Old & New PR: Break the Cookie Cutter by Revealing Clients’ Human Qualities
As I think about social media and inbound marketing, my mind sifts through what things we did in traditional PR that can stay — and what’s gotta go. In that mindset, how do we help our clients to stand out in the crowd? Let’s keep story telling. Let’s ditch ‘spin’.
What hasn’t changed from my old to my new PR thinking is that we differentiate our clients by humanizing them. Fortunately ‘being human’ is a social media watchword! But when you look at website after website or press release after press release in a given industry and encounter jargon and sameness from company to company, you see that this humanizing business can be a real challenge.
Then – and especially now — when companies take safe haven in communications conformity, they do so at their peril. From a PR practitioner’s standpoint there’s no reason for it — though convincing clients to humanize can be risky and require a fair amount of education, client service elbow grease and creativity.
The most seemingly ‘cookie cutter’ business probably has a personality and culture that makes it a oner. It always was — and still is — up to PR and marketing professionals to learn enough about what makes our clients tick to understand how this differentiates the way they do business from their competitors. Building a relationship where the client trusts that we will humanize them professionally and in their best interest, can serve as a model for the relationships we help them to build with their important audiences.
I remember 20+ years ago taking on a relatively new bagel baking company as a client. A skeptical colleague said, “What can you possibly do for such a commodity business? There’s a bagel shop on every block?”
Turns out that the business was run by two brothers who were willing to let me personalize them in their PR campaigns. One was the baker and, I learned, he had created an awesome, crusty Italian hearth bread, in addition to his staple bagel products. He was a really sweet guy who loved kids and coached softball. The other brother — a former Ford model who had made ‘the Italian Look’ famous on the international fashion scene – was handling business development. As we built a relationship, we discovered that he and I had worked on the same high profile men’s fashion awards show in New York for years but hadn’t met.
Italian Look, Italian bread. There was something interesting here! And the connection we established in the ‘getting to know you’ phase allowed the brothers to trust my instincts about how to connect them to their publics.
So, what did we do to differentiate them? The Ford model brother and I contacted the top designers we both knew and put on a dazzling charity fashion show that people remember to this day. With the baking brother we set up a hometown baker apprenticeship program for non-college-bound kids.
In promoting these efforts, their baked goods – as high quality and delicious as they were – were pretty much secondary. The human interest and the lack of commercialism attracted incredible media attention. People came, tasted and bought. By offering their unique talents, their caring qualities and their wares for the greater good of their community, they were embraced and became the most famous bagel shop in the state. The business is thriving still.
Solid PR practitioners have been creating these kinds of client representation strategies since the start of the profession. In recent years, many have been sidetracked, buying into the idea that we have to ‘spin’. But, if we creatively focus on how our clients’ human qualities drive the business, there’s no need to spin anything. The reality of who they are is quite good enough, thank you.
As we move marketing and PR into online communities the same principles hold true – in spades. On the social Web this approach is the expected one. By participating and making a contribution, our clients will attract the positive attention they deserve.
OK – to the music! One of the reasons I love jazz is that it offers endless variations on themes. In fact, jazz improvisation provides the perfect example of how to apply skill and creativity to break the cookie cutter. Today I was in the mood for piano music – solo piano to kind of ease into the week. I pulled out the piano genius Bill Evans’ Conversations With Myself, which in a way this blog is, although it is absolutely meant to be shared with you all.
In reality, the album isn’t a pure solo piano effort because Evans overdubbed a ‘third hand’ onto each tune – a bit of technological tinkering that was largely unpopular at the time — 1963. And maybe it still is. It makes for an unusual and unique sound, revealing Evans’ personal human qualities that can be mischievous and ironic. Regardless, it is considered a classic.
In reviewing the play list, I discovered that it included Evans’ rendition of Love Theme From Spartacus, the tune that accompanied my first blog post, played by Yusef Lateef. I didn’t even think that I had a recording of this tune by another artist – but there it was. So now you’ll hear it again through the filter of Bill Evans. Have fun listening to them back-to-back. Each jazz musician makes a tune his very own. That’s what we all do and must communicate about our businesses within our industries!
Enjoy! Hope to see you soon.