A Tale of Two Cities, And Life For PR Pros

By guest blogger George Drucker

LA and NYC – two great towns for building a career in the communications business; two great places to live and play. And I’ve had the benefit of working and living in both.
People often ask me how New York and L.A. differ when it comes to the PR agency business. One moment, please, while I get in my car, I’m in L.A. this week.

New York

Home to many of the Fortune 500 companies, the city can also claim that 95% of all national media reside within 50 miles of Columbus Circle. NYC also takes pride in still having three daily newspapers! It’s the financial heart of America; the advertising and PR mecca; the Great White Way; “on” all the time. In this 24/7 city, there are no 9-5 jobs; you can get anything done, anytime.

In NYC, walking is a way of life or taking the subway or a cab at any location, almost any hour of the day. New Yorkers don’t really do lunch, they grab it. New Yorkers are also a bit more judgmental on academic pedigree and, of course, fashion sense, since NYC is arguably the style capital of the U.S. The city abounds with energy and vibrancy and the workforce pumps right along with it.

Here, the opportunities for large client programs abound. Despite the still-lagging economy, there’s been a resurgence in technology start-ups. It’s not Silicon Valley, but Silicon Alley has benefited from a steady stream of venture funding, favorable business and real estate conditions, and top-tier networking for tech-based businesses. In PR terms, the “big fee” pitches happen a couple of times a month, and there are plenty of smaller, early-stage companies looking for help in breaking through.

L.A.

The business environment here for agency pros is more challenging in some ways. Most of the broadcast networks, national media outlets, ad and PR agencies have major offices on the Coast, but typically aren’t headquartered here. However, there are many independents and small shops with very creative people. Film and TV production rule the roost with nearly one in every five jobs somehow related to entertainment.

To the shock of some New Yorkers, there are few or no cabs on the streets, and very few pedestrians, since everyone drives everywhere. And everyone seems to own a nice vehicle, since we live in our cars. You can’t race off to a meeting, or anywhere, as being stuck in traffic (on the 405 or the 101) is a given. And we’re not usually racing to a Fortune 100 client meeting, since there are more Fortune 500 companies in Pittsburgh than in L.A. State RFPs are the big fish here; large-fee presentations come up once every six months.

But, there’s a great entrepreneurial spirit which translates to a slightly more relaxed vibe about personal and business relationships. Startups and new businesses also abound here, with the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that could be great sometime down the road.

Want to weigh in on two cities you are familiar with? Please share here.

7 Ways PR Can Support Lead Generation

PR pros naturally believe that a well crafted public relations program is a sound investment for most businesses.  Yet we often caution clients against thinking about PR as a reliable way to generate demand.  It tends to work best as a branding tool. Publicity can result in bursts of lead or business generation when a big story hits, but it lacks the precision of advertising or direct marketing.

And yet, there are ways in which tried and true PR tactics and results, extended through social media or other marketing channels, can work reliably to support lead and business development, particularly for B2B companies.  Here are the most powerful ways to use PR to support business generation.

Merchandising earned media. Every company posts its best publicity hits on its website, yet they’re often in the form of expired links or hard-to-read PDF files.  It’s far better to keep publicity results fresh and to make sure they’re shared through relevant social media channels.  Better yet, major feature results can be marketed proactively in a customer newsletter, sales kit, or collateral piece.  They may also be used to great effect at trade shows and conferences.

Blending earned and paid media. Publicity is rarely 100% predictable, but seasonal campaigns can present big opportunities.  For a client with a strong digital security story, we routinely created a burst of news just before tax season, when the new feature is most relevant.  As the survey became an annual publicity event, the client began to use the earned media results in a direct mail campaign to dealers.  They also bought search ads around the digital version of major print and broadcast segments. The result was a 1+ 1 = 3 marketing push at exactly the right time.

Marketing expert content. Chris Sietsema groups marketable content into “bricks” and “feathers.” “Bricks” are large productions, like research reports or video series, while “feathers” are continuous text and photo updates shared on social media platforms.  In my experience, many companies don’t invest in the right “brick” content, nor do they go the extra distance to extract maximum value for the considerable time and dollars invested.  The most successful and promotable content is that which focuses on a company or executive’s unique expertise; that spots a trend; breaks news of relevance to customers; or actually bucks the prevailing trends.  Companies should aim for at least one piece of “brick” content per quarter.  But far more important than frequency is how the content is merchandised (see below).

Extending educational events. An event designed to share important news or educational content can be nearly as powerful as breaking news, with greater pertinence to customers.  How to amplify it through PR?  The key word here is “repurpose.”  For example, new industry research shared at a client symposium is just the beginning. It can be offered to relevant media as an exclusive feature, ideally slated to break the day of the event. Afterward, it should be written up in a white paper promoted online with a landing page for lead capture; carved up into user-friendly blog posts that are tweeted and shared; adapted as a bylined article; used as the basis for an executive speech; posted and tagged on SlideShare, and more. There are endless ways of getting mileage out of content with direct relevance to customers.

Placing customer testimonials. A time-honored PR tactic for professional services clients is to tell customer success stories through trade and vertical media and blogs.  The more vertical, sometimes, the better.  Although niche publications and sites often have small audiences, the long tail approach can be very effective in generating leads from similar clients.

Creating conference visibility. There’s nothing like the power of earned media among a captive audience of customers and stakeholders.  A burst of visibility from features in trade show dailies; coverage of booth events; and thought leadership from speaking gigs is one of the most efficient returns for the PR investment precisely because it works so hard within the conference bubble.  The key here is tight coordination among marketing, PR and sales.

Driving product sampling. Because “free” can be inherently newsworthy, using traditional and social media outlets to promote a sampling program can be very cost-effective.  Beyond websites that focus on samples, many mass media outlets, like consumer magazines and blogs, will include mentions that help drive sampling campaigns.

This post originally appeared on the inspiring MengBlend blog for marketers.

Nudging New Business Along

This week our agency is putting finishing touches on an RFP that might never have been offered to us if we hadn’t been stoking the fires of a relationship for some time. We are also having an exploratory call with a potential client on whose radar we might never have been, if we hadn’t pursued the prospect in tactful, yet dogged ways. Here are some of the tips we employ for nudging new business along.

Drop names. Probably the easiest way “in” is through a name you both know. It’s the “linked in” concept writ small. Whatever contact you have in common, be it a client name, a personal or business associate, use it to get a foot in the door.

Brag. Send along your most recent and fabulous results for a relevant client. Don’t be shy.

Make the most of each contact.  If an introductory note about you and your company doesn’t go anywhere, be sure to leave the door open for future outreach. Ask for their response to a question so that they have a reason to write back. End each note or conversation with a firm timeframe when they can expect to hear from you again.

Get personal.  So you read on Facebook that the contact is a cycling enthusiast – attach an article or, you know that he or she just got the job they are in – send a modest congratulatory gift.

Be memorable. Send some correspondence through the U.S. Mail, what a novelty! Include something creative with your company name and theirs and make it useful so it doesn’t get thrown away.

Always try to get a meeting. Repeat, always try to get a meeting. Everything changes when you meet someone in person, usually for the better.

Are you feeling pumped to go after your “dream client?” What else do you do to nudge new business along?

7 Reasons Why Your PR Isn’t Working

Why are some PR programs more successful than others, and what should you do when faced with a media relations program that just isn’t gaining traction? Here are a few common PR mistakes.

You rely on blasting press releases rather than telling a story. “PR” isn’t shorthand for “press release.” A newswire spam strategy might have a temporary effect on SEO, but it doesn’t work over the long term.

Your message isn’t memorable or differentiated. Not every company or product is original, but nearly anyone can craft a distinctive, relevant story.

Your story doesn’t ring true. Authenticity counts. If the customer experience doesn’t live up to the claims, you’ll be lucky if a lack of coverage is the result. And, remember, journalists and bloggers are customers, too.

You’re drowning in jargon or insidery factoids. Sometimes, the packaging of the message is at fault. Buzzwords are threatening to take over communications, especially in tech PR. It’s best to think twice before stringing together empty phrases like “unique, industry-leading end–to-end solution.” PR Daily has some inspiring posts on the worst offenders.

Your approach is impersonal. It may seem ironic, but as traditional media shrinks, and email and marketing automation technology get more sophisticated, the personal approach, whether to customers or media, becomes more important. One thoughtful email is worth 100 spam releases.

Your spokesperson is a dud. He’s caught in the weeds, too commercial, or overly cautious, or perhaps he’s well intentioned, yet disorganized or over-prepared. (Yes, there is such a thing!) The best brand spokesperson is engaged, prepared, and able to distill complicated information into digestible points and memorable examples.

You want a quick fix. It pays to act as a background resource for journalists and bloggers, even if your words don’t find their way into the story. Relationship-building is just as important in media relations as it is in sales or business development.

Jamie Dimon’s Apology Tour: Is It Enough?

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s apology to shareholders last week managed to fulfill at least three prerequisites for a public mea culpa. It was swift, it was direct, and the CEO took responsibility for the bank’s $3 billion trading loss in a hedge gone wrong.

Dimon used words like “egregious,” “sloppy,” “stupid,” and “self-inflicted.” “The buck stops with me,” was how he answered a reporter’s question after the shareholder meeting.  The words were refreshing given the recent events, which have pundits no longer worried about Too Big To Fail. It’s more like Too Complicated To Control. Which is even scarier.

And Dimon appears to have come through the worst of the crisis relatively unscathed. He survived a movement to strip him of power, and the press has treated him fairly well, considering the size of the loss.

Taking responsibility for such a blunder is riskier than it looks, which is one reason why executives so rarely face the music in a public way. It tends to increase legal liability. And in this case, it’s probably already made life easier for shareholder lawyers. They’re certain to sue, and the public apology may add fuel to the fire, raising the odds for a rich settlement.

The bank can easily withstand the trading loss, but that’s just the tip of the reputation iceberg. Not only has Dimon’s personal credibility been tarnished, but his influence on questions around financial reform is pretty well shot. His historical opposition to greater regulation, especially his reference to the bank’s trading risks as a “tempest in a teapot” less than a month before the disastrous trades, will haunt him.

Dimon’s initial response on tougher financial rules was to stay the course (“Just because we’re stupid doesn’t mean everyone else was.”) Then, he seemed to side-pedal when questioned by shareholders, maintaining that the bank supports “an awful lot” of the Volcker rule.  Huh?

There’s room for many positions here, but an essential ingredient to an effective apology is a commitment to be part of the solution, if one exists. The fence-sitting comments have reinforced the Too Complicated concerns and launched not only the lawsuits, but a federal investigation. So the public apology is just the first test. The tougher ones are yet to come.

How To Network Like A PR Pro

A guest post by networking and PR pro, our very own George Drucker.

Which would you rather do? Make cold calls and send emails to names from a directory trying to convince them that they should see you and your agency; or send one email that says, “So glad we met recently at the Jones party; it was really great fun.”

That line can say it all. Every person you meet, every individual you say hello to, every function you attend, is a bonafide networking opportunity. It’s a unique chance to engage with people and learn about them, who they are, where they’re from, what they do, where they work, where they went to school, their interests and hobbies. Networking can be done so naturally.

After each brief encounter, you exchange cards, follow up with a breezy email and, voila! A budding relationship. A networked connection. And you didn’t even have to go to LinkedIn!

What are the keys to networking success?

Engage with people every chance you get. As noted, every encounter, every handshake, every greeting is a network opportunity. And when you have the chance to engage and get a dialogue started — make the person you’re speaking to feel you’re interested in them, what they have to say, what they think or feel.

Ask questions, and listen to the answers. You’ll be amazed how the conversation can smoothly, logically flow when you listen. There’s also an axiom here; most people (not all, but most) like to be asked about themselves, and talk about themselves when engaged in natural, tactful conversation. It makes the individual feel the person asking the questions has an engaging personality, and a genuinely likable persona.

Check your ego. Most people don’t want to spend time with someone who seems to love talking about themselves. People like dialogues, not monologues. That doesn’t mean when you think of a personal anecdote relevant to the conversation that it shouldn’t be used, but just don’t let it lead to five minutes of talking about yourself.

Get out there. Everyone has that moment at a cocktail reception, a dinner, or a party, where you’re standing alone, seeing others chatting away in twos and threes, and you think “I hate this. I don’t know anyone,” or “I feel out of place.” Stop right there. Instead, get over that fear and think “there are 60 people here that I don’t know, and I have the unique chance and great opportunity to make 60 new connections, acquaintances, maybe even friends–with a whole new world of of people.”

It’s the art of the network. Use it to your benefit.

Crisis Management: When The Crisis Is The CEO

It’s hard out there for a CEO.

Recently, we witnessed a week’s worth of drip-drip-drip coverage about Yahoo chief Scott Thompson’s resume. The gaffe culminated in Thompson’s resignation after only four months on the job. But the controversy, on the surface, wasn’t about whether he’d faked an advanced degree, or falsely claimed Ivy League credentials. No, this was about his undergraduate major.

The headline-making departure last month was that of Best Buy chief Brian Dunn. Maybe it wasn’t surprising, but it was breathtakingly abrupt, amid unsavory and unsettling rumors of “improper conduct.”

Granted, each of these, and other “CEOs behaving badly” situations was really about company performance. And in Thompson’s case, the growing crisis wasn’t handled well. But it’s obvious that the stakes are higher than ever for the head guy. Controversy over executive pay, diminishing public confidence, and the news cycle have conspired to make even seemingly trivial missteps a big story.

The implications of the new, more perilous chief executive role aren’t lost on those who recruit and install the top guns, or on professional communicators. Corporate boards will redouble efforts to troubleshoot potential problems in advance. And it’s only right that chief executive prospects should be vetted with the zeal and rigor of (most) presidential candidates. Every weakness, peccadillo, or hint of scandal can, and will, come out.

At a time when a strong, communications-savvy CEO is more needed than ever, corporate strategists and PR specialists will become even more cautious about putting the head guy out there. A deep and visible executive bench is a strong communications strategy, and, these days, good risk management. But it’s more likely that access to the executive team will simply become scarcer for journalists.

The bottom line, of course, is that most of the responsibility lies with the chief executive. The occupant of the corner office needs to acknowledge his/her shortcomings, seek the best advice from those outside the inner circle, and be aware of when a problem or crisis has grown beyond their capability to address it. A terrific example of the “new” CEO who actively seeks counsel around his own leadership development is that of Mark Zuckerberg, as detailed in a recent New York Times piece. Yet, Zuckerberg, who will be 28 next week, is an anomaly even for a technology company.

The imperial CEO is long dead, and well he should be. And maybe we shouldn’t feel too sorry for the guys who can generally pull a ripcord on a golden parachute and go home to a fat bank account. But it’s possible that the pendulum has swung too far from the command-and-control days. The margin for error is so thin that you have to ask yourself, at some point, who’s going to want this job? When accountability turns into scapegoating, it’s a losing proposition for everyone.

Give The Gift Of Good PR To These Women On Mother’s Day

I was all set to wax rhapsodically about some moms who had earned terrific PR for deeds well done this year. Then the Tanning Mom appeared, followed by the Stripper Hot Dog Mom and in an entirely different category, Linda “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000” Evangelista and her outrageous child support demands!

So instead, I offer up some free PR advice for these and other “moms behaving badly.” There may not be redemption in the court of public opinion but at least their kids may still have fond feelings for them. Now, heed these words!

For the “Tanning Mom”

Stop tanning immediately.

Come clean about what really happened with your young daughter at the salon and if there really was “fire where there was smoke,” apologize!

Have fun with the critiques such as SNL and the terrific Kristen Wiig impersonation.

Milk your 15 minutes in a smart way. Get involved with the Skin Cancer Foundation and speak out about the safety concerns associated with tanning; conversely, you could explore a spokesperson gig for a self-tanner or bronzer brand!

For the “Stripper Hot Dog Mom”

Stop offering sexy additions to your menu.

Put on some real clothes.

But not right away…this may be an instance of “any publicity is good publicity.” Curiosity-seekers ought to drive business through the roof!

Stick to cooking.

For Linda Evangelista

Try to wear less than $5,000 of luxury accessories for your day in court. You know, look needier!

Put some of that cash to good use and start a foundation for children of single supermodels or, in a more serious vein, children of disadvantaged single-parent homes.

Get ready for more critiques and arm yourself with “key messages” that don’t make you look so greedy.

Take the high road and only speak kindly of your child’s father; you want this out of the news cycle as quickly as possible.

Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share with these moms or any other moms?

Creating A Killer PR Briefing Book

The secret behind a great media interview? Sometimes, it’s the humble briefing book. Prior to a media meeting, most PR pros prepare a thorough briefing book to introduce a client or spokesperson to each individual outlet and interviewer. In “The Devil Wears Prada” the “mother of all briefing books” was an actual volume that Anne Hathaway used to make Meryl Streep brilliant in any receiving line.

In the HBO comedy “Veep,” the briefing book used by Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the incredibly granular data stored on every aide’s smartphone, whispered into the Veep’s ear or headset, often with interesting results.

Wherever it’s used, the PR briefing book enables the spokesperson to gain a level of comfort and confidence regarding the interview. A well-written book helps ensure a smooth interview process and a great resulting placement.

Here’s how to prepare a killer briefing book:

Have Structure
The briefing book should have a structured format. Elements like a cover page, table of contents, and full details on the outlet and the writer provide organization that will make it easier for your client to navigate.

Tell Their Story
The briefing book should include all relevant information about the outlet, the reporter’s position, and how he/she prefers to interview (in person, by phone, over drinks, etc.). But, to be truly effective, tell the interviewer’s story – include previous articles, former positions, and interesting personal details such as whether the writer has children or an interesting hobby. At Crenshaw Communications, our briefing books often include photos of the interviewer to help the client become familiar in advance.

No Surprises
It is crucial that all details are factual, accurate, and up-to-date. The spokesperson will be relying on this information to prepare for the interview and it is essential that it is correct. There is nothing worse for both parties than supplying a misspelled name or wrong biographical data.

Make It Accessible
Once you have a briefing book, make it a “living, breathing” document, easily updated and available. Save it on a cloud-based system or another shared network. This way it can also be easily updated, edited, and used by other members of your team.
Interviews can be daunting, but intense preparation, as symbolized by a superior briefing book, will assure that your client will be one step ahead of the game.

Get Outside! (Your Comfort Zone) Conquering Common PR Phobias

It’s graduation season, which means the beginning of new and promising PR careers and summer internships.  It can be a lot to handle all at once, and you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone every now and then to truly succeed.
Here are the top 4 phobias I see from those just starting out in public relations.

Pitching over the phone

This is undoubtedly the top fear I see from interns and entry-level PR pros.  There is always a certain apprehension about picking up the phone and calling a reporter, but the truth is, they don’t bite.  Be smart and only call those who are right for the story.  Read up on the journalist and check out their twitter to see what they’re into, and try role-playing with a colleague to get more comfortable. The younger you are, the less likely you are to actually use the phone for “talking”, but in this business, it can make a big difference.

You’ve pitched like crazy… Still no placements!

Your client has a “huge” announcement, and you’ve been pre-pitching.. and pitching… and pitching some more. Still no hits. Don’t have a panic attack, because it happens to the best of us.  Learn to “put the best face” on the situation for the client by providing them with constructive media feedback and taking what you’ve learned and applying it for future media interaction.

Afraid of the higher powers

Every now and then an intern comes along who is completely terrified to speak up in staff meetings or ask questions and speak in person with the higher-ups at the agency. This is unfortunate, because the only way to stand out and be noticed is to speak up and show off what you’ve got.  Try making a list of things you’d like to speak about and ideas you’d like to present, and tackle them one by one.

Uh oh.. No one shows up to your event

Even the most seasoned PR veterans fear this.  It’s enough to keep you up at night.  What if no one shows up to your client’s event that you’ve been planning for months?  The thought may be terrifying, but the only thing you can do is prepare and plan like crazy while managing expectations throughout the process, so that the client will be ready for any possible scenario.

What do you think? What’s your biggest PR phobia?