Posts Tagged ‘PR tips’

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?”


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

9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy

November 15, 2012

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to explain to a client why the announcement the company’s CEO wants us to make isn’t news and is unlikely to be covered by the media.

Here are a few examples of what journalists don’t find worth covering but companies frequently want them to cover:

  1. News that has already been announced and reported in the media is no longer news and will not capture journalists’ attention.
  2. The activities of a small privately-held company are usually not considered newsworthy to the national business media. We are often successful in getting start-up company clients covered by the media despite this, but the way we do it is to de-emphasize the company and pitch its activities as part of a new trend, or to demonstrate that it is developing earthshaking new technologies, or to position it as a threat to large and well-established companies, or to offer the CEO as an expert who has the credentials to comment on something currently in the news.
  3. Just because something is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training.  For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an alarming trend and an important issue. But it’s been written about from various angles for a number of years, and isn’t newsworthy.  An outbreak of a devastating disease like polio in the U.S. resulting from this trend, previously believed to have been eliminated from this country, would be newsworthy.
  4. The visit of a company CEO from abroad is not newsworthy unless the company has major business interests in the U.S., or has an announcement to make that will affect Americans. This is a situation we sometimes face. We are asked to set up a round of business media interviews for the visiting head of an overseas client company. Even if the company is fairly sizable and well-known in its own market, without a real presence in the U.S., journalists won’t have much interest. However, if the company president gives reporters news (that hasn’t already been announced) about a new plan to build a plant in the U.S., for example, or a new partnership with an American company, they’ll be very interested.

What’s Newsworthy, What’s Not

  1. Conflict is newsworthy, especially when it first appears. Peace and harmony are not, except for the exact time when they bring an end to conflict.
  1. Scandal is newsworthy. The juicier the better from the media’s perspective. Awards for good behavior are not.
  1. Surprises are newsworthy. Expected outcomes are not. The media give more time and space to a company that misses or greatly surpasses earnings projections than to a company that meets earnings projections.
  1. Lies are newsworthy (or rather, catching well-known or high-up people in lies is newsworthy)
  1. Announcements that have local impact are newsworthy for local media outlets. In many cases the definition of local is very narrow. Recently we approached news outlets in various Connecticut towns about the debut of a national company in the Connecticut market. Most of the media we spoke to at the small town news organizations told us they would only cover news related specifically to their own towns.

It’s natural to feel that the activities of the company you work for are important and to lose perspective on whether they’re of interest to the rest of the world. One of the advantages of working with a public relations firm is the more objective perspective that the agency PR team can bring to a company.

We’re paid to advise clients and develop workable strategies for their public relations efforts. It’s always a better use of our services and a client’s budget to ask us how to reach a particular goal rather than tell us what tactics to take to achieve that goal. Our collective years of PR, journalism and marketing communications experience will save a lot of money by preventing wasted efforts to build visibility!

Lucy Siegel

Best Corporate Communications Tips for 2012

January 17, 2012

I was one of a wide assortment of public relations and corporate communications people who gathered at a holiday party last month hosted by Douglas Simon, President and CEO of D S Simon Productions. The company is a broadcast and social media video production firm with headquarters on West 36th Street in Manhattan. Doug decided to take advantage of the gathering of this motley crew at his studio by recording interviews with some of us with tips for corporate communications best practices in 2012.

Some of you may remember a blog post I did last year criticizing my own performance on a video interview Doug did with me, for which I was, sadly, not well prepared. This time around I was better prepared.

I’d welcome your own PR tips for the year ahead. I just read an economic forecast predicting that 2012 would be the turn-around year that people have been waiting for, so hopefully many of you will have bigger budgets for public relations, corporate communications and marketing communications. What are your highest priorities for spending those budgets in 2012?

Lucy Siegel

(Click photo to play.)

Six Reasons PR Firms Get Fired

October 26, 2010

Even though I’ve been in a PR agency for quite a few years, I still remember what it was like to be responsible for agency activities within a corporation. That experience gives me a little insight into clients’ pet peeves about their agencies.  Senior PR agency managers are generally pretty savvy from long experience about what not to do. But not everyone in their organizations has the experience – or the training – to know.  For their sake, here are some tried and true ways that public relations agencies and their account teams put their client relationships at risk. 

 Agencies get fired for:

 1. Not managing the client’s expectations.  Often this happens because the agency over-promises to win an account.  This may help win new business, but it usually results in trouble and leads to frequent client turnover for an agency.

2. Allowing the lines between business and friendship to become blurry in the client relationship. The relationship, no matter how friendly, is rooted in business.   When the team members forget this, problems can develop that can lead to bad feelings on both sides.  

3. Providing unrealistic budgets and then exceeding them.

4. Disappearing for weeks at a time without making contact with the client. Even if the agency is working diligently on its own, clients want progress reports.

5. Shoddy writing that is poorly organized and has grammatical or spelling errors, or factual mistakes because the writer hasn’t bothered to pay attention to details.  Either the client has to spend valuable time editing or re-writing, or throw it back to the agency to be re-done. A frequent complaint we hear about “the last agency” is that the account team had poor writing skills and/or produced sloppily written materials.

6. Not measuring results. If the client isn’t given a ruler to measure the agency’s performance, then the agency sets itself up to have the results questioned. And the client has nothing to show top management to justify budget requests.

Some of these are so obviously destructive that it’s hard to understand why agencies aren’t vigilant in preventing them. And yet they happen over and over again.  Agency management usually does know that certain types of behavior ask for trouble, but knowing it is one thing; preventing or eliminating it is much harder.

Great agency management and sound ethics should result in long-term client relationships.  However, sometimes agencies lose clients even when everything is going well, through budget cuts or changes in a company’s needs.  It’s a tough business, but I wouldn’t choose any other!

Lucy Siegel

Six Ways Clients Drive PR Firms Crazy

October 18, 2010

During my career I’ve been a journalist, a corporate communications manager and a public relations agency manager. These different vantage points have given me some insight about how PR agencies annoy their clients and clients annoy their agencies.  In the communications industry, there’s plenty of advice around about how public relations consultants should behave in order to stay in clients’ good graces.  But I doubt that clients receive as much input about how they should behave when working with their agencies. 

Perhaps you’re thinking that the client is paying the bill, and therefore can set the guidelines and tone for working with an agency.  However, paying for a professional service doesn’t automatically make people aware of the best way to relate with the professionals providing the service. The relationship between the agency and client is vital for optimal performance of both, and the optimal performance of the agency provides the best ROI for the client.

So, here’s my list of six ways clients can drive their PR agencies crazy.

The agency team members start pleading for a change of assignment (or begin interviewing for new jobs) when:

  1. A client criticizes really excellent work.  (Some clients think the best way to get the most for their money is to keep the pressure on the agency at all times to make the team feel it never does enough. This is counter-productive, because it’s very disheartening for agency staff.)
  2. A client expects the team to pitch the media and arrange interviews when there’s no news, and no budget to develop projects that would actually create news. Wasting a journalist’s time can ruin our relationship with that individual.
  3. A senior executive makes a habit of cancelling media interview appointments at the last minute. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, to arrange an interview. We know that busy executives sometimes can’t help cancelling, but it’s the responsibility of our client contact person to explain the importance of the interview and make sure that a cancellation really can’t be avoided.
  4.  Company executives – even the client contact – react slowly to agency messages about journalists’ needs for information or access. If the company doesn’t meet a journalist’s deadline, either the company will be left out of media coverage that could have beneficial, or the journalist will write about the company without hearing its point-of-view and input.
  5. The client wants the agency to work for free. This is never stated directly in this way, but that’s what it means when the scope of a project that is underway is increased, but the agency is expected to stick to its original cost estimate.
  6.  The client doesn’t ask for the agency’s input, but simply gives orders to carry out plans made internally. The client squanders a valuable resource by not making use of the skills and experience of the agency team.  We can’t do our best for a client that doesn’t include us in the decision-making process.

One of the advantages of being the owner of a PR agency is that you can decide which clients you want to work for and walk away from the impossible ones. At Bridge, we are very fortunate to have considerate, thoughtful clients. But it’s my job as head of the company to sniff out the prospective clients that would indeed drive us crazy, and walk away from them. 

It’s only fair to show the other side of the story. My next post will list six ways PR agencies put client relationships at risk.

Lucy Siegel

5 Key Facts about PR in the U.S.

August 5, 2010

…that business people from overseas often don’t know

A visitor from Europe came to discuss U.S. PR with us for his company recently.  He thought he knew just what needed to be done and how it should be done, and he had already allocated a budget for the work. Our conversation shook him up a bit and sent him back to the drawing board. What he discovered is that the American market was different from his own in many respects when it comes to communications and that many of his assumptions were wrong. Here are five of the important differences we pointed out:

1.   Size matters

The U.S. population is large and dispersed over a huge geographical area. There are as many people in all of Switzerland as in New York City alone. The number of media outlets in the U.S. is much larger compared to a country in Europe or South America, or one of the smaller Asian nations.  (I’m not saying that Americans consume more news.)

2.  From tostados to tempura

In the U.S., there are 21 languages that have at least 200,000 native speakers. Wide diversity is a fact of life in all the big American cities and even many small ones.  There are few places where so many diverse cultures live side-by-side (relatively peacefully) under the same flag.

3.      PR: not just “publicity,” a strategic function

In some parts of the world, PR is still restricted to bringing messages from senior management to the media and publicizing new products.  It is “publicity” in an old-fashioned wining-and-dining sense of the word, and not a high-ranking function.  In the U.S., PR professionals develop the messages, they don’t just deliver them. PR – and its twin sister, corporate communications – are strategic functions here that are considered very important by senior management. Often the top communications person reports to the CEO.

4.  Higher budgets

Size, diversity and the strategic nature of PR all contribute to higher costs and bigger budgets. Overseas companies often come to the U.S. with too low a budget to do an effective job of communicating.  They don’t understand that they need to spend more here to reach their target audiences (who have different lifestyles, are spread 3,000 miles apart, live in totally different climates, come from a wide variety of cultural traditions and speak different languages).

 5.   Vital importance of targeting

With such diversity and geographic spread, the way to make effective use of a communications budget is to narrow down the audience to the people you most want and need to reach – those who are the best and most important targets for your company – rather than trying to reach everyone. Unless this is done, either the budget becomes astronomical or efforts are spread so thinly they aren’t effective.

by Lucy Siegel

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