Reimagining PR ‘rules’ to keep pace with the times

Common tenets about measurement, ‘bridging’ tactics, and never ever going ‘off the record’ might not offer the best guidance for today’s communicators. Here’s a fresh perspective.

Some rules were made to be broken—or bent, or even smashed to bits.

Many customer service professions have unwritten rules about how work is carried out. 

In public relations, they include: 

  • Media impressions are the cornerstone of campaign success.
  • One spokesperson can generate media exposure in any market.
  • “Off-the-record” interviews shouldn’t happen. 

Some have been dictated by clients, others by PR pros.  

Our industry is evolving, so our approach to clients’ communications needs should stay fluid. 

With this in mind, let’s consider a new perspective: 

Quality supersedes quantity.

We PR pros must continually show value for our work. Clients want to know their investment is paying off. Someone decided media impressions should be the key metric to demonstrate the success of a campaign, and that’s taken on a life of its own. Clients at organizations large and small may have come to expect a certain number of impressions (often in the millions) for a specific campaign. It’s usually an arbitrary number with little or nothing to do with the message they’re trying to convey and the demographic they’re trying to reach. 

Quality must take precedence over quantity. Forget about impressions (and here’s hoping you forgot about “advertising equivalency value” ages ago), and consider your story and audience instead. What is the story you’re trying to tell? What are your top two or three messages? Whom are you trying to connect with, and why? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Influence purchasing decisions? Drive website visits? 

A savvy PR team will craft the narrative and identify the target media outlets that would benefit most from the news. If you’re launching a food product, for example, you would be better poised to secure coverage in a targeted trade publication versus trying to land a front-page story in a daily newspaper or distributing a news release. Sure, the release may get you big numbers, but the food publication will reach the audience that matters most. 

Local spokespeople are key 

Do you have an overseas spokesperson for your Canadian campaign? Unless they’re a celebrity or sought-after public speaker, one who can speak directly to the Canadian market and has a natural connection to the company or brand they’re representing, don’t expect them to hold the weight of your campaign. The lack of a local and highly relevant spokesperson is, simply put, a missed opportunity, and that will have a direct correlation to the amount of interviews and coverage (or lack thereof) that can be expected. 

Speaking ‘off the record’ can be beneficial.

On the topic of spokespeople, PR pros will often advise that “nothing is ever off the record.” Yes, if a spokesperson is in an interview and blurts out something “off the record,” they can’t expect anonymity or confidentiality. However, if done right, going off the record may help foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the company spokesperson and a well-established reporter. The key is to have both parties agree, ideally in writing, that it’s a purely informational interview before you dive into a detailed discussion. The great thing about agreeing to an informational chat is that it can help foster camaraderie and trust with the reporter while paving the way for meaningful coverage down the line. 

You should be careful with bridging. An established interview technique, bridging happens when a spokesperson dodges a tough question by pivoting to key messages. For example, if a reporter is asking for commentary on how the economy will perform but the spokesperson can’t publicly speak to that, he or she may say: “While I can’t speculate, what I can tell you is…” Simple enough. The trouble is that reporters see right through this ploy, as do investors, customers and the public. Use it occasionally if it makes sense at the time, but don’t try to derail the conversation. 

Topics: PR


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