COVID-19 Learning: DIY PR Pitfalls

In the famous quote attributed to Bill Gates, he is purported to have once stated, “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.” So many in the PR industry hang on those words as gospel to validate the industry given the business acumen Gates possesses. The GreenRoom team tends to eschew that sentiment and focus on tangible topics such as how an integrated earned media/affiliate marketing and dedicated e-commerce efforts led to sales or how authentic communication in a crisis leads to brand evangelists because we saw firsthand how many brands faced with a budget crisis cut ties with PR practitioners at the first signs of trouble.

Businesses faced an unprecedented hardship as the globe effectively shut down and many companies had to do more with less, our agency included. While that methodology is common in a downturn, a practice emerged in which internal marketing departments took over media relations since anyone with a keyboard and a phone can do what a PR team does in a day, right?

In a private forum with journalists that collectively represented more than 30 publications, this topic was at the forefront of the recent discussion. The findings of the journalists who were pitched by companies who took a DIY approach to PR were both shocking and entirely predictable. Among the most standout include:

  • The cadence of communication had exploded with the journalists reporting to getting 100 MORE emails per day than before
  • So much of the content was wildly off target and contained no newsworthiness
  • All the effort was on how the journalist could help the brand rather than tell a meaningful editorial story that would resonate with readers

While the PR professionals who took part in the discussion cringed and felt the need to apologize on behalf of the misguided in-house marketing leads, the media members took it in stride and in fact praised the practitioners who approach pitching with purpose.

It was clear that just because a brand thinks a story is important doesn’t mean it’s news, and it’s up to seasoned PR pros to not only counsel them but to find what IS news in order to get the message into the media. The last few months have made that abundantly clear and maybe the Bill Gates folklore should get a 2020 update that says “If I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on someone who can tell a story.”