The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Relations

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In the promotion of your business through public relations, there are a number of “fatal” mistakes you can make that will kill or distort your coverage. Of these, there are “Seven Deadly Sins of Public Relations” that will ruin your chances of success, and probably lead to bad press.

1. No Comment

The worst thing you can say to a reporter is “No Comment” — that has become a tacit admission of guilt. And while the reporter may not know what you’re guilty of, this is like a red flag in front of a bull.
Practice saying something like this:
“We are in the midst of delicate negotiations right now, and are not at liberty to discuss that question in detail. However, I can assure you that as soon as the negotiations are concluded, I’ll be glad to answer that question.

2. Spin Control

Even professional political spinmeisters are having an increasingly hard time persuading the press that what they think they heard (or read, or saw) isn’t what was really said (or printed or acted out). If your corporate chairman’s wife likes to go skinny-dipping in public fountains at 3 a.m., you are not going to spin your way out of the embarrassment — especially if the reporter has witnessed this. Better to have her admitted to Betty Ford then explain she’s had a rough time recently, but is being helped then try to pretend what they saw isn’t what was really there.

Pulling Hair

3. Disinformation

As with spin control, providing the press with disinformation has become increasingly discredited — and a righteously media actively seeks out and punishes the disinformants. One common form of disinformation is to talk about your competitors. You cannot be objective in this case — and the more bitter the rivalry, the more your honest emotional outrage will color anything you say.

4. Baffle Them With Bull

When information is technical or hard for a layman to follow, it is easy to use jargon or techno-babble to confuse the reporter and try to make you appear larger-than-life and far more knowledgeable. This is a poor strategy with a huge potential for public relations boomeranging.

5. Playing Media Favorites

One reporter’s been good to you. One has been stern-but-fair. You’d rather feed a good story to the nice reporter, right? Short-term, that’s a good idea. But long-term (and long-term can be short in this day of instant communications), it can hurt you. You may not be able to really curry favor with your favorite reporter — but you can bet you will earn the disfavor and of the reporter you snub.

6. Demanding Media Coverage

This is one of the worst failings of amateurs. Some think they deserve public relations coverage because:
— Their story is devastatingly important (or, it’s vital to help launch a new product, etc.).
— The big boss is demanding it.
Reporters and editors have what is called “editorial judgment” — which means that absent libel and slander, they can write and publish (or ignore) just about anything they want — and they do not have to answer to anybody.

7. Just Following Orders

“I was only following orders …” (doing what you are told, rather than what is right).
If you are doing your company’s public relations and are answering to someone else (a Chairman, a Board, a CEO), you may find that they are asking or expecting you to do things that your gut instincts and these brief lessons tell you to steer clear of. Do not be tempted to follow bad advice just because it comes from the top. However, if you do as your told, take the heat with integrity. Almost all reporters and editors respect that, if only because it’s so rare.

This article, written by Ned Barnett, 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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