Monday, July 19, 2004

Mysterious Relationships

In our world, the ever-fickle world of PR, here's an ideal situation that actually happens: a prominent reporter calls one of our clients' executives for comment on the latest whizbang news from company X. Or to provide breadth or color for an enterprising trend story in progress. Or to simply ask him/her to lunch to catch up about the market, the competition, etc.

Good news, right? The PR machine is firing on all cylinders; a pithy quote from our client is sure to grace the pages of magazine X!

Know what's better news? Not a single PR person is involved in the above scenario. No middle men or women. No snappy pitches rigorously approved by the Agency's Chain of Command. No obnoxious/awkward "just following up on my email" phone calls from account executives who know darn well that their initial email contained exactly zero news. And that's never a fun call, save for those who thrive on abrupt rejection.

The reporter called the executive DIRECTLY because of a mysterious, seldom-achieved thing called a "relationship." Here's why that's important to know: a good PR firm can arrange appointments between executives and reporters. It can even arm the executive with a compelling story to tell. But a PR firm can't magically foster these reporter-executive interactions into meaningful relationships, ones that repeatedly pay editorial dividends.

One CEO understands this better than any other in recent memory. His name (indeed, his brand) is Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com. Sure, in the early days his PR firm did what any Agency worth its salt does: it made introductions.
 
But that's when public relations effectively hopped in Benioff's sidecar and relaxed for the blustery ride. Mr. Benioff is known to spend a large percentage of his work week romancing reporters. He calls them directly when he sees an article in which his company should appear, if not dominate. He sends them small gifts. He invites them to lunch, to dinner, to parties. He knows the ages of their children and which pro sports teams they follow. And he keeps in touch religiously, evangelizing and philosophizing and casting subtle and not-so-subtle aspersions about the competition.

And reporters gobble it up. Need a gutsy quote? Call Benioff. Slow news day? Marc will have something up his Hawaiian shirt sleeve.

His company has gotten more ink than it knows what to do with (salesforce.com recently went public), and it has very little to do with his quite able PR firm. It has everything to do with Marc picking up where his firm left off, and his commitment to fostering those seldom-achieved relationships.


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