Seeing a Different Side of the “Public” in Public Relations

Airplane Descending for LandingA few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to go on my very first business trip on behalf of my client.  I was excited for all of the expected reasons- going to a part of the country I hadn’t been to before, getting a few days to work outside of the office (can you really blame me when summer is just around the corner?), etc. However, the trip also ended up being an incredible learning experience because it introduced me to a side of public relations that I really hadn’t experienced before, and it did a great job of expanding my personal definition of the field.

To give a brief overview of why I ended up in Denver, last year my client Downy launched the Touch of Comfort program with the goal of delivering 10,000 handmade quilts to hospitalized children.  It almost goes without saying that the success of this program LARGELY depends on the involvement of consumers, especially the ones that quilt.  While Downy Touch of Comfort has been covered in all types of media, we recently decided to take a more local approach and have a presence (in the form of a booth) at some regional quilting festivals, starting off with the Denver National Quilt Festival.

After four days of getting to speak directly with consumers who really, truly cared when they heard about what we were trying to do, I was convinced that we, as PR professionals, tend to get a little tunnel-visioned when it comes to our profession.  We (and often our clients) get so wrapped up in media and the next big “hit”, that we sometimes forget that there are other ways of getting our message in front of our target audience.  That isn’t to say that media isn’t very important- many of the quilters that I met said that they had already heard about the program through a bunch of our placements.  But PR isn’t all about the media.  At the end of the day, it’s about creating a meaningful connection between your client and the people that they want to be in front of and sometimes a direct interaction can be more beneficial than casting a wide net and hoping the message sticks.  In other words, quality over quantity (and that’s not something you hear very often!)  As PR pros it’s our job to be as creative as possible when it comes to reaching your client’s “public.”

I’d love to hear if any of you have done something similar and had awesome results like we did.  Do you ever bypass the media to get right to your target audience?  Let me know in the comments!

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  • lallos

    Very nice post Jess,

    I find that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it's not the media, but who “consumes” the media that we're ultimately trying to reach–be it print, radio, tv, online, etc.

    Even better, I think it's great to get the chance to step out and by-pass the media and connect directly with consumers.

    Great to hear about how positive an experience it was for you, because there's actually a possibility that I'll have a similar opportunity this summer with a new client.

  • KellyByrd

    Great post! An important reminder that public relations is a field built on public perception and opinion and not solely on number of placements in the media.

    I recently went on my first business trip as well and was refreshed to see and hear first-hand the reaction of those who are affected by the media placements that drive so much of our work.

    I agree that sometimes direct interaction is exactly what's needed, especially with the growing use of and interest in social media from both our clients and the public.

    Glad you had such a great first business trip!

  • katetorok

    Nice post Jess. I've been harping on the quality vs. quantity point with clients a lot lately, especially as newsrooms continue to shrink and it gets tougher to attract media to a traditional “media event.” Always important to be thinking of other ways to reach out to audience!

  • jeffespo

    Jess with social media, you can surpass the media in some ways as you connect directly with the consumer. However at times a grassroot approach like your Denver experience can help a cause more than the media hits because the audience is there.

    I had a similar experience with the baseball team also with a cause related to hospitals. Every holiday season we would visit kids in the hospital and gave out toys with the players – many of these families had come to games as well. Seeing the end result of what the campaign was for really hits home.

    From the PR side, there were some days where the media would not want to come, however after one experienced it, it tugged at the heartsrtings of the other journos. This made it a grassroots turned good if you would.

    You do make a good point though on how we lose focus at times. Seeing people in action can be humbling but good for us.

  • marieveebee

    Hi Jeff, I love this comment! I also had a similar experience with a client. We put on a huge event with a children's hospital and the media turnout was okay, but nothing extraordinary. However, once the event was underway and everyone there saw all the positive things happening, the focus became less about the “coverage” and more about the cause.

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