October 31, 2011 By blogging

How to Fix PR Nightmares

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It’s a Halloween Monday, and it seems that PR professionals around the country have been scaring themselves silly by sharing Jennifer Nichols’s article on Ragan’s PR Daily listing 10 terrifying PR situations. In response, we are giving a list of 10 tricks to turn these scares into “treat”-able situations.

Situation One – You mail merge a pitch to the wrong media list:

This one is especially scary since most of us send several pitches per week, and constantly juggle many specifically tailored media lists. There are two ways to rectify the situation, the first of which of course is to immediately send a follow-up email to the addresses that received the message in error to disregard the previous item. It is important to claim responsibility for the situation immediately in order to move forward and maintain the relationship with that media professional; contacts that you have a close relationship with may be more understanding and even those with whom you are not as close will appreciate saving them the precious minutes they would have spent assessing the pitch.

The second part of fixing this flub is of course, sending the pitch to the right list. As most pitches are timely, do not fixate on the mistake, but take action to ensure that the information is still sent to the right media.

Situation Two – Your big placement is canned due to huge breaking news:

In this situation it is important to assess the importance of the news that has pushed your coverage aside. Is it a major snowstorm that has stranded thousands of civilians? Has a major world power fallen to a country’s rebels? Whatever the reason, the journalists in charge of the publication had sufficient reasoning to move your restaurant’s opening to the back burner.

Of key importance in this situation is to remember that it is all business, never personal. Calling/Emailing a rude message will not help the situation and will certainly not guarantee a solution other than getting blacklisted with the publication in question.

You should however, get in contact with your source at the publication and ask two things: 1.) Inquire as to whether they can run your placement at a later time in the day or 2.) Whether there is any chance for coverage the next day. Just remember, they are not scrapping your news for something unless it is truly necessary. They may need to place breaking news in the spot and with the nature of the news being very timely; the space for the next day may already be taken up. If they are unwilling/cannot add more space for the next day, try your best not to burn your bridge with this contact, and do your best to explain to the client the reasons that the breaking event took precedence – in the event of a major catastrophe, they may have already heard the news of the day and be more understanding about the missed or delayed coverage.

If there is a way to reformat your pitch to tie it into the news that follows, you may be able to get some press at a later time.

Situation Three – A press release is issued with the CEO’s name misspelled and all the URLs are dead

This is a relatively easy fix; the key here is to plan ahead to make sure you are abreast of the situation as soon as it happens. You can do this by checking over the pitches you have just sent, especially when they are URL-heavy (which we don’t recommend in the first place as this has a bigger chance of getting caught in SPAM filters). It is key to find this mistake before the recipient notices or even worse issues incorrect coverage. As with the first situation, you must accept culpability for the error. Sending a message of apology that is clear and to the point along with the correct and live copy will ensure that the problem is quickly settled.

Situation Four – You wake to find a cover story featuring all your competitors

It’s horrible to feel as though you’ve been left out of the loop. Perhaps it is a restaurant publication that lists the Top 5 new eateries in town that you have not been informed about. Definitely do not slam the article or call in rage demanding that they do a re-count on this so-called “Top 5.”

We first recommend contacting your client to let them hear this from you, rather than the publication itself.

Then, we recommend sending over an email (in a cheerful tone) that indicates that you have seen that article and are also one of the newer restaurants in town and that if they would need additional sources the next time an article of that vein was in the works that you would love to be a part of it. This is a great way to introduce yourself or your client to this media professional.

Note also, that you should make sure that the coverage is good – no need to stress over an article that decries all of your competitors as the 5 worst places to eat in the city.

Situation Five – Crisis, crisis, crisis and no prepared plan of attack

A PR professional should never be without a plan of attack. It’s  what makes us professional, and if you don’t have this for your company, we highly recommend you start planning in advance, NOW.

However, when any situation turns foul, it is all hands on deck. It is important to pinpoint and contain the problem primarily so that you know exactly what kind of crisis you are dealing with. If the problem necessitates addressing the media, delegate a spokesperson that can keep a calm demeanor and ensure that there is no panic on the public side. Assign members of your team to different parts of the strategy, dealing with the press, talking with the client, discussing with future customers, etc.  Make sure that you constantly monitor the situation and even when the crisis has passed that you communicate what to do by giving updates on the aftermath as the dust settles.

Situation Six – No media show up for your press conference or media event.

First of all, are you exaggerating? Although it might not look like a press briefing at the White House, do your brand a favor and cater to the media that came with all of the courteousness that you usually bring. In PR you welcome anyone who offers up their time to see how much of your time you spent on putting together a press conference that rocks and you should proceed with the announcement even if you are talking only to the high school newspaper correspondent. If there literally are no cameras at your event, continue with the event as scheduled. Yes, it was important to get coverage, but the event probably has a greater purpose that made it newsworthy – a charity or cause that will benefit just by your participation. Yes you promised them coverage but do not forget that you are actually there to support.

Situation Seven – You accidently share a personal tweet on the corporate account

Yikes, this one has gotten employees fired before. While it does get complicated with the multiple Hootsuite accounts you have linked to your phone you should never have this problem. If you have shared something completely inappropriate – sex, politics and religion are the three biggies that come to mind – it may be the best course of action to delete the Tweet. While a large part of this list maintains that you should claim responsibility, if something posted would offend the masses, it may be best to simply deal with the backlash of response to the post than to leave it up for more people to see.

If there is backlash, we recommend letting the client know of the mistake as soon as possible, as well as your plan of action to rectify this situation.

Simply explaining that the tweet was made in error and closing up the gap of time that people had to see it, will aid in the damage control process. If the Tweet in question is something that could be explainable and your audience may be receptive, send a follow up to “can’t wait, four more minutes till happy hour” with a tweet that says “looks like @johnsmith is really excited for the weekend, anyone want to meet us there?“

The important thing about this situation is response time. Twitter minutes include literally thousands of tweets and being timely about the mistake is a must.

Situation Eight – You lose cell/Internet service; what is a PR pro without access?

It is important to always remember to breathe. You are a very important PR professional/executive/business owner, but the Internet does stand-alone and time will go on whether your subway is caught underground or not.

Losing your head in a panic attack may lead to rash decisions that could yield negative consequences, so just remember to keep your head. Chances are that you are not alone on these projects, although you may ultimately have final say or make final approvals.

During a crisis, product launch, or moment where internet is crucial, we like to have a back up plan (whether that is an iPad with 3G service, a neighbor in our office with an external hotspot, or someone in another location (working from home for instance) that can be on call in case of emergency.

Situation Nine – An expensive PR stunt results in zero coverage

In this case, as above in Situation Six, it is important to go along with your stunt. If you have already spent the money, you can definitely post the stunt –without stats on who came – to the company’s blog along with great participation pictures. You also never know if people are running late, and you would not want to disappoint a reporter who would have come to an event with nothing to cover. Do some follow-ups with the outlets that you have contacted, explaining how great the stunt went and providing pictures and details should they decide to cover post-stunt.

Just because there is no live coverage does not mean that they will not run something as “What happened this weekend,” or something in a similar vein.

Unfortunately, you live and you learn and this is a hard one because even a PR professional extraordinaire cannot control everything around you (although trust us, we wish it wasn’t that way). Every experience that you have ultimately enriches the density of your PR savvy and as long as you learn from the event, it is never a complete waste.

Situation Ten – You have the wrong addresses listed on a media tour and your spokesperson is late to every interview

This is another situation where timing is key. When did you notice this? Hopefully on the first stop for the tour, so that you can send a corrected list to the spokesperson in question. Another important thing to remember is to contact the media person who is scheduled to meet with the spokesperson and to apologize for the inconvenience but that your spokesperson is running late. If that means that they will have to cancel the meeting, inquire on the phone if there are any questions that you may be able to answer for them over the phone so that you can still get the placement.


We hope that these scary situations have been resolved in your mind and that you are a little more at ease after playing them out. The key to most is to remember to keep your head, respond in a timely fashion and assume culpability. Follow these tips and there will be no more nightmares, only sweet PR dreams!