Martin Waxman

From Optimist to Optimize: The Future of PR?

By: Martin Waxman | May 5, 2014 | 
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From Optimist to Optimized: The Future of PR?By Martin Waxman

If you’re in PR and of a certain age, it would be fair to say you’re an optimist.

Or were at some point.

I mean, how else can you describe a profession that relied on ‘the kindness of strangers’?

An industry with no guarantees, much hope, and an unwavering belief in unbalanced relationships.

In communications theory they call that “control mutuality,” that is, the balance of power two partners are willing to accept in order to make a relationship work.

And for PR, it’s always been tilted way over to the reporter’s side.

The payoff?

Earned media, credibility, and trust.

Along Came Social Media

And then, along came social media and a litany of excuses on why things aren’t as rosy as they once were.

PR was losing its optimistic edge.

A lot of senior PR people loath to admit this, but the traditional media relations model is truly broken.

Have you tried to pitch media recently?

It has changed.

And while the process hasn’t been completely smashed to pieces, it reminds me of a washing machine with a faulty spin cycle. It gets the job done, just not as effectively as before.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

(Forgive the metaphor, I used to do a lot of appliance PR.)

Earned Media Still Works

What I’m trying to say is that there’s still merit to earned media or – let’s call it what it is – publicity.

But we need to approach it from a fresh perspective and move from optimist to optimize.

What does that look like?

Optimize the Future of PR

Here are four things we can do to optimize PR.

  1. Make like you work for the Toronto SunOr any tabloid for that matter. I’m not recommending you bend the truth, I’m talking about creating the best possible headlines that grab people’s attention and also answer questions they may have. In other words, hook and help in 10 words or less.
  2. Re-read The Tipping PointMalcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book was all about how stories and ideas spread. The media only approach no longer cuts it, though they can still be a key part of the equation. Think about the path you want your story to take, the catalyst who can spark it and how you can get your story to them. Then imagine another approach and another. That’s where strategy comes in.
  3. Say no to second-rate storiesTake a step back and look at your story from the recipient’s point of view. As Rob Biesenbach says: Does it have a character in pursuit of a goal facing an obstacle? If not, put on your thinking cap and keep working. They take new Broadway shows on tour for weeks before opening night for a good reason: to perfect the story.
  4. Take off the invisibility cloak. Here, I’m talking about search. Yes, some people (boomers and GenX mostly) want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. But how does that affect your search results? Is it driving traffic back to your site? More than 90 percent of our online interactions start with search. That’s where we go to connect and find things out. And if it’s from credible sources, all the better. So focus on how your program will play out in search. Google results are the new PR clips.

From Optimist to Optimize

I had a drink with a good friend of mine recently. We’ve known each other for years and he’s a talented writer, entrepreneur, and comedian. He was telling me about his latest book idea and I asked him if he was going to write a blog post to promote it.

He said he didn’t need a diary, the publisher would take care of getting the word out.

I suggested he was missing an opportunity. He was always a newsmaker in the past, now he could be that and a news outlet too.

He could optimize. We all should. Now that’s something that makes me optimistic.

Where do you fall on the optimist/optimize continuum? And what else would you do to optimize PR?

photo credit: kayugee via photopin cc

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is president of Martin Waxman Communications and conducts digital and social media training workshops. He’s a Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning author, one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast, and past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy. Martin teaches social media at UToronto SCS and Seneca College and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America. Find him on Twitter @martinwaxman.

  • martinwaxman

    lkpetrolino SpinSucks thanks!

  • This is so on-point, I’m not even sure what to say other than, “Yep. Yep. Yep.”
    also – I love The Tipping Point – I think it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s best book.

  • Oh my. Now I’m dying to know who that friend was!! RB?? MB??? Great piece as always, Martin. Though I laughed out loud at the Toronto Sun reference. 😉

  • martinwaxman

    makeaner wbsmith200 SpinSucks Thanks for sharing the post!

  • Thanks. Thanks. Thanks :).

  • Glad you liked that! I’m happy to tell you over drinks :).

  • BillSmith3

    @martinwaxman makeaner wbsmith200 SpinSucks  My pleasure Martin!

  • Great tips! So glad you recommended The Tipping Point. It’s one of my favorites. I tell people to read it every couple of years, because you as the communications world changes and innovates you are able to pull different things out of it to apply accordingly.

  • Martin, why oh why isn’t the “sidenotes” option turned on for your post? Because I would have HAD to comment on your background in appliance PR (just imagine if the twoaster had been a thing back in the day!) // Seriously, though, you make some tremendously valid points. Speaking from the viewpoint of a non-industry person with a love of helping brands/causes I love make their points, I’d say the absolute #1 way to optimize is to notice me — favorite my tweet, drop me a DM of thanks, answer my questions, send samples to friends if I recommend someone who could be an equally passionate champion of your product/cause. If I only get crickets back, that’s definitely not optimizing things.

  • My ears are burning, but my Talkwalker Alerts are not! Just saw this. Thanks for the shout-out, Martin! 
    Tipping Point is great not only for understanding how stories spread but how to construct a story. He’s a master!

  • RobBiesenbach  What do they say about comedy? Timing… Thanks Rob. I really enjoyed your talk yesterday and enjoyed that we’re recommending a similar reading list.

  • LauraPetrolino  Thanks Laura! One of mine, too. I also go back to it because the principles sure apply.

  • biggreenpen  Thanks Paula. I guess that’s why I had such an affinity to your virtual ones…

    You’re so right because all of those things you suggest mean you’re thinking about the recipient and starting a relationship… Of course, that takes time to build, but it’s worth it.

  • Ug. I have never read The Tipping Point. I’m not a Gladwell fan, but if you insist. Miss you! Hope you’re having fun in sunny Florida.

  • biggreenpen  Weird. The Sidenotes weren’t turned on for Mary Anne’s post last week, either. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we publish multiple times a day? I’ll find out.

  • ginidietrich  It’s been a good conference. We miss not having you here this year! As for Mr. Gladwell, I like how he takes research on various topics and explains them with stories.

  • sherrilynne

    I agree with all points made.  No surprise.  That’s why Martin and I enjoy working together!

  • sherrilynne

    biggreenpen  I love sidenotes!

  • martinwaxman ginidietrich  Like I said in my presentation Monday. Gladwell has come under a lot of criticism from social scientists who say he oversimplifies things. His answer: “I’m not writing for social scientists.”
    If he was, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation—because we would have never heard of Malcolm Gladwell, because his books would have sold hundreds of copies and not millions (I assume?).
    Anyway, the point is, agree or disagree with the science of it all (and, Gini, I don’t even know if that’s your objection), he is definitely a world class storyteller that we can learn a lot from.
    Anyway, I’m just babbling on my fight home. For all know, Gini doesn’t like his hair!

  • Pingback: Ep #5: Building an Impactful Online Reputation with Gini Dietrich - Roger Dooley()

  • sherrilynne  That’s for sure! Thanks Sherrilynne!

  • Pingback: From optimist to optimize – a way forward for PR » Martin Waxman()

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