Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Happily and Shamelessly Promote Thyself!
When I began my PR agency Open City Communications back in 1994, I had two ruling priorities: the promotion of my clients and the promotion of myself. Since modesty is not among my vices, the latter priority came without any degree of queasiness. And if I do say so, I was actually rather successful in spreading the word about little ol’ me.
I raise this bit of self-celebration because of something that always fascinated me: the fact PR people do such a terrible job in promoting themselves and their industry. Many PR people don’t believe that self-promotion should go beyond the realm of the industry’s trade journals, and even then it’s limited to the bare bones basics (a new personnel announcement, the winning of some award, perhaps signing a client). And that’s a major mistake, particular from the agency side of the industry.
Allow me to recall my self-promotion activities I did when I was running my own agency. Granted, this was a while ago (the agency closed in 2004), but you should be able to pick up old tricks and adapt them for today’s industry.
First, I always planned on a national level of exposure. Hey, why not? If you’re going to go, go big. It didn’t happen overnight, but with patience and planning it began to work.
My first bit of wide attention came when Business Start-Ups Magazine decided to do a feature on me. My pitch was solid (celebrating my first year in business) and out-of-the-ordinary (apparently few, if any, PR agencies ever tried to get themselves promoted in that magazine). Not only did I get a full-page spread (which my mother immediately framed and hung in a place of prominence in her home), but I subsequently leveraged that coverage for another feature in Business Start-Ups Magazine’s sister publication, Entrepreneur (again with a full-page spread). In both cases, I was able to establish friendly ties with the editors and journalists at the magazines and later tapped into those alliances to get killer coverage for my clients.
While this was going on, I made a point getting as much free-lance writing as I could where I could pontificate on all matters PR. One lucrative gig was a marketing column in the financial trade newspaper Credit Union News, while other writing gigs brought me into the pages of publications including Home Office Computing, Direct Marketing International and Association Trends.
In many ways, I had the field to myself – no one else in PR was actively (let alone aggressively) seeking out writing assignments for these publications. In some ways, I was an ambassador for PR, explaining the various ins-and-outs of a marketing discipline that was either alien or misunderstood to the publications’ readers. (And, yes, PR is a marketing discipline – we’ll address that issue in a future column!)
Simultaneously, I also made it a habit to write letters to the editor of major newspapers and magazines if there was a PR-related issue that deserved commentary. These little two-cent deposits were always suffixed by the tagline “Phil Hall is president of Open City Communications, a New York public relations agency.” (Believe it or else, people do read letters to the editor – I’ve gotten a ton of feedback over the years on those mini-missives.)
So what was the result of all of this outreach? Well, for starters I had a killer portfolio that impressed the companies I was trying to pitch. Prospective clients could (1) see that I could write, (2) see that I could get the attention of general business and trade media, and (3) see that I was a “national” expert on the subject of PR. The media also paid attention, as I subsequently wound up being quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and on the Voice of America, among other places. And, damn it, that strategy worked wonderfully for years (I’d probably still be running my own PR agency if the dot-com bubble’s bursting and the tag-team devastation from 9/11 and the 2001 recession didn’t drive most of my clients out of business).
One place where I never bothered to promote myself, however, was in the PR industry trade journals. I was the subject of a mini-profile in PR Week, but I only did that for shits-and-giggles. To be perfectly rude, the industry’s trade journals have no value beyond the industry (whether they have any value within the industry would make for a wonderfully violent debate, but we’ll leave that for another time), and they won’t impress anyone in the outside world as proof that you know what you’re doing. Really, if I was chasing after tech clients, there would be more value to my pitch if I could show myself being featured as a PR tech expert in a software industry magazine versus being in the spotlight of a PR rag.
Now, obviously, this adventure is strictly from the agency side of things. For those in corporate communications or public affairs, the ability to shamelessly call attention to oneself is more restricted. But that is not to say it isn’t impossible. I would love to detail how that can be done, but it appears I’ve reached the end of my allotted bandwidth for this week. Hold the thought and we’ll continue next time!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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Yes... but within reason Phil.
There are two things that drive me crazy with regard to self promotion. Our brethren who abuse frequency and our brethren that abuse content. Both happen A LOT!
People like Maggie Chamberlin Holben (who we've written about here) sending out press releases about being profiled by a trade magazine. Cut me a break. From her release: "Holben connected with editor, Marcia Duffy, through PR Newswire’s Profnet system via the query entitled, 'Successful Home Businesses.' Duffy was looking for successful home-business owners to interview for a column called 'Home Office Weekly Profiles.'" Good for Mags. But to then blast out a press release about a mere column item is just plain ridiculous.
Then there are folks like Kami Huyse, Constantin Basturea and Scott Baradell teaming up for a PRSA teleseminar titled “Social Media Update: Legal Implications.” Again, cut me a break! These lightweight blog evangelists and PR club boosters don't know the legal implications of a parking ticket let alone the intricacies of corporate and communications law and the risks involved. I asked Kami about it and she responded that her husband had a PhD in risk. Of course, tangential expertise transferred by injection is okay for cocktail party chit chat but a professional teleseminar?
The sad part is in both these examples, the practitioners do not know that that are misbehaving or totally out of their league. They're just "Happily and Shamelessly Promoting Themselves."
Does that average PR know the difference? I'm not so sure sadly.
Ah, but I said "shamelessly" -- not "stupidly"!
I don't see these examples as falling into my concept of self-promotion. That's simply showing off to other PR practitioners and the PR rags. My pal Mike Paul does that a lot, too, especially when he gets a guest gig on Fox News. I used my shamelessness to establish a reputation outside of the PR orbit -- those poor souls are going in the opposite direction.
If I was profiled in a magazine, I never bragged about it to other PR people (let alone send out a press release to my peers). Instead, the coverage was incorporated into my company's portfolio, which was only shown when I was doing new business pitches. The only people who knew about such coverage were the prospective clients I was trying to pitch.
The shameless aspect of the self-promotion came strictly to media outlets that could build my business and enhance my reputation (i.e., the world outside of the PR hemisphere). Such activities did not include any outreach to the illustrated toilet paper we know as PR trade journals.
By the way, I love "tangential expertise transferred by injection." In honor of my national holiday, the March 1st celebration of St. David's Day, I recall a similar turn-of-phrase when Elizabeth Taylor (in her years as Mrs. Richard Burton) was bleeped off the BBC by defining herself as "Welsh by osmosis."
Amanda, let's play fair.
I Googled the teleseminar in question, and it's being offered by PRSA. Here is the ground they will cover:
• How do you set up a blog for a client and remain transparent?
• How do you identify who you are/whom you represent?
• What have we learned from the Wal-Mart blog?
• What do you need to know in order to avoid making the same mistakes?
• What else is happening out there that you need to be aware of?
• What’s going to happen in the immediate blog future?
I'm not sure you need a Juris Doctor to answer these questions (and there are prominent PR bloggers who have a J.D.) I'm also fairly sure that a HUGE knock on PRSA and PRCA has been the sloth-like pace they've adopted with regards to blogging. For the PRSA audience, I don't think you could find a more credible group to have a conversation.
Your bigger beef - and one that ought be given merit - is "how much should the blogging-bloggers blog about blogging" and whether it provides a measurable ROI for a business case. I don't know that Scott or Kami have ever sunk to Torossian-depths of self-promotion, and Constantin's words on the subject are next-to-silent compared to the behind-the-scenes work he puts in to making social media accessible.
Your comment is on to something, but I fear you've picked the wrong example.
I am going by the title of the seminar, i.e. Social Media Update: Legal Implications. If indeed the content is lightweight and not necessarily relevant to the title, shame on PRSA at the outset.
My beef is that Scott, Kami and Constantin are TOTALLY unqualified to carry a discussion on blogging's legal implications. Period. Actually, their posture has consistently been one of boosterism. Legitimate caution could not be farther from their track record or intentions.
As to ROI... no. This is purely about just how much legal risk blogging exposes your organization to. There may be some money to be made by playing on the highway. All it takes is one truck.