Marijane Funess February 23, 2017 | 05:17:21

PR: Separating Fact from Fiction

The best public relations campaigns use a combination of strategies and tactics to help build brands and support business success. Campaigns also win when client-agency partnerships are strong and the players are fully engaged. However, in PR, there are also many myths (alternative facts?) which we like to explore from time to time to help companies better understand public relations and how to get the most out of it.

Myth #1: Anyone can do PR.  Google “DIY PR” and you will get tons of results. But that doesn’t mean you should. As we explored in a previous post, even the most astute online tutorial will not provide the average marketer or business owner with the tools or skills to succeed. Beyond goal-setting and drafting a plan, the work involved in writing materials suitable for media, researching and studying appropriate journalists, and shaping a pitch is specialized and demanding. A fraction of that time could be better spent retaining professionals to do the job. And did we mention dealing with the rejection inherent in media outreach? A PR firm is well-equipped to pivot when a journalist doesn’t bite the first time and will keep on developing new and interesting things to say until something clicks. This is easier said than done and best left to professionals with real experience.

Myth #2: PR is free advertising. Unfortunately, this is the lie that will not die. For years, this phrase became the default way to describe PR in a short sentence. But it’s inaccurate. First of all, PR, in the form of earned media, is never free. While a company is not buying space in a publication or on-air, said company is paying PR professionals to use their acumen to shape stories, and their network of contacts to successfully pitch and place. It’s also a mistake to equate the two when it comes to their purpose and ROI. PR does not directly generate sales. It does generate brand awareness and credibility in exchange for little or no editorial control over the coverage content. Advertising, on the other hand, can be completely controlled in terms of content and placement.

Whatever credibility may be sacrificed, advertising supplants with creativity, duration, repetition and precise targeting. As well, each product or service has different needs. For many in the B2B space, particularly start-ups with interesting new tech and other innovation, advertising makes little or no sense as customers get all they need to know from important verticals. Case in point: BrightFunnel, a pioneer in revenue attribution and forecasting for B2B marketers, has been the recipient of some positive press which has helped it grow business. Others, like big consumer brands with very little innovation or news, rely on advertising to keep their names before the public. The third category is the company that relies on a sound mix of PR and advertising. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign continues to wow with meaningful editorial that co-opts cool stuff from the news and a healthy dose of thought-provoking (and beautiful) ads.

Myth #3: Journalists snub PR pros. On the contrary, legitimate press respect PR pros, emphasis on the “pros.” Media outlets are typically short-staffed and welcome help from professionals on the PR side, particularly if the story is a good fit and the pitch is thoughtful and smart. There is even a website journalists have for well-written pitches, BestPitchIEverGot, featuring the cream of the crop. It’s also often the case that a journalist will reach out to a PR team for help in obtaining quotes or research to complete a story. Media are appreciative of data, background information and sources. Figuring out their needs and providing materials promptly is often how great media relationships are forged. It’s then easy to reap the rewards of this partnership with a journalist who will read your emails and respond to your ideas. Much of what makes a great media relationship is understanding the way the contact works. Some journalists abhor the phone and calling them would land you on the naughty list, while others appreciate a real conversation now and then.  Then there are the rules for what never to do, like overpromising a media contact, missing a deadline or sending a poorly written pitch. Remember BestPitchIEverGot? On the flipside, there’s also TheBadPitchBlog.

Myth #4: A celebrity spokesperson will guarantee great press. There are lots of variables to consider when using a celebrity spokesperson. First of all, the definition of “celebrity” has changed drastically in the last decade. Traditional TV or movie stars may pale in Q scores next to the latest YouTube personality with millions of followers. But is the socially or traditionally famous celebrity actually worth the investment? Top-tier talent can run into six figures to promote a product or service. And even the those on the lowest social rungs can charge $15k for a tweet! Brands considering partnering with a celebrity have to ask themselves a series of questions before committing to such an expense. Does the personality align with your brand? Look at the current campaign for Gusto, a software startup with a suite of products for HR directors, and if you haven’t nodded off yet, the clever ads starring indie darling Kristen Schaal will guarantee you sit up and take notice. The brainy yet funny Schaal embodies a modern HR type and she gives a traditionally boring service credibility and appeal. It’s also important to determine how much time a celebrity can lend a campaign and what they’re willing to say and do. We once worked with a sleep doctor who agreed to be a spokesperson for a mattress company but refused to sit on a bed. That was awkward. And even the biggest stars are no guarantee people will care about your product, or, ahem, vote for your candidate. Evidence suggests that while super star power appealed to Hillary Clinton’s base, it was divisive among those outside of it.

Myth #5: You must have news to get PR. Very few companies have weekly news announcements. But the beauty of a well-crafted PR plan is that it allows for the quiet times. Successful PR teams have strategies to compensate. When a company announces a funding round, a new product or an acquisition, you’ve got news worthy of offering a media exclusive, meaning you negotiate a larger story first, then go to a wider media audience for greater coverage. But once those stories are out, it’s up to the experienced PR team to fashion other ways to bring attention to products and services. These include trend pieces like this one citing growth in robo-calls and featuring some top call-blocking apps, or personality profiles like this in-depth interview with the founder of food kit giant Hello Fresh.  We’re also big believers in the power of owned research, primarily consumer surveys that supply fresh data on a myriad of topics from how much holiday cheer Millennials experience to how much anxiety Baby Boomers feel about housing. No matter where a company is in its lifecycle, it’s important to remember that strategic, well-executed PR can provide so much – be it burnishing a reputation, mitigating a crisis, putting forth important opinions or launching a product or service.

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