Monday, November 16, 2009

PR Arts & Crafts

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a scientist, or a doctor. In time, I added journalist to that list and it became a passion as I grew older. Aeronautics engineer and surgeon fell to the wayside as I realized that I needed to learn vast amounts of math in order to succeed in either of those professions.

So I moved on and became a journalist. A pretty good one, I think, and had a good career working in quality newsrooms, covering some our generations' biggest stories. Recently I had a (passionate) discussion about whether journalism was an art or a science (craft). For the longest time, I viewed it as an art with craft tendencies, but after the discussion, I realized I was being wimpy in my definition. I should have chosen one or the other, because, like a team with two quarterbacks (if you have two starters, you don't have a starting qb) I have come to realize that if you try to be two things at once, you fail at both.

This isn't to say that arts professions don't have craft qualities. There are certainly skills that can be taught and learned by anyone. But, just as I used to tell my students at CU, while anyone can be a newsanchor, not everyone can be a GOOD newsanchor. The same goes with photojournalists and reporters, editors and, yes, even producers. The best ones have an innate ability to "feel" what is right and what isn't. They just "know" what a good story is, they cut through the clutter and can "see" or "understand" that something will be appealing to their audience, even if it falls short in the "good story" requirements". (had enough of the quotation marks yet? Yeah, me too.)

I could teach my students that good stories meet certain requirements involving timeliness, locality, impact and wow factor. But often, a story picks up traction that falls short in many of those categories and that's when confusion sets in. There is an art to good journalism, even though there is a great deal of skill involved, the best ones are artists. They make it look easy. I had to admit that journalism can be a craft, a science, with formulas and mad skills involved every step of the way. But the best journalism, the cream of the crop, is more art than anything. This is particularly true as video invades every medium. The best journalists have a vision and transferring that vision into reality in a way that truly reaches the masses, well, that's an art. Period.

I hear you asking, "but Chris, what does this have to do with public relations?" I hear you, and I'm going to tell you.

I had a similar opinion of public relations when I first moved from the newsroom to the PR cubicle. I tried to learn as much as I could about the craft of pitching, and client relations and shareholder graphs and blah blah blah. I just KNEW that there was some kind of formula that would allow a person to be successful in PR. I instituted what I learned in a short period of time and...I failed. Miserably.

I forgot about many of the valuable lessons I learned while working under tight deadlines in stressed-out newsrooms; that sometimes intuition and gut feel, combined with knowledge and experience is a much better guide than simply following the book by the numbers.

So I'm here to say that, like excellent journalism, the best public relations efforts are an art form. What does this mean for you and your small business or non profit organization? Well, first let me clarify that you don't have to be an artist to be effective in your PR and marketing efforts.

What it means is that sometimes you have to trust yourself to create magic. That's such a vague term, but really, no one knows your business or your audience better than you do. This means you know best what they'll respond to and what will catch their attention. Armed with this knowledge, you will better be able to reach out to reporters and the media and use social networking effectively.

Too many times we all fall into the trap of just sending out press releases and announcements, mass emailing newsletters and signing up for Facebook and Twitter accounts because that's what we're supposed to do. It's easy, it's what everyone else does, so it must be the correct thing to do.

But press releases just aren't very effective anymore. Social networking accounts are great, but you have to know how to use them. They're tools, like an instrument or a paintbrush. You know how to speak to your constituents and customers. Paint outside the lines and use your Twitter to set up a contest or use your Facebook to tell a story. Create events unique to your organization. Do something fun and different with your newsletter, something to grab attention.

In other words, be an artist. I've told you previously that, in essence, you are like journalists for your organization. Now be an artist to paint the picture of your organization that you want others to see. Whether the receivers are customers, volunteers, donors, or reporters, listen to yourself and find creative ways to get your message out.

You'll find that your audience is generally more receptive when you do things your way. People like me, we're here to give you hints, tips, advice, thoughts about what has worked for us in the past. But in the end, take what the "experts" say and try to incorporate it into your own personal style as best as you can. Only then will you truly be able to honestly, sincerely and creatively get your message about your organization to the masses.

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