When Good PR…Goes Bad

Posted by on October 8, 2010 in Marketing, Public Relations, Work |

Originally published on Zenwerks.com

Public relations is often one of the most overused phrases and least understood components of marketing and communications efforts within companies. There are still executives who believe it’s possible to “just go out there and get us some good PR” – as if it were that simple. Those in the profession know that building strong and effective public relations programs is not simply an overnight step.

There is even disagreement about what “Public Relations” really means – and all it encompasses. But for the sake of this post, we’re using PR interchangeably with media relations.

As is the case with so much in the business world, the role and impact of public relations has rapidly changed – especially the past 10-15 years. As recently as the late 1990s, companies (and PR agencies) could neatly segment media into clean buckets such as Local newspapers, National newspapers/magazines, Business magazines, Trade magazines, TV and Radio broadcast. Today? Well, most print publications are struggling (or disappearing). A huge percentage of the population now consumes news and information online (and increasingly via mobile devices). There are infinitely more media channels today – from increased cable channels to topic-specific blogs and podcasts.

So there is still a role for public relations – but the days of a successful product launch determined by a headline in the local newspaper is long gone. Now, more than ever, public relations needs to be an ongoing process and investment by companies. It takes time and knowledge to research the best channels (and contacts) for any given topic.

Obviously we are strong proponents of companies incorporating public and media relations programs into their ongoing marketing and communications efforts. Whether you try to handle it in-house (and if you do so, please hire a professional who has experience in the field – don’t treat it as something an intern or receptionist can handle) or hire a freelancer or firm, you want to make sure you follow best practices.

And so it’s in this spirit that we share the following from the good people at AllBusiness.com – who identified 10 no-no’s when it comes to public relations. Below, we look at the first 5. We’ll tackle the remaining 5 next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

1. Bad timing. PR folks are often “of the moment” types who have an unerring capacity to do two things: realize before anyone else that something is hot and trendy right now; neglect the fact that PR campaigns take time to bake, serve and eat. Be aware that campaigns take time – sometimes months. You don’t have to be precisely on the money; but if your timing is wildly off the mark, then your PR will stand out for all the wrong reasons (if it stands out at all).

2. Using jargon. You know what saturates tertiary markets more than a core value proposition that isn’t segmented with the right vertical and is offering the wrong brand candy? Jargon. Jargon is evil. Don’t use it in your PR campaigns. If you must, use it when you’re talking with peers, or just want your kids to think you’re a Really Intelligent Person. But keep it as far away from your campaigns as possible (your saturated tertiary markets will thank you).

3. Writing bad press releases. Thanks to the Internet, there are more awful examples of press releases to emulate than ever before. Don’t be the next victim creating a press release that is little more than a bloated infomercial (“But wait, there’s more!”). Remember: your press release shouldn’t be designed only for your target audience. It should also be ready-to-eat by the media types who will disseminate it. Make their job easy. Write a good release. Describe the what, who, when, how and why. Make it newsworthy.

4. Being unprepared. A lot of PR campaigns are tripped up not by the campaign itself, but by the brutally bad follow-up that stems from lack of preparation. Remember: a key goal of your PR campaign is to have strangers call you up and ask questions. And you can indeed always count on the kindness of strangers if you have the wisdom to be prepared with quality, clear answers to common questions. This doesn’t mean you should script yourself (“Hello your name here, thank you for your question”). But have something meaningful to say that will move towards closing the deal. If you aren’t a salesperson and don’t know how to do this…learn!

5. GOING OVERBOARD ON HYPE!!!! Hype is like sugar. It’s okay in appropriate doses. But if you go overboard, it makes you sick. Hype follows the same principle: if you go overboard, it makes your PR campaign sick. Remember, the mission of your campaign is to convey messages, facts, ideas and information. Hype can sometimes help, but it can’t replace the substance. Better yet, let your audience add their own hype, while you sit back and smile and feel the love.

Now, don’t feel singled out (or ashamed) if you’ve fallen victim to some, a few or even all of these PR pitfalls. It happens. But it doesn’t have to happen again if you remind yourself of what makes good PR go bad. We all learn from our (or others’) mistakes.

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