Ten PR sins

Ten ‘kill the story dead’ PR sins…

As journalists, we receive many pitches from PRs – some are truly excellent. They are well written, well researched and they are rewarded by lots of publicity in multiple outlets. Others we contact for case studies and they are extremely professional, checking requirements and pointing out any difficulties. Ten PR sins But unfortunately some PR efforts leave a lot to be desired. Whether you are a professional public relations expert or are simply doing some DIY for you local charity, or even for yourself, avoid these ten deadly PR sins…

Not being realistic

It’s easy to be full of enthusiasm for a project. Maybe you’re delighted to have won that company’s business or are thrilled a local charity has nominated you to gain them publicity. But keep your feet on the ground. Don’t make rash promises about being able to gain massive publicity – it might be much harder than you think.

Leading clients on

Following on from being realistic, far too many PRs fail to tell clients that what they are asking for is unlikely to be possible. Often it’s because they are too frightened to tell a client the truth. For example we regularly get emails from PRs asking for one particular paper or magazine or stipulating unreasonable information such as a website or phone number must be included in any article (when that company should just be happy to gain a mention in an editorial feature…) The worse thing is that PR knows – and will even admit to us – that their client’s wish list is unreasonable. As the expert, what they should have done in the first place was to be honest with the client and ensure they are more flexible.

Being forgetful that it has already been published

Be honest to journalists as well. If you have sent the pitch to others, say. If other journalists have already tried to place the piece and failed, let that person know straightaway. Then if they ask what publicity your client has had, tell them and double check. Do not let the journalist or editor find an article in the Daily Mail from six months ago and then say, ‘Oh, I forgot about that one’ or ‘I didn’t think that one mattered.’ It will matter (it makes them look foolish to put up a story that has already been covered) and it will make that journalist feel they can’t trust what you tell them in future.

Failing to check your facts

It never ceases to amaze us how many PRs do not check basic information. Recently two PRs have contacted us saying they have incredible stories. These incredible stories centred around various case studies (people with stories to tell to a magazine or newspaper). We were interested and duly emailed back. Several emails later it turned out on both occasions that the interviewees they had in mind did not actually want to do any publicity at all and unbelievably the PRs hadn’t thought to ask until we had expressed interest. It might be they didn’t want to ask the interviewee until there was interest – but the unfortunately you have then wasted the time of a professional journalist. Worse, if you have pitched this idea to a publication, editors might have met to discuss the story before commissioning it only to find it was a pointless exercise. Other times, stories and interviewees turn out to be not as billed. It might seem obvious, but don’t become the sort of PR who becomes known by editors as a time waster…

Approaching a publication with little preparation

If you are going to try to place an interviewee with a publication or journalist, you will need to do your homework. Ask the interviewee you have in mind basic questions and get photos of them. For example, if you are doing the PR for a cosmetic company, you will need before and after photos to show any editor. Surprisingly, this is an obvious detail that some PRs actually don’t think about.

Forgetting journalists are interested in the story rather than the product.

If you are doing the PR for a new product, then naturally you should know all about your product. But journalists (and therefore readers) will not want to be baffled with science. Recently we had a PR company come to us to gain some publicity about a youth serum. But when we asked for a case study – if he could find someone who’d used this to talk about their experience – instead he sent a detailed analysis about what was in it. Needless to say it involved a baffling array of chemical ingredients – but he believed this was enough. It is not – stories need the human element to make them interesting.

Going along with a client’s campaign idea that won’t work

If you are doing the PR for a client, do not let yourself be talked into a lame idea. Or if they insist upon it, get it in writing that you don’t feel it will work. Remember, if you are hoping to gain national publicity, then you must run a campaign worthy of it. It needs to have an eye-catching headline, any surveys need to be insightful (and not something that’s been done dozens of times before). Your campaign needs to be backed up by facts or research, with quotes from real experts and case studies. But if it has been done before or is not likely to reveal anything sensational or even remotely interesting, it is pointless to pursue it.

Not writing a full-enough press release

Lack of detail, lack of quotes from anyone, no photo to be used, and amazingly even a lack of any website or contact details – we see them all. But it’s a waste of money to send out a press release unless it is spot-on, has something to say and will therefore actually be printed somewhere. And it has all the proper contact details and links with it…

Not giving enough notice of an event

We often get press releases about something due to happen later today or tomorrow – barely enough time to action anything. Alternatively, a press release is sent out weeks before so it is easily forgotten or becomes old news before it has even happened.

Not using all mediums

No PR should focus on any one medium – such as Twitter, Facebook or the mainstream press. To gain the best coverage, campaigns must be used throughout all mediums – including blogs.

Finally… a word on ’embargos’

Do not use them. Unless you are Clarence House, there is no reason in the world for any embargos. It is asking too much for any busy paper, mag or journalist to remember to put your story on a website or for print on a certain day after a particular time. Simply send your press release out or your photo call out (at preferably a quiet news time) and let editors decide for themselves when it should be published.

Read more: Why the journalist deleted your press release

Do you have any ‘what not to do as a PR’ to add to our list? Let us know below..

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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