Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Paradox of PR Success

One of my colleagues likes to point out that the PR profession is all about hearing the word "no" and that if you can't get used to being rejected 80 percent of the time, it's not for you. I think he's an optimist.

A client of mine recently wrote about the Stockdale Paradox, something I haven't thought about in a while. In a nutshell, RAdm Jim Stockdale got through POW camp by holding two paradoxical thoughts in his head: that he would eventually get through the camp and come out stronger, but had to face the harsh realities in front of him. He later noted that it was the optimists who died first, they believed they'd get out soon, but when soon didn't happen, he said, they lost hope and died.

Now, I'm not comparing PR to anything a POW went through, that's impossible. But the basic philosophy applies very well to PR. It's not that we hear "no" all the time, or that we have an 80 percent failure rate, we just need to deal with the "no" and change our notion of success.

Let's say my smal, entreprenurial client wants to be in the New York Times and they have a strong story. I may call every relevant reporter and be rejected a dozen times. They may not like the story or the timing may be bad, or their editor may have them off on some other project. That's fine, we will eventually get into the Times, and may do so again and again. And when we do we'll have a better story since we'll take the time to keep the reporter informed.

In the media relations world we build programs to focus not only on the business press, but also on vertical and trade press. For smaller companies that are trying to make names for themselves, major mentions in BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and other such publicaitons are a long time in coming. It's often the technology publications that offer the best short-term media opportunities.

I've had situations with major business publciations in which it's taken more than a year of interviews and relationship building to get mentions. Eventually the payoff is excellent, but you have to be willing to spend the time and have faith that the story will eventually appear. Maybe not in the next issue, but some time in the future.

In the meantime, look at the whole PR program, not just the business-level publications. There may be some great successes in the overall program, but if you focus on one particular publication and believe they'll write about you soon, you may be an optimist.

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