Communications

How to Select the Right PR Firm

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

For many smaller and mid-sized organizations, media relations isn't a stand-alone function.

It's an activity that is either a small part of someone's job or is tag-teamed by multiple people.

Often, that's enough to get the job done.

But there are times when your in-house resources simply aren’t enough and you need to hire some outside help.

Finding a consultant or freelancer, though, can be a daunting task.

But by answering some key questions up front -- and being selective -- you stand a good chance of getting the help you need (and at a price you can afford).

Knowing When to Hire

So when should you consider outsourcing your media relations work?

Here are a few situations when it might make sense:

  • You are embarking on a new strategy or launching a new product. An outside firm can use its experience in media relations to help you identify key messages and execute a campaign that will help explain your new initiative to your target audiences.

  • You’ve been thrown into the center of a controversy and you don’t have enough in-house support to develop a communications strategy for handling the crisis—and for handling the media inquiries that accompany it. Without the right help, you run the risk of damaging your nonprofit's reputation and its ability to raise money.

  • You are looking to help an expert develop her voice as a thought leader, but she doesn't have much experience writing opinion pieces, delivering speeches, or appearing before the camera. An outside firm can work with you to identify opportunities, develop ghostwritten pieces, or provide media and speech training services.

  • You are looking to generate media attention outside of your local market and decide that you need the support of an outside firm that already has the contacts and credibility to help your organization get noticed by out-of-town or national media members.


In each of the cases above — and in many others — an outside agency or specialist can help you achieve results that would be difficult to achieve with your existing resources.

Questions to Answer

How can you make sure you find a firm or individual who won't waste your time or squander your money?

If you do your homework, you can often find experts who specialize in the type of media work you need (such as crisis communications, media training, or ghostwriting). And some firms specialize in working with organizations like yours.

To find the right expert or firm, it helps to answer a few key questions up front:

  • What are we looking to achieve? It always helps to know your goals before you start shopping for a consultant or firm. Once you've honed in on what you want to achieve, search for companies and people who specialize in meeting your needs. If you’re looking for help with a national campaign, for example, a local firm might not be the best fit. If you’re looking to develop your presence with a specific audience, you might search for companies that have experience with media outlets that hit that audience.

  • What is your timeline? Are you looking for something short term? Or do you need ongoing help? Having an idea of your needs will help you provide potential consultants with the parameters they need to bid on your project.

  • What is your budget? Before you start your search, have a sense of how much money you are willing to invest in the effort. Many consultants can design a scope of work for you that fits your budget. And if they aren't able to provide you with what you need for your budget, they likely aren't the right fit for you in the first place. Often, you can weed out a lot of bad fits by talking budget up front -- and you can avoid getting proposals that are out of scale with what you're able to afford.

Finding the Right Fit

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to go shopping.

But it’s often difficult to know where to start. To narrow your choices, think about the type of partner that best fits your needs.

For most, your choice will fall into one of three categories:

Big firms

Name-brand marketing and PR firms often have a wide range of capabilities. For instance, they can not only design your strategy, but they can also train staff, write press releases, and conduct media outreach on your behalf.

If your needs are extensive, such a firm might be your best bet. But there are often drawbacks. Some larger firms put their less experienced staff members on projects for nonprofits or take a more cookie-cutter approach to their work. If you’re looking at a bigger, full-service firm, take the time to find out who will actually be working with your organization and whether they have experience working with nonprofits and connecting with reporters who cover your areas of interest.

Specialty firms

If you already have some internal resources for its media relations or has a specific need or project, a speciality, or boutique, firm might be your best bet. A specialty firm might not have the range of capabilities of a full-service company, but if your needs are more specific or short term, it can often give you exactly what you need. You're also more likely to be working closely with a high-level expert than a junior staffer.

Freelancers

If your budget is smaller, or if you simply need an extra set of hands to carry out your strategy, you can hire a freelancer. Freelancers often need more direction and specific assignments. But they are also often able to provide you with what you need, quickly. And they can often do it for a lower cost than a firm.


Still need help? I'm happy to help you identify your needs and give you advice on finding the right consultant.

Drop me a line for guidance.

5 Communications Trends to Watch in 2019

If you’ve worked in communications for more than a hot minute, you’ve discovered that technology doesn’t wait for you to catch up.

As soon as you think you’ve figured out how to engage effectively on social media or how to get your website to score well on search, the rules change.

That’s especially true today, as online and mobile technology continues to evolve. If you’re not keeping up with the changes, you’re likely to be falling behind.

Here are 5 trends that we’ve been paying attention to that are likely to impact your communications in 2019:

1. Facebook's Faceplant?

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  www.shopcatalog.com

Flickr Creative Commons photo by www.shopcatalog.com

If you use Facebook Pages as part of your social media marketing strategy, you’ve likely noticed that it’s a lot harder to get people to like, comment, and share your posts.

The reason isn’t you. It’s Facebook. 

study by Buffer found that top Facebook Pages have seen a 50 percent decline in engagement over an 18-month period — despite the fact that most top brands are posting a lot more regularly to their pages.

That alarming decline in engagement is largely the result of changes made by Facebook to its algorithm that gives posts from your friends higher value than posts from brands.

Algorithms aside, though, I see this as just the start of Facebook’s diminishing value to communicators. Facebook is losing trust — and users — and I don’t see that trend reversing itself.

With that in mind, we’re advising many of our clients to put fewer eggs in their Facebook basket and instead place them elsewhere.


2. User-Generated Video for Grownups

Gather Voices is a promising tool for organizations that are looking to create user-generated video.

It’s no secret that authentic, user-generated video is often much more powerful than the big-budget, carefully-created videos that are often created by nonprofits and businesses. 

And it’s getting easier for organizations that don’t appeal to younger audiences to encourage their supporters and customers to create accessible, sharable videos.

New tools such as Gather Voices are helping nonprofits and small businesses encourage their supporters and customers to shoot and publish short videos right from their phones — and you don’t need fancy editing skills to get them processed and posted.

We’re testing Gather Voices as part of a contest for the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum — and we are looking forward to sharing what we've learned later this winter.


3. Livestreaming Goes Mainstream


An estimated 150 million people are using Twitch each month to watch people play video games, make crafts or engage in activities like singing and dancing.

And lest you dismiss Twitch and other live streaming platforms as playgrounds for the young, consider this: nonprofits like Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America are using live streaming to raise millions.

If you aren’t yet exploring live streaming as a communications channel, it might be time to start. It’s a great place for nonprofits and companies alike to build partnerships that can help bolster their bottom lines.

4. The Changing Face of Search

If you’re only using traditional SEO tactics to help drive visitors to your website, you might be missing out a on major shift in how Google is serving up search results.

Google My Business — a free tool that integrates with Google Maps and is responsible for most of the “above the fold” results that are served up to users when they conduct searches.

This shift is especially important for businesses that have physical storefronts and rely on location-based searches to drive customers into their shops.

As you build your online and mobile strategy for 2019, it’s time to assess whether you’re leveraging Google My Business, and whether it might be worth investing some of your resources in building your listing or investing in a service like ASAPMaps.

5. Unlikely Content Marketing Channels

Finally, as we pursue content marketing and earned media strategies for nonprofits and businesses, we’re increasingly finding great opportunities with business-to-consumer and business-to-business web channels.

For instance, a number of national brands such as American Express and Progressive Insurance produce regular, how-to content aimed at small business owners. And they’re regularly looking for expert sources who can provide insights on topics of interest to these markets.

If you’re looking to build your own thought leadership presence, it’s worth going beyond your own channels and traditional media outlets and finding niche channels that might help you connect directly with your target audiences.


What trends are you watching in 2019? I’d love to hear what has you excited as we head into the New Year. Shoot me a note to chat!

Make the Most of December: 5 Holiday Hacks for Communicators

Flickr Creative Commons photo

Flickr Creative Commons photo

We’re heading into the home stretch. 

Black Friday is behind us, Giving Tuesday is upon us, and the ever-busy month of December awaits.

For communicators, December offers some unique opportunities to get your message out and the chance to lay the groundwork for a strong start in 2019. 

Let’s dive in with some ways to make the most of the last month of 2018. 

Wrap the year up right 
The old newsroom standard—the year-in-review story—can be your friend in December. It’s usually a light lift to look back through the highlights from the past year and piece them together for a year-in-review story or series of blog posts.  For internal communicators, it’s a great way to reinforce key messages, highlight successes, and set a tone for the coming year. For nonprofits, a year in review reminds donors and volunteers of the great work you did in the previous year and provides a platform to say thank you to your biggest boosters. 

Procrastinate no more
The year is winding down and that long-awaited, much-talked-about website refresh is still stuck in neutral. We get it, website refreshes are like the Land of Misfit Toys of the communications world. They never seem to get the attention they need with other priorities always seeming to squeeze them out. December is good month to break the cycle by crafting an action plan to get it done. Commit to lining up the resources you need and create a timeline to get that stale website refreshed and relaunched in the first quarter of 2019. 

Tug some heart strings
News reporters can’t resist is a feel-good holiday story. If your organization has a heartwarming success story – particularly one with a timely Christmas or holiday hook— start pitching. Such stories are easy to find at many nonprofits. For businesses, maybe you can repurpose an internal story about an employee whose making a real difference in the community could be pitched to an external news outlet. Whether it’s a story focuses on client you helped or an employee making a difference, make sure before you pitch that they are willing to participate and know the story’s angle. It’s also a good idea to prep them for the interview so they can think about how much of their story they’re comfortable sharing.

Be resolute
According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. That means the odds are against those of us who are using the new year to set new goals. To beat those odds, take specific actions now that will make it easier to stick to your resolutions once the new year begins. That could be as simple as scheduling meetings now that will keep you on track through the first half of the year, or  signing up for a conference or webinar that focuses on a skill you want to strengthen. Last week, for example, we talked about the importance of getting an early jump on your annual report. Establishing a firm timeline now and lining up the resources you need will help keep the project on track. 

Say thanks
I just read an article about how Chik-fil-A is killing its competition with kindness. More specifically, the fact that their employees are trained to say please and thank you is reportedly having a big impact on their bottom line. Makes sense to me. A simple thank you to customers, volunteers, donors, employees, friendly reporters…just about anyone goes a long way. 

And finally ...

Peter and I would like to say thank you to our great clients and the many friends and supporters of Turn Two Communications. We couldn’t do it without you! 

We’re looking forward to a great 2019 – which will feature our refreshed website … we promise! 

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged.