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Lessons learned from a life in PR and marketing

I’ve interviewed a lot of people. Thousands, maybe, for newspapers, magazines, blogs, vlogs... you get the picture. So, it was a nice change of pace to be the interviewee! For Thrive Global, I talked about how I got into marketing and public relations in the first place.

We also got into some life lessons from people I worked with -- and, as you might expect, some actual strategies and tactics for doing PR right.

I recommend reading the full interview: A conversation with Jonathon Narvey, CEO of Mind Meld PR Inc.

Like many people, I often kick myself for not saying the perfect thing when I had the chance. So, here’s my partial do-over, where I’ll throw in some excerpts below, along with some of the things I wish I had thought to say at the time.

What should you look for in a public relations rep? Experience -- but maybe not the kind you’re thinking about

“The short version: I’m a failed journalist. Or at least, I was never in the top 1 percent of journalists that get book deals and thus can make a go of it, financially. So I sought other means to make a buck. I have a talent for interviewing people, asking interesting questions, pushing back on jargon and buzzwords and drawing out the kind of edgy, original thinking that draws attention. This comes in handy for public relations.”

As I note in this interview, if you’re doing media relations, it sure helps to have a nose for news. That’s why we hire ex-journalists. They can write killer pitches from the get-go, because they’ve seen 10,000 pitches. They know instinctively what works and what doesn’t.

The one thing I can’t figure out is why more PR firms don’t do the same thing. It’s not like there’s a shortage of underpaid or soon-to-be out of work journalists out there.

Instead, I often see PR and marketing firms promoting social media mavens or event hosts to a new role where they are expected to contribute to strategy and write press releases. Sometimes it works, but it’s not always a smooth transition from blasting out a 140-character message to the universe, to pitching reporters and actually getting some earned media coverage.

In any event, we’ll keep hiring from this pool of talented communicators -- because it seems to be getting results for our PR clients.

Public relations is a part of marketing -- and marketing helps sales. But there’s a catch

“You have to work closely with the sales team. This is actually something I assumed early on, but in my first marketing role, sales and marketing were in strictly enforced silos. It was bizarre. I worked on web copy and social media — sales people were on the phone all the time. We rarely talked. Our messaging never lined up. It was a mess. In all other companies I worked with, either in-house or as a contractor, I made sure marketing and sales were communicating from the start.”

PR is tied to your overall marketing effort and can be a powerful force multiplier for sales. But there’s a common misconception around it.

The most basic understanding of marketing is that it brings in leads, so that your sales force can turn that lead into a customer. Or, if you’re using inbound marketing, maybe that lead converts themselves into a customer right on your website.

Here’s where the confusion comes in. A CMO or CEO asks, “how many clicks did we get from the link from the article where we were featured?” Or they complain because the reporter neglected to even put in a link (Which, in fairness, is pretty lame -- I mean, come on, reporter -- it takes two seconds to add that hyperlink).

But the real value PR brings happens indirectly. A customer is hesitating. The final hurdle to the sale is trust -- and they’ve never heard of you before.

But wait! They Google around, or just check and see your ‘In the Press’ page where you collect all of your news clips. And just like that, their fear evaporates. You’re in the news. You’ve been quoted. You’re real. You’re not just going to take their money and disappear. So, they buy from you.

When companies synchronize their PR, marketing and sales efforts, magic happens.

The heart of public relations? Simple stories and multiple narratives

“We got hired a few months back to help with a product launch for an AI-powered marketing tool. Now, AI is a pretty sexy word — so we figured a head-on push for that theme would get us some wins in technology magazines. But we also constructed pitches for marketing experts writing or podcasting for general business publications. And doing a bit more research on the team that built the technology, seeing a roughly 50–50 split in gender, we realized there was another angle we could hit: diversity and inclusion in the tech sector… After segmenting our media lists and creating about a dozen variations of micro-targeted media pitches, we landed about a dozen earned media placements, including four in national outlets.”

Story (events) and narrative (the way they’re presented) are more than just techniques for shaping messaging. In PR and marketing, they’re the essence of outreach activity. That’s as true for your overarching brand narrative as it is for simpler stories you might craft around a particular launch, release or event.

Narrative elements -- the heroic journey, the overcoming of obstacles, the disruptive stranger -- are what make your brand significant. And they’re always there to be found.

Take, for example. The app-based food delivery company’s story could have been about speed and pricing. But they wanted to differentiate from their competitors -- so it’s not. Their pitch to consumers, at every level, is about the joy of avoiding things you don’t want to do.

That same messaging shows up in their media coverage. For instance, the story of one Winnipegger who skipped the dishes 611 times. Or how butter chicken tops the list for most Skip the Dishes orders in Regina -- convenience with a side of the exotic, in fly-over country.

All PR and marketing storytelling should be, at its heart, that memorable and simple.



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