Opinion

7 Mistakes I Made As A Digital PR

This afternoon, I thought I’d dust the cobwebs off my keyboard and do something I haven’t done in a while: sit down to write a blog. In between exciting things happening at work, buying a house, moving down the country and this global pandemic thing that’s apparently still going on, my blog has been neglected a little recently. Sorry. I have been thinking for a while, though, that there’s been a lot of tension building up in digital PR land, mostly relating to toxic workplaces and issues such as presenteeism. I’m not sure if the pandemic has made us all total workaholics, but at the moment my feed seems to be a mix of people talking about all the amazing results that they’ve achieved, and other people moaning about the very same.

Soon, I do want to write about the way that we communicate on social media, and the potential damage that might be having on our young people in PR. One of my most recent blogs, An Ode To Clocking Off, received a very kind and welcoming reception. Mainly, people were agreeing with me that there’s more to life than working round the clock, and recognising the importance of a good work life balance just as I did. I think the issue is rooted deeper than just working after hours, though, I think in PR we are so (quite rightly) proud of our work and all the good things that we do, that we can forget how this might impact others who perhaps aren’t meeting targets, or are struggling to find inspiration.

Alongside the good, there’s just as much bad to PR as there is anything. So today I wanted to do something a little out of my comfort zone and talk about all the mistakes I made in my first industry job in digital PR.

7 Mistakes I Made As A Junior

I came into my first job in digital PR through an internship, and with no other PRs to learn from after the first few months in my role, I had to do a lot of the learning myself. Unfortunately, most of this was through trial and error; and errors there were. Looking back now, I can be proud of myself for managing a number of successful campaigns on my own, and achieving the kind of coverage I’d still be ecstatic about today, all with very little training.

At the time, however, a mistake felt like the end of the world.

I know I made plenty, so I wanted to talk about some of them below as not only are mistakes entirely human and happen to the best of us, but they’re also fantastic learning opportunities and something you should see as an opportunity, not a flaw.

#1 Harassing Journalists

Perhaps the most cringeworthy mistake I made in digital PR, was harassing the shit out of journalists that I thought would cover my stories. Emails, Twitter messages, LinkedIn requests, you name it. Someone, somewhere told me that a good way to get a journalists attention was to message them on Twitter, which isn’t bad advice, but naturally in a desperate attempt to chase my wins, I took it too far. Don’t get me wrong, I met many fantastic people as my annoying past-self, many of which I’m still connected with today, but inundating journalists to within an inch of their life is seldom a good outreach tactic. Looking back on this, I learned pretty quickly that while connections are important, it’s the story that counts. You can beg a journalist until the cows come home to cover your piece, but if the content is naff then they’re just not going to.

“Hi, it’s me again! Just wanted to ask if you’d seen what I sent you on e-mail, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and by carrier pigeon?”

#2 Following Up After 0.3 Seconds

Follow ups are loved by some and hated by others, but what can universally be agreed is that you have to give it time before chasing a journalist. At the beginning of my digital PR career, when I was still learning the ropes, I’d follow up a journalist sometimes immediately after sending a story, not even giving them a good chance to read through it. Over time and with more and more practice, I realised that you need to give a pitch time to be read and considered, before sending a friendly chase. Also sending 3270923473 follow up emails was something I did too, and have since regretted. If your story hasn’t been considered after the second chase, then anything after that – in my opinion – is jut going to annoy a journalist and potentially blacklist your name. Through experience, but also from listening to other experts in the industry (webinars/conferences = my best friends), you can learn what’s good practice, and what isn’t.

#3 Pitching The Wrong Stories To The Wrong People

PRs get slammed so often on Twitter by journalists (PR bashing, if you will) and oftentimes thats for sending someone a story that has no relevance to what they cover. Annoying, I can imagine, but something I’m not innocent of myself. I remember when starting out, I wanted to cram my media lists with as many contacts as possible, more often than not this meant I wasn’t filtering with quality in mind, and irrelevant releases ended up getting sent out. I learned VERY quickly (thanks in part to unfriendly journalist feedback) that the best results are achieved when you target journalists who cover stories similar to the one you’re putting out there. It may take a little longer, but the results are worth it. If you’ve done something similar in the past, don’t feel too bad about it. You might bear the brunt of some angry journalists but at the end of the day, it can get confusing with all those contact details floating around on the internet. What I’d suggest is doing what I do, and taking time to do thorough research of who you want to pitch to, before pressing ‘send’.

Me after sending the same press release to approximately 32703740398434980 people

#4 Not Sending Images With Stories

When I first started out in digital PR, I was pitching out almost immediately. One thing I was never told about, though, was the importance of contextualising press releases with images and graphics. I remember the first handful of releases that I sent out, were text and nothing else. Of course the thought makes me cringe now. Luckily I was able to notice this mistake pretty early on and learn from it, always embedding images and utilising Dropbox links in pitches moving forward. Still, as a senior PR now, this one still gives me the shivers when I think about it.

#5 Trying To Be Everybody’s Friend

I have more LinkedIn connections than I care to think about, as when I first started out in the industry I thought the way to get ahead was to be friends with everybody and anybody. Now, there’s still some truth to this – connections are very important and networking is a great way to grow your personal brand and expand your opportunities. However, my LinkedIn page is full of randomers in various industries, many of whom aren’t even relevant to PR by any stretch. I still can’t bring myself to tackle the mammoth task of reducing it down. I was probably extremely annoying at the beginning of my career, and whilst putting your name out there is crucially important, make sure you’re choosing quality over quantity. Connecting with the right people is far more valuable, I’ve learned.

#6 Thinking Links = Quality

As I’m sure many do, I started out my career chasing links. I didn’t care much for quality of content, as long as it got links. Something else I didn’t consider, was the type of site I was getting them from. I had links coming in from a lot of places, but not all of them good. There’s been a lot of talk recently in the digital PR space about link relevance and quality of campaigns, this is something I couldn’t agree more with. From experience, I’d much rather one relevant link, than handfuls of irrelevant ones. (Even Mr Mueller himself endorses this strategy). After all, a backlink can drive so much more than the black-and-white SEO value (think brand exposure, referral traffic and so on). One thing I would say to those starting out in PR, is that you might see campaigns on Twitter that get 100+ links, and I’m in no way saying they are bad, or wrong – but also consider how many of those links are relevant to the site and how many will pass real value. Might be all of them, might be none of them. You should be proud of every piece of coverage, and don’t get caught up chasing links and losing sight of what’s really important.

#7 You Don’t Need To Overwork To Be Successful

And my final point (though I could make MANY more) is what I’ve been talking about often, and plan to continue putting pressure on: overworking is not glamorous. From what you see on social media, you might believe that you need to work long days, evenings and weekends to be successful. I thought it too for a while. I can confidently say now though, that you don’t. In fact, I think repeatedly working long shifts is actually a sign of poor time management, if we can’t get our work done between 9-5, 5 days a week then either we’re working with too much or aren’t spending our time doing the right stuff. If this messages reaches at least one junior, then I’ll be happy: don’t burn your candle at both ends, you can still kick ass and clock off at 5pm. One of the biggest mistakes I made, and one that has continued to impact me in my years since, is thinking if I wasn’t starting late and leaving early, that I wasn’t good enough or passionate about my job. I’ve since come to realise that this is total BS, of course, but the damage remains.

If you’re to take anything away from this long and rambly blog post, please let it be that. Also know that my door is always open to anyone who wants to chat about mistakes and concerns. I made so many when I started out as I had very little guidance, if I can change that for anybody else then I’ll be very happy indeed. Also (as I feel like it needs to be said) I just wanted to say that I am very much talking about past life, and I hope laughing at the mistakes I made many years ago helps somebody out today (or at least gives you some entertainment this evening at the very least).

If you have anything to add, as always, it’s great to hear from you on Twitter.

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