A PR Customer’s Bill of Rights

A friend said to me today, “You know it’s interesting how many stories you have about really bad PR practices. I know it irks you because you deliver good service to your clients. And, I don’t doubt you, but isn’t it stunning how many people are paying big bucks for such awful service?”

Stunning is one word. Yes. Criminal might be another.

Who is your face to the public?

Thoughts from an ex Account Manager, ex Bus Dev Director, and current survivor of bad PR

As a writer, I probably receive upwards of a dozen press releases per day. If you include “newsletters” that are gussied up press releases, you’d be over three dozen, easy.

I have finally decided that it’s time to start cataloging these bad practices in the hopes that my friends in various industries will know that they have a right to expect more. I know it will not make me popular with the PR professionals but you know what, I could stand to get fewer releases in my in-box. And besides, the true professionals will have nothing to complain about.

Who am I to have an opinion? Well, I’ve been in client services nearly all my professional life and I do take the time to discuss goals and to provide measurable results. I take the time to be thorough and expect others to be, as well. I try always to be accurate. If I make a mistake I try to own it, and prevent it from happening again. It’s called integrity. It’s called being a professional. It’s called serving my clients well.

My friend could not believe one or two of my most recent anecdotes until I pulled them up on email and read them aloud. She suggested I draft a PR Clients’ Bill of Rights. As she says, “Even airline passengers have a bill of rights now.”

So here goes, if you have hired, or are about to hire, a PR professional, you have a right to expect the following:

  1. You have the right to measurable results or at least deliverables that can be met. You may be told that it’s impossible to measure the results of an ad campaign or a press release. Ask careful questions to ensure that it’s really the case. Too often “not possible to measure” is code for “I don’t want to bother to measure.” Or, “I don’t want to be held accountable for results.”
  2. You have the right to be represented professionally. You may be persuaded that “edgy” is cool, even if you’re not comfortable with it. Be sure to hire someone who will represent you appropriately. I got one newsletter that touted a cooking class and made a cocaine joke. Actually, two cocaine jokes. Is that professional? If I were that client, I’d be horrified to be represented that way by my hired PR “professional.
  3. You have the right to be represented by someone that actually knows your food, your book, your product. If you’re standing behind a table with your client’s book on it, you should have taken the time to open the damn book up and actually see what it’s about. If it’s a seafood book and you are asked if it highlights sustainable seafood, your answer should not be “I don’t really know. I’m just with the PR firm."
  4. You have the right to expect your PR professional to understand social media. Today’s publicity is not driven by column inches in print media. At least, not exclusively. If your agent is sending out tons of email blasts and very few bloggers are using the info, ask them why. Have they checked with the bloggers to understand how the info could be presented to be more useful? Do they know how to elicit “Tweets”???I receive many, many email blasts along the lines “Come to my client’s restaurant for this dinner... blah blah blah and be sure to tell your readers about it!” Now, if I were only publishing a blog that functions as a bulletin board, that might be okay. But if my content is more valuable, people will come to my blog for that content and see a concise bullet point and contact info with a link in my “Events” box/sidebar?? If you send me a PDF which I cannot cut and paste from, I have to open it, read it, summarize it and then develop a concise bullet to drop in my events box on my website, guess what, it ain’t happening unless I really, really like you. That is the job of your PR professional. I want a link to the website and the contact info as well as a concise description of the event. I should not have to call or email someone for more info in order to post info on my blog about your event.??Why not send me a release with a bullet and a Twitter-ready “tweet”? I guarantee your event notice would get wider distribution, better public relations, if the communications were made easier for the audience whose help you are trying to enlist?
  5. You have the right to expect your PR person to tailor their communications to the audience. It makes me crazy when someone doesn’t take the time to look at my website/blog before sending a request. Which products of mine did you think you want to sell in your store, exactly? (I don’t have products.) Even worse is the email blast that claims to have ‘read and enjoyed’ my blog then makes the inappropriate request. If you actually read and enjoyed my blog and I ask you which was your favorite post, you better have an answer, Ms. PR Professional. If the blog is called “Mayberry Gourmet” and you are opening a restaurant in Mayberry but your PR person fails to reach out to that blogger, what does that say about the care they put into their work? Their knowledge of your customer base? Your market?
  6. You have the right to a PR person that will not inconvenience the people with whom you are trying to build good relationships. If you’re asking me for mailing info to mail me stuff, and you’ve already mailed me stuff before, you look lazy. An extra email to and from me means you’d rather inconvenience me than find that spreadsheet on your computer that already contains my info. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked for my phone number in a follow up email, I could buy everyone reading this post a drink. (Hint: it’s in my email signature.) Oh, and my last name is not “blogger”. Nor is my first name “Leather."
  7. You have the right to a PR professional who will be smart about working for you. They should make it a regular practice to put themselves in the shoes of the recipient and ask: “Am I representing my client appropriately and professionally?”  “Am I giving the recipient of this communication, the information they need in a format they can use, to enable them to communicate the message for my client?”  “Am I asking my go-to bloggers who else I’m missing, who’s up-and-coming?”
  8. You have the right to a PR professional that accurately and completely represents what s/he claims to represent. If your PR person is claiming to be an expert with data, they should get it right. It is not sufficient to say that the data they received was “incomplete.” If they failed to get complete data from their source, then they shouldn’t represent it as complete. This goes to integrity. If they purport to offer expertise and report half the data - they I’d say they got it half right. If they blame someone else for shoddy data they chose to use, then shame on you for settling for that quality of service.

If your PR person cannot give you a clear sense of deliverables, cannot honestly represent you professionally, accurately, and with integrity; then they are creating as much ill will, as they are doing good, on your behalf. I then have to ask: what the heck are you paying them for?

I’ve been invited to consider a career in PR on a number of occasions. I know a few true professionals in town that do a great job. They are, unfortunately, in the minority. I hope this helps everyone re-evaluate their face to the public and who they have paid to represent them in that manner. May the good ones continue to rise to the top - you know who you are and I thank you.