Dorothy Crenshaw August 11, 2016 | 12:20:20

Why Your PR Program Isn’t Gaining Traction

It’s a good time for people in the public relations business. It seems that companies of all stripes have discovered the power of PR and are giving it high priority. That’s great news, but it sometimes comes with high expectations that aren’t easily realized.

So what happens when a PR campaign isn’t working? We often say that public relations is more of an art than a science, and it’s true.

Although what we do is more data-driven and more measurable than ever, like any good professional service, it also relies on intangibles like creativity, experience, and judgment. And when things aren’t measuring up, it can be maddeningly hard to diagnose the problem.

Here are some possible reasons why a PR program might not be gaining traction.

You don’t stand out. Differentiation is a relative thing. We talk about a brand’s unique selling proposition (USP), but the fact is that few are truly unique. But it can still stand out. Bear in mind that a USP can hinge upon a superior product or service, but it can also be born in a strong corporate culture, a passionate customer service orientation, an entrepreneurship story, or even an offbeat marketing campaign.

Your story’s self-serving. SAP’s Craig Cincotta advises knowing the difference between a story and news. He’s right. A brand story may be interesting, authentic, and even compelling, but that doesn’t mean it’s easily transformed into a feature story or interview. Think of it as a foundation for additional news that comes in the form of new products, partnerships, customer experiences, expansion, or original research, to name just a few.

You’re relying on press releases. News releases have their place, but they’re often badly crafted, in part because everyone weighs in, and the result is a written-by-committee announcement that is watered down and news-free. Even a well written release is unlikely to trigger significant media coverage, so it’s better used to get news in the public record or for timely disclosure of material information in business transactions.

Your timing is off. When it comes to media relations, timing is key. It sounds silly, but we’ve actually had companies approach us in late August for a back-to-school campaign, or call about wanting help for a funding announcement to take place in a week. Every PR program needs and deserves proper planning, and those wishing to be featured in editorial media should understand that they often work according to a seasonal calendar and that out-of-season story ideas are shelved.

Your expectations are unrealistic. There are two common types of inflated expectations: companies who expect significant and glowing media coverage for relatively minor developments, and those who think such coverage will instantly transform their business. Neither is likely. Media relations is a process that builds over time. And even the most impressive earned media coverage probably won’t jumpstart flat product sales if there are other aspects of its quality or go-to-market strategy that need attention.

You’re aiming too high. You should aim high, actually, but when it comes to earned media, we like to walk before we run. Trade publications, professional blogs, local-market news sources, and other types of media are solid targets for a new campaign. 

You’re not giving it enough time. Good PR, and the media relations piece that many clients value, is not a one-and-done process. It takes time and energy, not only from the PR agency or team, but from the client. Similarly, forging the relationships that help build a reputation requires a plan for the long term.

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