Communication is key to a successful relationship with your PR firm

You’ve finally chosen a PR firm to work with.  You’ve done the due diligence, sorted through proposals, interviewed the candidates, and you feel you have found the right fit for your business.

But that’s just the beginning.  The practice of public relations is based on communication, and that’s especially important when you bring in outside counsel.  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • It’s not “one and done.”  You probably shared a great deal of information with your PR firm before hiring them, and they have a good feeling for what you do and what makes your company special.  You’re off to a good start, but don’t stop there.  Ongoing communication is essential to getting the best results from your PR firm.
  • Give your firm an early heads-up on company news.  When something newsworthy happens at your firm, your PR firm should hear about it as soon as possible. They will need time to strategize its release to the public. And be available for any interviews that result from their efforts.  PR people are at the mercy of journalists’ deadlines, so if you want positive media coverage, they have to be able to reach you quickly.
  • Trust your firm.  Sometimes – especially with entrepreneurial businesses – it’s difficult to give things up and let someone else carry the ball. Trust your PR people with sensitive information about your business so they are well-prepared for anything that may go wrong.
  • Designate an in-house contact.  Standing meetings help, even if they are telephone conferences, but company news and events don’t always occur on a schedule. It’s best to have a regular in-house contact – someone who is responsible for contacting the PR firm with company news or events, for providing the PR firm with any necessary company information, and for streamlining the internal approval process for projects.

Posted by Margot Dimond



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


Planning: The All-Important PR Tool

plan_ahead_poster-rf50b9d08a292436b9da63b1bfb7bf4eb_w8o_400“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” is the only part of Murphy’s Law most people remember, and although the anonymous adage is meant to be humorous, it’s a good guideline to keep in mind when planning any PR project – especially an event.

Expect the unexpected:  promised items that don’t arrive on time, weather that doesn’t cooperate, audio visual breakdowns, last minute requests – all of these and plenty of other things can pop up.  Planning for an event is not the time to be a positive thinker.  Rather, it’s the time to think of everything that could go wrong and plan for every contingency.

This goes for small events, such as ribbon cuttings, open houses or press conferences, to large special events involving thousands of people.  Be prepared and plan ahead should be your bywords.

Tradeshows are in a special category, since most exhibitors are traveling some distance to attend them.  This makes it essential to plan every detail, as is wonderfully related by Katie Creaser in her article, “Going Back to Basics: Tradeshow Must-Haves” on Tech Affect.

In this article, Creaser not only shares some “nightmare” tradeshow scenarios, she also provides an extensive list of “must-haves” for the tradeshow exhibit planner.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Email Marketing: Does it Work?

News PhotoOften neglected or forgotten, email marketing is the stepchild of the social media world, regularly taking a back seat to The Next Big Thing.  Yet, depending on your business goals, it may be one of the best ways to expand your client base.

Email marketing is “one of the most effective means of communicating your brand identity and generating sales,” according to Michael Beaulieu, group manager for digital media at Wayfair – a U.S.-based multinational e-commerce company – who is quoted in a recent article on Digiday.

At our firm, we have had success with e-news – a more subtle form of email marketing that includes newsletters, news announcements and articles on topics of interest to the people on your email list.  Clients who were initially reluctant to try it have been surprised at the positive feedback they get with this means of communication.

Obviously, it’s just one tool in the PR toolbox, but if your firm is trying to reach a specific market, rather than promote to a broad consumer base, it is a cost-effective way to get your message out.  In addition, by using a professional program, you can see who opens your email and how often they do so.  A regular reader might be someone who is interested in hearing more from you.

So while e-news coming from your company will not replace external media coverage, it does offer distinct benefits:

  • Clarity:  Your message is sent – exactly as you want it worded.
  • Frequency:  You can send emails as often as you have news to impart.
  • Targeted:    You can send directly to the decision-makers who can influence your business.
  • Feedback:  You will know if and when your news is welcome – if your email is opened; if you get new subscribers; or if your subscribers “unsubscribe.”

Some cautionary notes to keep your subscribers interested:

  • Keep the content valuable.  If your email is all puff and no substance, people will stop opening it.
  • Don’t send it too often.  You don’t want to overwhelm your audience to the point that you are a nuisance.
  • Make sure everyone on your list is part of your target audience.  Sending information to the wrong person can put you in a Spam category.
  • Have a recognizable design and layout for your email.    You want to look as professional as you are.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Does Your Company Need a Social Media War Room?

Social media war rooms are in the news right now.  In fact, they recently were a featured part of a story by Ned Hibberd of Houston’s FOX 26 TV News. The story, which was prompted by Hibberd’s own experience as a consumer, quoted Lisa Dimond, principal of DoubleDimond Public Relations.

It isn’t surprising that this topic is gaining more attention.  While social media channels are great for creating interest, hearing from and targeting consumers, they can create havoc with your company brand.  All it takes is one embarrassing video posted on YouTube or one thoughtless comment on Twitter and, with the speed of light, you are dealing with a PR crisis.

Most companies – especially those who sell products or services to the public – are taking this possibility very seriously.  It’s dangerous not to do so, considering such recent social media missteps as the tweet by a KitchenAid employee during the presidential debate.  The tweet was quickly disavowed by the company, which helped tamp down on the negative publicity they were receiving.

Although corporations are not known for moving quickly, social media demands immediacy.  You have to communicate in real time – engaging with consumers and responding quickly to online comments and complaints.  In fact, with the appropriate response, you can turn a complaint into a positive experience for your customers.

And that’s where war rooms come in.  Many large corporations have in-house war rooms within their marketing or public relations department to monitor the use of their name across social media.

Do you need a war room?  Unless you are a big company sporting a well-known brand name, it’s probably not cost-effective.

But reputation monitoring is essential for all businesses.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Pay-Per-Placement PR: Where is the Love?

Whatever happened to the “Pay-Per-Placement PR” debate?  A few years ago, when Pay-Per-Placement (PPP) made its big debut as a serious PR alternative, a discussion of its Pros and Cons raged on – whether it was more cost-effective to use PPP, which is essentially a “commission sales” type of public relations, or traditional “retainer-based” public relations.

PPP sounds great to some prospective clients, especially small business owners who want an inexpensive way to publicize themselves.  After all, isn’t publicity the goal here?  Why not just pay for coverage when you get it?  That seems like the smart choice, doesn’t it?

While there are still plenty of PPP firms operating, you don’t hear as much about them anymore.  It turns out that there are some drawbacks to this approach, and they mostly relate to the services PR firms provide – and client expectations.

What PR Firms Do.    Public relations is more than publicity.  Retainer-based PR firms offer strategic planning that focuses on the client’s long-term goals, its short-term objectives, target audiences, audience-directed messaging, and the tactics (including, but not limited to, traditional media coverage) that can be used to effectively reach the targeted audiences.  PR firms also offer training for spokespersons and counseling in times of crisis.

Traditional PR Firm-Client Relationship.  When it comes to publicity, a retainer-based PR firm works hard to design and write releases, articles and pitches that will generate valuable media coverage for their clients – i.e., media coverage that will clients reach their goals.  They often develop a strong bond with, and loyalty to, their clients and spend hours researching media outlets and journalists who would be receptive to their approach and whose coverage would serve the best interests of their clients.

The Value of Strategic PR.  If you were working on commission, where you would get paid only if you sold a product, you probably wouldn’t be too picky about who bought the product.  Consider PPP in that light.  If you are being paid per interview or press clipping, you are going to be tempted to seek out the easiest placements to get, regardless of whether or not it benefits the client.  This can lead to disjointed and scattershot editorial coverage, with no strategy behind it.

Is PPP Really Cheaper? You may think that paying a PR firm for performance is the cheapest way to go.  After all, if they don’t get an placements for you, they won’t get paid.  But let’s take a look at some numbers.  Let’s say a retainer-based PR firm charges you a fee of $5,000 per month, while a PPP firm charges you a range of fees based on categories of coverage, such as these sample fees from a PPP pricing list:  For publications with limited circulation (e.g., a small town newspaper), costs for a feature story would be $1800; for focus coverage (where you are the main one quoted in a survey story), $1,450; and for a mention, $800.  For large circulation publications, a feature story would be $5,000; focus coverage, $4,500; and a mention, $3,400.

Here’s a recent example of what our firm generated recently with a simple news release:  two mentions and one large circulation publication feature story.  The PPP price for that would be $6,600.  The previous month, a front page feature story for the same client was generated by an exclusive pitch to the right journalist.  The PPP price would have been $5,000 – or maybe more, since front page positive features are rare.  (This does not include the Web URL for the feature, which would add $700 to the PPP costs, according to that pricing structure.)

Another reality check:  It is not unusual to get at least 10 mentions from a news release or a pitch.  For the PPP prices listed above, that would cost at least $8,000.

Where are the savings?

To Be Fair…There are some good PPP firms available, and there are retainer-based PR firms that will do PPP pricing for some projects.  Depending on your business, the PPP publicity model may be right for you.  It just may not turn out to be as inexpensive as you initially thought.


The Wrong Fight: Social Media Management Is Not About Age

From what I can tell, the dust-up over the proper age for a social media manager started in July, with an article on NextGen Journal by recent University of Iowa graduate Cathryn Sloane.  Her article, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25,” asserted that, since people her age have grown up with social media, they should be the ones who are in charge of that function professionally as well.

The response to the article was overwhelming – to the point that the title was referred to as “link bait.”  If so, it worked. (Just Google “Cathryn Sloane” to see for yourself.)

Most of the comments criticized the author’s “arrogance” and “sense of entitlement,” quoting statements such as this one:  “To many people in the generations above us, Facebook and Twitter are just the latest ways of getting messages out there to the public, that also happen to be the best. . . .The specificity of the ways in which the method should be used is usually beyond them, however.”  And this one:  “Yet, every time I see a job posting for a Social Media Manager/Associate/etc. and find the employer is looking for five to ten years of direct experience, I wonder why they don’t realize the candidates who are in fact best suited for the position actually aren’t old enough to have that much experience.”

The War of the Ages was on! published an article by Hollis Thomases, president of a digital marketing and advertising service company, that presented an entirely different point-of-view.  Entitled “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media,” it seemed to challenge Ms. Sloane’s position directly:  “Just because you don’t understand social media doesn’t mean you should forfeit all common sense and hire your niece, nephew, or any other recent college grad (say, your best friend’s sister-in-law’s kid) because ‘they’re really good on Facebook,'”  Ms. Thomases says and goes on to enumerate the reasons why she thinks this is not a good idea.

Her post also generated lots of criticism, as well as a response by Lauren Rothering, PR and social media coordinator for a Wisconsin PR agency.  In “Why millennials should handle your social media,” published in PR Daily, Ms. Rothering asserts that millennials are creative, trustworthy, individualistic, more familiar with social media and more mature than Ms. Thomases gives them credit for.

Stop, please!  My head is hurting!  The main thing about social media is not the method, or even how it is used.  It’s whether or not it fits into a company’s overall public relations/marketing strategy.  Each social media platform is a tactic for reaching and motivating a particular audience – one that is important to the success of a business or nonprofit organization.  Like any tactic, it should be used as part of an overall strategic plan to advance the goals of an organization.

Now that can be done by someone in their 20s or even 60s, but whoever that person is should have the overall communication strategy as the driving force behind their activities.  They also should have some experience in crisis communication, since social media can be a double-edged sword, with negative comments or postings traveling the globe in a matter of hours.

Take Ms. Sloane.  As numerous others have noted, she never responded to any of the criticisms of her article, as is usually done in this type of post and as others writing about her have done with critics of their posts.  She has “virtually” gone into hiding.  She had an opportunity to start an interesting “social media” conversation, but chose instead to essentially strike and run – not a good move for anyone wanting a job in social media, where monitoring of comments and reputation management are essential.

Maybe she will do so in a future article.  She should; that her article caused such a long-lasting stir shows she has a flair for writing that gets read.

Posted by Margot Dimond




PR Defined – Again

PR DefinedIn response to the ever-changing nature of communication – and  after much discussion and input from its members and the members of other communication organizations – the Public Relations Society of America has an updated definition of public relations:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a definition the average PR practitioner can use when talking to a potential client.

The irony of “messaging” professionals being unable to come up with their own singular message isn’t lost on most PR practitioners.  In 1982, the last time PRSA updated its definition, we got:  “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”  At the time, I remember one of my fellow PRSA members complaining that he just wanted something to tell people at cocktail parties.

The difficulty with defining public relations is that its practice has many facets.  During the course of one week, we may be handling a publicity campaign; doing media training; scheduling speaking engagements; writing brochures, newsletters or website content; implementing a social media program; or handling a crisis.  What we do depends on 1) the type of client we represent (or organization we work for); 2) the goal of the PR program; 3) who we are trying to reach, etc.  Our “to do” list changes from day to day, and for the most part, the very unpredictability of public relations is what draws certain people to the profession.

Here’s the thing:  When people ask us what we do and we say public relations, the initial reaction is often a puzzled look, followed by “but what do you do, exactly?”  And the answer to that question will be different for each PR person.

Posted by Margot Dimond


Dear Reader,

Welcome to Ask a PR Expert, published by DoubleDimond Public Relations!

The purpose of this blog is to cover a wide range of public relations topics and to answer questions from business owners, nonprofit executives and anyone else who has an interest in PR, marketing and social media.

We hope you find the information posted here both interesting and beneficial to your long-term PR/marketing efforts.