FIVE LESSONS ABOUT PR
With 25 years of experience in communications, campaigning and PR, I guess I should qualify as knowledgeable on the subject! I’ve worked with brands and organisations from Avon to UNCIEF, I’ve worked on space missions and product launches, conferences and crises. So this week, I thought I might try and distil something of what I have learnt about PR into five core lessons – in the hope that you will find this useful.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ACHIEVE
I’ve lost count of the number of clients over the past 25 years who have come to me because they want to ‘do some PR’. One of my very first questions is usually: ‘Why?’ Often their answer falls into one of the following categories:
- My CEO wants to be ‘out there’ in the media
- Other companies in our sector are getting lots of coverage and we want some
- We’ve got some interesting new products / offers / services and we want to tell people about them
None of these are great reasons to do PR.
The first is what I call ‘vanity PR’. It makes the CEO feel better to see his or her name in print but that’s about their ego not the organisation as a whole. The second reason I refer to as ‘jealousy PR’. Jealousy is an understandable response when one of your ‘competitors’ is getting coverage and you’re not – but it is also not a reason to do PR work. The last reason is what I think of as ‘non-specific PR’. It’s more clearly aligned to what the organisation needs (ie: to sell products / services) but it’s generic and unclear.
So, when you’re deciding whether or not to do PR, start with what phase you are at in your organisation and what your organisational needs are. Then consider what PR can deliver to support those needs.
TRULY UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
People say that the first rule of good communications is to know your audience. I say – don’t just know them, truly understand them.
What does that mean in practice? Well, it means knowing who they are, what drives and motivates them, what they think about you / your company or your products, what they are looking for and what they are trying to avoid, what they base their buying decisions on, who influences them and what media do they read, listen to or watch.
Why do you need to understand all of this? Because if your clients are mainly reading The Times, you don’t want to be targeting the Guardian. If they are committed to sustainability, you might want to consider that in your messaging. And if they mainly listen to their accountants when making purchasing decisions, you have another audience to target.
Understanding your audience is not a ‘once and done’ activity. You want to go back to them time and time again. Check in with them. What’s changed? Make sure you understand how their tastes, ideas and influences are evolving.
BE CLEAR ABOUT WHETHER PR IS RIGHT FOR YOU
I’ve spoken to a few people in recent months who are disillusioned about PR. They’ve brought in agency support and not got what they wanted or were expecting. Or they’ve been working at their PR themselves and getting nowhere. They are fed up and disappointed and they come to me looking for answers.
Quite often my answer is that PR isn’t the right communications choice for them. In my industry it is pretty much unheard of to say this to a client but PR is not for everyone. It is a brilliant tool – but it is only one option in the array of communications tools available to us. In the same way that you wouldn’t try and use a spanner for every DIY task around the house; you wouldn’t want to use PR to meet every communications need.
PR isn’t complicated but it can be time consuming. So, if you don’t have time to dedicate to it, it’s probably not right for you.
PR isn’t as expensive as traditional advertising but if you want decent support, it’s not cheap. So if you don’t have budget to dedicate to it, it’s probably not right for you.
And PR can often – not always – be a slow-burn. So if you need instant results, it’s probably not right for you.
But, if you have time, budget and commitment to dedicate to PR – then there is nothing that will raise your profile, increase awareness, improve understanding and bolster your credibility more than good PR.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
I’ve spoken to a few people recently who were avoiding PR because they were worried about being misrepresented; criticised or attacked. I get it. Sticking your head above the parapet with PR can be scary. And you know what, sometimes it will go wrong. And sometimes, even if you aren’t proactively seeking PR coverage, you’ll get it anyway – for all the wrong reasons.
And if that happens, if you are misrepresented or attacked – there is only one way to deal with it: calmly. Don’t give in to the overwhelming urge to phone a journalist and shout at them (I’ve fought that urge more than once) because they got something wrong or wrote something unkind about you or your company. Don’t overreact. Don’t write excoriating letters to the editor or pen a vitriolic blog in response. In other words, when it happens – and it will happen one day – don’t make a bad situation worse.
Keep calm. Think it through and refer to your crisis plan. Which brings me to my last point…
An awful lot of those people who were disappointed with the outcome of their PR experiment were, frankly, unprepared. They didn’t know why they were doing it; they hadn’t done the work to truly understand their audience and they hadn’t developed a clear strategic approach. They knew they wanted ‘coverage’ but not why they wanted it, where it should be or what they wanted to say.
And a lot of people experiencing a PR crisis are utterly unprepared. They have no crisis plan in place so they’ve not thought through how to respond in various scenarios; what to say and who should say it. They waste valuable time thinking through a response from scratch and as a result their response is often late, ill thought through and emotional.
In many ways all of these lessons come back to this same point: be prepared. Do your homework. Create your strategy. Be clear about what you want. Understand your audience. Make a proactive decision about whether PR is right for you. And be ready for an issue or crisis to arise.
Learn and apply these five lessons and you’ll be streets ahead of most other organisations and entrepreneurs entering the PR arena. And as a result, far more likely to get the kind of results you are looking for. And if you are questioning whether PR is right for you or want to understand more about how you should be preparing for it, reach out. I’d be happy to chat to you.
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