In our former life, just about the most obnoxious people that we dealt with on a daily basis were former employees calling and wanting to know why their 401(k) distribution had been taxed even though they were well under 65 years old. Pretty mild, really. And quite boring.
In our current life, some of the most obnoxious people that we deal with on a daily basis are public relations professionals -- PR people, for short. Public relations are incredibly vital to a company, no matter its size. And the PR field is a landmine of snafus, misunderstandings, apologies, damage control, hustling and marketing -- always marketing. That's why PR is such a fine art.
Not to disparage PR people who are true professionals -- as we, having relatively the same social skills as a bonobo, would totally be unable to perform their duties -- since it's truly a balancing act of making the client happy and getting their message across to the public without coming across as obsequious or irritating. And that can be a very hard thing to do. No, we greatly respect PR as a field and thank God every day that there are people out there who performing this task with admirable talent and grace.
That said, there are PR people who make the rest of the professionals look horrible. You probably know them. They're the guy you met at a bar once, or the woman who harangued you at a previous job, who make you say -- every single time you meet another PR person -- "Ohhhhh, you're one of them," before scurrying quickly away. The bad apples who spoil the bunch.
Below are some of the worst moves that a PR person can make. If you want to avoid being that person, or want to give your colleagues a heads-up on what makes the public's blood boil, take our advice.
6. Calling incessantly. This can also mean emailing incessantly, although most of the endless interruptions during our day come from phone calls. "I'm just calling to make sure you received that e-mail I sent you two minutes ago. Have you read it yet?" "I'm just calling to make sure you read that e-mail that we discussed a few hours ago. What did you think?" "I'm just calling to see when you're going to run an item on the e-mail I sent you yesterday afternoon." "I'm just calling to see if you can tell me exactly when that item will run." "I'm just calling to see if you can forward me the link when you've run that item we discussed, you know the thing from that email I sent you?" Ad nauseum. With every single phone call, our desire to ever work with you again plummets that much more.
5. Not introducing yourself. How would you like it if someone called you during the middle of the day and immediately started nattering on about fancy frozen fish nuggets or a dog soiree and spa day, without any context to the "conversation"? Ditto if you're at an event or party. At least have the common courtesy to introduce yourself before you launch breakneck into a hard sell about your client. You're not a telemarketer, for God's sake. A name, your agency -- just the basics, so we're not completely blindsided by your pitch.
4. Not recognizing you aren't the only crayon in the box. Picking up the phone to this: "Hi, this is Sandy. Did you get that press release I sent two weeks ago?" infuriates us. First, Sandy, what is your last name? Go back and read number 5. Second, why are you calling about something you sent two weeks ago? Timeliness is key. Third, do you realize how many e-mails and phone calls we get on a daily basis? We are inundated, flooded, overwhelmed with press releases, media alerts and all manner of other blasts, both by physical mail and e-mail. You have to be more specific than "the press release I sent two weeks ago," especially since we -- as you probably are, as well -- are constantly pressed for time and don't have the patience to play a guessing game. Make it easy on both parties involved and be quick, concise and forthcoming with only the relevant information.
3. Oversaturating the market. We see this most often on Twitter and Facebook, where a PR person talks non-stop about his clients and nothing else -- both on his personal account and the client's. They Tweet from the client's account 80 times a day. They flood your inbox with emails. They sell every single person they meet on the joys of laser teeth whitening at Dr. Flibbertigibbet's office. Enough already! Oversaturation spells death for a client -- and a PR person -- just as much as silence does.
2. Being a dead fish. It takes a certain kind of person to be successful at public relations. Talkative and assertive, yet doesn't come on too strong. Mindful and considerate, yet knows when to hustle and be aggressive. Like we said earlier, it's a fine line to walk. And then there are the folks who seem to have ended up in PR for reasons we can't fathom: They're difficult to talk to, unfriendly, rude or painfully shy. Worse, those personality traits reflect on a client. Trying to interact with your favorite restaurant on Twitter or Facebook and they never respond to you, only sending out random status updates about their latest special? There's a dead fish behind that account. Need additional information about an upcoming event, but you can't get the PR person's time of day because you don't register on their social level? Dead fish.
1. Trash-talking. Especially when other people -- other non-PR people -- can hear you. It's one thing to be mindful of the fact that the public can be useful in spreading the word about your client. It's another thing to blatantly refer to them as commodities to exploit, not people. This happened to us recently in a bar, where an unnamed PR person openly discussed her plans to exploit Twitter to its fullest extent by ingratiating people to her on the social media service through throwing big parties...all with the ultimate goal that the "friends" she was acquiring would really be nothing more than names for her mailing lists and email blasts. While we can't deny that it's a clever, if Machiavellian, move on her part, the bad part was allowing other people outside the industry see just how dim a view some PR people take towards
cattle the public. The public is never supposed to see the slaughterhouse floor, after all. This extends to trash-talking the competition and trash-talking other PR firms or people. No one wants to interact with or trust their business to someone who will turn around and gossip behind their backs.
What PR moves drive you crazy, as a member of the public, a client or a public relations professional? Share your own horror stories with us in the comments section below.
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