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The other day a client forwarded an email call-to-arms from his president urging Marketing, PR – and by extension us, I guess – to develop a nugget that best described the company’s “differentiators,” to win customers’ hearts and minds. “I have a better idea,” I fired back. “Let’s ask him. He’s the leader of this outfit and ought to know.”
I’m fairly certain that no member in good standing of a professional PR organization or advocate of the Stockholm Accords – you know, people with finely tuned sensitivities –would ever talk to a client like that, certainly not in response to a request from the CEO. Only an ex-journalist would be so brash. Having spent much of our careers wading through the guff churned out by government agencies, corporate PR departments, marketing dweebs and the leaders of both the free and less-than-free worlds, journalists have a low BS threshold and get down to business quickly.
There are any number of reasons why clients should value this quality. Here are four:
- Knowing First-Hand What Motivates Media and “Key Influencers.” Unless you’ve gone head-to-head with other reporters/editors/bloggers to be first to get your mitts on a great story, you have no idea how competitive this business is. Journalists are motivated by a lot of things, but the top two are access to breakthrough news and getting it first. The PR person with a J-background can immediately tell when a client’s story is hot, and knows exactly where and with whom to maximize its exposure.
- Killing Non-News. A client sends us a draft announcement on their new product designed to drive the efficiency of high-speed mobile networks. After reading the release top to bottom, sideways and backwards we’re unable to find what exactly it is about this product that does what it claims. “Where’s the product information so we can see what you’re talking about?” Oh we’re just trying create buzz at a trade show. “Um, once again, where is the news in this thing? Well, it’s really just a marketing device. “Do you really even have such a new product, or is it perhaps possible that your existing product does what this announcement claims?” No response. Lastly we say, “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re going to be in if a journalist runs you through these same questions?” End of conversation and so-called news release.
- Transparency in Advertising/Messaging. We’re asked to sit in and comment on a telecom client’s planned video campaign promoting their major network investment/upgrade, bringing the world closer together via advanced comms, etc. etc. Up on the screen a Hollywood starlet dances barefoot on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Sudden close-up. “There will be no more there, we will all only be here,” she speaks into the camera. Ends – lights on in the studio. “Where am I?” I laugh. “Forget the slogan — just tell people you’re putting another $5B into your network and why that matters.” They decide that’s pretty good advice.
- Finding Out What Makes You Special. Returning to the tale of the hapless CEO in search of product differentiation. . . People trained in investigative J-skills can help big time. Just cut them loose to ransack your brain trust and create side-by-side comparisons of what you do versus the competition. A former reporter turned PR pro can quickly determine what Harvard professor Youngme Moon calls your “meaningful groove of separation” from other companies, and craft the content that makes your outfit stand out. No need to follow surreal Marketing-led quests for the meaning of life. Just the facts, ma’am.
And that’s the way it is, folks.