Category Archives: PR agencies

Taboos in PR, What the Biz Exec Needs to Know

Every profession has taboos and things that tarnish reputations and business efforts. Public relations is no different. By knowing the taboos, business executives can do a better job finding the PR team that fits their needs, budget and culture.

7 PR Taboos Revealed, Attention Business Executives

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  1. A Press Release Is Not PR. No matter what anyone tries to sell you, one press release is not a business-changing event—or a public relations (PR) program. It is one component that is usually overused and sometimes useless. Effective PR requires a PR person—someone adept, experienced, creative and comfortable walking the tight rope between client needs and reporter needs. And pricing? NEVER pay more than a $500-$1,000 for someone to write a press release. Ever.
  2. No Value. If you don’t value PR, don’t do PR. Often, PR is perceived as a necessary evil – and a drain on the marketing budget. If the executive team doesn’t believe it can add value, allocate dollars elsewhere. Better yet, have someone explain its value—and how it compares to other communications efforts.
  3. Trust or Bust. If you can’t trust ‘em, fire ‘em. There are quality PR agencies and people who know the rules and boundaries—and have the news noses that matter. Sadly, there are many who don’t.
  4. Play Fair, Play Baseball. Not every news release or PR story idea will be a home run. And nobody hits home runs all the time. Expect PR to be like a baseball game. Sometimes there are first-base hits. Sometimes there are strike-outs. Clarify and manage expectations starting from day one. Be specific. Be real.
  5. Avoid Long Legs. I hate to admit what I’ve seen in my career. I know agencies who strut in the young account ladies to woo the prospects – most of whom were all-male Boomers who lapped up the extravagant beauty in the room. Sexism in galactic proportion. Don’t fall for the oldest trick in the book. Good PR is not sex, sizzle, short skirts and long legs. It’s about news smarts, big ideas, hard work and persistent outreach—and usually works best when involving mature (old), frumpy guys and gals.IMG_8715f
  6. Know What You Pay For. So what should you pay for PR? It depends on scope and breadth, and monthly deliverables, all of which should be in a written plan. I’ve seen consistently successful PR programs for $1,500 per month (a small business client). I also recognize that PR programs can be $10K to $20K/month BUT know what you’re paying for, and avoid nickel-and-dimers.
  7. Madness Over Metrics. It’s the PR Achilles Heel. How the hell do you measure the value of a story in The Dallas Morning News? Is the story all about you? Are you one of several sources quoted in the article? Is your key message embodied in the story? Do you measure by number of “news hits” or rank stories in terms of message, or both? It’s a nightmare. Business executives rarely care to see anything except “tonnage”—the number of articles that includes the company name or an executive quote. There are tools for PR measurement. They cost a lot. In 25-plus years, I’ve had two clients willing to pay for such services. Work with your PR agency on the metrics. Stick to them and revise, as needed. Without metrics, there is no way to ascertain success.

This is not intended to assume that the PR industry or its people are largely flacks and quacks willing to cheat companies and clients. Not. Most PR people are hard-working, family-loving professionals doing a job. With integrity.

Now, share YOUR experience working with PR professionals.

Keep it PRactical.

-R

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Filed under CEO, news release, PR, PR agencies, press release, Public Relations, Small Business

S is for …

Let’s see, S is for … sunshine, sharing, softness, silliness, sex, sailing, Sagittarius, sales, saints, shitheads 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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Filed under Dallas, PR, PR agencies, RGM Communications, Roy G. Miller

How to Cheat Clients and The Value of Your Company

We were told we needed to brainstorm ideas for a client. Can we stop what we’re doing and go to the conference room. We all piled into the room, sat in our chairs and waited for the company pariah to enter. And share his ideas. We’d pretend to brainstorm, then parrot the incredibly creative ideas from Mr. Pariah. His ideas were the best, so the ideas were written down, and we all moved on. Another wasted hour sitting in a room and sucking up.

Now let’s move to a different time and place. The agency needs to quickly create a leave-behind for a client. One agency employee—a writer—suggests brainstorming ideas. He’s told he’s a writer in a different group. Ideas and concepts are the job of the creative design team. Uh. OK.

Another shot across the career spectrum. There’s a call for a brainstorming session. This time, the room is outfitted for comfort. There’s food, drinks, a whiteboard, notepads on easels, markers, paper. Even crayons. The focus: What ideas can we muster up for the agency itself? How can we best showcase the agency strengths and communicate them consistently. Ideas were shared, no matter how crazy. And were written down. No idea evaluation or criticisms. Just ideas.

I can’t think of a word or exercise that is more overused and misused than “brainstorming.”  The sad reality is that those who should know the value of collective creativity—putting crazy creative types in a room together—can yield brilliance, clarity and wham-bang ideas (and some craziness too). It’s all good. As professional communicators, it’s our jobs to collaboratively develop the best ideas for our clients–and to foster an environment for brainstorming.

The best ideas come from best practices. Yep, one best practice is brainstorming, working together and seeing value in every individual, no matter their title, department or perceived strengths or weaknesses. Anything short of this is is milk toast and gray matter, and certainly far from excellence.

So why is it so hard for creative types – usually graphic designers, copywriters and marketing strategists – to hole up in a room and share ideas? Smart ideas. Stupid ones. Funny ones. Why?

Based on my experience, here are the top 5 reasons why
brainstorming is busted
:

1. The Temperaments. Sometimes personalities clash. So we avoid contact. A designer once told me, “The only people who are more temperamental than writers are designers.” I’ve been in sessions where both types gather and the duel for control begins. It ruins all the creative energy and fuels more battles. I’ve been there and learned myself. Guilty as charged.

2. The Territories. I’ve heard these statements from real people: “I’m creative, you are not.”I’m in the Creative Arts department, are you?”  and “Why do we need a copywriter to sit in on a ;graphic design’ concept meeting?” Wow. Wrong mentality, attitude and approach. If someone thinks they’re more creative—or the only creative—that’s a problem.

3. The Threat & Inferiority. A creative director or team that feels threatened by others—and other ideas—struggle with inferiority. They feel threatened and fear  others who may be  “more creative than me.” I’ve learned that great creative comes from great people, and to recognize them for their talent. There’s enough glory to go around.

4. The Time.  Who’s got time for another freakin’ meeting? Let me do my real job. No wonder that’s the prevalent attitude. Brainstorming is too often a torturous exercise in futility.

5. The Working Wounded. If someone absolutely runs from a brainstorming session, it’s likely they’ve been wounded at some point. They were embarrassed or criticized. Or both. Great brainstorming includes NO evaluation or opinions about others’ ideas.

Here’s the bottom line: Improper, impotent brainstorming yields nothing. Worse, it’s the best way to cheat our clients and the valuable services we offer as communicators. Shame on us.

What is your opinion or war story? Please share.

Our next post offers advice for effective brainstorming.

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Filed under PR, PR agencies, Small Business, Social Media

More Power to the Press Release, or Not?

The press release is to public relations what cows are to hamburgers. The press release takes raw information and grinds it up (re-formulated sounds nicer) to share a story that has news value to readers of the media.

News releases follow a specific style and approach that editors and reporters expect. They tell a story with facts and quotes, and avoid exaggeration, clichés and corporate baloney. The press release is the ever-loyal, ever-useful news-sharing tool. It is a Deity in PR.

But the world is a’changin. So what is the news release in today’s world? Increasingly, they are more concise and have an uber-immediacy to them.

So is the press release an ol’ tired dog? I think not. It’s adapting and still alerting the media. But there are other ways—better ways—to share your story, even when it’s not hard-breaking news. One source says Business Wire and PR Newswire send out 1,000 news releases every day. PRWeb? It shows 300 per day, according to the source. Essentially you’re in a knife fight for a reporter’s attention.

Share Your Story in Other Ways

The Story Idea. So what exactly is the story and “news,” and will it pass muster with a reporter or editor? That’s where PR practitioners must do the tough work and talk tough with clients. For example, is it news when a company receives an award? Should a news release be written and distributed to media? Probably not, unless it’s the Nobel or Baldridge Award. What can make this award a relevant and compelling story? Can a story be formulated that broadens the story into a trend, with the award a sub-fact that serves to qualify your client as an innovator? Is there a story direction that delivers valuable insights about how a company–or companies–demonstrate quantifiable excellence and innovation?

The Story Idea–a written and/or verbal pitch–is the PR professional’s primary skill (quality writing and a “news nose.”)  We build the story with key players and potential trends, then back them up with interesting elements and/or hard data. The story will be best with multiple story sources, such as your client, an industry expert and at least one other (a customer).  A solid pitch in writing or in a call with a reporter is often worth more than 100 news releases.

The Bylined Article. The monthly issue of Banana Growers Today magazine is published. Go to page 12 to see Abe Gorilla’s photo next to a headline and page header named “Opinion.” Abe is your client. He’s a banana grower and he’s addressing the issue of “Green & Yellow Bananas: Too Ripe for Consumers?” You placed the story, wrote it for Abe, had him review and tweak, then you submitted it to the publication. They like it. And now it’s published. Now Abe can use that story to promote the company to prospects, customers, even employees. The bylined article turns company executives into subject-matter experts.

The Editorial Calendar. Why write a press release that may get marginal coverage (or none at all), depending on news value, media deadlines, breaking news and more? An alternative approach that often yields results is to identify the most relevant publications read by a client’s target market, then review each publication’s Editorial Calendar, a document that tells exactly what subjects are being covered by a publication. They are usually listed by month or issue date.  This generally gives the client a bigger presence and a stronger story.

Blog Posting and Bloggers. Reaching out to bloggers isn’t secondary anymore. They are as influential–even more so–than traditional media. Whether they are “citizen journalists” with expertise, or personalities from newspapers or analyst firms, they can draw interest to your client’s expertise, insights and announcements. In addition, make sure the client is using social media effectively as well. They can propagate their presence among prospects, customers, employees and suppliers by reaching out to them online.

Customer Braggarts. What’s better than someone tooting your horn? It’s sure more tasty for a reporter to hear how great you are from external sources than hearing you or your paid PR person to brag about you. Get customers involved in your PR efforts. Write case studies. Even consider writing a news release, story pitch or other means that come directly from them to the media. You do the work. They get the glory. And so does your client.

So, is the press release still the Lord of the Corporate World? Just how potent or impotent is it today? Our opinion: It’s overused and often a waste of money and resources. But dead? Not so much.

The PRactical PR Guy

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Filed under Media, news release, PR agencies, press release, Public Relations, RGM Communications, Small Business, Social Media

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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Filed under Dallas, Dallas PR agencies, Media, PR agencies, Public Relations, Small Business, Small business PR, SMBs PR

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.

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In our next post, we’re focusing on Serving 2 Masters, Smart Agency Hiring and more.

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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Filed under Dallas, Dallas PR agencies, hiring a PR agnecy, PR agencies, PR ethics, practical pr, Public Relations, Small Business, SMBs PR