What PR Pros Are Most Thankful For This Thanksgiving

The holiday season is here, and Thanksgiving is a perfect time to consider all of the things we appreciate. While family, friends, and good health are always at the top, the team at Crenshaw Communications came up with our very own list of things PR pros are most thankful for.

Day-to-day variety. PR is fun, yet challenging, and most of us do something new almost every day. From event planning and traveling to product launches and reporter briefings, it’s hard to be bored in this industry (and that’s a great thing!)

Clients who take risks. Ask any PR pro, and they’ll tell you that they appreciate a client who is willing to take risks and be creative. This makes our job all the more interesting and gives us the opportunity to produce innovative, newsworthy campaigns.

Media feedback.  After working hard on your pitch and finding the perfect media contact to share it with, there’s nothing worse than not hearing back. Nothing. The black hole.  Trust me when I tell you that all PR pros would much rather receive a “no way” than radio silence – you won’t hurt our feelings!

The holidays.  Not just because everyone enjoys a day off spending time with family, but because nearly every holiday warrants a good PR pitch (or blog post)!

Listicles!  That’s right, all PR pros love a good list and many would argue that 2013 has been the year of the “listicle,” partially due to social media. Outlets from Buzzfeed to The New York Times have all jumped on the trend. Listicles, which are really just articles in a list format, give all of us a quick and simple way to digest content and offer PRs more creative media coverage opportunities for clients.

Coffee.  Need I say more?

Eight Secrets of Top PR Firms

What do top PR agencies know that lesser competitors or even their clients don’t? Why do some campaigns deliver okay results while others grow legs and build on their own momentum? Here are some thoughts on the organizations and teams that most consistently produce successful PR campaigns.

They choose their clients carefully.
Far from the stereotype of the overeager PR guy, most top professionals realize that it’s impossible to be all things to all people. Sometimes you need to say no. Top PR companies choose their clients with the same care as their employees. The best way to build a track record of success is to know your strengths and align with the businesses and brands who fit yours.

They listen.
Another PR professional stereotype is the hard-selling story pitchman, but today’s communications industry has been reinvented by the social web. PR pros are all about the conversation, and there are few things more powerful than starting a program, a meeting, or a pitch by posing a question and simply listening to the response.

They take the long view.
Ours is a business that is built on relationships. Today’s intern is tomorrow’s client. The company that didn’t hire you last time may be in the market next year. The most business-savvy PR pros build bridges and never take a lead or contact for granted.

They spend more time researching and thinking than pitching. 
We promote our network and our creative spark, but the biggest contributor to great media coverage just might be old-fashioned spadework. It helps to be able to connect the dots, or link your client’s story to a breaking news or growing trend, but the unsung part of media relations is research. If you know what the individual blogger or journalist has covered over the past months, study their work, and go the distance to flesh out the right story angle, you’re far more likely to succeed.

But they have an instinct for the story.
We’re so overwhelmed with data that the essential narrative can get lost in in the factoids. Sometimes clients are so close to their own stuff that they don’t see it as a journalist would, or they confuse promotion with storytelling. That’s why the best PR people typically start in journalism or media relations. After years of working with and consuming media across all channels – traditional, social and digital – you develop an instinct for the story and can coax it out every time.

Their leverage their contacts. But not for the reasons you think.
It’s true that having friends in high places – like editorial decision-makers – can help with story placement. But few journalists will let a marginal story be printed just because they like you. Contacts are valuable because they offer access, including a quick answer and constructive feedback that saves time and helps PRs refine our approach.

They’re curious. 
I make a practice of recruiting people who have a genuine curiosity about many things. First, it makes them more interesting. It also informs a wider knowledge base for research and new ideas for client programs. But most of all, a genuine desire to know more goes hand-in-hand with a drive to make a difference.

They go the extra mile.
At the end of the day, our business is based on intangibles; many clients are buying some form of positive visibility, but in the context of a service relationship. Serving clients well, through honest counsel and a demonstrated desire to know and do more, does for a PR firm what we do for our clients.

Those three things can help turn clients into partners and partners into ambassadors. And that’s the essence of great public relations.

Preparing the Perfect RFP: Tips From A Top PR Agency

As a PR agency professional, I’ve grappled with a fair share of requests for proposals, better known as RFPs. These documents can create excitement inside an agency, but since they often require an “all hands on deck” approach and usually include several PR firms, they’re regarded as a necessary evil.

But the issuance of an RFP or an RFI (Request for Information, which typically asks for capabilities information only), indicates a thoughtful agency review process and, in my eyes, shows that a company is really serious about hiring the right PR firm – all good things!

But all RFPs are not created equal. Some companies don’t ask the right questions and don’t provide necessary information in their RFPs, which can set up PR agencies for failure or frustration from the get-go.

Kicking off an agency search with a well-written, straightforward, concise RFP will help your agency contenders respond with the most relevant information.

Here are a few tips.

Allow enough time to develop a complete proposal
You don’t need to give PR firms months to respond to your RFP, but providing them with enough time (read: more than two days) to prepare a thoughtful response is best for all parties. Remember, PR agencies consider existing client work their top priority (and isn’t that how you would want to be treated?)

While the “right” amount of time is dependent on the questions asked and the scope of work involved, a good rule of thumb is two weeks for response time.

Share your budget, or at least provide a range
The number of RFPs that ask for detailed recommendations yet don’t include any hint about PR budget is shocking. It’s not really fair to ask an agency to invest time in a response without budget parameters, and, the truth is, you’ll save time, receive a more on-target proposal and select a more engaged field of respondents if you outline the investment.

Keep it brief & provide some background
Background is very welcome, but the RFP itself should be brief. You can learn a lot about an agency by asking a few direct questions, asking for related client experience, and offering your time for Q&A.

To start an RFP, it’s best to begin describing company marketing goals, recent hits and misses, and what you expect from an agency relationship. You don’t need to outline everything about your company, since the agency should be able to research your PR footprint, but ask yourself what’s not in your digital history that a prospective PR firm needs to know. A change in marketing direction, competitive concerns, and prior experiences with agencies are all relevant here.

Keep everyone in the loop
Let agencies know what comes after they clear the RFP hurdle. How will you narrow the field? When will face-to-face meetings take place? Who are the decision-makers?

The truth is, when the agency and prospect meet face to face, chemistry comes into play, and that isn’t something an RFP response can measure. The RFP process helps winnow out those who would be a mismatch and offers up the real contenders. Just keep these tips in mind to make the process work best for all participants.

Using Creative PR To Make News

Earlier this week we explored ways that PR pros can keep their clients in the media even when they have no news. The best PR firms create news rather than wait for it to come from the client.

At our agency, we’re fortunate to work with stellar brands, many of whom offer credible news hooks. Some are smaller, innovative companies who make few “formal” announcements throughout the year. One example is the leading mobile navigation and maps provider skobbler.

An app-chart topper in over 20 countries, with over 3.5 million users on iOS alone, skobbler is one of the premier players in mobile location-aware services and development based on the OpenStreetMap. Yet, while skobbler’s applications and services are popular and groundbreaking, the brand does not quite carry the same “brand-name recognition” as an Apple or Microsoft.

How do we compete and generate PR results without hard news or a recognizable name?

Research. Tech moves at the speed of sound, and we’re constantly on the lookout for emerging trends where skobbler can fit in and make a statement. Once we identify a trend or idea, we craft pitches with relevant insights from skobbler, including the sexiest facts and figures detailing why the company is a great source, and how it differs from others in the space.

Go vertical. Each client has its own wheelhouse. Mapping and navigation are skobbler’s, but the company execs also have the ability and knowledge to discuss the technology related to digital mapping, including everything from operating systems to mobile devices themselves. This expands the scope of pitch targets far beyond industry trades like GPS World, into news and tech targets like VentureBeat and CNET. We can then craft a relevant perspective that the journalist or publication may not have encountered or included in the past, in the form of a byline post or an exclusive article or Q&A.

Mine unique data nuggets. Part of our relationship with any client is to ask what’s new and mean it. Our ability to ferret out “ownable” data points that are timely, clever and out-of-the-ordinary helps generate stories around topical subjects, even a skobbler-assisted list of the most sought-after pubs on St. Patrick’s Day! The broader navigation topic offers many kinds of stories, from technology to travel.

As great as it is to have hard news handed to you on a silver platter, there is something a little sweeter about crafting a story from creative thinking and ingenuity.

Simple Ways To Drive Tech PR Coverage Without Hard News

In my work in marketing and ad tech PR, or even other B2B PR categories, I’ve seen too many agency teams rely on clients to supply news. That’s not a great strategy for PR success. While most companies have their share of announcements, partnerships and other milestones, unless the company is Facebook or Google, you will have to do more than wait for clients to offer newsworthy stories.

After all, that’s why clients hire PR agencies in the first place.

Clients want inventive minds that can generate and maintain a drumbeat of coverage, even during “quiet” periods. It’s easy to make something work when you’re being spoon-fed the assets. But, with some industry knowledge, a skilled PR agency can make things happen without placing constant pressure on the client to deliver.

It may be a heavy lift, but that’s what we signed up for. Here are a few tips.

Know your industry. And make it your job to keep relearning it, because things change quickly.
If you know the space, you can pitch your client to speak to key developments, current/future trends, and more. You can focus on thought leadership, promoting your client’s expertise during times of little or no news announcements.

For example, PR pros sometimes struggle to understand the advertising and marketing space. We’ve encountered ad tech or marketing clients who say, “our agency team didn’t know what an ad exchange is,” or “their bylined articles were too basic.”

Try to organize your research into three or four key trends that you take advantage of when news is lacking. The beauty of hot-button issues and trends like native advertising and programmatic buying is that you can be either “pro” or “con” a controversial new technology or development, since any reasonable point of view or smart forecast can be included in trade roundups or profiles.

Go vertical. Whatever your client’s story is, it likely has multiple audiences.

Most companies can discuss their offering with ad and marketing trades like Adweek, Advertising Age or MediaPost. But that’s only part of the story. Why not tell business press about the client’s overall success, or work with tech media to more deeply explore platform functionality? Also, don’t forget your client’s key customer verticals; each of those categories have trade media to connect with.

In non-news moments, this strategy can really pay dividends. There will always be an audience for your story, and there will never be a time when you’ve spoken to everyone. If you think you have, you’re either 1) not trying hard enough, or 2) you don’t know enough about your client or their business.

Revisit and recycle. Over a period of time, you’ve probably received dozens of documents, whitepapers and case studies from your client. Many of those documents languish on your server after review, as they were most likely intended for background information during the onboarding process.

In moments without news, though, you can revisit these assets, determining new ways to leverage them while also identifying value where you previously hadn’t. In PR, nothing is thrown away; anything and everything can be used to create opportunities, so make sure no asset is wasted.

These are just three ways to stoke the media coverage machine without any hard news in the queue. In PR, it’s important to strike a balance between a client having news and “manufacturing” something credible that’s rooted in the client’s brain trust or content resources.

More often than not, it’s up to us do the heavy lifting. But those muscles get stronger over time, until it becomes an automatic exercise. You’ll be surprised at your own ability to generate powerful earned media results, even without the client’s help.

How to Prevent A Social PR Backlash: Lessons From JP Morgan

Poor JP Morgan. Its foray into social media – in the form of a planned Twitter chat with a senior bank executive, is a perfect PR case history in what not to do. It obviously seemed like a good idea to someone, but instead of softballs about what Jack Dorsey’s really like, or what bankers eat for breakfast before an IPO, the chat suffered a premature death by snark. Just a few hours and thousands of nasty tweets after #AskJPM was announced (for the following day), it was scrapped. We brand-watchers never even had the chance to see how it would have handled questions.

Here’s my take on what went wrong, and what brands and businesses should bear in mind before considering a live social media marketing event.

Listen. PR pundits have slammed JP Morgan’s timing, and it did turn out to be bad. But in one way, the timing made sense. The bank had participated in the hugely hyped Twitter IPO, so it’s easy to see why it moved to capitalize on its involvement. The real sin was being tone-deaf to public sentiment after its $13 billion mortgage fraud settlement. If it had its ear to the (social) ground, it might have realized the depth of disgust with bankers seeming to buy their way out of trouble and the continued Wall St./Main St. divide.

Prepare for the unexpected. Social media is by definition a two-way channel. Any business that opens itself to a social mob, even a friendly one, needs to understand this fundamental fact. If you’re not prepared to deal with questions you don’t like, you shouldn’t go social. A company in JPM’s category, let alone its shoes, should have anticipated at least a few nasty tweets. Of course, it probably didn’t expect the mere announcement of the chat to cause a backlash, but see above.

Know your audience. IPO or not, a platform like Twitter isn’t the best for a Q&A at a sensitive time or in an unpopular category. On Twitter, anyone can hijack a hashtag or a trending topic. The stream moves at lightning speed due to the 140-character tweet limit, and Twitter is home to a wildly diverse universe of users. It’s also no stranger to snark. JPM might have done better to look at a more business-oriented or curated community like LinkedIn, or to stick with Twitter but limit its content to a live-tweeting on the first day of trading.

Leverage your allies. JPM never had the chance to marshall friends or allies, but it’s helpful to do so. As a veteran of many Twitter chats (though none as exciting as #AskJPM almost was), I’ve found it useful to tap followers and others who are knowledgeable about the topic (and there should be a topic), predisposed to ask smart questions, and, well, friendly, or at least civil. It pays to have socially savvy community members at the ready, whether to kick things off, jump in when things slow down, or join in a tricky moment.

Set limits. In fairness, the tone of the tweets became very harsh very quickly, and problems were likely unavoidable. But a more thoughtful announcement, including a description of prearranged topics, and more color about the executive, or in this case, a different and truly relevant executive, might have drawn a more respectful response. And if the chat had taken place, it should have involved a strong moderator and a set of prepared answers to likely questions, including rude ones.

Admit mistakes. Here’s where JP Morgan did the right thing. On its Twitter feed, the bank announced it was bumping the chat before it even started. “Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board,” was the smartest tweet of the day.

Insider Tips on Hiring the Right PR Firm

In a previous post, we offered ideas for eliminating roadblocks to successfully partnering with the right PR agency, be it B2B, consumer, tech or professional services.

Once that decision is made, the rest is easy, right? Not so fast. The search for the “ideal” PR firm can be time-consuming and even overwhelming. How do you cut through the hype and achieve something like an apples-to-apples comparison? Here are some tips on how to narrow the field and determine the right PR agency partner.

Get recommendations and referrals. Often this is the easiest way to start. There are many PR firms with different areas of concentration, various sizes, and different work styles. Hearing from a trusted colleague or business associate in a related field who has achieved PR success with an outside firm can help narrow things down.

Consult the industry experts. Over 100 leading PR firms belong to The Council of PR Firms (CFPR), the industry trade association and a terrific source for researching your “short list.” There’s also O’Dwyer’s, which organizes listings of PR firms by geography and specialty. There’s also the Holmes Report which publishes many reports on PR agencies.

Visit agency websites and blogs often. Sure, your team gave it a once-over when you were creating a short list, but make sure to revisit. A stagnant website with an outdated blog and nothing new or fresh may not reflect the vibrant, hard-working agency you want on your business.

Ask for more than client references. Since media relations will likely be a key factor in determining your decision, ask your agency suitors to provide some references at relevant outlets and follow up with them to see if their relationships are legit.

Or, ask for references from clients who fired the agency. Even the best agencies have clients, who, due to reasons of chemistry, politics, or budget, have had to end the relationship. It can be enlightening to speak to those ex-clients, or just to learn how prospective agencies respond to your request.

Research enviable PR coverage. If you see a thoughtful piece on a company president, broadcast coverage of a creative special event or a business story touting a new product, find out who represents the lucky company and track them down! You can sometimes find this information by googling for newswire pickup of agency announcements, or sometimes by simply contacting the company directly.

Get to know the contenders. Even the most detailed response to an RFP or the slickest agency presentation isn’t enough to know if your teams will get along in “the real [workday] world.” Go out for a meal or drinks and ask personal questions about their lives outside the office – often the answers to those questions are more revealing than anything in an RFP!

Want to know more? Download our tipsheet.

A PR Review Of The Best And Worst Public Apologies

Given the accelerated pace of social media sharing, a simple slip can quickly escalate to something approaching a PR crisis. Sometimes the “crisis” is partly imaginary, and in other cases, it could be nipped with one simple thing: a sincere, well-crafted public apology.

Problem is, apologizing is a dying communications art. Here’s an analysis of a few recent mea culpas.

Home Depot needed a quick fix after a Twitter update about a college football promotion that many saw as racist. After it kicked off a storm of criticism, the company deleted the post and replaced it with an apology that called it “stupid and offensive.” It fired the company behind the social updates and tweeted individual messages to everyone who complained. It was the same, formulaic apology to all, but 140 characters isn’t much, and in my book, it deserves credit for the swift and contained handling of the issue. Nothing more was needed; the tweets delivered the necessary brand repairs.

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson also slipped during a Bloomberg interview about his wife’s meditation site. What should have been a cakewalk turned into a lulu of an interview when he was asked about the company’s product recall and complaints of fabric pilling. Caught short, Wilson meandered through an awkward response, saying “some women’s bodies don’t work” and blaming problems on “rubbing through the thighs.”  The actual comment isn’t so terrible, but it rubbed some people the wrong way, including Lulu fans.

The gaffe had such, um, legs, that, a week later, Wilson posted an apology video on Facebook. Wilson’s delivery is sincere, but the message lacks context, and it seems directed to Lulu employees, which is confusing. The negative comments posted may signal that the escalation of the apology was an unnecessary exercise.

A far graver mea culpa was delivered on Sunday by CBS broadcast journalist Lara Logan. During the final minute of “60 Minutes” Logan apologized for a story the network had run October 27 about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. It seems the story, which the network had stoutly defended, featured a star eyewitness, a state department security contractor who said he was at the U.S. compound, but whose incident report about the raid placed him elsewhere. Logan admitted errors, explaining that the network was “misled” by its source, and ending by saying it was “deeply sorry.” There was no real explanation of what seems like a highly avoidable mistake, nor did Logan mention the network’s failure to disclose that a CBS subsidiary is publishing a tell-all book by the same security officer. Hmmm. Highly embarrassing, and CBS did itself no favors with the terse and wholly inadequate apology.

But the mother of all public apologies has to belong to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. As the world knows, after months of stonewalling, Ford admitted to using crack cocaine to a gaggle of media. The admission was extraordinary for a few reasons. First, Ford blamed his previous denials on the journalists’ failure to “ask the right questions.”  To that nonsensical justification, he added his excuse;  the drug use occurred, said Ford, “during one of my drunken stupors.”

As late-night talk show hosts reveled in the comedy of Ford’s confession, the Mayor delivered a direct apology to the city in which he took responsibility for “letting them down.”  But the mea culpa was pretty half-baked. Ford left without facing media questions, never responding to calls for his resignation and without any pledge to avoid drug use or consider that he might have an addiction problem. In fact, he seemed to pat himself on the back, calling his apology “the right thing to do” and confessing, “I have nothing left to hide.”  Perhaps that’s true, but there’s much more to say here, and the Ford story is probably far from over.

So You Want To Hire A PR Firm? Eliminate These Roadblocks

As senior level communicators or marketers look to enhance their capabilities with outside talent, one consideration should be retaining a public relations agency. Marketing execs are often the keepers of brand image and sometimes the corporate image as well. Who wouldn’t benefit from competent, connected and creative PR thinking?

And yet. Some companies plunge into PR without thinking through their goals or a partnership’s requirements. Before beginning the search for the best PR agency, take a step back and eliminate the following roadblocks.

We need to be in The New York Times…as soon as possible! Sometimes the C-suite issues an edict like this, but before your knee jerks, determine what the company should really seek to achieve through public relations. Think about the long-term goals. Do your goals include generating trade buy-in for a new product? Consumer awareness? Does the CEO want to build an industry profile? It’s fundamental to set communications objectives to help narrow the type of PR agency needed. Forcing the exercise may demonstrate completely different needs than first surmised.

There’s no budget. Thinking you might just carve out a little from the marketing budget? Think again. Public relations is a distinct discipline that requires its own set of goals, and, yes, its own budget. Once needs are established, research what different agencies charge for PR strategy development and implementation. See how that matches up with available budgets, and have it in mind when meeting with firms. A PR agency is far better able to create a plan for a company when an actual budget is quoted; otherwise, everyone’s time may be wasted.

We need to outsource because we have NO time for PR. Hold on. Yes, companies often bring on a PR partner because they lack the staff to develop and run a robust communications program. But know that managing an agency takes time. There will be questions, meetings, materials review, separate sessions for message and media preparation, – and that’s just the beginning. The more time you commit to your agency, the more you’re likely to get back in the form of ROI.

We don’t know what to expect. Have the key execs had experience with an external PR agency or similar relationships? Is the organization aligned on brand messages and communications needs? Is there a process in place for approval of strategies and content? If the answer to any of these is “no,” you have some advance work to do, priming senior management on “PR Agency 101”before selling in services. The best environment for maintaining a successful, results-oriented PR agency relationship is one of communications and collaboration.

Awards Equal Rewards When PR Firms Score For The Client

In an earlier post we discussed the mechanics of entering a B2B PR or consumer public relations client in an awards competition. Here is a brief case study on how we “scored” meaningful recognition for a hard-to-categorize client.

Our agency recently entered a small business specializing in deluxe packaged travel for non-profits,started by two entrepreneurs, into an awards competition sponsored by SCORE. SCORE is the largest non-profit association dedicated to helping small businesses through education and mentoring.

The organization is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and has more than 11,000+ volunteers who offer their services free as mentors. With this client’s inherently small, niched audience of charity and philanthropic organizations, finding the right award to go after was the first challenge.

SCORE’S national awards program has become the gold standard of small business honors. Their annual awards dinner attracts nearly 500 people ranging from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to senators, congressmen and SCORE mentors from across the nation. Many of the attendees, while not directly making charity fundraiser decisions, were certainly influencers on boards and likely maintained longstanding philanthropic ties. Selecting this competition proved strategically sound for this B2B PR client’s goal of increasing exposure to nonprofit decision-makers.

Although PR agencies want to win accolades for their clients wherever they can, an award that can be leveraged into a real business result makes the win all the sweeter.

In this case, the SCORE team recognized the importance of winners leveraging the honor to help secure leads and provided collateral and other support to do so. Here is how our team was able to merchandise the SCORE win.

Direct outreach to target prospects. Our agency produces the client’s quarterly newsletter, which we chose as a perfect vehicle to inform targets, existing and lapsed clients about the honor.

Bringing the news to local market business press. The company principals live in different cities with local media always in search of “hometown” success stories.

Sharing content socially. The award organizers created winner video vignettes which showed the business owners in a different light. These were shared on the company platforms, including LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook. A Twitter campaign also preceded the voting and announced the win with many re-tweets and additional sharing.

Working the leads. This combined effort to showcase the win has resulted in a handful of meaningful leads which the client is now working to convert to customers.

With the end of the year upon us, now is a good time to start looking for some worthy awards competitions to submit your client’s work.