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Updated Nov 08, 2023

These PR Mistakes Could Kill Your Business

What happens when your marketing efforts backfire? It could mean the end of your company.

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Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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Table of Contents

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Today’s business owners and public relations (PR) professionals must stay on top of all the marketing components that make up the current business world, including influencer marketing, SEO, social media and online versus offline trends. Keeping these aspects top of mind is an important responsibility, in addition to completing daily PR tasks such as drafting press releases, pitching journalists and executing damage control.

It’s a lot to handle, but solid PR is essential for staying competitive in a 24/7 consumer environment. A negative comment on social media, a miscalculation around cultural issues or an underdelivered campaign can all harm a business. In fact, some public relations and marketing mistakes can irreparably damage your company to the point where it needs to close up shop. Your goal is to avoid that at all costs. 

The PR mistakes that can kill your business 

Business owners and PR teams need to be aware of the potentially fatal errors that can ruin a company. Double-check your PR campaigns for these possible mistakes so you can spend more time receiving positive press and less time dealing with PR nightmares.

Mistake #1: Not knowing your target audience

Getting caught up in sharing your new product or service with the world is easy as a business owner. Why shouldn’t you be excited and enthusiastic about it? You should be, but your PR campaign can fall flat if you don’t understand who your target audience is.

Before carrying out a PR campaign, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Why are you launching a PR campaign?
  • When is the most effective time to carry out the campaign?
  • What relevant media outlets should you reach out to?
  • How will you use social media to increase your reach?

If you don’t take the time to carefully consider these questions, you’ll put effort into a costly PR campaign that will ultimately go nowhere. That could tank your product or service’s prospects and have consequences for your company’s bottom line.

Mistake #2: Not focusing on personalization

Once you’ve identified your target audience, don’t assume everyone in that audience has the exact same needs and preferences. There are defining characteristics among your ideal customers and preferred media outlets, and if you don’t segment your PR and marketing efforts accordingly, you may not sufficiently target and capture consumer attention.

When you launch a PR campaign, it’s essential to treat every lead and contact like a close friend. Instead of sending a cookie-cutter mass email to everyone in your address book, single out each contact with custom efforts that show your recognition of and appreciation for them as individuals.

For example, when you invite a particular media outlet to a launch event, personalize the email with their name and use the text to establish a personal connection. Include a short note about something you have in common or praise one of their recent achievements, either of which demonstrates your genuine interest in their work.

Most pitches today look like bots sent them rather than human beings. The more you research the target of your PR campaign, the better your chances of registering on their radar and getting your desired response.

Mistake #3: Not being consistent

To solidify your spot in the marketplace, you can’t only be present when you have something new to promote. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies – if you don’t regularly engage in PR efforts, your company may be forgotten and left behind. Once that happens, it can be impossible to catch up.

To strengthen your company’s reputation and hold on the market, consistently execute PR campaigns of varying types. Keeping your company’s name in the press reminds consumers of your products and services. Consistent PR also helps build trust and brand loyalty.

Coordinate your PR efforts across multiple departments in your organization, such as marketing, customer service, product development and sales. It’s not only important to be consistent in how often you embark on PR campaigns but also to be consistent within each campaign. Good PR reflects your core business practices and requires everyone to work together toward the same goal.

Mistake #4: Not recognizing local media

The advent of social media and e-commerce has effectively eliminated geographic boundaries. Companies are no longer confined to doing business only within a certain radius. That may give you the false impression that you should team up with the biggest outlets to reach the biggest audiences possible and ignore smaller, local opportunities.

It’s true that good media coverage is beneficial to every company. However, it takes hard work (and sometimes luck) to get press for your business. While many companies focus on large publishing outlets, these outlets rarely provide coverage for small businesses. Even if you’re trying to reach consumers in other states, national press may not be the way to accomplish that.

Focus on local media outlets first, even within different cities you’re targeting, to help gain an audience and hone your PR game. The more success you have with smaller media outlets, the easier it will be to reach out to media giants and get their attention when appropriate.

Tip: Don’t be discouraged if your press pitch isn’t accepted. Take the opportunity to reflect on why you might have been rejected or ignored. Was your product or service relevant to current trends? Were the media outlets you targeted the best possible partnership for your brand? What could you do differently next time?

Mistake #5: Not being yourself

Staying current on sales and marketing trends is essential for remaining competitive in modern business. Continually researching what’s popular can help your company get noticed and retain a positive return on investment.

However, jumping on the latest bandwagon just because everyone else is can damage your brand. Every trend you try to capitalize on for PR should be relevant to your company and match your brand’s mission and values.

If you stray from your brand identity to exploit trends that don’t genuinely tie in with your company, you risk damaging your reputation or, even worse, causing your company to become invisible because you’ve made it look just like everyone else’s. [Learn how to track industry trends.]

Mistake #6: Not being inclusive

America is a melting pot and your ideal audience likely is too. Practice exclusivity at your own peril. If your marketing campaign inspires hatred, negativity or prejudice, social media or a comments section will quickly let you know you’ve made a mistake. Whether it’s the result of terrible timing, vulgar humor or bad taste, a deeply negative emotional response from your audience can take a long time to fix – if the damage can even be undone at all. 

Your PR campaigns should aim for maximum inclusivity and demonstrate your organization’s beliefs and values. Show you’re a diverse and inclusive company by incorporating diversity into your products and marketing. Demonstrate that your business is equitable, as such actions speak louder than words.

Mistake #7: Not delivering what you promised

Not delivering what you promised can cause confusion between you and your target customer. Even worse, it can prevent a first-time buyer from becoming a repeat customer. You might even see your business go viral if there are enough consumer complaints.

If you’re going to trumpet your products or services with a PR campaign, you’d better be sure that your product or service lives up to expectations. If it doesn’t, you’ll need a solid customer service team in place to make things right with the customer and repair their now-tarnished image of your company. But if you continually fail to deliver and don’t own your mishaps, your business’s future will be severely limited.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to Salesforce, 78% of consumers will forgive a business if customer service sufficiently rectifies a mistake.

How to handle PR mistakes

PR mistakes can sometimes be unavoidable, even if you start with the best of intentions. When such situations arise, don’t wait for them to blow over. Treat the incident like the crisis it is by implementing effective crisis communication strategies as soon as possible.

Let your audience know they are essential to your business and that the people behind your organization are human. At the same time, be clear that there are no excuses for what went wrong. Take the lead and demonstrate what you will do differently in the future. The faster you admit and address your mistakes, the quicker you can move forward toward your next goal. [Learn lessons from these famous companies’ major PR mistakes.]

How to score positive PR for your business 

None of the mistakes or scary scenarios highlighted above are meant to discourage you from taking calculated risks or brainstorming out-of-the-box ideas. Just like there are things you shouldn’t do when it comes to PR and marketing, there are some things you absolutely should do. The longevity of your business may even depend on it.

Connect with journalists.

Reaching out to journalists can take a significant amount of time. You will need to research contact information, find out how they prefer to be contacted and figure out how to personalize your query. Begin this process months before a product launch. Building relationships with a few key journalists in advance can help ensure you have somewhere to turn when you need quality press. 

That said, don’t view this as a strictly transactional relationship. By getting to know journalists personally and professionally, odds are they will have greater respect for you and what you’re trying to accomplish. You might also receive a quick response when you have a press request since you’re a regular contact, and that quicker response is helpful when trying to get ahead of your competitors.

FYIDid you know
Seek out freelance writers. Freelancers who specialize in your industry or have covered your subject matter recently are often looking to build their portfolios. In addition, they may have established contacts at more prominent publications or be willing to help you with additional PR tasks, such as writing press releases or doing social media promotion.

Do the research.

Journalists are busy workers, often trying to pull together a story within days or hours to meet a deadline. Providing the journalist with all the materials they need to share your story, text, infographics, video, or other content will make their jobs easier.

It also doesn’t hurt to supply them with a free product or service if that product or service is the focus of your pitch. Any new angle that hasn’t been covered is especially intriguing to journalists, so be aware of recent coverage. Likewise, offering new statistics or independent studies that provide exclusive news can upgrade a publication’s worth and thus make your pitch more appealing. Plus, if you’re easy to work with and provide all of the background research, the journalist will more likely want to work with you again in the future.

Personalize your pitch.

While you should strive to craft the perfect pitch that sells your idea, it might not be enough to get you noticed. Competitors use the same strategies to be seen, and even after all of your research, your pitch may still fall through the cracks.

While establishing relationships with journalists before you need their media coverage is the best route, you might not always have the time to do so. If that’s the case, you should personalize your pitch to the media outlet within the email and in the subject line. Personalizing it will ensure your email hits the journalist’s inbox (not their spam folder) and will likely give you a higher open rate.

Not sure what to say? Try commenting on the journalist’s recent work that you enjoyed, whether that’s a blog post or YouTube video. Then use what you know about their career to personalize your pitch.

Track your competitors.

You and your competitors all have the same goal: Get positive press and use it to scale your businesses. Because you are effectively competing with them for the same attention, you should regularly track the press your rivals are receiving.

Check your competitors’ press pages, social media accounts and press releases to get an idea of what media outlets they prefer. When you pitch those publications and comment on their previous coverage of your industry, you’ll have the confidence of knowing your product or service is relevant to the outlet. 

Also, by monitoring your competitors, you’ll see where their PR efforts succeed and where they fall short, and find takeaways that may be applicable to your company. Regular analysis of what others are doing in the marketplace can help you chart similar or better PR paths.

Did You Know?Did you know
Competitor analysis tools like MailCharts (email marketing), Sprout Social (social media) and Semrush (SEO) can aggregate your business competitors' strengths, compare their stats to yours, and help you stand out from the crowd.

Go digital.

Well-written press releases relevant to current events and industry trends are still effective, especially if you’re already established in your market. Businesses with name recognition are more likely to get attention from their press releases alone. Smaller and newer businesses benefit from adding digital assets to their press releases. 

Your digital marketing strategy should include digitizing your press releases, which allows you to include interactive elements, such as instructional videos, funny GIFs or relevant downloadable files. It’s another way of giving the target of your pitch everything they need and reaching them in the fastest way possible.

Follow trends.

Staying on top of consumer trends is essential for understanding your customers and obtaining media coverage. Google Trends can help you identify what’s capturing the zeitgeist at any given moment. You can also use the following methods to keep up with current trends:

  • Signing up for relevant webinars
  • Following competitors on social media
  • Subscribing to industry publications and email lists
  • Talking with industry experts

But remember – you don’t want to get so caught up in trends that you sacrifice your company’s identity and the things that make your organization unique. A trend should be applicable to your business and your audience before you jump on the bandwagon.

Leverage social media.

Use social media to tell your company’s story. It’s okay to sprinkle in a few sales posts, but your feed shouldn’t look like a weekly grocery store ad. Consumers want to hear why you started your business, see how it works, and know that there are real people behind the organization who have their backs if an issue arises. 

By focusing on specific social media platforms relevant to your audience, you can leverage these tools to target customers, run flash sales, and instantly respond to customer service inquiries. For example, you can use Twitter as a customer support channel

It’s also wise to sign up for a Twitter account to expand your media coverage options. Reporters often use Twitter to keep up with industry trends and daily news. If you include trending hashtags in your posts, you never know who might scroll past your tweet. Additionally, make a short list of relevant publications and services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and follow them on Twitter. If you monitor these outlets, you’ll see when they’re accepting pitches or when you could potentially be part of a top industry product or service list.

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Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Julie Thompson is a seasoned B2B professional dedicated to enhancing business performance through strategic sales, marketing and operational initiatives. Her extensive portfolio boasts achievements in crafting brand standards, devising innovative marketing strategies, driving successful email campaigns and orchestrating impactful media outreach. Thompson's proficiency extends to Salesforce administration, database management and lead generation, reflecting her versatile skill set and hands-on approach to business enhancement. Through easily digestible guides, she demystifies complex topics such as SaaS technology, finance trends, HR practices and effective marketing and branding strategies. Moreover, Thompson's commitment to fostering global entrepreneurship is evident through her contributions to Kiva, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in underserved communities worldwide.
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