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.

The Business Case for Video Storytelling

It is an increasingly visual world. If video isn’t part of your storytelling strategy, it probably should be. Does video make sense for you? Below are some data points — gathered by writer and PR consultant Christine Hohlbaum. Christine is a master storyteller and uses video often in getting the word out on her blog, The Power of Slow, dedicated to encouraging all of us to slow down and focus. (But one area, where she encourages a little speed, is in the area of adopting video.)

Business case points:

1) Video nation: The average US Internet user watches around 186 videos a month; as of September 2011, 85.3% of online US adults have reported watching an online video, particularly on video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. Sources: Pew Internet and Comscore.

2) Early B2B adoption: Forrester Research says business videos are not (yet) widespread, but check in to see if your competitors are seeing its value and joining the corporate “early adopters”.

3) Video trend: Aside from social media adoption, online video marketing is the fastest growing medium for marketers. According to a Forrester Research report released in November 2009 for the top 50 U.S. Internet Retail websites, the adoption of online video grew by almost 400 percent that year alone. Check out this ReelSEO post on the growth of video, as well.

4) Huge market: 39% of smartphone owners in the US watch video regularly on their device; 58% of iPhone users. As of July 2011, there were 82.2 million smartphone subscribers in the US alone (= 35% of all US adults). In the government sector, 81% of federal managers use a smartphone or tablet.

5) Time spent: according to Forrester principal analyst James L McQuivey, PhD, we spend more time watching video than any other activity except sleeping. TV viewing has decreased while online viewing has increased.

6) Power of pictures: Through its multimedia nature, video can stir buyers’ emotions in the way other media cannot, leading to an increase in sales. Visitors who view product videos are 85% more likely to buy than visitors who do not. (Internet Retailer, April 2010)

7) Google loves video: With proper optimization, video increases the chance of a front-page Google result by 53x. (Forrester, January 2010).

A list of concise best practices for creating corporate videos here. Go forth and record.

P.S. Yes, I understand this post probably should have been delivered via video. Check back soon for this blog’s inauguration video post.

Missed Our Webinar on Social Media for Finance? Never Fear…

In case you missed our early December webinar on Real World Social Media for the Equipment Finance Company, you may now download the presentation from slideshare.

Not involved in finance? This presentation includes many nuggets — including the most important questions to ask — when planning and executing social media and social networking campaigns regardless of industry.

Naturally, the world has changed beneath our feet. So expect (very slightly) outdated statistics. LinkedIn now has 85 million users, for instance. Wow. That’s a lot of networking.

Do You Trust Your Employees Online?

Unless you’ve been under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you have been witnessing a fundamental shift in how organizations are telling their story and by whom.

Thanks to social networks, corporate brands and customer interaction are becoming increasingly tied to the individuals who work for them.  Individual employees, once hidden behind a corporate veil, are now taking the reins, empowered through new technologies and media to communicate with and solve problems for customers, shape brands, and tout their expertise. They are the new forward face of business.

Today, the very brand of a company is being built from the bottom up. For instance if you conduct a quick search of LinkedIn for any major company name, dozens (if not hundreds) of individual profiles will come up. Type in “Caterpillar” and more than 4,600 profiles emerge of individuals who work (or worked) for the company. Those profiles give a LinkedIn visitor a sense of the company.  

And, this is why we believe we have hit a wall of fear among executives in corporate America over social media and social networking. We hear that an individual’s presence online, uncontrolled and not directed is, well, scary.

But, corporate America will need to prepare itself for the rise of the worker who is empowered over what is possible – versus what is permissible – with today’s new technology landscape.

Some people – the early adopters – are even tapping into social networks and adopting the corporate spokesman role without being told to or getting permission (which only rachets up the fear factor.) We have found this is usually not out of defiance, but rather, out of a sincere passion to engage with others and advance their careers, profession and employers.  So, for the first time ever, we may have reached a place in corporate America where saying we trust our employees will be finally proven or not.

As Charlene Li stated in her book, Open Leadership, “A key difference today is that a new generation of workers is coming of age that believes ‘sharingness’ is next to—or more important than – godliness.” Do you trust them to share? Who do you believe it doing a good job of trusting their employees as the forward face?

What Happens When Your Social Media Star Leaves?

Earlier this week I spoke at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association annual convention. More than 800 financial folks attended, and I had the pleasure to lead a panel on social networking for the equipment finance industry.

I spent the summer studying how social media and social networking can be incorporated into equipment financiers’ marketing plans. The research findings – including a survey of equipment finance professionals, three case studies, and a plethora of best practices — can be found in our report, Social Networking for the Equipment Finance Industry, from the Web site of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation (a different organization from the association). The executive summary can be accessed at no charge.

But, I’m not here to sell you on the report (okay, well, maybe a little), but rather share what I heard at the convention. As we heard during our summer research, businesses are interested in social media. They just don’t always know what to do with it. Regardless of the thousands of articles, books and advice available today, it’s still hard to get one’s mental arms around some very important pieces — including calculating return on investment, metrics, and security and privacy concerns.

During the presentation, I received numerous good questions. But, the one that evoked much discussion was the fact that social media can make an individual a star. So, similar to your favorite sports figure, what happens when they switch teams? Do they take all your social media cache with them? Do all their followers (read: prospects) go with them?

Well, yes and no. 

Yes, individuals take themselves, their contacts, their enthusiasm, and social network know-how with them. They also take their positive online reputation (that you hope they built and you profited from) with them. People follow people on social networks, after all.

To avoid having a social media superstar’s departure mean the end of your online presence, a few precautions can be taken, including:

  • Ensure a mix of both corporate face and personal face is distributed. This means allowing the real person to have his or her voice online, but perhaps tweeting and posting under a corporate logo (the extreme) or making it known in their profile who they work for (the least they should do). If the person is responsible and accountable for social media for the company, then one should never eclipse the other. 
  • Make certain your social media star references your company frequently and isn’t just talking about themselves like they  – and they alone — are responsible for all the terrific resources and connections they offer. If the goods really are theirs, then they should say so. But, if the information is produced by a company, then it should be obvious to the reader who the author is.
  • Ensure a social media team is in place. This may seem obvious. But one very enthusiastic player can easily cause other employees to “lay back” a bit and not develop their online presence. Frequent rewards and support will ensure a team of tweeters, posters and bloggers maintain their desire to use social media. If a social media star departs then at least the organization has a set of individuals ready to go when the screen goes dark on the superstar’s computer (or smart phone).
  • Have a formal policy in place for a social media “hand-off.” If a superstar decides to leave, then you can rely on a procedure and system for organizational memory and social media knowledge to be transferred to the team (that we hope you developed by then).
  • Collect passwords of corporate-led social media channels and accounts. Be sure that your departing social media evangelist doesn’t walk out the door with the only keys to the castle(s). After all, institutional social media channels and blogs should be readily accessed by whoever is in charge of updating them — even someone who has to take over relatively quickly.

Yes, cultivate those social media celebrities, but remember what that fame is really for — advancing a mission.

Social Media for the Equipment Finance Industry: Divine or a Distraction?

We spent our summer not at the beach, but rather buried deep in journals, books, online conversations and talking to as many experts as possible about how to incorporate social media into marketing efforts for the equipment finance industry. Working under grant research from the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation, we were unsure what we would find. After all this is a conversative (albeit entrepreneurial), regulated B2B industry.

But, after digging deep, we discovered there is a path to take that can yield marketing success. The 135 page white paper will be available in a few weeks for download from www.LeaseFoundation.org. But, in the meantime, one of our conclusion is this: Corporate America will need to prepare itself for the rise of the worker who is empowered by what is possible versus what is permissible with today’s technology. Help channel that empowerment by immersing employees and partners in your brand. Then, listen for where what you have to offer contributes to the online dialogues and needs. From there, you will be better prepared to act in the social media realm.