A public relations parable

A public relations parable

Once upon a time, a professor decided that he wanted to learn to ride a bike. So he read every book he could find on the subject. He pored over tomes about bicycle history, mechanics, balance and form. He immersed himself in complex manuals — how to sit on a bike, how to pedal, even the ideal RPM for every degree of incline. For years, he studied deep into the night, unraveling the secrets of derailleurs and crankshafts.

Finally, after 20 years, there was simply nothing left to learn — not one shred of bike-information that he had not crammed into his brain. The time had finally come to leave the rarefied halls of his prestigious Academy for the Study of Bicycles and put his knowledge to the test. So he stepped into the bright sunlight, mounted a brand new Trek aluminum hybrid, stood up on the pedal, and careened into the pavement.

The professor knew everything there was to know about riding a bike . . . except he didn’t actually know how to do it himself.

There’s a lesson in this parable for those in public relations. Books purporting to offer the keys to successful PR abound, as do theories on how to structure campaigns so that the right message reaches the right person at the right time.

But ultimately, you have to act — to email your story idea to a reporter, to call an editor to ask if she’s interested in publishing your op-ed. Your pitch may careen into the pavement, so to speak, many times before it finally breaks through. But you’ll learn from those experiences — potentially more than you’d learn by reading 10 books on PR.

Sam Ryan