Why you should say “Hell No!” to a PR internship that pays nothing

I said “Hell no!” and that was 1985 and 1986. I still did two internships, one with the American Paint Horse Association and another with Texas Power & Light.

If I can do it prehistorically, you can too. If you’re on the hiring side of finding internships to sweat their butts off for your organization – and to do it for no pay – I say “no way” and shame on YOU.

Two of my favorite mottos:

  • “But that’s unfair…” Get over it. Nothing’s fair. Ever.
  • “Hey, look, it’s FREE.” Wrong. There is nothing FREE in this world. Nothing. Get over it.

Yeah, my kids really love me for these.

So why has the practice of hiring and NOT paying  interns for their work so prevalent in the PR, advertising and marketing agencies, from big agency to solo shops? I don’t understand the rationale from either side of the fence.

Rather than pontificate, let’s go to the folks who really know. Employers and interns.

The Best Internship (Corporate) I’ve EVER heard about: Accor North America
“We DO employ interns, and we DO pay them. Because we are a French company, most of our interns come from France – where 6-month internships are required in order to earn a university degree. We employ both Bachelor and Master degree candidates in a variety of fields … our interns enjoy a free room at Motel 6, access to a car, and are eligible for free nights at Motel 6 for every vacation day they earn. We work with our HR partners in France to select and hire interns year-round. Source: Suzanne Keen, senior director of communications, change and diversity.” Hmmm, wonder if they’d consider me an intern! Wow.

The only downside? If you don’t know French, you may be in trouble. Not so much. Keen says that Accor North America also hires American interns, but opportunities and employment parameters differ.

But what about those in the PR/Advertising/marketing Agency world?

I went straight to the colleagues I know. Blake Lewis, APR, principal and senior consultant at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas, says the firm does hire interns, and pays them approximately $10 per hour. Interns can be college freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. He says he makes hiring decisions based on a student’s previous experience, demonstrated skill sets/abilities, attitude and appropriate activities anticipated to be in the agency at the time of the internship.” Ultimately, it’s about talent and experience, not how many years of college.

Then he stated something that jarred my thinking.

If clients are billed for their work, it’s a professional gig.

That means the law requires payment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Holy Bigshaft Batman! Duh, of course! So, now, it’s not only Total Idiocy for a college student to accept a free internship and may even be illegal for employers to even offer them.

According to a 2009 article on the MSNBC Website:

Owners who take on unpaid interns should be familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which details the criteria that an internship must meet in order for the intern to not be paid. The law regards an internship as a training program.
Under the FLSA, an intern must receive training similar to that offered in a vocational school. The training must be for the benefit of the intern. The intern must not displace, or do the work of, a regular employee. The law also states that an employer must receive no immediate advantage from what an intern does. That might jeopardize the unpaid status of many internships — if an intern, say, stuffs envelopes for mailing, helps to manufacture products or performs other services that benefit an employer.

On onedayinternship.com, an article about this issue states that:

“… the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division created a test to determine whether a “trainee” or intern is considered an “employee” based on a 1947 Supreme Court decision that evaluated whether “prospective train yard brakemen were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” The test requires that all 6 of the following statements are true about the intern’s time with the company.

1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;

2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;

3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;

4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;

5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;

6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This is the law. If any one of these six statements is not true about a given internship, then the interns are considered “employees” and are subject to the monetary provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means that the interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation. The situation gets a bit more confusing when you start interpreting what each of the six “tests” means. This page from the Texas State government sheds some light on some of the exceptions based on interpretations of the law, but it still doesn’t answer our question.”

Clear as mud, I’d say.

Regardless, I say to students, “Hell No,” to free.

To employers and agencies, “Stop it.” Respect that every student has bills and costs, and a motivation to show up every morning and do a good job. Not just any job. YOUR clients deserve it too.

What do YOU think?

The PRactical PR Guy

Leave a comment

Filed under PR, Public Relations, Small Business, Uncategorized

Where is God’s marketing team? Survey sucks, so does church marketing

My curiosity is certainly well intentioned. I just wanted to know.

I’ve always seen churches as spiritual havens. And as businesses. They are organizations that face the same struggles and successes that others have, especially when it comes to cash flow, and building and retaining “customers.”

So, how do churches market themselves? Beyond a great “product” and “relational selling,” what are their marketing communications approaches and how much do they spend?

I didn’t find my answers online. So, I figured, why not ask them. So I did.

I sent 100 e-mail notes to various church leaders that spanned the country; Some were mega-churches and some were itsy bitsy. Most of them were Protestant and evangelical churches. I gave them two weeks to respond to the online survey. On deadline day, I checked the survey results. I was disappointed. I garnered a 6 percent response rate. Based on the experts, an online survey will often generate a 20 percent to 30 percent response (that sounds high to me, but …)

I wasn’t ready to give up, so I reviewed the findings.  Here is a “snipshot” of results—not even a snapshot. Here we go:

  •  Respondents of this survey were both male and female; Churches varied in size, from 146 members, to 455. Four of the six respondents provided their names instead of titles when asked, with one responding with the title of “Mobilizer,” another as “Senior Pastor.” Five of the six respondents are Texas churches, one is in Ohio.
  • Among marketing communications tools—listed as brochures, phone calls, Website, e-mail and social media–40 percent of church respondents say social media is their most used marketing communications tool. The least used tool is direct mail (postcards and letters).
  • Respondents ranked the following as most used to least used marketing communications tools:

1. Social media

2. Website

3. Email

4. Phone calls

5. Direct mail (letters or postcards)

6. Brochures

  •  84 percent of respondents say they spend between one percent and 5 percent of their annual operating budget on marketing communications. The remaining 15 percent said less than 1 percent.
  • The majority of respondents (actually at 50 percent) say the primary purpose of their marketing communications is to promote an event. The remaining 50 percent was evenly split among “introducing the church to the community,” a special sermon series, children’s, youth, women’s, men’s and social services ministries.”
  • 67 percent of respondents say the quality of their marketing communications is average, 16.7 percent said good, and 16.7 percent said below average.
  • When asked who they primarily targeted with their marketing communications. 50 percent of respondents said members; another 50 percent said non-members.

DISAPPOINTMENT, PART II

Confession. My disappointment extends from the survey’s lack of response. It was more than that. The people in the know – the church leaders, consultants, speakers and influencers with strong voices and opinions, did not respond. I’m not talking they declined. I’m talking, no response. I approached Tim Schrader at www.churchmarketingsucks.com for comment. Nothing. I emailed contacts for Chuck Swindoll and Stonebriar. Nothing.  There were a few more. Still nada. That’s the real disappointment. I understand busy schedules and priorities and hold no contempt for any of them. Just disappointed.

ANALYSIS

The snipshot tells me that churches remain cash strapped, despite what appears to be luxurious, evangelical churches “bring home the bacon.” These perception may be an actual aberration; I’m betting that most churches struggle month to month to pay bills. That’s why social media is so popular. It’s virtually free, as is e-mail. Even Websites are low-cost, with many already established and costing nothing but hosting. Not using brochures and direct mail is surely related to their hard costs for design, writing and printing—and the fast-paced ubiquity of online communications. And phone calls? They require real people and real commitment. The struggle for committed volunteers is constant for any non-profit organization.

The only real surprise is that churches—respondents—say they spend most of their marcom dollars on special events vs. other ministry opportunities. I’m betting these dollars pay for events that draw community participation and potential new members, i.e., free Easter egg hunts with face painting, bounce houses and more. There is nothing wrong with that, although I question spending the majority of a marketing budget on one event . Could it more effective with a consistent marketing campaign to key audiences? That’s where  metrics and evaluation enter the picture.

Lastly, the results show that churches—ministries as whole, I’d bet–do not have professional marketing experts planning, executing or measuring their marketing communications efforts. It’s mostly “what can be done” by “anybody” at “any time.” Perhaps that’s why the majority of respondents  say their communications efforts are average or below average.

Bottom line, it’s the bottom line. Budgets and resources.

THERE’S HOPE … HELP OUT

Help church leaders not fret, or burn out by being everything to everybody, all the time. Be a volunteer. And for communicators out there, use your brain and creative capabilities to support your local churches. Help them understand and apply strategic communications.

One final note. Churches should not be intimidated or ashamed of the word “marketing.” In a world where churches sit on every corner, marketing is required. How is your church distinct from my church, and why should you be at “my church” vs. “that” church? Marketing shares those messages and helps churches grow as a distinct body of believers.

Tell me your stories and thoughts. Comment below or send me a note. I want to know.

The PRactical PR Guy

Leave a comment

Filed under PR, Public Relations, Social Media

The 7 Press Release Must-Knows for CEOs and executives, part 2

Yesterday, we began a post, “7 Press Release Must-Knows for CEOs, CFOs and executives,” and shared initial insights, plus two of the seven must-knows.

Here, we list all seven.  THIS IS FOR EXECUTIVES. Read, share, distribute! You can even COMMENT below.

7 Press Release Must-Knows for the Executive Team

#1 N-e-w-s. No news, no news release. A release must share news to a relevant audience and be clearly evident by the editor and reporter. The difficult, ambiguous and often-changing challenge is the nature of “what’s news?” Beyond murder, scandal and other mayhem, news is subjective, or is news to a specific subset of publications and reporters. The city reporter at a daily newspaper won’t find news about a great event in Kaufman County if he or she writes for Collin County. A great new feature story about kids raising money for a cancer victim is a story.  If these kids are in Phoenix and you’re in Kansas City, not a story.

#2 The No-News News Release. Companies have plenty of these (too many, in fact.) In the day of pushing “news” and information to Twitter followers, Facebook friends and the like, there is a definite place for the No-News News Release. Write it just like any release, but instead of distributing via a wire service or to reporters, simply share internally, on the intranet, even as a posted news release  on your website’s online press room. What’s the value? It shows action, movement and progress. It furthers communications internally and externally. And it doesn’t irritate reporters who really don’t care that Clara Bell is celebrating 45 years as the company accountant.

#3 Fighting What’s Right vs. Writing Right.  Few executives understand this, or like it. Journalists adhere to “writing that’s right,” based on something called Associated Press Style. It’s a book—several hundred pages—that tells reporters how to write, abbreviate, capitalize and more. Sure, it’s quirky, perhaps even nonsensical. But it’s what you do because that is what reporters do. And our job is to help reporters in every way possible. Don’t let your communicators look foolish. Adhere to AP. This means:

  • No capitalized titles after your name. Sorry.
  • No all-uppercase headlines.
  • No usage of %; You spell out percent.
  • No comma in your company name, i.e. Acme Company Inc. NOT Acme Company, Inc.
  • Based in Texas? Don’t use TX. Texas must always be spelled out.

…and many more

#4 The Anguish of a Good Start. Ever started a race and tripped? It takes you down physically. Your Morale is flattened. The starting line for a news release has two parts: The Headline and the Lead Paragraph. Both are written to compel the reporter and reader to get a fast start that drives them through the entire announcement. In five to seven words, a headline must summarize the entire announcement. The lead paragraph does the same in a limit of 45 to 50 words. They can be agonizing. NOTE: These are the most important parts of the release. Unless they are false or inaccurate, leave them alone.

#5 Maximize Money & The Moment. A news release costs money, so maximize your investment with a good story (audience relevance) and strong story elements, such as:

  • C-level quotes
  • Customer quotes
  • Data, facts, statistics
  • How this story relates to a trend
  • Proof of the story by including your own customer survey data
  • Third-party sources such as industry analysts, consultants and influencers
  • Links back to support pages with data, charts, images and more

Avoid the Knee-Jerk News Release. “Hey, quick, we need a press release about (subject). Hurry! Can we get it today? Whoa, hond on Turbo.  I usually communicate with executives that fast turnaround on a news release is critical when there is breaking news. If  not, we then discuss how important it is to crank it out, el pronto. Here’s the process, dubbed D-I-E.

Discover. This is a simple Q&A: What’s news, who are the players, what’s the significance, are sources available immediately and what’s the confirmed need for such a quick turnaround.

Investigate. Investigate: From here, I look to others involved in the subject, get their take on what’s happening, its value, pertinence and likelihood that we can get a release written, sourced, reviewed and approved to distribute in a day?

Engage/Exit. If the answers ring true, I engage, get to working fast, gathering information, interviewing sources – even giving a heads up to a reporter who may want an exclusive. If the answers don’t ring true, I do a graceful exit by communicating back to the players and explaining the realities, and developing a solution that ensures that you respect their ideas and needs.

Believe in Your Communications Team. This is really important for you, your company and your professional communications team. Work together and create an environment where the executive team and communicators work together,  question, examine, agree and disagree … without worrying about pink slips and grudges. Avoid “delegate and dictate.” Let the team be honest, show their real colors and share Big Ideas.

Lastly, back to the news release. They aren’t magic, mystical or filled with the sounds of a Pied Piper that get media running to your door. A press release is one way to communicate–just one of many ways to share your story.

Got questions, want to learn more? Just ask.

We offer PRactical perspective.

Leave a comment

Filed under Public Relations, Small Business

News Release Alert for CEOs, CFOs and other executives, 1 of 2 parts

Admit it, Mr. or Mrs. CEO. You’re good at a lot of things. Really good. But writing? Communicating with media? Knowing how to assemble a newsworthy release? Is that really a core competency? In most cases, that’s a No.

It’s a typical reality for PR professionals.  An executive returns a news release, “revised.”

We’re already flinching before we even look. It’s a Pavlov’s Dog thing.

We peek, then stare at the whole page. Who bled all over it? Is that spilled ketchup, blood or just red ink?

Executive revisions. *Sigh*

We flush our emotion and begin to take a serious look at the news release. The nervous tick revs back up. We weep as we see the revised:

Revised/The Headline: Includes the words “exciting” and “world leaders in ….”

Revised/Lead paragraph: What was a tightly written news assignment now shares nothing but useless adjectives, passive verbs, no nouns worth mentioning. And a lead paragraph longer than most news releases in total.

Revised/Supporting content: A cut-n-paste from the product brochure.

Revised/The executive quote: He’s “excited” again. “Enthusiastic” too.

Revised/Facts & Figures: Scratched out with a scribble: Can’t we be more vague about its purpose and price? Sure, we’ll send those out in smoke signals later on.

Revised/An objective source to be quoted: Another scribble: Hey my brother-in-law is an investor and heads up another company. Can we use him?”

Revised/An index added to the back?

Hell, where’d I put my updated resume

While I share this somewhat lightheartedly, these have all actually occurred (except the index), large businesses and small.

I start with blaming us, the PR professionals. We evidently have not adequately educated our clients about the press release, its purpose, structure and style. Then I blame the power brokers–the men and women who have top positions, top titles and responsibilities, some of which really don’t care about the rules or quirks of media relations. Or press releases. They just want it their way. For the PR agency, that’s like trying to live between hell and heaven without getting burned or singing with angels. It doesn’t work.

Get a grasp of these, and you’ll be the top go-to executive of every communicators and agency you engage.

7 Press Release Must-Knows for the Executive Team

  1. N-e-w-s. No news, no news release. A release must share news to a relevant audience and be clearly evident by the editor and reporter. The difficult, ambiguous and often-changing challenge is the nature of “what’s news?” Beyond murder, scandal and other mayhem, news is subjective, or is news to a specific subset of publications and reporters. The city reporter at a daily newspaper won’t find news about a great event in Kaufman County if he or she writes for Collin County. A great new feature story about kids raising money for a cancer victim is a story.  If these kids are in Fort Worth and you’re in Frisco, it’s not a story.

2. The No-News News Release. Companies have plenty of these (too many, in fact.)

In the day of pushing “news” and information to Twitter followers, Facebook friends and the like, there is a definite place for the No-News News Release. Write it just like any release, but instead of distributing via a wire service or to reporters, simply share internally, on the intranet, even as a posted news release  on your website’s online press room. What’s the value? It shows action, movement and progress. It furthers communications internally and externally. And it doesn’t irritate reporters who really don’t care that Sarah Bell is celebrating 45 years as the company accountant.

Where are the other 5?

Coming tomorrow, read the complete 7 Must-Knows.

If you’re desperate, Subscribe, then send me an e-mail. I’ll send them right away.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Small Biz & Big D(epression): See it, Admit it, Overcome it

Life is crazy-busy. That’s how Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling puts it. She’s right, especially if you own your own agency or small business. Add a coefficient of about 12 if you have employees.

The result is little sleep, little down time and a nervous energy that often manifests in anger, isolation, hysteria. And yes, depression.
I know of what I speak. I started RGM Communications in 2007. The initial euphoria of a long-held dream diminished when I experienced the daunting tasks of being Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Client Service Manager, Chief PR Strategist & Tactician and Chief Tax Payor. Plus Husband, Father, Coach, Errand Runner, Mommy #2, on and on. C-H-I-E-F. One boss from yesteryear used to tell me that employees will never be able to understand why the business owner is a crazy loon sometimes. He’s right. The pressures are relentless, with cash flow ever on the mind.

My point: Depression is real. It’s a dripping faucet that wastes personal resources such as energy, motivation, creativity and vision. And for us Driver types-–those of us who want to make it happen and will do whatever to make it happen, depression is a thorn that is hard to pull out and move on. It’s irritating, fueled by shame, and in some cases, a debilitating disease. That means sales swerve and hit highs and lows; action items fall through the cracks; excuses are too commonplace. And guilt rules every day.

Sounds hopeless. Sounds like it’s time to give up, give in and just forget it. And, perhaps, such confessions may risk client relations and sales prospects. That’s regretful since medical resources report that nine of 10 people suffer from depression. About 8.7 million people in this country received treatment for depression in 2007 compared to about 6.5 million in 1997.”

So is it hopeless? No. Giving up and giving in is not an option. It’s a sign that you must clarify what’s real, what’s not, and the work you need to do (or not do) to battle it. You now must become the Chief Personal-Care Officer. The Chief Self-Care Officer. There has to be a self-examination built on courage and support. Overcoming emotional chaos is built on the foundations of admitting your weakness (“Oh my god, not that!”) and then taking action.

Here are some steps to take when Big D creeps into your life:

Action. Decide that depression will not rule your life. Decide on actions and small steps that will clear the fog, offer hope and get you on track.

Admission. It’s time to look at yourself and affirm what you do best. And to admit what you don’t do well. Look at your career strengths and weaknesses, but also dig through what makes you tick and your flaws. Here’s The Big Secret no one ever talks about—or admits: We are all flawed. We’re all Damaged Goods, from kings and celebrities to presidents and paupers.

Accountability. It’s in our DNA to go it alone. To drive and push and cram and make “it” happen. We’re soloists, Lone Rangers, Supermen and Wonder Women. We do it alone. Not now, not this time. You and I need others to lean on. We need a trustworthy accountability partner that can cheer us on, challenge us, listen and empathize. Accountability shakes off the barnacles that push us into deep waters and destruction. Accountability is for strong men and women willing to be vulnerable. Willing to hear the hard stuff. And admitting it.

Check The Speed Limit. I have a lead foot. I push it all to the floor most of the time. I zip and zap so fast that I miss a lot. Check your speed limit, slow down a bit. Discover clouds in the sky again, or rays of sun breaking through the clouds. My favorite “breather” is just having a conversation with my 9-year-old. He recently told me he wished he could gather “air in a ball and throw it really hard.” Not sure what that means, but hey, it was fun talking about it. Slow it down.

God Stuff. Yeah, spirituality matters. It’s a quest to find solace in solitude. It is taking time to examine self, a Higher Power and matters of the heart. The result is usually profound personal discovery. Take it slow. Journal your thoughts. Read. Counsel.

Wise Counsel. Sometimes (usually) depression is too big, dark and scary to confront alone . That’s when professional counsel is required. Why do we fight it, and perceive seeing a counselor as a weakness vs. a strength? Doesn’t it take more character and courage to confront the issues than to avoid them and live through the personal hell for an entire lifetime? Find a quality counselor. That’s not always easy to do. Make sure you try three or four counselors before it feels right.

Meds. Who in America isn’t on anti-depressants? Depression may be because of external circumstances and relationships, or some emotional issue. What we forget is that depression can also be a chemical deficiency in our bodies and brains. Find out, get tested and talk to a psychiatrist. It can mean the difference between feeling a lifetime of gray to growing as a vibrant, vivacious person. Don’t settle for “what is.” Seek “What Can Be.”

My story of depression is too long (and depressing) to share here. But it’s real. And common. I admit that depression’s grip was unyielding. I’ve not always been at my best, nor do I profess Complete Restoration. I have “not arrived” but the journey is brighter, more hopeful and enjoyable.

Get back to business. Back to life and family and fun.

Enjoy the ride. It’s over before you know it.

–The PRactical PR Guy

Leave a comment

Filed under CEO, PR, Public Relations, Small Business

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 secndary 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

Leave a comment

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

CEO: “What the hell is that agency doing?”

You’re the client. And frankly, you’re not all that interested in what your agency did yesterday.

It’s all about today, tomorrow and how they help drive your business forward. Now.

Twenty five years of this PR gig tells us that you want an agency that walks the talk, not just talk. There’s nothing worse than the client calling up, asking, “What the hell is your agency doing for us?” Ideally, the CEO, CFO or in-house marketing director never has to make that call.

Not with PRactical PR.

We’ve got the inside story on everything you should expect from your agency.

If you need a little more perspective, see the PRactical PR Guy and our passion for small biz.

For the Here & Now, read these required deliverables.

7 Required Deliverables from Your Agency

  • Start with expectations. There’s nothing worse than a client to expect ABC while the agency delivers XYZ. Everybody is unhappy–pointing fingers, blame-gaming and sweating like pigs at a sausage factory. Sit down and listen to client expectations and what they really want. Draw out their ideal “outputs” and ways to work. Then share the realities about PR’s quirky game. Discuss, manage and agree on expectations at the very start. Write them down. Everyone will need to be reminded. About once every quarter.
  • Consistent, frequent communications.
    • E-mail is great for quick updates and queries
    • Skype is great for interaction requiring several people in different locations to discuss everything from deadline confirmations to planned activities and roles and responsibilities.
    • Face to face. There’s nothing like it to build relationships. If it’s brainstorming and a creative process, this is the best way to go. It’s also best when reviewing activities and results. Body language says a lot.
  • A written plan. Where’s the roadmap to your communications plan? Has the agency spent several hours gathering information from your corporate subject-matter experts? What about identifying business goals, sales goals, even financial baselines? Communications should complement the business direction. The plan takes these into consideration. PR and communications isn’t just a creative process, or “working the phones.” Strategy and alignment with corporate direction are crucial.
    CAUTION:
    Having no written plan guarantees that you and the agency will chase rabbit trails that lessen results and makes entire campaigns impotent. Remember, it costs just as much to be smart as it does to be dumb. Do it right.
  • Creative ideas, BIG thinking. You’re paying the agency for their brains. They think differently, see the world in a whole new way, and have the talent to think big and really wacky. Let the ideas flow, even the crazy ones. Among them all, there’s always one or two that resonant, work within budget and seems to be right on target.
  • Editorial calendars. Many magazines, even online publications will publish an editorial calendar. It shows what story topics it covers in what months (This helps their ad reps to ring you up and remind you that Topic A is perfect for an ad campaign). But for the PR agency, it’s perfect for approaching the assigned reporter to make sure the client is quoted and part of the story.
  • Reporting. Even Captain Picard needs to know what’s happening in the next frontier. Everything looks “normal” until six cloaked Klingon starships show up. Not good. An agency needs to report during the lulls and peaceful times, and when the unexpected occurs. Good information is, well, good. Consistent reporting isn’t an extra; it’s a requirement. Agency reports may be weekly, monthly or quarterly, but should always be written and specific.
    A client should expect a report to include:

    • Summary of activities and results (ideally, an agreed-upon approach to measurement)
    • List of primary activities and current status
    • List or explanation of specific reporters/publications/online media called, the story topic being pitched and current status
    • Listing of actual news hits (that are or will soon be published)
    • News clips of stories that have published in print and/or online. These are often provided digitally. But are usually provided in some format.
    • A Quick-Glance of the upcoming set of activities and direction.
  • Of course, it goes without saying (I think) that your agency (if it’s a PR agency hired to attract media attention) should be focused on media relations that align with the written communications plan.

Are you getting these 7 Deliverables from your agency?

PLEASE SUBSCRIBE, LIKE & SHARE!

Have a great, practical day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dallas PR agencies, PR ethics, practical pr, Public Relations, Small Business, Small business PR, SMBs PR, Uncategorized, writers in Dallas

To be or not to be … Join a professional association?

I confess. I let it get to me. Then it became a root of bitterness.

And today? I think the fog is lifting and I’m realizing that where I was and what I felt was more about me than “them.”

The story is this. I spent almost two decades actively involved in an association of professional communicators. I worked my tail off, volunteered and worked to do my best at every job I took on. I loved being part of the membership team, leading board members and taking pride in the group’s 300-member organization. It’s humbling to think of this privilege. It was, indeed, a privilege to work with so many talented people. And then somehow—in my stressed-out brain— I stopped being involved.

Today, total regret.

So what can you learn from my experience? First, don’t let stress, anxiety and busyness distort your reality. Make sure your “what is” is real” not Memorex. Also recognize that associations are full of people. That always means incredible results but also incredible differences, temperaments and intentions.

To Join Or Not?

Ready to shell out a few hundred bucks? Ready to advance your career? Ready to create relationships that can last a lifetime? Ready to face people that get on your last nerve?

The unequivocal answer is YES if:

  • You choose to participate, be active and contribute
  • Your intentions are to receive and give. Don’t join just to add to your resume or show up to win awards (There are WAY too many of those … You know who you are).
  • You desire peers who can be mentors and colleagues. These men and women are the ones who influence who hires you, or become those you hire. Active members know who is in it for themselves vs. those ready to contribute. Classic sign #1: A long-time but ever-absent member—or former member—suddenly gets friendly, shows up for every event, starts helping out. It’s obvious. They’ve been laid off and need job leads.
  • You want to grow professionally. That means education as well as connections with other professionals. Scary, but let’s do a little math (not our forte as creative types.) Example? You’re an active member of an association that meets every month. You attend every one, which means you’ve spent two hours a month at a luncheon of 50 people per luncheon. That equals the potential to meet 50 business colleagues every month. That’s 600 contacts a year. What’s more staggering?It’s much more than that! You’re really meeting 12,500 contacts every year. I’ll explain this the next bullet below.
  • If you want to commit and volunteer. More math. What if you volunteered five or six hours a month and worked with five other committee members? That’s 60 hours a year with five other smart and connected professional communicators. You’re building deep relationships. KEY POINT regarding your committee colleagues and luncheon buddies: Every person you know has his or her own sphere of influence. That sphere per person is typically about 250 people. So:
    • Five committee members with “the sphere of 250” equals 1,250 you could potentially meet and know.
    • For luncheons? Take your 50 luncheon attendees, multiply them by 12 luncheon meetings and you get 12,500. I
    • The numbers–and opportunities–are staggering. Just by attending meetings and volunteering, you have access (potentially) to 13,750 people who could hire you or work for you. Hellooooo.
    • KEY POINT  #2: This requires an association of members that understands the practice of giving. As Genie Fuller, president of CEO Partners, says, “What you give to others, you get in return, 10-fold.”

The bottom line: Join. Jump in. Or sit in the lonely garden and watch “The Shriveling Career Vine” grow. Get stale. Stay lonely.

No.

Get a step up, engage and attend those meetings. Don’t forget to volunteer.

And when people disappoint or frustrate, face it. Accept it. And forgive it. Your career depends on it. Mine too.

One last note to the men and women of that association I grumbled and mumbled about? I’m sorry. Please forgive the shortsightedness. I’m on the road. I’ll see you soon.

–The PRactical PR Guy

Leave a comment

Filed under Dallas PR agencies, PR, Public Relations, Uncategorized

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

Leave a comment

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.

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

Leave a comment

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