Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Significance Of PR Tools

For the first few initial years in PR, I never consulted with clients on the PR tool to be used for a particular announcement. It just happened. In fact, most of the time the decision was made by the clients. 

Many wrong and few right decisions, now, how and when a PR tool should be used is clearer. The significance of each PR tool and scenarios of use is important to understand for any PR professional. In this regard, I have made certain hypothesis based on the limited experience I have in the industry. And here is the matrix that I suggest.

Before I move on there is a bed rock principle that any PR professional has to respect.  The effectiveness of a PR tool is directly proportional to the existing brand value. This simply means that just because a tool is powerful, doesn't mean that the results are guaranteed. Like everything else in life, brand is created over a period of time and has to be worked upon. There is not overnight success.

Another point to be kept in mind is that while PR is one-to-many communication, the tools can either be one-to-one or one-to-many. The size of coverage is probably the best measure of success in PR. And how much reach a PR tool achieves multiplies the visibility.
  • Press release: Probably the most widely used tool, press release is the best for a wider reach with least effort. In fact, press release or press information sheet, a derivative of press release, is the official communication document that is the unit of communication. While it does provide extensive reach, it has become a rather weak. This probably because of too many of them are in circulation and the space is limited. And due to the competition, media houses also prefer exclusivity.
  • Edit opportunities: This is a term I have borrowed from my stint at Twenty Twenty Media. Often it is journalist driven. While the story itself can be big, the total coverage that a particular corporate gets is often limited. But just because the size of actual coverage is low, doesn't mean that it is not effective. In my opinion, industry stories are balanced and one can become part of the entire consideration set for a prospect.
  • Interview: A powerful tool not only for coverage but also to build relationship with a journalist. It usually results in large coverage. But because these are exclusives, the resultant coverage is limited to a particular publication. Interviews are also preferred by journalists, nowadays, as they get their bylines. On a side note, interviews, also referred to as one-on-one, is not such a preferred tool by journalists from the old school of thought. They believe that too many one-on-ones become one-by-one. What happens, practically, is that a journalist has to wait while the other journalist finishes the interview as these are arranged sequentially. In fact, I, too, detest this modus operandi. I think it is sheer waste of time for the spokesperson and the client servicing PR executive. The spokesperson often parrots the same story over and over again while the PR executive, by second interview, feels that he can play the recorder himself. In such cases, a press briefing is better suited. More on that later.
  • Placed article: Also referred to as contributory article, it is probably a difficult task to achieve. Some call it white paper or thought paper because it is supposed to be 'neutral' with loads of cues. It is supposed to position a spokesperson as 'thought leader'. Such a bastardized term! Sorry for that language. 
  • Junket: Often when a widespread coverage is required but there is a limitation in movement, media is invited to a single place. It is a confluence. Usually resorted to for a very large announcement. A lot of logistical coordination and media planning is required for such announcements.
  • Press conference: Used to be my favourite tool. Single effort, big coverage, wide reach. But yes, a lot of learning, too. In the earlier years, this format resulted in nail biting and last minute follow ups. A variant of press conference is a briefing. Briefing is a better alternate to one-by-ones that I had mentioned earlier.
Now it is not that easy as it sounds. Just because press conference or briefing gets big coverage and wide reach doesn't mean it is the Brahmastra, panacea for all communication needs. A PR professional must remember two important criteria:

  1. How many messages do you want to share and what value is it to the media?
  2. Do you want to communication to be open-ended or controlled?
An understanding of client, the industry and media becomes extremely critical to make the decisions. This blog cannot give all answers.

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