Some people ask me why PR isn’t my main hustle, and it’s a valid question.
For most ex-journalists, public relations or media relations seem like the most obvious way to turn skills into income, and many do.
Trying to hack it as a writer seems like a long shot. It sure did to me, yet here I am.
I have done full time traditional PR gigs a few times throughout my life, but I think I’m pretty bad at them, because I like to start every client conversation by explaining how PR, in its traditional sense, is a usually a fat waste of time and money.
PR, in its traditional sense, is usually a fat waste of time and money.
People who own PR agencies do not usually agree with me on this point. My first post-journalism job, my ‘rebound job,’ was in PR. It also involved a non-competition agreement that states, among other things, I won’t start a directly competing business for one calendar year, so one reason I don’t run a tactical PR company is contractual obligation. However, there’s another, better reason. I don’t like journalists.
Ha! KIDDING. Just seeing if you’re still reading. I was, of course, a journalist for the better part of 15 years. I love journalists!
It’s actually gatekeepers I dislike. I don’t like other people deciding if I’m going to get what I need. I don’t like other people deciding if I’m going to get what I need.
I didn’t like it when I was a journalist (government flaks, police spokespeople) and I don’t like it now. I’m more of a gatecrasher, myself. If there is a gatekeeper between your message and your audience, as there is in most traditional PR, it is in my opinion, a bullshit waste of effort that could be better spent in other areas.
Holes-in-One vs Horseshoes
Newsrooms, (mainstream or alternative) all accept or turn down pitches for plenty of reasons besides quality. You’ll never know why yours was ignored. Maybe it sucked. Maybe paid advertisers have all the spots on this week’s morning shows. Maybe you spelled the editor’s name wrong. Maybe you used a font they don’t like. Why on earth would you put business development into efforts where the results are this difficult to quantify, predict and replicate?
Why on earth would you put business development into efforts where the results are this difficult to quantify, predict and replicate?
It would be like deciding you want to get a hole in one every time you play golf. Even if you get one, do you know what you did well enough to replicate it again and again? If you didn’t get one, can you say exactly why, with enough data that you can get one next time?
The best kind of publicity is more like horseshoes. Anything that gets you close is good enough. So basically, anything where you’re speaking to your audience directly, no gatekeeper. This could be a blog, or Twitter, or a periodic lunch n’ learn. A hairdresser I know just offered a course in the very specialized service she performs, and is getting the word out about that on Instagram.
It doesn’t matter what method you choose, the people with whom you engage this way become real relationships, your community, your tribe.
What you do with your community is up to you, but you don’t have to ask a journalist or a “social media influencer” to talk to them for you. YOU get to talk to them yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I build a lot of my business through my own conversations with people, so this kind of community seems much more valuable that any kind of traditional PR where I have to beg some random -a person who doesn’t even have a stake in my business- to be my mouthpiece.
Their word vs. yours
It is 100% true that most journalists are not out to get you, that they really care about making their work accurate, and they want to do a good job. It’s also true that they don’t care if you look good, that being 100% accurate can also be unflattering for their interview subjects, and their job isn’t to be your marketing department.
Their job isn’t to be your marketing department.
So better than aiming to be interviewed or covered by media, mainstream or emerging, is to be a featured contributor somewhere, and also to have your own blog. This is why, while I don’t typically do tactical PR , I will do PR strategy. This includes brokering contributed pieces and segments. Contributed columns, blogs and segments offer you the ability to ensure your message remains largely unedited.
Bang for your PR buck
Public relations people get mighty cagey when the money folks start talking about ROI. That’s because to someone in PR , ROI tends to equal number of media stories garnered, and social media mentions. Huh? Even if that number is good, it doesn’t change the fact that PR is a cost, not a revenue source. There is no reason your marketing endeavours can’t offer you PR value and be a top line revenue source.
You can create videos that get shares and drive revenue. You can create infographics that drive traffic to your website. Your blog can get you invited to TedX, which rolls registration at your own conference, which has paid registrations that make your company a shipload of money.
That hairdresser who is offering courses to spread the word about her expertise? She’s charging for them, obviously. She’s making straight-up cash off her marketing endeavour.
You don’t need paid PR for any of this. In fact, all of these projects or in PR gobbeldygook “activations” promote themselves and make money to boot.
I picked writing over PR instinctively, because to me, the most important job for all of us is to get clear on our message.If you know your story, and you can tell it in a compelling way to everyone you meet, you don’t need PR . You might need some help finding the time, or ideas for ways to tell it, but you’ll never need to pay someone else to tell it for you, or to convince a gatekeeper to let you.