It’s a cliché that the public relations relations business needs better PR for itself, but did you ever wonder why it suffers from an image problem? Sometimes it’s due to the bad habits of those who practice PR. Every profession has its share of negative stereotypes; some are lighthearted, some have an ounce of truth in them. And some are just damaging!
Here are some bad PR habits that need to be broken right away.
Using superlatives like “award-winning” and “revolutionary”
We’ve spilled some ink over the use of empty phrases in the past. At best, trite words add absolutely nothing to a story or a pitch; at worst, using hyperbolic language perpetuates negative stereotypes about PR people as exaggerators or hucksters. Our pet peeve is the use of client quotes where a company spokesperson is “delighted” or “thrilled” about an announcement when a more substantive quote would move the story forward or gently editorialize about the potential that might result from the news. It’s far better to impress by being original, concise, and clear.
Pitching across every social channel possible
It’s no secret reporters are avid users of social media for professional purposes, and in our experience, most don’t mind being messaged on Twitter or elsewhere. But before bombarding a journalist across seven different platforms, make sure he or she is okay with being pitched that way. In most cases, journalists are up front about how they prefer to be contacted. Ignoring those preferences is bound to irk, and a bad habit worth breaking today. Similarly, as most good PR people know, a massive email blast to a media list that isn’t properly culled or curated, is a good way to be blacklisted.
Sending lengthy press releases when a short pitch will do
Though many continue to argue whether the press release’s days are over, we believe there are times when press releases are worthwhile endeavors. Very often, however, sending a simple pitch to individual reporters is better. Sending press releases too often, too soon, or when they’re not necessary only overwhelms inboxes and may cause “real” news to be ignored. Save the press release for a truly newsworthy launch or announcement, or a situation where timely disclosure policies dictate it.
Pretending you’re listening when you’re really not
Knowing how to listen well is important in many disciplines, but as a professional communicator, failing to listen is inexcusable. Nothing irks a journalist more, and anyone who works in business development at a PR agency can tell you that active listening is the first step in closing the sale with a prospective client. Listening also helps professionals be open to the types of ideas and angles that can offer new opportunities for programs.
This is tempting at times, but it’s one of the worsts thing a PR person can do. A common error is giving clients unrealistic expectations about the amount of earned media an announcement will generate, which ratchets up the pressure on the account team and usually ends in tears. Another mistake is offering journalists more than you can deliver. PR professionals are only as good as their word, and if a commitment falls short, it’s damaging to one’s reputation. Another simple, but critical part of meeting expectations? Stick to your deadlines. Be brutally honest about when something can be done.
Passing the buck
When things go wrong, it’s easy to place blame, and heaven know PR people serve many masters. But failing to take responsibility for decisions can lead to slow-burning, or “smoldering” situations that can erupt into a crisis, rather than a quick flare-up that can be put out with minimal, or only short-term, damage. This is especially true for to execs responsible for managing a company’s reputation. For more on managing a crisis, check out a past post here.
Whether as a pop culture maven, political news junkie or lover of all things tech, being successful in PR means being well-read and well-versed in many different universes. One can’t know everything about everything, of course, given the overwhelming amount of news and junk that floods our inboxes and social streams. But failing to stay abreast of top memes, trends, and world events is poor practice, and completely avoidable.