Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I wish everyone a fantastic, prosperous, healthy and most importantly peaceful 2009. Let's all resolve to make this world better for our family, friends, and even perfect strangers we've yet to meet.

Smile more. Laugh lots. Stress less. And inject more love in to the world in 2009.

Happy New Year all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PR Predictions for 2009

It's the end of the year which means it's time for "best of lists" and predictions.  I'm going to the later route with predictions.

FWIW here are my PR predictions for 2009:
  • Social Media and digital strategies increase in popularity.  Companies, non-profits and organizations begin to realize the true costs (time and labor) to effectively create, maintain and engage with target audiences.
  • PR goes back to its roots in building relationships with the media and with each other. Blind pitching, off-topic pitching, and spamming not only continues to incur journalists' ire, but angers members of the PR profession who are doing it well. PR Pros who can't adapt to new communication paradigms will be the most impacted. 
  • PR spammer wikis continue to grow and awareness of them outside the journalist/PR industry (read: CLIENTS) learn who's perceived to be doing shoddy work.
  • Interactive applications and UX sites are used by more brands to deliver the customer experience to address concerns before a purchase and to reinforce purchase decisions.
  • PR Pros return/reinforce their role as ADVISORS.
  • PR associations and organizations become less influential (but still important) as social media empowers tweetups and entrepreneurs to create their own seminars, conferences and seminars to discuss their interest in the industry.
  • 2009 will be the year of measurement and metrics to effectively document ROI for ANY communication initiatives.
  • More media outlets will fail and close.  Mainstream media (print and broadcast) with some trades will be the hardest hit. Media model will continue to shift.  I predict mobile applications and streaming of breaking news in real-time will become more popular.
  • There is a strong resurgence in the corporate communications position as companies struggle to effectively use social media to communicate with its audiences.  These positions will have less to do with marketing and more to do with PR.  Expect to see more VPs of Communications separate from VPs of Marketing.
  • Almost all major global brands will have Twitter accounts and will use social media and the Internet to conduct open source monitoring of its brands; monitor brand evangelists; survey the competitive landscape; and engage with customers to optimize or in some cases, rebuild customer trust.
  • Customer advisory boards make a return for companies struggling in the slumping economy.  These will be online and in stores.
  • Companies continue to spend less on traditional PR tactics and more on social media and digital strategy.
  • 2009 will be the year of mobile as next generation Google phone and advanced mobile apps are released to further increase communications between organizations/audiences.
  • Trade show budgets continue to shrink and length of shows is cut. Number of media attending is reduced. Companies expected to have something "beyond the press release" for all major announcements.
  • Push/Pull dynamic for media pitching continues. HARO increases in popularity but not all industries/news is sought after as active topics by the media.  PR pros use social media, news wires, videos and interactive strategies to tell client's stories.
  • Changes in government communications and continued government use of Web 2.0 tools will cause companies and certain federal and civilian agencies to play catch up as they stuggle to quickly implement early best practices of these tools.
  • PR will continue to evolve and will finally stop defining itself so narrowly and embrace the new technologies to become the authorities and leaders to promote brand awareness, customer engagement and competitive intelligence to best advise and counsel clients/companies/organizations/non-profits. 
We'll see how close I came at the end of next year.  What are some of your PR predictions for 2009?

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, today's my birthday! Shameless self plug!

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to Hire A PR Firm

Do you really need a PR agency? And if you think you do, what should they be doing for you?

The PR industry is changing and the faltering economy means MarComm initiatives are often the first to get cut in reduction of company budgets. There's even disagreements within the PR community over what our industry is and what it isn't. No wonder potential clients often scratch their heads when agencies come through with their capability presentations. One agency totes their strong media relations skills (a core PR component - a fact I think we can all agree upon), while others demonstrate their digital, production, and social media capabilities. For a company that is looking to establish or expand its current public relations program, trying to find an agency that fits their needs and budget can look like a daunting task. FWIW here's what I think companies looking to hire an agency should consider:

Determine Objectives/Priorities in Accordance with the Company's Business Plan : What do you hope to get out of working with an agency? Most companies tend to answer this question tactically: More media coverage? Market penetration/development? Content development? Service/product launch? Trade show support? Event planning? Figure out some core business goals and objectives that you believe PR activities can help you achieve and then give the agencies you contact a head's up on what you wish to accomplish. A good agency should help you think strategically to help you best reach any of your goals and objectives. Consider having agencies you contact sign a non-disclosure agreement so planning is based on as much information as possible.

Vetting process: Almost every agency you contact is going to come through with a capabilities presentation. It will highlight the agency history, structure, clients, awards, relevant case studies, and then overall capabilities. Any agency coming through should demonstrate that they spent some time thinking about your company. Don't expect an agency to know your business thoroughly, but most good PR firms will invest some business development time to try to learn as much as possible about your company's media presence, target audiences and overview of the competitive landscape.

As you meet with agencies, you may want to narrow your decision to two or three final choices. Send follow-up questions on how an agency would help your company address certain issues or needs. Ask for proposals or an average cost of services to get a better sense of how budget dollars will be used.

Ask for references and case studies: Don't take a PR firm's word that they're good. A PR agency should be willing to refer you to references that will be able to give you answers on what it's like to work with them and the type of successes they have had. Awards are great, but they don't give you the emotional intelligence needed to determine which agency is best for you.

Resources: Determine what resources you have to devote to your agency. This is NOT just money. Is there a point of contact in the company that will have frequent contact with the agency? This is very important as the agency will want to know who to contact in order to accomplish goals.

Meet your team: Ask who will be doing and supervising the work on behalf of your company. Ask to meet them BEFORE you sign a contract. This way, you will be able to gauge your comfort level of which team you feel will do the best job for your company. Also ask about formal reporting and account structure.

Information Overload: Once an agency is chosen, they will request a deep dive to learn as much about your company as possible. Give the agency as much information as possible. The history, structure, issues, products, services and immediate communication needs a company may have should be disclosed.

Give them your current marketing collateral and make sure they know any core messages that you want associated with the company's brand. The more information you provide, the better the agency will be at helping to develop, execute and measure an appropriate communication campaign.

Be Open: Once you hire an agency, be open to new suggestions and ideas that your agency has to help you achieve your goals and objectives. Social media, Web 2.0 communication strategies, multi-media and digital strategy tactics may be discussed. Ask the agency to justify their recommendations with studies or research to show that it is a good investment of your PR budget. Ask for how these initiatives will be measured to ensure maximum ROI.

My professional philosophy: Don't hire an agency to get you media coverage. Hire an agency to get you intelligence and then capitalize on what you learn to address your target audiences. If you do this well, you will have no problem getting the coveted press coverage and industry attention that most companies want.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

"How-To" To Continue

My apologies to anyone checking my blog recently for more "how-to" posts only to discover that I've only written one since declaring December "how-to" month. Very, very, very bad of me!

I promise a flurry of posts towards the end of the year. I have written several but work and the busy holiday season has derailed me from posting. I promise more soon so please keep checking back!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How To Get The Most From Your PR Internship

I'm making my first 'how to' post all about how to get the most from your PR internship.  When I was in college, I was very fortunate to land multiple internships to help me broaden my professional experience and my skills. 

We've all heard why internships are important. Some firms have strong structured intern programs, while others have more loose informal programs. Regardless of how an agency's program is structured, it is important that interns make the most of their experience and leave their internship feeling enriched and enlightened.

After completing a successful internship at a small communications firm during my senior year in college, I was offered my first job that turned into a 3.5 year wonderful experience in PR, public affairs and media analysis.  

During this time, I got to serve as intern coordinator for the firm's internship program.  FWIW, here are my pointers for interns on how to get the most from your PR internship:

Be Ready:  Good internships are going to expose you to a range of opportunities.  Most internships should offer you a broad range of core PR and communication skills that you will need if you decide to pursue a public relations career.  This includes a heavy emphasis on research, media list creation and vetting, editorial calendar lists, clip capture, client competitive analysis and drafting all matters of client communication materials like press releases and press kit materials.  Basic media pitching and media relations techniques will probably be taught (I hope agencies have gotten better about this compared to my first internship). Be ready to work on multiple client accounts and support multiple client projects.  While a lot of the internship work may seem administrative and rote in nature, research, writing, pitching and basic client relations is what the most basic internships should provide.  I also encourage agencies to include interns in account status meetings, client planning and brainstorming sessions.  This way, interns also get exposure to strategic counsel and planning behind specific tactics.

Find A Mentor: Some internship programs assign mentors, some don't.  Regardless, find a seasoned professional you can talk to and exchange ideas.  I'm honored that three of the interns that I had the pleasure of working with when I was the intern coordinator still seek me out for counsel and advice. I'm also blessed that I have a strong network of three mentors that I keep in touch with regularly that I am able to bounce ideas off of and talk about the next big thing. I encourage those of you who are currently looking for a mentor to work with your alumni associations to identify alumni you can meet with to discuss and learn more about the PR industry. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook also offer opportunities to discuss and follow industry influencers.  Finally, PRSA, IABC, BMA and other industry associations offer the opportunity for communication professionals to meet and exchange ideas.  These are all great venues and opportunities to find mentors.

Speak Up: You aren't "just an intern."  You are a member of the PR team and the agency.  A lot of firms rely on interns to provide them with the inside scoop on social media and other forms of communication.  Be willing to share what you know.  Your knowledge of new media; How you get your information; How you communicate with your friends, family, professors and others; How you interact with certain brands. You know more than you think and your agency and team will appreciate your insights and contributions.

Also, volunteer for assignments and ask what you can do to help. This will make you a valuable member of the team and not" just an intern." Ask questions and for clarification of assignments upfront. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help when you need it. 

Ask for Feedback: Most internships have a formal process where interns are evaluated at the beginning and end of their internship.  Ask your supervisor or internship coordinator to provide feedback on a regular basis. This could be an informal meeting over a cup of coffee or a standing weekly meeting to discuss your experiences so far.  Exchanging feedback over the course of your internship should enrich your experience and allow you to ask questions and raise issues as you encounter them.

Be Proactive: Volunteer for assignments. Ask what you can do to help out. Introduce yourself to as many people in as many departments as possible. Make yourself the liaison between departments if necessary.  This will not only broaden the activities you are exposed to, but it will make you a main point of contact and therefore essential to your team.  You will also increase your professional network and be exposed to other industries in communications such as advertising, creative, account management and digital strategy.

Professional Results: When your internship is over, talk to your supervisor about the types of experiences you have had and what you can put on your resume or use as samples of the type of work you have done.  If you helped write a press release or handled pitching activities that led to major media placements, make sure you have documentation of media clips.  If you earned any professional awards or recognition for a campaign you contributed to, make sure that is reflected on your resume. Finally, make sure that your resume not only highlights your capabilities (e.g. drafted press releases), but your results (e.g. client received coverage in major trade publication due to direct outreach efforts; coordinated the most successful Web seminar in client history leading to X business leads).  Once you update your resume ask a colleague to review what you have done to make sure it is clear and concise. Ask for a formal recommendation either in a letter or on your LinkedIn profile so your accomplishments and value are documented.

Remember, no matter how structured or loose an internship program is, interns have a great deal of control on how much they get from their experience.  Don't expect an internship  program to be perfect. Be willing to share with an agency what you enjoyed and what you feel can be improved upon in their program.  A good agency will listen to your feedback and take it into consideration.

I would love to hear from current and former PR interns about their best and worst internship experiences.  What do interns hope to get out of their PR internships?  Please post your comments/stories in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Declaring December "How To" Month

New business meetings and strategic planning for clients is taking up a lot of my time lately. That being said, I'm declaring December the "How To" month.

I noticed that my post on how to get the most from your PR firm has gotten quite a few hits (thanks google analytics). So, I'm making December a month on best practices and strategic initiatives that I've learned/encountered. This is definitely all FWIW information, but I hope you find it useful. Please feel free to comment and add your own perspective/lessons learned as well.