“Why do you want to go into public relations?” I queried.
“Because I’m good with people,” she responded.
I have lost count on the number of times I have heard this response from the uninformed person who acknowledges that she/he wants to pursue a career in public relations. In order to succeed in the public relations industry, there are several basic skills that must be either honed or acquired. Here is a list of my top five:
Strong writing. It always surprises me when a newbie is unaware of the need for good writing skills. In fact, that’s probably the most important skill of all. Employees have to be able to write to the media (via pitches and queries), write to the clients (status reports and updates) as well as their boss (weekly reports). A well written media query will garner the attention that clients deserve.
Think like a reporter. I was fortunate to have gotten my first job as a news reporter, but most of those in public relations don’t have that opportunity. It is a must to not only query the right media, but to read what they write so that you know how to approach them on relevant topics. If the reporter covers the area of technology, you will surely be embarrassed if you contact her on behalf of your interior designer client.
Confident public speaking. I can’t emphasize enough the need for students in marketing and public relations to take public speaking courses while in college. This will prove to be invaluable the first time attending a new business meeting or facing down a client across a conference room.
Know your client’s industry. I always tell my clients that “We work with you, not for you.” The important differential here is that we know his business as well as if we were actually on staff working for him. Learn to research the industry whether it’s consumer products, finance or pharmaceuticals…and become an expert in that field.
The ability to just figure it out. A new project, like learning how to upload a client’s blog to Facebook Instant Article, may seem daunting at first, but once done, will provide a new skill that can be brought on to other tasks. Take the time to figure it out. Remember, it’s not brain surgery, and no one will die if done incorrectly. But if done right, a new skill is added to the resume.
Press releases are essential in any public relations strategy. They detail product launches, special events and other newsworthy activities that a company produces. Because media outlets are flooded with daily stories and pitches, it is imperative that you make yours stand out from the rest. Here are seven tips to make your press release stand out, look professional, and attract reporters to your story.
Grab their attention with a strong e-mail subject. A strong subject in 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.
Get right to the point. Assume the reader will not 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.
Always use quotes when possible. Including quotes from your client makes them an authority in their profession. It is important to have your information validated by a trusted source. Quotes can also clarify any information that you have in the press release while attributing it to your client.
Check your grammar, then check it again! Always proofread your press releases; any grammatical errors can turn a reporter off. It is unprofessional and 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.
One Page is best. As with most good writing, shorter is usually better. You should 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.
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 to keep their interest in your message.
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 are not shy; if they have a question, they will contact you.
My great-grandparents both died during the 1918 pandemic that struck Philadelphia like a bolt of crackling lightening. As a small child I remember my parents speaking about it in hushed almost frightened tones. It was something to be dreaded. And now here I am in the middle of what seems like a page out of Stephen King’s The Stand.
Today I find myself not only trying to protect my health and safety but also that of my clients. What worked yesterday just will not fly today, whether it’s working with traditional or social media. Consumers aren’t ready to accept the light and fluffy, but there is that careful step somewhere between “light and fluffy” and “all pandemic all the time.” Since I’m just now finding my way through this event, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and guidance with you.
Toss your old strategy out the window. For one of our retail clients, we advised driving consumers to the website, with a shift towards a major ad spend on social media to drive them to the online store. For one of our healthcare practitioners, we advised fulfilling her dream of an informative blog aimed at patient needs while home during the virus. And for a medical device manufacturer, we shifted consumer outreach from retail to online strategy.
Revise your messaging. This one is a no-brainer. For one of our architectural clients, we shifted messaging from renovation/construction to home décor since basically all construction jobs in New York City are closed, but design could be worked on from home.
Be sensitive. If you are going to tag the virus in your content, make sure it’s done in the most sensitive manner. Everyone is sheltering in place. In your social media posts ask followers how they are doing. Be honest and tell them how you’re doing too. Create empathy. Empathy is key here. You don’t want to be tone-deaf and alienate people. If you turn to big brands, for example, you’ll see that some of them have gone quiet. It’s a delicate situation because you don’t want to sound like you’re just selling at a time like this.
Keep calm and carry on. The current situation requires leadership to be level-headed and calm, but also creative. Use communications tools, especially tech tools, to win people and influence consumers.
Stay optimistic. As my mother was fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”
Building your brand and maintaining its presence is a full-time job. Sometimes this job can be handled internally and other times the best solution can come from an external public relations agency.
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 and can be
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 piece or event, selectively placed and strategically developed, will do much for your brand sales and growth.
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.
Social media offers an opportunity for public relations 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. Remember that the social media sphere is a very personal shared space so be careful to follow these simple do’s and don’t’s:
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. You can also double check on media directories, such as Cision.
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.
Remember to follow social media etiquette, and you’ll do just fine.
OK, so you’ve gotten the call—you’re one of the public relations agencies chosen to present your recommended public relations program to the perspective client. You’re passed the written portion of the “test” and now you’re on to the in-person review.
Preparing for the presentation is probably the most important part of the “test.” Remember: It’s the presenter, not the presentation. So everything is riding on how the presentation goes. So, with this in mind, here are five tips on how to prepare for this vital experience.
Know the client. Yes, you are going there to present your recommendations, but you are also going there to make an impression. How knowledgeable are you of the client’s company, brands, history, etc.? How knowledgeable are you of any issues affecting the client? Their website is where you start but they are also looking to see what kind of research and industry investigation you did. What can you bring to the table?
Know your audience. Are you presenting to the CEO, president, product managers, public relations people? If they are bringing their “big guns,” then you have to do the same. Make sure you know who the participants will be ahead of the presentation. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by not bringing your “A” team if the CEO is present.
Case the space. Try to get entry into the presentation space ahead of time. Set up the projector and screen, arrange the collateral materials, select agency and client seating, check the lighting and air, make sure you have bottles of water on hand and remove anything from the conference table that may be distracting.
Think on your feet. I always tell my staff that there’s no such thing as a wrong answer—there’s only the non-answer. I encourage them to attempt a response and if it’s incorrect it’s my job is to jump in with the proper response seamlessly. So, if my colleague attempt the response, I may jump in with, “Well, in some cases that may be effective, but in this particular instance perhaps this would work better…..” Presenting as a team can prove extremely effective in this instance.
It isn’t over till it’s over. Follow-up is key in eliciting important feedback and determining where the decision-making process stands. If there are fence-sitters, they can sometimes be swayed through after-the-fact communications.
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.
A good public relations agency brings a lot to the table. They can increase sales, improve brand reputation, introduce new products or services and take care of your social media efforts, leaving you free to focus on other parts of the business.
But when this isn’t your area of expertise, how do you know if they’re performing well? Here’s some insight on what to look for when it’s time to pull the plug.
Lack of enthusiasm.No, I don’t work for you but I certainly should work with you—and as such I should be able to show a high level of enthusiasm for your company—if not, I shouldn’t be in public relations. Every client wants to feel special, as they should, so be knowledgeable about their industry and be able to bring additional insight and excitement to the client.
Poor writing skills. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by wanna-be PR people that they are “good with people.” People skills aside, you had better be a great thinker and writer because that’s what the client needs. Clients in industries such as pharmaceuticals or finance are looking for specialized PR professionals who are capable of “translating” their jargon into English for the media and the end consumer.
Poor strategy. Hopefully, shortly after you hired your PR agency it researched and developed a public relations plan for the entire year. And hopefully, they are adhering to the plan, or perhaps even expanding upon it. But without a strategic plan, a good public relations program is doomed to failure. Look to the plan!
Lack of accountability. From the get go your PR agency should have been sending you weekly and the monthly status reports and updates. These reports should show you what the agency has been doing on your behalf, what it has accomplished during that time period and what it plans to accomplish in the coming weeks. Without this accountability the client will feel lost—and a poorly informed client will eventually fire the agency.
Poor communications. Before you fire your PR agency consider talking with the principal. It may not be time to fire the agency, but time to fire or switch your day-to-day account person—the same person who may not be overly enthusiastic about your business may also be a poor communicator. Sometimes a change in the point person can reap short-term and hopefully long-term benefits.
Lack of initiative. You shouldn’t have to instruct your PR agency on what to do. Again, they should be following that plan/strategy that they set forth. Your PR agency should be coming up with new idea and telling you what they are doing—not the other way around.
Not proactive. Your PR agency should be doing ongoing industry research and thinking up great content and creative angles—and then developing ways to amplify that content. If they keep asking you for ideas, then it’s probably not the right fit.
Off-brand coverage. Going back to that strategic plan: It is important to make sure that your PR agency understand your brand and takes its positioning into account when developing a media outreach plan—both traditional and new media. You don’t want to suddenly see an article about your family-friendly brand in an inappropriate media outlet. That would give you cause to pause and reevaluate your agency commitment.
No results. Bottom line: Did you get what you paid for—what the PR agency promised? If not, then it’s time to part company. Also, if the public relations agency is landing opportunities for you that do not compliment the brand, for example reaching the wrong audience or mentions that don’t address your expertise or product, then it’s time to fire them.
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.
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), your keywords matter especially in the title as well as the tips themselves.
4. Use hyperlinks. In addition to using strong keywords, 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 his/her field so use this platform wisely. Learn how to teach others, how to arrange and present your thoughts in an organized fashion.
6. 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.
7. Drive traffic. Blog through other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook
8. 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
9. 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.