Surprises are great for parties and gifts, but not so much for public relations.
PR works best when it’s reasonably predictable and reliable. This means paying attention to staffing, budgets, deadlines and prep work to ensure successful outcomes. Here are six surprises to avoid in public relations work:
The ‘bait and switch’
Let’s set a familiar scene. The client and agency contacts have happily bonded at a new business presentation, with great chemistry all around. However, by the next meeting, the cast of characters has changed without notice.
That is bad practice. Of course, employee turnover is unpredictable, but when it happens on the agency side, it should be a blip, not a breakdown. It helps if the agency leaders are transparent about the change and make it clear they’re replacing a departing worker right away.
If there are chemistry issues, address those at the outset to help establish trust in the teams that will work together.
The surprise budget overage
When a scope of work and budget have been agreed upon, an unexpected increase is not a welcome surprise. Any team asked to budget an event, product launch or other initiative is expected to stand by its projections.
Pro tip: Estimate “up” to allow for last-minute contingencies. A tight, realistic budget at the outset demonstrates good stewardship, but you don’t want to come back with an eye-popping price hike. Either way, weekly budget updates are a smart move.
PR strategists and clients each occasionally overpromise in benign ways. The client details features of a new product that aren’t entirely accurate. The agency envisions great stories based on the product specs, but then can’t deliver because the product doesn’t. Another common issue stems from the disconnected agency boss who makes grandiose commitments to clients without regard for reality or possibility.
The client-agency relationship will eventually fray if overpromising becomes a habit rather than an honest miscalculation. The best rule is to slightly underpromise and overdeliver (and to put both in writing).
The unprepared spokesperson
Occasionally we see overconfident executives who feel they need no media training. With little reason to believe otherwise, a PR team might book an interview with a journalist, only to see it go poorly.
To avoid this scenario, consider instituting a blanket policy of requiring media prep for every company spokesperson. Like most agencies, we make it a rule to speak to any media-facing executive ahead of an interview to get a read on their abilities. When necessary, we can facilitate media training or, in some cases, propose that someone else handle the job.
It’s no time to stand on ceremony when the heat is on your brand.
The negative news story
Experienced PR pros can foresee a story going south before it even runs.
Maybe it’s the hardball interview questions, a drastic shift in tone or topic or even some last-minute “contamination” by a competitor. In those cases, it’s crucial to inform the client that a subpar outcome is likely. Then, take steps to ameliorate the situation.
This might mean giving the reporter fresh data or insights for the story, or even additional resources at the company. In some cases, disaster can be averted, but if bad news is inevitable, the best policy is honesty—followed by a Plan B.
Is the article factually inaccurate? If so, a reporter should be willing to correct it. Can a post or two in the comments section present another point of view? A timely and proactive response can stanch the bleeding—but be sure not to overreact.
The missed deadline
There are plenty of safeguards to prevent missing deadlines, starting with a realistic calendar that accounts for the time needed to produce content. Factor in delays, such as rounds of client edits.
Additionally, everyone should be educated on how long certain projects take. Using previous work as a guide, build in the time it takes to reasonably turn each element around.
There will always be crunches on press announcements, delays due to other assignments and diversions to unexpected opportunities. Hot news doesn’t wait—and opportunities often vanish overnight—so make sure your deadline-driven team is flexible enough to pivot when a chance arises.
There are nice PR surprises. It’s wonderful to receive glowing coverage from a new writer or to hear from a former client who wants to reconnect.
The rule of thumb, however, is to prevent uncertainty and keep everyone in the know.
A version of this post first appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.