A good PR campaign is easy to spot. It effectively builds a relationship between the company (or person) and its target demographic. It is memorable and leaves a lasting impression. It doesn’t have to be provocative or evocative; some of the best PR campaigns are simple in focus in scope.
Sometimes, though, a PR campaign fails to deliver results and it may be difficult to understand why. PR campaigns can fall short for many reasons. Sometimes there are blunders made in the planning phase, while other times human error in execution may be to blame. Yet, there may be more fundamental reasons that good companies may launch PR campaigns with the best of intentions that fail to deliver on their promise.
Sometimes when all is said and done, the biggest mistake companies (or people) can make in PR is in how they approach it.
In my years in PR, from my days as an account representative to the present day as Founder and CEO of a specialty PR firm, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in PR campaigns. Ideas that I thought would pan out have sometimes not, and approaches I thought were completely misguided unexpectedly hit home. Along the way, I have also observed some common mistakes people and companies make in how they think about their PR efforts.
No. 1: Think Local … Act Global?
We all want to strike gold with our PR efforts, and to many, that means getting big time national exposure. However, while its ideal to get placement on the national news, getting a local reporter to cover the opening of your business or the launch of your product can be just as effective.
Why? Because local market press has the pulse on your local community, and your local community is your direct consumer base. It is a mistake to ignore the power of local media, and for that matter, online outlets, trade media, and blogs. A lot of people watch the local news; they wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a built-in audience. So why not take advantage of the PR channels that may exist in your own backyard?
I have heard a lot of people dismiss the power of trade outlets, but the same sentiment hold for these outlets: they exist because there is a market. At their core, trade publications exist because people have an innate desire to learn about and improve at their chosen profession. Placing an educational piece in a trade publication may be just the ticket to growing name recognition and trust with your end user.
No. 2: The Wisdom of Knowing Nothing
There is a quote that has been attributed to Socrates that says “I only know one thing: that I know nothing.” For centuries, scholars have debated whether this line is actually attributable to the ancient Greek philosopher. Nevertheless, whether those words were spoken by Socrates or not, there is wisdom in admitting the limits of one’s own knowledge. And when it comes to PR, one of the fatal mistakes a company can make is failing to listen to the advice of the PR agency it has hired. Simply put, if you hire a team of experts to help and guide your PR efforts, you must be willing to listen to their advice.
Of course, the PR team must build trust and demonstrate competence. But once that is established, the PR team should be relied on for counsel and expertise. If the company feels it cannot abide the counsel of its PR team, then one of two issues is at stake: either the PR team does not understand the needs of the company, or, more dangerously, the company fails to have an open mind about its PR efforts. And if it’s the latter, then it may be wise to keep in mind the words of another famous thinker, Abraham Lincoln, when he reflected on the foolhardy practice of refusing the advice of counsel in a court of law.
“He who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client.”
No. 3: The Veruca Salt Complex
Fans of the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” will recognize the name Veruca Salt as the bratty little girl who had her daddy cheat to find her a golden ticket. Once inside the famous eponymous chocolate factory, she danced around the room filled with golden geese, gleefully singing, “I want the world, and I want it now.”
Of course, we all know what happened next. Veruca’s untimely exit from the factory tour was meant to be a cautionary tale for viewers about greed (it also led to an amazing Oompa Loompa song segment, but I digress). But there may be something companies can learn about PR from this fun little scene:
It’s great to shoot for the moon. Go ahead and desire the world. But you may not get it all at once.
PR campaigns often fail because companies want to launch out and do local and national consumer direct-to-consumer education while also focusing on trade and supporting those efforts with a strong social media and digital campaign. Only problem is, each of those approaches requires a well thought out and calculated effort. And if you try to do it all at once, you likely will not have the tools to manage it all at once. You are simply setting yourself up for failure if you tax the people running your campaign with having to manage multiple communication channels at once. Even if you have the infrastructure to build messaging in all arenas at once, it still may not be advisable to jump into everything all at the same time. A step-wise approach may be more prudent (and it can be more strategic). Or, pick a communication platform you know you will succeed in and focus there, then decide whether to grow and expand efforts based on how well you did with the initial approach.
Summing It All Up
There is no formula to a good PR campaign. It is equal parts art and science. Although there are certain PR principles that help foster success, there is often a need to shape and build a campaign in the context of the company (or individual) who is the focus, and to adapt the focus to the target audience. Success or failure often hinges on whether the concept is good or whether the execution was carried out. But more often than not, the reason good companies put out bad PR is that they have unreasonable, outsized, or misguided notions about what PR can do for them.