Is PR Still Relevant?

Someone asked this question today in Quora, and I felt compelled to answer it on a wider scale, because the fact that so many startups and entrepreneurs are asking it troubles me.

Is public relations still relevant? Quick! Get my pills!

Public relations is still, and always will be, relevant!

I believe the term, “marketing,” should be killed and renamed, “public relations.” As you can see, I’m a bit passionate about this.

Break it down: “Public” — really should be “publics,” because an organization has many audience segments (prospects, customers, employees, vendors, shareholders, etc.)…. and “Relations” — the art of building beneficial relationships that serve the interests of both the “publics” and the organization.

These days, the term ‘PR’ is being worn in other disguises as the marketplace shifts into greater use of technology to communicate and sell sh*t.

As the marketing function scrambles to reinvent itself during this shift, it is doing a major turf grab for the public relations function.

Here are some activities that have historically been relegated to the PR department which marketing is now latching onto:

“Earned Media” (PR function) — getting media coverage. Media coverage is “earned,” not “bought.” (Advertising, which generally falls under the marketing umbrella, is “paid” coverage.) Since today’s consumers are becoming increasingly immune to advertising, direct mail and other sales solicitations, marketers are scrambling to teach themselves how to succeed in the realm of “earned media” strategy.

Content Creation (PR function) — Articles, newsletters, blogs, press releases, white papers, Op/Eds, video, podcasts, etc. Non-sales content generation is a PR function. We PR professionals are groomed for this function by deep and wide training as journalists and business writers. Today’s marketers are scrambling to up-level their writing abilities. Previously, a “copywriter” is a marketing expert who knows how to do an amazing thing — write sales copy that sells sh*t.

Content Marketing (PR function) — Placing the articles and getting all of content out into the marketplace to the right people at the right time with the right message. PR aims to change attitudes, opinions and behavior by providing information the audience wants and craves. Today’s audience makes purchasing decisions based upon how well the organization has earned its trust and credibility.

Platform Building (PR function) — PR attracts followers to social media channels. It builds brands. Today, the most crucial “brand” is the “personal brand.” Today’s organization aims to build as many followers as possible through public speaking (PR writes the speeches and trains the speakers), writing “lead magnets,” (which are pieces of information for which prospects will exchange their email addresses in order to download said information), podcasts, special events and other such reputation building activities.

Marketers have begun calling all of the above activities “marketing.” Marketers who do this would do themselves huge favors, career-wise, to understand the underlying strategies behind the superbly effective business function called “PR.”

Happy to answer more questions about this!

Time for Your Six-Month Checkup

It has been six months since the beginning of 2018. Yup. Six months. Already.

That means it’s time to take a pulse check on how well you’re doing on the business growth initiatives you set out when you created your annual plan.

When you’re a small business or ambitious-but-struggling entrepreneur, this can be a painful process, because it may mean you have to let go of the stuff that’s not working  and re-think your strategy.

Let’s face it. Chances are you’re short staffed, or your marketing manager (if you have one) lacks certain skills, or you’re anxious to keep up with the latest technology trends but don’t have the bandwidth, etc. etc., and what’s happened is you’ve simply taken on too much.

Because of your limited budget, you have to make choices of which activities make a healthy contribution to your bottom line — and which ones don’t.

What were the intentions for the growth or sustainability of your business this year? How were you planning to develop new business? What communications channels or tactics were you going to use to attract attention and rack up followers? What big projects did you put on your plate that were mission critical to the success of your business? Which ones kept you up at night?

Some businesses review progress every quarter. Others, like me, prefer to take a penetrating look at the six months’ mark. That’s because many strategies are long-term and ongoing, and thus take a long time to break through the noise and have a measurable effect.

A podcast, for example, requires you produce many episodes before your audience stumbles upon it. Speaking engagements are often planned months in advance, as are long-lead media hits.

If  you’ve decided that you’re moving along swimmingly, then WOW! You are a rare phenomenon. And, no doubt, you have lots of money to spend on marketing.

Otherwise, if what you’re doing hasn’t made much of a dent in your growth and it takes inordinate amounts of time to execute, your choices are:

  1. Keep moving forward with what you’re doing, but consider bringing in a professional to give you an objective opinion of your execution so that you can tweak and optimize.
  2. Put the less performing initiatives on the back burner until you have the resources to hire or outsource.
  3. Drop non-performing initiatives like a hot potato. It could be that Facebook is a complete waste of time for you — perhaps because the channel isn’t the right fit, or perhaps because you don’t have the skills to use it properly. If you can’t do it well, don’t do it.
  4. Trade the non-performing initiative with a new, better one.

Strategically speaking, ask yourself some probing questions. Am I not being bold or unique enough? Am I afraid to move past my comfort zone? Are my initiatives old school? Are we properly trained? Are we truly, passionately, doing the work? Are we just pushing our sales messages out there without connecting and engaging?

Your annual strategic plan is a map to success, but it’s fluid and dynamic. Sometimes you need to change the route when you encounter dead ends or slow-moving traffic.

And that’s perfectly fine.

May your next six months be exciting and fruitful!

 

The Woman is Wickedly Smart

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You may have heard the rumors: I have a huge, serious, professionally motivated, business-like crush on the Wicked Witch of the West. I didn’t like her so much when I was a kid, but she’s grown on me. Now that I’ve reached a certain level in my career, I can watch her with detached fascination and even chuckle a bit. This would have been impossible at the age of six.

I’m not talking about Elphaba, the lovable, beautiful Broadway version of the green-skinned, cackling, Munchkinland nemesis. The one I’m talking about, the 1939 MGM version, doesn’t get the guy at the end (oops, I should have said “spoiler alert,”) and I certainly doubt she could sing. What she could do, however, was create a strong presence for herself whenever she entered or left the room. And, she pursued her goals with ruthless persistence, without killing anyone (that we know of). But, wait! There’s more.

I’m going to call her Maggie, nicknamed after Margaret Hamilton, the wonderful and sweet actress who imitated her to a tee. I actually have her autograph, because I played the same role in my high school play and was invited to be on a talk show with her. I still have the autograph, if you’d like to see it. Anyhoo, back to why Maggie inspires my admiration.

Disclaimer: Maggie is not a “people person.” In fact, she has a cruel streak a mile wide. Would I want her as my boss or as a client? Definitely not. I wouldn’t have wanted Steve Jobs as a boss, either, but I loved watching him in action. He was the smartest guy in the room. Same goes for Maggie.

She’s a strategic thinker.

She wanted the ruby slippers (in Frank L. Baum’s book, they’re silver), and was prepared to go to any lengths to obtain them. We’re never told why, except when Glinda, the Good Witch, tells Dorothy, “Their magic must be very powerful, or else she wouldn’t want them so badly.” The point is, Maggie had a strategic objective, and she created a strategic plan to make it happen. She had strategic backup plans, too. Her strongest and best strategy was to convince Dorothy to hand over the shoes voluntarily. According to Maggie’s SWOT analysis, the weakness was that she couldn’t simply pin Dorothy down and pull the shoes off her feet, because the magic of the shoes protected the person wearing them. Maggie decided, therefore, to play on her strengths and use coercion as her primary tactic.

Flying MonkeyShe has a badass team.

I’m not sure what scared me more when I was a child, Maggie or her league of flying monkeys, one of whom was her chief lieutenant. Clearly, the monkeys and the soldiers guarding her castle were prepared to do anything Maggie wanted, ruthlessly, immediately and without question. This suggest strong leadership skills and airtight employee acquisition and retention strategies.

Surrender DorothyShe uses creative messaging.

Maggie knew how to fly in the face of the conventional. (I never leave a pun untended.) She needed to reach the widest audience possible, urgently, and with an irresistible call to action. No amount of paid advertising would have served her purpose, and she knew it. So, what does she do? She writes a message in the sky over a heavily populated city, using her broom as a skywriter. And, she used a succinct message—only two words!—but these words said everything. I don’t want the ruby slippers. I want that fracking broom!

 

There is more that could say about her, such as she wasn’t afraid to wear black in a technicolor world and she had the biggest, most visually striking office building in the forest. Maggie was wickedly smart and had a gift for PR. I wish I could add “waterproof” to my list of praise, but alas, that’s a whole different blog.

What’s your take on her? Has she earned a place in the “Self-Promotional All-Stars” hall of fame? Anyone else you’d recommend?

Is Your PR Working?

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You’re at a cocktail party or networking event and find yourself standing beside a complete stranger. The stranger looks at your name tag, and his eyes light up.

“Are you THE Emma Boldnoggin?” he asks. “I’ve heard great things about you!”

For the public relations enthusiast, these are some of the most beautiful words in the English language. It means that you have done a commendable job of establishing awareness of your brand, and people are beginning to take notice of you. Keep in mind that you’ve done no paid advertising. Whatever recognition you’ve earned has come from a painstaking, daily application of public relations activities over time. The seeds you have planted are beginning to take root. Houston, we’ve got traction.

When you press this lovely person for more information about how he may have “heard” about you, he can’t put his finger on it. He may have read about you in a newspaper or magazine article. He may have seen your posts on LinkedIn. Maybe he’s a Twitter follower or a fan of your Facebook page. He could have heard about you from a friend. Perhaps, all of the above. Whatever you’ve done, it’s working.

If you’ve never felt that zoom to the moon adrenaline rush of hearing the most beautiful words in the English language, you’ve reached an important milestone in your business. If you have yet experienced that high (and you can!), here’s what you need to know going in:

It’s not magic. It takes continual effort.

I’m not going to lie. Getting your brand to the place of public awareness takes knowledge, effort and dedication. Getting an article in your local newspaper is an exciting achievement, but a “one and done” media hit will never be enough to get that ball over the net. It’s just one brick on your stairway to heaven. Your goal is to get many, many media hits (articles, interviews, mentions) regularly over a long period of time. But public relations is more than just media exposure. Public relations is about establishing relationships with your target audiences, and the media is just one of those targets. You’ve also got to think about existing customers, prospects, vendors, strategic partners and anyone else who has a tangible impact on the success of your business. You must figure out how to communicate with each of these audiences so that they like you to the degree they’ll rave about you to others. Moreover, you need to keep yourself educated. Attend workshops and webinars. Read articles. Practice what they preach. Be relentless.

It’s an ongoing journey of processes, not a destination.

You’ll always be researching media outlets and keeping your lists up to date. You’ll always be keeping up with current events for opportunities to add your two cents to the story. You’ll always be cruising online resources such as H.A.R.O. and ProfNet in search of opportunities to contribute to journalists’ queries. You’ll always be creating new content as a means of educating your precious audiences. You’ll make forming relationships with media contacts who cover your industry a daily task. It never ends, and you’ll never get “there.” But if you love the process, it’s a moot point.

It’s going to take time. Be patient, and don’t give up.

You may spend weeks, even months, sending out press releases and pitching stories to the media outlets, with no results. Eventually, however, if you’re professional, courteous and your ideas for stories have merit, then someday, your piece of spaghetti will stick to the wall. Building relationships with the media is like building relationships with anyone in business. It takes time to earn people’s trust. There are too many schmoes out there who ruin it for the rest of us.

Do you always close the sale after one meeting? Of course not. Do you open your email and sigh because a lot of it’s crap? So do your media contacts. Prove to them, persistently, that you’ve got the goods, and you’ll earn your way into their hearts and minds. Consistency, tenacity and frequency are what’s required to achieve the grand prize: plenty of news clips under your belt and the admiration and respect of your media contacts. I don’t want to forget to mention the “P” word—practice. My father used to tell us the joke about the New York tourist who asks the taxi driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice,” says the taxi driver. The more you pitch, the better you’ll get. Stick with it!

I know, I know. PR is not your core competency. Yet you know that without good word-of-mouth and exposure, your business is dead. And, you don’t have the big money you need to hire a PR firm. Doing it yourself is your only option.

Let me know if you’ve ever felt that surge of adrenaline.

9 Ways to Powerful PR

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If you haven’t been using public relations as a part of your overall communications and marketing mix, you’re in for the “E-Ticket”** ride of your life. A well-planned, conscientiously applied PR program will stimulate your business, and often, play out the good karma for years.Before I start giving you loads of good advice, let me explain why public relations is important to your business success, and make you wonder how you ever lived without it.

Why PR is worth your time

Public relations has a definite impact on sales and revenue. It’s a fact that consumers base their purchase decisions on a company’s reputation. Good reputation? You’re in the catbird seat. Don’t stop. Bad reputation? Ugh. You can take steps to repair it, but in the meantime, your business is circling the drain and there are no guarantees you’ll ever recover. No reputation? Time to get to work on your public relations before your more well-known competitors swoop in.

Public Relations gives your business credibility and a positive image, which is essential to your success. When your business is mentioned in the media (in a positive context), consumers hold you in higher regard than if they’d seen your name in an advertisement. Studies show that PR has seven times more credibility among consumers than advertising.

With PR, you hit your target market right in the bull’s eye. If you own a beauty salon, for example, and you want to attract new clientele, a well-written article about you that’s prominently placed in a high-circulation media outlet targeted to your ideal prospects will do much better for you than a paid ad in a local paper with general readership. There are many media sources who specialize in providing information on the products and services you offer.

The cost of PR is much less than the cost of other promotional advertising, even cheap in comparison. Aside from what you’ll pay to a public relations professional to help you spread the word about you, you aren’t paying for space and time. The coverage you earn is free. F-R-E-E.

When you get good media coverage, often there’s a flood of new leads. As time goes on, you’ll still get a lead here and there from that particular media campaign. You’ll never rest on your laurels, though. Instead, you’ll conduct new campaigns to keep that pipeline full.

What can you do now?

1. Clearly define each of your target audiences, or “publics.” The media is one of them. So are prospects, existing customers, employees, and vendors.

2. Develop up to three objectives and key messages for each.

3. Research and list your target media outlets.

4. Optimize your social media profiles.

5. Create a communications calendar.

6. Newsjack! Stay up-to-date on your industry and current events. Tie into holidays and seasons.

7. Become a useful content creating machine.

8. Focus on giving, not getting. Make relationships; don’t sell.

9. Don’t give up. Be professional, yet relentless. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

 

(** Before 1982, the “E Ticket” got you into the best rides at Disney theme parks.)