Your PR Efforts May Be Hurting You

I've been on both sides of public relations. For years, I wrote a syndicated technology column for the Chicago Tribune. Now, I run a consulting firm that focuses on clients' marketing efforts, helping them craft the strategy and language to create critical masses of loyal customers. Then, when I was a recipient of press releases, and now, as I evaluate and streamline marketing and PR efforts, one thing has always been clear: that the majority of media-relations work hurts more than it helps. I know this statement will upset some readers who work in PR, but you can't read through the problems detailed below and tell me the picture I am painting is not accurate. Also, some PR professionals are terrific, but the majority commit the following three mistakes with regularity. Today, PR is a numbers game rather than a relationship business. Most PR professionals blast pitches to thousands of press people, most of whom they have never met. Getting coverage — even online — is a relationship business. When I was a Chicago Tribune technology columnist there were a handful of PR professionals whose pitches I always tried to cover, because they were helpful. We had a relationship. They knew me, my work, and my audience. Most other releases? I rarely got past the oft-incomprehensible headline. Solution: Stop blasting. Build relationships. Learn about who is on the receiving end of your pitches. Understand the audience of the media being pitched, and try to help those people. Anything less is laziness. Good PR takes effort. The press releases are terrible. I conducted an informal survey with hundreds of press people last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), as my new book, Evangelist Marketing, launched there. The average number of press releases received per day by the press in attendance was 300. Of those, how many did they consider useful? Three. Let that sink in for a moment. The vast majority of press releases are ill-conceived, in that they focus on features and specifications rather than the life-improvement value of the product or service. They are also written poorly, filled with errors and grammatical mistakes. They are not interesting. And they rarely tell a good story. Solution: Consider eliminating press releases altogether. I'm very serious about this. You would be forced to build relationships with the media you pitch. You would be forced to learn what they cover and gather insights on each journalist's audience. And you would actually customize your pitches for them, sending one at a time. In turn, your media relations efforts would actually generate results. Many PR people don't represent their companies well. Public relations teams are usually far removed from the larger marketing strategy of a company, usually simply distributing messaging points. This isn't their fault, but it's reality. Also, media relations work tends to be a thankless, generally unrewarding job. A high failure rate is common and expected. This is why most media relations people are young, recently out of college, and generally unsophisticated. It's why most PR people move jobs frequently, looking for something better. These are the people carrying out one of the most important functions at your company — alerting the media about your product, service, or success. The resulting coverage can make or break your current effort, but most of the people tasked with the work have proven themselves incapable of succeeding at it. It's not fair to them or you. Solution: Consider managing your most important media relationships personally. If you work at a larger company, consider assigning five to 10 key media relationships to your top executives. Then, ask them to spend two minutes per day building those relationships. The PR people can coordinate the coverage, schedule interviews, and respond to queries, just as they do now. But the relationships should be built by people who know how to build them. This system works: companies that do this get much of what they want covered, when they want it covered. Journalists will bend over backwards to help people who help them. To be clear: public relations professionals play a hugely critical role in the success of most companies. They should be supported, helped, and developed. But for the reasons detailed here, most PR efforts are not helping most companies.
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