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If agencies are struggling, is this an opportunity for PR consultants?

PR Week just published an article, “PR agencies face mixed future,” prompted by financial reports that were issued by holding companies such as Omnicom, which owns big public relations agencies including FleishmanHillard, Ketchum and Porter Novelli. Among other findings, organic revenue was reported to be down 6.9 percent. Says the article, “No matter which way you spin it, that’s a disappointing performance.”

So what does this mean for PR consultants? Is it bad news? No. In fact, it could be viewed as an opportunity.

The PR Week article goes on to say, “Using lowly paid account staff churning through accounts that come and go regularly because clients become frustrated with poor service is a common complaint. CCOs are seduced by charismatic leaders who pop up at pitch or review time and occasionally thereafter, but aren’t physically and emotionally connected to the account on a regular basis.” Continue reading If agencies are struggling, is this an opportunity for PR consultants?

Put on your “news hat” when reaching out to media

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I was meeting with a new client today to talk about what we might do regarding media outreach. They were interested in publicizing the anniversary of their business, which is perfectly worthy of a press release and some local media outreach.

Then, we started talking about other ideas and how we might tie those in to trends and topics that are currently hot. During that brainstorming session, we hit on a topic that has the potential to be a bigger story regarding industry trends and how the field is growing, etc. I got excited—and so did they—when we realized we’d tapped into a topic that goes beyond the fact that they’re celebrating an anniversary.

Sometimes, you have to put on your “news hat” when thinking about what the media might find appealing. Yes, there are always those stories that may be interesting from a local perspective, but uncovering topics that go beyond the local media to perhaps an even bigger audience can be a thrill.

Once you hit on a topic you think will capture a reporter’s attention, always consider:

  • What statistics might be beneficial to include
  • What images or video might be compelling
  • What third party sources might you provide

When you craft your email pitch, offer these additional resources to help round out the story. (Just be sure to have what you offer ready to provide, if they take you up on it.)

PR pros with a background in journalism are particularly skilled at uncovering these ideas. We’re trained to think like a reporter and tap into story ideas you may not have even thought of. So, take a cue from a journalist and what started as a routine effort may turn into something much bigger.

Planning for 2016? 10 Ideas for PR and Marketing

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The end of the year is almost upon us and yes, the holiday rush has set in. These next weeks will fly by even faster than the ones before them. Then, before we know it, 2016 will be here. A fresh, new year to do all the things we didn’t have a chance to do in 2015.

As we prepare for the holidays both professionally and personally, planning for the new year may be the last thing on the minds of some small business owners. If you’ve been caught up in the holiday hubbub, don’t wait to plan — start now to come up with ideas for 2016.

As you plan, when it comes to marketing and PR, don’t forget to factor these ideas into your efforts:

1) Try a press release: If you’ve never issued a press release or if it’s been a while, find a reason to issue one in the new year. Press releases help search engine optimization (SEO) and can be used in a number of ways to help market your product, service or company. Read more on five ways to use a press release here.

2) Speak to increase credibility and visibility: Speaking engagements are a great way to attract the attention of potential clients and position you as the expert. It’s important to select the appropriate venues, so do your research on local, regional and national groups, trade shows and other industry events that accept speaker proposals.

3) And the award goes to: Awards programs are fairly easy to implement and can help attract attention to your product, service or company. If you win an award, it makes great marketing material. You can tout it on your site or issue a press release and forever after be known as the “award-winning” company.

4) Reach out to local publications in your area: If you haven’t reached out to your local media, be sure to consider that in 2016. Most cities have a major daily paper, as well as smaller community newspapers and magazines that are specific to certain suburbs. You can also try local TV and radio, if your story lends itself to broadcast media.

5) Try — or amp up — your use of social media: Let’s face it. Although many small business owners and startups intend to do more when it comes to social media, it’s easy to neglect it. Here’s the thing: It’s a free way to market your business! If you’re not doing any social media, start by choosing one or two platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook. If social media is already in your marketing mix, plan to beef up your efforts in the new year.

6) Sponsor an event: Have you tried sponsoring any charitable events, perhaps in conjunction with the types of businesses you’re trying to attract as clients? Attaching your company to a benefit or charity could help attract potential clients’ interest. And, maybe more importantly, you’ll be doing something to help others, too.

7) Create an online news area: Add an online news area to your site, if you haven’t done so. This can be an area where you post press releases and news stories about your company. You can also add a downloadable “press kit” with more information on the company, such as team bios, photos, logos, product shots and other material. This makes it easy for reporters who may want to cover you to grab what they need. Read more on what to include here.

8) Create case studies: Position your company as an expert by creating case studies on your customers, including details about how they’re using your product or service, how much time or money it’s saved them, and what their future plans might be to increase usage. You can use these to pitch as stories to the media, and can also leverage them as sales materials for potential customers. Content marketing continues to be all the rage, and case studies are a perfect example of that.

9) Reach out to vertical media: Don’t overlook reaching out to industry publications and/or bloggers, selecting those publications and blogs that your potential customers are reading. They’re looking for great content in the form of contributed articles and new product announcements. Why not fill the gaps for them with your expertise?

10) Network like you mean it: While networking doesn’t necessarily fall into this category, it’s critical for all small businesses and startups. Be sure to dedicate the time to do it and select the events your potential clients attend. Get involved in an organization or two at a deeper level to really get to know people. This can truly pay off over time to keep business coming your way.

These are just a few ideas to get you started…what are your PR and marketing plans for 2016?



Timing Your News Over the Holidays to Get the Most from Your PR

The holidays are indeed upon us.

Though many may be in denial—Thanksgiving is NEXT week, people!—they are coming, and coming fast.

In talking with clients about their imminent PR plans, timing over the holidays has to be taken into consideration. If you have news unrelated to the holidays, not only might potential readers be tuned out, but many reporters are also out of the office enjoying time with their loved ones.

So, what’s a PR pro suggest you do? Well, for anything that can wait until the new year, that might be the best plan of action. If it can’t wait, look at the calendar to choose the best timing given the options.

First, let’s look at the calendar for Thanksgiving:

  • We know Thanksgiving is next Thurs., Nov. 26. If you MUST issue news that week, issue it Mon. or Tues. at the very latest. After Tues., all bets are off as far as reaching anyone or grabbing eyeballs. Of course, as a colleague pointed out, if your news has to do with Thanksgiving or with Black Friday, then by all means, pitch or promote away.
  • Then, looking at the week following Thanksgiving, keep in mind that Monday should be avoided. Folks will just be getting back to their inboxes, which will be jam-packed with messages that came in over the long holiday weekend/break. Go with Tues. or Weds. to issue news or reach out to reporters.

The next holiday hurdle is Christmas. Again, if your news is related to Christmas or to New Year’s, this isn’t as much of a concern. But, in many cases where this doesn’t apply, here’s what I’d suggest:

  • Christmas day falls on a Friday this year. So, the week of Dec. 21, you might be able to get away with an announcement on Monday or Tuesday (although I suggest always avoiding Mondays). As we move closer to Christmas day, just save it, unless it’s relevant.
  • That week between Christmas and New Year’s is notoriously quiet for any news that isn’t related to the end of the year or New Year’s resolutions, so do yourself a favor and wait until the week of Jan. 4. Then, try Jan. 5 or later to increase your odds of getting the media’s attention.

After that, it’s all clear—although the standard guidelines still apply. Always check to see what’s coming on the calendar as far as holidays and be aware of other news in your industry that might steal the spotlight (I know this to be true in tech—happens all the time). Avoid Mondays (too much email) and Fridays (unless it’s news you don’t want anyone to see). And, issue press releases in the morning, if possible.

Those are my tips for making the most of your news over the holiday period. Any questions? Let me know!

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The small business owner’s answer to, “What should I post on social media?”

Ever wondered what you as a business owner should post on social media? If you want some great examples, look no further than this article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, What Celebrities Can Teach Companies About Social Media.

It draws comparisons between how celebrities and businesses can use social media and gives real-world advice and examples as to what to post. And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a small business owner said, “But what should I post?!”–well, you know the rest!

A couple of tips that resonated:

  • Don’t post the same thing across all social media platforms: The article talks about how the NBA posts game updates on Twitter, while on Pinterest, it’s more about their merchandise.
  • Don’t post at the same frequency on all platforms: Twitter requires more frequent posting, while the article recommends posting five times per day on Pinterest and twice on Instagram. From the article: “Social-media experts acknowledge that compared with celebrities, it’s harder for companies to conjure up interesting posts and tweets. ‘When was the last time you saw someone showing off a home-insurance policy on Instagram?’ Forrester Research quipped in a June report on social-media use.”
  • Do be sure to show up–meaning post on a consistent basis: There’s nothing worse than visiting a company on Twitter or Facebook only to see that they haven’t posted anything for months…. According to the piece, “A lot of times we see brands disappear for weeks or months at a time,” Hasti Kashfia, president of Kashfia Media and stylist to Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s just like a normal relationship. You can’t disappear and expect that same warm fuzzy feeling within those relationships.”
  • Interact with your followers: For example, if someone tweets about your business, you should retweet, favorite and reply to say thank you.
  • Don’t be overly promotional: I’ve seen it before–because they don’t know what to post, companies will promote specials or deals on social media. This can be a turnoff to your followers. If you need inspiration, the piece suggests commenting on current events when it makes sense, or even taking advantage of “throwback Thursday” by posting old photos. “A company like Ford Motor Co., for instance, could use the occasion to post ads from the 1940s.”

Follow these tips to boost your social media efforts. You may find it’s easier than you think to find great content to post and grow your following.

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Success story: How perseverance can pay off in marketing

“I love it when a plan comes together!”

I wanted to share a story that once again underscores the importance of perseverance.

As part of the board for our local AMA (American Marketing Association) chapter, I plan and manage events. I’m a big fan of Piada Italian Street Food, a fast, casual chain based here in Columbus that started out with one location. When they announced their nationwide expansion, which I read about in Columbus Business First, I thought it would make a great topic for our audience. So, over a year ago, I started reaching out to Piada’s director of marketing Matt Eisenacher to invite him to present at one of our events.

Unfortunately, last fall, the timing was off. But, I kept in touch with Matt and followed Piada news, keeping them in mind for a future event.

A few months ago, when I was planning fall programs  for this year, Matt came to mind again. I followed up with him, and I’m pleased to say that yesterday, Matt spoke at our September luncheon. He was engaging and insightful, a big hit with everyone.

To make it even better, I’d reached out to Dan Eaton of Columbus Business First to invite him to our event. Dan covers Piada, so I thought he might like to join us. He did–and afterward, he wrote this story: “Piada prepped for four new restaurants in next three months.” 

Success! Sometimes when you start putting the pieces of a plan in place, you don’t know that they’ll all neatly fit together. In this case, the stars aligned. Here’s to the power of perseverance!

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Columbus AMA board members with Matt Eisenacher of Piada.

Real-world PR lessons: Never give up!

Today’s post is based on living life in the PR trenches.

As a PR consultant, I often work with clients on media relations and frequently write about tips and tricks to help companies get ink. This post stems from two recent real-world experiences I had while pitching story ideas for small business clients. The takeaway is: never give up!! Tenacity wins the day when it comes to media outreach.

Here a couple of recent examples to illustrate:

1) I’ve been working on getting one of my clients into a major publication for over a year now. When I first reached out, the editor responded to the pitch and we sent a product sample. After going back and forth for about six months, the editor let us know that the product was tentatively slated for coverage in the Sept. issue. (WAHOO!)

Unfortunately, the editor went on leave, and we struggled to get an answer from anyone until she returned. When she did respond, she said the piece “took a different turn” and the product wasn’t going to be included. (BOO!) However, she did say, in what seemed like a very sincere email, that she would keep working on getting it in the magazine.

And that could be the end of the story. But no! At the end of last week, we got a call from the magazine to fact check a piece for November! And this is a MAJOR publication with a circulation of over 4.3 million readers! What a huge win for this small business that could turn into major sales, especially with the holidays approaching and this piece slated for the November issue.

Of course, I never relax until I actually see the published piece—but WOW! Sometimes, it does take time, but if you hang in there, it CAN happen.

2) I’ve been pitching a media outlet for various clients for some time without much in the way of a response (it’s notoriously tough to get a response from this particular program). However, in just the past month, I’ve placed TWO clients on this program! WIN! Both clients are small businesses (one is a nonprofit) who were looking for some publicity opportunities that would open doors for them.

Again, sometimes it takes time—and the right story/right pitch—to make headway, but it CAN be done. Now, this producer is much more likely to review pitches I send in the future, as well, which will help me open this door for even more clients.

These examples illustrate why PR can be a challenge–but it can also be extremely rewarding! I’m not sure who is more excited–my clients or me!

 

Pitching Your Startup to Reporters? Here’s What to Avoid

Today, I wanted to share media pitching tips for startups and small businesses. Not from me but directly from a journalist.

This piece from PRNewser covers a TechCrunch editor’s suggestions for pitching. While some of this should be common sense to anyone who reaches out to reporters—c’mon, no email attachments is something that should be drilled into our heads by now–and, just forget the email inviting a journalist out for coffee–some of his other suggestions may not be so obvious. For example, he talks about startup founders trying to do their own PR:

“He is concerned, first and foremost, with startup founders and app-makers who try and fail to handle their own self-promotional duties; you may be shocked to learn that many do NOT double as well-trained PR professionals.”

Yes, while they may be strong in many areas, startup founders may not be the best at media relations. In fact, there are several reasons why entrepreneurs and small business owners may not want to do their own PR (see my piece, “6 Reasons Not to Do Your Own PR”).

Another point he makes is that it’s a mistake to assume that simply because a company or product exists, that warrants media coverage. Yes, gone are the days of simply saying, “We have a startup—therefore, cover us.” And, to echo his sentiment, I recently attended a panel on pitching your startup to the media, during which reporters explained you must go deeper if you expect them to be interested in your news.

I even agree to a point with his take on press releases—which he says are “dead.” While I wouldn’t go that far (see my piece on that, “Enough with the death of the press release already”), it’s true that you need to bring something more to the table, something beyond the press release. Simply sending a press release saying, “Please cover this,” doesn’t really cut it. We need to tell a story. Yes, press releases can play a role in this, but you need to actually explain WHY this should matter to reporters and their readers. Of course, YOU think your product or service is great—you created it! But why would a reporter and his or her readers care? For example, here’s some of the advice he gave when pitching a product. Think about:

“Was it created to solve a specific problem? What is that problem and how is it solved? Does the product fit with a separate trend piece? How so, and why should this particular outlet’s readers care?”

And, tell your story succinctly. Offer data and resources, while you’re at it, to make the reporter’s job even easier. After all, isn’t our job as PR pros making it easier for reporters to cover our clients? That means providing the information they have to pay attention to, the information that will make your pitch stand out in a sea of pitches.

 

Michelle Garrett Ranks in Top 100 PR Influencers!

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When Onalytica published its list of top 100 PR influencers last week, I knew some of the folks who would probably make the list. Gini Dietrich, Beki Winchel and Mark Ragan are all well-known names, if you spend any time reading articles about PR. But, someone else also made the list–me!

Onalytica analyzed close to 700,000 tweets mentioning the following hashtags: #PR OR #DigitalPR OR #PublicRelations OR #CorporateCommunications OR #Corpcomm and identified the top 100 most influential individuals leading the discussion. See the entire list of top 100 PR influencers.

 

Happy anniversary to me! Top 10 lessons I’ve learned in 16 years

Happy anniversary to me! This April, I’m celebrating 16 years of having my own small business.

Hopefully, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of having my own business. Today, I share the top 10 lessons I’ve learned—some silly, some serious:

10) Don’t neglect your marketing: Yes, I’m in PR/marketing, but many times, I tend to put my own marketing last. So, the last couple of years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a better job. Last year, my anniversary gift to myself was a new logo. This year, it’s a newly designed web site.

9) You truly can work in your PJs when you work for yourself!: Just be careful when that Skype call comes in that you’ve at least brushed your hair.

8) You can never be too connected: Make sure to build that network before you need it, so it will be there for you at all times. Because, as a self-employed person, you never know what you might need to call on your network for–help, referrals, troubleshooting, brainstorming–you learn to have your go-to resources for each of these.

7)  You wear all the hats, so be sure you’re ready for that: If you’re not a self-starter, it may not go so well. Of course, you can always hire pros to tackle the tasks you’re not so fond of. I wouldn’t trade my accountant, for example.

Creative problem solving is a must. Because you’re not surrounded by an office full of co-workers, you’ll need to be able to find solutions to a lot of your own problems—or have folks you can call on. You learn quickly how to resolve printer issues, the best way to send a package and how to cater a meeting. Believe me, it’s worth it.

6) You supply your own coffee: So buy a Keurig! (-: And join Costco/Sam’s Club to save on K-cups.

5) Be ready for the peaks—and the valleys: You can prepare for the peaks by having a list of sub-contractors at-the-ready when you need some help to handle all your client projects. You can prepare for the valleys by making sure to save some cash and not getting too sure of yourself, in that your business will definitely go through highs and lows.

4) You make your own schedule—which can be a blessing and a curse: Sure, you can take the afternoon off and have lunch with your sister or go to the school play—just make sure you plan to catch up on whatever you’ve missed by working later in the evening or on Sat. morning, for example. Don’t get so lulled into that sense of freedom to the point where you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines.

3) Clients may assume you work all hours of the day and night: Yes, this can be a hazard of working for yourself, but honestly, I’ve never found it to be a problem. And really, it’s a small price to pay for the perks of being your own boss.

More often than not, clients are respectful of your schedule. And, I truly don’t mind answering email on the weekends…I’m sort of addicted to email anyway! Just make sure to communicate when you’ll be out of the office for more than a day….most of us check messages frequently but there may be days when you really don’t want to be “on call.” If so, just let them know that. Give them a way to reach you if there’s truly an emergency, and enjoy your time off.

2) Experience matters: This is probably even more the case when you’re working on your own. When you work for yourself, you need to call on that experience often, so make sure you’ve built a solid base of work experience before flying solo.

For example, I’m steeped in a background including full-time experience at corporations, nonprofits and agencies. I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as a reporter and as a PR practitioner. I also gained experience working at a public TV and radio station before setting sail on my own. All of this has come in handy, as I work with clients from different backgrounds and industries. It doesn’t hurt your network-building, either—you can call on your former colleagues when you need to.

1) And the number one thing I’ve learned from having my own business (drumroll, please!)….I’m so glad I made the leap because I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing better than loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it on your own terms.

Do I have to answer to clients? Yes. Am I slave to the media? Sure, sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I decide who to work with and have the ability to approach my work according to my philosophy. And that’s pretty priceless.