Unlike some other marketing tactics, PR can be endlessly complex. Look at something like search engine advertising, for example; everything there is quite straightforward. The keywords you should focus on, the platform you use, the way you measure results – it’s all clear from the beginning.
In contrast, PR is based on trial and error and trial again. The messages you use, the channels you focus on, the relationships you build; you will never be 100 percent certain that you have chosen the right strategy. There is one key element, however, that determines whether a campaign will succeed or fail. This is what I have learned in my nine years with LEWIS.
Hundreds of stories to tell
Let’s start at the beginning. During the kick-off period of a PR campaign we determine key messages and gather input. What are the announcements the company can make, what are the topics that we want to claim thought leadership on? With a bit of creativity, it’s easy to find hundreds of stories to tell. Not every story, however, will resonate equally well.
A general rule of thumb is that the less you talk about yourself, the more interesting a story will be to your audience. Now that is a challenge; after all, how will you create awareness for your brand while not mentioning it (or its products) too much? It is undeniably true that people like stories that are not focused on brands or products. Sure, a product release can be of interest from time to time, but in the long run it doesn’t add much to the image that people have of a brand.
The closer you can get to what gets people going, to the things that they are actually interested in, the more you will be able to grab their attention. Let’s call this the relevance paradox. When you are working on brand awareness, you try hard to get people to know your brand. However, since people probably haven’t heard of your brand yet, this means that they are probably not that interested in it that much either. Raising interest therefore requires claiming topics that your audience is interested in, which is not your brand or products. This is a vital element of PR during the awareness phase of the customer journey and one that is not easy to grasp, especially if you are not that experienced with PR.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there is one secret to dealing with this paradox. It’s this:
Be very conscious and concise about the unique added value of your organization and link that unique selling point to bigger trends.
Here’s an example.
In the tech industry, ‘digital transformation’ is a key topic for many vendors and IT consultants. Every tech company offers products and services that help clients to be successful in the digital age. What this has resulted in, is a content avalanche of blog posts, white papers and bylined articles that all basically say the same thing. Digital transformation is a challenge but offers opportunities; disrupt or die, now is the time to offer a seamless user experience, get started with big data, invest in Internet of Things, and so on.
Maybe it’s professional deformation, but I would label the majority of thought leadership around the digital transformation as me-too content, which is different from good content. Good content is either entertaining, opinionated or informing and it should always be unique. If the story you are telling doesn’t differ from what other tech companies have to say, it is not unique and probably not that opinionated either (only if you disagree with the general, professional opinion).
The bigger picture
If I could only give you one piece of PR advice, it would be this: step out of your daily routine and try to see the bigger picture. In what way is my organization and what it offers actually unique? How does that fit into the bigger picture?
Once this is taken care of, it is the foundation on which you will be able to build key messages and PR topics. It will also help to have a consistent message over time, instead of just jumping on the bandwagon every time a new hype is introduced.
If you run a successful business, there is something unique you have to offer. Use that uniqueness to become an expert in your field and dare to take a stand in it. Some people might disagree with what you have to say. Don’t be afraid of that. In fact, what most me-too content pieces have in common is that they are so general that no one would take issue with them. Bland is not a good strategy to grab audience attention because they too have already read the same tepid viewpoints and therefore can’t be bothered.
Find your uniqueness, use it to interpret the world as it is now and as it’s going to be. Start with that and the rest will follow.