Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Saying the right thing at the wrong time. Delivering a garbled message. Saying nothing at all.
These are all common public relations mistakes that can hurt your organization and its mission. Learning to recognize some typical slip-ups can help you avoid them—and the trouble they can cause.
Common PR Blunders
1. No copy. No outside sources are going to make an effort to tell your organization’s story—unless problems or a scandal put it into the spotlight. Don’t wait until reporters start calling you to let them know about all the good your organization does.
- Create an annual communications calendar that includes upcoming press release opportunities. Alert the media when you are kicking off a new project, completing a project, having a fundraiser, passing a milestone, delivering good news. Think about photo opportunities and chances to provide interviews with satisfied clients or donors.
- Don’t miss newsjacking opportunities when you can link your organization or a specific project to events in the headlines. Learn to strike while the iron is hot.
2. Sloppy copy. Press releases full of spelling errors or that raise more questions than they answer rarely get your organization the kind of attention you want. Editors will judge whether your organization deserves attention in part based on how professional your communication with them appears to be.
- Pay careful attention to dates and times; if you get these wrong, you can sink any chance that your event will get noticed. And be sure to include your most up-to-date contact information.
- Use the AP Stylebook. Familiarize yourself with the style used most often by reporters and editors and use it in your releases. It will help you answer pesky questions such as, “Is fundraiser one word or two?” (AP style says one.)
3. No media relationships. Reporters and editors need reliable sources in order to do their jobs. Looking for ways you can help them solve their problems will lead to relationships that can help you down the road.
- Know your key media outlets and their editors and writers by name. Contact them and introduce yourself. Let them know your areas of expertise and be willing to provide further information if that topic is in the news. Your name should be in their contact file.
- Proactively contact key editors and writers any time you have a positive story to offer about your organization. Treat them like partners—not as enemies.
4. No crisis communications plan. Day One of a corporate crisis is not the time to put together a communications plan. Staying calm is difficult when the sparks are flying and microphones are live, but it’s much easier if you’ve planned for this day in advance.
- Create a crisis communications strategy now. Practice it and review it annually to see if it needs to be altered or updated. For best results, get your crisis plan vetted by a third-party expert.
- Identify all the key players within your organization who may need to speak publicly in the event of a crisis. Get them “media ready” by putting them through adversarial media training.
5. Ignoring visuals. Media outlets often prefer to have visual images to accompany any news they publish or post. And they typically can’t produce images that tell your organization’s story unless you provide them. In a visual age, storytelling photographs and video should be at the top of your list, not an afterthought.
- Plan ahead for photos and b-roll (extra video footage) that align with your annual communications plan.
- Provide high-quality, high-resolution images when you submit press releases; such visuals could improve your placement rate.
6. Ignoring new media. Rapid changes in the way people get their news have radically changed the PR landscape. Your organization needs to understand and utilize these new channels of communication.
- Create social media accounts and learn which strategies work best on the different channels.
- Utilize social media along with print and broadcast sources any time you have news to tell.
- Work with a social media person who has a marketing or public relations background. Not everyone who understands the technical details of SEO or social media platforms understands how to use these channels to draw attention to your organization.