A little self-reflection goes a long way in PR
I love vinyl. My DJ days are long behind me, but I still like to collect records — mostly releases by near and dear friends because I’m in bed by 10pm and this is how I support music in 2020.
Recently in Montreal, a provincial government inspector slapped multiple record stores with four-figure fines simply for having the audacity to be open a few minutes past 5pm on a Saturday.
Everyone who got hit with a fine made the news, which included heavy radio and TV coverage accompanied by a raft of web articles. And while everyone spoke tactfully, some shop owners were more effective than others in addressing the issue and its impact on the community.
We all like to think we exist beyond the reach of public affairs and “PR”, but this is complete self-deception. Teachers, insurance brokers, electricians, whatever — sooner or later, you are going to have to speak to what you do in relation to a public-facing situation.
No matter who you are or what you do, you’re in big trouble if you can’t summarize it in three brief and intelligible bullet points. And if you find yourself in the news, then you must be able to cogently explain why you have a stake in this situation.
Let’s use the aforementioned record store example:
- I own a record store in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood. It opened in 2010 and we offer a mix of new and used vinyl.
- In the past ten years, the store has become a community hub of sorts, bringing together people in the music community with in-store and off-site events, cultural happenings, and DJ nights.
- I am proud to own a brick-and-mortar business, supporting the local economy and contributing to the growth and survival of my neighbourhood.
You see? You know exactly who I am and what I’m all about. Then, one day a provincial bureaucrat fines me for daring to talk to my customers inside my own place of business after opening hours. A customer tips off their journalist friend, and before long it becomes the top local story that day. Using my bullet points, I pivot to establish my place within this story:
- I was handed a fine for $X because a government inspector said I was open past 5pm on a Saturday. It bears mentioning that this occurred on Record Store Day, a day intended to help stores like mine stay in business. So, it’s somewhat ironic that we’re being punished like this as we fight to survive in the modern economy.
- These laws are not applied evenly — it feels as if we were targeted, and we make easy targets because none of us can afford to fight this.
- It is sad that this is how the Quebec government treats small business owners. We are the engine that powers this economy, yet actions like these are unnecessarily punitive. Can we not work together, like normal people?
Once you’ve finalized your talking points, the next step is communicating that information in a way that constantly loops back to your messaging. No matter how abstract or off-base a reporter’s question is, you should always be able to bring it back to your bullets.
REPORTER: “Who even listens to vinyl anymore?”
ME: “Believe it or not, vinyl is the only music medium that’s actually increasing in sales! We’ve been selling vinyl to the community since 2010, but we might not be able to do it much longer if the Quebec government continues to unfairly target us like this. We don’t do this for profit — we do it for the love of records, and keeping vinyl alive.”
I threw in a bit of my own flavour on that one, but you can see how I’m creating an arc that starts with an antagonistic question and ends with what I have to say. In the context of TV, this strategy makes you eminently clip-able. A local news package average maybe three or four minutes and your 20-minute interview at the store will be cut down to a 3.5 second soundbite, give or take. So, by that logic, the more you ramble and the less organized you are in what you want to say, the less clip-able you become and the more lost you will be in a story that has the potential to galvanize a community.
One trick or tool to hone your messaging is developing a newsletter for your business, organization, Pokémon fan club, etc. Whether it’s geared towards clients (external) or staff (internal), this exercise serves the dual purpose of developing language and tone while documenting growth. Over time, the structures or themes that you put in place will help inform everything from marketing budgets to expansion.
With newsletters being email-based, you’ll also receive direct feedback from your closest friends, clients and other allies to help improve your offerings and messaging. As you evolve as the leader of an organization, so too should the philosophical backbone of that organization. PR gets a bad rap and is stereotyped as an industry fueled by vanity but committing to informing the public should be a serious endeavor that merits meticulous planning.
Leave nothing to chance. Your passion is too important to take for granted, and that includes your ability to champion it in the public sphere. Face the music, as they say (winky face emoji).
Christopher Paré is the director of communications at Human Society International/Canada and a contributing writer to TNKR Media.
photo: Unsplash/Mick Haupt @rocinante_11
cover photo: Unsplash/Reimond de Zuñiga @reimond_21