The dos and don’ts of good PR

Be a star media pitcher at Atmosphere Communications

‘”I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam … it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching. Fact: I am an actual person, not a team assigned to read press releases and distribute them to the right editors and writers.” – Chris Anderson, Wired Online

By a star media pitcher at Atmosphere Communications
By a star media pitcher at Atmosphere Communications

This is just one example of a journalist having a good vent about public relations people with bad habits. Unfortunately, there are many of us out there who don’t do our jobs properly. This means PR practitioners who do put in the required effort, need to work extra hard to prove their (and the industry’s) worth.

The following is no secret, but we sometimes need a refresher on the don’ts (and dos) of good PR:

  • Don’t (ever) spray and pray: If you do, let’s hope you pray better than you spray. Best you start as soon as you hit ‘send’.
  • Don’t forget the elevator pitch: Sum up your story and angle in an effective, hard-hitting 30-second snapshot. Otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
  • On that note, don’t assume journalists have time to listen to you: When a journalist starts the conversation with ‘I’m on deadline’, it’s your cue to ring off, fast. Ask when would be a good time to talk to them and do your elevator pitch then.
  • Don’t assume journalists know who you are: Just because you’ve sent an email and spoken to the journo once, doesn’t mean they have a clue who you are. According to US journalism professor Eric Alterman, there are now 4.6 PR specialists for each reporter in the US (How PR is killing journalism). So you are not that special!
  • Having said that, don’t take it personally: We’ve all experienced it – a journo having a really bad day. Don’t take it to heart when they don’t like your story, cut you short or yell at you for wasting their time.
  • Don’t (ever) lie: Don’t even try to make that dog food sound like a tasty and wholesome snack that even humans can enjoy. Just don’t. Remember, karma is a bitch, and not the kind that enjoys doggy biscuits.
  • Nothing is off the record: Ever. Everything you say can, and will, be held against you.
  • Don’t pitch something you know nothing about: Make sure you are on top of the facts, current events and even trends relating to your topic. If you know your story, you’ll have no trouble sharing it. Knowing your subject matter will give you and your story credibility.
  • Don’t tell the media what you want from them: Instead, look up what they generally cover and ask them what they are interested in. And read the publication beforehand so you know the tone and style of the journo you want to pitch to. This will enable you to tailor your pitch and information in an appropriate way.
  • Don’t tell the journo about another publication’s coverage of your news: Unless you want to ensure your story appears nowhere else. Telling a reporter that another publication beat them to it will only rub salt on the wound.
  • Don’t fall victim to the PR jargon trap: This article sums it up nicely: In a nutshell – don’t use words like ‘leverage’, ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘innovative’.