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Common Sense: the Key to Avoiding Missed PR Opportunities

It should have been a slam dunk. I spoke to the reporter for close to 45 minutes. He asked me a dozen questions, and I backed up my answers with solid data. I fired off a message to my boss, letting him know that this killer story about our company would hit newsstands two days later. But the story never ran. And it turned out to be my fault. What stopped this potentially great bit of publicity in its tracks?

The culprit was a press release that my company issued. The press release contained much of the same information that I had given to the reporter. I had timed the press release to coincide with the day reporter’s story was scheduled to go to print. Meanwhile, without my knowledge, the reporter’s story was pushed back a day. By the time I found out, the press release was on the newswire, and the reporter’s story was useless.

“We were going to run that story,” the reporter told me, “but then we saw your release. It was very well-written and we didn’t feel like we could add anything to it.”

To quote Homer Simpson: “D’oh!”

I didn’t mean to ruin my own party, of course, but I could have avoided this mishap by simply verifying with the reporter that the story was going to run on its scheduled date. An even easier solution would have been to wait for the story to run before I actually scheduled the press release for distribution. I did not do either, and as a result, I lost some easy publicity.

Most people who work in the public relations industry, at one point or another, will find themselves swallowing their pride and informing someone that a story was spiked. The client feels let down and the public relations rep feels embarrassed for getting the client’s hopes up. The situation is sometimes unavoidable — if only the public relations industry had control over editors! — but there are also plenty of times when public relations departments miss out on press opportunities, times when they have no one to blame but themselves.

Recently, I narrowly avoided a similar blunder. This time I almost made the mistake of not grabbing my cellphone when I left the office to head to the gym in the afternoon. That would have been simple human error. But the fact that I had my phone on hand was the only reason that I wound up standing outside the gym, giving an interview to a radio news program. If I had left the phone in the office, the press would have gone to one of my public relations competitors.

Our lives are busy, and missing a phone call here or there is obviously acceptable. But how many missed phone calls are acceptable?

When I was a journalist, I dealt with a public relations rep at a company where the idea of a late day was leaving work at 4:00 P.M. That would have been fine if this PR rep was in the office at 7:00 A.M. Instead, you had to call between 11:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. in order to get him on the phone. Because of the schedule he kept, and the fact that he was the only public relations spokesperson, most of the stories I wrote about this guy’s company included this dreaded line: “A company representative was unavailable for comment.”

After about six stories where his company failed to comment, this public relations rep finally took me to task. I told him that I often called and left a message for him after 4:00 P.M. His excuse — and it was valid — was that he left work at 4 P.M. to pick up his kids at school every day. Not wanting to sound like an anti-family thug, I suggested that he either give me his cellphone number (which he hated giving out) or give me the name of an alternate public relations contact at his company. He refused to do either, and the dance continued.

And I’m also guilty of a definite public relations no-no: When I go away, I don’t set an away message on my email and voicemail to let people know I’m out of the office. This means when I’m on vacation, reporters have no alternate press contact at my company. I’ll change this the next time I’m out of the office, but why wasn’t I doing it in the first place? Laziness.

We like to blame others for our failures, but more often than not, we’re the party responsible. Exercising common sense can help you avoid a missed public relations opportunity, the kind where you’re the only one to blame.

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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