Public relations is not what Samantha Jones does

Getting attention, driving awareness

It’s a common need. A business wants attention for their products or services. They want to heighten awareness and drive potential leads, and future sales. A public relations firm is the go-to partner to increase recognition. That’s what we do best.

Recently, I got a call from a business owner who was interested in engaging our public relations company to turn-out people to an upcoming event. After a conversation about the event and the goals for the event, we declined the project.

Right about now you’re probably saying, “Yeah, that was dumb. Turning down a paying client!” But it wasn’t dumb and here’s why.

Is it different? Interesting?

The event was not to announce a multi-million dollar investment in the firm, nor was it to share a ground-breaking new technology, nor was it to announce a shift in the business or a new partnership. It was to celebrate the launch of a website. The business owner was seeking a PR firm to turn out a group of A-listers to the event.

Now these days a business website is hardly news. Heck, everyone is expected to have a business website (yet almost half of small businesses do not.) Yes, many make announcements about their new sites in trade industry news, local business e-news, or on their own websites. Heck, we even did that ourselves. I have no problem with making an announcement, what I have a problem with is the expectation that our firm has a list of powerful people who, on our say-so, will come out for a ho-hum reason.

Had the business owner been open to it, we could have used our creativity to design a hook to increase awareness, like an attempt to break a Guinness Record, or raise significant bank for a cause-related nonprofit. But that’s not what the business owner was interested in doing.

Lots of business owners have a misunderstanding about what a PR firm does. I put it all on Samantha, the Sex and the City character who is the most recognized public PR person out there. In many episodes, she’s seen bringing VIPs to events and getting publicity. It’s really easy to understand exactly how the stereotype of what PR firm does got set in people’s minds.

PR firms have connections

PR people help shape the news. We have relationships with media. We pitch stories to our media colleagues when we have information that fits their news organization’s focus. We have memberships in local groups. We develop relationships with all kinds of people. But — and this is a big but — we do not abuse our relationships. Send a bad story idea, or a hackneyed news release and I’m likely to get black-balled by my media contacts who will never open my email again. Invite people to a mundane event that they are not interested in, and they’ll never turn out again for something we invite them to.

What will make people get on up–offa that thing?

According to Peter Shankman, author, entrepreneur, corporate keynote speaker, and developer of HARO, founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc.,  “Great PR events don’t feel like PR events. They provide valuable information and insights, while avoiding the desperation that envelopes so many similar events.”

If you’re planning an event, make it different. Make it intriguing. Make it stand-out. Tie it to your brand bringing to life what your business does.

When our client Kolter Homes wanted to introduce their new home designs at The Ponds, we planned a day of activities to allow people to sample the water-based lifestyle on offer at the new home community — complete with paddle boarding instruction and trials, fishing and kayaking.

A few years ago when one of our homebuilder clients wanted to promote their waterfront  inventory homes, we partnered with a boat sales company to include a new boat in the purchase of a new home in the community.

When a new auto repair services business opened, we created an all day event with a vintage car show and a number of car related activities that led to an all day flood of people coming to the business location.

In each of these instances, people came because they wanted to be there. They wanted to experience what was happening. And what was happening was a tied to critical elements of the business.

Event focused PR that works

If you hire a public relations firm who tells you that they can get a group of A-listers out to your event simply to eat your food and swill your drinks, run. You’re getting bamboozled.

Event focused PR tactics work because they allow people to experience your brand. They are a staple in the strategy of most PR firms. So party on, but realize that there must be more than free drinks and noshes to raise awareness of your business.