By Julie Wright, President
Albert Einstein quipped that genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration. My formula for PR genius is very similar; however, it includes equal parts sweat and influence. Or, as I like to put it: one part legwork, one part arm-twisting and a dash of brilliance.
With advertising or direct mail, you can control who sees your message, where they see it and when. You can apply metrics to gauge how many times an ad needs to run before the target really notices it, or how many thousands of recipients need to receive an offer before the desired number take action.
But PR pros are in the business of ‘earning’ media coverage and generating positive word of mouth. Let’s just say that a lot of things have to align in the time and space continuum to achieve PR success. Therefore, we sweat the details, probably more so than most other marketing specialties!
Whether the campaign bombs or soars in the end will come down to how well all of our messaging, storytelling, pitching and spokespeople worked to influence the opinions and actions of others.
And here’s another old saw: “you can control everything but the weather and other people.”
Our creativity (that dash of brilliance) can set our client’s message apart and ensure a compelling story that captures attention and generates interest.
But we can’t be truly successful unless we sufficiently influence the client to endorse our approach, the campaign spokesperson to adopt the right messages and get the story across, the targeted reporters to cover it and, ultimately, the readers or viewers who must connect with the content in a way that changes their perceptions or prompts an action.
When we get the formula right and our ideas, effort and influence come together, the return on investment is tremendous with people often amplifying our client’s message through shares, likes, Tweets and yet more media coverage, invitations to speak and positive word of mouth.
With so much riding on our ability to influence other people’s behaviors and actions, what are some of the ways we work to influence our clients, campaign spokespeople, media and our target audiences?
Communicate with Clients
Clients may be the toughest to influence. Start by clarifying their objectives for the campaign or project. What would they consider ‘success’? Next, manage their expectations. They need to know what it will take to achieve their idea of success with a timeline, budget and strategies. Keep clients informed of project status – they should never have to come to you for an update. If you’ve managed expectations, are moving ahead with the project in a manner consistent with the expectations you set for the client and are proactively communicating with them, you are building a platform of trust. And, ultimately, you can only influence your client if you have their trust.
Understand the Role of a Spokesperson
Campaign spokespeople need to be provided with messaging that is short, easy to recall and relevant. When everyone agrees to the key messages in advance, all press materials, interviews and presentations can flow efficiently and consistently from that point forward. For inexperienced spokespeople, media training and ongoing coaching and feedback helps them improve. For members of the agency team that do not have experience in a spokesperson role or as media having interviewed numerous spokespeople to know what’s effective and what’s not, it’s recommended they seek out volunteer opportunities either by joining a nonprofit’s committee or freelancing for news outlets. Expert spokespeople like scientists or technologists, who are unable to speak in layman’s terms, pose a unique challenge. Pre-interview them and ask “what does that mean?” every time they use jargon, and when they make a point ask “why is that important to people?” Eventually, they’ll start telling their story in a manner that’s accessible to people outside of the lab. There are many resources where you can study and read about media interview and presentation best practices.
Get to Know the Media
Knowing how reporters work, what kinds of stories they’ve covered in the past (hint: read their stuff) and plan to cover in the future (hint: ask them), and how to be responsive and accurate in fulfilling any of their requests for information, will go a long way to building your influence with this group. Knowing your client’s business sufficiently well so that you can answer background questions reporters might need answered before they’ll commit to a story is also essential. In today’s electronic era, also know how to write a short email subject line that contains the pitch’s news hook. Be able to set up your client’s story in one sentence and back it up with a few key details. And use hyperlinks rather than long scrolling messages.
The subject of influencing these three groups – clients, spokespeople and reporters – are blog posts in their own right, but the tips offered here should help. Ultimately, influencing target audiences is as close to a three-word definition of the entire public relations profession as you’re ever going to get, so I would need to write a book to expand on that topic. And I’m too busy sweating, arm-twisting and thinking about client projects for that!