Words of Hope and Caution from New Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Mathias, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations in North America, and President of Ogilvy Public Relations, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others on Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from his acceptance speech.

With the hope that there are some people in the audience with us tonight who are closer to the front end of their careers than me, I thought I would offer both a word of hope and a bit of caution.2015 - Mathias

First, the caution. As public relations professionals, we have all fought long and hard to earn a seat at the proverbial table. And I think we do have that seat now. As was not necessarily the case when Harold Burson founded Burson Marstellar in 1953, we are thought of today as an established business discipline that has a legitimate role in helping to propel an enterprise forward. But this is not guaranteed. We have to work harder than our friends, the lawyers or the bankers or the dreaded management consultants. We have to demonstrate value and ROI. Everyday and in everything that we do. And, above all else, we need to remember why we are here.

Our job, first and foremost, is to be the tellers of the truth. We do our profession and ourselves a tremendous disservice when we play fast and lose with the facts or try to create something that is, in fact, not there.

We need to avoid the sin of spin and work to excise it from our vocabulary, as it connotes an attempt to obfuscate or deceive, a slight of hand designed to hide the truth. We are not spin-doctors and must not aspire to be so. Good or bad, our job must be to take the facts as they are and help our clients – be they internal or external – craft the most compelling argument possible; an argument that will convince and persuade, motivate and inspire. This is what we do. It is the value we add. And it is how we will maintain our seat at that table.

Now, the hope.

The practice of public relations has never been more exciting or more needed than it is today. The way in which consumers, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders receive and process information has never been more varied. And our options for reaching and engaging them have never been greater. From long-form writing to traditional media relations, to the creation of compelling, shareable content that is instantly distributed across multiple social platforms, we now have virtually limitless possibilities in our took kit.

Adding uncertainty to the mix, the choices and decisions that now sit in front our clients are significant, complex and are changing every day. And while it used to be as simple as placing a story in the Washington Post or on any one of three network news programs, today’s engagement strategies need to be smarter, faster, and more robust than they ever have been before.

And somebody needs to make sense of it all.

This is where we come in. Our role is that of interpreter and translator; architect and builder. We are the ones who can see the big picture; who have the greatest potential to understand it all. And we are the ones who have the most legitimate role in advising our clients as to the best path to take; the course of action that makes the most sense.

As a result, this truly is our moment to shine; our moment to demonstrate that magical combination of creativity and effectiveness and, perhaps most importantly, our opportunity to deliver the greatest impact that we have ever had in the history of our profession. This is our time.

If I were to start my career all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go into public relations. In fact, I would be more excited than ever.

Thank you all very much.

Good night.

Advertisements

Hall of Fame Inductee Calls PR Leaders to Seek Diversity; Offers Advice to Career Minded Professionals

Debra Silimeo, executive vice president of Hager Sharp, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others during the Thoth Awards Gala, Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from her acceptance speech.

It’s humbling to be part of this prestigious group of PR professionals. Thank you PRSA, Hall Of Fame committee, and all of the people who have been part of my village throughout my journey.Silimeo Photo

You can’t put a news story on the air, pass legislation, or build a successful PR firm without a strong team. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people…talented journalists, passionate public policy advocates, really cool clients, and of course – the mission driven rock stars at Hager Sharp!

I learned a lot about defying stereotypes and giving back from one of my real life role models and mentors – the late Susan Hager. She founded Hager Sharp in 1973 – when very few women ran businesses- with the specific mission of working with clients who want to make the world a better place. She lived the mission, and she always found time to help other women succeed.

As communicators we’re always trying to engage an increasingly diverse population. So we need that same diversity of thought and creativity at the table. By diversity, I mean gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

That’s not just the right thing to do – it’s good business. In order to reach people where they live, you need to GET where they live.

So tonight I’d like to call on our PR leaders…please take a look at your teams – especially your leadership teams. If you don’t have a diverse team – find the right people. I mean, look around, there’s a lot of talent right here in this room.

If you don’t have woman or person of color on your board of directors…that’s a problem and you should fix it – and you will benefit from it.

It’s great to work in a field where you can be constantly challenged by change, and get JOY and meaning from your work.

If you’re going to spend the better part of your life working, it should be something that gives you  JOY …and that makes a positive difference.

They asked me to share some advice for young professionals – so here are some other things that I believe matter:

  • Stay curious. Stay on top of the constant changes in our industry // and on the issues that affect your client’s world. Keep your clients larger goals in mind.
  • If you do that, you can be a strategist, not just an order taker.
  • Learn the business of PR – this will make you a better manager and help you get that seat at the leadership table.
  • Be ethical. Your reputation is far more important that your job title.
  • Don’t chase all the shiny new objects. Understand them, but at the end of the day, our business is really about people and relationships.
  • Respect your power. I’ve had chance to work with a lot of powerful people. I don’t mean just presidents & members of congress – I mean all of the staff people behind the scenes – the great people at HS – and ALL of YOU in this room, YOU have power.
  • You have: Power to inform people, persuade them, motivate them to eat healthy, get educated, give back, make the world better. Use your power wisely.

And always say thank you. Thank you. Very much.

Finding a PR Firm Isn’t the Piece of Cake it Used to Be . . . and It Shouldn’t Be

Time was, searching for a PR firm meant jotting down a few requirements and shooting it to a few former colleagues or friends of friends at two or three familiar agencies.

Sorry. Like everything else in life, finding the firm that will best serve your needs is no longer that easy. And it shouldn’t be. In today’s bottom line-focused ROI environment can you really invest six digits into an agency that may or may not be able to move the needle for your organization? You need to be assured you’re getting smart thinking and measureable results — and agencies should be accountable for their commitments to their clients.

The agency landscape is wide, and wide open. Sometimes it feels like there are too many qualified agencies out there. But that shouldn’t guide you toward short cuts, or rushing the process. As we’ve pointed out many times to clients and prospects, if the money you have allocated to a PR agency budget were instead going toward the hiring of two or three full-time, professional staff, how much time and effort would you and your HR department spend investigating their backgrounds, capabilities, and knowledge?

The recently released USC Annenberg biennial GAP Study assessing PR industry trends and practices expects more money to be spent in 2014 and beyond for communications. The study of 347 senior communicators says that PR-related recommendations are being taken more into consideration by senior management, who expect the function to be a contributor to organizations’ financial success. Your organization should be selecting firms with proven experience in supporting your internal managerial needs as well as your overall communications goals.

Today’s agency field includes seasoned veteran agencies, mid-sized niche players, and a crop of very competent rookies that have left some venerable firms to blaze their own paths. Whether they are local, large, full service, or specialty, there are probably dozens of agencies out there most suitable for you. But the right agency can only be discerned through the lens of a detailed and thorough search that is tailored to your organization’s needs.

When interviewing prospective agencies it is critical to include process and procedure as key topics. Too often, we find confusion when the client-agency relationship begins if staffing, structure, reporting, billing, and event contracts are not discussed in the early phases. And, we’ve even advised clients that repairing agency relationships that have gone sour may be a better use of time and resources than parting ways with that agency and starting over with a new search.

Even agreeing on your mutual definition of success is no small feat, and so often is overlooked or not addressed during the selection process. With projects the issue might be easier (one would hope) but with longer-term, multi-year contracts it is very important to establish measureable benchmarks even before searching for your agency, and then making it clear that is what the selected agency will be judged on. Believe it or not, it will more appreciated than you’d expect. Because any good PR firm will tell you that a good client knows what it wants and has, or develops with the agency, the metrics of success.
– Robert Udowitz

Robert Udowitz is a principal of RFP Associates, a PR agency search firm serving trade associations and corporations. This was originally published on the RFP Associates “Cart Before the Horse” blog, which can be found at rfpassociates.net.

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.

How “The Avengers” Boosts PR Results

By Michael Smart (MichaelSMARTPR)

I will be sharing a bunch of media pitching tips and techniques during the Nov. 2 seminar for PRSA-NCC. I’d like to share one in advance.

I’m big on using pop culture to land positive placements. Here’s an example….

A sober and geeky disaster analysis company landed several dozen media placements, including Bloomberg, the Guardian, and Gizmodo, with one connection to the movie “The Avengers.”

The analysts worked up an estimate for how much it would cost to repair damage to Manhattan caused in the film’s climactic scene. The answer ($160 billion) is beside the point – isn’t the idea alone a great way to naturally create a story journalists and bloggers would love to tell?

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about merely offering your experts as sources for ongoing news. That’s working great for prominent divorce attorneys in the wake of the latest celebrity breakup, but is not a surefire way to ensure you are a part of the resulting stories.

Kinetic Analysis Corp got loads of free publicity — that is on-message for them – by delivering a value-add to journalists and bloggers already looking for new angles on the year’s top film. Instead of offering themselves as one source among many who could comment on a given natural disaster, they produced a deliverable that required mentioning them in any resulting story.

So next time you’re chatting with your friends about a pop culture phenomenon, take a few minutes and brainstorm any potential ties your organization might have.

Not just what you can SAY about it, but what you can DO about it.

You might surprise yourself and end up with the next media relations blockbuster.

To register for “Perfect Pitching: Winning over Journalists and Bloggers in the New Media Landscape,” click here.

Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR, has been landing top-tier coverage for 14 years. He’s also trained more than 3,000 communicators across the globe how to boost their media and blog placements, including pros from Allstate, Disney, Verizon, Edelman, Fleishman-Hilliard, the EPA, a U.S. Senator’s office and many other companies, associations, and non-profits, large and small. Michael has twice been a top-rated presenter at the PRSA International Conference, and he partners with PRSA to offer daylong pitching workshops and national webinars on the topic.