Monday, April 08, 2013

Outlandish Expectations:

You hired a PR agency based on a number of criteria that you carefully graphed on an Excel spreadsheet. They were brought in to pitch using a PowerPoint presentation with lots of bells and whistles telling you exactly what they expected you wanted to hear. They were good, they were savvy and they were boring. They were in the groove, up on the latest social media, able to call the top editors in your market, they may even have gone to one of your trade shows, the jargon was tight but liberally delivered, and they were fucking clueless about taking YOU out of your of the box.

 The broad outlines of a budget had been approved internally, you were safe on first and no one was coming to bat your company out of the park, why, because no one around the table was ready to handle outlandish expectations. You were headed towards either a divorce or a long and boring relationship.  

Personally, delivering the unexpected can send you into some very scary PR regions, but with the most creative PR agencies you should be ready to cope with the flash of brilliance that illuminates your path. For example, after convincing a client to go for a land speed record to highlight their biodiesel, they decided to drop the whole thing because it was too expensive instead or marketing the hell out of it. That was my fault because I had failed to recognize the lack of outrageousness the client was willing to foster in his market. The record breaking bike attracted thousands of visitors to their booth during the two years they consented to present it and the record run was shown all over the world.

If a PR plan does not have space to cater to the outlandish then it is incomplete. One client with both a sense of humor and a broad acceptance of the ridiculous sponsored a COMDEX award effort, which we brought home in 1992 for one of the first laptop computers. These things do not happen by accident, the product was outstanding, but in a highly competitive environment, I had to admit to the CEO that it was a long shot. It paid off beautifully with incredible PR opportunities as well as a serious sales uptick. The same applied to going after and garnering an EPA award for a process in 2006.

One day we proposed and set up a product launch of a new microprocessor in a vintage DC3 flying over the Bay Area. The theme was old technology upgraded to meet the future. That event is still part of a number of journalists fond memories since the company went first class all the way with limo rides to the airport, outstanding catering and leather bound press kits. If you gonna do it, do it with panache.
Try to maintain an objective approach to the special effort. By that I mean that there must be a bottom line advantage, and not just a fun venture. The EPA award was used in every presentation, the land speed record opened many a conference. The Inc, 500 award destroyed the company's credibility while highlighting profit margins that were way too high. 

As a 30 year PR practitioner I have worked with a large number of clients, some were able to understand taking a long shot, others were too bottom line oriented to look at these ideas. But I have always promised that whoever hires me for media coverage and business development, they should expect at least once a year to descend into some sort of external effort that may or may not be directly related to the financial bottom line, but will enhance the image of the company.