How to Prepare for a PR Crisis: 6 Tips

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 PR Secrets I Learned From my Dog

Five 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 to 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:

  1. 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 reward manifests itself in promotions and pay raises; for the client, in extraordinary personal time and results.
  2. 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 if, 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.
  3. Persevere. 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.
  4. 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 know who his PR agency was.
  5. 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!

Interview Tips for a Job in Public Relations

Did you know that you can win or lose your new job interview within the first five minutes?

First impressions count, and non-verbal cues matter even more than verbal ones. So in those first few minutes, it’s all about smiling confidently, shaking hands firmly, making eye contact and generally looking as if you’re glad to be there and you want the job. Lean in slightly, widen your eyebrows, and wait to be invited to sit down. In everything you do, project an attitude of energy, enthusiasm and interest.

Once you make it through the door of the office and pass the initial 5 minutes, then these tips should be helpful:

  • Start by researching the company and the interviewer. Go to their website and take note of their accomplishments, clients, and
  • Prepare smart questions for your interviewers. This is where exploring their website will be most helpful. Getting your interviewers engaged is always a challenge, so do your research and take notes.  Jot down your questions and take them with you, along something for note-taking.
  • Rehearse your answers to common interviews questions in front of a mirror. Know what why of gestures you’re comfortable with and which ones have to be discarded.
  • Be prepared with examples of your work. Show n’ tell is always impressive, so make sure to have some strategic examples on hand.
  • Plan your attire the night before. If possible, ask ahead of time what the office attire is; business casual or buttoned up.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early. This is a no-brainer. Better to be early than late. President Obama was late for his first interview with a law firm and his wife Michelle, who was interviewing him talks about it to this day as a negative factor.  Guess it’s not a great example since he ended up with the job and a wife.
  • Win them over with authenticity and Don’t speak negatively about previous bosses or companies with which you’ve worked.
  • Tie your answers back to your skills and experience.
  • Make everything you say memorable.
  • Think before you speak, and only speak the truth.
  • Don’t keep your answers short and sweet! After all, the interviewer came to be impressed and informed by you.  Show your stuff and your knowledge—and let the interviewer see how articulate and spontaneous you can be.
  • Ask about next steps. Don’t be shy. If you want the job, ask for it. Show them you are interested and motivated and have initiative.
  • Send a personalized thank you letter or email after the interview.
  • Don’t follow-up with a phone call. Quite frankly. If they’re interested, they’ll contact you. That’s just the fact of life.

Interning at a PR Agency During COVID-19: 5 Lessons Learned By Mikayla Gardner

When I began my internship at T.J. Sacks & Associates in January of 2020, I never expected what was to come. I don’t think anyone did. As a result of COVID-19 and all the craziness it brought, however, I learned some fantastic lessons that I will take into my professional future!

  1. Be flexible, especially during a crisis. None of us at the office were expecting COVID-19 to turn the world upside down, but as soon as rumors of a pandemic began to surface, we immediately implemented a plan to transition to remote work. By taking initiative in this project, I was able to not only retain my position as an intern but prove myself as a valuable member of our team.
  2. Let your creativity shine through. Being an intern does not mean you should sit silently and only speak when spoken to. Temi Sacks, the president of J. Sacks & Associates values creativity and good ideas, no matter what level in the company they come from. After sharing some of my ideas with her about how to tailor social media posts at the beginning of the pandemic for one of our home décor clients, I was given the opportunity to plan campaigns and write copy for that client, even as an intern!
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something new. When COVID-19 hit, the world of PR and social media was in absolute disarray! Though we had a three-month social media calendar meticulously planned for our home décor client, we knew our audience would no longer respond to posts enticing them to shop in-store. We had to completely reinvent our strategy for an audience whose accessibility was rapidly changing. By refocusing our efforts to promote online shopping, we were able to keep sales consistent for our client.
  4. Learn to communicate over any platform. We’re a small company, so walking over to a colleague’s desk was much easier than scheduling a Zoom call or sending an email. After we began working from home, I had to master professional communications over Zoom, Facetime, phone, text, and email. COVID-19 helped me to hone my phone skills, which, like many young people, I struggled with. Sometimes the best way to learn is by doing!
  5. Look for mentors! Though no one had experienced a global crisis like this before, my supervisors had dealt with many crises throughout their careers. Temi is more than willing to discuss PR tips, tricks, and questions with all her employees and interns alike. I took advantage of this mentorship opportunity and have been able to learn and apply PR strategies to the current COVID-19 situation.

How to Read a PR Client’s Mind

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

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

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

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

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

6 Tips: How to Prepare for a PR Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Idea can be Found in Odd Places

 

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

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

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

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

PR Tips: How to Prepare for a Media Interview

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun!

How to Generate PR During your Crowdfunding Campaign

 

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

 

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

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

Good luck!

 

How to Explain PR to Your Father

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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