PR: The mysterious (but potentially vitally important) construction marketing tool

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Brand Constructors SurveyPerryn Olson’s The Brand Constructors agency recently conducted a construction marketing survey. Many of the results are not surprising, and others reflect the problem of any survey — a relevant answer for one business may be meaningless for another — but one result caught my attention — and raises other, important, challenges.

Olson’s survey asked “Which tool do you wish you had in your marketing toolkit?” The most popular response, at 28.7 per cent, was PR. “PR seems to be a ‘magical’ expense for many construction executives, therefore most marketers do not have that resource available to them or within their budget,” the survey reported.

I can understand the challenge, especially after working with a client yesterday on an advertorial feature, which I sold with a side, additional, benefit: Media and public relations consulting in gaining access to other publications more closely aligned with the client’s market.

The advertorial in our publication will certainly be helpful — it relates to a significant sub-set of the client’s market. But my challenge was to help the client achieve publicity in another industry journal read specifically by many thousands of potential direct clients.

We discussed strategies, including previous efforts to win space in the magazine (print and online). The magazine, not surprisingly, offered an advertorial feature. I received the client call because the person knew my media background, the fact that I had written a (non-advertorial) story for him before, and he wanted guidance in whether to go the advertorial route. In the end, I won the advertorial-writing job — but now the challenge would be to deliver the extra service.

The client outlined his business background, and then mentioned that one of his company’s investors and board advisors also happens to be a major advertiser in the competing publication. “Aha,” I said. “Let’s get the story published in our publication, and then have your director/advertiser approach the other specialized publication and encourage them to give your business/story a look-see for some editorial coverage.”

In other words, my consulting advice was to leverage the business’s relationships and connections to have the story planted in the appropriate publication.

We don’t know if this strategy will work.But it seems to make sense to me. And it shows some of the problems and opportunities in defining a public relations/media communications strategy for AEC businesses.

First, while there are norms and standards in media relations and communications, the best results arise from a highly individualized strategy. News, after all, depends on novelty for its interest — “me too” messages, clichés, and standard press release content may have relevance in some circumstances, but are rarely extremely effective.

Secondly, unless you are marketing advertorial features, no ethical public/media relations consultant can guarantee results. I was attending the meetings the day a drug-addicted gunman decided to “get religion” and shoot a ceremonial guard at Canada’s war memorial, then grab a legislator’s car to drive into the secured Parliament Building area, where he eventually was shot by the Canadian House of Commons’ generally ceremonial Sargent at Arms — causing a day of new havoc in my home town, that made international headlines.

Lets say this technology company had planned a media event or activity for the day things went nutty in Ottawa. Probably, unfortunately, all the publicity/marketing work would go to waste. You cannot control the external environment when you are in the public/media relations business.

This uncertainty and need for creativity underlies the challenge in selecting and working with public relations/communications experts. Good ones should be paid well, as they will generate more value for your business than thousands of dollars in conventional advertising. However, you will need to both trust their advice, and accept that even the best-planned advice cannot guarantee success.

If you wish some personal guidance here, please email me at buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com, or request a phone or video connection through the contact page.

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