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Show, don’t tell: why PR is like a good pick-up line

November 11, 2012

Journalists reserve a special dislike for media releases that begin ‘Company X, the world’s leading developer of innovative business solutions, today announced … (a boring product launch)’.

I don’t know how it became accepted practice to stick self-serving jargon in the most important part of a release. I also don’t know how the Kardashians have become a touchstone for popular culture. Some things just remain a mystery.

The self-serving company summary is just one of many painful ways that we PR people annoy the media. What, they don’t love corporate crap designed to heap praise on the company producing it? No way!

Sure, I’ve had to be a party to this plenty of times; there is an enduring belief among corporate leaders that any award they win requires a media release to share that news.

But the kind of PR I like doing, and the shit that works? That’s based on demonstrating expertise, not crowing about the fact you have it.

For professional services companies – which is mainly who I work with – this is crucial. They don’t have a product that you can touch or feel, so they need to prove their smarts. But no matter what industry you work in, nobody likes a show-off.

A lawyer, for example, needs to be provide useful and practical insights into a legal issue affecting their client base. A financial adviser needs to explain tricky financial issues. A recruiter needs to provide advice on the best hiring practices. And so on.

Where good PR practitioners add value is in helping to tease out what those issues are. What are clients constantly asking them? What regulatory changes have just come into effect? What is a hot topic in the business media?

If this sounds obvious to you, then you’re probably doing it right. Unfortunately, there are plenty of companies who think the best way to tell you how awesome they are, is to tell you how awesome they are. These ‘leading’, ‘world-class’, ‘cutting-edge’ companies can make a PR person’s life kinda hard.

It’s weird, because they probably wouldn’t do it in real life and expect it to work. If I was at a bar, and a guy in a suit started telling me how he is the best in his industry, the best in his sports team or the best at anything else, I’d call him out on being a wanker and walk away. (Come to think about it, I have done that in my time).

Is it any wonder then that news journalists do the same to companies?

Quality content, not blustery self-aggrandisement, is the key to not only landing media coverage, but to having an audience really listen to your message.

Our challenge, on the PR frontline, is to convince corporate decision-makers of this fact – something we can really only do by developing and landing quality stories. In other words, showing not telling.


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  1. That wins my “phrase of the month” award – for “blustery self-agdrandisement”

  2. I am fairly new at public relations, but I have already come across this problem with many media outreach strategies. I think “convincing corporate decision-makers” that quality content (not fake ego-boosting news) is key has been the hardest part.

    • Thanks for your input Brianna. Certainly, dealing with egos is one of the trickiest – but most important – part of a PR’s job! The key is to educate over time, by showing good results when you do it your own way.

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