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Session: Public Relations Train Wrecks in the Interactive Biz

Posted on Aug 20th, 2007
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    Kevin Ryan, Brad Berens and Rebecca Lieb

    Day 1 at SES San Jose began with the “no more horsing around” session, “Public Relations Train Wrecks in the Interactive Biz: Disaster Can be Avoided”, moderated by Kevin Ryan, VP & Global Content Director of SES & Search Engine Watch.

    For those that remember my introductory post, this session held special interest, for, in my role as an Account Manager handling the Public Relations initiatives of several client firms, I constantly strive to ensure the phrase “train wreck” is the furthest concept away from not only my own personal vocabulary, but my client’s business psyches.

    Believe it or not, and this is in no way, shape, or form meant to sound disparaging, avoiding a PR catastrophe oftentimes comes down to simple common sense. (In fact, moderator Ryan referenced the long held notion that everything we need to know we’ve already learned in kindergarten).

    So what are the most common sense ideals that must be followed? Panel members Brad Berens, PhD, Chief Content Officer of iMedia Communications, and Rebecca Lieb, Editior in Chief of The ClickZ Network provided some excellent takeaways.

    Berens kicked things off by reminding us that journalists, like those of us in the PR Business, have chosen storytelling as a profession. So what’s important to good storytelling?

    • Know whether or not the person you plan to share your story with is interested in what you’re planning to tell them
    • Know whether or not the person you plan to share your story with has an audience that will be interested
    • When in doubt, ask questions

    Journalists are, after all, like most of us. They’re passionate about what they do and most times eager to share details.
    Lieb followed up with critical points specific to today’s world, such as:

    • Never break your own story
    • Ensure the availability of your subject
    • Provide time for the journalist to research your story

    Today’s world moves extremely fast, on both sides of the story.

    Journalists will sometimes have extremely short notice in which to file a story, especially if posting a piece online. (Personal Note: I can verify this to be true. At least once a month – I will work with a journalist to complete a piece, complete with a client briefing, with less than one week notice. In fact, our firm once landed major coverage for a client literally two hours after the client briefing).

    If PR is your client’s main focus, train them to be available at a moment’s notice, should these deadlines arise. When information is requested from a journalist, always respect the due date the journalist provides (Trust me – you’ll make a friend.)

    On the other side of this equation, we PR professionals, so eager to secure coverage for our clients, will oftentimes inadvertently break the stories in advance of our journalistic contacts by distributing a press release in advance of the story.

    As Lieb described, this was common and accepted practice just a few years ago, when only journalists had access to these releases. However, with online distribution services providing anyone access to a story, via an optimized press release, journalists can feel scooped if the story exists in any realm, especially the digital, before they have a chance to break it.

    After all, what fun is telling a story, whether it be in print, online, or even years ago on the kindergarten playground, if someone else has told it first?

    Needless to say, as the focus of this session was on “train wrecks”, nearly every common sense example described above has been broken – several times – and by those much smarter than you or I.

    On a final note, what’s the easiest way to avoid this path, and ensure PR success?

    Simply remember this: the easiest way to share your story will always be to tell a friend. The easiest way to make a friend is to share an interesting story. Make a true friend, and they will listen to you again and again, while sharing your story with all whom they see.

    Back in kindergarten, this idea helped to make you the most popular kid in school. Today, this same principle will ensure PR success for you & your clients.