This is a book review of the book 100 Great PR Ideas. It is often said that there is no dull moment in public relations. Every day is a challenge and every day is new. But, what happens when even the most creative of minds fall dull? What do PR professionals do when they run out of ideas? Also, PR is not always about cultivating ideas and implementing them but sometimes you need to be smart to re-use and recycle some old ideas but in a brand new way! Jim Blythe in his book “100 Great PR Ideas” has talked about hundred great ideas taken from leading companies around the world. He is not only a former company director, sales manager and marketing consultant but has also written 18 books, over 50 journal articles and has contributed chapters to 8 other books besides 100 Great PR ideas. He is now a business author and a lecturer, and a senior examiner for the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Blythe introduces his book by saying that PR for some people means “press release.” But, PR is not that simple. It is a lot more than kissing people all over. And in order to do so, it may happen that a professional might feel a lack of ideas. Thus, his first chapter is about creating a crisis team. One of the most significant roles of a publicist includes managing the crisis of the client. Companies should have a well-established crisis team who can help in anticipating the scenarios and take action accordingly. In order to explain this further, he has given the example of how Eurolines, the European long-distance bus service handled the crisis when one of their buses going from Warsaw to London was hit by a lorry in Germany. The crisis team should always be updated and alert about the whereabouts of the client, try to anticipate the possible crisis situations that might form, have a properly established plan in place, practice dummy runs and always stay away from saying “no comments”.
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The next idea which fascinated me was “Do good by stealth.” PR is known for getting earned media and most of the time budget plays a very important role in the execution of those ideas. Clients are usually ready to spend on advertising budgets but not on PR days. Jim gives an idea on what to do in such a situation. Here, he has taken the example of what Body Shop, a renowned cosmetic brand did in order to spread their name far and wide. Having no faith on marketing, Anita Roddick, the founder of the brand elevated her brand through public relations. The brand took initiatives to do activities like creating a children’s playgroup, supporting a local hospice, fundraising for a kidney machine etc. and asked its stuff to volunteer for these activities. This, in return, created goodwill for the company arising publicity through the word of mouth without the involvement of any press release or advertising.
We all know how the celebrities pull stunts. The stunt can be anything- the rumour of a romantic relationship with an actor of the opposite gender, brawl with another co-actor, fights with the press or the media or just a controversial statement. Jim Blythe, is his idea “Pull a stunt” has talked about how PR people can utilize this in their advantage. All that the PR person has to do is ensure that the celebrity is fine with the fact that such behaviour accords with his or her public image. While pulling a stunt is a very clever PR tool, making the audience wait is another. Harry Potter books are a classic example of keeping the audience waiting and thus creating a buzz for the big day. Although it is a very tricky way of generating publicity for your brand, but Blythe also has asked to make sure that when a publicist is pulling such an activity, he/she must make sure that the people must find the product exciting when it releases and also to limit the number of outlets or the supply of products because that is more likely to create an initial frenzy.
Press Releases are the mainstay of public relations. But, when a journalist receives a ton of press releases which have the same content written in the same generic style, they are bound to keep sitting in their inboxes. So, how can a PR person get the attention of the journalist? Jim, here, has proposed the “reverse pyramid style”. He mentions that in order to grab the attention of the journalist or for that matter, even the audience, there has to be something interesting and unusual about your press release. Thus, the press release should be written in “reverse pyramid style” which is mostly followed by journalists. It is different than a generic press release where the whole story is contained in the deadline and then each paragraph offers a little more detail. Jim points out that this kind of writing technique usually stands out and catches the attention of the reader. While press releases are still the mainstay, it is also another irrevocable fact that the lines between advertising and public relations are blurring. So, Blythe advices that instead of working separately, PR should open its arms wide and work hand in hand with advertising. He has given the example of how Sega introduced its Mega CD games console with the joint help of PR and advertising. For the first phase, they run advertisements for fictional products like a cat food and then in the second phase they showed the ads to be hijacked. Thus, one has to be clever enough to use both PR and advertisement elements together in a cunning way and also make sure that the audience gets the joke.
Another very important aspect of PR that the author has written about in his book 100 Great PR Ideas is “Piggybacking your story”. The PR firm should always know where and when to find opportunities and then piggyback their stories on them. In order to do that they need to be proactive and move at a lightning speed and definitely talk to the press because not responding to the press will only make bad things happen. Another important aspect of PR is establishing a bond with the public. So, Jim suggests to “text the customers”. The prime audience for messaging is young people and they are likely to be interested in fast food, music, films, alcoholic drinks, magazines, books and mating-game products and the publicists can take this chance of connecting with the customers. For instance, Swansea Sports Flying, a flying school in Wales, texts its students to let them know that the weather is cleared for flying. Some banks also take this outlet to let their customers know about their latest schemes and discounts. Texting is a great and a very helpful way of connecting directly with the customers but it should also be kept in check that people shouldn’t feel inundated by too many messages.
The author of the book 100 Great PR Ideas has also touched upon how extensive writing can work as great PR ideas. Writing regularly and writing creatively, be it a regular blog or a diary can help a PR professional stay on the top of the game. Catching a celebrity in his/her emerging years can help a PR person form a bond of trust. This is not only applicable on celebrities or journalists, but a PR person should also know his/her client inside out. Blythe also mentioned that it is important to play with SEO. Your company should have a strong presence on platforms like Google, LinkedIn, YouTube etc.
Other than these, there are another bunch of ideas that the writer has talked extensively about. These ideas include creating a top ten list, indulging in a random act of kindness, developing news sensitivity, taking control of your interviews, moving to the third level of sponsorship, thinking small or thinking local, sponsoring something for the customers etc. In my opinion, all these ideas are great but then, the author did not touch upon the use of digital media in today’s scenario. Also, a number of ideas mentioned in the book 100 Great PR Ideas have outgrown their time and thus have become outdated. I am guessing it is because of the time that the author did not touch upon the latest PR tools like digital media or the use of data analytics. When the book was published in 2009, neither social or digital media nor analysis of data played significant roles. Although the book is very useful but one cannot completely rely on this book 100 Great PR Ideas for new ideas because there are also a number of redundant ideas. This book can be a very good example to understand the traditional methods of public relations. One can also use the book in case they are entirely out of ideas. Whether you’ve a small PR firm of your own or work for a major global firm or are a newbie to the world of PR, this book contains something for everyone.
Baishali Banerjee is a part of the Class of 2020 of PG Programme in PR and Corporate Communications at SCoRe, Mumbai. She completed her winter internship with Genesis BCW, Mumbai.
She is from Kolkata. She did her graduation in Media Science with a specialization in Public Relations and Advertising from NSHM Knowledge Campus, Kolkata. She has always been curious about the corporate world and how all these huge brands function and connect with their consumers on a day-to-day basis. She interned with Ketchum Sampark for a period of three months under the Brands & Lifestyle team. This experience made her more curious about the PR fraternity. Also, she is a person very open to learning and her interests lie in corporate, entertainment and lifestyle.
She can be reached at @baishalibanerj5 on Twitter and as Baishali Banerjee on LinkedIn