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5 things scuba diving teaches me about PR

by Frank Strong

We can see parallels in nearly anything.  Sometimes analogies work; other times they don’t.  It depends on perspective – and experiences.

As a long time member of reserve components of the military, I often think of PR as the “indirect fire” – the artillery and mortars that “softens” up a beach before the infantry assaults (think familiarity before a sales call).  I once had a boss that thought that was ridiculous; I had another that thought it was genius.

So having just returned from a Scuba diving vacation in Bonaire, I was reviewing (amateurish) photos I had taken and had this inspiration.  Maybe it’ll work for some but not others, but here’s five things Scuba diving makes me think about in PR:

1. Check your buddy’s equipment before you dive.  Most Scuba courses teach you to do this; but some get sloppy after a while.  Don’t let complacency set in – recreational diving has one redundant system and that’s your buddy’s air. If it doesn’t work, you’ll be sucking water: that’s not good.  There isn’t a second chance.  Likewise, proof you work before you publish.  As the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

2.  Look for things in unusual spaces.  Many new divers swim hard – that its they fin hard, which uses a finite amoutn of oxygen more quickly and causes them to miss seeing creatures.  Experienced divers know that you’ll see more if you just mosey along; in fact you’ll see more staying in one place and looking around than you will finning at 30 kicks a cycle. It takes some practice to spot sea life that Darwin’s law has empowered to be well camouflaged.  Good PR people can see a story tucked away and camouflaged – the key is to bring it out in interesting ways. The secret of PR isn’t in media lists or name dropping; it’s finding ways to make a story interesting.  Find a unique viewpoint and that will go long way to earning news.

3.  Grow eyes in the back of your head. The four eye butterfly fish has faux eyes on its body to make predators think they are watching from all directions.  In PR, you’ve got to be more knowledgeable about what you are pitching than the reporter or blogger you are approaching.  It’s no easy feat.  These people get hundreds of pitches a day – people clamoring for their attention.  You’ve got to be smarter and while we can’t grow eyes on the back of our heads, we can’t work at devouring content, reading everything we see, getting smarter everyday, and looking for trends to connect the dots to a good story.

4.  Nature (and business) rewards tenacity.  This trip was the first time I’ve ever seen a Sharp Tailed Eel.  At first I thought it was a snake ; as I observed the animal, I noticed it is a tenacious hunter, poking it’s head in nearly every possible gap, hole and dent looking for food.  PR pros too need to be tenacious in looking for opportunities.  When I was on the agency side, I relished finding opportunities for my clients.  Now on the corporate side, I still do the same, but challenge my agencies to match my tenacity.  There’s a place for your story – you just have to find it.

5.  Find unlikely friends.  My final dive of the trip – dive #26 of the week (which is a lot) – and residual Nitrogen had built up in my body.  At 30 meters below the surface (breathing Nitrox), I saw something intriguing:  a Giant Green Moray Eel was shacking up with a Giant Caribbean Lobster beneath a shipwreck.  My dive watch was going ballistic – beeping with complaint – with just five minutes left at that depth of no decompression time.  Knowing I’d fly out the next day at 30,000 feet, I had to be careful.  I had time for a photo, but I’d have to be quick about it before gradually moving to more shallow water.  And it made me think:  how often do PR people pair up with unusual suspects for a pitch?  It’s one thing to pitch your own organization, but what if you worked – jointly – with another?  That could be the difference between a solid story and a top-tier bite. Yes, ideas like this take time to develop.  I once worked on a story with Blackboard; unfortunately, the PR team there didn’t want to play.  It’s too bad too, because a rising tide lifts all boats.

What hobbies do you have that you see parallels to in your professional work?

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2 Responses

  1. _Noted

    Wow, that’s a lot of dives in a week, Frank! I learn around this time last year funnily enough, after I left London. It’s a nice analogy – and good observations. Like it!  

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