How PR Trumps Marketing to Get the Word Out
Imagine you are at a dinner party with a group of people you don't know or only know slightly. You want to engage some of them in conversation. You walk up to the first person and immediately tell them all about your day at work, down to the most excruciating detail. The conversation goes nowhere. You give up and walk over to the second person. You tell them all about your children, showing pictures and describing every single cute thing each child has said and done over the past week. You get another blank response. You move on.
You've just experienced the social version of trying to interest the increasingly scarce and busy media in your company and your products. Talking at them about your company and your products or services is not the way to engage them. If anything, it's like your dinner party example -- you'll get nowhere fast. The trick, which any smart PR or communications professional will tell you, is to determine what the media care about and make sure your spokespeople are able to speak to those areas of interest and offer concrete examples and material that will be compelling. That's what engages the media and helps your company create relationships that can turn into coverage and help your company gain visibility.
A new post in Venture Beat by entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa describes very well how he learned the hard way that it's PR and not costly, flashy marketing that his startups needed to deploy to get noticed.
"We spent a fortune on marketing. Our over sized marketing department hired overpriced agencies to design logos and to develop marketing materials. They produced beautiful videos and gorgeous brochures. We hosted extravagant customer events. We purchased full-page ads in magazines. The problem was that we didn’t understand the most powerful marketing tool of all: public relations (PR)."
Wadhwa describes some of the classic mistakes he made before he learned how to effectively employ PR. His first startup decided to use what I call "PR prevention." They turned down many interview requests. The ones they accepted were handled in a very careful way, with scripted responses. The results were inevitable -- the coverage was slim, at best. They didn't engage in conversations that created compelling enough stories for the journalists to cover them in a meaningful way. And they didn't create relationships that would encourage the journalists to come back to them as sources for future coverage.
In his next startup, he took a new approach and decided to determine what would interest the journalists they wanted to reach.
"We decided that Relativity’s best buzz generator would be our staff of Russian programmers, who had formerly performed top-secret coding for the Russian military and intelligence. We began selling ourselves as an exciting company with a James Bond edge."
The strategy worked and the coverage rolled in. "Most of these articles weren’t about our products but about our opinions. That was okay, because, as we saw, the credibility that you build as an opinion leader spills over into everything else that you do."
Wadhwa's post concludes with tips about how to best use PR to your advantage. In a nutshell, what he's talking about is having a story that is interesting about your company and/or your views about interesting trends and issues in the marketplace and having your spokespeople offer these to journalists who care about these trends and issues. Bring them interesting stories, well backed up with examples, and they will talk with engaging spokespeople who aren't just pushing products or market-speak. Make yourself a compelling and useful source for good coverage and your company will benefit.
That's what the best PR programs do for a company and executive spokespeople. They help them determine what those interesting stories are and they prepare them to tell them most effectively to the right targeted influencers. It's not rocket science, but it's a formula that works and is cost effective. And it keeps your spokespeople from being the boring person to avoid at the corporate equivalent of that dinner party.