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TRIZ: Local Quality

by Mark Fox

“Newsworthy does not necessarily go to the worthy,” proclaimed Dean Rotbart.

We had just started Day One of the incredibly intriguing Academy course, “Newsroom Confidential,” taught by Dean, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and I was already awestruck by how inaccurate conventional wisdom is in regards to the world of Public Relations.

Rotbart’s session was truly an eye-opening experience. Throughout the two-day course, Dean’s ideas continued to scream “Local Quality,” although I’m pretty sure he had never heard of TRIZ. Like most of the great minds, Dean was applying these principles unconsciously.

Below is just one of his insights into the PR world:

Know Me or No Me
By Dean Rotbart

I borrowed the headline for this column, ‘Know Me or No Me,’ from the March 2002 edition of Continental Airlines’ in-flight magazine.

The catchy title caught my attention on a recent speaking trip to New York, where the subject of my remarks, as it often is, was how companies and executives can get more positive news stories written and broadcast about them.

Based on all the money and staff resources that large publicly held companies devote to media relations, you’d think they’d be awash in positive press. Most aren’t.

Indeed, getting good press is seldom directly correlated to the size of the wallet you are willing to empty on public relations firms, PR newswires, fancy schmancy press kits or even high-paid media consultants such as me. When it comes right down to it, Know Me or No Me, is really the complete answer to successful media relations.

Companies and PR agencies seldom take the time to really get to know the news organizations and journalists who they are pitching. Communications executives are so busy doing PR the wrong way, they can’t make the time to do it right.

But media relations is a misnomer.

Good press, in reality, is built on one-to-one relationships. What the rest of the “media” think doesn’t count.

When you have a story you’d like to place with a national news organization, you only have to make two correct decisions to succeed.

1) Which news organization is most likely to WANT this story? (Not which news organizations do I most want to cover my story?)

2) Which reporter at the correct news organization is most likely to WANT this story? (Not which reporter would I most like to have cover this story?)

That is it! Everything you need to know to succeed at media relations. Know Me or No Me. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

As I mentioned previously, Dean’s wisdom relates directly to Local Quality.

Local Quality involves changing an object, system, or service so that the product has different features in different environments. As Dean explained, the best press releases are tailored to the publication and the journalist. The writer understands their audience’s likes and dislikes, and in the case of the press release, the initial audience is the reporter or editor. Although the press release is written with the ultimate goal of distribution to the masses, the release must first make its way past the gatekeeper. To accomplish this, the Local Quality of the release must appeal to the gatekeeper.

The lens of Local Quality is usually applied in one of three ways:

1. Change an object’s structure from uniform to non-uniform, or change an external environment or influence from uniform to non-uniform.
e.g. Using a temperature gradient rather than a constant temperature

2. Make each part of an object function in conditions most suitable for its operation.
e.g. Creating a lunch container with special compartments for hot and cold or solid and liquid foods.

3. Make each part of an object fulfill a different and useful function.
e.g. a Swiss Army Knife

Catering to the Audience
Local Quality plays a role in every industry, not just public relations. Almost every object, process, and system can be modified so that it has different functions in different environments or appeals to a specific, unique audience.

Look at a standard #2 or mechanical pencil. When people are writing or sketching on a piece of paper, they usually need two tools: a writing utensil and an erasing device. With that in mind, most pencils have two components, each intended to fulfill the user’s specific needs. The tools used to complete each function are centrally located, with the lead at the bottom and the eraser at the top.

Adjustable wrenches are another application of Local Quality. The tool can be modified to fit whatever bolt size you are currently working with. Rather than forcing consumers to purchase many different-sized wrenches for different-sized bolts, someone came up with the idea to enhance the Local Quality of the tool to make it suitable for multiple uses.

Precision fertilizing also applies this principle. Farmers analyze their soil and put down a different fertilizer recipe based on that specific area of soil’s needs. Each area of the farmer’s land receives the exact combination of nutrients and fertilizer necessary to produce the greatest crop output.

Surfing the World Wide Web
I use the lens of Local Quality in my Web site design and content. I have several versions of the site, each one customized for visitors of a specific foreign country. The local quality of the site has to be modified to make sure that the content and appearance of the site will appeal to the cultural needs and preferences of users. That way, the site will be just as attractive and informational to a visitor from Chile as it is to a visitor from Brazil.

I spend a lot of time (probably too much time) tweaking the site and changing the colors, content, and design to make the page’s local quality effective regardless of the culture and language of the user.

Local quality allows you to tailor and customize your product, process, system, or service to meet the specific needs of your customer. The product has different features in different environments, so that you are able to provide the functions or features your clientele need most.

TRIZ Bitz

  1. Add a joke to your presentation that specifically resonates with that particular audience
  2. Offer basketball tickets for a local team’s game as an employee reward
  3. Use of Google Maps to find a local hot tub supplier

How can you use Local Quality to improve your product and anticipate your customer’s needs?

To learn more about TRIZ, attend the Da Vinci and the 40 Answers class at Wizard Academy taught by Mark Fox and Roy Williams.

This is Chapter 13 from the book Da Vinci and the 40 Answers

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