Putting the “Y” back in Public Relations

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Lately, we have started asking “why?” more often. It’s not that we’ve regressed back to our toddler days. Rather, we believe this simple question has the power to make us, and our clients, better communicators.

As any 4-year-old will tell you, the power of “why?” lies in its implicit questioning of the status quo. Just because something’s always been done one way, doesn’t mean it should continue to be. After all, Einstein’s definition of insanity is repeating the same action but expecting different results.

So let’s put the “why?” back in public relations, by reminding ourselves to question four commonly held assumptions.

Why this target?

Our firm recently hosted a roundtable for some 70 BtoB marketing and PR executives. Nearly all agreed that small, tightly defined prospect lists – maybe as few as 50 or 100 names – are the new norm for marketing. Shotgun campaigns aimed at a broad list of targets simply no longer pay off. On the PR side, we are developing relationships and work closely with a handful of key reporters BEFORE news breaks. With this foundation in place, we’re then able to deliver breaking news, exclusives and industry findings in the formats reporters can use immediately.

These days, we see Marketing and Communications working with Sales teams to define highly targeted groups of prospects, influencers and media by asking, “Why is this target audience a true bull’s-eye for us?”

Why this content?

At the same executives roundtable, nine out of 10 PR and marketing professionals said they plan to develop more content in the year ahead. That said, all agreed that content is under greater scrutiny and subject to higher expectations. From the PR perspective, it’s also critical to keep the storytelling element in mind. Keep the reader engaged and ensure your message is clear and concise.

The “content for content’s sake” approach of recent years has led to content overload, and untenable marketplace noise. Avoid content fatigue by asking, “Why is this content something our target audience will value?”

Why this channel?

In the rush to jump on the social media bandwagon and leverage automation tools, many of us are guilty of putting channel above the content during the strategy and tactics stages of our execution. Now dawns the realization that channels are key, but not all channels are right for all content, or all audiences.

Pinterest for engineers, anyone? What about Instagram for a BtoB software company? Let’s start every PR and marketing campaign by asking, “Why does this communications channel trump audience or offer?”

Why this metric?

Big data is powerful. But it can also mean big headaches. Big dirty data is like a New Year’s Day hangover that won’t go away. Many of us are waking up to the reality that 20–30 percent of databases (prospects, media, influencers, etc.) go bad annually. We all acknowledge data and analytics are no longer nice-to-haves but must-haves.

On social platforms, PR professionals have traditionally measured mentions, audiences and impressions. However, some are now questioning these traditional metrics including the relevance of impressions as a passive measurement. But before we open the data and metrics floodgates even wider, let’s ask ourselves, “Why is this a metric we need to know?”

“Why, why, why?” is a new mantra for communicators. Answering the “Why?” ensures PR and marketing leaders, teams and outside partners put themselves in the best position to drive bottom-line results and deliver business value.

As the art and science of communications continue to merge, let’s all heed Einstein’s other sage advice, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Mike Neumeier, APR is principal and co-founder of Arketi Group – an agency focused on companies that either build innovative technology, or use it to create new business models. He is a member of Counselors Academy, a group of senior-level public relations counselors, from executives of the leading multinational agencies to independent practitioners, within the Public Relations Society of America. Find him on Twitter at @arketi and reach him at

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Mike Neumeier, APR


  • Why this target, why this content, why this channel, and why do we need to know this metric? All excellent questions to keep strategists focused on the bottom line through the entire process of work. Starting with the end in mind is the key to success.

  • Great post and perspective; the answer, of course, is “Because this strategy, objective, goal” … truly bringing strategic thought leadership to the effort!

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