Biggest fuck up
This is a great place to start and probably the hardest. Admitting to having made mistakes can really undermine competency, and yet I’d always much rather I (or anyone else I work with) be honest about making errors than trying to cover them up. Coverups rarely work, and you never learn from the true howlers if all you do is arse-cover.
There have been a few in my career – I guess like anyone. One of the bigger hairier ones was early on and entirely down to inexperience – a client asked me to query a quote made in an interview to a journalist after publication, the journalist took serious umbridge, thought I was questioning their professional integrity, threatened to blacklist the agency I worked for and their clients from future inclusion. That one took some very fancy footwork to straighten out.
Something similar happened when trying to arrange a major interview for a client of a client. I learned that day to treat those tasks with extreme caution – just because your relationship with a client may be open and honest, and you can advise them never to demand interview questions in advance, doesn’t mean that advice will be passed on to the interview subject. And if they then drop out of said interview – let’s say on press day, back in the glory days of print – it will only land very, very badly with an irritated and stressed-out journalist. Still brings out the cold sweat at the memory.
I get quite narked at people who say ‘PR’ when they mean ‘press release,’ but I’ve learned to suppress that. Same for the use of ‘press release’ when meaning the full spectrum of PR tactics.
In general, the perception of Public Relations and understanding of its role by wider business is pretty shocking, on the whole. I get very upset about how it is portrayed in Hollywood or on TV, as glorified spin doctors or the glam, constantly partying consumer PR image. One magazine I used to deal with years ago genuinely had a regular column called ‘Blonde PR girl of the week.’ For an industry as 24/7 as this can be, populated by very smart, skilled, and dedicated people, to be diminished like that really gets my goat. This can be very hard, considered, serious, and quite mentally-consuming work, and so few people really understand PR and its influence, especially outside of marketing.
I’d also suggest – the number of people who write the same copy all the time. I’m long enough in the tooth in this industry to have seen Top gripes journalists have about PRs, Why you should keep PR running in a recession, and The most hated industry jargon pieces go past at least ten times over. Our job is about remaining current, and creating engaging, fresh information which people want to read. Jargon might be overused – but there’s a reason it exists. Either better terms haven’t been invented (in which case, invent them!) or it’s because those empty terms give your brain thinking time. And if you can’t appreciate a really good game of bullshit bingo every so often, maybe the world of marketing isn’t for you.
- For god’s sake, don’t just read text-heavy slides when you’re presenting. If people wanted to see you read, they could have had your pitch over email. Bring things to life! Be human. Connect.
- Complacency is a killer. Steering close to missing the brief in this interview, but PR is all about the new channel, the new title, the emerging trend, knowing that journalist and what makes them tick. When you sit there and think you know it all and everything is going fine – that’s when plates start to wobble, or worse, you start falling behind what other people are doing. Stay relevant, with clients, with media, in your own brain – you can only do that by being an omnivore.
- Always take that extra 30 seconds to proof. There’s always a typo, lurking somewhere. If it’s a long document and you’ve read it six times over, read it from the bottom up.
- Don’t use the phrase ‘It’s PR, not ER.’ Generally, 90% of people will not be charmed, they will get the ick. They will probably be right.
- Always, always follow everything up in writing. Call notes. Reporting. Discussions with clients. Admin covers you in so many ways.
- Have fun! Enjoy other people – PR really is a people game. Write sweary articles that let you rant about your profession from time to time. Soak in how much you enjoy your job. When things get boring, or rote, it’s probably time to move on. If you’re not enjoying yourself, what are you doing?