PR and the Rise of Digital News

Anyone who has observed the media for the past decade has seen a dramatic change in the way news is reported and disseminated.  For the most part, this is due to the rise of digital as the preferred way for Americans to get their news.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, “digital is currently second only to TV news as the most prominent news platform.”

The study was published by Pew in an article on its website, “10 facts about the changing digital news landscape.”  Fact #5 stands out for PR practitioners:   “Social media, particularly Facebook, is now a common news source.”

How does this affect the practice of PR?

Advertising dollars are spent where most people will see the ads, and that is increasingly online.  Advertising pays the bills.  As more advertising money is spent online, many traditional newsrooms are cutting back on staff – not just at newspapers, but at radio and television stations as well.

What this means is that PR people can face stiff competition when attempting to get positive media attention for their clients through traditional media outlets.  That’s usually not a problem for experienced practitioners.  However, it’s important to consider that the audience they are trying to reach may be getting their news somewhere else.

This is basic strategic public relations:  analyze the client’s target audiences and where and how these audiences can most likely be reached.

Nowadays, that may be online.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Questions Top PR Firms Ask Their Clients

At the first meeting with your new PR firm, you may find yourself answering a lot of questions.  In the following post, our guest blogger, Lucy Siegel of Bridge Global Strategies, says there are five crucial questions you should be asked – and why they are important.

PR firms offering the highest quality of service ask their clients a lot of questions.  That’s the only way they can understand the best approaches to meeting their clients’ PR goals.

This blog post will focus on some of the questions a PR firm should be asking a client.  First, though, I want to emphasize that no questions should be off limits on either side.  We ask our clients a ton of questions in order to do our jobs as well as possible, and we expect and encourage clients to ask us anything they want to know.

1. What’s the background and history of your company, your founders and your CEO?  Some clients don’t understand why this question is relevant, especially when the assignment involves public relations for a product and not corporate PR for a company.

“Just focus on the product; you don’t need to be concerned with the company’s background,” some clients will say.  But PR involves piecing together a compelling story about a product or service that will resonate with the company’s various audiences (potential customers, communities, employees, suppliers, etc.).  Sometimes the story about the company can enhance the product story.

2. What are your goals for PR?  This question should always be asked by agencies and is crucial for starting any PR program.  Your goals may be simply to raise visibility as a precursor to brand building and sales.  Or you may be looking for a way to increase sales leads directly, to position the company in a new market, or address negative impressions of your company or product.  Getting media coverage, increasing the number of likes and followers, increasing the number of shares of company blog posts and articles, etc., are not goals for PR; they’re a means toward reaching the goal.

3. What do you picture as an ideal outcome of the work we’ll do?  Your answers to this question reveal a lot to your agency.  Sometimes company executives have unrealistic expectations about what PR can accomplish.  It may be highly unlikely that the PR team can get your product written about by the Wall Street Journal or any other top-tier media.  This is an issue that should be discussed at the beginning of a client-agency relationship because it’s very important for you to have realistic expectations about what to expect.  Unfortunately, some agencies deliberately mislead potential clients about their ability to deliver that type of outcome.

There may also be a disconnect between the outcomes you’re looking for and the goals you’ve expressed, which a good agency will point out and discuss with you.

4. Who, what, when, where, why and how?  These are the basics to any story, and the elements that public relations depends on.  They’re the questions journalists and bloggers will ask the PR agency staff working on your account and the focus of content marketing, social media and search engine optimization.  For example, here’s a vital “what” question:

  • What makes your product or your company different from your competitors’ products? If you’re looking for media coverage from your PR team, this is a crucial question.  The media is geared to gathering and reporting news.  If there’s nothing much to differentiate your product or company from others, it will probably be very difficult to get interest from the media in covering your story.  Other methods of PR may be more effective in those circumstances than media relations.

Just as parents think their own child is special, companies are often too close to their own stories to be objective.  Sometimes what the company feels is unique is really not a big enough difference from the competition to qualify as a true differentiation from a news viewpoint.  Trust the feedback your PR agency gives you.  The agency is able to be a lot more objective than your company’s staff, who are living and breathing your business day in and day out.

If a PR agency knows there isn’t a lot to differentiate you from the competition, the agency team can focus on creating news.  This can be done in many ways, including establishing new and different corporate initiatives within your community or for your employees, developing new data through a company-sponsored survey, or developing a news-making company-sponsored event.

For more on the definition of news (something that’s hard for many people to grasp), you may be interested in the this post I wrote some time ago, which directly addresses what the media consider to be newsworthy and what they don’t.

To better understand the challenges of getting media coverage in today’s media environment, you may also be interested in this blog post:

Clients must be forthcoming and honest in answering these basic questions, even if some of the answers don’t put the company in the best light.  If the agency doesn’t know the truth, all of the truth, it puts the agency’s PR team in a very bad position to work effectively.  Journalists will probe for answers and do research on their own.   If they’re given dishonest answers to their questions, they’ll think less of the company the agency is representing, as well as the PR agency people.

Sometimes internal corporate staff feel that it’s better for the PR agency not to know negative information so they won’t be able to spread it around.  But knowing honest answers doesn’t mean the agency PR team will provide that negative information to the media unless the client and agency have agreed that’s the best approach.  Some questions don’t have to be answered directly.  When a company just provides a rosy picture of the company and/or products, and leaves the PR team in the dark about the actual situation, it’s a recipe for PR failure.  One reason why:  the best approach for answering difficult questions from the media is to plan ahead for those difficult questions to come up and how to answer them.  PR professionals are well-prepared to help with those questions and answers, but can’t be helpful unless they know the whole truth, both negatives and positives.

5. What’s your budget?  This is a question that every PR firm should ask before preparing a proposal for you, and one that you should answer honestly.  Many potential clients tell us, “we don’t know what the budget is – we want you to tell us what we need to spend.”  What’s wrong with that picture?  The size of the budget will determine how fast your goals can be reached, and a PR program can be tailored to cover different levels of work.  An agency is put in a difficult position when that question goes unanswered.  If the agency makes an assumption that the budget is more than what the company can actually afford, it’s a waste of the agency’s time.  If the agency guesses on the low side, the proposal may not include as much PR activity as the client needs to meet PR goals.  Frequently we’re told, “Just give us a few different budget levels to choose from.”  That entails a lot of work with no compensation, all of which is in vain if the company decides on another agency or chooses not to move ahead with PR at all.  While developing proposals is part of the cost of doing business, asking for multiple proposals for the same project isn’t fair to PR agencies.

The reason many companies don’t like to reveal their budgets is the fear that they will be taken advantage of.  It’s a common corporate assumption that the agencies bidding on PR work will spend the maximum, whether it’s necessary or not.  However, in asking about budget, most agencies simply want to have information that will help them decide the type and scope of PR program that will work best given your budget.

Some of the questions PR firms ask clients and potential clients can only be answered by top management.  That’s one reason why PR professionals (internal and external) need access to clients’ top management executives.

Every company wants a top PR firm, one that can deliver results.  However, PR Professionals need a lot of information to be successful.

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Lucy Siegel is president and CEO of Bridge Global Strategies, based in New York City.

Forming a Productive Relationship with Your PR Firm

Branding Brand Trademark Commercial Identity Marketing ConceptMost public relations firms that have been in business for a while have established relationships with long-term clients.  That’s no accident.  Lasting client/PR firm relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.  The client knows that the PR firm has its best interests at heart, will keep confidential information confidential, and can design and communicate strategic messages effectively.  The PR firm appreciates being part of the team – respected for its contribution to the organization.

How that relationship begins is the key to its success. Every PR firm has a responsibility upfront to explain their process for coming up with a strategy and implementing it, especially for a business or nonprofit organization that has never worked with a PR firm before.  Successful PR-client relationships begin with an understanding of what PR can do and how it can achieve the organization’s goals.

The client also has some responsibility for making the relationship a mutually beneficial one.  Here are three tips for clients who want to establish a positive, long-term relationship with their PR firm:

  • Let them show what they can do. Bring the PR firm in at the beginning of the relationship to inform them of your business goals so they can develop an effective communication strategy to achieve them. Expecting a PR firm to handle a series of communication tactics – news releases, brochures, ads – without allowing them to design the strategy behind them rarely works out well.  An outside PR counselor is trained to look for the “WIIFM” factor – the news significance or marketing message that you may not see as an insider.
  • Communicate. It may take some time to develop trust with a new PR firm, but if a firm has been in business for several years and has a good reputation and established long-term client relationships, that firm is probably trustworthy.  So share as much information as possible about your business, its successes and its failures. PR firms specialize in finding solutions to problems. Give them a chance to do so.
  • Be responsive. Too many great PR plans have been thrown off track by a client’s delayed response to a PR firm.  Timeliness in response to events, news, or a media interview request can mean the difference between gaining positive attention for your organization and missing out on a really great opportunity.

Posted by Margot Dimond.

Five Steps to a Successful Speech

iStock_000012372602SmallDo you dread making a speech? If you do you have plenty of company.  Studies have shown that fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia, affects three out of four people.  In fact, it ranks as the number one fear, with number two being death – a finding that once prompted comedian Jerry Seinfeld to remark that the average person going to a funeral “would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Today, digital communication is the norm, and while email, text and social media present their own special problems, they are a lot less daunting to the average person than presenting to a group.  The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to ease this fear and become an effective spokesperson for your business, whether your audience is one person or 1,000.

When planning your next presentation, keep these five elements in mind:

  1.  Work backwards. Don’t begin writing a presentation until you have determined what you want the end result to be.  What do you want to move your audience to do?  Is your purpose to inform or persuade, or both?  Identify key points you want your audience to take away, and make them easy to remember.
  2. Know your audience. How many people will be in attendance?  What kind of work do they do?  What is their level of understanding about your subject?  What do they want to hear – and what might upset them?
  3. Be understandable.   Regardless of the level of understanding of your audience, it’s always best to speak in conventional English and avoid technical jargon.  Use analogies, anecdotes and descriptive words to make your points.  Although the temptation is to rush through your presentation to get it over with, remember to take your time and keep your tone measured and friendly.
  4. Be yourself. Be honest, open and sincere.  Tell a story about yourself that relates to the content of your presentation.  Gesture naturally, and move around a bit, if possible, even if you stay close to the podium.
  5. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  None of the above will mean anything if you haven’t spent enough time preparing.  Relying too heavily on a PowerPoint presentation or notes during a speech can be deadly dull.  Instead, rehearse your speech until you can present it comfortably.  Have a friend, family member, or co-worker listen, time it and offer a critique.  Anticipate any audience questions or points they are likely to challenge.

Speaking well in public is a skill, and like any skill, the more you practice, the better you will be at it.  You may well find yourself looking forward to your next presentation!

Posted by Margot Dimond

What Business Start-Ups Need to Know

PR firms often get calls from new business owners who realize they need help promoting their product or service to potential customers.  They see public relations as “free publicity” and an easy, inexpensive way to promote their new venture. However, many start-up businesses don’t have the budget to engage an outside PR firm, so they usually end up doing initial marketing work on their own – with various degrees of success.

If you are thinking of starting your own business, here are three PR/marketing recommendations that will increase your chance of success:

Calendar planning concept – Think about marketing before you open your doors.  To successfully sell your products or services, your business plan should include some essential information: what you are selling, who you are selling it to, why they would be interested in what you are selling, and how you will sell it. No one should ever begin a business without knowing all of these things in advance because once you open, there are two things that most likely will be in short supply: time and money.

Many new business owners have unrealistic expectations for how popular their product or service will be and how much marketing and PR they will have to do to gain attention. The intense information overload most people experience today makes it difficult to break through with your message. So realistic planning – both for execution and projected results – is essential.

59_Public-Relations – Public relations is more than media relations. Over the past 10 years, obtaining coverage in traditional media – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV – has changed considerably.   Consolidation of newspapers and broadcast outlets and the resulting cutbacks in reporting staff have made it much more difficult to get attention for your story idea or product release. To be successful, you may need to target media outlets specific to your community or consult a professional PR firm to navigate the media landscape.

If your budget is small and depending on the type of product or service you are          selling, you may want to investigate other means of promoting your business. Eblasts are effective, if you have the right list, and there are a number of email marketing programs that can help. Direct mail may seem outdated, but well-produced and targeted appropriately, it is still a relatively inexpensive marketing tool. Social media, if used judiciously, can spread the word quickly and easily.

reputation-management-new-york-300x300 – A good reputation is essential for long-term success. When you are trying to get your business off the ground, you may want to make a big splash right away. That big feature story in the newspaper or interview on television will give a big boost to your bottom line. However, good PR is more than that; it’s about building and maintaining a reputation over many years.

Once you get past the start-up phase, please keep in mind that, especially in this era of short attention spans and social media, nothing lasts forever and a reputation built over a number of years can turn sour overnight. At some point, you are going to need some expert PR assistance – whether in-house or through outside counsel. Don’t wait for a crisis; have a strategic program in place early on.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Read All About It! Five News Release Essentials

ExtraExtraMany business people equate doing news releases with having a public relations program, but in fact, a news release is to public relations what flour is to a cake. It’s essential, but not the only ingredient. Don’t depend on news releases alone to enhance your company’s profile. To do that, you will need a strategic, long-term plan.

On the other hand, news releases have the potential of gaining a much larger audience than ever before. Depending on your distribution method, your release can be read by almost anyone – not just journalists. This makes it even more important that you get it right.

Here are a few tips to increase the chances the information in your news release will get read:

1.  Be Clear and Concise.  There are times when company representatives – concerned about being held to account for an inaccuracy – will add so many qualifying statements to the wording of a simple announcement release that its impact is watered down or it reads like a legal document. Rule of thumb: If you are uncomfortable making your announcement without adding explanations to every direct statement, you aren’t ready to send a news release.

2.  Be Interesting.  Journalists get hundreds of news releases every day, so unless you are working for the White House or some other big outfit where millions of people want to know what you’re up to, your news release had better be written in a way to attract attention or it’s going in the recycle bin. That starts with a compelling headline and a strong WIIFM factor. Write it like a news story and include quotes and graphics, such as photos or charts, when possible. Proofread it carefully for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Don’t rely on an editor to wade through it to decipher what you’re trying to say; they don’t have time for that.

3.  News Means NewsThere are companies that send news releases at the drop of a hat – Joe won an award, Mary’s title changed, the company was named one of 50 top widget makers by Widget Makers of America, and so on. An endless stream of this type of “exciting news” lands on the desks of reporters and editors until, at some point, the company’s news releases are ignored altogether. Why? Because the writers don’t know what “news” is, and they end up getting that reputation with journalists. This is not a good policy, and it usually stems from a lack of perspective. If you want to know what journalists consider news, read the news, watch the news, and listen to the news.

4.  Know Where to Send It.  Deciding on where to send your news release is important too. Pay attention to the type of news that is covered in different news outlets. Is there a new executive at your company? Are you announcing a new product or service? These two news items may go to completely different editors or news outlets. If your news has wide appeal, consider using an online distribution service. Do your homework up front, and you’ll be much more effective at getting your message out.

5.  Stay Current.  Putting together a list of news media contacts is just the beginning. You will have to update it periodically to make sure you still have the right editorial contacts. I’ve seen some pretty dusty media lists over the years, and that’s one of the main reasons events or announcements don’t get covered. Keep in mind that people come and go at news organizations. They may leave for other opportunities, or just leave a particular “beat.” Don’t count on them to forward your information. Be proactive in knowing the right person to contact with your news.

This article is an updated version of an original article by Margot Dimond, originally published as an Ezine article.

 

Is your marketing plan stuck in neutral?

PuzzleIt’s often said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. In actuality, it’s probably just the definition of being human. Let’s face it: Sometimes we get stuck in a rut – doing things the same way for years and wondering why the outcome isn’t better.

It’s not all that different with a business. Often a consulting firm is called in to make recommendations for improving marketing results, and its suggestions are met with resistance because they are out of the company’s comfort zone.

But leaving your comfort zone is exactly what has to happen to move forward and see some results.

It’s planning time again – time to look at the approaching New Year and make decisions on what you want to see happening with your business in 2016.

How about taking a look at the latest marketing trends to see if any will be suited for you? Or better yet, contact a PR/marketing firm and ask them to conduct a complete audit of your marketing program and design a new plan for you based on their findings.

Just remember to follow through on implementing the plan. After all, if it’s not implemented, you will never know how well it worked.

Posted by Margot Dimond

What’s Up with Live Streaming Apps?

Live stream_edited-1This year two live streaming apps roared onto the market and into the PR/marketing consciousness. The buzz around Meerkat and Periscope brought renewed attention to live streaming, which has been around since 2007, when UStream, LiveStream and other live streaming start-ups hit the market.

The older platforms are still around, and they also have apps, which begs the question: Why all the brouhaha about the new apps? After all, many of the videos currently on these apps have the appearance of selfies on steroids, rather than anything particularly useful.

But any new communication tool is always of interest to PR professionals, who want to know how to use them to promote their client companies. So here’s our “first pass” look at these apps.

Social live-streaming. With the new apps, live streaming of events is much easier and more like social networking. You can announce  your live stream to your Twitter followers, viewers can comment on your screen in real-time, and you can respond to the comments as they roll in. A new update for Meerkat even allows a viewer to post a brief cameo on your screen.

Periscope is a few months newer than Meerkat, and both are connected to Twitter (Periscope is Twitter-owned). Meerkat also allows users to connect with their Facebook profile. The apps do differ and they are constantly updating their features, so it’s best to just try them out to see which one you like best.

Multiple uses. With these apps, you can demonstrate products and how to use them, follow your clients to see what they are doing, and stream meetings and events or provide any number of “behind-the-scenes” videos. Of course, if you are hosting a conference or training session and want a more formal presentation, you may want to opt for having a video team do the broadcasting for a webcast to go out on one of the older platforms. But things are changing fast in the competitive field of live streaming. It’s worth giving all of these apps a try.

One caution. There may be legal issues to think about when live streaming on-the-fly. As with any image taken for the promotional purpose of a business or nonprofit, it is necessary to obtain a written release before using it. With live streaming, that may pose a problem.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Choosing a PR Firm – Five Mistakes to Avoid

Businesspeople arguing in meetingHiring a PR firm can bring attention to your company, its services, products and people. But public relations is not a hit-and-run venture; long-term strategies combine with short-term tactics to create a strong brand and positive reputation. Therefore, it is to everyone’s benefit that the relationship between the client company and the PR firm is a lasting one.

Occasionally, however, the relationship doesn’t work out, and while there are often various reasons cited, the problem usually boils down to a flawed vetting process when the firm was first hired.

Avoiding the following pitfalls can lead to a truly successful collaboration between client and firm.

1.  Great Expectations.  Public relations is not a magical enterprise. It involves creativity, hard work and dedication to the client’s interests. And it often takes some time before you see results. What can happen in the first meeting between the PR firm and a prospective client is an unconscious collaboration: the client wants to think the public relations person can make his company successful overnight, and the public relations person lets him think this because he wants him as a client. This can only lead to disappointment on both sides. Most experienced public relations professionals will tell you what is – and is not – possible to achieve for your type of business and your budget. A long-term productive relationship is more satisfying for both the client and the PR firm than a short-term honeymoon.

2.  Choosing the Wrong Size Firm.  One frequent complaint that clients voice about their PR firm is that the top executives presented a wonderful proposal to them, but they rarely heard from those people again. Instead, their account was assigned to someone new to the firm, and they didn’t feel they got the attention – or the results – they deserved. PR firms survive for the most part on the billable hours that make up the client’s fee. If your company is paying a fee at the low end of a firm’s fee schedule, you will probably get assigned to one of its less seasoned staff. Larger firms usually charge higher fees to cover their higher overhead costs. PR firm fees can range from $5,000 to $30,000 per month or more, so if a fee of $10,000 per month seems like a huge expenditure to you, it’s best to choose a smaller firm.

3.  Not Knowing What You Want.  From the point of view of the public relations professional, the most difficult clients to satisfy are the ones who really don’t know what they want. Meetings abound, ideas are put forward and shot down – as the public relations person tries fruitlessly to read the client’s mind. In the end, everyone is frustrated. This outcome can be avoided with some advance planning. Before your first meeting with a firm, do some internal brainstorming and be ready to state your goals and the principal audiences you want to reach with your messages. If you are doing a small project, such as a brochure or website, show examples of the kinds of things you like, your current stationery or logos, and some of your competitors’ materials. You will save time and money by being prepared.

4.  Being Cagey about your Budget.  Some business owners think that if they talk about their budget upfront, the PR firm will “spend it all – and then some.” But the cost of public relations programs can vary greatly, depending on your goals and your budget. Be clear about both. If you outline goals that require extensive work with expensive outside services and act like money is no object, expect the PR firm to present a proposal for a big program that costs a lot – maybe more than you can afford. If you are honest about how much you have to spend, you have freed the firm to discuss what can be accomplished within your budget. Give the firm a chance to show you what they can do with a smaller budget. Then you will have a more accurate picture of the firm’s resources, creativity and capabilities.

5.  Hiding Negative Information.  When you are interviewing a PR firm, be open about the possibility of any negative publicity that may be on the horizon involving your company. Public relations people need to know these things – not just at the beginning, but throughout the relationship – in order to plan accordingly. Managing negative news is much more effective when done early on, before it festers and grows into a costly crisis.

Finding the right PR firm doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Check with your local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Ask other business people for their recommendations, and visit the firms’ websites. Interview several firms to see if they might be the right size and have the right background and experience level to do the job. Ask for a written proposal. Once you feel comfortable that a firm understands your business, your budget and what will be needed to achieve your goals, take the plunge. You will probably be pleasantly surprised.

Article by Margot Dimond, originally published by ezinearticles.com

New PR Tools Prove Effective

social-toolboxTo many business people, public relations is still defined in terms of the “news release,” but it’s always been more than that.  It’s about creating and managing the reputation of a company or nonprofit organization through a well-defined communications strategy.  The news release is just one communication tool, and many new ones are being incorporated into the discipline every day.

Here are some things to think about for your next marketing campaign:

  • The Rise of Visual Content.  In recent surveys by PR tech firms Cision and Isebox, nearly two-thirds of journalists said they want press releases to give them easy access to photos, videos and graphics.  That makes sense when you consider that YouTube is the second most-visited social website after Facebook and infographics and other graphic representations are becoming ever more prevalent in communications.
  • Customized Messaging.  Customizing messaging for different audiences has always been an essential part of promoting your company and its products or services.  But it’s increasingly important today as audiences become fragmented by interest.  People now have access to a wide range of information, and they choose what kind of information they want and how they want to receive it like never before.
  • Native Advertising.  Digital media has given rise to a growing trend:  advertisements that are in the same format as the content audiences are there to consume.  They have proven to be more effective in generating click rates than traditional banner ads.
  • Inbound Marketing.  Inbound marketing is the process of drawing the right people to you – the people who are already interested in the topic you are addressing – through providing quality content on your website, blog, newsletter or social media platforms.  The key to producing good content requires not only good ideas but the ability to write about them in a compelling way.
  • E-Mail News Blasts.  Your employees can be your greatest sales force, but your internal audience is composed of more than employees.  Current clients, business partners, members of organizations you belong to, volunteers and donors (if you have a nonprofit organization) – it’s important to regularly stay in touch with all of them.  And e-mail has made it easier than ever.  After a lull during which businesses flirted with various social media platforms, e-blasts and e-mail newsletters are back in style.  Less expensive and time-consuming than printed publications (and more likely to be read), e-blasts can be sent with the latest news literally in the same day.

Posted by Margot Dimond