Framing the Right Message for the Right Audience

Picture of a brown wooden frame

Creating targeted messages that are relevant and persuasive enough to motivate recipients to take action is worth the effort, because the way a message is framed (how it is put into context or presented) can make all the difference in the world in how that message is received.

The theory is that how something is presented (“the frame”) influences choices people make. For example, “day care” may equate to babysitting in the minds of many people, but “early education” has a much more positive connotation, according to a case study cited in Strategic Communications for Nonprofits:

“…research found that the most powerful frames on this issue linked pre-K to school readiness and better performance in the early grades—a focus on the educational needs of children, not the babysitting needs of their parents.”

Assuming you’ve done your homework so that your messaging is based on solid research rather than a hunch – and that you understand where your target audience is in its thinking, values and beliefs – it’s time to begin carefully choosing words to craft a targeted, attention-getting message.

Using the right words to send the right message to the right audience, through the right communications vehicle at the right time, are all keys to successful messaging.

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Press Release Is a Key Tool for Ad Agency PR


How Social Are Your Press Releases Image medium_6330943490Is the traditional press release dead, and if so how will its demise affect ad agency PR?

Recently I posed the “Is-the-press-release-dead” question to students in my strategic communications class at Williamson College. I asked them to read an article titled “The end of the press release?” — which makes this claim — and let me know their thoughts about it.

The author, Gregory Galant, concludes his article with this interesting statement: “It’s time we accept that the days of the press release are over-let’s skip the anger, bargaining, and depression stages-and focus on more effective methods for releasing news.”

What exactly those “more effective methods” are Mr. Galant doesn’t spell out, though he notes that “The SEC has even announced that information can be released via social media, provided investors know where to look and it’s not restricted.”

So why does this have to be an either/or situation? Why not use social media to extend the reach of a press release rather than replace it?

I wasn’t convinced the press release is dead, and it turns out my students didn’t buy it, either. One of them commented:

“There are plenty of people in the general public who still do not have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr accounts…There are other who simply don’t get that interested in social media.  There will always be ‘that kind’ of public. They need other ways to find out what’s going on. Newspapers, TV news, etc., are great sources for people who either don’t use social media or who simply want to unplug from the hectic pace of pointless selfies that fill the Internet.  Sometimes I like hearing about important information through social media, but usually I treat that as entertainment…There have to be lots of folks out there like me.  Press releases are not dead.”

Good insights from someone who is smack dab in the middle of the generation that grew up with social media.

Mr. Galant cites four reasons the days of press releases are “long gone.” I’ll summarize and respond to each one.

1. Today, seconds after you post a press release on the Internet, it’s no longer new news.

True, but so what? How is using social media or other methods going to change that?

2. Google itself has said that it’s discounting content that you pay to distribute and has explicitly warned against putting unnatural links in press releases.

Who says everybody pays to distribute their press releases? Having updated media lists are vital for any PR person. Paid services should supplement, not totally replace, an in-house media list. And if you are going to be held hostage to Google’s constantly changing search algorithm, you’ll likely end up at the algorithm funny farm.

3. People must want to share your content with their friends and followers. A formal announcement typically isn’t well suited to these channels.

Companies make announcements through “formal” press releases all the time. If the topic is of interest, why wouldn’t people want to share it regardless of how the content is delivered?

4. The SEC has already provided the guidance that public companies can simply post announcements on their websites, rather than use a press release service.

Okay, so public companies have options – how does that prove the traditional press release is dead? As I noted earlier, why not use a press release and social media to extend your reach and let people choose how they prefer to receive information?

My student had it right. Press releases are not dead – and they’re not likely to die out anytime soon.

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8 News Release Mistakes to Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success


Image of laptopWhat’s the number one problem reporters have with public relations?

In a survey of more than 1,700 journalists and editors sponsored by Bulldog Reporter and Cision, 60% of them cited their biggest beef as the lack of relevance of the materials they received from corporate communications and PR professionals. Much of this information, they noted, is written like advertising, not journalism.

That’s a sure-fired way to have your news release or press kit trashed.

Ad agencies that want to be taken seriously by reporters should avoid these eight mistakes when writing a news release:

1. The “no news” news release. This is where you’re trying to get your agency or client some media coverage but without a real news hook. It’s better to hold off on your release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter. If you want some ideas on creative publicity topics, check out my “Ad Agencies Top 20 Topics for Publicity” post.

2. Puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services – followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.

3. Platitudes and vague generalities.

4. Verbosity. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.

5. Stating things that are subjective and opinion-based as facts. If you want to include a statement that involves an opinion or judgment, turn it into a quote and attribute the statement to someone.

6. Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.

7. Consistently leading with the name of your boss in the headline or first paragraph.

8. Writing like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. (See journalists’ top concern above.) To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your news release as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news value, connection to a trend or its human interest aspect. Use third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice.

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Podcast: How Ad Agencies Can Use PR to Grow Their Business


Don Beehler interview with Jason SwenkIn my interview with Jason Swenk on The Smart Agency Masterclass, I explain how ad agencies can use public relations to get more coverage, gain credibility and enhance their awareness in the marketplace. I also discuss some of the biggest mistakes ad agencies make with their PR efforts and free resources they can utilize for publicity opportunities. You can hear my interview with Jason here.


Five Tactics for Using PR to Take Your Ad Agency to the Next Level

Ladder going to clouds

Last week during a podcast interview with Digital-Preneur Jason Swenk, I was asked to give some actionable advice to digital, creative and marketing agency owners who want to use public relations to take their agencies to the next level. Great question. Here are five suggestions to help your agency achieve that objective:

1. Develop a written PR plan to compliment new business initiatives.

A written plan will help you manage your time, resources and activities in the most effective way possible. YOU WANT TARGETED, CONSISTENT COVERAGE – and a plan will serve as a road map to get your agency where you want it to go.

As you develop your plan ask yourself, and anyone else involved in the planning process, some important questions:

  • What are the desired results from our PR?
  • Do we primarily need to create awareness or change perceptions of our agency?
  • Do we want PR to help position us as experts in our existing niche or to enter a new industry and become experts there?
  • Who are our key audiences?
  • What are the best communications vehicles to reach them?
  • What are our points of differentiation and key messages?
  • How will the PR plan complement our new business development initiatives?

2. Learn all you can about the news media you are targeting.

The best way to increase your chances for success with your publicity efforts is to understand what the news media want, how they work, their pet peeves and what constitutes a good story – from their perspective. It’s also important to know their audience and what will appeal to them.

Most reporters use social media such as Twitter and have blogs, so you can follow them, learn about their interests and even make comments when appropriate to get on their radar.

The key to publicity success is getting the right story idea to the right reporter at the right time.

3. Identify ways to become a source for reporters and influential bloggers.

This is the quickest route to credibility and achieving the perception of expert status in the eyes of your target audience. If during an interview you prove to be responsive, knowledgeable, trust worthy – and you communicate well – the chances are good that reporters and bloggers will come back to you again for future stories.

4. Utilize your blog to create online buzz and establish your expertise.

Blogs are a great way to build your reputation as a subject matter expert (SME) in a particular niche. Followers look to SME’s to express opinions and insights on things happening in that niche, identify trends and provide perspective. Focus on good, relevant, original content and avoid blatant self-promotion. And don’t be afraid to take a stand counter to conventional wisdom!

5. Write a book.

A book can be used to generate publicity (and therefore increase visibility) about an individual and his/her agency, as well as open doors to speaking opportunities. But it does much more because writing a book enables you to share value lessons and insights about your niche, and it enhances your status a subject matter expert. A book can also help you market your agency.

You may already have a good start on your book through content from blogs, newsletters, industry articles, etc. Or, once your book is published, you can repurpose material from it in the same venues such as your blog.

Niche books are the new calling cards for many agencies, and being a published author can really give you a competitive edge. Think how impressive it would be to leave a signed copy of your book at the conclusion of each new business presentation.

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Here’s a Way for Newspapers to Remain Relevant

Like many parts of the country we are holding local elections in our community, and campaigns are in full swing. I have some issues with one of our candidates and tried submitting a letter to the editor about his record to both our local papers.

In both cases, they informed me they are not running letters related to the election due to the high volume of mail they receive about candidates and their limited editorial space.

One of the papers also expressed concern about not being able to give candidates equal time when there are multiple elections being held in nearby counties.

Stop and think about that for a minute: A high volume of letters indicates this is something people want to discuss. They want to engage in an exchange of information and points of view, but the papers are saying they can’t accommodate their readers’ desires. 

Bundle of newspapers

While I certainly can appreciate the reality of limited space, could we look at this from the readers’ perspective for a minute? Shouldn’t local papers’ editorial pages take the lead in providing a forum for the community to discuss issues and hold elected officials accountable for their records?

And isn’t it almost always the case that papers get more letters to the editor submitted on a topic than they can run? To make a blanket policy of not publishing any letters related to an election is really pretty amazing and short-sighted to me.

Coverage of local issues – and what readers think about them – is one of the most important services a newspaper can provide.

It’s no secret that Internet news sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, online chats, etc., have had an adverse effect on newspapers across the country. When a paper declines to provide a forum to exchange ideas and information for something as important as an election, people turn to social media and other venues to get the word out or get answers to their questions.

Which, over time, can make newspapers less relevant and perpetuate the cycle of declining readership.

So here’s my idea for providing a place for voters to get information about candidates prior to elections, ask questions and discuss important issues, without taking up valuable editorial space and without the editorial staff having to worry about treating candidates equally:

Create a special online site several months prior to an election, perhaps on the paper’s website itself, where people can submit letters and generate discussion.

For elections in which there are hundreds of candidates for office across multiple counties, the paper could have a separate page for each country, and people could post questions to the appropriate candidates, giving the candidates an opportunity to respond.

That would generate some genuine interaction and give equal opportunity to all concerned.

I suspect a lot of people would utilize a site like that to get the scoop because most information comes from standard candidate profiles in local papers, direct mail and radio ads from the candidates themselves, or from talking with friends.

It’s really challenging to uncover much of substance, and most people don’t have the time to do a lot of research on their own.

The papers could promote these sites through their print editions – as an extension of the papers themselves – and they might even be able to sell banner ads on them.

From a marketing standpoint, with a site like that a local paper would be utilizing new media in an innovative way that adds value to its readers’ experience and helps it stay relevant in a highly competitive world where there is an increasing number of news and information alternatives for consumers.

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10 New Business PR Questions that Make Agencies Pause

Last week I passed the 12-year mark with my public relations consulting business. During that period, I’ve been blessed to work with some outstanding clients – more than 70 of them in a wide variety of industries.

Before going out on my own in 2002, I spent a decade with advertising and PR agencies in Chicago and Nashville, where I worked with clients from local to national levels. So, all together, it’s safe to say that I’ve served well over a hundred clients in my career.

After 22 years in the agency business, when someone approaches me to help with a company’s PR needs, I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions up front to make sure I understand what the prospect really is after, whether he/she has realistic expectations, and how success with be determined and measured.

I’ve also identified a number of red-flag questions. Some of those questions (or statements) are covered in this PR Daily article “8 things you should never say to PR agency pros”  by Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications.

My two favorites from her list are:

  • How much for a press release?
  • We’re looking at 30 agencies and hope you’ll want to participate.

I decided to create my own list of questions I’ve heard from prospective clients over the course of my agency career that caused me (and sometimes my colleagues) to pause. They weren’t always in these exact words, but here’s the gist of what they were asking:

  1. We don’t have much of a budget – can you help us anyway?
  2. What will it cost us to work with you?
  3. How much publicity can you get us?
  4. How long will it take to get results?
  5. What would it take to get us on (name a national media outlet)?
  6. If we have x dollars to spend on advertising or PR, how much should we spend on PR?
  7. Can you guarantee us we’ll get a certain number of media hits?
  8. Are your fees negotiable?
  9. Can we try you out for 30 days and see how it goes?
  10. Are you willing to tie your compensation to your results?

The short answer to most of these questions is “it depends.” For me, a couple of them are “no” responses, though that can vary from agency to agency.

But the real point is that the questions themselves may indicate a misunderstanding of how public relations works and the costs associated with it.

The most efficient way for a client to work with an agency is to first have clearly thought through what it is they want PR to accomplish for them and how it will integrate strategically into other marketing efforts.

Having a budget established upfront helps a PR professional determine how to get maximum value for the client instead of wasting time trying to guess what that client is willing or able to pay.

And while professional skills and competence are vital, I’m convinced that trust is at the core of any successful client-agency relationship, and that character is every bit as important as sound strategy, outstanding service and dynamic creative.

One of my former agency colleagues used to say it boils down to this when a potential client selects an outside person to help accomplish something: Do I like this person, do I trust this person and can this person get the job done?

Those are three great questions and if you can answer “yes” to all three of them, you’ve likely found a good match.