Is PR About Risk Taking or Risk Management?

risk taking (2)Fairly recently, I was recruited by one of Boston’s leading tech companies for a Director of PR role. I’ve been quite happy with consulting and contracting, but I knew that it was important to at least explore the potential opportunity.  While the role wasn’t the right fit, the interview made for a good discussion point regarding “what PR is.”

During the interview, the first question out of the gate went like this… “Tell me about the biggest risk you’ve taken.”

I was caught off guard. I asked for clarification. This is what I got: “Explain something ‘crazy’ you’ve put out there in terms of PR.”

Interesting question I thought to myself.  I replied by describing a number of creative and unique PR initiatives I led.  Was creative what she really meant?  It seemed that had to be what she was implying, as “crazy” wasn’t necessarily a word I used to describe my professional achievements or the strategic initiatives I’m most proud of.

It was evident that she was disappointed with my response.  She did, in fact, want “crazy.”

Immediately following the interview, I regretted my response.  I should have taken a moment to help educate her and clarify that PR isn’t about putting “crazy” things out there or taking risks.

PR is about creating a strategic communications plan that mitigates risk.

I’m not sure what the expectations were for this role, but it sounded like there was some disconnect from what a Director of PR role should look like in my opinion.

After connecting with the recruiter following the interview, the feedback was that I didn’t exhibit that I was enough of a “risk-taker” and that was what they were looking for.  I was counting my blessings. I think most PR professionals would agree that signing up for a “risk-taking” PR Director position would be setting oneself up for disaster.

While risk-taking may be an important characteristic in entrepreneurship, that is not necessarily the case with PR leadership.

On the other hand, pushing boundaries and experimentation are good traits in PR. And of course, so is creativity.  There’s certainly no harm in trying new approaches and messages, but it’s important that they are executed smartly and strategically.  It’s also okay to be controversial (e.g. disagreeing with a piece of legislation or taking a contrarian view on a highly visible issue), but again this should only be executed if it doesn’t pose a “risk” to the brand image or its leadership.

Often creative and unique PR campaigns are an extension of a larger marketing or social media campaign, and sometimes they can come in the form of a publicity stunt.  We also find that great marketing initiatives can lead to great press (think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) or in some cases just the opposite (check out this example from Business Insider about a failed movie theater stunt that led to police calls).  The latter case demonstrates that regardless of what team and department the initiative is driven from, the PR or Corporate Communications team should have a seat at the table in the discussion (more on this topic coming soon in another post.)

So the key takeaways?

  1. Risk + PR = Potential harm to a brand: PR is about mitigating risk and not muddying a brand’s image, worrying investors or jeopardizing customer or partner loyalty.
  2. Creativity + PR = A winning combination: There are plenty of ways to be creative and unique – whether it’s a very educational and insightful byline or a big publicity stunt, creative approaches can help achieve results.


How to Write an Effective PR Pitch in 3 Steps

Media receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of email pitches a day, so that makes getting yours to stand out all the more difficult. Luckily there are three really basic, but essential, tactics that will help you write an effective pitch and get noticed by media. While these tips may seem obvious, they are all too often forgotten about.

1. Write a customized email

Despite how many articles and PR professionals out there warn you not to send an email blast, generic “template-like” emails are still be making their way to reporters inboxes.  Make sure each email sent is unique to the recipient – whether it’s indicating what section this would be best for or referencing why this “news” is interesting to their audience, make sure your email is relevant.

2. Get to know the writers

This is the next step in customizing your email.  Read their bio, check out their recent tweets, and most definitely familiarize yourself with their recent coverage. If appropriate, reference what you know about them in your pitch email–mention a recent story or make a connection about something you have in common.

3. Be concise

Keep your email as brief as you can while still getting your point across. Remember how many emails a reporter gets a day? Make their lives easier by sending emails that are to the point and easy to digest.

There are several other things to consider when drafting a pitch — writing a good subject line and proof reading are among them.  This is a great list of tips to check out from contributing editor John Brandon.

PR for Startups – Is it Really any Different?

Next week I’m presenting a PR101 session at Paypal’s Start Tank and innovation space to help educate Boston’s upcoming entrepreneurs and equip them with the PR basics.  When putting together my presentation, it really hit home that when approaching a PR or communications strategy, the process has to be the same whether its a startup or an enterprise.

I’ve spent the majority of my career supporting big name brands–some household names, some international powerhouses. Toshiba, RIM, Kaspersky Lab, Orbitz, no need to explain who they are.  Some may think it’s a breeze supporting these types of corporations and organizations–the media knows them, there’s no breaking down walls to get attention.  But what happens when that’s not the case?

After a decade of working with big industry players, I switched gears to support a number of startups–services just coming to market, products first hitting retail, and companies with all of two employees. What have I found?  It’s really all the same.  At the of the day, it’s abStartup Stock Photosout reaching an audience, raising awareness and driving some sort of desired result.  

Here’s a quick look at the first steps of building a PR strategy regardless of business size:

  • Establish your goals and objectives: What do you want to achieve from PR?  Do you want to drive app downloads? Increase web traffic? Make your CEO a recognized industry name? No matter what your goals are for PR, put them on paper, and then you can create a strategy to get you where you want to be.
  • Identify your audience: Who do you want to reach? Is it customers, partners, distributors, investors? Before you can determine how to reach them, you need to know and understand who they are.
  • Know your key messages: Although your messages should be customized for each audience, a brand at any size needs to create the core messages that will be consistent across all communications (press releases, interviews, pitches, social media posts). What are those key takeaways you want your audience to walk away with?
  • Check out the competition: Familiarizing yourself with the competitive landscape will help with creating your messages, differentiating yourself, and identifying what media outlets/channels you want to be included in. The competition can often help inspire your direction (whether it’s following their lead or avoiding their mistakes!).