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.



Cleveland’s “Communicator of the Year” Learns Brutal PR Lesson

Newspaper headline with sobering job statsOn any given day I usually get a number of emails from various PR/communications news and information sources. And truthfully, more times than not, I glance at the subject lines and usually don’t take the time to read them unless something really stands out.

But yesterday, when I ran across this subject line, I had to stop and take a look for myself: “Brutal emails to employment seekers.”

What sort of person would write a brutal email to someone looking for a job, I wondered? Then I was introduced to Kelly Blazek, manager of a Cleveland-area job bank and principle of Gemba Communications, LLC. Oh, and she also was Cleveland’s “2013 IABC Communicator of the Year.”

So now I was even more intrigued – a person who is expected to have good people skills and manners, and a certain level of social media savvy, was replying to some job seekers in what can only be described as rude, demeaning, “How-dare-someone-like-you-contact-someone-like-me” language.

She actually seemed to enjoy belittling people who were seeking help, which is why I think this story resonated so strongly with people when they heard the details.

You can read some of what this little sweetheart from northeast Ohio had to say to folks seeking to network with her or be part of her job bank in this PR Daily article and in Cleveland.com, which as of a few minutes ago had 431 comments, most of which were not very favorable toward her. This afternoon, CNN picked up the story with the headline “Nasty LinkedIn rejection goes viral.” Uh oh.

Apparently Ms. Blazek hadn’t considered the possibility of some on the receiving end of her vitriolic responses taking to social media to expose her nastiness, which is pretty stunning when you think about it.

What communications professional in this day and age isn’t aware that anything one puts in writing to an individual – particularly through a platform like LinkedIn – can be made public via the Internet for the world to see?

Not surprisingly, Ms. Blazek is getting raked over the coals in Cleveland and throughout the PR community.

She apologized for her rudeness – which is all well and good – but really, what else could she do when this blew up in her face? Is she truly sorry for her behavior or just sorry that she got caught? Only she knows, but I found this comment on the Cleveland.com site revealing, if true:

“I know Kelly quite well, and she’s only kind and gracious when it benefits her. To those she deems beneath her, well, she can be quite sadistic. This is Long Time Coming and Just Desserts in my opinion.”

So what lessons can be learned from all this?

For one thing, character really does count and how we relate to others really does matter, regardless of their “level” or what they can “do” for us.  The Gold Rule – treating others as you would like to be treated – is the best policy for personal and professional success.

A second lesson is that apologizing isn’t always some magic bullet to make things better. For sure, this whole sorry matter would have been worse had she not apologized, but the fact that Ms. Blazek went to some lengths to write these demeaning replies to multiple people tells me she enjoyed all this, which really says something about this lady’s psyche. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do business with her.

But even giving Ms. Blazek the benefit of the doubt that her apology was sincere, what’s most troubling to me is the glee she seemed to take in kicking people who may already be down emotionally.

At one time or another most people have had to look for a job, and it can tough – especially in today’s market. They face a lot rejection. So the last thing someone needs when trying to network with someone running a job bank is to get a demeaning “you’re a worm” response from a person who should be supportive and encouraging of others.

To this day I remember very clearly people who, early in my career, took time to speak with me and helped me network when I was job hunting. And I remember some who wouldn’t give me the time of day, but thankfully I never got the sort of awful treatment this lady dished out.

If people are such a pain to her, she really ought to get out of the communications business.

Third, even if someone you don’t know requests help or an endorsement, be polite in declining the request. Sure there are job hunters who are presumptuous, annoying or clueless, but you never know what a person has been through on a particular day. Some of them might be desperate, and the way you respond to them might make or break them. I’ve been fortunate to have some good mentors, and one thing they taught me was to show dignity and respect to all people.

Fourth, this incident clearly demonstrates how quickly a crisis can develop and then spiral out of control. Once one of her responses went public and was discussed on a local radio show, others who had received similar correspondence began to surface. And I wouldn’t be surprised if more followed.

Will Ms. Blazek be able to recover and resume her communications and job-bank businesses? Time will tell but if I were her, I’d hang on to those job-bank contacts because she may be needing them soon.

photo credit: Sadie Hernandez via photopin cc

Here’s How to Generate Publicity that Grows Exponentially

Bundle of newspapers

Last week I was once again reminded of the old PR maxim that publicity begets publicity. For one of my clients, a well-timed news release on a topic that coincided with a high-profile national issue transformed the initial release into a news generator that came in exponential waves. And the hits and interview requests just keep coming.

One of the things that can really jump-start publicity efforts is to have a national media outlet do an original story based on the release.  That happened in this case, which expanded the publicity much further than would otherwise have been the case. And now, as word continues to spread among the news media and via social media, new opportunities to keep the story going continue to surface.

Sounds easy enough, but making this “magic” happen is much more difficult than it may appear to someone who’s never tried pitching a story idea or circulating a news release to reporters who are swamped with competing requests and breaking news items.

So, how do you know if your story idea will generate publicity or end up in a black hole that never sees the light of day?

One of the most important ways you can improve the odds of generating publicity is to understand the criteria news media use to determine the value of news.

Here are the ones I believe are most important:

  • Consequence to readers/viewers
  • Prominence of the individual/organization
  • Proximity to the area served (if a local or regional news outlet)
  • Conflict
  • Controversy
  • Timeliness
  • Human interest
  • Consumer trends
  • Novelty or unusualness of the story

In my experience, you need to have at least one of these criteria to be modestly successful with your publicity efforts, and in most cases at least two if you are to have any chance of the publicity going “viral.”

The more of these elements you can add to the mix, the higher your probability of getting good hits. Influencers can also greatly help with your publicity efforts as they pass along the story – and their thoughts about it – to others via social media and/or personal contacts with reporters.

Generating publicity isn’t rocket science, but you need the right mix of rocket fuel for a successful launch.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

A “Back-Door” Strategy for Getting Ongoing Publicity

Variety of Magazines

There used to be a famous print ad featuring a skeptical-looking businessman saying something along the lines of, “I’ve never heard of you, your company or your product. Now what is it you want to sell me?”

If being known was considered an important part of the pre-sales process a couple decades ago – before the world was saturated with social media and a host of online venues to critique products and services – imagine how much more important awareness and a positive image are for a company today.

People make purchasing decisions every day based on a company’s reputation. While recommendations from friends and online reviews are important, news media coverage is near the top of the influencer scale because of its perceived credibility.

Even companies with well-established brands and a sophisticated social media presence use publicity to nurture their reputations and maintain awareness.

As I wrote in a previous post, assigning a financial value to publicity can be challenging, but there’s no question that consistent publicity pays off. Image-conscience companies understand its strategic worth, as well as how positive publicity can help them gain a competitive edge over competitors by positioning them as experts and creating top-of-mind awareness among important audiences.

The flip side is that publicity is often not easy to get – unless there’s a crisis, scandal or something new and innovation. However, there is a “back-door” way to get ongoing coverage, if you’re willing to be part of a broader, multi-source story rather than the single focus of one.

Becoming a reliable source for reporters covering your industry – a source that is knowledgeable, articulate, easy to work with and responsive to requests for comments and expert insight – will raise the profile of your ad agency or organization in a way that can’t be beat by any other medium.

photo credit: hectorir via photopin cc

Consistent PR Is Vital to New Business Success

While public relations provides credibility that no other marketing tool can replicate, the lack of a consistent PR effort can cause top-of-mind awareness to diminish over time.

For advertising to be effective in building a brand, it needs to have a certain level of frequency to keep the brand in the forefront of customers’ and prospects’ minds. The same principle applies when utilizing publicity and other PR disciplines to help build a brand and attract new business.

A start-and-stop PR effort is a little bit like start-and-stop exercise – it’s better than none at all, but not nearly as effective as a consistent effort.  Just as running an ad once every six months won’t provide enough ongoing exposure to be very effective, the same is true with having an occasional story in the news media or a blog with excellent content that’s infrequently updated. Effective adverting and PR both require frequency to reinforce messages in the minds of your target audiences.

A consistent PR program can help ad agencies and organizations not only get more exposure with important audiences, but also compliment new business efforts. Marketing strategies increasingly are geared toward making companies “discoverable,” and PR can play a key role in this process through publicity, content marketing, social media and special events.

Finding ways to keep your company, product or service consistently generating buzz through PR will help you drive sales, get discovered by prospects and strengthen relationships with existing customers.

14 Ways to Generate Great Content in 2014

New Years Fireworks

It seems as though every week or so I run across an article, post or e-mail trumpeting the benefits of great content. But creating content that stands out from the pack isn’t easy to do, and sometimes even trying to define what constitutes excellent content can be a challenge.

For some time now Google has been the big dog on the Internet when it comes to deciding whose content is noteworthy. The right keywords are important to help your content get found, but increasingly Google is looking to social signals from consumers – in the form of shares and links, as well as traffic to the site – to identify stellar content.

So, what sort of content do people like so much that they want to share it? There probably are a number of opinions about that subject. Here’s mine.

First and foremost, great content is enjoyable to read. It’s well written, relevant, timely and to the point, without a lot of extraneous fluff and stuff. It’s not a disguised sales pitch, a headline that promises one thing but delivers another, or a recycled version of conventional wisdom that really doesn’t offer anything new.

Below are my suggestions for 14 ways to generate great content in 2014.

Of course, you won’t use all of these suggestions with each piece you write, but keeping them in mind will help you develop copy that is fresh, lively and on target for your audience:

  1. Offer new insights
  2. Provide new information
  3. Be practical and relevant
  4. Converse in an easy-to-understand manner
  5. Offer guidance for solving a problem
  6. Tackle a tough or controversial subject
  7. Offer thoughtful analysis
  8. Discuss a trend and its implications
  9. Make a prediction
  10. Take a counter viewpoint – or at least a different slant – to conventional wisdom on a particular topic
  11. Offer tips and advice that are actionable
  12. Answer questions
  13. Tell a story
  14. Make an emotional connect

photo credit: Daniel E Lee via photopin <a

Seeking to Duck Controversy, A&E Becomes Duck Soup

I support Phil Robertson and his right to express his faith and his beliefs.As I wrote in a Tennessean op-ed column several years ago, whether you believe the Bible teaches that the practice of homosexuality is wrong or that condemning it is the greater offense, you have to admire the masterful public relations machine employed by the gay-rights community.

With great patience and PR skill, GBLT advocates have made incremental gains over the years by consistently advancing their cause as alternative lifestyles. As with any PR initiative that aims to change public opinion, they recognized early on the importance of winning over opinion leaders in Hollywood, the news media, government and education, and they proceeded to do so with great success.

In textbook style, gay-rights advocates have consistently positioned themselves as loving victims and repositioned those who disagree with them as hateful, ignorant bigots, similar to the way Scope so effectively cast Listerine as “medicine breath.”

Every once in a while, though, the T&T (Talk & Thought) Police go too far and there’s a backlash. Such was the case with last year’s Chick-fil-A controversy, which I wrote about from a PR perspective in a Baptist Press article.

Now another backlash is brewing, this one over remarks made by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. What did Robertson say that got folks so riled? He had the audacity to warn people not to be deceived about what the Bible calls sin, citing I Corinthians 6:9-10. Talk publicly about the Bible and sin, and feathers will fly every time.

Robertson, like many millions of Christians (including me), refuses to conform his religious convictions to accommodate those who seek to legitimize a lifestyle he believes the Bible teaches is wrong. Speak truth and presto, we have instant “hate speech.”

Referencing the controversy, CNN’s Piers Morgan tweeted, “Just as the 2nd Amendment shouldn’t protect assault rifle devotees, so the 1st Amendment shouldn’t protect vile bigots.”

Morgan apparently believes that free speech should apply only to those who agree with him, and that he should be among the ones judging what is appropriate to say. Anyone who disagrees is, well, a vile bigot. Robertson was a bit crude in some of his language, but he’s not vile or a bigot.

If you want to see real bigotry and hate, read some of the things that have been said and written about Sarah Palin.

Agree or disagree with him, at least Robertson has a standard – the Bible. What standard would Morgan use to determine right and wrong? His own wisdom and insight? God help us . . .

As a society, we moved from adherence to traditional Judeo-Christian values to an obsession with tolerance and political correctness. Now we’re seeing a rising movement away from tolerance to suppression of speech and ideas that are unpopular with a large segment of liberal influencers.

People of faith have rights, too, and many are fed up with the clear teachings of the Bible being labeled as hate speech by individuals who either refuse to engage in conversation or lack the capacity to substantively discuss such issues, preferring instead to simply shut down expressions of alternative points of view.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is already feeling the heat in what is being called the biggest backlash in years.

The biggest loser, though, will be A&E. The network’s knee-jerk response to suspend Robertson lit a fire under his fans and scores of others who believe in free speech.

A&E could have simply issued a statement saying that Robertson’s views are his own, and that they do not reflect the views of the network. That’s PR 101, and it would have put an end to this thing pretty quickly.

My friend and PR colleague Chris Turner has written a post on his blog about the controversy titled, “Three interview tips you can learn from Phil Robertson.” I intentionally waited to read it until I finished writing this post so that it didn’t influence my thinking. Chris makes some great points about working with places like GQ. I previously wrote a similar post about ways to counter media bias, including my advice to avoid media outlets you know aren’t going to give you a fair shake.

In Robertson’s case, though, I’m not so sure he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Look at how much conversation there has been about sin, morality and the Bible the last few days – which as a Christian is conversation he welcomes.