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Public Relations…Execute the Basics, Positioning Will Follow

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

In the past six months we've seen announcements by five global firms planning to spend big dollars on new advertising and public relations positioning programs. Even United Airlines that is operating in Chapter 11 has launched a positioning effort even before they have solved the problems that got them in that position.

Hundreds of other firms reading the "news" on how to change the market's perception of the company, improve the firm's image and advance sales will be doing the same with smaller budgets.

Positioning…now that's a horse business hasn't ridden for awhile. It is the magic elixir the company can take to improve itself without actually changing a thing. It's almost as good as the HGH (human growth hormone) Spam we get - tightens skin, builds muscles, shaves off fat, makes you look 10 years younger, improves your mind…

But after 25-plus years in the field we don't think there's a quick fix solution. Despite everyone's rush to embrace specialties, public relations isn't brain surgery. But positioning appears to be part of our increasing trend to focus on specialties such as focus groups, research, media placement analysis, crisis management, issues management, strategic planning and positioning.

Public relations is simply a matter of serving two masters - client management and the media (if we don't serve them our other publics won't be served). In our 24x7 treadmill world public relations practitioners aren't aware of or overlook the simple solutions…the basics.

Basics include editorial treatment, fast response, well thought out/well executed press materials, being an editorial resource, thorough follow through, commonsense, enjoy your work and the people you work with.


A Matter of Equals

Once we received email from a new vertical market web site in Sweden thanking us for providing in-depth technology, product and applications information we had developed for a client. The easiest thing would have been to ignore the new site after all technology/informational sites come and go every day. In addition, our assignment was to promote the products in the Americas not Sweden, Europe or the rest of the globe for that matter.

But the Internet has blurred country borders.

News in the U.S. is read and heard instantly in Chicago, Omaha, Atlanta and San Diego as well as Denmark, Argentina, India and Taiwan.

While the aspiring web site may never be the next Google the investment of a few hours providing information could provide the client with big returns. The effort will win a favorable friend and support for the company and possibly influence others who will access the site for information. The support may even improve international relations?

We all know that all editors, reporters and outlets are created equal but some are more equal than others. Every PR people will reluctantly admit he or she has first, second and third tier editors, reporters and news/review target priorities. But ignoring, responding at your convenience or "forgetting" commitments is completely unprofessional.

People like Steve Wildstrom of Business Week as well as John Markoff and Judd Biersdorfer of the New York Times are certainly more lusted after by company management and therefore PR people. They deserve complete and immediate response. But the same is true of the thousands of other editors, reporters and analysts here and around the globe.

While your boss may read these two publications religiously, it may come as a rude surprise but not everyone does! However your boss (and target publics) also read, listen to and watch other media. These outlets also influence your firm's stakeholders - employees, customers, investors, legislators and business partners. Media people move from outlet to outlet and they remember the professionals and the flakes.


Timely Response

We are constantly amazed when people send us a note saying thanks for your prompt response, especially members of the media.

Members of the media also have their lists. They also compare notes. They are quick to tell you which firms and PR people respond as well as those that take days, weeks or never respond to even simple requests. No one in this business should be that busy or that filled with self-importance.

Inquiries from members of the media shouldn't be an interruption to your work. They should be the meaning of your work unless you are too involved in market research, planning and positioning meetings!

Treat your email like snail mail. Handle it only once. Respond to everything in your inbox before you leave in the evening, even if is to say you'll get a complete answer back to them within a specific time period or pass the request to another member of your team.

With public relations now being carried out on a global scale, we admit the challenge of keeping up with on-line correspondence is formidable. For example, we often handle European and East Coast correspondence early in the morning and then late in the evening we focus on the Pacific Basin. It can make for a long day but it can also be an interesting day.


Press Materials

Any PR person who spends time talking - talking, not pitching - with members of the media will hear the same comments again and again.

Good writing is hard - damn hard. Editors will tell you it is hard to find and PR pros will assure you it is hard to produce. But it is one of the most important parts of the job. The challenge is that you have to know so much and use so little. Data dumps don't impress anyone. In addition, people quickly see through smoke screen expertise.

In an effort to conserve budgets we have also seen companies assign the writing of white papers, position papers and technical/application articles to marketing and product managers. The logic is that it is more efficient. They are quick to tell you that they "know" the subjects and can therefore do a more competent job.

Most of the time they submit -ready for instant publication - some of the best data sheets and brochures you have ever read. "XYC, the industry's leading," "ABC, incorporating advanced features like…" and similar fluff may make your boss feel good but they certainly don't sway the reader. Especially when he or she is on the publication's editorial staff.

Read the articles written by reporters and editors. They are educational and informational. The work you submit to the press should meet the same standard. If the reader understands, believes and agrees with the information in the article; he or she will turn to the firm for more information or buy the product/service being discussed.

An analysis report of company mentions, location of the mention and tone of the mention may be one measure of PR success. But the real payoff for the company in developing and submitting quality press materials will be at the cash register, not in a stack of press clippings.


Be An Editorial Resource

Knowing the names, phone numbers and email addresses of analysts and members of the media is only one aspect of your job - and perhaps a minor aspect.

In our opinion it is even more important to know everything possible about your company, your products, your markets and your competition (products and people). Time and space or precious commodities in the media today. There are not only fewer publications, there are also fewer editorial wells and fewer people to fill those wells.

Editors, reporters and analysts also have A, B and C contact lists (yes they prioritize their PR contacts). The PR people who quickly, accurately and consistently assist them in filling pages and airtime become the people who get the first call or email. Not every inquiry is going to produce feature coverage for your firm and products. However as a key resource, you are in a much better position to help focus the coverage.

Staying that current is impossible?

Wrong -- the Internet provides an entrance to a cornucopia of information on product areas, applications, markets, technologies, trends and competition. There are use lists, news services, reviews, white papers, research reports and studies available on every industry, product and service you can imagine - and some you don't want to imagine -waiting for you.

Monitor user groups - yours and your competition's. Bookmark those sites that serve up useful information. Compile folders of industry, company and product information.

It is a lot like dieting. All it takes is time and commitment. The results can be spectacular!


Commonsense

Sometimes it seems that in our rush to be creative check our commonsense at the door.

The abandonment is most apparent at trade shows when everyone rushes to introduce new products/services. Gala press conferences are held that seem to be designed to impress management without delivering company or product substance or news.

Press kits folders that don't quickly communicate your show location and new products don't serve the media. Folders in the pressroom stuffed with brochures and sales sheets. Dated news releases intermingled with fresh announcements…just in case.

Whether it's a concern for the environment or the desire to save money, the new trend is CD press kits. The discs sit quietly in the pigeonholes displaying the company name and perhaps even the name of the show.

In fact, some are great designs.

Unfortunately as you hold the disc in your hand you have absolutely no idea what news the electronic press kit contains. This makes it extremely difficult for the press to determine if they need to come by your booth for more information.

Do you really expect the editor or reporter to return to his or her office with a stack of CDs and pitch themselves on your story? Do you believe they have nothing better to do than load, open, scan and select your news over the dozens of other CD-embedded materials they picked up at the show?

Most of the CDs will be stuffed in a drawer or piled in the office to be reviewed "later."
Then in 3-6 months they will find their way into a landfill somewhere and remain untouched for 100 plus years.

So much for conservation and exposure.


Enthusiasm

This is a great profession. We get to work with some of the best people in the world.

Despite what you read, the companies, management, products and services we work with are some of the best in their respective industries. When they aren't, good PR efforts will help them disappear more quickly.

We also work with some of the most intelligent writers, reporters and industry analysts in the world.

Public relations people should take their job seriously but not take themselves seriously. Unfortunately too many people seem to get the two reversed by focusing on the importance of their position and role rather than service.

The job comes first. It starts with the basics. If these are carried out in a professional manner - and even if is not - the marketplace will do the positioning for you.

© Copyright 2003, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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