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Losing the Battle for Mindshare: A Guide to Ineffective PR

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

One of the biggest benefits of public relations is in the battle for mindshare (media visibility and market understanding) in the marketplace. Rather interestingly, many companies that think they have satisfactory public relations programs in place are losing this battle - for a number of reasons that may surprise you (and them.)

Let's take a look at two case studies and then a look at the reasons, ranging from a strategic perspective down to certain implementation aspects, that explain why the battle for mindshare is being lost.

I recently received a copy of an aviation publication (I'm a weekend pilot and flight instructor) that had a major feature on avionics (the navigation and communications electronics that are in an airplane.) As I flipped through the issue, I paid attention to one or two vendors that I am familiar with. One in particular concentrates on leading-edge designs and applications. If you were to visit their web site, you would think they issue a press release each week. Upon close reading, the releases only talk about new products, new product features or vendor alliances. Rather interestingly, they had lost the battle for editorial and visual coverage in this special section on avionics. In fact, one of their competitors received major editorial coverage, even though the author of the article acknowledge that product was a generation behind in its technology!

In another example, I was recently solicited for a contribution to an e-book on consulting. (The guide - Become a Management Consultant I was highly responsive to the author, and generous in providing examples and also supplemental, custom commentary during the seven-month process. When I received a copy of the completed book, I found that my contributions were used verbatim - and also received substantial exposure. Out of curiosity, I looked for the names of some other consultants who have been widely published. I looked for one consultant in particular because I happened to come across his web site recently. If you were to believe his promotional material (which he distributes aggressively in addition to writing, speaking and giving many seminars), you would think he's known worldwide and his name is on the tip of everyone's tongue. Rather interestingly, I found no mention of him at all in the book!

Here are two widely disparate examples - but both demonstrate that in spite of what would appear to be a comprehensive public relations program, the failure to obtain mindshare in some significant venues.

In reviewing a public relations program, it's not always obvious if the program has the tell-tales of effectiveness. As a marketing consultant and accredited public relations professional, I've learned to look for certain traits that will give an indication that the program probably isn't going to get the desired results. It's not rocket science, but you have to know what to look for. Here are the reasons, from a strategic perspective down to certain implementation aspects - that explain why the battle for mindshare is being lost through ineffective public relations.

Failure to Understand the Role That Public Relations Plays

This occurs far more often than one would suspect. In order to understand the role that public relations plays in the overall marketing architecture, you have to understand marketing, which means that you have to understand sales, or the sales process. It is given that if the executives don't understand their sales process, they don't understand the role that public relations plays in supporting that process. Public relations can play many roles, but for the vast major of companies, the role is to help the bottom line - that is, get more sales. So a quick check on how well the company manages, or understands, their sales process will usually tell you how effective their public relations will be. Conversely, if their public relations is ineffective, they probably have a similarly weak grasp of their sales process. Not for nothing is the average tenure of a high-tech sales executive about 22 months. And that speaks more to the CEO's grasp of the sales process than the given skill level of any sales VP.

Believing That Press Releases Are "PR"

That is like believing that knowing how to use a rake will make you a good gardener. Using a tool is no more than that - knowing how to use a tool. Whether you get the desired end results depends on many additional factors, such as your work plan, the other tools you have (or don't have) and your overall skill at using the given tools. More than a few press releases are content-free, and are so pedestrian and mundane it is doubtful that they have been reviewed by the senior executives. If company management can't be bothered reading the releases, what makes them think anyone else will be interested? After all - it's their company. It's like sending out a form letter that you don't even read and expecting someone to be interested in it. Not hardly.

Not Understanding that Translation is Required

Just about every industry has a certain type of industry terminology or knowledge that is taken for granted by people who work in that industry. However, once you move to groups that are outside of those cognoscenti, the understanding of those terms, relationships and that specific industry knowledge falls off rapidly. This is especially true for proprietary technology. This is why many public relations programs require translation for a larger audience, an audience who does not possess that ‘insider' understanding. This is also why, when reading releases or interviews, is it glaringly obvious that translation has not been done. So what happens when your audience doesn't understand you or your message, or has to work too hard to develop that understanding? They simply tune out both you and your message.

Lack of Usage and Benefit Visualization

The biggest single component to effective communication, and not surprisingly, sales, marketing and public relations, is visualization. If a prospect or message recipient can quickly and accurately visualize what is it is that you're trying to get across - then you are most of the way there to accomplishing your objective. They will either respond and engage or say ‘no thank you'. In either case, the response lets you concentrate on those you should be engaging with - which is the definition of effectiveness.

Failure to Provide What the Media or Market Wants

This falls into two areas - inadequate content and/or lack of responsiveness. Many public relations programs lack adequate content - they don't anticipate and answer obvious and typical questions about the product, services or offerings, they fail to acknowledge the competitive environment, they use trite and hackneyed language ("...the leading vendor of..."), and in general, don't provide adequate or through information to an interested party. The second omission is a lack of responsiveness. There are two dimensions to this - a poor web site that doesn't have the information needed, or adequate contact information (such as, which makes it difficult to get information if there is a deadline involved, and then not responding when a query is made. For example, replying days or weeks after an inquiry is received. In an article about media coverage some time ago, several business reporters for major media publications were interviewed and they were asked why Donald Trump always got so much exposure - "Because he returns calls," they all answered in unison.

No Specific Accountability, Responsibility or Performance Metrics for the PR Program

It's something of a truism that if you want to get something done, especially in a corporation, you have to make someone responsible for it and hold them accountable. In many organizations, public relations is an ‘orphan child' - often it is a secondary task and no one person is clearly responsible for it, or they do not have any authority to say or do anything, other than the routine administrative tasks - e.g. writing the content-free releases, getting sign-off and then distributing them. This is the public relations version of sleep walking. And like sleepwalking, you may bump into something every once in a while, but that's about it. The same is true if an agency is retained but not given specific direction, benchmarks, milestones and accountability (which implies that the executive they report to has an understanding of the role of public relations.) Millions of dollars went down the tubes on ineffective public relations during the dot-com era as a result of this approach. The public relations cluelessness index during that time period was off the scale.

Public relations is a highly effective tool to support sales and marketing objectives. However, it must be directed by someone who understands the role it plays in the marketing architecture, and the elements of effective public relations. Simply going through the motions isn't enough. That effort simply makes your program a PR hologram - you're there, but you're not really there.

© 2002, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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