Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

Dear PR Student:

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

The best advice for would-be PR professionals is to learn as much as you can about as many subjects as you can, starting with journalism.

Congratulations. You are embarking on a fascinating career ride in public relations. Here is some unsolicited advice that may come in handy.

1. Take journalism classes. You very likely will be asked to write press releases. You should know what it's like to receive one.

Understanding news media needs and demands puts you in a better position to help, not just send an email with a news release. The goal is to get your client's message into print, online or on air. Having first-hand knowledge of how news is identified, researched, prepared and delivered can guide when and how you approach reporters and editors, as well as what you serve up to them.

Volunteering to work for a student newspaper is a great way to get experience. It will ground you in basics such as Associated Press style and serve as a reminder of grammar. It also will force you to write with the reader, not a client, in mind.

2. Be a liberal arts student. PR clients come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their needs will stretch your knowledge. There is no way to know in advance everything you will need to know. The best you can do is to learn how to learn — fast.

Luckily, that is what a liberal arts education is intended to provide. All those non-major requirements may seem like boxes to check en route to a degree. In fact, they are important way stations to widen your horizon, to open your mind to knowledge you may have had no idea how to acquire or assimilate.

Take a physics class. You will be surprised how valuable it can be in understanding new technology. Take an economics class so your client's business plan doesn't look like gibberish.

3. Learn the tools of the trade. One of the exciting dimensions of public relations is that it deals with an environment that changes at the speed of light. Ten years ago, designing and building a website was a rarity. Today it is an imperative. Five years ago, people thought social media was a fad. Now it is viewed as an important communication channel.

The PR world five years from now is likely to be very different. However, you won't be able to leverage what's new if you aren't rooted in what's worked for a long time. A great example is how to fashion an effective presentation. The software may change and the animation may be cooler, but the fundamentals of a presentation that does its job won't be all that different.

You may write on an iPad or dictate into your Google glasses, but solid writing transcends the tools. Knowing how to tell a story and basic principles of design, which are universal, are foundation skills you should develop.

4. Know your chosen profession's history. PR professionals in the future will face an increasingly complex set of challenges in choosing the best platforms and the most resonant channels. A knowledge of how PR professionals in the past innovated is invaluable.

The use of events, contests, third-party validation, outrageous stunts, clever ads, smart writing and guest columns were all new in their time. Study to see how these ideas evolved so you understand, with some helpful perspective, how you go from problem to solution with creativity and élan. You don't need to discover gravity or reinvent the wheel. You can learn from your peers how they did it, so you can do it, too.

When Is Clever Too Clever?

Ever since "man bites dog," we have understood that unusual attracts attention. But when is clever too clever? It's a good question.

Seeing 1,000 Colonel Sanders run around New York City handing out samples, then showing up en bloc at a Yankees game that night is clever. Undergoing a prostate exam while singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch of a minor league baseball game seems, well, too clever by a measure. Or is it?

Myrtle Beach Pelican General Manager Andy Milovich underwent the exam, thankfully while he was in the press box, to promote prostate prevention. He earned national media coverage by showing how easy it is to be examined. You can even sing through it.

The answer to the question of when an idea is too clever for its own good is when the idea attracts attention, but for no good reason.

Make Noise to Make News

If you want news coverage for your brand, make news. If you don't have any legitimate news, then make noise. 

There is a lot of competition for coverage — in the traditional press, trade press and blogosphere. Sending cookie-cutter press releases is akin to folding a paper airplane and pushing it out the window.

Even press releases with sharp story hooks may not turn into coverage because of bad timing or a reporter is chasing what he or she thinks is better story. Reporters face a new dynamic in how they are evaluated and compensated — their ability to post stories that attract clicks and reader reaction. A great story that elicits a broad smile is not as valuable these days as a story that will spark online comments.

That's where noise fits in. Noisy subjects elicit reactions, which is what reporters and editors want.

Making noise involves something quite different than adding audio or video to your press release. It means finding or creating activity that is noisy enough to break the sound barrier of today's crowded marketplace.

Dewey Weddington, who calls himself the Chief Fermentor at Ferment Marketing, describes how he created noise for SakeOne by teaming with prominent chefs in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills and, of course, Portland. He provided sake to each chef and allowed them total freedom to create dishes using the product. 

Writers in Chicago showed up because of their curiosity at the idea of pairing food with sake based on its aroma, flavor and texture. The gambit earned coverage in Beverly Hills at the Red O because of the seeming paradox of pairing sake with Mexican cuisine. A similar sensation was created at Andina in Portland, which paired its Peruvian-influenced offerings with sake, earning it valuable TV coverage.

Content Confectioner

Does the chocolate image wake up your sweet tooth? I could tell you that the candies are locally made in Portland with melt-in-your-mouth sea salt and quality chocolate, how they have perfect flavor profiles and are the ideal size for a guilt-free treat. But the image probably inspires you faster.

If you saw this photo on a chocolate company’s blog, you might pin the image to Pinterest or share it with you friends on Facebook. If I’m the chocolate company owner, I’ve just used shareable content to empower you to help me market my brand through the most powerful form of marketing, your word-of-mouth recommendations.

This is the potency of visual communication. Adam Vincenzini describes the image-powered web as “the notion that Internet users prefer the most efficient and engaging methods of communication.” Images equal efficiency. Fast Company calls visual marketing “the breakout trend for 2012,” noting a 2012 ROI Research study that found “forty-four percent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.” Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are leading channels for visual storytelling.

Here are my 13 tips to help you become a Content Confectioner — a creator of crave-able, sharable brand assets.

1.  Start with Your Goals

What are your marketing and brand goals, values and key messages? Think about what those things look like. How you can show and share them with your stakeholders?

2. Be a Reporter

Reporters seek and share stories. Do this for your brand. Shift your perspective to look for the significance of the everyday – teams, routines, the work and production environment. How does the everyday drive toward your brand promise? If you make this perspective shift, you’ll always have a story to share.

3. Get the Tools

You’re not obligated to add a $2,000 DSLR line item to your budget. I swear by my iPhone camera. It’s portable and takes high-quality images with flash and focus options. You can send images easily to Facebook, Instagram or email. The right tool is one you can obtain and use often. Do your homework. Test the options. And go for it.

4. Eyes Wide Open, Camera Ready

The aforementioned iPhone has more than 4,000 photos on it (yes, they’re backed up). Keep a camera with you and err on the side of taking more images than you’ll use to create an image bank for your brand. This practice supports quicker content creation. It also increases your odds of capturing million-dollar moments and images. Think of it as gathering lots of ingredients for limitless recipes.

Count on Marketing PR for Creativity

You count on your PR team to deliver your key messages. Give them a shot at coming up with a creative, out-of-the-box idea that wows your customers or solves a vexing business problem.Count on your marketing PR team for creativity, not just hod-carrying your key messages.

An article titled "The Creativity Crisis" in the spring edition of the Public Relations Strategist urges company managers and clients to lean more heavily on PR professionals for fresh ideas. Authors Douglas McKinley and Susan Balcom Walton, both professors at Brigham Young University, say part of the problem is that many top-level officials fail to recognize that PR is a creative discipline.

"Actually, PR people are — and must be — more creative than people in advertising and marketing because we have to persuade the media and others of the merits of our ideas to secure their participation in communicating messages to our target audiences," explains Patrice Tanaka, co-chair and creative director for New York-based CRT Tanaka.

Making Your Facebook Page a Fan Magnet

Much effort is exerted to get someone to "like" your Facebook page. Equal or greater effort is needed to earn a return visit.

Businesses and organizations spend a lot of time and money to accumulate a large number of followers. But if you don't give them any reason to follow you closely, it is a paper army.

People, even your most devoted fans, are busy. They will only return to your Facebook page when there is a reason. Giving them a good reason is your challenge.

Contests and events attract interest. So does quality content that informs or inspires. Best of all is some type of engagement, in which you ask for their ideas or involvement. Blogs routinely trot out lists of things to do to bolster your Facebook ranks and keep them excited. In truth, there isn't a formula for success. Each brand, organization or cause needs to find its own sweet spot.

A contest may be inappropriate to raise awareness and recruit financial donors for a cause. Events may be impractical for certain kinds of products or services.

What brings people back, including fans, is engaging content of interest to them. If you are in sync with your target audience, that may seem like a natural expression to you. If not, you need to talk to your fan base or potential fan base to find out what they like about you and what they want to know more about.

PR Matches Strategy to Need and Budget

Advertising can build awareness, but its days of building a positive reputation are numbered.Public relations bests advertising as a way to build a corporate reputation, according to new data from the Harris Interactive Reputational Quotient study.

Advertising didn't succeed in improving positive perceptions of corporations, says Robert Fronk of Harris Interactive. "Media recall is playing a dominant role on the impact of reputations for both good and bad."

The findings are based on online responses in December from 17,000 people, between the ages of 18 and 65. Some 64 percent of respondents recalled seeing an advertisement, while 40 percent said they read about a company in print or heard about it via word-of-mouth. Only 6 percent recalled reading a blog.

Fronk cited Johnson & Johnson. Its reputation took a hit in 2011, he said, largely in response to negative media coverage and online comments about the company's product recalls and quality-control issues. The venerable company's advertising failed, he added, to prop up its reputation in the shadow of bad news.

Five Verbs to Animate Events

There are many business goals that warrant using event strategies and tactics. Five verbs- engage, build, inspire, increase and associate- can help you recognize opportunities to utilize events.

Engage your target audiences. Events provide opportunities to bring your target audiences together to interact with your brand. Interactive elements at your event allow attendees to experience your brand. In business marketing events, rich dialogue and question and answer sessions can support interaction. In brand marketing events, activities and product trial opportunities can support interaction. The event tactics for each business should be uniquely selected, but the common theme is interaction.

Build personal relationships. Live events foster authentic opportunities for target audiences to build personal connections with the people behind a company. Goodwill, trust and credibility can be strengthened.

Inspire buzz. Events can inspire people to share their experience at your event with their network. These personal, informal endorsements strengthen your brand reputation.

Increase recognition of and loyalty to your company. Events can raise the profile of your brand, and a person’s positive experience at your event supports brand loyalty.

Associate your brand with strategic partners. Events provide opportunities to partner with those who you would like to associate your product or service. Inviting strategically selected partners to join your event by filling an event need, such as for food or space, not only can help keep costs down, but also is mutually beneficial by associating brand names.

What are some of your favorite events? Did they have elements from the five verbs?

The Business Case for Community Engagement

Does your business receive numerous sponsorship requests from community organizations? The right sponsorship opportunity presents more that a chance for your company to be involved in ‘do good’ efforts. There is a strong business case for connecting with and supporting the communities that support your business.

Sponsoring a cause or event that aligns with your company’s commitments or mission strengthens your brand promise. Sponsorships can provide wide visibility with target consumers and decision-makers. They can help your company garner media coverage. And they can present opportunities for your employees to engage with the community in meaningful ways.

Here are five questions we recommend decision-makers keep in mind when considering sponsorship opportunities.