After spending almost a third of my life working at PR agencies I left feeling really unimpressed with the PR and marketing machine. I had essentially spent the bulk of my professional career surrounded by Pete Campbells–salesy individuals without a creative bone in their body. I myself am a Don Draper –minus the womanizing and boozing … I guess that actually makes me more of a Peggy. Let’s go with that. Regardless, I am a creative. I see storylines and potential in everything I touch. I get inspiration walking down the street. Doing things by the rules is boring to me and some of the most successful campaigns I have been apart of have been working with other creative souls. Being safe never did me any favors and my clients have all loved me for it.
The PR industry is about dollars and cents and I’m not talking about making you (the client) money–Although a win-win is we are both wildly successful and make boatloads of cash. PR agencies are about getting as much money as possible from you, producing sub-standard work and trying to put you or your product in a box. Replicating past results is the name of the game.
Agency culture is all about being overworked and underappreciated. Your PR team is probably worked to the bone and basically executing every campaign on automatic just to get through the billing cycle. Campaign strategy is ultimately looked at more like a formulaic science versus a creative art. Unfortunately the formula on how to do things is old and outdated.
Just to give you a look behind the curtain, this is the standard PR campaign formula:
You have a product or company you want to launch. The date is set, press release is written and shared with select press under embargo. Your agency sets up pre briefings prior to the press release “going on the wire” and a release time is set so all of the news stories hit around the same time. Sometimes you will plan all of this around an event like CES, SXSW, Comic-Con or what have you.
Let’s take a second to dissect and digest this.
First – Why a press release? I feel like I have been making this argument on deaf ears for at least five years. Press releases are archaic. You’re a cutting edge start-up or about to change the world with your groundbreaking product or announcement? Why do the same old thing? Press releases are the equivalent to wearing khaki on casual Fridays. STOP it. Think outside of the box or pressure your PR rep / team to think of something new. Not to mention that putting out a press release is a huge waste of time and resources. You need them to show your investors you have news? Wouldn’t your investors praise creativity and ingenuity over the dullness of the same old thing?
Second – Let’s stop with the embargos. The press hate them and they cause nothing but unneeded stress. In the past I would use them as way to try to get as much press interest as possible prior to a launch date. What I was really doing was baiting and switching the press. I would be mindful not to mention how many other people I was talking to. Granted I would never burn anyone by saying they had an exclusive, but it did feel a bit like I was lying by omission. I hate lying or feeling like I am trying to trick someone. This was my ethical dilemma with PR for years. Also, this method may have worked five years ago, but times have changed. Journalists are way busier and just don’t have time for the traditional PR-press dance. Embargos mean jack to them because 7 out of 10 PR people who contact them are full of shit and bad at their jobs, so why should they honor an embargo? What about the idea of quality over quantity when it comes to media relations and outreach? It should be more about relationship management versus getting as much coverage as possible.
Third – Let’s take a step back and just look at the way we communicate. It has changed drastically in the last 8 years. The smartphone has changed everything. People text, tweet, snap, post. Why has PR not evolved with this change? Why is the industry still insisting on doing the same tired thing? I have worked with HUGE companies and know that it is hard to move the rock in a new direction with them, but I think there is a lot of value in trying to move the needle with anyone you can at any opportunity. No PR campaign should come from a cookie cutter. Your product and company is a snowflake, it’s a one of a kind, shouldn’t your PR campaign reflect that?
This is a new era. PR campaigns should be creative, relevant and effective. You should not just make waves with your news, but in how you get the news out.