Damn the conventions: Go ahead, break some rules . . . (with thoughtfulness)

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Climber on the summit.Yesterday, as I prepared to leave the office, my administrative assistant said she had forwarded a message to me from the company’s general voice mail box. The caller, it seems was someone representing a public relations agency, and she was pitching some company’s supposedly environmentally responsible and highly creative initiative .  . .  following up on a news release the agency had sent last week.

I don’t recall the company’s name, the initiative, and even what the deal was — it took me all of five seconds to push seven and delete the call from the voice mailbox.

Now, did the company that hired the pr agency do anything wrong? Not really. If you follow “best practices” for media management, you determine the list of qualified publications, send out the news release, and follow-up.

Sometimes, seemingly junk news releases turn into worthy published stories, after all. I’ve faced deadline situations where we had a hole to fill, and grabbed a news release that seemed at least remotely relevant, and published it.

But junk calls, like emails and other marketing bumph generally find their way into the round basket. Scripted, repeated, intrusive messaging may “work” to some extent or another, but these approaches are hardly in my opinion the best way to achieve success. Similarly, following the stereotypes, you know, the grip and grin golden shovel ground-breaking announcements  may be important for your own internal newsletters and stakeholders, and will get some press, some times, in some places, but it is hardly exciting or meaningful or relevant.

Then, how do you break through the clutter and get the type of positive attention you would like to achieve?

If I could give a stock answer to that question, I’d have folks lined up around the block, because how do you give a stock solution to guarantee genuine creativity and marketing innovation? We can read the literature about improvisation, but the advice here often goes in one ear and out the other.

However, one approach that may work well for you is a combination test. Combine something that you personally really are talented at and enjoy that reflects your passions/interests with something that you think will be really valuable/useful for the person/organization/audience you are seeking to influence.

As an example, I obviously enjoy writing, journalism and communication, and I will not be modest in saying I’m rather good at these things. When I want to know/connect or build relationships, I often offer to write something for the group, or I elect to do a story about the individual or organization. I can almost always find something interesting and useful for the people I’m working with–and it’s fun for me, as well. The calls, research and interviewing put me in direct contact with relevant decision-makers, and once the story is done, I’ve won credibility and brand recognition.

Often these skills combine. Say, for example, I received an assignment to write a story for a national marketing association publication. I knew the person who is an expert on the relevant topic, and interviewed him, giving him some wonderful (and well-earned) positive publicity. The individual also turns out to be a potential client/influencer for our publishing business and now my sales team has absolutely no resistance when we propose an idea to this organization. (We of course always conduct our business properly, and never abuse the relationship.)

Note that the writing I did was for an organization that will never give me directly any business, and when I wrote the stories, I wasn’t expecting or planning to use the writing to build relationships. Yet, the natural nature of the process and the underlying integrity achieved just that.

Now, you can apply the same basic model to your own circumstances, but the specifics will depend on your own business and interests. If you really like carpentry, I would build something. If you are a great designer, I would use these talents. If your primary talent is co-ordination and project management, put these into the mix. The idea is to combine your passions and talents with those of your clients/audiences.

Remember, as well, that relevant client-focused associations can provide the ideal environment to achieve these combinations. This is because associations have a diversity of activities, encourage voluntary contributions, and almost always welcome new ideas that further the their members’ interests.

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