Home PR Needs to Lighten Up

PR Needs to Lighten Up

I am not a journalist. I am an entrepreneur who blogs. I blog on ReadWriteWeb because I don’t like talking to myself and there are some great conversations here. Being part of RWW means I get to be on the receiving end of PR processes such as news releases and embargoes, which to me is strange. I have spent way more time on the other side of the street, hiring PR firms when I have the budget and doing it myself when I don’t. This new perspective has lead me to some advice for companies about dealing with the press.

I was going to say that Internet changes the rules for PR as it does for everybody else. But then I remembered one of the best startup books ever, Up the Organization by Robert Townsend. It was written in 1970, and I read it in 1980 when I was first starting in business.

Townsend was CEO of Avis, an auto rental company, who took on the much bigger Hertz with the “We try harder” proposition, a classic story for scrappy number two players beating up on the gorilla. The book is full of timeless wisdom, but the relevant bit here is the way he allowed all his managers to speak to the press without any prepared script. His simple point was, if you were a journalist, who would you want to talk to when a big story breaks? Hertz’s PR department or the guys actually running the business at Avis? That’s right. Back in 1970, this guy was saying, “loosen up, forget about command and control, let front line managers make the call.”

He was radical on other fronts. His book was organized alphabetically, for example. Under P for Personnel Department his pithy advice (I am going from memory here) was, “fire them, people manage people.” But that’s another story.

His advice on PR is even more critical today. The Internet makes command and control models pretty obsolete. Sure, some data has to be controlled. The financial results for a public company need to be issued in a certain way to comply with SEC regulations. But that’s about it. Whether you use a newswire service or your blog, the key is lighten up on the process and get into the flow. That flow may be a blog, or Twitter, or Facebook or any of the above and more. The general point is simply about availability and transparency.

If you really have a great story to tell, that will get even the most jaded journalist interested.

Public relations needs to evolve from gatekeeper and process manager to coach, helping the front line managers work effectively with media and the market. That assumes that their clients are enlightened enough to give them that mandate.

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