10 Digital PRs Share Failures and Learnings – The Reality of Working in Digital PR
Those working in Digital PR know how difficult it is to run a successful campaign, keep all of your clients happy and maintain solid relationships with journalists 24/7.
We’ve all naturally made mistakes in the past with a campaign or client (and that’s totally normal) but what we’ve learned from these hiccups is what makes us better creatives, account managers and data specialists.
In an effort to showcase what it’s really like working in such a fast-paced and high-pressure environment, I’ve asked the team at Kaizen some of the failures they’ve faced to date and what they’ve learned from them since.
One time the team got a campaign published on the Guardian ripping into our survey on the odds of the world ending. Still got a follow link though and the client thought the coverage was hilarious!
I once had a Mail Online journo send me a grumpy email after they put our piece live because someone labelled an image with the wrong name in the folder (we said it was Japan and it was like China or something lol) and they got called out on it by loads of readers.
Now we always ensure that a second pair of eyes always checks over data, press releases, images, etc before anything goes over to a journalist – a process we’re very strict on at Kaizen today!
We once ran a Christmas campaign for a retail client where we featured a variety of grocery stores and ranked the ones offering the best Christmas meals. Let’s just say we were contacted by a said grocery store that wasn’t high in the ranking to take the content down after the article was published on the Mirror – luckily the client was understanding!
We then did a quick turnaround brainteaser that got over 100 pieces of coverage. Only 9 follow links but on Mental Floss, etc. Quite a nice turnaround one!
I once had an exclusive get picked up by a journalist at the Mirror for this new product we had launched. After confirming, the journalist didn’t reply for 5 days so I offered it to another journalist at the Mirror who took it and ran it.
Two days after it was published I got some grumpy email from the first journalist saying she was annoyed that I had gone to someone else in the company (little did I know they seemed to have some rivalry going on with the articles they write). Nevertheless, the product launch went across all nationals.
However, key learnings would be to follow up a final time to confirm you’re passing it over to a colleague due to lack of email response – this way it covers your back when needed.
We once had a dataset with millions of results, organised by street name. In order to parse the data and rank it, we had to make a pivot table – but we didn’t realise until further down the line that for whatever reason, our data processing software had “cut out” after a couple of hundred thousand rows and excluded the rest of the data.
As a result, our “top ten” were actually just the top results of street names starting A through around J – and we had to start over and redo a lot of the work.
The worst thing about it is that because it was a failure of the technology rather than the team, and the dataset was so large, it’s not something you’d immediately pick up on. We spotted it because a PR assembling some key headlines noticed a weird trend among them – that all the names started with A – and that actually led to certain methods laid out in our QA process for spotting errors.
We once worked on a campaign where the data source updated on the day of launch. We had to re-do the whole campaign that day and re-upload ready to outreach the next day – and this was when we were heavily designing infographics and the compliance team had reviewed the press release 100 times to finally get sign off LOL.
We now make sure before using a data source we look for updated trends.
Outreaching a ‘fake product’ campaign, I once had a number of journalists in Italy call out the campaign for being fake news!
We now ensure that our campaigns don’t tag off the back of a fake product idea and is indeed a valid story.
In my early days, I once outreached a listicle and I contacted a number of journalists who had covered a similar topic. In my templated outreach email, in an attempt to personalise and to show that I have seen the topics they write, I had included a link to a previous article of theirs. You can probably guess what happened next.
Instead of changing the link for each journalist I contacted, I used one template that had linked to only one of the journalists’ article. As a result, I got an email from a different writer stating that they don’t write for that publication.
Although it was very embarrassing to receive that email over my very silly mistake it also showed that there was interest in the article.
I now make sure to double-check the links I include in my outreach in emails and have taken to just naming the article title rather than linking to it.
To capitalise on the lockdown renovation trend for a property client, we created a campaign that showcased how you could revamp your home space like some of the top holiday destinations around the world.
The interior designs featured in the story were designed in-house by the client’s design team which fundamentally left the campaign looking too branded to journalists. The campaign also ended up getting released too late in the Summer season with more travel restrictions being imposed which meant the reactive approach was no longer relevant to the news cycle.
Although the campaign wasn’t the success we envisioned, it taught us two valuable insights which we apply to campaigns today. Firstly, it’s important to use caution with a client’s in-house designs as branded content will be off-putting to journalists who might want to cover the story as it appears like sponsored content. Additionally, if the campaign is reactive and heavily reliant on the news cycle, a quick turnaround time is vital or else the story will no longer be newsworthy by the time it is launched.
When I first started out in PR 5 years ago, I once sent an email to over 100 journalists in CC instead of BCC – still haunts me to this day!
Back then we didn’t have many tools for outreach (except maybe mail merge) and I wasn’t at all coached on how to pitch to journalists properly as I was a marketing intern at an art studio at the time. I often think it was instances like this that made me extremely aware of best PR practice at every touchpoint today. Also made me fall in love with email outreach tools like BuzzStream!
By Sarah Fleming - 24/05/2021