Understanding Internal and External PR

One of the first things to learn about press relations is there are two types of PR folks: internal and external. Some companies, usually those who are very large, very popular, or just well established have both types of PR, like Oracle, Microsoft, and F5.

Internal PR folks are employees of the company. They manage the relationship between you and corporate/product management, write the press releases you receive, approve interviews, and generally manage all press relations.

External PR folks are employed by a PR firm, and retained by a company to represent their interests in the press. These companies likely still have at least one internal PR person but probably have more, depending on their size. For example, Microsoft's PR firm of choice is Waggener-Edstrom (usually referred to as "WaggEd"), while IBM has used a variety of firms in the past, including Text100, but both have internal PR folks as well that work directly with the external firm to manage relationships with the press.

You'll find both kinds of PR folks doing the same kinds of things: pitching products, story ideas, customer use cases, etc... When an external PR firm is involved, they do the screening, as it were, and the pitches and discussions are started by them, but always approved ahead of time by internal PR. Think of external PR firms as an intermediary, or proxy, between you and the company.

If you're just starting out and the company has an external PR firm, it's likely you're going to be dealing with them for a while, until the internal folks are comfortable with you and your coverage and believes you are enough of a benefit to the company to be given a "direct line" to internal PR or even corporate/product management folks. If there's no external PR firm involved, you'll still be mediated by the internal PR folks, but you're a bit closer to "being inside" than you would be if an external PR firm is involved.

All PR Folks are Gatekeepers

PR folks are the people with whom you want to build relationships first. Remember that the operative word in PR is relations, i.e. relationships. They are the folks holding the keys to the kingdom, as it were. It is their perception of you that will ultimately determine whether you are "worthy" of peeking under the kimono, and it is their decision whether you are relevant or not because part of their job is to keep track of coverage - good and bad - of their company. External PR firms may not make the final decision, but they do have an impact on the opinion of their internal PR counterparts, so don't make the mistake of thinking just because they're "an external firm" that their opinion holds less weight.

Whether you know it or not, they're checking you out. They want to know what you've written, and what your viewpoints are(are you biased toward a particular company, do you hate/love the technology in their industry, etc...). They may even check around to see if other companies have dealt with you, and what their experience with you has been.

That's a good thing, by the way, as it helps the PR folks understand you. Don't be intimidated by finding out they keep notes on you, it means you're relevant, and relevance is cool.

How Do I Find PR Contacts?

If PR folks haven't found you yet, you can find them pretty easily on the company's web site. Most companies have a section of their site for media contacts, and almost all have a "news" section, where they post press releases. Press releases are your best friend for finding the right contacts. At the end of every press release should be information for the appropriate press relations contacts, including e-mail and phone numbers.

If you can't find them on the company's web site, find the corporate phone number and give them a call! Ask for the name and number of their press relations folks.

If you know someone at Company X, you can ask them directly for the contact information, but try not to abuse that relationship by asking for other corporate contact information. That's just not kosher, so save yourself the awkward silence and don't ask. Go through PR for this kind of contact. You can always ask for an interview or send questions via e-mail, and eventually you might be allowed to stroll around inside the castle, but you have to earn it, and to earn it you have to work at building the relationship and being worthy of that kind of trust.

Remember, very few journalists have direct access to corporate insiders, and those that do have taken years to reach that point and have done so by being relevant, by not misrepresenting the company's views (taking quotes out of context, for example), and by being honest and fair in your coverage and dealings with PR folks. They all started by talking to PR folks, internal and external.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither can your reputation as an industry "press" blogger.

Next up: Confidentiality 

Imbibing: Coffee