Aaaaaargh! Sometimes, it’s just PR Fail.

Little people... why cant we all just get along?

Little people... why can't we all just get along?

I have a journalist friend who is hopping mad because PR people have forgotten the basics.

When I first got into social media, it was through PR. In fact, being fairly new to PR at the time, I used social media to help me learn more about it. I found my blog really useful in trying to articulate what I thought PR was, and wasn’t, and eventually started to realise how social media could slot into it quite nicely.

Sometimes I lose sight of this. I get so involved in talking about blogs and virals and bookmarks that I forget about the basics of PR, one of which is about relationships. And one of the most important relationships is that between PR and journalism. And, of course, professionalism throughout.

PRs are busy. It’s a fact. I work alongside tremendously capable people who sweat blood to help journalists out. But it’s hardly surprising that when PR goes bad, journalists get angry – because they too are sweating blood to get their jobs done.

So when this came through from my journalist friend, I felt compelled to pass it on. I’ve removed some details to protect the professional reputations of all concerned, but PR people, please take heed.

Here’s the story:

I have to sound off to someone who’d understand…

I was covering an event that I really needed to get good coverage for [frustratingly I really cannot reveal what the story was about but trust me, you will more likely than not have seen it covered, and even lead, on TV, radio and in the papers – it was a biggie]. The PR company, instead of pushing the material that I knew to be available, sat back and did nothing. By the time the story hit the wires I had to ring up people and get them out of bed to find out if anyone by some kind of miracle actually had possession of it. The PR didn’t even call me back, just sent a text saying it still couldn’t be accessed. I was finally called back far too late for this to be a story and I still don’t have the material.

I need to tell PR people – here’s how you need to start helping journalists:

1. Recognise a big story when you get one.

2. Don’t think “tomorrow will be ok”. Tomorrow we may have big stories around so it might only warrant a bare mention. At the time it was quiet and it could have led the news. Plus stories have a time limit and the longer it goes on the less valuable it is.

3. When a media organisation is chasing you, recognise that if you’re going to get the most out of it for your client you should bend over backwards to help.

Surely PR companies want us to want something they’ve got?

I am so frustrated, and not just own my own behalf. The PR’s client missed a huge opportunity because the PR company was not on the ball.

I can’t work out if I’m the one living on another planet or if they were a particularly incompetent PR firm.

No wonder PR Fail is winning (see right).

I think the journalist was right to feel aggrieved. And I think the points made are spot on. Do you?

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9 thoughts on “Aaaaaargh! Sometimes, it’s just PR Fail.

  1. I’m not in any way defending lazy PR people – and if the agency in question was supposed to send the information to this journalist, then that’s obviously A Bad Thing. But PR agencies work for their clients, not for journalists. Is it possible that they had a reason for not wanting this journalist to cover the story? Would be really interesting to know more about whether the agency actively witheld information for a reason, or whether it was simply poor media relations.

  2. Hi Kate,

    Interesting point, but don’t PR people work for both? Isn’t that what the word ‘agency’ implies?

    I think that, in this case, the PR didn’t benefit the client because the journalist didn’t get the material, right? If I were the client and I thought my PR had failed to provide something that a prominent journalist was desperate for – to splash out as a lead item on the main news channels – I’d be fairly upset, I think.

    You’re right that we don’t have the whole story here however.

    Btw not come across your blog before, very interesting, have subscribed.

  3. That’s a good point – but ultimately we’re paid by our clients. Although obviously we need good relationships with journalists, and on that score the agency above has clearly failed! I’ve been in situations though where for whatever reason it is not in the client’s best interest to give a particular story to a particular journalist. (I know it’s a long shot – most of me is resigned to this being yet another predictable example of agency incompetance = PR Fail.)

  4. Believe me, I really don’t like promoting PR Fail – that’s why I was the person who set up PR Wins as a direct response to PR Fail. The full story behind the story is that the journo emailed me and I was the one who suggested we put a bowdlerised version on my blog, to gauge reaction. I mean, there are some good points made in the anecdote.

  5. Completely agree. There is some bad practice out there that needs to be stamped on (actually I like the fact that you’ve highlighted this; the more good comms people distance themselves from the rubbish, the better in my view).

  6. This is a slight tangent from your post but PRFail was always, always going to beat PR Win. Admittedly the example you cite above is the failure of a PR person to do their job, assuming that there wasn’t some sort of reason why they didn’t want your journo mate to cover the story.

    The reason it will always win is three-fold, spotting an excellent bit of PR can be a bit tricksie, especially if the result was to keep a story out of the news. On the other hand many things that are not actually down to the hand of PR are deemed a PR failure, for example the recent Facebook redesign. Finally, it’s so much easier to be dismissive of something rather than praise it.

  7. Dead right there Gaffers. Good PR is like good design or indeed good writing, which is why I started this blog in the first place – you really don’t notice them when they’re good, because they do what they’re supposed to do. You only notice them when they get in the way. This is espesh the case with PR. You don’t notice good PR because, when it’s done well, it’s seamless and, well, unnoticeable!

  8. Some years ago I brought a mission of six senior fashion editors from New York to London Fashion Week at considerable expense to the UK taxpayer.

    A month later I had to take the same six editors for a very expensive lunch to listen to their complaints about how we had wasted their time flying them first class to the UK because none of the PR representatives of the British designers had bothered to follow up in the way they promised to do. Consequently they felt unable to write about any of the designers they had met in London!

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