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Are You a True Public Relations Professional?

I recently spent a few weeks watching public relations consultants in the wild and I’ve got enough observations to fill a book. Or at least an installment of PR Fuel. Consider the following four stories as examples of what NOT to do, at least if you consider yourself a public relations “professional.”

1. “Oh No You Didn’t!”

My friends and I have a game called “Oh No You Didn’t!” The rules are simple: we casually observe New Yorkers and comment on their fashion choices. Now I’m certainly not going to win any best-dressed contest. Most public relations consultants — like any business professionals — dress appropriately. But boy did I see some awful outfits at a couple of recent trade shows.

To the ladies: Don’t dress like you’re going out to some booty-shaking nightclub when you’re on the job. I honestly wondered whether one woman was actually wearing pants or if someone had painted her.

To the guys: If you’re going to wear a suit, make sure it fits you. One gent looked like he found his Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation suit that morning and decided it would be funny to wear it.

Public relations consultants are the public face of a company, more so than the CEO at times. So please, dress responsibly.

2. Don’t Interrupt

On more than one occasion recently, a conversation  I was having with an executive was interrupted by a public relations consultant. This is not only annoying, it’s disrespectful. An executive who regularly interacts with the media understands the power of their words and conducts themselves appropriately. The public relations department doesn’t need to clarify every statement an executive makes.

I don’t mind having the public relations consultant as part of the conversation, but they should add to the conversation, not just interject or correct. Of course if an executive is a total moron and shouldn’t be anywhere near the media, the PR department shoudl run interference and get him/her the heck out of there.

And a definite no-no: don’t whisper something to the exec. One public relations consultant did this while I was talking to a CEO; I looked at him and said “secrets don’t make friends.” The CEO laughed: “Why didn’t you just come out and say we’re late for a meeting?” Executives are busy; everyone realizes this. Public relations consultants shouldn’t be afraid to politely interject to say it’s time to go.

Another no-no: when a public relations consultant is on the phone while a journalist is conducting an interview with an executive. Reporters don’t get their copy editors on the phone during an interview. If your executives aren’t ready to do interviews solo, then don’t let them do interviews at all.

3. Equal Treatment

At one trade show, I sensed a number of public relations consultants were being overly flattering. That’s fine, even if I don’t care much for flattery. It’s often the publication, not the reporter, getting the “respect.”

What I liked less than getting my butt kissed was seeing how some of my journalistic brethren were treated. Events like trade shows will bring out everyone from one-man web sites to a pool of reporters from a newswire service. It’s important that public relations consultants treat everyone with the same amount of respect. You never know when that one-man web site ends up with a column in a newspaper.

I saw some PR flacks literally brush aside some very good journalists from smaller media outlets. I saw one slam the door on someone from a tiny radio station. He was just trying to get a short interview. I noticed the journalists from the smaller media outlets were getting the shaft; chances are other journalists in attendance noticed as well.

4. Don’t Disrespect the Competition

It’s not good form to disrespect your competitors unless you have a good reason, but that doesn’t stop some people. One public relations consultant recently went off on a 10 minute tirade about one of his company’s competitors, claiming they “suck” and have a “crappy product.” Journalists will rarely change their opinion based on the complaints of a competing public relations firm. Concentrate on the quality of your company or product; drop hints that the competitor sucks: “Yes, they have a decent product, but it doesn’t have rocket-propelled grenade launchers and mini-missiles that shoot out the back like our product does.”

I do quite enjoy interacting with public relations consultants in the wild. It’s nice to put a face to a name and just casually shoot the breeze. What makes the experience fun is when you meet some true public relations *professionals*. How do you want to be remembered by the journalists you’re courting?

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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