Ad Agencies: Your Client’s Smoldering PR Issue May be an Opportunity in Disguise

One of the best ways an ad agency’s PR team can earn its keep (and impress clients) is by identifying issues that could have an adverse effect on an organization and then getting in front of them with a proactive plan of action.

These situations are sometimes referred to as a “smoldering” crisis, meaning that a potentially damaging condition is known to one or more individuals. Most crises start out as smoldering issues that could have been anticipated and minimized—or headed off altogether—had appropriate action been taken in the early stages. Smoldering Issues Mgt Blog Post 5073940305_aa2ab32fc7_n

For example, if you have alligators roaming around parts of a theme park in areas frequented by guests, as was the case with Disney, you can foresee the potential for problems and do something preventative before tragedy strikes.

“A problem ignored is a crisis invited,” as Henry Kissinger once put it.

A crisis not only can damage an organization’s image, but also impede its ability to function because so many resources get diverted to dealing with the crisis. Issues management is the best solution because it 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.

Such PR “saves” don’t show up in an agency’s “stats sheet,” but they can save a client 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.

As far as I know, none of the company’s competitors made a similar effort to address rising energy costs in the region.Michael Meath AEP Photo - Copy

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 agency or with one of your clients, deal with it now because chances are it won’t go away or improve through neglect. You’ll not only keep the situation from getting worse, but you may also find there’s an opportunity to turn those lemons into lemonade.

photo credit: 2008 08 18 – 3353 – Bila Tserkva – Shashlyk via photopin (license)

2015 Fuel Lines New Business Conference Was Loaded with Helpful Ideas and Insights

Michael Gass speaking at the conference

Michael Gass organized the inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference in Nashville

I’m still unpacking all I heard at last week’s inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies. The conference, which drew people from more than 60 cities—including a few from outside the U.S.—was held at Nashville’s snazzy new Music City Center. It was organized by my friend and colleague Michael Gass.

Because there were concurrent breakout sessions, it wasn’t possible to attend everything over the two-day period. But, I learned plenty from the sessions I was able to make. Here are 10 observations that struck me as particularly noteworthy from some of the thought leaders who spoke (though they only scratch the surface):

  • Nothing is more powerful than a human insight (Peter Levitan)
  • Chemistry is the key factor in new business presentations (Peter Levitan)
  • Create personas of prospective clients to prepare customized new business presentations (Bob Sanders)
  • We have grossly exaggerated the importance of brands to consumers; most of what we call brand loyalty comes from habit and convenience (Bob Hoffman)
  • The key factors for international agency business are trust, proximity, special skills/expertise, process and global reach (Julian Boulding)
  • Don’t be afraid to specialize in what you do best (Stephanie Holland)
  • Write RFPs with simple words and phrases, and eliminate unnecessary words; a confused mind always say no (Jody Sutter)
  • Give RFP prospects something extra of value (Jody Sutter)
  • Pick a niche and own it; don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities outside your niche (John Sonnhalter)
  • Positioning is foundational for new business; an agency should have a specific target and strong point of differentiation (Michael Gass)

In my breakout session, “How to Craft an Agency PR plan that Drives New Business,” I discussed the building blocks of creating a performance-based public relations plan for one’s agency. I also explained how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish an agency from competitors; and make it easier for agencies to be found by decision makers.

Don Beehler speaking at the conference

Speaking about ad agency PR at the Fuel Lines New Biz Conference

My three most important points:

  • Consistency is vital for successful agency PR
  • Becoming a trusted source is the quickest way to increase awareness and gain credibility
  • A successful PR plan is strategic with a clear focus, target and purpose

I sure hope Michael will have a second annual conference next year. This not only was a great learning and networking experience, but also a lot of fun.

15 Questions Ad Agencies Should Ask Before Engaging PR Services

Conference room photo

For many small- to medium-sized ad agencies, public relations can be a mystery.

Ad agency principals are experts when it comes to strategy, branding, creative and messaging, but dealing with reporters can be intimidating if one doesn’t fully understand how public relations works and the “magic” used to generate publicity and goodwill for clients or an agency.

It’s not unusual for ad agencies or their clients to say they want to use PR because “no one knows us outside out of (city, region, industry).” They want to increase awareness.

If I were to ask why they want to gain awareness, they may very well look at me and say, “Well duh, we want more people to know about us so that we’ll grow and make more money.”

Fair enough. But if I ask how PR is integrated into their new business plan, more likely than not I’ll get blank stares.

Yet increasingly, decision makers are finding vendors rather than the other way around, which make PR more important than ever for new business success.

Instead of chasing new business through cold calls, which has very limited effectiveness these days, agencies need to use PR strategically to help them be discovered by decision makers.

Here are 15 questions to help your agency get started on the road to PR success.

These questions are designed to assist you in assessing your situation, your highest priorities and needs, and what you really want to accomplish through public relations.

Once you and your team have thought through and answered these questions, you will be much better prepared to have a productive conversation with a PR person or PR agency:

  1. What is the desired result from PR (e.g. increase awareness, change perception, be positioned as an expert in a particular niche, generate new business or something else)?
  2.  How would you rate your agency’s PR capabilities on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst?
  3. 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?
  4. Are you looking for PR help with your agency, to offer it as a service to clients, or both?
  5. What is the primary way you use or would like to use PR in your agency: Agency promotion, new business development, provide as a service to clients or enhance integrated marketing communications capabilities?
  6. How effective were your past PR efforts (assuming you had some)?
  7. What PR opportunities can you identify that have not been maximized?
  8. How would you describe your agency’s positioning/branding?
  9. How would you define your target audience for new business?
  10. How should PR integrate into your new business strategy?
  11. How does social media fit with your new business strategy and PR?
  12. Where would you like to obtain publicity (i.e. target publications, bloggers, radio/TV programs)?
  13. What speaking events would you like to be invited to participate in, and how can PR help with that?
  14. How will you define PR success?
  15. How will you measure that success?

photo credit: timailius via photopin cc


What Every Ad Agency New Business Director Should Know about PR

 

I Love PR button

While there are many things that go into a successful ad agency new business program, one that is often overlooked or underutilized is the strategic use of public relations.

Whether your agency emphasizes outbound or inbound marketing – or a combination of the two – PR is an important tool that can help you attract attention and generate new business opportunities.

Here are six things that every ad agency new businesses director should know about PR and how it can give them a competitive edge:

First, as I have noted in previous posts, articles and interviews, PR gives your agency credibility in a way no other medium can because it allows an objective secondary source – a reporter or blogger – to tell your story for you.

Of course agencies provide background information, messaging and insights to help shape such stories, but people tend to give more weight to a news article or a post from a credible blog than from advertising or personal sales.

Second, PR is effective in building widespread awareness, which is particularly useful in getting in front of decision makers who may be difficult to reach through other means.

  • In the past PR shined brightest in generating coverage with TV, radio and print media, but today the Internet can spread the word exponentially.

Third, for inbound marketing initiatives, PR makes you easier to be discovered by prospective clients doing research to identify agencies with your area of expertise.

Fourth, PR can play a vital role in new business development through content creation and management. Many people in public relations have backgrounds with print or broadcast media. Former reporters tend to be good 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.

Fifth, with a creative PR writer driving your agency’s content marketing, agencies of any size can compete. To be effective, the content must be relevant, credible and enjoyable to read. It also must be search engine optimized and updated regularly to maximize its potential for attracting new business.

  • It’s easy to talk about producing high-quality, engaging content, but it’s another thing to actually do so on a consistent basis. Agencies that have the discipline to be consistent will reap rewards for their diligence.

Sixth, PR pros are generally the best suited to handle social media engagement. Public relations by definition involves dealing with the public, and PR specialists know the importance of responding to inquiries or complaints accurately, efficiently and tactfully.

  •  Because good public relations focuses on two-way communication with audiences, they understand how to converse with diverse groups or individuals, talking with them rather than at them. And because they often work with reporters who are on deadline, PR people have a keen appreciation for the value of responding in a timely manner.

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

To sum it up, PR can give your ad agency’s new business initiatives unparalleled ways of gaining awareness and credibility; enable your agency to communicate directly and indirectly with prospects and influencers; and assist in building your brand and reputation in the marketplace.

photo credit: Cloudberry Communications via photopin cc

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.

photo credit: FutUndBeidl via photopin cc

Guest Post Explains How Ad Agencies Can Use PR Strategically for New Business

Want to learn how your ad agency can use public relations to drive new business? Check out my guest post on Michael Gass’ Fuel Lines blog. In it I explain how strategic use of PR can help small and mid-sized agencies—even a one-person operation—level the playing field with larger competitors.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

How PR Can Bring “Awareness Plus” to Ad Agencies

Many advertising agencies use public relations to generate awareness, but in my experience few use it as a strategic tool to drive new business.

While generating awareness is valuable, PR can do so much more if it works hand-in-hand with an agency’s new business plan. Agencies that utilize PR solely for awareness purposes are shortchanging the value it can bring them.

Public relations can help agencies drive sales, get discovered by prospects and retain existing clients. I like to think of this approach as “Awareness Plus.”

I use the term “Awareness Plus” because if utilized in a targeted, strategic manner, PR will give your agency the benefits of awareness plus so much more.

On February 8, I’ll discuss the building blocks for creating a performance-based PR plan for agencies at a Mirren webinar titled, “How to Craft a PR Plan that Will Drive New Business.”

For more information about the webinar or to register, visit http://www.mirren.org/workshops/130/77-How-to-Craft-a-PR-Plan-that-Will-Drive-New-Business/

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.