Guarantees certainly have their place. They provide customers with a sense of comfort around their purchases and choice of vendor. Broken printers get replaced or repaired. Buggy software is updated. Cancelled flights are reimbursed or rescheduled.
But guarantees don’t make sense in PR.
In fact, red flags wave, alarms blare and lights flash when I hear about agencies and PR professionals that guarantee press coverage. That's not PR. That's advertising.
It is important for all players to come into the PR game understanding the difference. PR is also known as earned media. Details, interviews and assets are given to a reporter who then writes and publishes the story from their own point of view in order to share the information they find most relevant to their particular audience. You don’t get to review the article in its entirety prior to publication (although you should most certainly confirm all stats and quotes being used). You don’t get to rewrite their article or headline. If you want to write or edit a piece, you can always author and place a contributed article or advertorial. Those are other complementary channels to consider for your communications program. But that’s another topic for another day.
Even the most well known household brands with the most earth-shattering news could very well get cut out of a news cycle. No one can predict a natural disaster or a political situation that could dominate days of press coverage even though it doesn’t directly touch your industry. In addition, a competitor could steal your thunder by hosting an impromptu press event or a reporter could have sources that leak your news in advance and you need to put your reactive program into effect.
Completing due diligence and creating backup scenarios for your product launch or company announcement can actually only get you so far. You may know when certain industry events are scheduled and when a competitor or a larger brand in your industry may make some news but that doesn’t always give a clear picture of what could end up happening on launch day. There is also the possibility that your target reporters are out of town, on maternity, sick, bogged down with other priorities from their editors or, in some cases, they may just not find the announcement worth covering.
Around all company and product communications, leadership and PR should have a clear communications pathway. PR should provide leadership a clear set of expectations for launch -- messages, strategy, targets, reactions from any pre-briefings/exclusives, etc. -- and keep leadership updated as the program progresses and they receive feedback from reporters.
But know that there are no guarantees in PR.
If you’ve been following the Olympics in Rio, and most likely even if you haven’t, you’ve heard about the scandal involving US Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Sadly, this story has taken over a news cycle that should be focused on the athletic successes and national pride associated with the Olympics.
Lochte’s scandal provides some solid PR lessons on what to do when managing a brand crisis, whether an individual or company brand.
Game Changer. Disruptor. Synergy. Leverage. Enable. Utilize.
They are all buzzwords.
As media critic Steve Buttry recently said, "Buzzwords have always been a part of the public conversation. Every cliche started as something clever."
We all are guilty of using them in one capacity or another. But to really standout from the crowd, we need to make a more concerted effort to NOT use them unless we absolutely need to. And most of the time, if we take the time to think things through, we don't actually need to use them to convey what we mean.
Many of us just shrug off the jargon but it can cause credibility issues. Employees could start playing Buzzword Bingo during meetings. Reporters could read your press release, roll their eyes and ignore every press release issued moving forward -- or possibly write a snarky article or Tweet. Worst of all, potential customers and partners could read your announcement or website and not understand what you do and choose to go with a competitor.
You can find article after article focused on the "worst business buzzwords" or "lamest industry jargon." Wikipedia even has a page dedicated to buzzwords. Use these resources to make sure and strike these terms from your marketing collateral, blog posts, press releases and company talking points. Otherwise, you and your executives might be the next victim of the eye roll, a game of buzzword bingo or, even worse, ignored pitches from reporters and lost prospects.
Whether you are building out a new communications program from scratch or looking to make some adjustments to your existing one, the question usually comes up: should we hire someone in-house, rely on agency support or look for a contractor?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The answer depends on a variety of factors.
There are many other questions beyond what is included above that you should consider and you look into building or expanding a communications program and team. But know that it may take some time and a few tweaks or errors along the way to truly understand what is needed in your particular scenario.
It is also important to know that hiring a big agency doesn't mean you've "made it." Sometimes you just need a short-term consultant to help you get through a few milestones and then you scale back until you have the user base and product roadmap that requires revisiting the hiring of a full-time PR professional in-house or an ongoing relationship with an agency.
There are other times where you've attempted to manage the PR program on your own for too long, your roadmap is full of launches and potential news and you are missing out on critical opportunities. Then it is time to relinquish control and bring someone in to head your communications efforts internally or hire an agency.
Every company is unique. There is no set roadmap for when PR should enter your company's plans. Only you and your team will know when it is time. But you should know what questions to ask when it is time.
Right now, wherever you turn, whatever you watch or read, you will see something about the Olympics. And while the IOC and all of the license and rights holders are trying to keep everything from use of logos to GIFS and Vines under control, everyone is trying to get a piece of the Olympic buzz.
And rightfully so. There have been thousands of stories published in the lead up to the Opening Ceremony and there will be even more published in the next few weeks.
Timeliness is key in PR but you also need to be thoughtful. Does your company have a direct tie-in with the Olympics? Are there some interesting facts, figures or analyses your company can uniquely provide about the historical events taking place? Or is it a stretch and you could be viewed as inauthentic?
You also need to consider the message and tone, especially given the controversies surrounding this year's competition. Health scares, scandals and other questions have been raise throughout the lead up and they probably won't subside. Is your company comfortable with the possible links to these issues? Do you have public comments prepared if asked?
It is important to be aware of news cycles and jump on them as quickly as possible -- if and only if appropriate and not forced.
There are so many misconceptions around PR.
PR also doesn't mean you just throw together a press release, distribute it across a newswire and expect coverage to appear. With the myriad of communications channels available today (Facebook, Medium, Twitter, etc), the press release is far from the only checkbox you need to complete for a success PR campaign. And sometimes, depending on your business objectives, it isn't even a channel you should use at all.
Whether a long-term, on-going communications campaign or a quick product launch, it is critical to have your communications team work closely with the appropriate stakeholders to understand what the business is trying to achieve with this particular program. That way, they are creating the most efficient and effective communications strategy to meet those objectives.
And that may mean no press release.
Welcome to ROAMings, a compilation of thoughts and musings about the PR and media industries. This is an opportunity to discuss the “here and now” of the industry, interesting events or case studies, pivotal moments that affect how we approach PR, etc. It isn’t about brand loyalties or preferences -- and we will not be publishing self-promotional materials or talk about our clients in this setting -- but how those brands, individuals and events are leveraging (or in some cases abandoning) PR.