What is Public Relations? Richard Laermer’s Take

Today’s blog post is courtesy of Alison Bailin of HMA Public Relations, our PRGN partner agency in Phoenix, Ariz. Alison asks Richard Laermer, “What is public relations?”
What is Public Relations? Richard Laermer’s Take
Over the past several weeks, we’ve asked one seemingly simple question to panelists, presenters and sponsors of the Public Relations Society of America Western District Conference:
Thus far, we’ve gotten some pretty amazing responses from Cathy Tull, Pete Codella and Nancy Syzdek. (Click on any of their names to see how they answered and comment with your thoughts.)
Today, as Alison makes her way to Las Vegas for the conference, we ask the question once more, this time to Richard Laermer, author of both Punk Marketing and Full Frontal PR as well as the editor of the Bad Pitch Blog, who will be speaking at the event on the topic of “Trend Spotting & New Fame.”
So, Richard, what is public relations to you?
A PR person’s job is to try to look through both the news and the fodder and understand how an idea becomes newsy or water cooler talk in first place.
It’s all about finding the right trend—being on top of everything.
And in the near future, as the media becomes not a print vehicle or a TV station or even a product held in our hands, but a series of people we depend upon for knowledge, data and worthy opinion, you are the one who is going to be making news and providing the details. You are going to be the big shot!
After all, a top-tier journalist you might have once contacted to “get the story out” is likely to be out of work soon. He or she is too expensive for the corporation to keep on.
So, with that unexpected reality, you will need to be the source. To thrive in this nascent era as a communicator, job number one is to become a student of the unvarnished media.
You must dig past the superficiality of nonstop babbling columnists who have nothing helpful to say—and ignore them without pause. You must understand the new “news” will be whatever drives clicks on a site—and those (sometimes sensational) elements don’t often match with the defining traits of was once investigative media – truth, service, objectivity, so on.
The MS media were once a bunch of places where people went for dependable knowledge from trained, trusted experts. Now we are the folks gathering information and it’s time that we, like the early-at-work doughnut guy, MAKE the content.
That means you will need to un-spin the news – most of which is found information that others regurgitate as new – and become The World’s Greatest Trend Spotter.
You must stop being a passive consumer of media. You have to actively deconstruct it and constantly be in “analysis mode” of what you look for and all that you read or, dare I say, skim. You have to understand what fills the news hole in the future—become a reliable individual with as much knowledge as the person you once depended upon as a reporter who, as you can tell, isn’t there to delete your email anymore!
You are going to feed the beast yourself. Put differently, rather than just throw yourself at the media as you do now, you are going to become a trustworthy individual who actually researches and crafts story angles that bloggers, vloggers, tweeters, podcasters, radio folk, newsletter writers, and regular bigmouths will want to use in a heartbeat.
For that to happen, you will possess an arsenal of knowledge. If you are the source, that means start learning from your/your clients’ customers. You’ve heard it so many times that it may seem trite, but listening is essential to forecasting trends and it’s something PR folks don’t think is in their purview. Ou contraire.
• Ask your/their customers questions about your products and services—get the difficult answers.
• Ask what they’re looking for next.
• Ask your customers what they think – just few questions, don’t overuse folks’ time – by organizing online or in-person focus groups and hear (then use) what people are thinking.
• Find out what media they’re using and what they think of current events.
• Then use all that to filter the information you place for like-minded folks to find.

Get filled with a new sense of cultural awareness as you read a ton and ask and take in what people say—not half-assed thinking but actual considering what people are saying. Spend a few minutes away from your BlackBerry and meditate on the information someone just told you.
You will be the savvier when something suddenly hits big because you saw it coming. And in this new PR society you will be the one person in your circle who collects incoming trends instead of bobble-heads!

That said, to work with so-called news makers in the future—you’ll need to be, well, like a reporter. That means become a person who breathes current events of every stripe.
And most especially, learn to be the person who reads a story and actually sees why a certain company was featured (or not, for that matter). And yes, I get that is a tall order requiring you to become more informed across the board. It calls for you to stop consuming only media that interests you.

Stop reading the same old things. S-t—r—e—tch. Why is this good for you? Absorbing, studying and imprinting on lots of different subjects enable you to see the big picture. What’s “real” and truly newsworthy starts to seep into your pores.
This makes you so much more aware of what people are trying to cram down your throat as faux newsworthy. For example, I read Prison Life, and it gets me a lot of needful information, as does my poring over Call Center magazine (uncannily still churning as Gourmet hits the skids).

With media growing from a handful of places to everywhere you turn and with everyone a published reporter thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Web, you must careful about what’s pretense and what’s not—and digging into all media all the time is your cure to getting conned.
It’s refreshing when people can talk to each other with more than just a semblance of knowledge. If you work in PR, you need to be informed in a way that appears to be getting harder and harder.
Everything we turn to has become overly personalized and overtly customized.

Marketers flood our mailboxes, real and virtual, with all sorts of offers customized for us alone. Hundreds, okay thousands, of sites offer services to help us get info “quicker” like My Yahoo! or MyWashingtonPost or MyLaermer.com.
On a more profound level, the ease with which we can arrange to be spoon fed only that which we deem worthy is, however, a sudden danger. With this you become less informed than you ought to be, or would, if you had to seek out all this information yourself.
All this customization has led us down a wily path of surreal, distorted knowledge.

My elders tell me the folks who didn’t burn up in the 1929 Great Crash days were well-informed because they read everything available to them (which wasn’t much)! They saw cultural indicators that told them to react—fast! In pre-breadline 2010, we’d do well to follow our forefathers’ advice and cull knowledge from broader sources.

There’s no better time to learn how to become an educated news sniffer-outer. Become the one who knows the difference between a fad and a real trend. And with that, seven ways to the trend spotter emeritus.
To be one you have to search for indicators of what direction the targeted country/ industry/ group is headed; to do that appropriately you have to be able to recognize something no one else has noticed is bubbling up as a trend-to-be.
You got to be pouring over things ferociously; linking to ideas that are question marks until you read them; tearing up newsletter snippets and downloading podcasts with an authoritative edge to them. That’s how you succeed. Period.
To be a real trend finder, make it a part-time job! Being totally informed is the only way to get ahead in I Am Source PR. Let me rephrase that. It’s the only way to keep yourself in the career you chose. Because mainly being interested in stuff is passé.
Today, it’s urgent to be INTERESTING since that would put you in a class by yourself—people tend to like you better because you are a hotbed of “hmm, cool facts” in an invisible world where people repeat the same one-liners every minute of every day.
You don’t want to live in Sameness. Echh.
You want to be where everyone knows your name. That’s the world where you said something that is being repeated by others… because you are the source. All of a sudden you start getting those “others” to tell you the fantastic stuff they heard/read/eavesdropped upon that excites them, jazzes them, hits them harder than a double espresso on a freezing day.
It’s the place where a PR professional like you is someone to be reckoned with—someone unstoppable and always on the hunt for the next great event to participate in. And I think to myself what a wonderful world!
What do you think? Anything to add?
Post your comments and thoughts below and email us at [email protected] and [email protected].
HMA PR is LCI’s affiliate PR agency in Arizona and a fellow member of the Public Relations Global Network.

3 thoughts on “What is Public Relations? Richard Laermer’s Take

  1. Richard, I couldn’t agree with you more. When we teach our media trainings to clients, we talk about how it’s the intersection of news while leveraging a business opportunity that makes public relations creative and fun. After more than 30 years in the business, it’s that creative approach that still makes me want to get up in the morning. Thanks for your insightful thoughts — and thanks, Allison of HMA PR in Phoenix, for sharing this with LCI’s readers. Cheers, David

  2. Richard, thank you for sharing! We should all spend more time during our day working on our trend-spotting abilities!

  3. Wow – thanks so much for cross posting! Next year I expect to see some Landis team members with us at the conference…it’s in Denver…save the date!

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