Posts Tagged ‘PR Boutiques International’

Trials, tribulations, and the impact of social media on the media industry

March 26, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Joy Scott of fellow PRBI member firm Scott Public Relations:

From Vocus’ 2013 State of the Media Report

Looking for media coverage? Ignore social media at your own peril. About 80 percent of journalists use Twitter and Facebook for research. If you are not there, your story may be overlooked.

The 4th annual State of the Media Report from Vocus examines how social media impacts the digital media revolution, and how journalists and news organizations use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and others as tools to gather, promote and disseminate information.

Some of the key findings in this report surprised us (more than 100 newspapers folded in 2012), while others (media professionals still prefer to receive pitches through email) were expected.

Highlights from the report include:

Social media has empowered newspapers with the ability to “break in” and report the news immediately. David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, says, “It (social media) is very effective if journalists are providing a service, like breaking news or interesting and funny observations. It helps build their personal brands with readers”. These social media mechanisms help journalists draw traffic and maximize page views by building loyal followers.

Social media is now also used to supplement coverage. Some professionals give blow-by-blows of events, trials and television broadcasts now regularly include feedback found from monitoring social media sites. According to Julie Holley, managing editor of television content at Vocus Media Research Group, “Social media has been a gold mine for TV because it is cheap to use, easy to implement technologically speaking (short and easy set-up time), and viewers want to be part of the conversation.”

Engagement has become a main reason that many journalists choose to use/follow social media on a regular basis because it connects viewers/readers on a more personal level with the journalist covering their community.

Magazines have social media presence today – the direct interaction opportunity is too big to ignore.

In 2012, 165 magazines debuted, with 97 print and 68 online launches.

In 2012, 152 newspapers folded; 91 were weekly papers and 34 were online. The Orange County Register defied trends in 2012. Since Aaron Kushner has taken over, the paper has been on an editorial hiring and expansion spree.

PR professionals need to make sure they supply journalists with the materials they require to pursue a lead. Julie Holley advises PR professionals to “Control the message. Interact with the journalists. Follow them, comment on their stories and suggest story ideas. As always, know your audience and that of the journalist.”

Findings from the Vocus survey of media:

*all graphs are from Vocus’ State of the Media Report 2013



Media Pay for Play: a Bad, Old Practice Lives On

April 2, 2012

Today I stumbled across an online discussion in a LinkedIn marketing group about what we in the PR industry call “pay for play,” or the requirement that a company pay for an ad or sponsorship in order to be included in editorial coverage. The discussion was started by an associate publisher at a trade magazine company (read here “ad sales executive”).

He wrote, “Over the last few years PR firms have become increasingly aggressive in pushing editorial ‘collaborations’ for their clients, many of whom are nowhere to be seen from a publication advertising support perspective!”  His message:  companies that don’t advertise in a particular publication shouldn’t expect to be covered unless what they’re offering is groundbreaking news. Implied in his statement was that advertisers do deserve the  right to be covered, whether or not they have anything newsworthy or of interest to say.

As a PR firm owner and practitioner with many years of experience, preceded by journalism experience (both newspaper and trade media), I maintain that journalists  have no obligation to cover anyone – advertisers or non-advertisers. The only obligation they have is to inform their readers/viewers in an honest and timely way. If this means they end up not covering an advertiser because the company has nothing worthwhile to communicate, then so be it. If the advertiser doesn’t like this, there are always other media to advertise in.

Non-advertisers deserve the same balanced editorial coverage as advertisers.

It’s our policy as an agency to decline pay for play offers.  Sometimes a media outlet will approach a client directly and offer the opportunity to be included in a special issue of a magazine, or to be interviewed by a news broadcaster, or take part in a film, if the client would just pay a certain amount to “cover expenses.” On a few occasions clients have been tempted by these offers.  Generally, a little research on the publication or TV production company has demonstrated that the offer isn’t the great opportunity it was cracked up to be.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients received a call offering an interview on national TV, “Inside Business,” with Fred Thompson, the Republican politician, columnist and radio host. Our client was told there would be a fee of about $20,000 to cover the production company’s costs, but still thought this would bring some valuable visibility. We did some looking around online and found websites with discussions from other businesses that had taken the bait and were bitterly disappointed and angry at the outcome. Their biggest complaint was usually about the distribution of the video that was produced. Their interviews were aired at some ungodly hour when nobody would be watching TV – say, 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. When we showed our client these discussions, he thanked us for stopping him from wasting his company’s money.

Years ago when I was a journalist I fought with publishers who constantly pushed the editorial staff to cover advertisers. The battle between advertising and editorial has only intensified over the years as both ad revenue and readership have declined, bringing tough financial times for many media companies.  However, good, balanced journalism is what attracts readers and builds circulation, not pandering to advertisers or demanding quid pro quo for media coverage.

It’s the job of the PR professional to understand and counsel clients about what’s news and what’s not. If a company hires a PR agency to “get ink” and yet has nothing special to offer the media, it’s the agency’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations while seeking news nuggets and finding innovative ways to create news, if necessary. Let’s be clear: pay for play is not media coverage, it’s advertising.

Lucy Siegel

Get my book at Amazon!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Six Reasons Flexibility Helps Start-ups

March 20, 2012


Lord knows, start-ups have plenty of disadvantages (never enough money, limited staff to do all that needs to be done and low visibility compared to established competitors, to name just a few). However, there’s no point in looking at a half-empty cup when there is, after all, still half a cup left. Start-ups have some important advantages over Goliath competitors, many of which involve the ability to be more flexible. Small companies love to talk about flexibility as an asset they have over larger competitors but seldom explain why it’s an asset. Here are some of the advantages of flexibility:

1. It’s easy for start-ups to change direction. Making a big change can be done quickly and far more efficiently than in a large company. Think of turning around a small motor boat compared to an ocean liner.

2. As small businesses, it’s easier for start-ups to respond to employees’ needs by allowing less rigid work rules. If someone wants to work at home one or two days a week or come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, there aren’t layers of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through to make this possible.

3. The founder of a start-up doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. Start-ups begins with no rules and no well-established business structure, and can make up their own rules and business structure.

4. Let’s say you have a revolutionary idea, and if your company is successful, you’ll change your industry forever. Chances are that someone in a big company somewhere has had the same idea, but big companies can’t be as flexible about making revolutionary changes. They have a lot more to lose than you do: market share, customer trust, brand recognition, public preconceptions about what they stand for. Meanwhile, you’re starting from scratch and can create something revolutionary without worrying about what you’ll lose in the process.

5. The communications and management infrastructure at start-ups are much more informal and allow more flexibility to individual employees to make themselves heard and have an influence on the overall company. There’s nothing more empowering to employees than the knowledge that what they do really counts, and that their ideas and input will be listened to by senior people (who may be sitting in the same room they are) and can have a big influence the success of the company.

6. The definition of success is up to the entrepreneur. It is not predefined as generating shareholder profit. Founders of start-ups can set their own goals. There is flexibility that comes from not having to worry about short-term shareholder benefits. Some civic-minded start-up founders place heavy emphasis on the goal of helping their communities. Some founders are determined to stay small enough to allow themselves the satisfaction of doing hands-on work with clients.

Lucy Siegel

Why CEOs Need Peer Groups Like PR Boutiques International & CEO Trust

April 19, 2011

Just like everyone else, CEOs sometimes need input and support from colleagues. While employees can give excellent counsel as well as support, there are times when a CEO has an issue (s)he only feels comfortable discussing with peers.

Participants at the PR Boutiques International Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

I’m fortunate to belong to two groups of CEOs that are wonderful sources of objective input and advice, as well as encouragement and friendship.   One is CEO Trust, with chapters in New York and Connecticut (so far) that have members in many industries.  The other is PR Boutiques International, a network of independent PR firms that I co-founded four years ago.  There are about 30 small PR companies in the PRBI network (so far).  Both of these growing organizations are special and valuable to me for different reasons.

Those of you who work in larger companies can go to colleagues or bosses for input and support when you want to talk out an important decision or need information about how other companies handle a particular issue.  CEOs, whether they head large or small companies, sometimes just can’t do that.

CEO Trust is a group of CEOs who have joined together to provide friendship and advice to each other.  Because membership is only granted if the executive shares important business values with the group, the members have a lot in common even though they come from different industries and professional backgrounds. This creates a warm, supportive environment.

PR Boutiques International member firms are also vetted very carefully for important business values as well as a high level of professional service.  All provide expert, experienced client service.  We support each other in a myriad of ways: I can tap the resources of an overseas firm on behalf of a client, or bring in a member firm for extra arms and legs on a big project, for local help with an event or with media  relations. We also have a firm owner Google Group where we share ideas, pick each others’ brains and ask for input on issues and challenges we face.

I just returned from a weekend with PRBI firm owners from around the country and the world at the group’s annual meeting in Washington. We talked for two days straight about marketing, selling, client service, better ways to run our agencies, and ways we can work together so that two plus two will equal more than four. We brought in two industry consultants, George Rosenberg and Ken Jacobs, both industry “sages,” to stimulate our thinking, give us new ways to look at our jobs and remind us of easy-to-avoid but crucial agency owner responsibilities.  Here are a few of the words of wisdom they left with us:

  • Satisfying our clients is not sufficient; only superior client service is good enough. An industry survey showed that 75-78 percent of clients who changed agencies last year said they were satisfied. To be consistently successful, we must surpass expectations, deliver the unexpected and take the extra, extra step to wow our clients.
  • “People [you work with] may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
  • When it comes to our services, budget is always a difficult hurdle; a better way to discuss costs is to view them as investment.
  • What clients want to spend is not as relevant as the amount we know it will take to do a good job for them.
  • The definition of a good client: one that respects us, values our work, knows their goals, gives us direct access to the top decision-makers in their organization and can afford to pay us appropriately.

Lucy Siegel

Does Size Matter in the PR Industry? You Bet!

March 4, 2011

I heard it again today on the radio: small businesses have been hurt most by the Great Recession in the United States. It makes sense.  I also read a statistic about the cost per employee for meeting all the governmental bureaucratic paperwork requirements: it’s twice as high for small businesses as for large ones. Rent per square foot is more expensive for smaller spaces than for larger ones. Employer health care costs are much higher for small companies than for large ones.  Add to these higher small business costs an attitude by some (misguided) people that “you never get fired for hiring IBM” – an unwillingness to stick their necks out to select a smaller service company that isn’t well-known to top management.

Why is it, then, that despite all of these disadvantages, boutique PR companies have survived, and in some cases thrived, throughout this recession? The answer is that the clients who hire boutiques know they will receive personal, hands-on service from senior professionals. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the firm, the more experience the staff will have.

During the past few years, big communications companies have had to do whatever they could to make quarterly earnings projections.  The large multinational PR firms owned by ad agencies have been particularly under pressure due to declining ad revenues.  The PR companies in these big conglomerates have had to pull in their belts and lay off large numbers of staff to bring down overall company costs.  (I don’t think most of them will admit this – the PR subsidiaries of these conglomerates won’t separate out their annual revenues.)  To meet their earnings goals, they’ve taken on very small clients – much, much smaller PR accounts than they would ordinarily agree to handle. I’ve heard about numerous instances over the last couple of years when the mega communications companies took on $5,000 per month clients. This is lower than the level that my boutique firm will usually consider; it is unprofitable for us.  With the much higher overhead of bigger firms, their minimums are usually more like $20,000 per month. There’s no way they can make a profit on $5,000 per month business.  Very young 20-somethings are given the responsibility for this kind of work with little or no oversight, and after six months or so the clients wise up and leave. But in the meantime, the big agency has collected some fees.

We hear about this kind of unfortunate neglect often when we talk to smaller company marketing executives.  Those who aren’t very experienced in working with public relations agencies sometimes become very cynical after this kind of experience and hesitate to ever use external public relations services again.

By contrast, some corporate communications and marketing executives with the wisdom of experience have turned to boutique PR firms as a solution to their needs during these tough times.

Inc magazine columnist Norm Brodsky wrote in a recent column that during a recession, companies should increase expenditures for sales and marketing.  This is sound advice, because you have to concentrate even more on building your customer base when customers are spending less.  Brodsky says the companies that follow that strategy are the ones that will come out on top when there’s a turn-around.

Finding the budget to increase expenditures for sales and marketing (or to increase expenditures for anything) isn’t easy. One way to do it is to turn to smaller suppliers with lower overheads, suppliers that can provide more service for a lower portion of the budget.

I expect to see faster growth now throughout the PR industry for both boutiques and the larger firms.  As the economy turns around, the large firms won’t even look at the really small client accounts, leaving more on the table for the small firms. Meanwhile, the companies (some of them large ones) that have turned to boutique agencies looking for cost savings have now realized that they get a much better bang for the buck  and more experienced professionals working with them when they hire boutiques.

Over the past few years most industry non-profit membership organizations have suffered financially and lost members.  However, the new PR industry group for boutique PR firms that I helped found about three years ago has grown each year. When it was launched in 2008, PR Boutiques International had 12 members in five countries. It now has nearly 30 members in nine countries (about to jump to 13 countries with new members in process).

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the growing importance of public relations due to the ascendency of social media, which fits best into a public relations framework.  For us small boutique PR firm owners, who have to put up with the same hassles and expenses as other small businesses, it’s a very heady feeling to realize that our industry’s day, and our day as boutique owners, has arrived.

Lucy Siegel

Media Interviews: Be Scared, Just a Little

January 23, 2010

Our clients are usually either too intimidated by media interviews or are too confident.  Those who are scared are extremely nervous that they will say something foolish and embarrass themselves and their organizations, or that they will be asked a question they can’t answer.  The overconfident ones feel they know their business better than any reporter does, and figure there’s nothing they could be asked that they can’t answer – so they don’t prepare for the interview. Let me define “interview”: any and all discussions with a reporter or editor for a print or online publication, or a radio or TV producer or reporter, or a blogger qualify.

I think it’s better to be intimidated than over-confident.  A little stage fright is like electricity to a light bulb – it gives you energy.   Those who don’t worry at all can

“Don’t jump! I’ve sent the whole staff out to
buy every copy of the paper, so nobody
will read your interview – except in the
online edition, of course.”

get too comfortable. This is dangerous.  People who relax too much in an interview often say too much, giving the journalist more information than she needs. This gives the reporter the chance to select what to use in her story from both important and unimportant information. Or they say things that were best not said outside the company.

The solution to under- and over-confidence is (no surprise) preparation. List the questions you’re likely to be asked and have someone role-play with you so you can practice answering.

If you’re pretty new at being interviewed, or the upcoming interview is a really important one, or if you’re from another country and not used to talking to the American media, consider some professional media training. At a coaching session, a senior communications professional will work with you to plan a strategic approach to your interview, ask you likely questions and help you frame appropriate, succinct responses.  When I coach a client before an interview, I leave plenty of time to discuss the best way to handle the questions my client prays will not be asked.

The worst thing to do is hide from the media because you’re scared. The more you’re interviewed, the better you’ll do, and the less scared you’ll be.

Coming up soon: interview secrets exposed

–Lucy Siegel

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