How to be famous in 6 easy steps
The campaign your agency launched isn’t getting picked up by reporters, no matter how many times your PR person bugs them. So what can you do to juice your story to get their attention?
Odds are, the reason you’re not getting press is not that reporters don’t like you, or that your PR person isn’t selling your story properly. It’s because you haven’t created a story worth telling.
The average advertising reporter I work with gets 50 pitches a day, and consumer journalists receive exponentially more. It’s overwhelming. One journalist described it as walking down a street in Santa Monica while petitioners shove clipboards in your face. You’re not going to sign more than one or two, no matter how good the cause.
A good relationship and a well-crafted pitch will increase your odds but, in my lives as both journalist and agency PR person, I’ve found that no amount of persuasion will sell a story if a reporter doesn’t think it serves her audience. To get reporters curious, you have to make a story people want to hear. PR needs to be part of everything you do, everything you make, every nuance of your culture, even the clients you serve. You are the story.
That’s tough in agencies, where your instinct is to talk about the client, not yourself. But if you look at the iconic agencies of our time, like Droga5 or Wieden & Kennedy, you see they grew to where they are with a conscious eye on their own mythology. Good agencies tell their client’s story. Great agencies tell their own.
The factors that drive PR are even more important than the PR itself. From the thousands of stories I’ve pitched and from interviews with advertising press, I’ve learned which elements make an agency newsworthy. Here’s how to be famous, in six easy steps.
1. Make things forwardable
Creative is the single biggest driver of agency PR. Despite that, I see tons of competent work that just doesn’t have the hook, that special dash of genius, to break through. PR has to be built into the product. The clothing company Betabrand creates off-kilter items like the World’s Most Expensive Jacket (99.9 percent off!) just because they get fans and journalists talking. “Make things forwardable,” their founder told me.
We need to do that in advertising, too. When we ask consumers and journalists to pass along our work, we’re asking them to attach their own cred to it. That’s a high bar. So when I’m evaluating a piece of creative for my clients, I always ask this question: “Would you share this if you weren’t getting paid to do it?”
2. Stop being a fan
We’re too good at protecting our work. We love it because we know what it took to get it made, even after budget cuts and client tweaks. But the second the work goes out the door, all of those details fall away. The only thing an audience sees is the work. Try to see it the way they’ll see it, then make it better.
3. Stop piling on
Sometimes we land on an idea that’s just OK, and we know it. Instead of coming up with a better one, we load it up with cause marketing and influencers and whatever else until we end up with this unwieldy Jenga tower of creative. One perfectly executed idea will cut through the clutter better than a dozen middling ones. So don’t pile on. Raise your bar.
4. Work for clients who will make you famous
We never really factor clients into PR, but journalists do. Fascinating brands, especially national ones, will always turn heads faster than your regional client, no matter how good the work. The ideal client should allow you to do great work or have built-in PR value, or both.
5. Use your culture as a catapult
This is the hardest step, and the most important. Agencies take on the identity of their clients, and too often culture is just the stuff that fills in the gaps. Great agencies and great work are driven by great cultures, which are themselves newsworthy. You can have flashes of brilliance, but culture is the only thing that keeps those flashes coming.
6. Bring PR into your process
PR almost always comes into a project just before launch. At that point the campaign is either newsworthy or it’s not, and there’s not much your PR person can do to change that. If your PR person is any good, she’ll know at a glance if the story has legs. So ask her if people will dig it, and ask her how to fix it.
OK ... maybe I lied about the steps being easy. None of them are. But that’s the real secret of PR: If the story isn’t there, you have to build it.