I recently lectured to a George Washington University PR/communications class alongside a top newspaper editor. He was there to provide feedback on "pitch letters" that the students had sent him.
In explaining why some hit the mark while others didn't, he shared an anecdote. Before entering his managing editor's office to pitch his story ideas, he always made sure he had an answer to one fundamental question, "Why should I care?"
The journalist told the students they should always keep that question in mind before pitching him or any other journalist. I agree. Too many marketing types get distracted by the creativity of a story angle rather than thinking through why a media outlet's readers, viewers or listeners should care.
Advertising agencies are notorious for creating campaigns that win awards, but don't move the sales needle. Many PR pros are the same. I can't tell you how many press releases, bylined articles and case studies I've judged in various awards' competitions that, while creative, fail to explain to me why the customer or prospect would care.
I think the "care" question works equally well for business in general. Far too many organizations drink their own Kool-Aid, speak their own language and launch their own inside-out campaigns without asking the question, "Why should my customers care?"
Organizations exist to serve customer needs and wants. Not to win awards. This may seem obvious. But, too many of us are far too caught up in "owning an idea" or being "creative for the sake of creativity."
The organizations who will survive, if not thrive, in this downturn will be those who answer the "Why should I care" question.
Great post Steve. I think the two biggest questions with regard to care when reaching out to a prospect:
1. Why you? How is it relevant to the person you are addressing?
2. Why you NOW? Why is NOW pertinent to the person you are addressing?
If its not personal, relevant and sticky . . . then who cares?
It would appear we can learn a few things from our licensing brethren. Thanks for sharing, Michael.
From the voice of Brand Squared: Ask any licensing professional what happens when the “why should we care” question has not been thought, sharpened, and answered to a 5 second science. The phone line is deafeningly dead. Licensed manufacturers are not just allocating space to a potential brand owner. Licensees being asked to pay a 10% royalty, which can be over a third of their profit, to a 3rd party brand which is meant to increase their sales, share, or doors. Clients of licensing agencies can only measure creativity by how effectively agencies have answered “why should I care” before any licensee is pitched. Otherwise – no license agreements, no royalty revenue, no brand extensions for clients – and certainly no rewards for creativity.
Amen, Sam. Thanks.
This is absolutely right, Steve, and I think all professional communicators sometimes forget to check this out. I know in the academic world, people are often driven by research they are personally intrigued by but that doesn’t resonate externally, and we all have to be careful that what intrigues us personally in some way resonates with what other people need or want to know.
Now, obviously, it’s important to provide the balance between what people “want” to know and what people “need” to know. PR professionals are contacting reporters and pitching ideas they aren’t already wanting to know, so we have to quickly establish the “why should we care” question…
This reminds me of what a colleague here at Peppercom said not long ago: the job of the PR professional isn’t just to treat our paying client as “the client”; the reporter is a client as well. My role at Peppercom is to remind everyone of a third client: the public. Our job isn’t just to share the message our client wants to send; it’s to make sure that people get messages they want/need to receive. And that means that PR professionals are violating a contract with the “public” when they help corporate clients obfuscate the truth, etc.