Having been in the PR world for a number of years it still amazes me how often I witness the same poor methodology and bad practices repeated over and over. While we’re all aware of basics like extremely poor writing or pitching without researching media outlets or beats, there are a few other things that particularly get under my skin. They are the first things I address when working with someone new to the business or someone who has actually been taught these bad habits. Here are a few of my industry pet peeves:
Executive quotes that say absolutely nothing
I can’t tell you how many releases include quotes that are simply the headline restated along with a how proud or excited that the executives are that this announcement is being made. What does that mean and, honestly, who cares?
Within a press release the quote is the only place where editorializing is appropriate. This enables you to have the executives actually say something. What this means for the company—why this is an important move, how this demonstrates forward thinking, etc. Saying that they’re thrilled, delighted or proud is meaningless.
PR professionals should take some time to come up with a quote that actually provides context and doesn’t simply function as a placeholder for getting the client’s name in the release.
Following client directives without any strategic pushback
I find that this takes two key forms:
- Pushing out news that’s not news
- Peppering said news with adjectives
The news that’s not news is fairly straightforward. Winning an award is not news, though it can be part of a larger story. Being at a conference is not news, though findings or happenings at the conference might be. Anniversaries by themselves are not news, not without context, that is. It’s acceptable to take elements of these items to build out a larger story, but to simply make the announcement does nothing for the client, especially if peppered with quotes about how proud they are of the awards and conferences.
The other thing I see is the overuse of adjectives. This occasionally stems from the client side, even, in many cases, from higher-ups at PR agencies. PR announcements are not ad copy, they are news and reporters are savvy and not swayed by hyperbole. Taking an announcement and adding in words like renowned, first-of-its-kind or, God forbid, revolutionary, does not make the news better. It simply makes the person on the receiving end wonder about the overuse of praise words and can actually detract from what you’re trying to say.
Spray and pray PR
Being on a few media lists myself, I’m actually on the receiving end of this practice and more than understand the frustration that reporters must feel with the flood of releases.
The practice seems to consist of sending press releases to as many people as you can without a full understanding of what that contact does or if they’re even the right fit for your release. The fact that I’m on a number of lists and I run the PR department of a marketing agency clearly demonstrates that absolutely no effort has gone to ensuring that the people on the list are the best targets. And then, the standard follow up note arrives saying something like “wanted to make sure you got this.”
A couple of tips here:
- Take time to build a list that makes sense for the announcement
- Cater individual pitches to key media outlets
- When following up either have something new to add OR explain why you think the news is specifically valuable to them and why they should take another look
Publicists who don’t read
Aaargh!!!! I’ve had PR folks say they don’t have time to read. I’ve had PR folks tell me that they don’t read certain sections like sports because they don’t care about sports. And, worst of all, I’ve had PR folks tell me that they get their news from Skimm. What?!! How can you do the job of a publicist without reading everything you can get your hands on—it’s the job!
You have to take the time to read, watch and listen to the outlets you’re pitching and even those you’re not. Not only will it help with approach, it’s simply the best way to stay informed and do what’s best for your clients. There are no shortcuts here.
Bottom line: These issues are pervasive and are being passed down from generation to generation of PR professionals. It’s time to quit these behaviors and instead, encourage and employ strategic thinking and implementation.