How to tackle persona based PR – Guest Blog

This week we have a guest blog from Sarah Lafferty, director at Round Earth Consulting – Sarah is one of my favourite people – she really knows how to cut right to the point and get results!

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Persona based PR – just common sense?

I’ve worked in PR for 22 years now and have always held that Marketing, PR and Sales functions in many companies need to work together more closely towards shared goals, even if it means killing a few sacred cows (I promised Charlotte no horse meat jokes). The closest most companies come to this is sharing so called ‘best practices’. Call me a child, but like, isn’t that the whole point of forming a company in the first place?

Anyway. A trendy new best practice has cropped up called ‘persona-based marketing’ that I would like to rebrand ‘common sense’ or as my people say, ‘motherhood and apple pie’.  The idea is that you get to understand the different types of people to whom you flog your goods and services (ideally by actually listening to them) and then you fine tune your marketing activities so that these people trust you, identify with your offer and want to buy it. I wonder how we managed to evolve as a civilisation without having thought of this before?

So what’s the story?

And yet, in the industry I work – enterprise software – motherhood and apple pies have been off the menu since, well, pretty much the whole time.  The terminology companies use to describe its ‘solutions,’ the patronising, hyperbolic and hyperactive language used to describe ‘features and benefits’ I can promise you mean absolutely nil to the vast majority of numerate, introverted, pragmatic, fire-fighting IT ‘decision makers’ who are trying to compare your ‘solutions’ to others in the market. I know this because I used to work in Centrica’s massive IT department. Incidentally, the ‘business users’ have only a marginally better clue of what you’re on about.

So call it what you like, I am thrilled that persona-based marketing is coming soon to a theatre near us and has already premiered in Leicester Square. Now, going back to ‘best practices’ and common goals, if you are a marketing executive who is also responsible for PR and has decided on a persona-based strategy, I urge you to support your PR team in this as well. Unless your PR people or agency staff have been hibernating in a cave for the last ten years and managing never to communicate with journalists and other third parties who influence your market, they have probably been trying to convince various authority figures that persona-based PR is the only way forward. Despite this, many PRs are being horsewhipped (sorry!) to meet very siloed and meaningless ‘KPIs’ like ‘sending out x number of press release’ and ‘organising x number of briefings’ when the CMO breezes through London to visit his Aunt and catch Les Mis.

So how do you do it?

Unless you happen to be Apple and launching the new iThing, persona-based PR involves packaging every piece of correspondence so that it is tailored, exclusive, newsworthy, grammatically correct, free of hype and irritating jargon (read this!) and with a concrete offer at the end. One senior business journalist I met on a course recommended that PRs should spend two hours on every major pitch and in my experience if you really want an outcome, that’s about right.  It does NOT involve spamming every journalist with the same press release and a lazy introduction in the vain hope that some of it will stick. All this will do is get your PRs ‘blacklisted’ and you’ll never communicate with that influencer ever again. I’m not making this up. Or you might find an irritated journalist talking trash about you on Twitter or on their blog. Do you really want to be featured on the #PRfail hashtag?

When it comes to presenting to analysts it means understanding how they view the market and frame their research reports and adapting your material accordingly; not pushing out the same presentation to each one with the same messages and depending on them to figure out how it fits in to these. Can you imagine if salespeople took this approach with their customers?

So to summarise, here’s a cliche, for all the right reasons: PR needs to measured on outcomes not output and quality over quantity. A big part of this is freeing your PR team to do its job in a professional, persona-based way. Give them time and space to provide your influencers with highly personal service and information that can help them get their jobs done. Your reputation and market awareness won’t grow overnight, but if you stay the course with a persona-based PR approach, the benefits and outcomes will grow faster over time and require less effort.

Now where’s that apple pie? All this ranting is making me hungry!

About the Author

Charlotte Graham-Cumming

Director, Ice Blue Sky Ltd

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