PR Insider: Methods May Change, But Core Tenets Do Not

Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher

One of the most effective attention-grabbing tricks in marketing circles is to declare the death of certain tried and true best practices. In the world of PR, we’ve seen proclamations that run the gamut from “PR is dead” to “the death of the news release.”

A more subtle approach involves recasting an established process under the guise of a new methodology. A case in point is the traction surrounding “storytelling.” This back-to-the-future concept espouses the elimination of mind-numbing corporate-speak in favor of more captivating short story techniques. The theory is that great storytelling better informs, educates and entertains attention-challenged editors with the additional advantage of even greater signal strength made possible by the vast and immediate reach of social media distribution channels.

As a PR practitioner of high tech PR for over 25 years, I have to chuckle at the spin-doctors spinning their own craft. “Storytelling” is not new. It’s a foundational skill set of any good PR agency, especially in high technology where I like to point out, “you can’t advocate what you don’t understand.” Humanizing arcane technology and communicating its inherent business case benefits takes a special talent in PR. That means articulating a customer problem, identifying a differentiated solution and communicating a tangible upside. Sound a lot like a “beginning, middle and end” approach to communicating on behalf of a client?

Make no mistake. The world of PR has undergone dramatic transformations. In fact, the evolution of our industry has been breathtaking. There is a radically different infrastructure in place than in years past. This, the explosion of social media properties and the unprecedented opportunities for self-publishing have us all swimming in a 24x7, always-on information torrent.

But do these information distribution channels fundamentally change how PR outreach and content should be approached? It’s a loaded question we get asked by clients time and again. While there is no cookie cutter answer, there are guiding principles. Given the “Internet of Things” and the associated information overload it generates, less is more rules the day.

For example, 1,200-word press releases have become a big no-no. An inability to convert a news announcement into a shorter narrative is a red flag for bloated content. So too is the puffed up corporate backgrounder that has and should be converted into a succinct corporate fact sheet. And the 12-page white paper is overkill. Despite these common sense observations, many organizations continue to self-indulge in excessive rhetoric about themselves. What’s becoming readily apparent is that consistent messaging using at-a-glance content designed for “skimmers” is a necessity. This applies to everything from press releases to a YouTube video.

It’s no accident that infographics are all the rage. Combining visual cues with easily digestible factoids goes hand-in-hand with the Twitter culture mentality of 140 characters to communicate a point of view.

The same holds true for media pitches. No editor in their right mind will entertain long-winded, 750 word treatises on your client. Brevity and riveting “why you should care” angles are everything.

With so many media properties decimated by layoffs and a dearth of editorial staff, there are multiple opportunities to package client news and content in a variety of forms. We’ve found that intelligently crafted executive Q&As that pose legitimate, hard-hitting questions typically asked by Doubting Thomas reporters can pay major dividends and run as feature pieces where the publication takes “ownership” of the interview.

Thought leadership content remains an important part of the PR arsenal, especially during news lulls, given media staffing shortages. But this involves great content creation in two phases: crafting a winning article abstract worthy of consideration by the publication and drafting the full narrative of the accepted article.

New-age PR practitioners might be crying out that these are legacy PR practices that have been bypassed by the “churn and refresh” tactics demanded by social media. I beg to differ. It goes without saying that social media tactics like redirected Twitter feeds, LinkedIn postings, Facebook updates and information sharing through StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Reddit et al, are essential to creating a critical mass of awareness. But the engine driving these communications vehicles is the content that has been vetted for external consumption.

While information sharing has undergone revolutionary change, the core tenets of great PR have not. Imaginative articulation of a client’s value proposition is at the heart of successful PR efforts—no matter what you call it.

About the Author

Kevin Gallagher is founder and principal of Gallagher PR and has more than 25 years of public relations and media experience. 

Follow Kevin: @gallagher_pr

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