Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doing What it Takes - Trusting the PR Process

By Stephen Abbott, principal, Abbott Public Relations

This is one of those times when someone dares to say: “The Client isn’t always right.”

Success isn’t guaranteed. You have to work at it.

Seems obvious, right? But in my career, I’ve had a handful of clients, and have heard of many others, who wound up failing because they didn’t understand that they needed to do what it takes to BE successful.

And in public relations, as in any endeavor, you have to actually do something to be successful.

Yet, a few of my past clients simply didn’t believe me, and we parted ways, only for me to later hear of them floundering and then failing in the very tasks to which they refused to dedicate themselves when I was working with them.

Of course, this breaks my heart to see, and I never gloat about it.

Still, without naming names (and in the most general of ways) I think it would be instructive to take note of some of the ways in which they failed to connect with PR, because as I’ve said before, public relations is a greatly misunderstood profession.

They included political clients who insisted that they didn’t need to convey clear, concise messages to the right voters, only to learn, tragically, that targeting a great message matters as much as wearing the right tie during a speech or making the right political contacts.

I’ve also heard of some would-be politicians who believed they could campaign part-time, while their opponents worked full-time campaigning. Their opponents learned quickly that these are the times to one-up them over and over and over again at events while their opponent was home in bed.

There were a couple of business clients of mine who insisted that they did NOT need to build up their reputations over long periods of time in order to generate positive images that would lead directly to sales (a plan that works, if you keep at it!) Instead, they felt only a quick burst of exposure would do the trick.

That works as effectively as the quick “exposure” a streaker at a college game earns. It doesn’t help their reputation at all, and their name, if it’s even known, is quickly forgotten or turns into a local punch line.

Finally, some thought they didn’t need to remain in constant and regular communication with me while I directed their PR efforts. Bad idea. Communication in a couple of cases became sporadic and then dried up altogether, either through miscommunication or new people in the company not knowing they should keep tabs on the campaign.  This basically means the client gave up on PR, despite clear goals and great tactics that would have borne positive fruit. Neither of them used PR services again, with tragic consequences for their businesses.

By failing to keep doing what it takes, a client leaves a PR campaign in limbo and may leave a consultant unaware of changing conditions or of possible new, positive things being done that could boost their reputation immensely.

In fact, many failures of public relations to yield results can be attributed to a failure of the client to remain dedicated to the process.

Failure to stick with a PR campaign because one doesn’t understand PR is inexcusable, and it’s certainly rare in the case of my clients, because I go to great lengths to educate them about how PR works. I discuss, for example,

  • How PR must be a long-term effort, requiring frequent interaction between client and the consultant
  • How PR campaigns must be planned with a full picture of the client’s needs and problems, so these can be properly addressed in a campaign and measured afterwards
  • How PR encompasses reputation management, image creation and online and off-line marketing techniques, and that this is likely to require a commitment to real CHANGE in a corporate attitude towards their customers (yes, REAL and authentic change!)
  • And how it uses tactics such as media releases and events to generate positive buzz among a targeted group of early adopters and thought-leaders who will later become their customers, and that a series of un-serious “stunts” and “getting mentioned in the local paper” isn’t always the best, or even the most effective, goal
Despite this, I hear from PR consultants whose clients tell them they want to see results OVER NIGHT, especially from companies and candidates that have done real harm to themselves that must be repaired in order for them to survive. The truth? That’s not possible.

Lawyers need more than one meeting to begin forming an effective case.

Many diseases require more than a day or two of treatment by medical professionals for the treatments to pay off.

Students can hardly proclaim themselves fully “educated” after just one semester at college.

In the same way, a PR consultant can hardly be expected to make miracles happen with only a half-hearted dedication to their efforts, or with a poor understanding on the part of his or her client of what needs to be done, how, and why.

Remaining dedicated to any task – especially building or re-building a reputation – is crucial to success.

That’s a main reason why PR consultants insist on receiving paid retainers at least on a quarterly basis, and often for six-month or even annual installments.

Reputations aren’t built, or certainly not re-built, of the course of a few days or even a week. A PR-developed reputation isn’t a one-off item a business can buy off the shelf like a can of soup and then forget about it. And like all good things in life, both patience and dedication to the task are required to make PR work.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been blessed with many understanding and wise clients over the years, and I’m very grateful for this.

I would urge clients of PR consultants and those who are considering hiring one to craft a PR campaign, or to hopefully establish an ongoing working relationship with one, to understand that it WILL take time. But chances are, public relations WILL pay off.

Abbott Public Relations can be reached online at http://www.abbottpr.com.