PR is an important dialogue between you and the public. It gives you an opportunity to share your thoughts, expertise, and recommendations, and can also establish you as an trusted source in your industry. PR can be a creative way to showcase a product or service and build a strong brand, while engaging in dialogue that allows you to hear directly from your customers, and other stakeholders, while learning details about their opinions and needs.
Given the evolving media and digital landscape, along with an endless selection of PR experts available to guide you, I have outlined several common mistakes to avoid, giving you a better chance at succeeding in your PR execution.
Speaking without listening
When you break down PR, “relations” is key. Remember that it’s a dialogue with the public and not simply you broadcasting and pushing messaging that favors your agenda. Listening highlights your authenticity and shows your devotion to engage and learn. Social media can be a great listening platform. There will be those focused on negativity, never satisfied with your company or what you say, and that’s OK. Make an effort to genuinely hear people and it can improve your product, service and brand reputation. For those who are constantly negative, or even abusive, ensure that you have a social media policy to reference, allowing you to take the dialogue offline or simply delete and block the user in extreme circumstances.
Make sure that your PR strategy includes conversations vs. simply broadcasting your marketing content.
Lacking understanding about media needs and the challenges they face
Things have changed since digital growth and continue to evolve. Newsrooms are short-staffed with journalists working long hours and often overwhelmed with PR communication. Media have a mandate to deliver news; newly received or noteworthy information that the public cares about and that affects their lives. Media are also storytellers, producing content that audiences enjoy, evoking emotion and showing new sides of an issue or exploring an angle that has not been examined.
When planning a pitch, you are developing a potential news angle. Ask yourself if its timely, if it affects people in the market that the media outlet serves, and if the journalist you are approaching is the appropriate contact. Email the journalist a short pitch with the most important information at the top, making it easy for them to scan and decide whether to pursue. If you offer an interview source, make sure that this person is available and willing to participate. If media spend time pursuing a story only to learn that the source you offered is unavailable, this is an annoyance and inconvenience that can harm your reputation and threaten the trust you want to build with media contacts.
Focusing on social media follower numbers over the quality of engagement
It’s exciting to see a large number of people following your twitter or Instagram but a common mistake is assuming that most followers are authentic users who are relevant to your dialogue. Grow your community slowly by ensuring that you are focused on engaging with people who are a part of the communities you want to reach, and if you are posting good quality content, and taking part in authentic conversations, the numbers will grow in time.
It’s more valuable speaking with a small group that is well-connected and relevant than to a large number of “bots” and those not interested or engaged in your industry but instead looking to build their own numbers and followers.
Media interviews with no briefing or training
Even business leaders can become nervous or suspicious during media interviews. Sometimes there is a fear that media are seeking controversy or may take words out of context. This can come from a negative experience or hearing about an unfortunate media interaction – as rare as these may be.
Being prepared for an interview by knowing the reporter’s background, the types of stories they produce, and what kinds of questions they may ask, helps you to gather facts and feel prepared. Don’t ask media what questions they will ask but a PR pro can help guide you as to what questions are likely in an interview. Good PR support will also advise you to avoid generic terms and marketing style language. Media want specifics as they work to learn from your story and/or expertise. General marketing and advertising language and approach is different from PR and a reporter does not usually want to speak with a company ambassador but instead a relatable human who can provide their knowledge and experience.
Media training is especially helpful for complex issues or incidents related to reputation. You should draft key messages that you are keen to share. Practice and learn how to answer questions that are negative in tone. You are the expert and this expertise is valuable but remember to stay kind and humble.
Tips such as: not repeating a negative statement, or not speculating when you don’t know an answer, are examples of how media training helps to make you a clear and confident spokesperson and source.
Expecting bloggers and influencers to work for free as an ambassador for your business
There are appropriate times for pitching information to bloggers and influencers, especially if its closely related to a cause they love or a topic they are passionate about. That said, online influencers are often hard working and talented photographers, videographers, web designers and/or creatives who invest a lot of time into their platforms and building/maintaining their large online communities.
Asking an influencer to post about your business or product without a sponsorship or partnership needs to be evaluated carefully.
Having a PR pro guiding you is helpful because every influencer is different and have various ways of responding to pitches and deciding how and what to post, if at all.
It’s also important to recognize when an influencer has provided free/earned content. If an influencer has posted content about your clients in the past and you now have funds for a paid partnership, it may be a perfect opportunity to show that you respect their work and their content
Get to know bloggers and influencers. Social media is about relationships. Knowing someone’s style and passions will help when evaluating the best PR approach.
Not following daily news and current issues
When working in PR, familiarize yourself with current news and how issues are evolving. Where does your company fit into the trends and what could your team members add to the dialogue?
Consider timing. A pitch about a lifestyle product on election night, when most media are swamped with political coverage, is not suitable timing.
Listen to talk radio, watch TV news and read blogs and daily news. Understanding what’s happening in the world will help you to develop relevant story ideas.
Not hiring an expert, especially if you don’t have PR experience
PR is a time consuming practice and to do it well, it’s based on years of relationship building, learning from mistakes and solid experience. A good PR pro will work closely with you to identify and achieve your goals and you will learn a lot in the process.
When you set clear goals, give it time, and ensure that the PR match is appropriate, the return on investment from a PR campaign will impress you and the rest of the leadership team.