5 Reasons To Hire A PR Firm Today

Thirty thousand new products are launched each year and 95% fail – for reasons as varied as bad timing, a cluttered market or just a poorly conceived idea. But one thing many successful new products have in common is a focused, well executed marketing plan that includes public relations. A good PR plan is never a panacea, but a sound, strategic campaign for a new product or service can help build brand awareness and positive word-of-mouth as well as help fuel trial. Here are five reasons companies need to consider hiring a PR firm today.

PR can tell the most in-depth story.  A typical article on a news website is about 800 words. A radio or TV interview might be three minutes. Each illustrates the rich and varied opportunities a PR placement provides to get into the fine points of a new entry and help explain how your product is different from the competition.

PR can turn on a dime. Got breaking news about your product or service? Nothing can move more quickly than PR person with a pitch and a press release! Unlike advertising with its multiple iterations, often lengthy approval and purchasing processes- once the client and the agency have approved the message and direction, the good, well-worded query to a reporter can produce results in the time it takes you to read this post!

PR begets more PR. Once an effective PR angle catches fire with one media outlet, others will want to cover. Yes, this is an open secret among professionals. So it follows that the savvy PR person takes the first coverage and tweaks the accompanying pitch to broaden the interest. For example, broadcast outlets may not be interested until a story hits print and a good vertical hit can often presage more general market media.

PR can extend a modest marketing budget creatively and with flair.  A good PR campaign can attract attention through so many cost-effective vehicles! The best campaigns have some combination of  kick-off “event” (though it may not be a physical press briefing) or clever deliveries to media as well as ongoing outreach that “slices and dices” business, trade, and consumer angles to extend coverage. Of course, the bloggers warrant their own PR efforts and a campaign targeting lifestyle, tech or other bloggers can be implemented very reasonably.

PR is the gift that keeps on giving. Every new line extension, company expansion or customer acquisition can be a reason to communicate to the right press. But the catch here is that earned media coverage can have a long gestation period. So, it pays to start early, and the benefit is that coverage often continues after the program concludes. A forward-thinking PR team is always looking for the next story and knows how to continuously “reboot” and give media a new angle to cover a company story.

Are we biased? Of course! But look around, there’s plenty of evidence that, with the right strategy and the proper team, PR is a wise marketing investment.

Six Ways PR Can Go Beyond Awareness

Jesse Singal’s “Awareness is Overrated” piece in New York magazine struck a nerve with me as a PR professional, as I’m sure it did with others. After all, “Raise awareness for XX brand” is often the first objective in a typical public relations proposal. And for a client who suffers from lack of visibility, awareness is half the battle, maybe more. A product launch, better technology, startup company — all depend on breaking through in order to accomplish goals.

But when it comes to changing behavior or motivating action, awareness is just a starting point.  In fact, too much visibility, or the wrong kind, can even have unintended consequences; it can lessen the stigma of anti-social behavior or possibly normalize opinions or actions a campaign is trying to change, like apathy about climate change or lifestyle advice to prevent illness.

At the end of the day, what most professional communicators – and our clients – are after is a degree of influence. The nature of influence is altogether more nuanced, but more powerful, than simple visibility. Even the knowledge that visibility has registered among certain audiences isn’t enough if nothing has changed as a result.

The need to move from awareness to ultimate action is why PR strategies and earned media results need to include tactics that create influence. Here are the most common ways.

Enhancing understanding. Unlike paid media, earned media and shared content can offer the depth and space needed to offer insights, marshall arguments, or explain a previously misunderstood  issue or position. Think opinion pieces and talk radio interviews that unpack a complex issue or rebut arguments.

Leveraging peers, usually through social influence. “A person like me” is perceived as more credible than celebrities or institutions when it comes to influence, according to Edelman’s trust barometer.

Inspiring through storytelling. A powerful story about changed behavior or opinion and the outcomes that follow, can have a measurable impact. Again, the experience of peers can be far more credible than that of so-called experts, and when a strong emotional or inspirational component is part of the package, it’s a winning argument for change.

Using earned media in marketing. It’s as simple as leveraging product or entertainment reviews in ads. When it comes to  purchase consideration, timing is everything, so earned media + paid media = a strong selling proposition.

Rewarding action. PR shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. When linked with a compelling promotional offer or incentive campaign, the influence of its message can increase exponentially.

Leveraging public opinion. Public pressure works. By giving ordinary citizens the tools and information to lobby for change, from online petitions to customer boycotts, a strategic PR campaign is at its best and most powerful.

How To Broker A Successful PR Partnership

Smart promotional partnerships brokered by a PR firm are one of the most strategic ways to build brand awareness and enhance reputation. Sometimes CMOs may shy away from such partnerships fearing expense or constraints on what the brand can actually “activate.”  Yet, if well done, these collaborations can pay off, linking a brand with complementary organizations that can advance the goals of both. For example, we have successfully “married” bedding to wedding registries and children’s cereal to state parks. Read on and start planning a partnership now.

Start at the end. With goals in mind.  Avoid being seduced by a partnership opportunity just because the proposing brand is a “cool” company. Ask what you want to ultimately get out of such a relationship; is it introductions to new prospects? Increased media exposure? Or, perhaps there is financial gain to be realized through expense-sharing for mutual brand promotion.

Before you partner, get to know your partner. It goes without saying that due diligence on any collaborator should go beyond brand reputation. It’s also important to examine previous partnerships, if any, that the company has undertaken. For example, in the case of a relationship with a non-profit or quasi-governmental organization, be forewarned that collaboration will entail layers of bureaucracy and lengthy approval processes which will affect timing.

Make sure the partnership is weighted fairly.  No one wants to be the one putting in the lion’s share of money or resources for less return than the partner. Feel free to negotiate on each point to make sure your brand maximizes the opportunity.

Maintain flexibility. Often the parameters of a partnership may change through the negotiation process or even after the relationship is established. Keep your “eye on the prize” but be willing to compromise to keep all parties engaged.

Publicize all aspects of the partnership. Promotional relationships afford many opportunities to create buzz for both companies or organizations. Announce your partnership in appropriate trades and seek coverage for each milestone you jointly accomplish. Be sure to include each company’s PR representation to maximize all media opportunities.

Everything but the kitchen sink. Look for all the ways you can “blow out” a partnership. Be fearless in asking to do more and coming up with creative extensions to make the joint effort as big and successful as you can. Make the ideas irresistible and reap the rewards!

A Journalist’s View: 3 Questions From A PR Pro

This week we have a conversation about PR with Lauren Gordon, “Entertain” editor at The Daily Meal. If you aren’t familiar with this heavenly food website, it’s an encyclopedia of culinary content that is beautifully photographed and easily “digestible.” The Philadelphia native graduated from Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater in 2010 with a focus in Magazine

Journalism and began her career as Assistant Editor of Philadelphia RowHome Magazine. Gordon says that writing is her first passion and food is a close second. We recently asked her the following questions:

What is the biggest misconception about food editors? I’d say the biggest misconception is that we are all experts in all areas. I am the Entertain Editor at The Daily Meal, so my focus is mostly on holidays (not PR holidays she adds), entertaining, social and celebrities. I often get pitches for random cookware that doesn’t pertain to a host and some cookbooks that are too niche for my channel’s audience. Generally speaking we all operate under the notion of “if it is about food, we’ll cover it,” but it is best to target the right editors for the right products.

Want to impress? Send us____ Booze! I’m kidding (kinda). While booze never hurts, we really like it when you send us new food to try, especially if it is shareable with the whole office!

Nicest thing a PR pro has done for me. This is a tough one. While the dinners and freebies are nice,  I think the nicest thing that a PR person has done is kept me in mind for a scoop first. If we can be valuable to each other in a way that is ethical and beneficial for our publication and your PR firm, that is a great gift!
Another thing to know about Gordon is that she is very open to creative suggestions for stories, regular guest posts, etc. especially when they show intimate familiarity with the site.

Is There A Good Way To Break Bad News?

It can fall to PR specialists or other professional communicators to deliver information that will surely spark anger and resentment, not to mention negative media coverage and potential community impact. As an internal email explaining a planned workforce reduction by Microsoft recently showed, it’s not easy to deliver bad news.

In the Microsoft case, a longwinded memo begins with the casual salutation, “Hello, there,” and proceeds to outline business unit strategies and plans in painful detail. Five jargon-bloated paragraphs later, it mentions consolidation. It’s not until the ninth paragraph that it cuts to the chase – the elimination of roughly 12,500 positions.

Presumably, the internal note was not the only communication prepared for those affected, but the memo has been justly criticized as an example of how not to break such tidings.  But, is there any good way to deliver bad news?

The answer is no. But there are some techniques that can make the experience, and the impact, less awful. Here are a few of them.

Be direct. Whether the news is spoken or written, the direct approach is best. Obfuscation, excessive rationalization, or delaying tactics will only increase the anxiety among all parties. It’s best to rip off the band-aid first, then follow with a brief rationale where it’s relevant (and it usually is.)

Acknowledge the impact. The news typically isn’t about the one who delivers it, so focus on the impact to those affected. There will be anger, resentment, and possibly sorrow. These are expected reactions and should be respected.

But don’t overexplain. It’s moderately helpful to communicate the business reasons behind unwelcome changes like layoffs, but prolonged or detailed explanations can actually rub salt in the wound. Again, excessive focus on the bearer of the news isn’t really constructive when someone is grappling with a punch to the gut.

Don’t try to PR it. This is not the occasion for the silver lining. Even if you’re convinced that everything will turn out for the best, and that the change could even be a hidden blessing, resist the temptation to go there.

Offer a second meeting or communication with mitigating news or options. Depending on the degree of mitigation that the company can offer, many experts advise waiting to deliver news about possible updates, such as opportunities to apply for other positions at the company. This is because the negative news will overwhelm any positive nuggets and they are likely to be wasted.

Expect all news to become public. Anything that is spoken will be repeated (and possibly distorted), so the news should be confirmed in writing. But know that anything in writing will be shared or leaked to those outside the company, including the press. So the communications should be very carefully crafted and should not contain any information that is confidential or sensitive.

Focus on company goals.  The sad fact of business is that the health of the enterprise must always trump the fate of individuals. In any public communications, company management should remind stakeholders that the decision was made with long-term corporate goals in mind. This is unlikely to make the news any easier for those who are negatively affected, but it’s relevant to other audiences.

Be professional. Spend the necessary time to have a proper conversation, if the communication is in person. Acknowledge your own feelings of regret, but keep things professional at all costs.  Even if your news is met with tears, anger, recrimination, or insults, remind yourself that none of it is personal, and behave accordingly.

7 Ways To Power Up Your Digital Brand Presentation

Is your brand presentation dull or fragmented? Are all cylinders firing? Here are some things to consider if you want to add power to the way your brand is presented online.

Do less. It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes it pays to do fewer things very, very well. Start with end goals. Then do a deep dive into the needs of target customers. What are they looking for? What is the primal desire, burning need, or insomnia-producing problem that must be solved? Very few brands can focus on more than one or two implicit promises to customers.

If it’s not broken... Some feel the need to constantly update a website – changing the design or functionality based on “site envy” or simple boredom. Others dread the process and put it off to avoid looking at the larger issues of audience and relevance.  But ask yourself about the overall impact of piecemeal changes or upgrades. Will they attract more serious traffic? Better quality prospects? A more searchable brand image?

Tie changes to business goals. Having an awesome website and a great PR campaign, though highly desirable, do not make a strategy. Similarly, if a month goes by and time is spent updating small features instead of moving forward on larger goals, such as a refreshed positioning, or announcement of a new service, then a reset is in order. Changes in the brand presentation should support end goals.

Be consistent. It’s tempting to run a sale or discount a product or service when you’re in need of a quick revenue hit, but it’s equally easy to go down the wrong brand path in doing so. Determine who you are: a premium brand that never discounts, a discount brand that always discounts, or somewhere in between.

Put PR in the mix.  Well, we may be biased here. But earned media coverage can add credibility as well as visibility when it comes to a new product or service or simply a fresh point of view about an industry topic or issue. Third-party coverage can be more influential than paid advertising, or at the very least, a necessary complement.

Connect the dots. Email marketing, digital advertising, content marketing, and PR should ideally work in concert. Every customer touchpoint should reinforce your brand promise and move a prospect further down the funnel to conversion.

Don’t be a slave to analytics. It can be addictive to check your analytics dashboard every week or even daily, and to be thrown by  small ups and downs of traffic patterns. For an ecommerce company, of course, traffic is the business lifeblood, but for other types of businesses,a longer time period is needed to truly assess change.

The Top Ten PR Lies No Client Should Believe

MarketingLand’s 10 Lies You Should Never Believe From SEO Gurus caught my eye, possibly because in the past year I interviewed eight different SEO “experts” while looking for a partner for my PR agency. The experience was educational and impressive, though not in a good way. But the SEO post inspired yet another take on the untruths, myths and misperceptions about public relations. Here are some of our favorites.

PR is free advertising

Not. Earned and paid media are typically not comparable, and they certainly aren’t interchangeable. Ideally, they work in concert. PR can almost never achieve the frequency of paid media, and of course we trade the message control typical of paid advertising for credibility and, often, depth of story.

The more press releases, the more publicity

This myth is dying a slow death, as clients and agencies alike are adapting press release strategies and usage to the news environment, Google algorithms, and sensible communications strategy.

“That’s an A1 story”

Any agency professional who promises a front-page story, or any type of media “placement” in such a predictable way is very likely to be overselling, to put it kindly.

The more keywords, the better

Yep, this appeared on the SEO list as well. It’s not true for SEO, and it certainly doesn’t stand up in PR.

“We have a secret sauce that no one can duplicate”

Yes, we agency folk work very hard to differentiate our businesses, and we can achieve that by dint of talent, smart strategy, and clever use of tools. But no one has a magic bullet.

“At your fee, you’ll get the “A” team”

A client recently told us a large and well-known agency pushed them to sign with this claim, threatening that the “A” team would not be available if the client dallied. Yikes. So does that mean other clients get the B team or worse?

“We can make your ‘crisis’ go away”

Crisis management is really a misnomer. It’s more realistic to talk about anticipation of a negative or harmful event, and basic preparation for a threat to one’s reputation. The key is to focus on good corporate conduct, but in the case of error, to bite the bullet and accept responsibility.

PR drives sales

Well, it can, and when it does, it’s magic. But this one makes me uncomfortable, because PR is typically not a reliable tool for demand generation. (See #1.).

Media relationships are everything

Media relationships mean access, which is the first step in generating earned media. It can also help deliver the type of quality feedback that helps improve a story or persevere. But no amount of closeness will sell a bad story.

“We can guarantee results in the first month”

This one’s not necessarily a lie, but it’s hard to swallow. Anyone who guarantees high-quality media results within a given time period, particularly at the beginning of an engagement, is rolling the dice. We work in an unpredictable news environment, amidst conditions we don’t control, so a more realistic commitment is usually more credible.

PR Pros: 5 Ways To Jettison The Jargon

Every industry has its jargon. B2B tech folks like their models to be “scalable” and e-marketers want promotions that focus at the “bottom of the funnel.” At its best jargon provides shorthand to let insiders communicate with ease. At its worst, some phrases bastardize the meaning of words and confer an air of truly unwarranted self-importance.  When deciding which words to use in business, we ask you to consider this line from the 80s classic “One Thing Leads to Another,” which asks, “Why don’t they do what they say, say what they mean?”

Adopt only those terms for which there are no substitutions. Obviously in a medical or technical field, specific terms are necessary to communicate properly. Be smart about learning and using those words correctly.

Less is more. True in so many business circumstances, but particularly when crafting a written or verbal recommendation. Make sure you are explaining what is recommended as economically and clearly as possible. Always edit written and oral presentations for brevity.

Persuade rather than impress. As you are writing, read your content aloud. See if you are trying too hard to impress with industry buzzwords and “marketing-ese” rather than creating sound arguments and rationales designed to result in a particular strategic outcome.

Say what you really mean. This can be hard given that some words in common usage are misleading. For example, a media “exclusive” actually means “first crack” and may confuse a client or prospect who interprets it literally. And I’ve always been bothered by “out-of-pocket” meant as “unavailable.” (To me, it will always describe reimbursable expenses paid by an agency and billed to the client.)

Communicate with empathy. Put yourself in your reader’s or listener’s shoes. Do you really want to come off as a showy know-it-all, forcing your audience to scramble to Google what you just said? Or do you want them to feel that you’re providing a very clear, easy-to-grasp message that puts you all on “the same page?” Oops, jargon alert!

Best and Worst in PR Crisis Management 2014

The year is only half over, and already there have been all manner of PR “crisis” situations for professional communicators to dissect. But some recent shenanigans, and the accompanying reputational consequences, have been so varied and so fascinating that I’ve decided to bestow informal “awards” for crisis PR.

Most entertaining: Hands down, the Donald Sterling fiasco, a PR blogger gift that has kept on giving since tapes of the not-yet-former Clippers owner’s racist remarks were leaked in April. The best game plan here was the one followed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who wasted no time in showing us what kind of leader he is. In slapping Sterling with a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from the sport, Silver pretty much followed the classic reputation rule book; he was swift, strong, and clear.

The real question is whether Sterling’s reputation can be redeemed. Most say no, although some bold ideas have been floated. Are you listening, Olivia Pope?

Most inevitable: Another sports figure felt the heat as fans turned towards the World Cup (and host country Brazil fought off challenges to its own reputation.) Charges of corruption and bid-rigging connected with Qatar’s winning tender for the 2022 World Cup were aimed at longtime FIFA chief Sepp Blatter and many of his cohorts. Blatter’s response to the evidence of bribery broken by  The Sunday Times showed both weakness and arrogance, however. As giant corporate sponsors like BP, Budweiser, and Coca-Cola pressed for an investigation and cleanup, Blatter blamed the accusations on “racism and discrimination.” Not very credible.

Most well handled: When U.S. speed skaters turned in a dismal performance at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, some blamed the heavily hyped high-tech uniforms provided by Under Armour. But what could have been an agony of defeat for the company was averted by deft handling of the situation.

Rather than take issue with its own athletes, or admit that its technology could be the problem, the company reminded the public of the new suits’ stellar marks in pre-race heats, but then supported the team’s decision to swap them for older suits (also made by Under Armour.) The team’s performance never improved, and Under Armour quickly skated past the problem to focus on the future by announcing it would re-up its sponsorship for eight more years. Well played, Under Armour, well played.

Least surprising: Ousted American Apparel founder Dov Charney‘s antics might have been less eyebrow-raising than Donald Sterling’s, but they were no less colorful. This is a company with a founder that thrives on shock PR. It cheerfully newsjacked the Hurricane Sandy tragedy to sell clothing, labeled a South Asian model “Made In Bangladesh” in a controversial ad, and featured store mannequins with pubic hair.

Just last week, as the Charney situation was cooling, AA ran a July 4th ad that featured an image of the doomed Challenger shuttle explosion instead of fireworks. (The mistake was supposedly inadvertent, but it did nothing to help matters.) The AA Board did the right thing in firing Charney, but they may be in for a messy legal battle, as he’s unlikely to go quietly.

Most thorny: Facebook‘s now-infamous “emotion study” raised cries that it had crossed ethical (and possibly legal) lines by manipulating users’ emotions without their consent or knowledge. Yet there are those who think it’s been unfairly singled out given the “opt-in” nature of so many social networking sites and communities.

In any event, Facebook’s response to the controversy has been to “circle the wagons,” as one privacy expert put it. CEO Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that the study was “poorly communicated” and assured users that “we didn’t mean to upset you.” But for Facebook, which is now in the crosshairs of the FTC following a complaint filed by a privacy group, the lack of transparency and halfhearted apology probably raise more questions than they answer.

Portrait Of The Ideal PR Agency Intern

At our New York-based PR agency, we revisit the topic of the PR intern each spring to find ways to improve the experience for our agency and its intern employees. We look for certain qualities in interns and have structured a very successful summer program for PR students that has resulted in several hires here and elsewhere. This year, we thought it might be helpful to provide a portrait of the ideal intern, who in that perfect world shows all of the following:

Keen interest in the industry. From the first interview to their last day in the office, we want to see interns who read PR blogs, want to be part of new business pitches and thirst for more knowledge about how PR fits into clients’ business strategies.

Love of, and aptitude for, writing. We have exacting standards when it comes to writing. Obviously a young college student doesn’t come to us fully formed, but we do seek those who can demonstrate basic journalistic writing ability. We then pride ourselves on offering lots of opportunities to hone their skills.

Rabid devotion to pop culture.  Many the successful PR campaign is borne of a combination of client news and something fascinating going on in the world! We encourage interns to be as up on Supreme Court decisions as they are on the World Cup or the latest from Jay and Bey. You never know where a great client idea may come from.

Industriousness! An intern “standout” will always be the individual who comes looking for work, cheerfully stays late if necessary, and offers a creative or unique solution to a problem. These are some of the qualities PR clients look for in an agency as well.

No fear. Some of today’s college students have been done a tremendous disservice by well-meaning yet overly involved parents. This sometimes results in timid kids. PR is not for the timid! We seek young people who are unafraid to pick up the phone (yes, that ancient instrument for talking!) and who can handle constructive criticism from us and even outright rejection from others. Preparation for the real world is supposed to be part of every intern experience, after all.

Personality. No, we don’t mean the dreaded “people person,” but we need to see a spark and a sparkle that tells us an intern is creative and curious and a team player. Isn’t that they kind of person you want at your office?