Baseball legend "Shoeless" Joe Jackson said "if you build it, he will come"--a quote made famous by the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. A lot of companies take this approach when it comes to public relations. They believe that a healthy stable of press announcements will eventually garner media interest and attention. While this isn't totally off-base, press releases announcing new products and services, management team additions, corporate milestones, new locations, etc. will only get a company halfway there.
The best PR programs often leverage a company's best assets, its subject matter experts, by seizing and capitalizing on the news of the day. I call this Carpe Diem PR. Absent new company developments, the key for any company is to secure frequent, meaningful media mentions and buzz, by finding natural ways to make the company part of an already existing news cycle or trend.
Even though I am not a fan of flash-in-the-pan stunts, sometimes they can be an effective brand accelerant. A 2006 "Gas Giveaway" by PokerShare.com generated a story in the New York Times when they gave away $40 worth of gas per person at a Mobil station in Lower Manhattan at the start of Memorial Day weekend, this during a time when gas prices were at an all-time high. The company also distributed food and t-shirts at the event to raise brand awareness and similar events were held in other parts of the country. By holding an event that naturally aligned with existing news coverage, PokerShare.com generated media coverage reaching more than 9 million people nationwide.
Tapping into the trend of corporate social responsibility, TOMS Shoes is a sneaker and shoe company devoted to giving away one pair of shoes to children in need for every pair of shoes purchased. While this business idea in and of itself is newsworthy, with 600,000 shoes purchased at $55 each and an equal number given away (a roughly $33 million dollar donation), in April of this year TOMS challenged people to go shoeless to bring awareness to podoconiosis, a painful diseased caused by walking barefoot on volcanic soil. As a result, TOMS has received significant press coverage in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and other major media outlets.
In a similar vein, a few years ago KIND Snacks conceived of a unique program, http://kindmovement.com/, to encourage random acts of kindness. The program continues to thrive today--based in part on media coverage generated from PR--culminating in the company being named Responsibility Pioneer by TIME Magazine last year.
The good news is that you don't have to be a large company to deploy this strategy. PokerShare.com, TOMS Shoes and KIND Snacks are all great examples of smaller companies using PR to appear larger than they are (and generating buzz) by attaching themselves to existing news cycles and trends. In the case of PokerShare.com, exorbitant gas prices were all the news, while TOMS Shoes and KIND Snacks are both examples of "do good" marketing campaigns. By leveraging the fact that part of their business models had been already been a snowballing trend, the companies were able to secure high-level features in prominent business press.
Following these three simple steps should help get you started in creating your own Carpe Diem PR opportunity:
- Watch the news and look for ways in which you think your company is relevant to a news cycle. For example, a company that produces emergency preparedness kits would be well suited towards providing expert commentary and advice to consumers before and during times of crises (from earthquakes and hurricanes to flat tires).
- Be prepared to respond quickly to breaking news. Remember that the quotes and sound bites go to he who speaks first. Get up to speed fast by reviewing recent media coverage (one of the quickest is a Google News search) of the issue and try to provide a unique insight that has not yet been reported. Shorter sentences are more memorable, and don't be too elaborate with your words.
- Remember that media begets media. Don't stop at just one interview. Use that media coverage to drive other media opportunities, maybe expanding from print to broadcast or vice versa, using social media to amplify your message. If you can't get traction among traditional outlets, then start tweeting and posting your point of view through social vehicles.
The most effective PR strategies secure a frequent level of media mentions that often only advertising can achieve. However, by continually monitoring the news cycle and strategically striking while the iron is hot, business can achieve high quality and high quantity media that will help establish and maintain credibility while validating the company's value proposition. Carpe diem!