PR: You May Be Doing it Wrong


Public relations is one of the most misunderstood – and mystifying – disciplines out there. When done correctly, PR is highly valuable, effectively shaping your brand, sharing your story and driving your business forward. But since it is so misunderstood, and nearly impossible to measure, many are trying and failing. So what’s the problem?

“Is the press release really dead? Why do journalists and bloggers ignore me? Did social media replace PR? What’s the problem?”

You may be doing it wrong.

I’ve been asked whether the press release is dead.  Well, it depends.  Poorly written, jargon-laden, hyperbole-rich nonsense, blasted shot-gun style via PR mailing list services to thousands of unsuspecting journalists has definitely taken its toll. Over the past two decades, those complicit in this approach have directly contributed to the breakdown between journalists and the PR community.

Press releases have become a maze of meaningless words and phrases – a platform for highlighting made-up words that have no substantive meaning. Products are positioned with so much hyperbole, it’s impossible to discern what the product actually is or does. By wrapping each sentence in over-exaggerated claims, companies devalue themselves and miss the opportunity to share their story. And since it’s a main point of interaction between companies and the press, it’s created a rift between the two, leaving journalist and bloggers frustrated and even bitter. Tired of sorting through product and corporate BS, they’re more apt to hit the delete button without even opening your email – it’s gotten that bad.

So, yes, this type of release is dead.  And good riddance.

What’s the solution?  Start by simplifying. Simple, clear language, devoid of nonsense. But simple is hard. Writing short concise sentences is harder than writing 1000 words. Loosely quoting Blaine Pascal, “I apologize for the long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a note.”

And you need to get your head around the notion that the press release is not the end game, it’s a first-step. It’s one of many tactics used to begin a dialogue with your audiences.  A press release is simply a formal document that says, let’s get this conversation going because something new and interesting just happened. Let’s talk about it. But to talk about it you need to have someone with whom to talk. Someone with whom you can have a conversation, a discussion that helps build the story around what you’re doing, and more importantly, why.

However, any good discussion is a two-way discourse. And with press and bloggers, it’s about exchanging ideas, exploring different angles and working together to find the right story. After all, they’re looking for good content to share with their readers. And by default, obnoxiously spamming press lists – blindly emailing people you don’t even know- in hopes of a ‘hit’ is no way to build a relationship. If you’ve invested in these relationships, you’re no longer pitching stories, you’re sharing ideas and ultimately breaking down the barriers built over the decades by frustrated journalists.

And what about Social Media? Does it replace PR? On the contrary, social media is one of the more powerful vehicles for reaching, engaging with and influencing people, and is very much part of the fabric of good PR. At the end of the day, social media is about ‘place.’ It’s where your audiences are spending their time – press, bloggers, vloggers, users, influencers. They’re all there. You better be too. But not in a disingenuous way. It’s not a broadcast channel, it’s a place for engagement and honest, candid discussion that, in my experience, is an invaluable way to build those relationships and connections with people that matter most to your business.

Good PR practices can be summed up in four words: relationships, perspective, content, and patience. And these things only come with experience – experience in the industry in which you’re promoting and solid relationships with the people who you’re trying to engage.

And if you’ve done it long enough and are paying attention (more to the failures than the wins), you gain perspective and learn to tap into that perspective for smarter, more practical strategies. You’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t. And you’ve learned what constitutes good content, and how to create and share it in a meaningful way. History repeats itself more often than you may think and those who ignore its lessons are doomed to repeat them. Cautionary tales are all around us, if you know how to spot them.

The fact is, there are no top ten lists, or quick fix guides, or software algorithms for good PR practices. You need to be patient. Meaningful results are achieved as a result of momentum, consistency, adaptation, and flexibility. There is no overnight success.  It can feel frustrating at times, but if you’re consistent, persistent and know how to keep your audience’s attention, it will pay off.

At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. And the value you bring to the table is in the relationships that you’ve cultivated over the years, and that are built on trust, respect and in some cases, even friendship.



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