|January 1, 2005
Frankly Speaking PR Tips
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Published Monthly by Frank Public Relations
for Business Executives and Communications
Professionals Eager to Enhance Business Performance
Public Relations: "The management function that
identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually
beneficial relationships between organizations and
various publics on whom its success or failure
depends." Cutlip, Center, and Broom
January 1, 2005
The Circus Comes to PR
Yes, it is a PR circus world that drives media
attention. You can be an observer and enjoy the
show, or you can be in one of the three-rings that
dominate the circus tent, reaping all the attention.
The choice is yours!
Publicist Lee Solters, who publicized Theda Bara in
A Fool There Was, gives the best definition
publicity I have ever heard.
"When the circus comes to town and you
paint a sign
about it, that's advertising," says Lee. "Put the
sign on the back of the elephant and march through
town, that's promotion. If the elephant walks
through the mayor's flowerbed, that's publicity. And
if you can get the mayor to comment about it, that's
public relations!" Lee made that observation some
years ago when he handled Ringling Bros. Circus.
Staying with the circus theme -- PT Barnum is
considered by many to be the father of public
relations. He is credited with developing the
concept of the three-ring circus we know today.
In order to get people to attend the circus,
PT Barnum created bizarre, tantalizing, and
sometimes death-defying sideshows to bring circus
goers into the big tent.
Without the sideshows,
people were simply not sure if the circus was worth
attending. PT Barnum's staged events like the
bearded lady, the fire enhanced sword swallowed by a
"freak," etc. was all done to draw attention for the
circus to increase interest in attendance.
No kidding! It was the birth of the "PR stunt."
Thus was born the idea of creating media interest by
creating an event, or other newsworthy happening to
invite and entice media coverage.
Many times you
will notice that PR coverage is attracted through a
"staged event," though naturally occurring events
are more credible, timely, and more easily embraced
by the public.
So, when you sometimes think that the
media coverage you are witnessing looks similar to a
three-ring circus, like various criminal trials, as
the Martha Stewart coverage, you are right. The
media "circus" you witnessed actually has its
roots from the early days of the circus!
With this background in mind, what do you
do if you are in the driver's seat in your
organization and responsible for advertising,
promotion, publicity, and public relations? Do you
hire an in-house person, or a PR agency?
What are the advantages of each
The US Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook
Handbook puts it this way,
"An organization's reputation, profitability, and
even its continued existence can depend on the
degree to which its targeted publics' support its
goals and policies. Public relations is key to both
the growing economy and to key institutions. The
amount of resources dedicated to public relations
should be aligned with this significant piece of
Whether you should hire an in-house public
relations professional (I spent 23 years of my
career in-house), or a PR agency, is
strictly a business decision. Many start-up
companies have limited resources, and find it more
economical to deal with a PR agency to
manage their account. PR agencies
are very attractive in that they work in
the particular "space" or discipline of the client,
and have the ability to leverage their media
contacts with their various clients.
In-house PR counsel is strictly dedicated, devoted,
to YOU, your company and its products. Hopefully
they are part of your strategic executive management
team, and participate regularly in all meetings
involving strategy and tactics.
Sometimes, PR agency representatives are
left out of this loop - which is really not
affording the organization the full complement of
skills that today's PR pro brings to the table.
Public relations is a strategic business
tool, which should be respected by all members of
the organization. When looking for a PR
professional, in-house or agency, according to the
Council of Public Relations Firms (wwwprfirms.org),
you should look for professionals who provide the
following skills: problem solving, sociability, a
sense of urgency, tenacity, persuasiveness,
assertiveness, self-confidence, empathy,
aggressiveness and stamina.
And finally, although I am not addressing
the discipline of advertising here - what is the
difference between advertising and public relations?
Simply put: You pay for advertising versus "free"
coverage from public relations. Public relations is
considered earned media. With advertising, you
create and place exactly what you want the public to
see, where it appears, how often, the content, etc.
With public relations, though you pay for the
agency or in-house public relations professionals to
develop press releases and collateral materials, you
do not have control over when it appears, how much
of it appears, or where it appears.
On the other hand, PR has an enhanced credibility
over advertising material, and in fact, the next time
you pick up your
newspaper, read it very carefully. More than 90
percent of what you read has been generated by a
press release! This is referred to as editorial
content. Therefore, editorial content is more widely
embraced as "news" written by a non-biased reporter
versus advertising, which naturally is biased. Think
about it - is editorial content really unbiased?
Now let's go back to the circus and put all the
elements together. How does a sound, strategic
public relations campaign come into play with a
strategic marketing action plan?
Let's have a little fun and use PT Barnum again.
This is a visual response so get prepared.
Picture the circus tent on the ground (the business
plan), and picture the poles holding up the tent
(the strategic marketing campaign to give rise to
the plan). Now assign a name to each pole: marketing
promotion, advertising (on and offline), and public
relations - a sound strategic public relations
campaign is part of the total marketing campaign.
These poles are components keeping the tent up and
ready for action.
Underneath the tent are all the organization's team
players who are onboard with the strategic marketing
campaign. Through all of their efforts, whether
they are accountants, sales representatives,
customer service, etc. - the best PR is that which is
advanced by your own team of employees. A
good strategic marketing plan, with the PR
component, includes all employees. Be sure they know
the direction of the organization so that they can
serve as individual PR ambassadors.
Please do not leave out the strategic partners,
alliance members, consortium partners, vendors, and
others who are playing a vital role to advance your
organization. They, too, are excellent PR
ambassadors, not just of good will, but they can also
spread substantive value-added information, which
may help you retain current, and perhaps help you
garner new clients/customers. Never underestimate
the power of your employees. They have the ear of
least l0 people outside of your organization. They
can be champions of your organization's mission.
Work towards helping them deliver the best message
possible. Communicate regularly, communicate
effectively, and most importantly communicate
Parting words: There will always be a circus ring
filled with action and spectators eager to watch
and know more. It is up to you and your organization
to decide if you will stay a spectator or choose to
be in the center ring of attention as the result of
an inspired PR strategy and well executed tactics.
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