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Navigating a PR campaign: Like Running Across the Grand Canyon?

Kari Brownsberger

This past weekend I embarked on a difficult, exhilarating, and somewhat crazy adventure called “Rim to Rim.”  For those of you who haven’t heard of Rim to Rim, you basically start on one side of the Grand Canyon, run down into the Canyon, across it, and back up the other side.  It was 22 miles and eight hours of amazing views, physical challenges, mental trials, a couple of not-so-graceful falls, and some cursing thrown in for good measure.

After finishing Rim to Rim, I started thinking about how similar it was to navigating a public relations campaign.  Here’s why:

Starting out the run was scary and exciting all at the same time.  We arrived at the South Rim of the Canyon before the sun had come up, and started out around 6am.  I quickly learned this wasn’t going to be simple jog as I tried navigating over and around branches, logs, rocks, and sharp turns in the pitch black with only a little headlight to see where I was going.  However, I had my uncle with me, along with some other Rim to Rim veterans who all helped to guide me along the way.  With their words of wisdom and encouragement, my focus began to shift from “don’t fall off the edge of this path and die,” to “this is pretty awesome,” and I happily ran down the seven miles to the bottom.

This isn’t totally unlike starting a PR program.  It sounds like a great idea, but without careful guidance from someone who knows what they’re doing, executing it can be really scary.  Unexpected issues start popping up, but instead of a rock or branch, they come in the form of impossible deadlines from journalists or a mis-quoted message from a company executive.  However, with a seasoned PR agency on your side, you can navigate through these challenges and gain momentum that will help carry you through the next stages of your campaign.

Once we made it to the bottom of the Canyon, I was on a serious runner’s high.  However, we still made sure to stop at the ranch at the bottom of the Canyon to rest, refill our water and refuel with some protein bars.  We set out again for another nine miles, and moved along at a steady pace over the gradual incline to the other side of the Canyon.  We stopped a few more times for photos and quick water breaks.  The path started getting steeper, and we took one final break to refuel again on protein bars and refill our water.

A good PR program can also benefit from regular breaks to regroup.  Taking time to review results can help you see where your program is succeeding, where it’s not, and where you should shift efforts.  Maybe you stop and review your website analytics and find that placements on industry blogs are driving more click-thrus back to your site than articles in the mainstream media.  It would make sense to shift some of your outreach efforts to be more aggressive with industry bloggers.  Reviewing information like this helps to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your efforts and that your program is providing the greatest possible ROI.

Then came the last few miles.  Each step became more difficult, and I started feeling like I was never going to make it to the top.   Random parts of my body were incredibly sore  - who knew your hip flexors do so much work hiking uphill?  You can’t quite see the top of the path, which is pretty disheartening when you have no idea how much longer you have to go, but you know there’s only one way out.  My uncle went a bit ahead of me, and for awhile I didn’t see or hear him.  Finally, as I got closer to the top, I started hearing his voice again and for a second wondered if I was hallucinating or if I was really almost finished.  Then I turned a corner, and there was my uncle at the top of the path telling me I was almost finished.  I was kind of in disbelief, but in a few short minutes, there I was, an official Rim to Rim veteran.

My final ascent reminded me of the difficult push you sometimes have to make in a PR program.  Maybe you have been trying for months to get into a top-tier publication, and it seems like you never have quite the right angle for a reporter.  Or, maybe you have a really great story to tell about a project you completed with a well-known brand, only to find out that the client won’t let you talk about the project.  Whatever your ultimate PR goal is, it’s important to keep it in mind as you bend over backwards trying to reach it.  Keep working creatively and proactively, and chances are you’ll reach that goal - hopefully without walking like an 80 year old woman for a few days after.