PR – A Great Thing, but Not a Miracle Worker

It’s a funny thing about PR…sometimes it’s viewed like other professions that people have a love/hate relationship with – like law enforcement, insurance providers, lawyers. Or like those that people expect magic from – beauticians, plastic surgeons, teachers.

Here’s the thing. Anything can be branded, marketed, promoted. Anything can get a first look. But public relations won’t make or break your business without a little help from you.

Stop making your PR department/firm/executive the scapegoat for your crappy products.

It’s not our job to convince people that your products are good when they aren’t. We don’t “dumb people down.” PR isn’t to blame if you can’t sell. PR isn’t to blame if your product doesn’t do what you promised – or told us to promise. Even Apple can’t pull that off.

I’m not being over sensitive. I’ve been in this business long enough – heading into my 15th year of owning my own firm – to recognize the unbelievable expectations that executives can have about PR. And I’ve seen many executives that don’t get PR at all – who have no idea that their CMOs are throwing money out the door jumping from agency to agency trying to find the right match.

I also know that PR agencies can seem like a dime a dozen. There’s one on every block like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I know that it can be tough to find the right match – chemistry with the team – on your first try. But if you or your marketing head have gone through more than two agencies in 12 months, maybe it’s time to take a look inside.

Here’s a few things you can expect a good PR team to accomplish:

  • Get your products in front of the “right people” – those can vary, but for most companies it means reporters, bloggers, analysts and others who influence the buying decisions of your prospects.
  • Connect executives with these folks for personal meetings/briefings/interviews – beginning and helping to maintain a more personal relationship.
  • Get these influencers to listen – based on long standing relationships and/or the talent to understand what they want, how they want to be connected with, what they care about, etc.
  • Give you inside views on where to be (events, online and off) to connect with the right folks who can help you – whether it’s media, VCs, analysts, customer/prospects, partners – a good PR team can help with all of those, making sure your valuable time isn’t wasted, and that you’re not missing anything crucial.
  • Help you write, message, brand and promote what you want to say in a more eloquent manner.
  • Help “roll out the red carpet” for sales by spreading awareness of you, your company, your products consistently, and in the right places. Ideally, PR sets the stage so that when a sales executive walks into a deal, the prospect says, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you – I see you guys everywhere.” That’s always a nice start.

Here’s you should not expect PR to do:

  • Get people to keep using your product if it’s not working right.
  • Cover up bad customer service – certainly we can try to help fix a crisis, but this shouldn’t be the ongoing plan.
  • Work in a black hole – share information with your PR team and trust them to help you come up with the best, most strategic plan on what information should be communicated, to who, how, where and when.
  • Make reporters personally like you.
  • Tell reporters what to write. We can give them facts, we can encourage certain angles. But they’re not puppets and we’re not puppet masters.
  • Be responsible for repeat buyers. That’s your job – through great customer service, good products, stellar relationship management. We’re matchmakers of sorts – we get people interested but it’s up to you to maintain the relationship.

Of course, good PR executives can help with more than these things – it’s just a quick list. We can help you maintain relationships to a certain degree. But we’re not miracle workers. If your product or service isn’t working right or your customer service team isn’t treating customers well, don’t blame PR. Understand – and manage – the difference between positioning communications and information, vs product development, customer service and executive management. Too often, PR is blamed when all three don’t come together well.

What do you expect from PR?

 

 

 

Involving Customers in Decision Making (Or, what will Nordstrom do?)

Nordstrom did a good thing today – they used social networking (in this case, Facebook) to apologize to users that their site was down. Open communication is good, and letting your biggest fans know when there’s a glitch is usually appreciated. But then I noticed something in the comments. Out of about 55 comments to-date (as of 4:00 p.m. EST), most had nothing to do with frustration around the site being down, but rather, frustration around the new site design itself. Take a look:

The complaints center mostly on the navigation of the site, difficulty in using it and an overwhelming opinion (of those commenting) that the old site was preferred. So far, Nordstrom’s has yet to respond to any of these comments in the chain. It will be an interesting experiment to see how they handle such feedback. It begs some questions:

- Changing website design is no small undertaking from a time or resource POV. With social media allowing our customers to comment openly on everything that we do, should we give them the opportunity to help shape such changes before we make them? Would Nordstrom – and its customers – have benefited from a customer council that had a hand in shaping the new design before it was complete?

- Should a brand involve customers in product, marketing and branding decisions?

- How beneficial is it to a consumer-facing brand like Nordstrom vs a B2B brand to embrace a customer council? (Often, customers drive software development, for example, by requesting features. Should a company like Nordstrom consider such thinking?)

- Will Nordstrom make any changes as a result? Or hope that the customers will simply “get used to it?”

What do you think? What would you do if you were Nordstrom? Keeping in mind that you can never please everyone, has your company involved customers in shaping and testing the direction of your products or brand? Why or why not?

Action vs Talking – How do you DO it?

I’ve had that well-known Nike slogan running through my mind lately, “Just Do It.” It’s a catchy slogan that’s easy to remember, and reminds me a lot of our vision for 2010 at PerkettPR – don’t just talk about it, do it. This year, we’re focused on action and moving forward (after 2009, who isn’t?!) – how about you?

There are a lot of advantages to big business but one thing that stands out for me when meeting with a lot of larger companies is how many layers of talking there are to get to action. I enjoy working with both large and small companies, but one reason start ups and small businesses (SMBs) are so intriguing to me is that they are so very action-oriented. A lot of times big businesses add too many layers and before they realize it, the layers are covering so many non-doers that not much gets done. (Say that 10 times fast). People get caught up in theory and planning, hide behind layers of hierarchy and have a difficult time turning board room planning into real world action.

How do you ensure that your staff goes from planning and talking to action and doing? Do you allow new ideas to be tried and tested or do you stay on path with only tried and true methodologies? In 2010, as we move beyond one of the toughest years in business, encourage your team to “just do it” by opening up your mind to new possibilities. Here are a few ideas.

- Hand over the Reins. Often, less-senior staff get frustrated in business when they feel they don’t have a seat at the table. Senior management often doesn’t give them a seat at the table becaues they dont have the time to “deal with it.” During your next team meeting, hand over the reins to a junior staffer – let them set the agenda and run the meeting and see what new ideas abound. You’ll be surprised how people step up to the plate when given the chance.

- Speaking of stepping up, Try Letting Go. One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen managers face is letting go and delegating. A good manager keeps a team coordinated and on task. A great manager also  delegates and gives staff members the benefit of the doubt.

- Don’t forget to Empower Your Staff. Delegation without direction can be like falling overboard with no swimming lessons. You have to teach, too. Often it takes more time and effort than just doing the task yourself, and that’s why so many managers fail at delegation and empowerment. Do the work it takes to give your staff what they need to be successful.

- Track Results. Don’t forget to go back over those meeting notes and track movement. Check up on both the silent types and the big talkers – they are often the ones hiding behind a lot of tasks and To Do lists. The value is in looking back to see not only what planning was turned into action, but what action yielded results.

- Try Something New. If the finance industry was any indication over the last couple of years, following the pack isn’t always the best idea. Take one or two really innovative ideas and test them this year. You’ll be surprised how, even if they don’t work, they inspire your staff to keep thinking beyond the usual and help make your company a true leader.

What ideas do you have to share to encourage others to Just Do It in 2010?