5 Ways to Ace a PR Presentation

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.

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

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 PR Secrets I Learned From my Dog

Two years ago, I rescued an eight year old black lab named Leo—and as the adage says, he rescued me right back.  He was a 65 pound anxious wrecking ball who, when briefly left alone, ate my desk chair and raided my walk-in closet bringing out and destroying all my stored paper products and laying waste 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 rewards 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 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 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!

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.

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 slightly, 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.

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?