Public relations professionals working with entrepreneurs often find themselves in a bind. Do you pitch the idea or the person behind the idea? It’s easy to see an entrepreneur’s backstory as a ready-made angle when it comes to drumming up publicity. But a public persona can quickly become tarnished, and personality PR can often lead to avoidable headaches.
“While personality PR can garner coverage and press for the company, it never seems to bring in as much business as product or corporate PR,” says Jeremy Pepper, a public relations consultant and strategist. “Also, another issue with personality PR, particularly in start-ups, is the risk that the personality you are using might not be with the company when the articles come out.”
Pepper’s last point was illustrated during the disastrous “dot-com boom” when companies generated massive buzz and then disappeared literally overnight. In some cases, flattering articles in monthly magazines would appear just days after a company announced it was going out of business. These companies, like many during economic boom eras, were driven by entrepreneurs whose intelligence was sometimes overshadowed by their flamboyance.
Ego is another major issue when dealing with personality PR. The entrepreneur’s ego will sometimes determine the direction a company’s public relations campaign takes, just as it will sometimes determine the overall direction of the company.
“If you look at some of the most charismatic serial entrepreneurs in the last decade, they’ve had a lot of turnover in their management teams,” says Connie Connors, CEO of New York-based Connors Communication.
Connors, an award-winning entrepreneur herself, says that it’s important to build a company’s public image around the company’s product(s) and culture, as well as around the personality of the company’s management team. Failure to develop a well-rounded public image may mean your public relations strategy is destined for failure when trouble hits.
“There’s a difference between a spokesperson and a brand,” Connors said.
Connors, whose firm worked with companies like Amazon.com and Priceline.com during their start-up phases, cautions that a spokesperson can also do a company considerable damage.
“There was a magic moment when William Shatner [Priceline.com’s commercial spokesperson] went on television and said, ‘I don’t use Priceline, I fly first-class.'”
And that’s the kind of publicity no company needs.
So, is there an inherent danger in personality PR? Of course. Take Michael Jackson: His brand is all but destroyed, which is amazing considering the lengths he’s gone to protect it in the past.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another good example. A true entrepreneur, he turned his company, Bloomberg, into a global information services powerhouse. But the mystique around the company was always attached to Bloomberg himself. Since becoming Mayor and leaving the daily operations of Bloomberg to others, the company has suffered through periods of poor public relations or no public relations at all.
But personality PR has its good points.
“Personality PR is easier to do than corporate or product PR,” says public relations consultant Jeremy Pepper. “The mainstream press is always looking for cool stories to do about a person, and despite the death of the dot-com era, people are better stories than companies. It’s a combination of the voyeuristic nature of people and the human-interest angle.”
And even if you’re apprehensive about developing a personality PR campaign, remember who pays the bills: “If the client or company wants personality PR, you do it,” Pepper says. “You position the person as an expert, you hope they have a good story, and you just pitch.”
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/.