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Can Your PR Program Crossover to the Mainstream Business Media?

Copyright 2003 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

In the music business, there is a category known as ‘crossover' - this is a category of hit music that ‘crosses over' from a specific genre to becoming a mainstream hit - examples are reggae (Bob Marley), smooth jazz (Sade) and Cajun (Beausoleil). In a similar sense - if you want to get the most value from your public relations effort - it pays to look for a ‘crossover' appeal to the mainstream business media. Just as crossover music has a distinctive rhythm and beat, your crossover PR has to have distinctive customer experiences and business solutions. Here's what to look for, and how to ‘cross over'.

A starting point for demonstrating the power of crossover PR may be considered to be Steve Jobs and Apple computer in the early 80's. Personal computers were, at that time, a niche-level hobbyist pursuit. Jobs was on a Time magazine cover in early 80's, which touted the impact of personal computers. According to what I was told by someone who was an IBM manager at their Boca Raton facility at the time (where they supposedly had 20 different prototype PC configurations running various operating systems) - the IBM CEO's reaction, upon seeing the Time magazine cover - was that they would introduce a PC in six months. This development schedule required going outside IBM for the CPU and operating system. The Intel and Microsoft industry dominance resulted from this initial decision - all of which was a result of some initial crossover PR.

The push to provide breathless reporting on industry events in the 80's and 90's quickly outstripped the available talent that could develop crossover insights. In the years following, conventional PR practices (renamed "high-tech") took over, eventually resulting in content-free pabulum and fawning articles on absurd company valuations, business models (the so-called "new economy") and rock star-type executive profiles.

The high-tech PR frenzy reached its zenith with the Internet bubble - climaxing with the stock market hitting an all-time high in March, 2000. Since then, there has a been a backlash against conventional "high tech" PR practices ("I don't want any hype," a CEO remarked to me in an off-handed comment recently as we discussed the innovations his company was making in their industry, and how to best present them.)

The reason that conventional "high tech" PR was unable to adjust to the changing economy and post-Internet bubble market conditions is that much of conventional PR is activity-based - which concentrates on generating indistinguishable press releases and other mundane material, sleepwalking media tours, publicity gimmicks, content-free executive and customer quotes and the occasional customer experience narrative that, if they exist at all, are very few and weak in content. These procedures are deadly for any topic, technology or company that requires translation and understanding. These PR activities also depend on the media to develop the insights and craft the story - capabilities that these days in the media are few and far between (most senior editors and journalists have been laid off and senior-level freelancer writers can't get work) - except in the largest national media or very specific trade journals. The large media are pre-occupied with the Fortune 500 companies. Or if you want, the Fortune 2000. So if you are one of the other 10 million businesses in this country - you're not on their radar screen.

Conversely, a crossover PR program has the goal of created greater pre-sales understanding of the company by effectively translating and communicating the customer experiences, business solutions offered and your competitive distinction. It does not depend on the media to provide that translation or those insights, but rather approaches them with this material and knowledge in hand. Because of that, a crossover PR program can also be directed at an end audience (potential customers) because it eliminates the need for the media to translate critical information. Hence, crossover PR program material is eminently suitable for web deployment and use in sales support.

Crossover PR also supports the media's purposes because a journalist can easily work with well-crafted materials, using the message essentially "as-is" if they want (Which is the case much more than you might suspect. Just look at how much media coverage these days is redundant - you'll see the same story a half-dozen times.). Or they can recast it in slightly different direction, or perhaps picking up on specific aspect.

Just how can you create a crossover PR program for your company? Here are a few tips:

Adjust the Thinking - Utilize Process-Based PR

Much of conventional PR activities are based on the ‘spaghetti' principle - throw enough against the wall and something will stick. The problem with this is that you dilute your message and it will eventually be filtered out. Conversely, a process-based program has a specific goal and a process to attain that goal.

All Material Should Articulate Clear Business Goals and Solutions

Much of corporate public relations materials is content-free, and what isn't often talks around issues rather than addresses them head on. In other words, if someone were to read it, the material raises more questions than it answers. Any material that is disseminated should be read with the intent of being as tight and economical as possible - because it considers the reader and that gives it a better chance of being read.

Articulate Your Customers' Experiences

Let's face it - when you approach the media, what you have to say is secondary to what your customers have to say. If you don't have several customers lined up to go, and documented - then back off any program until you do. Because it is - guaranteed - the first thing the media will ask for, assuming you arouse their interest. If you can't deliver - right then and there - go back to square one.

Maintain Situational Awareness - Craft Your Narrative in Terms of Industry Reality

In aviation, there is a phrase - situational awareness - which means that you need to be aware of the situation around you. In PR - this is the industry, technology, market, economy and world events that are happening as we speak. The more you know about what is going on, and the more you craft your message in terms of that reality, the better your chances at exposure. Unfortunately, most companies spend a lot of time on internal discussions or with their heads down - which is why I have often found that their sales people are the best sources of information - they have to deal with reality every day.

Use the Written Word (Not the Oral Tradition).

In dealing with the media and sales prospects and other audiences - good, solid documentation will carry the day - every time. Depending on verbal recounting, either for your dealings with the media or expecting customers to give the kind of references you want each and every time they are called - is simply an act of faith. Get it in writing - once - then leverage it to the maximum extent possible.

Crossover PR helped start the PC revolution - and is still a valid technique for you to use to reach out from your world into someone else's (such as the media who normally doesn't cover, or understand - your industry.) But you can't use conventional PR practices for crossover PR. A dedicated, process-based crossover PR program is necessary if you want to be successful.

© 2003, Jeffrey P. Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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