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A less than PR-fect Industry!

by Trevor Punt

Trevor Punt, managing director of TBG Group, says effective PR comes from understanding the need to tell a story.

A PR contact of mine recently observed, “the thing about big PR firms is that they’ll watch a pencil roll off a table, discuss it for a week, then bill you for it. They bear an unfortunate likeness to a monomaniacal echo chamber of bloated self-importance and self-righteous froth.”

A little harsh perhaps, but PR as a business function, isn’t generally taken seriously within the events industry. Between the two industries there’s a quasi-camaraderie: both sides accept the end game is to get words printed but despite PR professionals regularly describing themselves as storytellers, the only tale they’ve woven is one which maintains the perception of empty self-importance.

The issue with PR isn’t all one sided. Many event organisers often mistakenly view PR as a magic bullet. The thinking goes, ”If only we had some media coverage, we’d have all the exhibitors, visitors, investors, super buyers…that we need”.

This is almost always nonsense.

However, anyone who pays attention to how decisions are influenced knows that public relations is tremendously important but for many organisers, PR constitutes only a small component of a marketing plan which means that hiring a traditional PR firm is a waste of resources.

But, if PR is important, why isn’t it taken seriously?

Some reasons why PR isn’t employed, or successful, are:

  • PR’s not trackable. It’s nice to get covered, but traditionally there’s no way to know how that coverage effected the bottom line.
  • The profession has a bad reputation with journalists. With the invention of email it has become terribly easy to spam journalists and lazy PRs take advantage of it, deeply hurting the profession’s reputation. Many write somewhat dull and repetitive stories, rarely addressing interesting and topical industry issues or news without any value that an audience will embrace. Others rarely communicate with online news portals because most don’t have a working relationship. Many more fail to differentiate between B2B and B2C campaigns and focus heavily on how many likes, comments and shares a post attracts to measure the success of their campaign.
  • You can’t scale PR. When something works in business you want to scale it as much as possible. If an ad campaign is working the biggest question is how much money can be thrown at it before it stops being effective. It’s unclear how to leverage a PR success.

So, the question is, how does PR move centre stage in the social media age and event organisers avoid falling victim to disappointment, generally caused by agencies promising more than they can deliver?

At its core, public relations is a way for event organisers to build mutually beneficial relationships with their audiences. With rapidly evolving technology and 24-hour-social-media, traditional PR isn’t cutting it anymore. However, if PR professionals communicate with event managers and covered the basics – expectations on both sides could be managed, appreciated and aligned.

Effects of PR can now be measured more than ever. Reporting on the effectiveness of a press mention used to be limited to newspaper clippings. Now, anyone can track for free how many times an article is being shared on social platforms. More importantly it can be tracked who is sharing press you’ve received and if they’re acting because of it.

Social media offers hope for building better relationships between PRs and the events industry rather than blindly pitching thousands of people hoping for a one per cent response rate.

The PR industry needs to measure its results, build strong relationships, scale its efforts and demand big budgets. The innovation of social media plays to the strengths of public relations rather than advertising. For many events, PR constitutes only a small component of a marketing plan where on average spending on advertising is 30 times that of public relations.

It is now possible to scale PR by promoting newsworthy articles. In today’s fragmented media world, a small or launch event needs to reach out to thousands of journalists, bloggers and influencers to build a story and the public relations skillset is best suited to handle the additional relationships.

Where data used to come from focus groups, surveys and customer support calls, it now floods in through social media which PR departments can utilise to influence big decisions, event and market positioning.

For PR to be effective, organisers must be conscious that they need to have a story to tell. They must accept that PR isn’t a nine to five job and that new technology such as AI has to be leveraged to become smarter and more effective.

PR agencies need to understand that measurement, trust and transparency is mandatory. Organisers expect great work and they’ll measure work on results. Oh, and charging by the hour is old-school. Companies get a better ROI if the PR investment is focused on value and scope, not time.

Arthur W. Page, the first PR man to serve on a board of directors and who coined the phrase, “it’s no use putting lipstick on a pig”, suggested that “public perception of an organisation is determined 90 per cent by what it does and 10 per cent by what it says.”

All too often PR only influences the 10 percent. In today’s market, there’s no use putting lipstick on a pig, but PR can help a company choose what kind of animal it becomes.

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