This is inspired by a post over on PR Daily naming the 20 things a PR pro should know how to do.
This is my take on things PR pros should know NOT to do. A few obvious ones, but sometimes they’re the ones most easily forgotten.
Anything to add? Make your suggestions in the comments box….
- Phone journalists when you know they’re on deadline
- Be unprepared for questions when doing a sell in
- Miss a deadline
- Spam journalists with the same release, with no thoughts of what they actually want
- Fail to get interesting, exciting (and high res!) images to accompany stories
- Delete negative comments
- Focus on numbers, not engagement
- Not bother monitoring conversation
- Share nothing but links to your own website and offers
- Not familiarise yourself with analysis tools
- Fail to set clear targets, expectations and evaluation methods
- Not work out a clear approval process
- Do whatever your client asks even if you know it’s a waste of their time and money
- Not push for opinions and viewpoints
- Ignore situations if they go wrong, mistakes happen – it’s how you deal with them that count
- Churn out news releases with no strategy or reason behind them
- Get coverage for coverage’s sake
- Fail to make sure press, advertising, social media activity etc is joined up
- Not make the time to read the newspapers/blogs/magazines
- Not hold regular planning and brainstorming meetings
I’m not a lawyer, or a shopping centre owner, or an estate agent. I don’t manufacture printers or low carbon vehicles, and I’m not a small business owner.
Yet I have been involved in successful PR and marketing activity for all of these sectors.
Because the clients in question, and the people within their business, were engaged, focused, and had a clear view on what they wanted to achieve from their PR campaign.
On top of this, they wanted a PR agency who worked as an extension to their own team – they viewed us a consultant, trusted our opinion, and gave us what we needed to understand their business and get the best results.
There are many things that a PR agency or practitioner needs to do to make your campaign a success – but there are also things we need from you!
1). Your time
Perhaps the most important thing that we need from you, and one of the hardest for you to give. We understand that your time is precious – and PR and marketing is just one of the hats that you wear on a day-to-day basis. But regular and ongoing communication between client and agency is vital for success – we aren’t mind readers and we need you to tell us what’s happening within your business. The further in advance we know of events, appointments, news etc – the more mileage we can get out of them. We also need you to be available for quick approval and urgent press requests.
2). Your expertise and opinions
Just because we do the PR for a lion tamer, it doesn’t mean we know how to tame lions. We need you to tell us what the story is. What are your views, your opinions? What effect will this have on your industry? The longer we work with you the more of your expertise we glean, but you will always be the expert. Our job is to take your experience and knowledge and turn it into a newsworthy story that will capture the attention of journalists and audiences, and integrate it into an ongoing campaign.
3). Your honesty
We need you to be honest with us about everything; how do you like to work? Are we positioning your company how you want it to be positioned? Are the results what you expected? Let us know what you think and we can adapt as we go along. A successful relationship is two way though, and we will be honest with you too if we’re not getting what we need!
4). Your belief
We know what journalists want, and we know how people want to be communicated with. There may be times when you have a story you want to push, or an angle you’d like to exploit – which we don’t believe will work. We talk to journalists on a daily basis and know what they’re after, and we can talk from experience about what can and should be said. If we advise you that a change in approach is necessary, listen to our reasons and have trust in what we say.
5). Your patience
It takes time and consistent effort to get results and build a strong reputation for a brand (especially when it comes to social media, which is increasingly part of the PR mix). But it also takes time to build a relationship with you, and get to know your business and your way of working. Have patience and the results will be worth it in the end!
I read with interest a blog post on PR Moment which cites meetings as a waste of time.
Although the article, written by Hacked Off Flack, is tongue in cheek to some extent (at least I hope so – he states falling asleep as a way to keep your meetings short!) I can’t help but come back with a rebuttal.
Having started a new job two weeks ago, building client relationships is one of the most important things I need to do in order to effectively manage my client’s accounts. I am passionate that this can’t be done without regular face-to-face contact.
But I won’t disagree completely with Hacked Off Flack – I have been in many meetings which have proven to be a complete waste of time, turning into lengthy debates rather than short, sharp decision making sessions.
With that in mind, here some tips to ensure your meetings remain productive.
1). It’s all about the agenda
Draft a realistic agenda before the meeting and issue it to all parties for additions and reference (about a week before if possible). This will make sure that everyone is in agreement on what needs to be discussed, and will hopefully stop anything from being missed off, or tangents from taking over. Try and plan how long you think each item will last and decide your meeting length around this. Most importantly – stick to it and steer people back to the agenda if necessary.
2). Someone take notes
And by this I don’t mean illegible scribble (which is what I’m often guilty of!) but proper, detailed notes of decisions and actions. Note taking is actually a pretty hard skill to master – being able to filter the bullshit and capture the stuff that really matters should not be underestimated.
3). Clarify actions at the end of each meeting
How many times have you left a meeting still not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing, or wondering if your client is really clear about what you need them to do? At the end of the meeting have your dedicated note taker clarify each person’s actions, quickly and succinctly.
4). Circulate a contact report
Issue a contact report to all parties after the meeting, confirming in writing what has been agreed. In my view a written record is vital to ensure that everyone is clear on what needs to be achieved by when. It’s also a good tool to look back on when you’re nearing the next meeting, to make sure that everything has been actioned.
5). Think about who should attend
Most PROs and agencies charge per hour or day, and meetings can quickly eat into a retainer. Think carefully about who should be in the meeting – do you really need an account director, manager and two account executives? Only have those who will truly benefit from the meeting, both from your team and the client’s perspective.
6). Always schedule an end time
If you don’t have an end time you’re asking for trouble! Keep an eye on the time and give the odd countdown to remind people; e.g.: “We’ve got 15 minutes left, shall we move onto the next item?”
7). Get into a routine
Decide how often you need to have client meetings; monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, whatever. But whatever you choose – stick to it. It’s when meetings get cancelled and you try and roll six months worth into one meeting that things get a bit hectic! The last item on your agenda should always be ‘date of the next meeting’.
8). Get biscuits (or cookies for my American readers)
Sugar makes every meeting easier to bear. Trust me, it’s a well known fact.
Last weekend saw Europe’s largest free ticketed music event take place – Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Carlisle. Alas, I wasn’t lucky enough to be there, but curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t help but check out online some of Sunday’s headline performance from Lady Gaga.
She is one of the most outlandish mainstream performers the world has seen in a long time – yet the public love her.
Some clients can be afraid of anything which is too ‘out there’. But, whatever your opinion of her, perhaps Lady Gaga is proof that people are a lot more open than we think.
So, with that in mind, here are five things PR pros can learn from her:
1). Be inventive
Lady Gaga appeared on stage in a coffin, wearing a PVC cat suit and a plastic baby bump. Odd, yes. (Although perhaps not a patch on some of her other outfits – meat dress anyone?!). Her approach is certainly creative. And creativity and innovation is something which in PR we should have in abundance. We should be able to come up with inventive, innovative, yet viable, ideas for clients at the drop of a hat. Take the time to regularly brainstorm with your team – come up with ideas which aren’t restrained by budgets or client briefs. Even if you don’t use the ideas they are still useful for keeping that ‘creative on-switch’ working, as well as providing a bank of material when your campaign needs a vital dose of ‘oomph’.
2). Don’t go too far – unless you can handle the repercussions
Usually shrouded by glowing reviews, Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ video has caused outrage in some circles, with MTV asking ‘Has she gone too far?’ The controversial video features sexual and religious imagery which is a bit too much for some people’s taste. Although creativity is important – it is also important to remember that it’s subjective. Think about your audience – will they find it amusing, exciting or insulting?
3). Support what you believe in
Lady Gaga is mostly seen in the press for her weird and wacky dress sense, and for hit single after hit single – but she’s also been in and out of the papers for her charity work. Charity partnerships are a great way for any brand to raise awareness of itself, get in the public eye, and build compassion. Lady Gaga’s charity work includes quitting Facebook for the Keep a Child Alive charity, designing a charity bracelet for the Japanese earthquake appeal, and performing at a benefit concert for the Robin Hood Foundation.
4). Be current
Splashed across the press after her appearance last weekend was Lady Gaga’s homage to the royal couple, Kate and William. The singer dedicated a cover of Nat King Cole’s classic jazz tune, Orange Coloured Sky to the couple and admitted that she wished she’d been part of their big day. Linking into the news agenda and ‘piggy-backing’ onto the hype surrounding current affairs is a great way to gain more coverage for your clients, and something all good PR pros should be able to do.
5). Always exceed expectations
Lady Gaga was half an hour late to the stage – leaving many fans wondering where the loyalty was. Always strive your utmost to meet client expectations – and where possible exceed them. This should be across all aspects of your campaigns; great ideas and amazing content count for nothing if you’re always late or never keep promises.
Earlier this month I attended a free photography workshop hosted by TNR Communications, part of the Press Association.
The workshop set out to “give a real insight into how to get national picture desks to run your PR photographs.”
I’d highly recommend the workshop – it was a great insight into one of the UK’s busiest news and picture agencies – and they illustrated the presentation with some really strong picture examples, as well as offering valuable insight into the day-to-day workings of a picture desk.
Here are some top tips from the day, to help make sure you get that perfect press shot – and the coverage it deserves:
1). Track record is important
Make sure that the photographer you use has a strong track record in securing national coverage for their photos – even if you have to pay more for it. They should have an intuitive eye and know what a national paper is looking for and how to get it. They should also know how to distribute photos – if you have no connections it can be hard to get your photo seen by the right people. Make sure they also offer solid insight and knowledge into the best times to send photos and the best resolution, file size and photo captions.
2). Know what picture editors want
When pitching photo stories, picture editors are your audience not newsrooms – you need to understand them. You need to know what they’re looking for and how they operate. Avoid clichéd photos (smiling business men holding big cheques are most definitely a no-no!) And remember that news is about people – the photos needs to reflect this.
3). Be more creative
Picture editors at national newspapers are inundated with photos – over 20,000 per day, and this is climbing everyday thanks to the rise in digital photography and citizen journalism. For a PR story to gain coverage this way it needs to be imaginative and eye-catching. Think of the wider story, and come up with creative ways of capturing it. If the story allows it try and be fun and humorous. And remember – a picture editor only sees thumbnails on screen – and hundreds of them at that. Your photo needs to be pretty special to stand out.
4). Try and sum up the story
An ideal photo for national press will sum up the story in one go. Even if you need to stage a shot which does this, then it could well be worth it. Often, strong photos aren’t run with a full story – just a photo caption. Make sure that your picture tells the story you want it to.
5). Manage branding
From a PR’s perspective getting branding into a photograph in the nationals is the holy grail of success. From a picture editors perspective it’s a nightmare. Try and find a happy medium – you can get away with branding but only if it looks natural within the setting of the photo. Don’t go overboard, and don’t try and make your branding the focus. Doing that will simply result in your photo not being used – or your branding being cut out.
6). Planning is vital
If you are planning a photoshoot or a photocall you must plan before hand. If it’s in a public place visit the site first; how busy is it? Is it too crowded? Can you get the right angles? Think about the environment and the background. What will be in your frame? If possible take your photographer with you – if not, take a digital camera and take a few snaps. You want your photoshoot to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible so planning is vital. You don’t want people hanging around on the day while you look for the perfect spot, or try to avoid the crowds.
7). Be aware of the news agenda
Pay close attention to the news agenda and time your photos well. Royal weddings, holidays, Wimbledon, hottest day of the year – all of these things can offer you hooks to get that perfect photo. BUT, it’s also worth sometimes going against the news agenda. For example election time, when picture editors are bombarded with man-in-suit after man-it-suit, it could well be worth doing something dramatically different to offer some light refreshment.
8). Move quickly
Once your photo has been taken get it re-sized, captioned and sent ASAP. But make sure that you pay attention to timings. Don’t send it on a Friday, and avoid afternoons if possible. The best time is around 10am in the morning. It’s also worth trying a Sunday morning – papers are often lacking content for Monday’s paper.
For some examples of great press photos check out TNR’s gallery.
Photo by graur razvan ionut
I had a nightmare last night about Thumb Cats.
For those of you aren’t aware Thumb Cats are, well, cats with thumbs.
The invention of milk producers Cravendale’s genius ad team, Thumb Cats are the latest furry friend to see huge viral success.
But, quite frankly, they freak me out.
So, on that note, here are my top five freaky animal ad campaigns.
1). Cravendale’s Thumb Cats campaign
This campaign features cats with thumbs – what more needs to be said? Check out the advert below or, if you want to be really terrified, head over to the official You Tube channel to see cats with thumbs playing tiddlywinks, blending and splitting atoms.
2). Compare the market’s ‘Compare the Meercat’ campaign
You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of this furry creature – he looks a bit stern to me. Then again I’m not sure I’d like to get on the wrong side of any animal which can talk, and wears glasses. And is really small.
3). Andrex toilet paper’s computerised dogs
Used to like this advert. Little puppies, running around. What the hell happened? Who are these computerised imposters?! According to the Daily Mail the move to scrap the real puppies was down to the, ahem, bottom line.
4). Müller corner ‘Thank you cows’
Anyone who has the pleasure of knowing me knows I’m terrified of horses, following an unfortunate incident in the New Forest as a child. Up until this advert I liked cows. Thanks Müller for ruining that one for me.
3). Dairy Milk’s drum playing gorilla
Massive gorilla plus Phil Collins. Enough said?
The website Churnalism.com was launched last week by the Media Standards Trust, and allows people to paste press releases onto the site and compare the copy with articles published by national newspaper websites.
I’ve found the site interesting, and had a bit of fun playing around on it, but I’m not really sure what the point of it is.
If Churnalism’s purpose is to highlight the fact that press releases are used in newspapers – then it will of course succeed. But the fact that press releases are copied by journalists will come as no surprise to anyone in the industry and is hardly front page news (excuse the pun!).
Nor do I think it’s a bad thing if press releases are copied – after all if a story is good (and accurate) then it shouldn’t matter where it comes from.
As a PR practitioner I feel a bit insulted by the site – as though it is suggesting that all press releases are crap which should never make it to print.
The other thing I’m not clear about is who exactly Churnalism is aimed at?
I expect PRs will love having a go – a fun, free way of tracking coverage anyone? Plus, if you find your release has been copied in its entirety then that is a PR score surely, and a sign you’ve produced something newsworthy?
I can’t imagine journalists wanting to check – after all if they’ve copied and pasted a press release do they really want to be called out on it?
Churnalism describes itself as ‘an independent, non-profit website to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’. But do the public care (and how would they even have access to most press releases in the first place?).
I decided to find out, and as such did an impromptu survey with friends – specifically asking for people who didn’t work in the PR or media industries.
I asked the question ‘As someone not involved in journalism or PR – do you care?!’ Admittedly getting the answers from 20 friends on Facebook isn’t going to give in-depth analysis but it was interesting to see that actually, only half really gave a shit.
Some of the ‘other’ comments also gave food for thought:
“It depends on the press release. Every area of work allows for using work already done. If it is a large percentage of copied work it seems wrong that they should be allowed to do this, is it that hard to re-write something to say it another way? Isn’t that their job?”
I love this comment (and I must stress this was an anonymous survey – though I’m sure my friends will tell me who they are when they read this post!)
It’s a very good point – writing and researching is what journalists are paid for. But then on the flip side, it’s also what PRs are paid for – to create newsworthy material for their clients.
The issues surrounding the Churnalism website, and the reasons behind it, are age old – the love/hate relationship between journalists and PRs (many journos say they hate PRs but would then struggle to fill pages without them) and also the ‘purpose’ of a press release.
Is a press release a fully formed story, or a taster of a subject which the journalist should then embellish and build upon?
And if a journalist runs a press release word for word does that make them bad at their job, or does it make the PR good at theirs?
Or perhaps it doesn’t mean any such thing – perhaps it means that the PR/journo relationship is working.
Churnalism will clearly help demonstrate lazyness in the media (and indeed unimaginative PR) but it also makes it look as though every story comes from a press release. What would be a fair representation would be seeing how many original news stories there were on a day – COMPARED to those that came from a press release.
With regards to the effect the site will have I’m not sure – as I don’t think it’s doing anything that people didn’t know already.
It’s fair enough if they want to raise awareness to the public that this happens – but they should also make it clear that many press releases are well written, accurate and have a place within the news agenda.
What do you think of Churnalism.com?
I’m not really a girly girl. I don’t like the colour pink, fluffy dogs or babies.
But there are two things in my life that can make me go ‘ah’ and that’s my nieces, who are 4 and 5 years old.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to see them as often as I would like as they live a few hours away. But last weekend I had the pleasure of looking after them.
Between the reading, painting, Disney Princess snap, Dora the Explorer computer games and splashing through rivers in the forest, I realised that actually, as communicators, we could learn a lot from the younger (well, much younger) generation, and their way of viewing the world.
1). Don’t lie
Shame on me, but I might have told a couple of white lies over the weekend. ‘Yes, I’ll play Disney snap with you after dinner’, and then not following through because I had to go out. And there is nothing quite like a 5 year old to make you feel guilty!
Honesty should be a core trait for any communicator. Despite the reputation that the PR industry sometimes has as spin doctors, what we do, and the messages we send out should always be truthful. This should be the essence for everyone you deal with, from clients – telling them truthfully what results they can expect – to journalists. In fact, especially journalists. If you don’t know something, say so. If you can’t make a deadline, say so. It’s much better to be honest, and then try and rectify the situation, than it is to lie and be caught out when you don’t deliver.
2). Put your foot down
My nieces putting their foot down may have transpired into tantrums! But, they might well be onto something with their belief in what they were standing up for. Often clients ask us to do something which we know isn’t going to work. If you go ahead, simply to please your client, then you risk damaging your reputation with third parties (for example spamming newsdesks with crap, non-newsworthy press releases), and also the client, who will eventually wonder why your outputs aren’t getting results. We’re consultants, and should act as such.
3). Be creative
The weekend was full of reading, drawing and painting. Things I actually used to love to do but never make the time for anymore. Being creative is a core part of communication; no one wants the same tired approach over and over again. Make time for creative brainstorming with your team, and to read publications relevant to your clients for inspiration.
4). Pay attention to detail
It’s amazing what a 5 year old can notice. One of my favourite comments ever said by my youngest niece was ‘Your earrings don’t match your dress’. She was 3 at the time. Now, I personally believe that they matched fine, but this attention to detail can often be overlooked in a busy working environment. Always double or triple check everything you do – from ensuring you’ve got the right people CC’d into emails, making sure you’ve brought biscuits for that important meeting, and of course right the way down to written copy. This attention to details is what sets apart a great communicator from a good one.
5). Don’t give up
My eldest niece is an amazing reader, and when she got stuck at a word she stopped, took a long look at it and broke it into sounds. Nine out of ten times she got the word right. Seeing the attention paid to the task, and how determined she was to succeed was really inspiring. I know myself I often dread making certain calls, or doing certain things – that follow up call to a journalist, or that final chase to a client for approval – but it is important not to give up. The results are worth it in the end!
A client has an event coming up and you’ve been tasked with publicising it.
What’s your approach?
- A brief paragraph outlining the event sent to a few key journalists for their diary pages?
- A press release with event details and a quote from your client sent to every journalist in a 100 mile radius?
- OR a full-page feature in the relevant section of a publication which is in the event’s immediate catchment area?
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the best option is. And the good thing is – if you’re holding an event, then you most likely already have ample material to make a feature happen.
After all, if you’re planning on keeping people’s attention for an afternoon, or even a full day, then your topic must be fairly interesting!
So, how can you make this approach work for you?
You already have your topic:
If you’re holding an event, then you already have your content. If it’s an advice seminar then draft a feature which tackles the main issues, and then offer hints and tips on how to overcome obstacles. If it’s a debate then it’s even better – do a pro and con piece with first person pieces from each spokesperson.
A client recently sponsored a debate on a controversial rural business funding programme. The area’s main newspaper was approached and a full-page ‘for’ and ‘against’ article appeared. It featured arguments from the key-note speakers along with a quote from the client, and event details. This was pitched to the rural section editor.
Make it even more local:
News is about people – and a feature is even more likely to be commissioned if you can show real life local examples.
A client was offering a free event, in two different locations, on the benefits of working from home. By finding a relevant case study of home-based businesses in each area and using them to illustrate the topics which would be covered in the event, two features were secured – one in each target area. This was pitched direct to the business editors.
Don’t be biased:
Perhaps the topic is there but your client can’t add enough weight to make it stand as a topic on its own? Involve third parties. Not only does this give the journalist a better and less biased article, but it also gives you an opportunity to hunt out a potential new business lead.
A firm of solicitors was offering free advice clinics to families whose child was suffering from a health condition. By partnering with the condition’s main national charity and including a case study of a real local family who had been affected, a double page feature was secured in the paper in the solicitor’s key catchment area. By pitching it properly to the journalist, a legal fact box was included complete with clinic details, website and phone number. This was pitched to the health and lifestyle editor.
To some extent the event is what makes the piece newsworthy, but this can sometimes be a tenuous link, even with case studies and advice. What statistics can you find which back up your points? Make sure they’re from a reputable source and as localised as possible. Contact local industry bodies if necessary.
Choose your publication and section:
Where is the event being held, and how much of a pull will it really have? In my view, most events, unless they are huge industry affairs only pull in delegates from a 20 mile radius of the venue. Target the publication with the biggest and most relevant circulation – and preferably one with a strong online presence. Make sure you know the publication – if it’s a business event approach the business editor, a health story approach the health editor etc.
Pitch it properly:
This isn’t a hit send on an email and keep your fingers crossed job. Phone the editor responsible for the section you feel the story is most suitable for and explain who you are and what the feature will include – explain that it will be an exclusive for them and that it will be completely localised.
If they’re interested, explain the structure you’d like the article to take – do they have any concerns or suggestions on this? How many words would they like? What date can they publish and when would they like the copy? What about photos? You can hopefully provide some but are they happy to take one of the case study if necessary?
After the conversation, if they’ve said yes to the feature, send a synopsis outlining the agreed publication date, the deadline date, the word count, who will be providing the photography and also detailing, in bullet points, what will be included and the structure it will take. Make sure you follow this when it comes to drafting the article so you give the journalist exactly what was agreed.
Deliver it on time:
You’ve already shown that you understand what their readers want. Don’t undo all of that hard work by not delivering it on time. Do whatever it takes to get what you’ve promised to the journalist on time.
You’ve delivered the copy on time, the feature has appeared, you’ve got a fantastic piece of coverage for your client, and hopefully the publication has replicated it online to.
Next up – say thank you!
A quick, one line email to the journalist to say thanks will go a long way. Not only have you shown the ability to really deliver targeted content suitable to their readers, but manners too!
Hopefully, by following these steps you’ll not only get some great results for your clients, but also build strong relationships with journalists and demonstrate that you are a trusted and reliable source.
What do you think – have you tried this approach? How has it worked for you?
I was having a chat with a business owner over the weekend, who has just taken on a freelance PR to do some ad hoc work for his company.
He said it was all going well, but why did ‘us PR and marketing lot’ have to use so much jargon?
And it’s true.
There are far too many people in this industry (and most others) who talk in riddles – what’s wrong with just saying what we mean?
Here’s a few of the best PR clichés – and what I think they really mean.
If you’ve got any to add let me know.
1. Smoke and mirrors
It’s not quite the truth but we’ll make the journalist think it is.
2. Take a view
We’re busy and don’t have time to talk to you right now. Either that or we simply don’t know the answer.
3. Pull out all the stops
We’ll work extra hard, or at least try to.
4. Thinking outside the box
We’ll try and be original. This one makes me laugh though – if we weren’t original, we wouldn’t be very good at our job now would we?
5. Moving forward
There’s no need for this one – ever. We just mean ‘in the future’, and half the time even that isn’t needed.
6. Touch base
We’re calling to say hello and to show you that we are still working hard for you, even though press coverage might not be as high as it was in previous months.
7. Hit the ground running
We’ll start straight away. Again, it’s pretty pointless – I don’t think we’d have clients for very long if we didn’t.
8. On the same page
We’re thinking the same thing as you, or vice versa.