Eleanor Pierce

Eight PR Sins Every PR Pro Should Avoid

By: Eleanor Pierce | January 19, 2015 | 
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Eight PR Sins Every PR Pro Should AvoidBy Eleanor Pierce

Let’s talk about PR sins, shall we?

Let’s talk about it with poor Kirby Delauter.

Funny, clueless Kirby Delauter.

Kirby Delauter.

Let’s say his name a few more times, shall we? Kirby Delauter. Kirby Delauter. Kirby Delauter.

The PR Sins of Kirby Delauter

Here’s the back story (and an explanation of why I can’t help but keep saying Kirby Delauter over and over again) of the PR sins of this poor, clueless man.

Earlier this month, a reporter named Bethany Rodgers, as good journalists do, called Fredrick County, Maryland, council member Kirby Delauter seeking comment on a story that would include him.

Kirby didn’t call her back. She wrote the story and it published. What happened next is Internet gold. 

Kirby called out Bethany, on Facebook, with a post that read, in part:

Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today. She contacted me by phone yesterday, I did not return her call and did not authorize any use of my name or reference in her article … So let me be clear … do not contact me and do not use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future.

Poor Kirby had a very basic misunderstanding of how the media works.

As the Washington Post wrote in its story about the Kirby Delauter hubub,

Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avant-garde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.

Some pretty great Kirby Delauter editorials and Kirby Delauter jokes followed. Obviously, #KirbyDelauter became a trending topic on Twitter.

Eventually, Kirby apologized.

But his PR sins got me thinking back to my own newspaper days.

Because I actually have fielded phone calls from people who were outraged their photo (taken in a public place) was used in the newspaper without their permission.

PR Pros: You’re Doing it Wrong

I started thinking about the ways people get media relations so, so wrong.

So in honor of Kirby Delauter, I decided to hit up one of my journalist friends, Julie Johnson, and brainstorm a few PR sins of even the most seasoned pros.

The things reporters and editors hate—the things I hated when I was a journalist.

Here are a few we came up with:

  • Asking “how can you promote my brand/business?” Promoting your brand is actually not a journalist’s job. Instead, focus on how you can serve the journalist’s audience. That’s what a journalist does…serves their readers. Align with those interests.
  • Assuming advertising equals coverage (or even that advertising will garner you special treatment). There are some pay-to-play outlets out there, but if you assume the journalist you’re pitching plays by those rules and they don’t (I never did), you’ll insult them.
  • Not knowing anything about the scope of coverage or geographical area before you make a pitch. For example, if you’re pitching a newspaper located in Central Oregon’s High Desert, maybe don’t promote your client’s expertise on hurricane preparedness. Come on, you’re PR pros! Can you pitch wildfire preparedness instead? Now we’re talking.
  • Recycling old tropes. Do you know how many times a journalist has heard, “All anyone ever sees in the media is bad news; here’s a chance to tell a positive story about  my client’s incredible journey/business/book”? Too many times. Come up with a new angle, please. They’re tired of hearing it—plus, you’re actually kind of insulting the work they do by suggesting that they only write about bad news. Not the best way to build a relationship.
  • Burying the lead. “If I’m reading six paragraphs before I know what your PR is about, you’re doin’ it wrong,” Julie said. Take a cue from journalists by putting the purpose in the subject line or near the beginning of your email.
  • Using excessive smiley faces and exclamation points in your materials or emails (you would be surprised how often this happens, people). Remember: We’re all adults here.
  • Trying to micromanage the story. Some journalists will be OK with letting you guide the story. Some will even give you a review copy. Many, many will not. If you want to have editorial control over your earned media, why are you working with a journalist? Sounds like you need to be thinking about a guest post.
  • And lastly, thinking most journalists care about National Thyroid Month, National Bowling Day, or International Shoeshine Week. Tying your pitch to National Whatever Month is a great way to get your email deleted.

OK, now it’s your turn!

Share your thoughts on the PR sins you see pros commit that you can’t stand—whether they’re Kirby Delauter-esque gaffes or just annoyances. Spray and pray? Misspelling the name of the media outlet in the press release? Bring it on!

About Eleanor Pierce


Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

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23 Comments on "Eight PR Sins Every PR Pro Should Avoid"

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stevesonn
stevesonn
1 year 4 months ago

These are some big sins, for sure. How about the unpersonalized form pitch? Every journalist loves that he or she is one of 500 people to receive that exact same pitch, and that the person pitching has taken the time to get to know the journalist and the audience. The chances of success are non-existent.

Good media relations takes time and strategy. It’s too bad these sins continue to be committed.

Howie Goldfarb
1 year 4 months ago

My biggest pet peeve is people not using the google.Not only can it give you lots of information you could maybe find vacation photos…of the journalist….and not their spouse on vacation in france….when they are supposed to be in Tennessee covering one of the many Marketing Conferences. And you can then parlay that into a positive story for your client. But not if you don’t use the google.

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb Always. Start with. The google. ALWAYS.

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

stevesonn Uhg. 

From time to time, I would even get a form pitch sent to a big list of journalists WITHOUT USING BCC. That was always fun. 
(I never got those from people I’d consider PR pros, obviously. That was more apt to come from the in-house communications person at a small community organization. But still, always a joy.)

EleanorPie
EleanorPie
1 year 4 months ago

EmilyKantner Thanks Emily!!

biggreenpen
1 year 4 months ago
Hmmm…..I told you earlier how much I loved this post but couldn’t figure out what to say. I’m back. A) thanks for summarizing the whole Kirby Delauter thing because I had seen the hashtag but hadn’t fully processed it … yikes, B) my main takeaway was a “what not to do” since I am the one trying to convince local journalists to talk about my non profit events so thanks for that, C) I would have to think one sin is not starting early enough (i.e., I need some publicity for my HUGE event that I want 1000 people to… Read more »
ginidietrich
1 year 4 months ago

I would like to get credit for my image. It made me laugh when I created it!

susancellura
susancellura
1 year 4 months ago

What drives me nuts is when I politely and professionally try to educate people on media relations and they respond with a “pat on the head” mentality. Then they wonder why they are not getting any press. Sigh. Great post!!

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

susancellura  “pat on the head” – ha! It’s like you can hear them saying “bless her heart” as soon as you leave the room!

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

biggreenpen YES on not starting early enough!!

also: Reporters turned into “content coaches” — as in, they’re leaving the news biz for this new job? Please tell me they’re not doing it while still trying to be journalists???

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

ginidietrich  I kind of want it on a T-shirt.

Bruce Mendelsohn
Bruce Mendelsohn
1 year 4 months ago

I’d also recommend doing a Google search on the journalist(s) you’re targeting for your pitch. Read what they’ve written; understand what they like to cover and the words they use to do it. Just as PR pros must tailor their social media posts to specific target audiences across multiple platforms, they must also tailor their pitches to reporters. Quality trumps quantity every day.

EleanorPie
EleanorPie
1 year 4 months ago

SandraGarcia_PR Thanks Sandra!

EleanorPie
EleanorPie
1 year 4 months ago

JamboTw Appreciate the share James!

EleanorPie
EleanorPie
1 year 4 months ago

staceylamiller Thank you Stacey!

Eleanor Pierce
1 year 4 months ago

Bruce Mendelsohn YES. Absolutely!

JamboTw
JamboTw
1 year 4 months ago

EleanorPie My pleasure!

EleanorPie
EleanorPie
1 year 4 months ago

ANiyasThoughts Thanks for sharing A’Niya!

ANiyasThoughts
ANiyasThoughts
1 year 4 months ago

EleanorPie No prob! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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[…] deadly PR sins you should avoid at all costs. (via Spin […]

Rivers Agency
1 year 4 months ago
These are great PR sins to avoid like the plague!!! I worked in a local TV news station as a reporter and I cannot tell you how many times I experienced these very sins. First of all, I love the article in response to the Kirby Delauter story. If you haven’t seen it, you need to – it is news GOLD: http://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/politics_and_government/kirby-delauter-kirby-delauter-kirby-delauter/article_da85d6f4-fa3c-524f-bbf6-8e5ddc0d1c0a.html As an elected politician, or local leader – or anyone in the position of power for that matter – you should expect your name to pop up in a few articles here and there. The key is making… Read more »
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[…] Eleanor Pierce, account executive at Arment Dietrich, is a recovering journalist. She’s happiest when she’s reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs and sarcasm. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks. […]

Bruce Mendelsohn
Bruce Mendelsohn
1 year 3 months ago

susancellura Nice, Susan. Good, Susan.

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