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October 05, 2009


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Davina K. Brewer

I agree that PR will not solve the bad product/service/brand/story problem. As you say, shift money from marketing to development, training, etc.

It's about managing expectations. The PR firm has to have the hard talk with clients about what IS news, which media outlets are right for different stories, not to mention convincing the client that a website or blog IS a media hit.

The PR firm also has the job of seeking out the story, really pushing the client again and again for REAL news, the angle, the hook. If the firm asks and asks but the client never shares or does anything newsworthy, or passes along the info too little too late, or the client’s customers won’t go on the record with positive feedback, then yes blame shifts to the client. FWIW.


While I agree with so much of this, I think it's also PR's job to find a way to tell a story and make it compelling. Got your 4th product announcement in a row and it's not very interesting in and of itself? Tie it to trends in the industry, outside of the industry. Make it about more than the product - talk about the user need. I see a lot of PR that forgets that basic tenet.


This is my favoritest post of all time.

Loring Barnes, Clarity

The PR and marketing agency must always deliver value and solutions to the client to drive sales and reinforce the brand's advantages. This requires forthright, honest and strong connected communication that engages the client in the construct of the program-- from goals to measurement metrics. Our job is not made easier by the fracturing media environment-- so setting expectations and bringing the client in on planning is essential to achieve trust and results.

Julie Crabill

Great post, Mark. I agree that great stories are easier to tell - but must say that even they don't "tell themselves." Even if you don't hire a PR firm, or even a PR person, you need someone pushing to get your story out there. If that person is an out-going, passionate CEO or a lead sales person who just loves to get people excited about the product, that's fine - but don't mistake that for the story "telling itself."


Right on the money Mark.

Blaming the PR company is often the easy way out but not always the smartest of moves. Taking a hard good look at your product or service and being self-critical before the 'launch' stage truly pays off in the mid to long run.


Well, I agree with the sentiment. But “managing expectations” is gross. There are three different points I want to make.

One, at the end of the day, you should really only take clients that have great products and a great story. That’s subjective of course — what makes a great product? But if you frame it as trivial and non-trivial, it gets a lot easier. If you take a trivial client, you’ll get trivial coverage. I’m not talking about execution here. I’m taking about — is this company trying to leave the world a better place than they found it? Is this client trying to fundamentally change the Web? Is this client going to impact behavior and culture at a meaningful level? A trivial product might be incredibly well-executed. You might have the best messaging/positioning humanly possible. But if it’s still a trivial technology, you’re screwed. No one will care. No PR person can change that, even if you’re really great at crafting the story. If crap goes in, crap comes out. If as a PR person you think you can take crap and spin it into gold, you’re deluding yourself. That’s a myth, save for a few edge cases where the founders were blind, dumb, and lucky, and didn’t know what they had, and luckily for them, someone else did. But again — you can’t make something trivial into something non-trivial. A big budget can’t fix it, either. And yet, it takes a LOT of discipline to pull this off, because it involves saying no, a lot. And it’s hard to say no – but that is basically Julie’s point with firing clients (though again, it’s even harder not to take them in the first place).

Two, if there is a gem and it needs polishing, that is another story altogether. This is the most frequent scenario in my experience. But the client has to be amenable to change, and the firm needs to put the criticism in an envelope in which the client will best receive it. And the firm also needs to be able to play ball at that level — it’s not about just a new gloss on the same story — it usually runs deeper than that — into the product and business strategy. I find that a tough messaging conversation is often the forcing function for a fundamental realignment. But it’s always worth it.

Which leads us to my last point...

There is finally the case in which PR really gets its hands very dirty with the product, and the PM likewise in the marketing program. As a result the product has a story that is literally built into its DNA. And the story tells itself. As we have often discussed, Mark, this is the future — a deep PR-PM, role-agnostic, cross-functional collaboration. I would argue that the reason Powerset did so well was in fact precisely because of YOU. You’re quite possibly the only PM who can even write a blog post about PR that is this sophisticated. And Todd’s team can and did contribute at the product level in ways big and small, which, hehe, is no trivial thing. The capabilities and wherewithal on both sides of the coin were special. Engagements like these are the ones that I am the most proud of, but they’re also the most difficult, because the collaboration has to run deeper than the client-consultant divide would typically allow. Some people do find ways to make it work. But they’re top 5% people, on both sides of the fence. PM’s and PR people who can do both make it onto what I call the “Bo Jackson List” -- they can play football and baseball. That’s the kind of people I try to hire, and that’s the kind of people I want to work with.

But, this is just a long way of saying — Mark, you rock.


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