It’s a given that business professionals need to evolve and shift their methods to stay on top of industry trends and succeed in their chosen fields, and for those of us in public relations – whether you’re in an agency setting or in-house, the need to adapt our thinking to maximize efforts (the old “do more with less”) and achieve optimum outcomes (a.k.a. “what have you done for me lately”) has accelerated in the current environment.
Ben Kaplan, the CEO of TOP, a global agency network, recently presented on what he sees as “The New Rules of PR.” The webinar outlined five core rules for communications pros looking to drive gains in awareness for their firm and skillfully leverage breaking news.
Kaplan led off with a few comparison examples of “old way”/ “new way” PR questions that come up frequently in day-to-day operations. The first, and most relatable, was a question with which every campaign should start, “What upcoming company news do we have to announce?” It seems fairly direct and on-point, but it is also an “old way” question. How can one take it a step further? Kaplan suggests tweaking it to “How can we package the data to create a newsworthy trend?” Doing so ensures that the communicator’s mindset is already contemplating the approach to sharing this information. He notes that communicators have to start putting the audience first when pitching: It’s a two-way conversation, and because there is so much noise out there, what one person says isn’t the only thing that matters. Incorporating data into an approach from the outset can help break through the noise and grab a reporter’s attention.
Each of Kaplan’s “old way”/ “new way” examples hold five guiding rules for professional services communicators:
To get more coverage, package more data.
Data is an increasingly important part of the PR toolkit. Not only does it get a pitch noticed over competing messages, it helps tell a story that is valuable to others and can connect to a firm’s values/positioning at the same time – a win-win-win. Communicators are increasingly asked to be data packagers.
Great PR leads to great Google rankings
To excel in PR, one needs to know related fields, including Search Engine Optimization (SEO). PR and SEO go hand in hand as the marriage of the two can build inbound links at a much faster pace than traditional methods. For example, one may leverage a timely news peg by developing a data study to post on the firm website. This can then be pitched to media, and if there is a hit, media outlets may link to the full study, generating inbound traffic and boosting SEO.
PR is more scalable with pitch blueprints
There are a variety of pitch blueprints that can help scale stories faster. A “Geo Ranking” approach would compare different regions to each other to generate local news at a global scale. This may be done by running a flash survey on a trending topic, ranking the states based on the responses and pitching localized versions of the results to media in each ranked geography.
A “Predictor” style looks at how one can make logical predictions about what will happen at an upcoming event. For example, let’s say Apple is holding an event to discuss new features on their latest device. A PR pro can look at the data from prior periods and current trends to forecast what will happen. From there, they can pitch the prediction during the build-up before the event.
A “Battle” method explains the pitch in terms of a war-like battle that is filled with drama and intrigue. For a well-known example from the consumer realm, the “Cola Wars” between Pepsi and Coke even sounds like an intriguing story. Communicators may insert their firm or spokesperson into the story as a key player, important witness or armchair quarterback to the drama between the large companies.
Finally, a “Big Number” tactic involves summing up the individual benefits to create an impressive statistic based on cumulative impact. For example, one may be tasked with promoting a pro bono matter that, as a stand-alone, is of marginal interest, but when aggregated with the firmwide impact of such service and/or the implications of this matter on those similarly situated, the achievement – the “big number” – becomes much more impressive.
Work laterally, instead of sequentially
To compress time and get hits faster, PR professionals are advised to work laterally instead of sequentially, leveraging multiple communication channels at the same time to hit the largest relevant audience possible. By working serially, an approach espoused in the days when “scoops” were reporters’ and producers’ stock in trade, made more sense, but given the speed of news media today, it means communicators can bottleneck their own results – or worse, miss the news window all together. The best approach is to cast the widest possible net from the outset.
Competitor coverage is good for you
Professional service providers (especially lawyers) may see a great news piece highlighting a competitor and become irritated that they (or their firm) wasn’t in the story. PR pros can help turn this feedback around: instead of focusing on the negative, you may be able to leverage the competitor coverage. As the communicator, we now know who is covering the topic – so that part of the work is done. Now, you need to get creative in identifying a related topic.
If the competitor in question is a Goliath-type company, it is probably already getting widespread media coverage for virtually everything it does. PR pros can insert their spokespeople into each Goliath company’s trending conversation by offering timely insights, analysis and data that the journalist may not be able to find elsewhere.
My biggest takeaway from Kaplan’s presentation is that communicators remain extremely valuable. Earned media has the highest return on investment (ROI) of any marketing discipline – including the fact that many of these hits live on the internet forever. As long as communicators continually evolve their tools and execution, there continues to be a big upside to PR efforts in our crowded and competitive media landscape.
– Joey Telucci