How To Get A Fast Start On Your PR Program

For PR agencies, winning new business is an imperative for growth, but it’s only half the battle. For those of us who work with entrepreneurial businesses, or really any results-oriented company, the next pressure point is a strong start. We never want a client to be asking, “what’s next?” so we need to get a jump on their expectations, and that means moving fast.

A quick start for a PR campaign can raise confidence among external (or internal) clients and lay the groundwork for a successful long-term program.
Here are five things that PR people should know and do to get things moving quickly, without sacrificing quality.

Immersion is key to great PR

Paradoxically, it takes time to go fast. A great deal rests on the quality of the PR team’s immersion. Understanding a client’s business is fundamental, and a good agency will know what makes it tick, setting the pace for the planning and execution. When good recon is traded for a ‘learn as you go’ approach, the entire campaign could falter — especially if a PR team must service multiple business units at once. A recent example here at Crenshaw involved a program where B2C, B2B and B2B2C initiatives were designed to complement each other and generate simultaneous awareness for a security brand. Each segment had different distribution channels and end users, so a working knowledge of their business was needed to create the proper strategies. What that usually means is an in-person visit to the client, or at minimum a half-day skype session where we interact with all key officers. One high-quality discussion is worth a thousand powerpoint decks.

Set a communications cadence early

Whether inside a corporation or at a PR agency, the typical campaign isn’t easily quantified early in the campaign. That makes establishing a clear communications protocol and rhythm with a new client important from the start. Doing so communicates that the PR team is proactive, transparent, and ready to lead. Once a PR program gets going, teams should decide on a weekly day and time for client calls, determine who the daily point-of-contact will be and be sure to interact with a client at least 2 – 3 times per day to make them feel the value of their investment.

Be aggressive in getting all assets

Even after the initial immersion, PR teams must often push for key startup assets from a new client — things like past coverage, executive speeches, marketing calendars, customer stories, and more. Beyond archived and published content and plans, there’s also likely to be “thought capital” in the minds of C-level executives and marketing leadership. It always pays to include leadership in the onboarding process, of course, but one-on-one follow-ups may also be necessary. This isn’t a time to be shy; our fuel is information and insight, and even if it takes a few days to go through historical assets and arrange phone calls, there’s no better way to maximize the first month of outreach.

Get your PR plan together

The PR plan is a principal piece for getting a strong start, naturally. A good plan will marry client assets with a PR team’s story-mining acumen to create a roadmap detailing upcoming client news, proactive pitch angles and plenty of flexibility to respond to trending news for reactive commentary opportunities. Presenting a well-designed PR plan to a client within the first week or two of the campaign demonstrates initiative and gives the client confidence that their agency is eager to drive results on their behalf. See this earlier post for tips on writing a rock-solid PR plan.

Identify quick wins

Earned media often builds upon itself. That’s why it can pay to identify some “quick wins” – media who are predisposed to covering a client’s story; internal data that can be repurposed into a news item; or the nugget of a blog post that can be expanded into a bylined article for timely publication. Most of these opportunities won’t be huge ones, but they’ll inspire confidence and build momentum for bigger wins down the road.

Monitor and know your media

Often, the first month of a new campaign consists of onboarding and finalizing planning collateral before diving into proactive outreach and generating results. During these initial stages, PR teams should be proactive in understanding who their media targets will ultimately be and what sort of stories might include the client to raise thought leadership capital down the line. For example, PR people working with cybersecurity companies will know that the vertical has a finite pool of contacts who have a very in-depth understanding of the space. These media aren’t vulnerable to being fooled or falling for ‘spin’. Knowing the media from the get-go helps PR teams snag the attention of key contacts faster, react to trending news more efficiently and targeting pitches for optimal results.

Preparation, foresight and planning are all vital pieces of the puzzle when it comes to getting a quick start for a new PR campaign. If done well, a new program can run like a well-oiled machine from out of the gate.

PR Guide To Agency-Client On-Boarding

If your company has hired an outside PR firm for the first time, you may have gone through an exhaustive search, conducted several meetings, and even done some negotiating before making a decision. So it’s usually a good feeling to finally sign the agency agreement. But what happens then?
On-boarding, that’s what. Many PR agencies have a proprietary immersion and startup process, but even if they don’t, on-boarding is a critical first step in the relationship. How each party handles it can set the tone for a partnership that could take your company to the next level.

On-boarding a new PR firm

Deep-dive meetings

The first order of business is immersion into your business by the agency team. We recommend a structure half or full-day meeting that allows for briefings by key department heads relevant to the PR program and goals. The PR team will ideally have a million questions, and a good client will want to be candid in response. We tell clients, if you’re in doubt as to whether to include something in our backgrounding, do it. Too much is never enough! And like a campaign manager digging for skeletons in a politician’s closet, the PR team will also want to know about problems, challenges, and reputation dings, whether public or not. Further, these kick-off meetings are the time when the respective teams get to know the players and determine exactly how they will work together.

Set up the metrics for success

Before the letter of agreement is signed, the agency and client should already agree on what general basis PR outcomes will be measured. But they’ll also need to decide on specific metrics for evaluating the PR program so there will be no surprises later. Today more than ever, public relations can get data on a wide array of metrics, so it’s critical to choose the right indicators to avoid wasting time and money. See this earlier post for more on how to measure PR outcomes. Pro tip: make sure you have a baseline for brand awareness and message communication before starting the PR campaign.

Awareness audit

Of course one can’t evaluate a fresh PR program without knowing the current state of the client’s visibility. This is where the perception baseline comes in; the PR team will conduct an audit of a brand’s media visibility, including searchable content about brand attributes, customer complaints, reviews, and an all-important analysis of earned media coverage. Depending on goals, an audit of key competitors may also be helpful. Be aware, an objective awareness audit can sometimes hold surprises. A media audit will also inform new messaging and even tactics.

Collect assets

The PR firm will ask for lots of existing marketing and PR documents beyond those it can find on its own, like previous owned and earned content. Additional assets may include proprietary market research, archived announcements, internal communications about business changes, executive speeches and biographies, award entries, and marketing plans. Another important asset is a less tangible one — historical relationships. The PR team will want to know which journalists, analysts and influencers with whom the client has cultivated good (or not-to-good) relations.

Align with marketing  

All tactical PR planning should be aligned with the company’s marketing efforts. The PR team will want to see previous and current marketing calendars – a key tools for the creation of a new PR plan. As noted in last week’s post on writing the PR plan, the team will use the marketing calendar as a guiding touchstone when crafting the new PR program.

Finalize the PR program

The centerpiece of all these efforts is the PR plan, a draft of which will be presented early on. Pay special attention to the timeline of the plan, taking into account key internal barriers or milestones (like a sales meeting or key conference) and building in time for approvals and changes. Make sure the plan offers enough tactical details so that there will be no surprises around execution times or the budget required. Remember that the best PR plans integrate with other corporate functions, ideally showing how a single initiative can be executed around paid, earned and owned media as well as shared across key social media platforms.

Agency-client infrastructure

Early on, the PR and client teams will set up the logistics of communication, establishing the day and time for the weekly call or meeting and quarterly check-ins. All the pesky protocols of who, when, and how are implemented before getting down to the daily grind. It’s during this time when it’s good to agree on etiquette and boundaries on both sides – instead of waiting for issues to arise.

Final touches

Finally, the PR team will set up monitoring and communications tools — shared document and file platforms, messaging, project management and collaboration tools, and other protocols for working together. Depending on the needs of the client, the on-boarding process can last from 3-6 weeks. A smart on-boarding will set the stage for good communication, high productivity, and a long and successful working relationship.

What (PR) Clients Say, And What They Really Mean

A skill that can be particularly important for PR agencies or any client service business is what’s known as “active listening.” What clients say isn’t always what they mean. At least, not entirely. There’s sometimes an unspoken communication beneath comments from clients and business associates – if you’re listening for it, that is.
We decided to have some fun with this notion through a cynical roundup of what clients really mean when they say seemingly ordinary things. Don’t take it too seriously.

When a client says:   Don’t spend too much time on it.

What they really mean is:   Don’t bill me, and whatever you do, don’t let anything else slip.

When a client says:   I’m confused.

What they really mean is:   You’re making no sense.

When a client says:   We’re looking for an agency to grow with us.

What they really mean is:   You will never make any money on this business.

When a client says:   This is a great opportunity for you.

What they really mean is:   This is a test.

When a client says:   I’m looking for a flexible team.

What they may mean is:   We’re hard to work with.

When a client says:  There’s no budget for this.

What they really mean is:  It’s not important to senior management.

When a client says:   We’re happy to reward great work.

What they really mean is:  We’re cheap.

When a client says:  Put on your creative hat.

What they mean is:  This project is probably impossible. Good luck!