Keeping Your Agency in the News: The Drip, Drip, Drip Approach

My first job in public relations was with an international nonprofit organization. I was blessed to have a terrific mentor, a former newspaper editor who took me under his wing and really helped me understand the news business. He taught me how to think and write like a reporter, and how work with them successfully on stories about our organization.

We had a small staff and typically were overwhelmed with requests and things to do. All too often, we were putting out fires. We did very little proactive media work to generate publicity, except for some of the large events we held.

At the time, my idea of media relations was when the phone rang we answered it, and if it was a reporter calling we did our best to be helpful.

When I went to work for a large PR firm years later, I was immediately introduced to the concept of generating publicity for our clients by coming up with ideas and angles for what would hopefully be positive coverage.

And, by the way, the clients expected ongoing coverage, so we had to be persistent and sometimes creative in coming up with story ideas and new angles.

Consistency is an important part of an effective PR program, and finding ways to keep your agency front and center is vital to a program’s overall success.

  • Think of it as the drip, drip, drip approach to keeping you in the news.

News

One of the most galling things for agency principals is to watch from the sidelines as competitors are quoted and featured in the news media. Even worse, agencies that were not part of the story may actually have more experience and expertise than the agency that received the coverage. Of course, the impression people get is that the folks quoted are the cream of the crop in their profession, which may or may not be true.

It’s no accident that some agencies get more ink and air time than others. It’s because they have an intentional, ongoing, strategic effort to get their names in the marketplace, and they have made PR a priority.

With that in mind, here are some publicity topics to help keep your agency in the news:

  • Commentary about marketing trends/current issues
  • Sponsorships
  • Community involvement
  • Events
  • New clients, employees, awards, publications
  • New services, office expansion, etc.
  • Mentoring programs
  • Pro bono work
  • Guest columns in the local paper or business journal
  • Articles in relevant industry publications
  • Human interest stories about employees (unusual hobbies, their community involvement, humanitarian work, etc.)

The effort is worth it. A consistent PR program can help agencies not only get more exposure to important audiences and build their brands, but also compliment their new business efforts.

photo credit: wuestenigel News via photopin (license)

Content Marketing: A Strategic Way to Build Your Brand and Convert Prospects into Customers

Aerial view a woman using a retro typewriter

Content marketing—the creation and sharing of information so that it attracts and retains customers—is a powerful branding tool. The emphasis is on using high quality, engaging content to market a brand, acquire customers and develop their trust rather than using aggressive sales and advertising tactics that can annoy or disrupt them.

Content marketing takes many forms—including blogs, websites, case studies, white papers, videos, infographics, etc., —but regardless of the form, the material must be compelling, relevant and useful to be effective.

As more and more companies engage in content marketing, the challenges to being heard above the noise are increasing as well.

One of the best ways I’ve found to produce high-quality, engaging content that resonates with targeted segments is through storytelling. You may forget facts and statistics, but a good story stays with you.

The reason storytelling is so powerful is because it enables us to communicate with specific audiences in a way that piques their interest and connects emotionally with them.

According to Statista, a statistics portal, nearly three-quarters of social media users have followed brands on social media because they are interested in their products/service. More than half (51.3%) do so because they’re entertaining. No wonder so many marketers turn to storytelling to inform and entertain users, while also differentiating their companies from the rest of the pack.

By telling (as opposed to selling), writers can craft stories that resonate with customers and prospects without coming across as disguised advertisements or pushy sales tactics.

Whether or not storytelling is part of your content toolbox, an effective content strategy really comes down to focusing on a well-defined target market; having interesting, useful things to say to them; and providing regularly updated content that is meaningful and substantive.

Of course, you also want to make it easy for them to communicate with you and have a system in place to monitor results.

If done properly and consistently, your content strategy will gain your agency a loyal following, enhance its brand and provide new business opportunities that might otherwise be missed.

photo credit: Rawpixel Ltd Aerial view a woman using a retro typewriter via photopin (license)

How to Maximize Your Agency’s Opportunities for Publicity

photo credit Richard Masoner Cyclelicious via photopinccHaving worked with reporters and editors throughout the world during the course of my career—as well as being on the other side of journalism as a correspondent and editor—I’ve made and received my share of media pitches.

I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and what downright annoys reporters no matter where on the globe they reside. I’ve also experienced first-hand how publicity can help small- and mid-sized agencies and other businesses—even one-person operations—level the playing field with larger competitors.

The beauty of publicity is that it not only generates awareness and extends your agency’s reach at no cost, but it also gives you something no other marketing tool can replicate: credibility.

That’s because publicity allows a secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you most want to hear it.

However, before contacting a reporter with a story idea, it’s important to understand how the news media operate and what they want.

Here are eight publicity tips to consider before making a call or hitting the “send” button with your story idea:

#1: Define your media focus.

Limit your pitches to only those outlets that directly serve your target audience. The more you can demonstrate you understand the reporter’s audience and the better you can explain why your story idea would appeal to them, the greater your chances are of being considered. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the obviously inappropriate pitches PR people sent my way. It was pretty easy to tell who had taken time to read our magazine and understand our audience and the types of stories we covered, and who had taken a shotgun approach in hopes of hitting something somewhere.

#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper or The Wall Street Journal, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. For example, don’t pitch a manufacturing story to a business reporter who covers healthcare or retail. It’s surprising how often this happens because people don’t take the time to do their homework.

#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.

Now that you’ve found the right person to contact, learn all you can about what that reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Media directories are very helpful resources for getting such information, as is the Internet. In addition to having reporters’ names and contact information, the more detailed directories have helpful contact notes such as:

  • Works from home, but prefers all materials be sent to the paper.
  • Prefers to be contacted by e-mail and hates follow up calls.
  • She is interested in the ideas behind technology, not the products.

#4: Know what makes a good news story.

Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why. Your pitch has to pass the “so-what” factor, as well as be timely and relevant to their audience. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask: “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.

 #5: Respect their deadlines.

When contacting a reporter by phone, I suggest first asking if this is a good time to talk briefly. If not, ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Be prepared to be asked to send your idea in an email, though some reporters will give you a minute or two to hear your pitch if they’re not on deadline.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that timeframe; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.

#6: Think, write and speak like a reporter.

When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you not only think like a reporter, but that you write and speak like one as well. For example, don’t advertise or editorialize your story idea (reporters are very sensitive to disguised advertising). Whether you write your pitch or give it verbally, be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.

#7: Make their jobs easier.

The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audience, area of coverage and deadlines, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and will be more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Customize your pitch to fit their audience.

When I first started my agency, I had a female client who was launching a residential steel framing business, which was a new concept for our area. While the basic story was the same—the benefits of steel framing for residential homes—I segmented my pitches:

  • To our local business journal, I emphasized the entrepreneurial side of her business.
  • To our local daily paper, I got a front-page feature story that was part of a broader article about alternative materials in housing.
  • To women’s publications, I focused on a female entering the construction business, which traditionally has been dominated by men.
  • To her hometown paper (which ran a front-page story), I pitched a “local lady” angle and tied it to an award she had recently won.

One final thought: Consider giving the place you’d most like to receive coverage the first shot at a story whenever possible. Reporters like to be the first break a story, and not just report the same news that others have. This is a very competitive business and like any other profession, reporters enjoy getting recognition and praise for their stories, especially when they are the first to report them.

 photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopincc

Why off-the-Record Conversations Should be off Limits for Agencies

One of the things I stress when doing media training is the importance of not speaking off the record in interviews.

There may be exceptions–such as if you really know and trust the reporter–but generally it’s not a good idea to tell a news media person anything about your agency or clients that you wouldn’t want repeated on radio or TV, in a publication or on the Internet.

Some news media outlets have policies forbidding off-the-record conversations. That’s a good, ethical policy, but unfortunately not all adhere to it.

There are lots of examples of why talking off the record is so risky, but I’ve yet to find one that drives home the point better than this headline titled “India’s nuclear identify unclear.”

Check out the subhead: “‘Off the record, we are totally unprepared’ says one of its top military strategists.”

Off the Record Newspaper Comment

Wow. This subhead makes a pretty clear statement beyond the quote: Don’t trust us because we won’t keep an off-the-record remark confidential. Need I say more?

The best practice is to assume everything an agency spokesperson says in an interview is on the record and may be used.

Understanding the different levels of speaking with reporters is important for PR success in agencies as well as other organizations. A number of years ago, a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper described these levels in a column. They provide helpful guidance to anyone preparing for a media interview:

Off the record:  “To have an off-the-record conversation means that the information will not be used in any way in a story.  Many editors, including mine, don’t allow reporters to have off-the-record conversations.”

On background:  “To have an on-background conversation means that the information may be used in a story, but the person who is talking will not be named in connection with the information that is ‘on background.’”

On the record:  “This is the standard conversation with reporters.  However, reporters should identify themselves as working on an article before beginning an interview…once a statement has been made on the record, it cannot be taken off-record.”

Is Truth Still the Most Important Factor in a News Story?

A number of years ago, the senior editor for our local newspaper authored a column about the paper’s policy for using anonymous sources and its commitment to accurate reporting.

“The most important factor for us in using an anonymous source is that the information given us by the source is true,” she wrote.

“It’s too easy for people to hide behind anonymity, planting information with no accountability. And when you’re not accountable, isn’t it easier to stretch the truth?”

She wrote this column in 2009. A decade later, we’ve witnessed an amazing decline among numerous news media outlets when it comes to accurate reporting and vetting sources. All too many of them are just fine with stretching the truth—or outright misrepresenting it—to advance their agendas.

The latest example is BuzzFeed News’ reporting that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors that the president directed Mr. Cohen to lie about a potential Trump Tower deal with Russia.

jon-tyson-628533-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller disputed the lie allegation, hurling BuzzFeed’s “Russian bombshell” report into a fiery grave.

As reported by Reuters: “‘BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,’ Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, said in the special counsel’s first comment on a media report since its probe started 20 months ago.”

The Daily Caller noted “CNN and MSNBC collectively used the word ‘impeach’ nearly 200 times on Friday” before the special counsel’s office discredited the BuzzFeed story.

The damage such irresponsible and speculative reporting does to the media’s credibility can hardly be overstated. While there still are a lot of honest, reputable journalists around who care about truth and fairness, the trend is not encouraging.

Sloppy reporting, lack of accountability and the pressure to be first to break a story are all contributing factors in the decline of journalism and its eroding trust among Americans. But surpassing all these is the willingness among an increasing number of reporters and editors to run with stories that have no basis in reality, and to not really be concerned about it because it appears that in their minds the ends justify the means.

Avoid These News Release Mistakes for Agency PR Success

Avoid These News Rel Mistakes 17353990342_d6ee53041e (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A common complaint among journalists is the lack of relevance of the materials they receive from corporate communications and PR professionals.

Much of this information, they lament, is written like advertising, not journalism.

As a former reporter and editor, I can attest that is a sure-fired way to have your news release discarded.

Here are 6 key mistakes to avoid when writing a news release:

  1. Crafting a “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 issuing a release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter.
  2. Using puffery, vague generalities and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services—followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.
  3.  Being verbose. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.
  4.  Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.
  5.  Presenting statements 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 like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your 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.

photo credit: symphony of love Master Cheng Yen Do not fear making mistakes in life, fear only not correcting them via photopin (license)

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.

 photo credit: cogdogblog The “Networked” Shelf via photopin (license)