Planning to Advertise? Four Things to Keep in Mind

Many potential clients approach a public relations firm seeking earned media coverage (aka “free publicity”) to promote their product or service.  Depending on the client, their target market and goals, a PR firm may recommend including advertising in the marketing mix to achieve maximum effectiveness.

We believe having a professionally planned ad campaign is the best way to proceed, but if you decide to do it on your own, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Who do you want to reach?  Answering this question will help determine where you advertise and your advertising message.  You want to think of where your potential customers get their information and why they may need your product or service.
  • Have a consistent image and message that will appeal to your target market.  You can have ads that address different topics, but the look of your ad and the basic message about your company should remain consistent so that your ad is instantly recognizable as being from your company.
  • Once is not enough.  Repetition is essential to get through the information clutter, so you will have to set aside a decent advertising budget to get the results you want.
  • Monitor your campaign’s effectiveness.  The simplest way to do this is to regularly ask where any new contact heard about you.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Don’t Do a Marketing Program – Until You Can Answer These Questions

Maze 3Anyone who has ever been trapped in a traffic jam while desperately trying to get somewhere on time knows how confusing side streets can be.  Turning onto one to find a fast way to get out of the jam can bring you right back to where you originally went off the main highway.

It can be the same with marketing a business: A business owner can rush into the latest and greatest marketing idea, only to find that he or she has spent a lot of money going nowhere.  He hasn’t really moved the target market to buy his product or service.

Promoting a business today can be a maze of confusing options:  Besides traditional public relations, advertising and direct mail, a plethora of marketing options have been presented by Social Media, Inbound Marketing, Mobile Marketing, Content Marketing, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter TV, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Paid Social Media and SEO.  And new possibilities keep arising every day.  It can be hard to keep up – even for seasoned marketers.

But there are some essentials to keep in mind when doing a marketing plan – and they never change.  Before committing to any long-term program, ask yourself these questions:

1.  What are you trying to sell?  Whether you are in a service business or producing a product, you are, after all, trying to sell something.  Be very clear about what that is.

2.  Who are the people likely to be interested in buying what you are selling? This is a question that should be easy to answer, since you probably fashioned your product or service around a perceived need in the first place.

3.  Where are these people likely to congregate?  What do they read or view, what organizations do they belong to, what are their buying habits?

Now you are ready to do some research on the different marketing options.  For instance, if you are selling a service to a high-income group, you will have a different set of choices than if you own a boutique clothing store.  In the latter case, you really want to be out there, with heavy SEO and Social Media Marketing.  If you are appealing to CEOs of major companies – not so much.

The point is not to start down the street until you know in what direction you should be headed.  And yes, all of this takes time upfront, but it can really pay off in long-term results.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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To PR or Not to PR? Startup Owners Get Lots of Advice

ribbon cuttingIf you are the owner of a startup company looking to promote your business, you may find a lot of conflicting information out there. Just enter “PR for startups” in a Google search and watch pages of articles loaded with advice come up.

There are articles with tips from PR pros and journalists, the business owners who proclaim you can – and should – do your own PR, and even a “virtual PR firm” that takes the place of an actual PR person. It’s all out there for you to choose from, if you have the time and the inclination to do it.

While it’s true that most startups don’t have a large budget for public relations, they also don’t have much time to do all of the recommended activities on their own.

We do not advocate spending money on a PR firm if it’s a struggle to do so; that just spells disappointment for everyone because effective public relations often takes time. What we do suggest is that you come up with a simple strategy and a clear message to identify your target markets and how you are likely to reach them.

Many people think that PR is synonymous with media relations, but there is so much more to it. Yes, public relations people do try to get their organizations media coverage, but media coverage is part of the overall strategy. A flurry of media coverage that doesn’t hit the target market is useless.

The most important things to think of when developing a strategy for a promoting a new business are:

  • Who am I? Remember, at first you are selling yourself, your credentials, your abilities and your record of success.
  • What is my product (or service) and why is it different? This is especially important in a crowded marketplace.
  • Who would be interested in what I’m selling? This is your target market.
  • How do I reach my target market? What tactics are likely to work?
  • What will move my target market to buy my product or service? This is your message – the “What’s in it for me” that your would-be customer wants to hear.

Only after you have answered these questions should you consider implementing a public relations program.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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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

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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

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