How To Run A PR Agency Search

Lou Hoffman wrote a great post on the “broken” PR agency review process. Certainly the classic client-agency dating ritual could use improvement. The process rewards many skills, from powerpoint graphics to research capabilities, and not all are equally important to a successful PR relationship. Lou’s post makes the often-overlooked point that an agency’s ability to execute shouldn’t be considered a commodity.

But how is a client to tell? How to go beyond a beauty contest to zero in on the PR team that is truly a match? Most businesses we speak to understand that an agency review is an investment of time and talent, and they’re sophisticated about the process. But even smart clients overlook simple steps in the search.

Let your goals drive the PR search process

Goals should go beyond vague criteria like “increasing visibility” or “enhancing reputation.” A new product launch is often distinct from an international expansion or defensive strategy. The current business environment, competitive climate, financial objectives, and corporate values should inform the PR brief.

Don’t pull an off-the-shelf RFP

A search for a creative services partner isn’t like a procurement bid for raw materials, and a document that reads like a procurement brief will inspire neither creativity nor strategic insights. Many agencies loathe the RFP, but in my opinion, it’s a useful and time-efficient way to ensure a level playing field at the outset. But the document should be brief, concise, and clear.

Narrow the agency field

Consider an RFI (short questionnaire) if there are size, geographic or specialist expertise parameters, and narrow the number of agencies under consideration early in the game. It will save time and anguish on both sides. Getting to know the agency teams is a critical step in a mutually productive outcome, and it’s simply impossible with a field of more than five agencies.

Respect the agency’s IP

Don’t make the agencies give away their best ideas. In my large-agency career spent in consumer PR where we routinely pitched elaborate creative concepts, I was astonished at how seldom the winning idea was actually executed. The creative idea review is more often just an intensely time-consuming chemistry test, but, again, it’s a highly imperfect one.

Get to know the finalists

It’s more time-efficient to get to know fewer agency teams better than to cast the net widely after the initial RFI stage. If you don’t have time for real conversations with prospective partners, you probably don’t have time to manage an agency team.

Allow access to decision-makers

Too often a search is managed by an inexperienced executive who lacks access to the insights that can make the difference between a boilerplate response and one that cuts through the fluff. Better information will naturally lead to more on-target recommendations.

Be transparent

The clearer and more transparent the process is, the more committed the participating agencies will be. And that’s what both parties are after in the long run.

PR-Savvy Gifts That’ll Sharpen Dad’s Image

Father’s Day is right around the corner, and PR-savvy professionals know there are certain gifts that are not only sure to please Dad, but will sharpen his image at the same time. Whether the dad in your life is the briefcase-toting, cuff link-wearing type, or the kind who’s happiest covered in sawdust and elbow grease, here are some of our picks for thoughtful gifts that will help polish his image as up-to-the-minute.

The iRobot Roomba 880. Our tech-savvy crew is partial to smart technology gifts, and the newest version of this robotic vacuum cleaner fits the bill with the highest ratings for doing the best job overall. Robotic assistants are the “ultimate productivity hack,” according to the Harvard Business Review, so having this guy working hard around the house will make Dad look super smart and forward-thinking — not to mention his floors will be spotless.

A portable briefcase grill. Father’s Day means it’s grilling and al fresco dining season. This handy portable grill is perfect for cooking up meals for two, and travels well as a slick-looking briefcase. It’s sure to earn compliments for being so clever.

A membership to his local radio station. Make a donation to public radio at a certain level in his name, and earn a snazzy reward (emblazoned with the member station’s logo, of course) he can proudly carry around town. It’ll burnish his reputation as a civic-minded citizen.

The Apple Watch. The ultimate splurge for the tech-loving Dad, load up the Apple Watch with all his favorite apps, and earn him a reputation as an early adapter of the most interesting personal technology. What’s more, now that the Apple Watch has been out for a few months, more new features and apps are being added — not to mention the forthcoming Apple Music —  making it even smarter than before.

A free trip using rewards points. Sending Dad on a trip is the ultimate gift, but rather than spend dollars, use your loyalty program points to earn a free trip. Follow some of these tips to maximize your points and earn the biggest bang for your buck. After all, studies show the smartest, happiest people invest in experiences, not possessions.

A Journalist’s POV: Questions From A NY PR Firm

In the hectic world of consumer and tech PR, finding journalists you can have a relationship with — who will read your emails, respond, and whenever they can, say “yes” to your pitch — is a gift. Liz Brody, Glamour‘s News Director, is one of those journalists. Previously she was news and health director at O, the Oprah Magazine, and a blogger at Yahoo’s Shine! She’s a nutter for dogs, guitarists, and the back of a Harley—and then there was the year she spent playing a breakdancing Alvin the Chipmunk! She also cut her teeth in public relations so she knows the business. She graciously agreed to sit for our “Journalist’s POV” and we let her answer four questions since her input is so valuable.

What’s a big challenge you regularly face as a journalist that a PR person can help with? Finding amazing human-interest stories that have never been told. If a PR person can come up with an exclusive real-life story that is somehow related to the project/product she’s pitching, and she can offer it to me exclusively, I swear I will always answer her emails.

What one piece of advice would you give to a PR rep pitching a story? This is embarrassing to admit, but if she’s read some of my pieces and is familiar with the kinds of topics I’m drawn to, that will give her an edge. So she might be able to say, “I know you wrote about a sex trafficking last year, I am working with a new campaign that I think will interest you.”  Also, once again, if she’s giving me an exclusive idea—just for me. What’s disturbing is when I know she’s pitched the same thing to my five competitors. This comes out in conversation and I know it’s part of the job, but once again if a PR rep is familiar with writers’ work, they should know when a pitch should at least come first to a particular person.

What makes a good / bad interview subject for you? Good: Funny, quirky, open, emotional. When you can just have a conversation.
Bad: When you can feel the talking points talking. And they won’t get off the script.

What about a subject line will compel you to read it? Unless you have something really funny or genuinely intriguing to say, don’t try too hard to dazzle me into opening. I have seen variations on this that sometimes actually work against the sender. You know what works? If you can reference a colleague who knows me well and knows my interests, simply say “Sally Smith thought you might be interested.”

Six New Words To Liven Up Tech PR 

Inspired by a crowdsourced list of “new words we should add to a dictionary,” here are some of the words we’d love to christen for use in tech PR, and our reasons why.

Textpectation — (noun) The anticipation felt while waiting for someone to respond to a text. You know the feeling — you’ve been texting with that tech journalist when things go quiet. Or you’re expecting an important communication from a client giving you the go-ahead on strategy. Textpectation can be a real nail biter, especially when working on a deadline.

Cellfish — (adjective) Being rude and inconsiderate of others by talking or texting on one’s cell phone. It’s so disconcerting when your audience starts checking emails while you’re trying to hold their attention! Whether it’s a client, colleague or prospect, it’s so prevalent we’ve (unfortunately) all been there.

Internesting — (verb) The act of swaddling oneself in cozy blankets and pillows to settle in for some quality time on the Internet. No doubt many hours have been lost to, uh, research, here.

Netflixing — (verb) Often concurrent with Internesting, Netflixing is the act of watching the entire season of a show in one sitting, a not uncommon occurrence (especially when certain shows reach the Netflix queue) that is a telling trend about how we consume video entertainment today.

Unkeyboardinated — (adjective) Being so uncoordinated with a keyboard as to continually make mistakes while typing. This one is not acceptable for communications professionals, although some think a disclaimer in your email sig – i.e. Please excuse any ‘swypos’ (another hybrid word!)can help. Discuss among yourselves.

“Nerdjacking” — (verb or noun) Nerdjacking happens when someone starts talking passionately about one’s (usually highly technical) interests in the presence of non-techie people. It can be an endearing term when used among insiders, but leaves lay people feeling as though a different language is being spoken.