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When Public Relations Really Matters

November 9, 2018 Damon Maida

How A Simple Pitch Reminded Me Why We Do What We Do

For the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with First Tennessee Bank in Middle Tennessee as a client. It’s been a fantastic partnership, and I’m pleased to say that the Bradford Group’s media relations and broader public relations efforts on behalf of the bank have been quite successful – raising awareness of the bank’s presence in the region and its commitment to the community.

As an agency, we meet at least once a week to brainstorm new ideas for clients. And pitches go out to media on a daily basis on topics ranging from personal finance advice to executive moves within the bank, community investment programs and other events designed to amplify the bank’s voice. After a while, you get into a rhythm – not a complacent one, mind you, but a familiar process by which we generate ideas, share them with the media and work with reporters and editors to place stories in publications important to the bank.

As with every client, we aim to do our best. And, once we’ve completed a task, it’s over and we move on to the next one.

Occasionally, however, a pitch that begins as an introductory email sent to one reporter garners media coverage that catches on with key audiences in a special way. The story ripples in a way that demonstrates that public relations can be so much more than “getting placements” or “increasing positive name recognition” for clients. Sometimes, a story that you tell – or help to be told – affects people personally. You have a part in changing a life. This is one of those stories.

What we do really does have the potential to alter a life, to reach people who might change their minds about something because of ideas that we help bring to the broader audience.

Hope Through Financial Literacy

One of First Tennessee Bank’s greatest attributes as a company is its commitment to financial literacy. Through partnerships with organizations like Operation HOPE, First Tennessee works with individuals, previously designated as “unbankable” due to low credit scores – or a lack of credit history at all. Through its HOPE Inside Centers, the bank offers programs and coaching to help people raise their credit scores, so that they can enter the banking system, apply for loans, buy houses and even start small businesses. Programs like HOPE Inside are an investment in the future of the region and its residents. And there’s no greater investment than in educating young people about financial literacy, particularly at-risk youth, who if not for financial literacy classes offered by schools, banks and other organizations, might fall into the bad habits that lead individuals into financial trouble and hold them back from a brighter future.

Enter First Tennessee’s Education and Empowerment Program, a partnership with youth entrepreneurship program Oasis VENTURE and the Mayor’s Opportunity Now program. The program was created to provide financial literacy education to youth, adults and small businesses in Tennessee communities. It was the Bradford Group’s job to bring the news of this program to Middle Tennessee media and, not surprisingly, the youth portion of the story got the attention of a number of writers and editors including producers at Nashville Public Radio (WPLN FM).  Over the course of around six weeks, the Bradford Team worked with WPLN to provide access to classes, interviews with students and teachers, as well as interviews with representatives from First Tennessee to help build the story. Finally, the story landed. WPLN ran Nashville Youth Learn Money Management By Coaching Their Peers online and on-air with quotes from all the sources we provided and a positive story about financial empowerment.

It was a win. And, we thought it was over. But, the story kept getting traction.

Going National

Not long after the original airing, we got word from the reporter on the story that it had gotten national attention – National Public Radio was considering running a version of the story in markets across the country. National coverage for our regional client – a double win. Sure enough, the story ran nationally, and then things got even more interesting.

I was copied on an email chain between the reporter on the story and other participants in the process, including representatives from the Oasis Center, Opportunity Now and one student participant – Derek Nicholson. Nicholson, as it turns out, was off to begin his freshman year at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. He had been interviewed for the story as not only a student, but also as part of the Mayor’s Youth Council and a youth financial coach with First Tennessee. He was quoted in the story as seeking “financial freedom” after growing up in a family that never discussed financial literacy. His story was representative of many participants in the program. The classes had changed his outlook, shown him possibilities and he was a great ambassador for the cause. It was once the story went national that it got the attention of the public relations department at Austin Peay. They reached out directly to Nicholson with a note telling him that his story had gotten their attention, and that they’d like to follow him throughout his freshman year, get updates on his progress and even meet him when he got to campus to take a few photos. And sure enough, since he arrived on campus, they’ve delivered on their promise and his story has even been featured in Clarksville Online.

Making An Impact

This was an extraordinary result – not because we placed an article for a client, but because we’d been a part of something that enriched another person’s life. It was more than letters on a page and a bullet on a monthly report. Mr. Nicholson was going to be entering college with a raised profile and exposure that many students never achieve. The program itself had given him knowledge that he’d carry with him into adulthood. The call we made to the media amplified the experience and hopefully provided some inspiration to others listening, who might have a similar life experience.

It’s moments like this that make PR people proud to be doing the work we do. It’s easy to get lost in measuring key performance indicators, audience reach and media impressions. What we do really does have the potential to alter a life, to reach people who might change their minds about something because of ideas that we help bring to the broader audience.

So, if you’re a PR pro and you’re ever feeling down or stressed out, remember: You have the power to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything big, and you might not even realize it while it’s happening. But, you’re making a difference. There’s honor in what you do. Own it. Be proud and keep going.

 

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