6 Common Mistakes of DIY Public Relations
As a public relations expert, I'll let you in on a little secret -- you can do it yourself.
I can, naturally, also explain why you should not do it on your own. Frankly, there are many, many good reasons not to. Like most things you may be able to pay for, carpentry or air travel for examples, it's usually best to pay a pro.
Still some people chose to go it alone. And whether by bravado or lack of funds – let's face it, entrepreneurs can't always afford even entry-level PR support – I've seen plenty of people try. That means I've seen the DIYers make some pretty basic mistakes too. Here are six frequent mistakes entrepreneurs and others make when doing their own PR that you'll want to avoid if you try to do it yourself:
1. Not understanding news value.
This could also be called "having the right expectations" -- it's essentially the same thing. As you start a PR journey, understand that it's a virtual certainty that what you have to say and what you're doing is simply not newsworthy.
I am sure you think it is. But, trust me when I tell you it's probably not. Unless you're literally curing cancer or your company is on a path to hit uber-type revenue numbers, your story simply isn't news. The New York Times isn't going to profile you and asking for that, or expecting it, is only going to unmask you as an amateur who does not understand what news is.
To even be considered as news, what you want covered has to be of broad general interest and truly unique. It can't be just of interest to your market or to your customers. If that's the case, find and pitch a trade publication in your market -- not a general news outlet. Even then, expect that what you have to say may not be news.
2. Understanding urgency.
You can also trust me when I tell you that reporters and editors get hundreds (yes, hundreds) of pitches and news releases and announcements and interview offers every day. Standing out is difficult and many people doing their own PR miscalculate that the way to break through is to be urgent.
Urgency on your part is not news urgency. News writers and columnists and others have genuine breaking news they must cover. Like fires and political scandals -- your desire for press coverage does not translate to urgency in news inboxes or phone lines. Even worse, urgency can lead to over-hyping and, worse still, yelling. Don't ever try to convey urgency by yelling at a reporter. Different font sizes and colors (red) don't work either. Those who try that are usually, rightfully banished to the "don't ever contact me again" folder.
If you have news that is time sensitive -- by this I mean deadline oriented -- calmly say so in the first sentence. For example: our product will be live on our website this Tuesday. But don't assume that even this means you'll get coverage. See above about understanding news value.
Nine times in 10, what you're writing isn't going to be enshrined next to William Shakespeare's work as great literature. Don't over think it. Don't spend weeks editing a pitch or press release. Get to your point, make your point and move on. If your press outreach is short, easy to read and easy to understand, that's a win. Take it.
Also, if a reporter or editor bites on your story, don't get hung up on trying to edit their work. Never argue style and insist that something should be "but" instead of "however." Let the writers write. Argue too much or get bogged down into where commas should go and reporters and editors may decide your next press release just isn't worth the trouble.
4. Me too-isms.
Novice PR people often also make the mistake of trying to argue why they weren't included in specific stories. If you sell air freshener and a big paper just wrote a story on air fresheners, it's tempting to write the reporter and ask, "Why didn't you cover me? How could you write about that and not include me?"
That does not work. The story is already written so resist the urge to argue about the cargo of a ship that's already left port. Instead, use it as an opportunity to get on the next boat leaving town. Write, "Great story, I am sharing it with my colleagues and clients. If you return to this topic for future stories, I'd be happy to talk to you about what I see in the market and how we're different."
5. Not doing research.
For the sake of everything holy, before you rip off a press release or make a pitch, do your homework.
Not understanding what the outlet covers, what the reporter writes about or whether they already wrote about it is wasting everyone's time and making clear you either don't know what you're doing or don't care. Neither is good.
While you're at it, look up how to format a press release or media pitch. You don't have to follow it to the letter but you should know there's no such thing as a 700-word pitch. That's not a pitch, that's a rookie mistake.
6. Asking for help.
Asking for help is a good thing. But if you're doing your own PR, you could ask the wrong people for help or misread the value of good PR.
If you make a pitch or send a press release and it's not covered, don't follow up and ask the reporter why they didn't cover it or ask them for tips for getting covered next time. That's not their job. Making a good, newsworthy, interesting story is your job. Or the job or your PR team if you have one.
Speaking of, don't ask PR people for free help. Sure, they can probably help you write a better press release or e-mail their personal media contacts for you. But that's what they get paid to do so asking them to do it for free disrespects the value of the service. If you sold air fresheners, you'd think it was odd if someone came to you said, "you know, I'd like to freshen my air. Could you give me some for free?"
If you want -- or need to -- do PR on your own, you can. Putting in some effort beforehand and avoiding common mistakes like these will help you get the coverage you want and build a good PR platform over the long run.
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