There’s nothing that puts a knot in the stomach of a PR guy like waking up to the paper/newsletters/RSSfeeds/other assorted alerts to find that someone important has written a story about your competitor — or your client’s competitor. Worse yet — your boss or client is the one to tell you about it. Call it the “Monday Morning Scream,” but it’s just as likely to happen on a Wednesday…or a Sunday.
Figuring out the how and why of media stories is a kind of parlor game for PR folks. I played it a bit early on with the marketing VP at a client of my old agency. When we started, the client was a humble, privately held company in a software niche competing head-to-head with a hot publicly traded company with an expressive CEO, fresh off of a major acquisition that positioned it far beyond its original niche.
Naturally, the hot, publicly traded company garnered more media. Not only did investor media follow its ups and downs, but sector analysts wrote about it, industry analysts considered it a bellweather and trade magazines considered them a “must call.”
But, our client exclaimed, our product is better, our service is better and their clients keep dumping them and calling us!
I would, of course, explain that there are inherent media relations advantages to being a public company, and that this company done a particularly good job of positioning itself as an example of some key IT trends long before we got there. I’d also point out that the competitor was acutally making news — acquiring companies, integrating new services, giving keynote speeches — and that catching up takes time. And, at times, I’d even point out that the competitor’s success belied claims that they had an inferior product — if it was inferior, it wasn’t enough so to make a difference to most customers. And over time, we were successful in improving their positioning, to a point.
But, I would often come back to a couple issues that I think are important, each of which I’ll explore in future blog posts:
- As a PR professional, don’t let ego get in the way of the answer: What I’m saying here is that you can’t be defensive… it may well be that you should have been in that Monday Morning Scream story. Admit it. Figure out why. Improve your story. Then let it go. Learn something.
- Companies must be their own news media. In the past, if you missed the big story in print, you’d have to stew and rage and move on. Today, you don’t. If you have a corporate blog, you can blog about that competitor’s story. You can say why you should have been a part of it — why your product is better, how you address the issue from a different point of view. You’ll come up in searches on their story, and steal a bit of their thunder.
- Hiring a PR firm isn’t an outsourcing strategy. It’s easy to blame the agency for missed media opportunities — I’ve taken plenty of it and even deserved my fair share of blame at times. But the companies that think that putting primary responsibilty for public relations onto an agency are rarely successful. Communications must be a core competency and core consideration in every major organizational decision. PR agencies and consultants should add, advise, augment, stretch and challenge their clients, but not replace their participation in communications strategy and execution — from the CEO on down.
- Positioning is the core of every communications challenge. If you’re positioned right, you’ll be important to a core set of influencers — from your customers to bloggers and communities of interest to trade and local media. You can work that and build from there.
- Sometimes, something’s just not right. One Friday, I met the client (and, frankly, the client came to me, too) to say that we needed rethink everything if we were going to get to where they wanted to be. The next Monday, the client was acquired by that competitor.
It’s Monday morning … you never know what’s going to happen.