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Six Completely Avoidable Media Relations Mistakes

By on Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Intuition and strategy play big roles in media relations. There are times that you need to listen to your gut, and times when you just have to execute. But it can be easy to make a mistake, even while executing an awesome strategy. The last thing you want to do is introduce a problem that could have been avoided. Here are six common media relations mistakes that are all completely avoidable, with advice on how to sidestep disaster and be successful.

Mistake #1:Missing the mark with email pitches. The big media databases are great, but if you are doing a big pitch or news release send out, make sure you de-dupe the list before hitting send, so reporters don’t get your pitch multiple times in a row. And if you are doing a mail merge and trying to personalize your pitches with Dear XXX, make sure everyone has a name or a default filler that won’t be offensive.

Mistake #2: Pitching a reporter who has nothing to do with the topic you are pitching. Thanks to social media and the Internet – you can now find out what reporters ate for lunch, who their favorite sports teams are, and of course, what they cover. Look up what types of stories reporters cover and approach only the ones that might be interested. Yes, even with research you can sometimes make a mistake. Your odds of coverage (and relationship-building with journalists) will go up, if you don’t use the “spray and pray” method of news release distribution.

Mistake #3: Going out too late with a press release. Being Johnny-come-lately on a news story is no fun – because you know you deserve to be at the party and instead you show up while the band is packing up. If you anticipate releasing information because of an announcement or action by someone else, hone your email list of journalists, get your release approved in advance (even if you have to write multiple versions based on what the announcement might be), and streamline your approval process.

Mistake #4: Not coordinating with other parts of your organization, or not having it together. Known as “shoot yourself in the foot syndrome” this mistake is completely unavoidable. This is why you check the links in the press release (to be sure they all work). This is why you make sure the web page form for orders, or conference registrations or what have you, are correct and working. This is even why you make sure your own email address works if someone hits reply (had this happen with an ad agency rep today who pitched me for advertising for a client, I hit reply and it bounced back as undeliverable).

Mistake #5: Having a spokesperson who is not “on,” not available or too heavily scripted. Sometimes spokespeople have bad days.  Media training can help a spokesperson be prepared and avoid sounding like a person auditioning for a one act play of his or her own creation. But having a deep bench helps a lot too. If you only have one or two media spokespersons, consider training a few more people.

Mistake #6: Begging for coverage. Asking a reporter to write a story about a nonprofit organization or small business, simply because it would “help” the organization or business, is not ok. Far too often when I talk with small nonprofits, and even sometimes small businesses, they talk about how coverage would help them be known more in the community, aid their fundraising, help them sell more of xyz, and enable them to connect with more people.  The truth is – reporters care about none of these things. Journalists are not in the “do good” business, nor are they waiting around to promote someone’s business. They are in the business of storytelling. They are interested in shedding light on unknown problems, in finding interesting people to profile, and want to hear about businesses that are doing innovative things.  Don’t ask because you need it – ask by sharing a great story that you hope the journalist will want to share too.

Talk to Us: Have you made any of these mistakes? What media relations mistakes do you think people can avoid?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media and work-family balance. She also reviews books on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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