Here's why you should toss the old PR handbook out the window 


Many customer service-oriented professions have developed a set of unwritten rules that guide how work is carried out. In the public relations industry, this has resulted in some rather trite rules, including, among others: Media impressions are the cornerstone of campaign success; one spokesperson can generate media exposure in any market; “off the record” interviews shouldn’t exist. In some cases, these so-called rules have been dictated by clients; in others, by some of us working in the field of PR ourselves.  

But the industry we work in is fluid and ever-evolving and so too should be the way we approach our clients’ communications needs. With this in mind, organizations and PR pros alike should take stock of and rewrite some of these outdated rules in order to deliver winning strategies time and again. 

Quality trumps quantity

PR professionals must continuously show value for the work we do for clients, and rightfully so. Clients want to know their investment is paying off. But someone, somewhere decided that media impressions should be the key metric to demonstrate the success of a campaign, and it’s taken on a life of its own. And for clients at organizations large and small, they may have come to expect a certain number of impressions (often in the millions) for a specific campaign. It’s usually an arbitrary number pulled from thin air that has little or nothing to do with the actual message they’re trying to convey and the demographic they’re trying to reach. 

I always advise my clients that quality must take precedence over quantity. So forget about impressions (and here’s hoping you forgot about “advertising equivalency value” ages ago too) and consider your story and audience instead. What is the story you’re trying to tell? What are your top two or three messages? Who are you trying to connect with, and why? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Influence purchasing decisions? Drive website visits? 

A savvy PR team will craft the narrative and identify the target media outlets that would benefit most from the news. If you’re launching a new consumer food product, for example, you would be better poised to secure coverage in a targeted trade publication versus trying to land a front-page story in a daily newspaper or distributing a news release. Sure, the release may get you the aforementioned numbers, but the food publication is going to reach the audience that matters most. 

Local spokespeople are key 

Do you have an overseas spokesperson for your Canadian campaign? Unless they’re a celebrity or highly sought-after public speaker, and one who can speak directly to the Canadian market and has a natural connection to the company or brand they’re representing, don’t expect them to hold the weight of your campaign. The lack of a local and highly relevant spokesperson is, simply put, a missed opportunity, and this will have a direct correlation to the amount of interviews and coverage (or lack thereof) that can be expected. 

“Off the record” is not always a bad thing

On the topic of spokespeople, PR pros will often advise that “nothing is ever off the record.” Yes, if a spokesperson is in the midst of an interview and blurts out something “off the record,” they can’t expect anonymity or confidentiality. However, if done right, going “off the record” may help foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the company spokesperson and a well-established reporter. Just don’t pull an Elon Musk. The key is to have both parties agree, ideally in writing, to it being a purely informational interview before diving into a detailed discussion. The great thing about agreeing to an informational chat is that it can help foster camaraderie and trust with the reporter while paving the way for meaningful media coverage further down the line. 

To bridge or not to bridge? 

When it comes to interviews, bridging is one of the oldest techniques around. At its core, that means that if a reporter asks a spokesperson a question he or she can’t (or doesn’t necessarily want to) answer, a bridging statement is used to link back to key messages. For example, if a reporter is asking for commentary on how the economy will perform but the spokesperson can’t publicly speak to that, he or she may say: "While I can't speculate, what I can tell you is….” Simple enough. But sometimes a spokesperson will use the opportunity to avoid hard-hitting questions — whether it’s about their company’s misdeeds or poor performance — and instead link back to some other information they want out there instead, often hanging onto their key messages for dear life, even if they don’t directly relate to the question(s) at hand. 

Hint: Reporters see right through this, as do investors, customers and the general public. If you want proof, watch this example of bridging gone bad. So with bridging, it really is a fine line — leverage it occasionally if it makes sense in the context of the interview, but don’t use it as an opportunity to derail the conversation. 

Yes, rules are important. But in PR, some of them are outdated and meant to be broken. A savvy communications team will know this, and clients would be wise to work closely with their PR partner to develop strategic solutions that will enhance their organization’s brand and reputation in times good and bad.

Are you an organization looking for a dynamic, smart, senior team to advise on and manage your PR and content needs? Provident can help. Our team has decades of experience working with some of the biggest organizations and brand names, and leverages our combined expertise to develop communications plans that drive value for the companies we work with. Get in touch with us today to start a conversation.