What Not to Do in PR


[Editor’s note: This blog post was turned into an episode of my podcast, Startup BizCast!  To listen, click the right-facing arrow above.] 

Public relations seems like a relatively simple job, but there are so many ways you can make a mess of things, it’s not even funny. In this post, I’ll run through the different areas of expertise of EndGame PR and give an example of what you should avoid. Consider this a “what not to do” post.

The first category is media relations, or working with the news media to get coverage of your business. This is one of the more traditional PR tasks that I do for clients.

The biggest mistake I see all the time is annoying the heck out of reporters while trying to get them to do a story. This seems broad, and it is. But, in the end, if you annoy a reporter, they’re not only going to avoid story now, but they’re not likely to do one in the future either.

A few examples of what not to do here is contacting the reporter too much about a story that it’s clear they don’t want to do. There’s a fine line here between being persistent and being a stalker. Yes, you can email the reporter. Yes, you can even call to follow up. But, if you’ve emailed and left a message, and you still don’t get a response … it’s likely they’re not interested.

Also, be sure to know what your target reporter writes about. Nothing annoys a reporter more than receiving pitches about stories that have nothing whatsoever to do with their beat.

Finally, be aware of what time it is when you call reporters. Late afternoon tends to be a busy time for print reporters, for instance, because they’re on deadline. For TV reporters, know when they have newscasts and call in between them … not right before them. The same goes for radio reporters.

Now, let’s move on to our next category … social media. The biggest no-no in this one for me is spelling and grammar. Nothing will turn some people off more than blatant errors in blog posts, articles, and social media postings. The reaction on Facebook and twitter could range from people ignoring you to them being outright hostile.

If your spelling isn’t so hot, make sure you run it through a spell check. If your grammar is questionable at times, check it and re-check it. And, if both are bad, make sure someone else reads your material before it’s visible to the world. Another idea, if your writing is questionable, is to hire someone to write for you.

Another area that is ripe for errors is crisis communications. This is where you can make giant mistakes, and the biggest one is to not follow the boy scout motto … be prepared.

No matter how big your business is, there’s a chance you could have a crisis that would draw the attention of the news media. What would you do if that happened? For a smaller business, preparation is easy. But, for each additional employee or contractor you have, it becomes harder.

The first step is to think about what could potentially go wrong. Maybe it’s a data breach where customer information becomes public. Maybe it’s a fire at a facility. Maybe it’s an employee who stole something particularly valuable. The possibilities are endless but can be narrowed down to a handful if you know your business well.

Once you have some ideas of what could happen, put together a plan. Who will talk to the media if they come calling? What will happen if that person is completely out of touch at that moment? Be sure to tell employees who answer the phone that they are *not* to speak for the company unless you have given them explicit permission. Finally, when you do talk to the media … never lie. If you don’t know the answer to a question, or if you need time to think about it, it’s perfectly okay to say you don’t know, but that you’ll get back to the reporter. It may feel awkward, but it’s better than saying something that will get you in more trouble down the road.

Really, there are a lot of ways to make mistakes in PR, but these are just a few of them. I’m not doing this episode to scare anyone, because I understand that not everyone can hire a professional to take care of it for them. But, it’s an area where you should absolutely use some caution.