Last week, I had a client, who wants to be better known in the market, pass on a sponsorship opportunity because they didn’t think they would get a whole lot of media mileage out of it. The sponsorship meant getting access to eight key companies, working in partnership with a major university and a handful of influential state and local agencies, and being included in a wide swath of social media strategies. But the client was right – they most likely were not going to get a major media mention from it.
I blame myself really. Here’s what I think happened.
They said “build awareness.”
I heard “make sure key audiences know about them.”
They meant “get them in the newspaper and on TV.”
A former boss used to tell me repeatedly, “If a client says they want to build awareness, keep asking them ‘why?’ until you get to the real goal.”
In other words, I must give myself permission to act like a 5-year-old and bug you, dear client, by asking “why” until I really, truly, totally get what you want to accomplish. In this case, I assumed that awareness in the community meant being top-of-mind in the industry and gaining credibility with community decision makers. What the client really wanted was to read the company name in the newspaper and hear it on the radio and have a whole bunch of others do the same.
That is a fine goal. But let’s be clear on something. As a colleague of mine commented, “A story in the paper does not equal direct access to decision-makers.”
With respect to my fine reporter friends and associates, there is still some great reporting going on but newspaper readership is WAY down. There also are thousands of niche publications, satellite radio stations and TV stations that fragment the impact traditional media can have. That’s good for PR people who want to get clients in the media – there are more outlets. And media can still break a story and shape public perception.
But consider this – younger adults are more likely to get their news from a Facebook or Twitter search. Heck, even 104-year-olds are getting their news from Twitter (RIP Ivy.)
It falls to us in the communications industry to listen first, understand clients’ goals, and then deliver as best as we can. We have to find the niche media outlets. But that’s only one strategy in the PR arsenal. We also have the responsibility to educate our clients about all the “publics” in public relations.
There is still communication power in the barbershops, churches, rotary clubs, high schools, book clubs, grocery stores and bars in this country. Not to mention the corporate, government and foundation offices. And yes, definitely, online.
True PR professionals understand the nuances of communication. When to share. What to share. How to share. Where to share. Sometimes the most effective PR comes from reaching the right people at the right time instead of everyone who still reads the paper. We have to make sure our clients understand all that public relations really is and can be. Next time, I’ll have more of an upfront agreement with the client so I can help them achieve their goals at the same time.