Public Relations -- PR -- is a critical element of every company's marketing strategy. And technological evolutions are roiling PR just like they're roiling almost every other aspect of marketing -- and business.
Cheryl Snapp Conner is one of the smartest, hardest-working and nicest PR people I've met in more than 30 years of dealing with PR people. She's also the founder of Snapp Conner PR, "a specialized agency that provides all aspects of strategic and tactical PR execution for companies in the technology space." I thought she might have some useful thoughts about PR for those of you interested in such things...which should be everyone reading this. She in fact did and does. See below.
Q1: What is the single greatest challenge facing companies seeking publicity -- your clients -- today?
A1: I think the greatest challenge companies face is aligning the PR they seek with their greatest overall business objectives. But come to think of it, that's the same challenge they've been having for a very long time, so I would not say that it's new.
We sometimes open our PR clinics and presentations about "How to Stand Out in a Crowd" with a humorous photo -- a real, honest-to-goodness Internet CEO in the midst of a publicity stunt happening pretty close to Times Square. Unbeknownst to him but rather hilarious in hindsight is the fact that while he was performing that very stunt, a quiet company out of nowhere was doing its homework and working its way through the US with a story for every reporter who'd ever covered the topic that turned out to be his biggest competitive nightmare. That evening, when the "Washington Post" called him for comment he was caught flat-footed. By morning, the news about his competition had pretty well covered the world.
So -- yes, you can get attention by starting a political scandal, committing a highly visible crime or conducting a big publicity stunt, but is that really the kind of attention that will advance your business goals? With that in mind, the PR can get started. Education. Thought leadership. The kind of real-life business stories and solutions that are affecting millions of businesses and people told in a matter of fact and factual way, even with all the bumps and bruises, the way you would tell your story to a valued friend or associate. What did the solution cost? Who did I have to convince to engage it? If I had it to do again, what would I do differently in my implementation?
Think about the kinds of PR that are most closely akin to direct word of mouth. Case studies. Trend features. Reviews. Opinions and analysis from individuals who are knowledgeable and trusted on the particular topic. The locations and venues for the press should come together naturally after these key decisions are made.
Most companies think about PR as press releases that crow about great accomplishments and giant customer wins. In our opinion, the value of testimonial style PR is...not much. Make it real and find the ways to give your customers genuine due diligence and then put it in the places they can easily see.
Q2: What is the single greatest challenge facing providers of public relations services -- you and your team, and others in your business -- today?
A2: For PR providers, the landscape is changing so quickly, it's imperative that our methods keep up. For example, the SEO [search engine optimization] value in press releases and articles is imperative in ways that didn't even exist a few years ago. Our value add - the value of every organization like us - is strongly influenced by our ability to be savvy and smart and up to the minute about every PR strategy and tactic at hand. That would be our single biggest challenge.
Our next challenge, like everyone's is the fact that we are businesses and companies who are living and surviving in an extremely challenged economic environment today. We're being challenged to do more with [fewer resources]. The costs of benefits, rising taxes and availability of cash flow hits every kind of service organization especially hard. We have to be smarter than ever to surmount these challenges and continue to provide value that's up to the minute and indisputably worthwhile in every way that we can.
Q3: What do you see as the next "great leap forward" in publicity and public relations -- cultural, technological or otherwise?
A3: The next leap forward -- I actually see a number of leaps forward, but for us, one of the biggest is cultural and technology-related. Our own team is working right now on some new methods to use technology to take marketing/PR tools and savvy out through distributed companies to their dealers and deliver it to those dealers in a format they can quickly and simply interact with and use.
For example, a large public company we work with has the highest quality product in its industry sector, and enjoys solid distribution through its major retail partners. But it's greatest margins continue to come through its 380-plus dealers who are small, local companies who are excited to carry the company's products but are without a clue about how to conduct any type of PR. They have access to co-op dollars [money provided by the vendor to subsidize dealer advertising and marketing], but without the knowledge of what to do, with almost no exceptions, they let the co-op funds sit unused.
We're working on technology to deliver practical ideas to those business outlets through the devices they already use that give them ideas, templates and instructions that can practically implement themselves and produce new revenue immediately. That's both a cultural and a technology issue. Even these "down-home" local shops are now using the kinds of technology that can make this idea real and give these small and distributed businesses ways to succeed without needing a PR executive or an agency in order to grab onto the good results of PR.
An amazing number of people are receiving their information over mobile devices, and this is more than a content delivery issue. It affects every aspect of the way we influence people, the way we do business, and definitely on the kind of strategies and tactics we need for effective PR.
In spite of the challenges, there's never been a better time for PR. The field is ripe for all kinds of innovation. Stay tuned!
Cheryl knows what she's talking/writing about. If you still aren't sure, contact any of the clients listed at the Snapp Conner Web site. I've talked and worked with several of them through the years, and they uniformly think as highly of her as I do, and as you should. Do as I do whenever Cheryl offers guidance -- OBEY!! :-)
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