6 Ways To Generate PR When You Have No News

The PR plan has clear visibility objectives that call for earned media or branded coverage — and there’s news that will help tell the company’s story. But after the initial executive moves, product launch, or funding announcement, then what? How does a PR team keep the momentum going if things get quiet?

6 ways to build publicity when it’s quiet

Be an expert

Media need experts every day to fill out stories with quotes and commentary. Expertise is the gift that keeps on giving, particularly for large stories about complicated issues, important trends, or previously obscure developments. From the investment expert who weighs in on a stock market dip, to the child safety author who shares Halloween advice for parents, expertise makes the media world run. And as every PR professional knows, sharing a client’s expertise is a strong way to build media relationships.

Speak up on owned media

One way to be in the public (or industry) conversation is to start it — with relevant content. It’s another strong way to share expertise, of course, but content can also run on informed opinion. Any CEO who hasn’t yet weighed in about industry issues in thought pieces on a blog or LinkedIn should consider cultivating a strong point of view. An interesting bylined article or blog post can make its way around social channels and be picked up by a trade or business outlet. Guest blogging on a prominent vendor, customer, or partner’s channel is another way to expand the reach, and a good method for grabbing visibility when hard news is scarce. To gain traction, the content should be memorable: calling someone to task, advocating a new approach, or advancing a distinct point of view. For most B2B companies, it’s part of a proactive content campaign that raises brand awareness, boosts searchability, and even helps generate leads.

Be reactive

Proactive marketing of expertise is the first line of defense of course, but given the opportunity, a quick way to generate relevant news is to capitalize on breaking news stories relevant to customers. Watch for stories about competitive moves, big industry developments, financial market changes, or mergers in a given space. If an industry expert is offered for commentary within the short window of opportunity that follows relevant news, it’s a win for everyone involved. As we mentioned in a previous post, every PR team should have industry monitoring in place to identify reactive pitching opportunities. While this doesn’t always pay dividends, it’s one good option to generate publicity in news voids.

Make news with opinion or behavior surveys

Most PR plans are informed through research, even if it’s general customer information or category analysis. But an hoc data-driven story is a good option for pitching the media during lulls. Many companies have market research or category data that has nuggets of valuable, even newsworthy information in it, but no one realizes it. Often it can be mined for stories. And for those who don’t have usable research, they can create it easily through an omnibus survey or flash poll. The key is making the data tell a relevant story, gaining points as an industry authority, or promoting a common pain point or question that customers have. Nearly any issue can be turned into a data-driven story that initiates a brand new conversation — a story that your firm may be well positioned to tell.

Leverage customer success

This is a tried-and-true tactic for getting trade media visibility, of course, but it can also work outside of trade channels. An artificial-intelligence-driven analytics company may not have news to announce, and its story might not resonate beyond narrow tech blogs. But if that company is helping another business like Blue Apron or Peloton serve customers or boost revenue, the story becomes more appealing. Even if a B2B service has helped a smaller up-and-coming brand, it may still be relevant to local press, specialist media, or social discussion groups. Case studies are some of the most powerful tools a B2B company has, and they can be used and repurposed in a variety of ways to fill in those news gaps. The challenge is to get customers on board in advance; some of our clients find it useful to make testimonials part of the deal when negotiating the business agreement with new customers.

Do something good

If nothing dramatic is going on, why not make something good happen? A full-blown CSR program might be ambitious for some businesses, and a thin commitment made for PR purposes is never a good idea. But any company can create legitimate local news through a commitment to a community cause, for example. Or, it can test-drive a philanthropic campaign through pro-bono work for a not-for-profit, or a pilot to benefit an underserved consumer segment. Sometimes it’s a demonstration of corporate values. When WeWork announced it was “going meatless,” major media covered its move, in part because it was controversial, but also because it was an unusual demonstration of the company’s commitment to its own principles.
PR teams and agencies strive to drive a steady drumbeat of coverage, but tech companies of all sizes run into occasional news droughts. With a little ingenuity, the drumbeat can continue even when there’s little to sing about.

How To Make A TED Talk Part Of A PR Plan

For some in the PR world, TED talks represent the “holy grail” of thought leadership initiatives. But how should PR professionals approach securing this highly competitive opportunity?

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). The organization began in 1984 as a conference and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. There are also independently run TEDx events that help share ideas in communities around the world.

PR practitioners know that once they’ve booked someone for a TED talk, the publicity machine will be in full force to leverage the opportunity for increased name recognition and acknowledgement as an authority in a relatively exclusive and rarefied community. But one challenge involves how to tell whether a potential speaker has the right stuff to be a worthy contender for a TED talk. Here are some criteria.

Focus is on the idea, not the person. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Some companies get hung up on nominating a key executive or industry thought leader, and it’s true that a great speaker adds to the experience, but the true goal of a TED talk is a new idea.

Novelty and relevance are key. Speakers needn’t be discouraged if their core idea isn’t absolutely novel; however, it must be presented in a new context and be relevant on a broad scale. When TED’s most popular speaker to date, Sir Ken Robinson, tackled what’s wrong in schools, it was clearly more about his perspective than the simple notion that worldwide, education needs fixing.

There should be potential to provoke “contagious emotion,” viral ideas, and above all, shareable content. Talks should “provoke a lump in the throat or butterflies in the stomach” or similar emotion that triggers audience reaction. One of the top TED talks of all time is that of Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who used her own brain tumor to further her research into creativity. Worth a listen!

Above all, storytelling matters. What many in the media call a “secular sermon” that will inspire people. Speakers are discouraged from presenting anything more than a brief mention of facts and figures and zero sales talk! There is emphasis on humanizing the piece as much as possible, ala this talk from Swiss author Alain deBotton, ironically on “the new atheism.”

It is also crucial for potential speakers to attend one or more TED talks and, like many exclusive opportunities, there is at least a year’s wait to be selected. Is there a top-secret, insider tip to securing a TED talk? No, say the experts, there’s no room for a slickly produced video or creatively packaged presentation. The TED talk application is a simple form and its up the to nominator (often a PR rep) to address the following:

1)    Why this speaker’s vision will change how community members approach their own work;
2)    How the idea will change and improve a field in significant and surprising ways;
3)    What experience and evidence the nominee brings to his or her topic; and
4)    How this approach or idea might be applied across varied fields and disciplines

Does your PR team work with any leaders who’ve got what it takes?

7 Deadly PR Sins or How Not To Be An Amateur

My favorite TV character rant, linked (loosely) to the practice of public relations, is the one delivered by PR pro Eli Gold of “The Good Wife,” who is played superbly by Alan Cumming. Faced with a boneheaded media relations move by a political colleague, Gold lets loose with a wonderfully escalating barrage of outrage. He caps the tirade by spitting out a final, scorn-saturated insult,The one thing I hate is an amateur.”

In the spirit of Eli Gold, but with a kinder, gentler attitude, I present the worst, most avoidable, most amateurish PR mistakes. Call them the 7 deadly sins.

Overpromising. This is a tough one, because publicity results cannot be predicted with 100 accuracy. In the heat of battle, it’s easy for an agency team to escalate the potential return-on-investment. Sometimes it’s simple expectations creep abetted by a long selling cycle. In the worst cases, it’s the utter failure to discuss expectations. There’s usually hell to pay.

Missing deadlines. The media opportunity missed. A proposal emailed too late. A soft seasonal story idea conceived after most articles are put to bed. This one’s a tactical crime of omission, but still. Deadlines are sacred in the PR game, and blowing one is a crime punishable by expulsion from the biz.

Spamming. The more desperate (or ignorant) among us are called out for the sin of “spray and pray” media relations practice on a weekly basis. But it bears repeating. It’s not evil, but it’s unprofessional at best. A personalized approach will always work better.

The on-and-off approach. This one’s on the client side. Some companies think of PR like a spigot they can turn on or off as budgets or business conditions dictate. Big mistake. Public relations works best as a long-term branding tool, unlike sales promotion or direct marketing. There’s a large opportunity cost here.

Using (or abusing) ad clout. Most agency pros have a story about a client who insists on trying to leverage an ad buy to generate editorial coverage, or who threatens to pull a schedule if a story is less than positive. The truth is, this can work, but it’s rarely worth the cost to the media relationship. And it’s been known to backfire in a punishing way.

Thinking PR = press release. One of my pet peeves is the client or company who feels a PR program is the equivalent of a paid, SEO-enhanced newsstream. It’s not, and the buyer is selling himself short.

Confusing language. Sadly, this bedeviling practice isn’t limited to amateurs. Instead of “unique, integrated, industry-leading, strategic solution,” can we learn to write and speak in simple, powerful words? Blessed are those who communicate clearly.

7 (More) Myths About PR And Publicity

Describing exactly what PR is and what public relations people do has always been a challenge, even to those of us who work in it. Just ask the Public Relations Society of America, which is concluding a lengthy search for the perfect “modern definition” of what we do.

Like many professions, it’s changed, grown, and become far more specialized in recent years. But myths and false stereotypes abound. I’ve written about the most persistent ones here, like the confusion between PR and publicity, or the suggestion that PR is advertising “lite.” But, there’s more! Here’s a short list of my current favorites.

Any press is good press. In the age of reality TV, this is one myth that’s less ridiculous than it used to be. It may even hold true if you’re Snooki or Kim Kardashian. But probably not. Risky stunts or tasteless tweets can be costly. More to the point, negative publicity is much more challenging to manage today. The Web is forever, so that unguarded quote or nasty headline can do lasting reputation damage.

PR is all about contacts. Not really. Contacts are overrated. They can help you gain a hearing, and generate valuable feedback on a story idea or pitch, but contacts alone won’t get you very far unless the idea’s a good one.

Startups shouldn’t hire PR consultants. This is a topic of raging controversy in PR-land. Some larger-than-life entrepreneurs have gone on the record against the use of professional PR by start-ups. Most recently, Mark Cuban explained that reporters just want to talk to a business owner, without interference from PR types. And in Cuban’s case, that’s probably true. Problem is, most new entrepreneurs aren’t Mark Cuban.

Journalists hate PR. The reality here is, well, complicated. Suffice to say that the PR-journalism relationship is a symbiotic, cooperative, and often collegial one, but there can be tensions. At present, many journos are trying to get jobs in PR, which may have calmed the waters, just as it’s reinforced another stereotype. (see below)

The best PR people are ex-journalists. This one’s open to debate. In my view the best PR people are strategic thinkers and excellent communicators who understand business, but who are plugged into trends, culture, and media. So, many journalists may qualify. Yet the difference between running down stories in a newsroom and counseling a corporate client are vast.

A good story will sell itself. Sure, that can happen. And sometimes the perfect resume crosses my desk at the very moment I have the right job opening. But not very often.  Packaging, access, and – maybe most importantly, timing – can make the critical difference between publicity success and failure.

PR is about controlling the message. The spin thing is hugely overblown, and PR people do ourselves a disservice when we perpetuate it. Often a PR pro will try to influence a story on behalf of a client, and the process can be like a negotiation, but the outcome is a trade-off. We give up control for credibility. And that credibility is the real magic of publicity.