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Why do PR? Emerging or growing brands often ask should I hire in-house or use a PR agency?

They’re asking themselves this question against a wild backdrop and volatile marketplace. But even during corrections, thousands of businesses are finding their footing and growing. It truly is the wild, wild, west in right now. The reason executives are asking themselves this question is because regardless of lay-offs and investment size, what both these businesses also have in common are some enormous plans that require PR and marketing.

Many companies have concerns about hiring agencies, they worry about finding the right PR agency, they worry about disclosure to people outside the company; they worry about failure. Those are legitimate concerns, many of those same concerns can be an issue with employees, but with an agency, they can be addressed with strategic questions and planning, and taking a little time to get to know your potential pr agency. And the good news is that the best agencies seem to know one another. If you find a great marketing agency or a great branding agency, chances are, they know a PR firm they like and trust.

In-House PR Advantages

Proximity

If you like having someone to bounce ideas off on a whim, in-house PR teams offer that flexibility more than PR agencies. PR agencies are typically a little more formal about meetings and goal-setting.

Cross-Departmental Integration

As companies and brands grow, it’s often great to have someone in-house who formalizes internal communications and ensures other departments are considering PR implications.

Agency Management

If you’re managing multiple agencies, like a marketing agency and a public relations agency, having an in-house point person is a great advantage. Agencies will often work together, but someone needs to ensure the brand’s objectives are always at the forefront.

But what are the practical business reasons for hiring an agency over an in-house team for brands?

Cost-Effective

A single hire’s salary can cost you more than an agency, and that single hire, because they are human, has limitations. Agencies specialize in providing you with the team of specialists you need when you need them. Add this to the fact that you won’t be paying benefits, payroll taxes, and health insurance, and it adds up to savings for both big brands and startups.

Think about it, in addition to your CMO and/or a Communications Officer, who will each need a manager and team, including a media relations specialist, a content writer, a social media manager, a graphic designer, and a multitude of marketing and listening tools which can all easily add up to $400,000 or more, plus benefits.

Plus, if something dramatic happens, it’s also usually less expensive to separate from an agency. Many PR agencies, including us, have a separation agreement in the contract that spells out the process if something radically changes, so it’s a reasonably straightforward process that brings peace of mind to executives in this volatile time.

The IRS Sees PR Agencies As an Expense

Agencies streamline payroll AND they are also a straight business expense.  Talk to your CPA about what makes the most sense for your business.

PR Agency Superpower: Scaleability

Think of your agency as your expansion team. In addition to receiving top-notch strategy and planning, you’ll also have access to team members who are in the thick of it and can give a point of view from the front lines too. When you have a team of people, it’s easier to tap into insights and trends that you might otherwise miss. But it’s also important to note that when you hire a cannabis PR firm or a cannabis marketing firm you’ll get a team of professionals who can more easily scale up during launches or big campaigns.

Even if you do decide to take certain elements in-house, your agency continues to serve you with perspective and resources that support your in-house team. For example, many brands want a PR expert in-house for a multitude of reasons, especially corporate communications and investor relations. But your PR executive still needs a team to help execute, especially in the area of media relations. Few in-house communications executives are actively pitching and engaging with journalists as often as our team is, our media relations team is a top-notch time saver for in-house PR teams.

Seeing the Forest Through The Trees

It’s easy to lose perspective when there’s a lot going on. An agency can provide additional listening and strategy insights you might not have considered. Having a team that has your back and isn’t bogged down in your office politics can really keep things moving along.

In-house team members tend to be front-line advocates internally. And that’s a really important role, especially if you’re trying to build a culture as many brands are. But those day-to-day tasks, meetings, and internal cajoling tend to make consistent outward-looking perspectives difficult. Use your agency to bring you a consistent overall vision of the marketplace and strategies that will set you apart for the long run. Look for agencies with whom you can have open and collaborative dialogue to get the most out of your agency.

Get to Work Fast!

The right agency can get to work much faster than onboarding an employee.  Agencies have a client on-boarding process that will be systematic and strategic because they want to get to work too. You won’t spend your time showing someone where the coffee maker is, you’ll spend your time reviewing strategy and goals.

Access To The Latest Technology & Tools

You pay a fair share for platforms and services that are critical to your business. So do agencies. We have top-notch monitoring, analytics, and communications platforms – you get access to those without adding those non-critical operating costs to your bottom line.

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 modern 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.

5 Pre-Announcement PR Tips for Reputation Management

 

If you’re ready for a product launch, a funding round, or an executive announcement, now is a good time to look at how other people will see your company when they do more research.

 

Brush up your social profiles pre-announcement. 

No matter what your brand or your industry you always want to present the best first impression, your social media are part of that first impression. Ask yourself whether they’d be OK with you lifting a quote from your Facebook or LinkedIn and using it in an article about your business?

If the answer is no, check the privacy settings and do some cleanup. While we’re at it, check your photos and see if there’s anything there that’s off-putting or off-brand.

If you’re not sure whether your first impression is on-brand, ask others you trust in business. Ask yourself if you’re believable and trustworthy to a stranger and to your target audience? What would you think of your business if you just stumbled upon it on Linkedin or another social profile? Please consider these tips as a starting checklist.

 

Reputation Management: Google Your Executives & Your Company

While we’re at it, when was the last time you Google’d your executives and your business? Do your search while using Chrome’s “Incognito” feature and you’ll get a view of what others see about you first. Don’t forget to do an image search too. When you raise awareness of your company Google searches by the public and the press are fair game.

If you’re not happy with what you see, you can do some reputation management blocking and tackling, which will take some time. So be sure to do this well in advance of any major announcements.

 

Public Relations: Define Your Key Messages

What are you trying to say and to whom? What truly makes you special and why should anyone care. Remember, when you’re trying to attract press, you need a STORY, something newsworthy. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number, a product launch is rarely newsworthy, that’s not to say NEVER, but usually, there has to be a story to tell along with the launch.

Make sure you’re so prepared with your key messages that no one can distract you from your message, which is wrapped nicely in the context of your business story.

And while you’re at it, make sure that the press you’re sending your story is important to the readers of the publication or outlet your pitching.

Public Relations: Consider Media Training

If you’ve never done press before, it might be more nerve-wracking than you expect. Yes, journalists are people too, but it’s not their job to make you look good, that’s your job.

The journalist’s job is to write a story people will be interested in reading.

Sure, some publications will be very friendly, but all will appreciate your extra level of professionalism.

Spending at least a day preparing by recording yourself in front of a camera with some best practices for PR will pay for itself a million times over, because inevitably, there will be a question you didn’t expect, and having the tools at your disposal to help you keep your cool will give you confidence.

 

Content: A MUST: Good Photos 

Great headshots and product pictures are not a “nice to have,” they are a requirement. Don’t even think about sending a selfie. Make sure the images are high-resolution enough for print. If you have the budget, get a video too since you’ll use it over and over for all sorts of purposes.

You can have some photos done that showcase your  business personality, but definitely get basic headshots and product pictures on white and black backdrops.

You’ll be bummed out if you get the press of a lifetime but there aren’t any product shots or pictures of you and your team because they were low-quality or low-resolution.

 

Managing your online and media reputation is critical to your business, particularly if you’re a new brand, a relatively unknown brand, or your doubling down on an initiative like fundraising or an IPO. It’s shocking how few brands keep up with their own reputation. The thing about your reputation is that when it’s hurting you, you’ll never know because you can’t measure what’s not there. So be proactive about your reputation at all times and it will pay for itself.

Creating Social Impact with Movements that Matter

Whether you’re a nonprofit with a cause or a startup with an idea, at some point, I’m sure you’ve wondered whether your passion would ever catch spark with others. Social impact is here to stay. Creating a movement that matters is more important today than ever before.

It’s clear, what fuels movements is more art than science and not everyone has the advantage of chemically inspired insanity. The idea matters, but it’s really the tipping point, created with art AND science, that creates movements that matter.

We’ve learned a few things about social impact movements over the years, and I wanted to share with you some key insights I’ve found in creating movements with true social impact.

Social Proof Is Important for Movements That Matter

Relatively quickly, it will be important to develop your followers. You’ll need to show you aren’t alone in this idea. BUT, you’ll need those followers to be just as into your idea as you are. These “early adopters” have distinct profiles – figure them out and speak to them. This is the time vs. money stage. There are plenty of things you can do for free, but they take time. Decide which is your most valuable resource.

Social Media Matters – But So Does Real Life for True Social Impact

Social media isn’t where ideas are born, it’s where ideas are spread. The idea and the collaboration of said idea almost always takes place offline. Don’t be afraid to use your offline connections, whether they’re on social media or not, to help fuel your movement.

And don’t discount traditional PR tactics as well, they play nice with social media and one will help the other. And the endgame isn’t about HOW it happens, it’s THAT it happens. Give your movement every chance it has to survive.

Tweet: “Give your movement every chance it has to survive.” – @taracoomans

Passion or Quantity?

You’ll want influencers, but you’ll want to make very sure your target audience relates to them, even if they don’t totally resonate with you.  You aren’t communicating to you, you’re trying to get some collective steam. And your influencer’s community is balanced by the passion of that community.  There’s an inverse correlation of a number of followers to passion. Think of it as a circle, the bigger the circle, the further from the center more and more people are. So ask yourself, does passion matter more than people? The answer may surprise you.

Tweet: “There’s an inverse correlation of number of followers to passion.” – @taracoomans

Movements That Matter Peak At The Right Time


It’s true with all public relations messaging and especially with social impact movements. Just about the time you’re tired of seeing the same messaging is about the time that anyone takes notice. Again, inverse effect, you say “no one’s responding,” just as they are starting to take notice. Breathe.

Tipping points have a timeline of their own, you can’t rush them. It WILL happen.

The bigger concern is peaking at the right time. Peaking at the right time could correlate to internal or external deadlines. What happens if your movement peaks too early? Will you be ready?  You can’t totally plan for peak time, but you should make sure you don’t peak too early. Think about what peaking at the exact right moment looks like and work backward from there – what’s it going to take (planning, time, money, people)  to create enough energy for that exact moment? And remember, in a world where we’re constantly inundated with messages, rallying people usually takes longer than you think it should. They used to say that it takes 7 exposures to a message for someone to remember the message, in today’s message cluttered world, I’d put that at closer to twelve.

You’ll Know When The Tipping Point Happens

If you don’t know whether you’ve hit the tipping point, then you haven’t yet. When tipping points happen, there is nothing you can do to stop them. You are no longer in control. This is a crucial moment. As Derek says, you want to treat your community as equals, empower them, let them stand for you. Conversely, at this point, you’ll need to be more and more clear on your message. I’ve seen movements become something completely different than the original intent because of unclear messaging at this point. Social impact movements that turn into disorganized mob scenes aren’t effective, even if they are riveting to watch. Mob scenes are good for word of mouth, but they aren’t very good for conversion.

Tweet: “Mob scenes are good for word of mouth, but they aren’t very good for conversion.”- @taracoomans

PS:When you’re feeling alone and isolated about your movement, watch this this short TedTalk by Derek Sivers.

Epically true, right?  I love this line: “The first follower is actually an underrated form of leadership.” What’s you’re biggest take away?