A Chicago media personality today told me that my pitch on behalf of a client was “self-promotional” and so, if they were guests on a segment, it would be a “free commercial.”

At first, I thought about replying snarky-style: “Isn’t that the whole idea behind public relations?”

However, that’s not the whole idea. It’s a happy byproduct of offering up legitimate news. So instead, here is an excerpt from my response:

“Yes, there’s no doubt this could represent a ‘free commercial,’ though I strive to deliver relevance and insight too—something that provides value to your listeners.

I believe strongly that knowing this option of getting through a traumatic patch in folks’ lives would be a huge service to your audience. The thing that makes them great sources is the very same thing that makes it inherently self-promotional…I don’t know any way around that. If you do, and I mean this sincerely, then please let me know.”

I respect this individual a great deal. He has always been thoughtful and responsive toward me, and a well-prepared, engaging pro in his on-air interviews.

So, at this point, three questions come to mind:

Will my reply sway him to the point that he books my client?

Probably not.

While, yes, that would be a nice immediate result of my follow-up, the bigger picture is that I wanted to articulate where I am coming from overall. Specifically, I want him to know that I am not thinking only of my clients when I make pitches.

Instead, it’s vital to my reputation that he knows I am seeking to be a matchmaker with those in the media who have a good chance of actually being interested in a given pitch.

Could my reply have a chilling effect on future pitches I make?

Only if he sees me as argumentative, pushy and unprofessional–and I think he’s much too bright and thick-skinned for that.

It’s essential to come from a place where I know my value, and the value of my clients. There is no needy, hat-in-hand beseeching of media to please, please give us coverage.

What can I do differently in the future to avoid the Scarlet Letter of being labeled ‘self-promotional’?

If it seems especially over-the-top in its promotional content, either scale back those portions or pre-emptively acknowledge that the news release or pitch could well be seen as self-promotional–and then convey how those considerations are overshadowed by its genuine news value.

For the most part, though, there’s little that I would have done differently in this instance. And that includes my reply after being chided for the so-called self-promotion.

There are simply times where the publicist needs to stick up for the client and stick up for the story.

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