Inaccurate Story? It May Not Be the Reporter’s Fault

Last week an online news site did a story that mentioned one of my clients. Unfortunately, there was a major error in it. When I talked with the reporter about the inaccurate information, he quickly corrected it and explained that the error occurred during the editing process. Of course, since the article had his byline, people assumed it was his fault. I can relate to his dilemma.

During my time as a correspondent for a daily paper, I vividly remember one occasion where I fell victim to the editorial process. I was covering a local meeting of city officials and took great care to accurately report what took place during the meeting and the outcome.

The next day, I picked up the paper and saw my story had been changed to state the exact opposite of what I wrote about the officials’ decision on a particular matter.

I immediately called my editor, explained the error to him and said I didn’t understand how what I wrote could have been revised so drastically.

“I changed it because I could tell they were just BSing around,” he said nonchalantly.

 “Well, we’re going to have some problems with this article,” I replied, somewhat stunned by his cavalier attitude. He shrugged it off as no big deal. And to him, it may not have been, but it sure was to me.

My name was on the article, and it wasn’t accurate. In fact, it was the exact opposite of the truth. Would people who were at that meeting ever trust me again, I wondered.

Headlines can burn a reporter (and client) as well. Once a story is turned in for editing, a person other than the reporter writes headlines to make them fit within certain parameters while also using a handful of words to attract attention and give readers the gist of the story. There’s quite an art to headline writing, and sometimes under the pressure of deadlines, mistakes are made. Sometimes big ones.

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Early in my career I worked for a nonprofit organization in Southern California that owned some property where the organization was planning to build a facility. Things didn’t go as planned, and the property went into foreclosure. The reporter from our local paper, who I knew pretty well, did an article about it and accurately reported what had transpired.

The headline, however, declared our entire organization—which employed thousands of people—as being in foreclosure. It all got straightened out and corrected, but not before causing lots of excitement for us from panicked vendors, employees, community leaders and other Los Angeles-area news media outlets.

Certainly there are times when the reporter is at fault for inaccuracies, and all too often news stories seem to be slanted to fit a particular agenda. There also are times when a PR representative provides the reporter with incorrect information or misstates something that comes back to haunt the organization when the misinformation shows up in print or on air.

The moral of these stories is this: If you are charged with handling ad agency PR and find yourself needing to contact a reporter for a correction, give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Be careful not to overreact or arrive at conclusions before gathering all the facts, and keep in mind that it may have been an honest mistake or misunderstanding.

Finding out how a mistake was made and who is at fault is less important than getting it correctly promptly. Always keep the long-term in mind, because how you handle errors with a reporter can make or break the relationship—and affect how your client or agency is covered—for years to come.

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How Ad Agency PR Can Help Clients Manage Change

 “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”Niccolo Machiavelli

Many attempts at organizational change either flounder or fail outright, and often the culprit is a lack of effective communication. In the absence of clear communication from leadership, rumors and speculation begin to take on a life of their own, usually to the detriment of the organization and the performance of its employees.

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“Withholding information during the phases of radical change could easily be one of the worst mistakes in managing changes,” notes Rita Linjuan Men, Ph.D., APR, an assistant professor of public relations at the University of Florida and research editor for the Institute for Public Relations’ Organizational Communication Research Center.

Ad agency PR can lead the charge on behalf of clients undergoing change by:

  • Filling gaps with knowledge
  • Negating rumors with truth
  • Communicating clearly, effectively and transparently
  • Initiating and responding to feedback
  • Being sensitive and emphatic not just to what is said, but also how the message is conveyed

To work as intended, the process has to be more than just delivering information.

“Leaders must see communication as a dialogue. When employees feel they’re being relentlessly sold a message, they tend to resist. Who wouldn’t? But dialogue is different; being listened to is powerful and long lasting. It builds influence over time, driving adoption and alignment,” says Sherry Scott, president of Gagen McDonald, a consulting firm that specializes engagement, leadership and culture change.

Another way public relations specialists can help clients manage change is by mining data to unlock perceptions, preferences and concerns—giving clients a better understanding of their customers, stakeholders, prospects and other important groups.

PR can be especially useful during periods of change when it comes to creating an effective communications strategy; crafting appropriate messages; anticipating questions and concerns; and identifying the best methods of reaching the target audiences.

Timeliness is critical, which is where PR shines brightest. Whether connecting with a reporter on deadline, responding to an irate customer using social media to vent his or her displeasure, dialoguing with concerned stakeholders or dealing with an actual or impending crisis, reacting responsibly with speed and transparency has long been a forte of the PR profession.

Navigating change can be a daunting task for companies, but having clear two-way communication throughout the process will greatly improve the odds for success.

photo credit: symphony of love Author Unknown If you are not willing to change, then don’t expect your life to via photopin (license)

Ad Agencies: Are You Calling Prospects or Are They Calling You?

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Not long ago, I answered my cell phone to hear the exciting news that I could have a free new home security system.

Now, as annoying as these telemarketing calls are to me, I have a certain amount of empathy with the callers because shortly after graduating from college, I was making similar calls on behalf of a direct marketing company. Telemarketers can get a lot of abuse, so I always try to be polite and let them talk through their script so they can at least get credit for completing a call.

I also know you can have a lot of fun with these calls if you get telemarketers off their scripts.

As I listened to this enthusiastic young lady talk, I lost track of how many times she used the word “free.” Finally, she reached the end of her script.

“I just have one question to see if you qualify—are you a homeowner?”

Notice that she didn’t ask if I already had a home security system, and if so, was I satisfied with it.

“I have question for you,” I replied, slightly irritated at having my intelligence insulted like this. “How does your company make money if everything is free?”

After a moment of stunned silence, she said she didn’t hear what I said, so I repeated myself.

“Are you a homeowner?” she asked, completely ignoring my question.

“I’ll answer your question after you answer mine—how does your company make money if everything is free?”

“Are you a homeowner?”

Our conversation ended shortly after her that.

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“Are you a homeowner?”

Now I realize that telemarketers typically are not trained to engage in “off script” discussions. They may have a section in their scripts where it gives instructions about what to say if the prospect asks X or says Y, but if you ask them anything not included in the script, they usually are lost—like this poor lady.

I’ll bet you’ve gotten calls like this yourself, so I have a question for you:

Would a call like this make you more or less likely to do business with the company?

Now envision a scenario where you don’t own a home security system, and several houses in your neighborhood have recently been broken into by criminals. You are suddenly aware of a new problem and interested in a solution that will protect you and your family, so you begin to think about purchasing a security system.

Would you trust a security company that told you its services were free and wouldn’t answer a simple question? I know I wouldn’t.

Like a lot of people, I would begin talking with friends and neighbors about home security systems, and start doing research on the Internet.

Now suppose I come across Sam’s Safe & Secure Inc. Several of the people I talked with mentioned Sam’s as being honest, dependable and reasonably priced, with great customer service, so I already have a favorable impression of the company.

I start my research by going to Sam’s website and find lots of impressive testimonials; community awards for being a good citizen; sponsorships of local school bands and athletic teams; helpful and easy-to-understand videos about home security; and blog posts about everything from how to choose a security system that’s right for you to tips for forming a neighborhood watch to ways you can help keep kids safe while using the Internet.

When I leave the website and use a search engine to find home security systems in my area, Sam’s dominates the listings.

  • Customer reviews are very good—4 ½ out of 5 stars, with lots of favorable comments.
  • Next up: a community calendar that includes a listing of places where Sam’s does free seminars about ways to keep your home secure.
  • Then I see a news story where Sam’s CEO was interviewed about simple steps homeowners can take to make their houses more secure and less likely to be burglarized. The CEO didn’t say a word about his home security system; rather, he used the publicity to educate (and in the process gain awareness and credibility) without make a sales pitch for his product.
  • The next hit comes from someone blogging about how Sam’s has partnered with the local police to do free home safety checks for the poor and elderly, with discounts on home security systems for those who can’t afford to pay the full price. On that post I read a comment from a reader who has a Sam’s security system, where he shares about how well the system worked when someone tried to break into his home.

My findings indicate that Sam’s Safe & Secure has a great reputation, and the company knows all about security. Chances are, I’ll call Sam’s to discuss the next step for my home.

What a contrast: A company I’ve never heard of interrupting my day with a sales-driven telemarketing call about a product that doesn’t interest me vs. a company I call because I have a need and am interested in the product it offers. I’ve heard good things about the company from others I know and trust, and I like what I see online, so I don’t need anyone to sell me anything; I’m already sold.

The same principal applies to ad agency PR for new business: It’s far better to be discovered by prospects and have them approach you, and the best way for that to happen is to have a good reputation and a robust online presence.

If your agency cold calls a prospect, there’s a good chance the call will go to voicemail. If you send a sales email at a time when the prospect isn’t looking for what you offer—and therefore is not interested—it probably will be deleted and your email address maybe blocked. If you send direct mail, odds are it will end up in the trash.

And even if you manage to get through to a prospect, is this really an effective way to present yourself and position your agency? I don’t think so.

The buying process has changed, and trying to sell services through aggressive cold calling makes an agency look desperate and out of touch. A more effective approach is to use public relations to complement your new business initiatives and build your agency’s brand.

A consistent PR effort will enable you to more effectively generate awareness among the decision makers you want to reach, when they are ready for what you have to offer.

Best of all, when a prospect asks you a direct question, you’ll be able to answer it clearly and confidently, rather than replying, “Are you a decision maker?”

photo credit 1: Chris Pirillo Should I Take the Call or Not? via photopin (license)

photo credit 2: aqua.mech Call center operator via photopin (license)

 

What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of PR Consulting

Earlier this week I hit the 15th anniversary of my PR consulting business. When I left my job as vice president of an advertising agency to strike out on my own in 2002, I wanted to test the waters, see how well I liked consulting and find out if I could make a comfortable living as a PR consultant.

It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed, and that during that time I’ve served nearly a hundred clients from a variety of industries, including ad agencies in need of PR services. Some of my clients have been with me for many years.

Unlike a lot of entrepreneurs I’ve known, I never had a burning desire to be self-employed. But once I got a taste of running my own business, I discovered it was exciting to have my own clients and energizing to handle their PR/communications needs.

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Here are some lessons I’ve learned from running a consulting business that specializes in ad agency PR:

Technology makes it possible to work from just about anywhere and still provide top-notch service to clients. With a laptop, e-mail account and a mobile phone, you can connect with clients, prospects, reporters and colleagues throughout the world. This is something I knew before venturing out on my own, but it was driven home to me within days of going into business for myself. I was blessed to land a huge piece of business immediately—an energy company that covered fours states in the northeast. From my home office, I was able to service this client effectively and generate extensive publicity regionally on its behalf.

Social media and blogging can make you “discoverable” by people you want to reach. Providing great content is important in establishing one’s expertise, but it takes work to promote that content and get in front of decision makers. Still, it’s worth the effort because the entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect.

A niche is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Having an area of specialization enables you to speak to a specific audience and establish a foothold in a particular industry. In my case, I’ve focused on ad agency PR, which involves providing public relations services to small- and medium-sized advertising, digital and media agencies. That doesn’t mean I turn away business in other industries, but with my corporate communications, journalism and agency background, I can speak to the specific needs these firms have when it comes to using PR strategically to increase awareness of their agency and drive new business.

A blog is the best way to showcase your expertise. I know, I know. There are a gazillion blogs out there all competing for attention. That’s why having a niche is so important—it positions you as a subject matter expert in a specific area and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. Being seen as a credible and knowledgeable thought leader who offers useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines, bringing business to you when a prospect is ready to engage your services and usually has a budget to do so.

Being a trusted source for reporters is a great way to gain credibility as an expert and expand your reach. That’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source–the news media or bloggers–to tell your story to the people you most want to impress. The bottom line is that strategic use of PR, especially publicity, can help small- to mid-sized agencies level the playing field with larger agencies.

Cold calling for new business is unproductive. With only a couple of exceptions, over the past 15 years all my business has all come from repeat business, referrals, someone finding me while doing an Internet search or from having one division of a company see what I’d done for another division and contact me. Cold calling is annoying to prospects and makes you look desperate.

Trust is at the core of any partnership. A lot of consultants have expertise in PR and good technical skills, but not all of them are trustworthy or provide the kind of service that is conducive to long-term relationships. If you do all of the things listed above well but fail to keep your word or deliver on your promises, you’ll have a hard time keeping clients. While many things go into a successful client-agency relationship, trust and character are at the top of my list.

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Ad Agency PR: A Key Driver of New Business

One of the most effective ways to build your agency’s your brand and attract new business is through a targeted public relations initiative that includes a heavy dose of publicity. That’s because publicity enables objective secondary sources—the news media and bloggers—to tell your story and build your brand for you.

It also gives your brand something no other marketing tool can replicate: credibility. Although you lack control of the content, that’s precisely why such coverage is so much more credible than an advertisement.

When it comes to cost, PR is an inexpensive way to generate awareness quickly among important audiences—including decision makers you may otherwise not be able to reach—which can ultimately drive sales.

In the past, PR coverage came primarily from traditional media outlets—such as print, radio and TV—but today the Internet offers ways to not only spread media coverage, but to supplement it through social media. It also enables you to go directly to your audiences, which has enormous benefits not the least of which is building brand ambassadors.

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Ad agencies that use publicity strategically have a competitive advantage, especially when it comes to new business development, because it gives them a consistent presence in the marketplace.

Rather than reactively trying to create coverage out of things that are not genuinely newsworthy, a strategic, proactive approach promotes your agency in a way that is compelling to prospects and distinguishes your agency from competitors.

There also are a number of creative ways to expand the reach and benefits of media coverage to aid new business development not only by reaching new customers, but also helping you retain current ones.

The key to successful ad agency PR is to have a strategy in place that compliments your new business development initiatives with a clear focus, target and purpose.

photo credit: timailius via photopin cc

Why a Niche Blog Is Essential for Ad Agency PR

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “public relations” is publicity in the form of radio, TV or print media coverage. That still is an important part of ad agency PR, but with so many media outlets either shrinking or going out of business—and the increasing influence of content marketing and social media—a niche blog that showcases your agency’s expertise is essential.

Here’s why. When you have an immediate need (i.e. a “problem to solve”), chances are your first step is to begin searching on the Internet for a solution. If you’re like me, you don’t appreciate the spam emails, junk mail and unsolicited sales calls that interrupt me on a daily basis for products or services that don’t interest me.

Outbound marketing—which involves cold calling, direct mail and other forms of chasing business—is becoming less and less effective, and agencies that rely on it for new business are more likely to be perceived as an annoyance than an expert. To put it bluntly, salespeople selling ad agency services smack of desperation. They also put the emphasis on your agency rather than providing value to a prospect.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, draws customers to your agency by providing them with valuable content.

You want to attract clients who need and can afford your services, and the best way for that to happen is for them to find you when they are looking for a solution.

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A niche blog positions your agency as a subject matter expert in a particular area, and makes you easier to be found by prospective clients searching for the solutions and expertise you offer. When done right, your blog will become a magnet for search engines.

The entire conversation changes when a prospect approaches you rather than you approaching the prospect, who may or may not be interested in what your agency has to offer at the time of the contact.

One of the most important reasons for having a blog is to establish or enhance your ad agency as an expert in a particular niche. Being seen as a credible, trustworthy and knowledgeable thought leader that provides useful (as opposed to self-serving) content can have big payoffs down the road.

Once you reach expert status in a niche, the news media covering that niche will come to you for insight and commentary—and your target audience will see you that way as well.

A niche blog gives your agency continuous opportunities to demonstrate that it:

  • Communicates effectively
  • Has the ability to solve problems
  • Is well connected within your industry niche
  • Knows about important industry developments and trends

Just as publicity tends to beget publicity, as your blog becomes a repository of relevant content, it will rise in search engine rankings and draw targeted readers to your doorstep, making your agency increasingly “discoverable” by decision makers you could only dream of reaching through sales calls.

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Eight Ways Your Ad Agency Can Increase Its Chances for a Publicity Hit

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Getting a good publicity hit is a combination of art, science and sometimes just plain luck. You can increase your chances of getting “lucky” in your publicity efforts by following some basic dos and don’ts.

Here are eight ways to get your agency on the path to successful publicity.

#1: Define your media focus.

Limit your pitches to those outlets that directly serve your target audience. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of time and energy. When I was on the editorial side of a healthcare magazine, I once got a very nice press kit for a horse show. There was no way we were going to cover a horse show in our healthcare magazine. Clearly whoever sent the press kit to us was taking a shotgun approach to the news media, hoping to hit something. That generally doesn’t work very well.

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

Whether you’re dealing with your local paper, a trade publication or a national TV news outlet, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting. “Dear Editor” or “Dear Producer” will not impress the recipient.

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

Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style. Most reporters use social media, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Twitter, their blog, etc., before making contact. You can learn a lot about their interests (and dislikes), and even engage in online conversation, before presenting a story idea to them.

#4: Don’t waste their time or mislead them.

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.

 #5: Respect their deadlines.

When contacting a reporter, I always first ask if he or she is on deadline. If so, I then ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. (Some will prefer you email the idea to them.) If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that deadline; 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 and pitch like a reporter.

When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you don’t sound like a commercial. 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(s) of coverage and deadline, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and are more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Know what makes a good news story.

There’s a simply way to evaluate your story idea before presenting it: 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.

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