5 PR Lessons from Ben Franklin

July 9, 2009 at 7:00 am (PR Musings) (, , , , , )

Over Christmas last year, I finished a 500-page tome on Ben Franklin, which I loved. Our fascination with him is timeless. As is usually the case, my pragmatic mind is always thinking of what I can take from my readings and apply to real life, so I couldn’t help thinking that so much of Franklin’s best habits were absolutely applicable to my work in PR.

Sure, he had his faults, but the guy accomplished multiple lifetimes’ worth of achievements over the course of his 84-year life. Beyond working behind the scenes on the Declaration of Independence,  the French Treaty and Britain Treaty, all of which were integral to our success on the American Revolution, his early days had a lot of exciting discoveries. Community leader who formed the first local militia, firehouses, police force and lending library. One of the first media barons, using the printing press repeatedly over the course of his life to trumpet his causes and that of others. World-renowned scientist who conducted numerous experiments over his lifetime, cornering electricity being one of them.

So what can we learn from Franklin’s method of practice?

1. Practice makes perfect: Wash, rinse, repeat until you get it.

Franklin is known as one of the best writers of all time. What many don’t know is that he practiced hours and hours in order to hone his craft. He would make outlines from his favorite articles, put away the original text, and use the outline to write his own version of the article. Then he would compare the two side-by-side and critique his writing to improve it. The point is, he just kept writing and writing and consistently worked to become better. And he never stopped. In PR, you do the same. You keep making calls, writing pitches, networking in the flesh, and honing those skills indefinitely because you can always get better. 

2. Be an agent of action.

While Franklin was a great thinker, he was a doer first and foremost, and that was why he was the best practiced and most accomplished American of his day. When he had an idea, was alerted to anything that he wanted to comment on, his turnaround time was impressive. Oftentimes he would write up something for his printing press within a matter of hours after figuring out his next step.  It’s easy to read, theorize, and come up with strategies around your next steps, but without action it’s useless. Don’t fall victim to someday syndrome. Going forth and making mistakes is better than sitting still and letting the world pass you by.

3. Know your audience.

Franklin was well known for his sly way of presenting his case in a way that supported the recipients’ best interests as well as his own. His juggling of the French and British while negotiating the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War is legendary and has been called one of the smoothest diplomatic maneuvers of our entire history.  While living with the French for many years, he integrated himself into the French culture and endeared himself to the French however he could. Wearing a coonskin cap to fashion himself as the quintessential backwoods American. Selling American flags as a souvenir to the French to raise money for the war. Appealing to France’s ideological sensibilities to rally them to America’s cause. Using France’s enmity with Britain to present an alliance with America as a smart political move.

4. Always prepare to present your best.

Franklin always came well prepared – he was known to bring notes to all his meetings AND record the conversation after when it was fresh in his mind. One of the biggest complaints about PR is that we don’t do our research. We don’t think ahead. We’re lazy, incompetent flacks just looking to get a “quick hit.” Let’s change that!

5. Improve your bedside manner and know how to schmooze.

Franklin was the king of networking. While he had quite a few enemies, they were greatly outnumbered by his many friends and allies. Also, while he knew a plethora of very important people, his less famous friends in various places were often the ones that helped him to best exert his influence. Franklin hated pompousness and enjoyed meeting anyone with good ethics and an engaging love of intellectualism like himself. Too many PR people do not know how to do this! Improve your bedside manner and don’t get so caught up in who’s important or benefits your own selfish interests.

I encourage you to check out Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. It’s a great read that will inspire you, no matter what profession you work in.


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Why the Publicity Bubble in PR Begs Popping

September 17, 2008 at 10:14 am (PR Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

 There’s been talk lately about the PR pro’s evolution from publicist to social media strategist. While I wholeheartedly support the increased attention to social media, the underlying message is disconcerting. For too long, media relations and the hot pursuit of “ink” has been our reason for being. Let’s pop that bubble right now.

PR has never meant press relations, but to look at the industry’s widespread propagation of that mantra it would seem that is the case. How is it that we term ourselves publicists, when our true role encompasses so much more? Perhaps if we treated the industry as a more strategic practice instead of focusing on getting a stack of clips, we’d have more seasoned and capable professionals in the field instead of an army of cold callers smiling, dialing, and pissing off droves of journalists and bloggers in the process.

It’s interesting that despite the growth of social media and the decline of mainstream media, the importance of the latter has stayed virtually the same. There’s still a lot of resistance, most of all from PR professionals, to admit that traditional media relations is declining in importance and we live in a brave new world where social media is taking over.

A hit in the Wall Street Journal is a great coup and will no doubt cement the reputation of your brand with your consumers, your business partners, and your competition. But it’s becoming less and less valuable to the bottom line as social media grows exponentially in influence.

One example that continues to blow my mind is when a client of mine was included in a Thanksgiving-day GMA segment – a major accomplishment for our team. The client saw thousands of inbound leads occur as a result and was pleased as punch with the results.

Imagine his (and our!) surprise a few months later when we secured the client blog coverage on TMZ – which was still a relatively small celebrity-focused news site at the time – to phenomenal results that blew GMA’s out of the water. When a niche-focused Web site can bring in more bang than a nationally-syndicated morning show, you stop and pay attention.

The Internet tips the scales in favor of social media by making it far easier to track online coverage that leads to site traffic, leads from that traffic that convert into sales, and gauge customer opinions by participating in the online discussion.

Beyond online coverage’s potential for being far more successful than mainstream media coverage, the possibilities for community engagement is endless and gives companies a better chance than ever before of dialoguing with their most important publics: The end user. These direct-to-consumer conversations are arguably the most important for a company, and PR can strategize for and drive those conversations.

Social media provides PR professionals an opportunity to take back their rightful role as big thinkers, strategists and high-touch relationship builders, relegating media relations to a more modest (and arguably more deserved) position with the rest of a company’s key audiences.

It’s no wonder most clients still value the old school “ink” and pooh-pooh social media coverage as a lesser accomplishment when we so poorly represent ourselves as mere media lackeys. Yes, it’s time to expand beyond the publicist role, but in the process, we should realize that we never should have represented ourselves so narrowly in the first place.

[The above image, “POP!” by N1NJ4 on Flickr, used under Creative Commons]

[I originally contributed this post to my friend Chris Lynn’s blog, socialTNT.]

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Our Modern Lives: Tune In or Turn Off?

April 16, 2008 at 8:26 am (PR Musings, socialTNT) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This is a post I contributed to my friend Chris Lynn’s blog, socialTNT.

With Blackberries and iPhones keeping us constantly connected to an online IV stream, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to disconnect. As of late, discussion around the problems of our “always on” lifestyles seem to be popping up everywhere. Last month, the Churchill Club held a panel on the issue of information overload. And, even more alarming, The New York Times recently chronicled the health problems–and two deaths–resulting from the demands of round-the-clock blogging. While not as severe as those tragic cases, I recently came face-to-face with my own info-addiction.

Click here to read the rest of my post on socialTNT.

[The above photo, “Streeter Seidell, Comedian” by Zach Klein on flickr, is used under Creative Commons]

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Why (Good) PR Will Never Die

April 10, 2008 at 8:04 am (PR 101, PR Musings) (, , , )

I’ve been reading a book on media relations that’s been a great resource for me: Media Training 101 by Sally Stewart. It’s a good primer on smart PR tactics when working with press.

The interesting thing about the book is that it’s primarily geared toward executives and business people. Not PR pros.

Why is that funny? Having worked with quite a few execs throughout my career, I can’t imagine them having the time to read a book on media relations strategy.

Many of my clients can’t find time for a good night’s sleep, let alone the 4-6 hours it takes to read a 300-page book. You understand this when you get e-mail responses from your CTO after 10 p.m. at night and realize they’re still hard at work.

Which is what led them to hire a PR firm or consultant in the first place. The reality is it takes quite a bit of training to develop smart communication strategies for your brand.

That doesn’t even take into account the man hours needed to implement the plan once you put it together.

Reading through those pages is a reminder of how much training good PR pros need in order to prove their worth as true experts in communication. This now includes knowledge of traditional media outlets, key audiences, social media platforms, and any other new communication tools pop up along the way.

PR is a lot of hard work and the bar of excellence is high. If you’re a PR pro, you know how tough it is, and if you’re a journalist or blogger, you value the good PR people that are out there.

If it wasn’t challenging for companies to communicate effectively to their various audiences, the need for PR wouldn’t exist. And that’s why good PR, the kind that uses communication tools intelligently and gets results, will never die.

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