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#rightPR: How to find it.

08.18.11 | 3 Comments


CATEGORIES 2amt events, conversation starter, ideas, marketing, p.r., public relations, social media

Why did I go into PR? It’s simple, really. I like telling people about things that I’m excited about. Truly and authentically, and that’s it. I’m a music and theater nerd, so I sort of stumbled from oboe performance major and Michael Olmert’s British plays in performance class to student job to internship to full-time job, learning as I went, and telling myself “don’t screw up.” I’ve occasionally referred to PR as “my art” when explaining, wistfully, that I no longer play oboe.

Learning on the job is tough. I haven’t had a lot of guidance, I’m expected to produce results, and I didn’t know where to start. I spent a lot of time looking for mentors, advice, and “how-to.” The Internet was my library, and the Bad Pitch Blog became my very favorite encyclopedia.

The Bad Pitch Blog has been famous for the last 5 and a half years as a PR industry watch-dog. Co-founders Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer ‘out’ PR people who have written really bad pitches and then sent them, untargeted, to the media masses. In the very first post on January 20, 2006, Dugan explains, “It’s our hope that the Bad Pitch blog will entertain the true victims of this practice, the PR industry, and it will help the guilty parties improve. Hopefully the blog will someday become obsolete.”

Of course, it is still going strong.

I took these case studies to heart, and the advice gleaned from PRSA panels with veteran journalists and the occasional PR pros who I sought out: journalists hate certain kinds of follow-ups. No one reads full-length press releases, unless they are looking for particular details that aren’t all in one easy-to-read format. Journalists hate phone calls. Journalists are cranky, busy people, who need certain kinds of information when they’re looking for it, and if you ask stupid questions, you will get fried. If you are annoying, unprofessional, or rude, you will get shut down.

Why do PR people keep doing the same things?

Reading these case studies, and the many outed by industry publications, TechCrunch, etc, I am baffled by the practices of many established PR firms who somehow continue to book big clients and enjoy relationships, even when they don’t have their clients’ best interests at heart. We still have PR panels where journalists repeat the same “Dos and Don’ts,” and we still have PR firms charging their clients for hours to write press releases that may never get read “because that’s how we do things.” PR professionals, unlike an in-house person wearing many hats, have (or should take!) the time to dedicate to getting their core craft right.

Does an arts organization, or a startup, or a small business really need PR?

I know that arts administrators, like start-ups, are over-worked, under-paid, and trying to stretch every last dollar. They don’t have time or money to waste on a firm that can’t deliver value or would somehow make them look bad. And worse, I know that the problematic PR people are the ones talked about the most, so non-PR folks are distrustful, anxious to let go of their baby or entrust the message to someone else.

But sometimes, you might be too close to your message, which can lead you into similar (or worse) mistakes.

How do you sort through the clutter to find someone who’s going to be right for you?

One of the reasons people are hesitant to invest in PR is the challenge of measuring results and communicating value. You want to trust that your partner/consultant understands what is important to you and timely/relevant to the press, media, and target audiences, so that, even if they are not producing results immediately, the work over time will build awareness around the right message. With PR, marketing, and social media consultants, you want to look at two things as a client: first, what is this person’s track record, and, second, what is the process by which they communicate your message, pursue coverage, and create buzz?

As I continue to learn and build my own full-time PR shop, it’s important to keep things in perspective, and hold myself to high standards.

To that end, I am delighted to announce an event sponsored by Tweetreach, Hansen’s Natural Soda, 2amt and Adobe, titled How to Choose the Right PR Solution in a Crowded Market at Adobe Systems in San Francisco on September 6, 2011. We will have Richard Laermer himself on a panel with some of my other mentors: Stuart McFaul of Spiralgroup and Rory O’Connor of Fleishman Hillard. Matt Rozen from Adobe will join us, and we’ll discuss all of these questions and more. As my co-organizer Evan Hamilton likes to say, “Blood is expected…”

Maura Lafferty

Maura Lafferty hails from a classical music background, with experience in marketing, customer service, community management, audience development, and PR.

Consulting engagements include TEDxMichiganAvenue in May 2011, Chanticleer’s Community Sing with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in June 2011, and speaking at the 2011 Opera America and Chorus America conferences. Recent projects include brand strategy for Access Contemporary Music and Volti, social media strategy for Metro Retro Music and Bel Canto Quartet of Minneapolis, MN, and event promotion for REDSHIFT and Chorus America.

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  • Maura: this blog and the forthcoming event all seem to come from the perspective of outside p.r. agencies, not addressing organizations that have staff p.r. personnel or departments. As that was my background early in my career, and I’ve also consulted on p.r. for companies with in-house staff. I’m wondering if you’ve had that opportunity or have a take on it? I have only had occasion to hire an external p.r. firm over the last five years or so, and I find the experience and results to be profoundly different, although one is not necessarily more successful than the other. Additionally, because I think it’s essential now, how do you define “p.r.” itself — press & media relations, public relations, social media, and so on? 

    • Howard, we are targeting this event for startup, small business, and new arts organization leaders who may not have the resources (staff, time) to run PR in-house. However, we definitely will be discussing internal issues, especially since Matt Rozen from Adobe’s in-house team is sitting on the panel. One key point will be talking about shifting needs as organizations grow.

  • Half-price tickets with coupon code 2amt.


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