Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts: A PR Executive’s Crib Sheet

It’s easy to play up the adversarial relationship between “Hacks” and “Flacks,” but the truth of this perennial love/hate relationship is that that we really do need one other. Although the value of PR professionals to journalists is often called into question, as this article points out, “the popularity of services like HARO and ProfNet should be proof enough that journalists have a need for PR professionals.”

That said, as PR professionals, our jobs are two-fold: Not only are we advocates for our clients, but we’re also here to make life easier on our journalist comrades. Between a non-stop news cycle, scary budget cuts and mounting competition for clicks, there’s a good chance they’re working in a pressure cooker environment, so the best thing we can do is to think from their perspective and assist rather than annoy. After all, it comes down to relationships, and there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone who makes your job harder.

So, without further ado, here are our “Top 10 Yeas and Nays” for better PR practices. Although some may seem pretty obvious, those are often the ones that are first forgotten.

DON’T even think about…

  1. Not doing your research/reading a journalist’s articles before pitching. Know who you’re targeting, and only send something to them that you think would be of interest.
  2. Sending a pitch via email blast. The shotgun-spray approach is not appreciated; rather, think like a sniper.
  3. Asking if you can see and/or edit an article before it’s published. This is a huge no-no!
  4. Making up a response if you don’t know the answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”
  5. Disregarding deadlines. Your journalist friend has theirs, so make sure you meet yours.

If you want to develop good working relationships, DO try…

  1. Respecting the journalist’s preferences. If they’re an email person, and you’re more comfortable on the phone, adapt. Work their way.
  2. Keeping pitches and releases short and to-the-point (and as buzz-free as possible). Repeat after me: Less is more.
  3. Thinking about how to streamline the process. Have assets and answers ready, and be available when the reporter is writing and may have a question. (Package the story beforehand as much as possible: angle, visual content, facts, references, spokespersons, etc.)
  4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And when in doubt, hit spell check again before sending that pitch – perhaps even send to a colleague to review with fresh eyes before contacting the reporter.
  5. Focusing on relationships. I said it above, and I’ll say it again – it’s all about relationships. They make the job easier and a whole lot more fun! For example, interact with, read, comment on, share and praise a reporter’s work that you find of interest –  not just when it’s a story about your company or client.

And, as always, there’s often no better place to hear it than from the horse’s mouth. So unless you don’t mind finding yourself mocked publicly (yep, we’re quite aware of the conversations going on here, here or here), we also suggest checking out (and heeding!) veteran reporter Rafe Needleman’s Pro PR Tips:

Which tips would you add to the list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Five tips for finding your writing mojo

We’ve all been there before: Under an impossibly-tight deadline, in front of a blank page, hypnotized by the unrelenting blinking cursor staring back at you. You’re desperate for inspiration to hit and the words to start flowing, yet the harder you try to force it, the more frustrated you become, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle otherwise known as “writer’s block.”

It’s no secret that some of the best writing comes from having the ability to let your mind wander to more creative places…but when you don’t have the luxury of time during a busy work day, what’s a pressed PR person to do?

First, know there are no shortcuts or surefire routes to producing good copy; it will take a bit of time, effort and good old-fashioned concentration (something that can be tougher and tougher to come by in today’s age of 140-character attention spans!). But on the flip side, also know that it is possible to regain your writing groove, regardless of any momentary lapse in ability.

Here are five of my favorite tips for unblocking the writer within:

Move. I’m not talking about the pack-up-your-house kind, but the need for a change in location if you feel “stuck” in one spot. Whether it’s across the room, out of the office or through town to your favorite coffee shop, a fresh perspective and some new scenery can work wonders.

Unplug. I know, I know; this might as well be a four-letter word in PR. But try turning off your phone, waiting to respond to email and closing down other distractions on your desktop – just for a bit. I promise you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time without constantly trying to multitask.

Condition. Much like Pavlov’s dog, we can often train ourselves by pairing one stimulus with another. Have a spot in which you’ve been super productive before? Save it for when you need to get important work done, and eventually you’ll associate being there with tackling even the most complex projects with abandon.

Listen. Some people need silence to get work done, while others need to drown out the thoughts bouncing around in their heads. Whether it’s to the silence of an empty room, the ebb and flow of instrumental music or the energy of top 40 tunes, go with whichever noise strategy works for you. I happen to prefer classic rock and 90’s hits at a low volume for background noise, for example – so keep turning that dial until you hit on something that strikes a chord.

Experiment. Everyone’s writing process is different. If something isn’t working for you, don’t force a round peg into a square hole; instead, try another approach. And if that doesn’t work, try something else until you eventually stumble upon something that does work for you. But whatever you do, don’t stop investigating new avenues to unleash your inner creativity.

Have any other tips to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Persuasive Picks for week of 5/21/12

When consumers go online, they expect to receive the same personalized attention they get face-to-face, with engaging experiences throughout their decision-making process. To create those engaging online experiences, MarketingProfs guest blogger Jim Dicso gives readers Five Reasons to Create Online Videos for Your Customers.

Did you know that social media users who receive excellent service from their favorite brands go on to spend, on average, 21 percent more than non-social customers? Shea Bennett at AllTwitter posts more interesting findings from a recent study in Why First Class Customer Service Is The Key To Social Media Success [INFOGRAPHIC].

Looking for Sure-fire ways to improve your brand’s social presence? Social Media Strategist Stephanie Sholnik offers solutions to maximize your productivity to ensure your social media efforts are paying off and benefiting the business on iMediaConnection.

Social Media Overload? Focus on Your Audience, Not the Tools writes Steve Goldstein of The PR News Blog in his latest post that takes a look at how PR professionals can manage it all and show proof that the time invested in each platform is paying off on the bottom line.

What’s behind our urge to share on social media?

Most of us take Facebook at, well, “face” value – a social network that “connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them,” as the site itself says. But peel back the façade of friends, likes, photos, apps and more, and you’re left with an extensive data set on human social behavior that intrigues scientists and psychologists alike.

From CNN’s first-of-its-kind list of “The 12 most annoying types of Facebookers” to AllFacebook’s more recent post on “7 Facebook Personalities to Avoid” and even Vanity Fair’s take on “The Six Most Common Personality Types on Facebook,”  it’s clear that we’re fascinated by the fact that human interaction has migrated online, and that it’s able to be observed so easily within the Facebook microcosm.

Consider this: Each month, more than 845 million people record and share intimate details of their daily lives, relationships and online activity through their friend connections, messages, photos, check-ins, and clicks. Couple that with predictions that the number of active Facebook users will reach 1 billion in 2012, and you can’t help but ponder the common thread that unites approximately one-seventh of the entire world population, inspiring them to share so freely and publicly.

Well, according to several Harvard University psychologists, there’s a definitive reason behind why we like to reveal our thoughts, views and opinions to friends, near and far. The research, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences by Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell of Harvard’s Department of Psychology, even went as far as to claim that humans devote a surprising 30–40 percent of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences.

Why, exactly, are we compelled to do so? The act of disclosing this information about ourselves actually triggers the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by fundamental rewards such as food and sex, according to the study. Throughout the course of their experiments, the pair even found that some of the participants were willing to forgo money in place of disclosing information about their personal experiences!

Tie this back to us and our use of social media – and Facebook, in particular – as PR professionals and marketers, and we can get a much better idea of how to use these tools to connect with (versus broadcast at) target audiences, encouraging them to raise their voice and join in the conversation. And the more we practice this golden rule of social networking – keeping it about “them” not “us” – the more mutual success and satisfaction we’ll find in these relationships, both online and off.

How do you feel about sharing online, and do you have any particular best practices to share regarding personal/professional content? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Blackberry Blackout—A PR Crisis

I have a Blackberry. And while most of my colleagues, friends, and family have abandoned their “CrackBerries” for the Apple’s iPhone or Motorola’s Droid, I have remained loyal. Maybe because I am in a contract with Verizon until October 2012 or maybe because I am simply attached– addicted to the tiny keys, BBM, and square pad; however after the recent infamous data black out, I am weighing my options. And I am not alone. According to a survey by shopping comparison website Kelkoo, one in five Blackberry users is considering switching to a different smart phone.


Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company who introduced the Blackberry ten years ago, is facing one of the biggest PR woes.  After the worst Blackberry outage ever– which lasted for four consecutive days, leaving tens of millions of frustrated Blackberry users on five continents without email, instant messaging and browsing— RIM is now trying to make amends by offering $100 worth of free apps, but is this a case of too little, too late?

The PR mishaps and failure to properly communicate along the way have aided in additional frustration and brand damage. During the outage, RIM offered only a few updates on what was happening while a growing number of Blackberry users turned to their social networks to express their increasing anger, using the tag #DearBlackberry. And while it took three days for a public statement to be made from co-CEO Mike Lazaridis– who publically apologized for the outage through a YouTube video— the PR damage was already done.

So what should have RIM done differently to manage this PR and social crisis?

  1. RIM’s CEO’s should have faced the issue from the beginning, issuing a statement right away. And the delayed YouTube video should have provided a clearer timeline for next steps and updates.
  2. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter should have been used to provide fast and helpful responses. RIM only posted 15 updates on Twitter over three days. If they set up their own hash tag, they could have better contributed to the conversation and engaged with their users.
  3. Be honest and clear. Technical terms like “switch failures” isn’t explaining the situation in simple language. Being more concise and truthful would have better resonated with consumers and gone much further in repairing any relationship damage.

It’s going to be a long road to rebuild Blackberry customer loyalty and the brands’ reputation, especially with the fierce competition of other, better-maneuvered and slicker smart phones. Technology isn’t perfect. There’s always the potential for an outage or breakdown, but it’s about how a brand chooses to deal with the crisis that is crucial to limiting long term reputational damage and lost customers. This PR disaster is a great reminder of how important communication truly is. Acting fast, telling the truth, and controlling the negative conversation are vital.


This a great lesson in bad PR crisis management, but I’d like to hear another recent (we know the Jet Blue story) about a company/brand who took all the right steps in managing a PR crisis. When facing adversity, what did the brand do right? Why was it effective? Please share your thoughts and top tweets of the year with us in the comments below.