PR 101 in the real world: Speaking the right language

PR is just another form of advertising, right? Wrong. In reality, PR is all about partnership, both between you and your agency, and your agency and the media. But how does the partnership work? Ashley Carr, Founder, Neo PR, shines a light into the dark and murky world of PR to illuminate the mythical beast that is agency PR…

If DIY PR is your starting point, then you are probably having a hard time figuring out why you are not getting a huge amount of traction out there. It’s tough getting Journalists excited enough to write about you; unfortunately that wonderfully crafted product announcement or client case study you just sent out to your ‘contacts’ in the media won’t immediately hit the front page, no matter how market changing you believe it to be.

Why? Firstly, it’s because understanding what a Journalist wants is difficult. Secondly, there’s a chance that you aren’t communicating with the media using the right language. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to learn Swahili to get a press release covered, but speaking to them as if they are a prospect is the quickest way to get ignored. Take a moment to imagine just how many marketing or sales people send out sales and marketing stories to Journalists in the hope of getting covered; after all, you frequently read stories about your competitors and their life changing products, right? Maybe you should look again, because in the cold light of day, the press release, case study, or opinion article has probably been submitted by a PR.

The reality is that any Journalist worth engaging is not going to publish anything promotional. Ever. That’s the place for advertising and never the twain shall meet – oh, and a little tip, don’t go suggesting to an editor that you will place an advert if they place your promotional copy – that’s the quickest way to make enemies and offend their editorial sensitivities.

The finesse needed here is subtle and it takes an in-depth understanding of the world in which the Journalists operate to get the relationship right. They are masters of the scribe and take delight in turning the dull and mundane into entertaining prose that will engage their readership in the next issue so that they keep coming back for more. Give them a hint of sales and marketing and they’ll run for the hills, but give them an engaging piece of insight that tackles a thorny issue that their readership is struggling with and presents a possible solution and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.

You PR agency can strike that (almost) impossible balance between what you would love to see written about you and what the Journalist could be convinced to write about you. It’s still ‘promotional’. It still features you or one of your clients. And it still talks to your market about the market, positioning you as an expert. The difference is the language used, as the copy will be written in a specific way to engage an audience on neutral ground, outlining the issue and a potential solution examining as many of the scenarios as possible to give a balanced view.

Of course there is still a place for ‘breaking news’ – that announcement that will have the market in shock and awe – but it probably isn’t that one of your clients has just placed an order for another 10 users, or upgraded to one of your new modules. The truth is that any Journalist can’t quite help themselves in carrying a news story if it has a great brand associated with it, but they are going to be far more interested if there is an angle that dares to challenge the status quo.

In reality, even PR 101 needs a sprinkling of magic, but the good news is that the magic can be found amongst the skilled and experienced PR agencies out there. It’s not easy and it’s not that you aren’t trying, it’s just that you might need a little help to speak the right language.

Ashley Carr, Founder, Neo PR