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Top 5 tips: common PR mistakes to avoid

Nobody’s perfect – not even us! Mistakes are an inevitable part of life and when they happen the best you can do is learn from the experience and make sure you avoid a repeat in the future.

However some PR efforts are hamstrung by common mistakes that, although they may not appear to be significant on the face of it, can damage your own and your brand’s reputation.

To help you steer clear of potential banana skins, here are our top five common PR mistakes to avoid.

Promising but not delivering
It sounds an obvious one but this is a bugbear that many journalists have with PR folk. If a journalist calls with a question or query, find out what their deadline is and make sure you call them back whatever the answer. “I’m afraid we don’t have a comment for you this time” is a better answer than no answer at all. Don’t promise a response you can’t fulfil.

Remember, you’re the gatekeeper to official information about your brand and business. If you fail to control that information then the press will turn elsewhere to look for it.

Bad timing
Printed publications only reach the newsstand after a routine production process. However it’s not unusual for people to get in their pitch too late and miss out on the opportunity to win some coverage as a result.

A weekly title will generally close its news pages about a week ahead of its cover date, with features wrapped up a few weeks before that. Monthly titles are often planned three months or so in advance. Want to be included in that glossy Christmas preview? Don’t call to pitch your idea in December as the magazine is probably already on sale, showing off your competitors who got in touch in early September.

Take a bit of time to familiarise yourself with lead times and deadlines. And unless you have sensational news, don’t disturb journalists on the day a publication goes to press.

Television is even more time sensitive as a broadcast medium. For news programmes you need to offer something topical and put forward a clear and well-conceived concept outlining how you can contribute. Then there’s the added dimension of location. If you’re aiming for the BBC Breakfast sofa then unless you happen to live in Salford you’ll ideally want to stay nearby the night before. The last thing you want is to appear looking and sounding like you got up at 2am to travel there.

Online news has become the most time critical medium of all – it reports the here and now in real time. So, while you don’t have to pitch months before, you do have to act quickly when you have information and issue it while it’s still red hot. In the online era half-day-old news is exactly that – old news.

Poorly written communications
Nothing conveys a lack of professionalism like mediocre written work. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and clumsy presentation are all cardinal sins that no-one issuing information to the media should commit.

Press releases should be written in plain English and formatted so excerpts can be lifted out without needing to be edited. Don’t use bullet points, block capitals or bold and italic type. Reserve first letter capitals for the names of people, places and brands only.

Cut out waffle and hyperbole like ‘leading’ or ‘unique’, and don’t litter your release with technical jargon. Write for a reader who is intelligent but not necessarily familiar with what you’re announcing.
If you’re in doubt, go back and read the newspapers and magazines you’re targeting to get a feel for their editorial style. This is what you should aim to emulate in what you send to them.

Journalists are interested in news, so if you don’t have any news then don’t send them anything.
Maintaining a regular flow of information to the media is fine if you’ve got lots of new and relevant information to tell them about. Desperately scraping together something you hope will pass as a story, or exhuming an old one in the hope of getting a second helping of coverage, is a waste of time – for you, for your business or employer and for the journalist who will put your efforts straight in the bin. Try it on too often and you’ll rapidly lose credibility.

“Off the record…”
When speaking to the press, there is no such thing as off the record. If you don’t want something to be repeated, don’t say it – it’s as simple as that.

If you could benefit from a helping hand to guide you around these potential PR obstacles please contact the Red Marlin team to find out how we can support you.

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