Storytelling Is a Powerful Tool for Ad Agency PR

Several months ago, I was part of a marketing team that helped a client cast a vision for “what could be” if granted a highly sought-after lease of 50+ acres of city-owned land to expansion its operations. Millions of dollars were at stake.

Over a period of several months, we developed a communications strategy and materials–including a powerful video–which told the client’s story in a way designed to elicit an emotional response and a strong sense of community, resulting in widespread support for the project.

Our strategy was to focus on telling rather than selling. Last month the city granted our client the lease, in large part because of our ability to articulate the vision and the many benefits the community would gain as the vision became reality.

As an article in Forbes points out, “In today’s age of brand experience, it seems that emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results, and effective storytelling is at the heart of this movement.”

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Storytelling is certainly at the heart of Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. According to the company’s website, more than 10 million people, from every continent on earth, have backed a Kickstarter project. Artists, filmmakers, designers, developers and creators are required to tell their stories through a video that explains what they are doing and why it matters.

“Today, one of the biggest corporate buzzwords is ‘storytelling.’ Marketers are obsessed with storytelling,” writes Shane Snow, chief content officer at Contently, a New York company that connects freelance journalists with corporate assignments.

In an opinion article on HubSpot, he describes storytelling as “a timeless skill” and claims, “As the majority of corporations start thinking of themselves as publishers, the defining characteristic among the successful ones will be the ability to not just spew content, but to craft compelling stories.”

I think he’s right. When it comes to engaging target audiences, building brand loyalty and differentiating an organization from competitors, nothing beats the ability to artfully tell a story.

You may forget facts and statistics, but a good story stays with you.

A memorable story will differentiate your agency from the competition, just as finding compelling stories about your clients will help them position their organizations and stand out from the crowd.

The reason storytelling is so powerful is because it enables us to uniquely connect with specific audiences.

When it comes to new business for agencies, storytelling can make or break a deal. It can make you memorable or easy to forget.

Want to win more new business? Take an honest look at how well your agency is engaging prospects with compelling stories vs. selling your services and experience.

photo credit: Lester Public Library World Storytelling Day via photopin (license)

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HubSpot Webinar Will Focus on Ad Agency PR Planning for New Business

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On Wednesday, September 13 at 10 a.m. CT/11 a.m. ET, I’ll be presenting a webinar titled, “How to Craft an Agency PR Plan that Drives New Business” as part of HubSpot’s 2017 Agency Expert Webinar Series.

My session will include an overview of:

  • Why PR is important to an agency’s new business efforts
  • Seven significant PR trends
  • Ten foundational principles for working with the news media and bloggers

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I’ll also cover:

  • The quickest way to increase awareness and gain credibility
  • How to get the attention of decision makers
  • The most important aspects of a successful agency PR plan
  • Key questions to ask when putting together your plan
  • What your plan should include
  • Nine PR tools for new business that are either free or very cost effective
  • Three strategies for using PR to boost new business development

Use this link to register: https://offers.hubspot.com/agency-expert-webinar-series

 

For Ad Agency PR Success, Avoid These Mistakes When Writing a News Release

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One of the most important roles of ad agency PR is to disseminate agency news to reporters and bloggers. There are, however, some pitfalls to avoid when seeking publicity, especially when it comes to writing a news release. Here are four mistakes journalists often gripe about when receiving releases from agencies and other sources:

1. Attempting to disguise advertising to make it look like a news story. One of my more memorable academic experiences was the day a college professor returned a paper I submitted with “SJ” at the top instead of a grade. When I asked what SJ meant, he replied “snow job.” Trying to put one over my professor didn’t work in college, and it rarely, if ever, works with reporters. A news release needs to be about news, and it should be written objectively using Associated Press style. Write the release with third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice (e.g. John shot Mary, not Mary was shot by John).

2. Stating things 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. Otherwise, stick to the facts and let them stand on their own merit.

3. Using puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or servicesfollowed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that. Ditto for platitudes and vague generalities. Be as concise as possible. Mark Twain said he would have written a shorter letter, but he didn’t have time to do so. It usually takes longer to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point. Don’t fall in Twain’s trap; less is more in a news release.

4. Failing to be relevant to a reporter’s area of coverage. You may have some great news to share, but if you haven’t invested the time to understand a reporter’s beat, audience and interests, you may very well reach the wrong person. There are times when a considerate reporter will email you back and say that he/she has forwarded your release to someone else who might be interested, but don’t count on that happening. It’s far better to take the time to make sure you reach the right person the first time.

If you learn to think and write like a journalist, and understand their criteria for judging the value of news, you’ll have a much easier time getting them to pay attention to your releases and take you seriously as a useful source. And that will improve your chances of getting publicity for your agency and your firm’s clients.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

 

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.

photo credit: Mistakes Home Sellers Make via photopin (license)

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.

Fifteen Years in Biz Post

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.

photo credit: chrisinplymouth 15 via photopin (license)