I stopped by the mall yesterday for a quick trip to one of my favorite stops, the Apple store. As I made my way through Nordstrom toward the Apple store that looks down on the Microsoft’s boutique, I was struck by the silence coming from the Salvation Army Bell Ringer standing next to the iconic red kettle. Huh – no bell? Yep no bell – just a sign waved side-to-side creating a gentle breeze but no sound. Dumbfounded, I stopped and snapped this photo.
I asked Bernie what the deal was with no bell. He said in many locations, malls especially, the management asked that they not ring bells. And guess what – donations aren’t as robust at the silent kettles. Of course this immediately made me think about PR – but first a quick history lesson. The Red Kettle campaign started in San Francisco in 1891 and has traditionally been the Salvation Army’s most prominent fund-raiser.
For those of you who follow my rants this is not a new topic, nor one limited only to US PR teams. I met with our partner agency located in Paris a few weeks ago and heard from my French colleagues that they too struggle with PR “bell ringers” who don’t like to ring bells; instead waving electronic signs in the form of tweets, emails, and LinkedIn requests as an attempt to get the attention of media. And guess what? The results aren’t as robust at the PR kettles. Like mall managers, press folk have asked for no bell ringing and too many PR peeps are obliging, IMHO. While this all may seem trivial it scares the hell out of me that an entire generation of PR folks accross the globe are coming up and they’re fearful of real conversations. They’d rather be pinging than ringing.
It’s unfortunate that, with all of the technological advancements available for reaching each other, we’re collectively moving into the communication shadows preferring to ping, pin, voyeur, and creep. In the PR world I blame a few factors – technology being one. Most PR newbies fall in the Gen C (18-34 year old) range and as such have been raised with Facebook and SMS as their primary means for communicating. For Gen C’ers it’s a real drag to actually have to talk to someone – even to wish a friend happy birthday – let alone talk to a reporter who likely doesn’t want to hear from them. Next, too many PR folks have peed in the pool with lame pitches making it so reporters loathe the thought of getting a call from Buffy or Skippy just following-up. C’mon people, read what those folks write – it’s amazing the clarity it provides. Finally, shrinking editorial staff sizes place massive pressure on reporters to do twice as much, twice as fast. Who has time for a call when deadlines loom? After all, the stories aren’t going to write themselves. Still there is no better way to inform and engage than through a human-to-human interaction even if it’s just a 2-minute call. So many nuances are lost in an email or a tweet, and say goodbye to tone. Besides it’s so easy to be ignored when there are hundreds of notes that sound like yours with news of a new, end-to-end, scalable solution that marries best-of-breed technology with a hybrid cloud infrastructure offering rapid deployment for the enterprise. Oh and don’t forget the third paragraph with the “thrilled CEO” barely able to contain himself with excitement over the latest product release. Yawn.
If you’re a PR person who doesn’t get on the phone, you’re not a PR person. Just like a bell ringer without a bell isn’t a bell ringer. As an industry we need to do a much better job filling the PR kettle with thoughtful pitches, and coverage that makes a meaningful difference. And to do this – you’ve got to make noise.