It’s traditional to look to the New Year with hope and optimism. As a result, this post, which highlights difficulties communicators will face in 2018, might not be the most pleasant read. On the other hand, we easily can turn this exercise on its head and say, dripping with optimism, "These are issues communicators most assuredly will solve in the New Year." Yes, that’s better.
Kidding aside, last week, during one of the early sessions of PR News’ Media Relations Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., we asked more than 100 communicators to dish about their professional difficulties.
It was highly appropriate that Gil Bashe, the articulate leader of Finn Partners’ Healthcare Practice and a former medic, was tasked with making the bleeding relatively painless. A 20-year+ volunteer with the American Heart Association, Gil also did a brilliant job coaxing attendees to speak from the heart about difficult issues.
In the afternoon, attendees were asked to pick one of the pain points and, working with a group, think about solutions. Owing to a lack of time, a pair of pain points went unaddressed: "What is the best way to build a PR team?" and "Our target audience is the C-level executive. We find it difficult to reach that audience since its members are so busy and few are active on social media."
Below are the remaining issues and preliminary thoughts for addressing them.
Issue: Too often in PR, we are evaluated by volume of the work we do, not the quality of it.
Ideas for Solutions: Ensure your communications is meeting the business objectives. Try tying KPIs to company strategies.
Issue: We are asked to deal with executives’ egos through the media, which may have little to do with business goals. For example, we often hear an executive say, “I want to be in the Wall Street Journal!”
Ideas for Solutions: Part of your job is education. Obviously, this must be done carefully. Remind executives of the company’s media goals, which are unlikely to include constant Wall St Journal placements.
Issue: Leaders often understand how PR and the news process work, but other members of the company don’t. As a result they expect a lot more from PR than is reasonable on our modest budget. For example, they ask us often, “Why weren’t we quoted in that article?”
Ideas for Solutions: Again, part of the answer is education. PR needs to promote internally what it does in the industry and how it builds and maintains the company’s reputation. It also can be useful to educate staff of what is involved in meeting a PR request and mounting a campaign.
Issue: We’re finding it difficult to get our company’s leadership to do press conferences, speak at industry events and write thought leadership articles.
Ideas for Solutions: Instill in leadership that part of their job is to speak for the company internally and externally. PR should offer media training to leadership. If you find the CEO is unwilling to speak publicly, identify another C-suite leader to be a key spokesperson.
Issue: How do you deal with an executive or client who’s upset that their message wasn’t reflected perfectly in a piece of earned media?
Ideas for Solutions: Manage expectations before interviews are conducted. Make sure the executive and client know what to expect from media and what media can and cannot do.
Issue: Our organization is challenged because of our geographic location. We have plenty of experts who could be excellent sources for media, but we’re not taken seriously.
Ideas for Solutions: Create evergreen stories that embody your message and insight from your experts. Have those stories and comments ready to go at a moment’s notice. Develop a plan for extensive pitching of your subject matter experts.
Issue: Journalists ignore us when we’re making an honest attempt to build a relationship.
Ideas for Solutions: Challenge the stereotypes and perceptions journalists have about PR pros. Show the journalist that your brand and its representatives are different than the stereotypes. Use a personal touch by sending thank-you cards when a journalist writes a useful story about your brand. Use social media to learn what topics a journalist covers. Monitor and respond to a journalist’s social media feed.
Issue: We’re a lean PR team and achieve excellent results. That’s hurt us in that we are unable to get the C-suite to invest more in us.
Ideas for Solutions: When making a case for resources, benchmark similar companies to compare staffing and results. Suggest a six-month pilot; evaluate results to build a case for increased staffing.
[Note: Thank you to PR pro and journalist Brenda Siler for her contributions to this article.]
Follow Seth: @skarenstein