Consider this scenario: Your client's product or service is working for customers, but the publicity campaign that the client originally showed enthusiasm for isn't moving as it should.
Because PR pros execute campaigns with their clients—not apart from them, as with some other promotional forms—it can be especially frustrating when client contacts or management team aren't responding to you or aren't engaged in your campaign.
Public relations is a management function. However, when you're consistently facing problems like these, they can throw your program off track and prevent the successes you know are possible:
- Your vice-president of marketing is always on the road and won't answer your questions.
- The CEO, who said he would be interested in and available for interviews, is a no-show.
- The product manager who requested a news release takes weeks, not days, to get back to you with copy approval.
So, how can you get the team to move more rapidly? The goal is to take advantage of the opportunities you've researched that will move the needle for brand awareness and demand. Few outside PR realize how rapidly publicity action occurs, or how many tactics might be in play simultaneously.
Short of quitting your job—or the client—here are some ideas for helping you create and maintain that essential program momentum and team responsiveness.
1. Remind them they're essential to overall campaign success
Neither the market nor your industry is likely interested in hearing from a PR pro. Both want engagement and commentary from those running a business—and from experts and others with the appropriate credentials.
Let your execs and others who are essential to the program know that they're needed, that you want their participation, and that you'll be asking for it regularly. Short of flattery, make them aware of the importance of the time they spend on public relations work. Whether as a background source, content expert, author, speaker, interviewee, or blogger—your team members must be brought into the process with the knowledge that they are needed to make the campaign work. You can't do it alone. Those with market, technology, product, and business knowledge must be participants, and they must know that they have skin in the game.
2. Build a weekly slice of time into their schedule
Whether you're arranging standing meetings, conference calls, or a less formal approach (such as a regular Wednesday lunch), make sure that your key management contacts remain consistently engaged. They have other work to do, so make the time that they put into the PR team efficient and valuable. Tell them that's what you intend to do—then deliver on your promise.
3. Be clear when contact is essential, but don't cry wolf
Contacting management daily about ostensible emergencies will merely irritate others and possibly get you fired. But when action or responses from others is critical, be certain they know what's needed and by when.
Get buy-in ahead of time from those who will approve copy, grant interviews, and provide information that lets you complete tasks.
4. Control deadline execution
One method of dealing with a lack of response on deadline is this: "If not heard from by (date or time), we're going with what we have."
Some managers, however, cannot accept loss of control; so build in a deadline cushion. Let them know diplomatically that there's potential for execution errors if what's required isn't completed (by them) in time.
Managing up, down, and horizontally within an organization is a normal part of a PR pro's job.
5. Prepare for execs who go MIA
I have a client who's got a huge, dual-role job and sometimes falls off the map. When hearing from him is important, my email subject or phone call starts with, "Yo (name)," or "Earth to (name)." I like having some fun with clients who have a sense of humor, but that approach is also a signal to him that I need a fast reply. We've discussed this issue, so if he's truly jammed he'll delegate full authority to his lieutenant. Although we can joke about his occasional disappearances, he knows when his reply is critical to our success.
If key contacts are unavailable, they need backup. Arrange for alternates to stand in when time is tight. For example, when the VP of one of my clients is jammed, my go-to contact is the CTO in engineering.
Such an arrangement must be made ahead of time. Yet if someone is often absent but does not want to relinquish control, explain how the program might suffer as a result.
6. Nurture team responsibility
It's not your PR program. You're driving it, but a PR campaign is the company's challenge, and everyone has a stake in its success. Bridge the gap to other departments, such as marketing, sales, engineering, HR, or even manufacturing. Any or all parts of a business can play a role in creating campaign success. Let people know they're essential to desired outcomes and what those outcomes are.
Working with other parts of the company will help create broader, more effective programs. Marketing may be the brains behind the PR, but interesting stories reside throughout the business and can be useful. Be inclusive. Treat your company or client like reporters treat their news beat.
7. Realize you can't win them all
My marketing gurus, Al Reis and Jack Trout, remind us that "failure is to be expected and accepted" (their Immutable Marketing Law No. 19). At times, due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., when an exec fails to respond with information in time), opportunities will be missed. (The sales team doesn't close every prospect, either.) Get over it. All you can do is work hard at not missing the big opportunities. Some will get away. It's the nature of our work. Some execs won't ever get on board with PR. Work around them. Find alternatives. That, too, is a creative part of your job.