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Guest Post: Nothing Gained, An Inexhaustive List of Bad PR Assumptions I’ve Made

What you don’t know can hurt you. But what you don’t know you don’t know can be even worse. It’s a cliché, but a useful one. And it has proven itself true time after time as I make every conceivable and inconceivable mistake in my PR efforts. It’s the same lesson, over and over again, in different flavors: don’t make assumptions.

In the hopes of giving the PR professionals out there some insight into the minds of their clients, I’d like to share with you some of the key assumptions that only hindsight has taught me not to make.

“A press release will get the media excited about my story.”

I’ll write a press release, send it down the wire to 100,000 news agencies, and I should get a few phone calls asking for an interview. It just seems like that’s how it’s supposed to work. After all, when I look at stories about Apple or Intel or one of those other companies down the road from me, the writer often cites the press release. Of course, the mistake I’m making here is forgetting that I’m not doing PR for Apple or Intel. Editors and bloggers are not salivating with anticipation over my next big thing. If my press release does get picked up by anything other than bots, it will mostly be a copy-paste. But that’s good for SEO. And that’s what it really comes down to: press releases are for SEO. And of course, that’s important, too. But I know now that it usually takes more than just a press release--even a really good one--to get the media’s attention.

“Tech writers are technical people, so my pitch should be very technical.”

Have you ever skimmed through titles of recent articles in some industry you don’t understand? You’ll find something like “The Application of Laser Cooling in Coherent Magnetic Domains”, as a fictitious example. That’s what my pitches used to look like. Because hey, I’m writing to someone who knows tech, so I’m just going to give them the facts. That would be great, if my goal were to sell my product to the writer. That’s not the goal. I’m trying to sell them the story. I’m trying to show them that their readers will be interested in my product. And that means I have to write for the readers. Features, benefits, attention-grabbing words and phrases, an emotional hook. It’s a familiar formula, and it works.

“Writers love to write, so they must also love reading a LOT.”

That’s right: I’ve had to learn twice that when I write to writers, I should write the same way that they write to their readers. If I send someone my whole life story, they’re not going to pick through and find the 20% of that rambling copy that they want to relay to their audience. A pitch needs to be organized, to the point, and formatted for easy reading.

“Pitches are strictly for the media, and advertisements are strictly for target consumers.”

It sort of made sense to me at first that writers would be receptive to learning about my company during business hours, and that there’s no getting through to them during their free time. But this ties into something I lamented earlier: I’m not promoting some household name. My pitch is likely to be passed over if the writer is unfamiliar with my brand. So it wouldn’t hurt to spend some resources on literally advertising to the media. For example, a social media advertising campaign could specifically target people who are likely to be bloggers or editors in my industry. With a consumer, my best-case conversion after repeated brand exposure would be a few sales. But if I’m targeting members of the media, this could lead to additional coverage, and that can be far more valuable.

“I’ve only been out of college for twelve years, so I’m pretty up to date on PR technology.”

Well, first of all, I didn’t realize it had been twelve years until I wrote that heading. I didn’t need to know that. Anyway, I specifically remember learning in college how media kits are put together. It seemed like so much work. And traditionally, it has been. But recently (far too recently) I decided to look into online media kit tools. And wow, this stuff is great! I won’t show favoritism for one tool over another, but they make it so easy to put together an immersive online media kit. I’ve had great results with my online media kits, and it only takes about as much time as writing a press release and getting a few photos together.

A consultant or specialist needs to gain the confidence of their client or employer in order to have the leeway necessary to make positive changes. I hope that this summary of my hazardous assumptions will help PR professionals relate better to clients who might be as inexperienced as I was.

Tom Haflinger, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Zendure USA


Zendure USA is the program sponsor for this Wednesday's PRSA Meet the Media event, "Consumer Technology Newsroom Trends in 2019," featuring Kif Leswing, Technology Reporter, CNBC; Megan Hernbroth, Startups & VC Reporter, Business Insider; Mariel Myers, Executive Producer of Premium Content and Development, ABC 7.

To sign up for this Wednesday's Meet the Media program, click here.