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Jennifer L. Jacobson is the founder of Jacobson Communication.
When it comes to PR, there are very few companies that do everything right. So, let’s observe what you’re doing wrong with the 10 biggest PR mistakes companies make.
1. Your PR goals lack strategy
If someone were to ask what your PR goals are, what would you say? To be on the front page of The New York Times or to be interviewed on Good Morning America? These answers address tactics, not strategy. Strategy is what you want to accomplish; tactics are how you accomplish it.
Make a list of the things you would like to accomplish with PR. I often ask clients to imagine that they could, “be in any publication.” Then I ask them what kind of story they would be in. Then I ask them what the outcome of that story would be.
Is the purpose of your company’s PR effort to get more customers, attract investors, or impress potential business partners? You need to know before blindly pitching your company to the media.
Public relations traction takes time, energy, and money. If you don’t have a strategy, you’re wasting your time.
2. Your CEO is your only spokesperson
While this is true for many smaller companies and startups, it’s often a hindrance. Not everyone is a natural spokesperson, and some people can actually be damaging if they get in front of the media.
Have at least one other spokesperson available to talk with reporters. Make sure this person is likeable, smart, and easy to talk with. He or she should also have a good understanding of your company, and an even temperament. While this person does not have to be a co-founder, he or she should have a good history with the company and the intent of being there for the foreseeable future.
3. Product launches are your only stories
Product launches are important, however, there are other stories that will go a long way toward building credibility in the press:
-Studies with new data supporting your company’s market space
-New hires in upper management
-Reports on new market trends with commentary from executives
-Contributed articles from management in their areas of expertise
4. The product “goes live” the second it’s ready
It’s shocking how often this happens: newer companies and startups have a great new product about to launch and then release it “early” without proper lead time, expecting it to go viral. Too often this doesn’t work, and it backfires on the well laid out PR plan the team worked so hard on.
Don’t let your developer team flip the switch. Instead, let your entire marketing, PR, and management team “play” with the pre-launched product for a few days to find any bugs. Take the time to experience the product. This will influence the story that is written. Give key reporters pre-access to the product, which helps develop trust and brand affinity.
5. You don’t reach enough reporters
This one is pretty self explanatory, but it’s true. If you’ve only reached out to twenty reporters about a big story, it’s not enough. I don’t care how influential they are. While there is no magic number, and some industries have more reporters than others, you need to realize that not every reporter will see your pitch or care, and you need to plan accordingly. Cast a wide net.
6. You don’t leverage events
For lots of new companies and startups events are an afterthought. But you should know what the relevant events are in your field, and either attend or create press stories around them.
7. You rely on inexperienced people to run PR
Public relations is about reputation creation, management, and advocacy. It’s not something to be turned over to the inexperienced. While interns and junior-level employees can handle a variety of tasks, you need someone experienced to guide the ship.
8. You don’t keep a record
At any given time, you should have a good idea of which reporters “like” your company, what publications typically feature your stories, what your top stories were over the last few months, and what your current pitches are.
While you don’t need to log every single story, keep track of where you’ve been and where you’d like to be, even if it’s only in a Google Doc. This will help you set meaningful goals for your PR efforts in the future and determine what works and what doesn’t work.
9. You think PR exists in a vacuum
Integrate PR into your company. It’s not a solo effort that works independently of everything else your company does. The PR department does not need to be in every company meeting, but be sure they are regularly made aware (in advance) of:
-Changes in upper management
-Changes in company direction
-New branding elements, such as logos, taglines, and advertisements
-Upcoming product launches, even if they’re not being announced officially
-Changes to product cycle timelines
10. You give up at the wrong time
Successful public relations requires a significant amount of work, strategy, and investment. It’s never about “one story” making you famous. It’s about a variety of stories in a variety of places, over time, creating momentum. Too many companies get 95 percent of the way there and give up. Don’t give up. It’s okay to pivot, but don’t give up.
It’s not uncommon for companies to finally land an interview between their CEO and a major publication, only to have the CEO back out at the last minute, or have a product dev cycle shift. Don’t let that stop you. Make the story happen. Get your CEO to talk with that reporter. At this point, you’ve come too far to back out, and you will rarely get a second chance if you back out on a reporter.
Consider each of the points. While it is rare for a company to “hit every branch on the way down,” it is likely that there are areas that your company can improve. Remember, there is no one right way to do PR, but there are lots of ways to get it wrong, so be smart, careful, and sincere in your relations with the media, your team, and most of all, yourself.
Jennifer L. Jacobson is the founder of Jacobson Communication and a Silicon Valley leader known for helping great companies, organizations, and ideas get the attention they deserve. She is also a social media expert and author, known for her book, 42 Rules of Social Media for Small Business.
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