In reporting my coming tome on hydrogen for which I interviewed auto makers, industrial gas suppliers, government officials and energy companies, I discovered another layer of PR people — screeners who interviewed me before I even got to speak with a PR person. Sheesh! I thought I was the one asking questions.
I finally heard from a spokesman at Exxon Mobil this morning. That’s after four e-mails and a couple of phone calls over 13 days from an "administrative assistant for upstream public affairs." She has promised several times a PR person presumably who knows something about the world largest oil company’s hydrogen effort. I don’t fault her because she’s only as good as the person following up on her requests. The actual PR person and I just connected and he attributed his slow response to traveling. He was apologetic and he did have the answers I needed.
I have always said the hardest thing about my job as a writer is tracking down the people I need to interview.
Hyundai which has built FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) doesn’t even list media contacts or even a media line on its web site. So I found a general 800 line and called it. I might as well have been calling an airline clerk in India to track down lost baggage in Detroit. I called 3-4 days ago and no one has called back (update: a PR person got back to me three hours after this is was first posted. Within 30 minutes, she had lined up the engineer Hyundai managing fuel cell vehicles). Still waiting on ConocoPhillips.
I have had great success with others: BMW’s VP of engineering in N. America got back to me within hours thanks to a proactive PR person. Air Products was slow initially, but turned around an interview within hours once I connected with its PR person. Shell Hydrogen was good at first, but faded as I found the PR guy was out sick. We have since reconnected. GM was horribly slow at first, but was great once we connected and arranged to have me drive their FCV.
Companies might blame their slow responses on traveling, being swamped with interview and media requests or whatever. It never looks good. I guess the slow and non responders don’t care much that Design News goes to 170,000 engineers in print and many more than that online. If I was PR person, I certainly would.