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15 savage mistakes made by PR folksAfter reading about the Brody PR fail I thought I’d compile a list of common issues experienced by journalists when dealing with PR people.

A good PR makes things easy for journalists. They coordinate things behind the scenes. They follow up promptly on requests for further information or interviews. The understand the subject matter and how the journalist / publication plays a part in communicating news to a wider audience. And they do not try to pull the wool of your eyes.

A bad PR can be ill-informed, demanding, haughty, deceptive, intrusive, and sometimes plain idiotic.

So if you work in PR and want to improve your game then try to avoid any of the following. Any of these things will harm your personal reputation, and damage the chances of gaining coverage for your client.

BCC fail
This is an all-too-common scenario, and it’s not limited to junior PRs. Instead of using the BCC field when emailing a group of journalists / bloggers, the PR uses the CC field. As such you have revealed your media list to all recipients, and completely ignored privacy regulations. Sometimes journalists are so outraged that they Reply All, which only helps dig a deeper hole for the unfortunate PR.

Totally irrelevant content
Sending me a press release about semi-conductors isn’t going to cut it. We’re not into that kind of technology, and a few minutes checking out our blog would reveal as much. Over the years I’ve had releases relating to agriculture and pharmaceutical, neither of which remotely appeals...

No understanding about audience
An understanding of audience is crucial, before you start pitching to journalists. In our case, many of our members / readers have been with us for years. Some were working in the internet in the late-1990s, when we first launched our website. These people are not juniors! In our case we’re unlikely to teach people how to suck eggs. So emailing us ‘Why email matters!’ press releases isn't really going to grab our attention (nor that of our readers).

Impersonal emails
“Dear journalist.” FAIL! If in doubt, leave it out. Just push out the press release. Better still, open up with a paragraph, to explain the news in a sentence or two, and to introduce yourself if you’re new. It’s not rocket science to automate the personalisation of email, but I suggest a hand-written sentence or two to ‘tier one’ media for the best results.

PDFs / attachments
Why anybody emails press releases in PDF or Word format is totally beyond me. Answers on a postcard please. It is best to paste the press release into the body of the email. Make it easy for journalists to read them.

Weird formatting
The best example recently came from Lady Ga-Ga’s PR. Not content with telling me all about The Ga Ga, she decided to use five different colours in the email, as this rubbish photograph will show:
Lady Ga Ga PR email fail

“Feel free”
You bastards know who you are. I absolutely loathe this phrase. “Feel free to add this to your blog!", "Feel free to post this video!", "Feel free to promote our viral!” I have previously complained at length about this horrible, throwaway phrase. It sucks.

“Let me know if you post something!”
Are you kidding me? If you’re not into online reputation monitoring then you’re not much of a PR are you? Feeds, feeds, feeds. It is easier than ever to monitor your clients, brands and competitors online, so get to it! Do not expect journalists to tell you… they expect you to be tuned in, given that you reached out to them in the first place.

Lack of a decent response channel
Some of the bigger internet firms have a bad habit of pushing out news but having no real desire to develop a two-way communication. Be prepared for questions, if you email press releases to journalists. Make it easy for them to get in touch with you (and your executives). If your executives don’t want to talk about it then we can assume it’s no big deal.

Poor service
If you offer me an interview and the journalist accepts, then be sure to make it happen. We have somewhere between 30 and 50 interview requests in an average week, and we obviously can’t do them all. So whenever we agree to an interview let's make things happen.

Big Brother-style lurking
If you decide to sit in on conference calls or interviews then please remember who the journalist is trying to interview (clue: it isn’t you). PRs who try to step in and deviate the course of the interview are playing with fire. Brief your clients beforehand and give them – and the journalist – the space to have a proper, uninterrupted conversation.

‘Exclusive!’
The first thing I do when something is pitched as an ‘exclusive’ is to copy and paste some part of the release into Google. If I see it then it’s game over, no matter how big your news is. There are plenty of other things to write about. In any case, exclusivity is overrated these days. For my money it is all about ‘scoops of interpretation’.

‘Embargoed’
Ditto. And if you allow other publications to break your embargo, then I'll assume you have agreed that in advance and make a mental note for next time. As such I’m with Michael Arrington on this one.

PRspeak overkill
Jargon is one thing, and sometimes cannot be avoided, but telling me that a company is ‘leading’ or a service is ‘world class’ or an application is ‘mission critical’ makes me instantly doubt the validity of these claims. And any release that includes the word 'synergies' is immediately in a lot of trouble. See my Econsultancy Style Guide for a longer list of these terms.

CAPS LOCK SUBJECT LINES!
Hey, you know what? WRITING SUBJECT LINES AND HEADLINES IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM ANY EASIER TO READ AND IT KINDA SOUNDS A BIT LIKE YOU ARE SHOUTING AT ME AND CAPS ARE SEEN TO BE A BIT SPAMMY IN THE EYES OF THE AVERAGE EMAIL CLIENT AND AS SUCH MAY BYPASS THE INBOX ENTIRELY WHEN REALLY YOU SHOULD BE DOING ALL YOU CAN TO MAXIMISE DELIVERABILITY RATES GIVEN THAT YOU ARE THEORETICALLY AN EXPERT IN COMMUNICATIONS. See what I mean about readability?

What did I miss? Leave a comment below...

[Image by walknboston via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 20 August, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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selinahowells

This is not a criticism of PR but if mass media is over which it seems to be, does that not make public relations redundant? Why will companies have  PR departments once communication is no longer through a mass media?

almost 7 years ago

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Zoe Porteous

I think it's still relevant today. As a journalist Chris writes blogposts, about things that are relevant and interesting to his readers. This doesn't change, there are a just a wider range of influencers with social media. You still need to offer relevant, targeted, personalised information be it in the form of a release or directly engaging with communities online.

almost 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

If anything PRs are going to be in increasingly in demand due to the fragmentation of media. Getting a message out there may appear easier in some ways, but it's surely harder to coordinate / measure.

There's a huge opportunity for PRs who quickly adapt. Those that do so will be well-placed to reap the rewards. Cutting out these basic errors and gaining new skills is going to be essential.

That said I feel that the worlds of PR, marketing, social media and customer services are fusing. The 'traditional PR' seems to now be a protected species... we've gone from three-hour boozy lunches with journalists (RIP), to blogger outreach, to theoretically trying to figure out who the top influencers are on any given social media platform. Where PR starts and ends in all of this is hard to say...

almost 7 years ago

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Patrice

A very relevant topic as of these days. Thanks for sharing and explaning them one by one. Great post.

almost 7 years ago

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Tim Otis

Hi Chris,

This is a great post to open up discussion on how valuable PR has portrayed itself to be over the years -- having mindless PR reps push out news. I think the new PRs are 'content drivers.' With the all theses social networks needing to have longevity, companies are now relying heavily upon PR people to drive the content on their blogs, Facebook Pages, and even Twitter updates-- though I'd argue Twitter's API is great for leveraging other networks' content, not static. 

And I'm with you. It really irks me how the most skilled PR people still don't know their media contacts well enough before pitching them. THAT is crucial in such varied and very noisy communications channels.

almost 7 years ago

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Bridget

I enjoyed this post very much, thank you for sharing your thoughts! Still, there are two sides to every story, eh? What about the '15 savage mistakes commonly made by journalists (or bloggers?)'?

; - )

Many thanks,

Bridget

almost 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Bridget,

I think I'd need at a list of at least 25 mistakes and a truth serum before opening up. In any case, perhaps PRs are best placed to shed light on that stuff? ;  )

c.

almost 7 years ago

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Bridget

Chris,

Thank you for responding to my comment. ; - )  It kind of made my morning.  Perhaps you are right, but as with any professional relationship, I think teamwork is key. Constructive criticism should be welcomed on both sides to gain a better understanding of each other and the similar work that ties us together.

Many thanks,

Bridget

almost 7 years ago

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Nancy Hendrickson

Chris - great post.  I've been on both sides of that PR fence, both pitching for my clients, and receiving pitches thanks to my listing in Bacon's as a freelance journalist.

On the pitch side, I tried to avoid ALL of the above mistakes (and more!) - but where I reached a frustration point was seeing how few bloggers realized their impact in their own field, AND how they treated PR folks as the enemy instead of someone to build a working relationship with. The bloggers who wrote about business topics were always the easiest to work with as they understood the nature of business :)

On the receiving pitches side, I have received pitches that fall into every one of the above categories.My pet peeve is receiving pitches that have absolutely nothing to do with the topics about which I write.

Thanks again for the great post.

Nancy

almost 7 years ago

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Stacey

Thanks for posting this. I'm sure there must be loads of things we do as journalists that annoy PR's and there are some great, really on the ball, PR's who are the first ones I will turn to when I need help.

But there are also a whole raft of PR's who really should go and do something else. Most of them seem to work for agencies (usually with ridiculous names) and my biggest bug bears are your points about irrelevance and not understanding the audience.

So I would add: Don't have a go at the journalist for doing their job. If a PR tells their client they can get what is essentially a nice bit of free advertising in a publication that doesn't write that sort of thing then it's their own fault, not the journalists, if the clients expectation of the editorial content aren't met.

One of our regular freelancers has a similar list of PR don't's on his website but this is one of my favourites:

Before responding to a synopsis on behalf of a client please have a clear idea - genuinely clear, please - of what exactly your client can offer that I couldn't get from someone else, or from my cat. Announcing that they are a top 20 law firm or chartered surveyors or God almighty himself is not *ever* a reason to be interested in what someone says.

almost 7 years ago

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Stephen Pritchard

I recall a PR pitching me for a Sunday newspaper. Her pitch was miles off, from the point of view of the tech column I was writing at the time.

Have you read my column recently, I asked. "We don't have that newspaper delivered in our office" was the best response she could come up with. I bit my tongue, smiled, and reminded her of the usefulness of the web.

Moral: read the journalist's most recent work, it really does help

Caveat: look for a new angle. If I wrote about CRM last week, I probably won't write a similar article next week, but can you throw the story forward in some way?

almost 7 years ago

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Jérôme

Hi Chris, I've stumbled accidently on this great post.

I'm the former PR-guy of the city hall of some french-speaking european principality on the mediterranean sea. And form this experience I can tell you there is a 16th mistake, certainly the most important one.

You have to to make sure your client (even if you're dealing with a council of 15) how the journalists and media work. Explain them that you can't call up people and yell at them because there was no coverage of the latest conference about how elderlies should feed themselves.

Explain them there is no sense in moving your whole staff because the yearly contest for kids takes place in another school.

Because when you're working for people who have no background on the media matters (and a high opinion of themselves moreover), you just can't expect them to understand your way of working... "How can we know to whom you've sent the mail if you BCC ?"

almost 7 years ago

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selina howells

Surely you don't engineer getting a message out there anymore and if you try then greater transparency and the fact we have real alternative voices on any topic means you get spotted. People don't listen to advertising anymore so why would anyone listen to a voice transcribing PR speak? Talking to PRs seems old media to me but may be I don't get social media. What is the point of a company having a PR to talk to media when to find a hotel to stay at I am going to consult other real people via user generated sites that I trust, or to decide what to buy I am going to watch user generated videos made by real people or read real blogs, not bloggers talking to PRs which is so obvious it's not the real? All the money companies were spending on PR should be put into making a better product which real people tell other real people about, but that's just my view.

almost 7 years ago

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Craig McGill

Chris, one of the reasons for people sending Word attachments is that I've seen - from both sides of the fence is that if you cut/paste the text from an email and put it into Word then the formatting can be all over the place. Sending it as a word attachment overcomes that.

almost 7 years ago

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David Burton

Re: Not sending word attachments:

I tend to use the 'both and' rather than 'either or' approach...

Paste and attach  - keeps everyone happy... Or just irritates the lot...

8-)

almost 7 years ago

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Faye Hawkins

Chris, I'm furious at the poor experience you've received at the hands of my industry. I'd be grateful for the opportunity to make amends.

Might I suggest a fully interactive, relevant, attachment free, unhyped, lower case and fully formatted PR lunch with Dominic Monkhouse, UK MD at PEER 1?

We'll show you how it's done.

Quo Vadis? Lunch? Drop me a line. Thanks, faye

almost 7 years ago

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Bobby Dazzler

er...rule number one of anything...

"there's no such thing as a free lunch?"

Chris, how about you prove me wrong!?!

almost 7 years ago

Adrie van der Luijt

Adrie van der Luijt, Editor at Smartlandlord.co.uk

I hate the use of the word 'leading' in press releases. And quoting spokespeople whose gender is not clear from the release.

almost 7 years ago

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Andrew Bruce Smith

Chris - I’d suggest that many of the issues you raise above are actually symptoms of deeper underlying challenges for PR firms - and indeed for the broader development of social media.

PR (in the narrow sense of media relations) and social media services don’t really scale - or rather, they can scale - but that requires people. People who have the time, training and experience to do the job properly - and which a client is prepared to pay for that makes it commercially viable for an agency to do so. In a number of places you refer to “a few minutes checking out our blog would reveal” or instances where “if more time were spent”, a better result would be achieved. I would argue that is precisely the point - the PR doesn’t have the time - or rather, the PR is not being paid to devote the time. Or the firm hasn’t got the money to fund training.   So what is the solution?

Should the PRs spend their own (unpaid) time to build the relationship, understand your audience better, etc (which should mean a better, more informed PR person). However, unless that non-revenue generating time can be some how recouped in the future, then that PR firm is going out of business. If you’ve ever read David Maister’s Managing The Professional Service Firm, you’ll see this is a classic example of a misalignment of expertise, experience and execution. PR firms claim they can provide a higher value expertise and experience based solution, but then end up pushing the actual work down to less experienced juniors. Result? Poor quality work - either through inexperience or corner cutting.

Or is it the client’s fault? ie, if they spent more money, that would pay for more time, a better PR person, a better result, happy journalist, improved ROI - joy all around!!

Or is it the PR industry’s fault for not educating clients more fully as to why a greater investment will deliver a better return? Or not being able to properly justify why a greater initial investment will reap a longer term reward?

In short, many of the issues you raise are as a result of fear - or laziness - or both. 

The items “feel free” and “”let me know if you post something” are probably driven by the fact there isn’t enough money involved - ie the client isn’t prepared to pay for appropriate monitoring - or the PR firm foolishly quoted a low cost price to win the business - and is now trying to protect it’s margin by attempting to get the journalist to pick up the slack for free. Alternatively, they are just being naively or knowingly stupid.

Big brother style lurking: do you know why PRs often interrupt interviews? Because they need to show to the client that they are adding some value. If the PR simply sits there and takes notes, the client may well ask: “why am I paying £50 - 100 per hour for this person’s time? I could just as easily record the conversation myself for a few pence."  PRs interjecting is usually a sign they want to show the client they can “direct the conversation” (ie if I weren’t there, you wouldn’t have got your message across so clearly - or I saved your from putting your foot in it - I’m worth the hourly rate I’m charging you).  Having been in the PR business 20+ years, I can honestly say that unless you have a client spokesperson who needs serious handholding, there is rarely a real need to have a (paid for) PR present in an interview. Interviews can be recorded much more cheaply. And more accurately.

I could go on. But again, I’d suggest you’ll find that money is at the bottom of most of these issues. In straightened times, clients want much more for less - PR firms are often just saying “yes” in order to win the business - and then have less money to spend on proper training, less time to allow their people to do a better job - and resulting in most if not all of the points you raise above.


almost 7 years ago

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Kathleen

I've worked both sides of a press release (in news and in PR) and, while I nodded aggressively at many of the sins identified on this list, some of them seem like water-cooler grousing. For example: does the use of the words "feel free" really sink your release? No.It annoys the person who wrote this list (me too), but any news gatherer worth his/her salt will not overlook compelling content because it contains a few over-used (even meaningless) terms. And if you excise the "feel free" term that so irks this one writer, you are bound to insert another cliche (annoying to another PR "professional") somewhere else in your piece.

What to do?

Write it tight and bright. Skip the proprietary jargon and the buzzword bingo. Compelling writing is still the number one reason people read past the first paragraph of ANYTHING. It's still the number one rule.

And, based on experience, I would not be so quick to dismiss the benefits of attaching a (word) file AND pasting your release directly into your email. As a features reporter, I loved getting both, and here's why:

The easiest way for a reporter to cut, paste, and edit your release (for use in his/her preferred platform) is to take it from an attached MSWOrd (or similar) file (not a PDF). However, there are some media outlets that will not allow reporters/bloggers/producers to open attachments. For them, it's best to paste the information directly into the email. (They'll end up having to reformat, change the fonts, and remove  coding -- a real pain.)

almost 7 years ago

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Beth Brody

Hi Chris,

I have included a link to your post on my new blog, http://brodypr.blogspot.com/ because I think you've got some valuable tips that others can benefit from. This is my first foray into blogging and I'd appreciate your feedback.

Beth Brody

almost 7 years ago

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Rich Trenholm

Invitations to launches/events that are fancy JPEGs -- but the details aren't repeated in text form so you can't view it on your phone, or copy and paste into your calendar. Drives me nuts.

Also saying things are "innovative" and "unique" when they blatantly aren't

almost 7 years ago

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Phil R

Well, I think the fluffy PR brigade is on its way out. The social media/blog/ forum side of online allows for mass interaction and dissemination of quality, realtime content.

I am not saying there is not a place for the serious PR professional (some might say this is an oxymoron but I am not one of them), as  was pointed out - content is key now more than ever. It will however, starkly separate the wheat from the chaff (or is that chavs?).

almost 7 years ago

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Edie

It is ultimate list :) I work in the Czech Republic with these PR people (articles), almost every article contains some of the mistakes which you have mentioned.

almost 7 years ago

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torrent search engine

I thank you heartily for an informative post, which turned out to be very cognitive for me as well. Though it is strictly and severely prohibited to publicize such information, I'm running big risks so as to tell you that I'm working in this sphere and I'm satisfied with it. One of the first things to learn about press relations is there are two types of PR folks: internal and external. Some companies, usually those who are very large, very popular, or just well established have both types of PR, like Oracle, Microsoft and F5. Internal PR folks are employees of the company. They manage the relationship between you and corporate/product management, write the press releases you receive, approve interviews, and generally manage all press relations.

over 6 years ago

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Paul Rayment

I think the emphasis on some of these mistakes need to be taken away from the bottom rung PR exec. I've known plenty of senior people who don't care how relevant a release is and just want their staff to use the 'spray and pray' method followed by the god awful ring-rounds.

Unfortunately it usually ends up being a case of shoot the messenger. 

over 5 years ago

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jntu online bits

thank you It is ultimate list :) I work in the Czech Republic with these PR people (articles), almost every article contains some of the mistakes which you have mentioned.
admin

over 4 years ago

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