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Why is public relations so expensive?

Why is public relations so expensive?  Because you continue to pay the ridiculous monthly retainer fees that firms charge.  Without question.  You don’t even expect them to quantify the return you will receive on the investment they are asking you to make.  The reason public relations is so expensive is your fault.

The first question that any PR company asks when you enquire about working with them is ‘what’s your budget?’ And you tell them.  At least, you tell them the number you think is the going rate for the cookie-cutter PR ‘strategies’ most sell comprising a standard set of activities and, let’s be honest, very little strategic input.  It’s like playing poker where you show all of the other players your cards – and then wonder why you always end up losing your shirt.

If you want to make public relations more affordable here are three easy things you can do:

  • Start being more specific in what you need.
    You don’t need media pitching. You DEFINITELY don’t need somebody else doing it on your behalf.  Focus on specific short-term outcomes that will help you achieve your big hairy business goals – and have a PR company tell you how they are going to help you achieve them.  Then ask them to put a price on their part in that process.

To get resources and templates that will help secure media coverage email lyndon@comms.bar

  • Focus on building relationships.
    Relationships are the key to the success of every business.  Devote time, energy and money on building strong relationships with the handful of people that are critical to achieving your next milestone

To get a Key Relationship Mapping™ Canvas email lyndon@comms.bar

  • Start focusing.
    Whether it’s milestones towards your ultimate goals or stepping-stones to building a relationship with key people, start focusing on specifics.  Most PR firms justify their activity on the basis that they’re trying to deliver awareness.  Most of the activity is wasted [at your expense] because they’re targeting the wrong people.  More focus means less waste.  Let waste means lower investments.

To start setting pr and marketing goals that will help you achieve commercially valuable outcomes visit https://comms.bar

  • Stop telling PR firms what your budget is.
    It’s the fastest way to have them spend every single cent – and more often than not, it’s not necessary.  More often than not your budget is really what you think the going rate is – but there is no ‘going rate’.  You can’t put a price on activity – only on advice and outcomes that deliver value.

To get affordable pr and marketing advice from startup and small business specialists visit https://comms.bar

Only you have the power to change the price of PR retainers, by voting with your money.  If you refuse to buy in the way that most PR firms sell then they’ll have to change.  But, while you continue to play their game – a game they’ve loaded to ensure they always win, PR will continue to cost thousands of dollars every month and continue to deliver little value for your investment.

For affordable public relations & marketing advice designed for startup and small business budgets visit https://comms.bar

How to tell the difference between a PR company and a publicity firm.

Most PR companies are in the publicity game.  Here’s how to tell the difference.

1. A publicity company offers media pitching as their primary service.  A PR firm helps you build relationships with key people.

2  Publicity firms think content marketing or social media are the future of public relations.  A PR company thinks that building and maintaining relationships is the future of public relations.

3. A publicity company has no idea what the other 3Ps are.  A PR company understands the role of promotion and the importance of relationships in the process.

4. A publicity company has a picture of a megaphone on their website.  A PR company doesn’t.

5. A publicity company sells on the back of their journalist relationships.  A PR company will help you build relationships with journalists and anybody else that is important to the success of your business.

6. A publicity firm talks about engagement but can’t explain what it is or how it will benefit your business.  A PR company can explain the value of you having relationships with the right people.

7. A publicity company can’t actually tell you what the return on your investment in PR will be over and above ‘awareness’.  Awareness is an outcome of publicity.  A PR company can.

For public relations advice that helps your business build and maintain relationships with the most important people to its success call Lyndon on 647-773-3677 or email lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca

Startup Storytelling: how to make people care

When was the last time you read a book where the story started with a product pitch?  How many of the books you’ve read recently, autobiographies aside were about the author?  How many of the autobiographies were of people who had still to achieve something significant in business? I raise these questions because storytelling it was a topic of discussion during a twitter chat organized by Startup Canada as part of its #startupchats series.

The chat was a rarity on social media these days – a civilized exchange of views by people with polar-opposite viewpoints.  Scrap that.  It is a rarity these days. Period. One of the participants was a long-time member of the Toronto Startup scene, Mark Evans.  Mark’s position in the chat was that product is key to good storytelling.  He wrote a blog post about his experience of the chat and asked me to write a piece about my take on the topic because we disagreed so fundamentally on the issue.

In his post, ‘For Startups, What’s More Important: Good Product or Good Story?’Mark poses the question whether it is the product or story that is more important for startups stories. He makes a case for both in his post, but I still disagree with his assessment. While the story is always more important than the product, a story that focuses on the startup, as Mark suggests, is also the wrong approach. I’d also argue that the product is irrelevant if you’re not telling the right story.

Mark makes the point that product rules because a bad product will be found out.  I agree.  But that’s one of the Ps of marketing – not part of the storytelling process [the promotion P].  Marketing doesn’t work without successfully delivering on all four [Product, Price, Place and Promotion] but starting the promotion with ‘I’ve got a good product’ without explaining why anybody should care is unlikely to win friends or influence people – let alone sell things.

When I was a child of the stories I read started with the fabled sentence, ‘once upon a time…’.  Why?  Because it is a vehicle for setting the scene.  It’s a way to provide context; to draw people in to the story. They didn’t start with a product pitch.  None of the stories I remember from my childhood started with a pitch by the author telling me how good they were are storytelling, character development, etc. and none started by telling me they were the Shakespeare of children’s books.

We all know that when we find a good story we can’t help but want to read more. We enjoy the twists and turns; the stories of good vs. bad. So what is the right story?  If it’s not product or a story about your startup, what should the theme of every good startup or small business story be?

The right story is the one that the audience wants to hear.  And, this is where most companies get it wrong.  They’re so busy pitching and telling the world how unique their product is; how they’re going to be the Uber of X, Y and Z, that they forget about the audience and, as a result, they lose them.  Nobody cares about their story.

I read, on a daily basis, supposed content marketing ‘experts’ imploring startups to tell their story.  I hear the same people telling entrepreneurs they have a voice.  But, for startups in particular, the key to telling the story your audience wants to ‘read’ is first understanding the audience.  If you understand the audience you can create story they can relate to.  

In his post, Mark talks about Dollar Shave Club and the video that is widely credited with putting them on the map, called, ‘Our Blades Are F***ing Great’.  The key to that story is the problem faced by men around the world – having to spend ridiculous amounts of money every month on razor blades.  Had their story been about their blades or the company it’s likely nobody would have cared. It’d just be a story about a cheap razor-blade. 

But because the company told a story that showed it understood the problem and positioned its solution in a fun and attention-grabbing way, the company was able to communicate how it solved the problem in a new and innovative way. They didn’t lead with their product or their startup story – they lead with a problem that their audience understood. We all know how it worked out.

So, when you’re starting to write your startup or small business’ next story forget the product pitch and the narcissistic navel-gazing and figure out what story your audience wants to be told.

Startup storytelling tips

  • Write the story your audience wants to hear – not the one you want to tell
  • Your product is useless without an understanding of the value it delivers
  • Nobody cares about your story or your product.  They care that you understand their story and your product can help them write a better one
  • Resist the urge to use storytelling as a veiled product pitch

Learn from some of the greatest corporate storytellers

Nike ‘’Take It To The Next Level

Apple ‘think different

Maserati ‘Strike

Chipotle ‘Back To The Start

What do you really want from public relations?

I received an email today from a partner agency that proclaimed, ‘company X is disappointed they don’t have any coverage yet’.  I replied that I suspected they’d be equally disappointed if they had had coverage but it had had limited commercial impact.

I’d previously asked what the desired outcome was from the coverage. I got no response.  I had asked about the commercial impact of the last set of coverage the company had received [via their work with another agency].  I was told that it was likely minimal.  I’ve tried to offer advice on how to ensure that  this time the coverage actually delivers tangible results. But I keep getting the same response – they just want coverage!

I’ve also suggested that rather than simply sending out a press release, or blind product samples – the samples are the most expensive piece of their current activity [more than the cost of services provided by my company] and asked them to record short videos to personalize their company and the product; to show they care more than simply emailing a promotional press release. But, I’m told, they don’t have time or money for it.

They don’t have 60 seconds to sit in front of a cell phone and record a short video – yet they have money to send product samples to journalists in the hope that they’ll write about  them.  There’s no review guide, no demonstration video, no attempt to stand out.  But, worst of all, there has been no thought given to why they want the coverage – and, as a result, they’ll likely be no commercial value even if they get the coverage they appear to so desperately want.

I wrote about this because its current, but it isn’t an isolated situation.  It was one of the main reasons why I started THINK DIFFERENT [LY] – to help entrepreneurs realize that coverage for its own sake is valueless.  That the tired PR sausage machine doesn’t work any more.  That they should expect more just coverage from their public relations activities than a piece of coverage that, nine times out of 10, has no commercial benefit.  It drains money from their bank accounts – but does little to help refill them.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: When you’re reviewing your public relations activities over the coming weeks and trying to understand why it didn’t deliver the desired commercial value, consider that it is probably because coverage was the only goal.

To find out how to make public relations affordable, accountable and effective for your business contact lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca or call 1. 647.773.2677 today.

3 things entrepreneurs can learn from Apple’s keynote disaster

Apple iPhone 6, Apple, Keynote, Apple Watch
Apple – Bigger than Bigger?!

Despite reaction to the product announcements at Apple’s latest keynote have been, at best, lukewarm there’s not doubt both the iPhones and Apple Watch will sell.  So, what’s to worry about?  If you’re an Apple executive or investor the answer is lots.

By far the biggest loser from the event was Apple and its reputation.  Having hyped the keynote, according to media reports, far more than usual and with ABC positioning it as featuring a ‘historic’ announcement its failure to live up to top billing, the unveiling of solid, rather than revolutionary product point updates and a smartwatch that  has seriously underwhelmed fans that have waited years for a wearable device, it has seriously damaged the company’s brand.

Here are three mistakes Apple made and what you can learn from them to avoid damaging your reputation and the reputation of your business:

Apple over promised and under-delivered. With new product launches and media announcements there’s always the temptation to hype, hype, hype.  Traditionally understated, media reports suggest Apple got carried away in the weeks and days before the latest keynote and then failed to deliver on the raised expectations.

One of the central pieces of the Apple launch machine under Steve Jobs was that everything… OK, almost everything, was a surprise.  Watch any of the keynotes from Steve’s time at the company and watch audiences go crazy when there was ‘One More Thing’.  It’s always better to deliver something unexpected than fail to deliver what is expected.

 Apple now appears to be taking its customers for granted.  Two new, larger, iPhones that look similar to the handsets they’ve been selling for the last three years.  Yes, they are thinner, they have a few new bells and whistles [nothing that the competition hasn’t already launched] but they’re is little sign of the innovation that got customers standing in line for days ahead of launch.

The Apple Watch is another example of this complacency.  Having been rumoured for years the final [first generation] product was not what most had expected; it definitely wasn’t something that fits easily within the Apple product portfolio.

Apple now believes its own hype. It’s a dangerous position to be in and is the starting point for a fall from grace for Apple.  Whether the company believes it or just wants you to think that it does it sends out the wrong messages – internally and externally. Tim Cook’s over enthusiasm for what added up to less than historic… less than exciting product features and functions like the fact the iPhone 6 is 50% faster than the original [think of Moore’s law and the advances in processing power since the first iPhone was announced and then compare it with a 50% speed bump and tell me whether you’re still impressed] or the glee with which he announced it had trimmed a millimetre or two off of the height of the handset… Apple fanboys are starting to see through the reality distortion field.

The only people that don’t see through it appear to work for Apple.

 

PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

PR is Simple | THINK PR Espresso

Traditional PR programs are full of things that add budget, effort and activity – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I presented at ProductCamp Toronto this weekend and a lot of the conversation was about how to avoid feature-creep – the continued addition of one thing after another for fear of missing something that will make it attractive to customers.

Simple is best, but it requires continual reviews and mental strength to avoid features or, in the case of public relations, marketing and publicity, activities creeping on to the plan that add no real value. Today’s PR Espresso explains how you can start to simplify your PR, marketing and publicity programs today.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: keep it simple, stupid! 

PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

Where to do I find customers? | The THINK PR Espresso

Why is that most PR programs focus on awareness with as many people as possible in the hope that you find the ones you’re looking for? The people you want to build relationships with are probably closer than you think – they’re either within your extended network or are accessible through it.

Rather than playing an expensive game of “Where’s Waldo”, why not focus on figuring out who they are, who you already know that can help you start a conversation with them, and focus on a few people, rather than broadcasting to the masses, hoping your audience will hear you?

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: don’t play a game of ‘Where’s Waldo?” – identify the people that are critical to the successful achievement of your next milestone and focus on building relationships directly with them.

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PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

How PR helps turn “one-shot” opportunities in to an opportunity | THINK PR Espresso

During a Google Hangout looking at Lean and Design Thinking I was asked how a startup can use PR when they only have one shot at making an impression.  My response? Don’t approach the situation as a one-shot opportunity – start a conversation that aims to find a mutual benefit for both sides.

Working for a traditional PR company in the UK a few years ago I was tasked with building a new practice within the business.  Rather than calling people hawking public relations services I spent time researching the company I was approaching, called them and asked questions and made a deliberate choice not to try to sell.  [Let’s face it, the chances of getting a sale by phoning asking if they were looking to buy PR services on the day I called were slim].

By asking questions, getting to know more about the people and organizations I was speaking with I was able to understand which presented opportunities, understand the specific commercial or communication challenges each faced, and started conversations that ultimately led to business.  It also helped me identify the companies that would never want what I was offering – which saved me time, money and effort.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: play a long game and focus on building relationships, rather than treating people as transactions.

PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

Social Media Best Practice | The THINK PR Espresso

Read this post, “Things can go wrong in Social. Quickly!” for an update on this post.

At the end of last week I read an article on Technorati by Shane Paul Neil, entitled, “Technology, self-promotion and the death of public relations.  It’s one of many to make this claim recently.  It’s also one of many written by authors that don’t understand public relations – confusing publicity with PR.

Had the article focused on publicity I would have agreed with most of the points that Shane makes.  The fact that it focuses on public relations means that most of his opinions on why he believes PR is dead or dying are wrong.  Just plain wrong.  The problem is that Shane doesn’t have a PR background: he works as a social strategist and while, when I questioned him on Twitter about his experience of public relations, he had the correct definition, his understanding of what that looks like is incorrect.

It’s a problem I’ve written about many times.  The majority of so-called ‘professionals’ working in the PR industry don’t know the difference and have done an excellent job at misinforming customers and complementary industries like marketing and publicity about what it is we do. It’s something I want to change and challenging people that write in, supposedly credible media outlets, when they get it wrong is the first stage.

Technorati, Public Relations, Publicity, Social Media

Having added a comment, which was in ‘moderation’ for almost a day [and which has subsequently been deleted] I took to Twitter.  What were the author’s PR credentials/experience? It turns out I was right – he has none.  But, what happened next is something that every company can learn from.  It’s an example of how to use social media to engage people.

My usual experience of trying to have a conversation about an article – where I have constructive criticism [OK, sometimes the constructive looks a lot like frustrated irritation] – is that I get no response.  Either that or I get a firm rebuttal or the digital equivalent of “f*@! you’ – people usually don’t like being asked to support their position with evidence or experience.  A social ‘conversation I’d had with AirPR earlier in the week was a prime example of this approach. I’d questioned the company’s position that PR is actually customer marketing [it fundamentally misunderstands the difference between PR and marketing]

This was different.

Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter

After an initial back and forth, a conversation broke out.  I went from irritation about the piece to appreciating the opportunity to have the conversation – to make and debate my opinion with Shane. What’s more – rather than trying to make sure that the publication didn’t see my comments, Shane got the Managing Editor at Technorati in on the conversation.  There was talk about a series of views on the topic because the original piece had highlighted passionate responses from a number of people and with a range of differing perspectives.

This is social media as it is supposed to be used. It’s not about publicity – self-or otherwise.  It’s not about broadcasting a message and labelling people that agree friends, while labelling those that don’t trolls.  Social Media’s value is about the discussion; the conversation; the opportunity to change perceptions in real-time. It’s an extension of the owned internet, where organizations and individuals have the opportunity to publish their opinions – and start conversations where all opinions are welcomed [unless you really are a troll!].

Shane showed that, while he doesn’t understand PR, he understands the power of social media as a communications tool.  I started out questioning whether he had anything of value to add to the discussion about the future of communications and found, where social is concerned, he does.  He probably understands more about PR than most ‘PR’ people.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: social media is about conversation.  The tools are just that – tools.  You still need the basic skills required to use them for best effect.

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