With the decline of the mainstream media, CEOs are rightfully asking why they should devote precious resources to public relations departments and agencies to get publicity in traditional media outlets that fewer and fewer people consume. But in this the Age of Google, it’s still important to get messages out. The question is where and how. The good news is that PR is easier than ever, it has new-found permanence, and it doesn’t require a lot of time and money. PR in the Age of Google even pays some unexpected dividends that help organizations focus their messages and identify their leaders.
These days it’s hard to believe that as recently as 15 years ago, the public relations game was played by the same rules that had been in place for 50 years. Corporations employed PR professionals to gain access to media outlets in the hope of getting their stories told in the most favorable light to the largest-possible audiences. With the arrival of the Internet, that system quite simply melted away. The major print-on-paper players that once controlled wide swaths of the news media audience have been hobbled by eroding trust, changing demographics, and a botched transition to an online-based financial model. In their place have emerged thousands of online specialty publications with leaner staffs, better-defined audiences, and clearer missions. What these publications need most is content that will keep readers coming back.
Supplying that insatiable demand for online content are myriad corporations, groups, and individuals who are submitting articles of all kinds to the online publications they know are being consumed by their prospects. While most rightly reject content that is overtly self-promotional, there is plenty of latitude to present executives and others in an organization as experts, or, in the parlance, thought leaders. This fancy term simply denotes a knowledgeable person with whom a prospect has gained a level of trust and respect and, more importantly, a motivation to partner in a business pursuit.
New System and a New Approach
Within the wide boundaries of thought leadership it’s possible to get out the message the organization needs distributed, in the places its prospects visit, using a system in which the organization has much more control. No large PR staff or expensive agency is required to accomplish this. The personal relationships on which they both so long depended are no longer required to obtain media access. All that’s required now are a compelling story and an email address to which to send it. An executive assistant or entry-level marketing person can handle the email. The trick is the compelling story.
Every organization has people who seem especially adept at explaining the company’s approach, value propositions, or strongest-held beliefs in a memorable or inspiring way. These individuals may not be the best salesperson or engineer available, but they can talk the talk. By finding these people, learning their professional passions, and fitting them into the organization’s overall message, a company can cultivate its own subject-matter experts.
Typically the stories most compelling to business readers are those that help them solve a problem or avoid one. In short, they are the ones that make prospects look smart. They have a clear point and are unfailingly focused on the reader and solving his or her problem. Inevitably, some selling will occur, but it needs to be limited to a brief explanation of why a product or service is the right one to solve the prospect’s problem.
Value Beyond Public Relations
Despite all the evidence that marketing and the media are moving in new directions, there are always CEOs interested only in an article in The Wall Street Journal. But that article appears once, with lots of others, and it may or may not say what it should. It may not even be accurate. In contrast, a well-conceived article in an online specialty publication delivers the thought leadership that attracts prospects. News of its publication can be shared on a company’s website and through its social media channels. It can be edited into a series of blog posts. And the best news of all is that every one of those messages is available indefinitely to prospects through the online search engines that so dominate information gathering today.
There are other benefits to this new approach to public relations, which should probably be re-labeled as prospect relations. The first involves the search for subject-matter experts. Organizations that don’t have them may find they are having trouble competing. The second involves the need to have a focused message that resonates with prospects. If an organization can develop that message, it can find direction. If it can identify experts to deliver that message, it can find leaders.
Kent Huffman is a chief marketing officer at Houston-based Chief Outsiders, which offers strategic business and marketing services to CEOs of midsize companies. He gained executive-level marketing experience at Perot Systems, CompuCom Systems, BearCom Wireless, and AT&T Capital.