Thursday, April 29, 2010

Be Patient and Persevere

And now, a bit of a change up for you all.  Just a few days ago, I posted an entry called BE Aggressive.  Now, you look at the title of today's entry titled "Be patient..." and you might be wondering, "what in the world is going on?"

Never fear, I'm here to explain.  You see aggressiveness and patience in public relations aren't mutually exclusive.  You can be aggressive in your outreach to media outlets and on various social media platforms, but at the same time, you have to temper your aggressiveness with patience and realistic expectations in order to be truly successful.

Too often I have dealt with clients who simply roll out a singular public relations push or try a social media plan and then get immediately frustrated when their efforts don't show immediate results.  Like advertising, there has to be a long-term plan involved and you have to either stick with the plan or make tweaks along the way in order for you plan to have a real impact to your bottom line.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons.

1.  My local football team is driving me nuts (explanation to soon follow)
2.  An interesting story a colleague of mine related to me recently

Let's tackle the first reason.  I know, it may not sound like it fits, but bear with me.  We all follow different sports teams, even if you don't like football, you might be a fan of baseball or basketball or even, gasp, soccer.  Let's look at the teams that are generally successful.  They are the teams that have an established identity, they have a plan, they stick with that plan, sometimes to the bitter end.  Even teams with bad plans generally are more successful than teams with no plan at all.

Public Relations is a Team Sport:

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example.  They're not my team, but I respect them very much as an organization that has proven to be very stable and one that understands its identity.  They play mean, tough, hard-nosed football.  They run on offense and hit you in the mouth on defense.  They've played that way for as long as I can remember.  On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the 49-ers who played swift, finesse, high scoring offense while having a defense that was generally good but not great.  Nevertheless, they were great teams.

Two teams with completely different plans, two teams that have experienced a great deal of success over the years.

Here's something that good teams, in any sport DON'T do:  They don't scrap a plan after a year or two.  They see it through.  They give the plan a real chance to succeed or fail.  Good teams don't change head coaches and general managers every two years because the "plan" isn't working.

Good teams have a vision, they have a plan and they have patience.  For instance, ask the 1979 49-ers if it was a good idea to keep head coach Bill Walsh after a dismal season.  Or how about the 1989 Dallas Cowboys after new head coach Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 with a new QB.  Or maybe last years Saints, who won the SuperBowl after a subpar 2008.  The fact is, all of these teams had a vision and a plan that they believed in and they were patient enough to see that plan to its fruition.

Let's face it, running a small business or non-profit is a bit like a team sport.  You need talent, you need hard workers, stars and role players.  You need a smart general manager and a quality coach.  But you also have to have a vision and a plan.  This is where your communications plan comes into play.

Certainly there will be slow times and bad times, there always are.  But your vision and your belief in your plan will see you through these dark times.  Having a communications plan, both PR and social media will play a major part of that vision and plan, or at least it should.  Knowing how you are going to market yourself and get the word out to potential customers should be at or near the top of your priority list.

A Plan, An Identity, A Vision:

But if you change your plan completely at the first sign of trouble, you can do more damage than you might imagine.  Staying with a communications plan can help you build an identity, it can help you stay focused on a direction instead of trying a million different things and getting nowhere.  Constant change confuses and frightens potential customers.  They won't know who you are or what you're about.  Yes it takes time to build an identity, you don't just roll out a logo and catchprase and suddenly you have an identity, but that identity built over time will help you in tough times.

I say all this because my team, the Denver Broncos have been very frustrating to me.  For the longest time, Denver had an identity, a potent offense that won more than it lost.  Now, under a new head coach, that plan, that vision, that identity is changing.  I haven't bought into it, not at all.  But the new regime clearly has a plan and a vision, even if I don't seem to see it or agree with it.  So even as frustrated or upset as I can be about the changes to my favorite team, as much as I dislike the head coach, I have to give these guys at least three years, if not four, to let the plan and vision play out.

This also speaks to another important element; listening and responding.  One of my biggest frustrations with the new Bronco regime is that they don't seem to listen to anyone outside of the room and they don't seem to have any intention of letting the fans in on their plan.  This leads to anger, resentment and confusion among fans.  Think of sports fans as current customers and employees.  Both are vital to your success.

This leads us to an important fact:  In order to be successful, you should let your "team" in on your vision and your plan if you want them to buy in.  Now, I don't work for the Broncos, but I do support them.  So I feel as if I, and all other fans, are a part of the team.  It's hard to buy into a plan when it's so secret, and it looks like a carbon copy of similar plans that have failed so miserably in other places.  That's a second important factor to take into consideration.  It's okay, it's a good idea in fact, to look at other successful plans and incorporate them into your own plan.  But don't just try to copy the other plan.  Be your own person, make it your own.  Adapt it to fit into your philosphy and your company's culture.  Otherwise, you're just copying and not really doing anything innovative with your plan.  Also remember that what worked for one organization may not exactly work for yours.

Here are some tips you should keep in mind when creating your PR and social media plan:

1.  Be patient - I can't stress this enough.  It takes time for things to come to fruition.  You probably won't see the fruits of your efforts for a few months, but that doesn't mean it's not working.  Don't give up on a plan simply because you didn't see a spike in sales overnight.

2.  Assemble a team - Take advantage of the talent you have around you.  Find the volunteers or employees that you feel confident enough in to help out with your plan.  You can't do it all by yourself, it takes a village, you know.

3.  Don't just be a copycat - Go ahead and create a plan that resembles successful PR and social media plans from other organizations.  But then tweak it to fit your organization's culture, needs and goals.  Also take into consideration the people you have to work with.  Don't try to make a square peg fit a round hole.

4.  Communicate - Funny that we should have to mention this in an entry about a communications plan, but even some of the best PR people I know have trouble communicating sometimes.  Let your employees and customers know what your plan is.  This will allow them to feel as if they are part of the plan and they will buy in, or at the very least they will give you a chance to see if it will work.

5.  Adjust, don't overhaul - Three months into your plan, you might start to see where you're plan isn't as successful as it should be.  Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Instead of scrapping the plan entirely, take a look at it and see if there are some simple adjustments that can be made to strengthen the overall plan.  You don't have to completely change direction when it's likely only a few tweaks will get the job done instead.

I leave you with this final story:

A friend of mine works for a PR agency in Los Angeles.  He's frustrated because he's dealing with clients and a boss who simply don't seem to understand PR.  Just yesterday he received an email wondering why he hadn't been able to contact a specific reporter.  My friend replied that he'd emailed several times and placed several phone calls, leaving several messages.

All in vain so far.  But the client wants to know if he's working hard enough, which nearly exploded the head of my buddy.  Listen, you can only do so much.  As I've said before, PR is a risky venture.  There are no guarantees.  It takes time to reach out to a reporter, to build a rapport with them and get on their list of immediate "call backs". 

You'll run into the same problems when you start handling your own PR efforts.  You'll make phone call after phone call and sometimes, they'll never call you back.  There are just some reporters who never do.  At some point, you cut your losses and move on.  This isn't a reflection of failure on you or even an indictment about the quality of your story.  Some reporters simply are impossible to reach. 

You have to be patient, whether you're doing your own PR or if you've hired someone to do it for you, you have to understand that there will be times when some reporters won't respond, period.  It's easy to get frustrated when a reporter doesn't respond or doesn't pick up a story you think is quality.  But don't get angry, and be patient.  Chalk it up to a singular failed effort and move on to other reporters that will respond or pick up the story.  Focusing too long on one reporter or a couple of specific reporters will hinder your overall PR efforts.

Again, it's a bit like sports.  I have always thought of PR kind of like baseball.  in baseball, if you fail 60-percent of the time, you're in the hall of fame.  If you fail 70-percent of the time, you're an all-star. 

In PR, it's about the same.  You're going to fail more than you succeed.  For every yes you get, you'll hear 5, 6, 7 no's.  Those are the averages.  If you know that going in, you'll have a much easier time simply moving on to the next reporter pitch instead of dwelling on the rejections.

If you take the approach that being patient, while persevering with your overall plan, you'll find success WILL come your way.  Hey, it's what all the best teams are doing these days.

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