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Marketing/PR: Not Everyone Can Do This Job

This is more a rant than anything else, but I do hope it raises some awareness about a specialized field that does, contrary to popular belief, require skills and training to do successfully.

I’ve spent my career working in communications–writing/editing, media relations, internal communications, public relations, event planning and marketing.  I love what I do, and I realize that what I do is interesting to a lot of people.  However, despite the fact that my field is largely a creative one, it does not mean that anyone can do it. 

For some reason, everyone seems to think they’re capable marketers/PR people.  People without marketing and/or PR training seem to think that none is required to do the job well, and so they spew their uninformed opinions at me (and others in my field–I’ve learned this is a shared pet peeve by people in the industry) and other decision-makers thinking that they’re about to make a huge and positive impact on the organization.  That is almost never the case. 

Words, tone, graphics–they all make a difference in effectively communicating.  While press releases seem to be a simple collection of words on a page, they are actually carefully chosen; written and re-written by people who have been trained or have a knack for knowing what will draw media attention.  And just because I might love something a graphic designer throws at me does not mean it will translate well to the group that is receiving it, and I have to be clever enough to know the difference. 

While it may look to an outsider like I’m splashing about in a utopia of creativity, there is a method to the madness, and it’s not something any old person can just sit down and do. 

For example, I recently had an arts group for a client and I worked meticulously to choose the right pieces of music to feature as teasers in the group’s marketing and PR materials.  I chose pieces that I thought would play well with the target audience.  I chose words for my press releases that I thought would make a reporter want to write about the concerts.  All of my choices were based on my years of experience and knowledge.  Audiences for the events averaged at about 900 people, which was great for this particular group. 

I resigned from this client during the summer and was not replaced.  Several members of the group’s board of directors tried to fill in for some of my activities.  They didn’t pursue all of the outlets that I did, their announcements were poorly timed, and they chose the wrong words to feature.  The first concert of this season was last night.  It was a mix of music that included Broadway, film, jazz and blues music.  Which words did they call out in the marketing/PR?  “Jazz” and “blues.”  Which words would I have called out?  “Broadway” and “film.”  This is simply because Broadway and movie music is far more popular with the target crowd than jazz and blues.  How many people were at the concert?  Probably 500 max.  That’s not a bad number, but it’s a significant decrease in numbers from previous concerts, and this season is only beginning for the group.   

I don’t avoid sending press releases on Fridays (unless it’s bad news!) because I like to take it easy at the end of the week–there’s a good reason for it, and it’s a reason people without PR experience don’t understand because they haven’t worked in the field.   

I have a great friend that works in market research and it occurs to me that I should ask her if she experiences this same phenomenon–because hers is a more quantitative field, I wonder if as many people purport to be able to do it without any real knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the job. 

My suspicion for the motive of people wanting to jump in and contribute to a marketing and PR plan is that the job seems like fun.  And it is.  It certainly allows me to get my creative juices flowing and have a great time hosting press conferences, gala events, and rolling out internal communications efforts.  But I do these things successfully because I have the experience to do them professionally; not just because I think they’re fun.  

A company cannot cut marketing and PR jobs–or re-assign them to cheaper/less experienced resources–and expect performance to remain the same.  Despite how it might seem, these are specialized positions that require specialized knowledge, and to presume that someone without the training or skill can do these jobs is to start a steady decline toward failure.  A good marketing and/or PR professional is worth his weight in gold, and don’t let anybody–especially someone not versed in the field–tell you otherwise.

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A Las Vegas Shooting and the Second Amendment

On July 10  a man named Erik Scott was killed by Metro police officers at a Las Vegas Costco store.  The details of the incident seem to still be unclear:   A Costco employee called 911 because Scott had a gun on him in the store and was behaving “erratically,” though the nature of this behavior remains in debate.  As customers, along with Scott, were evacuating the store, did Scott pull his gun and aim at officers?  Did he reach for his gun at all?  Did it remain in the holster?  Was he merely trying to surrender it after receiving conflicting commands from police officers?  Is it merely a coincidence that the surveillance footage covering the incident is damaged and not retrievable or is there something more sinister at play? 

A Coroner’s inquest is in progress here in Clark County (for more on that, check out the latest from the Las Vegas Sun here.), so debate about the events of July 10 is freshly raging.  One such debate took place on the radio this morning as I was driving to work–listeners were calling in and weighing in on the topic.  Some sided with Scott’s family (a former girlfriend of Scott was one of the callers) and others sided with the police (they have families to go home to and need to protect themselves). 

The conversation called to mind a story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.”  It was about police officers in the Bronx who, several years ago, gunned down a young man because they were certain they saw him pull a gun on them.  As it turned out, the man didn’t have a gun anywhere on his person.  So why, then, were the officers so sure that this man was pointing a gun at them that they confidently took him down?  The answer isn’t simple, so I recommend reading “Blink” for the full story and analysis–it has to do with rapid cognition, and the decisions we make quickly…in the blink of an eye.  Sometimes this works really well and other times it fails, as was illustrated in the Bronx debacle.     

But I do wonder:  did these Metro officers fall victim to the same circumstances as the policemen in the Bronx?  Did they only think they saw Scott pull a gun, when he really did not?

As the conversation continued on the radio, one of the hosts suddenly made a rather disturbing point:  why did Erik Scott take a gun to Costco in the first place?  Why did he need a gun on his person at a store?   A follow-up caller echoed her point and implied that he was asking to get into trouble with the police because he made the bad decision to carry a gun with him to the store.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  Not only is it legal to carry a concealed weapon (with the proper permit) in Nevada, but open carry is also legal.  Did Erik Scott need to have a gun with him in Costco?  Probably not.  Was he asking for trouble simply by exercising his constitutional right?  Absolutely not!

I think it’s incredibly dangerous to say that we should stop exercising the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution simply because “it’s asking for trouble.”  The implication of that statement is incredible!  

I’m no Second Amendment warrior, but I think if someone wants to legally carry a gun on his person, he should be able to do so without the fear of being harmed. 

Would these same people so easily give up their First Amendment rights?  Should we stop criticizing elected officials for fear of repercussion from them?

Erik Scott was not asking to be killed simply because he was carrying a gun in Costco.  Now, whether or not he did something else to merit being shot remains to be exposed–along with the other fuzzy details of this incident–but to relinquish civil rights in the blink of an eye is the poorest judgment of all.  That, I believe, is what’s asking for trouble.

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A Short Note on Grammar

In the last three hours I’ve encountered 11 instances of two of my biggest grammatical pet peeves.  I have many grammar peeves, but these two are in the top five, and so I seek to correct them here in the hopes that perhaps one person will read this and stop committing these offenses.

1) “Over” and “more than” are not interchangeable. 

“Over” pertains to spatial relations, while “more than” relates to numbers.  So, you can fly over the Pacific Ocean, but you cannot have over 40 pairs of shoes.  However, you can have more than 40 pairs of shoes (and I suggest that you do). 

And if you need more evidence that these words should not be used interchangeably, consider this: people frequently use “over” where they mean “more than,” but I’ve never seen anyone use “more than” where they mean “over.”  For example, “I flew more than the Pacific Ocean.”  It doesn’t work. 

2) Company names are singular and should not be referred to with plural pronouns. 

For example, “Neiman Marcus has a beautiful store, and I especially enjoy their shoe department.”  Wrong.  This is the correct version:  “Neiman Marcus is a beautiful store, and I especially enjoy its shoe department.”

I understand the impulse–it’s associating a company with its people, but that doesn’t make the usage correct.  Singular nouns get singular pronouns!

Well, enough on grammar–it’s more than 70 degrees outside, and I’d like to head to Town Square Las Vegas to enjoy its outdoor shopping environment in this excellent weather.  😉

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