This article was written by Paul Blanchard of PR and marketing consultancy Right Angles, which is based in London and works for a variety of clients including small businesses and campaigning organisations.
So you want to do some PR? Excellent. Good thinking.
But what you don’t want to do is to get trapped in one of the classic pitfalls – the media can be an invaluable tool for publicity, building awareness and communicating your key messages, but if your PR isn’t up to scratch you won’t get any positive coverage and thus no return on your investment.
This is why most businesses turn to PR professionals, whether freelance or specialist agencies, but not every entrepreneur has that luxury. So if you’re looking to get some good PR, these are some of the major don’ts:
1. Presenting a non-story
If you want to secure valuable media coverage you need to give journalists a great hook, ideally with hard data to support it and a firm opinion as well. What you shouldn’t do is give them old information and wishy-washy comments (“we’re delighted to announce…”) or tell them that your story is newsworthy. They’ll decide that for themselves.
2. Don’t do your research
You may have a prepared a great press release on a topical subject, but sending it to the wrong department or journalist is a complete waste of time. It might sound obvious but you’ll be surprised how often it happens. Target journalists directly; use their name and direct email address and make sure you’re sending it to the right person (a good way to check is to see if they’ve written on that topic before).
This is particularly relevant for large-scale mail-outs: it’s usually better to send out ten closely targeted emails to key people than a hundred generic messages to every newspaper editor across the country. If your business only serves London, is it wise to contact media in the Highlands? Think about your strategy very carefully.
3. Badly written releases
Journalists will instantly reject a story if it’s badly written. Therefore, knowing where to use apostrophes, semi-colons, and colons is essential and correct grammar and spelling are paramount. Write your release the way they write news stories – short, punchy sentences, conveying the what, who, where, how and why in the first couple of paragraphs.
4. Using jargon
You might think it makes perfect sense to use technical language to explain your service, but your customers and the media don’t. When preparing communication materials and press releases use simple, plain English. Clarity is essential.
5. Online? What’s that?
Given how much content is now posted online, make sure your press releases and articles help your cause. Use (but don’t overuse) your major SEO keywords and employ links back to your website. And if you refer to something someone else has written, link to it as well – that will make your content more search-friendly.
6. Poor timing
You must consider when is best to contact the media because lead times are everything. If it’s a Christmas angle, for monthly magazines (which are available a month in advance) you need to be in conversation with the press at least three months before that. So by August you should have lined up your festive coverage. If you’re focusing on weekly trade magazines lead times will be a few weeks before. Contact forward-features desks to ensure you plan ahead.
The time of day can also be critical. Journalists hate being called when they’re on a deadline, so your first question should be to ask if they have a few moments to talk.
7. Being unreliable
You don’t like it when people cancel meetings at the last minute or when a supplier promises then doesn’t deliver. Do not let journalists down! You’ve worked hard to build a good relationship with them and now they’re on a deadline they’d like a comment from you.
So if you can’t help them, let them know right away. Journalists will accept it if you’re busy, but they don’t like people who promise and then fail to deliver.
8. Expect miracles
One or two decent mentions in the media don’t change or build a reputation overnight. If you want PR for a one-off project or event it’s fine to get a big burst of coverage, but if you want to build awareness and attract new customers for the long term you need a steady drip-feed of positive stories in the press.
9. Assume editorial is advertising
If your press release is just saying how brilliant your product is, it won’t get printed – that’s what adverts are for. Similarly, press releases don’t get printed as written so don’t expect a word-for-word rendition – journalists are taught to investigate, get other opinions and put their own slant on a story. Sometimes, unfortunately, that also means your positive news won’t be as positive when it appears – so make sure you’ve thought about the risks of a different slant being put on your story.
10. Think about what you say
It’s good practice to think of every conversation with a journalist as ‘on the record’, so any and all of what you say could end up in print. So think about what messages you want to convey and think about your answers to their questions. And if you don’t know the answer or need to find out and get back to them, say so! Don’t make the mistake of feeling pressured to say something there and then because you feel you have to.