Writing a Winning Proposal

When I’m asked to respond to a request for a proposal (RFP), I have mixed feelings. On the plus side, there’s a chance to win new business. On the negative side, I’m going to spend at least 20 hours meeting the potential client, conducting research, brainstorming, writing a proposal that essentially gives away my intellectual property when I have little information whether I can win the business–or even if there is business to win.

According to Richard Belle, president of Belle Communications, there’s good news and bad news in today’s competitive proposal world. The good news is that your firm probably has the qualifications to perform the work; and the bad news is so do most of your competitors.  Belle talked about how to write a winning proposal to 25 IPRA professional development lunch attendees at the May 1 event.

“Clients know this,” continued Belle. And in fact, he added, when judges first evaluate proposals, they typically put them into three piles: no, yes and maybe. Most proposals end up in the maybe pile. Why? Because most PR professionals write a “good” proposal that only demonstrate their competence.

“Good proposals,” said Belle, “show that you can perform the work; great proposals win the business.”

So how do you go from good to great? Here’s Belle’s advice:

  • Follow the RFP format. Most RFPs ask for specific elements. Belle suggests making absolutely sure that you respond to each RFP section.
  • Distinguish yourself from your competitors. Belle suggested taking your elevator speech and weaving it into your proposal. This might include information about cost, past accomplishments–basically why they should hire you over your competitors.
  • Know yourself, the client and your competitors. Belle said know yourself and your strengths, the client and what they are looking for, and your competitors and their strengths. Ask the client who you are competing against or conduct your own research and then write your proposal illustrating how you differ from your competitors.
  • Write an original proposal. Ok I’ll admit it–I cut and paste some sections of my proposals. Belle says this is obvious to those evaluating the submission. He suggests writing an original proposal each time that addresses exactly what the client is seeking.
  • Back up claims with facts. As PR professionals, we steer clear of making “claims.” This is critical in a proposal. If you say you will complete the work 2 weeks ahead of deadline according to Belle, you need to make sure you meet that deadline. In other words, don’t make unrealistic promises or ones you can’t keep.
  • Win or lose, request a debrief. While most of us request a debrief only when we lose a bid, Belle says you should request a debrief win or lose. He says it’s important to know why you won so you can be sure to focus on those points that helped you win the business.

Following these suggestions can help your firm go from writing good proposals to writing great proposals–and increases your odds of winning business.

Submitted by NCC board member Sheri L. Singer, president of Singer Communications a PR firm designed to save clients time and money while delivering stellar services. She is a charter member of IPRA, has served on the IPRA board for 10 years (chair in 2009). She also is the Education Chair of ASAE’s Communications Section Council.

Mark Schaefer: How to Avoid Content Shock and Win the Future

The storm that beat down the Mid-Atlantic on April 30 brought rain but no lighting. Still dozens of marketers and PR pros walked away shocked and awed after Mark Schaefer’s presentation at Google’s Washington, DC office.

Mark-Schaefer-Content-ShockAs a lead up to Vocus’ Demand Success PR and Marketing Conference on June 5-6, Schaefer, the author of “Social Media Explained,” discussed the past, present and future of marketing, including the impending Content Shock.

First adopters reap the spoils, Schaefer says, that’s why it’s so important to have a solid grasp of where we were, where we are and where we soon will be.

“Every time we get to the end of one of these revolutions, it gets more difficult for businesses,” Schaefer says.

Let’s take a look at his insights:

Past and Present Digital Revolutions

The Internet: A lonely place

Schaefer fondly recalled the day he sat down with his computer, plugged in the phone jack, heard the screeching modem and downloaded a picture from NASA in five minutes.

He described the Internet of about 20 years ago as “a lonely place.” The first adopters simply treated their websites as brochures and often included the same content and pictures.PRSA_Ad_DS_208x165_v2-01

Time to get found

As websites became ubiquitous, people learned they needed to stand out, and Google was the answer.

The people who mastered SEO (or temporarily reaped the benefits by gaming the search engine) ranked at the top of search results, appearing in front of customers.

Today’s challenge – Content pileup

Most every business is piling onto the social web and producing content, but the amount of data created is expected to increase 600 percent by the year 2020. Seventy-five percent of that data will come from consumers and businesses.

“We’re getting to the end of this epoch and things are getting harder. It’s going to be a challenge for us until the next thing comes along,” Schaefer says.

“Right now, in America, we consume 10 hours of content a day,” he says. “Are we getting filled up? What is the limit?”

Once people hit their limit (whatever it may be), there will be a Content Shock, making it difficult for brands to reach customers.

The answer to the problem isn’t to create amazing content. That solution only works until your competitors do the same thing, resulting in an amazing content arms race.

Content-Shock-Mark-Schaefer-Audience-e1398952359252Here are Schaefer’s four ideas for succeeding as marketing in this epoch becomes tougher and tougher:

1. Shock and awe

The key to the shock and awe strategy is to be first and to be overwhelming. Find an unsaturated niche within your industry and populate it with content that will help you win the discovery battle.

Schaefer used the example of a cosmetic surgery facility. They dominated by answering all the questions people had about their clinic.

They hosted Facebook quizzes, created videos where doctors answered questions, started blogging, produced ebooks and eventually gave away a hardcover holiday cookbook to anyone who interacted with their brand.

A holiday cookbook? When people would ask about the recipe of a tasty dish, the cook would invariably mention the cosmetic surgery center.

“They were owning part of the local conversation even at Christmas dinner,” Schaefer said.

Their efforts produced a 19 percent increase in revenues, a conversion rate that jumped 20 percentage points and a top ranking for many relevant search terms.

2. Borrow a bigger pipeline

“If your pipeline is getting strangled, maybe you should borrow someone else’s,” Schaefer said.

By that he meant using sponsored content, newsjacking or influence marketing.

When it comes to influence marketing, widespread access to high-speed Internet and access to free publishing tools like social networks and blogging platforms “democratized” influence.

Schaefer told the story of Robert Scoble who became a powerful tech blogger by writing blog posts regularly during the mid 1990s. What separated Scoble was his ability to create content that moves and gets shared among a targeted audience.

As Scoble grew his following, businesses that once wouldn’t hire the college dropout realized they could use him to reach crowds by, for example, sending him products to review.

Another example is Listerine. The brand found the “Robert Scoble of oral care” and went from a small piece of the overall conversation to controlling much more of the conversation. This proves that the strategy can work for all brands, no matter how sexy they are.

3. Atomizing content

Bigger isn’t always better. People’s interest in consuming pictures, infographics and short videos have helped Vine and Pinterest burst onto the scene.

Creating atomized content can help you connect with consumers.

4. Be R.I.T.E.

R.I.T.E. is an acronym for Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining.

“If you create content that’s R.I.T.E….over time you will be creating shareable content,” Schaefer says. “Of these four, I think the big one is going to be entertainment, and the most challenging.”

Schaefer used Chipotle as an example. It created entertaining Claymation videos that people loved to watch and share and even added an iPhone game.

What’s Next?

“The next revolution is going to be about wearable technology, augmented reality and filters,” says Schaefer, who predicted that it will hit critical mass by the end of 2015.

The key is going to be in creating immersive interactive experiences, but there are challenges in the way.

People are getting bombarded with content and are starting to create physical and digital filters to keep out irrelevant stuff.

He used the example of Zite, an app that learns from the content that you interact with to deliver more of the same. That’s bad news for brands unless…

“We need to create something that’s so compelling, that’s so interesting that we invite people out of their filters.”

Immersive interactive experiences, through the use of wearables and augmented reality, will make people want to spend time with us.

No one has successfully done this yet, but the one who does will win.

“We’re on the brink of a digital world that surrounds us like the air we breathe,” Schaefer says. “There’s a first mover advantage. If you’re creating immersive experiences for your customers, there’ll be an advantage.”

Final Big Idea

How do we stand out? The answer is three words: Be. More. Human.

“People want to buy from people the same way we’ve wanted to buy since the medieval times,” Schaefer says. “We have this amazing need to connect and be social. We want to buy from the people we know. That awareness leads to trust. That trust leads to loyalty. That loyalty trumps everything…even blogs, filters and content shock.”

by Brian Conlin, originally appearing on The Vocus Blog »

Is DC the Center of the PR World?

You could make a powerful argument that the industry’s best minds inevitably do or have practiced in Washington, DC at some point. It only makes sense with national elections contingent on public will; the government’s day-to-day business of serving America; the need of businesses to lobby the government and the overwhelming number of national nonprofits located in Washington.

That’s why we are hosting Demand Success, the largest PR and marketing conference in the Mid-Atlantic, in Washington, DC (June 5 and 6). We at Vocus, one of the country’s largest PR software vendors, recognize that a major PR conference should be held in DC every year.

Our experience building software has shown us how social media and data are reshaping public relations for the better. It’s also why the increasing power of PR is a central focus of Demand Success.

What do we mean by PR’s increasing power?

Data and measurement prove how important earned media is to business success.

Expert content from media and trusted bloggers impacts buyers with an 88 percent better lift (likelihood to drive someone to buy) than branded content, according to Nielsen. User-generated content offers only a 38 percent “lift.” While everyone continues to concentrate on content marketing, data shows that people trust media and their peers more than branded content.

Today’s PR pros have to adapt to many new tools and technologies to succeed, and help brands deliver ROI. To address these needs, our Demand Success keynotes include:

  • Web Analytics 2.0 author and Google Digital Marketing Evangelist Avinash Kaushik
  • World-renowned crisis communicator and inspiration for the hit TV show “Scandal” Judy Smith

Experience speaks volumes, which is why Demand Success will feature corporate communicators and PR leaders from:

  • NASA
  • Twitter
  • HootSuite

Finally, we have thought leaders who will address emerging trends in online media, such as:

While new technologies can empower, they also challenge. Limited time, distractions, rapid change and the need to adapt can leave anyone spinning. Our opening keynote Randi Zuckerberg will draw from her experiences as an entrepreneur and Facebook’s former marketing lead to share methods for handling distractions in today’s digital world.

Please attend and join other DC area minds in the sector for a robust discussion about PR. Use the code PRSA250 for a $250 discount.

by Breeanna Straessle, director of public relations, Vocus

What’s Next at the Washington Post: Speaker Dishes to PR Indies

Change and experimentation are coming to the Washington Post, according to Chris Jenkins, who spoke the Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA) in January 2014. The October 2013 announcement of the Post’s sale to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, sent shock waves through the DC PR community – and now that our initial surprise has worn off – many want to know what the sale means for the future of the Washington Post.Post-Photo

For those fearing that the sale means heads will roll – that’s not the case. “You will not see a bunch of 22 year olds come in and throw us out,” said Jenkins, who is an assistant local editor at the Post. The first year after the sale is a grace period and news editorial will not be changing.

At the same time, the Post is not a charity case, and Bezos definitely wants to make the DC area’s flagship newspaper successful financially, said Jenkins. As we all know, newspapers have struggled financially in the information age and  been under increasing monetary pressures as readers have flocked online and cancelled paper subscriptions.

According to Jenkins, Bezos wants to take a changing institution and make it successful. He is trying to take the long view and create what the 21st century newspaper look like. “There will be change and disruption. This is not all milk and cookies,” said Jenkins, in one of his more memorable quotes.

One of the ways the newspaper is changing is through creation of “nodes” that facilitate conversations between journalists and readers. In place for the last five to six years, these individualized verticals, such as Wonkblog,  focus on special topics and offer specialized content that allows the reader to get informed and discuss a topic. Jenkins said there are going to be more of these individual nodes, and if you have a client that is relevant and has something interesting to say, these verticals present new opportunities for public relations pros eager to score digital ink.

A vertical is structured more like a blog, with some analysis of a defined subject matter. So it offers opinion and is observational. The curator of the vertical may write  3-4 times a day. The tone may be a little less formal than traditional print reporting. And the curator may pose questions, ask for comments, make lists or share content. It is designed to foster conversation.

These verticals and social media  have opened up new ways to have conversations with readers. Jenkins discussed the education blog (The Answer Sheet) produced by Valerie Strauss and how a particular post about a teacher wanting to quit teaching went viral. While Strauss wrote only a few sentences to introduce the teacher’s original words – the story netted 8 million views.

Giving others opportunities to write something that can be shared is a key part of these verticals and builds their participatory nature. “We want to be the curators. They want more stuff, more content. It has to be useful, conversational, that people want to read and want to share,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins offered advice to help PR pros too. “Have a cheat sheet for yourself and update it. Know who runs each section. I can’t stress too much how dynamic things are going to be in the future for the Post. There will be surprises. Make sure you stay in touch with the changes we are making.”

In this new more entrepreneurial/experimental version of the Washington Post, things may be tried and then abandoned if they don’t take off or succeed. “We are experimenting. When one thing doesn’t work, they will change it. We should expect change. The spirit is that as we move forward as a news organization, we are trying to create a new thing that has never been invented before. There is going to be a lot of disruption in all of our lives,” said Jenkins.

It’s more important than ever, for PR pros to know who they are pitching when they are trying to suggest a story about a client. Is it a traditional reporter or a blogger? What does he or she write about the most? When dealing with bloggers, you may have to change your approach, advises Jenkins. They are often writing opinions, and not reporting, in the traditional sense. Bloggers are quick and speedy, but everyone at the Washington Post is operating under increasing deadlines to create copy for online dissemination. All reporters are being asked to post at least one story online every day, even if it is just a short piece.

Cultivating relationships with reporters will be even more important as changes disrupt work flows and content creation and dissemination become king. “Try to find the right reporter and strategically engage. Those personal relationships are invaluable even more now,” said Jenkins.

It’s also important for PR pros to realize that photos may carry more currency than a story.  “A photo gallery of an event you are promoting is more shareable than an article. It may not be a story but photos would be shareable,” said Jenkins.

When asked if reporters are getting story pitches from Twitter, Jenkins said yes, they do take pitches via Twitter, and he pointed out that reporters troll Twitter for story ideas at times. However, he added that not all reporters are Twitter-oriented (so if you are trying to pitch a story to a reporter who isn’t into Twitter, you need to try something else).

The audience also asked if reporters read all of the comments posted online for a particular story. Jenkins said that writers managing verticals do read their comments and that sometimes new stories result from comments. But some reporters don’t read them, even though they are encouraged to do so. Comments today are monitored more closely now than they were five years ago, and comments are removed if they are hurtful to the reporter or the subject.

IPRA is part of the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter. Our next IPRA lunch will be held May 1 and discuss the secrets to writing a winning proposal. Thanks to Rob Udowitz for sharing his photo.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites. Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Accreditation: Past, Present And Guiding The Future

APR White Paper And Timeline Now Available

It’s early morning during the last full week of March, and it’s snowing outside…in Virginia! It’s a gentle snow, and undoubtedly one of winter’s last gasps before the full emergence of spring.  I know spring is right around the corner, because the crocuses are in bloom and the flowers always seem to know.

It’s a perfect time to reflect upon my career, where it’s taken me and how satisfied I’ve been with the journey.

It’s been more than 40 years since I started along my path, and I still love this work that I do. In that time the field of public relations has grown and flourished.

APR 50th Anniversary Logo Outlines

 

Yet in some ways, our field is still in its infancy. We struggle to emerge as a profession in the cla

ssic sense of the term. For example, there is no licensing authority. We are making progress, however.  We have built a credible research basis for the field and we engage clients—be they internal or external clients—as professionals. We also have professional organizations, each with their own codes of ethics to guide our practice.

The field also has a recognized credential program. It’s called Accredited in Public Relations. The APR. And, it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And, April is APR month. As the snow falls and the seasons are about to change, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the credential and look forward to the promise it provides.

I’ve never been able to figure out why the APR has had such a hard time gaining traction. I’ve heard some feel it doesn’t measure what they do in the office. I’ve heard it takes too much time. I’ve heard people would rather get a master’s degree. APR measures why you do what you do. It measures what you should know in order to do what you do well. It takes as much time as you want it to take, and it is not a master’s degree. It is a credential that must be maintained, not point-in-time learning, but continual refinement, sharpening and adjustment of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

I better understand those who wonder what’s in it for them. What does a Readiness Review accomplish? How does a Computer-based Examination apply to my work? Why is maintenance required?

Today, the Universal Accreditation Board shares with you a White Paper and historical timeline of APR. These documents present an honest self-look at the evolution, management and state of the APR today and answer the questions I pose above. They arrive at an important time as PRSA, a UAB participating organization, examines the credential in light of the OPG study.  I encourage you to read this White Paper, the timeline and the OPG study. Think about these critical documents. And, act on them for the betterment of the field.

(Note: The original content can be found on PRSAY.)

Mitchell Marovitz is president-elect of the National Capital Chapter and a member of the Universal Accreditation Board.

 

Making Your Association the Go-To Resource

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Imagine there’s breaking news dominating the airwaves—and it’s regarding your industry sector. This is your moment to shine, to take to the cameras or the microphone and share your polished expertise and your messages. You are the go-to source on this subject!

Or are you? Is your phone is ringing off the hook, or is it silent?  Without adequate preparation, visible messaging, and established audience relationships, you may be ignored or simply overlooked. They may not know they should come directly to you.

Whether during a crisis or in “peace time,” it can be a challenge for association communicators to own their space as a visible, go-to resource for a variety of audiences. But it can be achieved with a strategic plan in place, and this four-pronged approach you can help in crafting or revamping your group’s communications strategies.

1. Want to own it, and grab it. Don’t wait for it.

  • A proactive, comprehensive battle plan is important to get your group or organization ahead of  the latest stories, but first, you have to know exactly who you want to be, whatit is you want to do and say and to whom you want to communicate it to.
  • Is your audience a combination of consumers, media, regulators and legislators? Where are they getting their information? Identify existing gatekeepers, including trade media and other groups.
  • Audit media coverage; social channels, congressional records and regulatory comments – wherever your organization should be – and figure out whois getting traction with your issue. Are allied organizations taking your share of voice? Are you losing it to the opposition?
  • Get your leadership and spokespeople onboard with your plan by sharing this audit, and manage expectations from the outset. Executive support goes a long way toward success.

2. Get your house in order.

  • Shore up your messaging. Strengthen your message points and anecdotes, make them compelling and make them consistent and optimized across all platforms.
  • Audit your information and your digital platforms. Is your content fresh, original, optimized and interesting? Do you provide something of unique value? And are you updating your platforms regularly and using them to guide conversations on an issue?
  • Review relationships with reporters and influencers. It is easier to engage them if you have proactively determined who they are, what they are looking for and how to be a resource to them.

 3. Take Action and Prepare to React.

  • Proactively seek opportunities by researching editorial calendars, developing pitch copy and regularly delivering to media contacts. (Without spamming them of course!) Fly-ins, “lobby days” on Capitol Hill and a “speaker’s bureau” positioning your experts also increases your visibility.
  • Be reactive and responsive to the news landscape. In breaking news, pitch your available experts for comment. Respond to stories with notes to reporters, letters to the editor and op-ed/column submissions. Follow and interact with reporters in social channels, establishing relationships and responding to their work with positivity and “added value.” Keep an eye out for relevant Help a Reporter Out or ProfNet source requests.

4. Measure and Retool.

  • Assess how your association is doing. Have your spokespeople been quoted in more media hits or been sought directly for comment or advice? Has your issue area in general received more attention, and has your group’s point of view been included?
  • Celebrate your successes. Executive leadership and the C-Suite should know that dedication to a plan has led to positive results with an opportunity for growth.
  • Fine-tune your program where it needs shoring up. You’ll continually need to retool your assets and your plan in order to stay the go-to resource.

Francie Israeli has more than a decade of PR experience.  As Senior Vice President of KellenAdams Public Affairs, a division of Kellen Communications, she is responsible for strategic development and implementation of advocacy, media and issue-driven communications campaigns on behalf of a number of association and nonprofit clients.  She also serves as chair-elect of the Americas Region Board of Directors of the WORLDCOM Public Relations Group.

 

Q&A with Katherine Hutt: Words of Wisdom to Help You Prepare A Session Proposal – Part II

Katherine Hutt

It’s that time! The call for sessions for the 2014 PRSA International Conference is now open. We spoke with Katherine Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, who provides valuable advice and suggestions from her perspective and experience. Read this before you submit that session entry!

Q: What are your top three suggestions for submitting a strong session proposal?

  1.  Pay attention to the guidelines set out by the Conference Committee. Tailor your proposal to fit within the structure suggested.
  2. Play off the conference theme if you can. The Conference Committee is looking for a program that flows, so topics that fit within the theme are going to get more attention, especially if there are similar proposals.
  3. Spend some time thinking about a clever or action-oriented name for your presentation.

Q: Do you have advice to share on how to pick a topic or issue that will be most relevant and compelling for this audience?

The most compelling topic is one that you know a lot about. Let’s face it, none of us has cornered the market on public relations, so be sure to highlight what you bring to the table on a particular topic. Take a look at your practice over the past 18-36 months. What is the most significant thing you’ve done? What presents a new or different approach to a widespread matter? What new tactics or techniques have you tried successfully?

Q: How do you identify the right panelists to participate in the session?

Sometimes this occurs naturally, especially if you’ve worked on a team, hired a great agency, or been in coalition with other groups. Look for a balance of roles, levels of leadership, speaking styles, PRSA involvement, etc. Frankly, if I had a choice between an APR and non-APR to be on my panel, I would ask the APR. Have the most senior person serve as the moderator; this can be the most senior person on the project or the most senior person within PRSA.

One thing I would avoid is a panel made up of a client and a vendor only. They tend to end up sounding like commercials for the vendor’s services, even if that was not the intent. A vendor can be a valuable contributor to a panel, but make sure there is balance.

Q: What do you believe is the true value of organizing and participating in a session at the International Conference?

I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of public speaking and mentoring, so that is my primary motivation. If I was considering running for national office or was looking for a major career move, I would certainly see the value in high-visibility opportunities such as this.

I would say the one reason not to do it is to hone your presentation skills. We’re all professional communicators, so if you are not at the top of your game, practice elsewhere before attempting to speak at PRSA. People will get up and walk out of a session if the speaker is poor, the topic is disorganized, or the presentation does not meet the description in the program. Don’t throw something together at the last minute, even if you are a good extemporaneous speaker. You are being judged by a jury of your peers! Give them something to rave about.

 

Katherine R. Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Director of Communications at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, where she serves as national spokesperson for the 100-year-old BBB brand. She had her own PR agency for 15 years, and previously worked for two non-profits. A PRSA member since 1985, she has been accredited since 1989 and a Fellow since 2004. She has held several national positions, including the PRSA Board of Ethics, and is a past NCC president, board member and committee chair. She has also served as president of Washington Women in Public Relations, and WWPR honored her as “PR Woman of the Year.” She has spoken at three previous PRSA National Conferences and recently has a proposal accepted to speak at this year’s ASAE conference.