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The biggest time wasters in PR

There is nothing worse than wasting your time doing work that achieves very little, apart from draining your battery. So if you work in PR, here are 16 activities you might want to avoid!

1. Meetings

Will Hobson, PR and London director at SEO agency Rise at Seven: "An overabundance of meetings can be a drain on productivity, getting in the way of the work you need to do and can feel wasteful of your time. From delays to ideas that don’t come to fruition, there is plenty of time wasting that cuts down on the actual value of the meeting too. We are looking to cut back by having smaller daily meetings, having ‘meeting-free hours’, and using more frequent communication via apps and email.”

2. Brainstorms

Emma Grace, chief creative and strategy director at comms agency PrettyGreen: The original ‘let’s do something so we feel like we are doing something’ technique for creative agencies across the land. The biggest waste of time in a time-poor industry.

“The brainstorming process produces very little in terms of original thinking. The thing about brainstorms, and it has been proven by many a scientist, is they are not actually the best environment for your brain to storm. Even with the best laid plans. The planning team providing thoughtful insights and territories, guardrails being given to the group, there are too many contributing human barriers to a group problem-solving scenario.

“Social loafing, cognitive inertia, introverts vs extroverts, time limitation, production blocking; all psychological and practical reasons as to why the collective power of thought is complex and ineffective. Not to mention the elephant in the room that the human brain has its best ideas when it is not actually thinking about the idea (ie, in the shower).

3. Sending half pitches to a journalist

Marcio Delgado, journalist and media consultant: “The biggest waste of time in PR, for both sides, journalists and clients, is to send out half a pitch when replying to a #journorequest or any form of media outreach.

“Very often, if I receive an email saying ‘Saw your request and I have the perfect client that could share an opinion on the matter, contact me back’ I simply ignore it. Newsrooms are highly short-staffed workplaces and media professionals are overwhelmed with deadlines most of the days. If a PR outreach doesn’t include a full quote, as part of a reply to a media request, chances are the journalist won’t have time to reach back and entertain emails endlessly going back and forth.”

4. Phone calls

Alex Hickson, digital PR lead at creative agency John Doe: “When so much of my job relies on creative thinking, insights, and analysis - call culture is something I’m wary of letting get in the way of productivity. Working remotely, I learnt quickly that protecting your time during the day isn’t necessarily selfish or unhelpful but leads to better processes and more thorough work. It’s difficult to get stuck into tasks when you have 30 minutes between multiple calls. Creating clear agendas, well-structured emails and adopting voice notes has helped communication with clients and colleagues alike, whilst allowing uninterrupted working days. There’s an art in condensing conversation and making clear points through other mediums instead of multiple calls a day. Adopting ‘no-meeting periods’ is something our agency commits to, and having clear agendas so calls run in a structured and productive way. Don’t be afraid to claim back your diary, your time is one of your most precious assets in PR.”

5. Zoom meetings

Hannah Syers, PR director at integrated B2B marketing agency Fox Agency: “Adding daily Zoom work calls to our calendar has become standard practice, but they can often feel unnecessary and overly long. We've all sat in meetings with too many people, with no agenda and no actions to guide the conversation.

“I've discovered the key to making the most of everyone’s time. Before every meeting, I create an agenda and send it to each attendee. This adds direction and purpose to each call, and there is the opportunity for individuals to decide if they will add value to the meeting and if they, in fact should attend. I found this helps all participants leave calls either feeling like they have learnt something or confident that everyone is aligned to objectives. This usually makes the calls go much faster, or at least they feel like they do!”

6. Going on Twitter

Dan Griffiths, founder of agency Dot Star Media “A huge waste of time for some in PR is the time spent monitoring Twitter for journalist requests. There are loads of valuable journalist requests posted to Twitter every single day - so the platform certainly does need to be monitored as a serious source of media coverage opportunities. The problem comes from Twitter also being such an addictive feed of snackable real-time ‘news’ chunks. It’s hard to resist such a potent, never-ending vortex of bon mots, links and provocations. It’s too easy for anyone that’s curious to get distracted, and lose hours.”

7. Pointless admin tasks

Jennie Lindehoff, head of PR and Outreach at agency ClickThrough Marketing “For me, the biggest time-wasting activities in PR are admin tasks. Reporting on results to clients is very important, and so is building the relationship with the clients, but having too many meetings frequently quickly adds on time by arranging and preparing for the meetings. This time could instead be spent on the actual project/campaign to gain the results you’re wanting to achieve. Acquiring results in PR doesn’t happen overnight, so having meetings when there’s little new to report on from the last check-in is time consuming. The client needs to know what’s going on, but the level of detail they sometimes requests is unnecessary and takes longer time than the work itself. The results are important to know about and how they’ve impacted the business, not a detailed outline of how the results were achieved.”

8. Acting before thinking about the audience

Caroline Coventry, director at PR agency Nelson Bostock: “An inordinate amount of time is spent pitching out stories that are written by and for the brand without the audience in mind. Take product launches for example. The campaign requirements are so often marketing materials translated for PR purposes. An integrated comms approach is far more effective; leading with audience-first storytelling and dialogue rather than inward-out business messaging. This necessitates proper, human insight and elevating the product beyond features. The most memorable campaigns are where PR leads and the integrated comms model is given life.”

9. Repitching PR campaigns to the press

Jo Threlfall, head of digital PR at agency Embryo: "I think some of the most ineffective uses of time is repitching a PR campaign, which is not relevant for the press. On some occasions, some PR campaigns do not succeed as the news changes on a daily basis and before we know it, a campaign can no longer be relevant overnight. We've seen now more than ever in the digital marketing industry that we've got to be more reactive and be prepared to change strategy and ideas in order deliver results and that applies across all channels including digital PR."

"I recommend having multiple ideas in the bank and not relying on larger creative campaigns to deliver long-term results as it's important to think beyond Plan A as you need to have a Plan B, Plan C and D as your main idea may not work. Use tools to keep tabs on trends and bank time to amend and change your plan of action as this could make or break your success."

10. Pandering to greedy publications

Mariana, head of creative, strategy and international at marketing agency Goho: “The best use of your time as a PR is by building relationships. This means long meetings, lunches and events can be surprisingly positive long term. However, the worst waste of time is when this relationship is all sales-based. When some publications, especially those with small audiences, don't understand our clients yet pretend to be interested in them just to get money or samples (or both), they undermine the credibility of PR and journalism activities.”

11. Allowing emails to pile up

Rob Etheridge, senior account manager at PR agency 72Point: “I wish I could get back the time I spent filing emails earlier in my career. I’ve received anything between 50-200 on a given day, which soon piles up. Search can be used to locate old emails, otherwise the flagging tool and ‘respond now’ methods are your friends. However, email search should never replace a proper document filing system. Enlisting IT’s help to locate that missing item in the inbox of a former colleague is not a good use of anyone’s time, especially when it’s for a mandatory audit.”

12. Handwriting notes

Rob Etheridge: “Handwritten notes are also a time drain. Some consider typing in meetings rude, but I’d always advocate typed notes from a status call, with actions up front in bold. A quick copy and paste, proof and format ensures a much swifter follow-up and shows urgency, while no time is lost trying to decipher what on earth you scribbled down by hand. A notebook and pen still has its place, but mainly for media meets, internal or creative sessions, or as a last resort during a tech meltdown.”

13. Responding to poor briefs

Tim Gibbon, founder of communications consultancy Elemental Elemental: “Briefs can make or break PR and marketing activity. PRs and marketers need to invest time into making briefs the best they can be. Otherwise, the cost of correction in terms of time can be problematic. Briefs can be awful. Poor communication of the brief is not managed well.

“Time can be squandered when agencies and brands aren’t on the same page. At best a poor brief will need editing, or rewriting. At worst a poor brief it’s implemented where the repercussions can be expensive.”

14. Unnecessary reporting

Tim Gibbon: “Monitoring, assessment and measurement are essential to learning and progressing. Unnecessary, useless, unused, 11th-hour reports can be time-consuming and additionally can impact morale.

“PRs and marketers need to ensure the right people are requesting the correct information and relevant detail is being presented. Ideally, PR and marketers would need to find out what is requested and why.

“With real-time dashboards to allow easier communications (and easier digestion), the reports don’t have. to be as painful to create and communicate where the focus is on implementing actionable insight.”

15. Arranging interviews

Wez Merchant, founder and CEO at agency “The biggest time sapper in PR for film publicists is arranging interviews. Whilst the end result is good the to-ing and fro-ing of dates, approvals and middlemen causes delays and an abundance of time wasted.”

16. Multitasking

Leszek Dudkiewicz, head of marketing at Passport Photo Online: “The biggest waste of time, not only in PR but in life in general, is multitasking. Several studies, like the one conducted by Michigan University in 2021, have proven that multitasking is ultimately counterproductive and a massive time-waster.

“Tackling several matters at the same time usually means nothing will be done well and right on time. If you constantly look through your emails, check client feedback and work on a new PR campaign strategy whilst you’re still not finished with your other projects, your productivity will drop significantly. The less organised you are, and the more chaotic your work is, the more time you will waste.”

Of course, there is a difference between doing tasks that waste your time, and taking time out for yourself so you can reboot. This is definitely not time wasted, but time well spent.

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