I’ve taken part in loads of brainstorms in my career and there have been occasional flashes of brilliance from attendees but by and large I have found them a pretty blunt instrument. The concept that you can somehow force a bunch of people in a room to come up with killer ideas in a 60 minute time frame seems a bit unrealistic to me. I just don’t think that most people’s brains work like that. What I often experienced were a lot of recycled ideas and a lot of playing safe.
I’ve heard this kind of thing on twitter before, from people in agencies who say that the same idea gets floated again and again. Part of the problem might be that attendees aren’t briefed properly before the brainstorm so they don’t fully understand the objectives. (Incidentally, the best brainstorms I experienced included some whacky stuff like Play-Doh.)
I then asked my twitter followers how they came up with their best ideas and a few like me said that it was either when they were falling asleep or in the middle of the night sometime. I have a theory that daydreaming or dozing allows you to be more creative as your brain frees up some of its RAM, if you like.
After a little bit of web browsing I came across this piece, which sums things up nicely.
One of the smartest ways to think is not to.
I propose that daydreaming should now be compulsory in the workplace!
We all know that journalists are bombarded with PR material every day and that unfortunately, some of it is poorly targeted, poorly produced and not relevant. Journalists can actually get some brilliant story ideas from PRs, as well as really useful content to enhance an existing story and vital statistics, quotes and case studies within very tight deadlines.
So I guess the answer to the above question depends on whether the PR is trying to ‘get a story to run’ or ‘stop a story from running’. Journalists would have a pretty hard time functioning if there weren’t efficient PRs to organise spokespeople, source stats and case studies quickly or investigate customer stories. Similarly, they would probably rather have the mobile numbers of all the experts and top people than have to phone a press office and get an anodyne reactive statement.
Either way, journalists and PRs do depend on each other, but not exclusively, and less so since the advent of social media. Journalists source stories from readers, contacts, announcements, surveys and increasingly from bloggers and social media platforms such as Twitter. PRs need journalists to be featured in newspapers, magazines and on radio and TV, but now they can also go direct to their target audience via websites, podcasts, iPhone apps, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube etc etc.
It comes down to the skills of the PR individual and the ethos of the company as to whether the PR function is a barrier or a facilitator. But the acid test of who needs who more comes down to one simple thing – who pays for lunch – and that is still the PR.
Which? recently highlighted the top 10 most useless financial products including things such as mobile phone insurance and packaged current accounts.
Whether you agree with the Which? assessment or not, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at these products from the point of view of the PR person that has to promote (defend?) them. Which? essentially said that people don’t need these products or that they can get better deals elsewhere. So how do you contend with that?
Well, it depends what the criticism is. If it is that the rates or returns aren’t competitive, then fair enough, people don’t have to take these products but there might be many reasons why they might want to do so. For example ease of use/ ease of applying, service, consolidating different types of products with one provider or other benefits that come with the product. Price is not the only factor and some people simply don’t want to constantly shop around for the best deals, they just want to go down the simplest route.
If the criticism is that people don’t need the product, then that simply isn’t valid for everyone. People don’t NEED to buy mineral water, they can just get it for free from a tap. People don’t NEED to buy super unleaded petrol, they can just buy the normal grade. But people sometimes want to do these things so if consumer demand is there, however niche, then there is nothing wrong with catering for that, provided that people have all the information to make a decision.
This leads to the next criticism, which may be that people are hood-winked into taking out a policy or buying a product and not realise what they are getting into. This is where things get much trickier for PRs as your company or client is being accused of dodgy sales practices. There are no easy answers here and protestations that people should have read the small print are not going to find much sympathy with journalists. Ultimately, you can only do the best you can, but if something is rotten, it is rotten.
From a commercial point of view, bad media coverage does not necessarily mean that the providers will amend or withdraw the products. If the product is generating revenue then some companies will take the view that bad PR is a ‘price worth paying’. However, it is the PRs duty to flag up risks and to do their best to change companies for the better, too make them more transparent and to improve their reputation. It would be great to be in a position to make organisations more consumer-friendly using external reputation as leverage. This is what PR can potentially achieve.
Another day, another survey from a financial services company. There are rather a lot of them. Nevertheless, a well thought-out, well written-up and well-targeted survey is a joy to behold. A real triumph of creativity and good timing. I absolutely love a good survey. However, there are loads and loads of bad ones, every month, from all corners of the financial services industry.
It almost seems like a survey, index, or study is the default option for panicking PRs who feels that they haven’t got something to say in any given month. My feeling is, if you don’t have anything good to say, try not to say anything at all. Far better to issue half as many news releases but make sure they tell better stories. Quantity of output is not a measure of how well you are doing PR-wise. Results are the only thing that matter.
The most common downfall for a survey is poor planning. You can tell just by reading the news release straight away, when a company had an idea for a story, commissioned the research, yet the results didn’t quite come out they way they wanted. The company thinks ‘damn, people didn’t answer how we thought they would – the figures don’t back up what we wanted to say’. So the company moves to the next stage which is to try and salvage what they can from the £5,000/ £10,000/ £15, 000 (delete as appropriate) that they spent on the fieldwork. The end result is a sort of cobbled together patchwork of stats that don’t really say anything.
Everyone gets in a big old mess and no-one stops to think how they could have done it better. My tip would be to write your news release first and then work backwards. A little mistake in the design of the questions can have huge ramifications further down the line, so get it right first time. If you’ve got the money, you can always run a test first with a smaller sample to get a feel for what the full results are going to be.
So clearly, bad surveys are a waste of time and money, and journalists just laugh at you. However, there is also a further type of ‘bad’ survey that I feel is worth flagging up, and this is a bit more controversial. There are surveys which turn into good stories and which get lots of coverage. Fine. But what if the story has no real link to the company and is simply there to generate headlines?
For example, let’s take a large bank that puts out a survey on what artist or band people would most like to listen to as hold music on the ‘phone. They could issue that story around the time of the X-factor final, get lucky and generate four or five bits of national coverage on the Monday, plus some regional coverage to follow later in the week. But so what? It’s likely that readers of the coverage will recall the headline of the story but won’t remember which bank, or even which type of company, did the survey in the first place.
So before you spend money on surveys, just think about whether they are going to deliver real value for you. If you are going to just get a namecheck or a ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ quote, then maybe your money is better spent elsewhere.
I have often come across folk who want to fit PR into a nice little box to bolt on to their marketing campaigns so that they can tell the sales or commercial directors that they have an ‘integrated campaign’. This is the wrong way to approach PR – it’s not an added extra or a nice bit of free publicity – it is something much more fundamental than that.
Of course, marketing and PR should work together very closely. Messages should be consistent across all communications channels. It’s just that ‘earned media’ (PR-generated) is a different kettle of fish to ‘bought media’ (marketing or advertising generated). Nobody owes you any PR coverage so you’d better approach it right in the first place.
The most significant mistake is to assume that you can plan your PR out months in advance. Sure, organisations have key events, such as launches, financial calendar announcements and strategic partnerships that you will want to plan very carefully for. However, you cannot fit all PR activity into coloured bars on a spreadsheet and force certain stories to go out in certain months. Well, you can, but it would be pretty ineffective.
The very nature of news is that it is living, breathing, constantly changing and never static. If you try to push ‘news’ out in certain months, then it is almost certainly not actual news (more likely to be what journalists might call ‘marketing puff’) and risks missing the mark. It’s far better to remain fleet of foot, listening to what is going on in the market and ready to jump on any opportunities where you can add value and (here’s the clever bit) thereby get a plug for your organisation or product in.
You can’t manage the media, and good PR people understand that. It’s like trying to take a tiger for walkies. You’re likely to lose your trousers.
So try and resist the temptation to plan your PR months and months in advance. You’ll spend your whole time buried in spreadsheets whilst golden PR opportunities pass you by.