Employees get hired to say "yes" and consultants get hired to say "no." Public relations is not marketing or advertising, though it could reside within marketing. The fact is that the relationship between PR and marketing is akin to the relationship between three-dimensional chess and checkers. Well-designed public relations are extremely difficult in any vertical, and in the world of online advertising, that difficulty is compounded by the teacup-sized window of opportunity.
That's why so many big firms fail and so many of the well-regarded boutique firms drive great results. It isn't about each firm's Rolodex, per se. It's about knowing how the entire ecosystem plays on every pitch. The online advertising industry is extremely dynamic and complicated, with alpha personalities playing major roles atop numerous sub-verticals.
It's plenty difficult to keep up with everything if you're on the outside, and if someone is speaking to the media on your behalf, they had better be able to speak about our industry's entire ecosystem and not just your company -- and I have no idea how anyone could keep up from the inside of any one company. I guess that makes me a C+ performer; maybe that freshman dean was right all along.
Over the past month or so, I polled some of the people who cover our business for a number of industry and general business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Advertising Age, Ad Week, iMedia Connection, MediaPost, and others to gage their opinions on interactive's PR efforts. I won't reveal who said what, so don't bother asking, but these remarks by our industry's gatekeepers say more than I ever could. I'll augment their words in a minute, but first, here's what they said:
- "What PR people need to understand is that the press release is dead. It's actually been dead for a long time."
- "I get more than 500 emailed story pitches a day, and I have my email preferences set to purge at close of business. If I haven't gotten back to you by then, I won't. Why don't any of the PR bunnies understand that?"
- "The only thing you're telling me if you send me a press release dated for today is that you don't think it could possibly mean very much to me."
- "Why does anyone ever say 'industry leading' in their pitches? Does that make them feel better or something?"
- "Don't tell me about your clients. Tell me about their industry segment. Give me facts -- not fluff. Help me build a story."
- "What I need is facts about ways brands are using technology to reach their customers and consumers. That is all I need. Anything else is superfluous."
Public relations -- specifically media-driven public relations -- might just be the most misunderstood professional discipline in existence today. With regard only to the interactive media industry, there are literally hundreds of PR firms and individual consultants battling for mindshare on behalf of their clients. So, how can you measure one against the other? And, once you're paying them, how can you tell if they're doing a good job?
I numbered the editor comments above as I did because they can be very illustrative, taken from the simplest tactic to the most sophisticated strategy. Let's respond to each individually, and keep in mind that some of these tips are written for PR practitioners, while some are aimed at would-be clients.
1. The press release is dead. If the firm you've selected can write a good press release, good for them. That matters if you're a publically traded company, with federal regulations on disclosure being what they are. Except all but a few of the companies in our space are private, and more than 90 percent of the stories you read every day in the trades and major publications have nothing to do with a press release.
All a press release provides is collateral for your sales team and website. It could provide collateral damage if a reporter thinks you're sending it somewhere else. If your firm or PR department needs a press release to organize your thoughts into a story, then take the "who, what, where, when, and why" from its lead and put them into an advisory that is personally contextual to every single reporter you send it to.
Clients, ask your firm to walk through how they're pitching your stories, to whom they are pitching them, and why they are pitching them that way relevant to the reporter's recent byline. Ask them if they're using Google News to see what's relevant to every reporter they pitch. Who knows -- they might be wasting the time of reporters who are important to your business, perhaps even spamming them in your name.
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