Category Archives: marketing communications

Not Just a Press Release

I’m a big advocate for sending out additional media with press releases including images, a video, some audio, or whatever else you have on hand to pump up the content and interest. If you are an individual or CEO trying to boost your personal brand, it’s important to make sure that you have some decent video on hand for producers so they can get a sense of how you might appear on camera. Check out www.bizbuzzvideo.com for very affordable video production by a former CNN videographer with two Emmys under her belt. Oh, and make sure your headshots aren’t from 1991.

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Filed under marketing communications, media, media relations, PR for Non-Profits, PR for Small Biz, PR Resources, Press Releases, Public Relations, publicity

THE Most Important Skill for a Publicist

Writing. Period. The End.

Just kidding… I have a bit more to say on the topic. Over the years I have counseled dozens of young people interested in pursuing a career in public relations or some form of marketing communications. The number one question I get asked is: “What is the most important skill I need to have in order to get a job?” My answer is always the same: “Can you write?”

Believe it or not, writing does not come naturally to most people. In fact, some people hate writing so much, they would rather do their neighbors’ tax returns than write an article even on an interesting topic. For me, I have always loved writing. I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. It was called “Albert the Blue Alligator” and I still have it– and it’s still pretty good.

I chose to attend Emerson College in Boston, MA because it is a communications school that puts great emphasis on one’s ability to communicate effectively. In fact, the school motto is ” Expression Necessary to Evolution.” So true.

So why does a PR person need to know how to write? Don’t they spend most of their time networking, hooking up with journalists, building their contacts lists, going to events and making phone calls? No. That’s some of what a publicist does, but that’s not the whole enchilada.

A lot of what happens includes developing messages, working with clients on how to communicate what it is they want to say, and writing a variety of written documents for both internal and external use. There are press releases, Q&As, talking points, media advisories, pitch letters, e-mail communications, etc. All of these activities require a person to be an outstanding writer.

Spending time honing your writing skills lets a potential employer or client know that you can get up to speed on new topics quickly; assimilate complex information and relate that to a general audience; understand a variety of audiences; and can create messages that speak authentically and accurately about your product or business. Being a good writer means you are a good strategist, researcher, and overall great communicator.

PR people have to understand and apply basic journalistic principles in writing press releases. This tells a journalist that she’s working with a pro– someone who understands the meat of a good story, not just someone interested in hawking a product, service or initiative.

Some great writers’ resources for PR people include:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.

The Associated Press Stylebook

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Pitching PR: Questions Potential Clients Ask Publicists

I had a very interesting meeting today with a potential new client. It’s the sort of a meeting that represents a typical “why should I hire you” scenario from a first-time author who has written a book published by a small press. First, let me just say that I really enjoyed meeting the author and her publisher. They were absolutely lovely. Though I concluded that I wouldn’t be a right fit because the subject matter of the book was a topic very emotionally intense, I found myself answering their questions in the most straightforward and honest ways I possibly could. In many ways, I have taken the demystification of PR to a whole new level.

The author very appropriately asked me what sort of expectations she should have within a three-month contract in terms of how many interviews I could land for her. I said, “Absolutely none.” Had she asked me that ten years ago, I would have scrambled for exactly the right answer. I probably would have said “At least two major hits” or something along those lines. I wouldn’t have been lying, I would just have been very confident in my abilities to deliver. And if I didn’t deliver, not only would I be disappointed with myself, I would have a very angry client on my hands. So here are some basic questions that many publicists get when being interviewed for a contract– and I’ll tell you what I would say. Take it or leave it.

1) Do you have active contacts at Oprah that you can call?

Yes and no. I have secured two clients on Oprah in years past, but there is no guarantee that I can pull that off again, and I would never promise that to anyone. What I can promise is that I bring nearly twenty years of experience in developing pitches and stories that capture the attention of producers. But even if your best friend is a  producer at a major network or show, they still have to push stories through production meetings, other producers and hosts.

2) Do I have to go to some other state to do interviews? I don’t have the time.

No. That’s a waste of time. If you’re trying to get on national television, focus on that. You can always do a satellite media tour from your home town which will transmit you around the country.

3) How many media “hits” are normal?

PR is not just about media hits. It’s about creating a strategy to meet your objectives. If your objective is to become an expert resource on a particular subject matter, then doing interviews is essential. If you want to sell widgets consistently quarter after quarter, PR is a small (but integral) part of a larger marketing plan. Be clear on why you need “hits.”

4) I don’t have much money, but I need a lot of help. How do you charge?

I used to charge by the hour, but I don’t do that anymore. A brilliant idea can appear and be executed in a matter of minutes and yield very signficant results. It would not be fair to charge for fifteen minutes of work. I do flat monthly fees depending on the scope of work.

5) How many clients have you gotten in national media outlets in the last six months?

It’s not a matter of “getting clients into” anything. There is a process which includes developing messaging, a pitch, and maybe a press release or other materials including b-roll, sidebars and other good content. Good publicists either have existing contacts in your specific industry, or they have the ability to quickly forge new relationships with targeted media. Then the pitch goes out, follow-up is conducted and then you go from there. I think the days of touting how brilliant a PR person is based solely on where clients end up is long gone. In many ways, media relations is honestly a crap shoot.

You’re really paying for world-class messaging, media savvy sensibilities, knowledge of your industry and the news industry, and execution. It’s called “earned” media for those very reasons. You may have an upper hand if your pal is an editor, but if the story is stale not even your closest pal can do much for you.

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Public Relations Budgets

I get a lot of questions about how much a business should actually invest in public relations. Is it a percentage of your overall marketing budget? What’s the difference between hiring a PR person by contract instead of in-house? What are the different line items that I should consider when building a PR budget?

In short, there is no specific answer. It depends on what your overall business goals are and how you envision PR supporting those goals. Are you trying to raise awareness, change public perception, drive business and raise profits? What’s your motivation?

What I can tell you is that you do have three main options in securing talent, as well as a basic checklist of additional vendors which you may or may not need depending on who you hire.

1) Independent contractor: Usually a senior person with many years of applied experience in a variety of settings. They can charge by the hour anywhere from $75 to up to $200 per hour. Or they can charge a flat project fee or monthly fee.

2) In-house PR Person: This person is dedicated full-time to developing and executing a PR program. A mid-level PR person expects a salary range from $55K to $75K per year plus benefits. For Fortune 500 companies, salaries can be much higher.

3) Agency: With an agency you generally pay a monthly fee and have a senior account executive overseeing your account with the support of junior PR people. They generally share strong media contacts within the entire company among many publicists. There are a number of reputable agencies which can be both locally based, or with a local office of a national or mult-national PR company. For mid-sized businesses, monthly retainers can range from $5K to $15K a month, depending on the scope of work.

Agencies generally have access to many important PR vendors including media list building services, press release distribution companies, media tracking companies, etc. For a small to medium-sized businesses, you’ll need to set aside additional budget for the distribution of your releases through one of the following services:

www.PRWeb.com

www.PRNewswire.com

www.Marketwire.com

www.BusinessWire.com

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What You Need to Launch a PR Program

I’ve been getting a lot of hits on this blog lately and I truly hope that some of what I’ve shared has helped my readers understand the PR field a little bit more. I am really passionate about helping people put their dreams and business objectives out there in ways that serve them well and produce desired results. The business of PR is not, by any stretch, an exact science. There is an entire measurement and analysis industry surrounding PR designed to help companies justify how they spend their PR budgets. Even within my community, there is much debate as to the accuracy and relevance of certain measurement techniques. (I’ll do a separate blog on that later)

But what do you have control over in the beginning– whether you are just launching a PR program or revamping an old one– is putting in place the basic physical elements of your program. It’s so important to have the necessary building blocks in place because doing this will help you present yourself and your organization with confidence, professionalism and strength. It will also help you shape important messages, and even influence the development of your quarterly marketing goals. At the very least it will greatly support those goals and help to make them happen. In that spirit, I’ve developed the “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit™.

I am so excited about this new offering. Basically, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from years of working with start-ups, entrepreneurs, corporations and individuals and put together a simple but powerful tool kit that can get any organization or person started on the right path. In some ways, it’s a blueprint. But mostly, it’s an intensely cost-effective alternative to hiring a PR agency or someone in-house. So here it is:

The “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit ™ is specifically designed to solidly position you and your business for PR success. This tool kit is educational, practical and results-based. It is also an entirely cost-effective way to begin or continue your communications investment. Individually, these services (with me or any other reputable publicist or agency) may be cost prohibitive for companies with strict marketing budgets. But as a complete system, it’s accessible.

 

“Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit™

The “Before the Hoopla” Executive PR Tool Kit ™ is specifically designed to solidly position you and your business for PR success. This tool kit is educational, practical and results-based. It is also an entirely cost-effective way to begin or continue your communications investment.

  • PR 101 workshop: the basics of public relations (2 hour session)
  • Personalized communications training for your spokespeople (3 hour session)
  • Custom messaging session for your marketing team and spokespeople (3 hour session)
  • Top 25 journalists identified
  • Top 25 blogs identified
  • Development of online media room for your website including structure and content
  • Provide templates for internal and external PR documents
  • On demand PR consultation for one month (up to 5 hours)

Individual services also available. Please e-mail me at jennifer@hooplamedia.com for pricing.

Added optional services:

  • Photo shoot with preferred photographer for spokespeople and/or products
  • With partner Biz Buzz Video, production of 1-3 minute custom video for use on your website and in media outreach
  • With partner Biz Buzz Video, production of 5 minutes of company
    b-roll for use on your website and in media outreach
  • Serve as ongoing media contact for all media outreach 

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The Legitimacy of PR: People and Profession

Up until a few years ago, there was absolutely no certification in public relations. Pretty much anyone could go out there, put up a shingle, and say “Hey, I’ll be your publicist!” In fact, when I was in college in the late 80s and early 90s, I don’t believe there was even an academic focus at most major colleges and universities for PR. Yes, there were marketing classes and advertising majors, but PR was a subject often ignored by academics and folded into a curriculum in the form of a course here or there.

The point is that although PR has been around since, arguably, the first time a caveman tried to become head of the cave, it has still been a misunderstood profession. Today, the Public Relations Society of America offers professional PR people the chance to become Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certified. The issue of certification has been hotly debated for decades. But the bottom line is that I think it’s a good idea. It forces PR people to come clean about their knowledge and experience in the profession.

PR people get a bad rap in the public eye– sort of like personal injury lawyers or car salesmen. It’s ironic that our profession still struggles with being perceived as a valuable and legitimate part of the business process. Hollywood loves to villanize publicists and portray them as heartless, greedy liars. Honestly, I know those people exist, but I don’t know them. Who I do know are an incredibly conscientious and talented group of professionals who are amazing writers, excellent communicators and profoundly talented strategists.

Though I am not APR certified, I’ve been meaning to do it. The cost for taking the test is almost $400, but I’m sure it’s worth it. According to the PRSA website:

What is APR?
APR is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment.

Well, I guess I have something to look forward to.

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Five Things PR is Not

For all the discussion on what public relations can do for your bottom line, I think it’s helpful to put to rest some notions that PR is a cure-all for getting the word out about your business. So in the spirit of ruthless honesty, PR is not:

1) A replacement for a well-conceived Marketing and Advertising program; PR should support the initiatives of the marketing plan, not replace it. The very nature of PR is that it is “earned” media, therefore coverage is never guaranteed. Media Relations (just one part of your PR arsenal) for a company who has never made it a priority is a process that can take weeks, if not months to establish. Ad buys do not carry that third party stamp of approval, but you’re obviously guaranteed the space.

2) A way to become rich and famous overnight; certainly there are celebrity publicists who may have the cache to call in a few favors, but those contacts are rare, few and far between. Unless you have (or you are) a product that the can really get some air time or ink, the publicist can not afford to use those contacts up simply for a fee. Make sure your business has already achieved some important benchmarks (or is breaking new ground in an already established business) before hiring a PR representative.

3) Something to take lightly; Once you send out a press release, it can never be recalled. With that said, many businesses still go one of two ways when dealing with this fact. 1) They obsessively revise, review, edit and put through the grinder a perfectly simple, straightforward press release. I’ve experienced situations where up to fifteen people had to “sign off” on a release. After that, it was a mere shadow of itself… and that’s before it even got to the legal department. 2) They ignore this fact altogether and just want to “get it out”. There is a happy medium here. Let your PR person carefully craft the release. Provide honest and insightful feedback that can be incorporated. If you’re a public company or dealing with sensitive material, have your legal representative review it before it goes out. No big deal.

4) Not going to “save” your business; businesses who are pooling their resources to scrape together a fee in order to afford PR help gave bigger problems than their lack of PR. Don’t let your business become so cash poor that PR becomes a last ditch effort to save it. Invest in PR right off the bat. For independent filmmakers, this is especially important. Make sure to build in a PR budget in your line items. I’ve seen too many brilliant small films gasp for air when the director relaizes there’s no money left to promote the project. And, by the way, any publicist who is willing to defer payment either is trying to build a portfolio and has very little experience, or simply doesn’t have clients– which could be for a variety of reasons. Just something to think about.

5) A made-up business that anyone can instantly do; Yes, public relations is an actual profession. We have the Public Relations Society of America, we sign an ethics oath, and we even have an advanced certification program (though this is growing, the certified APR practitioners are on the rise). When you’re dealing with a PR person, allow them the same courtesy you would an accountant, an attorney, a physician. You certainly have the right to ask questions, even question methodologies. But, no, reading the Dummies Guide to PR would be like reading How to Represent Yourself in Court or The ABCs of Mending Your Broken Arm. Enthusiastically ask questions, but let the pro do their job. Should be fine.

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