Breaking the traditional PR mind-set

In my previous life as a business journalist, I received frequent communications from public relations firms looking to connect me with experts on various subjects the senders hoped might ultimately become sources for my stories or contributors of authored pieces.

Their goal was clear: they were looking for platforms through which their B2B clients could demonstrate their expertise and build authority with my readers. It’s not like it was a one-way street, though. When PR folks connected me with the right people at the right time they provided sources for my reporting efforts or authors of content that was the right fit in our pages.

Of course for all the times that I was connected with useful experts there were other occasions—too many to count over the years—when my experience with the traditional PR model was far less satisfactory, as, I’d imagine, was that of the agencies’ clients.

Many PR folks were far less tuned in to what I was looking for as a journalist. From my perspective, it often seemed they were simply taking a scattershot approach on behalf of their clients, indiscriminately blasting out notice of clients’ availability as sources or authors to a wide distribution list, hoping they’d find a target somewhere. I often felt such solicitations were simply wasting my time.

Which brings me to an alternative approach that might be the right one for many organizations looking to promote their expertise and establish authority. B2B companies and professional services firms, for example, are increasingly looking to get their ideas into the marketplace and establish their expertise on a given topic—an important goal. However, the editor on the other side of the PR person’s phone call or email is frequently searching for a news hook. If the content or expert can’t be tied to a current news event, the effort will often miss the mark.

There was a time when major publications were the gatekeepers to the audiences companies wanted to reach. That’s no longer true. Rather than going out hunting to find a journalist or publication that might provide a channel for thought leadership efforts, companies might be better served by helping the quarry find you through targeted online marketing and social media.

Compelling, authoritative content on an organization’s website or on a blog, promoted through social media, can be an effective way to bring your targets to you while potentially exposing your expertise to a larger audience than might be realized through an unfocused traditional PR approach. Going a step further and applying search engine optimization (SEO) techniques in the development of the content can further enhance the chances of connecting with the targets you’re trying to reach.

In the last post on this blog, Scott Leff wrote about the “thought leadership cycle,” a three-component effort involving strategy, content development, and promotion and distribution, with each component influencing the other two. It’s true: Strong, well-crafted content on your website or blog in conjunction with a thoughtful SEO element can become an evergreen repository of thought leadership that can draw in your target audience over an extended period.

Case in point, as a journalist I would regularly conduct research on stories by searching online for background on the subject. From time to time, those searches would yield a piece of thought leadership on the topic that not only informed my story but introduced me to a new potential source in the expert or organization behind that piece. Often, the experts I discovered through those thought leadership pieces became valued sources I’d go to time and again in my reporting. And, in the process, those experts received repeated opportunities to be recognized for their knowledge by my readers.

Just as I was able to discover those experts in my searches, others in the authors’ target markets also likely connected with that thought leadership in searching for solutions to problems or looking to address specific business issues.

While the traditional PR approach may be the right one in some cases, today’s digital environment often provides better, more effective ways of bringing that audience to you.

Rodd Zolkos

Rodd is an editorial director at Leff Communications. Prior to joining Leff, Rodd spent more than 35 years as a working journalist, including time with daily newspapers, community journalism, and the business press. Follow Rodd on Twitter @RoddZolkos.

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