Category Archives: Dallas

S is for …

Let’s see, S is for … sunshine, sharing, softness, silliness, sex, sailing, Sagittarius, sales, saints and Saltines. Those flow straight from my brain to the fingertips. No wisecracks please.

For all of us, S is ultimately about Success. How that’s defined may vary but I’ve found four S imperatives.

 The 4 S’ For Biz Owners & Communicators

 #1 Survive.  Darwin was right in at least one respect.  Survival is inherent during our struggles to maintain life, be it personally or professionally. I’ve seen agencies wiped off the planet since beginning my own firm in 2007. Good people and good work, gone. Cash flow means everything, say the agency owners I know. But they temper that with a spirit of generosity. They don’t hire and fire at will based on the balance sheet (like many do). They hire wisely. They stay fiscally conservative even when they land a “big fish.” They realize People matter, and act accordingly.  They also use outsourced resources (um, like me). These translate into #2: Satisfaction.IMG_8715f

#2 Satisfaction.  Years ago, there was a high-flying agency growing faster than beanstalks in Jack’s world. It almost seemed supernatural. Then it imploded. Word on the street: an explosive, toxic and exhausting work environment. Tyranny. And clients who expected what was promised, which didn’t happen. It was all “churn and burn.” Satisfying the client is the best antidote for tough times. I’ve had bosses who preached and practiced giving “extras” to the client vs. the “nickel and dime” approach. Give. It always comes back. The same goes for employees. Treat them well, they will champion you. Treat them like dogs and they’ll bite in you in the butt. And you’ll deserve it.

#3 Keep it Simple. Sorry for the cliché. One successful agency principal recently shared this with finesse: “I had an employee who, in essence, worked slowly and systematically to build a five-star restaurant PR approach for a client.  This client didn’t want a 5-star restaurant, the client wanted quick action and fast food.” Lessons learned: Don’t oversell and overthink (don’t knee-jerk either). Keep it simple and get it done. Also, always discuss expectations with the client before you start.

#4. SALES is everyone’s job. Throw out the typical agency model in which you “woo and wow a prospect with big ideas, promises and executives with big titles” then throw the junior team on the account. Selling is relational—and about discovering what fieldguidea client really needs, not what you sell. Teach and help your entire organization to sell, not by being “Mr. or Mrs. Call Now!” but through conversation, inquiring questions and sincerity.  Need help to get started? I recommend Debbie Mrazek. Incredible. Phenomenal. Practical.

When it’s about your business, it’s easy to look inward only. Survival and success is really outwardly focused, mostly on employees and clients. Both will either drive your business sky high or drill it into the dirt.

Stay strong, believe, affirm and aspire. And they’ll follow. Ah, sweet success.

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F is for … (It’s not what you think)

My kids, they’re all adults now. Since the days when my oldest thought I was The Great Oz, I’ve preached a strong message: There is No Use of the F Word in This House.

My youngest and I were playing hoops one afternoon when I blocked a shot. His brow furrowed and he began complaining. “Dad, you can’t do that, it’s not F—.” He stopped. “Dad, it’s not F-A-I-R.” He spelled the one F word I have never allowed. “I didn’t say it Dad, I spelled it,” he said with a grin. A proud moment, I must admit. Regarding fairness, nothing is and nothing ever will be.  So let’s get over it.

IMG_8715fFor business owners and communicators, there is one F word we never discuss. It’s too personal, invites vulnerability and rattles our confidence.

Failure.  It’s hard to admit. In my life? Oh my, let’s see:

  • Dadhood. My greatest desire in life was to be a great husband and father. FAIL. I just wrapped up a divorce. My kids are wounded as a result. I’m engaged, available, interested and active in their lives. I love them more than life itself. But I made mistakes. And we all pay the price.
  • Perfect PR. I am ambitious, creative and have the temperament that makes me “unique” and “quirky,” per a couple of clients. They qualified the statements, “in a good way …” Yeah. Ha. I strived for perfection for a long time. FYI, if you think you can achieve perfection, find the closest mirror, look at yourself and slap yourself. It ain’t gonna happen on this side of the universe.
  • Money. I had a Dad who was extremely smart and wise about finances. He paid for most of my college. I had a car when I was legal to drive. I had more than I even knew. I haven’t been that wise or savvy so my family’s in a different situation, to my chagrin.

And you? Can you admit failure, and learn from it? I can and can’t. Sometimes I avoid the issue. I deny. I dive into work or other things that distract me and keep me away from reality, recognition and admission. It’s like those 12-Steppers and that first step: Admission begins the road to recovery.

I’m sure not excited about failure in my life. And I offer no Pollyanna advice or happy endings. But I do know that without it, I wouldn’t appreciate the triumphs and victories. And yes, I do feel better knowing that success is often bred from failure (thank God). These folks prove it.

  • Lincoln failed at politics initially. FYI, he became president.
  • Thomas Edison failed – his teachers called him stupid–an idiot who wouldn’t amount to anything.
  • Oprah failed. She was fired from her first TV job.
  • Walt Disney was called “unimaginative” with no good ideas.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by USC Cinematic Arts program. Several times.
  • Sanders couldn’t get anyone to buy his chicken. And then… yeah.
  • Fred Astaire, initially, was told he couldn’t sing or act. No talent.

See more …

What’s the point? Failing isn’t always the end of something. It can be the beginning. Usually painful, yes. Life changing? Often. But wholly destructive? Not usually.

So go ahead. Fail. Fall. Mourn. Admit.

And then try again.

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*Pang* *Flash* G is For ….

Anyone who knows me will immediately think of one G word … “Go.” Yeah, high speed and lots of curves. I thrive at full throttle with steep climbs and sharp curves.

That’s not the G word that matters.IMG_8715f

Others will say it’s got to be God. Well, that’s a big one. Capital G. Still not there though. Perhaps it’s greatness or goodness, or the flip side: grumpy, goofy, gauche … Regardless, these attributes, relevant or not, aren’t that important.

The G word that keeps flashing through my dreams and thoughts is sobering. And a struggle.

Grace.

Is it a noun or a verb? Growing up Christian, I heard it and learned it frequently: man is inherently sinful. God freely gives me grace and erases all the gunk, gook, idiocy, mouthiness and moments of madness from my life. Through Christ his son.
But I can’t help but think that grace extends beyond pulpits and prayer clubs. Grace is act of individual will. It extends unmerited favor from one to another.

The flashes and pangs of grace-mindedness are daily for me. They hit like a combo punch from Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang, usually when I:

  • Drive behind a moron driving 55 mph in the fast lane on Central Expressway
  • Stand in the grocery line behind a lady oblivious to the rest of the galaxy, slowing reading and debating the value of the 25 coupons she just handed the cashier
  • Work with others who deliver little more than excuses or blame, yet lord over others with self-importance and arrogance
  • Perceive an issue as “petty” while another may not, and continues to chatter, chant, rave and rant, ad nauseum

In each of these real-life cases, I felt a very real pang at the moment I begin my criticism and judgment. “…What about grace, Roy, remember?”

And so I breathe and realize that it’s OK. The slow driver may be new and nervous; the lady in line may be facing the financial crisis of a lifetime; the worker may be ill equipped or in the midst of some crisis that is fragmenting their work performance. And yes, what’s petty to me is irrelevant. If it’s important, then it’s important.

Now blow this up. The world is increasingly anti-grace. We have a conservative pundit attacking an American doctor for being a Christian and a missionary; we have zero-tolerance rules that put teenagers in prison for life—for weed in their cars. We have grandmas and granddads being beaten to death for food, cars and money.

And in the PR profession?Helloooo. We have prima donnas treating junior employees like dogs, interns not being paid for their work and a workplace that’s often cold, harsh and impersonal.

Where is the grace? Where is my grace? The flashes and pangs are reminding me. Helping me. Even encouraging me. They actually rattle me into remembering the countless times I’ve experienced unmerited favor from parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, neighbors and strangers. And God. I can think of at least three times in my life when I did not deserve unmerited favor from someone. If they had chosen zero tolerance, I could have lost everything. Everything.

Grace. Can you find it, face it and pay it forward?

Even now, there’s a circumstance where I’m resisting grace. “They deserve my contempt and wrath …” Yeah. *Pang* *Flash*

OK.

Let’s go to work. See the faces. Think grace.

Go home. See the wife. See the kids. Think grace.

Drive to the store. Think grace.

Then do it.

Grace is a verb.

 

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The PR Agency: Results or Ring-Around-The-Rosy? Part 3

We finish up the agency ring-around-the-rosy with part 3, which offers practical advice for practical seekers of quality PR agencies.

The madness of two masters. A PR agency serves two masters: You’re the client and you’re paying the bills. The media control the flow of information and whether you are part of a story they are writing. We strive to make you happy AND the reporter happy. We walk a tightrope between you both. We can’t shove a story idea down a reporter’s throat, nor can we disregard your requests.

Smart agency hiring. So how should you hire an agency? Go national, local, big agency or small? Do they need to be experts in bio-engineering since your company focuses on biotech? Not so much. Most PR professionals are generalists who may write, pitch and parlay their general understanding to the media and others. PR professionals often jump from sharing information about point-of sale-systems for one client, online education for another, and remote monitoring systems for yet another. Check out an agency’s portfolio of projects and writings.

To find the agency best for you:

  • Ask for referrals from colleagues
  • Check what agencies your competitors are using (size, locale, specialties, etc.).
  • Ascertain what you want from an agency–and how much you have to spend. Create a general scope of work.
  • Do your interviews, not just with agency VPs, but the entire team, oldest to youngest. Is there rapport, smart thinking meshing personalities? All of these matter.

Does industry experience matter? Industry experience is not always critical when choosing an agency. You may evaluate their knowledge of your company and industry by reviewing their agency’s strengths, team members and client rosters. A key consideration is to evaluate whether they focus on business to business clients, or business to consumer, or are they ad agency/social media agency pretending to do PR and be “everything to everybody.”

Seek agencies by generating a formal Request For Proposal. Don’t! Formal RFPs are often required because of corporate and/or government guidelines, but if you don’t have to generate an RFP, don’t. They’re time-consuming for the client and difficult to complete for the agencies. Nobody wins, and you get answers “you want to hear” vs. what agencies can do–and will do.

Matters of magic. Often, a client thinks a PR agency can start the job without one iota of background or information.  How many times in 25 years have I shared the reality that PR experts aren’t magicians just whipping up really cool ideas and stories. Well, we can, but that doesn’t justify or maximize your PR spend. Creative ideas are great but if they are not tied to business strategy and goals, what’s the point? Don’t expect magic. Expect commitment and upfront time with your PR team to brainstorm, bounce ideas off each other, talk key corporate initiatives, product and services launch plans and more. Encourage your agency to build rapport with executives, managers and every-day employees that have golden insights and information. Ultimately, the PR team is a group of translators and news hounds that take company information and use their expertise to achieve results. We always emphasize that YOU are the subject-matter experts.

Good luck or good approach? Playing black jack requires good luck. PR does not (usually, although a little good luck is always a joyous occasion). PR requires a plan: Goals, objectives, strategy, tactics, and a tie-in to company sales and growth plans. A PR plan is written and consistently updated. Want a SAMPLE COPY OF A PR PLAN? Just ask.

R-E-S-U-L-T-S. That’s always the first sentence out of the mouth of every client. Yet, often, the results aren’t defined. Define them upfront, make sure they tie back to the initial expectations and plans discussed on day one. Often results will change forms over time. Just make sure you’re all on the same page. Results also require more than agency sweat, tears, story pitches and success. It means clients must engage, share ideas (even if they seem crazy) and connect with the team.

PR Land. So often, it’s like Lost in Space. We’re always discovering new planets, people and opportunities, and occasionally we face the difficult ones like Dr. Zachary Smith. PR Land is like going to the moon–full of energy and excitement, often mysterious and rarely boring. PR Land is a great adventure that’s usually a mix of chaos, adrenalin and getting ready for a crazy ride. One caveat, PR, unlike Lost in Space, usually does not require flying into forbidden zones, crashing into alien planets, talking robots or sniveling, double-minded dingbats … Usually.

Public relations. When done well, done right and done honestly, PR is core to your success, in marketing and business. Especially when it’s personal, professional and practical.

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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The PR Agency: Results or Ring-Around-The-Rosy? Part 2

In our last post, we began with, ” So how do you know if your agency is working hard, or just playing ring-around-the-rosy with your money and company?” We talked starting with realistic expectations, then pursuing the agency that’s right for you.

So to continue, here’s the bottom line:

  • The number of press clippings don’t matter. Blasphemy, I know. But, would you rather have four news clips in one month, or one big story in a  publication that matters to your customers and prospects? A miniscule mention in the Wall Street Journal (every clients wants to be in the WSJ, whether they have a story or not) is less valuable than Cattle Hide News if you and your prospects focus on beef and hide manufacturing. So, did the agency fail because they didn’t meet the “number of clips standard,” or succeed because Cattle Hide News is the exact target of your business? This is practical PR in progress.

When it comes to PR, here are the practical realities:

  • Expectations. I know, we keep talking about this, but it’s critical at the very beginning of a client-agency relationship. When I meet with a client, this is where we start. First, I listen to their PR perceptions and expectations. Then I explain mine and what’s involved in the PR gig. Quality client-agency communications requires an open-door policy that allows candid conversations that can be refreshing, and sometimes difficult. Bottom line, it keeps everyone accountable, intentional and focused. Transparency eliminates friction, confusion and ignorance.
  • The Control Factor. An uninformed client–usually a field sales representative that works with the client, calls the PR agency:

“Hey Bob (agency supervisor), we have three sales guys who received Top Salesman Awards at our meeting in Hawaii.
If you could place the story on the inside page 2 of the business section, that’d be great. Oh, we’ve got a great photo too.
Could you get that in this week? Thanks man.”

In this case, we remain calm, get back to the client, provide some education and possibly refer the client to the publication’s advertisement department. As PR professionals, we have absolutely no control of media and a publication’s story decisions, or when and where it will be published. We do the best job possible and remain engaged with the media. The reality is that some months reap rivers of life; others yield times when we feel we’re wandering through the wilderness for 40 years … without Moses. Recommendation: Be patient, know your agency is really working newsworthy story ideas, and recognize that some days are diamonds and some days are dirt.

  • Spin, Sin and Doing It Right. High-integrity PR professionals don’t spin or sin  just to get a story placed. We avoid lies and exaggeration. In fact, we abide by codes of ethics from The Council of PR Firms, PRSA and/or IABC. We also counsel clients to focus on quality of news, not quantity of news releases. Quantity results in irrelevant information, not news. Long term, this quality news approach makes the client and agency look a lot smarter to editors and reporters. One alternative news strategy is to identify press-worthy news releases that you actually distribute to media, with others being written but posted only  to your website’s newsroom and being only sent to employees, suppliers, customers and prospects.

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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The PR Agency: Results or Ring-Around-The-Rosy? Part 1

When it comes to PR agencies, you hear one of two things: “We got burned,” or “This agency is better than baked bread.” The question for any organization seeking a PR agency is to start with realistic expectations, then pursue the agency that’s right for you. One of the first questions every potential clients asks is, “Just how many press clippings should we expect—and get—for the money we pay?”

We also hear:

  • How many hours are you working per month? How do we know?
  • What kind of account service should we expect and receive?
  • And, candidly, how do we know how to pick a quality PR agency that fits our organization, people and goals for business and communications?

So how do you know if your agency is working hard, or just playing ring-around-the-rosy with your money and company? The quandary rests on both sides of the fence, for client and agency. Clients must gain some return on their investment, yet PR benchmarks are largely qualitative and rarely quantitative. PR News reports, “Executives expect PR professionals to provide measurement illustrating the impact of their work on business outcomes. However, many are hindered by the high cost of measurement tools and lack of resources, according to a 2011 measurement and practice survey.” In more than 25 years of doing public relations and working with hundreds or organizations, large and small, I’ve rarely had a client want, expect or desire to pay for quantitative metrics, i.e., messaging evaluation, competitive positioning, quality and rank of publications, perception analysis and more.

DISCLAIMER: Granted, most of my experience is working with privately held small businesses. Most clients are happy with press clippings–story “tonnage” that shows progress in getting the news out to the right audiences, publications and online influencers. This seems just fine by small businesses.

So, what’s the magic formula and number for press clippings? Well, besides working smart, working hard and knowing the art of “polite persistence” with reporters, I know of none. Sorry to disappoint. The real-world question is, “How can a PR agency promise press clippings when they have absolutely no control over the story, a reporter’s interest in the story, or the editor’s decision to run the story or not? I’ve had great, strong news stories bumped because “hard news” erupts and has to be covered. I’ve had absolutely worthless “news” (in my humble opinion) picked up and put on page one. It’s an insane world, this PR gig. But always interesting and surprising.

Back in yesteryear—the 1990s—one agency boss expected each account executive or supervisor to secure a minimum of four placed stories a month per client. Period. It was a great expectation, motivator and accountability factor. Today, I wonder if this is still relevant as print publications dwindle and online sites grow (but with different editorial opportunities). It’s a good debate.

—The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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