PRSA NJ Spring Newsletter

Ask the Professional

Ann Willets
President and CEO, Utopia Communications
Reprinted with the permission of PRSA's Tactics Magazine (May 2014)

Q. I’m trying to be all multimedia-like, sending along videos and other creative add-ons with my press releases. But they’re not getting much play. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?

A. I have a theory, and it’s not so much what youre doing wrong, but more a matter of the way PR folks think. We always hear that video is the thing, video is huge, video gets clicks, video gets attention, etc.

OK. I am sure that when a video is done very well and is disseminated to the right audience via the right media, it can be very effective in getting the attention of an audience and getting its message across.

But is that what PR pros do? Our tried-and-true concept of our job is that we send information to journalists and hope they’ll use it. When you tack a video onto a press release, is that really the way promotional video is designed to be used? Given the notoriously short attention span of that particular audience, not to mention their disinclination to serve as the conduit for our marketing material, I’m not really that surprised when a video offering doesn’t knock their socks off or end up playing much of a role (if any) in whatever coverage they provide.

Now of course, we’re all about making better use of social media these days. And whether it’s Facebook or YouTube, we know we can post anything we want on the channels where we control the content. But does that make it effective?

That depends on a lot of things. If your client is General Motors, Ford or Toyota, and you’re coming out with a new car model, it will absolutely be effective because you have a hungry audience – including the automotive media but obviously a lot of consumers as well – who will eat up whatever you put out. So of course, do it up big! They’ll take the time to watch the two minutes, or five, or 10 – if that’s what you decide to give them.

If your client is not as well-known and you’re trying to get them well-known, can video still work? A political consulting firm tells me they made a video of their client shooting baskets as part of a challenge to President Obama to take him on in a 3-point shooting contest! Somehow I don’t think the president will accept the challenge, but the video was clever enough that it got some pretty good play among the political media.

So it can be done, but this seems to be where a lot of PR pros hesitate. You know you probably have to be a bit more creative and edgy to get attention with a video for a lesser-known client, and that’s going to cost the client (or you) quite a bit of money. Are you sure you want to do that when there still is no guarantee it will catch fire?

More to the point, do we really believe in our own creative abilities? The digital agencies, ad and design firms tend to get the budgets for projects that require high-level creative skill. They seem to be the ones clients trust to create something engaging and memorable. Does the PR industry still have too much the order-taker mentality that keeps us from breaking out and doing something really interesting? And do our people have the skill to do it? (Or, if they do, would we let them?)

I don’t think you can make the case that highly creative, well-produced, multimedia material is ineffective. Applied in the right way, of course it’s effective. But in a broad sense, our industry has to remember that content can no longer be merely informational, it needs to be engaging as well.

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