When I was a reporter covering the skiing industry, I was assigned to write a story about how an avalanche had blocked the main highway leading to several ski resorts.
I called to get a comment from a resort PR representative and was told that the avalanche wasn’t having any impact, the parking lots were full, and people could still get around the snow slide. After I hung up, I caught a live television report from the same ski area. Parking lots were empty, and traffic was being turned around.
I was deliberately misled, apparently so the ski resort could avoid “bad press,” although I’m still at a loss at how an act of nature could be considered bad. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t making any negative judgments, but simply reporting what happened. In response, I quoted the PR representative, and in the same breath offered several eyewitness accounts to the contrary.
I use this example in message and media training sessions to illustrate how spinning a story will most likely have negative repercussions, particularly in crisis scenarios. Here is a list of the top five bad PR practices:
1. No one home. Sending out a media release and then not having a spokesperson prepped and available to talk about it.
2. Spinning the news. A common example of this is how some companies disguise terrible earnings by highlighting one piece of good news, even if it is irrelevant.
3. Flat-out lying (see skiing example above). Remember, some reporters will actually make follow-up calls to check out information.
4. No homework. Following up on a story pitch or idea that already ran in the media outlet. It’s an easy rule, and it takes several minutes.
5. Sly pitching. Pitching a story to two reporters at the same outlet and not letting either know about it. Trust me, they will find out about it, and good luck getting them to return your calls afterward.
Yes, these are all common-sense rules that should be easy for PR pros to follow, but having been on the other side, I know they came up time and time again, and journalists and editors ended up frustrated. It isn’t worth burning a bridge.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.