Tag Archives: small business

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 energetic, personable men and women, no matter there age or body type.
  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 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

Do Small Businesses Need a Marketing Communications Intervention?

Among small businesses, (500 employees or less), I find it rare that they much in the way of communicating with customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers, and even employees. Why? There are three primary reasons:

  1. Marketing is perceived as mysterious, and seems complicated.
  2. Sales is familiar and seems easy (I hire a sales guy, use Salesforce and dial for dollars).
  3. I’m too busy to think about it or do it (We’re developing products, ensuring service, hiring people, keeping people happy, fighting fires and meeting payroll, etc.).

When they meet communicators, they’re usually interested in what we have to say. We’re excited and more than willing to rattle off exactly what their business needs: “Social media is critical, public relations is essential and your website, sales materials and trade show stuff must be new, fresh, and compelling. And, of course, there’s the issue of your corporate brand and how all of this fits into an overall marketing communications strategy. So, let’s get started.”

The business owner is now catatonic. Eyes are glazed over. Is he or she breathing? Their business brains have gone straight to “oh my god”  and “there’s no way I can do all this—no time, no money, no people.”  We just assassinated our prospect.

Here’s how to slow down and showcase the role of marketing communications for small businesses in 7 simple steps:

  1. Break it down. No company can do everything all the time. Through a simple yet comprehensive planning session with the sales and executive team, we discover the business goals and efforts that are already planned. We align marketing efforts with business efforts. Business goals with marketing goals.
  2. Start small. If the business owner and the team are historically sales focused vs. marketing savvy, it’s critical to start small and get them comfortable with how marketing works—vs. sales. Starting small may mean implementing something as simple as a customer letter that is written, printed and mailed every quarterly. An easy First Step is a brief yet consistent e-mail “newsletter” to customers and prospects.
  3. Budget the basics. The same principle applies here. Don’t scope the marketing program so they have to put a lien on their building. Give them some practical perspectives, share a brief strategy/goals statement, and then break out the steps and tactics with hard numbers. Be precise and specific.
  4. Stay nearby and navigate with care. I find that entrepreneurs thrive amid chaos so keeping efforts focused, synced and timely are often the most difficult parts of the project. Pre-scheduled status meetings per week serve to remind everyone “who’s on first.” Keeping everyone committed, aware and engaged is 95 percent of the success factor.
  5. Make it easy. Do everything you can to eliminate redundancy, delays and to-dos. If it gets you what you need to accomplish the task, meet your client for a drink after hours or do a phone call after they tuck in their kids for bed. Accommodate them.
  6. Show progress. Don’t go silent and not correspond with the client for a week. Tune in, communicate and let them know something’s happening. I add calendar reminders called “Quick Touch/Client A” just so I reach out—even if there’s not a lot to say. Quick and easy.
  7. Step back. In our quest to act and generate results, we may forget the most important action required with clients: to listen. They are the experts in their business. We need to leverage that so we can improve and advance their cause—and ours.

When clients and communicators combine their competencies, long term, the outcome is extraordinary. There is strength in relationships and results.

Please follow me at http://www.twitter.com/practicalpr.

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Filed under marketing communications, PR, Roy G. Miller, Small Business, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Dallas, PR, Roy G. Miller, Small Business, Small business PR

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.

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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

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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.

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

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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A PR Agency Trail of Shame: “Inherent Value”

Is it a bumble bee, bell or some squelch from the cosmos that I keep hearing? It’s been constant for more than 25 years. And it’s driving me crazy.

I keep hearing this mantra in the public relations profession about the “inherent value” of PR. It’s a bullshit justification for charging ungodly rates to unknowing clients. There are agencies charging three, four and five times the amount they should be billing, based on their billable hours and results. Clients, especially large companies that don’t keep an eye on their AOR (agency of record) are getting plucked for a pretty penny.

And it hIMG_8715facks me off. I’ve worked at places where I’d argue this point, scope a project or program based on the work to be performed, the team members, profit margins and the like. I derive a number that is reasonable, fair and profitable. Then an agency principal or president – or managing director – requires an upcharge. In some cases, the upcharge is double the scoped estimate. It’s based on adding an “inherent value” quotient. Baloney. It’s about taking advantage of your client.

The other trick is to upcharge, overcharge and overpromise. The big guns at the agency dress up, sing and dance, and woo the prospect with all types of sex and sizzle. One the contract is signed and the work begins, sizzle becomes like steam from a pan—it slowly dissipates. And now a junior team takes on the task of account management, media relations and more. And making matters worse, the agency sends a client a second invoice—about 10 pages of line-item expenses: copies, faxes, phone logs, color copies, postage, office supplies, etc.

Painting a Dire Picture

It’s not a pretty picture. It’s so negative. But so real. I’m glad to say I’ve worked at some places where this game isn’t played. I’ve worked with PR masters, bosses and colleagues who share my disdain for such practices and worked their butts off to demonstrate integrity, value, effectiveness, client service, strong media relationships and more. These men and women are the mentors, leaders, teachers and employers that deserve success.

It’s no surprise that leadership is the key to a good agency or company. An agency owner or executive that doesn’t lead fails the team and the client. Example, let’s talk about The Billables-Type Agency. Revenue growth is its sole purpose. Churn doesn’t matter, employee retention doesn’t matter. There’s one agency where account leaders had to create financial forecasts every week, with the expectation that they would increase billings. Every week. It was an exercise of futility and fiction—a time-waster and fear-driver that resulted in account teams “selling” to clients instead of serving them. Interestingly, the “leaders” never asked about client satisfaction, strategies or success. Just dollars and sense.

The flip side is the Customer Agency. It’s a simple, straightforward “roll up your sleeves” approach to PR. You scope a project or program, and work within that framework. And bill accordingly. When scope begins to creep, you connect with your client and work out the issues. Most clients are reasonable this way. And most of all, they love when you do three things:

  • Start with expectations. Spell out the program, the expected results and what they should see from you and your team. Then spell out what you expect from them. Quality PR is a two-way street.
  • Be honest. Don’t play games, point fingers or blame others. Take the accolades when you do good but take the hit if you screw up.
  • Be thinking “Extra.” Giving away “extras” builds rapport and loyalty. Something as simple as sending an article of interest to a client is well worth the time – even when the article isn’t about business. I have one client where we exchange dachshund details, pics and stories.

So let’s put away the nonsense of “inherent value.” Let’s be genuine, work hard and make a good living. Honestly.  The result will be a workplace that’s not “barely bearable” but enjoyable. And for clients, it’ll mean a PR agency relationship that is positive, personal and profitable.

Now these are inherently valuable, don’t you think?

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