The most crucial aspect of a successful PR and media relations program is arguably the strategy. This is where the best practitioners typically invest their time in advance of a campaign launch.
But when it comes to making that strategy operational—particularly the publicity piece of the plan—it’s execution that can make all the difference. The execution of any PR and media relations program is also where things are most likely to go wrong or opportunities can be missed. Here are some of the most common, and most avoidable, PR and media relations errors.
No coordination with sales and marketing. No client plans for publicity to hit before the product is available or to place an editorial feature with outdated information. But it happens. The key is to make sure that the PR and media relations plan is mapped in concert with sales and marketing, and that all parties coordinate regularly after the strategy and messaging are finalized. Product updates, distribution or price changes, local-market retail events—all should be communicated to the PR team. Similarly, the sales staff needs to be aware of high-impact earned media wins so they can take advantage of them for the brand.
An unprepared spokesperson. A boring, rambling, or not-ready-for-primetime brand spokesperson can kill a media interview faster than a deleted email pitch (see below). Before any contact with a journalist, a media spokesperson should be fully briefed on the opportunity and ready to tell the brand story in a natural and engaging way. Even a pre-interview—typically conducted by a producer or PA in preparation for a broadcast segment—should be taken as an audition for the real thing. The story isn’t done until it’s done.
Late timing. This is the most mundane but probably the most common error in media pitching. Timing is everything to a journalist, and the art of PR and media relations is in offering the story with enough lead time to take advantage of that seasonal news hook or to allow the chance to flesh out a piece with research and background interviews. It’s a damn shame and a waste of talent to see a Labor Day media pitch fall short because it’s late August already or have your witty quote go unused because someone waited to return a call.
Failure to leverage the “big hit.” Nailed a New York Times feature? Funding announcement in TechCrunch? Now the work begins. Other media outlets who aren’t direct competitors will probably want to cover the story. An early print media piece in an influential publication can be the beginning of a great run. Remember, broadcast news and morning shows often get their guest ideas from print news, so it’s a mistake to think the job is done after a single triumphant story or segment.
Missing breaking news. This one’s an opportunity cost. So-called “newsjacking” is almost easy if you have a qualified expert or executive and you act quickly. You can bet that when news of the Ashley Madison hack hit, data security companies were offered for comment on the same day. He who hesitates is the publicity loser.
Ignoring the media “exclusive.” An “exclusive” means offering a key journalist first-crack access to a news item or interview. It’s associated with major stories, but it applies equally to trade, B2B, and technology press opportunities. The exclusive works well because the client typically gets a larger story and the journalist gets it first. Then a skilled PR and media relations pro will offer the news more broadly to maximize its reach. Everybody wins.
The lazy pitch. The most talented in our business know the difference between a pitch that’s just okay and one that’s truly great. It usually comes down to research. Drilling down into the category, the environment, the customer base, and the client’s own backstory is important. With one of our startup clients, a colorful detail about an early offer he received (and turned down) to sell his company was enough to convert a fence-sitting reporter at the Wall Street Journal. It wouldn’t have come to light without a thorough debrief and some clever packaging.
Going off the record. This one’s not technically a mistake, because an “off-the-record” or “on background” conversation with a journalist is possible, but it’s easy for it to backfire, and the stakes are often high. I had a client go off the record to try to promote his own contribution to his company, and although he wasn’t exposed, his boss always suspected he was the “source close to the company” and never really trusted him again. If you want to dish dirt on a competitor, leak an announcement, or disclose a company secret without fingerprints, think twice. And if you proceed, leave it to a skilled PR agency or political pro.
Stupid emails. Sloppy and spammy email practices are the top complaint of journalists flooded with mediocre PR and media relations pitches. As the AOR (Agency of Record) for a group of technology content sites, it’s fallen to us to wade through hundreds of email pitches—a tedious but enlightening process. Common avoidable mistakes include the classic “Dear [XXX]”, (not just careless, but a red flag for any reporter who wants a personalized pitch); incorrect names; multiple emails and just plain irrelevant pitches. Time spent carefully vetting and prioritizing a list for a major story makes all the difference.
The “gimme” pitch. PR reps for early stage companies fall into the trap of asking for coverage because “it would mean so much to the company.” That’s not only highly unprofessional, it’s a media turnoff because if fails the most basic journalist litmus test: why should I (or my readers) care about this story?
Knowing when to say “no.” Agency people have a hard time with this one because we’re trained to deliver, and we want every opportunity to add a notch to our belt. But a media coverage opportunity that’s off-strategy—or that features the wrong media outlet, brand association, or timing—will be a failure in the long run.