A Journalist’s POV: 3 Questions From A PR Firm

Working at a top New York PR agency affords us the opportunity to meet and work with some stellar writers. Meg Fry is one of them. After a few years screenwriting and working as a production assistant, Meg chose to pursue her passions for writing and women’s issues by taking a plum job as the “Women in Business” blogger for a local business pub, NJBiz. She writes about women in all different industries, telling their stories and celebrating their success while providing news, tips, and helpful hints for “the next generation.” We posed some questions to Meg to gain insight on working with her.

As a writer who profiles local “movers & shakers,” what has to be part of a pitch to get you interested? Pitches, much like resumes and cover letters, should be tailored to each publication. We frequently receive pitches for lifestyle and arts stories that I’d love to write, but most likely can’t because we primarily are a business-to-business publication. I’ve most successfully worked with PR agencies when a pitch is: presented in a clear, “just-the-facts” fashion; suggesting specific business angles, but not forcing them; and including supplementary research material, such as press releases, backgrounds, bios, statistics and photographs. When I do write a story, I also appreciate PR agencies that carefully consider what more I might be looking for based on previous angles I’ve taken. Having go-to PR people makes my job a lot easier when I’m searching for a story or source!

What was the craziest/worst pitch you ever received? There have been a few PR specialists that have practically written the story for me in their pitch—what more is there left for me to do? I was even reprimanded once for writing about a company that had such a pitch and not “following the text that previously had been written.” Word to the wise, journalists do indeed have a “blocked” folder in their Outlook for people in PR, marketing and communications that are difficult to work with—sometimes the story doesn’t warrant the grief!

If you had one piece of advice for a PR pro it would be… Trust me, we’ve received your press release. I do appreciate one follow-up email or phone call, just in case I did happen to mistakenly delete it—but we have limited space in our publication and more than likely, the press release you sent just doesn’t fit our focus right now. Sending multiple emails a week and leaving increasingly irritated voicemails on my answering machine are excellent ways not to receive any sort of response now or in the future.

Okay, PRs, if you didn’t know before, you do now.

5 Reasons Not To Ditch Your PR Agency And Go In-House

On the premiere episode of the final season of “Mad Men,” the ever-resourceful Joan tries to salvage the Butler Shoe account when she learns a new marketing head is bent on taking the advertising in-house, for reasons having more to do with his own ego than real business needs.

Realizing she’s in over her head, Joan meets with a university professor for a crash course on marketing and comes away with some effective arguments that help forestall the move.

Wouldn’t it be great for life to imitate art when a company is weighing that same decision – for less-than-sound reasons – with a PR account?  To save you the time of meeting with a  professor, here are five reasons why (sometimes) clients shouldn’t ditch their PR agency to go in-house.

PR agencies usually have the media relationships. Building trusting relationships with journalists takes time and effort and no one person can “own” all the beats. In an agency, many of the PR pros already have longstanding relationships are constantly building new ones. This doesn’t mean 100% guaranteed coverage, but it does cut through a lot of media red tape to get quicker responses and more meaningful feedback.

The PR firm can change as your account does. Agencies can allocate and re-allocate resources with the account requirements. Depending on the size of the campaign, there may be lots of legwork required. That means more staff and greater overhead. But when you hire an agency, they already have, or can muster, the manpower to carry out all the necessary tasks. Additionally, if a client has an insurmountable issue with an in-house hire, it could mean termination and starting over. In a good agency partnership, a personality conflict can be managed by changing the staff rotation.

A PR team is (relatively) objective. In a large, bureaucratic organization, it’s easy to get caught up in the corporate convention of doing things a given way because that’s how it’s always been done. Even in a smaller company, like a technology start-up, you can suffer from drinking too much of the corporate Kool-Aid. An objective point of view about the market opportunity, the company’s reputation, and its PR potential is very valuable.

PR agencies won’t stick to “safe” ideas. And when it comes to creative product, you don’t want them to! A good PR partner will push for risky ideas or strategies that may fly in the face of convention, or that in-house staffers might be too timid or reluctant to broach – yet, often with strong results.

PR agencies make the internal folks look good. Again, it is the nature of PR firms to constantly think of ways to delight their clients and also find ways to make the client the hero in the process. Make a good match with a firm and expect to reap benefits beyond great PR work.

Insider Tips on Hiring the Right PR Firm

In a previous post, we offered ideas for eliminating roadblocks to successfully partnering with the right PR agency, be it B2B, consumer, tech or professional services.

Once that decision is made, the rest is easy, right? Not so fast. The search for the “ideal” PR firm can be time-consuming and even overwhelming. How do you cut through the hype and achieve something like an apples-to-apples comparison? Here are some tips on how to narrow the field and determine the right PR agency partner.

Get recommendations and referrals. Often this is the easiest way to start. There are many PR firms with different areas of concentration, various sizes, and different work styles. Hearing from a trusted colleague or business associate in a related field who has achieved PR success with an outside firm can help narrow things down.

Consult the industry experts. Over 100 leading PR firms belong to The Council of PR Firms (CFPR), the industry trade association and a terrific source for researching your “short list.” There’s also O’Dwyer’s, which organizes listings of PR firms by geography and specialty. There’s also the Holmes Report which publishes many reports on PR agencies.

Visit agency websites and blogs often. Sure, your team gave it a once-over when you were creating a short list, but make sure to revisit. A stagnant website with an outdated blog and nothing new or fresh may not reflect the vibrant, hard-working agency you want on your business.

Ask for more than client references. Since media relations will likely be a key factor in determining your decision, ask your agency suitors to provide some references at relevant outlets and follow up with them to see if their relationships are legit.

Or, ask for references from clients who fired the agency. Even the best agencies have clients, who, due to reasons of chemistry, politics, or budget, have had to end the relationship. It can be enlightening to speak to those ex-clients, or just to learn how prospective agencies respond to your request.

Research enviable PR coverage. If you see a thoughtful piece on a company president, broadcast coverage of a creative special event or a business story touting a new product, find out who represents the lucky company and track them down! You can sometimes find this information by googling for newswire pickup of agency announcements, or sometimes by simply contacting the company directly.

Get to know the contenders. Even the most detailed response to an RFP or the slickest agency presentation isn’t enough to know if your teams will get along in “the real [workday] world.” Go out for a meal or drinks and ask personal questions about their lives outside the office – often the answers to those questions are more revealing than anything in an RFP!

Want to know more? Download our tipsheet.

Awards Equal Rewards When PR Firms Score For The Client

In an earlier post we discussed the mechanics of entering a B2B PR or consumer public relations client in an awards competition. Here is a brief case study on how we “scored” meaningful recognition for a hard-to-categorize client.

Our agency recently entered a small business specializing in deluxe packaged travel for non-profits,started by two entrepreneurs, into an awards competition sponsored by SCORE. SCORE is the largest non-profit association dedicated to helping small businesses through education and mentoring.

The organization is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and has more than 11,000+ volunteers who offer their services free as mentors. With this client’s inherently small, niched audience of charity and philanthropic organizations, finding the right award to go after was the first challenge.

SCORE’S national awards program has become the gold standard of small business honors. Their annual awards dinner attracts nearly 500 people ranging from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to senators, congressmen and SCORE mentors from across the nation. Many of the attendees, while not directly making charity fundraiser decisions, were certainly influencers on boards and likely maintained longstanding philanthropic ties. Selecting this competition proved strategically sound for this B2B PR client’s goal of increasing exposure to nonprofit decision-makers.

Although PR agencies want to win accolades for their clients wherever they can, an award that can be leveraged into a real business result makes the win all the sweeter.

In this case, the SCORE team recognized the importance of winners leveraging the honor to help secure leads and provided collateral and other support to do so. Here is how our team was able to merchandise the SCORE win.

Direct outreach to target prospects. Our agency produces the client’s quarterly newsletter, which we chose as a perfect vehicle to inform targets, existing and lapsed clients about the honor.

Bringing the news to local market business press. The company principals live in different cities with local media always in search of “hometown” success stories.

Sharing content socially. The award organizers created winner video vignettes which showed the business owners in a different light. These were shared on the company platforms, including LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook. A Twitter campaign also preceded the voting and announced the win with many re-tweets and additional sharing.

Working the leads. This combined effort to showcase the win has resulted in a handful of meaningful leads which the client is now working to convert to customers.

With the end of the year upon us, now is a good time to start looking for some worthy awards competitions to submit your client’s work.

PR Agency Job Titles We’d Like To See

A recent post by journalist David Henderson posited that PR agency folk, famous for creating highfalutin’ titles, or “uptitling,” are actually running out of original (read: crazy) job names for employees. I mean, where do you go after “Director and Media Strategist, Global Consumer and Brand Marketing Practice,” for example? And is it vastly different from being “Executive Vice President/Global Strategy and Insight?” Whew, I’m tired just saying the titles, let alone knowing what they actually mean.
These flagrant examples of “title-fluffing” sent me on a search for interesting job titles in other industries and I found some that I believe better capture what many agency people really do.

Head Worm Wrangler.  Kind of requires no explanation! In actuality, a worm wrangler is part of a “vermicomposting” operation – an ecologically sound waste disposal service using worms to do the work.

Director of Chaos.  Ever been part of a new business team on deadline? Every agency could use an expert in this field. A beer brewer claims to employ one.

Remedy Engineer.  Nice way to describe a “crisis counselor” in PR parlance but it actually refers to civil and environmental engineering.

Overseer of Order.  An individual with this title would come in handy at major events or during a client or employee meltdown of some kind. Right now it belongs to a professional organizer, of course!

Director of First Impressions.  Aren’t we all? I love that this is a title bestowed upon an office receptionist!

Finally, one of my favorites has to be the Snooze Director at Sleepy’s (the mattress retailer) especially since we created it and helped fill the job. Alas, in the always-antic agency world, I don’t know that we will ever see anyone with that moniker! Any favorite titles you would like to share?