Newsletter

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.

A PR Professional's Guide to Journalism Matchmaking Services

Services like HARO and ProfNet can help you get in front of reporters working on active news stories.

Services like HARO and ProfNet can help you get in front of reporters working on active news stories.

You don't have to rely solely on your own pitches to get quoted or cited in the media.

Sometimes, you can get coverage by connecting with journalists when they are looking to find an expert as they report their own stories.

But how can you make sure you get the reporter's call when she or he needs a source in your subject area?

One way is to sign up for an online service in which reporters and bloggers solicit sources for their stories.

These matchmaking services offer you a chance to get daily queries from writers who are working on assigned stories.

The best-known service is HARO -- or Help a Reporter Out. Three times every day, HARO delivers an email to sources that includes dozens of queries from reporters who are looking for experts. 

The reporters provide descriptions of the stories they are working on -- and the type of expertise they are seeking.

Potential sources can reply to each relevant query and say why they should be considered as an expert for the story.

But while HARO is the biggest and best-known service, it is far from the only game in town.

Other options include:

ProfNet -- ProfNet is built for public relations professionals who want to find opportunities to pitch their organizations to journalists. You can set up an online profile and set preferences for the types of queries you are interested in seeing.

When journalists are looking for sources to help them when covering breaking news stories and events, they’ll browse the database and — if you match what they’re looking for — reach out to you for comment.

SourceBottle -- SourceBottle is an online matchmaking service that connects journalists with sources. It includes a searchable online database of active queries, which makes it easy for time-strapped PR professionals to find queries that line up with their areas of expertise.

PitchRate -- PitchRate provides queries — mainly from bloggers and websites — that are looking for experts to comment or provide written materials for publication.

Each of these services can be quite useful for showcasing your expertise, connecting with reporters, and building relationships.

But they can also cost you a lot of time if you don’t use them smartly.

In my next post, I’ll provide some advice on how to stand out from the crowd when you’re using HARO, ProfNet, or another PR matchmaking service.

SEO: Storytelling Equals Opportunity

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Once upon a time, the Internet gave birth to something called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. 

As its name suggests, SEO was cold and calculating.

It was also quite imperfect — and easy to manipulate.

Robots and ‘content farms’ gamed the system by cranking out keyword-riddled clickbait and unreadable copy.

Often, the most useful — and best — content was buried in search results, left behind by computer-generated garbage.

But then Google — the Dr. Frankenstein in this story — decided to try to reign in the monster it had inadvertently created.

Google took a good hard look at what had happened with SEO and vowed to make big changes

It placed increased value on well-crafted stories aimed at helping people solve problems, learn new things, or be inspired to action. 

Instead of putting too much value on the almighty keyword, Google aimed to reward humans beings writing real human thoughts and sharing real human emotions.

There is still much work to be done, and certainly new challenges await, but SEO has started to become real.

To honor this ongoing transformation, when you’re thinking about your content through the lens of SEO, I challenge you to think about it not only as Search Engine Optimization.

Think about it under a new rubric: Storytelling Equals Opportunity.

Instead of keyword density, focus on finding good stories and telling them well.

Certainly, pay attention to technical fundamentals of sound SEO.

Yet, ultimately, you’ll be rewarded if you get to know your audiences better and then execute on a thoughtful content strategy that focuses on telling stories that connect with those who matter most.

Press Release Makeovers: 10 Steps to a Stronger, Firmer Pitch

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

In a world where news reporters are bombarded with news releases, it doesn’t take much for otherwise interesting pitches to get thrown carelessly into the ‘no’ pile.

If you want to improve your chances of getting your story covered, you have to do whatever it takes to capture the imagination of reporters and editors.

You need to be sharp and direct — and you need to be willing to stand out.

How do you do that?

I begins by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Flat Headlines

Your headline is your first impression -- and the headline for each release should tell the reporter immediately why what you're pitching is important to his or her audience. 

Often, news release headlines are long and dry, like a college textbook, when they should be short and pack a punch, like a movie poster. 

Resist the urge to tell your entire story in the headline and devote some time to crafting a headline that aims to grab the attention of your reader.

Your primary goal for the headline is to get the reporter or editor to keep reading, not to convey every key piece of information.

Hook 'em with the headline and save the details for the release.


Mistake 2: A Long, Repetitive Lead

Like your headline, the lead of your release is a crucial ingredient in grabbing a reporter's attention. Many news releases fail to hit the mark because the lead is either way too long or repeats (sometimes verbatim) the headline.

Try to avoid both of these mistakes by writing a short, direct lead that focuses on why what you're announcing is important and does so in a way that doesn't mirror the wording in your headline. Use your next paragraph to fill in any key facts.


Mistake 3: An Overly Manufactured Quote

Most of the quotes I see in press releases read more like boilerplate than an actual quote.

Your quote isn't just there to fill space. Ideally, it should give the reporter a ready-made quote that he or she can include in a story if time is short or if they are unable to interview that official.

Check out more advice on how to stand out from your peers and inject thoughtful quotes into your releases.

Mistake 4: Massive Paragraphs

Long, multi-sentence paragraphs work well in books and term papers.

But they don't work in news releases.

Long blocks of type are hard to read online, which is why you'll notice that most news stories you read have one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

There's a simple fix for this: your return key.

If you see long blocks of type in your draft, find some places where you can break your existing paragraphs into smaller chunks and hit "return".

Your reader will thank you -- and he or she will be less likely to lose interest.

Mistake 5: Too Much Information

A reporter who decides to cover your announcement isn't likely to create a multi-part series about your new initiative. With that in mind, you don't need your release to include every detail about what you're announcing.

Instead, focus on the most important stuff and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

If reporters are interested, they'll reach out to get additional information and conduct interviews. That is, after all, what they're paid to do.

Aim to keep it short -- no more than two pages, if possible. If you can keep it to one page, even better.

Mistake 6: Not Articulating Why Your Release Is Important

How do you keep your releases short and to the point? You start by figuring out why what you're announcing is important and then you focus your release on selling that importance.

This crucial step will help you with everything from finding the right headline, writing a tight lead, and incorporating an impactful quote.

It will also help you determine what details aren't necessary in the final release.

Mistake 7: Sloppy Copy

Your organization loses a lot of credibility if you send a release that isn't properly copy edited. Take the extra time to make sure every word is spelled correctly, every comma and semicolon is in the right place, and every sentence is written crisply.

A well-written release can help you stand out from the crowd. A sloppy one will also stand out -- but for all of the wrong reasons.

Mistake 8: Forgetting to Fact Check

What's worse than a misspelled word? An incorrect fact.

Make sure every fact included in your release has been properly verified and every number adds up.

A good reporter is going to check your facts before he or she files the story. If your statements are false or misleading, things will go south for you quickly.

Mistake 9: Leaving Out Your Contact Information

Back in my reporting days, I was always surprised by how many news releases left out a crucial piece of information: who to contact.

When you send your release, clearly identify who to contact and provide an email address and a telephone number.

If possible, make sure the number you provide is one that is monitored after business hours. Not all reporters work 9 to 5 -- and many of them are filing their stories in the evenings or on weekends.

If they need to check a fact or get more information on deadline, it's crucial for them to be able to reach someone quickly.

Mistake 10: Sending It to the Wrong Person

Of course, all of the advice above won't matter if your release never gets seen.

Before you send, make sure your media list is up to date and that you're sending your release to the appropriate reporter or editor. If possible, avoid sending to a general newsroom email address and instead find a real person.

Taking these steps won't guarantee you a placement. But they will greatly increase your odds.

Before you send your next release, take the time to avoid these pitfalls and your releases will start to get better results.