Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to take PR advice

This week, I've been having an interesting discussion with a fellow professional communicator about the value of a blog post (written by yet another professional communicator) we both read on corporate use of Twitter.

In a nutshell, I felt it contained valuable information; she disagreed, for a range of reasons, one of which being that it could lead readers to make decisions about using Twitter "carte blanche" in certain situations.

In PR, other than "be honest," don't use any advice "carte blanche"

While we weren't on the same page about the blog post we were discussing, I'm certain my colleague and I completely agree about this: don't follow anyone else's advice about whether you should use any tool or tactic "carte blanche."  Effective PR isn't achieved using templates -- though many, unfortunately, think that's the case.

There isn't a proven, right way to do anything every time; simply copying what some other organization did in a similar situation to yours won't necessarily work. And while we're at it, simply copying what you did the last time you were in a similar situation with the same audiences won't necessarily work, either.

The field is always changing.

The foundation of any good strategy in communications is knowing your audience. But that doesn't mean knowing their ages, genders, income levels, geography, etc. etc. -- it means knowing what makes them tick, what they care about, whom they're listening to and why. And those things are constantly changing.

Think about your own behaviour. Do you do the same thing every day, watch the same TV shows every night, visit the same websites on a scheduled basis? Do the people you follow in social media say the same things, time and time again?

Or do your behaviours and the external factors that influence them change over time?

Of course, they change. Which means the best way to reach you changes, too.

This makes the PR manager's job tougher - but is also why the PR manager has a job.

If people ran on predictable equations, "template" communication plans would be all you'd ever need. You would find out what your key audiences' habits and preferences are, and apply the appropriate plan for the situation.

But people don't run on predictable equations -- which means you need to always be interacting with your audiences to have a sense of where they're coming from (and where they're going) at any point in time. You can of course learn from what has and hasn't worked for you in the past, but you need to identify what's changed at your audiences' end to be able to address them properly.

Similarly, you can learn from what others have done in the past (hence the value of reading textbooks, blog posts, and presentations about their experiences); evidence of what has and hasn't worked for others can help steer us in the right direction, and can help us show why we're recommending what we're recommending.

But not because the tactic or tool will deliver exactly in our case what it did in the example: because it's one example that can give us a sense of what we might expect. Even more important than the results others have delivered using certain tactics, for our purposes, is how our situation is different from theirs. Only when we evaluate the two together can we really have a fair sense of what might work for us.

Take it under advisement

The only way to identify the best approach for your audiences in any given situation is to know the options, and know your audiences.

There are gazillions of textbooks, articles, presentations, and blogs out there that will give you advice -- including this one! -- but you shouldn't ever just implement someone else's plan with your audiences. Unless their plan worked with your audiences, in your situation, and at this particular point in time (which is impossible!), it won't be as strategic as it could be... and it won't give you your best shot at success.


  1. This also reminds me of the importance of learning each time from every communication project we handle. I believe it's also a wake up call to all communicators to be proactive when planning out communication plans. It's so easy to be complacent and hastily conclude that such a tactic or tool will work out for such an audience 'cause it simply worked out before. Nothing wrong with previous plans that worked- but I believe that you stressed an important point as well that we just have to do our research or homework each time around. PR is changing constantly, so do our audiences. PR is such an exciting world and it needs dynamic PR proefessionals. Thank you Melanie, for such a great post! I would always be reminded of this.

  2. Glad you found it helpful - thanks for reading!

  3. One of the things that I value the most in your classes is that you always encourage your students to listen, use our judgement, and to tailor our tactics to our environment. Apart from the fact that that really is the best way to practice PR, it has also given a lot of us the confidence to pursue original ideas.

  4. "The foundation of any good strategy in communications is knowing your audience..."

    I was asked at a job interview what I thought the most important thing communicators should know. I answered "knowing your audience."

    I am a firm believer the only way you would get through to people is knowing what makes drives them to do the things they do and why they do them. Change is also an obstacle communicators have to overcome. Just when you think you've figured it out, your audience's behaviour has already changed.

    I love PR because you're always doing different things to reach those audiences and you're always thinking of new strategies. It's good brain exercise!

    I love PR because you'll never get bored of the work and some way, some how, you're chasing a