Sometimes it seems that PR is perceived as the wonderdrug of the business world. “Imagine how many new users we’d get if we just got a front page story! Imagine how public perception would change if we just got one good hit on the nightly news!”
While yes, PR can give your business a shot of adrenaline that’s unmatched by almost anything else, it’s not a cure-all. Don’t expect it to just “automatically” save your business, or triple your revenue overnight. In fact, unless your business is in the best possible place when that huge media piece does hit, it could do more harm than good.
So with that: Four ways great PR will NOT help you:
If your customer experience (or heck, even just your products) suck, all the great PR in the world won’t save you
Remember six years ago, when I jokingly sent a Tweet to Morton’s Steakhouse asking them to meet me at Newark Airport with a Porterhouse when my flight landed, and they actually did it? The amount of media attention Morton’s got for that was off the charts amazing! BUT – Morton’s already strived for amazing service and customer experience each time a guest entered any of their restaurants. Can you imagine if you saw this piece, then went to Morton’s expecting an amazing experience, and your drink wasn’t right and your steak was cold? Not only would you be miserable, but you’d tell the world, and personal recommendations are worth a ton more than a PR story.
Lesson: Make sure your products and experiences are top-notch from the very beginning, long before you ever start to think about press. Only when your product and service matches (and hopefully exceeds) the hype built by the great media hit you just got, will it truly deliver the new clients, business, and revenue you’re hoping for.
Everyone tells you to have a plan for when you fail. Great. But be DAMN sure you have a plan for when you SUCCEED, as well!
Story time: It’s 1999, and one of my PR clients is a domain registrar that has decided to challenge the whole “domains cost $75 a piece to register and that’s that,” mentality. They launched a $19.99 registration service, and to promote it, we came up with the idea of giving new domain registrations away for free, for one hour, at a specific time and date.
Of course, the media went nuts. And three hours before the event even launched, the client’s site was crashing. They’d promised us they had the bandwidth, they swore they had the CPU capacity… It was a nightmare of epic proportions. Even though thousands of people did register their domain for free that night, thousands more couldn’t, and the media, which had been our biggest ally, quickly turned into our worst enemy. There were several days of apologetic quotes and continued free offers, if I remember correctly.
Lesson: Have the capacity – whatever that may be in your situation, whether it be product, bandwidth, employees working the phones or registers, tech support people, whatever. There’s truly nothing worse than getting that first bite of the sweet taste of success, only to have the rest of the meal pulled from your mouth because you couldn’t keep up with the demand. To put it another way: You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Great PR will rarely make people “do something later”Another story: Back in 2005 or so, I had this great idea for a new website: It would allow people on commercial airline flights to choose the person they wanted to sit next to, before the flight even took off! Problem was, to really take off (forgive the pun) the site needed users. Lots of users. Like, at least ten per every flight each day in the US. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll just try and place some stories in the airline in-flight magazines! Talk about a captive audience!” And I did! I got a full page in one of the major US carrier magazines, complete with a reference on the cover! I was golden, I thought! Hundreds of thousands of flyers will have to see it in the next 30 days! And they did.
But you know what they didn’t do? They didn’t remember to write down the link, or sign up when they got off the plane. All the urgency to find their perfect seatmate that they felt while cramped in their seats was completely forgotten the second they disembarked. We had less than a 1% increase in signups from that article.
Lesson: Know that one piece might not transfer the way you want, and be ready to deal with that. For me, (this was before in-flight WiFi) something that seemed like a good idea was completely forgotten by the reader two hours later.
Finally, remember the old adage about a lot of eggs and one basket. The PR highway is simply littered with the bodies of companies who went all-in on that one super-amazing PR opportunity that was supposed to save them. Heck, ask a lot of the companies who appeared on any of those “present and we’ll invest in you” TV shows, who spent their last dime (or worse, maxed out their credit cards) buying tons of inventory for all the orders they expected to get after their three minutes on TV. Sure, a few sold out and made an immediate fortune, but a lot of them? They’re still sitting on a ton of unsold product, and very little useable cash.
Lesson: Use common sense and good judgement. Find that balance between “we need to be prepared” and “this might be overkill.” Sure, it’s easy to say, and harder to do, but it is doable. Perhaps bringing someone in who’s done it before and can give you the right advice might be worth whatever a few hours with them might cost. The goal for you is to find that middle ground, and not mortgage your future for a potential current return that may or may not happen.
In the end, PR is a wonderful gift, and can truly compliment any business, helping to introduce you to new customers, and grow your client base and reputation. But it’s not a guaranteed fix. That might be hard to remember while you’re under the bright lights of the TV crew in your office, but keeping it in the back of your head will save you hundreds hours of potential misery.