Working in public relations, you know you’ll face some challenges. One stumbling block is the preconceived ideas people seem to have about PR practitioners.
Whether this is based on previous experience or simply on the reputation some in PR have as being “spin doctors,” we sometimes battle the stereotypes.
While this can be frustrating to those of us who work hard to ensure we put integrity first, sometimes we have only our fellow public relations people to blame. When they promise what they can’t deliver, it can give us all a bad name.
What five things should you never hear a public relations practitioner say?
Here are five things you should never hear from a PR person:
1) “I can guarantee you media coverage”: If a PR person ever tells you this, run. Not only can a public relations pro NOT guarantee you coverage, but it’s also getting harder than ever to garner coverage for clients in the current media environment.
There are at least four PR people for every reporter. If you want a guaranteed spot in any media outlet, be prepared to pay for an ad.
2) “Yes, they’ll print your press release verbatim”: No. No, they won’t. A reputable publication may use your press release to pull information for a story, but any reporter worth his or her salt won’t just take what you say about yourself and put it in print.
In fact, you should be prepared to provide additional information to help support what you’ve said in your press release. Things like third-party references, data and visuals can help make the journalist’s job easier—and the story better.
3) “I can make this go viral for you”: This one has caused many a PR pro to smack his or her forehead in frustration.
Going viral became a thing back in the 2000s. Quora says the term to “describe rapid and widespread social proliferation of a meme or product” started picking up steam in 2008. I imagine it’s been causing public relations folks headaches ever since.
Truth is, it rarely happens. “If you are a client and a PR firm guarantees they can create a viral video or post for you, end the meeting immediately. This is a promise they cannot make,” says Rob Wynne of Wynne Communications.
The only way to earn media coverage is to work hard at it by honing your message, choosing the right media targets and being persistent.
4) “I can get you in the Wall Street Journal”: Maybe. Maybe your PR person can land you a story in one of the most coveted publications around. Maybe he or she can get you on The Today Show. But, let’s be clear – there should be no promise (see no. 1).
Usually, if a company is just embarking on a public relations program and hasn’t done a lot of media outreach, a PR pro will start with the lower hanging fruit. That could be local media or maybe an industry publication.
Getting coverage in a major publication doesn’t happen overnight – usually. Not to say never. But, setting realistic expectations is something an experienced public relations professional should do up front.
5) “I love all your ideas for media pitches”: The best PR people aren’t “yes” men and women. And wise clients understand that we may question their ideas at times. It’s part of what they’re paying us to do.
A good public relations person will push back on some of your ideas. He or she won’t just tell you what you want to hear ALL the time. While it may seem easier to say yes to every idea the client has, it isn’t a good idea. Why? Because as PR professionals, we understand what journalists are looking for—and it may not be what the client thinks will make a good story.
Here’s an example. Say the client wants you to pitch a story about a new project the company landed. While it may be a major win for the client, it may not be a big enough story for a reporter to cover.
An experienced PR pro may offer some alternatives to the idea. Maybe you can include an additional piece of news or pitch it as part of a broader story idea. Or it may be better to hold off until you do have something more substantial to pitch.
So, be wary the next time you hear a PR practitioner say any of the above. Many of us are working hard to serve our clients – but setting realistic expectations and pushing back are part of the equation.
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