The 7 Deadly Sins of Any PR Professional
By Aaron Broverman
Please forgive us for getting a little biblical this month, but we wondered what those seven things were that no PR professional should be caught dead doing if they are worth their title and want to keep their jobs.
We asked some past sources from some previous articles what are the drop-dead deal breakers in their industry that any PR professional should never do. The following is what they came up with.
- Not Knowing Your Audience
“A cardinal sin for any PR professional is glossing over audiences – or the different publics – the campaign needs to engage with,” says Josh Loebner, a brand strategist for Designsensory, a full-service PR and advertising agency.
To manage their audiences, Designsensory digs deep and creates an audience chart to understand exactly who they’re talking to. They divide their audience into segments and walk their team and their clients through what the marketing path through each segment would look like.
Recognizing each segment’s various motivations and desires allows Designsensory to craft customized messages within a larger campaign. They can also track their success and goals or figure out where they need to shift their message to guide momentum.
“Not knowing your audience could mean a PR campaign misses the mark entirely, angers or offends some groups or just doesn’t achieve the most optimal outcomes desired,” continues Loebner.
- Putting People in Front of the Media Who Aren’t Ready
For media trainer and ex-CNN correspondent Mark Bernheimer, the cardinal sin for any PR professional is an obvious one.
The founder of LA-based media training company, MediaWorks Resource Group believes the worst thing you can do is put someone in front of a journalist’s mic who isn’t ready.
“Just because the boss is a great public speaker doesn’t mean he/she can speak in quotes and sound bites,” says Bernheimer.
Journalists need interviewees who can speak in what Bernheimer calls “Reporter-friendly language” – simple, layman’s terms that anyone can understand – but it’s also important that spokespeople don’t say anything that will inadvertently compromise the interests of their company.
“With journalism transitioning from a profession to a hobby, there are many inexperienced reporters out there, and media training for spokespeople is more important than ever,” he concludes.
- Not Investing Enough Time in Continuing Education
“If you aren’t investing a minimum of an hour a week to test and learn something new, and if you aren’t making mistakes – then you aren’t being aggressive enough in improving your skills,” says Carrie Morgan, a digital PR specialist who runs Rock the Status Quo, an Arizona-based PR firm.
In her opinion, PR professionals can’t completely rely on their employers and agencies to provide training because the public relations industry moves faster than they can provide those resources.
So, as the old saying goes, if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.
- Protecting a Client’s Interest at the Expense of the Public Interest
James Hoggan, of the Vancouver-based PR firm Hoggan & Associates, authored a book called Do the Right Thing: PR Tips for a Skeptical Public. In it, he lays out three rules that he says all ethical PR professionals should follow:
- Do the right thing.
- Be seen to be doing the right thing.
- Don’t get one and two mixed up.
“As PR professionals, we have a unique opportunity to influence public opinion, and therefore, we have a responsibility to serve the public interest. We can’t fall prey to the temptations of protecting a client’s interest at the expense of the public, our communities and the planet,” says Brendan DeMelle, the editor and managing director of The DeSmog Blog – a blog founded by Hoggan (his mentor) to deconstruct various PR tactics used by some in the oil industry.
Channeling his mentor, DeMelle offers up this bottomline opinion:
“Ultimately, you get the reputation you deserve. If you want to be regarded as credible and reliable, you need to do the right thing.”
- Not Focusing on the Long Game
As an independent public relations professional and the owner of Liberty Ink Communications, Christine Liber knows the importance of focusing on the long game by building a worthy story, and taking the time to tell that story properly.
“I’ve always believed PR is a game of inches –it’s essential to create a well-thought-out strategy, take a holistic approach and employ a hybrid of tactics in order to be effective,” she says.
- Failing to Measure Results
The old joke in the PR industry is, “I went into PR because I’m bad at math.” Well, Joe Cohen fears those people will be left behind.
The senior vice-president of the International Public Relations Association wrote his own Seven Deadly Sins of PR where he detailed how math is more important than ever, thanks to the rise of analytics in the industry.
“For our industry to be viewed on par with the other disciplines, we must be able to quantify our work. Social media has made it possible to do so in a cost-effective manner,” writes Cohen. He points to the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles as an example of a way to do that.
The Barcelona Principles are a set of standards for measuring public relations’ impact on the media.
Not Knowing How the Media Works
Nothing illustrates the above better than what happened in January 2015. This was when Bethany Rodgers, a reporter for the Fredrick News-Post in Fredrick County, Maryland called Fredrick County council member Kirby Delauter and he didn’t return her call.
Like any enterprising reporter, Rodgers wrote the story anyway only to draw the ire of Delauter on Facebook. He threatened to sue her for using his name without his permission. The majority of the exchange is posted here.
“Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today,” he wrote.
Of course, Rodgers doesn’t need permission to mention anyone in an article, especially not an elected official. It’s just an example of someone not knowing how the media works to an extreme degree. Though no PR professional we can think of has made a mistake this extreme, there are tons of examples of someone in public relations misunderstanding their role.
Assuming advertising equals coverage, asking for brand promotion, burying the lead, or using tired tropes are just some of the sins in this blog post about the incident.