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The Losing Recipe of a #PRFail
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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There is a Tumblr blog dedicated to them. There are serious blogs focused on them. There are columns in major PR publications honoring them like trophies. There is even a Twitter troll that is sheer greatness extoling these on a daily basis (from whence the picture came). What are they? The ubiquitous #PRFail. And for some reason, the flack treats these like most people cater to a deadly car crash on the other side of the highway — deer in headlights because gotta watch, gotta watch, gotta watch. 

Why are PR Fails so fun to watch, just so long as they do not happen to you or your client? I think before we figure out that Riddle of the Sphinx, we must first decipher what it takes to cook up one of these wildly contagious kerfuffles. To wit, here is the losing recipe for a PR Fail. Share it with your friends. 

1. Unrelinquished Corporate Control. How many flacks have a client who refuses to deflect the "behind-the-back" question from a reporter because his or her ego just digs it so much? Perhaps you have (or had) a client that decides what is — or is not — newsworthy, and then proceeds to tell you what to pitch. What about the client who gets miffed when the competition makes the headline, so he or she calls the reporter directly to "discuss" it.? Join me in a word of prayer?

2. Unprepared Talking Points. It's time for the follow-ups, and if you are a little verde in this field, it can be nervewracking to call a reporter. (HINT: They expect it and if you have something good, they appreciate it.) That said, you call the reporter and *BOOM* someone actually answers. Naturally, you freak and lose that talking point that you placed under your keyboard so you wouldn't forget. The reporter, doing his or her job, asks a follow-up question and you freeze and ostensibly say some dunderheaded statement. Whoops. 

3. Unresearched General Assignments. As a hack-turned-flack, I can tell you unequivocally that the worst thing you can do is call a reporter about a tech story and he or she only covers city metro. It's offensive, and makes you, your agency, and your client look oh so stoo-pid. Half of a great pitch is ensuring you have the right person in the media list. Reporters change about as much as said new PR pro changes underwear during the follow-up calls. It's the state of affairs in the media, so you need to trust your media database and what you find online. Look for past stories. Find previous quotes. For great Burson, Edelman, and Ogilvy's sake, know the person you are pitching. 

4. Unseasoned Pitches. NEWS FLASH: Jargon sucks. I don't care what the bigwig in the corner office says during a staff meeting. If you call a reporter with your "low-hanging fruit" promising to "move the needle" and create "good synergy," you will get the Heisman faster than Paula Deen at the next NAACP convention. Make your pitch worth hearing and reading by making them interesting, concise, newsworthy ... and did I mention concise? If not, you are going to say or do something hilarious and that becomes the PR fail. 

5. Understanding of Nothing. There are so many things to consider when making a PR campaign — the audience, the focus, the news, the reporters, the desired result. If you and the client are not seeing eye-to-eye on this, the slightest misstep makes the headline. A bad tweet, a prattling spokesperson, or even a foolish mistake from the flack. If you go into a campaign half-baked, you ... well, you'll wish you were half-baked. Comprende, brah? 

If you have any questions, I'm open for cooking in your kitchen. What's important is knowing that what you do for your clients is serious. PR is fun. Media is fun. Your clients? They like to have fun, but they enjoy making money much more than that. You do your job properly, avoid the dreaded rubberneck-enducing PR fail, and you get to have fun together. Don't, and we will have fun at your misery. Love you, mean it, but that's the way of the PR world. You are one flub away from the being the brunt of a hashtag. 

Trust me, they're out there ... waiting. 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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