D’oh! The 5 Most Common Public Relations Mistakes

mistake homer simpson dohEven as a professional in the field, the term “Public Relations” can sometimes feel ambiguous and is easily misused. I often hear phrases like “All you need is some good PR to boost your business” or “Wow, that’s a terrible PR move.” But what does any of this really mean? I suppose like any word, the meaning is all in how you define it and the way I define Public Relations is the way you communicate, interact and serve your customers (aka or your public). So really, I’m in the business of managing and building good customer relationships and there’s a ton of vehicles which can be used to achieve this.

Most usually the businesses I step in and help simply have no public relations focus whatsoever. I like this. It’s a blank slate, people are usually open to trying anything and the things we do try tend to make an immediate impact. But what’s a bit more cumbersome is stepping in and fixing mistakes – especially easily avoidable ones. I always think that it’s so unfortunate that the business simply didn’t know what not to do and have now wound up in a mess because of it. So instead of just thinking, I got to writing. For this blog post I decided it’s about time that I express the 5 most common PR mistakes I see weekly if not daily to hopefully help even just one business owner avoid them. The good news is that for the most part, these mistakes are easy fixes that can be implemented in your own business almost immediately – or simply avoided altogether:

Mistake 1: You have no core values statement

When a customer does business with you, very rarely did they make this decision based solely off of the product or service they’ll receive. It’s a much deeper emotional decision than that – even if they’re not aware of all these factors that ultimately influenced them. As a business you never just sell a tangible item, you sell your values, your level of quality, your years of experience and your expertise along with it. This is what customers are really paying for after all and highlighting these core values is a critical way to helping your business stand out among competitors.

So what’s the best way to clearly and succinctly highlight these values? Have a defined core values statement for your business. This can be as short as a tag line below your logo or as much as a small paragraph on your web site, but it needs to be used. One of the biggest mistakes I see in Public Relations is businesses who overlook the power of creating this type of statement. The majority of customers will never take the time to read your full business biography and compile this for themselves – so do it for them! Make this statement your go-to description when introducing your business to someone. What do you offer beyond your product or service that makes you different? Maybe you’re a 5th generation family-owned business, maybe you use only locally grown and manufactured products or maybe you donate 10% of proceeds to a charity. This unique statement is what customers will remember and what will resonate with them emotionally. And I’m not sure much else can compete with the powerful role emotions play in decision making.

Mistake 2: You have no distribution of your message

Once you’ve developed your core values statement, this should be a message that you communicate consistently throughout all of your channels. Website content, social media profiles, monthly newsletters, business cards and promotional materials should all include this message somewhere. Sure your customers will become used to seeing this message and when they do they will subconsciously associate it with your business name, logo and brand. Also, by keeping these channels updated and in use, you will build a community and create a platform to distribute future messages – like a special announcement, promotion or opportunity to your customers. Another one of the biggest mistakes I see in PR is not taking the time to create and build your communication channels until you really need them – and by then it’s too late to broadcast your message to everyone you want to.

But more than just distributing your message externally, there is also the internal distribution of your message which is equally important. Your employees can act as ambassadors for your business if you empower them with the right information to do so. Every employee should be able to tell you the core values statement of the business and demonstrate it with their actions every day. If you know what you’re working for and what makes your business special, it makes you want to work harder and better. Also, the internal distribution of your message will help guide you whenever a tough decision must be made. Do you need to raise your prices? Are you considering merging with another business? These both have pros and cons, but the key to which decision is right for your business lies in your core values. With the regular distribution of this message, you and your employees will understand the foundation of the business and these decisions can be made methodically to preserve this foundation. For example: if your core value is to offer the absolute best quality of service, raising your prices might be necessary. But if your core value is to offer the absolute lowest price, a merger might better help you to continue to offer this to your customers. No matter the decision, a well-known core values statement will help guide you toward the right answer.

Mistake 3: You have no crisis plan

Plain and simple – bad stuff happens to even the best businesses, regardless of product, service, size or industry. And when it does, it’s too late to begin outlining your crisis plan. “By the time you hear the thunder, it’s too late to build the ark.” This is why one of the biggest PR mistakes is not having the faintest idea of your crisis plan until the flood waters have raised well over your head. The good news is that this is completely avoidably with just a little effort right now. A crisis plan does not need to be as intensive or consuming as a business strategy or marketing plan (though it could be). This is just a part of your overall Public Relations plan, but if you ask me it’s by far the most important since it could be the plan that saves your business entirely. A crisis plan can be as simple as answering the question, “Who will be my point person in overseeing a crisis?” And the best answer is not always “me.” Think of the other responsibilities that will likely fall on you during the time of a crisis. If it’s due to a break down in internal operations, you’ll need to focus on correcting this right away. You won’t have the time or capacity to deal with social media, customer service calls/emails or the press. Also, are you the best communicator in the business? Just because you have the most insight, doesn’t mean you’re the best person to communicate this insight and make it relatable to your customers. Think of the most professional and responsible communicator you have in your business and have that direct conversation with them about their role in a potential crisis – now.

Another highly confusing, but critical part to your crisis plan is the timing of your communication. There have been disastrous examples of people speaking too soon or not soon enough and both scenarios have the power to produce equally damaging consequences. You want to be the first to speak and tell your story, but this should not be the result of a knee-jerk response. My rule of thumb is to speak as quickly as accurate information is available. There are three components to the initial message you should communicate in response to a crisis. First, admit to the mistake (if it was indeed a mistake in any part related to your business). Second, express how you are working to fix it quickly and fully (are you offering a recall, refund or changing your operations). Third, let your customers know exactly what they can do to avoid feeling any further impact from this error (should they return a product or discontinue use).

By having a solid crisis management plan in place before a crisis strikes, you are in a much better position to recover quicker and stronger than otherwise. The bottom line is that you don’t want customers to remember the crisis; you want them to remember how well you handled it.

Mistake 4: You attempt to erase mistakes

It’s a common analogy for a commonly made PR mistake, “Deleting a comment on social media is like hanging up the phone in the middle of a customer service call.” Social media is a powerful tool that businesses have openly embraced all across the globe, but as soon as a comment turns negative, the first reaction always seems to be to hit delete and make it all go away. The truth is that it won’t go away. Once it’s live out there in cyberspace, you can rest assured that at least one other person has seen it or shared it. Because of this, it will never fully disappear and so deleting this feedback is only going to flame the fire. Whether the negative comment is the result of a crisis or a single unhappy customer, it’s an opportunity to communicate your side of the story and show how much you do appreciate your customers. Much like the crisis communication plan, this is your critical moment to turn a negative into a positive.

Some businesses have even taken this mistake one step beyond just erasing the error or deleting the comment. They have deleted the entire communication channel (for example their Facebook fan page). If a comment goes viral or your business is being bombarded with questions regarding a concern or crisis, the task of managing all of your communication channels may be overwhelming. But it couldn’t be more important to keep it active. Don’t delete any communication channel solely as the result of a negative comment or mistake. Just as you wouldn’t discontinue your customer service call center or shut off your email account, don’t tune out and turn off thousands of customers by shutting off an important means of communication.

Mistake 5: You use too much “fluff”

So often Public Relations is associated with fluff, flack and spin. All these words – in my mind at least – conjure up a negative and even dishonest connotation. It’s certainly acceptable to toot your own horn, but you must keep a level of honesty and believability in your content to prevent the risk of having customers simply tune you out. A big PR mistake I see made in web site content, social media statuses and press releases is the use of too much “fluff” language. This makes the business look and sound like an infomercial, stuffed to the gills with buzzwords and hype. There’s nothing relatable or memorable about this type of content and people tune it out just like they would flip the channel from an annoying commercial. Most distressing is that some people think this is an example of very effective Public Relations strategy. “Hey, doesn’t our business sound awesome? This here says we’re the best at everything so you know it’s true!” Just because you plug a bunch of sugary sweet phrases into your content doesn’t mean your customers will eat it up or even enjoy the taste. Instead, engage your customers through content that is more relatable, more human and maybe even a little bit vulnerable in the right places. Public Relations should tell an interesting, honest story and build meaningful relationships with your customers. Aim to engage your customers with your content, not put them into a sugar coma.

So, which of these 5 common Public Relations mistakes would you say is the most detrimental to a business? Or maybe you have a few other examples that should be included on this list. Be sure and share your comments below so we can all benefit from being aware of these mistakes and make the effort now to avoid them in the future!

7 thoughts on “D’oh! The 5 Most Common Public Relations Mistakes

  1. Well, being connected on facebook to New Orleans PRSA, I now have seen a blog post from PA and a pretty creative CEO!

      1. Stephanie – I am back in Princeton, NJ, now. I was in New Orleans for 11 months and attended PRSA events of New Orleans – I was very impressed with the events, and the people who I met!
        And, again I am impressed with their facebook link to your site – Lets go for coffee in Philly, it’s time for me to come in and see what has changed here –

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