8 Things A New York PR Agency Is Thankful For This Holiday

Another Thanksgiving holiday has rolled around, so it’s time to offer gratitude for all things large and small that make life at a NY PR agency one of the most intriguing, maddening, and satisfying careers a person could ever want. Here’s the 2015 list.

PR’s value as a business tool. As an industry, our “stepchild” days are in the rear-view mirror. The the influence of strategic public relations has never been greater than it is today, which is one reason it’s a great time to be working in PR.

Great clients, naturally.  Where would we be without them?

Clients that keep on giving after they’re gone. Former clients who remember and recommend us at exactly the right time are a privilege and a gift.

The media feedback you need, when you need it. Precise and honest responses from top-tier media contacts make our job easier and us smarter.

Cool tools. We love using newish communication tools like Slack and Trello.

Our PROI network. We partner with an amazing network of PR agency affiliates who support global client and new business needs at the drop of a hat. That’s a blessing in itself.

Round-the-clock tech support. Okay, this one may be coming in 2016, but it’s coming.

The agency life.  The “never-a-dull-moment” quality of life at a New York PR agency can make you crazy, but like any other high-energy career, it’s a treat.
Happy Thanksgiving!

A Journalist’s POV: 3 Questions From A NY PR Firm

Our  New York PR agency was fortunate enough to be part of the very successful national launch of a new beer this past summer.  This afforded our team the opportunity to cultivate new media relationships all over the country. One that stands out is Marissa Harris, a veteran TV producer with WGN TV News in Chicago who took the time to answer the questions in our occasional series, “A Journalist’s POV.” Here’s a recap of our interview with some helpful tips for PR pros.

Tell us three things a PR person should never do when pitching you an idea. Here are my top three PR “nevers”: Never send an email, then call just minutes later to see if I read it. Never spell the contact’s name wrong. It shows that you don’t care and aren’t detail-oriented, which can become a nightmare if we work together. Never pitch “blindly.” Do the homework on the type of things the program airs and proceed from there. It can be a good opening to reference something you’ve seen on our show that makes you think we’d be receptive to your idea.

What is the most outrageous PR pitch you ever received? Since we’re so close to Thanksgiving, I’ll start with that example; it’s not outrageous, just silly. The person pitched a story for a career website on “5 Ways to Leave a Mark on Your Career,” and gave examples of how to be inspired by historical figures associated with Thanksgiving. I knew it was going to be a hoot when I saw the line that started, “Pilgrims, the original networkers,” and it went downhill from there. Actually there was a similar one for Halloween about “reviving a dead career” which began with “rise at the witching hour.”  You get the picture. My advice: not everything needs to have a theme! We appreciate clever writing and puns, but we’d rather see substance. If you have to choose between really stretching to make something fit, err on the side of a good, visual story.

Can you provide an example where a PR person “saved the day” – went above and beyond to make a story happen? A fashion segment that went awry. Two models dropped out the morning of and a good PR contact of mine made sure to snag two interns from the office to fit the bill an hour before we went live, instead of just saying there was nothing she can do. We always appreciate someone going the extra mile, even in a case where we can’t make use of the suggestion. I also appreciate not even being pitched but being asked. For example, what are you working on and can we help provide a source or a location? That kind of help really builds relationships.

PR Wins To Make You Proud (Or Just Laugh) This Thanksgiving

PRThanksgivingWhat constitutes a PR win when Thanksgiving rolls around and the holiday season kicks in? Do over-the-top PR stunts work, or do you need to pull at heartstrings for well earned media that burnishes your reputation? The holidays are both an easy time of year to place stories and a challenging season for professional communicators. Yet it’s always impressive and inspiring to see stories worthy of the PR halo generated by smart moves. Here, with gratitude, are our picks for stories that win this Thanksgiving.
Yes, there’s an app for Thanksgiving, too. We wouldn’t be known for our technology PR skills if we didn’t appreciate a good roundup of tech tools to help out on Turkey Day and the clever companies that created them. We love lists, and AnyList is the tech lover’s answer to the ultimate Thanksgiving shopping list. It includes a feature for multiple participants, too, for potluck-style dinners. We also love Spotify’s Turkey Timer, which plays songs selected for the length of your turkey’s cooking time. And if your family is like some of ours, navigating seating charts can be tricky. Table Plan lets participants collaborate, possibly heading off a sticky situation. Avoiding family drama for Thanksgiving Dinner? We’d call that a win, PR or otherwise.
REI’s PR coup: Closing stores on Black Friday. High on our list is none other than REI, which we covered here. In an era when Black Friday sales are starting on “Thanksgetting” Day, REI’s approach is bold, refreshing, and quite frankly, a relief. Some 33 percent of shoppers “hate” that stores are open on Thankgiving Day, according to a recent survey by our client Retale. And with consumers flocking to mobile e-commerce, it’s more important than ever to push back against the constant commercialization of what is cherished by many as the “most wonderful time of the year.” REI’s stance is a welcome step in that direction, and a PR coup to boot.
Walmart’s Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie. Need a good laugh? Recently, a singer named James Wright posted this YouTube review of the Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie sold exclusively at Walmart (fair warning: there’s explicit language in the video). When it launched in September, sales were so-so. But after Wright’s legitimately hysterical performance went viral, Walmart has sold an estimated $1 million worth of pies. In one week, the YouTube video has nearly 2.4 million views, with the story picked up by top-tier media outlets nationwide. PR people and brands alike can only dream of such exposure. Spontaneously viral video or a secretly concocted PR campaign? Perhaps time will tell. Our predictions say look for one of the following: a record deal for Wright, continued soaring sales for Patti’s pie, or an exposé on how a professional was behind it all. In any case, we’re thankful for a good laugh (and maybe a piece of sweet potato pie).

Six Essential Communications Skills For PR People

Those who succeed in public relations must be naturally good at communicating, right?
Not always. PR has changed dramatically over the past few years, which calls for new or enhanced skills. Professional communicators today are more likely to be reaching customers or constituencies directly than merely going through the filter of media. And many of us have a core strength or comfort zone that works well, so we don’t always flex other muscles. I’m more comfortable writing my mind than speaking it, but I know colleagues who are shockingly articulate or visually creative yet who struggle with blogging or writing.

Here are some of the most essential skills for PR pros.

Digital content creation. It’s no secret that quality writing is an issue in public relations, even with the influx of journalists into the business. Writing for the web affords more flexibility in style and format than ever before, but written content must still be clear, compelling, grammatical, and enhanced with appropriate keywords (not stuffed).

But written content and creative visualizations like infographics represent only one dimension, of course. What’s growing faster than written content is video, particularly adapted for mobile devices. We can’t all be videographers, but even the most dedicated word nerd needs to understand – and literally see – how content is consumed and what makes it shareable.

Public speaking. Some dread it, but you can only hide behind your keyboard or smartphone for so long if you want a real career in PR. Presenting program recommendations with confidence in front of a group of strangers, and doing it with flair and showmanship, is a core agency skill, critical for closing new clients and selling programs to existing ones. It’s also valuable on the corporate side, where communications outcomes and the merits of the PR investment need to be continually proven.

Brevity and clarity of communications. There’s something about a keyboard that makes it easier to vomit out the words and bury the request or recommendation in a stream of corporate jargon. Yes, it’s harder to whittle down that email to its essentials or to strip the buzzspeak from a one-paragraph pitch. But in today’s environment, where we’re all prioritizing how we spend our time and what we read, it’s vital.

Respectful pushback. In the agency business many of us equate good client service with high levels of responsiveness or even compliance, but no client wants a yes-person leading their agency team. Respectful pushback, however, requires thoughtfulness, an ego-free attitude, and a deft touch.

Constructive feedback.  It may be easier to describe that half-baked proposal as “too long” or to point out the lack of creative ideas. But it’s more helpful to ask the writer to cut out the third section, reduce another by half and suggest she develop that nugget that came up in the brainstorm last week. In the latter example, the feedback is clearer, more specific, more actionable, and more constructive.

Active listening.  Our clients and associates range from management-trained marketing MBAs to twentysomething entrepreneurs with a bold vision. We’re lucky that most communicate skillfully and clearly, but not everyone is so fortunate.  Most people are uncomfortable offering criticism (see above) and some don’t articulate expectations well. Even more importantly, active listening in the workplace can make a world of difference when it comes to cooperation and staff retention.  Being heard is important to everyone, even when they don’t say so.

A Day In The Life Of A PR Team

A day in the life of a busy NYC PR team?  For me that often means starting the day with a great idea sparked by something I’ve heard or read in the morning news. Since I wake up and scan Twitter, Facebook, The New York Post, NY Times the Skimm, catch some of CBS Morning News and then listen to NPR while driving into work, by the time I get to my office I have at least one good idea for a media pitch, new business campaign or company-created content.

Along those lines, here’s what the rest of a typical day in the agency PR life looks like.

First…swallow a frog. Ever since I was introduced to the expression (“swallowing a frog” = tackling a dreaded task) I have lived by my own mantra of swallowing it first thing in the day, when possible. This can mean anything from having a difficult client conversation or crafting a complicated project proposal.

Conduct some PR “mini-meetings.” As most would agree, meetings can be a major time-suck and many are actually less than productive. This is why we like to have mini-meetings of just a few minutes to connect as a team. Everyone appreciates face time, and getting caught up on deliverables and deadlines is key, but it need not be time-consuming. Though I may be dying to dish on what happened on “Homeland” last night, I’ll save that for another part of the day.

PR means always having to follow up. We’ve put our heads together to figure out the best times of day to reach particular media contacts, and there’s somewhat of a science to it. There’s even a PR Facebook group that has crowdsourced this thoroughly, and I’m inclined to follow their advice on when to reach out to a.m. show producers, for example. I also “calendarize” my follow-up so I know who’s expecting what, when.

Let the creative juices flow. Often the most satisfying part of my day, this usually means creating content for campaigns ranging from bylines to blog posts, or it might be a proposal with a creative theme that informs tactical recommendations. Ask any PR person what they enjoy most about their jobs, and most will probably say writing.

Measure everything.  Some say PR is more an art than a science, but not when it comes to assessing results and reporting. At the end of the day, I take a hard look at all projects to get a handle on what kind of return the team is seeing on a given time or dollar investment. It might be fees paid to a media spokesperson or committed to a consumer survey or simply an investment of time developing and pursuing a potential story. This stock-taking helps my team quantify the day’s results and set up for challenges of the next day.

The “office” part of the day may end there but given the demands of the job, I could be attending an event or having a business dinner, but the best way to end a “day in the life” is with a glass of wine and a workout, not in that order.

5 Trends That Impact Tech PR Today

As a New York PR agency with a robust technology group, we work with companies who are redefining the leading edge in tech developments. Tech trend stories are everywhere, whether the work involves art or digital advertising, cooking or construction, professional services or sales. Technology is woven throughout everything we do, and from a public relations perspective, certain themes are clear, while others are emerging. Here’s what we see as top trends of the moment.

Ad blocking — it’s not going away soon. Ad blockers have been around for some time, but the ad blocking story hit the media with gusto this year, on the heels of Apple’s entry into the ad blocking game this fall. (It should come as no surprise that Apple still can make news and set trends like few other companies.) While some downplay the legitimacy of ad blockers as a real story, there’s no denying the debate -and the threat. Look for more developments to create acceptable standards for ads, more debate over fees for white-listing, and the bigger issue of how the advertising industry will meet the challenge of creating digital ads consumers actually want to see. Incidentally, the pushback against ads only serves to reinforce the importance of earned media content, which has important implications for media and public relations in the technology space.

Virtual reality. Once a distant prospect, virtual reality enters mainstream viability and is poised to become a big story when it comes to technology PR. The New York Times launched its virtual reality reader last week in conjunction with Google, and Microsoft unveiled its long awaited HoloLens, the virtual reality headset. The implications of VR are widespread, and, as it’s still early in the game, it will only gain traction as a trend in the months ahead.

Predictive analytics — the future of data. If 2014-2015 was the year of Big Data, the newest development in data is predictive analytics, the process of analyzing data to search for patterns from which one can make predictions about the future. What we hear from our clients over and over again is that it’s not just about data, it’s about data insights. 

Data security and privacy. Speaking of data, the story of data privacy never went away, and today it only continues to pick up steam. Most recently, Facebook is in the news again, this time defending itself against grievances in a Belgian court over its data collection practices.  Microsoft, Google, and other top players in the cloud technology world have come under similar scrutiny, often driven by clashing rules over data security in the European Union versus the U.S. From our experience working with tech companies, being able to ensure data security — ie. the assurance that services are not collecting and selling customer data — is a differentiator that has real value in the marketplace.

Connectivity — coming soon, to the next 4 billion. Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity and is almost assumed as a right in developed countries. But the estimated 3.2 billion people who are connected to the Internet is still less than half the world’s population, and more and more companies and investors are forging new ways to bring the wired world to the 4 billion inhabitants for whom the web is not a daily norm. The Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world have announced intentions to help on this front, while third world countries themselves are laying their own infrastructures.

Six Reasons To Hire A Small PR Agency

As the owner of a relatively small PR agency, I appreciate it when clients and prospects tell me how much they value a firm of our size compared to the large agencies they know. Having worked at two multinationals and one midsize PR firm before starting my own business, I know the difference.

But the cliches about smaller agencies don’t tell the full story.

When the topic comes up, words like “agile” and “nimble” are used. But what do these words mean? Is a quicker decision a better one? Does faster project delivery ensure quality?

Not always. Not every smaller firm is a giant-killer, and “nimble” can mean quite a few things….or nothing. But digital  technology has democratized many services that used to be expensive or out of reach for smaller firms, enabling them to pack a punch that goes beyond head count.

All other things being equal, I maintain that the best smaller agency beats a mega-firm nearly any day of the week, but not always for the reasons you may think. Here are a few from my experience.

More time spent more productively. Let’s face it, the typical large agency has far more levels of approvals and reporting than a smaller firm. A press release may be drafted by an account executive and routed to a senior account executive, account supervisor, group head, and so on. Long hours are spent on beautiful client reports and clip grids.
Reporting and outcomes measurement are important, of course. But a multilayered structure translates into more time spent on documentation, meetings, and timesheets and less time on….work. With just about any PR agency, clients are paying for time. So, more staff time spent more productively is a good thing.

Senior-level attention. It’s actually not axiomatic that a smaller agency will offer more personalized service or commit more senior-level talent than a larger competitor. Available staff time depends on how the firm is organized and its fee structure. Beware the small agency that takes on too many clients for below-market rates, as it may not be able to afford top talent, or staff may be overwhelmed with too many accounts. But with the right structure, the lower overhead of a smaller firm and gentler billing rates, coupled with its less-bureaucratic organization, should free up quality time from the people who matter.

The pitch team is the team.  One of the more compelling arguments for a smaller agency is its transparency. What you see is what you get. That’s unlike a large multinational agency, which uses a professional pitch team to vet prospects, create proposals, and staff the pitch meeting – never to be seen again. A smaller group doesn’t have the luxury of the new business team, so it will rise or fall on the merits of the day-to-day account group.  

A smaller agency may be more objective. A friend and fellow agency owner talks about “objectivity through independence”, and it’s true. At a mega-firm with large investments in SEM or video production, for example, those disciplines have a way of becoming the solution to just about any client problem. (Got a crisis? Let’s do a social video!) An agency without the pressure to feed the beast may actually find it easier to seek the creative tactics that serves a client best.

A small agency has one P&L.  It’s ironic that so many large agencies work hard to recruit and train stellar talent, but they’re organized by individual profit centers that discourage the participation of relevant expertise. In my large-agency days, the individual profit center was the single greatest inhibitor to my being able to deliver awesome client work. I was surrounded by amazing colleagues, but my manager constantly warned me about giving away billable hours. That’s why I applaud Golin Harris for its reorganization into four major specialist teams instead of vertical sectors. A departure from the typical agency hierarchy is about making it easier to deliver an objective solution for client problems. It’s also proof that a more client-centered structure isn’t limited to small firms, although it’s certainly easier when you’re small.

Smaller agencies care more. Okay, this one’s more like “nimble” – it’s subjective and a little vague. When I worked at large agencies, I sure cared about my clients. But the accountability was distributed among several players, and the institutional attitude was very different from that of a boutique. It stands to reason that the agency with 20 clients will feel a loss (or any kind of client dissatisfaction) more keenly that the one with 200 clients. And in a smaller firm, the owner is likely to be involved. That means that, when it comes to matters of quality and client service, the buck doesn’t travel very far. Trust me, this can be a challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Invite A PR Person To Your Next Party

Our NYC PR team is fresh from executing a fun and well-attended media gathering that got us thinking about the elements of a successful event. Sure, you need the right food and venue, but PR people have certain subtleties nailed down. That’s  why you need to put PR people on your invite list, whatever event you might be planning.

PR people will make your party memorable.  It’s our stock-in-trade to deliver events that make an impact. We can word invitations just right, advise on what’s hot (or not) in decor, food and custom cocktails, and get the crowd posting on social media with the right hashtag. Social postings will help the event live on after everyone takes goodies home, and yes your cocktail soiree should have its own swag bag.

PRs can talk to anyone. Even in the digital age, successful PR relationships (or any relationships) are still best forged through conversation. A colleague mentioned the other day that a story she placed in a top women’s magazine would have never taken place if she hadn’t walked up to the writer at an event, introduced herself and struck up a meaningful conversation.

And, we can talk about anything. Most PR people have represented everything from automobiles to apps, so we tend to be well-read and knowledgeable. And, of course, to craft relevant pitches, it’s SOP to know what’s going on in politics, business and pop culture. Now, how can we segue from Serial’s new season to an exciting product introduction we have in the works? Trust a PR practitioner to find a way.

We’re good in an emergency. Caterer a no-show? Guest speaker forgot his slides? Many PR people live for moments like this! It is our super power to think of a creative solution and implement it on the spot. When our caterer was an hour late, we called a chef acquaintance (PR people have those in droves) and asked what could be whipped up in record speed.

We can get attention. If your guests are meandering or worse, starting to leave, trust a PR person to corral them back with a seductive preview of things to come, or through subtle one-on-one conversations designed to re-pique interest. We can read a crowd, and after years spent in the biz, we understand the currency of media and influencer attention, and how to earn it.
Best of all, most PR people are fearless. We’re just the type of person you want in good or tough times, because we’ve seen it all.

5 Terrible PR Phrases To Banish From Your Vocabulary

Public relations w5 Terrible PR Phrases To Banishork, as with any communications discipline, can unfortunately be plagued by some pretty awful language from time to time. Journalists and authors have editors to stamp out bad word choice, but unless we vigorously police ourselves, even the best PR practitioners can be guilty of using phrases we wish would disappear from the industry’s vocabulary.

Here are the worst offenders on our terrible PR phrases list.

To “leverage” anything — unless you are talking about an actual lever using a pivot action to physically move an object. This  tops the list of offenders (and others agree!) because it breaks a cardinal rule of clear writing: to avoid using a more complicated word to express something when a simple, clearer word does the job even better. “Leverage” is an overblown — and not entirely correct — way of saying “use,” so why not just say “use”? (And please don’t upgrade it to ‘utilize.’)

To “circle back.” We’ve gotten enough feedback from journalists to know this phrase is irksome. What does it mean, anyway? We think it’s an attempt at glorifying the “follow up,” which is an often necessary tool for getting things done.

“Status quo.” Another empty phrase too often abused by communications professionals when trying to make something sound better than it really is. If there’s no progress or action to report, be direct and to the point, rather than trying to dress the language up.

“Disruptive.” To be fair to PR professionals, this term tends to be abused by those in business and tech, but it’s fair game for this list. The term, coined by Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, has a specific meaning that’s been co-opted too often. So next time you’re tempted to use this word, ask yourself: does this so-called “disruptive technology” displace established competitors by providing a service at the bottom of the market and relentlessly pushing its way upmarket? If not it might simply be a smart new service or product. Nothing wrong with that.

“Turnkey.” Apparently, this means “off the shelf,” or a total package ready to be implemented. It’s an insider term that, as shorthand,  doesn’t do justice to what it’s meant to convey.

And for good measure, here are a few phrases we like. Purely subjective, of course, but we have reasons why we give these the thumbs up.

“No-brainer.” Use it sparingly, but we like the punchy clarity of what’s implied here.

“Key learnings.” Some here push back against “learnings” as a noun, but I think it’s evocative. It takes the older phrase “lessons learned,” which is passive, and simply transforms it into something more descriptive and active.

“Elevator pitch.” It’s been around for a long time, but it’s accurate, vivid, and there’s something appropriately dramatic about it.

“Bandwidth.” Doesn’t bother us. It may be dated, but it’s clear and has become a common way to refer to capacity.

Secrets To A Successful Veterans Day PR Campaign

As a public relations opportunity, Veterans Day offers a legitimate news hook, yet a campaign or pitch built around the occasion can be tricky. Certainly, it’s not to be confused with last week’s “National Cat Day” or the upcoming “National Square Dance Day” — celebrations that beg for B2B and B2C PR teams to newsjack them with crazy, creative pitches.  Veterans Day, by contrast, demands a serious and thoughtful campaign. If you’re building a corporate social responsibility program around our nation’s observance of the day, it had better strike the right tone.

Do a deep dive on what’s already out there. The last thing any good PR professional wants to do for a Veterans Day effort is to copy something already in the works. Obviously there is room for more than one “buy x and we’ll donate to y” but an original idea will be more successful. It’s often helpful to scan newswire releases from previous years to determine levels of commitment and PR strategy.

Partner with a reputable organization.  For so many reasons: to vet a concept for appropriate theme and messaging, to lend a campaign credibility and for “boots on the ground” in staging an event or other massive undertaking. We conducted an effort for an e-commerce site with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a wonderful organization with deep resources, PR savvy, and refreshing honesty when it came to brainstorming ideas that would work to benefit all parties.

Avoid campaigns that pander or pity. Every year there’s an editorial advising us to stop either putting vets on a pedestal, or pitying them. It’s true that many veterans have a hard time readjusting to civilian life. And we should recognize servicemen and women for their sacrifice, but the tone is important. The best campaigns are positive; it can even be lighthearted as long as its “heart” is in the right place. This underscores the value of setting up a partnership with a credible organization.

Choose an early start date…and start earlier than that. This is a very competitive time period with many vying to “own” not just Veterans Day, but the start of the holiday season as well. A smart start will include communications as early as September, but at least by Columbus Day.

Choose a cause that aligns with the company mission.  Sure, it’s great to offer veterans free meals or train tickets, etc. but a greater impact can be achieved with a more strategic, long-lasting effort. Two campaigns gaining traction last year were devoted to providing jobs. Starbucks and Uber, huge employers already, made ongoing commitments to hire veteran workers and Starbucks is more than a third of the way to its goal, which is a true win-win.

Secure a fitting spokesperson. Seems obvious, but sometimes companies choose sizzle over substance, and it doesn’t always work out. If the budget only allows a celebrity spokesperson to do one broadcast appearance, will it really be worthwhile? Is a boldfaced name even right for the cause? Might a hands-on VA expert or, of course, someone who served, be the best person for the job?

Make a lasting impression. Assuming there are clear goals for the campaign, they don’t need to end the day after the holiday. It’s a better idea to revisit the partner organization to determine the campaign impact and make future plans. If sales (and therefore donations) increased, that may be a trade or business story, of course. Even better is a testimonial from someone positively touched by the campaign. A single example is more powerful than a hundred press releases.