How To Make Small Talk With PR People

It’s that time of year when we chat up colleagues, family, and friends old and new at holiday gatherings. At some point, you may ask a new acquaintance what they do for a living. If the response is “I work in PR,” you might be stumped for a minute. If so, don’t feel bad. Some colleagues here have said that their own spouses can go for decades without a real grasp of what they do. Here are five tips to guide the uninitiated through any social encounters with PR professionals.

Be safe: ask if they specialize

Today’s communications sector is fairly specialized, so it’s always safe to ask if they focus in a particular area, like fashion, technology, or lifestyle PR, for example. And if they’re on the agency side, you can always follow up with a question about their favorite or most challenging client. Agency people love to talk up their clients.

Be engaged: ask what it takes to be a PR star

“So, what does it take to be a great PR person?” This is a fine question for anyone in any profession, from currency trader to social worker. Plus, it’s a way to show legitimate curiosity while discovering more about what someone does without displaying ignorance.

Be informed: ask their opinion of recent media coverage of a news event

This one may be skating too close to politics, since it seems to dominate the news these days, but that might be unavoidable anyway. The point is to appeal to the person’s expertise as a student of the media or as someone who follows specific industries, as you’ve just learned by asking about their specialist sectors. And since everyone has an opinion of the news (even if they hate it), it almost guarantees a discussion.

The pickup line: ask if they think PR is more of an art or a science

Asking something thoughtful will not only make you appear knowledgeable, but it will flatter the PR pro and elicit unguarded thoughts about their livelihood. But it’s not a safe gambit; this approach is only recommended if you can pull off a pseudo-sophisticated approach, or if you’re really interested in the person you’ve just met.

The networking approach: tell them you have a journalist friend

…who wants to transition into PR. This will tickle the PR person, who will be impressed and pleased to hear that you have contacts, even if they’re planning to move to “the dark side.” While reporters and PR pros have a real symbiosis, they also have a friendly rivalry – and lots of pet peeves on both sides.

The lame comment: mention Olivia Pope

If the topic arises, you may realize that everything you know about PR comes from the show “Scandal” or something equally exaggerated. That’s okay, but don’t conclude your new acquaintance does anything remotely like Kerry Washington’s glamorous D.C. fixer, unless she’s sipping red wine and carrying a Prada bag, that is.

#MeToo Slams Under Armour: Can It Recover?

The #metoo movement has claimed the reputations of many high-profile men. But its real impact may be at the corporate level. Our heightened awareness – and the corporate reluctance to address systemic misbehavior – presents serious public relations challenges for established companies in every sector. No brand is immune from a reckoning with the consequences of inattention to sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace.

Take onetime media darling Under Armour. The brand enjoyed huge early success, in part due to the  real-life story of founder Kevin Plank. A former football team captain, Plank developed the line based on moisture-wicking technology that was later adopted by NFL teams and featured in hit movies. The company expanded aggressively, and with its growth came inevitable setbacks. The past two years have been particularly rough, and its fumbles show how hard it can be to salvage a reputation when faced with simultaneous business challenges.

The reputation issues started with Plank’s public praise of President Trump as a “pro-business leader” last year. The comment didn’t sit well with some of the brand’s star athletes like Stephen Curry and Misty Copeland, and customers threatened a boycott. Plank was forced to explain himself in a full-page ad in hometown paper Baltimore Sun. He later resigned from the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative Council and joined other business leaders in condemning Trump’s equivocal comments after events in Charlottesville – which prompted threats from Trump supporters. Things eventually calmed down, although the business environment didn’t improve much.

Business suffered as some of its large retail customers struggled, and the brand lost cachet among the all-important teen segment. Earlier this year Under Armour announced a restructuring meant to streamline its business and refocus on women’s apparel, among other areas. Yet just as its recovery started to gain traction,it was hit with serious criticisms of workplace behavior and culture born out of #metoo.

A scathing story in The Wall Street Journal recounted how female employees were subjected to sexual harassment and “inappropriate conduct” in the workplace. Under Armour covered expenses for employee entertainment at strip club, and the piece describes an annual outing at Plank’s home where young female employees were invited based on their attractiveness.

To its credit, the company responded quickly in the wake of the Journal story. Plank’s statement referred to “systemic inequality in the global workplace” and pledged to “accelerate the ongoing meaningful cultural transformation that is already under way at Under Armour.” Although the statement doesn’t actually accept responsibility for misbehavior, it does promise to do better.

Yet the Under Armour example shows how, when a company is already weakened, a reputation shakeup can do more damage than it otherwise would, precipitating customer disenchantment and defections of talent. By contrast, Nike announced a raft of departures by highly placed male officers after scores of female executives complained of systemic harassment, unfair treatment, and retaliation when they brought their concerns to HR officers. But the $112 billion Nike may be better equipped to withstand setbacks, and it has moved swiftly to install women in senior leadership positions.

The formula to protect reputation in the #metoo era is both simple and very, very difficult.

Root out the bad actors

This is an obvious first step, though it can be easier said than done when the harassers are considered top performers, or if they have a close relationship to the CEO. One of Under Armour’s earliest employees was Scott Plank, Kevin Plank’s brother, who rose to EVP for Business Development but retired quietly in 2012 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Many other positions were held by friends of the founder, and, not surprisingly, it had a corrosive effect on the culture.

Make sure women are in positions of influence

Workplace studies show that harassment is more common where men outnumber women and where the supervisor ranks are mostly male. Research by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that sexual harassment at work is more likely to be reported at organizations with women in senior leadership (by 56% vs 39%). Under Armour’s only C-level female was the HR chief, and she recently left the company to accept another position. Over the past year the company also lost its female SVPs for global retail and global brand management. If those aren’t flashing red lights, I don’t know what is.

Establish a rigorous protocol for complaints

Too many corporations limit their role to refreshing the corporate sexual harassment policy or stepping up worksite sessions on the topic. They may talk the talk, but when a sensitive complaint surfaces, the impulse is to cover it up. Worse, the corporation may stigmatize the person who brought the complaint, sometimes unwittingly. To protect its reputation a corporation cannot afford to ignore systemic power imbalances, unresolved complaints, or episodic misconduct.

The heart of reputation, of course, is corporate culture. David Ballard, Assistant Executive Director of Organizational Excellence at the APA sums it up. “All the training, policies and punishments won’t have an impact on harassment if you don’t address power differentials, pay equity and gender equality in organizations,” he notes. Like most workplace problems, the #metoo affliction is easier and less painful to prevent than it is to treat. An organization that cultivates diversity, openness, and ethical behavior is in far better shape to handle unforced errors of any kind, especially today.

3 Best Practices For Using Data In B2B PR

Media love data. As most PR people know, data offers a powerful news hook in a way that even a product launch or partnership often doesn’t. It can easily feed a story to make it stronger, and data-driven stories can easily be made visual, which adds to their appeal. Business and tech media in particular have an ongoing appetite for research, studies and surveys.

For B2B companies, this presents a massive PR opportunity. To meet media demand, B2B tech brands in particular can build out their own research assets. An asset that can earn branded media coverage is valuable — and that’s not all. Data-driven coverage can establish a brand as a category expert or leader. Moreover, it can attract the attention of media, analysts, and business customers. It’s pull marketing 101. These audiences look for category insight and find… you!

Our client Uberall is a good example. Uberall is a Berlin-based location marketing platform that seeks to build its brand here in the US. To help it be seen as an expert on location marketing, one of our first initiatives was to develop branded research on “near me” mobile searches. Our first study drove story volume and quality while also presenting Uberall and its team as rightful authorities on location-based marketing.

But developing research and generating data that media find worthwhile is easier said than done. To be successful, here are three best practices that B2B tech companies and startups need to keep in mind.

Your data only goes so far

When I start discussing branded research possibilities with a client, their first inclination is to point to their own data. This is natural. Most scaled B2B tech companies are sitting on a pile of interesting data. It’s also inexpensive and easy to access. But, more often than not, internal data doesn’t work for B2B PR. Keep in mind that a company’s data is usually selective because it’s based on customer research. Unless you have massive scale, it’s not often representative of a mass category or even a segment.

Media tend to be conservative when it comes to covering a brand’s own data as well. This is why the best ongoing research programs for B2B PR rely on a combination of client data and third-party paid research. Third-party “commissioned” research delivers a fuller sample and is often seen as more credible. For leading data management platform Lotame, for example, their data and third-party surveys are both important, and they often work together.

Don’t make research a sales pitch

It’s important to develop research and data that speaks to core themes, messages and products. BUT it’s equally vital to be restrained in how self-promotional the data is, or media simply won’t cover it. They are inherently skeptical of research from brands because they know brands have a vested interest in the subject matter. So the best research work is grounded in hot buttons and trends, with the brand’s core themes and messages lightly baked in. For B2B tech brands, walking that line is important. This is meant to be a soft sell, not a hard commercial pitch. It’s pull marketing to promote a sense of thought leadership. That’s why brands should avoid featuring their name in the headline of any survey content like a press release. Focus on the findings instead.

A good example is recent research done by event success platform Bizzabo. It’s a rare example of a client’s internal data analysis being more compelling than an outside survey or study. Bizzabo examined the gender split among the keynote and panel speakers across 60,000 conferences, and the research showed that we have a long way to go in achieving gender diversity. Bizzabo let its data shine and was featured in Bloomberg, NPR, MarketWatch, VentureBeat, and more.

Don’t run away from consumers

When B2B tech brands consider research options, they can be quick to write off developing data that polls or surveys consumers. For example, a technology startup that offers delivery and returns software to retailers may say no to polling 1,000 consumers about BOPIS or mobile shopping. Instead, they ask that the focus be on polling retail executives. This is a mistake. Consumer survey data can be pitched effectively to relevant B2B media just like a poll of 300 retail executives can. Additionally, consumer surveys are often sexier to a wider group of media  — instead of pitching only retail trades, you can level up to business and technology — and can be done at a fraction of the cost.
By keeping in mind the balance between media and client needs, B2B brands can create a reservoir of data that hits the sweet spot, drives visibility and builds leadership over time.

Family PR Lessons For (Surviving) The Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time to take a moment to reflect on our blessings, as well as to spend quality time with loved ones. Sometimes we travel long distances to visit with family with whom we rarely spend time — which can make for awkward communication. Families practice their own inscrutable form of PR when reunited for the holidays. Here are some PR-inspired tips for surviving the giving season without getting a migraine.

Stay on message

PR pros know that staying on message is fundamental to rocking a great media interview. It takes discipline and agility to roll with a challenging reporter’s questions. The same goes in family “PR.” For some, it’s essential to not allow conversations to flow into hot topics like politics or religion. For best results, anticipate tricky questions from Uncle Gus or Nanna. Practice answers that gently direct conversations into “pre-approved” topics like football, your new boyfriend, or Nanna’s summer Disney cruise.

PR rules for apologizing 

For some, holiday gatherings may present an offer to bury the hatchet or resolve a long-simmering dispute. Apologies go with family like apple pie with ice cream. An ideal apology contains: admission of wrongdoing, real contrition, and a correction plan. You should also nip new problems in the bud. When you forget to pick up your cousin at the airport due to an early gin and tonic, there will be no way to evade conflict. Don’t be like Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who said “we are sorry” – which would only serve to shift blame to the other family members. Finally, inform your cousin about your clear and actionable steps to remedy the problem, by rushing to pick her up or paying for a Super Shuttle, for example. To further show contrition, offer her the last piece of pecan pie.

Pitch your story to grandpa

A classic codicil of media relations is to carefully research your media targets instead of firing out a wide, spray and pray pitch. PR pros waste their own and the journalists’ time by sending stories to reporters on the wrong beat. Once you’ve determined that you want to tell relatives that you’ve moved back in with your parents to take care of dad while his broken leg mends (and not because  you lost your money in online football betting); you should pitch your story only to those targets interested in that type of narrative. Certainly tell your gullible uncle and your unconditionally accepting grandpa; but refrain from pitching your cynical aunt or your big brother, who doesn’t cover your beat.

Family influencers

Public relations is the engine and gatekeeper of reputation management. If your life has become the stuff of speculation within the family, a few PR-inspired tactics might be effective in changing perception. Maybe your family sees your burgeoning acting/restaurant career as comic fodder. Build credibility by mentioning your appearance on an acting podcast or your last call-back. If your efforts fails, enlist the aid of an influencer. Bring a successful actor to dinner to re-frame their perceptions — an invaluable third-party endorsement. Be careful: an influencer guest can be mistaken for a love interest, sending the narrative cascading in the wrong direction! Of course, if the family’s negative chatter is not far off base, a full rebranding effort might be necessary, which would require a long-range marketing/PR initiative covering Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s.

Pitch an exclusive to your aunt

If a PR pro has a truly newsworthy story, it may be advisable to pitch it as an exclusive to a key outlet before going wide. You have amazing news —a pregnancy, for example — but want to make maximum impact in light of a sibling’s constant attention hogging. An embargoed release is rarely effective in holiday family scenarios; they always get broken too early. Consider pitching the story to one key relative in private. Tell the one person everybody else listens to the most (and who can’t keep a secret): let’s call her Aunt Phyllis. She is keenly interested in the reproductive beat and will do a deeper, more comprehensive story, which will likely get picked up by everyone else in the family, then amplified on social channels. You will be the center of attention, taking advantage of earned and shared media wins.

These and other “family PR” tactics can help to make this season a fun, non-political, controversy-free holiday. Happy holidays from all of us at Crenshaw Communications!

Facebook And The Perils Of Opposition PR

Is it ethical for a PR agency to smear a competitor?

The question came up after a recent report in The New York Times about Facebook’s handling of its PR problems over the past three years. Its strategies are right there in the title – Delay, Deny, and Deflect: How Facebook Leaders Fought Through The Crisis. The picture is one of a company doing its damnedest to work all contacts, tap all allies, and thwart all critics to salvage its reputation.

Facebook’s posture under pressure should surprise no one. But an interesting aspect of it is the role of its PR firm. It brought on PR agency Definers Public Affairs to run political-style oppo against competitors like Google and Apple. Definers also sought to paint Facebook’s critics in a negative light. In a particularly distasteful move, the agency promoted questionable research that linked billionaire George Soros with anti-Facebook groups. The implication was that there were astroturfed protests bankrolled by someone with a political agenda.

The rationale for the down-and-dirty oppo PR is summed up in an earlier interview with Definers founder Tim Miller. Miller claims that a company’s goal should be to “have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor.” Miller’s sales pitch to Silicon Valley execs, whom he views as “surprisingly unsophisticated” at using their own communications tools, seems to be that good will is a zero-sum game. If you lose, I win.

Oppo is risky, especially in tech

In my experience, Tim Miller’s view couldn’t be more wrong. When you impugn a competitor, you can easily risk tarring your entire category with one big, ugly brush. Oppo is particularly perilous in Big Tech, where the industry has experienced a steep reputation decline. Silicon Valley was once synonymous with innovation, ideas, and the American dream. Today the tech giants are being blamed for income inequality, housing shortages, infringements on privacy, and our collective attention deficit, among other social ills.

True to form, Facebook took swift action after the NYT article posted. Within hours, it announced it had cut ties with Definers, while simultaneously defending its work with the agency as completely legitimate and aboveboard. But when the heat is on, it’s easy to blame the agency.

So, was Definers ethical? Many PR battles are waged in hotly competitive categories, and the line between aggressive communications and an outright smear campaign can be blurry. As more details emerge, it seems like they did go too far.

But firing the agency won’t help Facebook much, or at least it shouldn’t. Facebook was calling the shots. And this isn’t the first time it has been called out for questionable PR tactics. As Bob Pickard of Signal Leadership Communications reminded us, Facebook was caught running a “whisper campaign” against Google in 2011. It hired Burson Marsteller to pitch bloggers on Google’s invasions of user privacy. It’s an accusation that seems almost quaint post-Cambridge Analytica, but the furor in PR circles after a blogger posted the agency’s “secret” anti-Google pitch was as much about incompetence as ethics. It was a clumsy, tone-deaf approach to the then-burgeoning blogger community.

As for the ethics of spreading competitive “dirt,” most PRs would agree that the line is crossed when misleading or false information is used. Apart from that, things get murky. Most communicators I know would recoil at sharing information about a competitor that’s poorly sourced, highly sensitive, or truly personal in nature. But even for someone not concerned about ethics, a smear campaign is a stupid strategy.

The first rule of reputation PR is not to embarrass your client. Do no harm, in other words. Even in bareknuckled political contests, such conduct can easily backfire, and it’s truly not the norm for mainstream PR practice. And that’s really the bottom line for professional communicators. As that 2011 Burson team learned, if you throw mud, you’re likely to get dirty.

Best PR Uses For Video Content

As much as video content has grown in advertising, marketing, and PR, data shows that it continues to expand. WebpageFX predicts that by next year, 90% of online content will be video. PR practitioners have long helped clients amplify video content through social media promotion and earned media coverage, but they may be underusing video as branded content. Video enhances SEO, has the best ROI, keeps consumers engaged longer, and is more shareable than many other content forms.

7 best PR uses for video

A public-facing CEO

As noted in our post on long-form content, a CEO can help influence a corporate image as well as build a personal brand through regular video communications. Video also works well as an internal tool for company announcements or simply to show accessibility, as Intuit CEO Brad Smith does in his “new employee welcome message.” Executives can reach out to shareholders or investors through video, as Nestle shows in this message from a 2017 investor seminar.

A real-time response when the stakes are high

Some CEOs opt for video to control sensitive communications like a public apology. Video communications can work well in time-urgent situations, but a controlled message is just that, and it will be questioned if it doesn’t measure up. That was the case with Equifax CEO Rick Smith’s wooden response to the 2017 data breach. Video can be very revealing, and small things like darting eyes, a robotic tone, or nervous energy can be magnified on-camera. Video is a useful executive tool for getting the facts out quickly, or expressing sincere regret and responsibility in a crisis situation. However, any executive who uses it to try to avoid news media questions in real time will probably find it won’t accomplish that.

A personalized way to attract talent

Internal communications teams use video to convey a corporate culture. Zendesk’s “This is Zendesk” corporate video from 2012 still holds up, because it shows a playful, subtle humor, conveying an egalitarian, socially responsible, and fun environment. The video communicates the corporate culture far better than a statement on a website, so it’s not surprising that it has received 214,000 views. As an alternative, a company can show a “day in the life” of employees or simply interview them one-on-one in a video featurette, like Elite SEM does in its more traditional talking-heads style post.

An expression of corporate values

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of video communications is the ability to draw emotional responses. The 97-year-old co-op Land O’Lakes makes extensive use of video on its website and YouTube page, showing its values of innovation, cooperation, and service in a series spotlighting various business partners. “The Farmers” has racked up 215,000 views since 2016, probably because the content is 100% non-promotional PR. It’s pure storytelling. In 2017, Land O’Lakes took it up a conceptual notch, producing “The Believers” — ten highly produced videos that salute the idea of a life in agriculture in a poetic and celebratory way.

Video can demonstrate and explain

B2B companies in the tech space are particularly adept at creating videos to demonstrate, explain, and announce their offerings. In the 2018 B2B Buyers Survey Report, 77 percent of buyers named “deployment time/ease of use” as the top variable in making a final decision on solution providers. Anything less than a clear and easy demo in a well-produced video could be a deal breaker for buyers deep into their journey. Meanwhile, explainer videos are a terrific way to delight and educate consumers while dispensing with the hard sell. Slack’s explainer uses no words, just colorful visuals to show its software while communicating a distinctive brand voice. As a bonus, explainer and demo videos can also reduce the resources needed for various other corporate functions like onboarding and customer service.

Make case studies more visual

77% of B2B buyers in the evaluation stage say that case studies are the most influential content they see from companies. Verizon’s Oath uses video to take the traditional case study beyond the usual infographic or blog post. In this cmobile advertising case study involving Huawei, the situation is highlighted in an exciting and visually stimulating way that works far harder than bullet points and statistics. The sensory appeal of a well-produced video helps convert sales, since more people finish watching videos than they do reading text articles, and more consumers share video on social media by a wide margin.

Make keynote speeches work harder

An executive thought leader’s keynote speech or remarks at an industry event or conference should always be professionally videotaped. Often a prominent conference will film or livestream the presentation and post them on its website for downloading, like these videos from the 2018 Voice Summit. But typically this kind of video content must be edited fairly drastically before being repurposed for a YouTube channel or its website, and amplified on other social channels as a badge of credibility and authority. A good PR team also knows that a well-produced keynote speech or panel discussion video can be a valuable resume item to earn additional speaking engagements and media interviews.

6 Benefits Of Long-Form Content For Brands

In this age of short attention spans, it may seem counter-intuitive to champion long-form content for PR and marketing. But in recent years, data has shown its efficacy. Longer content like books, white papers, podcasts, eBooks, and video can take more time and effort than shorter bites, demanding greater depth and creativity, but it can prove very effective.

6 benefits of long-form PR content

Business books create long-term opportunity

Content like business books can serve as a strong visibility platform and a route to new opportunities like conference speaking gigs and contributor positions. Robert Glazer of Acceleration Partners penned one of the first in-depth books about performance marketing, which led to a national television appearance, podcast guest ops, and keynotes at marketing conferences. And being a best-selling author can’t hurt when pitching bylines or features to the media. Whereas it was once important for a book to be printed and distributed by a traditional publisher, today self-publishing is a perfectly acceptable route. But note that a high-quality book isn’t (overtly) self-promotional; instead it will offer real expertise and subject-matter authority, and visibility that can last for years.

Content shapes a personal brand

Content like blogs and opinion pieces allow a CEO to show depth and personality, which helps build a distinct personal brand. Authoring a weekly blog allows a leader to write in her own voice – which becomes part of the voice of the brand. WordPress founder and current Automattic chief Matthew Mullenweg pens a popular and long-running blog (his blogging predates WordPress by 15+ years) where he covers topics from business (The Importance of Meeting in Person) to fun/personal (What’s in my Bag 2017 Edition). CEOs can let their personalities show. Mullenweg comes off as a highly intelligent but also an emotional and relatable guy. Since we’re on the cusp of 2019, CEOs should also consider the well-documented ascendance of video and go a step further with a video blog. Speaking of showing personality, CEO John Legere of T-Mobile has a weekly YouTube series called “Slow Cooker Sunday” that is, yes, a cooking show. It has helped Legere define his personal brand as smart, accessible, and a little goofy. Consistent production of longer PR content allows control of one’s public image instead of leaving it to sound bites, a LinkedIn summary, or “official” channels like annual reports.

Long-form content bolsters authority

In addition to crafting one’s personal brand, long-form content enhances the credibility of the executive and the company.  Long-form written material allows an executive more scope to display expertise that an occasional news quote or social post cannot. If a full-length business book seems daunting, a leader can author a regularly published educational blog or video blog on his topic of expertise. Two blog posts each week becomes a permanent SEO-friendly knowledge base. It takes time for writing and filming — and a strong, informed point of view. Video publishing platform Wipster’s CEO Rollo Wenlock launched a daring use of video when he began “The Daily WIP” video blog series in 2017 with the intention of making 100 video in 100 days. Wenlock succeeded in making 97 video posts (3-10 minutes) over the next few months, on which he offered various insights into video marketing and publishing. The CEO exudes a smart but down-to-earth persona. Consistency and quality are key when building a reputation as an industry expert or authority.

Packaging a differentiator

The brand-building and authority that longer content confers can can be key elements that differentiate a company from others. Longer content works harder than other forms to help a corporate leader convey a distinct point of view in the service of both personal and company brand-building. Trailblazing Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard outlined his notable business philosophy in his first non-fiction book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, the first of a trilogy detailing Patagonia’s one-of-a-kind ethos. It was a strong first step toward separating the company from competitors and winning the loyalty and attachment of customers. But the most practical advantage of long form content is improved search rankings.

Longer content boosts SEO

SEO has to be optimized in almost every aspect of PR content production today, from social posts to case studies. Multiple studies including one by Moz found that Google favors longer blog posts in search rankings, with the top 10 searches coming in all above 2000 words. But this doesn’t mean you should start keyword-stuffing without regard to quality or purpose. Long-form posts of all kinds need to be of significant depth and offer real value to readers; only quality earns the organic traffic and social shares that is the holy grail of content. Don’t forget, video boosts SEO as well. Additionally, good longer content keeps readers on the website longer and strengthens website domain authority.

Long-form helps close the deal

In the B2B realm, when the basic parameters of offerings are equal such as price, specifications, and product quality, the more subjective measures of value can become deciding factors. Long-form PR content can help decision makers on the buyers journey when emotional factors come into play. A buyer searching for cyber-security software who has narrowed down the choices to two or three vendors may be inspired (or have his anxiety mollified) by the CEO’s book, a demo video series, case studies, or white papers – or by their cumulative effect on the company’s reputation. While not the primary factors in B2B decision making, such content can be a factor in elevating a company into the highest consideration set.

How To Get The Best From Your PR Agency

Bringing on an external PR agency is an investment of time and budget for any company, no matter its size. Naturally, things will go better for both parties if the agency team gives their all, and the client manages for the best possible outcomes. Several times during a pitch meeting, a prospective client has asked our team, “What do you need from us to succeed?” It’s a great question. There are many answers, from the bare essentials to the ultimate agency wish list. Here are some of ours.

Tell us everything

Every agency engagement should start with a full immersion session, but that’s just the beginning. The best clients share news early and often. One of the more frustrating things to happen on the agency side is hearing about a big development at the last minute, with very little time to plan for the best results. All agency teams appreciate a client who trusts us enough to let us in on even confidential or sensitive moves in advance. There are plenty of other reasons for close communication between client and agency, of course. Information is our currency, and news nuggets or insights from background briefings can turn into valuable story or program ideas.

Make your expectations clear

Clear goals and expectations should be part of the proposal and client-agency agreement. Expectations should cover not only service terms and deliverables, but overall business outcomes over time. Most clients understand that. But circumstances can change over time, and in the rush of day-to-day struggle, they can go unspoken. Should expectations change, or if they’re not being met for any reason, it’s time to speak up.

Measure what matters

Occasionally there’s a mismatch between how a client incentivizes their agencies and the most meaningful business outcomes. To get the best from all agency partners, it pays to reward them based on the metrics that count. It’s fine to calculate hours spent and deliverables completed, but if the most meaningful metrics involve increased brand preference or enhanced reputation, those should be quantified. If more tangible business outcomes like site traffic or sales are most important, they should be prioritized among other PR outcomes.

Demand candor

A qualified agency team will offer unvarnished feedback in important matters of strategy or reputation-building. The relationship must be collegial and cooperative, but no client wants a team that will simply rubber-stamp proposals or take orders. The best clients are prepared to consider honest recommendations and opinions where warranted, and if they’re absent, they should ask why.

Commit the necessary time and resources

Occasionally a company will feel that once the team is in place, their job recedes into the background, and the PR agency will work their magic without much input. That’s not the case; bringing on any agency partner will require increased time and commitment from the company. Even the most capable and motivated team must have a knowledgeable communications professional who is empowered to get them what they need, guide their thinking and set direction for the longer term.

Streamline

When it comes to large, global organizations who retain equally large and bureaucratic PR agencies, the approvals process can be a nightmare. Lengthy approval times can stifle creativity and miss opportunities. If at all possible, limit the number of individuals who need to sign off on ordinary deliverables like press statements, partner releases, or quarterly plans. Nothing wears down an agency team like multiple layers of approval, constant delays, and a chronic lack of responsiveness from the client. If you can cut the red tape, your agency will love you for it.

Challenge your PR agency

I’ll always remember a client who would exhort us to “be brave, be bold!” in developing new campaign ideas. We knew he expected the best and would go to bat for us to fund bold concepts, and we would have followed him anywhere for that reason. The best agency teams like to be challenged in a constructive and creative way.

Speak up about problems

And encourage the agency team to do the same. Small problems can fester and turn into much larger ones if not nipped in the bud. Some clients don’t like to offer negative feedback because it’s not comfortable. Yet it’s far better to air any issues, however small, when they occur. A professional agency team will understand. If they don’t they’re not the right fit.

Be an internal champion

Even more than marketing or advertising, a PR budget can use an advocate inside the corporation. Public relations has made huge strides in measuring and elevating the impact of the PR investment, but it remains poorly understood in certain companies and sectors. An advocate inside the C-suite who offers a voice to the agency partner is every PR firm’s dream.

Foster collaboration and clarity among agencies

Sometimes companies bring on multiple agencies for engagements that lack clarity, compete with one another, overlap, or operate in isolation when it makes sense for agencies to coordinate. With distinct entities often handling branding, marketing, digital advertising, SEO, and PR, the environment may become complicated. It’s important to establish clear roles that spell out what is expected of each agency and how they should work with the client as well as together.

Respect the agency’s expertise

A good PR team will not always tell you what you want to hear. The most successful clients know and respect that; in fact, they invite it. What’s more, they trust the agency’s professionalism in everyday decisions and recommendations and don’t have the time or the inclination to micromanage or one-up the agency’s role. That’s why we love them.