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Putting the Relations Back in Public Relations

A few years ago, Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge wrote a landmark book about the shift in public relations to a social media world titled Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.”  This book helped many PR professionals cross the chasm to where mainstream PR exists today, and for that, many are thankful for their work, including me.

Though I would never claim this to be a landmark blog, nor do I intend to write a book on the subject, my assertion is that the wide adoption of technology in media practices has left a void when it comes to basic human relations and the value they bring to the table for successful media relations.  Perhaps this void exists in all areas of life, but I contend it definitely exists in the PR world.

In my own practice, I’ve seen where genuine relationships I’ve forged through years of common courtesies and best practices have yielded tremendous results for my clients. In a highly competitive and results driven field, it’s absolutely critical to remember that human relations are still the most valuable commodity in the business.  As a PR professional, it’s our job to care about the press, analyst and bloggers we work with, not because we want something from them, but it’s our job to help them be successful in their quest for good news stories and compelling technology updates.  This shift in attitude alone will kick start better results immediately.  You’ll find you’ll do a better job at bringing innovation and compelling stories to the table because your motivation is right.

If you’re sensing the need for better relationship building in your PR efforts, here are some tips that may help:

  • Show genuine concern.  Every person can sense whether or not someone really cares about them or not.  You may say, how does this apply to public relations, but I say if you care about the people at the end of the telephone line, skype session or video camera, they know it, and it makes a difference.  Take time to learn and remember important facts or personal interests of the media folks you are working with.  Consider their requests, constraints or personal challenges as important as your own.  You may want that interview, but if you ignore common courtesies in lieu of results, you may jeopardize a valuable long term relationship that could eventually will bear great fruit.
  • Do your homework.  We all know that nothing can be more irritating to a journalist than a PR person who fails to do their homework and sends an irrelevant pitch because they don’t know what the journalist’s beat is, or where their true interests lie.  I know we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another in the throes of a mass PR campaign, but targeted, thoughtful pitches based on genuine research will put you on good footing every time.  You know what they say about first impressions, you get one chance.
  • Use more sugar than vinegar. It’s true that it’s easier to attract bees with sugar than vinegar; and in PR it’s no different: genuine friendliness and kindness can double your results.  A word of caution here: be yourself and don’t add too much sugar; like sweet tea in the south, it can be sickening. The media is being hounded by PR people who want their attention all day and every day so they are well aware of non-genuine attempts at friendliness.  Keep your personal tone and attitude of concern in line with what’s appropriate for the relationship: if you’re being genuine, this will be natural and appreciated.
  • Take time to say “Thank you.”  Again, this probably can be applied to all of life, but nothing can be more irritating than someone who never says thank you. A close tie to this principle is follow-up.  Once you get the interview or article, take time to read what’s been written and get back to the writer who took the time to cover your company.  You’d be absolutely floored at how many articles go without a word of thanks and if you take the time to follow through with the editor, how much they appreciate your thoughtfulness and will remember next time your pitch comes across the desk.
  • Go the extra mile.  This one can’t be overstated; if you get away from the “it’s all about me”, your relationship building efforts with the media will take on a new level of depth and long term success.  For example, take the extra time to track a story that you know is interesting to an editor even if it has no guarantee of producing results for your company. Spend the extra time to find a spokesperson for the media, even if it means you have to re-educate your entire executive and sales team about what it takes to build a customer testimonial program. Leave no stone unturned for providing innovative ideas for your media contacts.

These are a few examples of how to put the relations back into public relations but the list can be endless.  And while social media tools are great and a perfect way to send a quick note or tip, remember that the human voice and communication skills are still irreplaceable, even in a technology driven world.  The greatest relationships in life are built with genuine care, concern and investment of self and time.  This is certainly true in public relations and thoughtful consideration of these principles can organically grow your media relations efforts  and build long term successful results for your PR program.

Tips for Successful Holiday PR Campaigns

A lot of companies tend to see the holidays as dead air time, some even shut down their PR efforts altogether. The truth is the time period between Thanksgiving and the New Year presents an opportunity to leverage the perceived news lull with a year-end or year-beginning storyline.  Often editors and media outlets are looking for interesting ideas to fill their “pages” during this holiday down time.  Also, with the general slow-down in corporate productivity around the holidays, more people are reading news sites, blogs and following social media channels than during busier times of the year.  So smart holiday PR campaigning can be a powerful way to get your company noticed.

The most important key to effective holiday campaigning is to leverage popular trends and storylines.  Even if your product is a nerdy, seemingly non-interesting component in the technology stack (hey, not everyone is marketing a mobile phone), look for the larger story lines you can connect to or comment on.  This may require thinking outside of the box but it always can be done.

Perhaps you can leverage a partner or customer to jointly address an interesting angle or co-sponsor a year-end study.  The holidays are great times to announce results of surveys or make predictions about New Year trends.  This is also the time to consider something a little more catchy or gimmicky as these types of news stunts often seem to fit in better with the sense of sensationalism surrounding the holiday season.

Here are some more important tips for great holiday campaigns:

Be believable – You can claim that any pitch is related to the holidays, but that doesn’t mean an editor will believe it. In order to achieve the best success, there must be a valid, relevant holiday tie to your story idea.  Are you working with an expert source who can predict trends that relate to the Christmas season? Do you have a customer or partner that offers a great product perfect for holiday shoppers? These are the sorts of things that make for successful holiday pitches.

Start early – The most important thing to remember when pitching based on a certain holiday is to do it well in advance. Many pubs have their Christmas content picked out early, so don’t delay.  If you start early enough you can also leverage editorial calendar opportunities to add momentum and additional stories to your PR campaign.

Finish late – While you should do your initial holiday pitching in advance, it can also be effective to do some additional outreach directly before the holiday. Many reporters will be out of the office or already done with their holiday stories, but the ones who are not may be more likely to read your e-mail or take your phone call because they won’t be receiving as many as usual.  At a minimum, this is the perfect time to do some true relationship building and spreading of genuine holiday cheer.

Stand out from the crowd! – Bad holiday pitches can be like hearing “Jingle Bells” one too many times – painful.  Best case scenario is you’ll be forgiven but worst case is you’ll leave a bad impression on your editorial targets.  Personalize your pitch. Include a clear and attention-getting subject line. Don’t include an overabundance of unimportant information. Clearly communicate why your story idea is truly relevant and better than the rest – which of course includes name dropping and credibility points to substantiate your pitch.

If thoughtfully crafted and executed properly, holiday campaigns can be a very effective way to keep PR momentum going through the holiday lull while possibly netting some great attention you might not otherwise have received.