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Three Public Relations Pitfalls to Avoid

1. The Friday Afternoon Bad News Press Release

For decades, the White House has used Friday afternoon as a time to release bad news to the media. The rationale is that the media is wrapping up a busy week, Saturday newspaper circulation and readership is lower than any other day of the week, and the public is just plain tired and ready to relax. The linchpin to this strategy has been the newspaper. Times, however, have changed.

Increasingly, web sites such as Yahoo News and Google News are the first place the public looks for news, while cable news channels spit out freshly updated headlines 24/7 via news tickers that crawl across the bottom of your TV screen. As consumers, we no longer have to wait for the newspaper to find out what’s going on in our world; we read many of the newspaper’s “next day” stories the night before, online. As such, it’s harder than ever to bury that bad news press release.

2. Letting the Media Force You into Action

Discount retailer Family Dollar received some seriously bad publicity several years ago, after a fired employee used the media to air her case. Kolonie Sims told the Tennessean newspaper that Family Dollar fired her from a $7-per-hour job because she missed work to go to Mississippi to retrieve relatives left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. Sims’ story gained national attention, and Family Dollar received hundreds of complaints from angry consumers, some of whom threatened to boycott the company.

Family Dollar, after only two days of bad press, offered Sims her job back.

“The only reason why [Family Dollar is offering me my job back] is because they’re getting bad press,” Sims told The Tennessean. “I am conflicted. I loved working for them. But I don’t want to work for somebody that has done this.”

The Family Dollar story was a bit more complicated than initial reports suggested. For example, the manager and district manager for Sims’ store gave permission for Sims to miss work, but they apparently became upset when she left work four hours early, only to embark on her trip to Mississippi 24 hours later. (Sims said she had to gather supplies for the trip, make preparations, and track down family.) If nothing else, it sounds like a bit of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Regardless, Family Dollar would have helped itself by dealing with the Sims situation quicker. After that first call from the Tennessean, the company should have been on the phone with Sims and her managers, hoping to resolve the situation before the article hit print. Instead, Family Dollar waited two days to offer Sims her job back, and they suffered some very bad press as a result.

You simply cannot ignore the media when they bring bad news — and potentially bad publicity — to your doorstep. Being forced into action by the media is not necessarily a bad thing. But being forced into action by bad publicity is far worse.

3. Making the Same Mistakes Twice

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, former FEMA head Michael Brown took a lot of heat. Some of this heat stemmed from Brown being unqualified for the position. With so much negative attention focused on Brown’s lack of experience, you would think the White House would learn that when it comes to political appointments, it had better find people with the right resumes.

Julie L. Myers, tapped to head the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, came under fire a few years ago for her lack of experience in dealing with immigration and customs issues. But it wasn’t just liberals who had a problem with the Bush administration’s selection.

“The Bush administration has barely rebounded from the resignation of horse show organizer Michael ‘Heck of a Job’ Brown from FEMA, and yet is pushing forward with the nomination of another inexperienced bureaucrat to a key post at the Department of Homeland Security,” conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote on GOPUSA.com.

The White House, already under attack for putting a questionable candidate in charge of FEMA, must have known the public — and more importantly the media — would react negatively to Myers’ appointment. Sometimes even the government needs to look at the big picture, weigh the potential for bad publicity, and make decisions based on public perception — the kind of decisions that businesses make every day.

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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