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PR & Publicity

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a PR Firm

Hiring a public-relations firm for your small business can be a difficult decision.

Jane Porter

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There’s no guarantee that a PR campaign will produce the desired results, and the costs can be quite high. Yet, a successful campaign can help you expand your business in ways you never could on your own.

So how do you find a PR agency that is likely to benefit your business? “It comes down to a combination of your budget, expectations, their track record in delivering results, and your chemistry,” says Dave Manzer, founder of PR Over Coffee, an Austin, Texas organisation that educates small businesses on how to do PR.

Here are 10 questions to help you assess PR agencies:

How are you going to measure your success?
Before hiring a PR firm, you need to know how it will measure success, says Joan Stewart, founder of the Publicity Hound, a publicity firm in Port Washington, Wisconsin. “Likes” on your Facebook page and print media placements are common metrics for success in the PR business.

But Stewart advises that you hire someone who looks beyond those measures to factors that will help your business grow, such as tracking how much your prospective client email list and traffic to your website have grown because of a PR campaign.

Which media reach my target audience best?
Whether it’s traditional media placements or online promotions, your PR firm needs to know precisely which newspapers or Web sites reach your target demographic most effectively. You also want a firm that has experience with both old and new media if you plan a variety of campaigns.

Have you worked on campaigns in my industry?
You will probably benefit from hiring a firm that has experience with your type of business. Ask to see results from past campaigns with clients in your industry, says Bill Stoller, founder of PublicityInsider.com, a Fort Lee, New Jersey-based website that offers small businesses tips on public relations and social media.

You should also find out if the people who managed those accounts are still with the agency because you may want to ask to work with them.

Who will be working directly on my account?
When PR firms pitch your business, they send in their best people. But you’ll probably be working most closely with lower-level employees. “They send the agency VP out to close the sale and then pass you along to someone way lower on the totem pole,” Stewart says.

It’s important to find out who you will be working with day-to-day and spend time with them before deciding whether to hire the agency.

Am I locked into a long-term contract?
Many PR firms will put you on retainer, requiring an upfront payment so they will be available to offer their services as needed. But you want the option of getting out of such an arrangement, Manzer says. He recommends that you require a review after the first three months.

“If they are not delivering after 90 days, you know whether it’s going to work or not,” he says.

How much do you charge for specific services?
PR experts typically will offer you a range of services based on your budget. Ask for an a la carte menu of costs for such services as press releases, videos, white papers and social media campaigns.

You also will want to find out if the agency offers a pay-per-performance model, which allows you pay a lower upfront retainer with payment bonuses linked to results. This approach ensures that the PR firm is sharing the risks with you.

Do you provide media coaching?
Teaching you how to deal with the news media can be invaluable to small-business owners, Stewart says. Find out if the firm offers training for media interviews, and if not, ask if it can refer you to an experienced media coach.

What is your social media expertise?
Whoever you hire should be well versed in social media, Stewart says. What has the agency done for clients on Twitter and Facebook–and with what results? Has it developed contests and other interactive promotions on social networks?

“If they are only pitching traditional media, your publicist is missing the boat,” Stewart says.

How are you going to communicate with me?
You want to know how often the people on your account will be updating you on their campaigns. Can you call them on weekends?

Will they be available when they are on vacation? “If I was going to shell out a lot of money for a publicist, I would want someone who can let me call them when I have something important” to discuss, Stewart says.

What will you need from me to make the relationship work?
Some people hire a publicist and expect their workload to be lightened, but that’s naïve thinking. You’ll need to be involved in your own PR, whether by tweeting, blogging or being available to speak with media on demand. Find out what your commitment will be and make sure you can do what’s needed.

“There has to be a clear understanding of what they are going to do and what you are going to do,” Stewart says.

Jane Porter is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in publications including BusinessWeek Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University as well as a masters of fine arts in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.

PR & Publicity

5 Reasons Your Start-up Isn’t Getting The PR You Need

Understanding and working with the requirements of journalists covering your industry will go a long way toward increasing your company’s visibility.

Syed Balkhi

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Getting press coverage for your start-up has become increasingly difficult. With an average of 550 000 new businesses starting each month, you’re facing some serious competition to gain traction with your audience. If you don’t take the right approach to PR, you’ll see your competition pass you by.

Exposure doesn’t happen by chance. Behind every great brand story you see in the media, there is a great PR strategy.

Let’s look at some of the most common mistakes that prevent startups from getting the press coverage they desire.

1. Not taking blogging seriously

Blogging on a regular basis is one of the best ways to impact mainstream discourse. A growing number of journalists and reporters are constantly looking for new and interesting story ideas in the blogosphere. You can make your blog a fresh source of news stories by writing about your story and your industry, and by commenting on different aspects of your business.

To get the right press coverage by blogging, ask yourself why your company exists and what problem your product or service solves. Present your story as human and relatable and make sure it is compelling enough to grab the attention of the media.

Related: 9 Answers You Need About Yourself Before Starting Your Own Business

2. Not networking with relevant journalists

Networking allows you to build a quality relationship with relevant journalists whom you might not have encountered otherwise.

To get quality press coverage, you need to focus on networking with journalists who cover your niche, and to learn what they write about and what their audience likes to share.

Once you have built a connection, you can pitch them the story of your business.

But before you jump in, keep in mind that journalists hear pitches all the time. If you’re sending generic pitches that focus on only yourself, most likely they’ll ignore your proposal. To make your pitch stand out, tailor your story to fit with their beat.

3. Not making your story exclusive to each journalist

business-story

Exclusivity is a strong enticement for a news outlet. Not only will it make them more invested in the story, but it will also entice them to get the jump on their competitors.

Assuming you have exclusive-worthy news, the next thing you must decide is what outlet to offer it to so that it has the best chance of reaching your target audience. The goal is to not always reach the broadest audience but to get your news in front of existing and potential customers.

Related: 5 Books To Read Before Starting Your Business

4. Not using the right tools

To build and maintain a great PR presence, you need to use the right tools; ones that help you amplify and monitor your business’s public appeal.

Some of them are:

  • Help a Reporter Out: HARO is one of the easiest free tools when it comes to pitching the media. It lets you gain access to daily emails from journalists seeking interviews.
  • Google Keyword Planner: This free tool helps you plan out your blog posts with relevant keywords that people are searching for. Careful word selection will help your blog show up higher in search engines returns.
  • BlogAbout Title Generator: My favourite free tool to help me brainstorm catchy titles for reporters.
  • Google Alerts: This is a free tool that sends you alerts when your company or competitor is being featured in various media outlets.

5. Not being authentic

Reporters are consistently getting pitched stories from entrepreneurs that want press. To make your pitch stand out, be authentic. The reporters covering news in your industry want to hear your story.

Related: How You Create A Money Spinning App Without Any Coding Skills

Keep in mind that they need you as much as you need them, and they are actively looking to build relationships with entrepreneurs. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. To get your story covered, you need to find the right reporter and the right publication at the right time and to be authentic.

No matter how good your product is, it may fail if it doesn’t make its way into the public eye. To get the right press coverage, you need to build a strong network of journalists and bloggers writing about your industry.

When you send a pitch, ensure that it stands out and tailor it to fit it with the reporter’s beat. From this list of errors, you can avoid the mistakes preventing you from getting the PR you desire. Fix it and you can increase the visibility of your start-up.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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PR & Publicity

How To Use Mistaken Inquiries To Drive Awareness Of Your Business

Whether this is a walk-in, telephonic or e-mail client, be sure not to regret your interaction with them, have a plan in place, how you will deal with such situation.

Neli Moqabolane

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At times, we receive inquiries or communication from people seeking products/services that aren’t in our line of work. It can also be someone who has mistaken you for a certain company that you’re not. It’s easy to dismiss such inquiries, by simply saying you’re unable to assist the person.

Don’t miss an opportunity to publicise your company, treat the enquirer as one of your clients. Take a proactive approach, use this as an opportunity to inform them about your company and the services/products that you offer.

In doing this you are building a reputation for your brand, and introducing your corporation to someone who might have never known about. It might happen in future, that the said person needs your products/services when they remember how you professionally assisted them, then they will come to you.

Another possibility is that at that moment they are connected to someone who needs your services and they don’t know anyone in your field. Should you play your cards correctly, you might gain a client for the future or the present.

Whether this is a walk-in, telephonic or e-mail client, be sure not to regret your interaction with them, have a plan in place, how you will deal with such situation.

1Respond professionally

Your response should be structured in a manner that will make the enquirer feel respected and not embarrassed about the mistake they’ve made. When responding to emails ensure that you do so quickly. Sympathise that you cannot assist them because your company only specialises in different services/products. State clearly what is it that you provide and how you do it. 

Related: A Guide to Optimising Your Business’ Social Media Usage

2Show how you solve problems

In the process of explaining your services/products, demonstrate how you can solve people’s problems or meet their needs. This means that you describe your products/services in detail. However, your description should be a comprehensive summary, consider that the enquirer has a life to live.

3Make your brand visible

brand-recognition-marketing

When responding to emails, remember to include your logo, motto and other things that your brand is identified by. Your offices should be designed keeping this in mind when someone walks in, they should immediately see your identity.

4Offer samples 

If you have samples to give, kindly offer them to the enquirer. Should you have demonstrations/presentations that you do, politely inform the enquirer about them. Let them know how they can get hold of this.

Related: How To Impress The Press

5Provide them with an opportunity to come back to you

You can share your business card with someone you meet, this should have all your contact detail, i.e. telephone, fax, e-mail and social media details. In an email, these should be nicely positioned at the end of your email, as part of your final greeting.

6Refer them to a relevant business

Should you know of any company that offers the services/products they need, refer them to it without hesitation. If possible, provide them with contact details and a contact person to assist them.

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PR & Publicity

How You Can Avoid The ‘Facebook Effect’

Don’t let perceived realities – of your business or those of your competitors – derail your strategies.

Allon Raiz

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As a young entrepreneur, I received my first bit of publicity from a daily in Durban. It was massively exciting and stroked my ego tremendously because after all, what I had achieved was considered newsworthy enough to be published in a newspaper.

There was a big photo of me on page four, with my interview where I talked about the success of a promotion I had conceived and implemented. My friends saw the article and called to congratulate me, and in my distant social circles people discussed my story and congratulated me too.

Perception versus reality

What they didn’t know was that my business was barely breaking even at the time. The perception of my success was very different to my reality. I proudly showed the article to my mentor (naively expecting a pat on the back) and instead he asked: “Do you believe what they say?” “What do you mean?” I said. “Do you believe all the things the journalist has written about you in the article?” he asked again.

I didn’t answer him because I knew deep down that they weren’t all true. I wasn’t the hugely successful businessman that I was portrayed as in the article.

“If you believe all the good things the press write about you, you’ll also believe all the bad things they say. Be grateful for the press, but do not let it govern your emotions.”

Beware curated reality

In today’s era of social media, fake news, memes, and overly filtered photos, it’s very easy to become envious of the perceived lives that others showcase.

Much like the envy we experience when scrolling through our friends’ posts of their expensive destination holidays — where they can be seen showing off their tanned, ripped bodies while sipping expensive champagne — the same type of envy occurs between business owners when they scroll through competitor’s company timelines and witness their competitors winning great awards, attending glitzy launches and receiving kudos from the press.

In my experience, the perception created by these often-boastful social media posts is seldom close to reality. Like the article on my Durban business, what my friends perceived was nowhere near my financial reality.

Be cognisant and sceptical of this curated reality, so that you as a business do not react in one of two ways to a competitor’s posts:

  • Don’t try to emulate their strategy based on what seems to be working
  • Don’t end up feeling depressed based on your jealousy of this curated reality.

Instead, your reaction to witnessing these posts should be to:

  1. Frame your competitors’ posts simply as marketing. They have carefully curated these posts to only show followers the great things about their businesses, products and services. The ‘make-up’ hides the imperfections.
  2. Use your emotions to make a change. Use the energy their posts ignite inside of you — not the content they project — and pump that energy into YOUR strategy to reinforce it.
  3. Drive your differentiator harder. Make sure your business stands out as being unique and a thought leader in its industry and not one attempting to copy others. Your differentiator should not be influenced by what you are seeing either positively or negatively.

Always remember, your competitors’ posts represent selective truth-telling because they curate what they want you to see online.

They will never post when times are tough and they are losing clients and not making a profit at the end of the month. Don’t believe everything you see, and most importantly, don’t let these ‘perceived realities’ affect you or your business strategy in any way.

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