PR, back to basics

Recently, I have been a little annoyed and at the same time, amused by the fact that many marketing managers who also oversee public relations for their companies and brands have absolutely no idea what public relations is all about and how PR can work for their companies and products. Sometimes, it makes me wonder why they are put in that position, but that’s not my topic for this post.

First of all, PR is not just about “publicity stunts” and definitely not about roadshows or promotions. I am sure PR agencies get alot of the weirdest requests from clients to (1) get media down to their event – which usually means roadshows that have nothing “news worthy” and not carefully thought out to reach out to the target audiences (2) have a BIG press conference to announce their erm, website launch that often looks like any other websites (3) insist of doing “publicity” stunts that are totally not relevant to their products or company.

Yes, it is then the job of the agency to EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE! the clients that there is really no way any media or consumers who would pay attention to what they want to do. Unfortunately, many consultants fail to do that for various reasons. At times, the clients fail to listen to advices. The result – a bad relationship and a lot of money wasted on a bad “PR activity”.

I have been in both agency and in-house positions and i know of many clients who complained about their PR agencies all the time and consultants in agencies curse behind their clients every other day. So, this post has nothing to do with new media and nothing 2.0 but it is going back to basic as I ponder and read some experts’ views on how the two can better work together to achieve better results.

I read an interesting article in, listing 10 reasons why PR doesn’t work, with the original source from Margie Zable Fisher of ThePRSite.

One of the reasons states:

The client doesn’t understand the publicity process. PR folks need to better educate people about how publicity works. The first thing many clients ask is, “Can you get me on Oprah or the front page of the Wall Street Journal?” The answer might be “yes,” but the process to get to the “yes” may take months or years, and may first include a series of smaller activities to get there.

Brian Solis (my top favourite blogger) wrote a brilliant post about Why PR doesn’t work and how to fix it

Brian not only listed why PR doesn’t work, he gave suggestions on HOW to fix it and in his post, he wrote the following advice to the companies’ executives:

Understand first, what PR is and isn’t. All too often, businesses expect PR to perform miracles simply because they confuse it with advertising, online marketing, media buying, search marketing, etc. PR can’t guarantee legitimate coverage in industry publications – no matter how tight the relationship. If PR promises it, then they’re lying. I leverage relationships daily to consider stories that I package in a way that’s most relevant to them. Most of the time it works because I take the time to make it valuable to respective markets. If I took advantage of my contacts to force coverage whenever I needed to deliver on a promise, then it would mark the beginning of the end of my relationships.

On Andy Lark‘s blog, he wrote his views some months back on how he believes that PR works but at times the relationship between client and consultants are worsened because of the client that doesn’t grok their audience, what they read, or what their circle of influence is… PR Works where everyone groks the audience and understands how to communicate effectively with them – and that might mean skipping the media altogether.

I aso read Jeremiah Owyang, the web strategist’s blog entry on 20 reasons why PR doesn’t work.

The part I want to highlight is Shel Israels (the co-author of Naked Conversations) comment to Jeremiah’s post:-

…. could someone please define the term “public relations.” I think every person in business needs to have relationships with members of their communities. You (Jeremiah) are superb at having those public relationships. The problem with so many alleged “PR Practitioners,”is they are really working on client relationships or maybe even press relationships, but it seems to me the field is really about something very different. You understand communities better than almost any traditional PR practitioner I know. So I guess you are my kind of PR guy.

It is interesting that although Jeremiah has no former training in PR and not a public relations professional, many of his blog fans and experts in the field look to him as one. The reason is probably because he has an influential reach to alot of audiences. As Shel mentioned, he understands the consumers, the communities better than many PR professionals.

So, to the people who work with me and are complaining about the clients or my friends who are clients and complaining about the agencies, instead of blaming one another, work towards understanding the problems and needs of the other.

There is often an objective in running a PR campaign and it is definitely not pissing one another off. Before we even start throwing in the tech/ PR/ Web 2.0 social and new media stuff, get the basic of PR in place.

Educate the client. Build the relationship. Help the client understand what works for the company or product. Look at your target consumers, understand them. The keywords now are to involve and get participation and not just sending out gospel-like key messages that are often a monologue rather than a dialogue. THEN, let’s talk about the cool 2.0 tools to build your campaign.

My good friend, Walter Lim, the communications director of a government body in Singapore wrote the following in his blog … (and I agree)

Any effective PR strategy needs to look at the relationships, processes and dynamics that all three parties have with each other. Just pointing the finger at the client alone will not solve the problem if there isn’t enough effort to educate him or her.

In addition, understanding and working together must be a two-way win-win thing. While publicity is good, it isn’t the be-all and end-all in the business world. Sometimes, one needs to see if one’s business strategy and tactics lends itself favourably to publicity or should employ other approaches instead.



13 thoughts on “PR, back to basics

  1. It is, definitely. I guess my point is PR folks need to also understand that you need to come up with a good strategic campaign with newsworthy angles for the media and not just depending on good relations with media to squeeze in a story. Relationships with media is important (two-ways) so that one can feed content and the other gather content from good sources to share with the consumers/ masses

  2. Having been in editorial since 1998 and having encountered countless PR people, I have some observations.

    1. Most young journalists have little understanding of what PR people do.
    2. Most young PR people have little understanding of what the media is.
    3. Some people just never learn 1) or 2) even when they get older and more senior in their jobs.

    As a result, there’s often unnecessary antagonism between both parties, and at the losing end is the client who paid good money to get some publicity, yet the latter doesn’t even know of the above issues.

    News stories vary in newsworthiness, but more important than that is the ability of both PR and press to come clean with each other. Is the story worth running? What’s the impact of the story in the long run? I’ve rejected many pitches from good PR friends, and there were never any hard feelings because both parties seek only professionalism.

    What really needs to happen is for more journalists and PRs to work in each others’ industries to know what’s the whole game is about. Some journos do cross over with varying results, but very few PR people do.

    As for clients, it depends on how enlightened they are. Some just want positive coverage all the time, others will be happy with ANY coverage. There was this rather silly company I met that demanded that the press review its lousy scanner product at all costs. I warned them that it’ll garner negative reviews, and that’s what happened with another media, but their employee just needed to show the boss that the press gave it coverage.

  3. Just received an annoying call from a PR girl. She admitted that she doesn’t read the section I write for, because she “has no time”.

    So why on earth should a journalist entertain her if she doesn’t even follow his writings or what he covers?

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  6. Ian, I have come across editors and journalists who tried to join the PR industry but gave up in less than 3 months and not everyone is suitable for each others’ industry. It takes more than just media pitching skills to be in PR.

    To your second point about the PR girl, I agree that it’s not professional. PR people cant read every single feature/ editorial in all publications, but the least PR should do is to find out more about the journalist and the section we are pitching to and see if there is indeed any relevance and the type of news/ style that particular journo covers.

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  8. Currently I’m reading this book and I find it good hence just to share, it say: “Managing your public relations requires you to be patient, prepared, and creative in finding ways to publicize your business”.

    Public relations is an important way for you to communicate with customers and potential customers, but also with members of the many other audiences that can affect your marketing performance. As is true for all other forms of communications, public relations must be integrated into the organization’s overall communication strategy and provide a message consistent with your position. – By Donald Trump – Marketing 101

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