Let’s talk about PR sins.
Let’s talk about them with reference to poor Kirby Delauter.
Funny, clueless Kirby Delauter.
Let’s say his name a few more times, shall we? Kirby Delauter. Kirby Delauter. Kirby Delauter.
The PR sins of Kirby Delauter
Here’s the backstory (and explanation for why I can’t help but say “Kirby Delauter” over and over) of the PR sins of this poor, clueless man.
Recently, a reporter named Bethany Rodgers did what good journalists do and called Kirby Delauter, a council member of Fredrick County, Maryland, seeking comment on a story including him.
Delauter didn’t call her back. She wrote the story. It published. What happened next is Internet gold.
Delauter called out Rodgers on Facebook with a post that read, in part:
Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today. She contacted me by phone yesterday, I did not return her call and did not authorize any use of my name or reference in her article … So let me be clear … do not contact me and do not use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future.
Poor Delauter misunderstood how the media works.
As the Washington Post wrote in its story about the Kirby Delauter hubbub,
Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avant-garde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.
Eventually, Delauter apologized.
But his PR sins got me thinking back to my newspaper days. I’ve fielded calls from people who were outraged their photos (taken in a public place) were used in the newspaper without their permission.
PR pros, you’re doing it wrong
I started thinking about the ways PR people get media relations wrong.
So, in honor of Kirby Delauter, I hit up one of my journalist friends, Julie Johnson, to brainstorm sins of even the most seasoned PR pros—the things reporters and editors hate.
Here’s what we came up with:
1. Asking “How can you promote my brand or business?” Promoting your brand is not a journalist’s job. Instead, focus on how you can serve the journalist’s audience.
2. Assuming advertising equals coverage (or will get you special treatment). There are some pay-to-play outlets out there, but if you assume the journalist you’re pitching plays by those rules and she doesn’t (I never did), you’ll insult her.
3. Not knowing the scope of coverage or geographical area before you pitch. If you pitch a newspaper in central Oregon‘s High Desert, don’t promote your client’s expertise on hurricane preparedness. Come on, you’re a PR pro! Pitch wildfire preparedness instead.
4. Recycling old tropes. Do you know how many times a journalist has heard, “All anyone sees in the media is bad news; here’s a positive story about my client’s incredible journey or business or book?”
Come up with a new angle, please. They’re tired of hearing it. Plus, you insult their work by suggesting they only write bad news. That’s no way to build a relationship.
5. Burying the lead of your pitch. “If I’m reading six paragraphs before I know what your PR is about, you’re doin’ it wrong,” Johnson said. Take a cue from journalists. Put the purpose in the subject line or beginning of your email.
6. Using excessive smiley faces and exclamation points in your materials or emails. You’d be surprised how often this happens. We’re all adults here.
7. Micromanaging the story. Some journalists will be OK with your guiding the story. Some will even give you a review copy. Many will not. You want editorial control over your earned media? Don’t work with a journalist. Consider guest posting.
8. Thinking journalists care about National Thyroid Month, National Bowling Day or International Shoeshine Week. Tying your pitch to National Whatever Month is a great way to get your email deleted.
Now it’s your turn.
What are the PR sins you can’t stand? Spray and pray? Misspelling the name of the media outlet in the press release? Bring it on!
Eleanor Pierce, account executive at Arment Dietrich, is a recovering journalist. She’s happiest when she’s reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs and sarcasm. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.