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 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.

Public Relations Strategies During the Pandemic: Keep Calm and Carry On

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.”

9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a 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 gage 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.

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.