Apparently PR is Easy

This morning I came across a post that referenced an Inc.com article on “how to do your own PR.” I quickly stopped reading the post (a rebuttal of the article) and jumped over to Inc. to read about how to do my own PR.

Wow.  What I read shocked me.

The article on Inc. was written by Geoffrey James, who, per his bio at the end of the article, writes “Sales Source on Inc.com,” the world’s most-read sales-oriented blog.  The basic premise of the piece contends that “it’s so easy to get media coverage” and yet, PR firms are “often not all that good at landing media coverage.”

Geoffrey then lay out what he sees as the four key characteristics of successful PR:

  1. Devise a story worth writing about.
  2. Create nuggets to insert into your story.
  3. Offer yourself as a story source.
  4. Control the interview.

When boiled down to four key points it sure does seem like PR is pretty simple.  But you can apply this simplification to any industry, really.  Mechanical engineering?  Piece of cake – see problem, fix some stuff, type on computer, DONE.

If PR was really that easy, would it be the #5 most stressful job in America – right up there with active-duty military, firefighting and piloting commercial aircraft?

Let’s break these four points down one at a time.

Devise a story worth writing about.

Seems simple enough. But, when you consider that at many companies PR often ends up falling under the purview of the marketing department, it can be difficult for the in-house team to see past the marketing jargon. This means that these “stories worth writing about” can often double as white papers or marketing collateral.  A quality PR firm, on the other hand, is often able to devise a story worth writing that doesn’t just spout awesome things about your product but rather showcases your organization and experts as true thought leaders in a given space.

Geoffrey also states that, “reporters are always searching for stories that their audience wants to read about, hear about or watch.” This is true…to an extent.  Reporters are always writing/researching stories, but the chances that they’re looking for YOUR story are almost non-existent.  This is where your firm comes in – we understand the news cycle and know what a specific reporter wants in a solid article, and we’ll mold your story to fit that perfect scenario.  To great success, I might add.

Create nuggets to insert into the story.

In essence, this means don’t just create sound bites; create memorable sound bites. This component is just as important but equally as hard as devising a story worth writing about. Most marketing folks and company executives know their company’s elevator pitch backwards and forwards and can explain what makes their company so special in the industry, compared to competitors, and so on.

The bad news?  Most reporters don’t care.

What they are looking for, as I already mentioned, is your take on what you see happening within your industry. So you make Spacely Sprockets and they are so much better than Cogswell Cogs. Good for you. What is happening in the sprocket and cog market that people should care about? Is the sprocket and cog market about to start booming because of an intergalactic gear shortage? Why?

Creating memorable sound bites requires understanding the market, the industry, and the competition and then fine-tuning the point you want to make as a means of standing out.  You want to be seen as someone who really understands the market, not just another mouthpiece shilling for your company.

Offer yourself as a story source.

Again, this seems simple enough. Find the right reporter, send an email and of course, they’ll respond because you and your product and your company are amazing, right? Insert sad trombone noise here, I’m afraid; that’s not going to happen.

Reporters are bombarded every single day with hundreds of emails. You are literally just one of hundreds of people trying to get their attention. Rarely do reporters respond to my first email – and it’s not because my pitches aren’t good.

At REQ we don’t just spray and pray. We take the time to understand you, your message, your audience and your key industry publications, along with what reporter beats at these outlets make the most sense to pitch.

We (and firms like us) don’t stop here – we read what that reporter is writing now (and has written in the past) to make sure that the pitch will be on topic. If you don’t have the time to research, pitch on topic and follow up appropriately, then engagement can do more harm than good .  It’s not rocket science, but it is time consuming, and pitching a reporter off topic can easily get you blacklisted, meaning no press for you.

Control the Interview.

This is sound advice but again, it’s oversimplified. Bridging and flagging are two great ways to get your point across in an interview, but for the novice interviewee, interviews are nerve wracking and a true PR professional won’t just tell you how to bridge and flag and then walk away.

They’ll draft sample questions, do background research on the reporter’s standard style/tone and staff the interview to make sure it doesn’t go off the rails, effectively managing the process from soup to nuts. A good PR agency will make sure that you come off as a thought leader, not someone incapable of talking outside of the marketing-speak for Company X.

The piece ends with “As you can see, there’s no big mystery to doing PR work.”

Geoffrey is right; PR is not mysterious.  There’s no alchemy or goat sacrifices going on behind the scenes, but it certainly isn’t easy, or something that every company should consider doing in-house. In fact, one could surmise that oversimplifying PR in this manner contributes to the plethora of bad pitches that reporters receive every day, part of what gives PR a black eye.

There is a reason that many of us who work in PR either have a degree in public relations or a related-field.  Most of us have slogged our way up from intern to where we are now, which, again, is no easy feat.

Unless I start seeing monkeys operating heavy machinery or CAD programs in short order, no, this is not a job that a monkey could do.