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

This past Tuesday, 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. Check out added insights at PRacticalPR TV, plus the insights below.

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.

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

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

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

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

To find the agency best for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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

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

So to continue, here’s the bottom line:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

Tell us your opinion. Take our poll, then be sure to visit PRacticalPR on Twitter and Follow.

In our next post, we’ll talk about press clips and some practical realities of working with a PR agency.

The PRactical PR Guy, Dallas

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