• April 2014

Lee Woodruff Helps Us Understand the Purpose of PR

From “PR Rules: The Playbook—The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Supersizing Your Small Business.” Available in April 2014

By Hope Katz Gibbs, with Kathleen McCarthy
Authors
PR Rules: The Playbook

What does it take to do PR like the pros?

For guidance, we asked veteran publicist Lee Woodruff, a former senior VP at one of the nation’s largest PR firms, Porter Novelli. There, her clients included some of the biggest Fortune 500 firms, and she promoted everything from consumer goods to pharmaceutical companies.

Then she had a baby. “My son’s birth caused me to reconfigure my life,” she recalls. Then, when her husband—ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff—decided to leave the practice of law and become a journalist, she started her own PR firm.

In the years since, Woodruff has penned articles as a reporter and also became a contributor to “CBS This Morning.” In 2008, she became a New York Times best-selling author—soon after Bob had been named co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight.” But then, while he was embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were hit, and Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.

“In An Instant,” is their frank and compelling account of how their lives were blown apart, and then were miraculously put together again—and how they persevered, with grit but also with humor, through intense trauma and fear. She then wrote two more books, “Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress,” in 2010, and “Those We Love Most,” in 2012.

Through it all, Lee Woodruff has used her insights as a publicist to share her message with the world.

Here’s her advice to anyone who wants to leverage what they know, and launch an effective PR campaign.

Be Inkandescent: What is the purpose of PR?

Lee Woodruff: To take a cause, product, or person and spread awareness about it. Whether you are talking about getting condoms to people in Ghana to keep HIV from spreading, or you are promoting Snooki’s new book, PR is a way for people to access the best information about what you’re selling, offering, or giving away.

Be Inkandescent: Is it harder in the digital age?

Lee Woodruff: It’s easier in some ways, because we all have access to information that once was almost exclusively reached only by news outlets. But the landscape is also fractured, so targeting your message to the appropriate audience is even more critical. It used to be that the cover of People or TIME was the iconic client “ask,” but the digital age and the power of social media has diminished the “big bang” of a message in other ways. Fortunately, the Internet has allowed us to focus on silos of information and better reach vertical audiences. Still, it can be a confusing place to make budget decisions, which is why first and foremost you need a team you trust, and a solid PR plan that is realistic and achievable.

Be Inkandescent: How can a company find the perfect PR fit?

Lee Woodruff: It’s all about personality. You should like the person who’s representing you, feel they understand what you are trying to accomplish, and they need to have the ability to share information and communicate well with reporters. You should also understand:

  • The rudimentary part of PR is the ability to put a clear message out on the news wires, check websites, and get clips to track where a client has been quoted. But that can be taught.
  • What’s more important is to make sure your PR team is a good steward of your dollars. You want accountability; be sure you know what they are spending their time on.

Be Inkandescent: How do you handle a client’s expectations?

Lee Woodruff: A fundamental part of PR is to distill the crux of the message, and disseminate it on as many platforms as are relevant. In the end, the message/news has to be valid, and of interest, for PR to work effectively.

Sometimes clients can have an over-inflated sense of the importance of their story. Naturally, everyone believes they have something valuable to say. But this is where a good PR partnership is critical. You need to trust and value your publicist’s experience—and know when it’s time to listen. That can be tough, because clients with inflated egos are always hard to manage.

I have a friend who keeps switching PR people because he is convinced that given the right person to represent him, he’ll get on the cover of the most popular news magazines. Really. What a person or company is doing that is of interest to the public-at-large is what intrigues the nation’s big media outlets.

Be Inkandescent: How can you measure the success of a PR campaign?

Lee Woodruff: There are lots of ways to track sales and gather data, but in the end the ROI on PR is elusive. You know you need it when your business is not growing organically. You know it’s working when everything is going well. Realize that PR is just one of the many tools an entrepreneur can use—including advertising, direct mail, and social media. Everything should work together.

Learn more at www.LeeWoodruff.com

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