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Personal Public Relations Blunders: A Cautionary Tale

Lately, I’ve been taking time to reflect. Part of this reflection has concentrated on my career, and more often than not I’m dwelling on my failures, rather than my successes. More than a few of those failures are related to public relations, and considering they say you learn more from your mistakes than from your triumphs, a look at some of my public relations blunders should provide a little insight in what not to do in the future.

The Wrong Date

If you use a newswire service to distribute press releases, like eReleases, you usually don’t have to worry about listing the wrong date; someone at the newswire service will catch it for you. However, if you send out releases out via email or snail mail without the use of a newswire service, you better dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s.

Back in early 2001, just after I had launched the DotcomScoop.com web site, I broke a very big story simultaneously via a text message and the web. At the time, I was excited and thought a press release announcing the simultaneous break would put me on some journalists’ radars. I wrote a very nice press release, one I’m still proud of to this day. I dutifully spell-checked the release and BCC’d my distribution list of over 200 journalists. I then hit “send,” smiling a large smile. For a few minutes.

In my haste and excitement, I put the wrong date on the press release. I was off by a year and two days. Not only that, the context of the release was my ability to deliver important and accurate business information in a timely manner. The release as bewildering as a result. Had the day been accurate, perhaps some recipients would have ignored the fact that it wasn’t the year 2000. To make matters worse, I sent out a correction, which again included the wrong year. I gave up at that point and sheepishly hoped that no one would call me out for a being a fool.

The Moral: Fact-check your press releases, and if you’re a solo operation, find a trusted friend or associate who will read your press release before it goes out. Re-read your press release twice, let it sit for ten minutes, and then re-read it again. When it comes to press releases, especially those you send out directly via email, there’s probably nothing more embarrassing than issuing a correction.

Don’t Go to the Well Too Often

When I launched my record label in 1997, I thought I scored a major coup. I announced my label to a group of friends and industry associates, including one journalist, via email. Two days later a small article about my new venture ran in a very important industry trade magazine. I was absolutely ecstatic, especially when I faxed over a copy of the article to my old boss.

As my label’s first year progressed and I made more announcements, I continued to do so to friends and associates first, including the aforementioned trade journalist, and then to the media-at-large. My trade journalist friend continued to give my label publicity when appropriate, and I couldn’t ask for more. Everything was going well–until my journalist friend decided to switch careers.

With my main media contact gone, I couldn’t drum up any publicity to save my life. The person who took over my friend’s beat had his own contacts; soon he even asked me to remove him from my distribution list. Other journalists simply ignored me, with a few telling me they’d previously felt ignored them and saw no reason to give me publicity.

The Moral: Public relations is all about relationships, and I erred by not cultivating journalists at multiple media outlets. I eventually had to hire an outside public relations firm, which sent my expenditures soaring and cut into my development costs. I was never able to build the type of relationships with the media that would have allowed me to continue doing public relations on my own, and inexpensively.

Check Their Schedule

After weeks of trying and pleading with the producer, I booked one of my co-workers on an important television show. There was only one problem — my co-worker wasn’t available for the date that I booked him. I offered up another co-worker and even myself for the appearance, but my original pitch and constant nagging was so persuasive that the producer now only wanted the one person unable to attend the taping. I haven’t heard back from the producer since the incident.

The Moral: Before you pitch anyone for a television or radio show or media interview, make sure you know their exact availability. In my case, my co-worker was originally available when I began pitching the appearance almost a month earlier. I didn’t check back with my co-worker before finalizing the pitch, and in the end I looked like a fool in front of both my co-workers and the producer.

Careful What You Say

A few years ago, I gave an interview to a college newspaper in which I ripped a number of business executives. Had this been the New York Times, I probably would have tempered my comments. I thought little about the interview; I didn’t see the actual article until about a month after it was published. And then boy was my face blue.

One of the executives, who I had moderately good relations with before the article, called me screaming one day. He was beyond mad, spit my words back at me, and had some choice words of his own for me. I could do nothing but apologize and suggest my words were taken out of context. One thing bothered me though: How did he see the article?

The article wasn’t available online, and I couldn’t find it in any database. The executive lived two time zones away from  the college, and I even checked with a couple of PR monitoring services to see if they covered campus newspapers. I was befuddled — until a friend of the executive told me the executive’s daughter attended the college whose newspaper ran my interview. D’oh.

The Moral: Your words have power, and the media broadcasts that power. Don’t say anything in a media interview that you’re not willing to stand by. And don’t think that media interview you give to your kid’s high school newspaper won’t find its way to someone who actually cares.

Just the Real Facts

At the turn of the millennium, I took a new job at a dot-com, and within the first month we were lucky enough to get an important industry magazine to write a lengthy and positive article about us. The piece included background on key employees such as myself, and we were all very happy with the results. Until the phone rang.

I was out of the office when someone had called ranting rather hysterically about the article. The caller claimed my background information was false and that she had already called the magazine. As it turns out, there was a false piece of information in the article; I had only been a consultant for a company the article had called my former employer. The person at our company who had coordinated the article had given the writer inaccurate information.

The bigger problem, however, was the person who “busted” us for giving out the wrong information. This was someone who had a preexisting personal beef with me. She demanded that the magazine issue a retraction and hounded my boss about my alleged resume “stuffing.” (For the record, my resume accurately reflected that I had been merely a consultant.) The end result was a rather odd correction and some undue stress for all involved. Likewise, our relationship with the magazine was soured.

The Moral: When you give background information to the media, make sure it’s accurate. In the case of something like a personal profile, a public relations pro should sit down with the person being profiled and go over the background information that will be given to the media. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a number of executives and sports coaches busted for having stuffed and fluffed their resumes. In the end, the public relations departments look as bad as the people who lied.

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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