Escaping the PR Bermuda Triangle

By Kristi Piehl, an EO Minnesota member and CEO of Media Minefield

“Public relations is like the Bermuda Triangle— you put money in and you never get anything back!”

That’s a direct quote from a potential client I met with last year. She was frustrated because she was pouring her time, money and resources into a traditional PR firm and seeing zero results. I’ve met with other potential clients since then and have discovered she’s not the only one feeling this way.

As an entrepreneur and former TV reporter, I understand that successfully leveraging earned media is a challenge. The traditional approach is to hire a PR firm to churn out press releases and press kits. But if you want to escape the “PR Bermuda Triangle,” you have to utilize a different approach, ask different questions and demand different results. Here’s how you can start:

1) Know Your Message: Having a clear and consistent message is crucial to attracting clients and setting your company apart. You’d be surprised at how many entrepreneurs— or their employees—can’t effectively communicate who they are and what they do. Take the time to learn how you’re different than your competition and explore innovative ways to express that to others. For our clients, we start with a message session, and then we create a message map that outlines their key messages, communication goals and sample sound bites.

2) Say Goodbye to the Press Release: I once asked a friend of mine, who is a TV reporter, to print out all of the press releases sent to her newsroom in a single day. The stack was more than an inch tall, and I guarantee fewer than half of them were ever read by anyone at the station. The press release is a dated technique that is no longer effective. One national client we work with was hesitant to let go of their press releases, even though they never got any traction with them. Once we started approaching earned media for them the way we do best—with no press releases or paid advertising—they started seeing results and getting regular interviews in local newscasts from coast to coast.

3) Understand that Everything Matters: There’s value in every earned media opportunity, no matter how big or small the TV or radio station, print or online publication. One of our clients recently did an interview with a blog, which, in turn, got the interest of a major newspaper. One week later, she had an exclusive interview with NBC’s “Today” show and “Nightly News.” It may never have happened if not for that first blog interview. Just because a media outlet is small, it doesn’t mean it’s not powerful or valuable.

4) Always Be Social: A TV interview typically lasts three to four minutes, but its impact can extend far beyond that by utilizing social media. By taking an interview and targeting it through social media, you can help your message reach the right audience. Watch out for firms that promise a large number of “likes” to your Facebook page. A client came to us with hundreds of “likes,” but once we started digging, we realized they were purchased. Not only that, but they were all from people who live overseas! If you’re hiring a firm to do your social media, ask who they intend to target. It should be someone with whom you could actually do business.

If your goal is to make headlines or land a TV news interview, ask the PR firm you want to hire if their staff has real-world newsroom experience. The more they—and you—understand the impact of earned media, the better chance you’ll have at escaping the “PR Bermuda Triangle.”

Kristi Piehl (pictured) is the founder and CEO of Media Minefield, a Minneapolis-based, news-driven PR agency on a mission to change the perception of the industry. Contact Kristi at kristi@media-minefield.com

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