Busted: ten myths from the public relations world

Did you know that fortune cookies, those little carriers of dubious prophecy you are usually served at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant, are actually a Japanese creation? 
So many myths are never questioned because they have been doing the rounds for so long, that many people assume they are true. Unfortunately, myths are not unheard of in the PR world, so today I will explore and debunk some of the more common ones that you may have come across.
1. PR professionals can get clients coverage with a quick email or call to their press contacts
Generating coverage takes a lot of hard graft, from working with the client around the messaging, to identifying and contacting the right journalists, to presenting the story in a relevant manner to them. 57% of the top tier members of the press receive between 50 and 500 pitches a day, so cutting through the noise with a client’s story isn’t just a case of picking up the phone or sending an email. It’s the result of hours of preparations and years of relationship building.
2. It’s easy to get a start-up covered in the business (tech) titles
The more established and prestigious the publication, the harder it is to get coverage for a start-up in it. Fact. Having said that, it’s not impossible. But it won’t happen overnight. These heavyweights are unlikely to cover a start-up with a limited product portfolio and few case studies under its belt. It can be hard for established brands to get coverage in these outlets, let alone for someone who has no name in their industry yet. Build credibility, ensure you have a relevant, innovative, big story, then try again.
3. Product version 2.2 is news
An initial product launch is a significant way to boost a brand’s profile within their industry, and that’s likely to be covered. But unless there are significant changes to the product that impact end users, possibly partners, and the vendor, journalists are unlikely to see this as a newsworthy story. 
4. A briefing or a press release will always result in coverage. 
You can lead a journalist to water, but you can’t make them drink. Whether an announcement or a briefing is going to result in coverage depends on a number of factors: is the story relevant to the readers? Is it a big enough story?  Is it clashing with a bigger story? Will it get lost in industry noise e.g. at a trade show? Is it news? Clients should work closely with their PR agencies to maximise the likelihood of coverage. Remember: there is a marked difference between ‘paid media’ such as advertorial and advertising for example, and ‘earned media’ such as public relations. The latter certainly is earned.
5. You can tell a journalist what to write
PR professionals can’t force journalists to report specific angles or messages around clients’ announcement (although some inexperienced clients will ask us to).  By the same token you shouldn’t suggest a title for a story (I have been in a few briefings where the spokesperson suggested a headline – aside from what I mentioned above, these are usually written by the sub-editor). 
6. You can ask for copy approval
The chances of a journalist allowing a client to review their copy before it gets published are slim to none. I have had a few journalists request feedback when the story was incredibly technical. And even then it was only to ensure the facts were correct. Asking an editor to see their copy in advance is like trying to turn back the tide – pretty much pointless. 
The best course of action here is to ensure your spokespeople are media trained, that they don’t share anything during the briefing that you would not want to see in the article, and to ensure that the interview is a two-way conversation that allows the journalist to ask any questions they may have so that anything they are not clear about, can be explained. 
7. “Small player Inc. has appointed a new head of stock control” should get coverage
Some senior appointments can be very strategic to a company, but unless the new hire is joining a leading industry player and/or they are going to have an (indirect) impact on the industry, the press is unlikely to cover the news.
8. An unknown brand giving its employees Fridays off, donating to charity, or investing into the community, is ‘news’
It’s important that organisations care about their work force and take social responsibility seriously of course, but the client’s announcement around this had better be the best news since sliced bread was launched if they want the story or event to be seen as ‘news’ by the press. 
9. When the CEO or another senior executive of an organisation visits Europe from the USA, the press will be queuing up to talk to them, even when he/she has zero to say
As a rule of thumb, unless executives have any news to discuss, the press will not be knocking down their door for a briefing. If a client somehow forces such a meeting to happen, the executive might find themselves sat in a room with a journalist who is awkwardly trying to think of something to ask. 
The above is not always the case, however. If your PR agency has built a significant profile for this executive, if this person has credibility and regularly offers interesting insights into the company and the industry overall, it is possible to secure briefings without news.
10. You will see an influx of sales enquiries as the direct result of a press release
One of my favourites. While we would all like our press releases to work like those announcing a new iPhone, where Apple gets pre-orders and people queuing for hours in order to hand over hundreds of dollars, most b2b announcements should be seen as part of a multi-layered strategy. Here, a number of tactics work together to generate interest, coverage and enquiries about the newly-launched product or service. If you simply issue a press release and do nothing else to push the new solution, chances are you will see more traffic heading to your website but you will not necessarily see a direct link to sales.
Here is my list. Did you believe any of these myths? Or did you find yourself nodding along as you read my post? Whether it’s reaching out to hundreds of publications worldwide to increase brand awareness and generate coverage, or setting up a test programme and sending out keys to product reviewers to ultimately help the client’s sales team, a PR professional’s job isn’t as easy as it may seem to an outsider. Luckily, we often have some great clients and journalists who are on the same page (pun intended).
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