We’ve long said that the traditional approach to PR is dead, but now others are starting to ask the same question. But is it murder, or something more sinister?
You know the 80:20 rule, right? 80 percent of your new business comes from 20 percent of your customer-base – so why do the majority of companies not spend the same proportion of their marketing energy, resources and budget on one-fifth of their customers and audience-base?
Public relations can help an entrepreneur grow their business – but there are often huge barriers to entry. Retainers are expensive, it is often unclear what a PR agency does, and many small businesses don’t feel they’ve the outcomes they wanted from public relations.
Here are ten things you should know before hiring a PR agency for your startup or small business.
1. If the first question an agency asks is, ‘what’s your budget?’ keep looking.
2. PR is about more than just media relations. Most agencies sell media pitching services [publicity] and call it public relations. If they don’t understand the fundamentals of public relations and are unlikely to be able to help you build the relationships you need to grow your business.
3.You don’t have to pay for a retainer. Public relations programs should ebb and flow in parallel with your business and a retainer is simply a revenue guarantee for the agency.
4. Understand what you want the outcomes of a PR program to be. Set commercial objectives, not just hard to measure ‘awareness’ or ‘coverage’ or, the PR agency favourite, thought-leadership!
5. Expect to do some ground work before you do any outbound PR work. Defining your audiences, fine-tuning your value proposition, getting the message right and figuring out the best way to deliver it are key pieces of an effective PR program.
6. The value of a public relations professional is in the advice you get, not in the activity done on your behalf. Most agencies charge based on the volume of activity they do, not on the quality of the advice they give.
7. PR is about more than just media relations. Most agencies sell media pitching services [publicity] and call it public relations. If they don’t understand the fundamentals of public relations and are unlikely to be able to help you build the relationships you need to grow your business.
8. You should be doing your own media outreach. Public relations is a strategic process of building relationships and if somebody else does your media work THEY have the relationships.
Journalists would also much rather to talk with you than a paid spokesperson. Hiring a PR agency often puts another barrier between you and the people who will help you grow your business.
9. Public relations should be something that touches all parts of your business – from sales to marketing, customer service to front of house.
10. Less is, often, more. Quality always tops quantity and an effective PR plan will deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time and using the right delivery mechanism.
Also, review what you’re doing regularly. Public relations agencies traditionally do annual reviews but in today’s real-time internet world you should be reviewing your PR plan at least every 30 days. It will enable you to make small tweaks and changes that will increase its effectiveness.
Steve Balmer says that the Startup community has a cultural problem. Commenting at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford he said that there is an, incorrect, expectation that success and failure come quickly. The same is true for using public relations to build relationships. Those that are patient and persevere, however, are more likely to build a sustainable business.
Two words that I’m hearing online and in media interviews – friends and folks. The first is increasingly used before a request for help – to share something or do something to increase their credibility online – or to get people to pay attention because, well a friend would, wouldn’t they?! The second, is increasingly used after a statement to normalize it or to try and implore you to believe what has come before because the user is just like you. Cut them some slack won’t you?
The two terms are – to my mind – used increasingly as communications tactics and are becoming increasingly ineffective. I wonder why they’re using them – unless I really am their friend or ‘folks’ is a term that they’ve used for years. Too often these terms are being used to manipulate; to win favour; for their advancement. Not because it’s sincere.
So, next time you hear somebody address you as a ‘friend’ or as a ‘folk’ stop for a second and ask yourself why!
I wrote recently about the myth that all PR and publicity is good. I couldn’t have hoped for a better example of this than Rob Ford on the Jimmy Kimmel show last night. Far too often public relations companies sell only media coverage – often driven by their customers desire to be seen in the pages of every possible publication – in print and, increasingly, on line – without any consideration about whether this is the right strategy.
All too often much of the media coverage achieved by public relations companies goes to waste – either because it’s not read by the right audience, or because the interview fails to deliver the right message. Sometimes, it’s opening up a can of worms that the customer doesn’t want opening but, because they’ve been told that all PR is good PR – people will see the brand or spokesperson name [called visibility or awareness] – they walk head-first in to an ambush, as Rob Ford did last night. He appears to be the only person that didn’t see it coming!
I often talk to customers about Apple’s approach to PR, publicity and marketing. The company is selective. Some would call them secretive. It doesn’t talk to everybody and it doesn’t talk to the media until it has something to say. It spends the majority of its time building strong and long-lasting relationships with the journalists, analysts and influencers that matter. It invests in the people that can help it build relationships with a wider audience.
Most importantly, focusing on only a small number media opportunities – the right opportunities – and on building relationships rather than a steady stream of press hits – Apple gets the outcomes it wants. It gets the adoration of the right media outlets when it has a new product to launch and doesn’t get battered by the media when things don’t go to plan. Admittedly, the iPhone 5C and Antenna Gate aren’t on the same scale as smoking crack cocaine while in elected office or insulting the Chief of Police in Jamaican patois… but it could have been had Apple not built the right relationships, but spent time, money and energy chasing every media opportunity available.
Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’
At the end of last year I went to the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario and I saw the future of marketing communications. If you’re in the business of communications, “David Bowie is” – a V&A exhibition – is a glimpse at the future of our industry. It’s an example of what is possible.
The exhibit – I call it an exhibit, but it was really an experience – and is a masterclass in how to use many of the key elements that will define the way businesses communicate with their audiences in the next few years. It brings together location, multi-media and static content and retailing to create a memorable experience, build relationships [if you didn’t know Bowie at the start of the exhibit you definitely will by the end] and leads visitors to a Bowie merchandise shop before they leave. Want to learn about how to take an audience on a journey, ‘David Bowie is‘ will teach you everything you need to know.
“The concept came from co-curator Geoffrey Marsh and me! We knew from the outset that we wanted to create an exhibition based on Sound and Vision [and] we did not want the exhibition to look or feel like any that we had ever been to, (and we have been to many).”, explains Victoria Broackes, co-curator of the exhibition.
It delivers. At the AGO the exhibit was split over two floors and took visitors on a journey through the life and music of David Bowie, guided by a headset. The headset played a combination of audio commentary, music and David Bowie in his own words as you moved from exhibit to exhibit.
“We wanted to bring something of Bowie’s own theatrical and pioneering spirit into the design and narrative of the exhibition. We fixed on the idea of using 59 Productions whose live performance/opera work integrating 3D with AV was cutting edge – but in order to work within museum constraints (conservation, security etc.) we needed to bring them together with a company who excel at museum exhibitions such as Real Studios.”, explains Broackes
But, far from simply processing visitors from start to finish the track played the appropriate content depending on your precise location – seemingly knowing when you’d gone back to look at something you’d already seen. The syncing was seamless – as you turned to look at a video screen the audio changed to match it. Within the larger exhibit the headset appeared to know in which direction you were looking – providing the audio for the screen that was being watched, rather than the one behind you.
“The use of geo-location technology was decided early on“, explained Victoria Broackes. “…but equally to mix it up with ‘out-loud’ sound in places (because I, in particular, was concerned to lose the sociability of a visit to a V&A exhibition), and also, at the end of the exhibition to turn the visitors into an audience.
“We also talked to Sennheiser very early in the process. The end result was due to the fabulous team we’d been able to bring together – Geoff and I didn’t know what was possible, but we knew the sort of results we hoped to achieve. 59, Real and Sennheiser did an amazing job of realizing those ambitions.”
And the result of those ambitions is just incredible. It also disproves anybody that says location-based marketing isn’t possible. In one room, for example, – no more 12 feet square – there’s a checker board effect on the floor and nine video screens. As you move from one square to another the audio changes to match the corresponding monitor. There was no audio bleed, no tricking the technology by moving back and forth between squares quickly [I tried!] and the moment you stepped out of the room you couldn’t access the audio dedicated to the room.
“I think again the key exciting thing was the ability to bring together people working in different disciplines and see them spark off each other. We started creating the exhibition just over two years before opening, a very short time in exhibition terms.
“It is important with most exhibitions to retain their integrity at different venues, but with this exhibition it’s essential. We were thrilled by how well that had been achieved at the AGO with such a different space, and hope we will be able to do that at every venue on the worldwide tour.
“We’ve insisted that 59 Productions are employed to oversee the design as the exhibition goes around the world and that we as curators are consulted on every change that may be necessary. The important thing to remember is that an exhibition is not just a collection of objects, although it might seem like one! The concept and presentation of that collection of objects is absolutely vital to how it’s perceived. That’s why we put so much effort into getting the designers and the design right.”
Without location ‘David Bowie is‘ would be a collection of exhibits; with it, it creates an unforgettable experience that very few that see it will ever forget. But the success of the exhibition is more than location; it’s about more than David Bowie; it’s about more than his music – it’s about bringing all of these things together with a vision.
“Without wanting to sound weird”, says Victoria Broackes, “…there were parallels learnt from doing an exhibition about David Bowie, and seeking to incorporate Bowie spirit into it.
“Controlling the creative process at the same time as embracing collaboration and challenging ourselves were all a part of the process, but so was the principle of adopting ideas from other disciplines. Overall perhaps the biggest Bowie–ish element was being true to what we believed in, even in the face of opposition. This exhibition was certainly the most challenging that I’ve ever worked on, and there were moments of opposition and of self doubt when it would have been much easier to give in.
But in the end it was the challenging details that usually made the difference, so I’ve learnt to stick to my guns, stand up for what I believe in and on occasion to push things to the limits (if that doesn’t sound too dangerous!).
The exhibit was was hosted at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, after stopping in Toronto it headed to Sao Paulo, where it will be until April 20. Over the next couple of years it will also go to Berlin, Chicago’s MOCA, Paris and Groningen. More information about David Bowie is can be found here http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/touring-exhibition-david-bowie-is/
All images are installation shots of David-Bowie is| Courtesy David Bowie Archive © Victoria and Albert Museum London
I’ve written about the problems at BlackBerry frequently. I wrote back in early 2012 that unless the company fixed it’s perception problems it was effectively dead. I commented on the botched BlackBerry 10 launch that former CEO Thorsten Heins claimed would turnaround the company’s fortunes. More recently, I’ve watched as the company’s stock price has gone violently up and down on one announcement or other: up on the perception of positive news and down on stories that were seen as negative. All major public relations fails.
Fig 1. BlackBerry stock price Feb 24 – 28 2014
Fig 2. BlackBerry 2000 – present
Despite what most of my peers think, public relations isn’t about press coverage. It’s about relationship building. The stronger the relationships the easier managing perception becomes – and vice versa… and this is something that BlackBerry has still failed to grasp. Had it spent time building the strong relationships with its Enterprise customer base, operator partners, journalists and analysts [industry and financial] it wouldn’t be where it finds itself today. Had BlackBerry worked on fixing its perception as a company in mortal danger and at the mercy of its competition’s every move its stock price profile over the last 6, 12 and 18 months wouldn’t resemble a range of mountains.
Is it too late for BlackBerry? Probably. But if they ditched the BlackBerry name – using it only for the cellular devices rather than company -, renamed the company QNX and started using public relations to build relationships with the people late matter most to their business. $BBRy should work on rebuilding relationships with Enterprise CIOs, making decisions on BYOD and security technologies within the largest Blackberry adopters/installs; they should ditch their consumer market play – and their virtual keyboard handsets and focus on the Q10,
$BBRY should also focus on developing an Enterprise ecosystem that works as well for large organizations as it does for small businesses and startups. Help an entrepreneur start to build their business and he/she is unlikely to ever forget it. Trust me – it’s likely to be loyalty for life!
But, what $BBRY needs to get started on creating and rolling out a very targeted strategic and tactical public relations program. It needs to identify who the key people are that it needs to build relationships with, what it needs to say and do to in order to change their perception of the company – and it needs to do it soon. It may be too late to do anything before the company’s next earnings report on March 28th but if the company has any chance of long-term survival then changing the perception of the company has to be priority number one.
Did you see Maserati’s first TV advert? What did you think? I’ve watched it… I don’t know how many times and every time I watch it I’m impressed. Very impressed. Many people didn’t understand it when it ran. Most hadn’t heard of the Marque, let alone the Ghibli brand. Questions and analysis about the advert quickly spread on Twitter. What was the 90 second spot all about?
Most Super Bowl adverts use humour or celebrity. Most are showy. This one was like watching a trailer for a movie – I keep thinking the Will Smith movie ‘After Earth’ should have done something similar. But the Maserati advert wasn’t really an advert, it was a public relations tactic. A masterpiece. It was the start of rebuilding relationships with customers that had purchased the ill-fated Ghibli of the 1980s; customers of other four-door sedans who secretly wanted an Italian sports sedan, but couldn’t afford the $140,000 for a Quattreporte. Strike was about saying we’ve watched and learned; we’ve listened; and now we’re back.
UPDATE: The company reported that it closed 2014 with its best year ever in North America, with sales growth of 169%. It sold 13,411 vehicles in the year; 12,844 of them after the Super Bowl spot ran. Assuming an average of 100,000 per vehicle [the Ghibli starts at $67,000 with the Quattroporte costing between $108 and $140,000] that’s revenues somewhere in the region of a $1.2bn on an estimated $20m [space plus spot production] investment in public relations.