Customer service: Seven helpful lessons for when your customer is the media

When you are a public relations professional, or doing public relations for your small business, the consumer you’re selling to is the media. Will they buy into your story? Your odds of success increase when you provide them with good customer service.

I had an interesting set of experiences this summer. I’ve been a public relations practitioner for years, and I was a working reporter at times before that. The Westfield News Group, producer of daily and weekly newspapers (and a website) in Western Massachusetts asked me to step on board as an arts columnist and theatre reviewer. Free tickets to shows I wanted to see? Fabulous incentive for me to rejoin the working press.

I wondered, as I began my new assignment (while running my public relations company), whether the industry had changed in the 15 years since I’d worked a beat. I also wondered if what I advised my clients about public relations, and what I teach students in a seminar, still held true.

Wow, times have changed. Enter social media, the downsizing of newsrooms, and the rise of public relations people who don’t understand the meaning of “relations” and “relationships.” It was definitely time for me to revise my opinions and modus operandi.

So, here are a few of my take-away lessons from my summer:

1. Nowadays, many media folks are covering more than one beat or they’re part-timers. They’re overstretched and overworked. Provide them the information on your product or event with plenty of advance time. Email is best, so they don’t have to scan. Include your photos as an attachment in JPEG format. Include captions.

2. Meet a media deadline. If you’re looking for feature coverage, it won’t happen when you do your pitch the day before an event.

3. Keep the press release to one page. Get the “who, what, when, where, how” into your lead paragraph. Make sure the subject line in the email says “Press Release” and includes the event and the date. Example: “Media Release: The Capitol Steps perform “Fiscal Shades of Gray” November 30 at Sanders, Cambridge, MA.”

4. When doing a follow-up call, one call is sufficient from one person in your company. I heard a horror story this summer. A party was pitching a story to a radio host. The publicist did the pitch and the host had begun preparing a feature. The client did a follow-up call begging for coverage. The host was angered. The client will not get a feature from that venue again.

5. Be available to the media during off-hours: that means evenings and weekends. That’s part of the job. Provide a cell phone number; check emails. If you don’t respond, the media may not be able to do the story. And, because some reporters are freelancers, they may not be able to confine their work to normal business hours.

6. If you can’t provide information, be up front about it and apologize for your inability to provide. Stalling and “beating around the bush” is very apparent and will ruin your credibility.

7. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way towards forging a good relationship with the media. Manners are never forgotten. Compliments (sincere ones) are remembered.
My best take-away of the summer happened when a couple of my public relations pals and

I were catching up over an iced-coffee. One said, “I’ve finally been able to explain the difference between marketing and public relations for my clients.” His (and now my) new mantra: “Marketing is you telling people that you’re good. Public relations is when someone else says you’re good.”

P.S. To all those public relations people who had to work with me this summer, as I wore a reporter’s hat and accessorized with pen and pad: thanks for putting your best feet forward. I hope I was not the nightmare reporter your teachers told you to fear.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.


  1. A lot of excellent points and things have changed. Everything is bang bang right away anymore. I liked the point about being careful when making follow-up calls, make sure it is just one person. Knowing social media seems to be the key today to just about everything and keeping up with it might seem like a burden, but it is important.

  2. NomenCraft says:

    Very good information. It's all about who you need to tell (the audience) and who you need to thank.

  3. Its really a disaster very good to have some view from it, would be so far better to have more of that kind.

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