PR is sometimes seen as fickle. This is not entirely unjustified. The number of dubious surveys and empty comments that appear, from people who really should know better, suggest a silver-tongued PR behind the scenes telling them: ‘this will get you in the media’.
Some dubious practices shouldn’t tar a whole industry. There is a lot of good communication around. But communication can only ever be as good as its underlying subject. Therefore those doing the communicating need to understand what they are communicating (I’ll stop saying communicating now).
It can be hard to make time to read industry news, thought leadership, analyst papers, get to events, talk to experts, etc. But it’s important. If you want people to take your client seriously, they need to come across as credible, which means showing that they (and therefore you as their conduit) understand what they’re talking about.
You may be able to get coverage by convincing a journalist that anything from ‘Senior person A’ at ‘well known company X’ must know what they are talking about. But if the coverage doesn’t then deliver on that promise, you won’t convince anyone worth convincing.
There is a view that PR is all process. Once you know how to do it, you can apply it to anything. There is some truth in this – a certain way of thinking about effective communication is transferable. But that process has to include understanding the subject. Saying: ‘What headline do you want? Ok let’s ask this question to 1,000 people to get that headline’ is too limited and undervalues the hard work your client put into getting to where they are. Dig a little deeper and do some research that really informs your audience and drives them to engage.
Insight convinces a lot more than fluff, even if both generate the same number of headlines. Plus, it’s far more satisfying to keep learning new things and finding ways to communicate them in exciting ways, than reapplying the same tried and tested tricks of the trade.
So my thoughts on doing PR well, for what they’re worth. Take an interest; get to know not just what your clients’ do, but what challenges they solve. Talk to their experts and others in their industry. Instead of learning how to spin a boring story, learn how to ask interesting questions – everything can be interesting with the right eyes.
A lot of people in PR talk proudly how good they are at bullshitting. I’ve always believed that knowing what you’re talking about is a preferable alternative.