Long-held myths can hurt PR

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Many public relations practitioners, especially at agencies, continue to make strategic decisions based on myths developed in long-dead eras. Here are three of the myths we run into often: Myth No. 1: Always release bad news and never release good news on Friday afternoon. This myth is based on a superficial analysis of old surveys of newspaper readership that suggest fewer people read the paper on Saturday.

But what if the target audience is educated, operates a business or has a high income or net worth? All of these audiences use the news media at least as extensively on Saturday as they do on other days.

Consideration of a very important audience, employees, argues against a Friday release of bad news. When an organization releases bad news on Friday, employees have the entire weekend to stew about it at home. If maintaining the commitment of employees or convincing employees to take certain actions is important, then a Friday release may hurt the organization.

Myth No. 2: You have to write long case histories to attract feature coverage. What convinces a reporter to do a case history is not a lengthy narrative, but the hook-the angle that made the story interesting, unique or trendy. Telling the reporter what's newsworthy shouldn't take more than a few paragraphs. There's no need to tell them anything else until they ask for additional information.

Myth No. 3: I have friends in the news media who will cover the story. The assumption behind this myth is not only fallacious but also suggests that reporters are driven more by friendship than by their analysis of what is newsworthy. Yet many companies tell us that most agencies have promoted "friends in the news media" as a reason to engage them as PR consultants.

Every journalist has a constantly evolving set of screens by which she or he judges if a story is worth covering, including: the editorial scope of the media outlet; the outlet's regularly scheduled, formatted stories, such as profiles, lists and news roundups; and the current trends in the reporter's coverage area.

These are but three examples of a large number of myths perpetrated by many PR professionals. At the heart of these myths is a failure to analyze the current needs of the target audiences. An analysis of the needs of all target audiences before beginning a public relations campaign will yield better results than reliance on old myths.

Marc Jampole is principal of Jampole Communications, Pittsburgh. He can be reached at [email protected]

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