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The PR Tool Box

Implementation

Your strategy and PR plan means nothing unless you can implement it.  The good news is that implementation, if you follow some simple rules, should be relatively simple.  Think of it as creatively coloring by numbers.

 

What is in the PR toolbox?

Conceptually speaking it is a box that can be placed on the table, riffled through and the contents evaluated for suitability, effectiveness and ROI.  You’re trying to assess all of the possible PR implementation tactics that can be used to then build an integrated campaign. 

That’s why having a toolbox is so useful.  If you run down the possible tools (listed here, but constantly being developed, so start listing out from your own experiences the tactics you have seen to work) you can quickly build a list of which tools could be used.  Then you can play with their weight, frequency and time lines to build a whole campaign.

How to build PR tools

We should be clear that in many cases building tools is unique from implementing them. In other cases the production of the tool is the actual tool.

Lets take a press release.  The production of a press release is a ‘back room’ activity.  Only when the release is ready and approved can it actually be used as part of the PR mix.  Other tools, such as a broadcast interview, while there may be preparation required, are the actual tool.

In the perfect world where we have adequate time and resources to hand we would produce tools before we start implementing the campaign.  Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, time lines morph into each other and before you know it you need a degree in Project Management to keep the campaign from hitting time lines and being implemented successfully with creativity and careful follow through.  That is the mark of a successful PR professional, team or agency and what sets apart the leaders from the followers.  Needless to say, building tools is the foundation that leads to successful campaigns (and less stressful, last minute, late night sessions over junk food).

How to use PR tools

            Press releases

This is the staple diet of the PR world.  In fact many people mistakenly believe that PR means press release and not public relations.  If you had little to no time or money and represented a small business it might be considered that writing one press release would constitute basic public relations and may even gain some ‘free publicity’.

A press release is a formulaic pre-written few pages meant to be disseminated to mass journalists.  It lacks passion, a targeted message and rarely tells a story. 

Avoid press releases like the plague.

Yes, that’s right, don’t use them.  Stand out from the crowd.  Be different.  Lead the pack.  If you really want to implement killer public relations then move away from press releases.

But for those that just can’t tear themselves away from them, I will admit there is a place for press releases still.  There are times when a clarifying statement needs to be put in words and sent to multiple media outlets for accuracy’s sake.  And I will admit that many new product launches will benefit from a standard press release that explains often confusing or technically complicated matters.

Within the PR industry, professionals will often interchangeably use the term press release and news release. What can be said is that most press releases are actually news releases, i.e. they should be news worthy – which implies a time line to it.

So lets look at the press release to see how to build them for the times when it makes sense.  While the exact formula differs across different professionals and geographies, most can agree on the common elements a press release needs to include.

  • The logo of the organization that owns the release.  Make it easy for media to quickly identify who owns news they are reading. This is not the agency that might be disseminating the release, but who the release is about.
  • Contact points for the media to reach out to. This will most likely be a PR agency (and possibly not who the news is written about).  There are two schools of through – that these details should be at the end of the release (which is perhaps more traditional) and that they should be right at the top of the release (because who has time to wait till the end and actually the objective of the release is to engage in conversation the media). 

In today’s world the contact details need to include ways that the media can reach a professional 24/7 so phone numbers (ideally mobile) and email are a staple.  If you haven’t received a fax in weeks and it was so long since you actually sent a fax that you don’t know which way up to place the paper, then it’s probably not worth adding. Ditto for other unnecessary contact details, like your physical address (when do you think was the last time a journalist received a press release, liked it so much they penned a letter and posted it back to the contact point to get more details?).

There are some times where it is necessary to put multiple contact points on a press release, maybe due to geographical constraints or because it makes sense to direct a media person in different directions (for example to the product person or an investor relations person).

  • Date of release.  Imagine you are a journalist and you pick up a piece of paper on your desk. It would be kind of nice to think that it would clearly state if this news was from today, last week or last month.  Lets face it; news becomes less newsworthy over time, so knowing the release date is important.
  • Embargo. Related to the release date it should be clearly visible to the media if this release has an embargo.  An embargo is a common understanding that the release is not public knowledge until a certain time/date.  Using an embargo allows the PR pro and the media to communicate and get organized, so that a release can have a common release time/date across multiple outlets.  The good thing about this is that it can add impact to news if it is covered in multiple locations, and the embargo is key working factor that allows this to happen.

In the 15+ years on the job, apart form the odd honest misunderstanding, I’ve never come across a respectable media outlet that misuses an embargo when clearly stated.  That said, some media are increasingly publicizing that they will not respect embargoes, so in today’s marketplace it is important to get an understanding of a media outlets embargo policy before playing the game.

Remember that an embargo needs to include three pieces of information – a date, a time and a time zone. It’s always 12:00 noon somewhere in the world.

  • Title. The release should be summed up in 12 words or less. Ideally the company name or brand/product name should be the first word/s. The title should also be compelling enough to grab the attention of the journalists that are going to receive the press release. It is worth noting that you are not actually writing the title for the article if it should be picked up.
  • Byline. Not everyone thinks a byline or clarifying bullet points are suitable (it may not be traditional) but right after the title is a good place to simply sell the release to the media.  This could be in the form of a three point summary, or it could include some of the more exciting/outrageous/salient facts from the release.
  • Now it’s time to get into the main body of the release.  Whether the font is Times Roman or Arial, ensure that it is clear and readable (and no you can’t hand write a release, if for whatever reason you were thinking about it).  In the old day it was considered professional to ensure the main body was double spaced so journalist could write (back when journalists used real pens!) in-between the lines – apparently in an attempt to write an article from the release.  This might not be so important today, but still a lot of releases have 1.5 lines spacing to facilitate ease of reading.
  • Starter. The first paragraph normally starts with the date and the location (city, country) where the released is being released from. 
  • First sentence. This normally grounds the release. It traditionally will start with the company name followed by a positioning statement. 

Your positioning statement will very, very rates include anything along the lines of ‘the best’ or ‘the leading’. This is not an advertisement.  Far better to be ‘one of the leading’.

  • First paragraph. Ideally will include the who, what, where, when and how – a clear and concise summary of the release.
  • The second paragraph is usually either further explanation if required, or a quote form the primary spokes person.
  • The rest of the release is a great explanation of the news.
  • The end of the release needs to be clearly identified – for this is where the release ends and the ‘further information starts’
  • Counting words.  Some professionals believe that this would be a good place to note how many words are in the release.  In today’s world most journalists are receiving releases electronically and all have word count facilities on their computer, so it is probably less important for today’s media.
  • Explanations.  Once the main release has ended, this is a good place to add any clarifying information. This could be a written paragraph or two, or possibly links to other online related resources.
  • Images.  It is highly advisable to send images – pictures, photographs, screen grabs, illustrations and artwork – with the release.  All media appreciate receiving artwork. Embedding low resolution artwork is appropriate and then pointing to where high resolution images can be found (a contact point or online link to download).
  • Video/Multimedia.  Today there is a need to use video and other multimedia presentations.  This is easily produced and greatly increases the branding and storytelling of your release. Here’s where you add links to such materials.
  • Social Media. Whether it is company or product/service specific – links to social media should be included here.
  • The company. A paragraph should then be headed with the company name and an overview of that company, culminating with a web URL so the journalist can get more information on the company (not necessarily the same place as where information is found related to this release). Releases may be attributed to two or more organizations, in which case each company should have their own paragraph and this is not the place to demonstrate the relationship between the organizations.

Notes on quotes – To quote a spokes person is the norm. There are of course situations where this is not appropriate, but the PR strategy will give guidance.  Our experience is that most organizations are promoting a personal image, and are therefore using spokes people a great deal.  Again, from our experience, if while copywriting you have the choice to including information as a quote or not, the text in quotes has a better chance of being picked up word-for-word in the media.  Learn from this and only quote the most vital message from a spokesperson – this is not an area where padding should be used.

 

We constantly teach spokespeople in our media training sessions that if they want to be quotable, they need to be opinionated and interesting. We highly suggest you use the same frame when writing quotes.  As you work with each spokes person you’ll get to know their speech pattern, so it is easier to produce something that really sounds like it is something your spokesperson would say.

Notes on using headings bullet points, italics and bold - As far as we are concerned, the idea of a press release is to get across a message in the simplest manner that leaves little room for miscommunication.  If the clearest way to communicate your message is to use headings, bullet points, italics and bold within your text them use them.  Like a good designer will tell you, don’t over use these formatting tactics and never use multiple fonts within the same piece.

            Company / Background information

The press have to know who they are covering.  Some organizations are well known, but not many compared to the number that want coverage.  Chances are that you need to explain who the organization is, what they do, where they do it, and how long they have been doing it. You may want to explain the client base, the product/service offering and how they got to be in a situation to offer these solutions.

Yes, this is a self-serving circle.  Consumers of media want to (largely) read about companies they have knowledge of, so the media to a greater degree cover organizations that are well known, which limits the number of companies that the consumers know about.

Ethically speaking, if the organization is owned or part of a larger group, or in turn owns other organizations, is listed on any public exchange, has major financial backers or has other important ownership details, these should be made apparent to the media.

There is also more information that a good journalist will want to understand to improve their ability to write stories, including but not limited to, number of employees, location of offices and their functions, valuation of the organization in the last financial year, who the leaders in the organization are and future plans of the organization.

While these information sheets may be a bullet point of factual information, we find that time lines tell a useful story.  We also have clients that have compelling history and start up stories, so these are often told in anything up to a page of writing to add character and color to the organization and to assist media with their writing. 

Biographies

The best way to introduce a spokesperson to the media is to get them in front of that journalist.  But we would never put a journalist in front of client cold – they need to know whom they are going to meet before hand. The biography is ideal for this. 

Like the press release, a biography has a simple template behind it:

1 – person’s name and position

2 – what they will do in that position – i.e. their responsibilities and vision for that job and how it will benefit the company

3 – past employment – only the positions and experience that is relevant to the current job, listed in reverse chronological order

4 – education - only if relevant

6 – possibly something fun or quirky about the person (you could just say he likes fishing and has a wife and two kids, but we always prefer something more memorable).

For this last element, if you are clever, you will keep consistent with biagraphies and in line with the company’s style.... So it could be ‘three things you wouldn’t know of Mr X’ or something that is more relevant to the industry such as ‘favorite time on an oil rig’ if the company is in the oil & gas industry, or ‘favorite mobile application’ if the company was a mobile phone company... You’re trying to make something quotable and memorable.  Let your mind go wild and get creative.

            Case studies and testimonials

There is no better way of communicating how great a company’s product/service is than a comprehensively written case study or testimonial from a successful and happy client. Unlike a product sheet, the case study really helps place the product/service and allows you to demonstrate why the company’s clients have a need for the solution, the benefit it offers and the features it provides.

The standard flow to complete this would be:

  • Customer’s problem or requirement
  • How the company’s solution fit that need
  • If ‘implemented’ then details of that process (on time, on budget)
  • How the customer perceived the implementation
  • Any training required in the customer’s organization
  • The roll-out
  • How the features of the solution fits the initial requirement
  • How happy the customer is with the solution

Pictures to support this and quotes from both the customer and the solution provider should be used.  If partners were part of the sale or implementation, then it often is beneficial to include them too. With a complex solution that had a number of partners, you might find that you are quickly including quotes from five different companies.  If this happens be careful that the case study doesn’t become confusing and it is clear who is who and how they are relevant to the case study.  If multiple spokespeople are being used ensure that the main company in focus has the highest amount of quote time and ideally have their quote be the first (in the introduction) and the last (in the summary).

            Press kits     

The press kit is not an independent written piece, but an accumulation of other written materials.  Typically a press kit will be a folder (hopefully branded) which when you open it, has two flaps to hold your materials.  Traditionally this will include on the left hand side the three (or so) most recent (relevant) press releases (in reverse chronological order so the latest press release is at the front).

On the right hand side will be other fact sheets, biographies and company backgrounds.  Depending upon the use of the press kit (and when it is presented) it might also include specific product/service details, corporate collateral, case studies, testimonials or specification sheets. There is no reason why the press kit would not hold the business card of the press contact point, printed photographs that the press might want to publish and a CD (or similar) of the electronic formats of written copy and images.

There is an increasing trend to go green and not to print this out or place it in a glossy (or environmentally recycled) folder.  A number of clients see it advantageous to place all this on a (often branded or otherwise quirky) USB drive.  This is certainly easier to transport (and seeing as press kits are often used en masse this is a significant advantage). The disadvantage is that, lets face it, no one really looks through a USB drive, through all the attachments on a CD or otherwise electronic files. 

The idea of the Press Kit is that it can be presented to a journalist, opened up in front of them, and each document can be referred to.  This way you can have two-way communications with another person, gauge their interest and then redirect your efforts to providing the most appropriate information that the media person can use to the fullest.  Remember, the media are always trying to find the right angle for the publication/s they work for – and this is where a printed Press Kit really has the advantage of offering a general overview and then drilling down to what the journalist wants to learn about.

            Photography

Photography is vitally important for all media work.  There is not a medium out there today that doesn’t benefit from visual aids. Even non-visual medium, such as radio, has an online presence and the journalists/hosts are Tweeting (or other social media interaction) to their listeners.

Even in today’s digital SLR sub $1,000 camera market and the mass of easy to use photo editing software, it pays dividends to use a professional photographer.  Someone who takes media images for a living and has experience they can showcase.  It is worth baring in mind that a good wedding photographer does not make a good PR photographer, and not all photographers who produce great corporate head and shoulder shots can do a still image of a widget.  Some still art is very specific, such as food, and specialists should be called in.

When using a professional photographer the best results are obtained when a clear brief can be provided. This should include where and when the shoot should take place, the reason for the shoot background information that sets a scene for the photographer and specific details about what is required.

Most common is the head and shoulder shot of the CEO and spokes people of the organization.  These typically are colors shots of the individual showing their head and going down as far as their mid-chest area.  While overly branding these images with prominent organizational logo in the background should be avoided, it is always good to have the various head and shoulder images consistent with each other and the general branding of the organization being represented.  Often this can be obtained by taking the shots in a reception area, but it is more fun to get creative about locations.

Sidebar – Creative photography locations

We’ve used various creative locations for head and shoulder shots, including:

1 – mid way across a bridge with 10 lanes of screaming traffic in the background at dusk for a company that provided logistical software for fleet departments

2 – five star hotels for that luxury feel (get permission first)

3 – the desert with never ending sand dunes for a company that delivered power from natural resources

4 – well known cultural and national monuments to anchor the subject to a time or location – such as the backdrop of the half completed Bur Al Arab hotel in Dubai for an electronics company

5 – a bank vault with crates of gold bars for a banking client

For products there is a need for two types of shoots.  First up, you need a straight up image of the product (in it’s most popular version, color versions and open/closed positions) to use with many magazines.  These images need to be with minimal backgrounds so magazines can manipulate them for larger features, or use them as thumbnails.

There is also a need (and also to a greater need) to have lifestyle images – that is an image with people using your product / service.  These images are the most complex of shoots.  There is a need to use professional models, set up lighting, often arrange locations and thus a longer shoot time, which means a high price tag.  That said, these are well worth and will turn a profit with multiple uses from the media.  As with other types of shoots, it pays to get creative.  It is also worth re-shooting with different ethnical looking users, so the images can be used in different geographies around the world.  It’s surprising how recognizable different nationalities are to the people whom come from those nations.  For example, French people look very different than Germans even thought their countries boarder each other.

Gone are the days when you need hard copies and slides of images.  Working from soft copies is totally acceptable.  We recommend putting in place a robust filing system so you can find relevant and current images (and a system that achieves outdated images so they are not used), by file type (JPEG, TIFF and PNG formats of each image) in both high and low resolution, and also at different sizes suitable for magazines to use as well as for smaller online usage.

            Audio & Video

Today it’s rare that an organization needs to pre-record audio files, but it does have some use. There are of course notable exceptions for organizations that are targeting radio media, but mostly the talk show format of radio stations do not require pre-recorded audio to be supplied. It might, however, be advantageous to re-record an interview or pull the audio from a notable video recorded interview, but generally speaking this is easily done on demand or by a radio producer in real time so there is little need spending time/resources building this type of a library.

You need b-roll (or broll) to supply broadcast TV as supplemental footage which can be inserted as a cutaway to help tell a media story. B-roll includes the shots that are shown to introduce a segment and/or in between the live or taped interviews. B-roll does not include sound so that the broadcaster can add voice-over or music. Similarly, there should be no captioning or graphics added to the video footage. Today, this needs to be shot in high-definition to be compatible with network TV.

It is necessary to produce a b-roll package for your company if you anticipate a high volume of TV news coverage as this will add consistency across multiple channels and allows you to control some of the storytelling. Having b-roll limits the need for camera crews disrupting the organization’s office/manufacturing or other locations, and producers appreciate the efficiency of having the basic footage available. 

A standard company b-roll package is about 5-10 minutes long and is divided into sections that should include:

  • CEO/founder and executives working and walking
  • Internal shots of employees working
  • Manufacturing, R&D or other engineering
  • External office shots, preferably with company signage
  • Product shots with various angles
  • Everyday people using the product in different environments

Even though you can shoot high def on your hand held device, we highly recommend using a professional video production company to direct, film, edit and produce your b-roll.  It is also important to update your b-roll so that all parts of it are true, modern and usable.  Not only should you check your b-roll for corporate accuracy, but look out for the nuances – such as clothes worn on employees, phones / other technology in the shots and cars in the background.  If any of these look dated, they it’s time to refresh.

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How the Game in Played

Business Objectives

Lewis Carroll had it right in Alice in Wonderland -

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.

So it goes for every single business and organisation.  And the central business objectives are the top tier that drives marketing, which in turn drive PR.  For many organisations increasing sales may be a major factor of the business objectives, but for others it may be less critical or totally unnecessary.

PR & the Marketing Mix

The marketing mix used to include the 4 P’s

Product – or service that is being sold.  Starbucks sells coffee, but also a lot more – an environment, real estate for a meeting, a place to meet new people or an informal café to meet friend.

Price – how much to sell your product/service for

Place – where you are selling – geographically, the channels to reach your customer and more recently if there is an online presence.

Promotion – the marketing tactics use to promote sales.

More recently extra P’s have been added (and depending upon whether you are a puritan or not, you may except them.  If you want to stay true to the PR story then you can ignore this section, but for completion sake:

People: Any person coming into contact with customers can have an impact on overall satisfaction. Whether as part of a supporting service to a product or involved in a total service, people are particularly important because, in the customer's eyes, they are generally inseparable from the total service.

Process: This is the process/es involved in providing a service and the behaviour of people, which can be crucial to customer satisfaction.

Physical evidence: Unlike a product, a service cannot be experienced before it is delivered, which makes it intangible. This, therefore, means that potential customers could perceive greater risk when deciding whether to use a service. To reduce the feeling of risk, thus improving the chance for success, it is often vital to offer potential customers the chance to see what a service would be like. This is done by providing physical evidence, such as case studies, testimonials or demonstrations. 

Personalization: It is here referred customization of products and services through the use of the Internet. Early examples include Dell on-line and Amazon.com, but this concept is further extended with emerging social media and advanced algorithms.

Participation: This is to allow the customer to participate in what the brand should stand for; what should be the product directions and even which ads to run.

Peer-to-Peer: This refers to customer networks and communities where advocacy happens. The historical problem with marketing is that it is “interruptive” in nature, trying to impose a brand on the customer. This is most apparent in TV advertising. These “passive customer bases” will ultimately be replaced by the “active customer communities”. Brand engagement happens within those conversations. P2P is now being referred as Social Computing and is likely to be the most disruptive force in the future of marketing.

Predictive modeling: This refers to algorithms that can be successfully applied in marketing problems to evaluate past and forecast future performance.

Lets back up to one of the original P’s – promotion – for this is the marketing mix.  At a formal level this mix includes activities such as:

  • Public Relations – yup, we’ll cover that in this book
  • Advertising - design and placement of adverts in largely the same media that we’ll identify in this book plus some advertising opportunities outside of ‘the media’ such as billboard advertising
  • Events – seminars, exhibitions, conferences, sponsorship opportunities etc
  • Direct Mail – both physical and cyber direct mail

And in it’s less formal definition, the marketing mix also includes:

  • Direct selling – sales people on the phones/street
  • Web sites – do I really need to explain that to you?
  • Packaging – how your product or service looks
  • Retail – the ‘shop’ that is the conduit between the product/service and the consumer
  • CRM - a term applied to processes implemented by a company to handle its contact with its customers
  • Research – finding what, why and how related to your product/service, competitor and customer

The PR professional must understand that PR is part of this mix.  For some PR professionals they will have to choose or lobby (or throw chairs around) to determine how much resources (financial and human) is divided between this mix.  From experience, I can tell you that advertising takes one of the highest financial budgets from the mix, but is one of the lowest human time cost to implement. PR is generally the opposite of this, taking one of the lowest financial commitments but one of the highest human time costs.

 

PR Objectives

Once the business objectives and only then marketing mix is well understood, then and only then can PR objectives be set.

The most common objective in public relations is to increase positive coverage.  But come on people – can we not get a little more creative and constructive?

First off, there is positive neutral and negative coverage.  We all strive for positive (good news) coverage, but there are certain instances that neural coverage is desired (especially in media exposure around a product or situation that previously has been negative.  And do we desire negative publicity? Not for our own interests, but it is not unheard of (although certainly unethical) to arrange negative publicity to a competitor’s brand, business or product (but enough about political campaigns).

Some might argue that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Trust me, there is.  I have worked with organisations throughout the world that are in crisis situations because they are concerned about existing or potential bad news.

There are instances when the PR objectives is non-coverage.  Certain individuals and institutions prefer to remain under the radar and out of the press for either modest or avoidance reasons. This too takes PR management and should be part of setting PR objectives.

At the end of the day a PR team is trying to get their company/client either in or out of the media.  And more often than not there will be a mix.

For example, “our objective is to maximise company X exposure in our core media, but to reduce the coverage of Y product which we will be discontinuing within 6 month”.

The top level PR objective will then need to be broken down into further detail.  For example, it is not good enough to set an objective of “greater coverage” without providing some type of measure (e.g. article count or column cm’s) some type of target (e.g. in our top 20 media) some type of content (e.g. to include X product/services) and a number of other important factors such as:

  • Timing of coverage
  • Messages included
  • Content of title
  • Image used
  • Spokes people quoted
  • Number of times the band is named

The more the objectives can be defined, the more effective the PR implementation will be and the easier it will be to measure.  More on this in the ‘measurement’ section of this chapter.

There are of course other common PR objectives. In my experience most clients include subjective and objective ones:

  • Increase the brand visibility (or protect it, build it, define it…)
  • Educate the target audience of our product/service (that it exists or how to use it)
  • Create demand for our product/service (why it exists and what problem it serves)
  • Build relationships (partners, suppliers, vendors, clients, customers, delivery channel, retail, financial, investors…)
  • Showcase success of company (normally tied into a ‘higher’ objective because this ultimately is needed to prove something like experience in sector or market)
  • Attract new employees (or promote company to present employees)
  • Increase leads for sales to X (PR is typically a poor lead generator compared to other marketing tools, but never the les this is often an objective)
  • Increase sales from Y to Z
  • Increase our share price from Y to Z
  • Increase our ranking in X table from Y to Z

As is common across all business functions, objectives should be SMART - Specific (concrete, detailed, well defined), Measurable (numbers, quantity, comparison), Achievable (feasible, actionable), Realistic (considering resources) and Time-Bound (a defined time line).

PR Strategy

The strategy covers the who and what of the PR work.  By going through a strategy process you are detailing how it is possible to reach the PR objectives – which in turn will roll up to the business objectives.

What you are going to need

Let assume that you already have a complete understanding of the product and service that you want to build a strategy for.  Some argue that you don’t actually need to understand the product/service inside-out, but frankly this is normally an opinion from someone that has specialty knowledge of a product segment and their inherent knowledge will carry them through what they do not know about a product.

Next we look above the product level.

General Business Environment

Industry

Competitors

Company

Product

 

It’s important to know and understand the whole product/service range of the company/organisation.  It is important to understand how this product/service fits with other offerings, how the company is perceived with customers/partners and within the media. The differentiation of whether this is a lead product for a company or supports other products already purchased is vital to understand.  If this is a luxury product but the perception of the company is a budget player, may not seem to make sense at a business level, but there may be some very good long term reasons for this positioning and so all this should be investigated.

 

Next the competition needs to be looked at.  No company is too unique or too much of a market leader to negate this.  Perhaps more important than your company’s perception of this is the perceived competitive landscape by customers and potential customers.

Knowing who your main competitors are and what their main offerings are against your own is part of this process.  Both the physical offering and the perceived offering – that is to say, not only the product/service that the competitor offers, but how the customers perceive that, and how they rank that against your own product/service.

As an example, lets look at the highly competitive automotive industry. Throughout the world there are different models offered, so first up, it would important to look at a specified geography and map out which manufactures offered which models, and what specifications are most popular in that geography. Take any price point, then have a look at competing manufacturers.  Who’s really to say that at that price point, in one geography a Toyota, BMW or Nissan are better than each other or alternative manufacturers?  As far the physical car parts are the concerned, the design, the manufacture, the warrantee, the customer service etc, etc. There are so many components that need to be considered. But it would be true to say that one manufacturer has a perceived value over others?

After looking at the competition we look at the industry as a whole.  How that industry is perceived is going to play an important part in building the strategy.  Is the industry in question considered reputable, questionable, ethical… is it growing, are there new players all the time, are the players known, do customers understand the industry, how does regulation effect it?

One of my first jobs was in sales & marketing working for a printer consumable recycler.  The company was one of the first reputable companies to take laser and inkjet cartridges and recycle/refill them, which offered a more cost effective and environmentally sound solution to it’s customers. 

The company was nation wide and had strong ethics, a good brand and offered an honest service to repeat clients.

The trouble was, the printer manufacturers made a lot of money from the sale of their consumables and did not want to loose this revenue. 

At the same time the only direct competition was from less ethical recyclers known to ‘drill and fill’ – literally drill a hole in the side of a laser printer and add more toner – needless to say a less reliable solution than a total re-manufacture.

As a result of a questionable industry and reluctance from printer manufacturers, sales for this ethical and strong product offering company was hard. The initial barriers when selling into a corporate client was high – they had tried our less reliable competitors and had not been impressed by the results. 

When we built our PR strategy we had to be very aware of these factors and then plan accordingly.

Above all this product, company and industry noise is the general welfare of the business environment and economy. This can affect your PR strategy in a number of ways.  Understanding if your sales are in a growth or recessional economy is a good start.  What are the main concerns of the business environment?  Maybe getting financing, or human talent or office space are concerns. Maybe the overspending of fat-cat executives is in the media. Maybe there are concerns over high annual bonuses.  Maybe the origin of manufacturing are concerns, or maybe a strong ‘buy-local/national’ campaign is swaying public opinion. 

There are many real and perceived business environment factors that will play a role on how to build your PR strategy.  Being aware of them is the first step, and knowing how to avoid the negative press that you could associate yourself with is a good start.  Next, knowing how to exploit the present and future positive factors and ride those waves will add velocity to your campaign.

Not so long after working for the printer consumable recycling company I worked for a public listed company that manufactured and marketed surge protectors and battery backup power supplies.  These are the devices that protect your electronic equipment (and more often than not computer equipment) in the event of a power surge or blackout.  They also keep you running during a power cut, so you do not loose valuable data.

When I worked for the company in the mid nineties it was the height of the technology explosion.  Email was taking off.  Corporations were embracing technology to better run their organisations.  Everyone seemed to be buying computers and Internet Cafés were sprouting up on every corner to feed the demand for those that were not buying or were away from their PCs.

With these business environmental changes it was no surprise that the company I was working for had very healthy, double digit growth year over year.

From my perspective in the marketing department, it was easy to build a PR strategy that filled this ever-increasing demand.  Probably the most important element to the strategy was communicating the business environments new dependency on data processing and how just a few minutes of computer down time could now cost a company thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Then there is one of the most important things that you are going to need.

Every month we receive applications from new graduates who want to enter the field of public relations.  Within the first paragraph they boast they are the best person to hire because not only can they do the work of a PR professional, but also they are also great at the strategy. Codswallop.

It takes experience, lots of experience, to be able to build a great strategy.  A new recruit can have fantastic ideas, they can bring a new spin on old working practices and they can fresh opinion while understanding the younger generation marketing segments that older professionals may not understand.  But they cannot bring the experience of what has been be used, what has worked, what is feasible in the cycle of business.

Examples of PR strategies

TO BE DEFINED

How to build a PR strategy

Yes, there is a lot to consider when building a PR strategy.  Here’s the thing – we need to condense all this information and make it digestible and meaningful so we can present a PR strategy to other stake holders – something that can be clearly communicated and understood without 7 days of background research.

While the following template may not be a one-size fits all, it does work for the majority of clients we work with and allows us to clearly define a strategy.

Defining a targets

Having a strategy is great, but we also need to know whom we are directing this at. In short, who are we selling to, or who needs to receive our PR. 

First up, this is not the media (more on defining the media for a PR campaign later) as the media are the conduit for us to reach the target.  The target is the final person who needs to hear our message.  Often it will be the person who purchases our product, or could be an influencer. In a corporate world this could be a CEO or line manager even though the CFO or purchasing manager makes the purchase. For example when as a PR agency we are asked to pitch our services we may be standing in front of four or five people including the PR manager, marketing manager, sales manager, CEO, business owner, general manager, purchasing manager, financial manager etc. In a consumer environment family and friends influence the purchasing decisions of others.  For example a child may influence their mother on their weekly cereal purchasing decision.

Surround the customer

When I worked client side the global sales team of the company I worked for had a sales strategy called surround the customer. The principal was quite simple – there were a number of people in the business that influenced the sale.  In the case of this technology company it included the CIO, CFO, CEO, IT manager, computer reseller and other vendors. 

This advice is well heeded by PR professionals.  In the case of the technology company above this means being present in technology titles that the CIO / IT manager might read, financial titles the CEO might read, business titles the CEO might read and technology industry titles that computer resellers and vendors might read. 

If your PR target is only targeting one type of end user you are probably missing something.

Second thing to remember, is that if you define your target as ‘everyone’ then you haven’t actually defined your market.  We sometimes come across clients who say their product/service is so omnipresent that absolutely everyone is their target.  I doubt it.  I doubt this as the buying/desire patterns of an 18-month-old girl (think anything Elmo and pretty bows) are rarely going to be concurrent with a 70-year-old successful businessman who plays golf and actively invests in foreign exchanges (although both groups might use dippers it is hopped there would be a great proportion of society that would not).

There are a number of ways that we can break down the target audience. First we can look at geography.  At the simplest level we can look at country. 

A common mistake we come across is that because sales might list their sales targets regionally (with multiple countries making up a region), this gets transposed to the marketing and PR teams.  Rarely can we put multiple countries in the same bucket when talking PR. 

I once looked after the marketing for a technology company across Eastern Europe.  The 14 countries started in the North with Latvia, Lithuania & Estonia, through Poland, Czech & Slovak republics, Hungry, via a number of smaller feuding countries/states and ended in the South at Turkey.  This was one sales region.  It was, however, 14 PR countries, each with their own unique strategy and of course language.

More recently, as I run a PR agency in the Middle East, we continually get asked to draw up a PR strategy that covers ‘the Middle East’.  For one, the ‘Middle East’, does not exist as a clearly defined group of countries (for example is Egypt in the Middle East or Africa, or both?). Secondly, as you can well imagine, the dynamics and thus the PR strategy for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going to be very different from the United Arab Emirates.

For many companies a national-geographical breakdown is not just not good enough – especially in bigger countries such as the United States or India.  For the U.S. market, regions within the country or State level are more common.  In fact many need to get more specific than that and choose metropolitan areas over county definitions.

Most countries also have other geographically based segmentation available, for example in the U.S. zip codes and in the U.K. post codes.  Both of these are examples that allow companies to target geographies very precisely. 

Language spoken is also an important differentiator for PR targeting.  It used to be understood that language was pretty standard across each country but in today’s transit metropolis this is not so.  Today dedicated agencies exist in the U.S. to reach different targets, such as the Spanish speaking population, whom in many geographies make up a larger population than English speaking.

Another example would be the heavily expatriate societies in Asia and the Middle East.  Through most of the Middle East, we work every day with both Arabic and English language daily newspapers.  And there are more languages in other media – such as French, Russian, Hindi and Urdu to name but four.

It is going to be important to understand if we are targeting a corporate audience or a consumer audience.  Both groups call for different strategies and many PR agencies specialize in one area over the other.

When building PR for a corporate audience we can readily target people by job function.   This does make life easier.  Not only do different job junctions seem to attract a similar type of person, of course these positions also readily attract different media.  So we can target CEO’s, CFO’s, all in the C suite, or any manger in any function, or any worker as defined by their role within the organization.

When we target consumers the most common way to target is gender, age and socio-demographic factors.  The first two are pretty self-explanatory.  Socio-demographic data is also readily available in most developed markets and in its basic terms maps wealth and geography. 

There are of course many, many ways to define target such as distance from business (geographically defining a sphere of influence for your company), education level, health of target (or lack of it), employment, preferences (based on any other consumer factor, or sexual), knowledge in a certain area, previous purchasing decisions etc.

A word of warning.  Some people in marketing love to come up with catchy titles that define a group of people.  For example The Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 1995).  The trouble with this is that different people define these terms differently (as I’m sure some readers will define The Millennial Generation with different factors). Use these arbitrary terms sparingly unless they are clearly defined within your plans.

Defining a message

We have objectives.  We know whom we want to speak to.  Now we need to build what we want to say to them.

There are often multiple messages that are communicated at the same time.  An organisation may have messages – such as taking a leadership position in the market or capitalising on their heritage. 

Tag lines from corporations are often an easy way to identify an organisation’s core messages.

EXAMPLE OF MESSAGES

Examples of such messaging include:

There are also messages for individual products or product lines.  Unlike the organisation’s messages, these may change depending upon the product life cycle and are more malleable to buyer behaviour.

EXAMPLE OF MESSAGES

Examples of such messaging include:

Planning (where, when & how)…

The core strategy in place gives us the theoretical road map. Now for the fun part – to find the right PR mix to tactically implement.

First off we can look through a typical PR tool box and investigate if any of the following can be of use.

A useful checklist includes:

1 – Press Releases

Global

Local

Products

Services

Wins

Case Studies

Opinions

Financial

Launch

Event/Exhibitions

Charity

Channel

2 – Interviews

One-on-ones

Editorial opinion

Educational

Industry comments

3 – Regular Columns

Questions and Answers

Top 10

Opinion

Radio spots

4 – Press Events

Press conference

Product/service launch

Media tour (@ client or @ case study/win)

5 – Forward Feature Plan

6 – Newspaper analysis and pitching news angles as the news happens

7 – Photography opportunities

8 – Test units

9 – Competitions

10 – Surveys/Questionnaires

11 – CSR /Charity Actions

The eleven major areas highlighted in the PR tool box above are not exhaustive in any way.  There are plenty of other successful tools that can be implemented, and every month you should be able to add further creative solutions.

Each PR tool should be looked at for relevance and it’s ability to:

1 – satisfy the objective

2 – reach the right target

3 – communicate the message

and then it needs to be looked at in terms of whether it can be implemented within the available:

4 – budget

5 – time line parameters

lastly it should also identify whether:

6 – the team have the necessary skills and experience to pull it off.

What is a PR plan?

The PR plan puts the objectives, targets, messaging and tactical implementation down on paper.  The more concrete and concise the plan is, the better chance it has of being understood by others, thus a better chance of being approved in terms of scope and budget allocation.  It also has a better chance of being implemented correctly and thus gaining better results. 

What comes first the chicken or the egg? 

As with all corporate planning there is an argument for bottom up and top down planning.  Should the PR department plan their actions based on sales objectives, or where the market is going and then report back to sales?  Ideally every organization should be listening to their customers at all levels of the company.  However, in practice I’ve worked for far more companies where PR is driven by annual/quarterly sales objectives.  It’s just a fact of corporate life.

Examples of PR plans

The following is one of the most concise PR plan templates that I have found to work through the years.  This is not a one size fits all solution though.  Different companies are measured and operate in a number of ways.  A number of other major factors such as multiple product lines (especially if targeting different audiences) and cyclical business are not necessarily dynamically drawn out with this template, but can of course be included.

ADD EXAMPLE OF PR PLAN

How to build a PR plan

With a thorough understanding of the above principals, a template to work on, there is only one thing missing to be able to build that perfect PR plan.  Lots and lots of experience.

Assuming that a team of people can have the required organisational and product/service knowledge, and that they understand the full PR tool box, the team different backgrounds and as much experience delivering similar messages, in a similar time frame, with similar budgets to a similar target. 

Above all, if constructing a PR plan in a team, be conscious that there is no right or wrong answer to be reached.  Some ideas are as good as others, and some are better than others.  Some work better at certain times and others work better if integrated with other PR and business actions.

How do you know if you have it right? 

Measurement.  The more you measure, and the quicker you can get the data, the more of a chance you have of self rectify, alter, dial up/down, tweak and otherwise change what you are doing.  And with continual feedback you can dive a more effective and efficient PR campaign that hits your objectives.

Measurement comes in many, many ways.  This will be covered in a later chapter, but right now it is sufficient to understand that measurement can be against straight PR objectives (such as share of voice or value of coverage obtained) or against wider business objectives (such as perceptions of focus groups, sales targets, financial performance).

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Where the Game is Played

In the office

A strange phenomenon is attacking PR agencies through the land.  Ten to fifteen years ago a PR office was a bouncing ball of nervous energy.  Lots of noise and commotion.  People waking about, a lot more on phones, tons of paper being produced, large mailing rooms, color slides of product images, spec sheets, conversations and animation. 

Today, try walking into the same office and it somewhat resembles a classroom of people in silence completing an exam... perhaps for the gentle tapping of fingers on keyboards.  Different generations communicate in different ways.  Those that have just joined the workforce in the past five to ten years use cyber-tools (email, instant messenger, social media etc) to communicate and collaborate with others.

Out of the office

Of all of the professions, PR has one of the lowest barriers to entry.  With a mobile phone and a good contact list of the press, a new PR player can get started.  Good news for the PR entrepreneur.

For those of us already in the game, a majority should be played out of the office, but I find increasingly that this is a missing component of PR.  To be successful in PR you need good relationships with the press.  While relationships can be secured over the phone and in CyberLand, there is no substitute for actually meeting face-to-face, in person.  It’s highly recommended.

In some geographical regions this is simple.  For example, when we started NettResults in the United Arab Emirates, the team needed only travel to two different areas in Dubai.  Within a day it was possible to have been in the offices of almost all of the major publishing houses.  That face-face-face time is invaluable to build agency/media relationships.  In the United States it is going to be far more difficult to get in-front of the media without spending a fortune on flights for they are distributed coast-to-coast and in all major cities in-between.

Before you start booking flights, we need to define which media we are targeting. So lets take a closer look at where the press is located and how to reach them.

 

In your town

If you were getting publicity for a locally owned Italian restaurant with one location in your home city, then you know where you need to get coverage. 

If you were located in Springfield[1] you’d want to include KBBL Broadcasting Inc. which serves as the major media outlet, owning at least three radio stations and one television station and in The Springfield Shopper which is the city’s newspaper.

If you were located in Metropolis[2] you’d want to target Metropolis' premier newspaper, The Daily Planet, one of the most renowned news organizations in the DC Universe. The city is also home to the national Newstime magazine. Other major media located in Metropolis include WGBS-TV, flagship station of the Galaxy Broadcasting System (GBS) television network, both subsidiaries of media conglomerate Galaxy Communications.

You could get coverage in other city titles – for example, Time Out London[3] or New York Magazine[4], but seeing as both London and New York are ‘worlds apart’ from Springfield and Metropolis, it is unlikely that even if a hungry, Italian food loving foodie was to read your publicity they would probably not make the trip to visit your restaurant.

In short you need to target the press that represent the sphere of influence of your subject matter.  How far would you travel for a good Italian restaurant?  Probably not much further than your own town or city.

In your area

Other products or services have a wider appeal. If you were into classical music, you may well travel further to reach a venue that a well-known orchestra was playing. If you wanted to see a band you own a couple of albums of perform – how far would you travel? In the U.S. this might be county or even statewide.  In other countries this may be some other definable district.

In this case you would not only target the media in your own city, but also the media that target the surrounding cities or areas. 

In your country

Some media are countrywide. Most obvious are the national daily newspapers of countries.  For smaller geographical countries, this also includes a wide variety of TV stations and possibly radio stations.  Other print media (such as weekly and monthly – consumer or trade focused – magazines) may also be appropriate for national publicity. 

The general rule is that the more consumer orientated the product/service is, the more local you want to target your media.  It comes down to readership/viewer numbers. If you are marketing something that appeals to a very broad target, then you can get really local. If, conversely, you are targeting something quite specific then to get the numbers to a commercially acceptable level for a publication, the geographical area will be broader.

Media that target a specific interest will find the right route to these readers/viewers.  So, for example, a listing of the best restaurants (if a lot of people go out to eat) will be citywide.  The magazine that targets those interested in nuclear biology will probably not be citywide, as there are probably not too many nuclear biologists in one city.

If McDonalds are going to launch a new menu item, based on the fact they have restaurants in every town and city in the country and attract a very broad spectrum of customers, it might make sense for them to work with consumer focused media that are countrywide.

If IBM is going to launch a new server that costs over $15,000 they are not primarily going to want to target the local city newspaper.  They are more likely to work with media that target IT professionals in the size/type of companies/organizations that can afford and find a use for their server.  While all the IT professionals across a country may read many, many different city newspapers, they probably only read from a handful of technology magazines.  So clearly is more efficient for the PR professional to target this group of people by interest/occupation rather than by their geographical location.

 

Internationally

Then there are products/services that are being launched in multiple countries at the same time.  While McDonald’s new menu item may be tailored to the taste buds of an individual country, the chances are that the new IBM server may be available (wattage permitting) in multiple countries.

This is when it becomes interesting.  Very few traditional media in the world of public relations work over multiple countries.  Do English people read French newspapers?  Even when languages and cultures are similar, media is differentiated – while some common titles exist in both the USA and Canada, they mostly comprise of different content that is targeted for an individual country.  This means that a PR pro will have to pitch the story twice – each time to the journalist or editor looking after each country’s edition of that title.

In some regions of the world, there are media that hit multiple countries in one go.  For example, in the Middle East, where Dubai acts as a media hub for the region, you can find three newspapers (in Arabic language) and multiple magazines (mostly English language) that are distributed in multiple countries at once.  One of the leading pan-Arabic daily newspapers is Asharq Al-Awsat, with a circulation of 200,000, printed simultaneously in twelve cities on four continents.

The exception to this fragmented media by country is everything we read or view online…

Beyond international - CyberLand

A geography of it’s own – once you consider online media, you’re beyond most geographical boundaries.

Sidebar

When online media coverage first became important a large technology client of NettResults asked us to review the online media in the Middle East that they could target to get their MP3 players talked about.  As an agency, we spend the time and the money available to find out what people were looking at on their computer screens.  Although this client had correctly set up a Middle East specific web page, which was available in both English and Arabic languages, to showcase and sell directly their products, the web sites that their audience was reading was not geographically located in that same region.  The web sites that were being used to compare competitor products, or to view the latest technology developments were from all over the world.  Unsurprisingly, a lot were from the U.S.A. as the majority of web traffic comes from this one country, but they could not be tied down to one region. 

The question then became, should NettResults as the Agency of Record covering the Middle East act as the agency for media that the Middle East customers were looking at, or where the media are located. 

The general consensus for the above question if we were talking about a print title would be to engage with that media if the print title was distributed in the target country.  When we look at online media the answer is less obvious.

Online media, blogs and social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) come in many different flavors.  What is important when considering online content is:

Affiliation – many places that you click to for news, opinion or views are affiliated to traditional media.  For example, the CNN’s web site or mobile app is clearly branded and affiliated with CNN the broadcaster. It is the same with many smaller industry or interest magazines and their associated online presence.

Reach – In today’s society, reach online is normally controlled by two factors – the language it is written in and proxy servers (control) a nation makes on what sites can be viewed.  Mandarin (1.025 billion speakers – or 1.2 billion if you include all varieties of Chinese language) and Spanish (390 million) are the two greatest spoken languages, followed by English, Hindi-Urdu and then Arabic. Needless to say, an article online written in Czech will have less of a reach in CyberLand compared to one written in English.

As to proxy servers.  Some nations control what sites their residents can reach, normally based on religious beliefs and cultural norms.  For example, in the United Arab Emirates, a proxy server will refuse access to a site name with characters that includes ‘sex’.  If you were from Middlesex, Vermont and wanted to access your community newspaper you would be out of luck.

Credibility – This is both at the author/reporter and magazine/blog level.  Both need to be credible for an online publication to be of value. To break down credibility, the online content needs to have both trustworthiness and expertise.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics, professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.

Frequency – The amount of posts or activity in a social media outlet is also going to dictate the importance.  This is some what dictated by time factors of the subject matter.  A subject matter with many levels of interests to consumers will need to post more than a slower moving subject matter. For example, The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London (officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad), were the first Olympic Games to be held in the social media age. With so many people around the world interested in so many different sports, sporting personalities and related subjects, CyberLand was ablaze with postings on all social media platforms.  Compare that to an interest in brain surgery, which didn’t go through any major breakthroughs during the Summer of 2012, and had far less social media frequency.

For a moment consider that a regular Twitter account that is following 500 will only show activity/posts that were made in the last one minute on one screen at any given moment. So, if you are being followed by someone and you post your latest wisdom, and that follower grabs a can of soda, chances are that new posts will have come in and pushed your posting below their view in the time they walked away from their screen.

Influence – dictated by the size of the network, overall social media presence and the strength and reliability of the connections. Influence is not a defined variable, and there are various online tools (from TwentyFeet’s to Klout) that use slightly different factors and variables to measure influence, but at a basic level these are going to include friends and followers, retweets, mentions and Facebook status comments.

Clearly, the greater the influence, the more important the online media is going to be for your public relations outreach. Be sure to look at the outlet (or social media platform) and the individual person posting as both are an important factor.

Side Bar – Which Bloggers to Target

We use a couple of simple templates to build our target bloggs.

First we need to list the important criteria for the client.  From experience these could include but are not limted to:

- Caliber – for example is they are associated to a national newspaper, an industry title or some other formal industry association/club. Maybe it is a known journalist but writing unaffiliated, or maybe the journalist is unknown

- Relevance – if the blog is focused on the right subject matter specifically, in a broad way or just in passing

- Reach – which can be measured by the number of RSS subscribers or other membership/readership factor

- Frequency – Number of relevant posts in a defined period, for example, in the past 6 months.

For each blog, score them on a 1 to 5 scale for each of the important criteria. Add up these scores per blog and we get an influence score.

Next we look at the tone of the blogs.

We measure the number of positive posts in a pre-defined time period (for example past 6 months) and take that number away from the number of negative posts in the same time period. This gives the tone score.

At this point, and for each blog, you might like to note other information about the journalist/outlet that will be relevant for engagement.

The third step is the plot each blog on a chart. The X-axis is used for tone with the middle being neutral, and any blog that has more positive than negative posts on the right hand side of the graph and all blogs that have more negative than positive posts on the left hand side of the graph.

The Y-axis is used for influence.  If you had four important criteria and each had a maximum score of five, then the top of the chart is 20, the mid point is 10 and the bottom of the graph is zero.

Once you plot all your blogs on the chart you’ll see there are four quadrants, which will allow the client to prioritize outreach and build blog strategy.

About: Highly influential but tends to be more negative about the industry than positive. A tailored education process is needed here.

Strategy: Build a relationship with these blogs but approach with care.

About: Highly influential and positive about the industry.

Strategy: Will generally be receptive to building/furthering relationship.

About: Less positive about the industry but similarly not particularly influential. Strategy: Monitor output but do not actively engage.

About: Writes more positive than negative stories but not as influential as other blogs in the space.

Strategy:  Monitor output and engage when the opportunity arises.

 

You’re now ready to monitor the correct blogs, learn their styles before beginning an outreach campaign.

 


[1] Springfield is the fictional city in which the American animated television series The Simpsons is set. Springfield is a mid-sized city in an unknown state. The town of Springfield acts as a complete universe in which characters can explore the issues faced by modern society.

[2] Metropolis is a fictional city that appears in comic books published by DC Comics, and is the home of Superman.

[3] The Time Out weekly listing magazines for a particular city contains information about events in film, theatre, fashion, literature and all other artistic events happening, as well as eat out and night out sections. The London edition has a circulation of 86,000 copies and a readership of 374,000 people.

[4] New York Magazine covers, analyzes, comments on and defines the news, culture, entertainment, lifestyle, fashion and personalities that drive New York City. New York Magazine, founded in April 1968, reaches 1.8 million readers each week and is published by New York Media Holdings, LLC.

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The Players

In-house PR

Think of a company – any company.  Now think if they have a PR pro working there. If that person actually writes releases and speaks to the press, they are in-house public relations. 

The in-house pro has a number of advantages.  For one, the press trusts them.  Why deal with a middleman (from an agency) if the media can get a professional working relationship directly with the company they want to find out about?

I used to do PR for a technology company and it became apparent to me at the time that I could often respond to a media request a lot quicker (compared to our competitors that used agencies and thus had to go through multiple people).  I also found that the press trusted me more – a certain ‘Chinese whispers’ can occur if multiple serial contact points are required before a response can be give.  Thirdly, I quickly became an industry spokesperson for the area of technology that my employer excelled in.  Even when the press wanted an un-branded educational piece on the technology, they would come to me for the facts.

From a company’s perspective, having your own in-house PR professional has advantages.  Providing you can find the right hire, you always have someone on call that understands your company and will always do the right thing for your company. If that professional is dedicated to the PR function, then the press will be well taken care of. 

From a PR professional’s point of view, working in-house can be rewarding and fun.  It allows you to really get deep into a company and their products/services.  If there is the right corporate structure or you can create one where the C level suite of players understand the importance of the PR function then you will be allowed to arrange great campaigns and prove a very healthy return on investment (ROI).

Working in-house also has a number of disadvantages that are detrimental to both the company and the practitioner.

Firstly, reach - no one person gets on with all other people.  Unless you have a multi-headed team there is no chance that you can get on with all your target press – life just isn’t that way.  More problematic is when one PR pro in a company has a ‘problem’ with one press member (or visa-versa), which can result in that company being frozen out of that media.

Secondly, excitement - the PR pro is likely to feel unchallenged and bored with the work quicker in this environment unless the company is releasing new products that are newsworthy on a regular basis, or unless the organisation is constantly in the media and that pro is going to get regular new professional challenges.

Third, dedication – an in-house PR pro often also has other commitments to the organisation.  That might be further marketing functions, or something completely unrelated.  In either case, PR then gets pushed behind other job tasks in the day.  Unless the PR pro has clearly defined goals and objectives with some type of measurement in place, this might not work out.

Fourth, budget commitment – it’s my experience that solo PR pros working in-house just don’t seem to get the budgets they often should do for PR campaigns.  Someone who is good at PR is not necessarily good at working the boardroom to get that budget.

Sooner or later, the job becomes too big for one solo PR pro to manage in-house.  In my previous experience, this became apparent as the company went through international expansion.  At this point one has to ask if that person who is great at implementing PR is also good at being a manager or indeed if the business can sustain a whole new PR head. Often it can’t and so as the PR function expands, the in-house PR pro often metamorphosis into a client side PR pro.

To be successful in the role of an in-house PR manager you have to be able to balance corporate responsibilities and rolling up your sleeves to get PR done.  This position is often quite isolated – dealing with many people, but rarely as part of a team.

Client Side PR

Once an in-house PR pro starts working with an agency their job role systematically changes.  They have become client side while their PR agency (or PR freelancer) becomes agency side.

Make no mistake; working client side takes a greater skill level.  As well as understanding the PR machine in all its glory from strategy to implementation, you now have to manage an agency (or freelancer) to ensure they are doing the best for the money you are paying them.

The more successful you are working client side, the less PR you are actually going to implement.  Your media contacts are going to die out as you use them less and less and your life is going to be a never ending excel sheet to meeting loop of proving ROI and trying to obtain budgets.

At the beginning of the client side development is the fun stuff – the creation. Here you get to use your wisdom to find the best-fit agency to work with.  I’ve done this multiple times across some 15+ countries, so allow me to share some experience at this point about what is important:

1 – the agency has to have experience in your industry (i.e. past or present clients who do what you do).

2 – the agency needs to be able to prove an ROI (because that’s what your boss is going to ask you for) – so find an agency that understands that (and if the agency says that PR can not be measured you should disregard them instantaneously – or buy this book for them and forward it to them with).

3 – make sure you meet the team that you’ll be working with – not just the sales person or company owner

4 – find out how many accounts your team will be working on apart from yours

5 – I’ve yet to see a case of ‘client conflict’ being detrimental to a client – when two competing companies say that an agency can not work for both – 99% of the time it works out in the client’s interest as shared industry knowledge and closer media relationship can be had.  Find a way to work around that.

6 – don’t be cheep – pay for media monitoring and ensure that you can measure the effectiveness of the agency

7 – at the end of the day, none of the above matters unless you feel a personal connection and WANT to work with this agency team

And a couple of things that don’t matter:

1 – it doesn’t matter how good the ‘agency’s’ credentials are unless you can get good credentials on the local team that will be working with you

2 – big brand names in the world of PR do not necessarily translate into better results (they always translate into higher prices) so ensure you undertake due diligence when hiring.

So you can go through a search and selection to find the best agency.  Then you get to train them on how best to work with your organisation.  All this is great.  But then it will go down hill – the agency will have all the fun implementing PR, coming up with great strategy while you sit by and fill in excel sheets.

OK so it might not be that bad, but once the agency is up and running the job function of the client side PR pro becomes one of:

  •  Measurement – monitoring the agency to ensure results are met
  • Corporate lobbying – self promotion of great results to prove your worth and to continue adequate corporate funding
  • Agency motivation – ensuring the agency has the tools they need and are working hard on your behalf
  • Strategy development – working with in-house customers and the agency to ensure that the PR strategy is developed around forward looking goals
  • Chief liaisons – giving access to and getting information from the company employees so your agency can do the job
  • Approving – becoming a caretaker so tactical plans only get implemented once it is assured the agency is working to company communication standards

Needles to say, it is clear that the job function of an in-house pro is pretty far removed from the actual role of PR.  That said, this position can only be carried out successfully if this position is filled by someone who understands how to implement PR intrinsically. 

To be successful as an in-house PR pro you have to love working as part of a corporate machine, budgeting and reporting.

Agency Side PR

Then there is the sharp end of the PR profession.  Working agency side means one thing for sure – you’re going to be eating PR day-in-day-out and probably dreaming about it too.  Good PR agencies specialise in only PR – there is no escaping the core function – they strip all the other functions from the agency.  So to be successful in an agency culture you better love the work of public relations.

There are essentially two sides of communication when working in an agency client side and the media side (with a bunch of work between the two):

CLIENT                                  AGENCY                                MEDIA

Understand goals & obj.    Building and delivering      Selling stories into the

Strategy / tactical plans    tactical plans including      media and working with

Getting raw data /info       production of PR tools       media partners to produce

Approval                                                                coverage according to obj.

 

Some agencies believe that it is more efficient (and easier to hire talent) that only deliver in one of the areas above.  In the past it would not be unusual to find copywriting specialists with an agency or a team of people that all they were tasked with is calling up the press to sell a story that someone else had produced.

Thankfully this compartmentalising of an agency life is fast disappearing.  Of the hundreds of agencies I’ve had visibility to, none using this structure have been more successful than their competition that are using the same team of people that are intelligent and professional enough to work through all these area of the agency flow.

Teams that are integrated (work client and media side, plus produce the tools needed) offer a number of advantages:

1 – From the client’s perspective they know that everything communicated in the client/agency meeting can be acted upon without ‘Chinese Whispers’ distorting the facts.

2 – The media get to speak to professionals that know, understand and can actually assist with the client’s business (as opposed to someone who has hundred of press releases and are told to sell it).

3 – Better PR tools can be produced by someone who fully understands all the nuances of the client and the target media. This achieves better PR results and takes less time to be approved by the client.

4 – Greater ownership by individuals in an agency over all the three areas allows for greater job satisfaction, a more varied day (less burn) and a happier working environment.

Agency people have to be people people.  They have to get on with a variety of people – client and media side which are often very different personality types.  They need to be detailed orientated and able to produce strong media tools.  And they need to be adaptive so they can work over multiple clients at any given time.

The Media

The conduit to actually getting positive publicity is working well with the media.  There are a number of different types of media: 

Staff Journalists

Are idealistic, naive, usually inexperienced, often keen, frequently under pressure, and broke. They quickly become aware of the power of their position and can be obnoxious and rude. Building staff journalist relationships is important as staff journalist get promoted into other positions.

Freelance Journalists

Are specialist professionals, in for the long-haul. Self-employed, they want to build long term relationships and are looking for economic ways of working. Time is money for them and their reputation with the titles they write for is important. 

News Journalists

Working on tighter deadlines, will want shorter quotes and opinions. They often want to get the answer in a few lines of email or a two-minute phone conversation.  Help these journalists out quickly and they will remember you and put you higher on their calling list.

Features Journalists

Longer deadlines, more analytical, more likely to use material in several places. Often a longer time to see this work published, but also a chance to use these types of placements internally for promotion or possibly re-print (with the journalists/publications approval) for other marketing materials.

Trade Journalists

More likely to know your secrets. The readers are also more literate. They’re going to ask the deeper, probing industry specific questions and most likely to have spoken to your competitors. The great news is that the journalists and readers known and understand your more complex terms and acronyms.

Journalists On Nationals

Likely to know a little about a lot of topics. The readers are more diverse, so the journalists tend to follow the news of the moment. If that crosses over to your company’s specialty, then a great opportunity to work quickly and expand the potential customers who hear about your brand/product/service.

Online / Blog Journalists

There are different types of journalists in this category.  From the journalist that is already writing for an established traditional media (one of the groups above) and also has to represent that same title’s online presence (which is increasingly the case), to the person writing occasional comment on their own blog and not gaining commercially from the content.  It’s important to assess the importance of the online content, if it reaches your target, if it is credible and the influence power of this placement – to understand how much time should be spent with this type of journalist.

Time Lines

Internet, daily, weekly, and monthly titles all work to different deadlines and have different priorities. If you are dealing with a news journalist that works on a daily newspaper, you better have reached them and given all relevant information to them by 3pm that same day. 

 

If you are working with a journalist that writes on a monthly title you’ll want to check their printing schedule.  For example, if the title comes out in the first few days of the month, then the chances are that the title has to go to print on the 22nd of the month (give or take a few days) so that it has time for final design, proof reading, printing and distribution (to readers or newsstands). Which means the last few days of the editorial process (lets say the 19th through the 22nd of the month) are crazy.  Better to work with the journalists in the first 10 days of the month.

As we’ll see later in the book, all journalists are essentially looking for the same type of content.  They want to hear about stories, copy, opinions, ideas, views, and vision.  They really want to know about something that comes from controversy, comment, knowledge, or anecdotes.

By being outspoken and contentious you increase your chances of being recognized by a journalist and your content used. Just remember the journalist is talking to you because you are the expert, with views, opinions and experience – and there can be a great bilateral beneficial relationship if this is carried out in a mutually respectful and professional manner.

Other Stakeholders

The Entrepreneur

Just occasionally, you get to carry out PR for the entrepreneur that started the company. Entrepreneurs make fantastic spokes people because of their drive and enthusiasm, but due to their nature can be difficult to work with because of their time pressures and controlling nature.

CEO – and other C level executives

Whether you are working client or agency side, you sometimes get to work with the top levels of the client organization. This is not normal in day-to-day public relations operations, but with it comes to crisis communications and media training this might become necessary.  In my experience there are two types of C level executives that we work with.  

The first type knows what they want and normally say it. Disagreeing with this type of executive can be detrimental. It is important for a PR pro to be on their game, remember to look at the whole picture (including business objectives outside of PR) and then negotiate wisely when dealing with the assertive executives.

The second type respects the professionals that work with them and are more likely to listen to and respect the advice given by the PR pro.  For these types of executives, it pays to act like a consultant.  Get your project together, know the facts and make recommendations that support the business objectives.

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PR - An Introduction

What is PR?...

Fist up – PR is not press release… it is public relations, also referred to as media relations.  The art, science and general selling of news, opinion or materials that the media can use as content.

Selling?  Surely not… well yes.  As half of the PR professionals world wide take a sharp in breath and formulate an argument, let me further explain.  A PR professional has to be a master sales person.  They are promoting and selling their content to media/press/social professionals in order for it to be used.  Of course no monetary value actually transacts (or else PR becomes advertorial or advertising) but make no mistake, to be successful in PR, you need to be able to sell.

It is rumored that 90% of everything you read in newspapers & magazines or news you hear on the radio or see on TV has been shaped by PR professionals (and often PR un-professionals).  Of course 100% of it has been scripted by the actual media, but in 90% of the cases these media professionals have been interacting, taking material or have been cajoled by a PR professional. 

It is also rumored that 10% of all companies gain 90% of all the media exposure.  I’m not so sure, and wouldn’t be surprised if the statistic was far more dramatic that that. 

So straight off, it is clear that PR is a part of the media, and to be part of the media you have to proactively participate in PR.

Why does PR exist?...

Why is it so difficult to not look at a car accident as you cruise the other direction? 

The members of the public (you and me included) have an appetite for reading newspapers, surfing for information on the web and watching TV that has factual content.  When we can’t do that we’re happy for our radio station to be interrupted from our favorite music with regular news bulletins.  For the particularly masochistic, there is talk radio.

There’s the need.

The great media moguls of the world make millions of dollars satisfying our needs – which of course creates jobs, boosts the economy and some would argue adds content value to society.

At the same time, corporations (and in modern day – individuals who’s careers are often run as corporations) need to ‘sell themselves’ to make money.

So PR connects the corporations with the media… simple really.

How did it all start?...

Funnily enough, it all came from "America's No. 1 Publicist."  Ironic isn’t it?  Edward Louis Bernays (November 22, 1891 – March 9, 1995) is considered one of the fathers of the field of public relations.  Born in Vienna to Jewish parents, Bernays was both a blood nephew and a nephew-in-law to psychoanalyst pioneer Sigmund Freud (which is mixed up in itself – you work it out). 

One of Bernays' favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of "third party authorities" to plead his clients' causes. "If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway," he said. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat hearty breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a hearty breakfast.

In Propaganda (1928), his most important book, Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy: “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

So given the choice between politics and PR, who wouldn’t choose PR?

Why is there a need for another PR book?...

Well basically the world’s education system is pretty dull.  I don’t mean to offend the educators of the world (I’m also one of them) – only those in charge of educational policy.  When I was about 14 years old I was given the choice of studying languages, mathematics, history, geography and science.  While complex algorithms were fun to learn, I’ve yet to find a use for them in adult life.

I was never given the choice of learning something that was a real job… I was never offered classes in management, accounting, marketing or human resources until I was in university.

And it looks like those in educational policy making have yet to catch up with society even today over 25 years later.  There is no argument that Public Relations is a recognized profession employing many people throughout the world (The Public Relations Society of America – PRSA – in 2012 noted they had membership exceeding 21,000 professionals, nearly 10,000 PRSSA students represented by over 100 regional chapters). Yet if you were chasing this as a career what educational options exist?  There are many complementary courses at all educational standard levels, but very few straight Public Relations syllabuses out there.

The nearest that most people can find educational courses are either a marketing or advertising/PR (so obviously different careers requiring different qualities in people) courses.  Public Relations is a sub-compartment in these cases so these students have to understand and learn about PR in a very short time.  There’s a simple reason why this book is needed.

There are even more people in the PR profession that have gained experience, but don’t have any formal qualifications in this area.  For these professionals these pages may well fill a gap and make the professional more rounded and a better employee.

There is also a third need for this book. For those that manage and have to train new, junior and mid-level professional either client or agency side, this book provides both a training structure and reference guide for on-the-job self-improvement.

The fourth reason is more all-encompassing.  As more and more people turn to social media and become content creators (or aggregators) there is a greater need for those adding content online to be aware of how the PR function lives and breaths.

Lastly, there are the non-PR professionals that need to carry our public relations, but do not have a PR practitioner in-house and can not use an agency.  Often entrepreneurs who have a young, successful business and want to shout about it.  For these entrepreneurs, the following pages will provide templates and processes so that you can achieve great PR results with a limited budget and within a limited time period.

 

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