When watching the news – especially on Sunday mornings, it becomes obvious why so many politicians and celebrities have publicists.
This much-needed asset is the voice of reason, the curer of chaos, the tantrum tamer and can literally spin garbage into gold when a press torpedo threatens to topple a career, reputation or even a nation.
So it’s no wonder we all understand this vital role when it comes to those we see as role models or talking heads. But what amazes people in my field, on a very regular basis is that businesses, rather large or small, often don’t understand how vital the role of publicist is when it comes to their internal and external messaging.
Granted, giant corporations have leagues of press and marketing people at their disposal to play every angle but small to medium businesses often opt to fund positions that more actively lend themselves to improving the bottom line on the balance sheet. What they are not understanding though, is the passive, long-term role marketing and public relations plays in the retention and recall of potential and repeat customers.
The response encountered most often is ‘I don’t have enough publicity to even warrant creating a position. I can certainly handle this myself.’ But those of us in the field can probably give you 100 cases where this went wrong.
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Here are some of the top reasons even a small business needs to think seriously about employing a PR expert in one way or another.
While others sit, a PR specialist spins. Ahh. Here it is. The word defining what most people already know a PR person does – spins a story. But what you don’t know is that spinning only part of it. A good publicist takes a story and finds the angle of approach that best fits your goals and your business.
While she feeds the press the intended message, clearly dictates the direction of a well-crafted, tightly-crafted story that best suits your company’s needs.
Different day, same song. If you’ve ever watched a White House press briefing, you’ll see the craftiness of Jay Carney and how he maneuvers the media back on topic. He has a message, he sticks to it and he doesn’t sway even when goaded by those in front of him.
This brilliance takes absolute focus and a very narrow line of vision. A PR person is once removed from the ‘target’ – i.e. Carney is the man in front of THE Man (the president). He handles the press on his behalf but is able to do so in a way that is seemingly more detached because he guards against putting too much emotion in his responses and he is trained to talk on point.
A publicist is always on message. The message is conveyed in internal communications, interviews and in any preparation given to management if they are speaking publicly. The message is consistent. It stays the same from the day to day until it is deemed appropriate to change.
What you find most often when organizations don’t have press people, is they stray from message and sometimes dilute their true goal by going off on tangents. This once removed position allows for clarity of message and makes it easier for the conversations to be guided.
It takes one to know one. As a former journalist and now someone who finds herself on the PR side of the fence, I can say without hesitation the best PR people are former journalists. It takes a certain type of mindset to want to dig deep for a story and only people who have done that can truly understand how to communicate with the media.
A public relations specialist with a journalism background understands what it takes to walk the beat and get a story. We also know what needs to be done for a reporter to actually bite on a story idea and lastly, we understand what a reporter goes through to get a great story written.
With all that in mind, it obviously makes sense that former journalists-turned-PR-people would feed information to media in a way that’s more likely to get consumed and regurgitated into a story or brief.
Most of us who used to be reporters know we kind of turn up our noses at the pure bred PR person – but the ones who used to be cubs on the beat? Well … they speak the language.
It’s all about who you know. Anyone can go online and find the name of the person who runs the business desk at the local newspaper or TV station. But a PR specialist probably knows him, has taken him out to lunch or even worked with him back in the good ole days.
In this world of email interviews and unreturned phone calls, having a direct line to an editor or writer is always best. Your press release doesn’t stand a chance if you don’t have a relationship with the media. And unfortunately, the only time you’ll see your name in print is when it is bad news and you can’t control the flow.
No stone is left unturned. As a former political writer, it is all too easy to tell now, which writers only read one side of the story. As an informed individual – and a far-from-rehabilitated news hound, I find it necessary to watch many different networks and read several publications – all for the same story just to get a balanced approach.
A publicist that is worth anything does this as well when it pertains to your business communication. She has looked at the marketing campaign, press issue or business communication and has analyzed the ways in which it can be interpreted and plans or reworks accordingly. She also will work to find fault with it and then anticipate what the next moves are.
One of the most important things to remember about PR is that it is as much about anticipation and strategy as it is the shaping of perception and outcome. Once those messages are shaped, they have to be sold. A good PR person is literally worth their weight in gold – it just takes some time to see the payoffs as their job is more long-term rather than immediate.
Now, you might be saying most small businesses can’t afford a full-time PR person, but my response many times is ‘you can’t afford not to.’ There are companies or individual contractors who specialize in offering co-op. I often recommend finding a marketing/PR co-op within your own vertical or industry – therefore, you capitalize on experience from multiple clients. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they recommend anyone in your area.
And remember, just because you aren’t getting any press or haven’t had any press in the past doesn’t mean you don’t need a publicist. It’s quite the opposite. Every business, whether small or large – deserves to get some publicity – especially if it is the right kind that will keep customers coming back again and again.