Don’t Break Yourself into Jail (aka PR Hell)

February 19, 2016


This is fancy phrase I like to use for not setting yourself or your team up for a predictable failure or busy work that doesn’t deliver value – two scenarios we unwittingly back ourselves into more times than we can count. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve used to escape the foreseeable:

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your client thinks their latest announcement is Wall Street Journal front page worthy, but you know better. Don’t just nod, because in doing so you’re making a promise you can’t keep. You’ll have to answer for it at some point, so there is no time like the here and now to set proper expectations.

Don’t BS Press. Reporters are the world’s greatest bulls**t detectors. If you’re pitching something that’s a stretch and you know it, just don’t. Don’t spell out the obvious, give them a history lesson on the industry, or tell them what they already know. Also, if you know there is vaporware in there then it’s your responsibility to warn your client that coverage can cut both ways.

Don’t become the middleman. This applies to both media and clients alike. For example, if your client insists on a fact check for stories, encourage them to ask the reporter themselves on a briefing. It’s harder for the reporter to say no to the CEO than it is to the PR rep. At the same time, if you know two client spokespeople have different visions for a product announcement, you’ll want to encourage them to get on the same page BEFORE you start drafting a release around its launch.

Do forget change is inevitable. Vague is your friend. It can be a balancing act, but if in doubt it’s always better error on the side of less is more. For example, if your worried that press release you’re pitching might slip then give reporters a window for the announcement and don’t set an exact date they can get attached to. You can always go back in a follow up with the exact timing once it’s shored up. And instead of detailing everything in a product announcement pitch, use a teaser approach that hints at one or two features. You can then reveal more with each follow up.

Don’t measure up. In the interest of truth, let’s all be honest here in saying PR isn’t exactly something you can measure with the exactness of a ruler. Complexities aside, the reason is because every person perceives differently. A glowing review can translate into a sarcastic slam depending on one’s knowledge of the issue. The Onion figured that out a long time ago. So, don’t assume things. For example, my pet peeve is dictating sentiment to your client by telling them they’ve received “positive” coverage or that their quote was “right on point.” They can read, and if they disagree you’ll hear about it. Instead, keep feedback Switzerland and focused on the content and if a desired messaging made the cut.

Do KISS (Keep it simple stupid) and tell. A reporter recently shared that it often takes 3-5 emails just to book a briefing. That’s nuts to me. Anytime you can eliminate steps in a bloated process like this it’s a win. It also decreases the margin for error and the odds someone will no show for the call (awkward). This also applies to the next time your client wants to schedule a brainstorm. Always bring 3-5 max to the table, and be ready to justify your favorite. Too many choices, and you’ll double the time it takes to get a decision to move forward with the best one.

More than any one thing on this list though–trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel safe or right, it probably isn’t. Stop in that moment and think about what you can do now to mitigate any potential consequences of the decision if it does go south down the road. And if you find yourself in jail, facing the penalties and feeling the sting of regret, remember life’s greatest lessons are learned from failures. You never have to make the same mistake twice.



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