Saturday, February 24, 2018

When Good PR is a Bad Idea

Help spelled out on a keyboard

I hear it all the time, especially from charities. “We just need to get a whole bunch of press. Once we get our names in the paper, our membership will sky rocket and we will be the talk of the town.”

But is it true?

Well, sometimes yes. But all too often no. And sometimes, a slew of news stories can have unpredicted consequences.

Let’s say you have an organization. It’s been going for more than a decade, has a publication that gets distributed to a core of your demographic, and has board and member representation from across the country.

To some, that looks like an entity that’s primed and ready to go out and get a little media attention.

But not so fast.

PR is about influence. It’s about taking an existing opinion and shaping it in your favour.  In order to do that, however, you first need to know what the opinion currently is.

Here’s the rub. Most organizations don’t take the time to find out how they’re perceived by the public(s) that matter most to them. And that’s a problem. Especially now when social media and instant communication lets the disenfranchised find each other easily.

It’s also an incredible waste of resources.

A lot of well intentioned, underfunded, incredibly dedicated, hard working people put a huge amount of effort into trying to get certain messages out when they don’t even know what their reputation is amongst those they serve. And it’s because many are afraid to ask questions that may necessitate change.

Additionally, many good-hearted folks have their eyes firmly in the rear view mirror looking at the services their organization have always provided instead of assessing the value of those services in a changing world and communications landscape. “Because we’ve always done it this way” isn’t a rational argument in the face of evolution.

Going out to get all kinds of media attraction may get your name in the paper, but it may also illuminate the disconnect between you and your public(s). It may also invite backlash and criticism.

A good media campaign starts with a plan. And a plan starts with research. At the very least, you need to have an understanding of the following:

1. Do you know how many members/supporters you have and what the stats are on each of your core demographics?

2. Do you know what your core demographic understands about your mission and your relevance to them?

3. Have you polled them recently to find out if you are meeting the needs you have said you will meet?

4. Have you connected with the community to find out if you are indispensable to them and if not, what would make you indispensable?

5. Have you connected with your detractors to find out why they think your organization is missing the boat?

It’s much more comfortable living in a bubble. But the comfort is temporary.If your organization isn’t indispensable to those you serve, you are dispensable. And extinction probably isn’t that far away. Kinda makes asking a few tough questions look a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?

PR isn’t just about getting your name in the paper. That’s simply one way of communicating with your public(s). But if you don’t know what perception you’re trying to change, or worse, if your organization isn’t meeting the need its public is looking to them for, then you’re shortchanging your constituents, and maybe even putting yourself out of work.

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