A few weeks ago I met with a young attorney who wanted to raise her profile and become famous. After 90 minutes of coffee where she produced her dream scenario of TV interviews and profiles, along with a strategy to promote her as a young leader in entertainment law and celebrity representation, she said, “You’ve given me some great ideas! Now I can get some media on my own.”
For PR agencies and consultants, this happens a lot more than we like, potential clients wasting our time, pumping us for ideas, taking copious notes, then attempting to act as their own publicist. With all due respect, they can’t represent themselves. If they try, they will probably fail.
PR professionals, smart entrepreneurs, and readers of this column for the past eight years know that public relations isn’t only difficult, in some cases, it’s nearly impossible. Reporters and other influencers aren’t going to spread your message, or promote you or your business just for fun. There’s got to be something in it for them—a great story, insight into a trend, or fascinating information that will entice their readers and make them look good in front of their editors.
You are not buying an ad. Remember—advertising is what you pay for, PR is what you pray for.
Think of it this way—you can probably represent yourself in traffic court for a minor violation. Small claims court? Possibly. But should you act as your own attorney for a civil lawsuit or big trial? No freaking way. (A lawyer should know better.)
So the next time you are tempted to represent yourself, or a client dismisses your expertise because they were smart enough to “pick your brain” and now they are cruising behind the wheel with Google Maps leading the way, please enlighten them.
Imagine hosting a party and sending out 300 invitations. 296 are ignored, three people respond “Not interested, ” and one says “I’ll let you know.” How does that feel? Welcome to PR. With fewer reporters employed and more publicists pitching them, the odds are against you. I don’t tell most clients how often their stories get rejected. It’s too personal and too painful. An outside PR consultant doesn’t take these personally, he or she finds what’s not working, makes it better and finds an outlet to place the story.
Bad Writing is the twin brother of Rejection. Most emails aren’t even read. They are poorly focused or irrelevant, the subject headlines don’t get to the point, the main points are too self-serving, and they are often sent to the wrong journalist. Prominent journalists get 1,000 emails per day. Even bloggers for obscure publications receive dozens daily. Many professional publicists used to work in the media. They respect the journalist by sending them short, well-written and relevant pitches.
If you think emails get ignored, good luck going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or SnapChat. There’s an excellent new book called Hit Makers by Derek Thompson that destroys “The Viral Myth.” Thompson notes: “Advertisers and producers have developed a theory of ‘viral’ marketing, which assumes that simple word of mouth can easily take a small idea and turn it into a phenomenon.” Thompson, a senior editor of The Atlantic, asks if ideas really do go viral. “The answer appears to be a simple no. In 2012, several researchers from Yahoo studied the spread of millions of online messages on Twitter. More than 90 percent of the message didn’t diffuse at all. A tiny percentage, about 1 percent, was shared more than seven times. But nothing really went fully viral – not even the most popular share messages.” Facebook noted in 2013 that 4.75 billion pieces of content were shared each day, in 2017, it’s probably much higher. Five hundred million Tweets are sent daily. That’s a lot of competition.
Sometimes who you know is just as important as what you know. Contacts with journalists, newspapers, bloggers, producers and other influencers are worth their weight in gold, wrapped in platinum, and sprinkled with diamonds. That’s why PR firms are hired, retained, and renewed. Our firm recently placed a big article for an academic client in one of the Big Three newspapers (Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times). It was a great story that illustrated a trend, but it took three months of interviews, statistics, stops, and starts. Because I personally knew the reporter, the article eventually appeared, and it ran with a photo. No doubt there are countless other examples from PR agencies around the world where personal connections make the difference. For my latest book, I hired a publicist who works with authors. (If lawyers going to court can hire other lawyers, PR pros can hire each other too.)
How many meetings at corporations, universities, law firms, restaurants or auto companies start this way: “We’ve got the best sedan/pricing model/entrepreneur program/fudge-filled donut on the market. Our distribution strategy is second-to-none. Our customers and suppliers love the new product. Why doesn’t the media give a damn?!” Maybe the product isn’t so novel. Maybe the service hasn’t been explained properly. Maybe it hasn’t been inserted into a trend so the journalist can write something meaningful, instead of repurposing a press release. Maybe the fascinating anecdotes about users, the way it was invented or other novel factoids weren’t promoted. This is why PR professionals working internally for big firm usually bring in consultants and agencies. They can see the outside world. They know how the company, product or service fits into the media conversation, and they know who might be interested.
For more information about hiring a PR agency or discovering what they actually do, please see this previous Forbes column with more than 350,000 views.
In the meantime, don’t try this at home.