What PR Can Learn From, Ahem, Our Grandparents

If you’re in PR, you may know that this weekend is Grandparents Day, and that this month will see the release of “The Intern,” starring Robert DeNiro as a retiree working as an intern for Anne Hathaway’s fashion start-up. It is in this spirit that we share some PR lessons we’ve learned from older generations.

Do more PR with less. If there’s one thing the younger set has heard repeatedly, it’s about how our elders managed to do with less when they were “your age.” The takeaway for PR really means: be prudent stewards of budgets for everything from a PR campaign to office management. One thing grandparents didn’t have were all the tools available today to help us save and manage money in business.

Be a better PR storyteller. Although our industry acts as if it invented this term, you know the best storytellers are often seniors. Here is what PR can learn about storytelling from the old masters – always have a beginning, a middle and an end (really!) Start with a “grabber”- a powerful “lede” to hook your audience and support with colorful anecdotes and examples. It’s not so different!

Recycle and re-purpose. Your grandparents may have come of age in the 70s, when environmental concerns made it fashionable to recycle household goods. For PR purposes we are talking about recycling good ideas.  Every PR person has that one favorite “big idea” that has stood the test of time and can resonate with a B2B or consumer PR campaign today. Keep a file of “good ideas” and use it to kick off brainstorms or to help you when you’re “creatively” stuck while crafting a plan. There are even some cheat sheets out there to help.

Get personal. When “50 Shades of Grey” star Dakota Johnson’s mom Melanie Griffith starred in her breakout film role in “Working Girl,” she knew how to work personal contacts. In a famous scene, she crashes a wedding just to glean some insider scoop to help finesse a deal. PR people need to get more personal too, and simply stalking a contact on Twitter isn’t what we mean. Make some offline friends with media and potential business partners, or crash a wedding of your own.

Don’t let “industry-speak” get the best of you. Ever hear someone of a past generation described as “plain-spoken?” You want to be that kind of communicator when explaining your company’s product or service. Too much jargon will confuse your audience and can actually date you. Terms that used to herald the latest and greatest become meaningless in time – used a telex or floppy disc lately? Just ask a grandparent.

5 "Magic" Words To Boost A Consumer PR Pitch

The summer months are in full swing, and as PR professionals know, seasonal pitches are a tried and true tactic. How do you use the season to help your pitch resonate with media when it comes to calendar opportunities? As Sigmund Freud once said, “Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power.” Here are a few fun, summer-esque buzzwords to consider in your communication.
PR energize
Energize. Warm weather calls for more activity. This is the perfect time to promote products that revitalize or stimulate with a boost of energy. Heat can be draining, so it’s helpful to use words that flag how products or services can fuel and energize users.
PR light
Light. This can apply to a wide range of products and scenarios – light clothing, light flavor, lightweight, etc. It’s the time of year when we latch onto the less-is-more mindset. Show media how your product allows users to be playful and carefree, whether they’re doing sports or relaxing at the beach. Play up portable goods as well, since everyone has a vacation in sight.
PR sweeten
Sweeten. The heat tends to bring out the sweet tooth in us. Whether used literally (“sweeten your smoothies”) or figuratively (“sweeten the deal”), this buzzword will add color to your language to help grab attention.
PR freshen
Freshen. Summer calls for more time outdoors, which means more dirt, sweat and an overall need for refreshment. This is a versatile word that can be used to describe products we use personally or in settings like homes, offices or airports. It can imply efficacy, newness, or even rejuvenation.
PR colorize
Colorize. Winter black is long gone. Exciting hues, patterns and lights are in demand, so make your story angles pop by explaining how your product can colorize consumers’ everyday lives for a summer vibe. “Bold” and “glow” are also good alternative buzzwords.

PR Pros: You Can Better Educate Your Clients!

Every PR agency-client relationship can benefit from education. Of course, the agency team needs to get up to speed on the client’s product or service, whether it’s a  B2B/tech innovation or a new consumer product. Clients also need to understand the power of public relations to drive great campaigns in tandem with other tools and tactics like effective content. So it is up to us as PR professionals to revert to what we know best and do a little “PR for PR.”

From the outset, define your role as professional consultant rather than simply “service provider.”  Some clients view agencies as order-takers for news releases or  social media posts rather than as a strategic communications partner who best do their job as informed and involved members of the marketing team.

But make sure the scope of work is crystal clear. Other clients incorporate the agency into everything and truly look at the team as an arm of the company. Good problem to have, right? Yes, if the terms are spelled out clearly and the compensation is fair. Otherwise, such “scope-creep” breeds resentment and threatens even the best relationships.

Go back to basics. Sometimes the client missed the memo and has an incomplete understanding of what PR is and what it is not. With all the changes in the industry in the last few years, it is particularly important that the CMO or other client contact has up-to-date experience or information. With absolutely no condescension or inflated sense of importance, take the time to build in an explanation of the agency’s role (and potential role) in ongoing communications such as reports. Refer back to goals and expectations for the assignment and make sure the decision-maker is aware of the client-agency communications and accountability process.

Illustrate rather than pontificate. When making your points, think in visual terms rather than a spew of words. Just like in the best presentations, if you can say it with examples and images, the takeaway will be more palatable and memorable.

Never stop. As your agency-client relationship grows and trust increases, take it upon yourself to introduce the client to new ideas and “boundary-stretchers” that will help with reputation management and interest in the product or service. Take the time to make  a concrete case for new initiatives and push for collaborative brainstorms and other sessions to get all parties to offer up good ideas.

The 5 New Business Presentation Types: A Primer For PR Pros

You’ve spent weeks researching the category and the potential client. You’ve strategized and brainstormed and created the perfect presentation. The team has rehearsed, and everyone is psyched. You’ve set up the room and made your introductions. Its showtime! Despite your best preparations, however, there are unknowns when pitching new business. Human beings are unpredictable, subject to change without warning. Here are five “presentation personalities” you are likely to encounter as you pursue new PR clients.

The nodder and smiler. This person defines the ideal audience for a successful presentation. The prospect is warm and engaging, makes and keeps eye contact and actually shows enthusiasm for what you are discussing – and sometimes even gratitude for the hard work your team invested in the effort.

The inscrutable. A tough nut to crack, this type may have been terrific on the phone and even greeted you with an upbeat welcome. But once the presentation starts, the temperature drops and you cannot read him. Sometimes people adopt this persona to shield some insecurity in the face of higher-ups or perhaps because they don’t feel comfortable “showing their hand” when the process is competitive. Whatever the reason, it’s the agency’s job to try to engage them by stopping and eliciting feedback or thanking the individual at an appropriate moment for providing good direction and input.

Nitpicky, challenging or mean. It happens, and the odds are they didn’t get that way just because your team entered the room. Sometimes someone is truly having a bad day, or there are office politics at play that a visiting firm wouldn’t be privy to. Whatever the case, keep your calm and your professionalism. Don’t let this personality ruffle you, and don’t engage in an argument. If you feel your own temper or emotions rising, try to defuse the situation, defer to someone else on your team, or pray this prospect has a hard stop.

Poorly prepared. It can become obvious that one or more people in the room were late adds or replacements and are genuinely puzzled by what’s going on. This may manifest itself in stops and starts and seemingly gratuitous questions. As annoying and thankless as that may feel, go with it! Enjoy the presentation and take your time with this individual. You never know how important he or she may be to the business.

On a device the whole time.  Sadly, this is a trend on the rise. This disrespectful person cannot disconnect even for something as important as the presentation your team worked on for weeks. Even though IRL you cannot tell the prospect to GFY, you can very kindly offer to wait until the person is done with their device. The result should mean a more intent listener, and if not, you could be the first firm to collect phones at the conference room door. Now, there’s an idea!

What PR Pros Can Learn From Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is on the campaign, er, book promotion trail, and whether you love her or hate her, PR practitioners should listen up! Mrs. Clinton is a smooth operator in the interviewee chair. Here are some examples of her expertise that can be applied when managing B2B or consumer PR clients.

Skirting the awkward or negative. Last night  Clinton spoke with Diane Sawyer, who asked how the public should view “Bill and Hill’s” rich speaking fees in light of the stagnant economy and plight of many Americans. The former Secretary answered as easily and smoothly as if the question had been, “Care for more tea?” The Clintons may not have left the White House “broke,” as she put it, but there was an assuredness to her unwavering and detailed response.
There is an art to the cool, unruffled rejoinder that PR agency folk should adopt for difficult conversations with clients, colleagues or press. Client spokespeople can adopt this practice as well. It begins with picturing the conversation in your head and writing down key points. It’s helpful to try out some phrases with someone you trust and employ your own relaxation techniques to stay focused. Easy, right?

Pointed but never nasty.  This morning Renee Montagne of NPR began her interview by stating that Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices” was a “classic campaign book.”  Unwilling to let it slide, Mrs. Clinton said in a very kind but authoritative voice, “Oh, I disagree!” Then began her perfectly positioned argument that a campaign book looks forward while her book reflected on the past, revealing untold stories behind key decisions. And Renee dropped that line of questioning and moved right along. The lesson here is an old and obvious one; you get more with honey than vinegar.

Deflecting by association? Asked about any guilt she may have over lives tragically lost at Benghazi, the former secretary paused and acknowledged the grief she feels over the incident and then traced an arc of previous Secretaries of State who each suffered the loss of American (and other) lives while making their own “hard choices.” This was a masterfully employed strategy: place yourself in respected company, acknowledge the legacies of each, and deflect the negative as “cost of doing business,” even for this exalted group. This approach has less chance of working for a PR professional or a client, but should you find yourself or your client in a crisis situation, knowing and understanding some of the history of the issues is always helpful.

Taking the high road. Mrs. Clinton had the opportunity to address Monica Lewinksy and could have chosen to chastise, dismiss, or edit history. Instead, she did the expected and articulated a reasonably compassionate, but brief, comment about the woman who nearly brought down her husband’s presidency. She even gave her a little advice, saying “I hope that she is able to think about her future and construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in.” By taking the high road, Mrs. Clinton diminished the importance of the question and came off as a smart, caring individual. Or, at least a very well-prepared one.

Six Reasons Why You Want A Mom On Your PR Team

As Mother’s Day approaches and we get ready to celebrate the moms in our life for all they do to keep their families’ lives running smoothly, we thought it a good time to recognize the role their rare skill set plays in managing a PR program of any kind — B2B, consumer and everything in between. Here’s why:

Moms multitask. Really.  Everyone claims to be a great multitasker, but for most, it means toggling back and forth with nothing getting done very well or thoroughly. Not for moms. These women have had to manage needy infants, household demands and jobs where there’s little margin for error. They do it all!

Moms will come back there! If there’s bickering or in-fighting on your PR team, moms will not tolerate it. They’ll work diplomatically with you to solve the issue and strive to foster an atmosphere of convivial collaboration. They are the originators of the “family meeting,” after all.

Moms will turn this car around. If something isn’t working, moms won’t hesitate to put a new plan into action. Their keen sense of observation and “bullshit detectors” mean a sound, no-nonsense approach to solving any account concerns.

Moms aren’t “made of money”. Therefore, they will be great stewards of yours! Many moms are the “CFOs” of the household, used to budgeting and smart fiduciary planning.

Moms really do want the best for you. Most moms (and any parents) are rather selfless creatures. This ethos finds its way into work relationships as well.  A mom on your account means you and your business will be well-cared for, even nurtured.

But they will fight for their own.  Like the classic mother lion defending her brood, most moms are instinctively and often fiercely protective. You never want to cross a mom, after all!

When PR Pros Pitch Media: Do This, Not That

With apologies to the popular Men’s Health “Eat This, Not That” column, here are some tried and true strategies to employ when pitching a story on behalf of your latest B2B, tech or consumer PR client.

Pitch in private, not in public. In other words, by email, text, or phone, not Twitter or Linked In. However, you can use those to start a relationship based on favoriting a tweet or commenting on a blog post.

Pitch facts, not fiction. Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t embellish a pitch to make it interesting, but don’t oversell or unrealistically hype what you have. When a good journalist digs into your pitch, the curtain will get pulled back and it may not be pretty!

Draft a personal note, not a mass-produced missive.  Not always doable, we know, but when you want to get through to a journalist with an overflowing email box, anything you can do that shows care and attention to detail may see your pitch rise to the top.

Pitch less, communicate more. As you build a relationship with a media contact, find ways to reach out that have nothing to do with a client. Compliment a writer’s story or provide a contact with information on a subject that you know is of interest. Simple gestures like that can create a better working relationship all around.

Be persistent, but not a pest. If your angle is good and you know the perfect person to do the story, be politely persistent. Tweak the angle and re-send if you don’t get an initial response, but let the contact know that you crafted this pitch with her in mind and what a great story you think she could produce. Then be a terrific resource providing not only your client, but other SMEs and content as well.

Support good journalism. Once a piece has posted or a segment has aired, thank the journalist and do your part to spread the news – share, comment, link, blog – whatever you can do to promote. This benefits everyone – your client, your contact and you!

The Art and Science Of A PR Plan

In creating a sound, results-driven plan for a B2B or consumer PR client, start by thinking strategically about initiatives and programs that you can deliver on tactically.

Planning, while not as sexy or exciting as execution, is vital to delivery of client communication goals and objectives. Working from the same plan also smoothes client and team relationships, diminishing hiccups. Everyone should, literally, be on the same page. And while the process may be tedious, the result of a group signoff is freeing! Now you and your team can make things happen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Take a deep breath, bring on the caffeine and start the planning process.

Hunt and gather. Begin by amassing all available research on your client and the industry. Look at what has worked for them and others in similar businesses and what has not. Analyze competitive marketing communications. Scour previous plans for good ideas that “got away.”  Review your onboarding notes for nuggets of client wisdom that can help.

Dig deeper. Chances are your client has troves of data that the PR firm can use for setting objectives and strategies. Even “old” data such as a U&A study can be helpful. If there’s little or no budget for customized research, consider low-cost tactics like online surveys and informal focus groups of users and/or stakeholders.

Change up the typical brainstorm. Find ways to eliminate the intimidation of having to bring a great idea to a table of your peers. Get out of the office. Brainstorm in pairs rather than a large group. It can be daunting, but a carefully choreographed creative session with your client can also pay dividends.

Settle on the best format.   A client recently told me that once he discovered the CEO’s preferred presentation format, he achieved much more success with his recommendations! Find out how decision-makers need to get information and square it with the way your team is most comfortable to help determine the ideal format for agency and client.

Tweak, tweak, visit and re-visit. One of the keys to a successful PR plan is built-in flexibility. Make sure certain recommendations are “tiered” or “piloted” ahead of full implementation and and that all elements have goals and measurement built in.

Gain buy-in ahead of presenting. Keep your direct report in the loop by collaborating and vetting ideas ahead of time to assure certain agreement before you present the plan. This practice helps strengthen your agency-client bond in the process.

PR Pros, Get Your Clients into Long-Lead Publications

Even as another snowstorm bears down on us in the East, smart NY PR firms know that now is the time to pitch relevant clients to the glossy pages of shopping and shelter magazines for summer issues. Although it may seem quaint to work on a consumer or B2B story that won’t appear online instantly, people still enjoy holding and reading a magazine (or holding and reading a magazine on an e-reader!) Either way, there are smart tips to employ whether your pitch falls into lifestyle, tech or other categories.

Review the entire year regularly. Look for annualized events that everyone knows, like major holidays and seasonal happenings as well as lesser-known occasions that your client can “own.” And of course you will have all pertinent editorial calendars already!

Gauge your client’s comfort level. Before you pitch a story on summer weight loss that bashes certain foods or “Sexy Tech Gifts for the Bride and Groom” for June wedding season, make sure your client has no conflicts of interest or discomfort with a particular angle. Of course, if your team believes strongly that the angle will benefit, advocate for it with a strategic approach, but be prepared to tweak.

Have all your “ducks in a row.” Well in advance of key seasonal time periods, make a list of what publications typically need. This way whatever is missing or isn’t up to snuff can be fixed ahead of time. The list includes:
• Samples
• Expert Topics and spokesperson info
• Images
• Short product description
• Short, relevant pitch
• Quick tip sheet

Use Listicles. Journalists receive seasonal pitches constantly and you want yours read! Make it easy to scan through your pitch and quickly pick out the important information. Use bullet points and numbered lists to save a journalist’s time and if you can make it graphically appealing in an e-mail, even better.

Get the timing right. Do your research and determine when decisions are made. If you send your “Best Back-to-School Tech Tips” too early, they’ll be lost in the shuffle and you’ll be lost in a cycle of re-sending. Be aware of the deadlines and the process so your timely pitches get the (actual) ink they deserve.

5 Steps For Selling PR To Management

2014. New year, new goals and opportunities for companies to launch products, forge identities or re-brand. What better way for a consumer marketing pro to accomplish some of these tasks than to partner with the right public relations firm?

If you find yourself in this position, here are some of the best ways to gain executive support for hiring external PR counsel.

PR by the numbers. Do your homework and frame the case for retaining a PR firm by demonstrating how positive PR and reputation management can impact awareness, customer attitudes, and website traffic. PR is a discipline that brings vital information back into an organization for analysis and action. It has real, measurable impact on the achievement of strategic organizational goals.

Gain buy-in from peers first. Before you take your sales effort up the chain, move laterally, approaching managers in other divisions who will benefit from PR counsel and impact. In so doing, you will gain important support as well as see what kind of roadblocks you may face when approaching the C-suite.

Consider the opportunity cost of not having an agency partner. Organizations without a professional media relations strategy are in danger of being overlooked and disregarded.  Those without representation can miss out on opportunities to be part of larger conversations that can positively impact reputation and brand building, consumer engagement, sales generation, issues management and constituent attitudes and behaviors.

Know your company’s PR track record. Has the PR function always been in-house or has the marketing team historically “burned through” firms that weren’t right for them? Knowing how your organization has handled public relations in the past can inform how you package your external support “ask” today.

What’s in it for management? Finally, know how to sell in outside agency services beyond the benefits to company and product image. Tell your CEO what personal and professional gains can be realized through a strategic thought leadership campaign. These can include industry recognition via byline articles and corporate speaking appearances as well as broadcast and other interview opportunities to make leadership more well known to customers and the public at large.

Make sure your company realizes its full potential in 2014.