Love and Media Relations: PR Lessons from an Online Dater
Media relations horror stories are everywhere. Even the simple act of sending an email has inspired PR urban legends. There’s the firm that sent out a mass message addressed “Dear Blogger.” There’s the agency that made a data entry error in a mail merge and got the names of hundreds of media contacts mixed up. I’ve even heard about someone blatantly CCing several writers at several different channels on the same pitch.
Hearing these media relations nightmares, I’m struck by how similar they are to my own horrifying experiences as an online dater. There’s the guy who greeted me with “Hey Pumpkin.” There’s the other guy who asked if my job in social media was “doing Twitter and stuff.” And then there was the time I got the same message from two men in one week: “I wanted to let you know I’ve already married and divorced you in my mind…” (Turns out this bizarre pseudo-proposal was a popular approach at the time.)
All these cautionary tales offer morals that are equally valuable whether you’re looking for love or developing a PR campaign. I’ve compiled a few lessons from my misadventures in online dating, in the hopes that they might prevent future horror stories. (And in the hopes that surviving bad dates can lead to good advice, or at least good fun.) Here’s the first part of my step-by-step guide to finding a happy ending in romance and media relations.
The Profile / Key Messaging
Online dating has transformed the way we perceive new romantic partners. Our first impressions are no longer formed by talking face-to-face, but by reading self-created user profiles that contain intimate personal information. This is weird and awkward, and nobody enjoys it. We all feel uncomfortable describing ourselves, and we often cringe just as hard reading what other users write about themselves. But well-written profiles do exist! And in the search for the Holy Grail of OKCupid pages, you can learn a lot about branding and key messaging.
Creating a profile with precision, clarity and character is a lot like defining key messages. One of the first steps to executing a great PR campaign is to distill the main points users should understand about the brand. Key messages may seem simple, but they are the foundation that supports every aspect of a PR program. Within just a few sentences, they encapsulate the brand’s story. Here’s what studying singles pages can teach PR specialists about key messaging:
- Stand out in a crowded market. – Pretty much every guy on every dating site is “laid back, adventurous and looking for a fun girl.” They all like “going out” as well as “staying in with Netflix,” and they all “care a lot about friends and family.” So they’re all humans. Great. This profile doesn’t say anything and may as well have been created by a text generator. Interesting profiles show instead of telling. They describe unique hobbies, passions and backgrounds. A brand’s key messages need to be general enough to apply to a variety of contexts, but specific enough to differentiate the brand. “This soda tastes great” is not a practical key message. Any competitor could say the same thing. “This soda has 23 flavors” is much more powerful.
- Keep it real. – On the other end of the spectrum are those guys that have only hyper-niche and idiosyncratic interests like “19th-century Russian sci-fi, industrial acid house music and structural Marxism.” This profile doesn’t say anything, either (except that the dude probably has a beard). It doesn’t seem clever or cool – it seems like a gimmick. Being passionate and ~different~ is sexy, as long as it’s sincere. The key to great PR writing is not to embellish. Let the facts show the audience how a brand is special and relevant to them. PR messaging should acknowledge that the story is strong enough to speak for itself, without added hype. It should have integrity.
- Make it short and sweet. – An online dating profile should not be an autobiography – it should be the back cover synopsis. The most compelling profiles are under 500 words, and the top tier have around 250. Online daters should give matches the minimum amount of information needed to understand them. However, this doesn’t mean bullet points: Nobody wants to read a list of 20 bands you like. Likewise, key messages are the most refined and pure expression of a brand’s identity. They need to be easy to remember, so it’s important not to be too generous or too conservative with words. Simple, conversational language is best.
- Image is everything. – First impressions stick, and on dating sites they’re usually limited to a picture and screen name. Apart from basic physical attraction, you’re judging whether someone looks like a good person. Smart users do: smile, dress nicely, show face and body. Smart users don’t: use selfies, pose shirtless, have piles of dirty laundry in the background. If MrAwesum87 is flexing in a mirror, I’m not clicking – even if he has a killer smile. “Image is everything” may be an overused and misunderstood PR cliché, but it is true to some extent. Audiences decide whether they like a brand fairly quickly, so every single touchpoint and asset of the campaign needs to communicate the brand’s voice. Any media materials that our PR team crafts need to underscore key messages, both verbally and non-verbally.
Once you’ve got a profile that shows you as your most dateable self, you’ll probably start receiving messages in no time. But as you’ll see in the next installment of Love and Media Relations, they may not always be the kinds of messages you want… so I’ll offer tips on how to reach out to all the non-weirdos you actually want to date. It just so happens that these best practices also come in handy when pitching media contacts. Check out the next post to learn the art of pitch composition and media outreach.