PR blunders are the stuff of many amusing anecdotes. Some are met with a smile, others drive journalists mad. Harmless slip-ups may happen to anyone. The ones that result from failures to grasp the very purpose of communication are considerably worse. In 2019, despite scores of sophisticated tools and ample trade literature available out there, people continue to confuse PR with sales and abide by the rule: “never mind what you say, as long as you keep talking”. Shown below are examples of blunders and omissions, fundamental mistakes in communicating with the outside world. The majority of them can be easily avoided provided you are aware they exist and have the right remedy in store to fix them.
Mistake 1. Poorly written press releases
So much has been written about this, one might think it should be clear by now that certain things are a no-no. And still, journalists continue to receive e-mails in which various ideas are thrown together without a single underlying theme to unite them. What we need is to step back and review our writing critically to make sure that the information it contains is not only correct but also of value and interest to journalists. To make sure this is the case, read your message out loud to yourself. The weaknesses of your copy will soon become evident. Stay on point to steer clear of clichés and keep things interesting. Apress release should be both aptly written and catchy– it should hook journalists and make them want to seek you out to learn more about the subject matter. Besides writing a linguistically correct piece, you can gain a lot by inserting intriguing tidbits in it and attaching background materials. Your message will be enhanced by infographics, photos, videos and links to source materials. In our times, diversity matters. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. Read through your entire text and ask yourself if this is the kind of message you would like to receive and whether it would pique your interest.
Mistake 2. Being vague about who the message is for
This mistake relates to the previous one. We tend to send one-size-fits-all messages indiscriminately to whomever we can think of, without considering that every reader has his/her own slant and interests. This kind of spamming and ignoring the relevance of your message to your target group’s professional focus will inevitably backfire. You will harm your reputation, annoy people and waste the time you could otherwise use to create mailing lists broken down by journalists’ fields of interest, which you could then use to customize your messages. This will take time and effort but is sure to pay dividends. Do your research to learn who needs what information, what sort of news outlets you are approaching and what language they use. Personalize your message. Show your target you know exactly who they are and that you are aware of their interests and expectations. This is how relationships are built. And even if this takes extra time and effort, both of which are usually in short supply, you will not regret it.
Mistake 3. No communication plan or strategy
Many PR plans are amalgams of vague ideas written in broad strokes. They lack the kind of fine details, specific ideas and suggestions that would be relevant for the brand you are promoting. They offer no impact assessment tools. While your audiences may be slow to pick up on that, your superiors and business partners will inevitably notice that your communications do little to distinguish their brand from the competition. A good communication strategy is precise, based on clear assumptions and relevant for the business objectives you are pursuing.
Mistake 4. Expecting too much of your readers
Bear in mind that the world is not siting on the edge of its seat to hear from you. Your message is only one of many types of content circulating around daily. The job of a communication expert can be unrewarding. We must be prepared to have to wait for the results of our work. It is therefore all the more important to find promising ideas. Think out of the box to surprise your reader. Cookie-cutter activities are a thing of the past. And do not be offended if the journalist you wrote to does not respond. To build relationships – which is the essence of our job – you need to be patient, committed and humble.
Mistake 5. Forgetting this is the age of technology and multimedia
E-mailing is no longer the only valid and useful method of distributing information. It is no longer enough to limit yourself to standard press releases attached to your message. People are obviously up to their ears in social media and it is there that the main battle is waged for the attention of customers, the media and journalists. Can we use social media to our advantage? Are we modifying our messages to fit the specific demands of these channels? We tend to forget that technological advances have accelerated and that it is critical to have your eyes on the ball. You have to keep learning. A simple example: as we unsuccessfully push for having our piece published in mainstream newspapers, we forget of the option of native advertising. Such less conventional forms of communication can be your ticket to reaching the customers you really care about.
Mistake 6. Limitless trust in online content
Welcome to the age of fake news and fallacies. A serious debate is in order on whatever has happened to true, credible information, how to produce it again, and how to find it online. Information is no longer a high-class product created by high-class specialists. We all seem to know this, and yet one can’t emphasize it too much that the information acquired online needs to be checked against many sources. We must learn to tell compelling ideas from hard facts and bear in mind that online content is often packed with emotions, deliberately manipulated and influenced by the clashing interests of multiple parties. Just as we have learned to separate the waste we generate as consumers, we should also learn to sort information into true and false.
Mistake 7. Keeping the phone off and evading people
PR media occasionally publish lists of the spokespeople who are most inaccessible, to put it mildly. For the sake of good relations with journalists and to make sure that the brand we support appears in desired contexts, we should also be giving. Be responsive and polite. You have every right to be unaware of certain facts some of the time and even feel that you have nothing to say. What you cannot do is to shun people, ignore requests for a response or a comment, or disrespect your partner. Avoiding journalists will come back to haunt you sooner or later. If not in this job, then in the next. After all, aren’t we the ones who should know best how good reputation is made.
Mistake 8. Forgetting who your experts and influencers are
Getting experts and influencers on board may be invaluable. They can bolster your brand by coalescing a community of the right people around it. Expert testimonials in your publications and press releases may boost your credibility. There is much to be gained from good collaboration with an opinion leader or influencerwho commands a large following on Instagram or Youtube. The big names and heroes of the mass audience rule the web. Don’t forget how powerful they are in today’s world.
These are just a few examples of the pitfalls that await you in communication. I know it is easier to serve up good advice than it is to operate against the time constraints and financial pressures that you encounter daily. In addition, we face many dilemmas for which there is no single right answer. We are often forced to learn through trial and error, keep our eyes wide open and watch our audiences closely. However, I think that if we only achieve slight improvements every time we perform a task, we are bound to succeed and avoid many mistakes.
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