Working at a public relations agency, we often wear a variety of hats. In my case, I’m a Thoroughbred fan, draped in diamonds with a fetish for street performers, a passion for peace, and a whole lot of REALTORS® at my fingertips. As you can imagine, I wouldn’t know nearly enough about this variety of clients if I hadn’t done my research.
Here’s a secret. PR can be done with very little knowledge of the client, but PR is best done with a LOT of knowledge, and in many cases, experience. Case in point:
The National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) hosts the inspiring Peacemaker Awards every year. One of this year’s honorees is The New Roots Community Farm, a plot of community gardens in San Diego where refugees are starting their new lives and getting back to their roots by farming and providing fresh fruits and vegetables to their families. It seemed like an easy enough pitch, until we did some preliminary research to find that, lo and behold, the story had been done. In fact, Michelle Obama had visited the location last year, which means that we needed a better story. General information from the client wasn’t going to cut it.
So last week, Katie Levien and I headed out to the farm. We met with Bilali, a Somali Bantu refugee who has played a major part in developing and running the community garden. He took us on a tour of the garden and introduced us to others in his community. Within minutes of being on-site, we had the information we needed to make our pitch.
It is imperative that for any PR project, the proper research is done. Here’s a checklist to ensure you’ve done all you can:
• Look for prior media coverage. This will ensure that you don’t try to retell a story and will provide you with some great contacts who may be interested in writing a follow-up story to their first.
• See what’s being said on social media. This can be a great real-time window into what others know and think about your client and a great way to make sure that your pitch will go over well.
• Spend time with your client. Set their expectations that you want more than a one-hour meeting. You want a few hours to mine them for any and all information.
• Spend time without your client. Ask them to put you in touch with people from other areas of their company: sales, customer relations and even those on the floor (front desk personnel, those at the cash register, tour guides, etc.).
• Get on site! If your client is a hotel, be a guest. Spend the night, try the food, ask for suggestions of surrounding things to do. Had I not received the information I needed within the first few minutes of my visit to the New Roots Community Farm, I may have spent a day farming and selling at the farmers market with this client.
With the proper information, you’ll discover the deep-rooted story behind your client that is going to set your pitch apart from all the others and empower you to speak to it as if you only have one client. It’s a trick of the agency trade and it’s an imperative part of any public relations practitioner’s job.