One of my favorite articles in the April issue of the magazine is written in the form of a letter from Geri Denterlein, the head of public relations firm Denterlein Worldwide in Boston, to her past, present, and future clients. I'm not entirely sure how the idea came about, except that Diana Pisciotta, the firm's managing director, and I are old friends. But our basic premise from the start was that an expectations gap often exists between PR firms (even good ones) and their clients, and that the gap could be bridged if it were addressed early in the life of a PR firm's client engagement.
So Inc. asked Denterlein to write down her thoughts about what clients should and should not expect, and how companies send the right and wrong signals to their communications consultants. One of the first things she said was that it drove her nuts during a new business meeting when a prospective client interrupted her to ask, "Cut to the chase—can you get us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal?"
"The short answer may be yes," Denterlein writes. "[W]e can work to get you mentioned in a major newspaper, although the front page is a long shot unless you are truly unique. But you must understand that those pitches take a lot of time and are never a sure thing. PR is not advertising. Even if your publicist has top-notch newsroom contacts and is armed with a defined, disciplined message, it's impossible to control the news. This fact, of course, is exactly what makes a mention of your company on the local 6 o'clock broadcast so valuable."
And what constitutes "truly unique"? Denterlein says that many companies are afraid to show vulnerability or to reveal conflcit inside a business. While that is certainly an understandable impulse, it leaves her PR specialists less to work with. "When it comes to making news," she explains, "you have to recognize that one of the key elements of a compelling article is conflict. Businesses that are willing to acknowledge adversity can reap enormous PR rewards. Being covered in the media--even if the portrayal isn't exactly perfect in your mind--always confers more credibility on your business than even the most clever ad." She goes on to tell the story of a hospital client that shrewdly decided to let a reporter follow a crisis as it unfolded inside the organization. The hospital was commended by the paper for its commitment to transparency.
Finally, I suspect Denterlein speaks for many PR people when she says, "Don't bog us down with so many little tasks--such as endlessly editing press releases--that we never get a chance to do any real strategic brainstorming with you."