5 nightmares that haunt PR pros

Which mistakes have public relations practitioners tossing and turning at night? One industry veteran shares the gaffes that every communicator should strive to avoid.

5 PR nightmares

Public relations pros certainly have their share of nightmarish experiences.

Those debacles can, however, offer an opportunity to learn and improve.

PR is consistently ranked among the top 10 most stressful jobs, largely due to emerging crises, tight deadlines, steep learning curves, demanding clients and busy journalists. Those are fairly standard in a given workweek. Then there are the other, career-scarring events.

Here are five nightmares—incidents beyond the PR pale—that top my list:

1. Having your pitch called out in an article

For most PR pros, this is the ultimate embarrassment. This is not just the lazy journalism that occurs when a reporter copies and pastes your pitch as the intro to their article, or maybe even uses the subject line as their title. (Hey, we’ll take it; that’s controlled messaging right there.) No, this is when a journalist calls out your pitch for its ineffectiveness, buzzwords, lack of embargo, or anything else that ticked them off.

My called-out pitch happened too long ago for it to still be live (and the journalist mercifully left out my name, anyway). Still, it was an interesting lesson. As it happened, that journalist was moonlighting as an analyst, and I quoted a different analyst firm’s data to them. Oops.

These days, there are whole blogs and columns dedicated to bad PR pitches, so there’s plenty of fodder to learn from, yet PR pros are still making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

2. Being called out on Twitter

More and more, we see bad PR pitches called out not just in articles, but in tweets.

Take notes from the likes of Wired’s Kate O’Flaherty, Forbes’ Alex Konrad, CNN’s Elana Zak, The Verge’s Casey Newton, Computer Weekly’s Adrian Bridgewater, or VentureBeat’s Emil Protalinski. (Protalinski has this PR grievance from three years ago pinned to his profile).

PR pros would be wise to scour reporters’ Twitter profiles to learn what really irks them before pitching, or else they could find themselves the subject of an unflattering screenshot.

3. Preventing coverage from being posted

In 2008, I was learning the ins and outs of interacting with journalists on the relatively new Twitter platform. In one instance, that meant learning the hard way.

On a day of extreme market highs and lows, as I had just secured an elusive interview with a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal. After the interview, I went to Twitter to thank the journalist for speaking with my client, tagging their respective handles, thinking it was a courteous and relationship-building move.

Minutes later though, I had an email from the journalist noting that he was chagrined at my tweet, because it told his competitors (e.g., The New York Times) exactly whom he had been interviewing and, therefore, they could jump on the same story and source. Unfortunately, deleting the tweet wasn’t enough to appease that particular journalist.

He never posted the piece featuring my client.

4. Being used as a company’s spokesperson

In 2012, amid the chaos of Hurricane Sandy, my tech clients had been knocked offline and were suffering downtime. The implications were profound, given the critical services those clients provided to their customers.

In that frenzy, I learned that PR pros might be called upon by the likes of The New York Times, no less, to provide commentary when a company representative couldn’t be reached.

Luckily, the story was positive, but that often isn’t the case. The big lesson here was to know your clients’ messaging inside and out, and know what you can say and what you can’t.

5. Having an embargo broken, and being refused to have the story taken down

Unfortunately, embargoed news gets broken from time to time. Often, it’s a simple mistake or time zone miscalculation, and journalists are happy to take down the article and repost it once the embargo has been lifted.

Sometimes, though, we PR folks are not so lucky.

One time, a journalist broke the embargo on a piece of news from one of my clients, and it turned malicious. Not only did the reporter and his editor refuse to take down the piece, they actually refreshed the article’s posting date so that it would remain at the top of the column for the entire month, to be tweeted anew each time. Needless to say, the client was not happy.

Meredith L. Eaton is the director for North America at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

Topics: PR


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