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6 ways to sabotage your PR efforts

6 ways to sabotage your PR efforts Mark Naples

All too frequently, companies and their PR consultants parts ways less than amicably.  Many times, it's the PR firm that breathes a sigh of relief when the entities part ways. 

While there are plenty of reasons for interactive companies to , there are lots of ways that clients screw up as well. We've fired our share of clients before, and when we got together to discuss writing about it, we both laughed at the fact that we came up with the same reasons. Want to know why it's not working between you and your PR firm? See if any of these might apply to how your firm regards you and your important "story."

Co-author George Simpson is president of George H. Simpson Communications.

Unrealistic expectations
It is unrealistic to expect top-tier publications like Business Week or Fast Company to cover every single startup that emerges. These types of profiles are rarer than you may think. Stories usually develop through the deep relationships that reporters and companies foster over a very long period of time -- think months, not weeks.

In addition, reporters will want substantive information to generate a compelling story about you, including very specific details about your finances, burn rate, sales, and competition, as well the reasons why your business plan changes over time. If you don't want to disclose this information, you can't expect any coverage, let alone good coverage.

Overselling to reporters
Don't deliver a hackneyed, clichéd sales pitch to reporters. They are used to hearing these from everyone else and it won't impress them. Don't give a reporter a PowerPoint presentation, hyperbolic adjectives to describe why you are better than everyone else, or false claims about your company. Also, the minute differences between the technologies you and your competitors use are irrelevant.

If you want to retain a reporter's interest and build the credibility that is necessary for long-term relationships, use credible language. Explain what your company does, and do it simply, only in terms of benefits to buyers, sellers, and/or consumers. Talk about your unique points and what you bring to the table without using jargon. If you can connect with a reporter successfully, you will definitely be able to connect with the public and, most importantly, potential clients.

Desire for special financial treatment
You feel that your small size warrants a discount with your PR firm. As a small company, however, you will need much more labor to build the relationships with reporters that larger, more established companies already have. Because you still need to prove that you will succeed, it is riskier to work with you.

More labor and higher risk equals higher cost. If you can't finance your public relations efforts, you probably shouldn't take them on. And if you take on the obligation, you should honor it. Small companies often have less cash on hand and therefore can't always meet regular payments, but if you want to build a strong rapport with your PR team, you need to pay them on time. Anything else will generate bad will to people you hired, after all, to talk about you.

Bureaucratic blunders
You hired your PR team for outreach, not administration. You should not inundate your PR firm with filling out reports, approving press releases, pitches, and phone calls. You should also keep group meetings to a minimum. The bottom line is that the more you subject your PR firm to red tape, the less value you will gain from their efforts. If your PR consultant is on the phone with your assistant account executive educating them about why it's important to identify a client that makes a good a reference, then there are larger problems than just wasted time.

Focus on noise, not substance
You should recognize that more news doesn't translate into more presence. The opposite may be true, in fact. If you constantly blast out releases on wire services just to "get the word out," you are more likely to end up in someone's spam folder. If you want to tell someone a story, isn't it more effective to tell the whole story at once rather than in bits and pieces? A story built succinctly and coherently for a full-length feature will resonate more than one pieced together in intervals. Think in terms of "crying wolf" and get every story right, one at a time.

No one is talking about you
Your clients are your mouthpieces and can share valuable information that makes you look good. You should be willing to ask them to provide positive references that you can use in future marketing efforts. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking a client, make a habit of putting provisions in your contracts that will allow you to discuss your work when courting new prospects.

Your PR team can help you negotiate these conversations, but if you don't complete any of the legwork yourself, you are once again not optimizing your PR team's time. If your PR team has to manage this element of your relationships with clients, it will have less time for other valuable outreach efforts on your behalf. At the same time, it means your team will get to know your clients better, and move toward working with them directly in the future.

PR is much more science than art, despite popular perceptions of the trade. Well-executed strategies can produce fantastic results that have many times the impact of any advertising campaign. There are many firms and individuals who can deliver these strategies, but none of them can do it in a vacuum. Your PR team is only as good as you let it be.

With all that said, remember that when well-executed PR succeeds, it can succeed with an unmatchable impact and lasting upside. Even one solid hit is worth more than you might be willing to admit. After all, if you've read this far, ask yourself, have you noticed the advertising alongside this column?

Mark Naples is managing partner, WIT StrategyGeorge Simpson is president, George H. Simpson Communications.

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Mark Naples is partner for WIT Strategy. WIT Strategy is a strategic communications consultancy serving clients who do business on the web in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. WIT Strategy helps these organizations identify and leverage...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Dick Pirozzolo

2009, December 14

George and Mark have hit the nails on the their heads with this article on managing a PR Agency - Client Relations.

I think one area could use more discussion -- on noise versus substance and the observation that a longer feature article has more value than a lot of shorter items about the company and its brand.

No argument that capturing one of those coveted columns on the front page of The Wall Street Journal can be a life changer for any business. But I do think that frequency and consistency have merit too.

Of course, I agree with the authors that every message has to be significant and have value to the reader not just the CEO of the client company. But I do think that we live in an age of shrinking news holes, the limitations of social media and what I suppose is a shorter attention span among younger audiences. Also the print journalists who used to be able to do one reflective article a day or so, now have hourly deadlines to feed their newspapers' Website. On the journalists' side this means getting it quick rather than right is more important.

Another big change is that the convergence of Web Search Engines and PR wire services enables us to communicate directly with our stakeholders and bypass the journalist-gatekeeper.

Often a tiny technological advance is of interest to a tiny audience and the PR newswires give us the opportunity to reach that audience directly with some very esoteric "news."

In any event, these are big topics with no simple answers. You publish one of the best blogs on PR that I have seen, so I hope you will consider covering some of the issues I mention here... perhaps the title could be; "Depth in Twitter Age.

Best Regards,

Dick Pirozzolo, APR
Wellesley, MA