Inside the Profession

Friday Five: Pitching Ain’t Easy – A roundup of the week’s worst publicity stunts

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When done properly a seamless public relations campaign can generate the levels of exposure and publicity for your brand or product that most practitioners dream about nightly. You’re able to position your brand in the best way possible and you leave your target audiences buzzing. However, when you rely on a one-shot publicity stunt that goes wrong, public relations professionals are often placed in the line of fire by company executives and (worse) the media. The situation may arise from a PR pro utilizing a misguided pitch or pitching a product that isn’t quite up to snuff, in either case the results are almost always negative.

In this week’s Friday Five – an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary – we share five recent news stories about bad pitches and brand missteps. We’ll discuss a tech PR stunt gone terribly wrong, a bed and breakfast punishing clients for bad reviews, a shoe ad that missed the mark and negative backlash to brands’ sponsored posts. Finally, we’ll look at computer software that might be able to write a PR pitch better than most pros.

Anonymity app pulls off one of the worst tech PR stunts ever attempted (PandoDaily)

Leak, an app that allows users to send anonymous emails and compiles the best “leaks” into an email newsletter, sent technology journalists from  various outlets (including the New York Times and Fast Company) an inappropriate, sexually-charged message.  When the journalists inquired about the message, they were told that it was “a PR stunt.”

David Holmes, author of the article, puts the ill-advised and poorly executed stunt into perspective:

“Yes, I know I’m playing into the game by even writing about this, but hopefully this story bucks the old adage that ‘all press is good press.’ Let this be a lesson to startups and PR reps everywhere: If you want to attract attention, don’t do it by spamming writers with fake, sexually-charged messages. I do appreciate the founders’ honesty and candor in their response. It’s just too bad they didn’t think to be a little classier from the start.”

Read the full story, and see the message that was sent from Leak, via PandoDaily.

‘Historic’ Inn Charges $500 Per Negative Online Review (Time)

In an absolutely head-scratching move, a hotel in Hudson, N.Y. that specializes in weddings offered a not-so blissful message for prospective brides and grooms. The inn told their clients that if they, or any of their guests, posted a negative review of the venue, they would be charged a $500 fee. When irate couples getting married at the Union Street Guest House reported this, the immediately took off and readers took to the internet to retaliate.

Since the report went viral, internet trolls have feasted on the Union Street Guest House’s Yelp page to complain and/or write imaginative, fake reviews. Read the full article to see an excerpt from the hotel’s horrendous policy.

Warning: New Shoe Ads May Be Harmful to Women’s Health (Yahoo)

From magazine covers to fashion billboards, advertising to women can often elicits feelings of inadequacy due to airbrushing and other industry practices that sometimes misrepresent the idea of “the average woman.” While “real women” expect this kind of promotion from couture fashion brands, many women wouldn’t imagine a shoe company like Nine West reinforcing unhealthy stereotypes. After seeing ads featuring the perfect shoes for activities like “starter husband hunting” and “anticipatory walk of shame” women took to social media to share their disgust.

Author Beth Greenfield sums up the new ads: “Nine West, apparently dissatisfied with the amount of self-esteem issues that women already struggle with, has issued a clear but disheartening message with its latest ad campaign: We know you like pretty shoes, and we know why you like them — so you can do your walks of shame, hunt for husbands, and (once you’re properly married — to a man, natch), send the kids off to school in style. Right? Groan.”

What do you think of the ads? While they are meant to be funny and eye-catching, many say they miss the mark by a mile. See some of the advertisements via the full article.

Haters gonna hate: Brands pay to get an earful on social platforms (Digiday)

How do you feel when you see an ad pop up in your social media feeds? Often users are annoyed but simply scroll on by. Some users have just had enough and instead of ignoring these nuisances have instead begun using sponsored posts to complain about a company, product or service. Brands taking advantage of sponsored posts have repeatedly requested the ability to shut off comments on these particular posts, but the platforms have largely ignored their requests.

The article includes several quotes as to why disabling comments misses the point of social. “Social media is a place for feedback and relationships. If you put an ad out there and people are telling you that your product sucks, maybe it’s an opportunity to find out why,” said Joe McCaffrey, head of social at digital agency Huge.

See examples of the backlash against McDonald’s and other brands on Digiday.

Can This Software Write a Better Pitch Than a PR Pro? (PRNewser)

Watch out, PR professionals. Dan Siegel, co-founder of Cambridge-based PR firm Spokepoint, created a software program which in theory eliminates the need for a media relations pitch-writer. The software can find an appropriate journalist based off of topics they cover, analyze whether a journalist will have a positive response to a pitch and track progress.

Author Elizabeth Mitchell explains, “Realizing the market for affordable PR services for small entrepreneurial endeavors, tiny companies that can’t afford a PR pro, and time-crunched crowdfunding campaigns, Siegel and his company made a decision – rather than just using this software to help companies write pitches, Spokepoint has made the software available directly for use by such businesses, so that they can successfully create, manage and track their own PR campaigns — no PR firm or outside pitch-writer needed.”

Read more about Spokepoint’s software via PRNewser.

About the author

Rosanne Mottola, APR

Rosanne Mottola, APR, is public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America. She is an adjunct professor of public relations at St. John’s University, Staten Island. Mottola obtained a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from New York University in 2010. You can connect with her on Twitter @RoeMoPR or on LinkedIn.

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