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.

###

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

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

Up Your Game for 2015

on his wayThe first month of 2015 is almost over, but it’s not too late to think about doing a better job of marketing your business this year. Here are five things that will make your efforts more productive.

1.  Do a strategic plan – and follow it. Take a fresh look at your last PR/marketing plan. Is it kind of dusty? Let’s face it, many plans are. Typically, a firm will host an end-of-year planning session, maybe at a retreat where the staff discusses goals for the year, strategies, marketing objectives, etc. Finally, someone is assigned to put all of the ideas into a written plan.  When finished, it’s passed around, and everyone feels good about having done it. But during the year, ideas get thrown around and tried out without any regard for the plan. How do we know a plan works if it isn’t put it into practice?

2.  Effectively incorporate social media into your marketing plan. The key word here is “effectively.” When it comes to social media marketing, there are two types of staff members: evangelists, who think it’s the answer to everything; and followers, who think social media marketing is complicated and should be left to the evangelists to implement. Our take? Social media is an important part of the overall marketing strategy when it fulfills the stated objectives, and since it involves communication, the public relations department should direct its strategy and implementation.

3.  Whether in traditional or new marketing, quality content trumps all. Keep in mind that everyone listens to the same radio station: WII-FM, or “What’s in it for me.” If your content – whether in a speech, article, or online – speaks to your audience from their point-of-view, you will be successful. If your communication is all about your firm and what you do, instead of about your audience and what you can do for them, you will struggle to succeed.

4.  Review your social media platforms. Video was 66% of internet traffic in 2013; by 2018, it is estimated to be 84%. Internet traffic draws people to your website, so you really can’t ignore online video. And you don’t have to hire a video crew and have an expensive production. Just start videotaping. With all of the new equipment around, you can make quick promotional or education videos and use an editing program to turn them into something people will want to watch.

5.  Print is not dead, but… As more publications publish digital editions, more people are comfortable getting their news that way. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, by 2012 more Americans got their news online than from radio or newspapers. That said, many people think that ads or articles are less likely to be seen if they are exclusively in the digital edition of a publication.  But keep in mind that your digitally published article or ad can be linked to and sent around the world.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

Know Your Audience

If you have a product or service to sell, one of the most important parts of your PR plan should be identifying your audience, understanding them on a professional level, and designing a message that will speak directly to them.

Unfortunately, although virtually all businesses are good at identifying their audience, they may be less skilled at doing the research necessary to understand them.  The company message suffers as a result.

A case in point:  A few years ago, several company executives came into our office to talk about our firm handling their public relations.  The company had a great software product aimed at a specific commercial market, but it was having trouble getting customers.  We identified one of their problems as their company tagline, which was way too edgy for their business audience to take them seriously.  They had come up with it themselves and, needless to say, thought it was very clever.  It was; it just wasn’t audience friendly.

I’ve seen the same sort of thing happen with other types of communication tools.  Most common are logos that are attractive but never relate visually to the company message and company handouts or websites with long dissertations about a product or service with little space devoted to the problems it will solve or the need it will fill.

Keep in mind that if you aren’t attracting the “right kind of clients,” it may be because your company message isn’t reaching them.

Share