• Debunking Three Myths of PR

  • I am often surprised at the perceived, somewhat-magical powers of public relations professionals. Poof! Call a news conference and have every station attend! Poof! Make that ugly legal issue disappear! And while you’re at it, can you write something that doubles my earnings this year?

    Granted there are a number of things with which a public relations professional can assist a business or non-profit organization. But there are also a number of things that they cannot do. And the key, my friends, is the “wisdom to know the difference,” to quote the Serenity Prayer. So, allow me to bestow some of that wisdom on you by taking you through these three myths of public relations.

    • All we have to do is call a news conference or pitch this story to the media! Yeah, not so much. First of all, the days of “calling a news conference,” unless you are someone of high profile with something interesting to say, are over. I’m not sure if they were really even there to begin with. Nonetheless, the press cannot/will not/should not be summoned to hear about your awesome new product, award, tremendous accomplishment, etc. Secondly, let me make one thing really clear … and if you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: It is not the news media’s job to provide you with free advertising or a forum from which to tout your organization. Today, the media is looking for content that will engage audiences who have many, many more choices than ever before. It may be hard news or an investigative piece; it may be soft news or a feature. They are walking a delicate balance of being objective reporters who must adhere to management’s call for bottom-line results. The key to making a connection with a reporter is to make your business or organization a subject matter expert and offer interesting and timely topics and opinions over the course of time. It’s a relationship. And that’s where a PR person comes in handy.
    • Make that issue disappear! Okay, really? Ever see a dog working frantically to cover up his mess in the backyard? There’s no real disappearing, and I don’t care how much you pay for “reputation management,” that stink is going to linger. A crisis is never a matter of “if” but “when.” Be prepared with solid messaging and proactive crisis management – again, this is where a PR person can really help you work through potential crises and what you want to say. Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. And tell the truth. Quickly. The issue won’t disappear, but it won’t be quite as stinky for quite so long.
    • Show me the money (and the ROI)! Do I look like Jerry McGuire? Nevermind. But it’s sometimes difficult to connect the dots between a company’s return on investment on public relations, but it’s not impossible. It’s also not cheap. It starts with a strategic public relations plan that includes research, planning (including defining measurable objectives), implementation (the strategies and tactics) and evaluation. It’s important to obtain initial research like customer surveys (of all your clients, not just the happy ones), communications audits, etc. before the PR fun begins. No, that survey you did three years ago won’t work. You think you know your clients and don’t need to ask them what they think? Good luck with that.

    Another important thing research provides is the information necessary to create messaging that will resonate with your audience – potential customers, donors and, yes, the media. This messaging should also be reflected in all of your marketing efforts, from website, social media and presentations to collateral materials (which is how a lot of us PR pros end up overseeing marketing efforts or working in tandem with marketing as well). And you should be willing to use as many evaluation tools as you can, from Google analytics to Facebook Insights to paid monitoring services that not only track where your company appeared in the press, but the perceived value of that placement. Another survey after 12 months helps measure your progress as well. It may seem like unnecessary minutia, but (trust me, here) it’s the difference between success and disappointment.

    If you decide to hire a public relations professional, think of them as a “trusted advisor” – like you would an attorney or accountant.

    That means they aren’t there to tell you how wonderful your business, product or organization is; they are there to provide thoughtful, objective advice based on their education, experience and expertise. Typically, an hourly rate of service (in the Indianapolis market, $125 an hour seems to be the average) is determined for a certain number of hours per month along with an anticipated scope of work that goes along with those hours. Your strategic communications plan follows and, “Voila!” you’re on your way to a successful relationship with a public relations professional.