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This chapter is from the book

PR for PR People

So you’ve heard some reasons why PR fails (from us and from people who join us on a quest to better an industry). This is the part where you can take your fingers out of your ears. The gripes about PR that we’ve heard for years, our own involvement in the discussion, and the dialogue among people who share similar concerns—all these conversations are important. They set the stage for the chapters ahead. We affirm that we can all learn something about our own communications. It’s similar to driving: No one admits to being a bad driver, but the roads and highways are full of them.

If you read carefully, you’ll realize that our suggestions or answers to the “What’s wrong with PR?” question are just the beginning. By internalizing and remembering them, you will see and think about things differently:

  • Remember that just because you show up to work doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It may simply equate to you keeping your job.
  • If you expect to represent anything, whether in an agency or in a company, spend a significant portion of your time figuring out why it matters to people—on your own time. This is the difference between PR and good PR.
  • Figure out who your customers are and where they go for their information. This forces PR to mirror sales strategies to reach the people who could benefit from the product or service. Different people go to different places for information. First determine where you want to be, and then work backward from there.
  • Read the blogs, magazines, newspapers, forums, newsletters, and so on—this is where customers are actively engaged. Then understand how to translate what you do in a way that matters. This is the only way to be successful in running PR in the “Long Tail.” People within your target markets share experiences, pains, and wants that are unique to each group. By reading, you’re participating. And by participating, you’re better staged to engage more effectively than the rest of the flacks.
  • Don’t speak in messages. Instead, spark conversations based on the unique requirements of each market segment and the people within them. And please, don’t spin. We all hate when politicians do it. If you find yourself consistently selling or spinning instead of evangelizing, you might be in the wrong place in your career.
  • Traditional PR still matters, but you also need to embrace Social Media (after you’ve had a chance to participate as a person and not as a marketer). This is the future of PR. Understanding how it works and what it takes to participate will ensure that your experience is relevant to the communications needs of businesses during the next decade.
  • Broadcasting your “message” to your audience with top-down PR campaigns no longer works in New Media. You have to engage people through the diverse segments that represent your target markets.
  • When working with reporters, bloggers, analysts, and other influencers, spend a significant amount of time understanding what they write about, to whom, and why. Then align your story accordingly. One story no longer applies to the masses.
  • When you understand what it takes to make the story more compelling to the various markets and the influencers who reach them, then, and only then, think about news releases. One news release no longer carries across the entire spectrum of customers. Figure out the core value proposition and then write several different flavors based on the needs and pains of your target customers, addressing how you will help them do something better, easier, and more cost-effectively.
  • Set goals with the executive team of the company you represent. Based on the previous points, you have to ensure that your activities align with their business strategy. Ask them to define success month-to-month so that you can all agree, in advance, what it takes to move forward. Create the PR program that will help you achieve these goals. If anything beyond your control stands in your way of success, do what it takes to fix it. If your spokesperson is horrible, either train him or her or tell the spokesperson that you need someone else. If the product or service isn’t wowing people, find out why and learn what it takes to compel people to use it.
  • Communicate progress regularly, document milestones, and showcase successes. PR often suffers from a lack of “PR for the PR.” If you don’t demonstrate success, who will? By communicating progress, status, and feedback, you can consistently prove your value to those who underwrite the PR program.
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