Authentic Public Relations: What Your PR Firm SHOULD Be Doing for You

November 18, 2013 by  
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I’ve been reading a new book by Christian radio show host Teresa Tomeo entitled “God’s Bucket List” that challenges readers to put down their own to-do list and consider what God might have planned for them instead. Teresa is a former television anchor, who disheartened with the media’s unbalanced coverage, eventually found her calling as a Catholic Christian radio and TV show host, Christian PR firm owner, author and speaker.

In the book, she describes how she came to create her own public relations company, and it really struck a cord with me. She was incredibly disappointed as a television journalist with what she saw from PR folks and what they WEREN’T doing for their clients. She says:

“How PR clients were being misled was very evident at press conferences, where businesses and speakers came complete with virtual dog-and-pony shows because their PR firm had convinced them they had to spend a ton of money on slick press kits and glossy signs. Little did they know that, except for the basic information, those press kits ended up in the garbage. The signs were pretty much ignored by the cameras, since news stations were not looking to offer free advertising during a news story.

“In addition to the often ridiculous and unnecessary formal press conferences, PR types would often demand to be put on monthly retainers but rarely came through with the media coverage that had been promised in exchange for their hefty fees.”

Boy, if I had a dime for every time someone came to me saying, “I just spend $5K a month with this NYC/Washington/Big City PR firm and all I got was a TV spot on my local TV news station.” Aack! I hate that, because it gives such a bad name to the field of public relations.

Many large PR firms have a lot of overhead to pay for, including all manner of staff, fancy offices and more, so they require these hefty fees to “retain them.” Rarely do clients get any personal attention, especially if they’re not paying the really hefty fee of the big brands. They get shoved to the side, and before they know it, $20 grand is gone with little or nothing to show for it except, as Teresa described, a press kit and some fancy signs.

It may be impressive and fun to say you’re working with a “big New York City PR firm” with lots of connections, but if you really want the coverage and don’t want to go bankrupt in the process, I encourage you to choose a more specialized smaller firm or individual PR person.

Another thing I see big public relations firms doing all the time is telling clients that they must write and send a bunch of press releases for them. If they bill by the hour, this is a great way to bill lots of time and send you a giant invoice. While it shouldn’t take a competent person much more than a 1/2 hour to an hour to write a good press release (check to see what your firm is billing you for this), sending a release on the wires or individually sending to a gigantic media list can take up a lot of time and money and get you NO WHERE. I am convinced that unless you’re announcing the stock market crash or that Britney Spears got married, journalists are not going to look at a press release. Can you imagine how many they get every day? Time — and money — wasted!

What SHOULD you look for in a PR firm?

1) Personalized pitching – I don’t write and send a lot of press releases unless they are needed as background information or there is a major announcement that is timely. Instead, I discuss with my client the ideal media outlets they’d they like to appear in, study those, brainstorm angles that would be of interest to their writers and do targeted individual outreach. We might hone in on 25-50 instead of a list of 500, but you’ll get much better results. Ask about your firm’s approach to securing media coverage. Don’t just go on “we have connections.”

2) Work with the owner of the company – If at all possible, work with one of the company owners or partners. They are truly the only ones with a vested interest in your success. All clients work directly with me. I’ve been down the other route and it just doesn’t work nearly as well.

3) Check their track record – Ask the company where they’ve had clients covered recently and check what they say.

4) Choose a firm with a specialization – When a firm specializes in an industry or a locality, they truly will have contacts with media outlets in that field or region. It’s tough for a firm to have contacts across all media, and these days, contacts are critical to getting media coverage. Media are so inundated that it takes a fabulous pitch or knowing the pitch-er for it to even get a look. We specialize in travel public relations, including hotels, adventure travel companies, attractions, destinations and more.

5) Choose a PR pro who’s worked as a journalist – You can’t know how to pitch a journalist unless you’ve sat in their chair. I firmly believe it’s not something you can teach. I started my career in television news (and just like Teresa, darted out as quickly as possible), served as an editor for a media company and have continued write articles for newspapers, magazines and websites, including ever since. I like to continually hone my journalistic skills to keep my pitching and writing on target with current trends and techniques.

6) Check with past clients (or journalists) – You’ll want to be sure you get personal service and that if you send an email, it will get a prompt response. Individual PR people and smaller firms are much more likely to provide this type of close contact. Only a past client will be able to give you a sense of their level of service. If you really want to know if they’re good at what they do, as for a journalist reference. They’ll give you the real scoop :).

7) Make sure they don’t have too many clients – One of the downsides of working with an individual or small firm is they can easily get overloaded. Make sure they don’t have too many clients to ensure you will get the attention you deserve. These days, I work with only a select few clients on topics of interest to me to make sure I can manage all clients myself and ensure they get the best shot at media coverage possible!

What did I miss? Anyone care to share lessons learned with PR firms or bad experiences? What do you think of my recommendations of what to look for?

And be sure to check out “God’s Bucket List” for an inspiring read about discerning God’s calling in your life. PR pros and journalists will especially enjoy it because of her experiences working in the media.

What Guests Want from Social Media for Hotels

May 18, 2012 by  
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Social Media for HotelsAn interesting article from travel reporter Barbara DeLollis at USA Today recently revealed the answers to a poll of hotel guests about what they did and did NOT want to hear from their hotel’s social media accounts. As a company who specializes in social media for hotels, we were intrigued! Some of it surprised us, while some did not.

The paper polled readers, giving them five responses to select, and received more than 200 answers. Here’s what they found:

1) People most want to get local information from their hotel’s social media account. We would agree with this, as we often strive to position our clients’ hotel social media accounts as THE expert about their location, be it Myrtle Beach, a cycling tour to Colorado or what to see in the Poconos. This technique has served us well, helping build friends and followers more quickly. Plus, it keeps you from selling yourself all the time; sell your destination instead.

2) People love to use social media to rant and rave about their hotel experience. We know this, too. Every now and then for our clients, we see a negative comment. But we’re glad it’s there; we see it within hours and can handle it promptly and in public view for all to see our hotel’s outstanding service. Most of the time, our pages and Twitter accounts are full of praise for the hotel properties’ accounts we manage! There’s no better sales tactic than that!

3) People said they DIDN’T want to hear about the weather. That DID surprise us. We do like to talk about the weather at our destinations. If it’s a ski resort, doesn’t hearing that there’s a fresh pack of snow get you pumped to come ski? Or during the end of winter in the north, doesn’t 75 and sunny in Hilton Head sound pretty nice? It helps us book rooms, golf rounds, ski passes and more for our clients. Plus, the Weather Channel does a great job curating weather tweets around a certain destination so when you tweet about the weather, you may also get picked up there and get more exposure.

What do you want to hear from a hotel on social media? We’d love to know!


May 15, 2012 by  
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Social Media for Hotels Infographic

Does having a social media presence make any significant difference in hotel bookings?  Check out this Infographic to find out.

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What Businesses Need to Know about Facebook Timeline

March 21, 2012 by  
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Facebook timeline for businessesBusiness owners, you may have noticed that your personal profile switched over to a new format called “Timeline” recently. It’s graphically a more attractive format with a large cover photo and a sequencing of posts and activity on Facebook by date. Facebook is now requiring that all business, or brand, pages switch to Timeline by the end of March.

Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know to get your page switched to timeline and begin to maximize the new format:


New Profile Picture – 851 by 315 pixels
This is a large wide photo that cannot include any calls to action. You can embed some badges or accolades atop the photo if you wish. We suggest something very eye catching for this photo that will set the tone for your page.

Inset photo – 180×180
There is an inset photo on the new profile picture; we generally recommend your logo for this.
You can now “backdate” important dates in your business’ history on the Timeline. Include any milestones on the page, such as founding dates, opening new offices, new services, awards won, etc. Review what Facebook defaults for you in the Timeline and see if there’s anything you want to delete.

Individuals can now send messages to a brand page and a brand page can respond. This feature can be disabled but we don’t recommend it. This now gives a more private venue for any negative issues that come up and gives people a chance to interact with brands in a more personal way. We like it! In fact, we already got a resume submitted that way :).

“Friend Page” Goes Away
The page that people land on when they are directed to your page will now be the main Timeline wall. However, you are still able to redirect people to specific friends-only tabs for contests and other promotions. Don’t let someone tell you this is a big deal; because it’s not. We’re already seeing scams where people are sounding the alarm saying, “Hurry, you won’t be able to get any more friends after this changes! Let us build your friends for you for INSERT RIDICULOUS COST.”

Tabs/Application Boxes
You are now limited to featuring four tabs, which you can order however you’d like. Be sure to review which tabs are most important to your business (look in Facebook Insights to see which get the most visits) and reorder to feature those.

Featured Posts by Fans/Friends
This will now be listed at the top right and will feature posts from your fans. This is optional but we recommend leaving it so long as you manage your page daily and have a good level of engagement (which we know all of our clients have :)).

Feature Page Posts at the Top
This will allow you to feature content that you want to have the maximum exposure. We can choose to “pin” a post at the top for up to 7 days. Posts that are good candidates would be those promoting a contest or a call to action.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about Timeline and we’ll be happy to address. Thanks and good luck!

Are Flash Mobs the Bad Guys on the Streets of Social Media?

March 20, 2012 by  
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Charleston social mediaFlash mobs first came onto the scene in the early 2000s as a means to draw attention to a certain brand or charitable organization. Using social media, large groups of people were able to connect, organize themselves, and choreograph these public performances that, for the most part, brought joy and inspiration to the unsuspecting crowds. However, flash mobs in the hands of unscrupulous people were eventually organized for destructive reasons, and it wasn’t long before the whole phenomenon got a bad rap.

Sometimes a little “flash” is a good thing

Many flash mobs have been organized in an effort to “do good,” like the ones orchestrated in response to the disasters in Haiti and Japan. These mobs were used to raise awareness as well as money. Other flash mobs have been able to draw attention to local charitable organizations. One such organization was started by 13-year-old Claire Wineland, who was born with cystic fibrosis. In May, her charity “Claire’s Place Foundation” organized a flash mob in Santa Monica, and they danced to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The flash mob got the attention of major celebrities who joined the cause and pledged to help find a cure for this disease. All over the country other flash mobs have been able to draw attention to worthwhile charities and causes. Check out this full list of noteworthy organizations “doing good” via flash mob media.

Pay It Forward

It wasn’t long until marketers realized that flash mobs were an incredibly effective way to drive targeted engagement and encourage viral marketing. In traditional marketing campaigns, commercials and print ads didn’t allow for brand enthusiast participation. With flash mobs, a brand can invite an enthusiast in to be part of the interactive message. These brand events not only engage current enthusiasts, they also have the ability to reach fragmented audiences, cultivate peer endorsements and influence behavior change. Utilizing flash mobs to promote a positive message can actually make a difference and have a “pay it forward” effect. The students who combined their efforts to create this anti-bullying video may not have single-handedly ended bullying, but they certainly took a stand against violence as a group.

Beware the Dark Side

Social media can be a powerful tool for communication and positive change. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen more frequent examples of mistreatment. In the case of flash mobs, there have been those whose purpose held a darker intent. These flash mobs are orchestrated to bring a massive group of people together for destructive reasons, such as looting and robbing. In an effort to­ protect its citizens from these nefarious mobs, some cities have instituted curfews, especially for teens that tend to be involved.

A little Game of Cops and Mobbers

There’s a new sheriff in town and this one’s beat is on the digital street.  Authorities have begun to monitor social media sites in an effort to snuff out bad flash mobs before they have a chance to form. The challenge for these law enforcement officers is being able to accurately weed out the “bad seeds” from the “good ones”. Additionally, the question of how much policing of the internet should really be allowed has made its way into the mainstream awareness, due to the recent debates over SOPA and PIPA. Authorities may find it exceedingly difficult to monitor social media in the future, and it is something that we will all be affected by in one way or another.

Don’t Bash the Flash

Whether used with positive or negative intentions, flash mobs truly emphasize the power of social media and the ability we now have to connect on a grand scale. It will be interesting to see how social media plays a part in our offline world in the future. It’s unfortunate that criminals and hooligans have ruined the image of flash mobs because it is amazing what an impact can be made with a group of people, a video camer and one unified vision, such is the example with this final touching video – biggest flash mob ever.


This article was submitted by Kaity Nakagoshi, on behalf of the University of Notre Dame’s online program.  They offer a variety of executive certificates and online business courses. Kaity also works with the University of San Francisco’s online program, which offers a master certificate in internet marketing and a specialized certificate in advanced social media. Twitter: @Kaity_FL

Pinterest for Business Presentation

March 7, 2012 by  
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pinterest for businessThis morning I presented to a group of merchants in Zionsville, IN on how they could use Pinterest as a tool to generate web traffic and sales. I wanted to share the presentation on our site to help you as you begin to navigate this fun — and immensely — popular tool. The best part about Pinterest for business: it works!

Pinterest for Business on SlideShare

View more presentations from lynmettler.

Pinterest for Business: 5 Helpful Articles to Get You Started

January 30, 2012 by  
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Pinterest for businessHeard all the buzz about Pinterest? Whether or not it’s just a fad, it seems to be a fact that Pinterest is good for business — at least for now. Mashable reports that web traffic from Pinterest at several top apparel retailers has cracked their top 5 traffic referrers and the amount of traffic referred has jumped 398% from July to December.

For the clients we’ve recently added to Pinterest, they too are seeing a traffic boost if the page is regularly maintained. Here’s more interesting reading on Pinterest for Business to get you started:

Need an invite to Pinterest? Email Lyn at and she’ll hook you up. And if you want to be sure to grab a piece of that traffic for yourself, contact us here at Step Ahead for help managing Pinterest for your business. Please comment with your Pinterest name so we can come follow you!

A PR Practitioner’s Guide to Pinterest for Business

January 25, 2012 by  
Filed under All, Media Coverage

By Lyn Mettler

pinterest for businessTired of hearing about Google Plus and how it’s the latest and greatest place to be on social media? Well, we’ve got a new one for ya: Pinterest. It’s a good bet that by now you’ve received an email inviting you to this popular new invitation-only social network, but if you’ve never heard of it, it’s time to sit up and take note.

Last month, Pinterest cracked the top 10 most visited social networks at No. 9, besting the latest social media darling Google Plus at No. 10. Time magazine also declared it one of the top five social networks for 2011.

So what is this Pinterest? At its most basic, Pinterest allows you to create virtual “pinboards” with images you come across on the web. Your “pinboards” center around a specific subject matter or topic, say Arts & Crafts homes you’ve come across, purses you love, places you’d like to visit, birthday party ideas, decor for your baby’s nursery, you get the idea…

But it’s a whole lot more than that and the real reason I’m telling you about it is because of its potential to generate results for your business. Pinterest is a social network, of course, so for starters, you can follow others and their boards and vice versa.

Typically, the way a person uses Pinterest is they log on view pins (images) from those they follow, check out Pinterest’s recommended pins and search within the site for images specific to what they’re looking for. There is also a “pin” for your browser’s toolbar that you can click when you come across something on the web you’d like to “pin” to one of your boards.

When you pin an image, you can attach a web address to it and even a price. So if you’re a retailer who sells shoes, you might want to load up boards of your different styles of shoes and maybe even outfits that would go great with your shoes. Attach prices and websites to your products, and when Pinterest users come across your images, they just might go to your website and even better, purchase the product. On top of that, they may “repin” your image to one of their boards, thus sharing it with all of their followers.

We had a retail-based client who recently set up a Pinterest profile, and within days they saw a big bump in traffic from the site and even a boost in sales, better than they see from either Facebook or Twitter. We had another client with a women’s product who saw nearly 100 hits on their site from one pin someone posted of their product.

To get properly introduced to Pinterest, get on the site and play around. If you need an invite, shout and I’ll invite you from my profile. Feel free to take a look at Step Ahead’s Pinterest page at to get a feel for what a company can do. It’s not a great fit for every business, but certainly those who offer something visually appealing should definitely poke around Pinterest. Have fun!

Lyn Mettler is the owner of Step Ahead Inc, an Indianapolis and Charleston, SC-based company specializing in social media management for business. Email her for your Pinterest invite!

New Facebook Changes a Good Thing for Business

October 20, 2011 by  
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As a company who helps businesses maintain their Facebook pages, my team quickly did an in depth review of all the new features. Here’s a quick guide to the changes and how they will impact your company’s Facebook presence. Overall, it encourages more sharing and interaction, which should help elevate your page’s visibility, so long as you’re giving people content worth sharing. It’s no longer going to be enough to get customers to click “like” on your page; you’re going to have to keep them interested and active.


The newsfeed, the running list of friend activity that you see upon opening Facebook, got an overhaul with Top Stories now at the top. These stories are what Facebook thinks are of most interest to you and that have a lot of comments and “likes”. The downside is that you’ll now have to fight to get your way into Top Stories by giving your friends or “likers” something worth making a comment about. Additionally, as users, you can tweak what’s in the Top Stories by clicking on the top right of any post to hide the story or hide all posts from that page. You don’t want your friends to hide your posts because getting them to like your page will have become pointless. So keep your content interesting!

The Ticker

The ticker now runs at the top right of your screen and is a real time flow of all your friends’ actions. I like this because Facebook has taken all the inane stuff from the newsfeed, like accepting a friend request, “liking” links or making changes to your profile, and stuck it here. This helps the newsfeed be less cluttered with uninteresting junk (Farmville, anyone?). The ticker is also beneficial to business pages, because even if you don’t make it into the newsfeed you still have a chance to be here.

Smart Lists

In a direct swipe at Google +, Facebook has added the most popular feature from Google’s latest foray into social networking that it calls Smart Lists (Circles in Google+). Facebook has automatically created lists, such as Close Friends, Family, Business Colleagues, Indianapolis residents, etc. based on the information it has about you and who you interact with most. You can tweak who’s in these lists and choose to share content only with select groups.


Very much like Twitter, on Facebook you can now “subscribe” to people without becoming their “friend.” This means you don’t have to mutually agree to connect, but rather you can follow someone’s Facebook content without them following you back. However, you don’t have to allow subscribers, but if you do (a great idea for journalists, public figures, politicians, musicians, etc.), go to your profile page, click Subscribers and opt in. Now anything that you post and choose the sharing option for Public will be shared with your subscribers. This can be a great tool for following top people in your industry, for PR people who want follow journalists, etc.


In addition to “liking” something on Facebook, soon you will be able to say you are “listening” to a song on the music service Spotify, “watching” a movie on Netflix or Hulu or “reading” an article from the Washington Post. This new use of verbs will likely encourage more sharing of activity, again a good thing for business pages. The more you can get people to comment and share your activity the better likelihood you’ll show up in the newsfeed and get maximum views.


Finally, Facebook is unrolling an entirely new profile page called Timeline, which Mark Zuckerberg says will serve as a scrapbook of your life. You can go back to the day you were born, note key moments with content, photos or video, and divide all this good stuff by year. Facebook will even pull out what it sees as major moments in your life since you joined Facebook. So far, it’s getting good reviews. Anything that gets more people to go on Facebook and to stay there longer is good for Facebook … and good for your business page.

Although many people are complaining about all the changes, I promise we’ll all get used to it. These are positive changes for Facebook and ultimately will make it a better tool for people and businesses.










Big News For LinkedIn Aficionados: Company Status Updates Are Here!

October 10, 2011 by  
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LinkedIn for businessWell, I’ve been saying for the last couple months, finally LinkedIn is worth coming back to for reasons besides job hunting, hiring or adding to your  network. The recent upgrades they’ve done to company pages are fantastic with the ability to add different services, associate company contacts with those services and even add videos about your company or products. But now, they’ve added the icing on the cake: LinkedIn Company Updates!

Just like you have a Facebook page for your business where you can post status updates, now you can post status updates to your LinkedIn company page. Here’s how it works:

  • Pages set to “designated admins only” for page management now allow page “admins” (just like on Facebook) to post status updates.
  • Go to your company’s overview tab and you’ll see a Share an Update field at the top.
  • LinkedIn company updates can be up to 500 words.
  • LinkedIn status updates can include multimedia, such as links to videos and photos.
  • The updates appear in the homepage newsfeeds of your company’s “followers” (better get some followers now!)
  • Followers can comment, “like” or share the post with their network.
  • Whenever someone takes action, such as a like or comment, their network also  has the potential to see your page (again, just like Facebook).
One caveat, while LinkedIn says you’re not limited in the number of updates you can post, companies that are posting very high volumes will be looked into and their pages could be deleted. So don’t abuse the privilege, but we recommend getting on there once a day and posting something of interest to your followers. A link back to your website is even better.
Need someone to help keep that page updated? Give us a shout. That’s what we do for our clients everyday! Oh, and go follow us on LinkedIn, of course! Got questions? Check out LinkedIn’s guide to Company Pages.
In Part 2 of this series on the LinkedIn changes, we’ll talk about why this simple little addition can add up to BIG benefits for business.

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