Timeless PR Wisdom from Ben Franklin

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Founding fathers say the darnedest things.

More than a century before the term public relations entered the lexicon, Benjamin Franklin penned one of the most concise PR manifestos ever:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.”

Profound. Precise. Memorable.

Though it’s not entirely clear who Franklin was addressing when he coined these words, I’m pretty sure he had no intention of guiding future publicists. It seems unlikely that the inventor of electricity envisioned a future where high-speed digital networks would equip everyone with the equivalent of their own printing press.

Yet Franklin’s Tweet-worthy phrase encapsulates the primary goals of every PR professional on the planet:

Either write something worth reading…

Any communication — regardless of length, tone or intent — must engage readers to be considered effective.

Most PR people recognize the importance of defining a target audience and knowing as much as possible about that audience before drafting a single sentence. They know that aligning content with well-defined reader personas is far more likely to generate results than just throwing a bunch of words against the wall and hoping some of them stick.

With the democratization of technology, organizations now have the ability to use their own websites, social channels, blogs and other forums to communicate directly with others without having to rely on a media middleman to deliver the message.

While target audiences are more accessible than ever, convincing someone to read a piece of content is increasingly challenging thanks to information overload and shrinking attention spans.

That’s why the most effective writing is simple (not simplistic), direct and provocative while providing a consistent point of view.

…or do something worth writing about.

Despite having the resources to take any message directly to the masses, most organizations continue to rely on traditional media outlets to convey key topics and expertise as part of an overall PR strategy.

When reporters, editors or other media representatives choose to highlight an organization's leadership or expertise, the piece has inherent credibility that can reinforce the firm's marketing objectives.

The most direct path to generating media coverage is to do something new, unique or significant. In other words, to be newsworthy (ideally, without resorting to shameless publicity stunts or marketing gimmicks).

A company can also generate media coverage by sharing its perspective on an issue, trend or solution that’s of broad interest to a specific outlet's readers or viewers.

Because most media outlets are under-resourced, they're increasingly open to accepting authored articles as well as offering sponsored content, native advertising and other publishing opportunities that blur the traditional lines between "advertising" and "editorial" sections. Old-school publicists might scoff at the notion of resorting to paid media opportunities, but these tactics can prove valuable for leveraging the built-in audiences of traditional media to connect with others.

Though technology continues to enable new and innovative ways to share stories, the fundamental tenets of effective communication remain unchanged.

That’s why Ben Franklin’s 18th century declaration is just as relevant today as when he first shared it.