Posts Tagged ‘PR Firm’

Who Should Interact With Your PR Firm?

March 13, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Scott Phillips of Scott Phillips + Associates:

Who-should-interact-with-your-PR-firmYou’ve gone through the process of selecting a public relations firm and are moving fast to get them up to speed and producing.   Depending on the size and structure of your company, you are probably a senior marketing executive, a product or brand specialist or perhaps even the company founder.

You are the interface between your new PR firm and the rest of the company.  Do they need to work with anyone else?   The answer is yes.

In fact, my preference is to get to know as many people in your company as possible.

The Corner Offices:  If you are going to report to superiors about our joint progress, I would like to know those individuals.  Our firm will benefit from understanding the expectations of your company’s most senior executives, as well as their vision, concerns and ideas about your competitive differentiation.

The Inside Guys:  Whether we are supporting a product, service or even a critical issue, somebody in your company was responsible for its creation or the development of the company’s position.  He or she has all the “inside baseball” information and will likely be our go-to source for in-depth explanations, technical details and the answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet.   He or she might also be a great source for trade interviews, but we need to know that person to help make that determination.

The Finance Guys:  Whether you have a VP of Finance or CFO, that person’s perspective is always important to all of us.  From a strategic position, I want to know his or her financial objectives and concerns.  From a practical perspective, I want to know your company’s requirements for things like invoicing, expenses, etc.

Our Co-Marketers:  If you are working with an ad agency or separate social media provider, our efforts need to be coordinated.  We need to collaborate on everything from messaging to campaign timing.

The Sales Team:  The members of your sales team – the folks in the field – are among our most important contacts.   While you will direct our day-to-efforts, the sales team has information we can’t get elsewhere.   They know what messaging resonates with your audiences, the advantages you have over your competitors and where you might sometimes come up short.  They also are the first alert for pending deals and critical issues that might not get to your desk for some time.

In short, more is better.  We’ve all committed to working as a team, and we can do that best by getting to know all the players.

Ask Not What the Media Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the Media

February 13, 2013

Unfortunately, most emerging companies have approached public relations as little more than an extension of their sales promotion efforts, narrowly focusing their messaging on attributes of their products or services with the expectation that reporters will spread the word to the masses. At best, this approach usually yields a limited number of media placements originating around a product launch. At worst, reporters will view the announcements as editorialized sales pitches and discard them. Then comes the inevitable question from the corporate brass: “What value are we getting from that PR budget?”

kennedy

This scenario often could be averted if the question were turned around: “What value can the media get from our company?” Marketing professionals should appreciate this question—they are accustomed to defining value for potential customers, but reporters are not potential customers. Their needs are completely different.

To effectively engage reporters, it is important to understand how they evaluate information. Their raison d’être is to uncover what’s “newsworthy” to their specific audiences and to report this information in an easy-to-understand format. Thus, for a company’s message to resonate with a reporter it must be perceived to have a certain quality of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is a very abstract concept. It differs from company to company. A management change at a large conglomerate, for example, would be considered more newsworthy than a similar change at a startup. It also differs from reporter to reporter. Trade reporters, for instance, view newsworthiness through a narrow lens focused on a specific industry, while reporters with general business and consumer media often (not always) view newsworthiness through a broader lens focused on major social, economic or technological trends.

We’re at a time when major brands seem to wield more and more media influence, and reporters are becoming more and more immune to unsolicited story pitches. So how can a startup company demonstrate newsworthiness in such a tough climate?

The key is to start developing a PR plan early. It’s not uncommon for startups to focus their early-stage efforts on building out core business functions, such as sales channels, product development, logistics and other back office functions, putting off PR until the product launch approaches. This is understandable—resources are always an issue, and expenditures and staff time have to be prioritized. We also understand the competitive reasons for some companies to operate in “stealth mode” until they’re ready to launch sales. However, postponing PR planning until a month or two before going to market can seriously limit the company’s opportunities to drive greater visibility and lead to pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning.

As you begin crafting your PR plan, a key component is to identify story angles that will interest the media. This involves brainstorming with your management team and PR advisors to collect pertinent information about your company and its founders that is often scattered across many minds, and identifying the facets that could be used to create compelling story angles. Significant product news creates potential angles, as well as any anticipated milestones (e.g., acquisition of new management, new external partnerships, new funding, etc.). These events may offer good opportunities for exposure in some media outlets, with the highest potential usually being in trade and business media.

But there is no reason to limit the company’s story angles to these business events. PR planning is a creative process that requires you and your PR advisors to look beyond the obvious characteristics of your business to discover other aspects that could distinguish you from the flock. A great example of a company that has succeeded at this is Ben & Jerry’s. The company has been able to command media interest at will. Its products, however, are rarely what grab the headlines. Rather, much of the media coverage has focused on the company’s eccentricities: its unconventional founding (it was originally conceived as a bagel shop), its offbeat management practices (e.g. its erstwhile salary ratio policy) and its reputation as a champion of social issues.

Admittedly, the comparison between the media strategy of an emerging IT or biotech company with that of Ben & Jerry’s is tenuous, but there are opportunities for most companies to seize the limelight in unconventional ways if they try. Before they became iconic brands, companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Flickr were successful at this, getting attention for quirks in their corporate cultures,  business models, operational development or founders’ stories.

The bottom line is, in order for your company to derive value from its media strategy, it has to first prove its value (i.e. newsworthiness) to the media. The art of PR is storytelling: mining the various facets of your business to uncover what sets it apart—its newsworthiness—and packaging that information into compelling story angles to engage the media.

Jacob Seal

For Some, Earning Experience Isn’t Enough

August 17, 2012

Bridge Global Strategies had the pleasure of working with summer intern Jennifer Mulligan for the past three months, and we’re very sorry to see her go – she starts her senior year at the University of Michigan in a few days. Today, her last day, she wrote a blog post about a topic that’s hotly debated in the PR industry: unpaid internships.  According to a May 5th article in the New York Times, unpaid internships have been standard for a long time in the film and non-profit worlds, but with high unemployment rates, they’re now are very common in public relations, marketing and advertising, fashion, publishing, at art galleries and talent agencies and even at some law firms. Here’s what our own intern thinks about the subject.

Former Fox Media Group interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt filed a lawsuit against their former employer in October 2011 for violating employee compensation laws; they alleged their internships failed to meet The United States Department of Labor requirements for unpaid internships. While unpaid internships are a common practice, this lawsuit has opened up for debate whether or not this practice is ethical. What about the students who cannot afford to accept unpaid internships because they’re already struggling to pay tuition, or their parents cannot support them financially? Should companies only offer paid internships, or can unpaid internships be beneficial?

Any experience is better than no experience. That is what employers and career counselors have pushed at us college students for years. They tell us completing unpaid internships that give us relevant work experience will help us find full-time positions better than baby-sitting or bussing tables. They tell us this as we watch our student loans grow ominously (but that’s an issue for another time). Some tell us having a well-known company on our resume is better than a smaller one, but these recognizable companies tend neither to pay nor teach as well. We also don’t think we can negotiate a salary with these competitive positions. With the tough economy and more college graduates, we are willing to do anything to set ourselves up for success.

For the record, my internship here is paid; however, I have completed previous unpaid internships. I took previous positions for many of the reasons outlined above, and I am lucky to say that I learned a great deal and rarely did menial work. My paid internship, however, is the best of both worlds for me. Not only am I paid (not a lot, but it’s better than nothing); I am able to apply the concepts I learned from school into the workforce and receive training on PR procedures and programs that I can take with me elsewhere. I feel more a part of a team than a burden as a paid intern. Interning at this small firm has not given my resume name-recognition, but my portfolio has certainly benefitted. My hands are in everything at the firm including drafting press releases, participating in client meetings, pitching media, social media management, creating media lists and more. Plus, I work directly with the CEO daily. I would not have half of these experiences at a larger firm.

 With all this said, I do believe that some experience is better than none. If you can get a paid internship, great! But don’t turn down an unpaid internship if it will benefit you.

Here’s a checklist of things to consider before compensation when choosing an internship:

  • Is the position in your intended field?
  • What skills will you develop?
  • What will your responsibilities include?
  • How often will you have contact with your supervisor and more senior managers?
  • Will this lead to a job offer or career?
  • Will you gain connections or mentors from this opportunity?
  • How does the size of the firm impact your resume?
  • Is it practical for you to commute to this firm?

Jennifer Mulligan

5 Reasons We Won’t Respond to RFPs

February 17, 2012

Not many things in my industry elicit the degree of anger and frustration as the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Yesterday I opened about 10 emails from colleagues at other agencies on this topic.  All of us belong to Counselors Academy,  a group of PR agency owners and top executives. Counselors Academy’s most active members are smaller and midsize companies, not the largest agencies. One of the members, a colleague of mine who owns a boutique agency in Washington, wrote an email to the group describing an RFP fiasco he had just been through and asking how other
agencies handle RFPs. With few exceptions, the consensus was that RFPs are a waste of time and energy and most of my colleagues at the small and midsize agencies refuse to participate in the RFP process unless they have a relationship with  someone in the company or have worked for the company before.

Let me sum up the main reasons:

1. RFPs are often the result of a requirement from company purchasing departments that bids be obtained from several vendors before a purchase is made. More and more over the last 10 or 15 years purchasing departments have been given approval power over PR agency hiring by the corporate communications and marketing departments. The internal marketing or communications team knows already which agency it wants to hire, but puts out the RFP to satisfy the purchasing department. In these situations, the bids are really rigged from the outset and the RFP process is a sham.

2. Many companies just don’t know how to conduct an agency search. Some of them send RFPs in writing to a huge number of agencies without talking to them or screening them in any way first to focus in on a small but appropriate group. Responding to this kind of “cattle call” is a waste of an agency’s time.

3. Some companies that put out RFPs have NO INTENTION of hiring an agency, and use the process to gather ideas to help the in-house communications team.  Of course, nobody admits to this, but it’s pretty obvious when they end up not hiring an agency at all after the RFP process and then start implementing thinly disguised versions of the proposal ideas.

4. Many RFPs ask each agency for a strategic plan to meet the company’s PR needs. However, very, very few RFPs offer to compensate the agencies  for this work.  Law firms aren’t asked to submit their plans for dealing with a company’s legal situation on spec. Doctors charge for their time and expertise when consulted about their treatment opinions. Why should communications companies be expected to give away their intellectual property? I wrote an entire blog post on this subject a couple of years ago. Some in-house marketing and communications executives claim that this is the only way they can separate the good, bad and mediocre. But that isn’t true. A decision can be made by asking for examples of past work and references from clients, holding several interview sessions, and even, if necessary, requesting the agencies for a PR solution to a theoretical situation.

5. As a small public relations company, sometimes we are given an RFP as an alternative type of firm to bigger agencies. The decision-makers will swear up and down that they’re open to selecting the best agency team irrespective of agency size. We’ll be encouraged by the prospective client to participate, the chemistry will be great, we’ll hear compliments on our proposal and be told that we’ve been selected as a finalist. And then we’ll be told that a much larger firm won the business. Sometimes the prospective client will even tell us, “In the end, we just felt more comfortable with a larger agency.” Or, “we love your team but we were afraid of what the CEO would say if we hired a small agency like yours.”  This is shorthand for, “Nobody gets fired for hiring IBM.”

Some of my colleagues will read this and say, “You just have to qualify the lead before you respond to an RFP.” This is true; you do have to ask questions upfront to find out whether your company is a good fit for the prospective client and to try to determine if there is really any chance of winning the business. But unfortunately it’s hard to get honest answers sometimes.  This isn’t just a problem for small PR firms. When I worked for a large multinational, we had the same problem. The thing is, there are more resources at large PR firms than at small firms like mine for pursuing new business. We can’t afford to waste our time on RFPs when experience has shown us that the chance of winning, for one or more of the above reasons, is extremely remote.

I don’t want any of you to think that we don’t want to compete for business. That isn’t the case. We expect and welcome competition. It’s just the bureaucratic and often rigged RFP process that we’ve opted out of.

Lucy Siegel

Read my e-book –  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Podcast: PR & Marketing for Start-ups & U.S.-based Foreign Companies

November 4, 2011

I was interviewed yesterday by Bruce Hurwitz  for his Blog-Talk Radio show, “Bruce Hurwitz Presents,”  as part of a series of interviews with women entrepreneurs. The show is available on-demand as a podcast and the topic is “PR & Marketing for Start-ups & U.S.- Based Foreign Companies.”

Have a listen! Click “play’ below, and then click the arrow on the radio dashboard that appears.  (There is a 10-second delay after clicking the arrow on the radio dashboard.)

Lucy Siegel

PLAY


Six Things Many PR Firms Won’t Tell You

August 16, 2011

When they’re trying to get your business, many PR companies will not tell you that:

1)      Your company may be better off spending a very limited budget on another form of communications (such as direct marketing or online advertising) instead of hiring you. PR is not always the best solution to meet communications needs.

2)      They don’t actually have media contacts in your area.  Media contacts are ephemeral these days, with the high rate of layoffs in the journalism world. Chances are high that half the journalists a PR person has worked with in the recent past are no longer with the same media outlet, and/or may not be covering the same area. Agencies use media databases to find the right journalists to target, anyway, and personal contacts among journalists are overrated. Either you have something worthy of being covered (and it doesn’t matter if you have contacts because the media will respond whether they know you or not), or you don’t (and contacts are unlikely to help because the media won’t cover something with no news value whether they know you or not).

3)      What you want them to do is really not what you need from them. Clients should look to PR companies who will consult with them and develop strategies, rather than just do as they’re told. After all, aren’t you paying for expertise?

4)      Your expectations and goals for PR are too high. Of course you think your company and products are media- and buzz-worthy, but it’s very hard for you to be objective. It’s not at all unusual to hear a prospective client say, “We want to be in the Wall Street Journal [or on the ‘Today’ Show, or to create a record-breaking buzz about our product on Facebook]. It’s certainly possible even for startups and small companies to reach that kind of goal, but it’s not probable. Rather than managing your expectations from the outset, some PR firms will keep quiet and not tell you that kind of exposure may be very unlikely for your company. They figure they’ll educate you after you’ve signed the contract.

5)      You don’t have enough budget to “move the needle.” In every situation, there’s a minimum amount of budget that’s necessary to get good PR results. Rather than telling you that you’re budget is inadequate, some PR companies will take whatever you can pay for as long as you’ll pay it, until you realize that you’re not getting the results you need. This isn’t a smart way to do business, because the client will assume that it’s the agency’s inadequacy that’s to blame, and not their own lack of resources.

6)      Your company has to spend time and effort working with the PR firm to make a success of PR. For starters, the agency PR team has to be briefed thoroughly on a regular basis.  It isn’t possible for an agency to do great PR for your company if your executives won’t make themselves available for interviews, or don’t get back to the agency in a timely way to answer media questions.

Lucy Siegel

10 “Must Haves” From Your PR Agency

November 30, 2010

Bridge Global Strategies specializes in working with start-ups, in addition to companies headquartered outside the U.S.  At every start-up we’ve worked with, the CEO is involved in the decision-making about hiring a PR firm.  However, many entrepreneurs never had the responsibility for selecting a public relations firm – never even worked with a PR firm – until they started their own companies.  They’re often not sure what qualities they need in a PR agency and don’t know what results are reasonable to expect.  Dear readers, if you are the founder of a start-up, or if you’re working closely with one, this blog post is for you.

Here are 10 expectations you should have from any PR agency you hire:

  • It has ethical owners and managers who expect ethical behavior from all employees.
  • The agency gives you a realistic view of what can be accomplished with PR.
  • It will tell you if your budget is impossibly low and will walk away if you really don’t have enough budget to afford the services.
  • If you do hire the agency, it is able to stay within the agreed-upon budget.
  • The agency has a track record of success for other clients. You should ask for case studies, and for references from clients.
  • It has smart, experienced people who:
    • Are capable of developing strategy,
    • Can counsel you on key issues that affect the image of your company and influence product sales – not just business issues, but also social, political and environmental issues.
    • Won’t be afraid to speak up to you and other top executives if they disagree.
    • Will tell you what they don’t know.
    • Last but not least, write well.

A lot of start-ups aren’t sure what public relations will do for them. We’re often asked, “With budget limitations, why spend money on PR? Why not advertising, direct marketing or sales promotion?”  What PR can accomplish depends on the circumstances as well as the work of the PR agency. Good agencies don’t over-promise what they can accomplish.  You should be suspicious of any agency that promises you coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, the New York Times, on the “Today” show or on top blogs such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch or Gizmodo.

Sometimes this kind of coverage is possible. It isn’t impossible for a PR agency to help launch a totally unknown start-up company and/or product and catapult it into the limelight in a short period of time, even on a relatively modest budget.  But most of the time for start-ups this kind of prominence isn’t within each, at least not at first, for several reasons.

Don’t ignore public relations at launch time just because the outcomes aren’t certain. A company has only one opportunity to launch itself, which can be a good kick-start to building some long-term reputation and visibility. And that’s what really counts. Unless the company continues to make news after the launch, the media and the public will move on to something else.  However, with hard work and creativity, over time, a PR agency can help build a steady stream of attention that can be sustained.

There are no guarantees in public relations. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being straightforward. PR agencies work with “third parties” – the public, local communities, the media, online groups, etc.  They excel at using the power of persuasion, but that ‘s the real power PR possesses, and persuasion is different from control.  Advertising and direct marketing provide control. But PR provides credibility: it’s effective for the very reason that the message isn’t controlled, it is merely suggested.  It’s a big boost to the company’s credibility if those independent third parties accept the message and choose to pass it along to others.

Lucy Siegel

What People Share Online and Why

March 10, 2010

The New York Times recently reported the results of a research study conducted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to determine what people are most likely to share with others online, and why. 

The researchers compiled the New York Times’ list of most-emailed articles over six months and analyzed them.  They discovered that a significant percentage of the articles people e-mailed were about science, and a lot of them had a “surprise factor.”  Many of the “surprising” articles had what the Wharton team called “an awe-inspiring quality,” according to The Times. The researchers concluded that, after reading something that touches them emotionally (whether it inspired awe, fear or other emotions), readers want to share and talk about their thoughts and feelings.

Communications professionals have always understood that emotion is what makes people remember what they see and read.  Sometimes what matters most, unfortunately, are not the facts (the truth), but the “emotional truth.” If a story sounds plausible and appeals strongly to people’s emotions, many people accept it at face value and share it with others. There are numerous incidents of a company losing millions of dollars –brought to the brink of bankruptcy, even – because the “emotional truth” in a news story made the company look terrible even though it ignored the facts. 

Here’s an example: 20 years ago, actress Meryl Streep launched an all-out attack on the apple growing industry for using the chemical Alar. Studies had shown a correlation between cancer and exposure to very high levels of Alar in lab animals.  An environmental group, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), claimed there were traces of Alar in bottled apple juice and wanted the Environmental Protection Agency to ban Alar. They hired a PR firm to develop an anti-Alar campaign, using Streep as a spokesperson. 

In media interviews, Streep warned emotionally, from one mother to another, that Alar in apple juice could be harming children. One result was a story on “60 Minutes” that was devastating to the apple growers.  Mothers poured apple juice down the drain, and sales plummeted.

The apple growers deployed legions of scientists to lay out detailed facts to prove that Alar was safe. But their complex scientific explanations fell on deaf ears. Mothers across America were very receptive to what they perceived to be the truth, the highly emotional anti-Alar accusations.  Here was Streep, a mother herself, with no apparent ulterior motive, warning them about a product grown by “Big Agribusiness.” 

It turns out that Alar actually does pose a small cancer risk, and children are more at risk from toxins in food than adults. One consumer group concluded that Alar should be banned if it posed even a very small risk.  However, the group also pointed out that drinking juice made from apples grown with Alar was much less of a health risk to children than feeding them candy bars. Simple, dramatic and emotional, with a famous actress as the star, the anti-Alar crusade had all the elements of a story the media would love.  But the arguments on the other side were not black and white and their complexity didn’t resonate well with the media. Finally the apple growers hired their own PR company, which also used a spokeswoman. She claimed that the anti-Alar hysteria was unscientific and had cost America’s farmers, many of them small family farmers, $100 million. This humanized the apple growers’ side of the story, and gave an emotional argument to bolster scientists’ facts and figures, but in the end, Alar was voluntarily taken off the market.

We live in a much more complex communications environment now than when Meryl Streep attacked apple juice in the ‘80s.  Companies need to understand what makes news and what doesn’t, and how to respond when their own organizations or products are maligned online. This will not only help them to protect themselves from the plentiful mis- (and dis-) information that can be found online, but also help them take advantage of the incredible opportunities to be heard that the Internet offers to those who know how to use them.

Lucy Siegel


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