We know. It’s a crap shoot.
I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but a recent discussion with a reporter chum of mine reminded me of this one irrefutable truth in the public relations industry — the easy stuff is always the first stuff to screw up. The mistakes, albeit as common as they exist, are committed on every level of the food chain. From intern to inside the corner office, everyone is susceptible to having these aberrations with the press and our clients.
Yet, there they are, scattered bodies lining the streets like a deleted scene from “The Walking Dead.” In an effort to inhibit the PR ninjas in this industry jumping from trees and throwing star shurikens with dazzling accuracy into pools of heaping crap, here are five common mistakes in PR of which to always be aware to avoid.
1. Calling crap you pitch “news.” It is two different things entirely to pitch news your clients force you to pitch against your better judgement and pitch something to a reporter without the thought of you believing it is news in the first place. We are the filter of what is and is not actual news to the media. You should know by now the media is not interested in posting a commercial for your client unless money exchanges hands. And that’s advertising so you’re in the wrong place anyway. If you are fishing for a story — hokey or not — you need a hook for it to be considered. Forget your whimsical headlines and that lede of witty repartee. Make sure your story has something to do with something other than your client, it’s news. Don’t, and it’s fodder for the bulletin board of “Dolts of PR in <Insert your City Here.>” (And BTW, those exist. I’ve posted to a couple. No offense.)
2. Ease up on the adjectives. “Very unique.” “Extremely newsworthy.” “One-of-a-kind, anywhere.” Meh! Some things do not need your help, much like the word “unique.” If it is, let it stand on its own. Help makes us all look stupid. Sure, you need for your client’s news to get the attention of the person on the other end of your email. However, inundating your release, correspondence and phone calls with these polysyllabic terms you just got from your “word of the day” download isn’t the way. This is the media — a trained corral of fact finders who adore stories, not commercials. Therefore, have facts to make news and leave the adjectives in the thesaurus on your PR director’s desk.
3. Know the person on the phone. Do you really know the person you called or emailed? Better yet, have you met him or her, or is that just another name on a media list some intern created whom you haven’t taken to lunch yet? I realize you are not going to catch a plane and bring a basket of cookies to the Wall Street Journal, but have you read or heard any recent reports of the person who has just become the aspiration of your affection? Do some research to be sure this person is right for your pitch. Nothing is more infuriating than getting a pitch addressed “To Whom it May Concern.” Worst things have happened.
4. Check your calendar before you hit send. Your buddies in the media are always under a mountain of these things called “deadlines.” Basically, if you don’t cross the line at an appointed time, you’re dead. (Yes, a news director said that to me once.) Let’s say you are sending a Christmas wish list to a monthly magazine. When do you send that pitch? October? August? Try June or July. If not, tell your client to wait until next year or focus on weekly trades. Editorial calendars change sometimes but lead times do not. Know the deadlines first, and know not to call a reporter when he or she is buried under one second.
5. Watch the damn news. This is the one that steams my clams more than anything. Ask anyone in your agency, “Do you watch the news?” Get ready to be surprised how many flacks don’t even bother. Why? They don’t have time … all the while trolling their social networks via smartphone. In the morning? Too busy getting ready for work. During the day? Too busy working. When you get home? Too busy not thinking about work. Regretfully, this is not a 9-to-5 gig we have selected, which means we should always be learning. And that means, we should always be aware of — if not, engrossed in — the news. Watch it. Listen to it. Read it. Know it. Do that and you would be surprised how your success rate goes up. Why? Because numbers one through four all fall into place.