Tag Archives: pr

Five Points on PR Agency Versus Corporate

25 Jun
Five Points on PR Agency Versus Corporate 

 

“Agency versus Corporate” is a common topic among us PR folks — what’s the difference, which is better, which one is more “going to the dark side” than other…?

 

I’m just over a year into my first corporate stint after 15 years at agencies and three years as a freelancer. Without offending, hopefully, my colleagues on either side of this fence, a few points that may offer some clarity to anyone looking toward one side or the other.

 

1. There is a difference. Yeah, PR is PR. But, working at an agency and working within an organization are different jobs requiring different skills mindsets. Look at it this way: The same person can play baseball and football, and if you’re a good athlete, you can play either at a very high level. But you’ve got to work different sets of muscles to be successful. Agency folks have to work their ‘what should they do muscles.’  Corporate flexes their ‘what can we do’ muscles.

 

2. Agency Pros are External Catalysts. In the best view of yourself,the external agency is a catalyst for change with clients. You bring in strategy, focus, an outside point of view. You bring in insight from your interactions with influencers, and your work with other clients. You share best practices. You add focused skill and expertise to the client’s world. And your ideas and strategies provide a spark that might just generate sales, change perceptions and drive change. While on the inside…

 

3. Corporate PR Pros are Internal Agents. You’re representing your organization and your function. You’re deploying your strategic skills in messaging, positioning, writing and communicating that, in most cases, few others in the organization possess. And in the best view of yourself, you’reeffecting change in the organization…not by fanning the flames of change but by channeling creative energy into operational reality.  

 

4. Corporate PR has no idea how frustrating it is to be their PR agency.The very first time I worked with our agency after joining my company, I felt like a complete idiot. I didn’t have the information he needed, I didn’t have time to offer a proper explanation. I fired off short, probably cryptic emails just to keep things moving. I was acting, in short, just like the most frustrating clients I’d ever had. The challenge for the agency is to respect the client. To be a true partner, while standing outside of the day to day work of the client, helping the client to be  their best self while never really knowing the whole story of how things are actually getting done on the inside.

 

5. Agency PR Pros have not idea how to effect change inside a client’s organization. Even the best agencies with the closest client relationships don’t really know what it’s like for their clients day to day. There’s the meetings.  There are the multiple functions involved….organizational alignment needed…the moving parts necessary to turn a creative program into an operational success…From the outside, it might look dysfunctional…and sometimes it is….look at even the most effective organization from the inside and it’ll seem like chaos. But at their best, corporate pros are smarter than anyone about their business, effectively experimental, and cheerful agents of change. 

 
Your thoughts?
 

The Coming B2B Bad Service Social Media PR Nightmare

3 Feb

Jeremiah Owyang offers yet another case study of how a consumer brand was engulfed in — and then escaped from — a PR crisis caused by the unfortunate  (for the company) combination of poor customer service to a customer who happens to have significant influence on social media — and wielded her million-plus Twitter followers to great effect.  Add it to the growing list along with DellMotrin and Dominos.

Image copyright HowStuffWorks.com

Owyang’s point is worth heeding — that customer service departments need to gauge the relative power and influence of their customers as they serve them — and social media influence — like celebrity and loyalty and wealth — should be a factor that shunts a customer toward a different set of rules.

It got me thinking about the B2B market, and how I can find little of this online barking intended to break service log jams (beyond telecom and wireless — anyone and everyone feels free to complain about internet, mobile and phone service). We have a business culture that shuns allowing employees to call out their frustrations with their companies’ vendors online … with good reason — such behavior could damage large scale contracts and business relationships, and potentially give the complaining business itself a bad name in its industry or community.

Rest assured, there is plenty going on in the back channel. Poor media reviews and frustrated industry analysts absolutely slow sales.  Chatter at industry conferences manages to get around at the speed of gossip.  The many tech folks in IT have no problem telling the world what they think of, say, the quality of their backup system, on online forums.  And a vendor’s poor reputation is usually played out in sales and inside their own niche.

But, so as far as I can tell, B2B based complaints in social media have yet to create a big PR nightmare case study.*

So no worries?  Think again.  It’s not going out on much of a limb to predict that this will happen.  First, businesses are designed to compete — if social media will solve a problem that traditional channels won’t, it will be used.  Second, our world is getting more social, and our business is getting more personal, not less.  In other words, people will talk, even in B2B.   Let’s make sure we’re listening.**

*Am I wrong?  Let’s talk about some examples?  Telecom, cable companies and mobile devices don’t count!

**Which is a clever way to finish the post, but let’s really end with some advice:

1. If you’re delivering great service, keep doing so.

2. Listen to what business and their employees are saying about you online. Use free tools like RSS,  Google Alerts and, say, TweetDeck to start; monitor relevant Facebook and LinkedIn Groups.  Move to paid services to manage higher volumes, get better dashboards, monitor competitors.

3. Be in social media. Establish ‘outposts’ in key social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and…especially…key forums in your industry.  Participate.

4.  If you identify a problem, escalate it quickly and solve it.

5. If it becomes a broader “PR nightmare” before you knew about it, address it in social media as well as traditional media — your website and those social outposs.   go overboard to solve not just the problem, but the root causes…tell people how you’re going to do it…then do it.




6 Essential Public Relations Projects for Corporate Communications and Marketing

17 Nov

Rumor has it that the economic recovery has begun, so it’s time for another edition of “Invest in the Upswing”.  I know, I know –when a marketer tells you to start marketing more, hold onto your wallet.

On the other hand, who in corporate communications and marketing doesn’t want to raise the bar in PR and marketing? Perhaps more urgently, who doesn’t want to have an answer when an executive reads an in-flight magazine article about ‘the next big thing’…and wonders what you’re doing about it?

So here’s my list of 6 essential PR projects for corporate communications and marketing. If you have time, put them on your list; if you don’t, this is what I do, and I’m happy to help.

  1. Make web analytics part of your PR and marketing ROI reporting. I recently spoke to an industry association and asked the group, “who here watches web traffic stats?” Not a single hand went up.  This may be the single biggest missed opportunity for PR and marketing professionals. Track communications activity to web traffic and you’ve started a link in the chain toward sales leads, sales and truly meaningful ROI measures.   (Or, you’ll find out that your programs aren’t working – and change your strategy).
  2. Start a Competitive Intelligence Report. What are people saying about you and the competition in the media? On blogs and comments? On Twitter? On industry forums?  Set up a daily monitoring and a daily or weekly digest – less if there’s not much out there.  Share it online with the people who need to know.  For free, I’d start with Google Reader and news alerts, or set up a custom, shareable homepage with feeds from multiple sources.  Or you can pay folks like Radian6 for all the bells and whistles.
  3. Establish a Social Media Policy. Two reasons.  First, you need to protect company interests.  Second, you’re missing an opportunity to unleash your employees into their own networks to get the word out about what you do.  More thoughts on this here.
  4. Meet the Media. Get on the phone or on a plane and get to know better the folks who buy ink (and pixels) by the barrel. Traditional media relations is far from dead – even if you don’t care if your company sees print, media coverage gets you an online audience, contributes to SEO, and gives you a link to share with personal and sales contacts, on the corporate website and blog, and across social networks – all of which deepens awareness and relationships.
  5. Add Sharing to Your Website. You put the time into writing, formatting and designing web content.  Don’t you want people to share it? Don’t you want RSS users to get your updates in their reader? Or offer email and text alerts? Don’t you want to make it easy for bloggers to bookmark, vote up or share your news releases, video, customer story, new promotion or photo essay?  Here’s a list to get you started…add: RSS, Digg, ShareThis.
  6. Be the Media. Once you’ve added sharing, you need something to share. “Be the media” means building awareness, interest, loyalty and word-of-mouth (or pixel) by creating content online that people want to read, view and share. It means “pulling” people to you via strategies that connect what you put online with the people you want to reach.  And it means thinking every day about what you want your “audience to do” and how you can help get them there.  More thoughts on this here.

As always, we never do these things just to do them  — we do them because they move our organizations toward their goals.

Have more? What’s on your list? As always, I’m here to help

Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 1

3 Aug

The question at hand is this:  In corporate environments — primarily B2B — where the only new communications and marketing investments are those that deliver a return, what opportunities are corporate communications departments missing when they don’t engage with online networks?

As I’ve noted in the past, even B2B companies where there is little online conversation about their producuts or issues need to recognize at minimum that the ways people want to interact with businesses are changing.  Which means that “getting the basics done” in corporate communications requires a new look at activities that once seemed like unnecessary distractions — like monitoring and participating in online social networks, managing company blogs and making use of RSS feeds and mobile features — are now part of “the basics” that need day-t0-day consideration by internal resources.

What are some initiatives that deliver a measurable return — either in advancing the corporate reputation or protecting it? I’m going to post some ideas each day this week.  As always, I’m available to meet, discuss and deliver excellent counsel and support to help you make these initiatives happen in your organization.

Today’s idea #1:  Doing a Better Job at PR and Media Relations.

Do the reporters and editors that follow your company post on Twitter? Do they have blogs? Are they using RSS?  Are you outsourcing all of this to the agency?

You may be missing out for a couple reasons. First, reporters and editors appreciate having direct relationships with representatives of the company. Next, tools like Twitter and blogs make it possible to reach certain reporters in ways that you never could through email — commenting on what they do, sharing ideas and more.

But what is more interesting to a reporter — a Tweet or blog comment from the director of marketing at COMPANY, or one from an agency representing…who knows? Use the agency for strategy, ideas and formal pitching…in between, if you’re not connected with them, you may be missing opportunities.

Measure by clicks to your website, search ranking on key topics and sales.

Tomorrow:  Getting in front of…or catching up to…your competitors.

Chris Brogan on Presence Management

20 Apr

Chris Brogan posted a great piece on what he calls “The Undiscovered Country of Presence Management.”  If you’re a leader in marketing or corporate communications, it’s worth a read.  Brogan’s main point is that engaging online is a management function. You can do it high tech or high touch…or not at all.  He says: 

“In fact, think of it like this: a website is more like an automated phone tree, you know, “for English, press 1.” Social web presence is more like giving out everyone’s direct line.

Let that sink in. It’s every bit as much work to manage the relationships that come with online presence as it is to answer your phone without the robots to block people’s attempts. The payoffs are about the same, though. People appreciate the human touch of reaching someone online and having a “real” interaction. It might cost a little more, but it really shows a different level of care and service.

Is your company ready for that? Could your organization see shucking the phone tree in exchanged for a heightened sense of business contact?

“Just having one person on the “phone”,” Brogan concludes, “will rarely be the right answer.”

I’ve seen a strong temptation of clients to see social media as a lead and sales generation tool, and while that approach isn’t flat out wrong, it misses the part of being involved in communities — whether local, industry or client communities — that is simply part of managing any profitable enterprise, across multiple parts and functions of the business.  To whit: 

The issue isn’t Return on Investment.  It’s keeping your eyes and ears open to customer and market conversations that, before social media, wouldn’t let you in. It’s being where your customers are, sniffing out potential crises before they happen and managing them when  they do.  

The issue isn’t time.  If you are responsible for sales, and you know that customers and prospects hold regular meetings about your products, your competitors’ products, or the types of problems they solve, wouldn’t you go?  Why wouldn’t you be there online? 

The issue isn’t just for marketing and PR.  As Brogan points out, social media is an issue for customer service and sales. You might as well add business development, partner relations, channel management, public relations, community relations, investor relations, and, yes, marketing, too.  

Check out Brogan’s Part 2— it’s sure to be valuable.

11 Essential PR Skills

25 Mar

I’m preparing a “PR 101” course for a client this week. I’m glad to do it — the client is a non-profit that has never done much in the way of deliberate communications and marketing, and will need to rely on volunteers to keep any kind of communications program moving.

The exercise has me thinking about what it takes to do PR these days. In a lot of ways, PR is easier.  For example, when I started work at a big agency in 1992, typical assistant account executive duties included stuffing press kits, sending out faxes, poring through the Bacon’s directories to build media lists and doing daily newspaper scan-and-clips.  Doing media relations could be expensive.  If you wanted to generate media attention for a national consumer campaign, you’d be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on Nexis or Dialog databases, or you were cold-calling big national media lists (it didn’t make sense, but happened more often than you’d believe today).   Needless to say, every bit of that is now digital, searchable or automated.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, what is essential about public relations has not changed: moving people to action by creating credible, meaningful relationships between an organization, and the people and groups important to its success.

What’s changed?  The media, the available, the audience and their expectations of organizations.  There are more media, they move faster, and expectations are high from organizations, influencers, clients and the audience.  The risks and opportunities are higher than ever.

What are the essential skills for today’s public relations practitioner?  Some are tangible skills you can learn and practice; others are more of a “state of mind”.  I’d start here — I’d welcome your comments — what would you add?

  1. Sweat the small stuff. PR people are problem solvers. We’re i-dotters and t-crossers. We make sure the reporter has the background, and the VP has the right numbers.  If the event requires a microphone, mariachi band or glockenspiel, we find it and get it there.  We listen — and make sure the message comes across, and make sure it isn’t misunderstood. My dad liked to tell us kids, “don’t sweat the small stuff” when we’d get too riled up on the details and lose sight of the big picture.   A core PR skill is to do just that — so others don’t have to sweat it.
  2. Know your audience. Who do you want to hear your story? What do you want them to do?  You’d be surprised at how many communicators and marketers have trouble answering this simple question.
  3. Know the media. PR people need to be experts on who’s wielding influence for that audience.  Otherwise, how do you know what stories will work and won’t?  There are too many PR people read the paper, but they don’t follow news online.  Or, they get their news online, but don’t read the paper.  They don’t read blogs, or they only read blogs. They’ve never set up an RSS feed, tried out Twitter and Facebook — or think they can get all their news that way.  They’ve never seen the evening news or watched Oprah and Ellen, because no one they know is watching.  The point is to get to know the media.  Love the media. Get to know who’s doing what and writing what and saying what. Note bylines and blog profiles, followers, audience measures and ‘authority’.   Know where the conversations are happening.  And where you and your organization can and must get involved.
  4. Be the media. Another “these days” thing. PR needs to think less like a facilitator and more like a producer.  What are we going to communicate today?  How will our audience get our story?   How will we meet them where we are?  How will we “move” them today?
  5. Think outside your organization. Be objective. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of your audience with management.  What stories will fly and what won’t?  AIG needed someone to do this — to tell them how the public would react to their actions and force them to reconsider their decisions.
  6. Research…and synthesize. The ability to gather and synthesize information is vital to just about everything we do — from understanding the audience and market environment to getting background on reporters or bloggers before an interview. The ability to help your organization better understand their environment — and connect that understanding to their ability to achieve objectives — is vital.
  7. Understand measurement. The web promises measurement and analytics never before available to the public relations profession. It is vital for PR people to gain a better understanding of web analytics and to build a greater degree of feedback and measurement into programs.  In my time at big agencies, our measurement offerings were too expensive for most clients. This is unacceptable.  We need to do a better job with understanding and building in measurement and feedback loops into our programs, and that starts with building a basic understanding of how websites work and web analytics.
  8. Understand objectives. This is a simple one:  We don’t do PR to generate clips or website hits or blog posts or links or viral action.  We don’t even do it to raise ‘awareness’ or generate ‘word of mouth’.  We do it to increase sales, maintain and build customer loyalty, muster support, gain votes or influence public opinion.  We do it to change behavior. While  all of the traditional PR measures may well influence behavior, they are not an end in and of themselves.  This is why the Skittles experiment is, in my view, doomed to fail. There is no clear benefit beyond generating marketing buzz, which benefits marketers and agencies far more that it drives sales and brand loyalty.
  9. Write. Storytelling is essential to communications.  Nothing has replaced good writing.  Not 140 character limits. Not video. Not the web. It all starts with good writing.  But it doesn’t end there.
  10. Communicate in multiple media. The big change in the media world is the primacy of multiple media. Get to know them.  Where can podcasts augment press releases?  Where can video be more effective?  Where can a game, animation or image communicate what the written word cannot?    PR people don’t need to be expert in every form of media, but they need to understand the uses and appeal of each.
  11. Be smart. Reporters constantly complain about bad PR pitches. Bloggers do, too.  There’s no excuse for a cold call. It’s too easy to do the research. They know it, and you know it, too.

That’s just my list, and it’s just a start. What’s yours?

Shining Up PR’s Apple

10 Mar

Last  evening, I caught part 2 of Rachel Maddow’s rant on AIG and PR giant Burson-Marsteller.  Have a look for yourself.   The gist: AIG is using taxpayer dollars on PR firms. The news is a PR Week notice that respected investor relations firm Kekst & Company their list of PR representatives, but this is just a jumping off point for a rant on Burson–the agency that ‘evil has on speed-dial.’   (we’ll ignore for now that the otherwise intelligent Maddow expresses confusion on the meaning of the term “M&A”).  

The charge:  AIG is using taxpayer dollars to “shine up their image”…to “spin” us, the very taxpayers who own 80% of AIG.  Most people I talk to agree — this is incontrovertibly a waste of not only taxpayer money, but corporate money.  Why would any company need a PR firm to “communicate”?  My answer: why wouldn’t they?  

My argument is with the premise.  I don’t know what the good folks from Kekst or Burson or any other firm are telling the folks at AIG.  What I do know is that good PR counselors don’t shine up images, particularly in a crisis. We like to say that the best you can do with a bad story is to try and keep it from getting worse.  PR in this situation is a management function.  You hire an agency because you know they have smart people who’ve been there with other comapnies in crisis, who can give you an outside perspective on how to tell your story straight.  To avoid groupthink — the insular thinking that leads to big management mistakes.  

Think about any relationship you have.  How easy is it to tell your wife you received another speeding ticket?  Or that you’ve lost your job? How much easier is it to hide the truth; how much harder is it to own up to it?  Management struggles with the same very human emotions. If I’m management, I’m thinking I need someone with the experience to tell me to stop talking around the uncomfortable truth and say and do the right thing.  Or when I’m saying something stupid or insensitive.  They need someone to help them put what they need to say into words that will make sense to people. To tell their story.   Trust me — clear, honest, open communication is a lot harder than it looks.  

Not saying the agency folks are going to make a difference.  Or that AIG is a good company with management that wants to do right — I have no idea one way or the other.  I’m not even saying that AIG  shouldn’t be able to handle this themselves — in a perfect world, they would.  But in a perfect world, they wouldn’t be in this mess.  

But I can understand why they feel like they need help, and why PR agencies are the right call for them.  They’re not trying to shed light on some “secret awesomeness” of AIG — they’re just in a deep hole, and need someone to hand them a flashlight.

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