5 PR lessons inspired by scuba diving

It goes beyond coping with sharks and jellyfish. Here are some ideas to help you make a splash.

We can see parallels in nearly anything. Some analogies work; others don’t. It depends on perspective and experiences.

As a longtime 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 who thought that was ridiculous; another thought it was genius.

Having just returned from a scuba diving vacation in Bonaire, I was reviewing (amateurish) photos I had taken and had this inspiration. It’ll work for some and not others, but here are five things that 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 your work before you publish. As the 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 is, they fin hard, which uses a finite amount 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 even 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 evolution has camouflaged.

Good PR people can see a story tucked away and inconspicuous—the key is to bring it out in interesting ways. The secret of PR isn’t in media lists or name-dropping; it’s in 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 it is 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 from people clamoring for their attention. You’ve got to be smarter, and though we can’t grow eyes on the backs of our heads, we can’t work at devouring content, reading everything we see, getting smarter every day, and looking for trends to connect the dots to a good story.

4. Nature and business both reward 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 its head into nearly every possible gap, hole, and dent looking for food.

Likewise, PR pros must be tenacious in seeking 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 I challenge my agencies to match my tenacity. There’s a place for your story; you just have to find it.

5. Find unlikely friends. On my final dive of the trip—dive No. 26 of the week (which is a lot)—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.

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.

Which of your hobbies offer parallels to your professional work?

Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. He blogs at Sword and the Script, where a version of this article originally appeared.

Topics: PR


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