Oops I Did It Again… The 4 Most Common PR Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

As seen on PR News Online.

 

Maybe you’re wanting to start a new career in PR, or possibly you’re looking to start outreaching internally on behalf of your company – either way, PR and outreach can be a rather daunting and stressful task.

Building relationships with journalists might possibly be the most cliché line. However, it is actually something that needs to be taken seriously. Whether you’re trying to sell content or position your company as experts within a specific field, as PRs we do need to maintain a level of professionalism and make sure that journalists can

1) trust the content and information we provide, and

2) rely on us for further information and content.

From outreach strategies, to press releases and prospects, the list is endless and making sure every detail is perfect can start to drive you crazy – leaving a massive gap for errors. Now, we all realise we’re humans and mistakes do happen (believe me, I have a few mistakes under my belt) but there are very simple tasks you can perform to limit the stress of outreach and close the gap on human error.

From stalking twitter rants to asking journalists directly, I’ve delved deep to find the four most common mistakes that PR professionals are making, whether in a digital or traditional environment and provided some everyday tips and tricks to help you limit the embarrassing hiccups.

 

  1. Language Mistakes

It might sound like an extremely obvious mistake to keep an eye out for but regardless, a study by AdWeek highlighted that 11% of complaints from journalists were around language errors from PRs. You can imagine, after the 100th email of that day with a spelling mistake, it can drive even the sanest people slightly loopy.

Working in a digital world, spelling mistakes are an absolute no-no and shouldn’t be happening with always-on spell check, but even in saying this, after reading press materials over and over it can be draining and words can all start to merge into one.

A massive pet peeve for journalists is the common spelling or language mistakes, especially as writing is something they do on a daily basis. It not only shows a lack of interest but also preparation to the journalist – if they’re taking the time to read your content and email, you should take the time to make sure it’s all professional and concise.

Microsoft spell check is always a winner with long documents, but I found using Grammarly, an online extension, is also a perfect tool to install to ensure your spelling and grammar are on point on all platforms.  

While using amazing tools like spell check or Grammarly, I also find it best to take some time out to remove yourself from your current environment and read your press release, email or any other press material out aloud. This way you are able to listen to the tone, structure and flow – highlighting any possible errors that you may have previously missed. 

 

  1. Getting the [Insert Journalist Name Here] Wrong

This mistake can either pop up during the prospecting stage or when you’re getting your outreach setup and believe me, it’s happened to us all. From messing up the autofill to writing down the wrong name, it’s the one error that I constantly see popping up on twitter rants.

In the same study by AdWeek, it was revealed that 12% of journalists were annoyed by using the incorrect name, as it showed a level of disrespect and carelessness. Imagine how you feel when, for example, you order your favourite coffee only to get the cup back and they’ve called you Jamie instead of Jessica or Caterina instead of Katheryn – it’s highly annoying.

A simple tip or trick, and one I live and die by, would be to test the email before sending it out. If you use outreach platforms like Buzzstream or Vocus, there will most likely always be a preview function – which is great for catching out those autofill errors.

Another trick is most of the time, journalist’s names will be in their email addresses. Cross-referencing with their email addresses or double checking those that aren’t can help avoid those embarrassing emails.  

  1. Outreaching at Inappropriate Times

Something that, for some reason, keeps dodging many of our minds, is that journalists are people too – and actually have their own lives.

Whether you’re working in a traditional or digital environment, contacting journalists at inappropriate times should carry with it the social taboo that we would hold for any of our friends and family.

Before dropping in to their office or calling, make sure it’s a good time for them. First thing in the morning is always a stress with meetings and different starting times. Dropping in unannounced is possibly one of the most chaotic things someone can do – and imagine what it must be like with a number of stories on the go and if you don’t know the visitor!

Unless the journalist is a weekend reporter, try to avoid emailing journalists during the weekend – they’re not at work and don’t need to be disturbed. Plus, in all likelihood, they’ll read your email and forget about it by Monday morning.

….also unannounced house calls are an absolute no-no!

Possibly try to drop the journalist an email before, asking if it would be possible to drop something off, make an appointment with them or even checking if they would have time to discuss a piece/campaign over the phone.

This not only makes you look considerate of their time but also allows them to truly pick a time that they would be able to give you 100% of their undivided attention and respect.

  1.  Your Story is Way Too Irrelevant

Another mistake I’m constantly seeing is journalists receiving a story that’s not relevant to their niche or even the publication’s niche – especially with 17.8% of complaints revolving around this topic. Now I know this can be partially due to lack of research or even just wishful thinking, it’s definitely something I have experienced before, but it is something that as PRs, we need to focus on.

As part of our “relationship” with journalists, there is an element of trust that we need to build and one way of doing this is showing journalists a level of respect with the details they provide and ensure we don’t waste their time.

I’ve previously had journalists tell me that they really appreciate the effort we make when outreaching pieces that relate to their niche and with those odd one-off situations that we have missed the mark, they have offered to provide feedback or even look at another piece of ours that’s maybe more their speed.

An almost fail-safe way that I find has worked with journalists is providing possible titles or headlines that they would be able to work with and use the content. Now bear in mind, I would never pose it as telling a journalist how to do their job, but rather highlight how and why I feel the piece would be something interesting for their readers.

Conclusion

When looking back at my career in PR, myself and my team members are definitely guilty of a few of these no-nos. However, I feel the most important (and possibly extremely cheesy) thing to note is that as a professional, you learn and enforce rules to help the rest of your team avoid these mistakes going forward.

A key factor when outreaching is time. Take the time to research, learn and understand your prospects and journalists to build those relationships and trust for future on-going developments.

A PR and journalist’s relationship should be a mutually beneficial one and while we hope and expect coverage, we also need to respect their time and ensure we’re developing quality stories worth their time and effort.

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