Is Your PR Program Keeping Up?

Retro 80's girl with pink hair looking through a VSH tape cassette

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I started doing public relations for a Fortune 500 company before a few things we take for granted today even appeared on the scene:

  • CDs were just coming out, and the titles were limited. I drove to my first job still poking cassette tapes into my car stereo, and I went for a run every day carrying a Sony Walkman.
  • I had about 10 real live paying years of my career under my belt before I got my first work email address.
  • In my first PR job, we took turns carrying the (one) PR department pager for the weekend in a case a reporter needed to reach someone. And the coverage in the mountains of Colorado was pretty bad, so the rookies always got stuck with it during ski season.
  • I was on my fourth job when I got my first personal cell phone. The case was nearly as big as my briefcase, coverage was sketch at best and I paid something like 40 cents a minute to talk. Texting wasn’t invented yet.

That all sounds funny now — but too many PR programs I see haven’t evolved much from those days. Sadly, they work about as well as that brick of a cell phone that I carried all those years ago.

Today’s media landscape is a perfect storm of shrinking newsrooms, distrust of the media, extreme fragmentation of news sources, a dramatic shift in what can earn news coverage and the critical need for more content development outside of the newsroom than ever before — and the change is happening at an unprecedented pace.

In the end, I believe too many PR programs spend 20 percent of their efforts where they should be spending 80, and vice versa. Despite the changes to the media and how we access it (that’s another post, clearly!), too many PR programs today still look an awful lot like this:

  • A company or organization has some “news” — a new product, a new CEO, a significant new customer, an acquisition, etc.
  • The PR team springs into action, writes the news release, pitches reporters and works feverishly to get reporters (and now bloggers) to cover their news.
  • Repeat.

Notice that “news” is in quotes. What worked in 1985 won’t get the job done today. But sadly, too few programs make ongoing content development a top priority. As a result, there’s a steady stream of “news” releases that shouldn’t see the inbox of any reporter ever.Let me illustrate: let’s say you own a chain of daycare facilities in a large city, and you’d like to get some news coverage about your business. You could:

Hire someone to issue news releases when something happens at your company: a new hire, a new location, expanded hours, etc. You might even get some occasional coverage in a briefcase or similar section. Your target audience likely doesn’t look there.

Or, you could try one or more of these tactics:

  • Offer to write a regular column for a popular local “mommy blog” (free of charge — you want coverage and new customers, not royalties!) once a month covering childcare issues.
  • Pitch local media outlets as an expert on things to do with kids when there’s some time to kill: a blizzard is coming, school gets out for the summer next week, etc.
  • Have your staff members record 30-second video tips (today’s smartphones will work just fine) for new parents and share and boost them on social media.
  • Rather than buying ads, explore the possibility of procuring sponsored content space (advertorial) in a local media outlet. This allows you to develop content (some outlets will do it for you for a fee) and be guaranteed placement. So, instead of readers seeing a half-page ad with your logo and address, they will see an article — ghost-written for you — providing tips for parents. This is far more memorable than a basic display ad.

You get the idea. In the end, an announcement — new location, new staff or similar — will get you brief coverage once, maybe. A solid thought leadership program can be the gift that keeps on giving, as the media is in desperate need of quality, non-salesy content on a regular basis.

Given all the media changes, if your program is still mostly news releases and not much else, I challenge you: is your PR program keeping up?

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