Good PR Takes Time And Effort

My front lawn needs a lot of work.

It looks passable to the neighbors who fly around the corner in their SUVs and barely give it a second look.

But, to me, it’s the scourge of the neighborhood.

If I look at it from my second-floor bedroom window, the bare spots and green-that-is-not-that-green grass are blatantly obvious.

So, as fall comes around and the temps begin to drop (that will happen eventually), I am committed to making my lawn nicer in preparation for next spring and summer.

That means taking care of the grass already there and planning to have more sprout up next year.

I’ve begun to fertilize on a regular basis, and over-seeded the bare spots so green grass fills the brown and I have a somewhat passable lawn.

From there, I’ll have to put in the work to keep it from falling into disarray again, but I’m pretty confident I can make it better if I pay attention and work upkeep into my schedule.

It’s a process, but it’s a process that will yield visible results.

As I thought about how much work it would take to bring my lawn back to life, I couldn’t help but think that, like a lot of projects we undertake, the work of the public relations professional rests on a consistent drumbeat of activity that pays dividends down the road, but not immediately.

You know, like my lawn.

There are a lot of services that promise immediate results if you pay them enough money. But those results don’t amount to much, other than being picked up by websites that already pick up every release that crosses the wire.

The mark of a true public relations professional lies in their ability to land meaningful coverage for a client; coverage that is born out of consistent and diligent hard work, made possible through regular discussions with the right media, and a knack for finding stories that the general public will care about.

There is a time and place for posting a press release on the wire, but don’t confuse those high numbers with actually moving the needle.

Just like you can’t lay down grass seed and expect blades of grass to pop up overnight, you can’t expect the front page of the New York Times after your first company announcement.

It takes work.

If you take the time to lay out future announcements into a cohesive editorial calendar, and sprinkle in elements of the company story through owned media, you can begin to tell the right story and bring customers and consumers on board.

That steady cadence will do more for your success than a press release blast ever will.

Think of your sod as the story of your company.

That story will shrivel up and die if you send it out into the world and forget about it.

But if you are consistent and smart with how you care for it, the narrative will grow over time, and you’ll find journalists are more interested in what you have to say because you’ve built up the background story over time.

Like I said, if you want your company to be truly revered and looked at as meaningful, you need to nurture it at all times. Don’t ignore it.

Like a good, strong lawn, a company’s story is only as good as the people who care for it.

That’s the value of public relations.

Curiosity Leads to Great Storytelling

curious

With apologies to Laura Trierweiler, there does not exist a list of questions that one asks to find the best stories.

If there was, I wouldn’t be writing this article.

Different questions, asked in different situations, bring out different stories, so there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to storytelling.

In my experience, though, I don’t think we ask enough questions.

We are content to take what we’re given at face value and try to pry a story loose from the rubble, but that’s not sustainable. Unless you are being inquisitive, you’re never going to find a story that demands to be told.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to use an announcement I worked on a few years ago for a client, General Motors Fleet.

I don’t recall if the seed for this story was buried in an email, or was brought up at a meeting, but it was interesting enough to warrant further discussion.

In talking with one of the fleet team’s account executives who was responsible for fleet sales in Alaska, he mentioned, offhandedly, that he was helping to deliver a Chevrolet Colorado by airplane to a remote village in Alaska because the terrain was too difficult to drive over.

He said it with such nonchalance that it almost didn’t register, but my first reaction was “Whaaaaaat?”

I made a note to follow up, at which point I was able to ask the rest of the questions that popped into my head: How will it fit in an airplane? Will it be damaged? Is this normal?

If we were not curious enough to ask that first question (You know, the “whaaaaaat?”) however, this story never would have materialized.

As a storyteller, it was fairly fascinating to learn how the process of putting a truck in an airplane would happen.

As a PR professional, it contained all of the elements of a good story: a press release, images, a video, and a strong social component.

We ended up turning this nugget of an anecdote into a full-blown story that we were able to tell beyond our traditional fleet media. (Jalopnik even turned it into a GIF.)

If we didn’t exhibit some level of curiosity, thought, it would have gone away, likely never to have been heard from again.

But we were able to tell it, and the story did well to showcase the durability and functionality of the truck, which was necessary.

Now that I’ve bragged about my exploits, let’s back up for a second: there is no list of questions we can ask, as storytellers, to become better at telling stories.

My only advice is this: don’t be afraid to ask those questions, and ask a lot of them.

You are paid to sift through the chaff and find those points that separate you from the competitors.

The best way to do that is to be curious.

Great Storytellers Ask the Right Questions

storytelling

Storytelling is as much about asking the right questions as it is about telling an actual story.

Ask anyone who tells stories for a living — journalists, novelists, screenwriters, public relations professionals — what separates the greats from the mediocre, and they’ll tell you it’s the individuals who ask the best questions.

After all, telling an interesting story is more than just asking “What’s next?”

The great storytellers think beyond the next logical step in the story to earn the interest of the audience.

When a character goes to the store, it’s not the act of going there that draws in your reader; it’s the reason for going to the store that is of most interest. This simple act can provide enough information for a dramatic pivot.

If you learn early on that the main character went to a department store to buy a wig and a dark pair of sunglasses, there is obviously something deeper at play that you yearn to find out about. Your readers will stick around to find out the reason for buying a disguise. There are so many questions that must be answered that stem from that simple act.

It’s up the storyteller to ask those questions of their character and put together a compelling narrative.

If you’re writing for business, you need to capture that same idea.

You don’t need to lend an air of mystery to your company’s story. But you need to keep them coming back for more, and the way to do that is to make sure your story is open-ended.

Maybe you are announcing a new product or service. The announcement, whether it’s a press release or blog post on your site, should hint at something greater happening than just something new for your customers to try.

And that “sneak peak” comes from asking the right questions of your subject matter experts.

I can’t tell you how many times a germ of a story showed itself because I asked the experts the right questions. Or, I just asked questions.

You would be surprised how often PR professionals fail to listen and ask questions. This belief that we should know everything often forces us to refrain from asking questions, lest we look like we don’t understand the material.

But there is nothing wrong with asking questions. It’s the quickest way to understanding the stories we need to tell, and they often lead to the best stories.

So the next time you set out to write a press release or a blog post, make a list of the questions you need to ask, then let the other questions come organically.

You’ll be surprised what you learn, and your audience will benefit.