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.

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Three Mistakes Agencies Often Make with Reporters

One of the lessons I’ve learned from interacting with reporters throughout the world is that making the right pitch to the right person at the right time is vital to publicity success.

It’s also important to know how the news media operate and have a good grasp of what constitutes a newsworthy story if you want to have effective working relationships with reporters. Public relations and advertising are very different, and failing to understand these differences can be fatal to an agency’s publicity efforts.

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The following are three mistakes agencies and other organizations often make when dealing with reporters:

1. Failing to do adequate research.

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, an industry publication or The Wall Street Journal, you need to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in pursuing. Sending media materials generically to “Editor” or “Producer” isn’t good protocol and probably won’t get you very far.

Finding the right person is an important first step, but it’s equally important to research the reporter’s previous stories. Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style, and follow the reporter on social media before making contact. The more you can demonstrate that you understand a reporter’s audience and story preferences—and how he or she wants to be approached with ideas—the better your chances of success.

2. Wasting reporters’ time with irrelevant pitches.

In a major survey of journalists, nearly 60% said the relevance of the materials they receive comes up short, citing it as their top problem with PR. Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines; don’t waste their time with pitches that aren’t appropriate.

When presenting a story idea, the most important things you can tell a reporter are who will care about it and why. Get to the point right away because media people don’t have time to hunt through your pitch to get to the news. Be clear and concise, including all the necessary information but nothing more.  Here’s a simple test to determine if your pitch passes the “so-what” factor: Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask, “Would this story be interesting to my audience?”

A good story, from a reporter’s perspective, is one that:

  • Is timely
  • Fits the media outlet’s demographics and psychographics
  • Is controversial or novel, or takes a contrarian perspective to conventional wisdom
  • Has a local angle (if pitching a local reporter)
  • Ties in with a current issue or trend

3. Writing like an advertising executive instead of like a reporter.

Trying to get earned media by sending disguised advertising or editorializing your story idea is the quickest way I can think of to get your information trashed and lose credibility with the news media. In fact, in the survey of journalists cited above, their biggest concern was that the information they receive is written like advertising, not journalism.

Craft your pitch as objectively as possible emphasizing its news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights. If you’ve done your homework, you will know the reporter’s audience and area(s) of coverage so you can customize your pitch accordingly.

The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is timely, meaningful and targeted to their audiences, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide positive coverage that enhances your agency’s credibility and builds its presence in the marketplace.

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Win-Win Guest Posting for Blogs

Pitching a blogger for a guest post isn’t much different than pitching a print or broadcast reporter. Guest posting has to be win-win for everyone, so be sure to make it clear in your pitch why what you are proposing makes sense for that blog’s audience and how it will benefit them.

Just as you can build on local or trade-specific news media coverage to reach larger media outlets, doing guest posts on some lesser-known blogs may help you get coverage on an A-list blog down the road.

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Here are seven tips for presenting guest-post ideas to bloggers:

Do your homework. Research sites to find ones that are viewed by your target audience and develop a short list of places you’d like to approach. Blogger Link Up provides helpful resources, including a page that lists guest posts wanted by categories. In addition, Effectivebusinessideas.com has what it calls “The Ultimate List of Blogs that Accept Guest Posts.” These are good places to get started.

Become familiar with the blog’s style, personality and content. Just as you should read a publication or watch/listen to a program before pitching it, read several posts on the blog you are targeting and make sure what you have in mind fits into one of its categories. See if you can bring a fresh perspective to a topic or address a something that hasn’t been covered recently or at all.

Establish your credibility. When contacting a blogger, include information about yourself and your credentials to write about the topic you’re proposing. Even if you are acquainted with the blogger, it doesn’t hurt to remind him or her about why you (or your client or boss) would be an ideal person to address this topic.

Get to the point. A good media pitch letter is brief, engaging and quickly gets to the point. Use that same approach with bloggers, and don’t waste their time. The more targeted and creative your pitch, the better your chances of success.

Make the blogger’s job easy. Rather than asking the blogger about topics he or she would like you to write about, suggest a couple of good ideas that would be of interest to the blog’s audience.

Write to help the audience succeed. Once you have approval to submit a guest post, focus your writing to the specific audience you’ll be addressing. What challenges do readers face, and what advice can you give them to help them overcome these challenges? What opportunities may they be missing that haven’t been previously covered? Are there trends or new research results you can discuss?

Don’t be pushy. It’s fine to see if you can get a timeframe of when, if ever, your guest post will run, but don’t hound the blogger. If you don’t get a positive response or you don’t get a response at all after a couple of inquiries, move on—and keep in mind that you may have an even better pitch next time.

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Do You Know the Name of the Person Who Cleans Your Building?

In his second month as an MBA student, one of Mike’s professors gave a pop quiz.

Mike breezed through the questions until the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans this building?”

Surely this was some kind of joke. He’d seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, brunette and in her 50s, but how would he know her name?

He handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank.

Before class ended another student asked if the last question would count.

“Absolutely,” the professor answered. “In your lives, in your careers, you’ll meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.”

“I’ve never forgotten that lesson,” Mike wrote many years later. “I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

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With a simple test question, that professor communicated a powerful truth about recognizing the importance of every person.

The Golden Rule—treating others as you would like to be treated—is the most effective way I know to develop loyal, trustworthy team members who feel appreciated, valued and respected.

In his book EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey writes: “Too many people in business have abandoned sight of the fact that their team members are humans, they are people. Too many people in business have become so shallow that they are merely transactional, not relational.

“The people on your payroll are not units of production, they are people. They have dreams, goals, hurts, and crises. If you trample them or don’t bother to engage them relationally you will forever struggle in your operations.”

Being kind, inclusive and demonstrating genuine interest are not only right things to do, but they also make good business sense.

I have seen great marketing ideas come from people at all levels of an organization. It’s amazing what creative thinking and insights people have if we take initiative to draw them out a bit.

They’ll open up if they trust us and believe we really care about them.

But first, we need to know their names. Whose name do you need to learn today?

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What to do When a New Business Prospect Falls Asleep in Your Presentation

A common job interview question is: “What’s the most challenging workplace situation you’ve faced, and how did you handle it?”

That’s an easy one for me. I remember the situation very well and have never had anything like it happen since.

The president of the agency that brought me to Nashville and I were on a trip to South Carolina for a new business opportunity with a business-to-business manufacturing company that needed public relations assistance.

We happened to be traveling on a day when a hurricane was hitting the East Coast, and while it wasn’t threatening our area, we were getting a lot of rain and strong wind, which made for a pretty exciting ride in the small plane that was taking us from Atlanta to an airport in the Carolinas.

When we arrived at the manufacturer’s headquarters, we were ushered into a small conference room where the president and I sat across the table from the company’s CEO and a couple of other executives, one of whom was the plant manager.

After the usual exchange of pleasantries, we dimmed the lights for our power-point presentation, and the president began giving an overview of our agency’s capabilities and clients in his deep Southern drawl.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of this, he turned the presentation over to me while raising the lights, saying, “And now Don is going to tell you about some of our business-to-business clients.”

As I pivoted in my chair from facing the wall where the presentation was projected to look directly at the three men, I noticed something peculiar.

The guy across the table to my left—the plant manager—was sound asleep.

He was having a nice rest, making that sort of heavy breathing/whistling sound when he exhaled.

Although he was sitting upright in his chair, he looked very comfortable in his slightly slumped over position. In fact, I think he had entered the Rapid Eye Movement phase of his nap because he was really out.

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Well, this was awkward.

I was supposed to be making a presentation to a guy who was sound asleep.

We had flown from Nashville around the edge of a hurricane for this meeting, and now one of the three people I was presenting to was in dreamland.

I didn’t know what to do.

What I wanted to do was reach across the table and start shaking him, saying, “Wake up, you sluggard! You’re ruining my presentation and making me look bad in front of my boss!” (Who, I note in my defense, was the one that actually put the guy to sleep before I said a word.)

But of course I couldn’t do that because this was a prospective client. I had to be nice. And polite. And flexible.

The CEO, who was sitting next to him, and the other man to my right were staring at me with a frozen look of anguish.

On the positive side, I clearly had their undivided attention. But it became equally clear that they weren’t going to bail me out by waking him up.

I glanced out of the corner of my eye and caught a priceless expression on the face of our agency’s president. I was hoping for some non-verbal guidance, but he was no help at all.

His eyes were wide and he gave me a look that said, “I don’t have a clue what to do, you’re on your own.”

All four of us in the room knew that the fifth guy was out cold, but no one would acknowledge it.

So, in this surreal environment, I started talking through my portion of the presentation to the men who were still awake.

But it wasn’t quite that simple because every so often the guy who was asleep would roll his head and make sort of a snorting sound with his mouth half open.

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I was sure I was going to break out laughing at any moment and lose the business.

But through all this, nobody said a word. I somehow maintained my composure and the other two men kept their eyes riveted on me the entire time. The whole thing was a little unnerving, but I managed to get through it.

Just as I was finishing up, the sleeper awoke. He looked a little startled and tried to act nonchalant, like he’d been with us the entire time.

The men thanked us for coming, and then the well-rested plant manager gave us a tour before we packed up and headed back on our return flight.

The cherry on the sundae was after all that, we didn’t get the business; the company chose another agency out of Atlanta.

It wasn’t my best presentation, nor was it a winning presentation, but it’s the one I remember most.

photo credit: Museum of Photographic Arts Collections Nicolaas Henneman Asleep, Lacock or Reading, England via photopin (license)

photo credit: Rob Hurson via photopin (license)

 

20 Questions to Consider When Developing an Agency PR Plan

Whether your agency emphasizes inbound or outbound marketing—or a combination of the two—public relations is an important tool that can help you attract attention, showcase your expertise and generate new business opportunities.

A successful PR plan has a clear focus, target and purpose.

Without those strategic elements, PR tactics tend to lack direction and consistency, or they simply fall off an agency’s radar as the tyranny of the urgent takes over.

A written PR plan will serve as a road map to guide you in reaching your desired destination, and help you avoid unproductive detours and distractions along the way.

But before getting started on the plan, it’s important to assess your agency’s strengths and weaknesses; evaluate what your agency does best; and determine whether your greatest need is to create awareness or to change the perception of your agency.

Question markAnother strategic consideration is whether you want public relations to assist in positioning your agency team as experts in an existing niche or aid you in entering a new industry and becoming experts there.

Being vague in your positioning, and trying to be all things to all people, won’t make you stand out from your competition and likely will result in a confusing image for your agency.

The following questions will assist you in assessing your situation, determining your highest priorities/needs and fine-tuning your PR objectives:

  1. What do you want to accomplish with your PR efforts?
  2. Who are your key audiences?
  3. How would you describe your best prospects for new business?
  4. What are the best communications vehicles to reach these audiences?
  5. What are your points of differentiation and key messages?
  6. What words best describe your agency’s brand?
  7. Who are your main competitors?
  8. How are they perceived in the marketplace?
  9. Do you want to utilize PR for your agency, offer it as a service to clients, or both?
  10. What is the primary way you use or would like to use PR: agency promotion, new business development, as a service to clients or to enhance your integrated marketing communications capabilities?
  11. How would you rate your agency’s PR capabilities on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst?
  12. How would you rate your agency’s new business focus on a scale from 1-10, where 10 is perfectly targeted and 1 is we’re all over the map?
  13. How effective were your past PR efforts (assuming you had some)?
  14. What PR opportunities can you identify that have not been maximized?
  15. How should PR integrate into your new business strategy?
  16. How does social media fit with your new business strategy and PR?
  17. Where would you like to obtain publicity (i.e. target publications, bloggers, radio/TV programs)?
  18. What speaking events or media interviews would you like to be invited to as a participant?
  19. How will you define PR success?
  20. How will you measure that success?

Going through the discipline of answering these questions, and then developing a written plan based on your responses, will pay great dividends in terms of helping your agency manage its time, resources and activities in the most effective way possible. It also will enable your agency to obtain the targeted, consistent coverage necessary for long-term PR success.

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