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How Not to Do Public Relations; PAN looks at some Do's & Don't's

Feb 22, 2012 10:21 AM / by Mike O'Connell

When Peter Shankman talks about PR, people listen. His guest posts about PR in various publications are must-reads, and the PR/journalist matchmaking site he started in 2007, Help A Reporter Out, has facilitated thousands of press hits each year. He is arguably the most influential thought leader on the world of PR working today, so when Forbes caught up to him last week for a Q&A about “How Not to Do Public Relations,” the PR world tuned in.Shankman’s biggest no-no’s? None are huge surprises, but he did trot out a couple of age-old reminders that he said are no less true today than in all the years he’s been participating in the PR game.


Reminder #1: Stand up to the client, and offer a better way: “I’d say the biggest mistake PR people make is not standing up to the client and occasionally saying ‘Hey, that press release you want us to issue about you repainting the conference room? THAT’S NOT NEWS. NO ONE IS GOING TO COVER THAT, AND IF YOU MAKE US PITCH FIFTY JOURNALISTS ABOUT IT, WE CAN GUARANTEE THAT THOSE FIFTY JOURNALISTS WILL NEVER COVER US AGAIN, EVEN WHEN WE DO HAVE SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT.’”

Reminder #2: Focus your pitching on the reporters who will truly care: “… I’d say the second biggest mistake is believing that pitching bigger is better, and pitching off-topic to increase the number of reporters they’re hitting. I get pitched for my blog all the time, and I’d say 50-70 percent of it is still off-topic. I went through my blog the other day, and for the life of me, couldn’t find anything that told a specific reporter I cared about covering a new brand of woman’s underwear.”

Given these Peter's no-no’s, it got us here at PAN thinking about some other ways not to do public relations. Some are obvious. Some are humorous. Some might even be useful. We’d be interested to hear what you think.

Don’t overpromise: Everybody wants to wow their clients right out of the gate and show them they’re serious about generating results. But you have to be realistic and present reasonable goals your team is likely to achieve. If the client is promised the world, and you deliver three quarters of the world, they might be disappointed.

Don’t underdeliver: If you present reasonable goals, meet them. Do your best to exceed them. If you set reasonable expectations and then work to the team’s ability, you should be able to deliver what the client is looking for and make him happy.

Don’t turn your cell phone off after hours: You have a private life, of course, but when clients and reporters have an emergency, they need to connect then and there. If a reporter is calling on deadline, chances are he has a basic question you can answer. Being there on the other end of the line can make the difference between getting a fact about your client right or risking having it coming out wrong. Or, in some cases, the difference between including your client in the story or leaving him out.

Don’t rely on email pitching: Reporters will tell you they always want to be pitched by email. We, as PR people, should use this as more of a guideline than a rule. We should not call reporters repeatedly. We should not call reporters on deadline. We should be sparing with calls to their cellphones – if they even give out the numbers at all. But, in a similar vein, we should not rely on email pitching exclusively. When reporters match a voice to a note, it helps them remember the pitch. If you spend a short time on the phone with a reporter, and the pitch doesn’t fly, you can find out what else he’s working on and what the pitch was missing. That will help you with your next pitch.

Don’t stay in your comfort zone: If you’re good at PR, you develop go-to’s who will take your calls and, more often than not, do something with your pitch. These sources are valuable. Cultivate them. But don’t settle for the tried and true. If your story is good enough for a trade pub, maybe, with a few tweaks, it’s good enough for Fortune. Try it. The worst they can do is say no.

Don’t assume – check: Did the reporter accept the Outlook invite? Did the client review the document that’s due tomorrow? Did the release go out as scheduled? Just because these things tend to happen as they should, make sure.

These are a few don’ts we’ve come across. What other tips do you have about how “not to do public relations”?


Topics: Customer Experience, Culture, Services

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