Everyday I am contacted by public relation specialists pushing their clients’ agenda. Everyday I am astounded as to the basic mistakes I receive from these so-called public relations specialists. Having been fortunate enough to work around the globe and write for mainstream media in Australia and England, it continues to surprise me that the same mistakes are universally made. Personally, I think if public relation specialists were upfront and realistic with their clients at the beginning of the partnership, it would stop a lot of heartache down the line and save a lot of journalists having to read un-newsworthy press releases. Having been on the receiving end of a million phone calls, emails and press releases over the years, I would like to pass on some basic advice to help avoid those simple PR mistakes.
1. Don’t send out a press release unless it has a news angle
Your client, in their eyes, may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but unless there is a news angle to the story, don’t just create a press release because they are celebrating their 10th work anniversary, or are now employing 50 staff or are ‘developing ground breaking technology that will revolutionise the industry’ (wait until that technology is fully developed and proven first). There needs to be a strong news angle that is relevant today and in the immediate future. One simple test to do is ask yourself this: “Would I want to read this story?”
2. Understand the section you are pitching to
Quite often a PR will pitch in stories that have nothing to do with the section that I am writing for. Read the section that you think your client could appear in, know the kind of stories that they run, become familiar with a couple of journalist’s writing styles and then make contact with them when you have a strong news angle that is relevant to that section of the newspaper/magazine/website etc.
3. Don’t leave out vital facts, misspell names or get job titles wrong
This happens time and time again. I had one PR send me four bits of information with the client’s surname spelt wrong (at least the incorrect spelling was consistent) and just by checking another fact of the business, did I stumble on the fact that the surname was misspelled. Common mistakes include leaving off people’s titles, wrong facts about the company (such as when they commenced trading), and how many people they actually employ.
4. Don’t send out mass pitches to all media
Any good PR should know this immediately but I am surprised that it still happens. Target an individual editor and/or journalist and work that angle first. Sure, have some back-ups, but give the journalist and editor some time to peruse your press release to see if it warrants further follow-up.
5. Ease up on the adjectives
If I hear the word ‘unique’ one more time I will scream. There is very little original in this world. Stick to the facts and leave it up to the journalist to add colour to the story. The more ‘over-the-top’ the press release, the less chance it has of making it pass ‘delete’ on a journalists computer.
6. Don’t harass the journalist about when a story is going to be published
Because guess what, he or she often doesn’t know. Editors keep everything close to their chest and will rarely commit to guaranteeing a published date for a story. You know why? Because news happens and they understand that everything may change if a major news story breaks either globally or locally.
So, when PR specialists often call me asking when a story is going to be published, it gets me very annoyed and doesn’t help their cause. Using the standard line of ‘the client wants to know’ is lazy. Simply say this to your client at the beginning. “I am not sure when the story will appear. No editor or journalist will guarantee a published date; what I do know if that I harass the editor and/or journalist that they will be less likely to run the story anytime soon and reluctant to deal with me in the future”.
7. Try saying thanks occasionally when a story appears that puts your client in a good light
It never ceases to amaze how a PR will ‘harass’ you about a story and then go silent when it appears, only to magically pop-up again in your space a month or two later when she or he wants to get publicity for another client. Almost 100% of the time no mention is made of the previous story. Basic manners still go a long way in this world.
8. Don’t send quotes from your CEO with no individual or company name mentioned
This happens with such frequency it astounds me. If you are going to send quotes from a senior person you are representing, do the following:
a) Don’t send an email with quotes attached on a Word Document with no person’s name, no company name, no person’s title
b) Don’t send an email with quotes attached on a Word Document actually without stating what story they are related to
c) Don’t send an email with quotes attached on a Word Document with spelling and grammatical mistakes that haven’t even addressed the questions asked.
9. Timing is everything
Understand the publishing cycles of the media you wish to see your client appear in. Don’t call journalists when they are on deadline to discuss the non-urgent press release you sent out a few hours earlier. Understand their schedule and when is a good time to have a discussion.
10. Be sure your client is ready to be interviewed and images are available if a journalist calls
On the off chance a journalist/editor does like your press release, make sure your client is available to be interviewed. Not next week but in the next 24 hours. Journalists just want to get the story finished because they have a mountain of other stories to write. Don’t send out a press release if you know your client is going to be away for a month. Also, have images ready. Very few media organisations will send out photographers these days, so get your photographs taken in advance – preferably by a professional photographer.