Where PR & Umbrella Drinks Meet
by: Ted Sikorski
RT&E Public Relations Group Leader
The 60's-era novel Don't Stop the Carnival, penned by noted author Herman Wouk, chronicles the mid-life crisis of a fictional Broadway theater publicist named Norman Paperman, who chucks it all to become a resort innkeeper on the Caribbean island of Amerigo. The perils of Paperman and the work of Wouk were set to music many years later when tropical troubadour Jimmy Buffet collaborated with the author to create a musical based on the book.
In the musical version, Paperman questions his decision to leave New York behind to deal with a shortage of water on the island and with the local island natives, noted for their slower pace of life and their penchant for nepotism. In the song titled "Public Relations," Paperman—as voiced by Jimmy—talks about missing his former life's work, which included "working the press for a mention or two." Granted, given some artistic license and considering the era in which Wouk completed the book, the field of public relations is much more than, as Norman says, "hustling for headlines."
Public relations in today's environment is a discipline of communications that creates awareness of a company or organization and its expertise which will lead to more business opportunities. It is also a method of reaching targeted audiences with a strategic message to positively encourage a specific action or perception. The media relations component of an overall PR strategy is only one of several "tools" to be employed to communicate a targeted message to a precisely defined audience. In the case of working with the media—either business-to-business or consumer; print, broadcast or on-line—the goal is to reach the audience of that outlet who view that publication, show or website as a source of credible, valuable information.
The reporters of Wouk's day were typically males who worked for newspapers, magazines, wire services or radio stations. Today, the media landscape has grown exponentially and with the advent of blogs and other forms of social media, anyone can consider themselves a journalist. But garnering positive media coverage isn't as simple as just putting out a press release. It is the result of sound planning, tactical execution and relationship building. Generating editorial coverage for a newsworthy product or project, or staging a media event to attract coverage when real news is missing, requires professional skill and creativity. And one only has to pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news to see how easy it is to generate negative publicity. Remember, there is no truth to the old adage, "all PR is good PR." Bad publicity can get you sued, fired, indicted, or driven out of business.
So, should you hire a consultant or agency to handle your public relations activities? Consider the advice offered by Dick Placzek, who heads up an agency in Lincoln, Nebraska that specializes in outdoor recreation markets. Placzek says to look at the relationship you have with your accountant or attorney. He says if you don't try to manage your own books or make legal decisions, why would you conduct your own marketing or public relations?
We at RT&E think that when you are considering an agency to handle your PR efforts, there are a few questions you should ask. Does the potential partner have demonstrated experience in generating PR results for their clients? Do they have the ability to apply strategic thinking and relevant tactical execution to your business or organization? Does the agency offers resources including primary and secondary research, media databases, creative support, event coordination, and A/V or e-marketing capabilities? Do they understand the news delivery process and can they attract meaningful coverage in business-to-business and consumer media channels? Do the agency and the staff have the ability to get up to speed quickly in an area they know little or nothing about? The answer to all of these questions should be yes.
Knowing that one size doesn't fit all, a smart PR professional will recognize and implement the best methods for meeting a particular client's goals. The potential agency partner should have the definitive abilities and qualities that will lead to positive media generation and the resources to make it happen. As a rule, strong PR is forged as a combination of research, strategy, creativity, and a dedicated pursuit of opportunities.
Come to think of it, maybe Norman Paperman's PR experience did come in handy in running his resort.