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 FoxNews.com 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.
Too many times I find myself rewriting the leads of not only of freelancers, and yes, my staff too, but of journalists who’ve written stories in the magazines or newspapers I’m reading. There’s no doubt about it. It’s tough to write a good lead, whether it’s to a news release or a newspaper article.
What should make up a good lead? Well, first of all it should get your attention (and being funny never hurts)! But, secondly and just as important, it should contain in that one or two sentences what is newsworthy about the article. Why should I, as the reader or the journalist (for PR people), continue reading this news release or story?
As my staff can tell you, I come from the Fox News school of TV writing, which in a word means “cheesy” from the word go. Wish I could remember some of the ones I wrote in my TV days! These days, I try to cut out the cheese but keep the wow, attention-getting factor. Rarely is a straight lead to my liking.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite leads to give you some inspiration:
1) From the Indianapolis Star on Friday, Nov. 12:
“What’s black and white and read all over? Not the white pages, which is why regulators have begun granting telecommunications companies the go-ahead to stop mass-printing residential phone books…”
Author: Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press
2) One of my favorites!! From the Charleston Post & Courier, April 29, 2010
“If you’ve ever wondered what the view is like from the top of the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse, you’re in luck. On Saturday, the National Park Service will share pictures of all the spectacular views you would see if you were able to climb to the top. ”
Author: The always funny Bryce Donovan
3) Another great one from Bryce
Title: Sick of Flying
“I’ve never had more fun vomiting in my entire life.”
“On Wednesday, not far above the treetops and steeples of downtown Charleston, I got the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels, something I’ve dreamed about for as long as I can remember. ”
Author: Bryce Donovan
4) One of my favorite press releases (title is key here too) for Breakaway Adventures
Title: Take Fido for a Walk … Through France
“Breakaway Adventures, a tour company that specializes in relaxed overseas getaways, has made taking the dog for a walk a lot more interesting. The company is inviting pooches to join their “people” for three different walking tours through France.”
5) One more for Breakaway Adventures, again title critical here
Title: Breakaway Adventures Offers ‘Tour de France’ for Wimps
“A new tour from Breakaway Adventures, a company that specializes in relaxed overseas getaways, lets cyclists pedal the same streets of the Tour de France ‘peloton,’ minus the breakneck speed, crashes and sore muscles.”
Got any good examples of great leads? Please share and let me know if you like my choices!
OK, let me start by saying I am a PR person. And there are certainly plenty of us out there who know what we’re doing and are making great strides for our clients and companies. But good god, there are still an awful lot of us who give the rest of us a bad rap, who don’t understand PR but who think they do.
I wrote this post after doing a media interview on the site of a local shopping center. The “PR person” for the center sauntered up during the middle of the interview to inform the journalist that she was “supposed” to check in with them and that no footage of the shopping center was to be used. Hello? You don’t want publicity about your shopping center? Isn’t that your job?
Let me say that I do understand that media isn’t always nice, so we do have to be cautious about what they do, but to say that under no circumstances was video of the shopping center to be used seems ridiculous to me. She could have stood there and listened to the interview to know it was completely innocuous. I come from the camp of thinking of media as friends rather than always assuming the worst. I think an attitude of constant mistrust will not get you far when working with media.
Here’s what else I don’t like about (some) PR people:
1) Not getting back to journalists in a timely fashion.
2) Charging an arm and a leg and not getting anything besides a local TV talk show appearance for a client.
3) Being overly controlling about every word said about your company or client. For example, insisting you be a part of every interview your client has with the media. Here’s a tip: Journalists don’t like that and most will not want to work with you again if they can avoid it.
4) PR Speak – Please, no subjective language (unique, very, excellent, truly) in a press release. It’s up to the reader (the journalist) to make a judgement about what we’re saying based on the facts we present.
5) A lack of news judgement. Don’t pitch a journalist on something that is not newsworthy! They will forever not pay attention to you, whereas if you bring them something newsworthy every time, when you call, they will answer and better yet — listen. Isn’t that our goal?
I’ve certainly made some of these mistakes in my career, but I learned from them and changed my behavior. I wrote this post in the hopes that more of us will do the same. What bugs you about PR people? How can we improve to better represent our industry? What makes for a good PR person?
I’ve had a couple of conversations and insights this week that led me to this blog post. In marketing and PR, we all, myself included, get hung up on making every perfect move based on what will or won’t reach and resonate with your target audience. But sometimes, it’s OK to just step away from the microscope and make a decision based on your heart.
For example, I was talking with a client recently whose company generally does not target women, yet she had a booth at a major women’s event targeting business owners. I was completely perplexed.
When I asked her “Why would you participate in this event when you aren’t looking for female customers?” her answer was obvious, but I’d totally missed it. As a woman business owner, she felt it was important to support and assist other women just starting out. Of course. It was just the right thing to do.
Another example is traditional advertising. I am forever harping on the decline of the effectiveness of advertising in traditional media. But, here’s a point we often miss: if you love your local paper, be it a community weekly, your local business journal or your alternative newsweekly, then advertise in it. Help it out in these trying times! If you don’t want it to go away, support it, even if it’s not the best bang for your buck.
Does your child’s sports team need a sponsor for uniforms? Sure, you may not be targeting parents of 8 year olds, but won’t that feel good to help?
And the real clencher here is that even if you make some decisions based on your heart and not the numbers, I bet you’ll find that you will have endeared yourself to your target audience even more. It shows you’re a good company who supports its community and important causes, and that might go even further than any dollars you could spend.