Nine Mistakes to Avoid in Public Relations

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Public relations is a difficult field. Your job is essentially to get journalists to do half of your work. There is an enormous amount of pressure on a public relations consultant, especially when things aren’t going well for your client or employer. Diana Turowski is a public relations professional from Chicago and has worked with the Chicago Association of Realtors. She recently sent me a great email, a list of things she refuses to do when asked by a superior or client. Her list (with my commentary) serves as an excellent checklist for public relations professionals on what not to do during your next PR campaign.

1. Do not call a reporter outside of the office if it can wait.

Look at it this way, do you want your client or boss calling you on a Sunday when it could wait until Monday? Of course not. Reporters are people too, and after deadline most just want to go home and relax. If it can wait, which it usually can, call during normal business hours and hit the reporter up at the office.

2. Do not try to turn a boring story into major news.

Nothing irritates more than a public relations consultant who says they have a hot story and then gives a reporter a non-story. Not every story is huge. Take into consideration the impact of the story on the reader/viewer/listener. Sometimes you’ll find a small story piques the interest of a writer and they will make it into a big story. If you runaround pitching boring stories like breaking news, you’ll look like an amateur.

3. Do not make follow-up calls regarding a “boilerplate” press release, or have an intern/assistant do it.

OK, I’m a writer and I recieve a press release announcing an upcoming event. The press release is “boilerplate” containing relevant information about the event and the company involved, and even includes one of those cute executive quotes. If I have a question, I’ll call you. As for the second part: anyone who has contact with the media should be ready, willing, and able to answer questions and make statements to the media. Do not have an intern or assistant speak with the media unless they can speak on behalf of your company or client.

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4. Do not by-pass voicemail and wait for live contacts.

This is a tricky one. Believe it or not, journalists do return calls. And many journalists don’t even answer their phone. I don’t answer mine and I have caller ID. If someone wants to speak with me, they should leave a message. If they don’t and keep calling back, I get freaked out by seeing their number on my caller ID thirty times. Just leave a message. A pro journalist will return your call.

5. Do not pitch totally inappropriate stories.

This is a no-brainer. Would you pitch a journalist who covers media companies a story about a new web site for dog owners? Know your writer’s beat.

6. Do not pitch a story to a writer who just wrote about the same subject.

Sometimes you may be able to piggyback on a current story, but usually you’ll just have to wait. If the writer covers a specific topic such as the success of a local minor league baseball team then it stands to reason they won’t follow up the next day or week with a story about the success of a local minor league hockey team. It’s redundant and it’s obvious that you called them up and said, “What about us!?” The best thing to do is to call the writer or drop them a note and say, “Hi, I really enjoyed your story on that minor league baseball team. If you are covering this topic in the future, please keep us mind. Our minor league hockey team is doing quite well and our revenue is actually higher than the baseball teams. May I send you some information to keep on file?”

7. Do not call journalists to ask why they didn’t print the picture you provided, cite your data, or use your quotes.

Calling journalists and complaining about a story can create a problem. There are times when public relations consultants should absolutely complain: if you are misquoted, if the article contains incorrect information, or if the article was about your company and the writer never contacted you for your response. Editors make the final call with regards to publishing photos and editing stories. Sometimes it’s a matter of space and sometimes it’s a matter of what’s important. Not every quote is important and many quotes can be summed up with something as simple as, “A spokesperson for the company said the layoffs will only affect 50 people.”

8. Do not call journalists at deadline times regarding a story they’re not working on.

If it’s a newspaper, call in the morning. By 3:00 P.M. or so the writer is already working on tomorrow’s story and is dead set on that story unless something huge comes up. And if it’s a feature of some sort, it can wait. I get blown off by my own colleagues and editors when I call after 4:00 P.M. with a question, so I can only imagine what happens if someone from a public relations department calls.

9. Do not pester journalists.

This is a given. Journalists will make it known if they’re interested in your story. It’s OK to call a few times and inquire. That’s part of public relations. But after two inquiries, if the reporter isn’t responding, try someone else. It’s also a good idea not to bug journalists with questions about when a story will run or other specifics. Sometimes stories are “spiked” by editors for various reasons and the reporter doesn’t find out until the next day.

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

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