One of the harsh realities of public relations is that great PR can sometimes go unnoticed, while a blunder can haunt you forever.
For instance, United Airlines faced a severe backlash to rebuild consumer trust after a passenger was forcefully dragged off a plane and Domino’s product quality perception took a nosedive after a video of two employees messing with food went viral.
While there are big and obvious mistakes to avoid in PR, some tiny slipups can make a big impact on your PR strategy’s success. From lowering your customer engagement to ruining your chances of getting picked up by the press, small errors can end up costing you big.
Here are three small but fatal PR mistakes that could make your brand die a slow death, and some pointers on how to avoid making them.
PR Mistakes to Avoid
1. Not Understanding the Value of News
No matter what type of genre your target audience associates with, it is always essential for your content to be newsworthy. People are always searching for the freshest information. They don’t want to hear recycled stories or waste time with boring topics. Before you begin your next project, determine whether your subject matches your criteria of “newsworthy” content.
A great example of a site that consistently creates newsworthy content is Buzzfeed. Sure, a good deal of it is about pop culture, travel destinations, and funny stories, but they do a fantastic job in finding a perfect balance between recreational reading and timely news updates.
This blend of content helps to create a connection with their audience because it fits into the criteria of unique stories that they want to read. By providing a wide range of topics, they gained one of the biggest, most devoted followings on the web.
Another good way to think about the value of news is whether or not the everyday Joe at the fringes of your audience would find it remarkable. Why should people care? Even if the core of your story only really appeals to a narrow persona or targeted at decision-makers, it needs to be created and distributed in a way that appeals to everyone that can possibly be interested in it.
However, for companies or organizations operating in a particular industry, unlike publishers, the foundation of your content should always be your target audience, so the first question you need to answer is whether or not your topic relates to them. Consider creating “reader personas” to help get a grasp on how your audience looks, thinks, and consumes the news. Be sure you have a solid understanding of who reads your content and what type of messaging they are looking for.
A great example of a brand doing this is tech company Nutanix, which provides cloud computing and data center solutions for the enterprise. The site has a cutting-edge tech news section called “The Forecast,” which features posts from editors and contributors to major tech publications. This is different from their regular blog; each post is a high-level overview of tech-induced business benefits or workplace changes, targeted at Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Content such as The CIO’s Guide to Modernizing a Data Center and The CTO’s Guide to Cost Savings in HCI reflect this fact.
For every piece that you publish, you need to pinpoint the aspect of your content that makes it newsworthy. Newsworthiness is no longer confined to the parameters of breaking stories; the term has actually evolved in recent years. Now, it refers to content that excites your audience and piques their interest, and keeps it – clickbait on steroids.
2. Neglecting Customer Experience and Support
The best most effective and striking PR and CSR campaigns pale in comparison to sincere, dedicated customer service. When your brand provides a great customer experience at every touchpoint along their journey, the result is not only loyalty (which results in increased CLTV) but also advocacy.
You might be thinking – agreed, there is no sales machine as effective as a satisfied customer, but what is the relationship between customer experience and PR? There are two aspects to this.
The first is risk mitigation. Poor customer service is a PR disaster waiting to happen 24 hours a day. In an age when people take to social media to nitpick about the slightest inconvenience within a blink of an eye, companies have no option but to respond within minutes to complaints and resolve them at the earliest.
The second is brand evangelism. When a customer has a great experience, they have no qualms in telling the world about it. It is your job to turn every customer success story into a PR event and use it to reinforce your brand image in the minds of prospective customers as well as a wider audience.
The key to both risk mitigation and brand evangelism is simple: Integrate your marketing, customer service, and PR departments – let teams share the responsibility for communicating with customers and responding to their concerns with the single objective of keeping them happy. Here are a few tips on how to go about that:
- Use automation wisely. Use chatbots and AI tech to preemptively answer routine questions and escalate urgent issues rather than avoiding human interaction or replacing your support staff.
- Make sure PR, marketing, and sales staff all have the requisite customer service skills and empower them to make quick decisions such as giving credits, refunding amounts, and giving away add-on products.
- Encourage customer feedback at all times. Follow up with them at regular intervals (via email or app-based surveys) after the sale to find out how they’re using your product or if they have any concerns. Don’t just upsell at these times; rather, let them know if you can help them in additional ways, if any.
- Monitor your social media pages at all times and have clear-cut brand messaging guidelines. This is one more reason to break down silos between marketing, PR, and customer service. A single conversation gone wrong due to individual indiscretion or a small delay in responding to a customer can hurt your brand reputation for years.
3. Inadequate Research and Poor Communication
The fake news problem is so bad it was already termed an “epidemic” well before COVID-19 hit. For any brand, it is extremely important that your readers trust the information you provide. The public’s trust in the media is shrinking every year, so it is absolutely vital that you prove that your information is accurate and reliable.
Before you begin developing your next story, make sure that you have a plan in place to collect all of the information your piece will need. The organization is key here. Start by creating a game plan and a list of things like which sources you will need to contact, where to conduct your research, and how to measure credibility. Then, set deadlines for various steps in the process.
PR is all about timeliness, and poor coordination is the archenemy of meeting deadlines. The research you conduct is the groundwork of your messaging. Any slight lapse in judgment can result in mistrust with your readers, and cause the story to go down the tubes. You can’t afford to miss a beat in today’s fast-paced news cycle.
Finally, even when you have a great brand story ready, a major pitfall in getting it out to news outlets is creating pitches that are simply too long or verbose. Journalists and editors get hundreds of pitches and press releases every day. Being overly-wordy in your document is a one-way ticket to the trash folder. Always be considerate of their time. Make sure your proposals are quick to pique their curiosity and relevant to their topic of focus.
There is no magic word count to hit for your pitch; the length can depend on several factors. One study found that pitch length hinged on the subject. The ones sharing a brand new idea or a complicated topic are expected to be 300 to 500 words long while those conveying a company announcement or news only need to be between 100 to 200 words. Be sure yours is long enough to include the necessary information and quotes that the journo or writer can use, then go through and delete any unnecessary words. You want to avoid the label of “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read).
A picture is truly worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to PR outreach. Adding in photos or videos will make your pitch stand out among the crowd. It can also help you share your story without typing out a long paragraph. Just be sure your visual content is concise – sending a twenty-minute video is not helping your cause, no matter how short your pitch is.
The media and PR industry is a complicated and fickle one, to say the least. Things can change by the minute, and the competition is fierce in the industry. Stay ahead of the game and avoid the embarrassment or frustration of making some basic mistakes by providing exciting and relevant content, staying on track with your research, and pitching your stories properly.
Speaking of pitching your stories properly – did you know that PR pitching tools like Prowly help you find the most relevant media contacts, create visual press releases, and send personalized email pitches at scale?
Cover photo by Daniela Holzer