Seven Essential PR Lessons Worth Learning

Seven Essential PR Lessons Worth Learning

Jeff Davis, Senior Public Relations Strategist

Anyone who has worked in public relations has experienced those moments where we think we’ve hit the jackpot with a media placement, only to hear crickets from clients or receive nasty notes smacking us down to reality.

Like that time I landed a top-of-the-fold story in the Washington Post for a little-known biotech startup. We were doing high-fives at the office and the client’s response was, “Frankly, we were underwhelmed.” Or when I secured a profile for a Capitol Hill real estate office, only to receive a nasty note from the spokesman asking why he had three chins in the photo they ran.

PR isn’t as smooth and controlled as it might seem on the outside, but the good news is PR works. Also, the bumpy ride delivers a lot of important lessons. I recently shared a few of these during a keynote presentation for the Baltimore Public Relations Council, and they are worth sharing here.

It’s not a Start/Stop Marketing Tactic

An airplane taking off is fast, exciting and impressive. That’s like advertising: it takes off quickly, the pilot has control, and it can make a big impact. But PR is like a locomotive: slow to start, but once it’s chugging along it’s powerful and difficult to slow down or even stop.

Many companies make the mistake of treating PR like a start/stop marketing tactic. They expect results right away and they give up way too soon, especially when they’re an unknown brand with not much of a story to tell.

Hunker-Down Crisis Approach

Can’t we just hunker down and let it blow over? A CEO asked me that a day after tragedy hit, killing seven people at a property they owned. No, you need to work through your crisis plan or the crisis will last a lot longer than a few days. Also, it will cost a lot more, which was the case with that CEO as the issue wound its way through the federal government and the courts.

Addressing the issue head-on and being transparent can help mitigate the damage, but you need a plan in place way before it hits the fan.

Don’t Just Wing It

Media training is essential for anyone who will speak to the media. Understanding what reporters are looking for and how to give concise, quotable answers is critical to a successful interview.

I have seen disastrous interviews by CEOs and spokespeople who bypass media training sessions, only to turn a great media opportunity into a dud. Practice and make those dumb mistakes in the comfort of your conference room, not on live TV.

Keep It Short

Long-winded pitches are rarely effective and most get deleted in seconds. I’ve seen clients lengthen—and in the process weaken—pitches and press releases. Then they wonder why there’s no interest. Keep it simple and to the point.

About Those Quotes

I serve as regional editor for the Capitol Communicator and see the best and worst ways to pitch a story. One of my pet peeves are those made-up press release quotes, especially ones that trot out the overusedword “thrilled.” Tone it down and aim to be authentic in your communications.

Third-Party Endorsement

There’s truth to the old saying, “Advertising is what you pay for. Publicity is what you pray for.” My favorite PR definition is one I heard years ago: Doing a good deed and getting caught.” That means you did the right thing, someone else saw your actions, and they shared the story, not you. There was no boasting on your part—thats what advertising and promotion are all about.

What We Actually Do

The biggest misperception is that we are press release writers, and that PR is all about publicity. In reality, public relations is about building relationships, establishing credibility, and contributing to driving business results.

Think internal communications, social media, special events, content marketing, crisis communications, reputation management, sponsorships, public affairs, investor relations, influencer relations, executive communications, and much more. Press releases are a tiny fraction of what we do.

At its heart, PR is a slow-burning process that requires patience and skill. As the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and the C-360 PR Team is all about creating luck for our clients.

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