Hiring a great PR firm

What Should You Really Be Look For In A PR Firm?

 

We know, hiring a PR firm can be daunting. With increasing frequency, we’re hearing stories from  colleagues who have experienced “bad PR.” What should you ask before hiring a PR firm?

We truly believe many of these stories are due to client and agency were a mismatch, rather than a “bad PR firm”. Taking a deeper look at PR before hiring them can save you money, but most importantly, time.  Much of this can be attributed to the vast distinctions with how PR agencies operate and handle their clients. The intention of this piece is to provide you with questions we would be asking OUR PR firm before we hired them, and why those questions are important. Also, consider these “6 great questions you can ask us before hiring Avvans PR”

6 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Next PR Firm

 

Do You Understand Our Product?

Ask yourself how important a baseline understanding of your product or industry is to your overall communications. We’ve heard story after story of people unhappy with their PR firm because their PR firm doesn’t understand an emerging industry’s regulations or a technology. Understanding the industry isn’t just important from a regulatory and technical perspective, it’s also the ability to monitor relevant news, understand what’s relevant (and what isn’t) and move quickly. Now, that’s not to say that a beauty PR can’t handle B2B PR for the industry, but expect to educate your firm.

What tradeshows and conferences has your team attended?
Does your PR firm understand what makes your product distinct within your industry?
What publications are writing about your vertical?

Before Hiring a PR Firm, Establish Clearly Defined Ways of Measuring Success for PR

Most companies today want consistent placement, strategic oversight, and outstanding communication. But what else? In a mature, less regulated industry, a PR firm typically works with multiple other firms from branding to experiential to an ad agency.

PR is THE leading brand trust and awareness tool.

In addition to earned media, companies should be looking at additional metrics for PR such as SEO value. Website traffic, brand mentions, brand name reach, and even share of voice are all KPIs that are relevant, depending on the overall strategy. Your PR firm should be ready and able to provide those kinds of metrics to you on a monthly basis. Changes in public perception or decreased sales cycle are also metrics with which PR can support. If you’re measuring your PR firm against KPIs like this, work with your PR firm to set a baseline and a reasonable timeframe.

Is the Fee Structure Fair & Does It Make Sense?

Most PR firms work on a retainer, so make sure you have an understanding of what’s included in your retainer?

Does the firm charge for wire releases?
Is branded content included, and if so, does that extend to graphic design?
Is there a markup on expenses incurred by the PR agency and if so, what is it?
Are off-site activations included?
How are hours tracked?

There’s no single way to manage a retainer, so asking questions like this upfront will give you a deeper understanding. Be fearless about asking these questions, after all, you’re the client. You should expect a rationale that isn’t arbitrary. While you may view this as a negotiation opportunity, be wary of cutting the budget to the point where your brand isn’t on the radar daily. You want your PR firm engaged with your brand on a daily basis – make sure you’re getting that because the alternative often provides unsatisfactory results. A great PR firm will be transparent about their billing methods.  Financial terms form the foundation of your relationship with your PR firm. Get that right and find a balance that works for you and your PR firm.

Look for Good Personal Chemistry in Your PR Firm

While this one is tough to put on a spreadsheet, asking some tough questions will often reveal the quality of the chemistry. As an engaged client, you should be working with your cannabis PR experts regularly and you REALLY want that process to be enjoyable. Make sure your company culture meshes well with your cannabis PR firm’s value system.  Teams who like one another, work better together. If you’re not gelling with someone in the first call, chances are, that’s not going to change.

Compatability breeds productivity and results.

Before Hiring Your Next PR Firm, Consider: Location, Location, Location

Before you start narrowing down your PR firms, decide how important location is to you. We think having account presence in major journalism markets is priority one, but if you’re the kind of person who needs to meet face-to-face once a week, acknowledge that and find a firm close to your base of operations and hire a PR firm that’s near by.

Flexibility AND Systems

Pay close attention to the systems your PR firm uses and also take notice of their flexibility.

For starters, there should also be a clearly defined exit clause in the contract.

Who owns content?
How will the PR firm handle future press inquires when/if the engagement ends?
What is the cancelation agreement?

Your PR should have systems and processes in place, but those systems and processes should also be nimble enough to manage the PR world. For example, getting a press release right is exceptionally important, but it shouldn’t take your PR firm a week to write it. You should be able to review the first draft within hours on an emergency or breaking news circumstance. On the other hand, there should be a consistent drum beat and strategy behind media relations.  Which bring us to:

A Strategic Approach That Makes Sense

Before hiring, your  PR firm should be able to articulate an approach and strategy that makes sense to you. While credible PR firms won’t reveal details about clients, they should be able to articulate some case studies of  PR strategies and why they worked. For example, provide an experience that required a decision to respond to industry news. When, where and how you respond to breaking industry news is determined by your brand strategy, BUT your PR should be able to articulate a strategy and when/why it worked. Your PR firm should have some strategic storylines and outlines in mind for your brand, which proves they’ve done a little research. Even if they aren’t perfectly on-brand, at least you’re starting with a strategy which is better than starting from zero.

How should companies prepare for cannabis PR in 2020 with an ever-changing media landscape? While the cannabis industry shows no sign of slowing down, the media landscape has seen some dramatic changes in the last year, and that affects even the cannabis industry.

According to Business Insider, 3,200 people in media have lost their jobs so far in 2019. Buzzfeed, Entreprenuer, CNN, and Vice are among the notable media brands who cover cannabis who have also laid off talented journalists. These layoffs are a gut punch to our journalist colleagues, but they also impact the ability for these outlets to cover longer features, which makes it a gut punch to our clients as well. Cannabis PR continues to be an important part of becoming an industry leader, but this pressure on media in general is surely felt within cannabis.

Layoffs aren’t the only challenge PR-seekers will face in the next year. PR in 2020 will be affected by the election. We’re already seeing writer and editor reassignments to cover the race. Brands will be faced with either jumping on the news cycle or defining the news cycle; the answer to that question will be unique to each brand. Breaking news will likely happen weekly in the later half of 2020, that means anything not immediately time sensitive from a truly newsworthy perspective will need a longer lead time and take longer to publish.

Longer Timelines

Journalists and editors are a resourceful bunch and undoubtably, we’ll see some great talent eye the cannabis industry as an opportunity. Numerous outlets are adding cannabis editors and writers, but those writers will be fighting for space and attention because of the news cycle, effecting PR in 2020. Also, for national outlets, the cannabis desk won’t be terribly deep, so if that writer is out sick or there is breaking industry news, there won’t likely be much depth to the cannabis desk to cover additional stories.

Where just 5 years ago, cannabis publications were themselves considered niche, we now have cannabis publications who target very specific and engaged audiences like Broccoli does for women and Double Blind is for psychedelics. Both these gorgeous publications are print forward but do not issue on a monthly basis. Expect to see more super niche publications make their way to our PR in 2020.

Breaking national news will also impact feature pieces and your breaking news. Before you announce something, take a deep look at what’s happening in the industry so you can plan accordingly. Of course, sometimes news needs to break, investor announcements for example. In this case, there are strategies to employ to ensure you’re announcement gets the attention it deserves. It may require a shift in strategy, but Primo PR can guide you through that process.

This means PR planning and collaboration takes a longer lead time, especially feature pieces. Make sure your PR takes into account these timelines and shift your strategies to accomodate these longer timelines and niche publications.

Publications are changing – so is PR.

Freelancers!

Keeping up with the ever changing media landscape means writers and editors are changing careers or writing for multiple publications. Freelancer journalists can be an outstanding resources and great partners in cannabis PR, but keep in mind, they are looking for stories that will get them paid, thier job isn’t to be your marketing coordinator.

Don’t expect a freelancer to spend hours gathering data you should have on hand, make it easy for them to include media (photos, graphics, video) in their stories. If you’re unsure of what kind of content suits you, or what you’ll need, that’s the perfect opportunity to use the perspective of public relations, since we understand what the media is looking for when creating stories.

We’re consistently working with our clients to ensure they have the most media-friendly content available BEFORE we pitch a story. Have some empathy for freelancers who are often working to publish 5-10 pieces a week. We’re consistently working with freelancers, but we also work exceptionally hard to make their jobs easier, knowing they they are hustling for every word they write.

When you do get press, follow our effective media relations strategy to boost effectiveness for everyone. And don’t forget to tag the journalist, they’ll appreciate it.

Have some empathy for our freelance colleagues covering cannabis.

Integrate With Your PR

You can maximize PR by having your agencies collaborate on activations and integrations. Make your paid, earned, shared and owned media work together. Events, advertisements and even your website can often turn into PR opportunities, but only if PR has a seat at your planning table. Keep PR part of your strategic planning and maximize your spends. We’re cannabis PR experts- we often see opportunities that can make your investments work double time.

On a daily basis, we may be collaborating with a client’s branding agency, their media buying agency, and social influencers. Over and again, we find collaborating with agencies creates a better branding experience for our client and better press opportunities for them as well.

This goes for SEO as well. Public relations can have a huge impact on SEO from custom content to news releases, we’re always keeping an eye on trending searches so we can help publications AND our clients maximize eyeballs.

Editorial and Advertising Together

It used to be that it was verboten for editorial and advertising to collaborate. But publications today are finding new and creative ways to help boost their bottom line. Given the media landscape, it’s not surprising. Sponsored content, when well written and editorialized, can be an extremely effective tool for cannabis PR. The key to sponsored content is to think like a journalist and deliver a story rather an a marketing brochure.

Some brands are even taking a page out of MedMen’s strategy and like Ember, creating lifestyle publications for themselves. There are multiple ways to implement this strategy; some publications will, for a fee, run part of or the entire publication on your behalf. Content doesn’t have to be generated in-house, journalists and PR writers can help keep the content on par and on edge, while delivering value to both the brand and the reader. Owned publications are also an outstanding way to add extra value to your business partners while creating an effective newsroom for your brand.

Navigating These Changes

Team Primo PR is ready for these changes and anything else that comes our way. One of our key values is remaining nimble, because dynamic landscapes demand it – that’s our job. We’re already planning on doubling down with strategy and distinctive stories that will set our clients apart in the news, even with all these changes. We’re working directly with journalists on pieces that are slated for publish at the end of the year – RIGHT NOW. As you look forward to your 2020 plans, keep the dynamic nature of industry and the national news in your planning process. It’s not too early to start strategizing for 2020’s PR changes because one thing is for certain: change.

Resources Mentioned In This Post:

Business Insider: Media Lay Offs
Broccoli Magazine
Double Blind Magazine

is a press release worth it?

Is the press release dead?  For years now, that question has been hanging over the public relations/journalism world. And the question is a fair one – when millions of press releases are issued daily, often without consideration of the journalists receiving them, do press releases work anymore? And issuing a press release through a credible wire service costs $1,000 or more depending on variables like length, number of images or videos, and frequency.

Given their expense, is a press release worth it?

What we’re talking about here is legitimate company news that is appropriate for a wire service, but isn’t a securities and exchange or public shareholders requirement. So this legitimate news could be based on research, a new hire, a new product, it can even be a statement based on industry news, issued over a wire service like PR Newswire, Business Wire, Globe Newswire or similar.

A press release is but one tactic in the media relations tool kit. It’s extremely unusual that your news, even your most exciting news, (“We launched..! We bought…! We secured…!”), applies to every single national outlet, without customization about why it applies to the reader or journalist’s beat. There are plenty of occasions when direct outreach to the press will generate better quality and more tailored coverage. Plus, journalists aren’t really all that jazzed to receive the same (untailored) information as hundreds of thousands of other journalists; at that point, they view it as a status update instead of news.  But then why do these services charge so much?

Well, most quality wire services reach thousands of outlets at once and most will get reprints of your press release in at least a few national online outlets.  But that press release syndication can come in handy on the web.

The press release isn’t dead, it’s just viewed differently by both journalists and public relations professionals today. So when SHOULD you go through the expense, sometimes over $1,000 per release, of using a wire service? Here are 5 times issuing a press release over a wire service can serve your strategic interests.

It’s Still Got Social Proof:

When you search on a business name and  the release appears under “news,” tell me that doesn’t impress you a little? Of course. That’s why earned media is so valuable. Vendors, customers, investors, they all like seeing that too. It shows you’re committed to your brand, your growth, and your reputation. If you’re positioning for acquisition, IPO, or investors, having a consistent history of press releases provides credibility and social proof.

Consistent (but not overwhelming) press releases are also a good way to stay in front of news outlets. When your brand is top of mind at the moment editors are assigning stories or looking for ideas, it allows your public relations budget to go even further. Press releases also offer background information for journalists writing today’s story; they serve as a good historical marker to your company’s achievements, which can get buried on a website.

You’ve Got Video on a Major News Item:

If you or your company has a unique point of view on a breaking news item, especially if it’s video,  TV stations are always looking for high-quality video for of-the-moment topics, that’s a great opportunity to send out a well-timed press release.  Make sure your video has a distinctive point of view and that it’s relevant to your key messaging. Make sure your video is high quality enough for TV and name your video using relevant and keyword researched words.

Help producers and journalists by using your press release to give context to your quote and be sure to show the speaker’s name clearly in the content.

You’re ABSOLUTELY Clear On Your Audience:

Most of the time your audience is the press, after all, those are the subscribers to wire services – to pretend there is any other primary audience is misleading. But given that most journalists aren’t responsive to press releases, there may be an opportunity to be a bit disruptive.  There may be an occasion in which your release speaks directly to the consumer as opposed to the journalist with a jazzier (note: not promotional) lingo, maybe direct to consumer quotes, and direct to consumer ideas or recommendations that could also interest slow-news-day fodder. Note: we’re not really dealing with many slow news days these days.

Sometimes those press release reprints can give you enough legs to support other content initiatives and social proof initiatives.

Let me be clear: do not treat a press release like a blog post, they are complementary, not interchangeable. But, addressing to the consumer’s issues within the context of a newsworthy release may be a useful, if non-traditional, tactic occasionally.

You’ve Done Keyword Research:

If your website is new, or if you’re trying to build traffic, these consistent high-value links can contribute nicely to your SEO. Let’s be clear sending out press releases alone isn’t enough to radically change your SEO, but it can be part of your off-page tool kit that supports your overall SEO strategy.

Keep in mind, a press release jacked up with keywords isn’t effective AT ALL. Google’s got your number and generally, a press release written only for search engines is ineffective; it’s also considered spammy by journalists, so used wrong, it can discredit your company in the eyes of the press.

What you want to do is keyword research on ACTUAL news so you maximize the opportunity. Wire releases DO create high-value inbound links. Plus, wire service releases generally present well in search results, so it’s a double-win if you or your PR team have done their keyword research.

 

The Moment is Momentus

Using a press release to document a historic moment in your company’s history presents a timeline and momentum to your company and adds social proof. Also, going back to the keywords, press releases live in “news” for much, much longer than even an earned media story.

Press releases using this strategy also serve as a way to get press on track to watch for future announcements, clarify your business positioning, or get stakeholders on the same page.

Do we believe press releases are dead? No, we do not. We also don’t believe every announcement needs to come in the form of a press release. Use press releases strategically, and to compliment your media relations,  and they will serve you well.