3 principles for positive public relations.

First game of the AFL season, I headed down to the G with my Dad and my brother, to enjoy a hot meat pie and re-live some of my childhood footy trips. Unfortunately, the game was about as tepid as the pie. So I had some time to think. And mostly it was about my friend’s husband who was diagnosed with a rare, malignant cancer almost a year ago.

Bear with me on this. There is a link.

When they found out, my friend was four-months pregnant, with their second child. Their first was just shy of two-years-old. Her husband, James, is 33. His cancer was of the sinus, and his tumour the size of a tennis ball. A year of weekly chemo and a burst of radiation was the agreed treatment.

Some time in the middle of all this, around February, when James had already endured nearly six months of crushing chemical treatments, and was too scared to even hold his newborn son for dizziness and fear of losing his grip, his mum decided he needed his spirits buoyed. A lollipop-lady from Melbourne’s outer-east, she hand-wrote a three-page letter on foolscap notepaper to her son’s AFL team, asking if his favourite player could visit him at Peter Mac – listing the long series of treatment dates when he could be found there.

Two days after this letter was delivered, the AFL star was there, at the hospital bed, to visit. No cameras, no glory. He stayed an hour, and had a friendly, meaningful chat about life. And at that particular moment in time when James’ energy, health and spirits where at their lowest, it was the best possible medicine.

This is only one of many kindnesses that James has been shown over the past twelve months, by his supportive private-sector employer, his friends, family and community, to get him back to health. But it was one of the most high profile ones.

So as I sat watching that same player run across the MCG a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking, where do all these positive stories go? Why do we not hear about them? We hear about the footy player scandals. But where is the media when good things happen?

As an agency focused on social impact, much of what we do is about telling positive stories. And a lot of that involves positive public relations and media. Elucidating the good work done by businesses, organisations and governments to improve people’s lives in big and small ways. A growing challenge as the negative bias in news media, and gotcha journalism seems to be only increasing — while papers and newsrooms are dramatically shrinking.

How to overcome this challenge is a work in progress, as we nimbly adapt to news agendas, newsroom modus operandi and an evolving media landscape, but I’ve noticed three fundamental principles for getting positive stories noticed:

  1. Be authentic. If you have a positive story to tell, it needs to be genuine. Not something conjured or concocted for the sake of a PR win, but something of merit and meaning – to those involved, and their community – be it geographic, life-stage or of interest. Wherever possible, the story centrepiece should come from the people at the centre of the story, and not just the PR agency behind the scenes. It makes a campaign more compelling and far more difficult to ignore. See more on our views about the value of strategic PR campaigns.
  2. Think about the content kaleidoscope. Traditional, broadcast media is still important, and I’m not seeing its oblivion any time soon, but it is not the only channel for your stories. Take a look at the content through many lenses to reshape it for online, social, partner and other channels where it might reach your intended audience.
  3. Be creative and compelling. With so much content, in so many forms now a part of our lives, the ingredient that gets you noticed, by your intended audience, is often creativity. Take the time to dust your story with a little magic that makes people pay attention.

James is now in remission. His cancer shrinking from a tennis ball, to a golf ball, and now to nothing at all. But it will be a while before his two-and-a-half-year old remembers what his daddy looked like with hair.

Still fortunately, we think this story, worth telling, is going to end with ‘happily ever after’. And if you’ve read this far, it shows there is an audience for these stories, we just need to be real, engaging and savvy in the telling, on the right platforms.

Have a positive story and want help to tell it? Talk to us.

Image credit: The MCG in all its glory JamesDPhotography via Flikr Creative Commons