September 23, 2009

Trusted v. Untrusted

Posted in Industry Standards, Social Media at 9:40 am by R

A few posts back, I addressed the ethical ranking of public relations professionals. And frankly, we’re a morally solvent bunch. Though, there is an emerging crowd who have coined themselves as experts in social media…and their tactics for securing business are not so morally solvent.

These experts come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds — so beware.

For many, the question becomes how to find a social media resource you can trust. Here are a few red flags, in my opinion:

  1. One size does NOT fit all — businesses have different communications strategies to reach different audiences. Naturally, it follows that a company must have a completely unique  social media strategy (they’re like fingerprints really). Therefore, anyone offering social media success based on one platform or formula = suspicious.
  2. Tell me about your background — PR practitioner, communications director, digital media specialist or internet guru. GOOD. Knife salesman, personal assistant, travel agent = suspicious. Not to say that the latter examples don’t have some level of experience, but can they rock the strategic implementation?
  3. It’s a guarantee — if this person guarantees they will work hard to understand your business and deploy a social media strategy  customized to achieve specific business goals…GOOD. Promises a specific number of followers or any other metric = suspicious.

So how do you spot qualities in the ones you can trust? SmartBlog on Social Media @SBoSM put up a great post about some of the less tangible qualities one should consider in candidates as they build their social media team or select an outside vendor.

  1. PassionAndy Sernovitz (who authored the post) notes that this is something that can’t be taught or trained. Your team needs to have the proverbial fire in their bellies when it comes to your brand.
  2. Don’t measure candidates/agencies by number of followers — Sernovitz points out that any spammer can have a thousand followers overnight. I’d like to add to his thoughts here though — take a look at who your potential team member/agency is following and is followed by. Size up the quality of their network.
  3. Look for helpers — Because social media is as much a customer service tool as it is a communications tool, your team should be comprised of people who love to help people. Making meaningful information accessible and understandable for a variety of social media audiences is a big task not for the faint of heart. Your team should be equipped with the desire to learn (from good and bad experiences) and help make the social media experience with your brand even better.

The right team, either built internally or found externally, will be slightly different for every company. But any business looking to bring in social media minds ought to be aware of these criteria to find the right fit (re: Trusted v. Untrusted) and create success for their brand in social media.


April 15, 2009

Off the shelf PR

Posted in Industry Standards at 8:51 am by R

There was an announcement in the Phoenix Business Journal yesterday that the Valley of the Sun will soon have a PRStore.

This franchise touts itself as offering:

  • Logo design
  • Web development
  • Direct mail
  • Brochures
  • Promotional products
  • Press release
  • Media placement

…all in a one-stop-shop.

I feel fairly skeptical about a shop like this for two reasons:

  1. PR requires planning! You can’t just go in and do one-off press releases!! It’s not strategic. Press releases are a TACTIC!
  2. Several PRStore franchisees have recently  filed claims of fraud and racketeering against the franchise owners.

I understand that making public relations accessible to small business is important. We in the field all know the tremendous power of our craft…when executed appropriately.

It comes down to this — with what I’ve learned about PRStore, I don’t have confidence in the company (Anyone being sued for fraud doesn’t exactly inspire trust and confidence!) nor do I believe the their practices conducive to long-term strategy that ultimately serves clients best and drives business to them.

But don’t just take it from me. Several PR peers I look up to had similar opinions about the new “agency.”

Len Gutman of Valley PR Blog:

I really am not sure what to think. I can see where the centralization of graphic design, web sites, collateral development, printing and such can be cost effective for a small client. I could even be convinced that a franchisee in a strip mall can write a decent press release — although I’d like to see their degree and test them on their knowledge of AP Style. But I can’t believe they can craft a strategic public relations campaign with well thought out tactics across multiple platforms.

Abbie Fink of HMA Time:

Our industry has spent years convincing clients and our organizations that public relations is a strategic part of any good business plan.  That it must be well thought-out and budgeted for.  It is not something that can or should be purchased off the shelf.

Public relations is not a commodity, we shouldn’t sell it the same way as we sell shirts and ties.

It should be mentioned that the franchisees who are opening the Phoenix location do have marketing backgrounds.

Still…I’m skeptical.


March 19, 2009

Does someone really own social media?

Posted in Industry Standards, Social Media at 10:21 am by SD

Adweek recently ran an interesting article about who “owns” social media. To sum up the article, it basically made the case for why neither PR agencies or digital agencies should “own” it. The article called for a neutral third party generalist to be the owner of social media. This person’s role would be to integrate the digital and the PR efforts. While this is an interesting solution, I think it actually speaks to a larger trend – to maintain relevance in the ever-changing communications (on- and off-line) world, agencies must evolve and take on an integrated model.

As recent news has shown, companies are looking to consolidate their multiple PR, digital and advertising agencies into one AOR. Usually, the agency that comes out on top in this scenario is the integrated one. The one that can provide the full range of communications from media relations, digital strategy, marketing strategy and social media strategy to advertising, design services, community relations and branding expertise is the natural winner in this situation.

Why is this such a growing trend?

Because companies can get all of their communications needs met by one integrated team working together to accomplish the same goals. With everyone under the same roof, there is no need to determine who owns social media because its all one integrated team.

To answer my own question. Yes, someone does own social media and it’s the integrated communications firm.


February 22, 2009

A New Era for the PR Professional?

Posted in Industry Standards at 8:18 pm by SD

From the endless supply of snacks in the breakroom to the marketing budget, nothing is sacred as companies try to slash costs. However, one budget seems to be faring better in this recession (as compared to ones past where it was the first to go), public relations. Yes, you heard me right. Public relations budgets, while not increasing, are remaining strong and seem to be avoiding the chopping block.

This trend has a lot to do with members of the C-suite understanding the value of public relations, but I think there is another major factor playing a role here. Over the past several years, the PR practitioner/agency/department has learned to wear many hats.

Used to being short on budget and tall on items to accomplish, PR people have learned to do more with less – something that is necessary in a downturn.

Gone are the days when PR people only do media relations. Today’s successful PR pro not only does media relations but creates and executes new media strategies, creates content, develops thought leadership campaigns to position company executives, manages employee communications, ensures the company is staying true to its brand in all of its communications, coordinates events and much more while staying within or below budget.

The time where the PR person’s sole responsibility was writing press releases and doing media relations is dead.

We live in a new PR world where our role can change 10 times in an hour. You can be monitoring blog mentions one minute and discussing brand strategy the next. Don’t forget to throw in a little messaging, web copy drafting and event planning in there. Sound like a typical hour of your day?

Our ability to perform multiple tasks without missing a beat is exactly what makes us valuable in the economic downturn. We’re now the go-to people for all types of communications needs. It’s our job to step up to this challenge and prove our value in tough times. We’ve got to stay current on new trends, not just public relations but marketing, branding and advertising. We’ve got to understand how business works. That means knowing how to read a balance sheet, understand economics and be able to discuss the financial markets.

It’s a new era for the PR professional. Are you up for it?

I am.


January 23, 2009

Phone Pitching – one foot in the proverbial grave

Posted in Industry Standards, Social Media at 9:30 am by R

Allison and I were reminiscing about the good old days of PR (three years ago) when you could zip off an email with a press release and POOF! it would show up as news print a few days later with out so much as the dialing of a telephone.

During my years in the PR industry, the mantra for contacting reporters has generally been:

Email. Follow up phone call. Leave voice mail. Call back. Zero out. Email. Follow up phone call. Hang up. Call back. Hang up. Call back. Hang up. Have boss tell you to zero out. Call back. Leave voice mail.

But it seems that everything past the first ’email’ is utterly superfluous these days. The desk phone is futile. Phone pitching is dead.

So how do you get a hold of a reporter to talk about a GOOD, SOLID pitch?

You’ve got options. But it really depends on the reporter’s preference.

  • Twitter — oh yeah, this goes back to some ideas shared here about selling a story in 150 characters or less. Quick. Concise. To-the-minute. Reporters following you get insight into the projects you’re working on and can express interest. Simultaneously, we get to see what they are working on and offer input, resources or other perspectives that ADD to their stories or lighten the work load.
  • Facebook — whether it’s through the chat function or a private message, Facebook offers a platform to share visuals, video, links and content in a more appealing and interactive way than a traditional email.

Nearly all of these applications have interfaces for Blackberries, iPhones and other multi-function cellular devices…so it’s a higher touch method, allowing us to reach reporters wherever they are…

BUT that being said…

Whatever your method, the pitch has to be really tight. One can only imagine how much more information reporters will be bombarded with have access to, which means your content must be timely, relevant, complete and ideally, have multi-media components attached to it.

Rest in peace desk phone. It seems I hardly knew thee…


January 13, 2009

Waves of change

Posted in Industry Standards at 9:01 am by R

I was building a proposal for a potential new client yesterday. My boss and I discussed the various aspects of what media would be good placement, how we could work with the budget and then my boss said something that sounded strange to me:

Did you build in time for a press release?

Without even thinking I asked:

What’s the point?

The mediums through which we communicate have shifted fundamentally. Opening up a paper more often means opening up a Web page any more. Live TV coverage and streaming live Web video coverage compete in the same space. Journalists are no longer challenged with simply finding a good story, they are charged with finding multimedia angles to bring these stories to life on the Web! (Watch a great video interview from Ragan Communications on this point.)

Because so much has changed in the mediums, the way we communicate with journalists — and let’s face it each other — has to change.

If 150 words (or less) on Twitter can inspire great articles, why on earth would we write pages long releases?

Perhaps this is our new guideline. 150 words or less. Can we as PR pros be more successful by being less verbose? Probably so.

Certainly journalists don’t have time to wade through miles of prose in an email pitch, much less copious press releases. Not only that, it’s clear that journalists are no long just looking for words. They need to tell a story with a photo gallery, exculsive video, polls, graphs, anything multimedia.

So challenge yourself to be a succinct and clear cut as possible in your communication with the media.

Here are my guidelines for doing it:

  1. Use the 150 rule. If you can’t sell your client’s story in 150 words, you may need to evaluate the angles
  2. Bullets. Who. What. Where. When. Why. How. Journalism 101. Address these at the top of any pitch.
  3. Added Value. To Shannon’s point we have to offer value to the media as well. We know what they are asking for. So give ’em some multimedia added value.

I’m about 210 words over proving my point in practice.


January 1, 2009

The magic word in 2009? Value.

Posted in Industry Standards at 10:01 pm by SD

Value is the word of 2009. As PR people, adding value and proving we are adding it is going to be more crucial than ever before. During this economic downturn, companies are not necessarily scraping their PR efforts like they did during the last downturn but rather looking at how to get the most out of their dollars. As we draft PR and marketing plans for the coming year, we have to examine the tactics we are recommending and whether they are a true value add. We need to be asking ourselves, our co-workers and even our bosses these questions:

  • What tactics are a value add?
  • Which tactics require a lot of time and money but produce few results?
  • What efforts result in the highest engagement with key stakeholders?
  • Which tactics only touch a few key stakeholders?
  • What tactics worked for us in 2008? Why? Can we rework them and use them in 2009?
  • Is this tactic worth the high price tag? Does it generate high results?
  • What out-of-the-box, low budget programs can we implement to reach our key stakeholders?

This list could go on for days but the point of it is to get us thinking about PR tactics and whether they are truly valuable. Trust me, your questions and willingness to examine your PR plan to ensure it is really achieving its desired goals will be appreciated. Now is not the time to throw together a PR plan without spending the proper time thinking it through. It is a time to get creative and figure out how to get the most out of your PR budgets while still producing measurable results that reach your ultimate goal of communicating with key stakeholders.

Value. Keep it top of mind as you ring in the New Year.


November 24, 2008

What a Tool.

Posted in A walk on the "dark side", Industry Standards tagged at 2:58 pm by R

We all rely on the help of well-developed resources as PR peeps, but a post by Dan Wool at Valley PR Blog really got me thinking:

In a world of customization and consideration, how are media resources and reference data bases helping us do our jobs better?

I have used several resources who tout one of their benefits as “distribution.” This means plugging in the info, and hitting send. Not ideal for getting a reporter’s attention. Not ideal for getting coverage. Not ideal for making a good name for yourself as a considerate PR pro.

Services like Bacon’s (Cision), Burrelle’s Luce, Vocus, PR Newswire, etc. would do well to tailor their services to the rapidly changing needs of PR people and reporters.

Things I’d really like to see all of these services offer to compete for my business (may the best man win):

  • Reporter contacts updated DAILY and checked for contact information accuracy
  • Full accounting of recent articles for each reporter/producer
  • BLOGS: contacts, content and RSS feed
  • Up-to-date editorial calendars (It’s the end of November. Really? Really? There’s nothing out for 2009? I call bull S*&%.)
  • Reporter query portals (HARO is superior to all others at this service presently. Why? They specialize and do it well.)
  • News alerts. Google does it (and everything else), why can’t Burrelle’s cross check between news coming out and reporters in my stored media list? Am I asking for the moon here?

The bottom line is that in a lot of ways I don’t feel like the PR services industry has caught up to what we as practitioners are adapting to.

Maybe it’s the case that I’m not using the “best” search terms but nothing, NOTHING is as frustrating as searching for a known broadcaster or heck an entire network (!!) and getting the old “search returned no results.”

In fact, this is sort of what I look like when that happens.


Long story longer: PR Tools, get up to speed. I’ve got a job to do here and I need help to do it well.


November 18, 2008

PR’s not dead, but I’m pretty sure the press release is…

Posted in A walk on the "dark side", Industry Standards at 4:22 pm by R

I sent out a press release today on PR Newswire. I got to thinking…why?

A couple good reasons really:

  1. Sending a release across the wire helps it to propagate like crazy. Ninety-five Web hits in one hour is nothing to turn your nose up at.
  2. It’s a great door knocker to publications and media outlets for pitching purposes.

But no one is calling me or banging down my client’s door for more information. Not because the story isn’t great, but because it came in the form of a press release.

To test my theory, I sent two emails: one that just had pitch information and client news, the other included a pitch and the release. Take a wild guess as to which one got a nibble.

The one without a release.

Here’s my hunch.

When it’s a personal email directed at a specific reporter with detailed information, it seems almost like you’re giving the reporter an exclusive. A press release inherently says:

Hi! I’ve been crafted for a plethora of journalists making whatever you write about me seem boring, repetitive and anything but unique. Please use me.

So, where do we go from here?

You’ve got to have client-approved talking points, but you’ve got to make it personal. I say get approved messaging points and dispense with the personal pitches.

For the really big stuff, crossing the wire makes sense. I sure can’t place 95 hits in one hour that will propagate like mad in SEO. But for so many other things, addressing personal relationships, individual needs of reporters and being a tailored resource is the only thing that makes sense.

The press release is dead! Long live public relations!


Is PR Dead?

Posted in A walk on the "dark side", Industry Standards at 3:57 pm by SD

On Friday, I heard Dave Taylor give a presentation titled “PR: 0, Bloggers: 1.” My first thought as he started his presentation was “Awesome, so now my job is obsolete. Just what I need in this economy!” Fortunately, PR is not dead, it’s alive and well if you’re willing to evolve and look at things a little differently.

In order to subscribe this new evolution of PR, you have to understand that:

“PR is not about controlling the message but about influencing the discussion.”

Well said Dave Taylor.

Fellow PR control freaks, we’ve got to let go of the role of the “gatekeeper” of information because no matter how hard we try, we don’t have 100% control of it. The Internet has made information way too available for this to happen. We still have information but we can’t always control how it gets out. Most of the time, the best we can do is try to influence the discussion. How do we do this? We combine our traditional PR efforts with online efforts. This means keeping those relationships with our local print and broadcast outlets but building new ones with online bloggers. It’s having an online presence whether via a blog, video sharing site or social networking site. It’s always asking ourselves, “how can we be part of the conversation?” and “where are people talking about us?” and then going to those places. It’s not asking, “how do control the message?” because we can’t control it, we can only try to influence it. Without this change in thinking, PR will die.

So, as I get ready to start my week, I rest assured that PR isn’t dead, it’s just changing. I’m up to this challenge, are you?


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