When I’m invited to speak about public relations, publicity and press releases, the marketing professionals and engineers in the audience usually want to know how to use PR to generate leads and get the word out without heavy investments in paid advertising. They want to use PR for good. But few consider the dark side: the use of PR with good intent but bad execution.
It’s often hard to see the results of badly executed publicity. Could more people have attended your trade show talk? Could the TV crews have descended on your booth instead of salivating at the old technology across the aisle? Could your new product have earned the front cover of a key industry magazine instead of being bumped in favor of your competitor’s technology? There’s simply no way to know how much buzz about your company or product wasn’t created or how many leads weren’t generated by allowing your product or company to be hindered by badly executed PR. Conversely, it’s easy to see the results of effective publicity in terms of media placements, retweets, search engine domination and lead generation, buzz in the industry, and even in attracting and recruiting skilled reps and staff.
It’s always a thrill to see your news release placement on the first page of the search results, knowing you’re driving prospects to your Web site at the expense of your competitors. But what if that news release doesn’t say exactly what you really wanted it to say? What if the facts or prices are wrong? What if instead of showcasing the benefits of your product or service it inadvertently brings attention to one of its few shortcomings – and the competition seizes on it, even touts the news release as an admission of the shortcoming from your own company? What was greeted at first as a PR victory becomes an embarrassment that will never…go…away.
It seems simple enough to be sure your own news releases present your products and services in the best possible light. But if it is so simple, then why is there so much badly executed PR out there?
Here’s How I’ve Seen It Happen
1. OMG, we have a trade show tomorrow! An email from the show organizer arrives with a (second) reminder to provide a press release for the show Web site and for the at-show press room. So many bases were covered before the trade show that this one was overlooked. A copy and paste of a press release from last year’s trade show is hastily cobbled together and sent just in time to be included in the show organizer’s email to all registered media. Unfortunately, nobody checked to be sure the updated, upgraded product specs were included and it was published touting old, outdated technology.
2. Our vendor (or customer) wants to do a joint PR story. They email the press release with an invitation to check the facts. They want to release it Monday morning. While the story isn’t unacceptable, it could offer a more compelling idea and you’re company is second fiddle. But who has time for a rewrite? At least your company location and date of founding are corrected. The press release flies out the door on Monday for the sake of expediency. But no one understands your product or service better than you and your team do. Leaving its presentation in the hands of a partner company with competing goals often carries greater risk and cost than perceived along with missing out on an opportunity to fully tell your story.
3. My daughter (or son) is a business major and needs writing experience to get a good job next year. Having had the very rewarding experience of teaching college level journalism students how to devise a compelling news release, how to write it and how to present it to the media, I’ll simply state that students typically aren’t ready to develop materials that journalists want to publish. On the occasions I’ve seen this situation happen, the effect on the company’s exposure or sales hasn’t been positive. However, it has rankled employees in the marketing department and in other departments where staffers expect their work to be given the professional quality marketing expertise and attention it needs to succeed. After the engineering team toils for years on a new product, for example, it’s reasonable for them to expect marketing to give its launch serious attention.
4. My boss wrote this – you can’t make any changes. You cringe at the thought of talking to a journalist knowing he or she is looking at the press release you’ve just sent – with your name at the top. How did your job go from establishing a corporate identity, inspiring the sales team and boosting sales to shilling for the boss’s pet project? The press release lacks a newsworthy story angle, is loaded with fake quotes that read in a way that people would never speak and it is filled with industry jargon and outdated buzzwords like “mission critical”. But nobody wants to say anything or rock the boat. It goes out the door as is and runs the next day on the Web sites of the two key trade magazines in which the company runs full page ad programs. Boss thinks it’s a success yet fails to see how this project affected the company’s credibility with the media (and his/her staff’s credibility), nor did the boss grasp the impact internally. It also missed an opportunity to score more effective, more widespread publicity. Another PR person might have devised a more effective way to promote the project and privately presented the boss with the alternative before releasing the second quality news.
With so much time, effort and investment involved in developing products and services, it seems senseless to allow your good news about them to be badly written and presented. Not every product or service is going to be a winner but if the commitment to how it is presented to the news media is lacking then even your winner product or service may become a loser or fail to deliver the anticipated ROI. No matter how bad PR gets generated, whether it happens in your company or is replaced by effective PR is a choice.