Fireside / December 2013

Ingredients for Success: Applying PR Strategy to Holiday Meal Preparation

Take the experience you’ve gained as a strategic communicator to the kitchen when preparing a holiday meal for a house full of guests.

At the start of any PR campaign, it’s important to have a strong sense of what’s out there and what’s been done before. When planning your menu for the evening, there are a number of things to consider such as: What have others served at previous dinners? Were those dishes a big hit, or did they remain untouched? In some cases, it’s okay to try something that has been used before by one of your competitors (like the Bree Van de Kamp of your neighborhood), as long as you put your own unique spin to it.

Set your goals & objectivesKnow your audience
In public relations, it is vital to define who you want to reach and identify the most effective methods of reaching them. The same rule applies when planning a meal for your guests. For instance, you can make the juiciest, most mouth-watering turkey ever, but if you serve it to a table full of vegetarians, you’ll be eating it alone.

What is it that you want to accomplish with this meal? Maybe your goal is to be perceived as the neighborhood’s best chef. In that case, your objective for the evening should be for everyone to leave with a full stomach and a smile on their face. Sadly, when I cook, the main objective is making sure that no one gets sick.

Develop your implementation strategy
At this point, you’ve done your research and have come up with a delicious meal that everyone is sure to enjoy. The next step is to outline your plan of execution to meet the objectives. In this stage, strategy is key. Make a shopping list. Set a timeline – know which items need to go in the oven and when to ensure all items are prepared by the time the guests arrive. Setting a budget is also an important part of planning a PR campaign and it should be taken into close consideration when planning your meal. Keep in mind that spending more money on name brand ingredients doesn’t always mean that things will be better in the end. Just like in our field, working with a big name agency that comes with a high price tag does not always guarantee superior results.

Now it’s time to put your well-researched, strategic plan into action when preparing the meal and serving it to your guests.

Examination of results is critical, as it will set the stage for future strategies. Now that everyone has indulged in the meal, take a look across the table. Do your guests have genuine smiles on their faces, or are their faces turning green? Did they go back for seconds? Pay attention to the dishes that are empty, as well as the dishes that were barely touched. This will give you an idea for what to make (and what NOT to make) next time around.

If the meal was well received, your guests will keep coming back for more. If you did not receive the reaction you were hoping for, elicit feedback and make adjustments for improvement.

Figuring Out Journalists: Three Tips for PR Pros

The more you know about your target media, the better chance you have of placing an article. That is a good reason for getting to know journalists individually.

At another level, it helps to be aware of common characteristics and larger trends. What traits or dispositions do journalists share? And how are they coping with the industry’s simultaneous contraction in size and expansion into the digital realm?

MediaJigsawStuartMilesHypersensitive, overworked, influenced

I touched upon one of common traits in a post last month, quoting former New York Times technology writer David Pogue, who said buzzwords were a “universal pet peeve,” at least among fellow tech journalists. Maybe that applies even more broadly. By definition, journalists are word experts. Even as they often grow jaded and distrustful of their sources and authority, journalists remain sensitive – at times hypersensitive – to the use and abuse of language. For that reason it is best to approach them accordingly, with direct, plain and truthful words.

Every profession has its “enterprising” and “lazy” practitioners. Most fall in between. Yet journalism has acquired a reputation for inefficiency. In a recent Bloomberg opinion piece Megan McArdle attacked that line of thought – “Lazy Journalists Aren’t to Blame for the Death of Print.” What’s to blame, she said, was the loss of ad revenue, not the output of journalists, who are as efficient as ever. There are fewer of them, to be sure. And over the past decade, many have had to scramble to maintain print products even as they shifted into digital-first mode. Journalists can be hypersensitive; they also are often overworked.

What else do we know about journalists? They can be biased. Which reminds me… In a previous life, as a third-tier subject matter expert in Washington DC, I once agreed to sit for a recorded interview with ABC’s Nightline. Duly made up and under the glare of camera lights, I began answering questions – and re-answering them. After the third or fourth try, I realized that what this producer was after: A cleaned-up version of something I’d said in passing at the outset. Not all journalists “pre-write” their stories and go searching for quotes. But most have inclinations, if not biases, and are already under the influence of a story line.

What to do?

Your job is to become another influence. The templates that journalists carry around with them are often as much timesaving reference points as ideological crutches. Figure out what that prevailing narrative is, then position your news or story pitch within that framework, using simple and direct language. Whenever possible, include a range of evidence – sources, quotes, trend lines and other data. Let your target journalist connect the dots.