What Does a PR Person Do All Day?

The PR person’s job is probably one of the most misunderstood jobs of all. No, we don’t go to parties every night, we don’t “spin” tall tales to reporters, and we don’t slap backs at fundraisers and festivals to appear part of the “in” crowd (though we aren’t above shaking hands and introducing ourselves to anyone we feel needs to hear our clients’ stories). The other day I decided to log a day-in-the-life of a PR person, namely my day. Here is what it looked like:

In one day, between reading, sorting and replying to no less than 75 e-mails and receiving several phone calls, I:

  • Started a PR plan for a client’s new communications program.
  • Wrote a script for a workshop I was to co-deliver with a client on the new messaging we helped them craft.
  • Held 2 one-hour conference calls with 2 separate clients – one to strategize on an upcoming event and the other as part of our monthly check-in how things are going.
  • Had coffee with someone wanting to get into PR.
  • Took a quick, 30 minute peek at Twitter-Facebook-Pinterest-RSS feeds.
  • Wrote a press release, including having 2 phone calls with the client to “get it just right.”
  • Talked with 3 reporters, requesting one correction and setting up two interviews.
  • Counseled  one of my consultants about a media strategy that wasn’t going well.
  • Developed a report for a client’s upcoming Board of Director’s meeting.
  • Completed a message “audit” of one (out of 6) competitors for a client in preparation of an upcoming messaging session.

In essence, I wrote, researched and talked all day with a focus on preparing and getting out client’s stories to the right people, with a little bit of smoothing wrinkled brows when things didn’t go as planned. Not exactly a party, but rather what it takes to make progress in the game of influencing.


Yet Another Part of Today’s Communications Plan: Choosing the Right Channels

This series exploring each section of the contemporary communications plan has forced me to think deeply about the way the world of image, reputation and visibility has changed in the last few years. One of the greatest changes has been in the number and quality of communication channels.

When broadband made audio and video possible, and platforms such as Facebook and YouTube became widely used, the communications game changed. Now, if it was possible, it was expected. We quickly learned we had to use (or at least explore) those channels or be left behind by competition or find the users themselves taking over the conversation about our companies, people and brands.

But, it also is not possible to do everything. How do you know where to put your energy?

Your choice of channel depends on who you are trying to reach, naturally. But, your decisions also must take into account your appetite and ability to manage interactive discussions, the complexity of your stories and messaging, and your capacity for developing content.

Now that the world has gotten used to such a rich and robust communications environment, it is a good time to pause and think. Which channels actively engage your audience in the way that you need and that will have active influence? (Active influence means you are causing a change and subsequent action. Passive influence means you may introduce them to new thinking but it doesn’t cause them to act – yet).

Three things to think about:

1. Start with the basics. Consider how your audience likes to get information. Through video, like YouTube? Via graphics, like infographics? Through editorial, such as peer-reviewed journals, traditional editorial media or other? Experientially, such as demonstrations at trade shows? From experts, like attending panels, speeches and other speaking venues? From their peers?

2. Make a list of all the channels that are possible. Traditional media outlets (trade, business, consumer), social media channels, industry trade shows and speaking venues, like TED, community events, and organizations, special events (that you organize), direct mail, e-mail, books, and more.

3. What do these channels require to be effective for you? Robust content in the right form and the right amount of interaction is key to making a channel work well. Be realistic about your capacity and resources. Identify where you may need more or where there are opportunities to remerchandise existing content.

This section does not need to cover every channel you may end up using. But, it should give some direction as to where you are going to spend your time and give guidance around what you will need to produce and manage.

The Modern Communications Plan: Strategies and Tactics

Continuing our series on building a modern communications plan, below we discuss choosing strategies and tactics to meet your goals and objectives.

I’ve heard it said one man’s strategy is another man’s tactic. For the purpose of this post, strategy is the “how” or way in which you are going to go about reaching goals and the tactics are the “what” or specific activities.

This section in your communications plan outlines the main strategies you will employ and why. For instance, strategies we often engage include media relations, social media blitzes, trade shows and special events, speaking engagements, publishing, community relations, executive visibility and branding, and more. These activities are entire programs with many moving parts or activities to engage in.

Choosing the appropriate strategies comes from knowing deeply who you are trying to communicate to. Knowing what they care about and what already influences them is key to choosing a strategy that will readily reach them.

For instance, if your audience attends industry events often – and makes decisions because of them – having a strong trade show and special event strategy would be wise. If your audience responds to authority figures and craves direction and guidance from leaders, perhaps elevating your executives via an executive reputation management and branding strategy is the way to go. Your strategy decisions should be well informed by your audience.

But in today’s world, you also need to see how your strategies work together. For instance, what occurs or results from one strategy can benefit another strategy. So, if you determine trade shows and traditional and social media are strategies to use, what can occur at the trade show to provide fodder for the media work? Can you see video taping media interviews, panel presentations and customer interactions to provide content for your social media channels?  Seeing the ties is important to ensure you are being efficient, remerchandising original content across several channels, utilizing spokespeople strategically and making sure all communications channels are working together.

Main Tactics
This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis to move the communications effort forward. If media relations is part of your strategy mix, then how are you going to go about executing that program? Pitch story ideas, make announcements (and what kind and how often?) via press releases, attempt editorial coverage in trade media or the business press or other? Will you need an internal editorial calendar to motivate internal staff to contribute?

The tactical section informs the resources needed and timeline you must employ. Get as detailed as you believe you need to, depending on the size and characteristics of your communications execution team. Some people need a detailed road map, while others do not. Regardless, put at least the highest level tactics into a master calendar.

Know some strategies are not easily predicted, such as media relations and social media efforts. They are iterative in nature and require your ability to be agile and act on unforeseen results. For instance, you may issue some news and find 12 target media outlets interested in the story. You may have to drop everything to handle the interest. Or, you may find you’ll have to push your stories and messages harder than first anticipated. Build in some room in your timeline to manage the level of success (or failure) that is reached.

Tomorrow we will discuss choosing main communications channels.

Step 1 of the Modern Communications Plan: Vision and Desired Achievements

Yesterday I offered a template for a modern day communications plan. If you haven’t refreshed your plan in the last 18 months, you may want to consider doing so.

I will blog about each section in the coming days. First up is identifying your vision and desired accomplishments. Also developing a list of goals and objectives is important. Determining these upfront will ground your planning and execution and ensure communications programs result in what you want and need.

With communications, an end is never truly reached. It is an ongoing effort. But, when do you know you’ve arrived at a place where you can say it is working? Write up your vision for the communications effort. Once reach, influence and action is obtained from your communications, what is the big result? What is the reputation and image you want to develop?

A good result of a communications effort for a nonprofit organization might be to reach “go to” status on all things related to their cause. For a business, it may be developing a level of authority or be seen as the most customer friendly of all competition. Regardless, name the reputation and image you want to have resulting from the effort. This segment of the plan keeps everyone on the same page and working toward the same status, character and standing in your market or industry. It is grounding.

Our Greatest Accomplishment
By listing a Greatest Accomplishment you are essentially telling everyone there is a specific goal you want to reach that will illustrate when you have “arrived.” What is the “holy grail” achievement that would show your influence is working?

An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to have introduced a new idea. For some businesses, getting on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (in a positive light, of course) is seen as the ultimate success. Whatever it is, give everyone something to strive for that is concrete and achievable. It is motivating.

Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the Greatest Accomplishment. What are the mile markers that show you are making things happen and are headed in the right direction?

Goals are milestones to reach, likes steps on a giant communications ladder. They include things such as number of followers, fans, likes and engagement levels from audience members. Other goals might be getting published, having so much traffic at a trade show booth, and holding a certain number of events to positive acclaim and more.

Objectives are things you create, such as sparking new conversations, new ways of thinking, and new levels of status and standing. Other examples include moving from proactively pitching the media to having the media reach out to you for commentary or being asked to be a guest blogger regularly. Regardless, list them as specifically as you can. It will keep the plan “working.”

On Monday, I’ll delve deeper into the Target Audience section.

5 Great Articles on Storytelling and Messaging You Should Read today

If you are like me, you are indundated with media. Who has time to read or view everything? Below are five excellent, recent articles on the topic of storytelling, positioning and messaging. If you can take 30 minutes to read these five, you will be well on your way to better communication.

1. From Fortune magazine. Why You Should Cool it With the Corporate Jargon

2. From Forbes magazine. Why Leadership Storytelling is Important

3. From Open Forum, American Express’s small business portal. The 7 Deadly Sins of Business Storytelling

4. From ZDNet,  A meaningful customer experience starts with good communication. Good Storytelling and Why “Commodity” is a State of Mind

5. From Financial Times, why CEOs should learn to tell stories. Fables for Board Tables

The Difference Between Storytelling and Messaging

Storytelling and messaging are two different communication disciplines. But, you need both to ensure communications effectiveness.

According to the National Storytelling Association, storytelling is “the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical  movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, messaging is a communication in writing, in speech, or by signals.

Those are good starts in understanding the difference. But, there is more.

The trend in storytelling for corporate and nonprofit work is on the rise. There is a good reason. After all, who doesn’t love a good story? It makes whatever you are seeking to communicate interesting and sometimes even entertaining. “Messaging” on the other hand has gotten a bad rap with many people in the business and nonprofit world believing it is old-school, 1960s Madison Avenue hype where a company makes up what they want people to believe. Maybe bad messaging is that. But, good messaging is far from the old days of marketing manipulation. (See our formula for a powerful message.)

Messaging — the craft of determining what you want to communicate very specifically — is equally important to storytelling.

While stories give a framework or environment for what you are trying to communicate, messages are clear, specific thoughts on what you are seeking to deliver. To sum up, stories give context while messages provide a conclusion.

Conclusions are important. I recently worked with a company comprised of engineers. They were great at giving you all the data and backstory. In other words, they were terrific at telling the story of how they came up with their new technology. The trouble was they assumed whoever they were speaking to would arrive at the same conclusion they had. Some good messaging was needed to support their storytelling.

By all means, use storytelling for your communications endeavors. But, don’t forget the messaging. Again, storytelling adds interest to how you got where you are. But, let your audience know when they’ve arrived. Give them the ending with good solid messaging.