January 19, 2016

By Harriet Scott

PR is not just about landing coverage or increasing brand awareness. It is actually just as much about educating clients.

Educating brand and marketing people, who on the whole (with some exceptions) have very little idea of how news publications, radio stations or the online media operate.

This is exactly why they have hired us. So that we, the expert, can advise on how to transform the brand and the key messages into a deliverable and fantastic news story, a successful radio day or a shareable video.

But trying to encourage brand people to STEP AWAY FROM THE BRAND and understand what the public want to consume, discuss and share is actually, the most crucial and challenging part of the job.

I have lost count of the times I have heard a PR exclaim; “we are really trying to get the client to “buy-in” to our idea.”

Sadly, in many cases, “buy-in” doesn’t happen and the PR is left with a dead idea. It is actually probably safe to say that, each year, the PR industry produces thousands of ideas which never actually got signed off.

Many of these were probably brilliant, creative master pieces which just fell by the wayside. Potential page-lead newspaper coverage, down the drain. A great social idea, dead in the water.

“Just all part of the pitch process” I hear you say. “You win some you lose some, right?”.

I think most definitely, wrong.

Because in so many instances, the PR team ends up agreeing to an idea the client actually HAS “bought into” – and largely, this is an idea that reeks of the brand so pungently, it never stood a cat in hells chance of landing.

But we went along with it because “the client will not be told” – or “the client has very set ideas of what kind of story they want to get out there”.

So who is the expert here? Who is advising who?

Don’t get me wrong. A great story with no link back or relevance to the brand is a pointless PR exercise. But there has to be some middle ground. We have to be able to find a balance. Only then have we done our job properly.

We will never keep a client by saying yes, because by saying yes, we are, in the long term, failing them. Sometimes we must bite the bullet and say – no – actually, you’re wrong.

I cannot think of one long-standing client of mine (some of them spanning ten years or more) that I have not said “no” to on more than one occasion.

We must be able to prove to clients that the way we want to do it will work – and explain what the media are looking for.

We must be able to effectively advise and educate our clients if we are looking for long term relationships.

And when setting ridiculously high KPIs, the client must be made aware of what is and isn’t realistic in terms of something which is not advertorial, but editorial.

In a nutshell – if you want an advert, pay for an advert!

This is not an easy conversation to have, but knowledge and experience help. And most importantly, we need to grow some bigger balls.

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