Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Avoid the Five Deadly PR Boo-Boos
In my on-going work as the editor of a mortgage banking publication (yeah, I don’t do full-time PR anymore), I receive a daily bombardment of press releases concerning a wide variety of issues, events and products. One might assume that these press releases are exclusive to the mortgage banking industry – after all, that’s the subject my magazine covers.
So imagine my surprise when I opened an e-mail from a PR agency and found the following text:
Can you see the connection between mortgage banking and Wooly Bully Wear? How in the world a publicist for a women’s clothing line could imagine that this product would be featured (prominently or otherwise) in a mortgage banking publication is beyond me.
This is not a question of spam, mind you. Rather, it is a case of a PR professional acting like a PR amateur: just throw press releases willy-nilly to the winds and hope they wind up in the right places.
Which leads me to my concern about attention to detail or the lack thereof. A good way to screw up a PR campaign is to make five simple errors that could easily be avoided if one pays attention to doing the basic job correctly. In the proverbial nutshell, here are the five boo-boos that will turn a champ into a chump:
1. Media lists that are wildly incorrect. Our friends at Wooly Bully Wear (who, in fairness, have a very nice product line) learned that the harsh way. But in all seriousness, this is the easiest mistake to avoid. Building and maintaining an up-to-date media list is PR 101. It is not difficult to determine which person at what media outlet is going to receive press releases. It is a good idea to update the list at least three times a year, given that the media industry has an uncommonly high turnover rate and last week’s editorial contact might have skedaddled to a better-paying opportunity elsewhere. Thus, do an easy fact check to make sure everyone on the list is still at their job. (I am reminded by a real dum-dum PR person who proudly showed me a media mailing list that included 15 people who were no longer employed at the companies on the list plus one who passed away three years earlier!)
2. PR copy that is full of mistakes. Remember that your material is going to people who make a living by writing and editing. The average Joe may not think twice about a typo, mixed metaphor or dangling participle, but the editorial contact won’t be very impressed to find press releases and pitch letters full of mistakes. And that also extends to web site text. A certain PR industry trade publication (which will not be identified here) recently launched an online competition designed to honor remarkable achievements within the profession. That’s perfectly noble, but there’s little nobility in the promotional text for that competition – which is quoted here in its original, uncorrected version:
“On the home page of (publication name), we we profile PR professionals who’ve had a PR-related win, achievement or newsworthy event. We’re giving you bragging rights to share with the PR community a major success and connect you with new friends in the business.”
Oh dear, two sentences and two big boo-boos. I like the “we we” in the first sentence (what does that call for, a copy editor or a diuretic?). And that run-on of a second sentence? Enough said. Always have an extra set of eyes proofread everything before it goes into the world.
3. Lack of proper contact information. This should go without saying, but it needs to be said: all PR materials need to have full contact data. This includes the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of the individuals listed as the media liaisons. It is astonishing how many press releases are sent out without liaison contact (especially for press releases posted in online newsrooms – I’ve spent too much time clicking around online newsrooms in search of the person who supposedly is going to provide media input). If a press announcement is related to a specific company, have the company’s contact data (address, phone number, URL) as part of the press release. Since paper-based press releases gave way to e-mailed releases, too many PR people forget to include the full contact data of the companies being promoted. This is especially problematic for our friends in the business-to-business trade media, who frequently include company phone numbers as part of their coverage.
4. Not having photographs, or having lousy quality shots. This is especially a bother when it comes to promoting new products, upcoming entertainment productions, or bylined articles credited to corporate executives. As a journalist, I’ve been flummoxed for years by PR people who either don’t have photographs to go with whatever they’re promoting or who provide the crummiest low-res photos imaginable. (Word of advice: all digital pictures should be 300 dpi or higher – and if you don’t know what that means, then you are really in trouble!)
5. Asking the one question that media people hate most of all. The question: “Did you get the press release I sent you?” There is not a single media professional in the world that wants to have their daily routine interrupted by a PR person tapping around to get an answer about the status of a press release. Why? Now imagine if your local utility called you to inquire: “Did you get the electric bill we sent?” Or if your favorite department store called you to ask: “Did you get the new catalog we mailed the other week?” Or if your bank called to find out: “Did you get the monthly statement we sent you the other day?” Kind of silly, yes? So how do you think a media person feels if they get a call from a PR person asking for the specific status of a press release that was forwarded to them anywhere from one hour to three weeks previously? The answer: there are ways to get the media’s attention without asking that toxic question.
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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How do you feel about photos included as attachemnts? My worry is that they won't get opened - or hi-res attachment photos will go straight to junk mail. I tend to include a link to the hi-res photos - but I wonder if this make the media contact work too hard...
Would appreciate any thoughts on this.
In my duties as a journalist, I receive e-mails with attached photos (especially for executive announcements). That's not the bother -- I can recognize spam and know not to open dubious attachments. My main problem is receiving low-res photos.
As a PR professional, I know which media outlets need photos and which don't. Thus, I tend to personalize my outreach in sending photos to my media contacts who require such illustrations.
I wrote about this recently myself. We received a mailer the other day from a manufacturer asking us to come pay them a visit during a tradeshow. The problem was that the tradeshow was almost 2 months prior. Without hesitation, the mailer ended up in the trash because why waste time with companies like this? It's bound to end up badly in one way or another.
Thanks for sharing that, Dave. The lack of planning in PR is astonishing, and it only contributes to the perception that PR is a refuge for amateurs. Hopefully, we can work to raise the proverbial bar when it comes to standards, ethics and performance.
"...The 'proverbial' bar"?
Is there a proverb about raising the bar? I don't recall one, I thought it was a cliché. But then, 'raise the clichéd bar' doesn't sound that great.
I shall get back to my amateur subbing now.
Pardon me but that's beyond picayune. A little licence is granted here.