The Role of PR in Personal Development

Janet C. Jessen

Too often the practice of public relations, particularly in the B2B world, is limited to news releases and trade events aimed at promoting specific products or services. Yet it can also be a powerful tool for achieving larger branding objectives, while affording employees the opportunity to become recognized as experts in their industry.

 Most recently, I worked for a company undergoing transformation into a dual bottom line organization that places equal emphasis on financial performance and human development. There I witnessed firsthand the salutary effects on our engineers of becoming published authors and sought-after public speakers, sharing their expertise and developing their communications skills.

One is now a leading authority on sealing technology and pollution prevention. Another was invited to make a presentation in Europe, from which he returned a more confident, self-assured person. With others I saw their exhilaration at seeing their words in print for the first time.

Nurturing and celebrating these kinds of successes present an excellent personal development opportunity, one that is within the grasp of, but unfortunately underutilized by many companies.

However, before embarking on an article writing campaign, you need to examine your USP and the persona you want to project – that of solution provider, technology leader, innovator, superior service provider, whatever your core competency happens to be. Once your company’s persona has been established – and it can be aspirational – a coordinated campaign of strategic articles can support it with credibility, clarity and cost-effectiveness.

Well crafted, articulate articles can serve as an invaluable “Voice to the Customer,” but they need not be limited to technical treatises by engineers. They can include pieces by human resources on talent development, EHS on employee health and safety, even marketing on best practices.

Short of a publish-or-perish mandate, it’s vital to create a sense that this is an important activity. It’s equally important that it be encouraged, recognized and rewarded, if only by presenting writers gift cards or framed copies of their articles. The most meaningful rewards, however, will be in terms of reader feedback, invitations to industry forums and qualified sales leads.

Once published, articles can be repurposed and distributed via websites, social media, email blasts to customers and prospects, the possibilities are virtually endless.

In my consulting work, I recently encountered a company that had numerous articles posted on its website, but had never been published. How simple it would be, I thought, to share this extensive archive by offering it for publication in relevant trade journals.

Here are a few practical tips for conducting a successful article campaign to position your company as a leader in its industry and as an authoritative source to the markets it serves.

Respond promptly to editors and don’t miss deadlines. Don’t commit to an article and fall victim to writer’s block. There aren’t always hard deadlines, but when there are it’s absolutely imperative to meet them. Otherwise you’ll leave an editor with a gaping hole that has to be hastily filled, and be blacklisted from ever working with the publication again.

Refer to the publication’s guidelines for contributing articles. Don’t submit a 5,000-word opus when 1,500 to 2,000 words are called for. Above all, don’t write a thinly veiled advertisement. Most publications are looking for tutorial articles that educate their readers, not self-serving promotional pieces. And be sure to accompany your articles with illustrative photos, diagrams, charts and other support visuals.

Track the success of your articles. Feed reader responses into your CRM system for follow-up by sales. After all, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone sufficiently interested in reading and commenting on an article represents a viable sales lead.

Many companies handle articles in-house. Even more don’t pursue them at all due to the commitment of time and effort required on the part of busy people. I’ve found that working with a competent external agency can help drive the process and deliver solid results at a fraction of the cost and with considerably more impact than an advertising campaign.

Like the dual bottom line concept I’ve alluded to, a concerted article campaign can serve both the commercial and human resource agendas of your company. By positioning your people and by extension your company as an authoritative voice in your industry, you gain an important competitive advantage in the marketplace. And by providing the opportunity for your otherwise anonymous in-house experts to gain public acclaim, you are allowing them to develop more fully both professionally and personally.

Janet C. Jessen is a marketing and business development consultant based in Pittsford, N.Y. She has served as vice president of global marketing, engineering, innovation and IT for Palmyra, NY-based Garlock Sealing Technologies, a  manufacturer of  high-performance sealing products for the world’s process industries. She also has served as vice president of business development for WaterfordWedgewood USA. She can be reached at