Why Are You So Bad At Public Relations? (And What You Can Do About It)


Crisis Communications Session Giving Great PR AdviceI have a standing policy here as the new Editor of SocialTimes. If you want to write a guest post for us, send us a news tip, or just tell us how we’re doing, send me an email anytime at [email protected] You can also call me between the hours of 12pm EST and 8pm EST at 518-832-9844 and do the same. Although truthfully, I prefer email. I’m like my grandfather in that respect. He was born in 1912 and wasn’t too big on talking on the phone. Entire conversations with him would go like, “Hey how you doing Poppa?” “I’m ok.” “That’s great!” “Yeah. Goodbye.”

Ok. They didn’t really go like that, but you get the idea. IF you’re looking to strike up a conversation with me, I prefer you email me. Unless I think you could be Wife #2. Then I’ll make an exception and have a prolonged conversation with you on the phone. But let’s get to the point here: I’ve worked in PR for many years. Almost half as long as I’ve been alive since I started when I was eighteen, booking concerts up and down the East Coast. (By the way: A lot of what I learned booking concerts is pretty similar to what you need to know to make websites go viral.) When I first started doing PR, I was really bad at it. I would get people’s names wrong, I’d send long press releases (often quoting myself), and I’d relentlessly follow-up with the person I’m pitching until they covered what I wanted them to. As you can see here, after a while I stopped sucking and got really good at it.

Pro Tip: Only follow-up once, after a week has gone by. Never quote yourself in a press release, always quote two other people not connected with you, and keep all communications brief.

Truthfully, you can’t be awesome at something unless you work at it relentlessly, practice when you’re not working, and educate yourself as much as you can on the subject. So, I don’t fault people for being bad at PR. In a lot of cases they simply don’t know that they’re doing it poorly. But given that PR is so important, especially when it’s often the difference maker between your project or startup gaining traction or folding, after a while it stops being cute and endearing and gets really annoying when you do it wrong. Especially when you’re on the other side of the fence as a journalist and you’re looking for something new to write about. And that’s a key point here: Journalists / bloggers / whatever you want to call the people who update websites you want coverage on these days, they WANT you to contact them. Because if you didn’t, sooner or later they’re going to run out of stuff to talk about. It’s true! Happens to me all the time. I have about fifty tech, social media, and humor blogs that I follow in order to update SocialTimes. I check it multiple times throughout the day, but half the time I finish going through the RSS feed and just click “Mark all as read” because nothing interests me. The same happens at every other website. We want new and interesting stuff and to hear from new and interesting people.

But when you don’t approach these folks in the right way, you aren’t new and interesting. They see you as dumb and annoying. I don’t because I can relate to you. I’ve been there. I’ve made all sorts of PR mistakes. I changed my ways and got really good at it. The same can happen to you, so I don’t judge. But here’s a few quick tips that I hope you’ll take to heart when pitching a website like SocialTimes and others. The better you get at public relations, the less likely you are to get judged and the more likely you are to get covered:

1. Don’t send me your press release. Not at first. Just send a short note. “Hey B.J., I’m working on this AWESOME thing and here’s what it does and why it matters to your audience. Can I send you some more information?” If I say yes? Send the press release. Or better still, include some links (no more than two) in your email where I can go for further information. I promise you that if the writer / blogger is half-way decent at their job, they will click on them. And if they’re not, you should be a little wary of them. They could be lazy and write stuff that isn’t true or accurate about you just because they’re on deadline or need to squeeze out some page views. Always keep your guard up for dumb, lazy journalists. They’re everywhere.

2. Get my name right. I’m unusual. It’s pretty easy to know who I am. I got a Wikipedia page. I got an Amazon Author’s page. You get the idea. I know this won’t always be the case, but do some research before contacting anyone. I had a heart attack recently, so I’m not going to respond to well to invitations or news about all-you-can-eat buffets, you know? But conversely, I may be inclined to cover a startup or project that is working on making people healthy and promoting good heart health. How would you know I had a heart attack? It’s on my Wikipedia page. Take a moment and do some digging on anyone you’re about to contact. (Bonus: Never, ever, ever, send an email pitch to a general inbox like [email protected] or something like that. Pitch to the reporter / blogger covering the area that you are involved in. Sending email to the general inbox is the equivalent of putting your press release in the garbage.

3. Finally, educate yourself. There are A LOT of bad PR books out there. There are WORSE PR blogs out there from people claiming to give you PR advice who don’t have the track record that I do. That’s because most PR advice is commonsense and easy to regurgitate. So you get a lot of pretenders floating around, and unfortunately some of them have managed to make a career out of giving bad advice. You want to get really good at PR? There are three books you should start with: 1. Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. 2. The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations. 3. The New Rules of Marketing and PR By David Meerman Scott. (Disclaimer: I have some issues with The New Rules of Marketing & PR but as a starting point, as long as you take it with a grain of salt, it’s ok. It’s actually my plan to self-publish an alternate to his book, but for now you can see why I have some issues by reading Social Media Is Bullshit.)

I’ll be back with more PR and marketing stuff in the not too distant future. Until then, you should get reading.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.