Marketing managers have long realized the importance of publicity for gaining recognition and establishing the credibility of their organization. However, given today's slumping economy, public relations has gained renewed prominence as a means to keep a company's products and services in front of potential customers - while keeping within decreasing marketing budgets.
Of course, advertising still ranks as a prime necessity, as pointed out by branding authority Jack Trout in his 1996 book, The New Positioning. "PR plants the seed. Advertising harvests the crop," wrote Trout. One can't live without the other.
But while partnerships between manufacturers/service providers and advertising agencies have been standard business practice for decades, establishing the well-leveraged and mutually beneficial relationship between public relations professionals and clients still eludes many. Too many clients don't realize that they can drastically influence the success or failure of the partnership.
Contrary to the "show biz" maxim that the only bad publicity is your obituary if not done correctly, publicity can backfire to tarnish your image, alienate the press, and turn away customers.
That's why it is vitally important that you start with a qualified firm to begin with, and then stay on top of your public relations campaign throughout its existence. Learning to optimize your relationship with your public relations firm should help any organization steer clear of "bad ink."
Toward that end, the following insights provide valuable tools to help management achieve its publicity goals for most any organization. More importantly, the following pointers should help improve the brand image of your company, cement better relationships with the media, and generate new business to grow your company.
1. Understand the criteria for recognizing an experienced PR firm.
While many sales and marketing managers may know how to do their own publicity, the reality is they seldom have the time. Hence the need for outsourcing this extremely important aspect of marketing. When you do begin your search for a PR firm, be sure to judge the following criteria: the depth of the entire team, measured by the number of experts from various fields that complement each other (so that a fusion of knowledge takes place); the staff's understanding of your industry; and their working knowledge of new technologies. Also, ask to see a book of published magazine, newspaper, and Website clippings from publicity garnered for previous clients. It should be the size of a phone book, and no less.
Finally, why not judge a public relations firm by the same standards that they hold out to be most important: publicity? When interviewing prospective agencies, ask to see evidence of publicity about their own company.
2. Establish Measurements of Effectiveness.
You should be guaranteed a minimum of effort right up front. Discuss how many releases you expect to have written. Keep in mind that a saturation point can come rather rapidly. Just because you have lots of new products doesn't mean the media will rush to print every single release. If the editors receive too many at once, they simply pick the best and discard the rest. Therefore, it is important that your PR professional be permitted to create individual placement strategies for releases.
With that thought in mind, a realistic schedule of releases can be arrived at. Additionally, you may want to inquire as to how many publications and Websites are contacted. More importantly, ascertain whether or not the editors are contacted personally. Unless you are a Fortune 100 company, nothing is less effective than a release sent blindly over a wire service.
Lastly, make sure that once the releases eventually get published, that you receive a hard copy in your hands. Only then can you take that publicity to the bank.
3. Identify a primary contact - on both ends!
In most cases, the PR firm will readily identify an account manager who will coordinate most, if not all, of the publicity tasks for your company. He or she may not necessarily write the actual releases, but this person will undoubtedly guide the publicity strategy and edit the releases for the benefit of your organization.
Surprisingly, though, many manufacturing/service companies do not reciprocate by appointing a single point of responsibility on their end. Oftentimes, contact with the PR firm is delegated to someone who is already overloaded and really doesn't care about dealing with "the PR people." Yet, assigning a low priority to public relations almost guarantees a low score when the time comes to tabulate results.
To assure success, you must have someone who can respond immediately to calls and requests from your agency's staff. A huge amount of correspondence
will change hands between your two companies. You do not want one-of-a-kind negatives, publishing agreements, permission-to-print acknowledgments, and expensive demos to end up misplaced. Identifying the accountable individual on either end can help ensure that nothing "falls between the cracks."
4. Give them what they want. Resources!
In order to sound fully informed about your organization, you must provide your agency with all the information they need. Certainly, one visit to a Website can reap a lot of data, but that's no substitute for a formal company background, spec sheets, technical guidelines, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
Maintain an open dialog at all times with your contact. If they need to interview a member of your technical staff, make sure that staff person responds quickly. Nothing is more frustrating when an engineer won't return the calls of a PR person, because the engineer feels that that work falls within marketing's domain. Instead, you want to see your releases packed with meat -- technical nuts and bolts that only an insider can provide. The trade press editors want this protein-packed news just as much.
Of course, never underestimate the importance of artwork. Research shows that people stop to look at ads with pictures six times more often than those without it. The same applies for publicity. Art pulls. Not only that, your graphics convey your branding message, so make sure that you don't skimp in this area. Use only high-resolution artwork for your product shots. Quality photography still ranks as the first choice among many editors.
5. Avoid the hype when reviewing releases.
Far and away, the most common mistake that management makes is to mix advertising copy into their publicity. Find a customer that will state as much, but never appoint a company spokesperson to pat yourself on the back.
By all means, do not insist that your releases include hyperbole such as: best in its class, never before, maximum, the last word, number one, the world's first, no one else, the world leader and unanimous. Only state what you can back up with hard figures.
Unless the story is a new product release, refrain from undoing your publicists' best efforts by requiring that your company's name appear in every other paragraph. Otherwise, you'll end up with a terrific company "showcase" that no editor will ever print.
6. Provide quick turnaround on approving releases and requests for interviews.
This pointer shouldn't even be necessary. Yet, hesitation on management's part to proofread a release has delayed many a fine news story. Hard news usually breaks fast, and to quickly release an announcement about a new product or innovation can sometimes make the difference in getting ahead of your competition.
Even a case history can end up getting scooped if a magazine prints a similar story about a different vendor. Keep in mind that the lead time for feature articles in a magazine can stretch to three or four months at least, so any delay in the approval process only makes it tougher for your PR partner to obtain timely publicity for you.
Occasionally, your publicity agent will run across an editor who is on deadline to finish a story. That editor, or writer, wants to quote an expert, now, so it might as well be someone from your organization.
Therefore, designate one person and an alternate to stand ready to talk to the press at all times. Ask your publicist to prepare a sixty-second statement that positions you as the technical expert that you truly are. This statement should include bulleted points that back up your position. Your assured responses will speak volumes of your company's capabilities. Besides, that reporter will turn to you again when the time comes to revisit the issue. Publicity doesn't get any better than that.
7. Resist the temptation to publicize "vapor ware."
If ever a touchy subject existed when it comes to publicity, this would be it. While it is far beyond your public relations professional to call the shots as to the timing for new products or updated versions, at least they can advise you as to the response it will receive from the press. Heed their advice, as they deal with the media on a daily basis.
Releasing news about an untested product is the fastest way to strike out with the media. Especially when it comes to software, the editors are particularly suspicious, as they have repeatedly been burned in the past. Some editors have learned to ask for a demo before they print a single word. Choke on this request, and years may pass before this editor offers you a second chance.
8. Get more mileage off your publicity.
Many businesses fail to exploit the windfall in good public relations that they receive. Big mistake. If your story does see the light of print, or gets broadcast on a television or radio show, be sure to capture it for posterity, and then brag about it. Publicity oftentimes begets more publicity.
For example, if your release gets featured in a popular magazine, then request that your agency contact the magazine for reprints. These slick-looking copies are well worth the extra cost, as they project a far more professional appearance than a poorly-framed black and white copy that may or may not include all the margins.
Get at least 1000 reprints. Give copies to your program managers to share with their staff, to prospective investors or business partners, and to your sales department.
Finally, have your PR firm prepare a special book of published articles for the CEO. This notebook must display every single piece of publicity in a neat fashion within page protectors. Your company logo should adorn the cover so that this book makes a strong statement about your commitment to the importance of publicity.
If a company can win favorable press coverage, its message is more likely to be absorbed and believed, wrote Regis McKenna in his popular 1991 book, Relationship Marketing.
Your organization cannot afford to stay out of the news, as your competition will surely pursue this avenue. If you wish to earn a greater share of your target market, you must enlist the power of the media toward your cause. By working hand in hand with your PR firm, you can ensure that your company will not repel customers by being too commercial, but instead attract new business with tasteful publicity that spells success.