MediaRadar and a standing-room-only audience climbed aboard the tech industry wayback machine Wednesday night, as pioneering co-founders of theGlobe.com reunited in person after 20 years. Dot.com legends Todd Krizelman and Stephan Paternot shared laughs, regrets, and lessons from the heady 1990s boom and bust times. The entrepreneurs are portrayed in National Geographic Channel’s new six-episode limited series Valley of the Boom, set during the 1990s, charting the turbulent ride of three companies whose founders changed the world with the emergent technology of the internet.
The former partners seemed visibly moved to be in the same room, recounting tales of making and losing fortunes to moderator Taylor Lorenz of The Atlantic and pointing out the parallels to today’s cryptocurrency industry. Check out “Valley of the Boom” starring Bradley Whitford and Steve Zahn, airing Sundays at 9pm on NatGeo and on Amazon Prime.
Regardless of the industry, a challenger brand can have a natural PR advantage. Challenger brands can shake things up through unique points of view, innovation or a better story. Media like underdogs, whether they’re Casper challenging the mattress industry, TikTok going after Facebook or the Dollar Shave Club taking on Gillette.
But many brands don’t have Casper’s $240 million venture funding. And to raise visibility with press, it’s not enough to simply be a successful challenger. Your brand needs to do more than that to build inroads and tell your story effectively. Here are some tips based on tech PR experience.
Dollar Shave Club didn’t build a billion-dollar business and sell to Unilever in 2016 without throwing a few bombs. Everyone remembers their viral, bro-y YouTube ad in 2011, for example. It helped the brand build a billion-dollar business by being bold and aggressive, highlighting the pitfalls of the traditional razor industry and punching up at massive CPGs like Unilever and P&G. Gillette, a P&G brand, even sued them in 2015, citing patent infringements. This allowed Dollar Shave Club to be even more aggressive in positioning its brand against CPGs, claiming that the incumbents were out of touch and threatened by change.
Previous Crenshaw client Sundial Brands, makers of inclusive personal care and beauty products, is another example. Sundial (marketers of the Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage lines) identified an underserved market and developed products for it. Equally important, the brand spoke out about CPGs overlooking women of color. They also made the story bigger than the company — broadening out to themes on inclusion, gender, and more, which can be controversial. Rather than compete with Sundial, Unilever went the Dollar Shave Club route and acquired them. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.
Show the receipts.
Media are naturally skeptical of commercial claims — and for good reason. They’re always getting pitched by PR people who say they represent the next Facebook or WeWork or Airbnb. More often than not, these claims are wildly embellished or even fabricated. The last thing a journalist wants is to bring a bogus challenger brand story to their editor or readers. So, if they express any interest in hearing more, challenger brands need to anticipate probing questions about scale and growth. That means being prepared to “show the receipts” and peel back the curtain. It will inspire confidence with media and create credibility for the brand.
For challenger brands, social media can offer powerful PR and marketing opportunities, particularly when it comes to real-time marketing responses to news events or competitive moves. Smaller brands are usually more nimble and faster to pull the trigger when it comes to social content because they don’t typically have teams of lawyers approving every tweet. Savvy challengers also use social media to capture audience attention in innovative ways, interact with press on a one-to-one basis, and create a distinct voice and brand personality compared to category incumbents.
Take Taco Bell. It has built an outspoken and irreverent social media persona across a number of platforms, from Twitter to Snapchat. As a result it’s created a foothold with younger consumers while more dominant QSR players like McDonald’s have failed. Away, the luggage company, is another example. In just four years, it has used social media, particularly visual storytelling on Instagram, to create a globally-recognized travel lifestyle brand. The team clearly realized that the luggage industry had become too commoditized and built an identity that sets the brand apart. Their sales are now surging and longtime market leaders like Samsonite are feeling the pressure.
Challenger brands might think that, because they’re challengers, big PR wins are harder to generate. That’s largely true when it comes to most challengers. But there are storytelling opportunities that the incumbents don’t have. All it takes is a creative team, a willingness to take risks, and serious commitment to PR.
What differentiates a powerful public relations program from one that’s just okay? The key is usually a winning strategy.
“Strategy” is a word that’s thrown around a lot by PR and marketing professionals, and its meaning is often diluted. In our business, it means the blueprint or roadmap for how we’ll achieve our goals. Many confuse it with tactics, but those refer to the concrete activities or actions we take as we follow the strategy. Tactics should be informed by strategy, but they’re separate. To me, strategy has always been about the “how” of accomplishing PR goals.
Let’s say you’re working to promote a supply chain software sold to equipment manufacturers. A reasonable strategy might be to use influencers to position it as a way to save manufacturing downtime, costs, and customer irritation. Supporting tactics could include targeted stories in key trade publications, influencer blog posts, conference sponsorships, customer education or awards events, and more. The list of possible tactics is endless, but each falls under the main strategy.
So how do you create a successful PR strategy if it’s not instinctive or obvious? Here are some of our rules of the road.
Start at the end
What are the goals of the program? They shouldn’t be vaguely defined as in “increased visibility” or “enhanced reputation” because those are too broad. It’s more useful to focus on specific benchmarks for visibility, like increasing awareness within a target audience by 10%, or conveying specific product attributes that differentiate from the competition. The most strategic PR programs work to build the relationships and convey the attributes that lead to measurable business performance and growth.
Test it with research
In public relations, we rely on a blend of experience, storytelling instinct, and imagination to inform our programs and our work. But those qualities aren’t enough. To go the distance and make the investment worthwhile, the overall PR strategy should rest on research that helps define the value proposition and confirms the customer and media targets. The best plans also start with a thorough brand communications audit that includes insights into customer, channel partner, and employee perceptions of the business or its products. It’s no surprise that most ad and marketing agencies start by talking to customers because some of the best ideas can emerge from customer and market research.
Prioritize your targets
Market research comes into play here, but so does focus. A common mistake is to try to target too many audiences. If there aren’t sufficient resources to reach many different kinds of prospective customers, it pays to prioritize and be relentlessly disciplined in the messaging and program execution.
A strong strategy is also informed by external insights – key trends, disruptors, and specific industry changes that will affect the company over the long term. Other resources may be internal. Employees have customer contact, and virtually everyone talks about the organization where they work with others. Soliciting input from stakeholders, especially employees, is useful for developing a killer PR strategy for two reasons: first, they have deep and unique knowledge of a brand and its customers; and second, because they serve as informal ambassadors for the brand. For better or worse, employee chatter will almost always fill gaps created by inadequate communication within the company. Why not make them for the better?
Align PR and marketing messages
Sometimes the public relations messaging is developed to communicate a product’s “higher-order” benefits while, simultaneously, direct-marketing promotes deep price discounts. This isn’t ideal, because the two messages may be in conflict. I once managed a well-funded campaign for a weight loss brand that focused on building scientific credibility against gimmicky competitors, yet our messaging was somewhat diluted by heavily advertised quarterly price promotions. While both types of messages can coexist, if they’re not carefully aligned, they can end up fighting with one another.
Don’t fall in love with tactics
Sometimes PR people embrace tactics that we know will generate media coverage – with good reason! Tactics are the fun part. In the heat of battle, we can overfocus on execution, too. But even the sexiest events may not dovetail with your target customer’s needs. Someone once said to me that the difference between a strategic plan and a tactical one is that the former focuses on delivered results, while the latter on delivered change.
Bulletproof your strategy
Once the strategy is nailed down you’re ready to write the PR plan. But it pays to remember that public relations works in a dynamic environment and things can change. A bulletproof strategy is adaptable to market conditions, competitive developments, or even changes in the news cycle. And a good plan should include a crisis contingency that prepares for potentially damaging scenarios with a defensive strategy for quick action.
Check out this post for tips on making any PR strategy bulletproof.
If you’re an aspiring public relations pro and have nabbed your first internship, congrats! Soon your head will be spinning as you’re surrounded by new people in a fast-paced environment. If it’s a good internship, you’ll learn a lot, get a flavor for what PR is all about, and end up with a clearer idea of where you want to go in your career.
Not all internships turn into entry-level jobs, and maybe you don’t want them to be. But in case a desirable spot opens at the right moment, it’s important to dazzle not only the bosses, but the full staff – since basically everybody’s your boss when you’re an intern. I asked several veteran PRs who were able to parlay a single internship into a career how they did it.
PR tips on going from intern to perm
It’s easy to sit at your desk and wait for assignments, especially when you’re new and don’t know the lay of the land. But it’s better to be noticed — in a positive way. Staff might be shy about giving work to inexperienced interns, or they may not be well organized. If you sense that, keep asking for work. Update your supervisor frequently (but not too frequently) on what you’re doing and when you anticipate finishing. If you have a particular skill or desire, let it be known! Showing enthusiasm as well as an obvious work ethic can only help. Be proactive, but not pushy.
As an intern, you’ll be thrown into the fray with little knowledge of the workplace culture, dress code, personalities or even workload. Until you’ve become acculturated, err on the side of professionalism. Speak, behave, and even dress just a little bit more conservatively than you ordinarily would. Be friendly and relaxed, yet punctual, diligent, and not too chatty. Stay away from overly personal questions to colleagues, and avoid gossip at all costs.
Go the extra distance
It’s a cliche because it’s true; you’re likely to stand out if you go above and beyond in small ways. Read, study, and volunteer for tasks no one else wants to do. Offer helpful suggestions. A five-star intern at a PR firm will work hard to understand the business. One of the first things I did here (yes, I was an intern, too) was to study each client to learn what they do and how our PR programs work for them. Crenshaw partner Chris Harihar claims the secret to his success when he started years ago as a PR agency intern is that he read every relevant journalist and trade magazine to flag relevant news for the team internally – even on the weekends! Who wouldn’t hire a guy like that?
There are no stupid questions
It would be great and impressive if when given a task, you can just go and knock it out like you’ve been doing it for years. But, odds are, there will be questions, and the worst thing you can do is to muddle through without asking for fear of looking ignorant. Do your best to think a step ahead: have a laptop or pad and pen at the ready if direction is given verbally. Always ask the deadline for a given task and where you should direct any questions that might come up later. When communicating by email, keep your questions and comments short and to the point, but don’t be bashful about asking.
If you make a mistake
An intern may think she’s blown all chances of a permanent hire with a mistake. But I would argue that mistakes make us more human and relatable — and can elicit empathy. Consider the young woman who showed up a month early for a Skype interview at Microsoft and proceeded, as anyone would, to send a note to the recruiter asking what’s up. Her self-deprecating tweet about the mistake went viral, which prompted Microsoft reps to offer reassurance. Admitting a mistake and being able to laugh at yourself shows a certain type of confidence and good nature and can even endear you to your bosses. As a multitude of CEOs have learned, trying to bury mistakes can end up creating a “PR” nightmare.
It’s a small PR world
Even if you know there won’t be a full-time position opening after the internship, you should still give it your best. You never know if a month or a year down the line, an agency may need an account coordinator or digital assistant. The New York PR industry is a small world where lots of people know one another. PR managers are happy to recommend stellar interns for jobs at other agencies. Why not ask for a recommendation letter when you leave? It can be an asset to crack that first entry-level PR job. Here at Crenshaw, we actively seek out interns who have the potential to be permanent hires.
Become an asset
The above add up to one overriding goal of an internship: becoming a valued asset to the company team. Whenever possible, offer to complete task that nobody asked you to do – a task that might add value to whatever the staff is working on. If the agency has a regular blog, offer to write a post, suggesting a topic. Volunteer to check in media at a client press event if you sense the team needs extra hands. Doing quality work with a good attitude will endear you to an agency. If the team will miss you once the internship is over, you have become an asset, and you’ll have a better chance of being hired.
Several of us are former interns, including yours truly!
In the round-the-clock battle for media attention, reporters, marketers, and PR pros cannot afford to waste words. We’ve all come across executive quotes in press releases or news articles that sound like they were written by a novice PR person, or, worse, a committee. A poor spokesperson quote is a lost opportunity at best. How do you make something as ordinary as quotes from executives a real asset?
PR tips for stellar executive quotes
Add to the story
The executive quote is a chance to add information — substance, details, color — to the story, not to repeat information found elsewhere in a press release or article. If a release announces a $30M Series B funding, the executive quote should not be about how “pleased we are with the investment,” even if that is true. Instead, it should describe plans to use the cash infusion, brag about milestones already hit, or articulate specific reasons why the company merited it.
Use visual language
One thing that will make a quote stand out is visual imagery. If you plant an image in the reader’s mind, they are much more likely to remember it, and a journalist is more likely to use it. In an article where many industry figures are quoted, a visual one is also more likely to be used as the “pull-quote” — a key excerpt pulled from the piece as a highlight. A congressional hearing is a “political strip search.” VC pressure for startups to scale prematurely is like “driving a car that’s leaking gasoline.” A loss of transparency is a “black box.” Using such evocative language also adds dimension and color to an executive’s persona.
Strong language works for those corporate leaders who are keen to embrace a higher public profile or be seen as a thought leader — and who can weather the attention that may follow if the comment is controversial. Quotes that convey bold predictions, unexpected opinions, or blunt honesty will often attract attention. When objecting to Indiana’s law to allow businesses to refuse service to gay or transgender people, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff objected with public comments. But he didn’t just say, “We don’t agree with this legislation” or “It doesn’t reflect our values.” He called it “brutal,” “unfair” and “unjust” while pledging to reduce the Salesforce presence in the state. The strong words put Benioff at the top of the list of business leaders who opposed the move in the media coverage that resulted.
Even if an executive isn’t trying to be a Benioff or Bezos, his comments don’t have to be boring or robotic. Press release quotes are often written in stilted, jargon-stuffed, or boilerplate language, the better to earn internal and legal department approval. Yet they’re far more effective and usable if they read as comments that a human being might actually utter. The ideal way to craft a natural-sounding quote is to discuss it with the executive on the phone and listen to or record his response. Unfortunately, PR staff don’t always have the opportunity to do that, so we rely on our skills and familiarity with the situation and the spokesperson in question.
Don’t go overboard
In press releases, it’s not necessary to quote business leaders more than twice at most, and one well-written quote is better. Sometimes we must include quotes from multiple people, as in the case of partnership releases involving two or more businesses, but too many executive quotes can be tedious and unwieldy. If remarks by executives multiple organizations must be included, consider a quote sheet and a press release addendum.
The perfect executive quote adds value to the story in a visual, conversational manner while simultaneously reinforcing the organization’s voice. We are storytellers. Let the quotes help tell the story. Quotes in press releases and as commentary are valuable opportunities to communicate with stakeholders in a fairly direct manner. Don’t waste them!
For PR people, the Gillette ad that roiled social media and birthed a thousand thought pieces raises an old question – is there such a thing as bad publicity?
Normally when a company manages to generate international attention and earn millions of views for a brand message, it’s a win. Certainly the controversy has been a huge boost for the ad before its official launch on Super Bowl Sunday. According to Sentieo, Gillette mentions exploded to 900,000 on Tuesday. The brand’s 30-day average is only 2000.
That’s a lot of buzz for a commodity product. And it’s tempting to compare the Gillette ad strategy with the now-famous Nike Colin Kaepernick campaign. In Nike’s case, the brand suffered legitimate backlash, sporadic boycotts, and even a temporary drop in its share price because the ad offended some people. Yet its success was never really in doubt because the values expressed align with those of Nike’s core audience of young males.
Brand Gillette’s situation is trickier, and the ad’s success is less clear-cut. There’s a lot to like about the message. As a statement against bullying, sexual harassment and other forms of so-called “toxic” masculine behavior, the video is fine. The tagline “The Best A Man Can Be” is a nifty twist on the classic Gillette tagline “The Best A Man Can Get.” And it’s very topical given the power of the #metoo movement. But that’s also where things get hairy.
First, there’s the issue of tone. The ad is serious to the point of preachy, and that can be…um, irritating. Exasperated customers tweeted things like, “I just want a razor, not a lecture on ethics.” Does our every purchase, no matter how personal or mundane, need to be an extension of our social values? And what is “toxic masculinity,” really? The term is overused and self-important.
More importantly, some men are offended by the message. These are the customers who say they’re dumping Gillette because the ad attacks traditional masculine conduct. The reaction has launched countless Twitter wars by some who insist that if you object to the ad, you must be one of those toxic personalities. Criticizing an ad that condemns bad behavior shouldn’t mean you endorse the behavior, but people have chosen sides, and it’s not pretty.
Ironically, while some are calling the ad “feminist propaganda,” many women and pro-feminist men hate it, too. They say Gillette is exploiting #metoo to sell razors at a time when sales are slipping due to the popularity of facial hair. Like greenwashing, they charge, it has everything to do with making money and nothing to do with making real change. They support the message but don’t trust the messenger.
In fairness, Gillette unveiled a fresh take on its tagline in a new campaign last year aimed at the “expressive modern male,” so the video isn’t entirely a bolt from the blue. But to my knowledge the brand has no real history supporting gender equality or related issues, so it’s vulnerable to charges of opportunism.
But what really burns is a more subtle aspect of the message here. That’s the ad’s call for men to hold one another accountable. And it depicts a real range of “toxic” conduct, from playground fights to #metoo. It’s also where the similarity with the Nike strategy ends. Nike was making a corporate statement about its spokesperson’s stand on racial justice. Customers could support that stand or walk away from it.
But the Gillette ad calls on the brand’s own customers to address an entire spectrum of common behavior where we may not all agree on the rules. Can you really equate laughing at a stupid sitcom joke with overt sexual harassment? Where does personal responsibility begin and end when it comes to the social behavior of friends and colleagues?
It’s okay if a brand statement makes us uncomfortable; in fact, it’s often admirable and may be a goal of great advertising. Yet the many and varied critiques of the Gillette video, and its muddled message, make it a tough one to embrace. I’m not sure if the ad will help Gillette sell razors. But what it probably portends is that we’ve entered a period of “woke” advertising. That means it isn’t enough for the brand message to be socially conscious, or to tap public awareness of big issues to make a statement. Viewers and opinion leaders will weigh in on all aspects of a brand’s position, starting with its authenticity.
Gillette’s next phase should involve a tangible commitment to ending bullying, sexual harassment, or whatever “toxic” behavior it chooses to take on as a part of its brand platform. In the “new” era of woke marketing, brands who want to succeed will need to walk the walk.
If you’re in tech PR, you try to know a lot about every social media platform. You have to — either for research, to promote clients, for personal branding, or to connect with journalists. Still, it’s a challenge to keep up with the latest social sites and services, because every day brings something new. With that in mind, here are three up-and-coming social media platforms tech PR pros need to know and use in 2019.
3 social platforms tech PR pros need to know
The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz has an excellent explainer on TikTok, so check that out. But, in a nutshell TikTok is a short-form video social network for Gen Z. Users post 15-second clips and the content ranges from vlogs to (mostly) musical performances to brain teasers, and beyond. I’ve seen everything on TikTok (follow me at @bravacadotoast). The content is hilarious and weird. For tech PR pros, TikTok is an opportunity to research content preferences among younger audiences and identify nascent memes that could be useful for marketing campaigns. For tech brands interested in a unique marketing channel, it’s also ripe with potential. TikTok campaigns have built-in PR value simply because the platform is sexy right now. Take advantage.
Imgur is a personal favorite. Look at the site. It looks like someone vomited memes on a page. That’s what makes it great. It’s an image and photo hosting and sharing site that has actually been around for 10 years. At one point it was a platform for image hosting, and the social piece grew out of that years later, popularized through Reddit. According to SimilarWeb, Imgur gets 500 million monthly visits. It’s insanely popular and a great place for tech PR pros and brands to research memes, get inspired by content and understand what young men in particular are thinking. From the always incredible Kerry Flynn: “More than 80 percent of users are male, and more than 50 percent are millennial male.” As a more tactical use case, it can host press images for you if you’re in a bind. But make sure to only use it to host something you are okay with being public.
Launched three years ago, Houseparty is another video-powered social network, but with a different use case. I like Business Insider’s description of it as “a group video-chat app most easily described as FaceTime but with more people.” Users are typically in the early 20s, so they’re a bit older than TikTok. While its popularity has stalled a little as wealthier competitors like Snapchat and Facebook have taken it on as competitors, the user numbers are still impressive. Today Houseparty says 20 million people spend an hour on the service every day. That’s a captivated and engaged audience that tech PR brands — particularly on the consumer side — can potentially connect with through influencer marketing or even sponsored chats. Tech PR pros need to use the service to identify opportunities and guide clients who want unique activations.
What sites did I miss? Let me know on Twitter at @chrisharihar.
In tech PR, the story is the cornerstone of every good pitch. It all starts and stops there. Tech reporters, like most journalists, get hundreds of pitches each day. Most are ignored, even when they’re well-written. They’re like banner ads — the sheer volume makes tune-out inevitable. So, let’s face it — media relationships matter.
Building authentic rapport with a tech journalist helps a brand stand out amid a barrage of emails, DMs and phone calls. It removes the friction and uncertainty reporters encounter when dealing with an unknown brand or publicist. If you’ve provided them with a good tip or story in the past, maybe you have something good this time around. Unfortunately, building credible media relationships is harder than ever. The competition for a reporter’s time is fierce. And media are naturally skeptical about thirsty PR and comms people. As Drake has famously said, “no new friends.”
So how can tech brands build lasting bonds with media today? Here’s what works for me.
5 tips for stronger media relations
Play the long game
Real media relationships take time and effort. In the beginning, there is a courtship period. Grabbing a coffee has never created an instant friendship. But having multiple in-person meetings throughout the year, attending panels the reporter might be moderating, and interacting with him or her on social channels all work together to forge real connections over time. It’s not hard to do. After all, PR and reporters want the same thing: to tell great stories. Once that hard-earned bond is formed, it needs to be maintained over time like any other relationship. That long-game mindset is important.
Don’t be afraid of rejection
Some journalists will become your best friends. Others just won’t want to get to know you. They might even come to hate you. That happens. But one of the biggest hurdles to building relationships is the fear of rejection. If you’re in tech PR, you’ll have to overcome that fear. Ultimately, to get anywhere meaningful relationship-wise, brands and PR pros must put themselves out there. You have to make the initial awkward asks for a coffee, to grab a drink or to go to karaoke (never underestimate the power of poor singing to form bonds). See this earlier article on how to avoid media relations mistakes.
Stop selling 24/7
A real relationship never feels transactional, and PR pros enjoy real relationships with journalists. If you approach every reporter interaction as if it’s a sales opportunity, you won’t get very far. Sure, you might get some occasional coverage, but you won’t have a relationship that can deliver better quality stories with greater consistency. PR people and reporters often work in collaboration to create great stories. To get there, you need interactions that don’t always have an explicit marketing or sales benefit. Don’t grill them on what stories they’re working on; find out what’s going on in their lives. As in most aspects of public relations, salesmanship has its place, but it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of your communication.
Promote their work
Journalists today are under pressure to generate views and clicks, and we can help. It’s never a bad idea to follow the top media in your area and boost their stories by sharing them with your own social networks. PR people are natural born news junkies, consuming the morning news right after the alarm goes off and during the commute. Here at Crenshaw, we flag the biggest tech headlines of the day each morning and often share them on our social channels through the day. Another way we promote reporters’ work (and their personal brand) is by enlisting them to moderate a client’s event, like a discussion panel — which has the reciprocal benefit of increasing credibility for those clients.
Get out of the office
It’s easy to reach people through email or social media, and it’s great to stay in touch that way. But relationships take on another dimension when you run into someone in real life – at events, conferences, social outings, or a simple sit-down over coffee or something stronger. There are limits to how much rapport you can build over phone and email. There’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye. Face-to-face interactions make you (and the reporter) more memorable. So, if you’re the shy type who likes to hole up in the office, you may be missing out on fun, productive media relationships.
Any good public relations agency should want an open conversation about what clients can expect for their investment. And most do. They’re hoping for a productive meeting and a solid start to what they expect will be a long and successful partnership.
But even the best agencies don’t always spill the tea at the very first meeting. Here are some things to keep in mind for companies looking to bring on an outside PR agency for the first time. What might the agency be unlikely to tell you during that initial conversation? It’s probably nothing nefarious, but, like a first date, there are topics that aren’t ideal for the occasion. In the spirit of transparency, here are a few possibilities.
They’re sizing you up, too
Far from the stereotype of the overeager PR guy, the best agencies have learned what type of client fits their skill set and experience. Top PR companies choose their clients with the same care as they do their employees. The best way to build a track record of success in our business is to align with the businesses and brands who fit our strengths and who offer the potential for a lasting partnership. So, prospective clients should be open about their business challenges as well as the opportunities. The more they know, the better the agency team can assess the potential success of the relationship.
The work they show may not be typical
During a competitive review, agencies will naturally bring out the most successful examples of their work. Often this is work for well-known brands because that’s what impresses clients. But should it? Based on experience, I’d say that working for a well-recognized brand offers concrete advantages when it comes to generating earned media coverage. Journalists are more likely to be responsive, and the PR budgets often allow for high-impact tactics like event sponsorships or paid influencer campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a case history for a smaller or lesser known client often says more about the agency’s ability to deliver consistent earned media outcomes. It may be less impressive but more important as a barometer of performance.
Media contacts aren’t all that
Occasionally a prospective client will want details about our journalists contacts. Some even ask for media references! (Pro tip: most PR professionals value their relationships too much to put media contacts in that position.) It’s true that knowing journalists and bloggers can ease the way to generating stories about clients. But most journalists won’t accept a pitch just because they like you. Media contacts are valuable because they can enable a quick answer and constructive feedback that helps PRs refine our approach. They’re not a magic bullet.
They need a lot from you
A successful agency relationship takes a real commitment from the client. Occasionally companies think that once they’ve signed the PR team, their work is done. But it’s just beginning. A good PR agency will need significant time and attention from the client, including an in-depth onboarding, timely input into its strategy and programming, quick responses to questions about opportunities, quarterly or monthly reviews, and regular contact with senior officers outside the internal PR function. I love it when prospective clients ask questions like “What do you need from us to be successful” because it shows the client is realistic and committed. A good agency should offer a perspective on what they need from a client, but it doesn’t always happen, possibly because they fear scaring them off.
Your budget matters. A lot.
Prospects and agencies sometimes dance around the budget issue because no one wants to feel like the relationship is purely transactional. Clients want a dedicated team that’s enthusiastic about the brand and excited by the work. Agencies want to feel like they’re building a fruitful relationship for the long term. But there shouldn’t be any mystery about how PR agencies plan budgets and bill clients. And client companies should know that being coy about the budget, or asking the agency to “grow with them” isn’t the way to get the best from the relationship. Budgets are directly related to the time commitment and experience level of the team, so it should be stated at the outset.
They’ll do a lot that you don’t see
We promote our talent and our creative spark, but the biggest contributor to great media coverage might be old-fashioned spadework. We typically spend more time researching and strategizing than pitching media, for example. It helps to be able to connect the dots, or link a client’s story to a breaking news or growing trend, but the unsung part of media relations is research. If you know what the individual blogger or journalist has covered over the past months, study their work, and go the distance to flesh out the right story angle, you’re far more likely to succeed. But you may not hear as much about that because it’s just not very exciting.
The success or failure of a PR program can hinge on many factors, most of which are within our control. Still, when you’re too close to the work, it’s difficult to determine what gears might be hampering a machine’s performance. Here are 10 possible reasons for PR outcomes that miss the mark.
There’s no buy-in at the top
If a company’s leadership isn’t willing to commit to a PR program, it may be challenged from the start. Senior executives who don’t get involved in internal PR reviews, or who don’t participate as corporate spokespersons where needed are sending a message that the program isn’t a priority. That can hamstring the PR team’s efforts.
It’s not working well with others
If a PR team or agency doesn’t work in collaboration with marketing, it may be spinning its wheels — or worse, working in opposition to company business objectives. Since PR and marketing are increasingly blurring their functions, sharing goals, data, and messages, the absence of collaboration is a lost opportunity.
The silver-bullet theory
It may be tempting to think that a great PR program is the magic ingredient for a critical product launch or the sole solution to a decline in brand reputation. But it isn’t usually quite so simple. PR is not a band-aid in times of crisis, nor is it a quick study or one-off tactic. While a strategic PR campaign can yield powerful results in the form of earned media, it typically generates influence over time. The molding of public opinion, raising of awareness, or bolstering of reputation are time-consuming endeavors requiring discipline and patience. And they’re worth it.
Aiming too high to start
Top-tier earned media articles are terrific, and they’re often a highlight of the research, relationships and media strategy that goes into a good media relations campaign. But it doesn’t pay to narrow your targets to an unrealistic handful of marquee outlets. If leadership insists that only splashy features in Fast Company or The Wall Street Journal will do, it will miss many opportunities. As we preach here often, well-targeted trade and niche publications are the less glamorous but effective workhorse of PR.
An inadequate budget can lead to an underachieving PR program. Businesses that lack experience in public relations may believe that a sliver of the marketing budget can be repurposed for an annual PR and influencer campaign. Or they may think they’ll give it six months to change a brand image. The reality is usually different, however. Strategic PR takes a long-term commitment by an experienced team, and that comes at a cost. See our earlier article on how PR agencies set budgets and billing.
No measure of success
It’s important to have a clear definition of success at the outset. In the current environment, there’s a world of data available to help inform program strategy and measure success. Vague outcomes like “increased visibility” may work as a goal but will never suffice as a metric. A PR team must set forth a specific set of metrics from placements, to leads generated, to social mentions for any and all PR initiatives — and allocate budget for such measurement.
Look what I did!
If a company’s media pitches, blog posts, and press releases read like the accomplishments section of a resume, they are probably just as fun to read — meaning, not at all. Public relations is about making great content that engages, educates, and entertains. And it shouldn’t always be about your brand. If your PR program is festooned with self-promotional pablum, you’ve missed the point, the value, and the power of great storytelling.
Ignore SEO at your peril
The lines between PR and marketing are blurring. If a PR team isn’t optimizing its considerable online deliverables, then it’s leaving increased authority, visibility, and credibility on the table. SEO and PR can influence search ranking and increase site traffic. More importantly, SEO and PR build strong brand associations and drive market authority, helping reach customers at every point in the sales journey.
DIY PR doesn’t deliver
But there can be no DIY in public relations, no matter how tempting it can be for a startup. That doesn’t mean you have to hire a PR agency, but it does mean an experienced professional should lead the program. We’ve seen some businesses relegate PR to an afterthought, defining it as responding to media inquiries and assigning an intern to it. Yikes. We advise early-stage companies to hire seasoned PR pros as soon as they are ready and able. See this earlier post for some compelling reasons why DIY PR so often falls short.
No creative spark
It’s easy for an initiative to be drowned out in the torrent of social and traditional media noise. In today’s atmosphere of continuous communications from a multitude of channels, PR people (and their marketing peers) must choose their channels well and review programming each quarter for original approaches to storytelling. See this earlier post for more on the power of PR creativity.