A New Calling Card for Agency New Business

At one time or another, many agency principals have probably toyed with the idea of writing a book. And with good reason: They have plenty of relevant insights worth sharing.

Niche books can be a valuable new calling card for new business and help your agency stand out from competitors. That’s because writing a specialty book:

  • Increases your agency’s visibility
  • Helps market your agency to key audiences within a particular niche
  • Positions your agency’s leadership as subject matter experts
  • Reaches decision makers your agency might not otherwise be able to access
  • Gives your agency material to repurpose in blog posts, newsletters, articles, etc.
  • Provides an impressive way to conclude a new business presentation: handing prospects a signed copy of the book

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Agency experts typically have busy schedules, and the thought of taking time to write a book can be a bit overwhelming. Plus, some people have a great deal of knowledge about a particular topic but dislike writing.

The good news is that your agency likely already has material on your blog, executive speeches, presentations, case studies, etc., that could jump start the book’s content. In addition, a talented ghostwriter can take a lot of the burden off an executive, while also bringing new thinking and perspective to the book.

The writer should learn as much as possible about how the executive thinks and speaks, and try to capture his or her personality. It’s vital that they work well together and have good chemistry. In some cases it may be preferable to have multiple authors from the agency each write a chapter to showcase the depth of your agency’s expertise.

A niche book truly can be a competitive advantage, and it may well be the best new business investment your agency makes in 2019.

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The Best Tool for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Agency’s Communications

A communications audit helps identify strengths and weaknesses in an agency’s communications, as well as perceptions that exist and barriers which prevent or inhibit effective communication. An audit also flags areas that may require more in-depth, quantitative research.

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What is a communications audit?

A communications audit is a management tool that helps agencies and their clients determine how effectively they are communicating with various audiences. It involves the collection and analysis of information about perceptions clients and influencers have about the agency. In essence, a communications audit is a snapshot of an organization at a given time. An audit may be broad or narrow, focusing on a particular audience or a variety of audiences. Likewise, the audit may address a single issue or a wide range of issues affecting an agency. The bottom-line goal for any audit, however, should be to improve the effectiveness of an organization’s communication with important audiences.

Why should an organization have one?

A communications audit can help agencies and/or their clients understand how well their messages are being received and accepted by audiences. While people may think that others understand and accept their messages, the fact of the matter is that we are often unaware of how the messages we send are received or understood. Equally important as sending a message is listening for feedback. A communications audit also can help identify barriers to effective communication and provide practical solutions.

How is a communications audit conducted?

The best way to conduct a communications audit is through an independent, third-part individual who thoroughly understands the communication process. Audits typically include a review of formal and informal communication processes; one-on-one interviews with community and industry leaders, influencers, customers and members of the organization; focus groups; and sometimes surveys.

What are the expected results?

An audit gives organizations an opportunity to find out what they are doing well in their communications and where they need to improve. The audit also may uncover important issues or perceptions that need to be addressed, and in some cases it will significantly alter the way an organization operates.

It’s hard to fix something if you don’t know exactly where it’s broken. A communications audit helps identify communication gaps, barriers and pitfalls, and it ultimately provides a roadmap to get communications back on track.

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Strategic Use of PR Is a Competitive Advantage for Agencies

Whether your agency emphasizes inbound or outbound marketing—or a combination of the two—public relations is an important tool for attracting attention, building your brand and generating new business opportunities.

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Targeted publicity enables secondary sources—the news media and bloggers—to tell your story and build your brand’s image and reputation. 

It also gives your brand something no other marketing tool can fully replicate: credibility. Although you lack control of what’s reported by the news media, that’s exactly why such coverage is so much more credible than an ad—people know the story has gone through a third-party vetting process.

While agencies provide background information, messaging and insights to help shape stories, clients and prospects tend to give more weight to a news article or a post from a credible blog than from advertising, social media or personal sales.

Agency PR also is effective in increasing awareness among decision makers who may be difficult to reach through other means, and it enhances inbound marketing initiatives because a steady stream of favorable publicity makes your agency easier to be found by prospects seeking your area of expertise.

Many people in public relations have backgrounds with print or broadcast media. Former reporters tend to be excellent story tellers, which is essential for good content marketing.

They know how to consistently provide useful, well-targeted information that is enjoyable to read, builds trust, engages customers and enhances the brand—without coming across as disguised advertisements.

If used strategically, PR will give your agency a real competitive edge—particularly in new business initiatives—because it provides an unparalleled way of gaining awareness and credibility; enables your agency to communicate effectively with clients, prospects and influencers; and assists in building your brand and reputation in the marketplace.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc

Why PR Is Best Suited to Lead Social Media Initiatives

Marketing, advertising, new business, customer service, human resources and others have important business reasons for using social media. But when it comes to mapping agency or corporate strategy, I believe that public relations is the discipline best equipped for leading the social media charge.

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Here’s why PR is naturally suited for this role:

  • PR people are storytellers who create content that is targeted, relevant and valuable
  • They are trained to converse with a variety of audiences
  • They are responsible for managing an organization’s image
  • They help an organization speak with one voice through clear and consistent communication
  • They know how to engage audiences and talk with (not at) them

The hallmark of good public relations has always been two-way communication, which is vital for social media success.

Social media allows us to start or participate in conversations with individuals we might otherwise not reach. We can communicate directly with our marketplace and answer questions, solve problems, have constructive debates and gain a better understanding of issues and concerns from the other person’s perspective.

  • But beware: a post from any department in an organization is seen as representing the entire organization.

Unfortunately, some entities operate in aimless social media silos instead of having a synergistic plan for search engine optimization, reputation management and business impact.

As a result, there is no unified message or purpose, and “Likes” and “Shares” are considered barometers of success rather than attracting and cultivating targeted leads and converting them into sales.

The real strength of social media is its interactive nature, which enables us to build relationships and enhance trust in ways that other mediums can’t match. Social media gives agencies, businesses and nonprofits unparalleled ways of communicating one-on-one with customers, donors, prospects, influencers and other interested parties.

It’s what PR professionals do every day.

photo credit: MySign AG Social Media via photopin (license)

Why the In-N-Out Boycott Came and Went

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a spectacular backfire California Democratic party chairman Eric Bauman has no doubt been pondering in recent days “what was I thinking?” in trying to stir up a boycott of the wildly popular In-N-Out Burger chain.

Just days after sending a tweet saying “it’s time to #BoycottInNOut,” Mr. Bauman abruptly reversed course and now claims “There is no boycott.”

In-N-Out’s offense? The company made donations to the California Republican Party. Gasp. For its part, In-N-Out clarified that the company made equal contributions to both Democratic and Republican PACs in California.

Having lived in Southern California for seven years, I can personally attest to the huge fan base In-N-Out has in the state. It’s a California icon, and there’s no other fast-food chain quite like it. In-N-Out was a favorite stop for my family and me (the milkshakes are fabulous), and now fans are rallying to the restaurant chain’s defense, just as fans of Chick-fil-A responded to a similar ill-conceived boycott there several years ago.
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Mike Huckabee, who came up with the record-setting Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day when the chain was targeted for a boycott, called for a “buy-cott” of In-N-Out, describing it as a “wonderful company” and asking a very reasonable question: “Why can’t a business express itself?”

I avoid doing business with organizations that I know support causes I don’t agree with, as do many people of all political and religious persuasions. But for a state party leader to call publicly for a boycott for giving contributions to the opposition party is really quite amazing, especially since In-N-Out gave money to both parties.

Boycotts can be tricky and risky. To avert a PR disaster that blows up in one’s face, it’s worth asking some important questions before encouraging people to avoid buying products or services from a company, such as:

  1. Is this an issue worthy of a boycott? A boycott can do more harm than good—especially in terms of perceptions—when it backfires like this one did. It’s hard to get people worked up over equal donations to opposing political parties.
  2. What will be the public perception of the boycott? It’s also difficult to get massive participation in a boycott that most people think is ridiculous. Generally speaking, people don’t like to see companies like In-N-Out attacked and dragged into a controversy when they’ve done nothing wrong
  3. What is the desired outcome of the boycott? Did Mr. Bauman really expect to bully In-N-Out into giving all its donations to one party? If that was the endgame, his effort was doomed from the start. Is it feasible to refer to In-N-Out as “those creeps,” as Mr. Bauman did in his tweet, and win the hearts and minds of the Californians? I don’t think so.
  4. Can the boycott be sustained long term? It usually takes a while for a boycott to affect a company’s bottom line, so there need to be sufficient resources, energy and passion to keep the boycott in front of the public. Even Californians who agree with Mr. Bauma may find those burgers, fries and shakes irresistible for more than a few weeks.
  5. If successful, what precedent will the boycott set? Do we really want to punish companies like In-N-Out for giving money to political parties? Republicans could, in turn, call for boycotts of well-known liberal companies like Starbucks because it gives money to Democrats. Where would this end? Or Republicans could call for a boycott of In-N-Out because it gives money to Democratic PACS in California. Between the two parties, successful boycotts could put the chain out of business for the absurd reason of making donations to both parties.

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A far better approach, in my opinion, is to support freedom of expression for everyone and make buying decisions based on one’s conscience and preferences rather than the recommendations of someone like Mr. Bauman, who heads a state party that routinely lectures us about the importance of tolerance and diversity. Why listen to someone who doesn’t practice what his party preaches?

10 Ways to Create Engaging Agency Content

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Creating content for your agency 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.

Google is the dominant Internet player when it comes to deciding whose content is noteworthy, and it looks to social signals—in the form of shares, likes and traffic to the site—to identify stellar material.

What sort of content do people like and tend to share?

I believe its content that is well written, enjoyable to read, relevant, timely and to the point, without a lot of extraneous fluff and stuff. Compelling visuals are very helpful as well.

Here’s what it’s not: a disguised sales pitch, a headline that promises one thing but delivers another, boring copy or a recycled version of conventional wisdom that really doesn’t offer anything new.

The following are 10 suggestions for creating engaging agency content that clients and prospects will find useful and want to share:

  1. Write with a specific audience in mind
  2. Offer new insights or information
  3. Share guidance for solving a problem
  4. Be practical and relevant
  5. Offer thoughtful analysis
  6. Discuss a trend and its implications
  7. Make a prediction
  8. Take a counter viewpoint—or at least a different slant—to conventional wisdom
  9. Offer tips and advice that are actionable
  10. Develop an emotional connection by telling a story

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Neutralize a Simmering PR Issue Before It Becomes a Crisis

It’s not unusual for an organizational crisis to grow and become consuming, especially when there’s not an effective crisis plan in place to deal with the situation. Not only can a crisis severely damage a firm’s image, but it also can impede its ability to function because so many valuable resources get diverted to deal with the problem.

In a post earlier this year, I discussed the importance of engaging a crisis in its early stages, where it usually is more manageable and less damaging. Properly managing a crisis is vital, because facts alone don’t win in the court of public opinion—perceptions do.

It’s not unusual for the negative publicity and intense scrutiny from the outside that often occurs during a crisis to be accompanied by panic as events spiral out of the organization’s control, along with growing concern about what might happen next. This can easily lead to a siege mentality and short-term focus, which only makes the situation worse.

One of the most important things a public relations advisor can do during a crisis is to help senior managers maintain a long-term perspective so that they don’t say or do things they’ll later regret.

Patience, not panic, will help an organization finish well in a crisis.

But what if you could identify and deal with a “smoldering” crisis—meaning that a potentially damaging condition is known to one or more individuals—before it ignites into a full-blown crisis situation? Actually, more times than not, it is possible to do so.

That’s because most crises start out as issues simmering on the backburner that could have been anticipated and minimized—or headed off altogether—had appropriate action been taken in the early stages.

Issues management proactively addresses a problem before it gets out of hand and wreaks havoc. Some of my best PR successes are those that never saw the light of day—they had potential to turn into a crisis but were averted by dealing with them in the smoldering stage.

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Such PR “saves” don’t show up in the “stats sheet,” but they can save a client or employer millions of dollars in bad publicity and untold damage to a brand.

Sometimes, they can open the door to new opportunities and revenue for a company.

A number of years ago one of my clients—a regional energy company in the northeast called Agway Energy Products—was facing a smoldering issue, as was its competitors. High energy prices had been one of the most significant events in the news the previous winter, with the wholesale cost of natural gas having risen more than 400% in the past year.

Through a series of carefully timed news releases and media contacts, we were able to turn the negative issue of rising energy costs into a positive story for consumers by (1) explaining why these costs were rising so dramatically and (2) providing tips on ways to save on their energy bills without making great sacrifices to their comfort.

By taking the initiative to address this issue head-on, the company gained credibility and goodwill—and, likely lots of new customers. In just eight months we generated more than 200 interviews, appearances and information sessions with print, TV and radio media.

Commenting on the PR campaign, the company’s spokesman wrote, “In almost every instance, we were able to turn any negative angle around to a positive story which would help consumers find ways to increase the efficiency of their energy equipment, reduce the amount of energy they used, and focus on how they could increase their comfort by expanding their relationship with Agway.”

If something is smoldering at your company, deal with it now. You’ll not only help keep the situation from getting worse, but you may also find there’s an opportunity to turn a potentially negative issue into something positive.

photo credit: Patricia Pierce Up In Smoke via photopin (license)