Eleanor Pierce

Eight PR Sins Every PR Pro Should Avoid

By: Eleanor Pierce | January 19, 2015 | 

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.

  • stevesonn

    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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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

    EmilyKantner Thanks Emily!!

  • 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 attend … and it’s two days from now can you fit it in?), and D) all the talk about true journalism just makes me sad about the continued blurry lines I see locally – the reporters turning into “content coaches” and being encouraged to buddy up with local brands …. it feels decidedly un-objective from my viewpoint.

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

  • susancellura

    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!!

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

  • 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???

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

  • Bruce Mendelsohn

    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

    SandraGarcia_PR Thanks Sandra!

  • EleanorPie

    JamboTw Appreciate the share James!

  • EleanorPie

    staceylamiller Thank you Stacey!

  • Bruce Mendelsohn YES. Absolutely!

  • JamboTw

    EleanorPie My pleasure!

  • EleanorPie

    ANiyasThoughts Thanks for sharing A’Niya!

  • ANiyasThoughts

    EleanorPie No prob! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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  • 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 sure your mentions are positive. How do you do this? It’s very simple: Be nice and answer calls. 

    Reporters are on a tight deadline so getting back to them in a timely manner is essential. Plus, they will like you a whole lot more if you answer their calls immediately or get back to them quickly. This also gives them extra time to write and perfect the story. 

    Be nice! I know this sounds silly, but being nice goes a LONG way in this industry. Whether it is a positive or negative story, remember that reporters are just doing their job (and what their bosses tell them to do). Most of the time, they are not trying to make you look bad (unless you did something completely awful). Do you think we like having enemies? No way! Plus, the better the relationship you have with a reporter, the more likely they are to mention you in a positive light.

    And don’t refuse to talk to reporters. It makes you look like you are hiding something and forces us to say in our story “We tried reaching out to XYZ but they did not want to talk.” Even if you don’t want to go on camera or do an interview, you can at the very least explain to the reporter why. Remember you can always ask to be “off the record” – meaning they will not publish or promote anything you tell them during that time.

    And finally, know that you DO NOT have the final say when it comes to the story. We will not give you a copy of the script (most of the time it isn’t ready until the final hours before the show anyway). We are happy to hear suggestions and ideas but remember this is their job and they know what they are doing.

    I can’t think of any other PR sins right now but I’m sure I’ll come up with several more after I post this. Thanks again for sharing this great article! Hopefully PR folks will take this article to heart. 

    Rivers Agency PR Executive

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  • Bruce Mendelsohn

    susancellura Nice, Susan. Good, Susan.