How to tell if your company is overdosing on PR

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Most people go to work each day at places where success is measured by how much more of something they can do. Identify more prospects, sell more stuff and win more awards.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that PR professionals often find themselves surrounded by people convinced that success in PR is also defined by “more.” I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who approached PR like sales, by constantly raising the success metrics with each new campaign.

In PR, pushing relentlessly for more will not only lead to diminished outcomes, it will eventually cause bigger problems that won’t be easy to fix.

Are you or your organization asking for – or doing – too much? Here are a few warning signs, and what to do about it.

Priority List? What Priority List?

Unless your company has the size and profile of Amazon, you likely have perhaps a handful of "sure bet" news stories every year. Those are followed by stories of interest to certain key segments of their audience that will generate some level of attention in industry publications. And then finally, you’ve got a number of what I call “FYI” announcements that no one should expect coverage around, but that you should still share with the beat reporters who cover your organization.

Companies with overly aggressive expectations, however, are  unable to make these kinds of distinctions. To them, every piece of news they issue is expected to get coverage, and failure is usually viewed as a lack of effort or creativity on the part of the in-house PR team (or their agency).

Such organizations usually measure PR success by total number of stories earned, and as such, force their teams to chase media on every last thing they can think of. The problem is that quite quickly, media will get wise to your game and start to tune you out. When there is actual news to share, the risk is that they won’t give you the time of day. That’s a big problem, and one that can be avoided by only calling them when you have something worthwhile, not each time you have a piece of paper to push.

All this sound a little too familiar? The best solution is to refuse to play the game. Decide what effort actually makes sense, and stick to it. Your boss or your business leader will complain. Don’t waver. Educate them. In my experience, you’ll go through a painful cycle, but as the numbers become normalized, your new round of targets will be much more realistic and anchored to stories that actually matter. Your pitching will become immensely more purposeful, and reporters may once again pick up the phone when you call.

The Siege Mentality

I once worked with a brand that enjoyed an unusual amount of consumer love. Good news stories were easy to come by for them, and serious reputation issues were relatively rare. Then, one day, a business reporter wrote what I viewed as a fairly neutral article calling into question the client’s business practices, balanced by opposing voices.

I was surprised by the response. Some at the company wanted to blacklist the reporter permanently. Others thought writing a scathing email response was they way to go. Others still felt it was worth coming up with a plan to hammer this reporter with a flurry of background interviews until they simply fell into line.

It didn’t occur to anyone to simply accept the outlier story and move on, knowing that the war for reputation is far more valuable than any one battle, or that any of the responses being considered was sure to make things worse. Likely, the client’s PR team was simply taking the same position as their business leaders – the very people they are supposed to be educating on the ins and outs of PR.

No on in PR will ever earn, nor should they ever expect, a 100 per cent win record. The job is not to deliver positive coverage at all costs. It’s about creating the most optimal conditions for positive coverage, and constantly optimizing and updating those efforts as news cycles unfold. Do that, and (barring issues you can’t control) you will win more often than you lose.

If you find yourself losing your cool over a negative story, unless it contains blatant errors, let it sit. Then decide whether action is necessary and, what measured, long-term approach is best to take.

Hating Silence

Some organizations can’t live with any breaks in coverage. When there is no news to share, they lean extra hard on their PR teams to come up with something, anything proactive. After all, isn’t that what they’re being paid to do?

Others will disagree with me, but the answer here is almost always no. The job is to get your story out in the most compelling way to your core audience. From time to time, this may mean spotting and pitching a proactive story, which the PR team formulated, and which is of genuine interest to a reporter. But desperately inventing a story out of thin air or constantly pitching a spokesperson with weak or desperate pitches means you’re viewing PR as an “all-earned” effort, which is absolutely is not. It’s just noise for noise’s sake. What’s more, you’re ignoring the tune-out risk I mentioned earlier.

No coverage does not have to equal silence. Turn your attention to your blog or social channels – craft well written or filmed content and put some paid spend behind it. Find some guest blog opportunities, or experiment with influencers. Use your downtime by being interesting and useful to your audience, not dreaming up a bunch of increasingly far-fetched pitches.

There is such a thing is too little PR, or lack of effort. And that’s a problem. But don’t let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction either. Find the balance that works, and keep it there.

Ever found yourself doing too much? Share your stories in the Comments section below.