In-Depth Coverage: Hacks with Benefits

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Businessman and woman smiling at each other in officeI am now single again, after more than a decade of marriage, and am realizing the benefits of being a single gal publicist in a tech PR world (the majority of these reporters being men). After all these of years of marital life, I had forgotten how much easier it is to pitch a story with a hint of flirtation in your voice. But do you let those flirtations go any further?

When I first began doing public relations, I was not at all comfortable on the phone pitching. Those were the days before email. We would fax out releases and were expected to follow-up every fax with a call. Those first stiff, wooden calls would be painful to listen to now. With time, I got better at the pitching and was soon very comfortable, so comfy that I let down my guard and even flirted.

But here’s the funny thing. I wasn’t always flirting. Most of the time, I was just pitching but it didn’t always come across that way. Once, I managed to score a lunch with a reporter from Rolling Stone, only to realize later that he may have been confusing our working lunch with a date. (I knew my client’s product wasn’t that great, but I guess I overestimated my pitching skills.) While that was a bit awkward, I did continue to call and pitch him products after we met for lunch. I never did act on his lunch flirtations so it wasn’t as awkward as it could have been. He never did write about that client and I’m not sure I ever did get a hit with him, however, we both kept our reputations intact.

Another time, I developed a full-on, reciprocal phone flirtation with a reporter. He worked at CMP’s ComputerLife magazine (now defunct). At the time, ComputerLife was both in print and online on America Online. The great thing about that, is that his column had a photo so I even knew what he looked like. I pitched and flirted with him for months, scoring several hits for clients when we decided to actually meet. He lived in San Francisco and I am based in Los Angeles but I decided to take the leap and fly up for the weekend (a risky proposition because if you don’t get along, you’re stuck there for 2 days). While it wasn’t a Love Connection, we still both had a decent weekend and decided to go back to a business relationship. Luckily, we were both adult enough to handle it respectfully afterward and we both continued to work together well.

So, would I advocate this move for everyone? Well, I have heard of some publicists marrying reporters that they have met on the job. And I have also heard horror stories of situations going bad. I think it probably depends on the two people involved. Also, if you are planning on going further than flirtation, you probably want to discuss the possibility of it not working out with the person beforehand. Discuss how you might handle things if one or the other does not want to continue the relationship. I am not embarrassed easily so I could handle it when things didn’t work out.

One last thing, I don’t advocate selling yourself just to get a story. There’s another word for that and it ain’t publicist.

What do you think? Is it okay to flirt with or date reporters that you are pitching?

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  • monfineis

    Hi Tracy,

    Thanks for posting the reality of topic that really affects women in the field. I'm a young woman in PR and have often wondered how to deal with this. Most people might be quick to say “that's unethical!” but let's be honest, flirting happens, and I've found it's usually the journos and reporters initiating it.

    I've been teased by co-workers for “flirting” with clients over the phone when I honestly believe that I'm being professional–personable, but professional. I have personality, maybe some think that's flirting.

    I think as long as women are doing their job, and not trying to abuse flirtations, there's nothing wrong with a friendly lunch or having drinks. It's our job to build relationships. I don't think men in PR would catch flack for the same thing.

  • laurenfernandez

    Some women are just natural flirts. They have gregarious personalities, always smiling and always lean in when people talk – because they are just that interested.

    Is that bad? Not at all. In the tech world, they still use 'models' at tradeshows, so why not make someone feel comfortable? If that's how you talk, you can't conform because pitching will come across as stiff. If they try to take it further, set up boundaries.

    Lunch and drinks are your personal choice – if you feel you can be ethical about it, then sure. If not, you have to be really careful about blurring the line.

  • tracybb

    I completely agree! (Obviously from my post.) But, I think you do have to be careful about it too. I've been doing PR for 15 and in all that time, I've only dated that one reporter in the story. Make sure it's something that you really wanto to pursue or you could wind up with a reputation, among journalists (they talk) and within your office.

  • laurenfernandez

    Definitely – hence the boundaries. Another obstacle is if you date someone before they become a reporter, then you break up and they start a job at the NYT – and you pitch them one day unknowingly. Happened to me.

    It's a blurred line and really comes down to personal choice – and what you can handle. Do I think I would ever do it? Probably not.

  • tracybb

    It's all about adapting to the style of the journalist you're pitching. If I'm pitching a curmudgeon, that brings out that side out in me. But let's face it, you get more flirts on the phone than curmudgeons. At least a little bit more.

  • monfineis

    Hi Tracy,

    Thanks for posting the reality of topic that really affects women in the field. I'm a young woman in PR and have often wondered how to deal with this. Most people might be quick to say “that's unethical!” but let's be honest, flirting happens, and I've found it's usually the journos and reporters initiating it.

    I've been teased by co-workers for “flirting” with clients over the phone when I honestly believe that I'm being professional–personable, but professional. I have personality, maybe some think that's flirting.

    I think as long as women are doing their job, and not trying to abuse flirtations, there's nothing wrong with a friendly lunch or having drinks. It's our job to build relationships. I don't think men in PR would catch flack for the same thing.

  • laurenfernandez

    Some women are just natural flirts. They have gregarious personalities, always smiling and always lean in when people talk – because they are just that interested.

    Is that bad? Not at all. In the tech world, they still use 'models' at tradeshows, so why not make someone feel comfortable? If that's how you talk, you can't conform because pitching will come across as stiff. If they try to take it further, set up boundaries.

    Lunch and drinks are your personal choice – if you feel you can be ethical about it, then sure. If not, you have to be really careful about blurring the line.

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  • tracybb

    I completely agree! (Obviously from my post.) But, I think you do have to be careful about it too. I've been doing PR for 15 and in all that time, I've only dated that one reporter in the story. Make sure it's something that you really wanto to pursue or you could wind up with a reputation, among journalists (they talk) and within your office.

  • laurenfernandez

    Definitely – hence the boundaries. Another obstacle is if you date someone before they become a reporter, then you break up and they start a job at the NYT – and you pitch them one day unknowingly. Happened to me.

    It's a blurred line and really comes down to personal choice – and what you can handle. Do I think I would ever do it? Probably not.

  • tracybb

    It's all about adapting to the style of the journalist you're pitching. If I'm pitching a curmudgeon, that brings out that side out in me. But let's face it, you get more flirts on the phone than curmudgeons. At least a little bit more.