There’s a small scene in the TV show “Mad Men” in which arrogant anti-hero Don Draper delivers one of his characteristically pithy dismissals of what he considers mediocre work, in this case a turgid campaign video for Richard Nixon’s election. “..made by a public relations team; message received, and forgotten”, he quips.
While I admit this made me laugh, it also made me think. PR has unquestionably become far more sophisticated since the 1960s, but is it still falling into some of the same old traps? In our attempt to grab headlines and secure media coverage for our clients at all costs, perhaps communications professionals are forgetting the basics. To get the right message to the right audience at the right time, and in the right way.
In practice, this means we also need the right access to begin with. The responsibility for an organisation’s reputation goes to the highest level, no matter the size or focus of that organisation, and should never be left solely in the hands of the communications team. Internal and external communications teams alike need access to, and input from, key decision makers in order to be at their most effective.
When connected to those who really understand their organisation’s purpose and can communicate its vision, PR is a powerful tool for persuasion. When treated like marketing’s poor relation, the outputs are often, well, forgettable.
People often ask me what brands I want to work with - presumably expecting me to list one of the key Big Tech players or the latest darling of Silicon Valley - and seem surprised at my response that the brand itself doesn’t really matter. This isn’t strictly true of course. Working with exciting brands has its place and there are certainly some we would never work with, but what I mean is that working with the right brand matters less than working with the right client.
When smart and talented client-side communications professionals work with an agency they trust and respect, and give them the freedom and access they need, the sky’s the limit. By understanding the DNA of the organisation and the reason its customers should really care, we can quickly move beyond the tactical and create a strategy and message that will truly resonate.
If you work for an in-house comms team and your messaging isn’t cutting through, it's probably because, at some level, you don’t have the complete picture from your organisation. Pushing at the traditional boundaries and marketing siloes will, in many cases, unearth those missing pieces of the puzzle and if your agency is good, they can help you ask the right questions. So bring them in early. A creative partner is only as good as the information they can access.
In the words of Don Draper himself; "It's useless to be creative unless you can sell what you create."