I was air-frying some sweet potatoes last weekend when it hit me that my instincts as a former journalist sometimes worked against me as a PR pro.
But first, if you’re in or near Washington, D.C., be sure to see my P.S. below. Now back to the story:
I hadn’t paid much attention to the air fryer craze until last year when the “clearly you don’t own an air fryer” meme took off. All of a sudden I was like, “Where did this even come from?”
It turns out that an “air fryer” is essentially the same 1940s-era technology that was previously known as a convection oven.
Good thing I wasn’t on the PR team at Philips in about 2010. That’s when they licensed a slightly updated version of this tech from a Dutch inventor. When someone in the brainstorming session said, “Maybe we should call it an ‘air fryer’ to make it sound healthier than a ‘deep fryer,’” I would have been like, “Nobody will fall for that! It’s just a countertop convection oven!”
And of course I would have been wrong. Just like I would have been wrong if someone at a startup survey software company had asked me about their bright idea to rebrand “survey research” as “experience management.” In both cases, I would have been BILLIONS of dollars wrong.
That’s because many journalists skew precise and literal, like I do, and when they transition into PR they cringe at what might feel like “hype” or “spin.”
And it can be hard for them to do what PR pros are often asked to do, which is create stories without hard news and emphasize certain messages over others.
If that’s you, or you manage someone who struggles with that, remind them of a key element that made them successful as journalists: finding a unique angle.
When I was a journalist covering the same event as all my competitors, I prided myself on digging deeper to find something they didn’t, or reframing the story so that it was more relevant to my readers than theirs. Every journalist can relate to this.
Once I realized that this skill made me an even more valuable PR pro, I leaned into it. I rebranded a technical device as a “bird breathalyzer” and watched an otherwise obscure scientific report go national. In another instance, I related a workplace management tip to handling the “Dwight Schrutes” on your team and ended up seeing my email pitch subject line essentially word-for-word on the list of most-read stories on Time.com.
It's not about misleading or hiding facts. It’s simply about emphasizing what’s appealing to your audience.
Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe if I was Puff Daddy’s publicist back in 2001, and he came to me and said, “I’m going to change my stage name to P. Diddy,” I would have said, “That's great. . .” Nah, I haven’t changed THAT much.
P.S. Next week I’m doing my IRL “Double Your Media Placements” workshop in D.C. The in-person events I’ve done this year have had a special spark – seems like a lot of people really want to get back into a room together and generate ideas and energy. Would love to see you there if you can make it.
This article was originally published on November 2, 2022
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