9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a PR Agency

A successful PR campaign can help grow your business and gain awareness of your company. When considering a PR agency to hire, there are a few questions you want to ask to make sure they are a fit for you.

1. Have you worked on campaigns in my industry?
You will get the most out of an agency if they have experience with your sector of business. You can ask for references from previous clients, and to see results from past campaigns. This can give you an idea of their industry capabilities.

2. Who is my direct contact/team members?
You should know who you will be directly working with on your campaign. Ask who your contact person at the agency will be and who will be working with them. It is important to know your team and be comfortable with them so they know what you want and what you expect from them.

3. Which media outlets are best for me?
It is important for PR agencies to know who their client’s target audience is, and for an agency to have experience in traditional and new media. The agency you select knows the outlets that will reach your audience the best. This can range from traditional media placements, such as television and newspapers to online promotions as well as social media outlets.

4. How will your agency measure success?
Before hiring a PR agency, it is important to know how they measure success. The most common ways that agencies measure success with a client is through media placements, and social media analytics. Social media analytics can be social media page “likes”, content reach, and follower interactivity. Another thing to consider when choosing how a firm will measure success is an increase in traffic to your website or increase in sales after a PR campaign.

5. Will you provide media coaching?
See what is being offered in terms of media coaching or training; this can be a valuable lesson to anyone who will be interviewed by the media. If the agency doesn’t handle media coaching directly, ask if they refer you to for an experienced media coach.

6. Are you experienced on social media?
Social media is an important tool to reach many of your stakeholders. It is essential that you find an agency that is well versed in social media, and the social media trends. You can ask to see results from social media campaigns or promotions from previous clients, to gage if the agency has success promoting a company in your field.

7. How will you communicate with me?
It is important that your PR agency communicate with you on a regular basis. Usually agencies will send a monthly status report detailing what they have done and where they have placed your business, however it is still important for them to touch base with you on a regular basis in order to maintain a pulse on your campaign. You can ask how often you will be updated on campaigns for your company, and how often the staff will be available to you. You should also make yourself available to your PR agency, in case they need a quote, or approval in a pinch.

8. What type of contractual arrangement do you provide?
Most New York-based public relations agencies require a minimum contractual arrangement, such as six months, or, in the case of a specific project, time will be allocated against the project.

9. What type of financial arrangements?
Most agencies work on a monthly retainer basis with time worked against the hours of the retainer.

6 Tips: How to Prepare for a PR Crisis

A crisis can happen at any time. And most often it happens when you are least prepared. And when it happens, there is no such thing as a small crisis. In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects. These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable. The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are some recommendations from T.J. Sacks & Associates, a New York-based public relations agency with experience fighting the good fight for companies in a bad situation:

1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.

2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today. Identify your key response team. Media train them early and often—ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses. Have their contact information on hand for rapid access. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls. Train your receptionists and phone people so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media. Stage crisis readiness simulations.

3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales is doing exceptionally well.

4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?

5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, and the team assembled, they should meet quarterly to review their “action plan.”

6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to a crisis of confidence for an infant formula to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.

Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door and be truthful and quick to respond when the media call. Your reputation depends on your planning for the worst and being grateful that it has passed.

Nobody Calls Anymore

I just had a meeting with a potential new client from China.  It went well enough that halfway through he asked me, “So how do you communicate with your clients?” To which I responded, “Telephone, text, Skype, FaceTIme or email.” He queried. “What about WhatsAp?” And right there, in my Park Avenue office conference room we stopped our meeting in order to connect via WhatsAp.

I think it’s an extraordinary thing that we now have so many tools with which to communicate to potential clients, friends and family…yet, somehow the art of communication has fallen to the wayside.

Here are a few of some valuable tips on how to make the most out of the art of communicating:

  • Come prepared. Prepare a list of points that need to be covered in the conversation.
  • Listen before you speak. Make sure you have not only talking points prepared, but also listening points. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your opinion or thoughts across and therefore miss the important nuances that are coming from your client.
  • Avoid relying on visual aids. Steve Jobs instituted a rule at Apple that banned all PowerPoint presentation. Be prepared to use works, compelling storytelling and nonverbal cues to communicate your points.
  • Non-verbal cues. One study found that nonverbal communication accounted for 55 percent of how an audience perceived a presenter. That means that the majority of what you say is communicated not through words, but through physical cues. Fill up the space you are given, maintain eye contact and if appropriate, move around the space.
  • Don’t interrupt. It is very rude to interrupt a person while they are speaking. Nobody likes to be interrupted because it hampers the thought process and it is disrespectful.
  • Don’t be defensive. Be neutral and transparent so that you can understand what is being discussed. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Don’t deviate. Stay focused on the agenda at hand. Always maintain the balance in the conversation so that everyone involved in the discussion has a fair part in it.
  • Be confident. If you’ve been invited to the table, then assume that you are expected to be part of the conversation.  Don’t look for validation or an invitation to join the conversation from your superior.
  • Be open to new ideas. New ideas can come unexpectedly, so if a younger, less experienced member of the team comes up with a great new idea, or helps open your eyes to a new direction, be open and receptive.
  • Explore new communications methods. Just like when my Chinese client suggested opening a line of commutations via WhatsAp, be open to some of the newer technology that may make communication easier, faster and more effective.
  • Master the art of timing. Great communicators, like all great comedians, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.

The Big Idea can be Found in Odd Places

 

The pressure is on. The  public relations agency client is coming in from out of town. You need to be able to present some new ideas, new strategy and new thinking. But, for the moment your mind is dried up. How often have you found yourself in this impossible position? Well, I for one suggest that the best thing you can do is leave your desk, take a break, go out to grab lunch or just take a walk around the block to help unblock your creative mind.

Here are some of the most unremarkable creative venues in which I have come up with some great Big Ideas.

  1. A Bathroom Break.Never go to the bathroom without a pen tucked in your ear. And the white toilet paper or paper towels can afford a great impromptu place to write up a brainstorm. Or take your cellphone and jot your ideas on the Notebook app.
  2. Coffee Shop. A warm caffeinated drink on a cold day can not only warm your body, by rev up your mind too.
  3. Dog Walk. Take your dog for a long walk and enjoy nature, even if it’s in mid-town Manhattan or in the rural Vermont mountains. Relaxation will lead to freedom of body and mind.
  4. Home choirs. Yup, that mindless buzz of the vacuum will help you focus on one thing, the noise. And that’s great, because the less you focus on the more you open up your mind to new ideas. They don’t say “whistle while you work” for nothing.
  5. The Shower. Have that cellphone or that pen and paper on hand. The soothing moisture and warm environment are a breeding space for great ideas.
  6. Close your eyes and daydream. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your perfect environment. A holiday retreat. A walk on the beach. Swinging in a hammock. Take yourself temporarily out of your current environment and let the creative juices begin to flow.
  7. Take a power nap. Limit your naps to a maximum of 30 minutes. This well help to refresh and refocus you without interfering with your usual nightly routine or causing you to struggle to nod off come bedtime
  8. Play with toys. You gotta have office toys. There are some standard office toys including a slinky, a kaleidoscope, ball and jacks, fidget spinner. Take a break and play with your toys.
  9. Shake up your surroundings. If your office is near a park, like Central Park in New York, put on your coat and take a power walk through the meadows and trees. A walk in the woods is always great for clearing the mind.
  10. Sleep on it. And, if all else fails, go home and sleep on it. Everything seems better in the morning.

Life is a journey, and big ideas often lie along its path.

PR Tips: How to Prepare for a Media Interview

 

Proper preparation can help you make the most of a broadcast or print interviews.

Message Points: In preparing for a media interview, the first step is to develop communications objectives- two or three key points you wish to convey to your audience. You might want to discuss the benefits of your company, or other points directly related to your marketing objectives.

Rehearse. We can’t stress how important it is to rehearse responses to all possible questions. Simulate interview sessions with the help of a friend or a professional media trainer. Rehearse out loud. Vocalizing your responses will help to file the messages in your “mind’s ear.”

Preview your interviewer. If she is a TV news reporter, watch some of her broadcast interviews. If he is a newspaper reporter, read some of his articles so that you are comfortable with his interviews style.

Short Words – Simple Sentences. This creates an air of informality and the illusion of casual conversation between you and the reporter. A natural, informative quality also makes you more believable.

Learn how to “bridge.” When an interviewer asks a question that sidesteps your key points, regain control by bridging from the topic broached back to your key line of reasoning or point.

Avoid “Off the record.” The phrase “off the record” is an overused and misused tool not recommended for the average interviewees. Your interviewer will probably bristle if you offer information and then plead, “But this is ‘off the record.’ Say what you have to say in an authoritative manner and you will automatically convey a sense of expertise and knowledge about the topics.

Non-verbal cues. The spoken word is only a small part of the communications process. We all know that direct eye-to-eye contact connotes a sense of candor and honesty. That’s just one way in which non-verbal cues can work in your favor. In addition to the unspoken cues, you should also be aware of your voice and your body language. Be natural and as relaxed as you can be under the circumstances.

Have fun!

How to Generate PR During your Crowdfunding Campaign

 

When you read the Kickstarter stats it can be depressing: the rate of success is only 38.13%–that means that 61.87% fail.  Why? With 228,894 launched projects in the past 12 months it’s really difficult to break through and gain visibility.  So what can you do to help generate a buzz and create top-of-mind awareness on Kickstarter?

 

Statistics show that those who hire a public relations agency are often more successful in establishing awareness and getting their products funded.  But if you can’t hire an agency, then become your own publicist.

  • If you build it they will come. Creating a launch-worthy product takes time and effort—and so does promoting it. If you build it they will come is untrue in the crowdsourcing world.  You have to take your information to the media and the influencers.  Working hard at creating a prelaunch buzz should be your goal from the minute you decide to go with a crowdsourcing campaign.
  • Develop a media kit. You have to make it easy for a reported to find and help you. Create a one-page press release on your project, a high-resolution photos, a list of what makes your project so compelling and unique and a screenshot of your campaign.
  • Develop your media lists. If too intimidating, you can hire a freelancer to find the blogs and writers related to your project. And don’t be intimidated about picking up the phone and calling your local newspapers, radio and TV stations and pitching your story; local media can be your best supporters.
  • Social media. Create a Facebook and Twitter pages as well as Instagram and  Explore some advertising on an outlet such as Facebook where, for just a few dollars a day, you can increase your visibility and promote your Kickstarter campaign.
  • Crowdsourcing PR sites. Here are 7 free tools to help generate a buzz before you launch a crowdfunding project:
    1. it. According to Wikipedia Thunderclap is a “crowdspeaking” platform that lets individuals and companies rally people together to spread a message. The site uses an “all-or-nothing” model similar to crowdfunding sites such Kickstarter, in that if the campaign does not meet its desired number of supporters in the given time frame, the organizer receives none of the donations.
    2. Pitchfuse. Using the service, you can post your up and coming Kickstarter or Indiegogo project and receive comments, collect email addresses, analyze pageviews, and accumulate followers. You can also notify your followers when you do launch.
    3. Working on the principal of “social currency,” this site taps into the collective influence of the crowd to gauge a project’s popularity. The more crowdcredits you acquire, the higher your ranking on this site and the more likely you are to become a trending project.
    4. This is where you post that press release that you created. After posting it on this site you can copy and paste it on your blog or website, and you can even attach it to your press release when you distribute to media outlets.
    5. This is where you post information on your pre-launch campaign—it’s a “coming soon” platform that helps you create awareness and gather supporters early on.
    6. You can create a pre-launch landing page where you can collect email addresses of potential backers.
    7. Here’s a quick and easy place to start your blogging efforts.  It’s a channel for reaching out to other bloggers, for explaining your campaign, for sharing your goals as well as your frustrations and lessons learned.

Good luck!

 

How to Explain PR to Your Father

 

For those of you who have recently graduated from college and have had the good fortune of landing a job in a public relations agency, congratulations.  But now comes the hard part; trying to explain to your family and friends what you do for a living.

I remember many years ago when I landed my first job in a New York-based public relations agency and tried to describe over the phone to my Philadelphia parents exactly what it was that I was tasked to do.  Observing that my parents were still uncertain of my exact talent, I decided to bring my impressive portfolio of all earned media content (aka placements) and make a formal presentation to them in Philly.

At the time, one of my clients was Mannington flooring covering. Part of my job was to get editorial coverage of its flooring in top-targeted national magazines, and I had done an admirable job.  My portfolio was filled with placements from the likes of Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home, Woman’s Day, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

It took the better part of an hour, but I made a formal presentation to my parents explaining how I developed a media list and a pitch letter. I went on to describe the time-consuming process of engaging the editor in my idea and what it took to close the deal.  Then with pride, I took them through my bulging portfolio and explained the process involved in obtaining each and every glossy magazine article.

They smiled and nodded in what I assumed was recognition of the time consuming, long drawn out process and its results…the placement. I even went so far as to explain the difference between earned media and purchased media (advertising), and again they nodded in recognition of the perceived difference.

They seemed duly impressed and I was relieved that I had so admirably explained what I did for a living.

Then, a few weeks later, there arrived an envelope from my father containing the ripped out full page advertisement from Mannington floorcovering with a little hand-written note at the top, “Great job, darling.”

And my parents were not the only ones who were confused with what I did for a living. Throughout my life, whenever I was asked what I did for a living, and replied “public relations,” you could count on it that within a brief time, if the social situation allowed, the person would invariably turn and query, “Isn’t that like advertising?” To which I am now forced to reply, “Exactly.”  I surrender.

 

9 PR Best Practices for Corporate Blogging

 

Blogging can be a great opportunity for some organizations and brands to enter the social media world and thereby put their best foot forward on behalf of their company/product.  But before you jump head first into the blogosphere it is important to develop a strategy that helps present you in the best light while also grabbing the attention of your target audience.  Here are a few start-up tips:

  1. Grab their attention. Nowadays it seems that everyone has taken to the Internet with an opinion, 10 tips or guidelines. Make sure that you start off your blog with something that is relevant to your audience and will make them want to continue reading. You’ve only got a few sentences in which to grab their attention. Make it worth their while to stay.

 

  1. Use bullets or numbered lists. Everyone loves a list whether it is 10 tips, bullets or just visually pleasing in the layout.  You are competing for everyone’s time and attention spans are waning, so the setup of you blog is very important.

 

  1. Develop keywords.  For search engine optimization (SEO), your keywords matter especially in the title as well as the tips themselves.

 

  1. Use hyperlinks. In addition to using strong keywords, the use of hyperlinks aids tremendously in spreading your blog post throughout the Internet.

 

  1. Write about what you know. Everyone is an expert in his/her field so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others, how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.

 

  1. Provide advice. Position yourself as the guru or specialist in your field. With experience comes knowledge and it is important to pass this knowledge along to others. Blogging offers a perfect outlet.

 

  1. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook

 

  1. Watch your length. Blog posts are 250-600 words long according to the industry-accepted standard. The more frequently you post, the shorter your post should be.

 

  1. Keep the posting schedule consistent. I try to post regularly on my blog so that followers will look at the site as a go-to place for insights from the president of a New York public relations agency.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

 

How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client?  I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago.  They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.

After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program.  But first, I asked if they had a budget.  Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.

So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.”  Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.

So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:

  1. Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
  2. Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom.  Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated.  Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere.  Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
  3. Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders.  So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.

14 Things to Keep in Your Desk at a PR Agency

 

So there I was, on my way to my public relations agency when suddenly the heavens opened up to a torrential rainstorm the likes of which is seldom seen in the Big Apple. And of course, your intrepid public relations executive was without her trusty umbrella.  Caught defenseless, there was little I could do but walk those four gigantic city blocks from the Seventh Avenue subway to my Park Avenue office.  And, to make matters worse, I not only wasn’t wearing a raincoat, but had donned a cotton dress that as I walked, absorbed more and more of the downpour, until I was literally soaked to my skin.

When I got to the office the first thought I had was to get out of my clothes and to somehow get the supersaturated garment dried.  Luckily for me, I kept exercise clothes in the office for my after work class which offered a quick solution to dying from pneumonia. I called the local dry cleaner located around the corner and asked if they could indeed “dry” my wet garment. When they said “no”, I was confused. Doesn’t a dry cleaner provide drying service? Well, obviously not.

So now, to add insult to injury, the phone rang and an important client wanted to drop by for an impromptu meeting. Oh my goodness, I couldn’t greet him in my exercise outfit.  At first, my assistant actually offered me the shirt off her back.  But, the day was saved by an intrepid intern who, in planning for a weekend getaway, had brought along her hair dryer.  Hanging my dress on the back of my door, within minutes it was dry enough for me to put it on and greet the client, not a minute too soon.

Well, I learned a lot from that incident, not the least being the importance of preparing an office emergency kit.  This is what I keep in my kit (obviously it’s skewed to a women’s emergency needs—and in no way meets the needs of a true disaster or emergency):

  1. Hair dryer—for the obvious hair and dry cleaning needs
  2. Sewing kit—whoops, catch that unraveling pants or dress hem
  3. Grooming items—toothbrush and paste, nail file and polish, brush, lotion, hairbrush, hair ties
  4. Vanity mirror
  5. Medicines—prescription and over-the-counter
  6. Energy bars—for that 3PM energy pick-me-up
  7. Safety pins
  8. Mini lint roller
  9. Tampons
  10. Breath mints
  11. Pain relievers
  12. A blazer—for that spur-of-the-moment meeting
  13. Black heels
  14. Sweater or pashmina—for when the air conditioning wars ensue