When PR Threatens Reputations Instead of Protecting Them

“You have loads of idiots representing your industry and they make others look bad.”

Succinctly put and sadly true of Public Relations. This is what a journalist friend said after sharing with me the last bad press release he received earlier yesterday (1st of May 2019) from a PR agency.

He shared that entire ‘media pitch’ with me, starting with the name of the agency, the content of the email, the text of the release and the picture accompanying it.

My initial reaction was to laugh – which I did, loudly. I thought it was funny. One minute later, I didn’t think that anymore. I forgot, during that one minute of laughter, that my friend is the editor of a regional newspaper and I work in Public Relations (PR). Then the harsh reality sank in.

‘I get stuff like that all the time. I was being serious when I said [PR] it’s full of cowboys.’

He is right and I’m among the first to admit it.

Writing a press release and knowing how to pitch a journalist are, in my view, the most fundamental basic requirements for any PR practitioner or agency. What I saw and what prompted this blog, was anything but fundamental or basic.

The e-mail to my friend, the journalist, started with “Hey, there”! I don’t know how you address your family and friends but, certainly, you wouldn’t address someone in the workplace with a “Hey, there”, let alone a journalist who you are courting to give exposure to your client’s achievements.

The e-mail I saw had spelling and grammar mistakes, and it was letting the media know about an important business deal made by this PR agency’s client. The email had no pictures (which we all know matter a lot), no videos, no infographics, no visuals whatsoever attached to it (and every press release should have at least one of these!!!).

What makes matters even worse is that when a picture was eventually sent through to my journalist friend, it was (and brace yourselves for this!) the photo of a room full of empty chairs!!! How on earth is this possible??

There is a far bigger issue here other than some/many PR agencies not having the most basic clue on how to pitch a journalist in 2019 (since the first Industrial Revolution is long past), how to be polite and professional, and how to make sure that their agency is remembered for all the right reasons:

We can damage a client’s reputation even if we’re paid to protect it!

My journalist friend now doesn’t think very highly about the company who employed this cowboy PR agency. He thinks that “if their PR people are so bad, and yet they got the Client approval to send this out, how robust are this company’s processes? How well do they do their business?” He’s going to do some ‘digging’ now …

I wouldn’t be surprised if one day media judged an organisation’s ethos, ethics and governance also based on who its PR agency is or on who their in-house PR ‘chief’ is … cowboys versus professionals, and once more the proof that the quality of those you choose to serve as an interface with various categories of stakeholders (media in this case), tells much more about your business than all your lovely pitches ever could!

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Image courtesy of flickr user jazbeck via CC2.0

Comments
  1. In the first semester of my PR degree at (what was then) Leeds Metropolitan University we were tasked with creating a profile of a media outlet. I managed to get a meeting with the very old-school editor of my home local newspaper. It was so long ago that he was smoking at his desk (!) and spent the entire meeting showing me examples from the 6″ high stack of crap press releases that he had saved just for this occasion, getting crosser and crosser about it as he threw them around the room. Typos, poor writing and bad targeting were all immediately obvious, even to me as a complete novice, and it’s so disappointing that we haven’t moved on as an industry. He scared me half to death, but it taught me a lot and I sincerely hope nothing I have produced since has ended up in a pile like that!

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