5 PR Agency Fails to Avoid

 

Congratulations, you just hired a new public relations agency and you’re looking forward to moving ahead with a long-lasting and mutually productive relationship.   If you’re not new to the PR agency alliance, then you’ve probably already suffered the slings and arrows of an agency fail.  But if this is your first time at bat, well then I would like to prepare you for what may lie ahead.

In order to enable the most successful partnership there are some pitfalls to avoid.

Unclear goals. Hopefully you have provided clear goals to the PR agency prior to its researching and writing a proposal, and hopefully it has translated those goals into a clear concise strategy with appropriate tactics.  After the hire, it’s important to review your goals with the agency so that appropriate tactics are set and implemented.  There is no point to letting the horse leave the gate if the directions aren’t clear.

Unrealistic budget.  The first question we ask a new client is, “Do you know what your budget is?”  Usually that’s when we see the client’s eyes glaze over as they reply, “I have no idea! That’s what I thought you were here for.”   Some experts recommend using a formula based on a percentage of gross revenue  or projected revenue. For newer companies we might suggest 12 to 20 percent of gross or projected revenue for marketing, from which a portion would be allocated to public relations. For established companies that have been in business for more than five years, the allocation might be between 6 and 12 percent of revenue. However, sometimes the resultant budget is a combination of what the client can afford and what the agency believes it will need to execute attainable results. In this case, I advise the brands not to be penny wise and pound foolish.

Inability to predict trouble before it happens.  Sometimes a good public relations agency has to function as a soothsayer, seeing into the future and anticipating small problems before they develop into big trouble. Start by looking for red flags like the client chronically being late in reviewing needed materials or an agency team member’s failure to report an early problem, and thereby nip it in the bud. Small failures like these, multiplied over time, can be a ticking time bomb.

Failure to properly staff.  On the brand side it is imperative that there is one direct agency report rather than layers. This will cut down on delays and also help to create that vital agency/client smooth working relationship. On the agency side, we have to be able to evaluate the brand’s needs and staff accordingly.  If the brand is social media intensive, we have to make sure that our staffing reflects this expertise. And if the brand is content driven, we must assure that staffers with writing skills are on the job.

No surprises.  Years ago I won the Best Foods® brand after their current agency surprised them with a $35,000 charge to charter a private plane in order to get their spokesperson to his destination in a timely manner.  The only problem with that was that the agency didn’t ask the client for approval ahead of time; they were immediately fired. Now mind you, that was a big whoops.  But even small ones can lead to not only distrust, but to disaster.

 

 

 

Tips to Make Your Corporate Blog Standout

Tips to Make Your Corporate Blog Standout

It’s an powerful tool to have your company’s corporate blog standout. Blogging can be a great opportunity for some organizations and brands to enter the social media world and put their best foot forward.  But before you jump into the blogosphere, it’s important to develop a strategy that helps present your company in the best light while also grabbing the attention of your target audience.  Here are a few helpful tips to start:

  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 to grab their attention. Make it worth their while to stay.
  2. 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.
  3. Develop keywords.  For search engine optimization (SEO), keywords are extremely important to have in your title and in the body of the article itself.
  4. Use hyperlinks. The use of hyperlinks aids tremendously in spreading your blog post throughout the Internet.
  5. Write about what you know. Everyone is an expert in their field, so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others and how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.
  6. Provide advice. Position yourself as the guru in your field. With experience comes knowledge and it is important to pass this knowledge along to others. Blogging offers a perfect outlet for this.
  7. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.
  8. Posting Consistently. I try to post regularly on my blog so that followers will look at the site as a go-to place for insights on public relations.

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

Skills They Don’t Teach You as a Public Relations Major

You learn a lot while studying your college major. But once you leave your beloved alma mater behind, you may realize there are some very important life lessons that you never learned.
If you want to avoid that terrifying task of entering the real world without the skills you need to succeed, take the time to learn them before graduation day rolls around. Here are some skills they don’t teach you as a public relations major:
1. How to manage your money. So you land a job in a New York public relations agency right out of college and the company provides you with the option to join its 401K. Without a basic understanding of the stock market, which is almost never taught in school, you will be dead in the water.
4. Social skills. Some of  the best jobs require social skills. As a kid in kindergarten you learned to play well with others. Then, as you moved along in school, these skills were replaced by impersonal lecture-style teachings of hard skills and less peer interaction. In a field such as public relations, softer skills, like client interaction and counseling, motivating colleagues, and being a team player, are emphasized.
5. Leadership skills. A good leader’s job is to get work done through people. Skills such as how to hire the best people, how to provide mentoring, and how to successfully lead a team are often left for on-the-job learning.
7. How credit works. Just because you were able to secure a credit card doesn’t mean you should use it mindlessly. With some credit rates as high as 28%, it could take you years to pay off a $1,000 balance. So, don’t party hardy unless you can pay with cash.
8. How to find a job. Unfortunately, the very basics of how to go about researching and landing a job are skills that are often self-taught. Seek out professors, counselors, and career centers for assistance in this vital area.

How to Prepare for a Crisis

How to Prepare for a Crisis

A crisis can happen at any moment. Most often, it happens when you are least prepared.  And when it does happen, 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 six tips on how to prepare for a crisis:

  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.
    1. 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.
    2. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.
    3. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.
      • Train your receptionists so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.
    4. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.
    5. 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 a 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, the team 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 poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we’ve 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, be truthful, and be quick to respond when the media call.  You reputation depends on your planning for the worst, and being grateful that it has passed.

5 Things to Be Grateful for This Year

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5 Things to Be Grateful for This Year

Though things may have not turned out the way you had hoped, we all have something to be grateful for this year. We’re here to help you remember that life ain’t all bad. Here are five things we should all be grateful for in our professional and social lives:

1. Communication. Try to think back to the days of letter writing and long awaited responses. We know…it’s tough to remember. Though technology may frustrate us to the nth degree at times, we should all be thankful for being able to communicate through our cellphones, email, etc. What would 21st century business be like without the ability to quickly email clients or contact employees while on-the-go?

2. A support system. Your support system could range from an array of faces. Think family, friends, a mentor, or, heck, even your pets. Whenever we’re looking for a pep talk, or need someone to quickly proofread a resume, we can always count on our support system.

3. Jobs and hobbies. Gratitude should be given to the jobs and hobbies we have in our life. Whether your job is at a law firm, or your hobbies include volunteering at a local animal shelter, we all have something to look forward to during our week.

4. The little things. We all know the classic phrase: “It’s the little things in life that make us happy”. And, quite frankly, it truly is the little things that help remind us how grateful we are. Think back to free food at the office, or catching the subway at the last second. These are the things that go a long way.

5. Education. Something I know I take for granted sometimes is the education I have received. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve gone to a big, state school or got your degree online. The most important thing is to recognize how lucky you are to have received an education, which is seen as a luxury to many.

 

7 Ways to Define Public Relations

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7 Ways to Define Public Relations

For an industry that does so much to help define its clients and industry,  it is an unfortunate turn of events that public relations has such a vague understanding among many audiences. When I first told my parents I had entered into the field of public relations, they went around telling everyone that their daughter made it big in the Madison Avenue world of advertising—yup, advertising. Like so many others, they had no idea what public relations was. And who could blame them? Especially when our industry has continued to evolve over the decades and has never settled on just one basic definition. Here are seven ways to help define public relations:

  1.  Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. (PRSA)
  2. The activity or job of providing information about a particular person or organization to the public so that people will regard that person or organization in a favorable way. (Merriam-Webster)
  3. The profession or practice of creating and maintaining goodwill of an organization’s various publics (customers, employees, investors, suppliers, etc.), usually through publicity and other nonpaid forms of communication. These efforts may also include support of arts, charitable causes, education, sporting events, and other civic engagements. (BusinessDictionary.com)
  4. Public relations is the opposite of advertising. In advertising, you pay to have your message placed in a newspaper, TV or radio spot. In public relations, the article that features your company is not paid for. The reporter, whether broadcast or print, writes about or films your company as a result of information he or she received and researched. Publicity is more effective than advertising, for several reasons. First, publicity is far more cost-effective than advertising. Even if it is not free, your only expenses are generally phone calls and mailings to the media. Second, publicity has greater longevity than advertising. An article about your business will be remembered far longer than an ad. (Entrepreneur)
  5. Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) and the public. Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. This differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications. Public relations is the idea of creating coverage for clients for free, rather than marketing or advertising. (Wikipedia)
  6. Public relations is the art of managing the spread of information about an individual or company is disseminated to the public, and attempting to frame that information in a positive light. (Investopedia.com)
  7. A basic definition of public relations is to shape and maintain the image of a company, organization or individual in the eyes of the client’s various “publics.” What is a “public” exactly? A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has or ever will form an opinion about the client. (Money)

5 Tips to Manage Your Online Reputation

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5 Tips to Manage Your Online Reputation

Here’s a great “geek joke”: Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.

I always tell young employees to be careful with what they post on social media because it may come back to bite them in the ass. Whether it’s partying at a frat house with a beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social media can lead to job declines or worse. The best protection is to not post them. Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles to help push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search. Here are helpful PR tips to manage your online reputation:

  1. Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself, including Google Images. Heaven forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, salve or worse. If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
  2. Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all the content you only want to share with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and people can easily embarrassing photo without your consent.
  3. Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like stephenking.com in order to get your own personal domain name. This is the place to start building your personal reputation; place your bio, photos, blog posts, articles from sources you respect.
  4. Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments. Post your personal information on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+. If you’ve got some good graphic illustrations, try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups on sites like LinkedIn and post new content.
  5. Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites. This will help make your online presence stronger.

A Big Idea Can Come From Odd Places

mind_reading
A Big Idea Can Come From Odd Places

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 unremarkable places. Sometimes I find that if I leave the tumult of the office behind, and remove myself from the everyday commotion in a busy office, creativity soon follows.

Here are some of the most unremarkable creative venues in which I have come up with PR Big Ideas:
1. A Bathroom Break. For years, I have never gone to the bathroom whether in the office or at home without a pen placed firmly behind my ear. I’ve become good at coming up with either the lead sentence for a feature article, a tag line for a brand launch, or a Big Idea in this odd place. With relative ease, the roll of toilet paper becomes my writing surface.
2. The Shower. I guess it’s the sense-numbing sound of the water mixed with the penetrating heat that causes my mind to melt and allows freethinking to emerge. Now, if I could get my hands on the pad and pen that writes in the shower, my life would surely be easier.
3. 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, with creativity flowing. 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 full of Big Ideas.
4. The River. I live two blocks from the Hudson River and afford myself the glorious opportunity to walk along it almost everyday. During good weather, the paths are filled with bike riders, skaters, and joy-seekers. But during the colder months, I often feel alone along the river and its hidden pathways. Looking out at the sturdy tugboats pushing unwieldy barges through the current gives me peace of mind…and a peaceful mind often spawns Big Ideas. Again, make sure to record your Ideas by hand or via cell. Trust me when I say this, you’ll never remember them once you return 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 meditate (always with a pen and paper handy). You’ll be surprised how easy it is to close one door of your mind and open the another to a creative moment.

6 Tips: How to Interview for a Public Relations Agency

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6 Tips: How to Interview for a Public Relations Agency

So,you got yourself that interview with a public relations agency. Here are some tips on how to prepare for your interview:

  1. Review their website. I can’t stress enough the importance of being familiar with the agency, its philosophy,  client categories, client list, and work samples. This information will help you discern whether this is the place for you.  Also, be familiar with their blog posts and what their point of view is on industry issues?
  2. Prepare 3 questions. At the end of an interview, I always ask a potential employee if they have any questions. To my surprise, the majority say “No thanks. You’ve covered everything.” Well, that’s not good enough. I don’t care what you ask, but as long as you ask something. This shows me that you can communicate and think on your feet.
  3. Due diligence. It is important for you to implement due diligence. This means becoming a detective and finding out everything you can about the firm’s reputation, working environment, and staff members. Do they have a good industry reputation? Have they won awards? what kind of work reputation does the president and top executives have? How happy or unhappy is the staff? Ask your friend if they know someone who currently or has worked there before. However, don’t ask current staffers because you never know.
  4. Google search. Atta girl. You know haw valuable an Internet search can be. Now’s the time to implement a search on the company itself. How does it hold up and compare to competitors? What is its reputation and how have they managed it?
  5. Decide on the appropriate attire. If you are interviewing for that fashion boutique, you better look the part. In addition to everything else, you will be judged on your style and presentation. Not that other public relations agency specialties don’t demand a good appearance, but make sure you dress the part.
  6. Arrive early.  It’s always wise to get to the destination earlier than needed. This way you’ll never be late for an interview, which can be a real turn-off. Go for coffee or take a walk around the block. Then get yourself together and go gettum!!

Reading a PR Client’s Mind

Mind Reader.PR
Reading a PR Client’s Mind

How many times have you wished you could 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 called me because I had previously worked with another cruise ship company. After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle and present our initial public relations program. But first, I asked if they had a budget. Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget”. Although they probably did have a budget, they refrained from telling us because they probably had the belief that we would ask for less, allowing them to “save money.” How foolish.

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

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

  1. Can I trust them? 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, and sell more products.
  2. Will they be there for me? Back in the day, I remember a notable PR firm mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom. Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their phones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated. Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere. 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 your team is there for them.
  3. Will they be the monitor of my money? So you developed a suggested budget, but things happen. During a public relations program you may need to spend additional monies. Never spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” to spending unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
  4. Will they make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss. When you’re hired, it’s your job to make your boss look good. Make their superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a meaningful corporate expenditure.