6 Ways PR Helps Drive Sales

A well developed and well executed public relations program can do wonders in helping to develop and drive sales. Let me count the ways:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 they will become, and the more exciting your brand becomes to them.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

When to Fire Your PR Agency

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.

Why Interns Should be Paid

As owner of a New York-based public relations agency who has been working with college-age interns forever, I wanted to go on record saying that it is time that the rest of you realize that they are not slaves, nor in indentured servitude.   If they are providing a valuable service, well, then they should be compensated for it, and not just with college credit.

My favorite adage is this: If you pay them then they will come.

When I first went out on my own 15 years ago, and had no paid staff, I quickly discovered the benefits of intern laborers—they work hard, they can accept a lot of responsibility and they should be paid for their work efforts.  And from the beginning I decided to pay them an honest hourly wage—even if they were receiving college credit for the internship.  I even threw in free lunch just to grab and keep their attention.

So, here’s why I strongly believe that you get what you pay for:

  1. If you pay them they will come. At the beginning I knew I needed cheap labor, though not free. I asked a number of colleagues who like me had tiny start-ups, and to a man/woman they all agreed that I would have better attendance, participation and happier internes if there were paid. They were right.
  2. Mentoring is the key. Since the starting hourly wage and free lunch were still not enough in my opinion, I knew that from the beginning I had to make their internship worthwhile.  Therefore I always made sure to provide them with the following:
    1. Responsibility
    2. Accountability
    3. Credit for having a brain
    4. Dedication/loyalty
  3. Valuable opinions. It is important to understand that although these are young people working for you, that they offer valuable insight into the mindset of Generation Z, those born after the millennials—and this can sometimes add an additional dimension that you might not have thought about. Don’t be afraid to ask them for insight.
  4. Internships can lead to jobs. I have often provided invaluable leads and job referrals to my interns and also have served as a valuable reference to them—more valuable in some ways then payment, one does not replace the other.
  5. Foot in the door. Companies that offer unpaid internships often barter that it’s a way for the college student to get a foot in the door.  Excuse me, but how is the intern going to pay for the shoe on that foot without a decent hourly wage?
  6. Death knell for college internships. This is what the “other side” is providing as a reason not to pay interns for time worked.    Washington is trying to regulate it so that companies that currently take advantage of college kids are penalized for it.  Although I myself am not a big believer in Big Brother interfering with my business, this should certainly cause those companies who are abusing college kids to start rethinking their policies.

9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring 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 gauge 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.

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.

a. 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.

b. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.

c. 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.

d. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.

e. 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 are 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.

5 Qualities of a Good PR Client

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Value of PR in a New Product/Service Launch

If you are one of the lucky ones to have invented a new product, or even better a new product category, the likelihood of it being successfully introduced to the general public without public relations and marketing support is highly unlikely. The proverbial horse won’t drink the water unless you take him to it, so to speak. So how do you accomplish this?

Well, first and foremost is the use of a public relations agency that will work with you to develop a brand strategy as well as a launch strategy.  Working with both the traditional (print and broadcast media) and the new media (social and websites), an agency experienced in new product and new service introductions will often initiate the following media tactics:

  1. Press Releases. There are certain basic PR tactics that should be done as a matter of course, when you are releasing a new product, starting a business or want to tell the public about any new business related development. Press releases are probably the best known PR technique of all.
  2. Media desk-side briefings. In an instance where you have actually created a new product category (lucky you), the PR agency may set up a series of one-on-one meetings right at the media outlet’s office. More cost-efficient then a press conference, and obviously more intimate, the PR person can describe and actually demonstrate a new product.
  3. Product reviews. New product reviews by critical media and bloggers only help to elevate your product’s visibility among your target audiences. Public relations agencies may distribute product samples to targeted media for review, and good reviews may be posted on your product website as a badge of honor.
  4. Contests. Working with the media, your public relations agency may suggest implementing a consumer-based contest in a magazine or newspaper.  With this, the media will call upon their readership to actually participate in a contest, the prize being your product sample.
  5. Spokespersons. It is always wise to appoint either a client-based internal spokesperson as the media liaison, or, if not available, to seek out, train and work with an external spokesperson, such as a celebrity, book author, etc. Often you can work a deal that you will allow the book author to promote his/her book in return for promoting your new product—in that way you can avoid having to pay for their time.
  6. Live events. Live events can include many different possibilities, from the conventional to more outrageous guerrilla marketing tactics. Involvement is trade shows, charity events and publicity stunts are the kind of thinking out of the box tactics that a good public relations agency can suggest and implement on your behalf.

A well timed and clearly executed public relations program can go a long way to helping successfully introduce a new product, service or business.  How else will you get those horses to drink the water?

A Big Idea Can Come from an Odd Place

The pressure is on. The 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 chores. 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 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.

Do Your Parents Understand Public Relations?

Do you parents know what you do for a living in the PR field?

So I had been working in public relations so about a year when my parents asked me, “What exactly is public relations? Is it like advertising?”  If your parents or spouse don’t understand the difference, don’t be surprised. A recent survey of 1000 PR pros found 72% of them say their parents don’t understand what PR is, and another 41% say their spouses don’t know either.

So, in an effort to try to educate my parents I drove down to Philadelphia and gave a full two-hour public relations presentation to both my parents and an uncle.  The case history revolved around a current client at the time, Mannington floorcovering.  I brought down sample pitch letters and media lists, explained the difference between earned media and paid-for media, and even went so far as to show them final media placements for the client in both magazines and newspapers.

Although I wasn’t surprised when they asked why my by-line didn’t appear in these content-driven articles that had been basically lifted from my press release, I felt confident as I drove back to New York that my family definitely had a much clearer understanding of the difference between earned content and paid-for advertising.

And then, about two weeks later, I got a letter from my dad.  The contents of the envelope contained a full-page, four-color ad of Mannington floorcovering appearing in the recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Penned proudly at the top of the advertisement was a hand-written note from my dad proudly saying, “Great job! Love the work you did for your client.”  That night I called to thank him for his continued interest in my success. What more could I say?

Know When to Go: Exiting a PR Firm

There comes a time in every public relations staffer when all of the stars line up and it’s very obviously time to start the job search—while you are currently employed.  There are lots of reasons for taking that next step; these are just a few.

  1. Stay for a year. Unless the job is excruciating, the rule of thumb is to remain at a position for a full year.  Why?  It gives your time there validity. It shows that you decided to leave on your own terms instead of being asked to leave after a few months.
  2. Exception to the one year rule. If the position absolutely is intolerable, or worse yet, you just made the wrong public relations agency decision, get out of there sooner than later.  Why? Because a mistake of a few weeks/months can easily be erased from your resume—which means, not included at all.
  3. Your boss is a terror. The interesting thing that I have witnessed about newly minted bosses is that in most cases the company has put little if any effort into creating an environment whereby junior people are shown how to be a manager/boss.  In most cases, employees learn from example—they see how other managers manage and hopefully they extract the most outstanding leadership qualities.  But, that’s assuming that their bosses have great qualities that can be emulated. I’m all for leadership and managerial training.  If your company doesn’t provide training, look into courses at such institutions as Dale Carnegie.
  4. You’re not learning anything new. Yup, there may come a time when you feel like you are just running around in a hamster cage—doing the same tasks every day with seemingly no opportunities to learn new skills.  That may be a time to first talk to your supervisor and explain your situation.  If your request for growth opportunities is ignored, well, then that is definitely a sign to start updating your resume and posting it on
  5. You weren’t promoted. So you think the time has come for you to get a promotion—and it didn’t happen.  And even worse, someone who you think is your equal got the promotion.  What to do?
    1. Make a plan with your boss. A former employee of mine did just this.  She desperately wanted to be promoted to Account Supervisor. So, she made an appointment to meet with me to get me engaged in a plan to help her gain that promotion. We laid out a six-month plan and low and behold, she kind of had me between a rock and a hard place because at the end of the six months she had accomplished all that we laid out—and she received the promotion.
    2. You can just look elsewhere. But this is often a hard one because other public relations agencies usually require new hires to already be doing the work of that position.  There’s the conundrum.
  6. You made a big mistake. Now, how do I sensitively approach this one?  OK, first is that I need to explain what may be defined as a big mistake.
    1. An office affair. In most instances and in most agencies, this is a big no no, especially if your affair is with your boss.
    2. You’ve been dishonest. This is another big no no.  This can include anything from taking money from the company by turning in falsified expense reports to searching for a new job on company time. For greater insight here’s an article from Small Business Chron.