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.


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

How To Develop A Winning PR Strategy

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.

Involve stakeholders

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.

5 Ways To Make That PR Strategy Decision

Stymied by a leadership team who wants a strategic PR campaign but can’t articulate precise campaign goals or actions? It seems simple enough; the company is launching a new product or heading in a new direction, so the marketing folks want positive exposure. Now comes the hard part. Of course you’re seeking results that move the needle on new app downloads or web inquiries, but the program will live or die based on the strategy. If you’re faced with a team that can’t seem to form that strategy, try taking these steps.

Identify the true target. Some companies are eager to begin communicating before identifying their true target. For example, considering a consumer outreach campaign before achieving B2B buy-in. Smart counsel contends that rushing to market before setting the stage in the business and trade press can fail to generate consumer enthusiasm. Reaching this decision requires going the extra mile on target audience research to engage influencers and narrow-niche business press before going out to a broader audience.

Lead by example. Offer up some positive case studies in similar industries where a sharply honed PR strategy proved invaluable. For example, to improve an e-commerce company’s reputation in the nutrition space, the recommendation was to partner with a non-profit whose good works would provide a “halo effect” for the brand. Demonstrating positive results for another consumer product via a strategic alliance helped move management towards a decision.

Mold the messaging…and the messenger. The best messaging combines the company’s descriptive, internal language (not too jargony) with a PR pro’s appropriate turn of phrase, or “pithiness” where warranted. For example, when introducing a new medical device based on an old technology – ultrasound – a team we worked with coined the phrase “sustained acoustic medicine” or “sam.” The simple new terminology helped make the product and the message fresh. It also helped inform our choices for company spokespeople, both internal and external, from the dynamic young company co-founder to medical professionals with a similar profile.

Bring something new to the table. As the strategy begins to take shape, can your team bring one bold idea to the group to amplify? Real-time, near daily developments in social media make it the perfect category in which many companies can innovate. Find the perfect way to bring a corporate or product story to life, perhaps with video. Consider ephemeral Snapchat videos like these examples from GE’s recent #DRONEweek, or breathe new life into a Facebook campaign the way online retailer Chubbies is doing with its humorous 30-second spots.

Know what success looks like. Although KPIs vary from company to company and campaign to campaign, setting achievable PR metrics at the outset is always key. Start with quality media placements that deliver on message and SOV. Consider where the stories appeared – all the great placements in the world are of little value if your target doesn’t see or hear them. Most importantly, look at what business results can be tied back to media exposure – can a story be directly linked to a boost in website traffic? Result in social shares or a higher Klout score? Were downloads increased? Ideally these outcomes can be tracked back to a PR-related source. Include social shares in your metrics calculations as well.
Modern PR is less “static” and more dynamic than ever – and it all starts with a solid strategy.

Better Brand PR: How To Work With A Third-Party Spokesperson

Brand spokesperson. It’s a time-honored PR strategy, and for good reason. The right spokesperson can add depth to your message, help tell a story, and confer appealing attributes that the brand may lack or need to amplify.

But borrowing expertise, or sheer glamour, from a third party always carries risks. Just ask Samsung, which suffered embarrassment when director Michael Bay walked off the stage after a teleprompter snafu during the unveiling of a new curved-screen TV at CES. But while the problem there may have been one of preparation over temperament, the most common challenge is typically the choice of spokesperson.

Here are some tips to mitigate risk and maximize the upside of a third-party spokesperson.

Make it credible. If you’re going to link your brand to an external person, there needs to be a credible tie to him or her. The equity of each “brand” needs to mesh so that they are congruent in imagery and “personality.” Market research and “Q” ratings are helpful, but in the case of a celebrity, the reason for the choice should be intuitive not just to marketers and PR people, but to your sister-in-law.

Consider an expert over a celebrity. A celebrity isn’t right for all situations, of course. A credible subject-matter expert may represent your client’s interests with greater authenticity when it comes to earned media interviews. They can also offer an easier and more cost-effective working relationship and are often more motivated to do a better job delivering messages in interviews.

You cannot over-research. Once you have a workable list of candidates, find out everything you can about each of them: their background, credentials, experience, history and particularly any red flags that may be a clue to how a working relationship could fail. Everything is online now, so be thorough!

Spell everything out in the agreement. The odds are, whether the spokesperson is an athlete, author, or a physician, they have a healthy ego. This may be what helps make them a good choice, but take care in working with this type of individual. Do your due diligence, and make sure every detail is spelled out in your legal agreement, down to the specific number of brand mentions. Be sure that your personality is accompanied by a pro to everything they do.

Conduct a message training. It doesn’t matter how experienced your spokesperson is with public speaking or media interviews. S/he cannot possibly master brand messages without formal prep. Build in rehearsals and contingencies, particularly in the case of events and conferences. A dress rehearsal in the actual venue is ideal where possible, even in a forum where there’s a teleprompter, as Samsung’s experience shows.

Have a Plan B and C. Begin by discussing internally what to do in the event of mechanical or human malfunction and have scenarios in place. Consider appointing a company rep to act as back-up spokesperson in case of a last-minute change. At the venue, arrive early, spend time there, meet with the staff and have back-up auto-cue, laptops, thumb drives or whatever it will take – the show must go on!

If all else fails? Have a sense of humor and go with the flow. Unless you’re giving a life-or-death White House briefing, any smart PR or marketing person can make the requisite PR lemonade out of lemons. As a case in point, Samsung’s Joe Stinziano managed to gracefully close out his press briefing, and the whole episode may have even drawn more positive attention to the TV than it would have otherwise received.

So You Want To Hire A PR Firm? Eliminate These Roadblocks

As senior level communicators or marketers look to enhance their capabilities with outside talent, one consideration should be retaining a public relations agency. Marketing execs are often the keepers of brand image and sometimes the corporate image as well. Who wouldn’t benefit from competent, connected and creative PR thinking?

And yet. Some companies plunge into PR without thinking through their goals or a partnership’s requirements. Before beginning the search for the best PR agency, take a step back and eliminate the following roadblocks.

We need to be in The New York Times…as soon as possible! Sometimes the C-suite issues an edict like this, but before your knee jerks, determine what the company should really seek to achieve through public relations. Think about the long-term goals. Do your goals include generating trade buy-in for a new product? Consumer awareness? Does the CEO want to build an industry profile? It’s fundamental to set communications objectives to help narrow the type of PR agency needed. Forcing the exercise may demonstrate completely different needs than first surmised.

There’s no budget. Thinking you might just carve out a little from the marketing budget? Think again. Public relations is a distinct discipline that requires its own set of goals, and, yes, its own budget. Once needs are established, research what different agencies charge for PR strategy development and implementation. See how that matches up with available budgets, and have it in mind when meeting with firms. A PR agency is far better able to create a plan for a company when an actual budget is quoted; otherwise, everyone’s time may be wasted.

We need to outsource because we have NO time for PR. Hold on. Yes, companies often bring on a PR partner because they lack the staff to develop and run a robust communications program. But know that managing an agency takes time. There will be questions, meetings, materials review, separate sessions for message and media preparation, – and that’s just the beginning. The more time you commit to your agency, the more you’re likely to get back in the form of ROI.

We don’t know what to expect. Have the key execs had experience with an external PR agency or similar relationships? Is the organization aligned on brand messages and communications needs? Is there a process in place for approval of strategies and content? If the answer to any of these is “no,” you have some advance work to do, priming senior management on “PR Agency 101”before selling in services. The best environment for maintaining a successful, results-oriented PR agency relationship is one of communications and collaboration.