The sins of Marketing, PR and Communication

Yom Kippur begins at sundown this Friday. By translation, it’s the Day of Atonement. It’s the day that the 13 million or so Jews in the world (including yours truly) fast and spend the day praying in synagogue to be forgiven for sins against God (I believe the day should be about much more literally than asking God for atonement for our sins, but that’s another story). Not surprisingly, at the heart of the Yom Kippur prayer liturgy is a series of confessional prayers that list sins that some Jew, somewhere, committed over the course of the previous year; all Jews recite them as a sign of solidarity.

With this day fast approaching, I was thinking about what mistakes people in my field commonly make. What are the “sins” of Marketing, Public Relations and Communication in general? Here are several that I thought of:

1. Giving your customers the message you think they SHOULD want: The most important element of a successful business is providing a good or service that your customers want. Many aspiring business owners and marketers make the mistake of trying to force feed their vision to consumers rather than serving their customers. If you own a Ford dealership and car buyers in your area prefer driving pickup trucks and SUVs, make sure you stock a lot of Ford Explorers and F-150s and convey to your potential customers why Ford’s products in these classes are better than the competition. If you stock a lot of Fusion Hybrids and tell your customers that they should buy them instead because they’re more fuel efficient, the dealership probably isn’t going to last very long. The ideal business should know what its customers want so thoroughly and have an offering so finely tuned to those desires that the product sells itself.

2. Letting your opponents define you and your brand: If you don’t aggressively define yourself and your message to your audience, your opponents will, and not to your advantage. Many businesses, celebrities and politicians make the mistake of not being proactive, particularly in crisis situations. Get your message out there early and keep repeating it.

3. Not being up-front and transparent in crisis situations: Many businesses make the mistake of thinking they can hide bad news from the public. You can’t, especially now with the web. And the cover-up is always worse than the crime itself. If you don’t come clean yourself and do so right away, someone else will do so on their terms, not yours. Now in addition to the consequences of the bad news itself, you have the added image damage that comes from not being forthright with your consumers.

4. Using Social Media as just another means to shout at consumers: The most valuable characteristic of Social Media are that they allow for two-way communication. This provides businesses opportunities to actually engage consumers and build relationships with them. A business that simply uses Facebook and Twitter as another channel to send out the press release announcing their new Chief Financial Officer is not going to get the most out of those tools.

5. Using a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing: This somewhat goes back to #1. No two businesses are exactly alike, so no two sets of marketing and communication strategies should be exactly alike either. What works for won’t necessarily work for Southwest Airlines. Know who your audience is and where it is, THEN design the strategy.

What about you? Can you think of any other “sins” of marketing, PR and communication?

And to my fellow Jews, G’mar Chatima Tovah – may you be sealed for a good year ahead.

5 Responses to The sins of Marketing, PR and Communication

  1. Krista says:

    Wow, you really hit on the biggies here, so it’s hard to think of more! I would add a sin from the PR side is underestimating or undervaluing the relationship with the media. PR clients and even some PR practicioners think they know more than the reporters they’re pitching, and often find themselves shocked they didn’t cover their story or take the pitch bait. More than likely, they didn’t read up on the reporter’s recent coverage or interests and simply selected them based on a beat title.

    There needs to be a mutual respect for both professions, as it can be a beneficial relationship. But if PR continues to look down its nose at the media and “control” messages, then it will never improve.

    • Joshua Brett says:

      Very good point re: the media. And it is especially important to have a good rapport with the news media now because space/air time is much more limited – competition to get your story out is fiercer than ever and will only get more so.

      Along these lines, businesses also can’t thumb their nose at non-traditional media. A very prominent mommy blogger or e-patient, or even a less prominent one who happens to use the right search keywords and get a lot of pageviews as a result, can be read by many thousands of people – many of whose opinions could be shaped as a result. Just because someone isn’t affiliated with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or NBC News doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of attention.

  2. Your statement: “Many aspiring business owners and marketers make the mistake of trying to force feed their vision to consumers rather than serving their customers,” resonates. The challenge is defining your vision to match what customers truly want and doing it in such a way that differentiates you from the next business.

    With the passing of Steve Jobs, I also read Peter Shankman’s blog post [] today which applies here about the reason we love Apple. He says, “Create such amazing products and services within your company that your customers become fans, and offer their trust and faith in you.”

    The adage “Practice what you Preach,” comes to mind and seems apropos. And, perhaps this is what you are saying in #1? All too often, what we say in our marketing/PR efforts does not match what we deliver.

    • Joshua Brett says:

      Thank you for sharing the quote re: Steve Jobs. And it is what made Steve Jobs such a great visionary – he foresaw human desire and need for the things he developed. In essence, he had what consumers wanted before they even had to ask for it.

  3. Pingback: PR Confessional: Pitching Crap to the Media « PR in Pink

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