Why We Need to Get ‘Back to Basics’ for Long-Term PR Success

The other day, I posted a picture of my seven-year-old son on my Facebook page doing something he absolutely loves to do—playing with his Spirograph. Remember this toy? The one where you make intricate designs using wheels and rings?

Developed in 1965 as a drafting tool by mechanical engineer, Denys Fisher, the toy has inspired artists of all ages—including my son Preston. After I posted it, I spirograph.jpegexpected I would get some “likes” from my close friends and family, which I did, but comments and questions like, “I used to love that” to “I wish my kids would play with spirograph” got me to thinking…what happened to all the cool, non-electronic toys? You know, the ones many of us who were born before 1985 played with regularly. Have we become so focused on technology and instant gratification that we’ve gotten away from the basics—the kind of play that allowed us to use our imagination? Is it possible to do both? If you are wondering, Preston is using his iPad for Spirograph inspiration. He’s learned techniques, garnered some ideas for designs and developed a love for this ultra cool toy that even adults find enjoyable…all from YouTube. I never helped him find those videos—he found them on his own. (Kids these days…) Maybe this is the kind of balance we all need…technology as a supplement, not the focus.

Don’t expect an answer here about whether or not current or future generations will be more technical and less social or creative than those of us who thoroughly enjoyed playtime sans tablet screens or a virtual world. It’s a loaded question, obviously. But, perhaps you can join me as we look at this example and how it relates to public relations today.

In recent meetings and discussions, it’s become apparent many companies, consultants and even young marketers and aspiring PR pros are more focused on tools and immediate “results” instead of the basic premise of what really matters—relationships.

The Public Relations Society of America defines “public relations” as:

“… a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Of course, there is a lot packed into this tight definition, but the main idea is that PR is a well-thought out and strategic process focused on relationship building

It is totally understandable that companies with shrinking budgets are looking for results and ROI for their investment in a PR firm. We get it. But, it takes time to build a relationship. Immediate results are not a realistic expectation—remember, PR is a process. Done well, it can produce incredible results, but not overnight.

It’s time to get back to basics…the Spirograph art, roll in the dirt, play foursquare on the blacktop kind of basic.

Sure, you can successfully launch a campaign or announce a new product via an elaborate system of tools and promoted posts to social channels. At the end of the day, though, what relationship did you cultivate that will last beyond this one big push? Are journalists helping to tell or share your story? Are consumers eager to tout their positive experience with your company or product?

There is simply no alternative to a mutually beneficial relationship—whether it be with a journalist, a consumer, business partner or investor. For whatever reason, this concept has been lost as technology and tools have taken over.

Remember the kid on the playground who always wanted to be first, who only talked about himself and who dismissed anyone who challenged him or asked a question? Yeah, you don’t want to be that kid. A friendship, business relationship or partnership must be real and authentic. It can’t be out of convenience or with unrealistic expectations. A relationship built on a foundation of respect and collaboration allows you to weather storms, celebrate successes, and even expand your network.

Before you gather all the tools to get your message out there, consider whether or not you have solid relationships in place to help carry your message now and in the future. Are you investing in the process to make this happen? Are you meeting regularly with the journalists who cover your industry? Are your clients or customers receiving meaningful information from you on a regular basis? Are you engaging in authentic conversations with your audiences?

I think Preston is on to something—he focuses on what’s important but uses technology to assist and supplement. He understands creating his cool designs is a process and he doesn’t expect the outcome to be the same every time. My fear is that in rushing to achieve an “immediate result” we’ve lost focus of what really matters in the end—the process of building relationships.