10 Traits of Successful PR Teams

As companies make public relations decisions for the year, considering what to look for in a PR agency partner is a key commitment. Some do Google searches or scan PR rankings sites to research prospective firms, but that’s rarely a thorough enough way to narrow the field. There are important traits that clients can only suss out if they conduct interviews or seek capabilities presentations as they create a short list of likely contenders.

What to look for in the ideal PR team

A firm grasp of the client business and industry

From the beginning of any PR partnership, a client should feel that the team has thoroughly researched its industry and brand, competition and target audience. Prospects should feel confident that competing firms know the company and the assignment inside out. In particular, decision-makers should look for partners that are steeped in industry and brand language. This “shorthand” and the insights it implies usually offers a comfort level and typically bodes well for a quick start to the relationship.

Strong communication skills

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the truth is that communications people aren’t always excellent communicators. Any materials prepared by the PR firm need to be top-notch — clear, well-written, and persuasive. But the ability to communicate well will also be evident in how astutely the team questions the potential client, how carefully they listen, and how they bring answers and insights to their proposed work.

Demonstrable relevant experience

Those searching for a PR agency will usually have relevant experience as a pre-qualifier for firms under consideration. In certain circumstances, an agency’s experience may be incredibly spot-on with several case histories that prove it. But recent experience working in a specific industry and knowledge of the media, analysts and competitors in the area is only part of the equation. The best fit may be with a team that has helped organizations overcome similar challenges – a dated image, a lack of visibility, or the absence of thought leadership in their category. We advise agencies in the search process to be very thoughtful about the kind of skills and experience that are most valuable and relevant.

Personal dynamism and salesmanship

Some companies are so pressed for time that they’re content to choose a PR partner without meeting face-to-face, but we favor a chemistry test if possible. The presentation process provides an important opportunity to gauge the kind of communication skills a team has – not just for those in the room – but during an engagement where they will need to present and negotiate on the client’s behalf with media, potential partners and others. An in-person discussion at an agency’s offices also tell you a great deal about its culture, teamwork, and daily environment.

Creativity and imagination

To woo and wow a prospect, teams must banish anything that smacks of “off-the-shelf.” A presentation should offer creative concepts that are well thought out, fit the brand personality and appeal to media, assuming earned media is a goal. A good agency will be able to demonstrate, based on past experience, how and why an initiative will succeed, but the gut-level response must be there. Most importantly, they should paint a picture of the concept simply and logically, because anything too convoluted will miss with the brand, and most likely with media as well.

Specific metrics for success

The most creative idea in the world is worth very little to a brand if it can’t be justified. Smart firms present creative concepts that do more than just attract some press. The proposal must incorporate brand KPIs (key performance indicators) such as organic and social traffic, awareness, and intent to purchase. It’s best for a firm to present its initial assessment of KPIs but work with the client to hone and refine. As well, the PR partner should offer metrics to measure ROI (return on investment) and present a budget that is tight, detailed, and realistic. For more information about how the PR industry quantifies and measures outcomes, check out this post.

Sharp listening skills

The smartest PR strategists know when to speak and when to listen. The team will impress the prospect and learn so much about its leadership, goals and expectations simply by being better listeners.  PR people inherently want to talk, but the decision-makers should look for the PR team that knows the value of quiet listening and absorbing and inculcating what key company players have to say. That value can be assessed by a team’s smart questions and conversation following a good listening session.

Collaborative nature

The most successful PR engagements are true partnerships, and the best collaborations are achieved after gaining mutual trust. We look to work with clients to brainstorm story angles, content concepts, and event ideas so that some inherent buy-in happens early on and it isn’t all about the agency “selling” an idea every time. But that kind of collaboration doesn’t happen overnight. Agency teams should prove themselves first and become true partners – serving the client’s best interests with their own expertise and knowledge of what works.  These true collaborations produce the best outcomes, as well as the most successful partnerships.

Smart stewardship of budgets and resources

The PR partner who treats client funds and resources the way they would treat their own will win client confidence and pave the way towards a healthy PR relationship. While there will also be some clients who find themselves in financial straits at some point and have to sever a relationship, the agencies that consistently demonstrate smart fiscal sense have a much better chance to maintain or re-up for future engagement.

Accountability

Many great PR partnerships are tested by a problem in the relationship. This can stem from a miscommunication or an outright mistake made by either party. Frequent, honest communication will help smooth most bumpy roads, and accountability is key. Both sides of the partnership will benefit from a culture of accountability, where teams take ownership of tasks and keep open, proactive communication on status and results. Each side should also be honest when something needs to be improved or where they need more help or resources to achieve success. Ultimately its up to each member of the team to take responsibility, report on progress and provide constructive criticism and feedback when necessary to keep things moving in the right direction.

Finally, PR firms should constantly think about what’s next in their business and their clients’ industries. That means they offer fresh, innovative ideas to their partners. Those who only trot out the tried and true risk becoming stale and could lose out to a firm presenting the next shiny object! As Winston Churchill, who is certainly having a moment this year, once said, “No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered.”

Improving PR Content Strategies

Content is fire. Social media is gasoline,” according to writer Jay Baer, and most in public relations would agree. The trick is how to create content that is “fire” and will fire up audiences about your brand. We look at an eight-point plan that will help any team create, produce and promote meaningful content.

Bringing an earned-media sensibility to the effort increases the credibility for some content that is overly commercial, badly targeted, or stuffed with obvious keywords.

Best Practices For PR Content

All good content marketing initiatives begin by getting everyone on the team in agreement with campaign goals.

Set content marketing goals

Start by knowing who your audience is and what they care about.

Then ask how reaching the audience through targeted content can help move the needle. “The needle” can mean drawing more customers to a retail website, lead generation, attracting donors or investors to a cause, or increasing app downloads. With a clear set of marketing goals, the team can more easily determine what the content output will consist of and better show how content marketing can help meet business objectives.

As with any PR or marketing campaign – leadership needs to know how it will impact the bottom line. What are the cost and revenue metrics that will make the program meet goals? For some brands, seeing content marketing as a way to reduce customer acquisition costs is a powerful motivator.

Define challenges and opportunities

Speak to others and help develop a clear short list of challenges, which can include anything from competition in the marketplace to overcoming a dated or muddled brand image. As well, offer up opportunities. Brand opportunities can include things like a truly differentiated USP or a seasoned management team with a stellar reputation. Whatever the list may look like, it is up to the content team to create stories that help conquer the challenges and leverage the opportunities. We like the way American Express has built its online publication  Open Forum, directed at small businesses. The brand has many small business initiatives and has been very good at providing a ton of good info for companies who may not have initially thought that Amex was the appropriate credit card partner for them.

Develop a sound content strategy

Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads, according to DemandMetric, but many brands still have a haphazard approach to strategy. Here are the important factors to consider when planning custom content. Focus on who you’re really targeting. Often a B2B marketer may think they are targeting CEOs with their content, only to find that it’s actually those who report into the C-level who read and vet things to put before leadership. It may seem subtle, but it does affect how teams create effective content.

Using a custom content partner like HubSpot can help better define your audience and provide actionable assistance to increase readership. Learn what kind of content resonates best with the target – blog posts, in-depth “how-to” downloads like this, white papers, e-books etc. The strategy should also include design elements for custom content, subject matter and, importantly professional editorial guidelines, like any publication.

Appoint a content manager and team

It may take a village to plan and create a great content program, but it’s best to assign responsibility for the effort. Aim for an editor and one or two writers, if possible. The goal is to task great writers and to make posting a “real job” within the company and not a thrown-together afterthought where folks are scrambling to put out a blog post or keep to a social media posting schedule. Nothing creates better PR writers than a rigid writing schedule. People assigned to content creation and marketing are performing a very important service to the brand and should think of it as a plum assignment.

Calenderize a content schedule – but be flexible

Once you know your target and have defined editorial guidelines, coming up with content ideas should be less challenging. We regularly look at our own internal metrics to see what topics “pull” the most with our readers. This helps greatly in setting a content schedule. There are traditional seasonal and holiday “hot topics” as well as evergreen ones with a fresh spin. And, as important as a content schedule is, we also value flexibility to take advantage of breaking news which can offer up great opportunities to demonstrate PR expertise on a variety of topics. Once content editorial has been defined, it’s important to determine how often the team will post and on what platforms. Typically, a 1000-word blog post per week is effective, with scheduling of downloadable e-books and newsletters slotted quarterly to keep pipeline varied and full.

Create a content promotion plan

Here’s where the all-important gasoline gets added to the fire. There’s no point in publishing a bunch of terrific content that no one sees, so a crucial part of content development is promotion.  To begin with, most smart marketers today employ a professional content marketing tool that offers products, assistance and analytics to turn any content effort into a well-oiled machine. But true success goes beyond simply retaining a firm. The brand needs to promote its efforts on applicable key social platforms, maximizing the targeting capabilities of Facebook for B2C visibility, using LinkedIn, which is influential for B2B marketing, and Twitter, which is useful for reaching business influencers and journalists. We also recommend a strong backlinking effort to ensure readers get to and from information in our posts. Additionally, linking relevant content within company newsletters and other output helps draw a larger audience. Other best practices include seeking quotes from influencers important to the brand’s target, emailing content directly to sources who are quoted, and creating content “snippets” that can be posted on social platforms and communities for days and weeks after the original publication.

Scale content through smart repurposing

Today’s consumer connects across a broad spectrum of social channels and savvy marketers realize that any new piece of content can be repurposed in several different ways. We recommend compiling blog posts into an ebook, for example, or turning a byline article into a how-to video for YouTube or slide presentation for SlideShare. We also like to package terrific client content and use it to interest conference and event planners in potential speakers. With so many established sites such as Mic, Quartz and others hungry for well-written thought pieces, content developed for one platform can reach exponentially greater audiences via such outlets.

Maintain high quality standards

Whether you’re creating a single piece of content per week or scheduling more often, set and adhere to producing the same level of quality with each piece. As teams build an audience, there will be a level of expectation and you don’t want to disappoint. Quality checks might include keeping the content fresh and interesting, peppering in visuals and making sure that grammar and syntax are correct – remember 10% of readers don’t scroll through articles at all. It’s helpful to develop an editorial checklist like this to make sure all boxes are ticked. However, even though a checklist is important to check on quality issues, its equally important that each post reflect the brand’s personal voice. The most visually appealing, well-edited blog will not attract an audience if its perceived as dull or inauthentic.

5 PR-Friendly Brands For 2018

Smart public relations can help put a new brand on the map or burnish the image of an older one. This year, businesses face perennial questions like how to maintain customer loyalty, as well as fresh challenges like changes in federal regulation laws and the tax code.

But, with change comes an opportunity to tell new and different stories or appeal to emerging audiences. So, in the spirit of forging ahead into 2018, we offer a look at some brands poised to find their way into consumer hearts and minds this year.

Brands to watch in 2018

Bulletin experiential retail stores for women

Tapping into the zeitgeist much? On the heels of a year featuring many men behaving badly, Bulletin bills itself as a store for women featuring only goods “dreamed up by a female entrepreneur.” The brand boasts an all-female workforce and also gives 10% of profits to Planned Parenthood. Just over a year old, the company started out online, then developed a loyal following and opened brick-and-mortar stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn “by popular demand.” The model works like this: participating brands rent space to feature their products in-store and they’re involved in all aspects of marketing and sales.  The flagship store has 30 brands in residence and Bulletin has become known as “the WeWork of retail space.”

We like Bulletin’s PR positioning, because it taps into two important trends – female empowerment and the shared workspace. Both are movements that resonate with media and customers. And as long as stories like this dominate the news, we’re likely to see some competitors in the category as well.

The Virtual Agents: Alexa, Cortana, and Siri

The trio of top virtual assistants have made themselves indispensable to millions of users who crave the ease of the connected household. Alexa has even achieved SNL skit status, which may not result in greater sales, but seals its reputation as a product of the moment. And although Alexa has become the “Kleenex” of the crowd, each assistant offers something a little different, possibly as a result of a shrewd brand differentiation strategy by each. And there are many improvements planned in the coming year. These include moves to integrate the technology into vehicles, with BMW and Ford opting to add Alexa, for example. There’s also a push to make the technologies a bigger part of the workplace, with Microsoft, Google and Amazon revving up business services. Each assistant has also made news by announcing new features.  Siri can control lights.  Cortana lets you command your computer with your voice. And Alexa recently announced handsfree calling and texting.

Features and benefits are great coverage drivers, but the PR home run for many of the brands involves newsworthy personal-interest stories like helping solve crimes or offering aid to kids with disabilities.  There is virtually nothing the AI devices can’t do; their abilities and irresistible anthropomorphic “personalities” will continue to place them in the spotlight for the foreseeable future.

Hello Fresh, hello success

The Avis to Blue Apron’s Hertz? Not anymore! Berlin-based home meal kit Hello Fresh, which became a publicly traded company in November, is valued at more than twice rival Blue Apron. On the face of it, both brands deliver a very similar product to busy working people who are too tired or bored to cook. Where the two differ seems to come down to user experience, an area where no digital business can afford to disappoint in the battle for hearts and wallets (and stomachs). A recent battle of the boxes gave Hello Fresh props for its ability to customize meals by dietary needs, excellent customer service with a strong focus on user feedback, ability to skip weeks and easy cancellation – areas where Blue Apron’s customer recipe just can’t compete.

More importantly, the company has leveraged its user feedback, creating innovative initiatives that also made news. This past fall street teams said “hello” to college students with an outreach to entice kids to home-cook meals rather than opt for costlier and less healthful takeout options. Then the brand broke the 30-minute prep and cook time barrier with the very PR-friendly “20-minute meals” aimed at those who asked for an even quicker meal and less clean-up.

Making mattress companies green with envy

The digital landscape is full of bed-in-a-box brands claiming product superiority. Many have the same claims of basic comfort and value, and a few have entered the organic, all-natural space. Avocado Green is one of those. But this maker of all-natural, organic mattresses is carving out a niche by billing itself as the most luxurious of the “natural” varieties. As more discerning bed buyers decide to buy online, those catering to a very specific segment seem to be winning the day. Avocado mattresses are made to order, by hand, which carries a certain cachet. As a business story, Avocado is also unusual in that the company is self-funded with very little advertising. But, between some very strong online reviews and early PR, they are making a dent in boxed bedding.

WOLACO  The Way of Life Athletic Company

Have you ever been out for a run but unable to achieve the full exercise benefits because you were worried that the house key you stuck in your shoe would somehow dislodge? Or the iPod you’re wearing around your arm wasn’t really that secure? This is a real problem, one that prompted the founders of WOLACO to develop practical, “worry-proof” high-performance compression gear with trusty, slim sweat-proof pockets guaranteed to hold your keys, phone, device, and more. WOLACO is pricier than Under Armor and Nike, but the founders’ bet on security as a selling point appears to be paying off. With serious influencer muscle from former NFL running back Tony Richardson, WOLACO has attracted a loyal fan base.

Media have eaten up the brand’s irresistible backstory about Harvard-educated brothers who set out to reinvent “your dad’s jock strap.”  The bros have big plans for a women’s line as well.

While none of these brands are in the same category and they may not appeal to the same target audience, they do have some important things in common. Each has a very specific positioning, target audience and, importantly, a story (or more than one) to tell. There are lessons to be learned from each as new brands come on the scene in 2018.