One of the first clients I worked with out of college was a toilet company. Granted the company was the largest international manufacturer of bathroom fixtures – products every house and office in the developed world has a need for. But imagine my enthusiasm as a freshly-minted PR professional, being told I would be working to secure publicity for toilets. I’ll admit, I wasn’t excited at first. Some might be discouraged by such an assignment, but I’ve always believed there’s a good story behind anything.
Maybe it was growing up in the plant business that gave me this perspective. After all, in the plant business, you take some seeds and some cow dung and turn it into something beautiful that people want to pay good money for. I think there’s a parallel behind that experience and the work I do bringing brand stories to life today. No matter how strong the smell of manure, I know I can make it flourish with just the right amount of tender loving care.
If you find yourself stuck with a client that at first seems like a dud, take a step back and try to look for the real stories behind the brand. Shadow the founders of the company as they give a tour to high school students and hear the stories they tell about how the company got started. Listen to the old-timers talk about how they weathered the tough times, or what it was like to work for the company in it’s glory days. If it’s a new company – or a new line of products the company is bringing to market – seek out and search for the spokespeople that are most passionate about the brand. Everybody was excited about the business at one time or another – that excitement is often where the best stories are hiding.
At some point in the history of every company, people were scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make it interesting to consumers. Imagine the first time somebody was asked to promote laundry soap or a vacuum cleaner. They probably seemed like the worst ideas in the world at first, but somebody with an open mind turned those products into something amazing. Those people paved the way for the Tide stain stick, or the Dyson line of vacuum cleaners, arguably two newsworthy products today. Some clever communications professionals paved the way to make those products something we’d want to read about and ultimately spend our hard-earned money on.
Every brand has a story to tell, and it’s our job as communicators – as brand journalists – to find those stories and tell them in a way that generates excitement. Back to the toilet example, the product ended up being an innovative new toilet seat that was responsible for my first PR success. The toilet seat was heated and had technology built into it that ate bad smells. It also happened to have a wireless remote control that controlled a built-in warm water washlet – you can use your imagination on that one. Believe it or not, it was one of the hottest tech products of that year – featured in all sorts of mainstream consumer media, including Time magazine. But it was a just a toilet seat… there couldn’t possibly be a story there, right?
Chances are, your brand is flush with stories stronger than the toilet seat one. Can you find those stories for the brands you’re working with? I promise you, the stories are there if you look hard enough. Don’t buy into the trap that there’s not an angle there – there’s always an angle if you look hard enough. What stories have you uncovered where others wouldn’t have? I want to hear from you.
This post was inspired by my participation in the Solo PR Summit this evening. I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about how independent PR professionals can leverage BIG company campaign ideas for small company campaign executions. A special thanks goes out to Kellye Crane (@KellyeCrane) for organizing the event and inviting me to speak, to Ashley Callahan (@AshHazie) for reminding me that every brand has a story to tell, to my other co-panelists Aime Ertley (@AimeeErtley) and Candace McCafferty (@CandaceMcC) for making our panel rock; and a special hat tip to @RedMediaPR for an effective use of peer pressure to get me to write this post tonight. I hope everyone has a great day two at the @SoloPR Summit. Cheers!