Saturday, June 11, 2011

PR firms, time commitments, and maximizing returns

Recently, I received a message from the PR firm that handles Ford Motor Company and who helped arrange a previous interview for me with Ford's Vice President of Manufacturing informing me that they also work with Coca-Cola. They wanted to know if I'd be interested in covering Northeast Coca-Cola's involvement in the NRRA's 30th Annual Recycling Conference and Expo in Manchester, NH. They would be featuring the plant-based PET bottle now being used for Dasani water.

While I didn't think this had the broad appeal to warrant use in my highest paying beat which is simply "newsworthy interviews," I did think it was relevant to both my New England Regional News and my Environmental Issues beats with the Yahoo! Contributor Network, and for my Manchester Green Living Examiner title.

I saw several article angles that I could write up and the PR firm offered to set-up interviews with both the event's executive organizer and the general manager of Northeast Coca-Cola. I was particularly interested in learning about the PlantBottle technology which uses plants to make 30 percent of the plastic in the bottles used for Dasani Water. However, whenever dealing with a company representative, a writer has to be sure they are not just receiving one side of the story, and has to do a a little extra fact-checking to keep them honest. So, instead of the usual Q&A format, I incorporated a "fact check" paragraph after a couple of the answers I received clarifying or correcting information fed to me by the Coke reps. (Read the PlantBottle technology article here.)

Another interesting side note of this is that I actually went to the conference with a press pass provided by the event organizers and had the opportunity to not only interview the organizer and the Coke people directly at the show, but I walked the floor and picked up several serendipitous interviews with other vendors presenting at the expo. I'll be using these in future articles. I also noted that on the day I attended area schools were invited to attend the show, and awards were being given out to the top recycling schools, student, and staff. That seemed like a good local interest story, as well, so I wrote that up using a couple of relevant quotes from my much longer interview with the event's organizer and a list of award recipient's they provided to me under embargo terms (just until after the actual presentation so the winners would not read of their victories before they were announced). (Read the school awards announcement article here.)

In the end, this call from a PR firm will probably yield me six or more articles, maybe more, although not all of them will go up immediately as some are time independent. I spent about two hours driving to and from the event (recording mileage total as a business expense for tax purposes), about two and a half hours at the conference, and about 2-3 hours researching the NRRA and the Brazilian sugarcane industry, plus writing time.

For one article, even under the Interviews beat at Y!CN, it would have been hard to justify that amount of time investment, but for 6 most of which will go to Y!CN beats with good guaranteed upfront payments in addition to page view royalties, the math works better. The key here was keeping my eyes open for additional story opportunities. I also wanted to get some journalistic practice in covering live events and trolling crowds for interviews, so that figured into my equation as well.


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