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 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.

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Ad Agencies: Here’s a Tool to Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Writing headlines has always been a bit of an art form. Putting together copy for an article, blog post or news release can actually be easier than identifying a handful of pithy words that resonate well enough with readers to draw them into the copy itself.

Newspaper editors have an even more challenging job, because not only must the headline reflect the gist of the story, but it has to fit within certain space parameters. And, because the person who writes the headline is not the same person who authored the story, the headline writer has the daunting task of moving quickly from one article to another, seeking to find appropriate words that not only grab attention, but also making them fit.

I never really appreciated the talent it takes to write good headlines until I took an editing class in graduate school.

Part of the course involved doing the design and layout of a mock newspaper. Just when I thought I had the perfect headline for a story, it would end up being a tad long and I’d have to start over again. Of course in addition to having the right length, I had to make sure that the revised headline accurately reflected the article’s content.

When it comes to writing headlines for publicity, you don’t have to be concerned about them fitting in a particular space – that’s up to the newspaper or magazine editor.

The challenge for agencies is writing a headline that draws enough attention and interest to get the reader into the text itself.

I frequently use a headline as my subject line when e-mailing a news release, so it has to be compelling or the e-mail will get trashed without ever being opened.

Now, there’s a free tool that helps you gauge how well your proposed headline connects emotionally with readers. It’s called the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer, and when you plug in your headline you’ll get a score ranking from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the better your headline.

The headline analyzer will also tell you which emotion – intellectual, empathetic or spiritual – is most impacted in a reader’s mind. The site’s Q&A section explains how this works. (Hint: It’s based on scholarly research.)

Check it out and see how long it takes you to write a headline that attains “most gifted copywriters,” status with an Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score of 50%-75%.

(I landed a score of 38.46% with the headline for this post, putting it in the range of “most professional copywriters.” As I said, headline writing is not an easy art form to master.)

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Are Your News Releases Helping or Hurting Your Ad Agency PR Efforts?

How Social Are Your Press Releases Image medium_6330943490

In the past few weeks I’ve read warnings from a number of credible sources about the danger of linking key words in anchor text in news releases. Google’s new linking rules consider such releases, when distributed on other sites, as creating “unnatural” links.

These unnatural links are a big no-no from Google’s perspective, and they can be costly to ad agency PR efforts.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about how Google can make life miserable for a company’s search engine optimization initiatives if it runs afoul of Google’s standards, whether intentionally or inadvertently. One of my clients, a technology company, is 100% Internet-marketing based and the majority of its traffic comes from Google searches, so there’s really little choice but to play ball with Google or risk facing unpleasant SEO consequences.

The problem comes in when Google changes rules suddenly, giving the term “Google Alert” new meaning to organizations that live or die based on SEO rankings.

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been the subject of much conversation and angsts because of the way some companies that previously ranked high for certain key words no longer do so, while others that lagged behind now find themselves on top. There are many factors that go into rankings, and under Google’s new linking rules it appears that even news releases can harm a company if they aren’t done in a way that Google likes.

Frank Strong, director of PR for Vocus, which owns PRWeb, advises on his personal blog not to link key words in anchor text. Product anchor text is probably okay, he says, if you are linking a specific product or brand name to pages deep on a site.

As anyone who uses PRWeb regularly knows, releases must use links sparingly – on average one link for every hundred words.

SEO expert Jill Whalen writes in her July 25 High Rankings Advisor newsletter, “[C]ounter-intuitive to what we as SEOs have been saying for years . . . you may want to completely forget about using keywords in anchor text. My hope is that Google finally understands that real natural links rarely have keywords in them, and that they’ve adjusted their algorithm accordingly.”

Of course, no one really knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works (except the people who work there), and it seems as though it’s constantly changing. So what’s a PR person to do?

The universal advice I’ve come across is to focus on good quality content. This is what Google keeps pushing, and right now it seems to be the best path for SEO success. Until someone convinces me otherwise, I’m going to continue striving to provide excellent content and, for now at least, avoid using keywords in news release anchor text.

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Ad Agency PR Best Practice: Put the Story on the Top

Newspaper Bundle – Story on Top Image medium_2259557436

One of my former agency colleagues, a veteran newspaper reporter, used to have a sign on his desk that said, “Put the Story on the Top.”

In other words, when writing a “hard new” story, state the facts up front and get to the main point right away.

Great advice, and something we all need to keep in mind as we write our news releases. Sure, it can be tempting to write two or three paragraphs of introduction before getting to the main topic, but it’s not the way to write a professional news story.

For one thing, it’s easier for people to remember the gist of the story if you first summarize it and then add details. If they only read the first paragraph, would they know the basic essentials? If not, you need to take a look at revising your release.

Another reason is that many people in fact don’t read much more than the first paragraph or two, so you want to make sure those folks read the most important thing you have to tell them in the first paragraph, followed by the next most important information in the second paragraph, the third most important in the third paragraph, and so forth.

That approach is known in journalism as the inverted pyramid style, and it’s what good reporters and PR pros do when writing a news article. They give you the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of a story at the very top. No fluff, puffery or promotional flair – just the facts, please. Otherwise, you’ll immediately lose credibility with the reporters and editors you’re trying to reach.

Feature stories are different, because they tend to focus on matters that are interesting and entertaining, but not the most pressing issues of the day. Examples include trends, human interest and unusual, off-beat topics. They, too, will contain some basic facts, but those facts are woven into the story. Features are generally more creative and less formal. The lead in a feature is designed to lure readers in, with the writer crafting a compelling narrative that keeps their attention to the very end.

Hard news and feature stories both have a place in telling your agency’s story. Knowing the difference between the two, and how to use each appropriately, is one of the keys to successful ad agency PR.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

Know Which Words to Use and Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success

Think

Mark Twain once remarked that “the difference between the right word and the almost right world is the difference between lightening and the lighting bug.”

No where is that more true than in the world of journalism, which has its own particular style of language usage.

Recently I came across an article titled “20 words and phrases that will doom your pitch.” I sure didn’t want that to happen, so I read through the list to identify these “cursed words,” as the article described them.

You can read the list of words the article warns will sabotage your pitches and news release here. If you get as far as the comments section at the end, you’ll see additional words submitted by readers as candidates to add to the banned list.

“The reporters not only ignore these, they hold them up as points of mockery,” said.
Michael Smart, principal for MichaelSMARTPR. He and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue drew up the list of words and phrases that they say undermine a writer’s creditability.

The real problem with these 20 words is that they are more suitable for advertising copy than a news release or pitch letter.

Why is this a big deal?

Because there’s a big difference between the words and phrases used in advertising and journalism. Ad agencies that don’t understand this difference will have a hard time being successful with their publicity efforts or even being taken seriously.

Reporters are very sensitive to attempts to disguise advertising as news or use promotional language to hype a product, service, cause or company. They can sniff these out from a considerable distance, and it’s the quickly way to have your content tossed in the trash or deleted.

To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your pitch as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news, trend or human interest aspect. Or, if you want to be considered as a source, focus on your expertise to comment on a particular topic and provide insights.

Being familiar with The Associated Press Stylebook will help you use appropriate journalism language and avoid faux pas. Think of it as a pocket language guide you’d want to take with when traveling to another country so that you can converse with locals.

The best way to maximize your chance of landing news media coverage is to write and think like a reporter – and, of course, have a good story to tell.

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