Facepalm. That’s always my initial reaction when I see the way that many companies decide to take a shotgun approach to their messaging and outreach. As a PR professional, I know how difficult and time consuming it can be to come up with effective messaging. But as anyone should realize; all people are different, and people change. What works for person A won’t always work for person B, and what was resonating with your audience six months ago might not get results today. But for some reason, many companies tend to go with the plan of taking the idea that seems to be best to them and throwing it everywhere they can, hoping it works.

In this current economy, everyone is scaling back and working with fewer resources. That’s why now, more than ever, well planned, efficient tactics are necessary. The old adage goes, “A stitch in time saves nine”, meaning that if you allow yourself to be proactive and anticipate major problems before they get out of hand, you can save yourself a lot of “stitching” later down the road. This is the first installment in a series of posts that will touch up on things I’ve noticed in PR; things that could definitely be improved.

Identify your “Big Game” Targets and Why you Must Have Them

During my career in PR I’ve been fortunate enough to score some truly massive coverage for my teams. Ironically, most of the wins the higher-ups consider to be epic are the ones that make the least sense to me.  Here’s an example: In one particular campaign for a major game I was representing, my team scored two big hits. One was for an entertainment trade publication, circulation was around 300K. The other was for an online gaming outlet with a circulation equivalent to around 5M. The trade pub hit took A LOT of work; lots of back-and-forth communication, lots of late nights making sure that we had everything the editor needed to make the story happen and that we didn’t fall off his radar. The gaming outlet piece ran much more smoothly. Obviously they knew more about the game we were working on so we could cut straight to the chase, adding more substance to the piece and covering the items our research showed that readers wanted to know more about while highlighting what made our game stand apart from the competition.

At the end of the day, I saw two very different reactions to the coverage that didn’t make sense to me. Upper management fawned over the trade publication hit, which I didn’t get. First off, look at the circulation numbers: 300,000 vs. 5,000,000. Right there we’re looking at one story that reached roughly 16 times more  people than the other. Then, let’s consider the quality of impressions we received. Out of the 300,000 people who read the trade publication, how many of them actually play games, let alone play them enough to make a purchase? On the other hand, if you’re visiting an online game site then obviously you’re a gamer, and more inclined to make a purchase after reading a strong article on a game.

I get the prestige that comes with a traditional, institution of a publication. When you land a story in them, they are few and far between, and it definitely impresses your execs. But correct me if I’m wrong, don’t sales ultimately impress execs more? And don’t sales usually lead to those harder-to-nail stories in the prestigious publications?  Sure, everybody wants these placements but you’ve got to ask yourself, “why do I want them so badly?”. What does it get you in the long run? How does it map back to your overall PR plan and objectives? Is the ROI on running down a dream hit like that worth the resources you dump into making it happen?

Obviously I’m not suggesting that anyone just give up on these types of story placements. They play a crucial role in a well-rounded PR campaign, they do serve a purpose and can always be considered a success when they show up in an evaluation of a campaign’s effectiveness. What I am saying is that it’s okay to rethink the approach on what should be considered a big win. I feel that a good story with a gaming blogger is worth a great deal, because of the potential for word-of-mouth spread among the blog’s readers and their friends. Many companies overlook bloggers and still haven’t caught up to how effective a good relationship with them can be.

A little bit of planning and thinking can go a long way. So when you’re choosing your targets to go after, and how aggressively to pursue them, always think back to how it will benefit the product and the team working on it. That way, you can avoid having to facepalm later!