’s like teaching people to play football and leaving out that the Quarterback can throw the ball, and how to do so.

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QUESTION #2 from swordgeek: PR has the reputation of being slightly sleazier than marketing. What do you do to justify your job’s value?

Ed Zitron: Marketing and PR are dangerously similar and hard to separate these days. And I ‘justify’ my job’s value by saying exactly what it is I do to each potential client, asking them what they want, and saying how much I’ll charge to work toward said goal (And I’m always up front that nothing is guaranteed, I am simply working based on what has happened in the past and my current knowledge).

Another thing that PR firms/consultants do that I don’t is long-term agreements. Not that they’re bad or anything. But month-to-month is easy enough to sustain if you do actual real work that they want. I find it really sleazy when people are locked into a 3 or 6 month retainer and month 2 it’s clear that they’re not getting it done.

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QUESTION #3 from marryjonn: What’s the best way to start building your PR background for upcoming graduates?

Ed Zitron: […] The best way to do it is to try and meet as many reporters as you can and learn about their lives. Forget about PR people. They are not your friend, they are not your buddy, they are not useful. Meet reporters. Ask them what they like to hear about. Learn their lives and their beats.

Then learn how to write out an idea in less than 100 words, with no buzzwords or garbage or marketing language.

Ta-da! You’re better than many people who have done this for years.

**– Ed Zitron

QUESTION #4 from AlienAJ: What advice would you give to a university student wanting to break into the Journalism field?

Ed Zitron: […] Journalism is just a tough field. For some reason lots of people think they are ‘writers’ because they have opinions and can put together a sentence. That doesn’t mean they’re good writers. […] That creates the ridiculous competition that makes it hard to rise about.

I would very much recommend you try and find a faculty member who actually worked in the media and get in with them, and ask them very bluntly ‘who do you know that would give me an internship.’ Even if it’s a small local newspaper – or better yet, a local TV station.

The best advice I can give when you’re in is prepare to work as hard as humanely possible and don’t expect to do flashy/impressive things. You will eventually get your shot, or your moment, to spring into something better. Don’t be a baby about what you’re doing. You start on the bottom and work your way up.

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QUESTION #5 from YOU_BROKE_IT: How do you think the PR industry will look like in the next 5 years?

Ed Zitron: Same as it does now. Only potentially more consultants, because the easier it is to communicate without physically being somewhere, the easier it is to create your own ‘agency.’ This also is dependent on how many more little startups get funding rounds – the more of those, the more sustainable PR firms, for better or worse.

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QUESTION #6 from YOU_BROKE_IT: What’s wrong with PR companies nowadays?

Ed Zitron: There are a lot of problems, mostly created through a distortion of reality on the client side, that stops them actually knowing what is useful and wanting to be impressed with ideas over actual execution.

In the end, it’s a lot to do with direct and indirect lies. That, and stupid egos. A lot of PR has become about convincing the client to pay you money over showing what you’ve worked on.

The “Trend story” and “angle”: This means that you can ‘pitch’ reporters ‘trend stories’ (IE: There are 4 of this kind of thing, thus write about my client) or ‘angles’ (IE: This has happened, thus write about my client). The former never works, the second sometimes but rarely works.[…]

The Form Pitch: “We’ll pitch you to 100 reporters” sounds really great, except it means that they’ll send out a canned message to 100 people using mail merge in word, something that’s probably not actually useful or interesting to a reporter. However, 100 is a big number! That’s impressive. Pay the man!

The Client Wants To Hear Something, Versus Wants Results: A great deal of corporate clients also want to ‘hear’ certain things – they want to see in a presentation things that make them think that you think they’re impressive, and want to hear that your ideas – the things you’ll send to the media – are impressive to them versus pragmatic and actually going to net results. The result – a bad firm gets hired because oh, they’re big, they had X client, they one time got someone on the today show, and they have ‘angles’ that sound ‘intelligent.’

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QUESTION #7 from saucydog2: How do you handle [it] when a client or media relationship goes bad?

Ed Zitron: Client relationships go bad when the client either has unrealistic expectations or you make a mistake. The former happens because you’ve oversold them or your boss has oversold them, and this is going to be bad no matter what you do.

The latter happens occasionally and the easiest way forward is through: Apologise, move on.

Angry

According to Ed Zitron, unexpected calls from PR agents will turn journalists hostile 99% of the time. Illustration photo: Ryan Hyde / CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped and colour edited

QUESTION #8 from Vnator: What has been the toughest challenge in your career?

Ed Zitron: Working my way out of the first year. It was so brutal, and honestly, PR is so badly lied-about. Seriously, people act like it’s so much fun and so easy and so joyous and so utterly ‘cool,’ but really it’s not. It’s drudgery and form-writing and getting people to talk to you who not only don’t want to talk to YOU but your entire industry. That’s specifically and generally the toughest part. Past that point, when I started my second job, it was a lot easier because I was given room to breathe.

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QUESTION #9 from kikiwas87: How would you recommend someone with a journalism background get into PR?

Ed Zitron: Well, ask yourself the reason you want to get into PR before you get into it. It’s not parties, it’s not events, and just because you’re a reporter it’s not going to be easy. I wrote a fairly long answer about this on Quora.

I’d really recommend you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. If it’s for the money, great, good going, focus on getting reporters to write things about your clients. If it’s for fame or to fill some hole inside you where you don’t feel important, don’t do it.

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QUESTION #10 from GrumpyHour: Any chance you can get everyone in the industry together and all agree to never use the word ‘innovative’ ever again?

Ed Zitron: You have no idea how much I could do that. I wrote about that on Inc a while ago – it’s this kind of language that makes people hate PR people.

It’s a problem that’s endemic of college mixed with anxiety. Everyone is so desperate to sound intelligent or cool or smart versus actually communicating a basic thing.

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