Over the course of my nearly 20 years in the PR business, I’ve noticed a handful of trends and learned several best practices. For anyone starting out in the business or just interested in learning more about it, here are five rules to live by…plus a bonus rule for good measure!

  1. Plan, But be Prepared to Pivot. I’m a big planner. Advanced preparation gives me peace of mind. Many of my PR industry peers have taught themselves to become planners since we are constantly managing various projects simultaneously and are careful not to overlook anything. However, all PR practitioners should prepare for that inevitable bump in the road that detours our plans. For example, you may have booked a media tour for your client who is announcing a major product launch. Two days hours prior to the launch and tour, a competitor may deliver a similar announcement unexpectedly. In this instance, timing could change. Messaging could change. Your client will need to prepare for a new line of questioning. You may need to connect with new reporters and bloggers who were not originally part of your lineup. My point? Planning is essential, but stay on your toes and always expect the unexpected. 
  1. Counsel Your Clients. When you represent a small company that lacks in-house corporate communications or marketing contacts, your direct clients may be scientists, engineers, hedge fund managers or CFOs – well outside the PR sphere. Many of those same clients may come to you with their PR hat on and recommend specific tactics. Sometimes those tactics may be brilliant, and other times they may not work and could actually damage their brand. It can feel awkward or disrespectful to say no to your clients when they share a PR idea that excites them. If they are recommending something that is not in their best interest, go ahead and say no. Be polite of course, but make your point and explain your rationale. They may be the expert in medicine or finance, but you’ve been hired for your PR prowess. Be their advocate. 
  1. Know Your Objective. Logically, if you know what the clients’ objectives are, you can recommend activities to help achieve those objectives. Do yourself and your client a favor. Try to make this discovery in the introductory meeting. That will increase your odds of delivering and executing an effective communications campaign and is the best (and really only) way to measure your success. 
  1. Emphasize Quality Over Quantity. I’ve seen media lists with more than 1,000 contacts on them. It is highly unlikely you’re ever going to need to deliver news that broadly. In fact, it’s typically much wiser to identify 10-15 contacts at outlets that write about the news you are pitching and who deliver that news to the audiences that your client cares about. Focus your efforts on securing meaningful coverage in those 10-15 outlets rather than blanketing as many publications as possible, most of which will likely be the wrong fit. 
  1. Read. Research. Repeat. Before you approach reporters, take some time to review their latest articles and see what’s on their minds by perusing their Twitter handles. That way you’ll confirm you’re reaching the right contacts and you may tweak your pitch a bit based on the reporters’ recent coverage. If you’re planning to connect with the same reporters three months from now, do this exercise again. You’ll find their focus can change. 

And the bonus rule… 

  1. Proofread! Clients expect you to hit spellcheck before you send something to them or to their customers, reporters, analysts and other groups that are important to them. For any number of reasons related to delivering client service excellence, it’s clearly important to proofread. But, what if you don’t? If you’re on the hook to send out a press release with financial information, adding an extra zero to a numerical value could pose a really big problem for the company and potentially analysts and investors. Proofread yourself, and ask a colleague to provide a fresh pair of eyes before anything goes out the door.

What are your thoughts about these PR rules to live by? If you’re a communications consultant or client, do you agree? Would you recommend other rules?