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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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):
- Hair dryer—for the obvious hair and dry cleaning needs
- Sewing kit—whoops, catch that unraveling pants or dress hem
- Grooming items—toothbrush and paste, nail file and polish, brush, lotion, hairbrush, hair ties
- Vanity mirror
- Medicines—prescription and over-the-counter
- Energy bars—for that 3PM energy pick-me-up
- Safety pins
- Mini lint roller
- Breath mints
- Pain relievers
- A blazer—for that spur-of-the-moment meeting
- Black heels
- Sweater or pashmina—for when the air conditioning wars ensue
Two years ago I rescued an eight year old black lab named Leo—and as the adage says, he rescued me right back. He was a 65 pound anxious wrecking ball who, when briefly left alone, ate my desk chair and raided my walk-in closet bringing out and destroying all my stored paper products and laying waste a bag of potting soil and a toilet plunger. After the first few weeks, we were able to sort things out and develop a truce whereby I would help him get his mojo back and he would show me the wonders that are a dog. Through him, I’ve learned the merits of unconditional love. I’ve also picked up a few important life lessons that can easily be applied to the workplace. Here are five that apply to working better:
- Be loyal. Boy, when it comes to loyalty, Leo certainly scores high marks. But historically, there have been quite a storied dogs including Japan’s Hachiko, an Akita who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death and Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who supposedly spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner.
In business, loyalty is a huge asset. I have had both staffers and clients who have remained loyal to my company for many years, and as part of the equation, I find myself rewarding their loyalty. For the staffer the rewards manifests itself in promotions and pay raises; for the client, in extraordinary personal time and results.
- Trust your instincts. On a very basic level, Leo has instinct that run like clockwork. If I am not out of bed by my usual 7AM, he gently jumps up and nuzzles me at exactly 7:30 to get out of bed. He also reminds daily that it is time for his 4PM walk and Heavens forbid I am late for dinner, there is the nuzzle under my arm as I sit by my desk.
Just like Leo, trust your business instinct. You’ll know if the client is asking too much, if the editor is really on a deadline, and if your colleague is drowning and needs some extra encouragement.
- Leo likes nothing more than the nearly empty jar of Skippy peanut butter as a treat. He holds it between his paws and uses him long snake-like tongue to patiently lick every remaining drop. The process takes him several minutes but by the time he finally relinquishes the jar, it is clean enough to be plunked into the recycle bin.
Perseverance is a quality that all good public relations people must acquire. As with any PR agency, you have to have the ability to go after that new business lead, follow-up with that elusive journalists, pursue that client for input, or mentor that less experienced colleague.
- Be enthusiastic. Leo’s enthusiasm sometime just makes me laugh. He’ll run for the ball with such gusto as to run right passed it. And when eating, he gulps each meal as if it were his last. Not to mention when I return from a brief outing without him, his jumps for joy make me love him even more.
Now I am not asking you to love your client, but I’ll tell you that a client will surely love you if you show enthusiasm for her company, product, ad campaign, and even her children’s photos that are lined up on the desk. For a client’s birthday I once sent a humongous helium balloon with a small bucket dangling beneath filled with champagne and chocolate kisses. Everyone in the company wanted to who his PR agency was.
- Go outside and play. Even though Leo spends most of his time curled under my desk on his comfy dog bed, at the end of our day we are both ready to go out and play.
I tell my colleagues that working in public relations is not like operating in a hospital. No one dies as a result of our profession. Therefore, take a minute or two, unplug from your computer and your cellphone and go out and play. Have fun!
Here are 6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand
- Public relations. As a demand-generation tool, nothing beats a well-crafted and strategically implemented public relations program. For developing credibility and garnering brand awareness, a PR campaign can fine-tune messages, build brands, develop prospects and avert crises. Talk to a public relations agency and learn what it has to offer. Your brand will thank you…so will your bottom line.
- Social media outreach. Be careful not to discount the millennials. Like it or not, they are the newest and most passionate group to jump onto the social media bandwagon, and you can’t be late to dinner on this one. You’re public relations agency can easily develop and maintain your social media pages, but so can your internal marketing department. Bottom line is, make sure someone is minding the store.
- Blogging. Again, a good public relations agency can assist you in the development of your company blog, but this is something for which you should spend some time figuring out your point-of-view. This will make it easier for you, your PR agency or your marketing department to feel comfortable writing in your style and voice.
- Research. Before any outside agent can assist you with your branding you have better done your own initial research into your marketplace. Who are your competitors? Pricing? Potential controversy, such as ingredients, pricing, sourcing? Know your audience and know it well. Consumers can be a fickle bunch.
- Reputation management. In the current climate, reputation matters more than some appreciate and protecting, as well as enhancing yours is important for your bottom line. Strong sales can be the result of strong leadership and an innovative sales department. It can also be the result of a strong reputation. Make sure you take the time to not only create your reputation, but to learn to protect it. One bad online review that goes unanswered can lead to a potential viral disaster and an end to consumer confidence.
- Promotion. There is a fine line between enticing promotion and bombarding your customers with unwanted emails and promotional materials. Balance and timing is everything. Choose your targets and messages carefully. Realize that a well positioned promotional pieces or event, selectively placed and strategically developed, will do much for your brand sales and growth.
In my capacity as president of a New York-based public relations agency I often feel as though I am waiting for Godot:
- When I am waiting to get the new client to finally commit to signing on the dotted line
- While waiting to hear back from an editor or producer on whether our pitch idea is a “go”
- Whether the new terrific candidate I just interviewed will take the job offer
- And whether the delayed airplane will ever depart so that I can make it to my appointment
But life itself is often a theater of the absurd:
- When you’re waiting to be given that job offer
- When you’re waiting to get a call-back from that special guy/gal
- Whether your children will be accepted to college
- Whether they’ll grow up to be good people
- And, in the end, was it worth it all
A well developed and well executed public relations program can do wonders in helping to develop and drive sales. Let me count the ways:
- Earn credibility. The big difference between public relations and advertising is that PR takes a lot more effort, thus it is often referred to in the marketing industry as “earned media.” Nielsen’s 2015 Trust in Advertising report shows that people trust earned media (as in editorial articles and posts) and owned content (as in social media) more than any other formats. The dynamic partnership that these two elements play is important to understanding and realizing sales growth.
- Generate interest. A successful new product or service launch to your target audiences will greatly help to develop and stimulate interest and serve as a platform for introducing your brand to new audiences. Successfully breaking through the enormous clutter of information available to the average consumer is overwhelming and sometimes confusing. Working with the media to convey your brand messages and values so that interest in piqued, is the job of a good public relations agency.
- Educate prospects. A well executed public relations program can not only help to educate consumers to your products and services, but also reach out to and influence potential shareholders as well as potential business partners. The more that they read, see and hear about your brand, the more engaged them will become, and the exciting your brand becomes to them.
- Create a buzz. What makes a good public relations campaign is its ability to create a buzz through both traditional and new media outreach–through the earned, owned as well as purchased outlets. By connecting them all, a client soon realizes the value of a well integrated and orchestrated marketing plan.
- Door opener. OK, which would you find more credible? Receiving a link to a sales pdf file or a link to a recent news article? This should be a no brainer. The more newsworthy a company or a brand, the more likely it is to engage with its audience–to be more believable, more important, more credible. That’s the power of public relations in helping to drive sales.
- Good content is recyclable. Good content, whether it be for a blog, social media site or a press release, should be recyclable and reused time and time again. After all, what are you paying a good PR agency for, if not for them to create content that you can recycle. It’s not only time efficient, but cost efficient. And it’s a way of getting more bang for your buck as well.