For many, public relations was once considered a soft discipline of questionable value to the organization, unworthy of direct participation from busy executives. Recently, however, PR’s reputation has received support from metrics being pressed upon every marketing initiative. But metrics alone cannot win over the staunchest skeptics. Here are four tips to finish the job.
Prepare an Elevator Speech
In 1989, Al Maag, currently the chief communications officer at Phoenix-based electronic components supplier Avnet, joined the company for his first tour of PR duty. His responsibilities fell under the “communications” heading, but the CEO at the time favored advertising and other disciplines that had a set budget and wide acceptance over the squishier practice of PR.
“Nobody in our company talked to the press in those days,” he says. “Management didn’t understand it, didn’t appreciate it, didn’t care.” This wasn’t just Maag’s impression. The CEO made it clear to him that PR didn’t have a place on his priority list.
Maag constructed a five-minute conversation that convinced the CEO of PR’s value.
- Avnet was the leader in electronics distribution.
- As such, it needed to attract the best talent in the industry.
- Avnet’s salespeople believed demand creation was very important. PR created demand.
- To maintain its tony position, Avnet had to leverage PR to keep analysts and shareholders driving investments.
Map the Media
Colleagues or executives “envision that I simply email a reporter, set up an interview, and they read the story in print,” says Renee Deger, PR manager at Loyalty Lab in San Francisco.
“They don’t always understand there are a variety of steps required in gaining media attention,” she says. “I have encountered at times a general lack of clarity about how the things I do day-to-day connect to PR.”
Rather than have higher-ups shadow you for a day, Deger advises you educate executives on media options. “Establish tiers of publications, and explain how they are relevant to your industry,” she explains. “Some publications will be very focused on your industry and may cover every press release. Other publications will target related industries, and you need to make them aware of what you’re doing.”
Train Senior Execs as Spokespeople
The truth, as any communications professional knows, is that many publications will never write about your press releases. If PR can’t deliver a story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or in CNN’s Headline News, its value can come into question.
To woo dailies or cable news stations -- often the outlets the CEO seeks -- Deger does her homework, reading stories in which Loyalty Lab can shine and pitching her company as a source in upcoming pieces with a similar slant. This strategy works particularly well if the subject of the article is ancillary to the industry; Competitors likely won’t be interviewed, and Loyalty Lab will attract the attention of new prospects. “The media looks for good stories to bring to their readers,” she says. “Using insights from our industry, I can suggest stories that are meaningful to others and that may feature us.”
And it is here that Deger uses the New York Times and MSNBC, among others, as carrots to prepare the C-suite for the big payoff.
“Some competitors in our field only allow some members of their staff to talk to the press,” adds Maag. “That is not our policy. We trained 300 people in the last five years, and 70 people overseas in just the past 12 months.”
Toot Your Horn
Whether you’ve implemented a marketing dashboard with solid key performance indicators or you track press mentions in an old scrapbook, share the company’s PR success with all employees, every day.
“All key communications go out every day,” Maag says. “We send a summary of all coverage every two weeks to the management of the company -- the group leaders of our 26 business units around the world.” Doing so connects the dots between PR and sales success by putting the reason for the spike in interest in people’s hands; it also encourages their investment in the process.
At Avnet, managers “know it’s their job,” Maag says, to create good news that can be shared with the public. “Most people believe journalism over advertising.” And with good PR, even managers struggling with small ad budgets can generate sales leads.