What PR Pros Can Learn from The Huffington Post

by contributor on May 27, 2011 in Content Marketing

The Huffington Post built a media empire on the back of the digital zeitgeist.  The blog’s hiding-in-plain-sight genius involved a nose for water cooler conversation and an eye for resultant keyword searches.  Its unreal ability to dominate the search by re-serving the public what it was already discussing allowed HuffPo to exit for a very real $300 million.

For the sake of comparison, Newsweek sold for $1.

Was Newsweek’s writing $299,999,999 worse than The Huffington Post’s?  Of course not. But the print stalwart never decoded that hidden strand of Arianna’s DNA: Today’s winners no longer try to make news, they instead try to be nearby when news is made.

My colleague and friend, Jesse Noyes, said it best: “PR people shouldn’t try to be the news; they should try to participate in news.”

As many of our readers know, major legislation passed in the European Union on Wednesday.  Simply put, as a result of a high profile “Privacy Directive,” it just became more complex to run digital marketing campaigns targeting prospects in EU nations.

While other companies were out there following Newsweek-era PR practices – that is, adhering to the old-school method of trying to be the news (translation: “Look at how awesome we are!”) – we instead seized an opportunity to climb aboard what was already happening: the major development in the EU.

For the past month we groomed as many reporters as we could.  We introduced them to our Chief Privacy Officer, Dennis Dayman, and, in the calm before the storm, were able to highlight his credentials.  This allowed us to separate ourselves from the swarm of vendor and consultants who would later descend upon the journalists, buzzing about their expertise.

We also needed to give them a reason for them to quote us when the Directive took effect.  To that end, we issued a press release about a new product feature designed specifically to help marketers comply.  Normally this development would be shared solely with users.  (After all, it was “just” a new feature.)  But with dozens of companies claiming to be privacy experts (and let’s face it, “privacy” is a niche within a niche – it’s not like business journalists can distinguish one expert from another), we issued the announcement publicly as a way to differentiate ourselves right at the time when the reporters were selecting their interview subjects.

Lastly we created and curated timely content around the news.

It worked.  Dayman was quoted in a dozen articles – and interviewed for many more – on this landmark development.  He was quoted in the All Things D blog.  He was highlighted in The Financial Times.  Wherever this news was reported, Dayman was there.

Why?  Because we took a lesson from the Huffington Post.  We decided it was more valuable to be near real news than to try to invent our own.  Today it is far more compelling to talk about issues your customers face than it is to talk about yourself.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the killer work – strategic and tactical – performed by our PR firms, Hotwire PR in the UK and SHIFT Communications in the US.  In nearly 20 years of PR, I can’t remember a time when I saw two agencies more focused on a single objective or more fired up over another firm’s success.  There’s a lesson in that too … but that’s a post for another time.

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