Let me say off the bat: I know lots of skilled public relations professionals. Thoughtful, hard-working, competent. My column would be a far less diverse, less interesting place were it not for the continual pitches of people trying to catch the attention of the media and promote worthwhile stories. Happens all the time.
But not always. PR can also be jarringly off-putting, particularly considering the goal: to present something in a favorable light. From the robotic, going-down-a-list-and-now-I've-got-to-you phone calls, which never work, to the off-point, don't-you-read-the-column? pitches that I could never write about in a thousand years, to information that is just so trivial, such a stretch, it's hard to imagine that the most charmed hireling could hope for success, not matter how well-paid.
Then there is mere carelessness. I am certainly susceptible to that. I can misspell a word and often do. So carping about others, who don't have a fabulous hive intelligence like the readers of this blog to set them straight, well, runs the risk of making me something of a hypocrite.
But heck, there's a lot of that going around lately. And what's more fun than spotlight the deficiency of others? In that light, I'm going to start an occasional feature I've dubbed "Great Moments in Public Relations," where lapses in the publicity craft are held up for inspection, censure and ridicule. I'm not optimist enough to hope that it'll help keep the industry on its toes. But at least we can have fun, and show that some minimal communications standards remain.
Sit back, enjoy, and see how many of these gaffes you've encountered. Or committed.
1. Dear Your Name Here.
We know these aren't really personal notes. But do you have to grind our faces in it? Particularly this one, from a Los Angeles firm, natch. Nothing screams "We're not paying attention" like the sans serif-to-serif shift. I've also gotten Dear ______ emails. Really?
2. Please be our guest ... tomorrow.
This Tuesday message is what prompted me to write this today. Happens more often than you would expect, though not always on the Messenger app on Facebook. I did my best to obscure the identity of the writer, since I'm not trying to drive anyone to leap off a bridge, since their intentions were good, I suppose. I replied by saying that I wouldn't go to a dinner honoring myself on a day's notice. Another man would be insulted; I was more amused.
3. Dear Kneel...
To be honest, so many people mangle my name—Neal, Niel, Neil Steinburg—that it doesn't even bother me anymore, and it would be petty to let a good idea go by for that reason alone. I actually responded to this email and we discussed the topic. Then I realized I did it last year.
4. Pay particular attention to that first sentence.
I normally wouldn't even glance at a press release from N'Digo, not after its publisher sold herself to Bruce Rauner (plus, of course, her low attacks on me for suggesting that Carol Moseley-Braun wasn't going to be elected mayor of Chicago). They all go straight to trash, where their publication belongs. But figuring I should round out this list, I thought I'd give it a read and see whatever lapse was waiting. I didn't have to read far....
So that's the opening salvo. Please feel free to share your own examples, and perhaps we can make this a bi-monthly event, if the interest is there. Or if this exercise is just too mean—I've had that thought too—let me know and this can be the first and last occasion.