After 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.
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).
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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]