Five PR Lessons from Twitter and #PRFail

Apr 04, 2011 Beth Monaghan

As a PR person, I regularly see tweets from reporters and bloggers regarding bad PR practices. Frequently they use the Twitter hashtag #PRfail, which has been gaining popularity. Give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean.

The complaints aren’t new to PR. In fact, many are the same things reporters were saying 10 years ago. Sure, there are plenty of mistakes made in the field — but I would argue no more than are made in any other. The challenge for PR practitioners is that the people on the receiving end of the mistakes have “mighty pens.” That said, there is definitely room for improvement on many fronts. And now that the media can voice complaints in an even more public way through blogging, the stakes have been raised for PR practitioners who now worry that a pitch letter or email will be taken the wrong way and published for all to see.

If we look closely at some recent tweets about bad PR though, there are some important reminders about the right way to do it:

1. Return reporters’ calls. If you send out information to a reporter and he or she replies with questions, the hard part is over. Now all you need to do is respond. Peter Kafka of AllThingsD (@pkafka) was having a hard time getting information for a story last week and tweeted the following:

“Dear Amazon PR: Last night you sent me release about Cloud music and asked if I had questions. I did! But haven't heard back. Everything OK?”

Later the same day, he tweeted:

“Perhaps Amazon PR's inbox is broken. So may as well try this route (h/t @hblodget). Three queries re Cloud:”

2. Understand how embargoes work. If you are offering an embargo, make the date and time clear to every reporter you are contacting. If you are offering an exclusive, it means you’re talking to one reporter. The easiest way to burn a bridge with the media is to screw them on an embargo so they are late to covering major news. Jon Swartz at USA Today (@jswartz652) tweeted about his dislike for embargoes on 3/28:

“Please don't contact me re embargoed crap. With rare exception, it is a waste of both our time.”

“My screed about embargoes is shared by many reporters. Not sure why companies insist on them.”

Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) of ReadWriteWeb tweeted this about a Google news announcement and embargoes:



And on April 1, he tweeted this:

“Google is on speaking terms with RWW again it seems, they sent us an April Fools day press release ;)”

3. Know the basics. When you call a reporter, anticipate the questions he or she will ask and have the answers ready. And when you email a reporter, nothing says I’m sending out 100 emails just like this than addressing it to the wrong person.

Laura Blow (@Blowsie84), a financial reporter in London, tweeted: “Phonecall summary – PR: what’s your deadline for your magazine? Me: Which magazine and which issue? PR: I’m not sure….#prfail”

Bari Lieberman (@fitchicnyc), NY editor of Vital Juice tweeted: “Just got a pitch about how people should “stop exercising and stop eating.” I’m a fitness and nutrition editor. #PRFAIL”

Alison Delory (@aldelory), a freelancer wrote: “Wanted to issue a #prfail to person who sent me a “Dear Jennie” letter but she followed up w/apology. Not exactly #prwin, perhaps #prtie?

4. Time your releases so reporters will notice. Weekends are notoriously bad times to make big announcements, unless you’re Apple and you’re releasing the new iPhone, which debuted over Easter weekend last year – with great success. Holidays are generally a bad idea, including April Fool’s day, which is fraught with fake news. See this tweet from Greg Huang of Xconomy:



On April Fool’s Day, Rafe Needleman (@rafe), CNET’s Webware editor wrote a post on his PR Pro Tips blog about fatigue with bad April Fool’s day jokes and the challenge of sifting through them for the real news.

5. Make it easy for reporters to get your information. Attachments are notoriously bad to send unless they are requested. Today, hyperlinks make it very easy to send emails without huge attachments, and they make it easy to provide instant access to more information so your pitches can be short and sweet.

Nigel Whitfield (@nigelwUK), a freelancer IT writer in the UK tweeted: “Thanks to the helpful PR company that sent me a zip file containing a link to a file, instead of the file itself. #prfail”

Topics: InkHouse
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

Read more from Beth Monaghan

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