It's About the Message, Stoopid!

I wanted to make a Clinton-esque reference, and I finally was able to make one.

A few weeks back, I was interviewed by Ben Silverstein for a PR Fuel column on messaging. Naturally, like most the interviews with Ben, it was a late night event and while I did make a few of my points about messaging, I did not get all of them across.

Recently, I was out on the road for business, and I had to do a Powerpoint presentation (fear the deck, respect the deck, worship the deck) on POP! Public Relations' capabilities, plan for the client, and measuring success. The potential client kept asking what I would deliver for the $x/month - would it be four clips a month, five clips a month, etc. I did the smiling explanation - POP! Public Relations would work as hard as possible to provide as many clips to the client and meet expections - but also went on to explain that public relations is better measured by key messaging points, not a yardstick.

It was ironic, because I had been discussing messaging points versus yardstick measurement with a few people. One former client only measured in yardsticks, and if the agency did not meet expectations, everyone suffered. Another client measured in key messages - for every project, we would have a list of three to six messages that we wanted the media to walk away with, and report on. If the majority of the articles covered 75 percent or more of the messaging points, we ran a successful campaign.

For another recent new business pitch - well, an email pitch to begin discussions - I had noted that the potential client's two closest competitors had more than twice the coverage, with one having close to three times the press. We both knew that the point of the email was to talk about coverage and expanding the company's press coverage, but we both also knew that the leading company for press coverage was not the leading company in the space. The company was a strong believer in "any press is good press," so the majority of the articles were about the ad campaign being quirky and star filled. Did those help the company win customers - not at all. Did that generate press? Naturally.

Another good example of it being all about being on message is the recent SunnComm Technologies debacle. I think SunnComm Technologies has a great story - that they are working on a safety to keep CDs from being copied, but when the Princeton student figured a way to crack the code, SunnComm and its media relations were mishandled from day one. It was like there were no messaging points developed, no contingency plans in place, and when you have USA Today's Kevin Maney calling out your PR efforts as non-existent, you know you are in trouble.

One thing about public relations that a lot of people seem to forget is that PR is a support mechanism for sales. If PR isn't on message, if the message is not reaching the core audience - the customer - then PR is not really doing it's job. The yardstick measurement of PR might be good for the internal team of a large multi-national conglomerate, but the smart multi-national conglomerate knows that it's about the message that will drive sales.