• 11Dec

    Many thanks to Alison Kenney and Lindsay Olson for this week’s blog post on Lindsay’s PR recruiting site, Six Things You Didn’t Know About Solo PR Practitioners. In her guest post, Alison offers six reasons to hire a sole public relations practitioner. As Alison notes, each PR consultant has his or her strengths and unique talents, but she has identified six universal truths about PR soloists:

    1. Solo PR consultants are self-motivated. This is a given since when you work for yourself, whether you are in PR, a freelance writer, or even painting houses for a living, if you aren’t self-directed, you won’t stay in business long. PR soloists are virtuosos at many tasks, including finding and pitching their own business, which requires many of the same skills required to promote yours.

    one-man-band-1289602. PR soloists can become dedicated partners. This is a little known fact for those who have never retained a PR consultant. Most PR consultants who have been doing it for a while like what they are doing, and they like working for themselves, which means they do make great partners because they want to work with you, not for you. They like working with short-term projects or projects with a limited, well-defined scope because they know they can excel at those types of projects. They can work closely with your marketing team in ways that a larger PR firm can’t.

    3. You can find PR consultants to fit the need. Not all PR soloists offer the same services. Some like to do everything from strategic development to execution, and others like to fill in for a missing team member of help with specific projects like writing white papers or product launches. PR practitioners come in all shapes and sizes, so you can find one who fits your needs.

    4. They take their work personally. I like to work as a consultant because it suits my temperament and allows me to deliver well-thought-out, well-executed projects because I am responsible for strategy as well as the hands-on work. I take my work personally because I have to answer to my clients directly, without an agency to run interference, and I have to use my past performance as the means to sell future and repeat business.

    5. Soloists have a niche. PR consultants often have a handful of skills at which they are particularly skilled, as well as the PR basics. the good consultants know what they are good at, and that’s what they sell.

    6. There is no such thing as a truly “solo” PR professional. Every PR consultant is the product of his or her professional experience, drawing from past PR agency work, professional affiliations, clients, and contacts. Most PR consultants I know use a “virtual”agency model, tapping their network of friends and fellow consultants to find the right resources for any project.

    Those are the common traits that Alison identified for PR consultants. Of course, there are many others that I often cite when I talk about PR consulting.

    7. What you see is what you get. One of the things that used to irk me when I worked with larger PR agencies was the “bait and switch”; the firm would bring in the senior practitioners with years of experience to sell the business and build a program, but once the contract was signed, the actual work would be turned over to the junior team for execution. The challenge with the agency structure is that the senior staff is actually too valuable to actually do the work. They are much more valuable closing new business and running the agency. Within the agency, the goal is to rise above doing the day-to-day client work. With PR soloists, it’s exactly the opposite. When you hire a PR consultant, you know they are the ones actually doing the work they promise.

    8. You pay for results, not process. A curse of the agency business is the billing process. Most agencies work on the billable hour, and even those that don’t use billable time against a retainer model to measure employee productivity. A large part of the agency business model is proving their raison d’etre by generating reports and spending an inordinate amount of time proving their value. When you hire a good consultant, they’ll concentrate on getting the job done and not wasting time justifying the invoice.

    9. You get more flexibility. Part of the idea of being a business partner is adapting to the needs of the program. Sole practitioners are much more nimble at adapting to their client’s needs, suggesting ways to improve the program and achieve the target objective without a lot of internal discussion to realign the agency team.

    10. You get better, dedicated service. I also believe you get a lot more loyalty from consultants. After all, you are one of a handful of clients who make up their entire business. The stakes are higher when you are a consultant, and you have a greater vested interest in keeping the clients happy.

    11. You save a lot of money. The savings you get versus the quality of service is not to be discounted. Consultants operate with much lower overhead and less infrastructure so you are paying for their expertise, not for maintaining the office for their staff and their administrative overhead. Consultants can generally charge a more cost-effective rate and offer better service because they have less overhead.

    So overall, you can get more from PR consultants. You get experienced professionals willing to work hard and apply all their expertise. You get a business partner who is committed to helping you succeed because your success reflects on his or her success. And you get more value. When you bring a PR soloist in to solve the right kind of problem, chances are you’ll get superior results.

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  • 04Nov

    I have been spending a good portion of my work day today working on a marketing Request for Proposal (RFP) for a local educational institution. While I have been reviewing this RFP in detail, I have been reading between the lines, trying to determine what has been predetermined. What were the assumptions that went into creating this document? Did they already decide that the end product needs to be green or the program targeting left-handed people? What vital part of the back story have they failed to include?

    The challenge with trying to complete a Request for Proposal is that the prospective client has already thought-through their needs for you and you have to plug your services into their template, which means you automatically start at a disadvantage. They are looking for an expert to solve their problem, but through the RFP process they have already defined their problem in a way that they have already decided on a specific solution and so they are looking for a vendor to provide that unique service. If you don’t fit the solution profile, you are out of the running before you can show what you bring to the problem.Dilbert_bid

    But does it make sense to start with a well-defined set of assumptions in the form of an RFP? When you structure an RFP, are you asking for what you really need, or has the RFP process already boxed you into the wrong corner before you even start? Let’s consider the following example:

    A company is struggling to build its sales pipeline. What are they going to do? The head of sales and marketing decides that a kickass advertising campaign is needed to raise market visibility, since the company is new to the market. So they put out an RFP for an ad agency and hire a creative award-winning firm. The firm develops the kickass campaign that gets lots of visibility, a lot of comment in social media and at trade shows, wins a few awards, and helps make the company a household word. However, the phone doesn’t ring and the client company doesn’t get email requests for sales information. They defined their problem – lead generation – and then defined the wrong solution to the problem – advertising. Instead, they should have gone to different marketing creative firms and asked for help with lead generation. In return, they would have gotten more creative proposals with a blended strategy of branding, direct marketing, and prospect outreach that would have added contacts to the sales pipeline.

    Or consider the RFP I am currently working with. The assumptions are extensive and the proposal spans a broad range of activities. But is all that activity really necessary? What is the real objective – something that is not clearly spelled out in the RFP. Is it to recruit new students, help with fund-raising, increase community awareness, increase market awareness, or all of the above? If it is all of the above, what is the order of priority?

    Through the RFP process, this institution is working on the assumption that they need EVERYTHING, from advertising to PR and social media. But is that an effective use of their budget? And would it make more sense to segment this process into multiple proposals so you can find the best-of-breed service providers for each component: advertising, PR, social media, direct mail, etc? (Let’s face it, no one agency can do all these tasks well.)

    So by starting with an RFP process, the company or organization is limiting its options. Rather than trying to define the solution to their problem and shop for vendors to provide the solution, why not solicit expert help in defining their problem as well as the solution?

    Okay, there is a risk here. If you bring in various agencies to help you define your problem, the agency will define their problem in terms they understand, and can solve. For example, if you ask an ad agency to help build sales, they will look at the problem in terms of market awareness and offer an advertising-driven solution, since that’s what they know how to do. You ask a PR firm for help with the same problem then you get a PR proposal to address sales growth. However, if you have a smart firm or multiple firms bidding on the same project, you will get a blended recommendation that includes a number of program elements, many of them right on target.

    This is where you, as the prospect looking for help, need to set aside your assumptions and take a hard look at the suggestions offered. Assess the recommendations based on what you need and what you know about your problem. Ask for ways to measure results, and see if the metrics address your requirements. See if there are creative ideas in the proposals that you haven’t thought about before and how those ideas change your thinking.

    The best proposals are a collaborative process between the prospect and the agency. It’s a dating ritual. You meet, compare notes, learn about one another, and see if you are well suited for one another. If you start with a checklist of predetermined criteria, e.g blonde, blue-eyed, six-feet tall, Master’s degree in engineering,etc., then you may overlook some great potential partners.

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  • 30Jan

    image

    When I start working with new clients, I inevitably have to talk to them about newswire services. If the company is larger or publicly traded, then the need for using one of the big three wire services – BusinessWire, PR Newswire, or MarketWire – isn’t a problem. They know that the wire helps address issues such as disclosure for publicly traded companies, and they usually have wire distribution built into the PR budget. However, when dealing with PR newbies and smaller start-ups who are worried about conserving their budget, how do you justify the added cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for wire distribution for a press release?

    imageI actually went through this exercise for two clients this month. I researched publications in different distribution circuits, performed a cost analysis, and developed a comparison of the big three services. My basic argument to justify the cost: wire distribution gives you access to news outlets you would be hard-pressed to reach through other channels, and the benefits in terms of Web exposure are unparalleled.

    I posed this question to my peers on LinkedIn – “How do you explain to your clients why a newswire is valuable for their press release?” I was gratified that the responses echoed my own thinking:

    • Wire distribution reaches media that probably isn’t in your core media list, such as broadcast, TV, or trade media, oimager niche sites that don’t have the editorial staff to dig out fresh news.
    • Mainstream news media, such as Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN,and ABC, all have wire feeds and that gives your news a big credibility boost.
    • The SEO benefit is huge. Wire releases are picked up by Yahoo Finance, Google News, and other news search engines. Traditionally, news releases also appear higher in search rankings and if you have optimized your press release properly (which basically means you have written a clean press release with all the appropriate keywords in strategic places) it should improve your search rankings.
    • And the newswires should feed your social media program. All the wire news is online and you should be using those links to feed your blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    Most of my clients are serving niche markets, so I seldom recommend national distribution. You can choose a local circuit for $200 to $400 and get the same benefits of SEO and online exposure, as well as distribution to target vertical trade circuits, which is where I think you get real wire benefits. There is something about seeing a press release distributed via a reputable newswire service that lends credibility to your news announcement. It shows that you are serious about sharing your news with the world and are willing to invest in established news channels to do so.

    For smaller and pro bono clients working with little or no PR budget, I have forgone the paid wire services and used the free newswires, which is really more of a shotgun approach. The free news services give you some help with SEO, but you really get what you pay for and the free services don’t carry the same credibility.

    All that said, there is no substitute for direct press pitching. If you have real news worth sharing then you need to get it in the hands of your target reporters before you hit the wire. For many editors, in the age of the Web by the time news hits the wire it’s old news, so you should be proactive and share with your contacts before your wire release. They will appreciate the heads up.

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  • 24Jan

    My recent blog post about marketing professional who have lost the art of picking up the phone resonated with a lot of my peers on LinkedIn. A number of seasoned PR pros noted that the younger professionals seem to suffer from “phone fright,” and that Generation Y would rather send e-mail or text than pick up a phone. However, I think the anonymity of the web points to a larger issue.

    I recently spotted a column on CNN written by sports writer Jeff Pearlman about his encounter with an online hater and how he tracked him down. Although the Internet detective story isn’t quite as exciting as The Cuckoo’s Egg, the confession of the online hater is revealing. After tracking him down, his online hate-monger confessed:

    “You know what’s funny?” Andy says. “I enjoy your writing. But I disagreed with you [about Bagwell] and I got caught up in the moment. When you read something you think is bull—-, you’re gonna respond passionately. Was I appropriate? No. Am I proud? Not even a little. It’s embarrassing. But the internet got the best of me.”

    Andy pauses. It’s an awkward few seconds. He is not happy I called, and later pleads, “Please don’t eviscerate me.” But, to his credit, he takes responsibility, and says this is something he needs to work on.

    “All I can say is, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m truly sorry.

    So let’s consider how the anonymity of the web plays out in professional communications. It allows the upcoming generation of PR professionals to hide behind email or social media. As one of my PR peers noted, it’s one thing to acquire an email address from a database and throw a message into cyberspace in hopes of a reply. It’s another thing to actually network to make a connection so you can collect a mobile phone number or a Facebook invitation and then say, “Hey, I have a story idea for you.”

    And the anonymity of email goes the other way as well. Sending an email pitch to a reporter makes it easy to ignore. You can craft the perfect story, be right on message, with supporting facts and a unique angle and, because it came in via email, it’s easy to ignore or file for later. If you get as much email as I do, it’s hard to sift the nuggets from the avalanche of spam so it’s no wonder that email pitches don’t get the attention they may or may not deserve.

    Another of my colleagues commenting on the LinkedIn thread noted that he has talked to a number of reporters who admitted reading the email but they needed a personal call to cement the pitch. People want personal contact, and the ability to hide behind an email, or even a Twitter or Facebook update, undermines that contact. Not that social networking isn’t valuable, but it can’t replace the exchange of ideas promoted by a telephone call or a meeting.

    Making a connection via LinkedIn or Facebook might make the connection more personal, but it’s still too easy to ignore. You need to reach out and make a personal contact via phone to cement a relationship. Once you’ve made contact you can have a meaningful dialogue that will yield real benefits.

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  • 09Oct

    image The most basic rule of effective marketing and PR is understanding your target audience. You need to be able to empathize with the business needs of your reader; to walk a mile in their Cole Haan’s. So the ongoing challenge for the PR professional is to work with clients to understand the needs of their customers, whether they are Generation Y, homemakers, CIOs, supply-chain professionals, manufacturers, or whatever.

    I recently read a thread on one of my LinkedIn groups asking why PR professionals seem to gravitate to B2C accounts rather than B2B, especially for agencies specializing in technology? As one commenter noted, “Historically, tech B2B PR had been considered to be less ‘sexy’ than consumer tech.” That may be true, and it’s certainly more fun to pitch the latest Android Smartphone than it is the newest CRM or ERP platform. And with a sexy consumer story, it’s easier to get the attention of the high-profile media, like CNN or the New York Times. However, I think the big difference is that, as consumers, we all can relate to the latest consumer technology or trend on a personal level, because we can see why it’s cool and how it would change our own lives. It’s harder to find the personal pleasure of the “cool” in a new B2B solution that makes someone else’s business run more efficiently. It’s just harder to make an empathetic connection.

    To effectively implement B2B marketing, you need to have a deeper understanding of the technology or service in order to articulate its benefits to your target market. That means making a greater investment in understanding the competitive differentiators and lasting benefits of a B2B solution. In many ways, B2B requires more work, because you have to dig down and really understand how the technology works in order to explain it cogently to editors, who are experts in their respective areas. In the past, I have had challenges working with less experienced staff members who lack the technical background, or interest, to make the leap to B2B. It’s challenging to be working on multiple accounts and find yourself pitching vacation packages one minute and then have to pitch a new secure, wireless WAN technology the next. Even with a prepared pitch and talking points, you can quickly get in over your head if you don’t have a grasp of how the technology works. Whether you are pitching enterprise technology, the latest biotechnology, a green energy solution, or the latest financial services package, you have to be able to talk the talk with enough credibility to place the story.

    And when developing press releases and support material for B2B clients, it’s important to get the terminology right. You have to make sure you are not only including the right phrases and key words – especially for online content – but that you are using those key phrases correctly or you will undermine your credibility. It’s one thing to assemble keywords and search terms and another to know how to use them correctly in copy, and that requires you to understand enough of the underlying technology or service to actually explain it.

    Which means you have to do your homework; something that PR people are not traditionally good at. Increasingly I have talked to client prospects with a specialized need who are only willing to talk to agencies or consultants with experience in their particularly niche market. Clients can’t take the time to educate their PR team, and they are not confident that the PR team can educate themselves to be effective. It’s up to you to engage and demonstrate that you are not only interested, but that you “get it” and can tell their B2B story.

    I have always said that good PR or marketing communications is being a good translator. That doesn’t mean you have to know how to build the box, just why what it does makes a difference. Your job is to understand the benefits and applications of your client’s product so you can make it interesting and translate those benefits to make it sexy for your client’s target market.

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  • 01Sep

    When I launched this blog a few weeks ago, I cited the problem that many marketeers have finding the time and resources to service their own marketing needs. It’s interesting that Marc Hausman, founder of Strategic Communications Group, cited the same issues a few days later, and even used a similar headline, “Fallacy of the Cobbler’s Shoe-less Children.”faucet_Full

    As Marc notes, there are a number of agencies out there that fail to practice what they preach. They deem social media and networking as a business strategy, as long as they aren’t too busy doing something else that makes real money. Marc cites two agencies who let their blogs languish while they were pursuing paying clients. As many agencies (and clients) have discovered in this economic recession, you can’t abandon your marketing strategy or your pipeline will dry up.

    One commentator to Marc’s blog noted that the best agencies have a dedicated marketing team to make sure that marketing the agency’s services doesn’t fall between the cracks. I have seen that work in some settings, but most agencies are resource-constrained and the rank-and-file has to find a way to build agency marketing into their daily routine. I have worked on the marketing committee for a few agencies, and we managed to build in web redesign, collateral updates, social networking, and other tasks into the day-to-day routine – it’s all part of the MBOs. In fact, it should be part of your DNA.

    In fact, I am writing this blog while I take a lunch break from developing a new business proposal. You can always find time to market yourself if you make marketing a priority.

    So thanks to Marc and those other PR professionals who walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

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