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Public Relations, Branding, Integrity and Passion

Parker LePla offered insights and experiences on The Essentials of PR and Brand Management at an Northwest Enterpreneur Network workshop this morning.  They characterized a brand as a "sustainable differentiator" that represents the intersection of what you do well, what your customers value and what is sustainable over time, embodying the vision, mission and core values of an organization.  I was particularly drawn to their description of an integrated brand as the promise you keep as an organization ... bringing to mind the image -- and mantra -- of Horton the Elephant ("I meant what said, and I said what I meant; an elephant is faithful one hundred percent"). 

I went into the seminar with a moderate to high level of skepticism -- and even cynicism -- about branding, stemming in part to some earlier chafing I felt during the rather stringent brand guidelines introduced by the firm formerly-known-as Andersen Consulting during its renaming (and rebranding) to Accenture during my time there, and in part from an association I've constructed between branding and pretentiousness.  However, rather than pretentiousness, the idea of integrity kept surfacing throughout the presentation.  In fact, many of the exercises designed to excavate the nature of our respective ventures' brands could equally well be applied to discovering one's true self.

Another idea that kept surfacing was passion.  It was noted that people don't typically make rational decisions, they make emotional decisions and then rationalize them afterward.  One advantage to a company that can inspire passion and loyalty on the part of customers is that such passion may support 5% to 25% higher prices.  As so often happens, I was reminded of a blog post by Kathy Sierra, on "Passion is Blind", in which she offers the observation that "Having passionate users is almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card ... They'll forgive you when you screw up."

There were a number of other useful suggestions for how to manage a brand, "live" a brand, and develop and deliver an effective public relations campaign.  Rather than detail them all here, I'll post a link to the sldes, if/when they become available, [Update: the slides can be found here; I've included two exellent diagrams that helped me better understand branding below.]

Levels of Brand Relationship (from p. 8 of the Parker LePla slides):

Parkerleplabrandpyramid_1

Discovering Your Brand (from p. 13 of the slides):

Parkerleplabrandvenn

and leave off noting I'll note two additional themes that are important for all branding and public relations activities: emotional intelligence and "simplify, simplify, simplify".

[Update: a friend asked about PR stuff, so I'll add a few more notes .]

Public relations was defined as enlisting a third party to assist in your marketing.  We were encouraged to give up the notion of "free PR", which does not exist, and instead focus on the notion of "earned media", i.e., if you want media attention, you have to earn it, by adopting the perspective of editors, publishers, and [other] journalists in creating content that they can use, and offering it when they can best use it: in short, how can you make their lives, and those of their customers, better?  [Yet another instance of a maxim that Dan Fine shared at EU 2005: everyone you interact with in a business context can be thought of as a customer or potential customer, whether it is vendors, employees, partners, media, investors or people who want to buy your product or service (the "traditional" notion of a "customer") ... in effect, you need to sell them all on some kind of value proposition.]

The key to a successful public relations strategy is message development (and, as always, keeping things as simple as possible):

  • determining your company's strategic role in your customers' lives,
  • distilling this down to a short (ideally, one-sentence) positioning statement,
  • creating a message platform focusing on the three most important messages
  • identifying three talking points that you want people to remember

A PR campaign is always focused on a specific audience (e.g., no "one size fits all" campaigns), and a company will benefit from having different campaigns for different key audiences (e.g., customers vs. investors).  Of course, within the larger context of an integrated brand, I imagine there will likely be significant similarities among diferent campaigns.  [Oh, this reminds me: there may also be different branding, and PR campaigns, for your company's brand and the brand of your company's products or services ... though, again, there will ideally be some linkages.]

The basic elements of a PR campaign are one or more of the following

  • press releases
  • contributed articles
  • press events
  • media kits and contents (electronic and/or print)
  • stories

There is often a snowball effect in the media: once one media outlet picks up your story, others are more likely to follow suit, so securing that first story is the most challenging task (similar to the domino effect for angel investors that Lon McGowan and Henry Lin talked about last Thursday ... and I suppose an editor or journalist might be viewed as "investing" in your story).

Moonjar, a local company "committed to creating products that encourage communication and that empower children with basic life skills", was mentioned as a company that is modeling the integrated branding and successful public relations campaign management that was discussed througout the workshop.  In looking around their web site, I have to agree that they are exemplary, and it is no small surprise that they are one of Parker LePla's clients.

Finally (no, really, I mean it this time), the Parker LePla team stressed the importance of leveraging a public relations campaign by creating a "press room" section of your company web site, reproducing (with permission, of course) articles, and creating a blog for disseminating news about your company. 

This last one is rather interesting ... I've started posting a few entries in this blog about some significant milestones I've achieved in my own venture, Interrelativity, but also been rather open about challenges I am facing (or have faced).  I keep hearing and reading -- and blogging -- about the importance of openness, vulnerability, integrity and honesty, and want to maintain my commitment to this approach to life and work through this blog. However, I also recognize that some of the PR and branding principles of simplicity and focus may not well represented here.  I'll have to give this some more thought...

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