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.
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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.

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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 »

Tips to Use PR for Marketing for Your Nonprofit/Association

Public relations can be used effectively to market your association. By way of definition, both PR and marketing are external communications efforts but while PR is the art of managing information between an association and its targeted audiences; marketing focuses on activities tied directly to revenue. Specifically, association marketing refers to increasing membership, producing non-dues revenue, and attracting more participants to your events.

Here are some ways to use PR for marketing. 

Hold a telephone news briefing. With the smaller newsrooms today, reporters are covering more in the same amount of time. Gone are the days when reporters had the luxury of leaving their offices to attend a press conference. That’s why many press conferences are being replaced by telephone news briefings–a press conference held by phone. Telephone news briefings can be held before your annual meeting, when releasing a new report or survey, or in conjunction with your Capitol Hill Day. The benefit is that reporters can call in from anywhere and listen to the briefing and ask questions without leaving their desk. 
Get hometown press. Holding your Capitol Hill Day or announcing your awards recipients are activities that lend themselves to local press for your members. The media outreach for a Capitol Hill Day may be: “Susie Jones was in DC to talk to Sen. Brown about XYZ;” and for awards, “Jim Miller is the recipient of ABC National Award from 123 Association.” This is a very effective way of garnering press and clearly illustrating the value of membership. 
Promote passage/defeat of legislation. When your nonprofit works to pass or defeat a piece of legislation or regulation, make sure you promote your efforts. Let your members know how they can get involved along the way. When the passage or defeat occurs, send out a blast email immediately notifying your members. Consider sending a statement to reporters on your media lists to let them know that your organization had a part in the legislation. 
Draft articles for other related associations. Reach out to another related nonprofit and offer to write an article for one of their publications or their website or blog. You may already have an article or blog that you can dust off and recycle. When the article runs, be sure to let your members know. 
Create a Speakers’ Bureau. A Speakers’ Bureau can provide visibility for your association among its targeted audiences. A simple way to create a Speakers’ Bureau is to tap your current association leaders as experts and ask them for recommendations of good speakers on a variety of key topics. The Bureau members can serve as speakers for your association, presenters at related meetings, and media spokespersons.  
Draft messages/train spokespersons. Use your nonprofit’s mission statement to write key media messages that accurately represent your association. Once the messages have been drafted, identify association spokespersons–board members, association staff, other leaders and train them on how to effectively deliver your messages. This training ensures that all your spokespersons are on message, that your message and brand are consistent and that the spokespersons are representing your nonprofit effectively. 
Determine the digital media appropriate for you. To figure out what digital media tools are appropriate for your nonprofit, conduct a digital media audit. An audit looks at the digital media options available to your association such as a Facebook, your website, blogs, Twitter, etc. After conducting the audit, draft a report to make recommendations on what would work for you given your financial and human resources, and your association’s needs and goals. Use the report findings to author a digital media strategic plan that can be incorporated it into your overall communications strategy. 
Draft op-eds and letters to the editor. When appropriate, your association can respond to news articles by writing and placing op-eds–a 700-word opinion piece that comments on the news of the day; or a letter to the editor–a 200-word letter that comments on a specific article that appeared in a print or online publication. Don’t forget to comment on blogs related to your industry.
Track and monitor your efforts. Since PR is not an exact science and marketing professionals are often asked to track their successes, we recommend using an Excel spreadsheet to track media requests, and Google Alerts (a free media monitoring service through Google) to monitor your association’s mentions in the media. Promote your successes to your members. 

Following these tips will help you use PR tools to market your nonprofit to your target audiences.

Sheri L. Singer, President, Singer Communications
PRSA-NCC Board Liaison to the Nonprofit/Association Committee