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Edward Bernays would dig me. Seasoned public relations strategist (10+ years in the game) who has practiced PR in multiple cities: Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago & DC. I'm an observationist and a soon to be card carrying member of the Twitterati. I love comfortable silences, revel in the Seinfeldian absurdities of life and have been described as a habitual line stepper. These are my thoughts...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Ask Why?

The word consists of only three simple letters, but it’s packed with so much relevance and impact – why?

It’s the question every PR pro must ask himself, a client, or an organizational leader at some point in their career, if not daily – why?

Why is the question that sets us to purpose and assigns meaning to our actions, as in why are we doing this?

You were probably first introduced to “why” early on in your professional PR career, back when you drafted that first event media alert. You remember the one that started with a brief intro summary of the event and continued with the following standardized questions and answers (also known as the 5 W’s): who, what, when, where and…why?

It was always the why in that alert that closed the deal enticing a targeted media outlet to attend and cover it (Why do I need to know this? Or, why should I come to your event?)

Over the years, the question of why has increased in its importance, particularly as a determining factor during the internal dialogue that precedes a PR/communication action. If that preceding dialogue is not taking place, then that’s a problem and a topic for a future blog post. But back to the why that does happen during that internal discussion. An executive comes to you and urges that a press release be drafted and distributed.

Before the draft of that release begins, a thoughtful PR pro would assess the objective and ask why is it necessary that we issue this as a news release? Why not explore another way to get our message across as in a media pitch or social media communication. Or why do we think a reporter would be interested in receiving this when there is limited news value?

Asking why also indicates intellectual curiosity and drives the discussion. This is the question that smart people have to ask. And in some situations you have to be the one to say or ask why not? Someone on the team suggests organizing a clever flash mob in front of the NBC studio and another person on the team asks why we should do this. Maybe you’re the one saying why not, before assessing the potential ROI, pitfalls and probability of success.

By asking the why question on the front end, particularly during the concept and/or deliberation stage, it could save you and your employer time, effort, finances and exposure to disappointment. Nothing smarts more than the failure to reach a goal, or worse the failure to identify what the goals are in the first place because no one had the common sense to ask a simple three lettered word – why?

Now, why are you just sitting there and not leaving a comment about this blog post? Feel free to share an example of a time when you asked “why” and thwarted a PR disaster or helped to strengthen a communications objective.

This is a PR situation!