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!

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.

View all posts by Eleanor Pierce