Avoid the #prfail

May 19 2011 by
Categories : Culture

Change a #prfail into a #jobwelldone

I may be one of the few people left in the digital world who just discovered what
#prfail is. (No, not the hashtag itself, but what the hashtag itself represents.) Chatting with Canadian Living magazine’s
Julia McEwen at an event last week,  I found out that this has become a trending topic on Twitter (a very viral one) and one that is the
nouveau way to stick it to public relations firms who don’t live up to our (unrealistic? warranted?) standards. Given today’s media climate and the fact that nothing is secret, nor sacred, anymore (do I really need to know what you ate for dinner on
Facebook?) this open-book phenom that is the
#prfail is no big surprise; but having taken a look at the
Twitter thread, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for those PR firms who really screwed up. So, in that vein, I’m listing the ways to avoid the dreaded
#prfail; humbly of course.

Personalize your pitch The easiest tactic that will yield the most favourable response. No one likes to be called "Dear Editor" or  even worse, Mr. Lara Ceroni. (I know I have a raspy voice, but really…) And
fact-check your own release. I once received a pitch from a PR associate who kept referring to all the great coverage they would love to see on
Flare.com. Love the girls at Flare, but c’mon. If you’re sending out mass emails to a mass group of journalists, it will take you 30 seconds longer to send out individual emails to individual journalists. Don’t know their names? Nice try. Look at their email address. Which leads to…
Spell-check your pitch prior to sending it out. Nothing upsets a journalist more (who, incidentally, is also known as a
writer) than with an email peppered with: "its" instead of "it’s"; "their" instead of "they’re," or, my personal favourite: "aloud" instead of "allowed." (Shocking how many times I’ve seen that.)
Know your audience Read the magazines (or the websites) you’re trying to pitch. And read more than one issue, or more than one piece of content to really get "it." It seems so obvious to us, but rarely done by you. The better you understand the brand, the better your pitch is going to be (and, trust me, it never gets old when we hear: "Oh, I just loved _____ story in the June issue." Ever.)
Voicemail 101 Never leave a voicemail with: "Hi, I’m just calling to follow up on …" I promise you the only thing an editor is going to do is delete, delete and delete. The reality is this: If we’re interested in your pitch, we’ll get back in contact with you. There’s absolutely no way we would sit on a great concept just, well, because. We wouldn’t have our jobs if we did.
Events aren’t parties to us (all the time): So we can’t possibly commit to going to every, single one of them despite the delicious offerings of champagne cocktails and foie gras canapes. It would be impossible for PR companies to keep tabs on all the editors’ schedules (of course), but if we don’t RSVP to your event it’s really because we just can’t swing it. We’re not ignoring you. Promise. Which leads to…
Stick to the schedule Obviously this is a "Try your best" situation.  Life doesn’t always follow our Moleskin planners no matter how much we try, so if you say an event is going to be two hours long, know how much we appreciate it when it actually is.
Our email works just fine We don’t need the same email sent to us three times in as many days, and if you are going to start a follow-up email with: "I’m not sure this went through or not, so…" please don’t. We’re on to you (Insert 🙂 here.) Which leads to…
Avoid the cryptic subject lines ELLE’s editor-in-chief tells me this all of the time: If you don’t state
exactly what you’re trying to push in your subject line, she won’t open it (so people trying to get a piece of Noreen, you heard it here first!). Be succinct, direct and to-the-point. We give you props for creativity (because we know what a tough sell certain clients can be. Hello, mouthwash!), but it’s not going to inspire us to click through.
Know our lead-times Most publications work on the same schedules, more or less. For print: 3-4 months lead time. We’re in May now, so July is closed and we’re working on August. For the web, it’s a different beast: We work  in real time (no surprise there) and very seasonally, so pitch us spring/summer content in May, holiday content in November.
Proviso: If I stop getting releases, interview requests or invites to certain events, I’ll be certain I’ve done the wrong thing here by exposing the dos and don’ts of proper PR, so please take this as you will. In sincerity, jest or humour. Please. (Insert 🙂 here.)

Categories: Culture