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

November 18, 2013 by  
Filed under All, Clients, Featured, Media Coverage, PR, Press Releases

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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.

Step Ahead Part of Charleston’s Color Revolution

June 24, 2011 by  
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We are excited to be working with Eco Deco, a boutique paint store that opened this week in Mt. Pleasant. Dozens turned out for the showroom unveiling and to see how Eco Deco is different than other paint stores (think art gallery instead of wall of paint swatches).

Manufacturing eco-friendly and healthy paint, Eco Deco selected the Charleston area for its first U.S. showroom. Eco Deco is the American subsidy of RECA, which has been manufacturing healthy paint for 25 years and is one of the top 10 paint suppliers in France.

Eco Deco isn’t a paint store; it’s a color showroom with skilled designers available to answer questions and offer advice on selecting one of Eco Deco’s more than 2,000 trendy indoor and outdoor colors.

Look for a public grand opening celebration in mid-July. And if you’re planning any summer home improvement projects,  stop by and see what they have to offer.

PR is about the Relationships

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under All, PR

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, public relations professionals would occasionally ask me to meet for lunch or coffee. I truly didn’t mind meeting with them to put a face with the press release.  I also felt it would give me the opportunity to better explain our newsroom and our publication so the PR folks could better target their messages, rather than blanketing the entire newsroom with the same release or coverage request.

Now I’m on the other side of the desk, asking editors out on coffee dates so we can get to know each other. I find the majority are willing to sit down and chat, and I take the same approach I did as an editor myself – get to know more about the publication so we can better target our pitches.

I’ve also found developing these relationships is critical. I’ll admit when I worked in the newsroom, I would be more likely to take a call or respond to an e-mail from a PR professional I knew than from one I didn’t know. I had developed a relationship with that person and felt more confident that his or her pitch would be on target.

Understanding newsroom operations, such as who covers which beat, is even more important in today’s media world. Newsroom staffing has been cut … and cut … and cut, so fewer reporters are doing the same amount of work and they are stretched to their limits. Now is not a good time to send the same release to the entire editorial staff.

Be thoughtful in your approach, figuring out who on the staff writes on which issues and subjects. Then approach that reporter with an actual news story or a useful source. The can-you-do-a-story-on-my-client-just-because strategy will get you nowhere and will hurt your credibility.

Pay attention to what’s happening in the news and how it might impact your clients. Can they serve as thoughtful sources for a larger story? Do they have a unique story to tell? Find that news angle first and then approach the appropriate reporter. The reporter will appreciate your efforts and you’ll establish yourself as a PR person with some sense – and that can really set you apart.

Do you agree with this approach? Are you a PR professional who has modified your tactics from blanketed news releases to targeted pitching? As a journalist, what do you prefer?

Where in the World Are YOU? What to Know About Foursquare, Facebook Places & More in 2011

January 12, 2011 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

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I recently was asked to write an article for the Hoosier PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) enewsletter to help PR professionals get a better grasp of geolocation services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places this year.

Check out my article to learn what you need to know about these tools in 2011 for marketing your business.

Forget About the Rest of the Story: It’s the Lead That Counts!

November 23, 2010 by  
Filed under All, Featured, PR

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:

Title: Phone Companies Yank Cord on White Pages

“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

Title: Park Service to Open Lower Section of Lighthouse

“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!

BP and the Case of Bad PR

June 15, 2010 by  
Filed under PR, social media

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Beyond the horrible images of the Gulf of Mexico drowning in oil, I can’t help but watch yet another disaster hitting BP: a PR nightmare that has ruined its brand. This is a company’s worst fears come true – a disaster impacting an entire nation brought on, it seems, by much of its own doing. Ouch. That PR team has its work cut out for it.

One of the most interesting developments has been the creation of a fake BP Twitter feed, BPGlobalPR, now with more than 163,000 followers and retweets galore thanks to its dry wit (“Investing a lot of time & money into cleaning up our image, but the beaches are next on the to-do list for sure.”) and tweets dripping with sarcasm (“Adopt a BP oil plume! $25 makes you 100% responsible for an oil plume and a ‘bpcares’ shirt!”).

And don’t forget YouTube, home of videos taking BP to task for its reaction to the oil spill. My favorite: BP Spills Coffee.

But BP certainly isn’t the first company to take a beating for its missteps. Lest we not forget Toyota just a few months ago and a bevy of auto executives from Detroit taking a private jet to Washington, D.C., to ask for a government bailout.

Unfortunately, these recent examples won’t be the last. But, today a reputation is destroyed in the time it took me to type this paragraph. (140 characters)

Before your company barely has a chance to catch its breath and craft a statement, blogs are buzzing, Twitter is tweeting and Flip cameras are rolling for a satirical YouTube video. Truly, your only course of action is to be as ahead of the game as you can be. This isn’t the time to say “no comment,” buying a couple hours for the staff to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

In this day of social media and the instantaneous news cycle, you have to stay one – better make that two – steps ahead. If these events teach PR people anything, it’s to cover all your bases and that includes social media.

Are You in Style?

April 28, 2010 by  
Filed under All, PR

Bring up grammar, spelling or the latest technique for diagramming a sentence (remember that?) and pretty much the whole room will let out an audible groan. Most folks – save for newspaper copy editors and English teachers – just don’t have a great grasp on our native tongue.

Sure, most of us have a grammar rule that gives us pause (think affect vs. effect), and everyone has at least a couple of words they struggle to spell (think canceled). But writing is so much of what we do, it deserves our focus. On any given day, I read an e-mail with an error (think it’s vs. its). And that’s simply unprofessional.

As a longtime newspaper reporter and editor and having taught some classes on writing, I have become well versed in Associated Press style. Those in the journalism industry abide by the AP Stylebook and its guidelines on punctuation, abbreviations and spelling. It gives a standard for consistency.

Public relations professionals should abide by AP style rules so they are in line with what journalists are doing and are writing their news releases in a journalist-friendly way.

Yes, some of the items in the stylebook are a little obscure (proper spelling for “shepherd’s pie”), but most are incredibly useful. Here’s a list of some common spelling, grammar and style errors. Keep this list handy and start checking your work.

Dates: When a date is used with the month, abbreviate all months except March, April, May, June, July. (Example: The program launched on Dec. 10, 2009.) But when the month is used alone, spell it out. (Example: The rebate will extend through the end of December 2010.) Do not use: “th,” “st” or “rd” as in “Let’s meet on March 11th.”

Times: Lowercase a.m. and p.m. and use periods and a space between the time. Do not write times with “:00” (such as 8:00). Spell out “noon” for 12 p.m. and “midnight” for 12 a.m.

Addresses: When using the specific street address, abbreviate: boulevard (blvd.), street (st.) and avenue (ave.). (Example: The office is at 123 Main St.). When the street name stands alone, spell out. (Example: The office is located somewhere on Washington Boulevard.)

Numbers: Spell out numbers zero through nine; use numerals for 10 and above. There are some exceptions to this rule such as always use figures for ages.

Capitalization: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name. (Example:  XYZ Inc. President Jane Smith is chairing the committee.). If you’re unsure, just don’t capitalize.

A final few tips:

  • It’s – it is; its – the possessive
  • Use website, Web page and Internet
  • No “s” at the end of backward, forward, toward and afterward.
  • Use “more than” instead of “over” when referring to an amount (Example: I ran more than 10 miles.).
  • Between is for two items/people; among is for three or more.

Selling Out the Front Page

March 16, 2010 by  
Filed under PR

It’s no secret newspapers have fallen on tough times. With more people turning to the Internet for their news and a recession that put advertising sales in the tank, newspapers are struggling. But that’s no reason to comprise journalism ethics and values.

In the more than 10 years I spent in newsrooms across this country, there’s always been a distinct line between editorial and advertising – “separation of church and state” as it’s often called. Unfortunately, that line is blurring as newspapers look for any way they can to make up lost revenue.

A perfect example of this was splashed across the front page of the Los Angeles Times on March 5. The LA Times worked with The Walt Disney Co. to create a fake front page promoting Disney’s new “Alice in Wonderland” movie. A large photo of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter covered a fake front page with the real front page pushed back to Page 2.

This incident makes my stomach churn. What it says to me is that advertising is more important than the news. It says news should take a back seat – in this case second page – to the almighty dollar.

I’m sure the PR professionals for Disney and the movie loved this concept. It was great exposure for the movie and the controversy surrounding it simply created more buzz about the film. But any self-respecting public relations professional – particularly those of us whose roots are in journalism – should value the sanctity of editorial content. There’s a reason you can’t buy coverage like a front page news story. At least that’s the way it used to be. This incident shows us apparently you can buy the front page.

Some may argue newspapers have to do what they can to survive.  Some may suggest that these sorts of promotions will keep more journalists from losing their jobs. That may be true, but at what cost? And do these journalists really want to work for a newspaper that values money over news? Newspapers should think twice before selling the front page – and PR folks should think twice before asking them to.

Do You Like Dominos? Cooking up a new PR Campaign … and a New Pizza

February 1, 2010 by  
Filed under All, PR

So if you remember, Domino’s faced a big PR fiasco last year when two employees made a video of themselves doing unspeakable acts to a pizza before they delivered it to a customer. While they were lucky enough to learn about it from a blogger/friend (not because they were monitoring the Web, please note), they chose to sit on it instead of acting quickly, resulting in nearly 2 million views of the video on YouTube, major media coverage and a public backlash.

Well, Domino’s did respond, but a little too late to repair the damage done. They created a Twitter account to answer people’s questions and also put up a video of the CEO on YouTube apologizing for the incident, noting the employees had been fired and explaining that is not what goes on behind the doors of Domino’s.

Fast forward about 8 months later. Domino’s has taken a hard look at itself in light of what happened last year. They’ve decided to be honest about their failings and are trying to regain consumer confidence in their established brand.

So when you think of Domino’s pizza, do you think yuck or yum? Turns out most people think yuck J. Domino’s took a look at what people were saying about their pizza offline and online and heard things like “your crust tastes like cardboard” and “your sauce tastes like ketchup.” And what do you know, Domino’s actually listened!

They’ve put together a new campaign courtesy of the creative folks at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (of Burger King’s “king” ads and other very innovative and different campaigns) called “The Pizza Turnaround”. The campaign acknowledges their criticism and shows how they’ve reacted: creating an entirely new pizza from scratch.

The Pizza Turnaround

They’ve put together two great little YouTube videos, one showing the company listening in to focus groups and coming up with a new pizza, and the second, my favorite, with the head chef showing up at the doors of some of the harsher focus group participants and inviting them to try the new pizza. Bold and real.

At the Door of Our Harshest Critics

I LOVE it! I wish I could get more companies to follow in their footsteps. They’ve turned a really negative incident with the employee video into a catalyst for change for the company. People can always identify with you when you acknowledge failings (we all have them) and try to fix them. I think this will be a turnaround for Domino’s … well, so long as the pizza is actually good. I haven’t tried it yet.

Oh, and by the way, I am one of the few people who genuinely liked Domino’s pizza the way it was :). Yea ketchup sauce!

What do you think of Domino’s tactics? Smart or stupid?

(Some) PR People Are Annoying (written by a PR person)

April 19, 2009 by  
Filed under All, Featured, PR

Public relations for hotelsOK, 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?

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