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When to Break Media Relations and PR Rules

All disciplines have unwritten rules or principles that professionals invoke and Media Relations and PR Rules Can Be Broken!largely live by over the course of a career, and the practice of public relations is no exception.  But very little in what we do is black or white. As in marketing, there are times when you just might need to break the PR rules, at least when it comes to the media relations aspect of PR.  Here’s my list.

Media Relations and PR Rules You Might Want to Break

Rule #1:  Never say, “No comment.”  Of course, we tell clients never to say this, and the words have become a cliché that any PR person would cringe to see in print.  But most of us know that there are those times when “stonewalling” media inquiries makes sense. The pundits always advise “getting out in front of the story” in a crisis situation, for example, but sometimes you don’t have all the facts.  And when you don’t have the facts, you probably shouldn’t be speaking to the press.

Rule #2:  Don’t bother media unless you have news.  This doesn’t always hold up because someone else’s news can also be your story…at least in part.  In fact, “newsjacking,” which we used to call “newssurfing”—or hijacking a breaking news story or trend with your client’s point of view or commentary—is a time-honored way to be featured.  Just don’t expect to be the main story.

Rule #3:  To gain press coverage, your product must be unique.  Not really, and few are (And please don’t use that tired, hyperbolic word.).  But as we like to say, one product is just a product, but two is a category.  Your news might be better received and make a greater impact as part of a larger category story or a classic “marketing wars” face-off.

Rule #4:  Pitch your story far and wide.  Not always.  A smarter way to gauge media potential and place the story to maximum advantage may be to offer first crack, or “exclusive” access, to a single influential outlet and then go wide.  Sometimes you can have it both ways.

Rule #5:  Media training your client or spokesperson will ensure message delivery. This one’s debatable, but I think media prep is vastly overrated.  It won’t typically turn a boring or meandering speaker into a great interview, and the result is a flat or overly commercial interaction which can kill the chances for future interviews when it’s overdone. It’s sometimes best to find a third-party expert, or restrict the client to taped and print interviews.

Rule #6:  The PR person should stay in the background.  This one’s tricky because it can be fatal for a PR rep to be misquoted or to outshine a client, and many are more comfortable behind the scenes.  But there are plenty of PR and communications specialists who take an active role in a client interview, and not just in advance.  It’s particularly vital for advocacy campaigns where misinformation can abound and opinions and conclusions are hotly debated.

Rule #7:  When in doubt, have a press conference.  I don’t know of any PR professional who actually believes this, but some clients think a new product or service launch deserves a press briefing and that the media will come running.  Chances are they won’t, and it typically doesn’t serve the client well.  A strategic media approach beats an expensive event nine times out of ten.


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About Dorothy Crenshaw

Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and Creative Director of Crenshaw Communications, a boutique PR firm focused on marketing and reputation building strategies for consumer and technology brands under the banner "Creative Public Relations for a Digital World." She founded her firm after a 15-year career in marketing PR that included senior posts at Edelman and Grey Advertising's GCI Group.

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