Defining Public Relations, Part Two: Planning for Success

Calendar planning conceptLet’s say you’ve hired a public relations firm, and you are about to have your first meeting.  Of course, the first thing you will want from the meeting is a list of everything they are planning to do for you in the next month, right?  Primarily, you will want to know who in the media they will be contacting about you and when they think they will have some results.

But you may want to step back and consider the following questions:

  1. Do I have a plan for the project or continuing service I have engaged this firm for?
  2. Do they have enough in-depth information about our company to pitch good, solid stories to the news media?

If the answer to each of these questions is “no,”  you really need to take the time during this first meeting to share as much information as possible and ask for a strategic PR plan before anything is done.  That way, you will know what success looks like for your particular PR program – and how to measure it.

Some things to consider during the planning phase.

  • What is my ultimate goal for this PR program?  What do you want to happen within the time-frame of the program?
  • Who is my target audience?  Who do you want to reach with your message?  There may be – and often is – more than one target audience.
  • What is my corporate message?  Your corporate message is what you want people to identify as the main thing your company does or your organization stands for.
  • What is our PR strategy?  A PR strategy is your “road map” for getting to where you want to be.
  • What are the tactics that will be used?  Tactics are the individual activities – marketing materials (brochures, website), media pitches, social media outreach, speaking opportunities, etc. – that are used to carry out your strategy.
  • What are the PR objectives?    These are the measurable benchmarks for you to gauge along the way whether or not your PR program is succeeding.
  • What is the timeline?  You should have a solid idea of what will be done and when, based on your input as well as the PR firm’s best estimates about when things can be accomplished.  Keep in mind that you, as the client, will need to be accessible for consultations and approvals all along the way to keep your timeline on track.  PR firms do not operate well in a vacuum, and most will not send anything out on your behalf without your prior approval.

You may feel that taking the time to plan will mean a serious delay in the implementation of your program.  Yes, there will be some delay, but it shouldn’t take more than a month to get everything on paper and ready to go.   Then you won’t be taking off on this new adventure without a road map.  You will have a really good idea of where you are going and how you will get there.

Next time:  Telling your story

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Defining Public Relations: Part One

PuzzleHiring a PR firm for your business can be a daunting process, especially if it’s the first time you have ever done so.  For one thing, you may be somewhat confused about what a PR firm does – and frankly, who could blame you?  Portrayals of PR practitioners on television or in the movies can be all over the map; schmoozers, hustlers, party planners and influence peddlers are all mixed in with the occasional true representation.    For the small business owner, it’s difficult to determine exactly what a PR firm does and how it can help their business.

It’s really up to PR people to define what they do and not assume everyone knows already.  Today, we begin a series about public relations and its various practices.  Some PR firms may do most or all of the practice areas we will cover; others may specialize in a few specialty areas.

But before we get into what public relations is, it might be a good idea to provide a short list of what it is NOT.

Five misconceptions about PR:

  1. PR is not just about writing and sending news releases.  Think of a news release as the bread and butter that accompanies the meal.  It’s not the whole meal or even the main course.  Every business or nonprofit organization needs to begin any public relations program with a strategic plan – one that incorporates their overall goal, short-term objectives, target audiences, strategy, tactics and how success will be measured.  A news release is one of many tactics that may be used in carrying out the plan.
  2. PR is not “free advertising.”  First of all, public relations and advertising messages are entirely different.  You can overtly promote your organization in an ad, while to obtain “earned” media coverage, your story must make a worthwhile contribution to the editorial content of that media outlet.  That can mean time spent doing background research, designing story angles and pitching ideas.  Second, public relations work is not free; whether you are using in-house staff or an outside firm, you will pay for the time and talent that it takes to get recognition for your business.
  3. PR is not “one size fits all.”  Every business or nonprofit organization is unique in some way, and no one PR plan will be right for each one.   That’s why when you call a PR firm and ask what they can do for you, you may instead get a series of questions in return or a request to meet and talk with you in person.  That’s because the answer to your question depends on all of the factors that will go into your company’s strategic PR plan (see #1, above).
  4. PR cannot cover up your company’s wrongdoing.  Hiring a PR firm to put a positive spin on bad acts by your company is pretty much useless.  The truth has a way of coming out, and in today’s media climate it can be devastating to your business, as online and social media can reach millions of people before you can do anything about it.  The best way – perhaps the only way – to counter negative media coverage is to apologize immediately for any wrongdoing and begin a long-term program to repair the damage to your reputation.  And that PR program has to be based on good acts, or it won’t succeed.
  5. Good PR will rarely bring overnight success.  Public relations is mainly about building a positive long-term reputation.  Yes, you may hire a PR firm to publicize an event, but for lasting impact, you will need a sustained effort over some period of time.

Next in the series:  Planning for success.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Getting publicity for your event

Calendar planning conceptThinking about getting publicity for your upcoming event?  If your publicity plan includes coverage by the news media, it’s best to do your planning early – while you are planning the event itself.  Here are five things to think about when preparing your plan.

  1. Create an interesting theme.   You can tie in to a national commemoration or a big local or statewide celebration, but provide something special for your event to make it your own.
  2. Schedule it for the right day and time.   Whenever possible, avoid days where you are competing with numerous other events. Late afternoons or evenings can be problematic, depending on the news outlet.
  3. Know what to send to the media – and when.   Before the event, send an event announcement to TV, radio and major daily newspapers.  Keep it short and to-the-point, with “who, what, when, where” information, plus some information on the “why” of the event as well.
  4. Select the right media to contact for your event.  Don’t blanket all media outlets with your event announcement.  Send only to media you think would be interested in covering it.
  5. Think visually.  Many TV news outlets and newspapers that cover events send a photographer.  Make sure you have more than speeches for them to cover.

Once the event is over, don’t assume everyone in your target audience has seen the media coverage.  Go online and get links to stories and send them to your clients or (if you are doing the event for a charitable organization) your board members, volunteers and donors.

Events can be a great way to get publicity, and with the right kind of event and advance planning, your event will bring you a lot of attention.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Beware of the latest cool communications tool if you haven’t first developed your message

Today’s post by Hollie Geitner is courtesy of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

Some time in the mid-late 1990’s electronic mail (email) became the widely used and preferred mode of business communication. Announcements that had in the past been shared internally by paper memo were soon disseminated electronically via email. Soon after, some companies decided to go “paperless” and ceased publication of their internal company newsletter—much to the dismay of workers who enjoyed reading about a coworker’s wedding or latest hunting prize. I say this jokingly, but it’s true, and there is something to be said for feeling a closeness with your fellow coworkers, even if seeing the 12-point buck picture your cube-mate snagged last month is a bit much.

internal-communications-resized-600The challenge for internal communicators has always been in reaching those who are “front-line” or who don’t sit at a desk all day. When I worked in the corporate communications department for an energy company, about 70 percent of the workforce was in what we considered “the field.” They were lineman, maintenance workers, tree cutters, meter readers and others. Unlike corporate staff, they were out and about all day or running equipment in a power station. If they saw email, it was perhaps at the very end of their shift and often times, they felt out of the loop on company happenings.

Today, the challenge is still there but electronic devices such as smart phones have made communicating with field employees a bit easier. Ragan, the leading source of information for PR and corporate communications, published an article about the growing trend of using digital signs in the workplace. Companies like Auto Trader Group, based in Atlanta, are using digital signs to recruit employees to volunteer in the community as well as to welcome new sales representatives to headquarters for training. While I think it’s a solid strategy for communicating with employees in the places they are in the building (near elevators, on factory floors, etc.) nothing beats person to person communication.

Digital tools—signs, mobile phones, kiosks–are just that, tools. In fact, everything we use to communicate is a tool and the great thing today is that we have more to use than ever before. The risk, however, is in relying too heavily on the tool instead of the message. Nationally, employee engagement is low—only 13 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, State of the American Workplace are actively engaged and committed to their jobs. This means that the majority of employees today are not happy, lack motivation and in the worst cases, spread their dissatisfaction throughout the workplace or in public. It would behoove employers to invest in communicating honest and compelling messages to their employees before they spend thousands on high-tech equipment (tools) to share their message.

It seems so basic and logical, but because messaging can be complicated or uncomfortable and since many leaders are so busy just trying to keep things afloat and make a profit, it may appear more doable to purchase a tool to share a message because then the impact is immediate. “Wow, look at that cool new digital sign in our lobby. It makes us look so high-tech and cutting edge.” Sure, it might, but what do your employees think? Are they reading the messages on it, or are they silently cursing leadership for spending money on unnecessary equipment when all they are interested in is whether or not they are doing a good job for the company and if they’ll be compensated for it with a bonus.

While the latest bells and whistles for sharing messages with employees seem way cool, I would caution companies considering implementing them. Before such an investment, it’s best to have a solid communications plan in place with real and authentic messages that will actually resonate with employees and move the needle on engagement.

Communicate to the middle

In companies with several layers between field employees and top executives, the most effective communication often occurs between manager or supervisor and employer. This is because they have more direct contact with each other on a daily basis. A bunch of messages from the CEO on digital signs will do nothing to engage employees, but meaningful conversations and an open line of communication between leadership and employee will.

Focusing your efforts to the middle and teaching those leaders the best way to communicate with employees is a much more strategic and meaningful investment.  Remember, if nothing else, it is the message, not the tool that is most important. Beware of what we call at WordWrite, “the shiny object syndrome.” Don’t be compelled to invest in the latest or coolest tool, like a digital sign, if you haven’t first put together a comprehensive strategy for what you plan to share with employees and how you plan to measure it.

 

Social Media’s Growing Impact on Businesses

Years ago, before social media was even a glimmer in the eye of the most Review Sitesadvanced techie, my school-age daughter asked me after a particularly bad consumer experience,  “Mommy, is this one of those places we’re never coming back to?”

Back then, that was pretty much the only recourse – especially for some of the chain stores where complaining to the manager did not seem to make much of an impression.

Poor customer service has been – and probably always will be – part of the retail experience.  People are fallible, after all.  They make mistakes; they have bad days.  But it’s becoming much more dangerous for businesses to screw up in this area.  Social media has provided the sword for customers who, rightly or wrongly, feel they have been treated unfairly.

According to data reported in a Forbes article, “nearly 95% of customers share bad product experiences online; 45% share bad customer services experiences with others.” The results can be devastating, especially for a small business without the public relations staff or resources to fight back.

This trend is only getting stronger. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 reported that 67% of consumers read fewer than six reviews before making up their mind about whether or not to patronize a local business; only 22% read more than ten.

Their analysis?  “Consumers are forming opinions faster now than before. . . .This means that local businesses need to manage their online reputation even more closely than before.”  You can access the full survey results here.

You may not be able to resolve every customer’s complaint right away, but it’s important to treat it seriously, and to treat the complaining customer with respect.   In these situations, what your customers want, first and foremost, is to be listened to.  They want to know they matter to you.

But what about the customer who never complains in person and goes directly to social media to post a complaint?  That’s where the real work comes in.  You should regularly monitor any sites that are likely to post reviews on your type of business.  It’s time consuming, but essential, to search for – and promptly respond to – complaints and ask for an opportunity to resolve the issue.  It’s also a good idea to thank people who give you a positive review.

Whether you respond online or off line, you may want to do some internal research before you respond to get some background on what could have gone wrong.  Just keep in mind that a positive experience in resolving a complaint can often turn a complaining customer into a dedicated customer, and there’s a good chance their next post will be a rave review.

(Search tip:  Many customers will use your company’s hashtag to “tag” their post.  If your business is called Mary’s Pet Place, for instance, your hashtag is #maryspetplace. You can search for the hashtag to see what comes up.)

Posted by Margot Dimond

Promoting Company News? Think Outside of YOUR Box

News PhotoAt our firm we are very fortunate to work with clients who are pretty savvy about what is – and is not – of interest to the media.  But this is not always the case.

“The media” is an all-encompassing term, of course.  There are stories that would interest business reporters, health reporters, technology reporters, etc.  But there are certain general truths about a company’s efforts to gain attention in the media, and the guiding principle should always be:  Why Should They Care?

We like to say in media training that everyone listens to the same radio station:  WII-FM, or “What’s in it for me?”  If your story doesn’t have some element of that, it’s not going to fly.

For example, say your CEO is the keynote speaker at the annual gala of the nonprofit he or she volunteers for.  That’s really great, and everyone at your company – and in the charity – should hear about it.  It should be on your website, in your e-newsletter, and maybe the speech should be recorded and promoted on a YouTube video.  But unless your CEO is already famous, no one else cares very much.

The same goes for professional awards.  The people who care are the ones giving the awards and the ones receiving it, and that’s about it.  Yes, the Nobel Prize is noteworthy, but very few of us win that one.

Unfortunately, many people want to push this kind of “news” out to the general public through the news media.   They insist on sending a news release – then don’t understand why their news is ignored.  In this case, however, one news release being ignored might not be the worst that can happen.  If you repeatedly send this kind of information out, everything coming from your email box may be trashed without being read because you have gotten a reputation of not knowing what news is.

How do you avoid the “non-news” trap?  Read the news; listen to the news; watch the news.  What types of stories do they cover?  Have you noticed anyone in the media covering the type of story you want to send out?

It’s very difficult to tell people that the “news” they are so excited about isn’t really going to be covered by the media.  Nobody likes to be that messenger.

But somebody has to do it.

Posted by Margot Dimond

There’s no excuse not to include video in your social media strategy

Today’s post by Emma Walter is courtesy of WordWrite Communications of Pittsburgh, a fellow member firm of PR Boutiques International.

With YouTube, Vine and Instagram it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the latest video flavor of the week. We’ll get to which tool is best for you to use later, but with all these new and easy video creation and sharing apps, there’s really no excuse for not including video in your social media strategy. Studies continue to prove that photos and video drive the most engagement on social media sites. Videos are shared 12 times more than text and links combined, and video results appear in roughly 70 percent of the top 100 listings in search results.

There will always be a place in our social media marketing strategies for the traditionalmixbit_large_verge_medium_landscape-resized-600 longer professional quality videos. They are a great investment and can bring great value to your social media efforts over time. In fact, 100 million users take a social action, whether it be commenting or sharing, on YouTube each week. However, with the overload of short snippet video services, we are experiencing a shift in the way social users prefer their videos. If you’re going to create professional, commercial style videos, it’s important to include micro-videos in your strategy as well. With the recent swing, many social media users are looking for short, creative videos that focus on one key takeaway at a time.

Just this week, YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen announced their new video creation app, MixBit. So, what makes this app different from the others? For one, the videos are longer. Although Vine allows six-second videos and Instagram 15, MixBit offers 16 seconds. You’re probably thinking, “What’s one more second going to do for me?” It’s what you can do with your 16-second videos that makes MixBit truly distinctive. MixBit gives users the capability of combining 16-second videos into one longer video; hence the name MixBit. Users can mix up to 256 clips to create an hour-long video that can be shared on your website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or on the MixBit website.

Another key distinguishing feature of MixBit is the ability to use any video clips you want. While Instagram just released this feature on Wednesday, Vine still only allows users to use video shot within the app. MixBit encourages the use of outside video to create new works and to tell great stories together.

Vine, Instagram and now MixBit have many similar features. Before deciding which one to incorporate into your social media strategy, you should find out which one your key audience participates in most. If by doing some secondary research, you’re unable to determine which is most appropriate, poll your audience. Ask on your other social networks or send out a targeted marketing email to solicit responses. Whichever platform you choose to move forward with, remember to embed your videos in your blog posts and webpages to gain additional traffic and followers.

It’s important to walk before you run when executing a social media strategy. You may find there’s a relevant audience on both Vine and MixBit or another social channel. Try picking and focusing on one network, and become expert at it. Once you feel like you have a successful strategy to which your audience is responding, then focus on working another outlet into your plan.

Whether you choose to use YouTube, Vine, Instagram or MixBit, videos are an important component to work into your social media strategy. By identifying the appropriate network and creating a comprehensive strategy, you’ll be able to establish your organization as a thought leader in the industry and grow your bottom line.

 

PR FOR START-UPS

ribbon cuttingMost start-ups need public relations, but few have any idea of what a realistic PR budget would be for their particular business.

Often, they decide to handle PR and marketing themselves. This decision can work out fine, depending on the capabilities of the person handling it, the time he or she has to devote to it, and whether or not there is a clear PR strategy.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case.  Business owners may set up a website, invest in SEO, start a Facebook page and Twitter account, do some advertising and maybe send out a news release or two.  They then bemoan the fact that none of these activities have resulted in any significant business opportunities.

By the time they consult a PR firm, they usually have used up a big chunk of their budget and, frankly, their faith in the value of public relations – both of which make it difficult to plan and implement an effective PR program.

Here are a few suggestions to avoid this merry-go-round:

1.  Check with owners of other small businesses that provide products or services that are similar to yours.  Focus on businesses that have been operating successfully for 3-5 years.  What worked for them?

2.  Ask other new business owners for recommendations of any public relations firms who understand start-ups.

3.  Consult with one or two recommended consultants, but don’t ask for a proposal unless you are seriously planning to hire a firm.  If you just want some strategic advice and ideas, pay the firm for the time they will spend doing that.

4.  Consider hiring a freelance PR person to help you.  Most freelancers have quite a bit of experience before they go out on their own, and their fees are usually quite reasonable.

Why do you need a strategic PR program?  Here’s one reason, courtesy of Wendy Marx, CEO of Marx Communications in Trumbull, CT,  a fellow member of PR Boutiques International.

Posted by Margot Dimond

So as I was saying…

Dictionary Series - Marketing: communicationI thought it was just me, but apparently people have been noticing this occurrence for quite some time:  the use of the connective word “so” as the beginning of a sentence.

Indeed, it was featured three years ago in a New York Times column by Anand Giridharadas, who examined the current usage, gathering the opinions of experts and finally speculating on the fact that in a world in which communication is fragmented and there is so much competition for our attention, the use of “so” is our effort “to be heard,” and he concludes: “We insist, time and again, that this is it; this is what you’ve been waiting to hear; this is the ‘so’ moment.”

My concern is not based on linguistics or psychology, as interesting as those topics are; it’s more about what the use of “so” to begin every sentence does to “messaging” – the ever-important PR tool.

As I listen to media interviews on the radio or watch them on television, I hear “so” at the start of responses to questions so frequently that it’s hard to ignore.

Interviewer:  “What is the nature of your business?”                                                 Response:  “So our main product is information.”                                                 Interviewer:  “That’s a pretty broad topic.  What do you mean by that?”                Response:  “So we collect and analyze data for surveys and productivity studies.”

You get the idea.

This is the problem with crutch words in general, and “so” is only the latest to join the crowd.  Well, like, um, uh and the ubiquitous you know are all distracting fillers.  What’s even more of a concern, the use of these words seems to be contagious.  We often hear them a few times and begin using them ourselves.  Like weeds in our gardens, we must be ever-vigilant to keep crutch words from invading our vocabulary.

These words are a serious impediment to good communication, and they can completely overshadow your message points in a media interview.

Posted by Margot Dimond

 

 

Write Right

One of the most Writingimportant skills for a public relations professional is the ability to write clearly and concisely.  Writing well takes practice, and practice often means opening yourself up to the critique of others.

Unfortunately, some people take offense to criticism about their writing.  They either want to think they are good at it, or that they should be good at it because…well…because it’s supposed to be something everyone can do.

As someone who has been writing for a living for many years, I’m happy to pass along  some basics for writing well:

  1. The most important part of writing is re-writing.  Nothing is perfect the first time around.  If I’m writing something important, I like to do a draft, then let it sit there for a while (assuming there is time).  Waiting even an hour after writing something makes me more objective about what I have written.
  2. There is a difference between style and basic grammar.  No, that run-on sentence is not creative.  It’s just wrong.  Yes, you can occasionally use a sentence fragment for emphasis, but know the rule before you break it.
  3. Punctuation is not an afterthought.  In fact, punctuation provides the framework for communication.  It’s what helps people understand what you mean.  A misplaced or missing comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence, as was cleverly demonstrated in the title of a book on punctuation, published in 2003:  Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by British author Lynne Truss.
  4. Sometimes what looks good on paper may not be what it seems.  Especially in the era of computer editing, it’s easy to become sloppy when making changes.  If you are writing an important paper, read it aloud.  You may be surprised by what you have written.
  5. Be careful with your tone.  This is especially true with email, which can cause all kinds of misunderstandings.  If you plan to discuss a sensitive subject, it’s often best to just pick up the phone.

Most of us have pet peeves regarding the written word.  Here are some of mine:

  • Misplaced modifiers:  Don’t confuse your readers.  “She saw two cows on the way to school.”  Were the cows on the way to school?
  • The use of less when you mean fewer:  If it’s something you can count, use “fewer.”  The use of “less people,” for example, is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
  • Misplaced quotation marks:  Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes (unless you are using British English).
  • Not finishing the comma set-off for nonessential sentence elements:  “The author, who was born in New York, wanted to write about her city.”  When you leave out the comma after New York, you are separating a subject and a verb with a comma – a big no-no!

I’m sure you have your own pet peeves.  Please feel free to share them.

Posted by Margot Dimond.