7 PR Sins Sure to Land you on Santa’s Naughty List
It’s the most wonderful time of year: the holidays!
Children are writing their letters to Santa. Parents are decorating Christmas trees (or palm trees). Teachers are counting down until the last day of class. PR pros are getting all the PR traction they can get before the fun really begins on the 24th.
And while we’ve all been trying to stay as good as can be all year (Santa IS always watching) the end of the year and approaching arrival of the jolly old elf is always a great time to make note of the absolute PR sins that are sure to land us on his naughty list.
Here are my top 7 PR sins to avoid this holiday season.
1) Don’t let grandma get run over by the reindeer!
Remember that really catchy Christmas song, ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer’ from the nineties? I was borderline obsessed with it during my childhood. I played that song at least ten times a day during the month of December. It was a great song, but it begs the question - why didn’t anyone walk home with poor Grandma?
One might say, Grandma was thrown under the reindeer.
As PR pros, we’re really great at booking interviews for our clients, especially the founders. As the brand spokesperson, we know the founder is capable of handling interviews, but once they’re on the calendar, it’s not OK to pack up and call it a day. Never blindly throw a founder into an interview on the principle that they should know how to talk about their company. Spend a little time on interview prep, give them a reminder email on the day of that includes context and questions, if available, that the interviewer will ask.
Trust us. You’re doing both yourself, the founder, and the journalist a huge favor. And no one gets run over by a reindeer. At least not on the job.
2) Spiking the eggnog never ends well!
Here’s the deal. We spike the eggnog for one reason and one reason only and that’s to really get the party started. And it’s all well and fun, until someone who isn’t so cool with rum takes a sip and realizes they were tricked. The same applies to journalists. No journalist wants to open a pitch, think they’re being offered an exclusive or the story of the year on one thing, only to find out it’s laced with lies.
You may think, why would anyone lie to a journalist but desperate times can call for desperate measures. You may know your startup doesn’t have news, so you try to make it sound like you do, only for the journalist to figure out you actually launched that feature 6 months ago and it’s not, in fact, new and timely. Journalists are smart, like Santa. They know when you’re trying to spread fake news and that’s why Facebook is on the Naughty List this year.
Be honest with journalists and if you don’t have news to share, don’t fake it. Look at thought leadership opportunities or pitch stories on your company culture or team.
3) The Peep Show; have some dignity, it’s Christmas!
Want to know the quickest way to turning a journalist into the Grinch? Playing a game of peep show. While a little thing we like to call permission based PR can do wonders - requesting a journalist’s permission to pitch them before bombarding them with a lengthy pitch - being too vague with a journalist can land you on the naughty list pretty quick.
Here’s an example of a totally acceptable tease: “Would you be interested in an exclusive on the news of a prominent Silicon Valley SaaS company’s $30M funding announcement (investors include Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban)?”
Here’s an example of a peep show: “Would you be interested in an exclusive on a very lucrative tech startup funding announcement next week. Big dollar amount! Big investors!”
Do you see what I mean? No one wants to feel like they’re valued enough to get an exclusive but not trusted enough to be offered any sort of information that will help them vet the opportunity. While it’s OK to tease, do it tastefully and extend a little trust in the media.
4) You wouldn’t buy Mrs. Clause beard oil!
Santa Claus is known for his impeccable white beard. Mrs. Claus, isn’t. So why would you stuff her stocking with beard oil? You wouldn’t!
Journalists have this small but mighty thing called beats. It’s what they typically cover. There’s a product review guy, there’s an app guy, there’s a cybersecurity girl that’s pretty awesome, and there’s an Editor in Chief or Managing Editor that directs everything to the right journalist if you’re unsure. While journalists occasionally stray from their beats, they’re pretty territorial. So much like you wouldn’t buy Mrs. Claus beard grooming products, you shouldn’t pitch a journalist that always covers cybersecurity your restaurant app.
And no, everybody eats, isn’t a good enough reason to do it anyway.
5) Don’t outsource the holiday cards!
I LOVE sending holiday cards. It is hands down, one of my favorite things to do in the month of December. And while I could easily have my cards printed (and signed) with various amazing printing companies online (shout out to Vista Print!) - I still find incredible joy in hand signing cards to family, friends, and colleagues each year.
Pitching is kind of the same thing as my holiday cards. Instead of printing cards, I could copy + paste a hundred neutral pitches and blanket send them. I could simply change up the name, maybe the greeting, and boom - I just saved myself hours of pitch writing.
Remember when I said journalists know when you’re spreading fake news? They can also usually tell when a pitch is the product of copy and paste. Resist the temptation and tailor each and every pitch to the recipient. I promise your response rate will climb and your chances of media coverage will improve significantly.
Oh, and no risk of paper cuts on envelopes when personalizing PR pitches 😉
6) Stick with writing your letter to Santa.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but Santa is a pretty busy guy. I’m confident he wrote the book on hustle before it was a thing. Which is why, every year, children write letters to Santa. No one picks up the phone and calls him.
The same applies to journalists. They’re REALLY busy. They get up to the water cooler and come back to a hundred pitches, which means they definitely don’t have time to answer your cold calls.
The lesson here is simple. Don’t call journalists unless they have specifically asked you to. Write letters, errr, I mean, send pitches instead. Don’t text journalists either. It’s just creepy.
7) When the holiday party gets out of hand!
Have you ever been to a holiday party where Debbie from Accounting was spotted under the mistletoe with more than one colleague? Go Debbie! There’s a reason people always talk about the holiday party at the office on Monday morning. It’s typically juicy.
You know who else talks to their colleagues like normal office folk? Journalists. Which is why, if you have the grandiose idea of sending the same pitch to several journalists at the same outlet, in the hopes this wide reach attempt will work - STOP. I have yet to meet a PR pro that this has worked for and I’ve been personally told by journalists that if you’re sneaky and do this, chances are you will be caught.
Most journalists have to approve their topics with their editors, so if both Sally and Joe LOVED your startup that sprinkles candy canes from the sky and BOTH go to their editor with the same story… Let’s just say there won’t be candy canes falling from the sky for long.
Start with one journalist. Have a candy cane. Follow up in 2-3 days. Have another candy cane. Then move on.
What big PR no-no’s have you made in your career? We’re sure we’ve done it too! Let us know in the comments below or tweet me @crystalcrichard!