We all have an intrinsic human trait where we think that it’s all black or white, do or do not, kill or be killed — and when talking shop about PR — pushing an announcement, or not.
Perhaps owing to the high-paced nature of the startup industry and a not-so-healthy dose of “hustle porn,” executives tend to approach PR with a quantity over quality mindset when it comes to perceived value. Unfortunately, this particular way of thinking couldn’t be any further from the truth.
From companies sharing news about their nifty new office watercooler or launching alleged “bombshell” news daily – the abuse of the press release format has skyrocketed to new heights, almost hand-in-hand with the hype revolving around startups and entrepreneurship in the last decade.
With a board full of investors looking to cash out on their seed and executives looking to push boundaries, marketers and in-house PR correspondents face unnecessary and immense pressures.
For example, consider WorkFront’s survey in which 1 in 4 industry professionals reported feeling “high stress” in their day-to-day job – fighting for press attention is often daunting; pushing marketing professionals closer towards burnout. A CareerCast study saw the role of a Public Relations Executive grace the eighth spot among the 9 Most Stressful American Jobs of 2018, effectively attesting to that predicament.
We must also consider the executive side of the story – scrolling through Twitter on a bathroom break is enough to get news on at least five different companies. The fear of missing out is a plague, one that executives are certainly not immune to.
A CITO research study found that a whopping 81 percentof surveyed executives had concerns over missing out on the latest regarding cloud tech developments. With the introduction of blockchain technology and other cutting-edge buzzwords — imagine how neurotic the lives of executives are now becoming.
As it stands, the PR department is the entity that must address this combination of executive FOMO and startup craze, by finding ways to bridge the gap between what is desirable and what’s available within the organization’s PR. This is also where a lot of friction starts to emerge.
Playing the devil’s advocate
Although we hold a “get shit done” sort of commitment to our clients and business leaders, at the same time we need to help them get out of their own echo chamber, and to help them see things for what they are.
We can encourage them to stand up to in-company authorities who can’t see the full PR picture, clamoring to force out news and announcements for the wrong reasons, without taking a moment to understand the implications of the company’s PR strategy and overall brand image.
It’s our job as PR professionals to dish out the proverbial slap on the wrist, and in some cases, go as far as strongly advising against specific releases. Saying “no” is an integral part of giving a quality, wholesome service to our clients.
Below, you’ll find some of my own personal pet peeves and examples, where it may very well be worthwhile to play the devil’s advocate and go toe-to-toe with our clients or colleagues in the best interest of doing good PR work.
Participation trophy PR
One of my greatest complaints, seen quite often within the blockchain industry, is the “participation trophy” theme that CTOs and CEOs have been responsible for pushing into their marketing personnel.
Many companies aggressively peddle news on their main net launch and other mundane feats such as setting up a new office or living up to their roadmap (“good actor in a bad actor scene”) with the presumption that CoinDesk reporters should line up for an exclusive. Uhh, no.
My criticism here is two-fold:
- The responsibility of telling and controlling a company’s story lies with the PR/marketing team — not the CEO or CTO. This is the equivalent of marketing personnel directing the engineering efforts of the technical team.
- The act of pitching “participation trophy stories” to reporters suggests that the company essentially thinks it should be “rewarded” in coverage for a very natural and mundane process that any company goes through to launch a product.
Instead, what I would advise is for executives and companies to try and anticipate the direct implications of whatever release they are thinking of pushing out. Some questions worth asking, are:
- What is the immediate, tangible result of the news or story/announcement?
- Who would care enough to want to hear about this release?
- Why should reporters find this interesting?
If it winds up as a struggle to come up with compelling and convincing answers to these questions — then just maybe, you’d be better off dropping the story altogether.
“Woo the board” PR
Press releases, announcements, and other brand PR items aren’t there just so executives can attain thought leaders status. While thought leadership is an effective tactic for promoting your brand, it should be done under the assumption that it will serve the company’s best interest — an executive’s personal benefit is a bonus, nothing more than that.
Aligning both thought leadership efforts and taking care of the company’s best interest can be tricky for an in-house marketing authority due to their organizational proximity. This causes a situation where in-house professionals may have a tough time shooting down “weak” or self-serving thought leadership initiatives.
Fortunately, that’s where outside counsel can serve as an objective judge of what should and shouldn’t be done by unbiasedly voicing their stance. Effectively avoiding the danger of being perceived as one acting out of individual hang-ups, office politics, and other personal or professional disagreements.
“Just pitch it, duh”
The business of PR isn’t just a “fire and forget” play. Executives tend to forget that this is a delicate game of strategy and attention-winning with more nuances than one might imagine.
Even the best story has to go through the process with the PR department for crafting, polishing, and fact-checking. Then, there is another layer of strategy that needs figuring out. Here are just a couple of initial thoughts that PR need to keep in mind:
- Timing — stories must be pitched in a timely manner giving press contacts the space needed to respond. Think more along the line of working together with the reporter, to produce a story, rather than “bending” the reporter to your schedule.
- Attention span — I like to think that reporters wouldn’t necessarily want to get spammed by the same source twice, which prompts the question: “Is this story worth ‘using up’ our shot with the reporter?” Think about the long play and try to determine if this particular connection, may actually be better utilized within the context of a bigger story you have coming up the pipeline.
- The hook — is the story delivered in a way that’s concise, relevant, and compelling for reporters to write on? Is there a solid news hook?
Keep in mind that contributors, journalists, and reporters serve their audience, not you or your company’s shareholders. Aligning your story with the interests of your contact is, therefore, key to getting the word about your company out there.
And while it’s not always entirely up to you – it’s your responsibility to watch out and potentially say no to poorly crafted stories.
- Honor your contacts. Do your utmost to prevent company politics from getting in the way of doing good PR. In short:
- Work by your own news embargos
- Send news out on time, not based on the whims of other company elements
- Avoid wasting a reporter’s time on unhelpful stories.
- Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy/gal. An integral part of doing your job as a PR/marketing correspondent is preserving the brand/company image by saying “no.”
- Audit your stories. Run a “who cares” test — various tests and methods can help you better understand what’s newsworthy, and what’s not. Journalistic attention is a precious resource, don’t waste it on stories you would not want to read yourself.
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