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Flawless PR Execution: How To Avoid 8 Media Relations Mistakes

PR.execution.textMost successful PR campaigns have one thing in common – a sound strategy. That’s where the best communicators commit substantial time and energy in advance of a launch.

Yet PR programs most often falter in the execution. This is where a PR or media relations campaign is most likely to be derailed, or simply to miss important opportunities.  Here are some of the most avoidable PR and media relations mistakes.

No communication between PR, sales and marketing.  Nobody wants publicity to hit before the hot new product is available or to place a feature story with outdated information. Yet it happens. To avoid mishaps that waste or undermine great coverage, make sure that the media relations plan is mapped in concert with sales and marketing, and that all parties coordinate regularly after the strategy and messaging are finalized.  Distribution or price changes, local-market retail events—all should be communicated to the PR team. In the same way, sales needed to be informed of high-profile earned media coverage so they can take advantage of them with customers or retailers.

Complacency after the “big hit.  Nailed a New York Times feature?  Funding announcement in TechCrunch?  Now the work begins.  Other media outlets who aren’t direct competitors will probably want to cover the story.  An early print media piece in an influential publication can be the beginning of a great run.  Remember, broadcast news and morning shows often get their guest ideas from print news, so it’s a mistake to think the job is done after a single triumphant story or segment.

A poor PR spokesperson.  A boring or unprepared brand spokesperson can stick a pin in a media interview faster than a deleted email pitch (see below).  Before any media contact, a spokesperson should be briefed on the opportunity and ready to tell the story in way that’s both natural and engaging. Don’t forget the pre-interview—typically conducted by a producer or PA to prep a broadcast segment. That’s an audition for the real thing, so don’t take it for granted.

Bad timing.  Meaning, late. This is the most mundane and probably the most common error in media pitching.  Timing is everything to a journalist, and the art of PR and media relations is in offering the story with enough lead time to take advantage of that seasonal news hook or to allow the chance to flesh out a piece with research and background interviews.  It’s a shame and a waste of talent to see a Labor Day story fall short because it’s late August already or to have your best sound bit go unused because someone waited to return a call.

Missing breaking news. This one’s an opportunity cost.  Piggybacking on a news story, or “newsjacking,” is made easier if you have a qualified expert – and if you act quickly.  You can bet that when news of the Ashley Madison hack hit, data security companies were offered for comment on the same day.  He who hesitates is the publicity loser.

Ignoring the media “exclusive.  An “exclusive” means offering a key journalist first-use of a news item or interview.  It’s associated with major stories, but it applies equally to trade, B2B, and technology press.  The exclusive works well because the client often gets a larger story and the journalist gets it first.  Then a skilled PR and media relations pro will offer the news more broadly to maximize its reach.  Everybody wins.

Lazy pitching.   Sometimes the difference between an okay pitch and a great one comes down to research.  Diving into the category, the environment, the best customers, and the client’s own backstory is important.  With one of our startup clients, a colorful detail about an offer to sell his company to a competitor helped convince a fence-sitting reporter at the Wall Street Journal to dover his story.  It wouldn’t have come to light without a thorough debrief and some clever packaging.

Another lazy strategy is asking for coverage because “it would mean so much to the company.”  That’s unprofessional, and it’s a turnoff for any self-respecting journalist because if fails the most basic litmus test:  why should my readers/viewers care about this story?

Sloppy emails.  Spammy email practices are the top complaint of journalists flooded with bad PR apitches.  As the AOR (Agency of Record) for a group of technology content sites, we wade through hundreds of email pitches from PR people —a tedious but educational task.  Avoidable mistakes include the classic “Dear [XXX]”, (careless, and a red flag for any reporter who wants a personalized pitch); wrong names; multiple emails and wildly irrelevant pitches.  Time spent carefully vetting and prioritizing a list for a major story makes all the difference.

A version of this post originally ran on July 28, 2015 on MENGBlend.

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