Those that know me know that I speak allegorically— I have a penchant for using nickel words and often turn to analogy and allusion to make a point. I have always found that it makes complex issues more personal and enables someone to better understand and appreciate an issue or an argument. My favorite analogies and stories typically tie in my experiences as a working, and oftentimes starving, musician. Even as a suit and tie running a successful boutique agency, I am still that same wannabe rock star who practiced public relations and marketing before I even understood the so-called “right way.”
There are literally endless ways businesses, personalities, civic and social leaders, and others utilize marketing and public relations in their efforts. While offering some practical and useful advice that I often learned the hard way or created as I went along, I began to understand that everything involved in good marketing and PR can be distilled into a story about rock and roll.
1. Play with your heart, not your head
Too often,I see practitioners, either the so-called professionals or internal teams, over thinking and over analyzing in an attempt to implement or develop a given marketing or public relations program. We’re likely all familiar with the term “paralysis by analysis,” but in marketing, it seems to be a rampant virus. So often, organizations and practitioners will laboriously fret over every conceivable outcome and focus on tactical minutia rather than looking at the big picture.
I find that most would rather talk endlessly about ideas and theories and outcomes instead of finding a simple E chord that would crack someone’s ribs and really have an impact. Yes, it’s important to be prepared up front, but when looking at your organization, find what will make your customers (the listening audience) passionate and want to sing along to your tune. Stop focusing inward, think outward and let yourself be creative and passionate about what you do and how it makes a difference, solves a problem and tells a beautiful story. Because, as you talk with your customers, they’ll know when you’re playing a song you really love versus simply going through the motions. Marketing is not about keeping quiet in the cube: Shout it out loud.
2. The show must go on Things happen.
It’s marketing, not rocket science. No matter how much you plan for an event, rarely does everything go exactly as planned. You can plan and you can spend head time on creating desired outcomes, but the drummer will show up late, six people and your mom will be in the only ones in attendance, or your lip synching will be exposed on live national television. Things happen, it’s inevitable. How you recover, roll with the punches and still make everything seamless is the mark of a true professional.
A good pro is prepared when something outside of his control happens. Last I checked, even the best agencies are not the magazine publishers, nor do they tell CNN what they should report. Businesses must understand that fact. It can rain. So instead of getting electrocuted when you plug in your amplifier, be ready in advance for such unexpected opportunities to shine. You’re drummer fails to show up? Time to grab the acoustic guitars and go “unplugged.” Whatever happens, have a backup and be prepared because the event or the interview or the program is in motion.
3. Know when to hire a manager and outside professionals
Sometimes, being a good musician (having a great company or product) is simply not enough. Hiring outside marketing professionals, just like hiring a lawyer or accountant, is a prudent move. You play your music well, we’ll show you how to take it to the next level and market it accordingly— that’s why all the great bands have great publicists.
Over my 20 years in this marketing and PR business, I’ve seen, witnessed, created or had some involvement in just about everything at one point or another. Not much would shock or surprise me. I’ve made many mistakes over the years, but I’ve learned from them. I taught myself how to play guitar instead of hiring a teacher, which caused me to fire myself after I discovered countless guitarists that were so much better than me. I had a basic understanding, but these guys were good. They made the entire band (your business) better and I could focus on being the consummate front man.
I see the same thing in businesses. They “try” to do their marketing and public relations, but trust me, people like me know a lot more about this than you do—it’s all we do. I see unintegrated programs, poorly written and self centered articles and press releases and Web sites developed by your cousin Tony’s high school son. A good agency will save you money, not cost you. A good agency will bring hard work, fresh ideas, creativity and expertise not afforded to most businesses—particularly small- and medium-size ones. And, if you are an internal marketing and public relations pro, don’t think that hiring outside expertise makes you look bad; rather, it’s quite the opposite. A good producer can make a good song great. Count on the experts and let them do their job. It will save you time and money and give you a competitive advantage. If you make widgets, make them great—just let someone else market it.
4. So, you broke a string during the song
Remember, it’s only one song of an entire set, an entire show and possibly even an entire tour. Put things into perspective and refer back to rule number two. Just grab your second guitar or replace the string while you’re drummer does his solo (it’s called a distraction). Rarely will one single instant affect the overall outcome.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes hitting the “wrong chord” or playing the “wrong note” can lead to a much better song or outcome. Serendipitous mistakes have made for some of the most memorable songs. Never be so rigid in your thinking that you believe there can’t be a better way, or that a serendipitous mistake can’t make a program even better. A good marketing professional must have the ability to improvise on the fly and, with the good ones, you’ll never even notice.
5. We’ve got to play these kinds of places first
One of the most amazing things I see in marketing, particularly in public relations and publicity, is how centric most companies and CEOs see their importance in the marketplace. No matter the size of the company or the arena in which it plays, all too often, I see them act and even expect to be on par with the Microsoft’s, IBM’s or Procter & Gamble’s of the world. They are amazed that CNN is not interested in devoting 30 minutes to talk about how brilliant they are. They refuse to do interviews in the Cincinnati Enquirer because they’d rather hold out for USA Today. FastCompany is the only magazine I’ll be interviewed in, they say. I hope that one interview that may never come is a good one.
You see, you have to play a lot of dirtball clubs and bars before you get to play Madison Square Garden. It takes time to build a solid following, and it also takes time to develop and create programs that will be most attractive to a journalist and media outlet. Although a good agency would have strong relationships with many journalists and reporters, good reporters have a job to do as well.
A good agency can work with an organization, find what is most likely to pique the interest of the media and secure regular coverage. One show at a club doesn’t mean you get to play Madison Square Garden the next night. It takes time, consistency and tenacity, and you must be able to commit to a long-term program.
6. Good publicity doesn’t necessarily mean good attendance
Trust me. Most of the bands in the Cleveland area were not big fans of my group because we were so media savvy. We were on the cover of music magazines and newspapers, did live TV and radio interviews and performances, had press kits, did video and photo shoots, saved whales and still found time to throw TVs out of hotel windows. But that didn’t guarantee a packed house. You know what did? Hard work, practice and a great show.
In business, nothing is going to make up for a bad customer experience. I call it brand operational dissonance (BOD), where the ads and smarmy PR guys say one thing, but the person behind the counter is rude and disinterested. Operations, customer service and the expertise of your people are still going to be key. Find good insights. Test and retest with marketing research and secret shoppers in your specific target audience. And remember, you’re mom doesn’t count. If she likes your songs, you’re doing something wrong (i.e., ask your target and don’t be afraid of honesty). Use that information to refine and make your service, product or yourself better.
7. Passion can make up for talent
Just ask KISS: They have never claimed to be great musicians, but they are certainly amazing entertainers and you can feel the love for what they do, witness how hard they work, and experience the passion they have for their fans and their music. They are second only to The Beatles in number of albums certified gold.
I’m not the greatest public relations practitioner that ever lived. I’m not the smartest and I’m not the most creative, but I’m the hardest working. I love what I do and it can be a challenge for others to keep up. I work late. I work weekends. My mind is always going, looking for other ideas and better ways of going about something. Do I get up at four in the morning to deliver cheeseburgers or flowers or coneys to the news media? Yep. Pass out coupons or deliver hot coffee to the homeless in the dead of winter? You bet. I stuff press kits, lick envelopes, make cold calls and entertain complete strangers at events. I’m not too proud to do anything that has to be done for the good of my clients or the good of the company and, sadly, I don’t see that very often.
“This job is a paycheck.” That kind of attitude is a killer in business. Again, people are smart and know when you’re faking it. As no program or product is perfect, you have to practice your passion and not be afraid to surround yourself with great and talented people. If only they would learn how to play with their heart and not their head (refer them to rule number one).
There is no substitute. They say amateurs practice until they get it right, but professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong—it just becomes second nature. I can stand on stage, play a killer bassline, belt out my song, jump up and down, press the button for the fog machine and point to a “fan” all at the same time without even thinking about it. So, too, must your business. You must work with your team over and over and over again. Rehearse your speech, your movements, your key messages and your interviews.
A good agency has practiced. Marketing is not a good place for trial and error. During the show is probably not the best time to try out your new flaming guitar trick. Keep things simple, do what you know and do it better than anyone within the context of what you’re trying to do. Should you shred a lead guitar solo during a slow ballad just because you can? Certainly not. Understand how you and your expertise fits in to make the whole greater than the individual parts, then work together to create a comprehensive and leveraged program.
9. What comes after 4?
One. Marketing and public relations is a process that involves upfront research, assessment, strategic communications and implementation, and finally an evaluation. A good business and a good marketer will constantly find ways to make something work better, smarter and more efficiently. If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t keep doing it because “the plan” says so. If the strategy is solid, but the tactics are not working as expected, don’t be afraid to improve upon that process if you’ve allowed enough time for the tactics, or personnel, to do their job.
Constantly measure and evaluate based on set key performance indicators, such as traffic, impressions, sales, leads and a host of other measurable objectives. Use unique URLs to track the effectiveness of a given advertisement or publicity endeavor. Utilize your tracking services and survey programs with clients and customers. Set your benchmarks at the beginning, run the program well, evaluate, then make it better.
10. Turn it up!
“If life is a radio, turn it to 10.” Turn it up. Have fun and enjoy what you do and give your best to each program, each event, each time. Look for fresh ideas and never be afraid to get a “no” from a client, a reporter or a sales prospect. If you never give someone a chance to say “no,” they’ll never have an opportunity to say “yes.” Soak things up like a sponge and take time to learn and be positively influenced and impacted by everyone around you. Ten is sometimes analogous to perfect, but understand that rarely will everything be perfect. Marketing and public relations is a process and should be treated as such.
There’s no eleven in music. Unless you play for Spinal Tap. Rock on.