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Global Practices

Add Value or Know When to Get Out of the Way

PR professionals who base their value solely on staying between an audience and a company or client will eventually lose both.

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A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.com.

As a hobby, I’ve been curating an infrequently updated blog about the Brazilian distilled spirit cachaça (pron. kuh-SHA-suh) since July 2008. This project allowed me to gain some deeper and more personal insight into the kind of digitally empowered online enthusiast so many pundits cheer so breathlessly. It also means that I must occasionally work with PR people, but on the receiving end of that relationship.

One cachaça brand that reached out to me directly had an agency, which dutifully sent me new products, informed me of events and made sure to copy me on the latest news announcements. All well and good, however, I was also friends with the distiller’s key employees, the CEO and his executive assistant on Facebook. Often when I would ask the agency basic questions about the product (e.g., duration of aging, type of barrel used, method of distillation), it became clear I had to get my answers more directly. The news announcements and event notices, however, kept coming.

I eventually bypassed that agency altogether, noticing months later that it no longer listed this brand as a client. In other words, it would appear the agency was more or less a glorified and (I’m only guessing here) particularly well-compensated shipping clerk.

If PR on the social web has taught us anything, it’s that people crave access. Sure, you get some traction by, say, sending free product and such, but those tactics (when used on their own) are a form of cheap currency — they devalue a company’s social capital over time. (Like economist Milton Friedman said about inflation, it’s like alcoholism in that you get the good effects first.) Almost anyone will take almost any product if given out for free. Yes, even if you’re giving away a supply of particularly well-crafted exotic booze, you haven’t really forged a relationship but merely a series of transactions.

To maintain a bond between a company and its audience, you need to deliver some level of access. You also need to know when to, as CraigsList founder Craig Newmark once put it, “get out of the way.”

Here are three ways to facilitate access:

  1. Don’t Be the Gate, Be the Key: When I was in Silicon Valley, one of the most effective client/agency partnerships I experienced was when my team was able to concentrate on generating opportunities and forging relationships while the client’s communications group focused on fulfilling and maintaining them. This turned out to be an efficient use of the client’s PR spend.
  2. Add Value Always: If you find yourself merely funneling raw or lightly refined information from source to destination, you’re expendable to your company/client and audience — both are a Google-search away from doing that for themselves. If serving as that intermediary is vitally important (e.g., due to team bandwidth or availability of a key spokesperson), ensure that your presence in that chain provides objective value.
  3. Create Opportunity: You never want to be the one to give your company or client “But we have no news!” as an excuse for a lack of media activity. Most companies don’t know more than half of the compelling stories they are able to tell; it just takes research and creativity to unearth them.

Based in Chicago, Phil Gomes is a senior vice president in Edelman’s Digital practice. This and other essays in this series are expansions of his talk “Hacking Public Relations.” You can review the core principles of this philosophy on EdelmanDigital.com.

Photo Credit: "Smile," Andrew Yee, CC-BY 2.0.
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