If you’re a publicist or PR pro and write press releases for your clients, you’re making a big mistake if you let your clients determine exactly what the final version of a press release will say—particularly if that release is being sent to the traditional media.
Of course, they should read it for accuracy and suggest changes. And clients should always approve the final version of a release.
But problems start brewing the minute you let them insert information that has no business being there, and then fail to call them on it.
Beware control freaks and ego maniacs
Clients who are control freaks love to boss around their PR people and insert their own language into press releases. Ego maniacs demand you include puffery and other B.S. quotes so they look important. And then there’s the client who took a high school journalism course and thinks he knows everything about how to write a press release.
Sadly, they don’t understand the damage they’re inflicting on themselves by forcing you to make changes that you know are just plain bad.
I’ve heard this complaint dozens of times and it popped up again this week in my email:
“I have a small, marketing and PR business here in New York. Sometimes I create press releases for businesses, and many of them have been published by a newspaper that has millions of readers.
“I give my client one proof for minor changes. The problem is that a lot of them are not very educated. So sometimes they ask for changes that do not make any sense, or they ask me to change everything. Then, I walk away because if they want too many changes, they don’t need me. They can do it themselves.
“Is there a better way that I am not aware ?”
Get it in writing
Deal with that problem before you take on a new client, not after.
Your proposal or simple one-page letter of agreement should specify that you won’t submit submit press releases or materials to the media that will embarrass you or the client. When I worked as an editor, I’d occasionally get a call from a PR person who would say, “I know this press release is awful, but my client wants me to send it to you.”
They didn’t want to anger the client. But they never thought twice about angering me. I’d make a mental note that that PR person was a pain in the neck and that the client wasn’t worth covering.
When I left the newspaper business and did PR, including writing press releases, for my own clients, I’d tell clients that part of my job was to also keep them out of trouble with the media.
“If I send this release, it will mean trouble for you,” I’d tell them, being careful to use the word “you.” My words carried a little more weight because I worked as a newspaper editor for two decades. If they disagreed, I stood firm.
Don’t put your reputation on the line by letting clients have the upper hand. You’re better off walking way from a project, like the writer above did, and leaving $200 on the table than damaging your good name and submitting something that you know reflects poorly on you, particularly if your name is on the press release or if you’re the key media contact. (See 24 Ways to Add Clients to Your PR Practice.)
The same goes for crappy pitches. I can’t count the number of times PR people pitched horrible stories that they knew were bad, but they placed “being obedient” above being smart.
Press releases for consumers
Press releases written specifically to reach consumers online are somewhat different.
If you aren’t sending those releases to the media, the risk of letting clients determine what goes and what stays isn’t as great. Just remember that if reporters and editors find the release and want to write about it, and the writing sounds contrived or overly promotional, that could be a turn-off.
If you’re a PR person and you’ve run into this problem, how have you handled it? If you work for multiple bosses who must “sign off” on your press releases, what’s the best way to avoid management-by-committee problems? Share your ideas here.
If you need press releases written or distributed and you’re looking for good vendors, check the publicity resources page at my website.