In the game of PR, you either burst the right Dots or face the Fire

I play this game called Dots on my phone. It’s a puzzle game where you clear Dots of a similar color by dragging your finger over them, connecting a chain of Dots that disappear. In more advanced levels on its partner games, which feature minalmist graphics and a soothing custom soundtrack, you battle color-changing beetle dots, burning fire dots, dots trapped in ice blocks and dots that pop and explode as you navigate an artistic map through hundreds of levels.

It’s terribly satisfying to clear those little Dots. Your blood pressure lowers with every pop, calmness washing over you as the dots disappear. Each board has goals — clear 70 dots that are green, sink dot-shaped anchors to the bottom of the board — in a specific number of moves.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Some of the levels will have four colors of dots, but the goal is to clear two specific colors. So, while clearing pink dots is an option, only clearing purple dots counts towards winning.

This is where I go awry. Sometimes I am flying along, clearing dots, having fun and BOOM I lose the level. It’s annoying: I’ve employed my time-tested dot-busting moves, including advanced dot-removal via a nesting dot popping chain reaction and expertly hoarding my clear dots for a satisfying board clearing, but I’ve still lost the level and a life and now I have to start over.

Why? Because I didn’t pay attention to the goals of the board. Maybe I popped 30 blue dots when blue dots weren’t one of the goals. Maybe I focused only on yellow dots, when green dots were also important. And I felt like I was making progress because I saw dots bursting left and right, but I was really just busying myself with dots that were easier to clear, more obvious to see or simply more fun to play with. (I ask you, who among us doesn’t love earning a bonus dot-exploding bomb?)

This is, of course, a lot like public relations and marketing. (I give that transition a dot-bursting thumbs up!)

We can be flying along, putting out newsletters and press releases, booking interviews and speaking engagements, but are we meeting our goals? Is the needle moving in favor of our message? Are we clearing the yellow dots when green dots are how we win?

Truth be told, we can busy ourselves with a lot of tasks that are just filling time, like me mindlessly clearing dots from my board, but aren’t making headway. Yes, you can send out one press release a week, but do you need to? Sure, someone can speak at that event next month, but is the audience the right one for the speaker?

If you don’t keep your goals in mind, some or all of your PR effort could be wasted. And while you will feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, your misdirected energy could actually burn you out and keep you stagnant on the same level where you’ve always been.

(This, of course, assumes you and your brand have public relations goals. Which, if you don’t, make “set goals” your first goal.)

Before you turn yourself in the PR equivlalent of a dot-clearing zombie drone, ask yourself a few questions whenever you’re considering a specific tactic.

When issuing a press release: Is this newsworthy and interesting? Am I sending it to the right reporters and producers? Can I back up what I’m saying in the release with an informed interview subject?

When launching a new social media channel: Do I have a plan for producing content on a regular schedule? Do I have the capacity on my team to respond to public questions and comments? Is the channel I am using right for my target audience?

When accepting a speaking engagement: Do I have something worth saying to this audience? Is there a direct benefit to my business or brand if this audience engages with me? Am I the right person from the organization to speak to this group?

There should be a clear benefit to each and every PR move we make. Sometimes it will be direct, such as speaking to a group of people who influence your business. Othertimes it will be indirect but still important, like helping a reporter who covers your industry with a story that doesn’t focus on any of your clients.

Either way, you should be able to connect the dots (see what I did there?) from the tactic to the goal. And if you can’t make a connection, you should consider shifting your focus to things that actually help you move in the right direction. Energy spent on focusless work is energy wasted.