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

Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman, MCM, APR, is a senior advisor to Spin Sucks and runs a consultancy, Martin Waxman Communications. He leads digital and social media training workshops, conducts AI research, and is a LinkedIn Learning author and one of the hosts of the Inside PR podcast. Martin teaches social media at McMaster University, the Schulich School of Business, Seneca College, and the UToronto SCS and regularly speaks at conferences and events across North America.

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