Beyond Publicity: What Your PR Agency Can Do

A startup or early stage company that’s considering a public relations budget may be wondering what PR entails. While earned media visibility is the bread and butter of many PR campaigns, they can do far more for an organization. Any PR program that only includes media visibility is inadequate. While winning media coverage can yield immediate gratification, public relations represents a long-term commitment comprising many activities. The PR team or agency’s prime directive is to manage the reputation of the brand – and it does that from many angles.

8 things PR does beyond media pitching

PR strategy

The agency will take any company’s broad or vague notions about what it wants from a PR program and translate it into a clear, tailored strategy, which will inform a set of specific tactics. The PR team should develop this strategy based on the business goals of the organization, and in collaboration with other departments, like marketing and sales. See this earlier post to find out what the best PR strategies have in common.

Brand perception audit

All PR tactics serve to build, bolster, or reinvent a company’s brand reputation. A PR agency can conduct a brand perception audit to establish a baseline on which to build or change reputation. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of the brand’s current image, PR can structure a results-oriented program against clear objectives. The brand perception audit may provide key insight that informs the overall PR strategy.

Messaging

Before any team member sends out a pitch or drafts a byline, the PR team creates a plan for the brand’s messaging that is a foundation for its storytelling. The messaging will guide the team through every type of outreach. PR is fundamentally the art and science of telling the story of your brand, so the messaging should be evocative, concise, and most importantly, an authentic reflection of the company and its most compelling differentiators. For tips on perfecting your PR messaging, see our earlier post.

Content and more content 

Having a PR team is like renting a team of seasoned writers, podcasters and video producers at the ready. PR people are some of the most versatile writers around, often ghosting bylines on behalf of client thought leaders and skilled at emulating an executive’s voice while baking in the right messaging. For more on writing stellar bylines, see our earlier post. While such content is meant to earn media coverage, PR pros also routinely create collateral for owned media like blog posts, white papers, social posts, and case studies.

Leadership events

Owned and operated business events like discussion panels are productive PR activations for building media and industry relationships, generating quality content, boosting thought leadership credibility, and yes – even earning media coverage. A great panel evening should have a provocative (non-promotional) topic, free food and cocktails, panelists from key media and influencers, and a plan for creating assets like video, bylines, blog posts, and white papers after the event. For a deeper dive on putting on stellar panels, see this earlier post.

Speaking opportunities

Industry conferences are vital venues for lead generation and networking, as well as for for building authority. PR teams can help brands’ executive spokespeople earn plum speaking gigs by pitching provocative topics that fit into event themes and the hottest conversations of the day. PR can also provide valuable support for both earned and sponsored event appearances, guiding media outreach and assisting with content. For PR tips on getting speaking engagements, see this earlier post.

Shepherding award entries

Here at Crenshaw, we have a PR specialist (who happens to be yours truly) dedicated to both conferences and industry awards. Industry award wins give our clients bragging rights and enhance credibility with a third-party endorsement that comes from besting the competition. The PR team helps identify relevant, worthwhile award targets year-round, and helps compose the entry essays — an art onto themselves. Award entries are expensive, time consuming, and challenging, so check out these tips for winning in our earlier post.

Media training

Inexperienced executives shouldn’t commit to a media interview or TV appearance without media prep. Even with deep expertise, executives can stumble on a thought or miss opportunities to deliver the right messaging. PR can train executive spokepeople to avoid the myriad of possible mistakes that can happen when facing the press. Media training can prepare spokespeople for challenging reporters, show them how to be relaxed and natural, help develop key phrases, and control the direction of the interview.

5 Tips On Running A Global PR Program

Global PR revenue is expected to climb to a record $19.3 billion by 2020 — an increase of more than five billion from just three years ago. As more brands seek to expand into new markets, or drive greater visibility in existing ones, they’re ramping up public relations to maximize international opportunities. 

For those tapping global PR services for the first time, however, there’s an understandable and pronounced learning curve. And knowing the core challenges and mechanics common to global PR is essential to ensuring an efficient, successful and smart program. At Crenshaw Communications, our team has developed and executed a number of high-impact PR programs across EMEA and APAC. With that in mind, here are five things to consider as a brand launches a global communications strategy. 

Invest in your setup

What type of global PR model works best for your organization? There are several approaches to building a global PR team. Large brands like Unilever or Dell might have one global PR agency with offices in all key markets to support their strategy. Another common approach for big brands is to have multiple PR agencies across core regions and geographies (possibly through a network like the PROI). Other brands have a number of in-house PR team members supporting a global program, with agencies only in select markets. And, finally, an increasingly common arrangement — particularly for startups and smaller brands that may not have a multimillion dollar PR budget — is for a North American agency to execute a global PR program by tapping agency members with experience in those markets, while supporting additional cities with expert freelancers. Each model has pros and cons in terms of complexity and budget. The former models have more boots on the ground, for example, but are more expensive. The latter, more cost-efficient but without as much in-market depth of expertise. 

Pick a leader

For global PR programs, having one individual in charge of managing and overseeing the overall effort is critical. There are so many disparate parts involved in executing PR regionally. A global PR strategy might involve dozens of team members and even more initiatives. Keep in mind that every market should have its own tailored and unique approach. Having one core team member — whether in-house on the brand-side or within one of your agencies — with experience managing global communications programs is important. That person must be able to wrap their arms around everything. If a story is told prematurely in one region, it could hurt efforts elsewhere. Having a single source of truth and a one-person hub who can advise on and evaluate strategy will drive greater success.

Logistics can be a nightmare

The logistical challenges of a global PR program are expected. But, it’s important to bake the challenges into your program so that you can maintain realistic timelines and optimize your team members and agency partners. For example, global status calls with key stakeholders are a challenge to coordinate, particularly when they involve APAC partners who are 12 hours away. Similarly, press releases need time to be translated, then reviewed by a designated client-side marketing or comms person in a position to approve the material for market distribution. What about PR documents and sharing privileges? Who can access what and through which platforms (Google Docs, Evernote, Slack, etc.)? These simple factors contribute to a prolonged preparation, planning and evaluation period for each initiative. Recognize this from the outset and don’t let these challenges surprise you.

Respect cultural and workstyle differences

If you’re seeking to grow your business internationally, you must respect and recognize the cultural and business norms in those markets. For example, EMEA generally observes more federal holidays than the US does. That does not mean in-market EMEA team members need to work on their holidays or cater to a US-driven PR calendar. Respect the norms and work in each market. Another example — not every big announcement will play in one market or another, for whatever reason. Perhaps the technology is too advanced for the region, or it’s addressing a problem that isn’t as pronounced there. Or maybe the partner you’re announcing is well-known in North America and Europe but has no cachet in the Middle East or APAC.  The point — do not try to jam puzzle pieces where they don’t fit. 

Feel free to repurpose… to a point

Each player should have a tailored strategy that respects the customers and prospects in that market. However, in most cases your fundamental PR themes and messages won’t be dramatically different region-to-region. At the end of the day, your value proposition is generally the same. With that in mind, brands can repurpose content and ideas across markets, without having to recreate the wheel each and every time. For example, all guest articles we develop for a client in one market, we share with their sister regions, allowing those in-market the latitude to pick and choose relevant content that they translate, repitch and republish. If done with care, repurposing content across markets can deliver ongoing value.

Today, global PR is becoming table stakes for many brands. But to optimize opportunities and budget, keep in mind these considerations, best practices and factors. What other challenges or best practices are you employing in your global PR program? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @chrisharihar

10 Reasons Your PR Might Be Failing

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.

It’s underfunded 

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.

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.

Digital Tools No Tech PR Team Should Be Without

Technology public relations isn’t rocket science (okay, except when it is!), but soaring past the competition is easier when you have the right tools. They can improve every aspect of tech PR, from wooing and winning over the CEO to achieving and reporting top-notch results. Want to make a quantum PR leap? Try some of these.

Beyond PowerPoint and Prezi. Set your presentations apart with dynamic alternatives to the same-old, same-old. PowToon brings animation to your deck. Haiku Deck is customizable for iPad, and Sparkol works best for online video presentations.

Budget better. And plan and forecast better as well. With easy-to-use online software package planguru, your tech PR team can take some of the pain out of budgeting and plan more realistically.

Make your writing pop. As any PR pro will tell you, writing well for all platforms – blogs, byline articles, pitch letters – is at least half the battle in gaining earned media attention for your product or service. The best way to be a better writer is to write, but there’s no harm in getting help when you need it. We recommend Grammarly for quick editing beyond Spellcheck. Readability-Score is also very helpful in determining how clear your writing will be to your intended audience. Finally, Grammar Girl provides easy tips to ensure that, for example, you’d never say “insure” in this sentence.

Power up your pitching. Why not arm yourself with all the tools in the toolbox? You’re probably familiar with Cision or similar databases for list creation and Muck Rack for homing in on journalists “socially,” but have you tried Pitchrate, which likens its platform to — wait for it — match.com for media and sources? We also like PitchEngine, which microtargets bloggers and journalists with content from platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Vimeo.

Soup up your analytics. PR measurement and results reporting have become very sophisticated, and there are tools that help PR pros tell the most complete story. This includes Google Analytics, of course, but others as well. For example, CustomScoop provides customized monitoring and analysis reports. NOD3x  identifies influencers and assesses sentiment and BuzzSumo ranks content based on number of shares generated. The insights can help the PR team with content promotion, curation and article development. Talk Walker is also great for gathering social data with a “Google Alert” type system.