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Dealing with Forbidden Topics in Public Relations

Ready for some serious PR truth bombs? In this article, you will learn all about what you can and cannot say in the world of public relations.

Let us start with a scenario: Imagine that a business has all the specs: a market-leading product, an awesome team that is passionate about the company’s mission, service that delights the customer and, last, but certainly not least, a world-class PR department.

In our scenario, the successful enterprise is likely to have real news that it wants to share. There is just one small, but possibly insurmountable brick wall: The company is actually a leading brand of chewing tobacco. This is a great challenge for the PR team. Tobacco is on most press release distributors’ lists of forbidden topics. If the company wants to win with public relations, it needs to innovate a clever way through this maze.

Enter EIN Presswire (an online press release distribution platform) with this convenient map of the PR minefield (forbidden topics). Here is the list below (albeit non-exhaustive):

  • Sexually explicit content
  • Third-party legal releases
  • Intent to harm
  • Unauthorized ticker symbols
  • Gambling
  • Guns
  • Tobacco
  • Online pharmaceuticals
  • Weight loss
  • Sexual enhancement products
  • Supplements
  • Stock recommendations

The list above includes a jumble of taboo topics ranging from controversial to legalistic. It is important to clarify that there are really two main reasons why a topic might be taboo. For example, a press release that takes a side in a lawsuit is a serious liability for distribution centers, platforms and journalists. Another example would be unauthorized stock or ticker symbols that can also present significant liability, as this can contribute to the way the stock performs on the market. However, with these topics, there is a legitimate workaround. If you can prove to be a party in the legal dispute, this will open the door to your press release. This strategy also works for stocks. if you can attach emails that verify your identity as a legitimate spokesperson for a publicly traded organization, this can smooth things over.

Other taboo topics include tobacco, guns and adult entertainment. These things might cause the PR platforms to shut you down. The reason that these topics are off limits is because of the metaphorical odors that controversial topics such as these might leave on their platforms. This is quite understandable. But if you do work in these industries, the PR outlook is bleak. The door to simple PR is firmly closed. It will be difficult or almost impossible to get coverage in the way that the more conventional enterprises enjoy.

So, back to our friends at the chewing tobacco company. There is good news for them. While it may be true that the straightforward approach will not serve them well, there is a way through this quagmire of forbidden topics. First, it is vital for their PR team to contact journalists who cover tobacco products. Journalists cover almost every imaginable area of the business world. Some work for specialized publications. A journalist who covers chewing tobacco is unlikely to find this company’s news unpleasant.

Second, they could try and reframe their presentation to the media. They could offer tips on how to buy the freshest chewing tobacco, for example, or some other form of expertise that only someone in the field would have.

Here is an approach that we took when one of our clients came to us for help. Our client runs a business offering betting tips and advice. This is certainly an area that traditional distribution platforms and news outlets want to distance themselves from. So, we decided on a creative approach. Instead of announcing news that was directly linked to our client’s business, we reframed our client as an expert in governmental legislation that affected the field of betting – which was true by the way. There was nothing dishonest about this strategy because our client does in fact have real expertise in this field. However, our strategy took all the sting out of the material. It transformed it into palatable news instead of a forbidden topic.

Another approach we took was to connect our client with specific journalists who cover the world of betting and gambling. For these journalists, covering these topics is not only not forbidden but it is their forte.

In summation, while the PR world does truly have a blacklist of forbidden topics, the smart PR pro can penetrate this barrier. It will take a sprinkle of ingenuity mixed with some brilliant and creative reframing. But if done right, your press release might just make it into the inbox of Ms. Journalist and find its way from there onto the public stage.


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Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/hand-of-a-person-holding-black-semi-automatic-pistol-5202395/