By Jim May
With going on eight years of experience in working public relations with industry trade press, I’ve picked up quite a few lessons that have helped me be effective in the profession. Here are a handful of those I consider most important.
A PR person is very much a salesperson, just pitching to the press rather than directly to customers. That’s no reason to live down to some of the less flattering stereotypes of the profession, which unfortunately seems to be at least a somewhat common phenomenon. Any successful PR professional needs some solid communication skills, but the polished, artificial exterior often found in our field certainly isn’t a necessity. No one likes being condescended too, and that’s often the impression left behind by a $10 smile and constant barrage of bs. If someone’s extremely outgoing, that’s great, and they should use that in their work. But people with laid back, relaxed natures can be just as competent and effective. Authenticity goes a long way and it’s much better for someone to tailor their approach to their personality than to attempt to alter their personality to some perception of a ‘correct’ approach.
Understand the Lingo
Trade editors and writers quickly recognize the difference between a person who understands a process or application and someone who’s just memorized a handful of product talking points. Knowing what you’re talking about goes a long way towards building credibility and maximizing effectiveness. When a PR professional joins a company or acquires a client in an unfamiliar industry, learning as much as possible should be a top priority. This process provides an exceptional opportunity to forge internal and external relationships, as everyone enjoys displaying their expertise. Contact some editors at publications key to your industry, as well as some internal customers, and ask for their perspectives on product technology and trends. You’ll quickly improve your standing, both actual and perceived.
Avoid Playing the Ad Spend Card
Like it or not, there’s little point in denying some level of relationship between ad spend and editorial coverage in many industries. That said, it’s in the interest of all parties to minimize that correlation as much as possible. A magazine that clearly gives preferential coverage to big advertisers will quickly lose readers’ trust. A company quick to offer advertising buys to get covered will be seen as offering products unworthy of legitimate attention. As a PR professional, the job is to understand the benefits of the products you represent and be able to frame those in a way that appeals to a target audience. When done effectively, this allows you to obtain coverage on the merits, which is far preferable to an indirectly-paid-for puff piece.
No product is right for every application and no company can meet every need. This reminder applies to marketing in general, not just PR, but the latter needs to be especially wary of the pitfalls of overselling. When a product is great at X, but an editor wants to know how well it does Y, there can be an on-the-spot temptation to overstate its performance. Of course, in reality, this dilutes what should be the core message and can cause harm on a variety of levels. For instance, a customer might read an article and pick up the item for Y, only to find it’s a subpar solution for that specific application, potentially damaging brand perception and jeopardizing that relationship. It’s much better to be prepared from the start to state that the product was designed for a specific application(s) and be able to explain why it excels in that realm.
Of course, there’s more to being effective in public relations than the items listed here, but these are some of the biggest things that jump out when considering how I’ve approached the profession. Agree with any of them? Disagree? Think I missed something huge? Leave a comment and you’ll be in first place for our January blog promotion.