Ad Agencies: What Publicity Opportunities Are You Missing for the New Year?

New Years Blog Post 39308187491_5087e48ec3

My first job in public relations was with an international nonprofit organization. I was blessed to have a terrific mentor—a former newspaper editor—who took me under his wing and really taught me how to write for reporters, evaluate news like they do and develop effective working with them.

We had a small staff and typically were overwhelmed with requests and things to do; frequently, we were putting out fires. We did very little actual media pitching, except for some of the large events we held.

At the time, my idea of media relations was when the phone rang we answered it, and if it was a reporter calling we did our best to be helpful.

When I went to work for a large PR firm, I was immediately introduced to the concept of generating publicity for our clients by coming up with ideas and angles for what would hopefully be positive coverage.

And, by the way, the clients expected ongoing coverage, so we sometimes had to be creative in coming up with story ideas and new angles. 

As you think about publicity opportunities for 2018, the following are some topics to keep your agency in the news:

  • Commentary about marketing trends/current issues
  • Sponsorships
  • Community involvement
  • Events
  • New clients, employees, awards, publications
  • New services, office expansion, etc.
  • Mentoring programs
  • Pro bono work
  • Guest columns in the local newspaper or business journal
  • Articles in relevant industry publications
  • Human interest stories about employees or clients (unusual hobbies, their community involvement, humanitarian work, etc.)

To expand on that last point about human interest stories, one of my favorites was an article our local paper ran about a real estate agent in the Nashville area who gives a portion of his commission for every house sold to sponsor impoverished children in developing countries. At the time the story was published, he was supporting 53 children in 19 countries.

Sometimes feature stories like this get overlooked internally, but they have great potential to build a brand.

Not only did this story generate positive publicity for the real estate agent, but it also was a boost for his company’s image. If I were looking to buy or sell a house, he’s someone I’d like to do business with because he’s a generous person who gives back to those less fortunate.

Goodwill like this is hard to quantify, but it makes a lasting impression in a way that no other marketing tool can replicate.

photo credit: KorneelPhotography 2018 via photopin (license)

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


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.

photo credit: PMillera4 Baseball via photopin (license)

Three Mistakes Agencies Often Make with Reporters

Having three decades of combined agency, journalism and corporation communications experience has enabled me to see public relations in action from a variety of perspectives. 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.

Mistakes Agencies Often Make with Reporters 16185149128_a4db78e711

The following are three mistakes advertising, digital and media agencies 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
  • Ties in with a current issue or trend
  • Is controversial or novel, or takes a contrarian perspective to conventional wisdom
  • Has a local angle (if pitching a local reporter)

#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.

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

My Ad Agency PR New Business Basics are Now Online

Audio of my “How to Craft an Agency PR Plan that Drives New Business” presentation from Michael Gass’s inaugural Fuel Lines New Business Conference is available at the Fuel Lines website.

Michael Gass portrait

Michael Gass

My session walks through the building blocks of creating a performance-based public relations plan for advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.

It also explains how the strategic use of PR can enhance awareness and credibility; distinguish your agency from competitors; and make it easier for decision makers to find you.

Key takeaways:

  • How PR helps prospects discover you
  • What PR can do for your agency that no other marketing tool can replicate
  • How a small- or mid-sized agency’s strategic use of PR can level the playing field with larger competitors
  • What your agency’s PR plan should include, and how to integrate PR into your new business development strategy
  • Cost-effective resources that can help you generate publicity
  • Why not having PR capabilities can cause your agency to miss out on new business opportunities


My podcast interview with the Agency Management Institute’s Drew McClellan about what goes into a successful in-house ad agency PR program also is online.

Key takeaways:

  • The dramatic changes PR has seen over the years
  • How agencies can use PR as a strategic tool to drive new business
  • How to determine what stories to pitch
  • Ways you can become discoverable so that reporters can find you
  • The kind of news that is truly newsworthy for agencies
  • Why you shouldn’t think about using PR with the expectation that people will write stories about your agency
  • How agencies can get the right kind of attention
  • Incorporating PR into your business plan
  • How to correctly use PR in relation to speaking engagements
  • How to use Google Alerts to capitalize on PR opportunities
  • The steps to take right away to boost your PR

Do Reporters Really Hate PR Pros?

Love hate text

There’s always been a certain amount of tension between reporters and public relations professionals, even though there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two.

Reporters need credible sources and a constant stream of story ideas, while PR people need the news media to help them share important information and spread the word about their clients or employers.

PR people want coverage as favorable as possible, while good reporters want a balanced story that presents all sides and perspectives. PR people want to help shape and influence the story, while reporters bristle when they feel they are being pushed or manipulated.

While there are more PR options available than ever thanks to social media, the news media still are very important because of their reach and perceived credibility.

Anyone who is going to be successful in PR needs to be able to work successfully with reporters, so when I came across an article titled “Why do reporters hate PR pros so much?” I was intrigued.

The headline says “reporters,” which implies all reporters feel this way. And not only do reporters hate PR pros, but they hate them “so much.” That seems like a stretch to me.

It’s been quite a while since I was a reporter, but I can honestly say that I never hated PR people who contact me to share a story idea, even those who were on the annoying side. (In fairness I should mention that I wasn’t a reporter for all that long, so my attitude may have changed had I been on the receiving end of pitches year after year.)

Using several Tweets from disgruntled reporters attacking PR people to support her contention, the writer of this article asks, “Why would anyone hate to hear from someone that is trying to help them professionally?”

And therein lies an important clue as to the cynicism some reporters have toward the PR profession.

As a reporter, I never once thought that someone was trying to help me professionally by pitching a story to me. Nor was my motivation to help a reporter advance professionally by suggesting a particular topic to him or her when I flipped over to the PR side.

My motivation was self-serving:  I was seeking publicity for another party, usually one with which I had a financial interest.

If I did my homework, I knew I was approaching a reporter who covered a particular industry and subject matter to ensure that my pitch was relevant. Ideally, this resulted in a win-win situation for all concerned: A good story for the reporter and a happy client, which in turn made me happy.

The notion that reporters should want to hear from us because we want to help them professionally is about as believable as “I’m with the government and am here to help you.”

The writer goes on to conjecture that “There is something fundamentally wrong with the way PR pros relate to the media.”

That’s undoubtedly true in some cases, but there also are quite a few PR professionals who work very successfully with the media because they understand how reporters think and operate. They take the time to learn what the reporter covers, the preferred methods of contact, when the reporter is on deadline and the types of stories that interest him or her before reaching out.

One of the writer’s suggestions to remedy a PR industry that is “clearly broken,” as she put it, is to send e-mails to reporters that are not pitches but rather “how are you?” inquiries. Considering how much e-mail most reporters get, I suspect that last suggestion is more likely to irritate them, unless you know the reporter very well.

I’m not convinced that the PR industry is broken, nor am I persuaded that we can draw sweeping conclusions from a few negative tweets.

My advice to anyone who wants to be successful in working with the news media is to:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of the reporter you want to reach, and ask yourself how you would like to be approached with a story idea.
  • Get to the point, don’t waste their time and offer them something that is genuinely news or feature worthy within the niche(s) they cover.
  • Understand the details of what you’re pitching, and be prepared to give a succinct explanation as to why it’s worth their time.
  • Take into consideration the timing of your pitch. Old news or a subject that’s been covered from every conceivable angle is not likely to generate much enthusiasm.
  • Avoid taking rejection personally. Look for other opportunities and at all costs avoid being a pest.

Just as having good content is critical to content-marketing success, having a good story idea that is well targeted and properly presented is critical to success in the public relations business.

photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

8 News Release Mistakes to Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success


Image of laptopWhat’s the number one problem reporters have with public relations?

In a survey of more than 1,700 journalists and editors sponsored by Bulldog Reporter and Cision, 60% of them cited their biggest beef as the lack of relevance of the materials they received from corporate communications and PR professionals. Much of this information, they noted, is written like advertising, not journalism.

That’s a sure-fired way to have your news release or press kit trashed.

Ad agencies that want to be taken seriously by reporters should avoid these eight mistakes when writing a news release:

1. The “no news” news release. This is where you’re trying to get your agency or client some media coverage but without a real news hook. It’s better to hold off on your release until you have an appropriate angle to justify contacting a reporter. If you want some ideas on creative publicity topics, check out my “Ad Agencies Top 20 Topics for Publicity” post.

2. Puffery and exaggerated descriptions of people, events, products or services – followed by lots of exclamation marks!!!!!! Nothing screams amateur quite like that.

3. Platitudes and vague generalities.

4. Verbosity. It’s usually harder to write short, concise copy than long copy, but journalism is all about being succinct and to the point.

5. 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.

6. Writing about “pseudo” events that are contrived to get attention but have no real news value.

7. Consistently leading with the name of your boss in the headline or first paragraph.

8. Writing like an advertising copywriter instead of a journalist. (See journalists’ top concern above.) To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your news release as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news value, connection to a trend or its human interest aspect. Use third-person pronouns and the active rather than passive voice.

photo credit: timsnell 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

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.

photo credit: hectorir via photopin cc

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

The Hidden Cost of Paid Website Content to Ad Agency PR

Dollars Bills Everywhere Image cmedium_61056391

Last week as I was monitoring coverage of a news release I distributed for a financial services client, I went to a business website that has been on my media list longer than I can remember.

And right toward the top, there was a headline based on the release with a hyperlink to the article. When I clicked on the link, much to my surprise I got a message saying:

This content is exclusive to subscribers.”

My options were to subscribe for a minimum of a year or pay $7.50 to purchase the article. Content that used to be free now came at a price

I hate to sound cheap, but paying $7.50 to access a website article that probably was no more than a page or two when printed out seems a bit high to me. And I really wasn’t excited about subscribing to content that used to not cost me a thing.

But my real concern was that only subscribers could see a story which previously would have been available to anyone with Internet service.

How many business people subscribe to this site? I haven’t a clue. And of that number, how many would be interested in a financial services story and take the time to read it?

What I do know is that the potential audience for my client’s story had been significantly limited.

I understand that the website needs revenue to remain a going concern, but I really wonder if charging for access to articles is something that will come back to bite it.

If I were looking at a place to give a business exclusive for a client, I’d think twice about a news website that charges for access.

It’s true that most newspapers and magazines charge a subscription or individual copy fee, but somehow with online it seems different. A newspaper or magazine I can hold in my hands. (Yes, I’m familiar with Kindle, but in this case I was after an article, not a book.)

From what I’ve read, quite a few people are bulking at paying for website content.

As newspapers and magazines continue to struggle to survive, it will be interesting to see if paying for access to news websites—especially to sites that primarily cover local or regional business news like this one—will be a successful model.

One international survey found that nearly half the respondents would consider paying for online access to a magazine, and a little over 40% for online newspaper content—if they thought the content was worth the price.

That may sound like a good percentage, but as a PR person I’m thinking of the other 50-60% who won’t pay—and therefore will never see a client’s story.

That’s a hidden cost I’m not yet ready to pay.

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

photo credit: Tracy O via photopin cc