(Road) Work Ahead. Good.

There’s a “Road Work Ahead” sign at the beginning of the run, at the bottom of a steep downhill segment. At this point I am only a few minutes in, and I’m feeling as good as I will until I finish the run and soak in all the endorphins I’ve just created. While I’d be lying if I said I see this sign and don’t sometimes think, “Ugh, it’s all uphill from here,” I mentally pause for a second and think, “Good.” 

I make this mental pause and plant the word “good” in my head because I know that the work just ahead and still in the early part of my run – a long, gradually sloping hill followed by two steep hills – is what’s going to make me improve. There are two choices I make each morning at this point: embrace the work ahead or fight it. Sure, I’ve fought it a few times on days when the run is a grind from the first step. But I always regret it afterward. Always. By embracing the work ahead, I enable the best mindset for success.

So, what exactly does this have to do with PR? In my experience as a member of Bospar’s content team, a lot.

Like many things in work and life, putting in the work, especially at the very beginning of an initiative, pays dividends down the line. And, conversely, NOT putting in the work almost always leads to poor outcomes. 

When I get a run in early and attack the hills with a positive mindset, the feeling of accomplishment lasts well into the day. And it’s especially great right when I finish. Similarly, we like to come out of the gate fast and strong at Bospar when we start with new clients and demonstrate from day 1 that we are putting in the work to make both parties successful. 

From a content perspective, that usually means getting right to work on a press release, blog post and/or thought leadership byline. Of the three, the byline is the most work by far – but also the most rewarding and the best way to get up to speed with a client. I actually prefer it because it means I need to dig in deep right away to learn all I can about the topic and the executive who will be providing intake, and figure out what work I need to do to make it happen. It’s the type of content asset that requires the most time from the client’s perspective as well, given that we prefer direct verbal intake from the executive as opposed to written intake. 

That extra level of attention also brings in the human factor, as I’m speaking with the executive and not only trying to get inside their head on a particular topic, but to also capture their voice as much as possible. All of this work helps me start contributing to this client’s PR success sooner, rather than later. It’s akin to not only running up a steep hill, but doing so in the rain. And the wind. And with not a lot of sleep. 

Good.

What keeps me moving forward in both cases is visualizing the outcome. I’m going to get up the hills and eventually make it back home, where I can take some deep breaths and let the endorphins – and the rain – wash over me and signal a “win” for that morning. And I’m doing the same with an intake call with an executive that, up to that point, I have no relationship with. I’m moving forward, staying alert and relying on the preparation I’ve done to keep me in a confident zone, no matter what happens. 

Case in point: as I write this, I’m part of a pitch team having discussions with a startup that needs a lot of PR and content support. They are in another country (meaning super-early calls). Their products are in a category I have experience in, but mostly from before I joined Bospar. They also need a steady flow of creative ideas while we’re in the pitch phase to stay interested in us. The net-net for me: I have to get caught up on the tech, their competition, the market landscape, the startup scene in their country, and a whole host of other things. Sh*t, that’s going to be a ton of work to get to the point where we impress them enough to sign with us.

Good.

Press Releases and Collateral: Don’t Blur the Lines

There has always been a blurring of the lines between marketing and PR. And today, more than ever, PR practitioners are taking on projects that could be viewed as traditional marketing responsibilities. From writing drip campaigns to creating social media content and producing videos and podcasts, we’re regularly asked to bridge the gaps between marketing, advertising and communications.

Which is fine. PR professionals function very well in this sort of gray area, and many of the marketing-centric assignments we gladly take on are rewarding and effective. However, there is one really gray area that generates a lot of friction with PR pros – the increasingly blurred lines between press releases and collateral.

A press release is part of our core media relations repertoire. They’re written – first and foremost – to satisfy the needs of the news media. A good press release contains the “Five Ws,” designed to relay the exact information that needs to be articulated in the first paragraph of any printed news story. The Five Ws include who, what, when, where, and why, with the occasional “how” thrown in!

For those of you who remember print newspapers, this lead structure – often referred to as the “inverted pyramid” – was created so that pages could be laid out and pasted up with the most important facts at the very beginning of the story. That way, lesser facts could be cut to make space as needed. While the days of painstaking hand layout of print newspaper pages are long gone, the utility of this structure lives on. Whether radio, TV or print, a reporter or editor should be able to take your press release, read the first few lines and know all of the key facts relevant to a given news item or story.

However, that isn’t the case with many of today’s press releases. That’s because clients and some less-than-informed PR professionals are creating releases that read more like marketing materials – emulating sales collateral and brochures – than news documents. In PR, there has always been a balance between news and marketing spin, but many companies push for excessive marketing hype at the expense of real news.

Ultimately, press releases that begin with describing a product or service as “the best,” include self-congratulations, or focus on executive flattery are of absolutely no use to reporters. While they might make executives feel good, hype-y releases will be the first to get tossed, because journalists simply don’t have the time to wade through the hyperbole. In short, they’ll ignore yours and move on to the next guy’s (or gal’s) press release.

That’s why the most effective PR people insist on press releases that have real news value, are written in an inverted pyramid, and follow Associated Press style. This agreed-upon common language makes it easy to deliver the news and improves chances of gaining coverage. This is not to say that marketing messages can’t or shouldn’t be woven throughout a release, but toning it down and remembering the real audience for a release is just sensible PR, and doing so will earn your company the respect of journalists.

Collateral is collateral, and press releases are press releases. And while a little blurring of the lines between marketing and PR is acceptable, staying in one’s lane is the best way to go.

Content: More Important and Relevant Than Ever

Relevant at Bospar

Like every business, Bospar is grappling with the implications of the coronavirus pandemic. While we’ve experienced some disruption in adjusting to the ever-changing “new normal,” we have found that we’re in a pretty good place as a company given our position as a virtual agency and our expertise in working from home.

Our clients are telling us that content has never been more important or relevant. As Bospar’s Chief Content Officer, I’m continuing to drive and expand content programs to meet growing demand. During this time, we’re leveraging Bospar’s deep bench of content creators, which was built out well before the crisis hit. Our unique Content Team features experienced professional writers who have backgrounds that include journalism, enterprise marketing and sales, and crisis communications.

Because in-person meetings are canceled for the foreseeable future, the rapid shift to online-only marketing is driving a nearly unprecedented need for content. In the absence of face-to-face interactions, a steady stream of fresh content can and should be published to key constituencies – including customers, prospects, employees, partners, and the media. Zoom meetings and virtual “everything” are making content the new “corporate calling card,” and content remains one of the very few ways that companies can control the message, articulate their views, stay top of mind, and illustrate their value proposition to a wider audience.

To support this shift, Bospar is streamlining the ideation, production and publication of content assets. For starters, we are doing our best to suspend typical turnaround times on content deliverables like press releases and contributed articles, with the goal of getting them completed faster than ever. We’re also producing a wider variety of different kinds of content assets. Our capable team can deliver almost anything, ranging from press materials and sales support and enablement tools to employee and customer communications and social content.

By the way, social media is also more critical than ever before, both in terms of amplifying earned media coverage and as a channel for delivery of timely messages. With people constantly online, now is a good time to expand social programs, not only to stay in touch but also to grow a company’s audience and influence in advance of any future economic recovery.

Finally, content is important because it is efficient and trackable. C-suite executives know that marketing programs must move forward even in a downturn, and PR and earned media have always been among the marketer’s most cost-effective tools. Content plays well with the martech stack, and the ability to measure content programs helps executives understand ROI. What’s more, repurposing content helps amortize one’s content investment across multiple channels, driving efficiency at a time when budgets are under scrutiny.

In closing, we want to leave you with one message. Especially in times of change or crisis, content is an essential part of any integrated communications strategy.