So, you are challenged with coming up with the proverbial Big Idea for a new public relations campaign. Where to start? How to begin? Well, I for one have always fallen upon a Big Idea in the most remarkably unremarkable places. Sometimes I find that if I leave the tumult of the office behind and literally remove myself from the everyday commotion that is forever going on in a busy office that creativity soon follows.
Here are some of the most unremarkably creative venues in which I have come up with the Big Idea:
- The bathroom break. I have gotten so good at coming up with either the lead sentence for a feature article, a tag line to a brand launch or the Big Idea itself that for years I have never gone to the bathroom whether in the office or at home without a pen placed firmly behind my ear. Then, with relative ease, the roll of toilet paper becomes my writing surface.
- The shower. I guess that it’s the sense-numbing sound of the water mixed with the penetrating heat that causes my mind to melt to mush and allows freethinking to emerge. Now, if someone would only invent a doodle board and pen that writes in the shower, that person would surely become the next tech millionaire.
- The dog. I am fortunate to have a large black Labrador retriever who not only serves as my muse, but allows me to walk aimlessly around Manhattan, pen and note paper in tow, creativity flowing. And if I dare leave the house without pen and paper there is always my cellphone where I either jot down or send myself an audio message chocked full of Big Ideas.
- The river. I live two blocks from the Hudson River and afford myself to glorious opportunity to walk its banks on an almost daily basis. During good weather, its banks are filled with bike riders, skaters and joy-seekers. But during the colder months of fall and winter I often feel as though the river and its hidden pathways belong to me alone. Looking out at the sturdy little tugboats pushing the larger unwieldy barges through the currents gives me peace of mind…and a peaceful mind often spawns creativity and great Big Ideas. Again, make sure to record your gems either my hand or via cell because trust me, you’ll never remember them once you return to office or home.
Life is a journey…and Big Ideas often lie in its path. Take the time to smell the roses, pet your pooch, take a shower or just meditate (with pen and paper handy). You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to close one door of your mind and open the other to a creative moment.
There comes a time in every public relations staffer when all of the stars line up and it’s very obviously time to start the job search—while you are currently employed. There are lots of reasons for taking that next step; these are just a few.
- Stay for a year. Unless the job is excruciating, the rule of thumb is to remain at a position for a full year. Why? It gives your time there validity. It shows that you decided to leave on your own terms instead of being asked to leave after a few months.
- Exception to the one year rule. If the position absolutely is intolerable, or worse yet, you just made the wrong public relations agency decision, get out of there sooner than later. Why? Because a mistake of a few weeks/months can easily be erased from your resume—which means, not included at all.
- Your boss is a terror. The interesting thing that I have witnessed about newly minted bosses is that in most cases the company has put little if any effort into creating an environment whereby junior people are shown how to be a manager/boss. In most cases, employees learn from example—they see how other managers manage and hopefully they extract the most outstanding leadership qualities. But, that’s assuming that their bosses have great qualities that can be emulated. I’m all for leadership and managerial training. If your company doesn’t provide training, look into courses at such institutions as Dale Carnegie.
- You’re not learning anything new. Yup, there may come a time when you feel like you are just running around in a hamster cage—doing the same tasks every day with seemingly no opportunities to learn new skills. That may be a time to first talk to your supervisor and explain your situation. If your request for growth opportunities is ignored, well, then that is definitely a sign to start updating your resume and posting it on
- You weren’t promoted. So you think the time has come for you to get a promotion—and it didn’t happen. And even worse, someone who you think is your equal got the promotion. What to do?
- Make a plan with your boss. A former employee of mine did just this. She desperately wanted to be promoted to Account Supervisor. So, she made an appointment to meet with me to get me engaged in a plan to help her gain that promotion. We laid out a six-month plan and low and behold, she kind of had me between a rock and a hard place because at the end of the six months she had accomplished all that we laid out—and she received the promotion.
- You can just look elsewhere. But this is often a hard one because other public relations agencies usually require new hires to already be doing the work of that position. There’s the conundrum.
- You made a big mistake. Now, how do I sensitively approach this one? OK, first is that I need to explain what may be defined as a big mistake.
- An office affair. In most instances and in most agencies, this is a big no no, especially if your affair is with your boss. There’s been a lot already written about this one so if you need it to be spelled out for you, go to
- You’ve been dishonest. This is another big no no. This can include anything from taking money from the company by turning in falsified expense reports to searching for a new job on company time. For greater insight here’s an article from Small Business Chron.
A bad public relations agency client is like a really bad meal—miserable but not life-threatening.
Still, it’s good to avoid them as much as possible. And the best way to do that is to know what qualities to look for in a good client/agency relationship. So I present these qualities for your review:
- Good clients have a realistic budget. Unless the new client has had a former relationship with a public relations agency, he is likely to be clueless about the cost of a public relations program. But, hopefully, a good client will realize that he has to spend money in order to make it. So, it is your job to help educate him as to how you work: What is your monthly retainer? How much do you allocate to fees vs. expenses? What is the average length of your contractual arrangement? Good clients take the time to be educated.
- Good clients are interested in working with someone they can trust. When a client trusts you as a communicator they take your opinion seriously, especially if your opinion is contrary to theirs. No client likes to hear the word “no”. But, after all, they have put their business in your hands and are depending on you to be the monitor of their brand image.
- Good clients are willing to accept advice. A good client is eager for advice, that’s why they hired a public relations agency to begin with. They allow you to become a part of their marketing team—working with them and not necessarily for them. I have had the good fortune of working with a number of good clients who have even sought my advice on matters from my opinion on their advertising campaigns to how they should appropriately congratulate their boss on his promotion.
- Good clients have a single point of contact. You’re on a deadline and you need that quick approval—who do you call—the client contact. You don’t want to have to deal with several point people, when one will make your life so much more effective. Make certain that you get that point person, and then go on to earn their trust—they’ll be your client for life.
- Good clients participate in the process. Now that you’ve got that point person, you want to make sure they remain involved and engaged in your public relations program– but not too much. An uninformed client is not a good client. Assure them that part of your job is to make their job easier, and that you value their opinion. A good client will review your monthly status reports and not merely file them—and if possible, you’ll develop monthly review meetings so that you keep the client informed. An informed client is an advocate for your agency.
A strong subject on an email will peek the reporters’ interest, and lead them to read your release. Keep a subject 5-7 words highlighting the most important takeaway from the release.
2. Get right to the point
Assume that the reader won’t read more than the first paragraph. Get the message out quickly, every point should be addressed in the headline and first paragraph, with supportive information in the subsequent paragraphs.
3. Always use quotes when possible
Including quotes from your client makes them an authority in their profession. It is important to have a source to attribute the information to so what you are saying is validated by a trusted source. Quotes can also clarify any information that you have in the press release while attributing it to your client.
4. Check your grammar, then check it again!
Always proof your press releases; if there is any grammatical errors, this can turn a reporter off. It is unprofessional and looks sloppy for anyone who works in PR to have spelling or grammatical errors in their press releases. Remember, the only thing that we produce as a profession is words on paper: They should therefore inform and impress.
5. One Page is best
As with most good writing, shorter is usually better; limit yourself to one page. This will force you to condense your most significant information into a more readable document, which is something that journalists always appreciate.
6. Provide access to more information
Just because your press release is limited to one page doesn’t mean that you have to leave out information. Provide relevant links to your client’s website where prospective writers can learn more about their mission and what they’ve accomplished. Don’t make writers search on their own for more information; it is important to guide them as quickly as possible to your website, and keep their interest in your message.
7. Always provide your contact information
A common oversight that can render a press release ineffectual is a lack of contact information for reporters. Whether you or someone else at the company is the point of contact, don’t forget to include an email address and phone number on the release. Media people aren’t shy; if they have a question they will contact you.
I always said that I could tell a good PR person within minutes of meeting him/her. And the more that I have worked in the business, the more I see that it is not necessarily age and experience that are the best qualities,but often it is their native ability.
Recently I had attended a recruiting fair at a local college and received numerous dropped off resumes from students as young as freshmen to as old as grad students. Since I manned a desk at the event, I was able to chat briefly with many of them, and I could tell the difference between those would fit in at my agency and those who might not. There are “tells,” subtle indications of a person’s true nature, that are revealed in a matter of seconds.
Let me reveal some of the “tells” that encourage me to pursue a candidate.
- The elevator pitch. The candidates have to recognize that they only have a minute to inform and impress their potential employer. They should rehearse, rehearse, rehearse how they are going to sell themselves in less than a minute. Practice the handshake, the eye contact, and the smile in a mirror so that you see what your employer sees.
- Confidence. They say that confidence comes with experience. I disagree. I have met with young college student who have terrific presence and confidence. I actually had one critique a client’s packaging colors in a manner that actually impressed me so much that I hired her on the spot.
- Enthusiasm. I can’t overstate that genuine enthusiasm seems to come from within. Although it may be hard to learn to be enthusiastic about something that you aren’t, if you can master this, then you are on the road to a successful internship. Not all public relations agency clients are glitzy and glamorous, so if you can be enthusiastic about, let’s say a product that prevents diarrhea, then you just may have the qualities to be a good PR intern.
- Look the part. If you are meeting with a prospective employer of a successful PR agency, dress like you are already working there. Yes, I know that some firms allow for jeans and t-shirts, but please don’t come to my office wearing that dress code even though others are. You are applying for a professional position, look the part.
- Perseverance. So you are lucky enough to land the interview, make sure to follow up with the employer with a brief and personal thank you email (no phone, please) restating why you believe working for her agency might be a benefit to both of you. Then, wait it out. Sometimes it may take longer than you think for the company to make its final hiring decision.
Social media offers an opportunity for PR agencies to reach out to journalists in a more intimate space. But beware—not all channels offer appropriate outcomes.
There are right and wrong ways to use social media to query reporters, because you don’t want to come across as a stalker to a reporter. Here are a list of the Do’s and Don’ts for PR professionals of approaching reporters on social media.
- Don’t pitch journalists through Facebook.
- Facebook is a place for friends. Even though Facebook has become a place for business too, journalists consider Twitter a professional tool, not Facebook. Also, when you message someone you aren’t friends with on Facebook, it goes into their “other” folder, which often goes unchecked. Avoid posting on their wall or to pictures to get noticed– journalists want to maintain some privacy on their Facebook page.
- Don’t mass pitch reporters on Twitter
- Remember, when your tweet can be seen by everyone. Don’t try to get noticed by a lot of reporters at once by pitching multiple accounts at once through tweeting. As soon as you pitch a journalist, they will likely click on your Twitter profile to learn more. If the reporter sees that the last several tweets are copied and pasted to different multiple people, they will lose interest quickly.
- Don’t contact another journalist to get his colleague’s information
- It’s unprofessional to contact a reporter to get through to another one. Even though one reporter might have less followers than another, and it might be easier to see a @mention with that person, reporters are being pitched all the time—so they don’t need to be bothered with a PR person trying to reach their colleague through them.
- Don’t follow up more than once
- The point of pitching on social media is to keep it short and sweet. If you follow up more than once, reporters will automatically mark you as spam and you won’t be able to contact them in the future.
- Find out the reporter’s beat before you pitch them
- It’s your job to do the research and theirs to determine your pitch’s relevance to the audience and publication. You can find this out by seeing what the reporter is tweeting or retweeting, and also by investigating their bio; it will usually say what topics they are interested in or what their beat is.
- Use Twitter to pitch
- Twitter forces PR pros to keep their pitches short and catchy. It is okay to pitch journalists through Twitter because they treat their accounts as an extension of their reporting, so they might be more willing to chat with you on Twitter about topics relating to their beats. When pitching reporters on Twitter, @mention the company you are working for and a link to some news–if they recognize the organization they maybe more likely to respond.
They say “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Well, it takes an entire bowl of alphabet soup to implement our role as public relations practitioners. Here’s a guide to your public relations agency ABCs:
A= Advertise, Advise, Agency, Amplify, Analytics
B= B2B, Blogger, Branding, Brochures, Bottom Line, Budget, Business Development
C= Cause-Related Marketing, Collateral Materials, Communications, Conferences, Consumer, Content, Core Values, Corporate Communications, Corporations, Curate, Counsel, Crises Management, Crowdfunding
E= Engagement, Earned Media, Education, Efficiency, Evidence-based, Events
F= Facebook, Feature Articles
G= Global, Gorilla Marketing, Granular
H= Hacker, Hands-on, Hazard Analysis, Head Hunter, Honesty, Humility
I= Integrated, Integrity
J=Job Description, Job Enrichment, Job Performance, Job Security, Joint Venture, Just in Time, Justification
M= Market Entry, Marketing Plans, Marketing Research, Media, Media Tours, Media Training, Metrics, Messaging, Monetize, Multiplatform
N= Narrative, Negotiate, New Business, New Media, Newsletters, News Syndicates
O= Organic, Outbound, Outcomes
P= Performance, Pinterest, Platform, Positioning, Presentations, Press Releases, Product Launches, Program, Public Relations, Publicity
Q= Qualify, Qualitative, Quantitative, Question
R= Reddit, Reputation Management, Research, Resonate
S= Sell, Seminars, Services, Situation Analysis, Social Media, Solutions, Speaker’s Bureau, Spokespersons, Strategy, Surveys
T= Tactics, Traction, Trade Relations, Traditional Media, Transparency, Twitter
U= Uncontrollable Costs, Uncontrollable Factors, Underutilization, Unintended Consequences, Unique Opportunities, User Friendly, User ID
V=Value Proposition, Viral Marketing
W= Website, Wire Services, Workforce, Workplace, World Wide Web, Worst Case Scenario
X= XmR Chart
Y= Yahoo!, YTD (Year to Date)
Z= ZBB (Zero Based Budgeting), Zero Growth
I remember when I was a kid my mother telling me, “Don’t sign your name to anything that you wouldn’t be afraid of appearing one day on the front page of the New York Times.” How true these words of wisdom were then, and how they still apply to developing and maintaining a positive public relations image.
Today, with the advent of the internet, it seems that everyone is obsessed with themselves—and others—from constant social media updates, including those ubiquitous snaps of what they’re eating—to selfies. But heed the warning of my mother and beware of the following:
- Photos–The next time you go to post photos of your awkward encounters, including drinking, carousing and canoodling, think about what mother said—and don’t do it. It can come to haunt you in the future. Today, employers often ask not only to view your social media sites, but also ask for passwords so they can take a closer look. Don’t risk it.
- Social sites—The same warning goes for sites like Facebook and Twitter where people often vent their hostilities towards people, places and things. Mom would tell you to Inhale, breathe slowly and take a minute to rethink posting hostile posts. Like those irreverent photos, they too have a life of their own. And in the corporate world, where you may go to seek future employment, well, this just may be a hindrance. But, on the other hand, a little reverence may go a long way by posting comments/opinions/complaints on company social sites, such as their Facebook or Twitter, and often will engender a rapid response.
- Emails—Need I say more than these two words: Hillary Clinton. Be aware that emails too have a life of their own and a strange way of never disappearing—they are like that stray piece of dog hair that sticks to your clothing and try as you may, never gets pulled off. That’s what happens to emails. After you write them, again, think about taking that extra breathe, inhale and then fully contemplate the possible ramifications of the contents of your email appearing on the front page of the New York Times. And, another point of interest: Be aware of that reply to all button, and try NOT to hit it, especially when replying on personal matters. Everyone remembers at least once occasion when that button got us in trouble.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have invented a new product or service, look or even better a new product category, the likelihood of it being successfully introduced to the general public without public relations and marketing support is highly unlikely. This proverbial: a horse won’t drink the water unless you take him to it, so to speak. So how do you accomplish this?
Well, first and foremost is the use of a public relations agency that will work with you to develop a brand strategy and a launch strategy. Working with both the traditional media (print and broadcast) and the new media (social and websites), an agency experienced in new product and new service introductions will often initiate the following media tactics:
- Press Releases. There are certain basic PR tactics that should be done as a matter of course, when you are releasing a new product, starting a business or want to tell the public about any new business related development. Press releases are probably the best known PR technique of all.
- Media deskside briefings. In an instance where you have actually created a new product category (lucky you), the PR agency may set up a series of one-on-one meetings right at the media outlet’s office. More cost-efficient then a press conference, and obviously more intimate, the PR person can describe and actually demonstrate a new product.
- Product reviews. New product reviews by critical media and bloggers only help to elevate your product’s visibility among your target audiences. Public relations agencies may distribute product samples to targeted media for review. Good reviews may be posted on your product website as a badge of honor.
- Contests. Working with the media, your public relations agency may suggest implementing a consumer-based contest in a magazine or newspaper. With this, the media will call upon their readership to actually participate in a contest, the prize being your product sample.
- Spokesperson. It is always wise to appoint either a client-based internal spokesperson as the media liaison, or, if not available, to seek out, train, and work with an external spokesperson, such as a celebrity, book author, etc. Often you can work out a deal that you will allow the book author to promote their book in return for promoting your new product—this way you can avoid having to pay for their time.
- Live events. Live events can include many different possibilities, from the conventional to the more outrageous guerrilla marketing tactics. Involvement in trade shows, charity events and publicity stunts are the kind of thinking out of the box tactics that a good public relations agency can suggest and implement on your behalf.
A well timed and clearly executed public relations program can go a long way to helping successfully introduce a new product, service, or business. How else will you get those horses to drink the water?