This article is part of SWOT Team, a new series on Mashable that features insights from leaders in marketing, brand-building and public relations. Somewhere along the line, I’m not really sure when, the idea that PR peoples job was to talk only about companies and their products became the central component to any well-intentioned strategy. I’m not suggesting that products (or services for that matter) aren’t an integral part of the narrative, but the most interesting thing about any story is the way in which people in this case, the customers are affected, impacted and ultimately changed by what they’re being sold.
Thus, the idea that a stellar PR plan revolves around a product “new feature” announcement served up over a newswire is likely the furthest thing from a valuable truth. If you are a PR person and this is your current strategy, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your skills and thinking are antiquated. Actually, I take it back: I’m not apologizing because I’m doing you a Grand Poobah favor by telling you to do the fun, creative stuff required by real storytelling.
Making the customer the hero is a business strategy as much as it is an opportunity to communicate a message while building trust and rapport. The PR and marketing value for Western Union’s #WUHomeCooked campaign was outsized in terms of ROI. Since its launch, the campaign has gotten more than 3 million views. It was also a featured Forbes holiday story, and the Twitter conversations from the campaign have been in the thousands. The brilliance of the campaign was in the thoughtfulness behind it: Instead of attempting to gain mindshare and market share by shoving yet another message about “look at us we’re the faster, cheaper, better option,” the team took a gigantic step backward and listened to their core customers’ emotional responses around “dual belonging.” Whether we want to accept it or not, this is the future of PR, communications, marketing and even advertising.
If companies continue to talk about themselves, their products, their executives or anything remotely related to the brand from a “Hey, look at us!” narrative, this is what will happen: “The customers will vote with their feet,” as Dell’s Stephanie Losee pointed out in a previous article. Without the customer, there is no business. Our best bet, as PR and communications professionals, is to advise those who have put us in a position of authority that in order to connect with the customer, you need to make him or her the hero. Then our job really starts: We can listen and connect and engage with the customers to guide our strategies while expending less time and energy editing ego-driven content. This will be a fight, I promise. The day a journalist stops receiving standardized template, product-focused, spam news releases with quotes from the company founders about how excited they are about the news itself (and why wouldn’t they be? It’s their company or client!) is the day we will have finally “gotten” why customers stick around. Read more…