Mar 11, 2003

Public Relations

Execute the Basics, Positioning Will Follow

In the past six months we have seen announcements by five
global firms planning to spend big dollars on new advertising and public
relations positioning programs. Even United Airlines that is operating in
Chapter 11 has launched a positioning effort even before it has solved the
problems that put it in that position.

Hundreds of other firms reading the "news" on how
to change the market's perception of the company, improve the firm's image and
advance sales will be doing the same with smaller budgets.

Positioning ... now that's a horse business hasn't ridden
for awhile. It is the magic elixir the company can take to improve itself
without actually changing a thing.

But after 25-plus years in the field, I don't think there is
a quick fix solution. Despite everyone's rush to embrace specialties, public
relations is not brain surgery. Positioning appears to be part of our
increasing trend to concentrate on specialties such as focus groups, research,
media placement analysis, crisis management, issues management and strategic

Public relations simply is a matter of serving two
masters--client management and the media (if we don't serve them, our other
publics will not be served). In our "24, 7" treadmill world, public
relations practitioners are not aware of or overlook the simple solutions--the
basics including editorial treatment, fast response, well thought out/well
executed press materials, being an editorial resource, thorough follow through,
common sense and enjoying your work and the people you work with.

A Matter of Equals

Once I received e-mail from a new vertical market website in
Sweden thanking me for providing in-depth technology, product and applications
information my company had developed for a client. The easiest thing would have
been to ignore the new site--after all, technology/informational sites come and
go every day. In addition, our assignment was to promote the products in the
Americas, not Sweden, Europe or the rest of the globe.

However, the Internet has blurred country borders.

News in the United States is read and heard instantly in
Chicago, Omaha, Atlanta and San Diego as well as Denmark, Argentina, India and

While the aspiring website may never be the next Google, the
investment of a few hours providing information could provide the client with
big returns. The effort will win a favorable friend and support for the company
and possibly influence others who will access the site for information. The
support may even improve international relations. Editors, reporters and
outlets are created equal, but some are more equal than others. Every PR person
reluctantly will admit he has first-, second- and third-tier editors, reporters
and news/review target priorities. Ignoring, responding at your convenience or
"forgetting" commitments is completely unprofessional.

People such as Steve Wildstrom of Business Week as well as John Markoff and Judd Biersdorfer of The
New York Times certainly are more lusted
after by company management and PR people. They deserve complete and immediate
response. However, the same is true of the thousands of other editors,
reporters and analysts, particularly those specific to and in tune with your

While your boss may read these two publications religiously,
it may come as a rude surprise that not everyone else does. However your boss
(and target publics) also read, listen to and watch other media. These outlets
also influence your firm's stakeholders--employees, customers, investors, legislators
and business partners. Media people move from outlet to outlet and they
remember the professionals and the not-so professional.

Timely Response

I constantly am amazed when people, especially members of
the media, send me a note saying thanks for your prompt response. This tells me
that they might not expect this in today's business world. What does that say
about our businesses and staffs?

Members of the media also have their lists. They also
compare notes. They are quick to tell you which firms and PR people respond as
well as those that take days, weeks or never respond to even simple requests.
No one in this business should be that busy or that filled with

Inquiries from members of the media should not be an
interruption to your work. They should be the meaning of your work unless you
are too involved in market research, planning and positioning meetings.

Treat your e-mail like snail mail. Handle it only once.
Respond to everything in your inbox before you leave in the evening, even if is
to say you will get a complete answer back to them within a specific time
period or pass the request to another member of your team.

With public relations now being carried out on a global
scale, I admit the challenge of keeping up with online correspondence is
formidable. For example, I often handle European and East Coast correspondence
early in the morning and then late in the evening I focus on the Pacific Basin.
It can make for a long day but it also can be an interesting day.

Press Materials

Any PR person who spends time talking--talking, not
pitching--with members of the media will hear the same comments again and

Good writing is hard. Editors will tell you it is hard to
find, and PR pros will assure you it is hard to produce, yet it is one of the
most important parts of the job. The challenge is that you have to know so much
and use so little. Data dumps do not impress anyone. In addition, people
quickly see through smoke screen expertise. In an effort to conserve budgets we
also have seen companies assign the writing of white papers, position papers
and technical/application articles to marketing and product managers. The logic
is that it is more efficient. They are quick to tell you that they
"know" the subjects and, therefore, can do a more competent job.

Most of the time they submit--ready for instant
publication--some of the best data sheets and brochures you have ever read.
"XYZ, the industry's leading," "ABC, incorporating advanced
features such as..." and similar fluff may make your boss feel good but
they certainly do not sway the reader, especially when he is on the
publication's editorial staff.

Read the articles written by reporters and editors. They are
educational and informational. The work you submit to the press should meet the
same standard. If the reader understands, believes and agrees with the
information in the article, he will turn to the firm for more information or
buy the product/service being discussed.

An analysis report of company mentions, location of the
mention and tone of the mention may be one measure of PR success. The real
payoff for the company in developing and submitting quality press materials
will be at the cash register, not in a stack of press clippings.

Be an Editorial Resource

Knowing the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of
analysts and members of the media is only one aspect of your job.

In our opinion it is even more important to know everything
possible about your company, products, markets and competition (products and
people). Time and space are precious commodities in the media today. There not
only are fewer publications, there also are fewer editorial wells and fewer
people to fill those wells.

Editors, reporters and analysts also have A, B and C contact
lists (yes they prioritize their PR contacts). The PR people who quickly,
accurately and consistently assist them in filling pages and airtime become the
people who get the first call or e-mail. Not every inquiry is going to produce
feature coverage for your firm and products. However, as a key resource, you
are in a much better position to help focus the coverage. Staying that current
is impossible, though, isn't it? Wrong. The Internet provides an entrance to a
cornucopia of information on product areas, applications, markets,
technologies, trends and competition. There are use lists, news services,
reviews, white papers, research reports and studies available on every
industry, product and service you can imagine--and some you don't want to

Monitor user groups--yours and your competition's. Bookmark
those sites that serve up useful information. Compile folders of industry,
company and product information.

Common Sense

Sometimes it seems that in our rush to be creative, we check
our common sense at the door.

The abandonment is most apparent at trade shows when
everyone rushes to introduce new products/services. Gala press conferences are
held that seem to be designed to impress management without delivering company
or product substance or news.

Folders in the pressroom stuffed with brochures and sales
sheets. Dated news releases intermingled with fresh announcements ... just in
case. Press kit folders that don't quickly communicate your show location and
new products do not serve the media.

Whether it's a concern for the environment or the desire to
save money, the new trend is CD press kits. The discs sit quietly in the
pigeonholes displaying the company name and perhaps even the name of the show.
In fact, some are great designs.

Unfortunately as you hold the disc in your hand you have
absolutely no idea what news the electronic press kit contains. This makes it
extremely difficult for the press to determine if they need to come by your
booth for more information.

Most of the CDs will be stuffed in a drawer or piled in the
office to be reviewed "later." Then in three-six months they will
find their way into a landfill somewhere and remain untouched for 100 plus
years. So much for conservation and exposure.


This is a great profession. We get to work with some of the
best people in the world.

Despite what you read, the companies, management, products
and services we work with are some of the best in their respective industries.
When they aren't, good PR efforts will help them disappear more quickly.

We also work with some of the most intelligent writers,
reporters and industry analysts in the world.

Public relations people should take their job seriously but not
take themselves seriously. Unfortunately too many people seem to get the two
reversed by focusing on the importance of their position and role rather than

The job comes first. It starts with the basics. If these are
carried out in a professional manner the marketplace will do the positioning
for you.

About the author

G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. He may be reached at [email protected].