One of the Most Important Lessons They Forgot to Teach You in PR 101

As a PR pro, we are often tasked with the impossible. We’ll come across clients who have little understanding of how PR and media relations actually works, and their first request of us will be an above the fold piece in the NYT. Anything less and we are not valuable in their eyes. After all, we are paid to deliver. The moment we stop delivering, our pockets will become empty and our bellies will start to growl; our livelihood is directly tied to our client’s expectations.

Most professions have the luxury of being grounded in pretty well defined and shared expectations. You expect an airplane pilot to do nothing more than deliver you to your destination. Even if the flight is delayed, and you arrive hours after you were supposed to, the pilot collects the same check. A trauma surgeon has the daunting task of saving lives, but if their patient dies on the operating table, they still get paid. Even the emotionally destroyed family of the deceased understands that the surgeon did all they could and should not bare the weight of the loss, personally or professionally. I understand that these comparisons are a bit silly, but there is some truth here. You see, unlike these fields, PR is all about perception, and our fate is determined by that perception. There has to be some of level of irony there.

A recent piece in Forbes listed the PR Executive as the 6th most stressful jobs, and it’s no surprise. No matter how hard we work, or how talented we are, we are only as good as our clients perceive us. So what can we do to combat this? The answer is simple, and something that should be taught in every PR class around the world – SET EXPECTATIONS.

Setting expectations gives you the edge by aligning your client’s expectations with reality. It can also be a great hedge mechanism that will end up magnifying positive results and minimizing less than favorable or lackluster results. So here’s how you do it:

Set Them Early – Let’s say a client brings you in to work on an announcement regarding a new product. From the get-go, explain the challenges of getting press and what you think the best approach is. Don’t be afraid to bring them down to reality. They may think they are the best thing since sliced bread, but that doesn’t make them newsworthy.

Don’t Overshoot – If you aren’t sure what kind of results you can get your client, don’t tell them what you are going to get them, tell them how you are going to go about it. Your strategy and tactics. If those are impressive and show your expertise and the lengths you are willing to go for them, then you are positioning yourself well, no matter the outcome.

Over Deliver – By not promising specifics, any positive result (article, interview, new relationship) will be icing on the cake. You’ve already told your client just how challenging it will be to get any coverage, yet you got some, and on the way you’ve built relationships with key reporters! That’s what a PR pro does. That’s what you get paid for.

PR is hard enough. We don’t deliver tangible goods, we don’t make anyone money (directly) – we work in the abstract, communicating and storytelling. The impact that a good PR pro can have is immense but often times hard to quantify. In today’s world of ROIs and KPIs, this only makes our jobs more challenging. By learning how to set expectations and doing so often, you will do wonders for how your clients perceive and value you.

What other things should be taught in PR our Comms classes that aren’t?


3 Keys to a Successful Media Tour

I’m headed home from California for the second time in two weeks – back to the frigid weather and the lingering question that mockingly echoes in the minds of many New Englanders this time of year – “Why the hell do I live here?”

Anyway, I just spent two days in San Francisco taking a client around the city to meet with some pretty influential reporters from the WSJ, NYT, WIRED and others.  In my last post, I discussed the importance of relationships in PR and how in-person interaction is vital to your success as a PR pro. For this post, I’ll highlight three keys to building and executing a successful media tour.

Media tours are one of the best ways to impart your story in a way that has real impact and helps establish or foster meaningful relationships, but they are a lot of work. In order to guarantee success on your next media tour, make sure to do the following:

Target Intelligently

Anytime you are pitching the media, you should be doing so in a purposeful, thoughtful way. As I’ve said before, you are only as strong as your media list. It seems like a no brainer, but extra thought should be put into the list of reporters you target for a media tour. There are only so many hours in the day – make sure you’re using them wisely by setting up meetings with the right folks. I try to target reporters similar to how I applied to college years ago. Pick a few “safetys”  – reporters who are the most likely to be interested in what you have to say, and then go after a couple ”reaches” – the folks whom you hold in extra high regard for their stature as a reporter, your desire to build a relationship with them, and how their coverage of your client would be received. These guys are less likely to write a story about your client right away, but if you are able to secure an introductory meeting with them and start sewing some seeds, then good on you.

Prep Effectively

You should have a Marshall Mathers mentality going into a media tour – one shot, one opportunity. Will you capture it? You will if you prep effectively. Create messaging that you’d like to convey during the tour. What do you want the reporter to walk away from the meeting knowing that they didn’t before? Write it down and spend adequate time prepping your client. If they haven’t been media trained, start there! Make sure they know how to deliver and stay on message in a genuine, compelling way. It’s also a good idea to prep them for any questions you anticipate the reporters asking during your appointments – and not just softballs either. Think of some sticky or sensitive questions that could arise during the meetings. Even if they are super tangential or unlikely to be asked, prep for them. You should expect that whatever you or your client say may end up in print – better to be safe than sorry.

Plan Religiously

When you take a client out of the office you better be sure that you are not wasting their time. They will undoubtedly have other things on their mind come tour day relating to their work back at the office. Their stress might also be heightened by the anxiety that comes with back-to-back meetings with the press. Any hitch in logistics, however small it might seem, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Your tour needs to operate like a well oiled machine. And that starts with logistics.

  • Plan the meetings smartly, giving you enough space between them, but not too much so you’re caught twitting your thumbs.
  • Know where you are going. Map it out and route the times between meeting places to make sure you know exactly how much time you’ll need to get to the next meeting..
  • Know how you are going to get from meeting to meeting. I used Uber for the last couple of days in San Francisco s and it worked swimmingly. With the click of a button, a black car rolled up and ushered us to our location in a luxurious and precise manner.
  • If you have downtime, make sure you plan for it and find a location where you and your client can  plug in and get some work done.

In PR, perception is everything. If your client thinks the media tour you took them on had little value, then they will start to question yours as well. When it comes to planning and executing a successful media tour, it’s all in the details – don’t overlook them!

What other keys or tips do you have?