Truth to Power: The Conversation

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As PR people, we all struggle now and then with helping a client accomplish their media goals.

A common misconception about PR people is that we can promote anything, like an alchemist creating gold out of thin air.

We are the conduit to the media, naïve clients will say, and thus should just call the desired media outlet (newspaper/magazine/TV network) and just tell them to run the story. “Put it in the paper,” they will say. I usually respond with an ad rate card.

The reality is that PR practitioners need what I call “story parts” in order to make the magic happen.

Maybe it’s the new product itself. Often it’s the tales of the person or people who created the product. It can also be about the people who use the product and have had their lives changed for the better. Or it’s a before-and-after idea, demonstrating an impact on a segment of the population, or a neighborhood or a school. And sometimes it’s all of these.

There are the elements of the story as well: visuals (photos, renderings, maps and artifacts) and interviews that make the piece workable for the reporter. Video is also good, as long as it’s not a blatant commercial.

But it starts with getting your client to invest in the process. Sometimes the story parts flow freely, and everyone’s on the same page: trading information, brainstorming ideas and coming to innovative and creative solutions. But some people just aren’t as familiar with what we live and breathe every day (which is why they are hiring you!). And so it’s your job to coax those story parts out of them, encourage them to share their thoughts, and hand over what you need to be successful on their behalf.

I once witnessed a colleague explain this challenge quite succinctly. As he spoke to what was shaping up to be a demanding and prickly client, he said “You may want to hire us because you think we’re really good. But I’m only as good as you are.” He went on to explain that if the client didn’t share information – good, bad, inspiring and obscure – that he wouldn’t have the story parts to meet the outlined goals of the media campaign. In the end, the client would be client frustrated, we would have spun our wheels for a few months, and we’d dissolve the relationship on a frustrating note. And then the client would have to start over, having wasted time, energy and money.

It’s a delicate balance – speaking truth to power – especially when that person has a direct impact on your bottom line. But that’s why you’re hired. You are a counselor first, hired for your knowledge and ability to navigate the media world.

And in the end, if we successfully educate our clients about the not-so-easy path to a killer earned media placement, the victory will be all the more satisfying – for PR person and client – when it does eventually happen.


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