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Decade’s Worth of PR Lessons

I recently celebrated my first decade working in the public relations industry, in one capacity or another. As I looked back on ten years in public relations, I realized I have many fond memories and plenty of regrets. I had some big successes, and some terrible failures. I got publicity in a newspaper read by more than one million people everyday, and a write-up in a high school newspaper read by a few hundred students and parents. More than anything, I realized that I’ve learned a heck of a lot about public relations in that decade. Here are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up after ten years in the belly of the beast.

When You Speak to the Media, Have Something Intelligent to Say

I’ve come off sounding like an idiot twice during my last dozen media interviews. That’s not a very good ratio. One reason for the “idiotic episodes” is that I was caught off-guard when a journalist called. Instead of asking whether I could call back in a few minutes — giving me some time to gather my thoughts and do a little research on the subject — I went ahead with the interviews. The results were less than flattering.

You’re Only as Good as Your Last Piece of Press

For more than half the time I’ve been doing public relations, it’s been for my own business. A public relations win was gratifying, but no one much cared. These days, I have to do a conference call each week and let my company’s salesforce know that I’m carrying my weight. “We got a nice story in The Wall Street Journal last week,” I’ll tell them. “We were quoted a few times, and our company was mentioned twice.” Silence.” That’s good, but what did you get this week?” Don’t look back, public relations foot soldiers, only ahead.

The Best Pitches Fail, and You’ll Get PR When You Least Expect It

Recently I spent a good six hours over a two-day period crafting a pitch to send to a television producer. I fine-tuned the pitch a number of times, hoping to be booked immediately. The pitch went off via email. I waited. And waited. And waited.

“Thanks, but we’ll pass.”

I spent the next hour stewing. Then a journalist called, one I had pitched a month earlier. We spoke for almost 30 minutes, resulting in some of the best publicity I drummed up all year. I wondered why that particular pitch was so successful, so I went through my emails. There was no reason why that short, off-the-cuff email should have worked.

Public Relations is Quantifiable

When I ran a small record label, my sales to distributors would spike after a positive review. My web traffic would go up, yielding additional advertising revenue, after a little publicity. Nowadays, when I obtain good press for my company, the number of new subscribers increases. Public relations is quantifiable. Often it’s not immediately apparent, but don’t let anyone ever tell you that public relations doesn’t contribute to a company’s bottom-line.

Go for the Gold, but Don’t Forget the Bronze

If you ask me about my best-ever piece of publicity, my answer may astonish you. It came in a trade magazine with about 25,000 subscribers, not one of the national newspapers or magazines that have quoted me. It was nothing more than a five-paragraph story that mentioned my then-employer three times. That piece of publicity, however, directly resulted in the securing more than $10 million in financing. We would have reached more people in national newspapers or magazines, but we reached the RIGHT people in a tiny trade magazine.

Listen and Ye Shall Learn

Everything I’ve learned about public relations I’ve learned from asking experienced public relations  professionals and journalists questions, and then listening to their answers. I’ve learned from PR people at boutique public relations agencies, and I’ve learned from PR people at Fortune 50 companies. The main thing is that I asked questions, without fear of embarrassment, and I took to heart what I was told.

Don’t Let Your Job Be Marginalized

The first time I ever worked with an in-house public relations person at one of my companies, I quickly realized that we had made an awful decision. The person simply did not understand our business as she went about trying to change it. After six weeks on the job, she was being left off of important emails; after five months, she was simply fired.

The sad thing is that this woman marginalized herself by thinking that her job entailed everything from writing the company’s business plan to telling the tech guys how to fix bugs in our software product. Her job touched on these issues, but she was far more dictatorial in nature than one would expect from someone hired to generate publicity. She worked against us, and she felt that as the public face of our company, she was just one step below the CEO. Public relations pros are extremely important, as they act as an important check for the rest of the company. Still, they have to bring some balance as well.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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