Often-Overlooked Mistakes Every Publicist Should Avoid
Some things simply can’t be learned from a book — like PR.
Whether you’re working at an agency or a large corporation, building a sustainable career as a publicist requires two things: the ability to produce high-quality work, and an aptitude for navigating the ins and outs of industry culture. This knowledge comes from experience and many new publicists, especially those without an effective career mentor, eventually learn these lessons the hard way.
Over the course of my career as a journalist-turned-publicist, I’ve studied the PR equation both from behind the news desk and in front of it. To help smooth that learning curve, below we’ll dive into some major dos and don’ts that every PR professional should know.
No News? That’s No Excuse.
A common challenge many PR teams face is generating media coverage when a client doesn’t have any hard news to share about their business. With no major announcements or noteworthy product updates to offer, it may feel as though it’s impossible to land any interest with the press.
Though the situation may feel frustrating, it’s your job as a publicist to find an angle that works and offer creative solutions. Is there an interesting thought leadership angle you can push? What about brainstorming a byline topic or suggesting an integrated campaign? Does the client need help with their messaging or content initiatives? Can you schedule an interview with the internal team to ask what they’re up to and ferret out story ideas like a reporter would?
Of course, every PR program needs information and insights from clients in order to craft a successful campaign. A lack of hard news, however, is no excuse for a lack of creativity on the part of the PR team. There are many ways to showcase your value in between press releases — and it’s up to you to find them.
Supervisors Don’t Have Super Powers.
Especially for PR rookies, it can often feel as though your account supervisors know everything. Senior leaders at any firm or corporation tend to be a wealth of valuable industry and institutional knowledge. They also tend to oversee many projects at once.
While it’s prudent to look to your supervisors for strategic guidance, don’t assume your supervisor is there to serve you. Most entry-level roles exist to support the account team from the ground up, and your higher-level managers are likely to have more on their plates than their teams can see. In fact, if they’re really good managers, you shouldn’t know about even half of what they’re dealing with behind the scenes, because they’re effectively shielding you from it.
For that reason, don’t assume your senior level supervisor is keeping track of every detail on every account; that’s your job, and an important skill to learn as you progress in your career.
Get better at managing up, and consider treating your supervisor the way you would a client. When you notice an upcoming deadline that needs to be addressed or a task that has been forgotten, don’t be afraid to follow up. Your manager will appreciate the support, as long as you point this out respectfully, and with a team spirit.
Don’t Overdo It on Housekeeping.
Here’s a tip for account leads and coordinators alike: don’t get so busy with housekeeping tasks during the first month of a new client contract that media coverage falls to the wayside.
Client onboarding can be an arduous process, and housekeeping tasks like kickoff deliverables, agendas, messaging and scheduling can certainly take time to complete. At the end of the day, however, don’t forget what you’ve been hired to do: land media placements!
Especially for clients who are startup companies and entrepreneurs, their timelines and budgets might not allow for much lead time between signing the contract and seeing that first piece of coverage land. While you get your ducks in a row on the administrative side, don’t forget to focus some of that budget on generating opportunities and facilitating introductions with key members of the press.
Dress the Part (Yes, Even on Zoom Calls).
Over the last year, the world has become very familiar with the differences between corporate casual style and the work-from-home dress code. As a virtual agency, we at Trust Relations are experts.
Despite the temptation to exist exclusively in loungewear, it’s important to put your best foot forward on client calls. While your coziest sweatpants may go safely unnoticed, it’s beneficial to have an assortment of Zoom-ready shirts or blouses. Also, don’t forget that they’re only seeing your top. So what might be a cute outfit in context could look less than demure if they’re only seeing your neckline.
Presenting a professional and polished look, even over a video call, helps to emphasize your expertise and experience to clients and shows them that you take each call seriously. Unless you happen to be Mark Zuckerberg himself, consider leaving your favorite hoodie out-of-frame.
Due Diligence is a Must-Do.
One of the most exciting and interesting parts of working in this field is the opportunity to learn about the innovations on the cutting edge of every industry. Particularly in an agency setting, you may encounter a glamorous lifestyle brand, a never-before-seen tech development and a world-renowned thought leader — all within the same day.
While these clients are likely to be experts in their industries, a publicist must always do his or her own research. When a client asserts that their idea or invention is novel, that may not always be the case. To safeguard against pitching an idea as new — when in reality it has been written about dozens of times before — do some research. Has a product like this already been on the market? Has this “hot take” on the industry already cooled? Have several reporters or outlets already written about this topic?
To preserve your credibility with journalists and generate results for your client, it’s beneficial to do your due diligence before you send that pitch.
As a regular feature on the PR Wine Down podcast, my co-host Laura Schooler and I cover these lessons and more. For new tips on “What Not to Do from PR Pros Who Know,” tune in to the show each Friday on our site here, or on any of your favorite streaming platforms.