The Biggest Mistake PR Pros Make Every Day

April 16, 2009 · 18 comments

wrong-wayWe’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. Sometimes, though, we make the same mistakes regularly – sometimes daily. And we often don’t even realize it.

I was thinking recently about the mistakes we PR pros make every day. The ones that keep us from maximizing the full potential we can achieve for our brands or our clients. I used Twitter to see what others thought by asking “what is the biggest mistake PR pros make every day?” Here are a few of the responses I got.

Geoff Livingston – Talking at stakeholders rather than listening to them.

Mark Riggs – If not the biggest, certainly the most abused is mistaking yourself and your wants as those of the demo you are targeting. (I agree)

Arik Hanson – Not listening. We’re so set on telling clients what we think, we often forget to listen. I mean *really* listen.

Heather Whaling – Being stuck in their ways. That covers only doing things the “tried and true” way and not listening/learning.

Richard Yost – Repeatedly doing the same thing because it worked before or worked for a different client… not taking the time to customize…

Laurie Duffy – Being an order taker, not a counselor to their clients – even on small and seemingly not important issues…

Me? I think the biggest mistake PR pros make every day is operating in a silo.

This mentality rears its ugly head in many forms. We don’t collaborate across disciplines nearly enough, regardless of the reason. We complain that the Marketing department only sees us as press release writers, but we don’t do anything to proactively demonstrate the broader value PR brings to our brands. We think “earned media” is so much more valuable than “paid media” that we band together and scoff at our colleagues in advertising. In the meantime, we miss out on amazing opportunities to create more successful integrated campaigns.

Stop thinking that the world begins and ends in the PR department and start thinking about all the ways your brand can connect with its consumers. Then do whatever it takes to get the right people involved to go achieve that vision, whether it means PR leads the charge or simply plays a supporting role.

What do you think is the biggest mistake PR pros make every day? What could they do to overcome it?

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*Image by Taryn Marie.

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Brad Marley » Blog Archive » Weekly Grab Bag – May 1, 2009
March 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 millionbaker April 17, 2009 at 9:58 am

David, nice post. I agree with – and tried hard not to, but have certainly done and seen my share of – the above. I would add, from a client service perspective on the agency side, that we aren’t “there before” enough. When I see a team member waiting for the client to tell them what to do (I’m not talking about campaign direction, but rather “yes, please call that person”) it drives me batty (similar to the comment above re order takers). We need to be there before in many aspects. How in the world are we supposed to gain and maintain the reputation of “trusted counselor” if we’re not counseling?

I get very frustrated with PR folks that want “the seat at the table” but aren’t in tune enough with the business to do anything to get there. A disconnect between “PR tactics” and what objectives the business is trying to achieve is also a mistake made every day.

Thanks for the thoughts.


2 David April 17, 2009 at 10:07 am

@Starr – Thanks. I actually had a hard time deciding between “silos” and not planning against business goals as the biggest mistake. I completely agree with you. We shouldn’t develop communications objectives separate from the business goals or overall marketing goals. But, amazingly, for some reason it happens way too often. Thanks for adding it to the mix!


3 melyt April 17, 2009 at 10:16 am

The best PR experiences / assignments I have had are the ones I get to work with the advertising department on. From employee publications to event management, when our minds are able to work together, great things happen. So yes, get out of your silos PR people. Embrace everyone’s talents for the good of your clients.


4 Narciso Tovar (@Narciso17) April 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

Nice post, Dave! We all make mistakes…every one of us in the PR industry, I’m certain, has made AT LEAST one of the above mistakes…it’s a matter of what we do with those battle wounds to help make us better Soldiers in PR…
* Faster
* Smarter
* Stronger
* Wiser

We hope…but like ‘millionbaker’ said earlier – it does us NO GOOD to demand a seat at the table if we’re just talking the talk and not walking the walk. Working collaboratively, listening to our colleagues & clients, thinking strategically and always learning.


5 Heather Whaling April 17, 2009 at 10:33 am


I love this post (and thanks for including my suggestion)! It’s a good reminder of how we can all learn from each other … and steps we can take to raise our game! Thanks for the insight.

Heather (@prtini)

P.S. Nice new blog design! :)


6 Ken Burbary April 17, 2009 at 10:37 am

David – Nice post. My addition to an already valuable list is:

Understand your audience

Too often we mistakenly assume we know what the audience preferences are, how they wish to be communicated, where they want interaction, etc…

Validate your assumptions about audience expectations in order to create a more comfortable and meaningful experience when you engage with them.


7 Tressa Robbins April 17, 2009 at 11:14 am

Great post David. We tend to get comfy with what we do that we sometimes do it with blinders on. My take away from this is that it all boils down to PR working outside their comfort zone.



8 PRJack April 17, 2009 at 11:21 am

One key mistake made is that PR people aren’t honest with themselves before even engaging clients. not often enough PR folks ask themselves ‘do I want to be a supplier or do I want to be a strategic partner’. There are, to be honest, uses for both – and both can co-exist under the same roof.

What’s key to making that determination is that it then sets the guidelines for what needs to be done (or not).

And given which side of that determination the choice (or project) falls then even some of the ‘mistakes’ above may not be so bad, but other ones may surface.


9 Brad April 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Generic buddy mail.

You know what I’m talking about – the template e-mail that starts “Dear, XXXXX.”

I think reporters can see right through this, and quickly dismiss our outreach.

In my humble opinion, taking a few extra minutes to personalize it to the interests of your reporter makes all the difference.


10 Chuck Hemann April 17, 2009 at 1:12 pm

David – I think you stole mine, but it was not aligning communications goals with overall business strategies/objectives. My sense is that PR is seen by many C-Suite executives to be a black hole for cash. If the overall business strategies aligned with the PR strategies I think that perception would likely disappear.

Of course, that’s all fine and good, but you need a PR practitioner with the ability to speak at that level. As we well know, there aren’t many of those folks walking the earth.

So I suppose my advice to pros would be to understand the nuances of the business and then try and craft communications strategies around them. I don’t think it works the other way around.


11 Daria Steigman April 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Great post, David, and I completely agree with you about the danger of operating in a silo. But sadly this isn’t so much a PR problem as a business / organizational challenge.

And thanks, Starr, for raising one of my pet peeves: that comms. folks want a seat at the table but don’t operate with an understanding that communications is a core business function.

Have a great weekend,


12 Danny Brown April 21, 2009 at 10:34 am

I get really frustrated with those that want to *be* the story, as opposed to just telling it.

The ones who rattle off all their achievements in the boilerplate of a press release while offering little of their client’s details.

The ones that pontificate on how their way has always been right so there’s no need to change.

The ones that refuse to let interns or juniors have a voice because they’re “just kids”.

Basically, the arrogant PR type that thinks God created the world as their own personal sandbox.

And there’s a lot of the buggers…


13 ryost April 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

Thanks for including my thought, David. Great ideas and thoughts in the comments, as well.

One of my best clients’ CEO is always asking how my efforts are helping and aligned with their business objectives. It’s a great exercise to actively lay out how every project/ idea drives their ultimate business goals, and a practice that I’ve begun with all my clients.

Of course, it helps when your clients can clearly articulate their goals!



14 swelstead April 23, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I’m client-side now, and PR is only part of my larger ‘brand management’ jobs, but…

In the past few months I’ve worked for, with and alongside quite a few PR professionals here in Toronto, and I always come away kind of gobsmacked at their lack of understanding of social media and other online channels.

While other communications professionals have been busy crafting cohesive, ‘platform-agnostic’ messages, the PR types are still stuck in the ‘distribute press release, leave a bunch of voicemails’ model.

(It’s entirely possible that my frame of reference is too small, of course.)


15 Jared O'Toole April 25, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Its all about listening. I think in any industry this is one of the biggest mistakes people make. You have to listen to the clients. Dont get set in your own ways but listen to your clients and work together to achieve a goal.


16 Deborah H. French April 29, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Your post and all of these comments make excellent points that we in PR would do well to heed. Laurie Duffy’s observation — that we often “take orders” to make our clients happy instead of drawing on our knowledge and experience to offer them good advice — is right on. And yes, we need to listen better to the real needs of our clients,then seek out the tools and strategies that are best suited to helping them accomplish their goals.


17 DAvid Wicks-Lynch June 3, 2009 at 1:36 pm

The biggest and most noticeable is not spending enough time prepping an executive for a press interview and not actually monitoring it yourself. The second is not speaking to the reporter before hand on what the interview is going to be about. I can’t stress enough the importance of media training to save key company people from themselves. And, of course, listening as already mentioned.


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