Got Messaging?

One of the widest differentials between marketing and public relations teams is messaging. Marketing launches campaigns with seriously involved step-by-step initiatives that involve a framework for branding, value proposition, and so much more. When complete, a company has a sense of its clothes, so to speak – what will we wear today to present ourselves in public? (Please weigh in marketers!)

In public relations, when launching a new relationship, service, product, or program strategy, we do messaging right up front as step one much like marketing. When conducting integrated marketing communications, the need for messaging by both marketing and public relations duels for attention. When public relations can’t get an opportunity to do its thing in re messaging, practitioners are left to dangle.

Messaging by PR is the voice of the company to its tiered audiences. Used to be message maps were created for media relations only. Now, I use a message map to help gather, hone and develop approved messages usually collected from the executive team in a facilitated meeting.

No one would believe executives answer questions about the company differently. One would think all company leaders are on the same page about the what, who, why, how much, and when. Not really. That’s the number-one reason messaging is important – disagreement among a company’s senior echelon and how to position external messaging.

Prior to launching program strategy, consider these suggestions to secure content for external messaging:

1. Get the senior team in a room and garner consensus about the 5 Ws + how.

2. Lacking the ability to corral the senior team, then the senior public relations team needs to draft suggested messages for delivering up the chain for approval. Sometimes seeing wording in print will get needed attention.

3. Tier two messages ought to complement a larger corporate message map – the approved song sheet for all spokespeople. When there’s a turn-key program being launched, ensure messaging is one of the foundational tactics executed.

4. Share the approved messaging with marketing teams; they will thank you as copywriters always need public relations driven content to tap.

5. Get in the habit early and often to ask “what shall we say, why does this matter, who are we speaking to, how much does it cost, when will it launch?”

No message is set in stone; adjust as you go, but never launch a program without some messaging guidelines to work with.

Adaptive Marketing–Bah, Humbug

For the last several weeks, I’ve been focusing on discussions about client teams in law firms. Business development, cross selling, and lawyers as business people are all topics front and center.  Some of my clients in the legal vertical deliver business of law services to law firms.  These suppliers’ law firm clients, mostly large, seek improved efficiencies, technology to improve productivity, and a greater slice of the decreasing client pie.

Law firms are grappling with lawyers who are not traditionally good in business or sales; they practice law. Most of us in professional services would prefer to practice our trade than sell. Unfortunately, it’s a survival tactic, and universities are rushing to rectify this oversight with more business education in law schools.

In BtoB magazine May 3, 2010, a panel of marketers gathered at a Forrester Marketing Forum to foretell the new era of  “adaptive marketing.” In a keynote address, David Williams, chairman-CEO of CRM agency Merkle, said, “Marketing’s day for transforming competitive advantage inside the organization has arrived. Competitive advantage in the future will be based on how well we can change and influence the behavior of an individual consumer.”

Williams adds, “Marketers need to build an enterprise-wide strategy that is focused on the value of the customer as a core business strategy.”

Perhaps lawyers need to be better marketers rather than experienced business people, eh?

My objection is about the descriptors and vernacular being tossed around as labels for plain old client service.   When referring to “client behavior” (like at the Forrester symposium), it feels like something akin to a science experiment. Hey, we’re people here!

I appreciate and respect industry analysts’ programs for the good of marketing’s future. The more I read, the more I’d prefer to focus on relationship building and delivery of leading- edge, results-driven marketing public relations oriented to keeping clients satisfied with high-quality work product.

I realize there are metrics, measurements, KPIs (key performance indicators), and whatever quality standards are in force on a given day. What I see missing are people skills that lead to strengthened relationships.

A few buzz words might get you thinking along my lines — politeness, respect, courtesy, and trust.

Am I barking up a lilac bush or an oak tree here?

Defining Public Relations

On so many blogs I see the definition of public relations is confusing to folks, especially since the advent of social media. I’m not surprised; I’ve spent the last 26 years educating people about what I do and expect to spend the next 26 years doing the same.

What I can share is my passion:

  • I’m the most fortunate woman to have landed in a profession (quite by chance rather than choosing) that is always evolving and allows me to learn so little about so much.
  • I dabble in all industries and all shapes and structures of companies and organizations.
  • The explosion of new channels to communicate allows public relations to assess metrics, monitor the conversation, measure, and adjust strategy to engage tiered audiences.
  • Limitless opportunities exist to influence business goals with strategic and creative marketing public relations strategy.
  • My passion for public relations is palpable; every day, week, month, year are different and energy-filled – no sameness, no boredom, just a never-ending quest for higher learning.

That’s my somewhat description; let me share an author’s opinions who wrote a book on public relations in 2000. Leonard Saffir is author of “Power Public Relations, How to Master the New PR.”  In his book, he references Thomas L. Harris, author of Value-Added Public Relations, who brought us the term “marketing public relations,” which I love and am now using to show the blending of marketing with public relations.

  • Chapter one, line one in Mr. Saffir’s book states “In the corporation of the 21st century, public relations will rank higher than advertising.”  Line two states “CEOs of major companies will come out of the public relations field.”  (I love these powerful book-opening statements!)
  • I wrote in a recent blog post “Public Relations Drives Marketing.” If that’s so, which I firmly believe, then what drives public relations? Mr. Saffir says “Creativity and ingenuity drive public relations.”
  • More insights from Mr. Saffir include:
    • “Public relations has grown into a full-fledged discipline with the power and reliability to influence perception.”
    • The primary goal of public relations may be to “shape the broader context within which publics in general or specific target publics form opinions and make decisions.”
    • “While marketing identifies customer needs and satisfies them at a profit, public relations produces goodwill among various publics whose goodwill is important to the organization.”
    • Here’s a comment that might raise a few hairs – “Public relations is a discipline and marketing is a task to be accomplished by various disciplines in the corporation – sales, sales promotion, merchandising, marketing research, advertising and public relations.” (Interesting! Do you agree?)

What’s your definition of public relations? On the flip, perhaps it’s not necessary to clarify; mysticism is good!

Public Relations Drives Marketing

Public relations drives marketing. There. I stated my firm belief in a public forum in which I’ll either get eaten alive or get nods of agreement. For many years, I’ve tested this theory in front of a variety of marketing colleagues from all shapes and sizes of companies. Some agree; and one in particular outright scoffed in my face.

To back up any theorem, research is required. Off to the manual library I went in search of public relations teachings to see what academics had to say. To my delight, a book written in 1998(!) provided wonderful support points. (Of course, we in PR can spin any statement to advantage, eh?)

The first chapter of Value-Added Public Relations, the Secret Weapon of Integrated Marketing by Thomas L. Harris, leader in marketing public relations and past-president of venerable Golin/Harris, yielded a goldmine.

I remember that decade well in my Chicago agency life. Public relations was a serious competitor for marketing attention, and the C suite had begun to invite us to the table. The tech bubble was big and getting bigger, and public relations rode the wave. Mr. Harris noted “Integrated marketing communications (IMC) puts public relations squarely among the powerful disciplines.”

Those of us working in the field knew we had special talent, and clients loved our offering that was beyond tactical services.

  • Our thorough ability to research a space and conduct competitive analysis from the perspective of messaging content and positioning beat marketing and advertising hands down.
  • Our strategic counsel aligned against business goals was an approach usually expected out of industry consultants or analysts.
  • Our knowledge of the media and how to create news while preparing a thought leader for the occasion was nothing a marketer or advertiser could do.
  • Our messaging crafted for external audiences as authoritative, credible and fact-based was developed for marketing and sales teams to use in their communications channels, too.

Said Mr. Harris, “Credibility is key, and of all the components of integrated marketing, public relations alone possesses a priceless ingredient that is essential to every IMC program – its ability to lend credibility to the product message.”

I recall the firm where I worked offered integrated marketing communications; however, it was pie in the sky. So many agencies were protecting turf lest another grab billings; camaraderie was thin.

In Mr. Harris’s book, he quotes other public relations heavyweights, including the long-time CEO of Hill & Knowlton. “Robert Dilenschneider, editor of Dartnell’s Public Relations Handbook, is convinced that the new marketing mix puts to work jointly the tools of marketing and of public relations and that public relations ‘is the glue that holds the whole thing together.’”

I don’t disagree that public relations and marketing work well integrated. Mr. Harris speaks to the “new” concept of integration 12 years ago. Have we succeeded? Not really. There are too many siloed organizations generating leads for sales teams without benefit of strategic input from public relations. There are too many public relations practitioners concentrating only on media relations (regardless of traditional or social) without regard for the holistic inside-out perspective.

A prescient statement by Mr. Harris could have been spoken today; it directly relates to the current social media position in which we’re working and breathing:

“The integrated marketing communications process begins with the consumer. It requires that marketers radically shift from thinking “inside out” (what we have to sell, what we have to say) to “outside in” (what consumers tell us about themselves, their needs, wants and lifestyles).”

Because public relations is primarily focused on the outside-in, and marketers are shifting in that direction encouraged by social media, Mr. Harris provides a solid support point to my theorem – public relations drives marketing. Add to that public relations practitioners’ continuous creativity to differentiate tactics that resonate against strategies to attain objectives, and I’m sold.

Let the fireworks begin!