PR Fish Bowl


5 PR Horror Stories And The Lessons Learned

prhalloween2With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to look at a new batch of gory public relations horror stories. We’re talking about situations where things go awry and you’re left wondering how you’re going to make it out alive. You know, moments like the release of Burger King’s lettuce-stomping employee video.

Whether you practice B2B tech or consumer lifestyle PR, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced your share of terrible tales. Here’s a look at some, along with the lessons you can take away from each.

“Sometimes your total obliviousness just blows my mind.” (Stranger ThingsWhen working in PR, it’s inevitable that at some point a client isn’t satisfied with your efforts. But we do expect professionalism in communications. At one point during a blogger event in an upscale hotel penthouse, a client beckoned our team into the corner and began voicing her dissatisfaction with the caliber of the attendees — this, within earshot of those very guests. Of course we want to do everything in our power to create successful events and manage client expectations, but there’s a time and place for a post-mortem, and it’s not usually in front of media or bloggers. The team kept smiling through gritted teeth and suggested another time for a substantive discussion.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” (The ShiningSince editorial media is the filter through which our story is often told, all PR professionals understand the importance of developing close relationships with journalists. More than once, a reporter with whom we were working has vanished while in the midst of an important story. We’re not talking about being “ghosted” by a journalist who loses interest in a story. No, we mean an actual disappearance. In one case, the reporter had been let go by the outlet but failed to tell us. Despite best efforts to get in touch with him, we had no luck. Then, we reached out to the writer’s immediate supervisor by e-mail and phone and eventually to the publisher to see if there was anything that could be done to save the story. We were ultimately told it was DOA. The lesson here is to maintain as much contact with a reporter as possible and to continually manage the expectations of your client.

“Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.” (Nightmare on Elm Street)In an industry where accuracy is everything, even the slightest mistake can wind up being a disaster. We know of an agency that accidentally issued a press release with the word “public” misspelled throughout the release. Nobody besides the client caught it, but they weren’t very happy. It is this type of error that can needlessly change the tone of a client/agency relationship. The lesson is simple — there’s no excuse for sloppy editing. The public relations team is responsible for proofing and proofing again so that this type of error does not occur.

“We all go a little mad sometimes…haven’t you?” (PsychoOne time where professionalism overshadowed a challenging situation was when a client spokesperson was doing a television spot on a major news network. While being filmed on the street for a live segment about an Apple launch, he was approached by a heckler who wanted his 15 minutes of fame, and who wouldn’t leave him alone. We were worried that the spot we worked so hard to get was in jeopardy, but our client managed to stay on script and the camera operator eventually tightened the shot to cut out the heckler. From that point on, our media prep sessions include tips for handling on-air distractions in real time.

“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? (AlienIt’s rare that a journalist will share a story with a client before its scheduled release day, unless it’s to check quotes or facts featured in the piece. Yet some clients don’t understand this and want story approval rights.  In one instance, a client gave an on-camera interview, then asked to see the piece before it was set to air a few days later. The PR team explained the common understanding that we give up perfect control of the content while gaining the credibility that comes with third-party coverage. We find that offering a “media 101” tutorial for our clients can work to explain how editorial media work and to set expectations. We also encourage the use of “owned content” for those clients who seek to control 100% of their messaging.

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