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Making PR Work

Is your PR not doing its job? Perhaps it's time to revisit your strategy.

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Q: Although I've invested a lot of time and money, I'm not sure if my PR strategy is really working. How do you suggest I evaluate its effectiveness?

A: Troubleshooting PR is almost the reverse of planning your PR. Think of all those things you would do in a public relations campaign and see what's working and what's not. Once you understand these components, they can be isolated, changed if necessary and then retested for contribution significance.

Usually when you feel that PR is not providing results-or at least the results you had hoped for-it's due to one of four primary components. The four components to isolate, analyze, fix and test are as follows:

  • The message: Although sometimes subjective, you must check to make sure your message is clear, concise and attention-getting to your audience. Does it clearly say who, what, where, when and how in the first few sentences or paragraphs? Is the message newsworthy or a blatant promotional message? Does the message relate to you, your company, product or service, or does it relate to the challenge that you're offering the solution for? If all is in order-and if the message is persuasive, newsworthy and unique-consider one of the other components.
  • The headline: We all know the importance of a headline. Not only is the headline in a news release important, but if you're communicating via e-mail, the headline or subject line in the communication is just as important. Think about how you read a newspaper or magazine. You look at the pictures first and the headlines second. If the headline doesn't grasp your attention or really interest to you, you skip over it. Writing a crafty headline can entice a reader to read on, whether there's distinct interest or not. Don't forget about sub-headlines as well. A large majority of press releases do not use sub-headlines, which can be a second chance at grabbing a reader's attention. Test different headlines using e-mail or reworded releases.
  • The editor: Editors get hundreds of press releases each week. They have one job, and it isn't to please everyone sending in a release. Their job is to please their readership. Knowing this, releases and other PR should be directed at this one objective. Put yourself first in the readers' shoes. Second, put yourself in the editor's shoes. Ask the same question the editor asks in regards to pleasing his or her readership.

    Having a relationship with an editor can increase the probability of positive PR. Showing an editor that you're a reliable source of information on certain subjects can be very valuable. This does not imply schmoozing or overbearing follow-up, but it does require a proactive communication strategy. Editors are the gatekeepers. They hate promotion. Give them news, a unique angle or a story that is of local interest, and you'll have successful public relations.

  • The target audience: We've all heard the saying about what is heard if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it. The same anecdote can apply to PR when it comes to the target audience. You could have the best message ever and the best vehicle over and over, but if the right potential buyer doesn't receive your message, nothing gets marketed and no one acts.

Putting yourself in front of a potential buyer is the key to marketing and selling. No potential buyers? No selling. The right target audience might be the right segment, the right niche within a segment or the right people within a niche. If you are marketing to banks, are you targeting the bank president or the branch manager? If you're marketing to manufacturers, are you marketing to the operations department or the purchasing department? From a PR point of view, this means targeting the right publications. What do your prospects and customers read? Where are they most likely to see you? What media do they pay attention to? All this has to do with having the right target audience for your marketing. Just as a side note, don't forget about current customers as part of your target audience. Even breaking up current customer segments into different targets may be more effective for your marketing. Find the people to populate the forest and let the trees fall.

If all the above is in order and deemed to be effective, don't fix anything. If all the above is in order and PR is still not being effective, then you need to revisit your overall marketing strategy. Hopefully, before any campaign, you have strategically evaluated your product, distribution, pricing, promotion and advertising. Troubleshooting means not only trying to find out what the problem is, but also what the problem is not. With these four components outlined, you can differentiate what's working and what's not and increase the probability of a more successful PR campaign.

Alfred J. Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant, direct-mail promotion specialist, principle of marketing consulting firm Marketing Now, and president and owner of The Ink Well, a commercial printing and mailing company in Wheaton, Illinois. Visit his Web sites at and, or e-mail him at

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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