Richard Laermer is a New York-based PR veteran with 25 years and four books under his belt. His firm, RLM PR, focuses on helping clients pinpoint perceived competition and break it down with the taste-test approach, i.e. differentiating what the client does versus what the competition is doing. With the right tools (surveys, third-party validation, and advanced market research), Laermer asserts that he can point to what’s failing for the competition in order to redirect customers to the client.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Laermer to discuss his bestselling book, Full Frontal PR, and explains how, 10 years since it was first published it is still relevant.
RL: It never ceases to amaze me that 10 years since it was first published, Full Frontal PR still sells in healthy doses. When you’ve been doing PR for as long as I have, you notice trends in the industry before they’re widely spread. That’s why this era of PR is a little mind-blowing—because what us older PR practitioners do (did!) for our clients is no longer valid. Sometimes I think that we don’t even do PR anymore and what the industry needs is a brand new word to describe it. This has nothing to do with the Internet or the fact that everyone’s a publisher, or even that brands do their own PR by communicating directly with consumers. It does, however, have everything to do with what has always been at the crux of our profession: Content.
PR is, after all, mixing story ideas with angles and hooks, then bringing them to “influential” media who in turn make our clientele into stars, or in some cases, superstars. (However, only when it’s a huge trend with a ton of stories following it does the coverage move any sales needles.)
That said, content is now bigger than ever. And there is so much of it! Indeed, everyone is producing something and, oftentimes, it is impossible to say where it came from. In realizing this through incessant arguments with untrusting/ untrustworthy clients I just got tired of standing up for what we did. Or that we “actually” did it. The derivation of an article or blog post shouldn’t be important. Oh, but it is. In our office we hung a sign to display our distaste for this questioning: “Who Gives A Hit!?!”
Today, I am in the process of reviving the book so people in PR realize their own power, and do something with it. The new Full Frontal PR will be released in early 2014 as a series of chapters, in which I will discuss the most sensible, aggressive and creative tactics that we have to make money for our clients.
gA: How has PR changed since Full Frontal PR was first published? How is the book still relevant and what revisions have been necessary?
Today, everyone’s a guru and a broadcaster, so as a PR professional, how do we use our truly specialized skills to help our clients take down the competition? It is my belief, that the only thing that always works (as opposed to the crapshoot of today that is the “no metric PR”) is ensuring that the third parties we once used to extoll the virtues of our client are now “utilized” to portray the horrific practices of our clients’ competitors. Let me explain.
No one knows what is going to happen to the economy—we just witnessed how easily it can fall off the tracks. Yet we know our clients will always have competitors that will try to eat their lunch. So let’s help get rid of them. That is a tactic that will never go out of style. We have to be the ones who are un-do-without-able.
Traditional PR tends to celebrate a mediocre message that needs to get “signed off” on by too many people. This is the message that people already know: brands saying we’re great, we’re here, we do things that you like, and so forth. But a new voice is waiting to be heard. This is the voice that understands the precise weaknesses in competitors and “perceived competitors”, and knows how to use third parties in order to bring down the competition, thereby making the client the de facto winner.
It’s basic economics that businesses thrive on competition. Successful businesses, however, demonstrate to the marketplace their ability to outthink, outmaneuver, outperform and out-goods and -service the company across the street. It’s time to thrive at the expense of the competition. It’s the new PR. It’s what I call Insurgent PR™.
All you really need to do (I do it every day for my clients) is research, then recognize, what competitors missed the mark on, misconstrued, or mistakenly made matter (or lied about). Then get it out there in every single way possible. Use the online tools available and get those weaknesses known. Removing the competition is something you, as a PR person and expert in this field of newfound insurgency, can take advantage of, and, in doing so, you will make yourself invaluable.
gA: What is it today that makes PR so “different” for the veteran?
RL: First, a little history about the book because it acts as a catalyst to your question. When I was writing Full Frontal PR all I kept thinking was “gosh the texts out there right now are dull and useless.” The focus was always “the press release.” I wanted to change that. I remember some European reporter colleague coming into my office and asking me what I was up to. I’d just written a book on “future trends” and now wanted to “do one on PR.” He said “What about PR?” I said “PR. All of it.” The dude laughed. “You can’t do that.” Well, you can. And I did.
In 2004, when we released Full Frontal PR, RLM was representing the duo that invented Flickr. As they began to talk about their emerging photo sharing site we told reporters that these burgeoning blogs were going to be the journalism of the near future. No one believed us. They said it was a fad. Now fast forward to 2014 and social media is crucial to what we do in PR but it isn’t the be-all and it never will. You still need to connect. In the real sense. I’m a firm believer in what I call the killer app: “the telephone.” Ditto face to face. Some younger PR professionals dread meeting reporters—or anyone—because IM is so much easier but in the end it is that one personal exchange that changes every relationship. No matter how cynical, the person you take the time to spend a minute with, notes it.
Those PR people who say they are no longer pitching content providers are simply doing it plain wrong. Yes, I get that “media” has changed. But our job? No. PR is still primarily about taking an idea that is a lump of clay and molding it into a saleable, believable and trustworthy story.
gA: As something of an industry veteran, what advice do you have for new PR professionals entering the industry?
RL: Please, I beg you, don’t enter it unless you’re serious about writing. People think it’s all talking a blue streak and sending quick emails, or maybe attending a lot of cocktail parties and events. That may be a truism for publicists who handle individuals or celebs but a PR professional, whose job is to be strategic about every move, is articulating an idea every second of the day. If you are informed about the world at large; able to communicate adroitly through the English language; be more interesting to—than interested in—people; have a way to sell thoughts to people—then get in the game.