More On Finding The Right PR Firm

On Friday I blogged about things to think about when hiring a PR firm. Developing a score card for each PR agency or counselor that you evaluate can be a helpful tool in making a final decision. Four big areas to “vet” include:

  1. Communication skills
  2. PR staff characteristics
  3. PR services offered
  4. Overall character

To get more granular, under “communication skills” consider these questions:

  • How well do they know your industry? Did they do their homework before meetings and their pitch?
  • Do they appear to engage in strategic thinking that adds value? Do their tactics stem from objectives and strategy?
  • Is their timeframe clear? Is the program budget reasonable?
  • Do their ideas appear innovative yet personal to your organization, and clearly outlined? Are their ideas realistic and makes sense?
  • Is the program measurable?

Under “PR Staff Characteristics” consider these questions:

  • Does your team and the PR team assigned have good chemistry and a good mix of personalities?
  • Have you met the people – before hiring the firm – who will be conducting the campaign?
  • Does everyone you’ve met at the firm appear to be professional, qualified and competent?
  • Is the account team accessible and responsive? How quickly do they answer your communications?
  • Does the staff have experience in your industry or markets?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the strategies and tactics offered?
  • Do they have demonstrated “street smarts” and common sense?
  • Do they have client references?
  • Do they have a written approach to financial and administrative account management?
  • Do they understand time and budget management?

Under “PR Services Offered” consider these questions:

  • Do they have examples of proven outcomes for clients?
  • Do they have proof of competency for the type of strategies you hope they deploy for you (examples would be social media, writing, research, media relations, speaking engagements, trade shows, events and more)
  • Does everyone on the team appear to have a baseline of knowledge and competency in the PR field? (examples include social media savvy, writing skills and more)
  • Do they have any specialties, such as crisis communications or messaging and storytelling work that is important to you?
  • Are their people published, have blogs, strong online presences and other personal branding strategies that keep them connected and constantly learning?
  • Does the firm appear to have invested in their people’s ongoing education and evolution?
  • Do they invest in the tools necessary to do their jobs, including analysis, tracking, issuing of news, and other administrative functions necessary to execute and evaluate the program?

Under “Overall Character” consider these questions:

  • Does the firm share its mission and values?
  • Can the firm service multiple accounts seamlessly and efficiently?
  • Is the firm known in its field? Been published or has engaged in thought leadership activities in its industry?
  • Have client conflicts been discussed and resolved?
  • Has the size, stability and make-up of the firm been shared?

7 Things to Think About Before Hiring a PR Firm

The social media realm has made it easier than ever for an organization to directly manage their reputation and image. An entire public relations effort may be conducted from the inside of the organization. However, there is more to reputation than tweeting, posting and blogging – all of which we agree should be done by someone from inside a company, nonprofit or themselves for their own personal brand. But you may find you need help in directing mere attention to a specific kind of visibility that you want and need to compete. It’s not enough to just be seen. That attention must cause action. And, that is where a PR firm can help.

Public relations experts will help prepare you for media work (both social and traditional), conduct messaging, work with you on presentations and pitch the organization (or you), its management and its products and services to the media, conference organizers, and other influencers. Media analysis, market monitoring and finding new channels and opportunities for visibility are also parts of a good PR program.

But, how do you choose the right PR partner? Below are seven action items to set you in the right direction to attract the appropriate PR counsel.

1. Get to know them through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Meet with the firm in person, if possible. Chemistry between the PR people and the person managing them is important. But, also know that making your decision on personalities and attraction alone is not going to guarantee good results. Issue an RFP. It does not have to be lengthy, but it should help you compare apples to apples when getting bids from different firms or consultants. This ensures you also will get a response that covers all the things you want and need to know before making a decision.

2. Identify what they are capable of in the real world (not just what they say on their blog, social media outlets or in a pitch). When choosing your PR agency, request media clips, social media case studies and statistics, speaking engagements booked, events handled and more that were conducted over the last year. No PR campaign is the same. But, you should be able to see the results from another client that had similar PR needs to yours.

It is important to ask the various budgets for producing such results, as well. After all, a company spending $2,000 a month cannot expect the same level of attention and outcomes that $20,000 produces. You want to get a realistic picture of what your money buys.

Additionally, ask how much time in actual tactics will be spent for your investment. Most agencies today know that strategy is an important step, but tactics are where the action is (literally).

3. Find out if you will be a little fish in a big pond. How many clients does this agency or consultant have? How much time will they put toward the investment you are making? And, specifically, who will be managing your account and making things happen for you? You will want to know your place on the totem pole.

4. Answer honestly how much time you have to manage the agency. Lack of internal resources to work with the PR agency is one of the greatest killers of a campaign’s success. Public relations is a partnership. You will need to devote some time to get the agency up to speed on your company, personnel, products and market. You will need to be responsive to documents that need your approval, and be available for media interviews, be engaged in the social space yourself (if growing your online presence is a goal), and get engaged in other activities.

5. Know your objectives up front and share them openly and honestly with the PR team. A good PR firm will craft a customized program to meet specific goals and objectives. In fact, your investment will be determined by what you want to accomplish. Ask how much time the PR group believes it will take to achieve the outcomes. No one can predict media coverage or your YouTube video going viral. But, they should have some sense of how long it will take to gain traction.

Side note: iI is not appropriate to ask a PR firm to develop a communications plan for you in the proposal stage. This kind of work “on spec” is asking too much and that strategic work should be conducted once you hire the firm.

6. Share your budget. The game of not telling someone how much you can afford won’t do you any good. Share at least a ballpark figure so the agency can provide a proposal that is realistic. You don’t want to waste your time just as much as the PR firm or consultancy doesn’t want to, either. If you aren’t a match due to minimum budget requirements by the agency, it is better to learn that up front.

7. Ask how results are tracked and measured. What tools do they use to show and report the outcomes of the PR effort? Do you need graphs and charts on a regular basis? Do you need your PR firm to submit regular reports to boards, executive teams or others? Tell them up front what you need in the way of justifying the PR expense and discover early if they have the ability or inclination to do so.

Is Organizational Storytelling a Fad?

I’ve been in the communications field for 27 years. I’ve seen all the fashions come and go. First, there was corporate speak. (Think Mad Men, where the old boys’ network and the Ivy League degrees caused people to listen.) Then, dot-com speak. (Think “mission-critical, 24/7 value proposition” messaging -nonstop). Then, social media speak. (Think soundbites. About everything such as “I just ate a tuna fish sandwhich.”) Today we are coming full circle to return to an ancient form of communication that actually never went out of style. That’s storytelling.

Corporate or organizational storytelling uses the technique of using narrative that evokes an emotional response from its audience. And, in today’s information superload world, it is turning out to be the best way to get your targets to listen and remember you.

Storytelling is now the cool kid on the block for two simple reasons: 

  • The re-introduction of the power of individuals in communication
  • The increasingly noisy and data-packed world in which we live

With the change in “who’s in charge” around communication (thank you, social media) the corporate veil has dropped to show the people behind the magic. And, with real people come some very real needs – to be heard and to make a difference. People also are the heart of all organizations (not to mention news stories), so keeping them interested means talking about them or other people for relevance.

Additionally, the noise level has risen. Did you know we consume 174 newspapers’ worth of data a day (compared to just two and a half pages 24 years ago)? And, we produce the equivalent of six newspapers a day? That’s a lot of stuff. 

These two characteristics of our changing world – people taking control of communication and the increase in information coming at us all the time – is why I believe we have a resurgence of using storytelling techniques to our professional lives. Because, let’s face it, hearing “let me tell you a story,” is far more interesting than “let me tell you about our services.”

A Great Spokesperson Goes Beyond Knowing The Message

Identifying the “right” spokesperson is often a big topic in the board room when public relations campaigns and social media efforts are discussed. And, usually the CEO or someone else with a big job title is named. After all, they come with the clout and cache, right?

Not necessarily. A job title does not necessarily make the person the best representative of the message or brand.

It should go without saying that the chosen someone should know the message and story and be able to answer questions related to the topic at hand. But, that’s not the only skill required. Great message delivers also have the following characteristics.

  • They are likeable. People are attracted to the messages of people they like. So, unless the story calls for being outraged, putting someone before a microphone or behind a podium that will make the audience uncomfortable isn’t wise. Rarely do you want someone who is confrontational, angry or sarcastic to lead the charge. You want someone who can figuratively bond with the audience.
  • They have the appropriate energy for the topic, the brand and the audience. Just like you wouldn’t put someone who talks like a 22 year old professional skateboarder before a group of Wall Street investors (unless they are selling stock for a skateboarding company), you want to make sure the audience can related to said spokesperson. You want a spokesperson who can inspire and make audience members (even the audience of one) feel a certain way.
  • They demonstrate real interest in their audience. There is no faster way to turn off a reporter or an audience than to act bored or disinterested. Why should someone care about someone who doesn’t seem to care about them?

What else do you believe a good spokesperson should have to move an audience to action?

Investing In Your Corporate Language: Priceless

Under the umbrella of “things we wish every company would do” is proactively spending time (and not just two hours during a board meeting) selecting the language they will use when describing themselves. Developing an elevator pitch, an organizational story, and top level messages are just as important strategic actions as designing a financial strategy. Sound like strong medicine?

Right this very minute, words are crossing hallways, being flung over board room tables, getting sent via Twitter and Facebook, being left on voice mail messages, and being printed and copied.

Apparently people like to talk so much they need many words, nuances, and options to hone their thoughts, beliefs and ideas. According to the Global Language Monitor, it is estimated more than one million words exist in the English language alone. (According to this group, the English Language adopted its millionth word to our speech on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m.)

Today everyone in a company has the option of delivering those words and messages on your behalf (Hello, social media!), impacting your brand, your narrative and your relationships with customers, vendors, partners, investors and other stakeholders. Would your associates choose the same words as you – from the million or so available to them – when it comes to describing your company? How much thought have you given to your messaging, really?

What The People In Charge of Your Reputation Wish You Knew

As part of a new series, we’re going to blog about what we wish clients would do or knew. We are public relations folks. You know, the ones charged with managing your reputation and building your presence, and there is guidance we give we really wish the companies and organizations that hire us would take, but sometimes don’t.

There, I wrote it. Yes, sometimes our clients don’t want to do what we ask of them. We know there are reasons, justifications, political positions, and internal workings that keep them from take our advice sometimes. After all, we’ve been doing this for more than 25 years now. We’ve been around the block a time or two.

But, sometimes, perhaps they just don’t believe it will work?

So, in response, we’re going to talk about some of the issues we come across that sit firmly in the realm of “The Advice We Wish Clients Would Take.”

First up? What makes a good spokesperson for your organization. It’s not always the CEO.

Next? Why it’s important to talk to Basket Weaving Today or your local news outlet or any other media outlet you deem “small potatoes.”

And, then? Why investing in determining your company-wide messaging should be as important as your financial planning.

There are other topics. But before we start pontificating at will, what do you want to hear about?