In public relations, we spend our careers telling our clients’ stories. Ideally, there is a good mix of reality and just enough future promise to make things interesting. The trick with good PR is to find the sweet spot – never letting your company story lag reality and never letting it precede reality by too much. This is especially important today when it is so easy for audiences to research and refute your claims. While PR professionals are known for their “spin,” good PR stays very close to truth, though it puts that truth in the best possible light and gives bad news the appropriate context.

I love hearing what others think of PR. It seems to me to be one of the most misunderstood professions. Just for fun, let’s look at some modern and not so modern takes on PR and marketing. You will see that little has changed over time.

Today’s take on PR

“The future of marketing is about putting the public back in public relations and the social in social media.” – Brian Solis, principal analyst, Altimeter Group

Storytelling took a huge leap forward with the advent of social media. While we always tried to tell a company’s story in the context of what they did for society, the social media channel forced many companies to make this a priority.

“In a downturn, aggressive PR and communications strategy is key.” – Doug Leone, VC, Sequoia Capital

When the economy goes south, good financial results are hard to come by. Holding out the promise for the future, especially in the tech industry, is critical to maintaining a pace of innovation when all good sense tells you to hunker down.

“Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.” – Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

I’m sure ad folks would disagree, but, plain and simple, PR has more validity than an ad. These two marketing elements do go hand in hand, but oddly, PR and advertising teams are rarely brought together in the B2B tech space, and that is not a good thing.

“Make the customer the hero of your story.” – Ann Handley, partner, MarketingProfs  

It’s always about the end user. So many clients want to tell their story, but their story is nothing without showing the value to the customer. For broadcast and business media, for awards and speaking platforms, a company is much more likely to get attention for a customer story than for their own story. Companies need to embrace this.

“Social media isn’t a toolbox of silver bullets given to us by aliens. It’s just a new set of technologies and concepts that we need to add and integrate into our existing marketing strategy.” – Lon Safko, inventor, author

Social is just a channel. There should be no separate social strategy, but there should be social-specific assets and activities. Many in the B2B tech market look at social as a chore rather than an opportunity.

Last Generation’s Look at PR

Your mother’s approach to PR was not so different than your own. If we look back just a few decades, pre-social and pre-Internet in many cases, we will see more of an evolution than a revolution when it comes to marketing.

“Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory.” – Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player

Competition remains the same throughout the ages, and winners whether in business, sports or politics, often have a similar approach – to be a winner, act like a winner.

“Advertising is saying you are good. PR is getting someone else to say you are good.” – Jean-Louis Gassee, Founder BeOS and former Apple exec

Apple and its founders were huge proponents of PR though they had iconic ads as well. This quote really sums up the difference between the two.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

Buffett’s quote is probably even more relevant today than when he first said it. The speed at which a reputation can be ruined is mind-blowing. Just in the last year, you can point to  United Airlines, Chipotle, or Kevin Spacey to name a few.

“If I had one dollar left, I’d spend it on PR.” – Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft

I don’t think Bill Gates has to worry about being down to his last dollar, but he really meant this. I worked at one of Microsoft’s outside PR firms, and we were required to give daily, DAILY, updates to “BillG” on any bad stories that were expected that day and what we were doing to counter it along with any good stories and how we were going for others.  

PR Through the Centuries

To cap this off, check out these historical quotes on PR and publicity, which still hold true today.  

“To establish oneself in the world, one does all one can to seem established there already.” – François de la Rochefoucauld, 16th century French author

“The art of publicity is a black art; but it has come to stay, and every year adds to its potency.” – Thomas Paine, political activist

“Publicity, publicity, publicity is the greatest moral factor and force in our public life.” – Joseph Pulitzer, newspaper publisher

“Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” – John D. Rockefeller, founder, Standard Oil Company

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.” – Daniel J. Boorstin, historian and 12th Librarian of Congress

“Public relations are a key component of any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.” – Alvin Adams, founder of America’s first express shipping company Adams and Company

“It is generally much more shameful to lose a good reputation than never to have acquired it.” – Pliny the Elder, Ancient Roman philosopher

Wrap up

In tech, we always like to think we are inventing something new, but today’s innovations are all just iterations of something that came before. Marketing is no different. What we are doing has been done for centuries, just through different channels.


Robin Bectel
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