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PR Colleagues: Google Reader is Not a Substitute for Reading

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

In my 20 years in the PR business, I’ve developed a few pet peeves, but none gets me as riled up as working with PR people who don’t take the time to read.   Reading is one key difference between a truly superior agency/team/practitioner and one that’s mediocre.  And it shows in the work generated for clients.

PR has a unique ability to influence, and be influenced by, content in the media.  If you don’t understand the content, or the broader context of the content, how do you hope to be effective stewards of your clients’ business and messaging?  Limiting your knowledge base to story headlines or snippets that appear in your Google Reader page, triggered by a narrow set of keywords and inputs, isn’t the way to get a feel for the broader business landscape of your clients.  Google is one tactic to follow the news, but it’s not the only tactic.  Twitter, Facebook, and the next hot social media tool are also tactics.  Reading, seeking out, and digesting relevant information is a different exercise than tweeting, or just following tweets and hashtags.

For example: you have a client that makes laptop computers.  Your objective is to keep their products top-of-mind in the media.  So you set your Google Reader to include gadget sites, mobile computing sites, maybe a tech site or two.  Are you following any business press, and did you catch this morning’s story about falling DRAM prices that could affect your client’s products?  Are you following stories about executives that are looking for the best laptop for travel?  What are you doing to look beyond your narrow window for story and trend ideas?

There’s a German term for getting a deep sense for what the market is doing – it’s called the Zeitgeist.  The concept is derived from the words Zeit (spirit) and Geist (time) – literally, the “spirit of the time.”  It reflects a mood, an attitude, a general understanding of what people in the market are thinking (in a macro or micro sense) around you.  When one actively reads or seeks out information, that person can start to synthesize the “spirit of the time.”  And if nothing else, it’s grounds for having an intelligent conversation on the subject matter with the client or (heaven forbid!) with reporters.  This concept applies to everything from computers to kiwis.

So what to read?  Read anything, and everything.  Books, business magazines (online and offline), The Wall Street Journal, vertical publications that are specific to your clients’ industry, happenings in the Facebook and LinkedIn groups that are related to your clients, political discourse that you both agree and don’t agree with, etc.  It’s much better to go deep on a topic than just pick a couple of sources.  Clients look to the PR team to help them understand the dynamics in the media.  Without reading, there’s no understanding of these dynamics, and no usable context to deliver the most impactful recommendation to a client.

In my next post I’ll talk about the art of “thinking like the client.”

Categories: Effective PR, Messaging, PR