Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 – Top Ten Reasons to Embrace Honesty in PR and Pitching

Over the course of my career, I’ve met a lot of charlatans. You know the type, entrepreneurs or big company marketing types that spout numbers and stats over breakfast, claim market leadership over lunch and are deep into revolutionizing industries by the time last call is rung as they tell their story one final time over a final dirty martini at 2 am. And while I admire their enthusiasm, support their idealism and in general, am as easily charmed by them as are most others, I typically don’t believe a word they say.

So what got me started on this topic? I read a really interesting blog post today on ReadWriteWeb by Rieva Lesonski called “How to Get Bloggers to Write about Your Startup: Insiders Advice.” She provides solid advice about relevance, using supporting stats, presenting your pitching using lists (see – I’ve embraced that recommendation in this post!) and ensuring you are reaching out to people that care about your industry. I thought, however, that the blog post failed to mention a key element that is probably more important today than ever before: honesty.  
There are two reasons why honesty is so critical in today’s 24/7 news cycle: first is that honesty equates to authenticity, and is a critical element for building long-term relationships; and as Rieva points out, the Internet’s insatiable appetite for news and information creates the ability for bloggers, journalists and media organizations to fact check stats and figures easier than ever before. Many times, however, given the rapid pace of today’s news cycle, fact checking has been sacrificed on the altar of speed and unique page views, so the reporters want and need to trust you. The good news is that reporters and bloggers are rational, inquisitive people that are often skeptical in nature, so they can tell when someone is blowing too much smoke with no evidence of a fire. But they are really busy, their organizations are understaffed, and they are required to cover multiple beats that push the limits of what they can possibly have deep, first-hand knowledge of in all the markets they cover.

To be clear, honesty is what keeps the reporter engaged. Sure, numbers to back up your honesty is great, as is the ability to tie your truth into market trends, but ultimately it comes down to a reporter’s willingness to believe what you tell them and then convince their readers that they haven’t been duped.
So to stay true to my headline, my Top Ten Reasons to Embrace Honesty in PR and Pitching:

10.   Relationships are built on trust

9.       The time and intelligence of the blogger/reporter needs to be respected

8.       Pinocchio couldn’t pull it off and neither can you

7.       Integrity is something that is very hard to get back

6.       There is always someone out there waiting to call you out

5.       Long-term planning (for your company or your career) cannot be based on hype

4.       No one likes to have their pants on fire

3.       Spin is fine, spinning a web is not

2.       Authenticity is memorable

1.       Truth will always win out
It’s never easy to play the role of bad cop to clients when the excitement they are trying to generate is based a little too much on fiction and not enough on fact. I have had to counsel clients in the past that if they over reach in their messaging, they will permanently damage their reputations (and ability to succeed) and ours. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always engender my firm, or me, to certain clients. But, as I said above, the truth will always win out, and authenticity and honesty will always get you further than fiction. I would rather be a few-client, honest broker than a have a portfolio of companies that prefer fiction to fact.

Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 – Reaffirming the P in Public Relations

A story recently ran in Wired by Steve Levy about Narrative Science, a Chicago-based company that has invented a computer algorithm that can write news stories. On the phone the other day, I was talking with a leading editor from one of IT’s biggest magazines, and he told me that one of the companies he covers no longer reaches out to reporters about news. They simply post their news to their company’s blog sites and expect reporters to read them and then contact them with questions. 

Maybe in the rush to capture SEO dominance, these approaches provide some limited value, but I fail tosee how they help establish real relationships with the media or with readers. Stories written by robots can’t have the flair, opinion or color that a real person would include. Just look at the latest piece from your favorite columnist or reporter to prove it’s true.  And I get that some items that a company might consider news will hold zero interest for reporters so the “news” is written in a story format and published as companies look to connect directly with readers. But all news?

As a person that spends a lot of time with reporters and analysts, and with the companies that want to help reach customers through their stories, I find that both have interesting viewpoints that make for a good read. Without the experience, opinions, impressions of both, you’re only getting one side of the story.

What I think is getting lost in today’s SEO-driven media market is the “personal” or “professional” aspect in PR – the “other P” so to speak. The inherent value in PR is having a personal relationship (the “R”) with reporters and execs that enable the PR person, as the bridge, to help both entities get what they want – a meaningful story about a company/product/person/trend that a magazine’s readers want to read. Those relationships -- forged over a long period of time and grown through trust -- can never be reproduced by any machine or replaced by a website blog post.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

2012 – Pause and Take a Breath

In a 365 day, 24/7 news cycle, it’s hard to take a breath these days. Add to this frenzy the fast news cycles of online media and the opinion-driven style of today’s blogs and twitter feeds, it’s sometimes difficult to understand when enough is enough. PR teams feel the pressure to be a part of every story, on every news outlet and have teams ready to respond to any negative tweet or post. While I am not suggesting that you don’t have to be vigilant to protect your company’s
brand and value, I am suggesting that we are sometimes victims of our own need
to be relevant.

This is why I’m recommending that when things happen, or fail to happen, it’s always best to pause, take a breath and evaluate what, if any, response or action is needed. There
are absolutely times when a response is warranted but many times, the crisis identified
is not a true crisis. It might be inconvenient, unfortunate or even embarrassing for a company or individual but it does not warrant the revving up of the corporate spin cycle. It is best to plan for the best and worst case scenarios, but a good PR company will have a standard plan in place that just needs to be followed with the pertinent details that are available.

There was a recent story in NC about the sitting Governor deciding not to run again. She didn’t give any reasons, just told reporters that she wasn’t going to seek re-election. The media had a field day examining why she wasn’t going to run. When it seemed like the story was winding down, one of the news outlets decided to interview local PR people to get their reaction to her decision to not explain her reasons. Every single one of them said she was in the wrong and that she should have explained her reasons to the media, that the public had a right to know and they would have counseled her to be more forthcoming. When I read those stories, my thought was “of course that’s what they would say, it’s their job to create news cycles.” And that’s just what they did, created an unnecessary news cycle about something they weren’t personally involved in on a subject that they had no insight into. The PR people were creating the news cycle for
their own benefit, not because they were adding any new information to the story.

News cycles like this spin up every day. It’s inevitable when the “always on” news media and a culture that believes we have a right to know everything about everyone that we find mildly interesting. We don’t and it’s important for PR people, and the companies they represent, to understand and appreciate this fact.

While I’m not advocating that companies adopt a “no comment” policy when something negative occurs, I am suggesting that they pause and think before they react and engage. The good thing about the current news cycle is that if you blink, the media is off chasing the next story, about the next issue or trend or dastardly act by someone else.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

2012 – Fast Forward to the End

A friend of mine, Neil Rock ( is a fantastic motivational speaker whose primary message is based on the simple principal that you have to visualize your goals, write them down and then physically post them somewhere visible so they can remind you every day of what you hope to accomplish.

As we start the 2012 planning process, it’s important to remember what the goal is for the year and put programs in place that make it accomplishable. The goal can be operational (demonstrate the value of a professional services organization), geographical (show relevance of products in new markets), financial (articulate revenue growth, vertical market relevance and/or channel development), leadership (ensure the market understands how the company is impacting the industry), or any one of a dozen other legitimate goals that a company, and its marketing department, might develop.

Many times, these goals are set within a company, shared internally and never spoken of again until December rolls around and executives want to see how the company performed against these goals.  It’s easy to get caught up in the next news release, trade show, conference or webinar and forget that all of these items should be vehicles to help your company achieve one or more of its objectives. 

For PR, the goals could be as simple as cultivating 10 new “champions” within the press and analyst community. To us, a champion is a press or analyst that follows the company regularly and understands what it’s trying to achieve and, at some level, believes your company will be able to achieve these goals. They understand how all the pieces of your company fit together and how each part plays a role in your company’s ability to win. These are reporters and analysts that don’t just write about your company when you have announcements, but also include you in stories they create about market trends and they view your company as an influencer in the industry.

Let’s take a look at that goal and break down how it can be achieved.

·         Identify 15 press/analysts that you’d like to convert from passive to active followers of your company.

·         Create a matrix of their recent coverage to understand what they cover specifically and how they treat information about your type of products and/or services within their coverage.

·         Invite them for a deep dive or “lunch and learn” where they get access to company executives (CEO, CTO, COO) that normally aren’t part of your briefing team.

·         Create pitches that are relevant to what they are writing about, not just their beat.

·         When pitching or briefing, reference recent articles to show that you’re paying attention to their work.

·         Create a six month story arch that gives them unique access into how your company thinks and how it plans to win in the marketplace, and then update them as you achieve these metrics.

·         Offer to become a technical resource on issues they are covering, even if this potentially means interviews conducted don’t result in immediate coverage.

·         Check in with them regularly to ask what they are working on and make suggestions about topics they haven’t covered yet that apply to their beat.

When identifying the 15 prospects, you’ll need to understand which companies they are currently covering and if they have any existing biases or favorites among your competitors. If they do, go ahead and include them, but realize this is a harder objective to achieve but often much more rewarding.

At the end of 2012, review how this program went and make adjustments with certain press/analysts that you weren’t able to cultivate. If some just aren’t interested, then pick others that you can begin to work with during the following six months.

It’s important to remember that at the core of any press or analyst relationship is trust. That they trust you to give them honest, relevant information and that you’re willing to help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. Break that trust and you can lose these relationships forever.

No matter what category your 2012 goals lie in, developing a step-by-step plan to actually achieve them is critical. Successful PR programs require constant attention – once you’ve visualized where you want to be, remember to actively revisit and evolve the track you’ve put in place to get there and you’ll be closing a successful 2012 before you know it.