by Dean S. Goldman, president, Goldman & Associates Public Relations
As CEO, you’ve developed elaborate expansion plans for your business. The board of directors has signed off. You have the right staff in place and detailed documents are drawn up. The best outside business advisers have been hired. The company is set to go in your direction. Millions of dollars are on the line, and your career might be, too. Your finger is hovering over the “go” button.
But before you push “go,” take a moment to think about whether you’ve left out the most important step.
Can you clearly explain your vision in a sentence or two? Does everyone really understand what you are trying to accomplish? In other words, do you have a public relations message? If your answer is “no,” don’t be surprised if the public, your customers, and the news media never grasp what your company is all about.
This isn’t something to take lightly. The absence of a clear public relations message is the reason so many chief executives end up wondering why no one else seems to “get it” about their companies. And in particular, it’s why such a great number of CEOs remain constantly unsatisfied with the amount and quality of news coverage their firms receive. This lack of exposure can translate into lost business opportunities and disappointed investors.
What is a public relations message? First of all, it’s crucial to point out what it isn’t. Don’t confuse a public relations message with that awkward dinosaur of the 1990’s, the mission statement. Frankly, most mission statements are vague paragraphs filled with buzzwords cobbled together and softened to near extinction by committee.
Your public relations message is the exact opposite. It’s one or two very specific statements that precisely express what your company and its future are all about. Do you plan to become the dominant provider of widgets in a three-state region in five years? If you do, say exactly that, and say it at every opportunity.
Case in point: Our firm was hired to convey a company’s aggressive growth plan to the news media. The company’s president was concerned that his plan was not receiving the media coverage that it should. Our client had talked with a key reporter numerous times. Each time, he painstakingly reviewed all the details, short- and long-term, of what he foresaw for his business.
His most recent conversation with the reporter had lasted nearly an hour, which is an eternity when it comes to media interviews. After that discussion, our client felt certain that he had finally achieved his mission of educating the reporter on his plans and that the media coverage he felt his company deserved would result.
A few weeks later, we asked the reporter if he understood what the client was trying to accomplish. The reporter hadn’t a clue.
What happened? Too much and not enough. The company president had used that hour to explain every detail, large and small, of his expansion plan. However, he had never precisely stated his overall goal in just a couple of sentences. Absent this statement, the reporter was left without a context for understanding which details were most significant. In fact, it put the reporter in the position of eventually trying to figure out for himself what the point of it all was.
Think about it. Do you really want other people – and especially the news media – to decide for themselves what your company’s message is? Of course you don’t.
To solve our client’s problem, we recommended that we work with him to develop a one to two-sentence statement explaining his company’s goal. This statement is to be included in all of the firm’s press materials and the CEO is to say this statement every time he speaks to the news media, the public, customers, and even to employees. Why employees? You want them to repeat the statement themselves when they speak with customers and the public. Consistency and repetition are the essential building blocks for establishing a public relations message.
Of course, it’s not necessarily easy to translate your vision into a couple of sentences. However, it really comes down to one thing – what are you trying to achieve?
We all know that in today’s info-cluttered society, attention spans are very short and everyone’s brains are working hard to sort through the thousands of messages they receive daily. Add into this the constraints reporters face. They must gather and understand information rapidly in order to write print or broadcast news stories to meet fast-approaching deadlines. You will make their jobs so much easier, and the outcome so much better, if you deliver your message in a couple of clear, precise, and understandable phrases.
Is your public relations message ready? Great – go ahead and push that “go” button.