PR in Plain Sight: Challenging PR's Current Perception Problem

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In the past six months, my colleagues and I have been to various conferences where the topic of public relations has been addressed, and it hasn't been pretty. From the subtle "PR is old school" to the bold "Screw PR" as a standalone presentation slide, there is a general discussion around PR today that - as president of a PR agency - is as frustrating as it is surprisingly validating.

These conversations were led by founders and marketing leaders at tech companies who’ve had bad experiences with PR agencies that still rely only on announcements to earn media coverage and are jaded by their experience with such agencies.

Their belief that PR is "old school" is based on a mentality that how PR was done 15 years ago is still how it is done today. Many agencies and in-house marketers believe that PR stands for "press release," which is indeed an old and ineffective way to relate to the media - a press release hardly tells a story and paid wire service pick-ups are not real earned media results.

The gym-membership agency model

As a B2B tech PR firm, we work with clients nationwide who come to us after initially being told by their VCs to work with certain agencies or consultants - often in the Bay Area - who have an impressive client roster, high-profile media hits for announcements and charge high monthly retainers to get it done. The problem? The clients are low on the priority list and get attention only when they have an announcement or press release - there is a lack ongoing strategy. So, if you have no "news" that month, you still pay the agency whether they dedicate any hours or not.

This is gym-membership PR, and it's lazy. Someone you know and trust recommends who should get your business and you sign up for a certain commitment (usually around a product launch or major announcement). You see early results, only to peak, get frustrated and stop seeing results all together... but the bills keep coming.

PR is all around us, you simply don't recognize it

Here's the good news. As there are thousands of gyms in the US, there are thousands of PR agencies - some good, some bad - and everyone has a different experience. The reason these discussions around bad PR are validating to hear is because what these founders and marketers were describing they need - bylined articles, a thought leadership strategy, educational resources and content creation - is actually PR and elements we use in media relations campaigns today. In other words, people do see value in PR, they simply don’t recognize what PR is today.

Good PR yields top-of-the-funnel awareness, tapping your prospects on the shoulder and turning them around for the first time. An agency focused on media relations has many tools in the toolbox to ensure meaningful press results are achieved for clients each and every month - whether they have an announcement or not - and these are some of those tools:

Bylined articles - Also known as contributed content or guest posts in the media, successful bylined articles help solve a problem for prospects and resonates with the target press' readers. The topics can be uncovered by hosting story-mining sessions with the executive team or repurposing existing content, including blog posts, ebooks and keynotes.

Thought leadership - A good PR agency partner can help uncover compelling topics to establish client executives as thought leaders - raising visibility and increasing credibility among stakeholders (customers, potential investors, etc.) you are looking to influence. This includes identifying and securing speaking opportunities, maintaining an industry analyst program and inserting expert commentary into breaking news.

Content Creation - If your agency is responsible for maintaining a thought leadership strategy and developing bylined article content, they have a strong understanding of your messaging, what resonates with the media and how to speak to your buying audience. Rely on your PR team to create additional content - including blog posts, infographics and data reports - that can work together as pitchable assets to the media, providing the press with multiple resources that point back to your website.

My ask to those founders and marketing leaders who are skeptical of PR or still maintain an old-school PR mentality: look around. Get out from behind the cloud of press releases. Public relations is all around you, in every media outlet you read and research report you download, and there are individuals and agencies out there that can help you see the light.

Lindsey Groepper is president of BLASTmedia.

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