Thursday, September 22, 2011

Get Out of the Spiral

As I write this, a 6½-ton satellite 100 miles or so above my head orbits lower and lower. Its death spiral will end when the school bus-sized object encounters air thick enough to slow it below minimum orbital speed. It will be quite a show coming down, unless you stand where some red-hot surviving piece hits. NASA invested millions in what will become scrap.

Unfortunately, many in PR become locked in death spirals of technique that go around and around until careers flame out. We do the same ol’ – same ol’ over and over. The problem confronts communicators in other fields, as Matt Hermann, vice president and director of strategy at BBDO’s San Francisco office observed in a recent blog.

“I know I might sound like a curmudgeon who doesn't understand the post-modern culture of remixing and appropriation, but I would submit that (ad) agencies have become far too comfortable making excuses for each other's lack of genuinely new ideas,” Hermann writes. I agree. Watch a few minutes of TV and the commercials blur together – smart, hip, twentysomethings banter some cute quips, there’s a flash of the product logo, then back to the program. Or more likely, several more spots just like it. What creativity? I’m glad my remote has a mute button.

I suggest PR faces the same problem. I pitched a prospective client awhile back, a financial institution, that proudly announced in our meeting that 900 of its 9,000 customers had friended the institution’s Facebook page! That’s great, I replied, but how do you reach the 90% of your customers who haven’t been to Facebook? Silence. I went on to propose such ideas as focus groups, open houses, mailing stuffers, etc., that could broaden customer dialogue. I didn’t get the job. I think the slightly wounded PR director hadn’t put a lot of thought into the problem until then.

This is a creative profession… so we must create. What makes this client different? How do the publics we want to influence gather information? What’s the real message, and what will make it memorable and bring change? Every project will be unique and each will require a unique strategy for success. We always should strive to find it.

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