Commentary & Analysis
The Art and Science of PR
by Mark Bonacorso Many agencies and corporate marketing departments think PR folks are nothing more than shock troops as the first line of an offensive attack in any marketing campaign.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 30, 2005
by Mark Bonacorso Many agencies and corporate marketing departments think PR folks are nothing more than shock troops as the first line of an offensive attack in any marketing campaign. February 30, 2005 -- My work with my current clients has allowed me to come into contact with a number of my public relations peers, in both large PR firms representing large clients entering the graphic arts market, all the way to smaller companies or start-ups just starting out in the strange and wonderful world of public, press, or media relations. When asked for advice, I often try to explain that successful PR relies on two often conflicting schools of thought--in that it's both an art and a science. Overall, PR people don't have the best of reputations with the media and are often referred to as suits, flacks, or PR weenies. I've been called all three and worst. So how come, for the most part, is the world of PR often imagined to be an attractive and glamorous and fast-paced career for those just completing higher education? The business attracts those that feel they can somehow rise to lofty agency or corporate positions, armed with a pen, and wield tremendous power. As a result, many young PR professionals enter the market only to quickly find out that they are often considered the scourge of the client/journalist relationship, laughed at, and avoided at all costs. Why is this? Simple, many agencies and corporate marketing departments think PR folks are nothing more than shock troops as the first line of an offensive attack in any marketing campaign. Armed with media lists, these poor, young, expendable souls are taught to bludgeon journalists with an endless stream of press releases, emails, and calls. They are ill-prepared to "pitch" intelligently about their clients or company's products, tend to go in for the quick kill, thinking that good PR lies at the end of a road of scorched earth. The Art (Don't be a Fair Weather Friend) Learning editors' professional and even personal interests establishes a long-term relationship that prospers for a lifetime. A few of my peers and I have invested the time over the years to seek out, develop, and nurture slightly more than professional relationships with the media. This is partly a matter of personal style, but it is also a mutually beneficial way of doing business. It means taking the time out to chat at trade shows, enjoy a meal together, or just talking on the phone as time allows--not pitching or selling, but just getting to know each other. Finding out their professional and sometimes personal interests generally benefits all, in that establishes a long-term relationship that prospers for a lifetime. Keep in mind that just like everyone else, there are those in the media that don't need (or want) any more friends, so don't push it if you meet with some resistance. For example, last year an east coast publication closed their offices and re-established them on the west coast. The new editorial staff, while experienced journalists, came from a more upstream end of the market. I fired off an email, introduced myself, my clients, and my industry knowledge--emphasis on the latter. I suggested we meet as I was happy to listen where they wanted to take the publication and how I might be able to give them a quick primer into "who's who" based on their new editorial direction. I didn't pitch or promote my clients in any way, and more or less positioned myself as a resource that they could tap if and when they needed. One year later, this soft approach has benefited both parties, in that I've been able to work closely with the staff on a few guest editorials for my clients and my client's press releases bubble to the top of the heap, often with calls for additional information and subsequent coverage. For them, I've been able to point them at research that is relevant to their editorial mission, open my rolodex of non-client industry contacts, and generally facilitate their job. We're both happy and feel fortunate that we can rely on either other in this fashion. This is the "art." It's time well invested that has and will continue to pay off for other clients I represent. Finally, journalists are people too and don't like to think of themselves as some tool to be used to hype a company's products or services. While they tolerate the barrage of press releases, they hate it when you only contact them around a large industry tradeshows to set up meetings. Like any relationship, it's a year round effort, that will pay off when it comes time for them to choose who to meet with and cover--you and your company, or one of the industry's big "must-covers" at the show. The Science (Know Your Clients and the Media) Earlier in my career, an old direct mail guru told me the "rule of thumb" for any successful direct mail campaign. He said: "it's all about the number" meaning that a good direct mail campaign should break down as follows: 40 % list 40 % offer 20 % creative For those unfamiliar with these terms, it means basically this. Forty percent of your direct mail effort should go into coming up with the best and most relevant mailing list for your product or service, another 40 percent should go into crafting a hook that attracts that audience, and finally, only 20 percent should go into the creative or design. The reason I mention this is because I think the same applies to working with the media. For example, to get a good response from the media (the list) you need to be very selective on whom you target with what information (the offer). How well it's written (the creative), or how much hype surrounds the key points of the message should be your last concern. Become an expert on your clients' products or services. For example, if I'm targeting a press release from a client that is one of the largest commercial printers in North Americas, would I send it to Digital Publishing Solutions magazine? No, not unless it was about my client's HP-Indigo installation. Would I send it to American Printer, Graphic Arts Monthly, or Printing Impressions? Of course, as those three publications put significant focus on the commercial printing market. And a Little of Both Another point is one that doesn't really fall into either art or science, or is perhaps a little of both, so I feel it bears mentioning. Get to know your clients or company's products or services. In fact, become an expert on them. Read everything and anything having to do with the client or company you represent, the market, the competition, customers, everything. Too often PR people get boxed into the role of facilitator or functionary, hence reinforcing all the bad nicknames mentioned earlier. In my experience, understanding what you are pitching goes a long way to developing and maintaining great relationships with the media, your clients, or your boss. If nothing else, call it job security. The bottom line is this. Take the time to get to know the media--develop relationships, and be respectful of their time and their jobs--which is to please their readers. Be selective with what you send to which publication and when, as the media gets a zillion press releases a day. Finally, get to know your client's or company's products and services as your value to the media will grow and you can raise our humble craft to a more lofty position.