All too frequently, companies and their PR consultants parts ways less than amicably. Many times, it's the PR firm that breathes a sigh of relief when the entities part ways.
While there are plenty of reasons for interactive companies to , there are lots of ways that clients screw up as well. We've fired our share of clients before, and when we got together to discuss writing about it, we both laughed at the fact that we came up with the same reasons. Want to know why it's not working between you and your PR firm? See if any of these might apply to how your firm regards you and your important "story."
Co-author George Simpson is president of George H. Simpson Communications.
It is unrealistic to expect top-tier publications like Business Week or Fast Company to cover every single startup that emerges. These types of profiles are rarer than you may think. Stories usually develop through the deep relationships that reporters and companies foster over a very long period of time -- think months, not weeks.
In addition, reporters will want substantive information to generate a compelling story about you, including very specific details about your finances, burn rate, sales, and competition, as well the reasons why your business plan changes over time. If you don't want to disclose this information, you can't expect any coverage, let alone good coverage.
Overselling to reporters
Don't deliver a hackneyed, clichéd sales pitch to reporters. They are used to hearing these from everyone else and it won't impress them. Don't give a reporter a PowerPoint presentation, hyperbolic adjectives to describe why you are better than everyone else, or false claims about your company. Also, the minute differences between the technologies you and your competitors use are irrelevant.
If you want to retain a reporter's interest and build the credibility that is necessary for long-term relationships, use credible language. Explain what your company does, and do it simply, only in terms of benefits to buyers, sellers, and/or consumers. Talk about your unique points and what you bring to the table without using jargon. If you can connect with a reporter successfully, you will definitely be able to connect with the public and, most importantly, potential clients.
Desire for special financial treatment
You feel that your small size warrants a discount with your PR firm. As a small company, however, you will need much more labor to build the relationships with reporters that larger, more established companies already have. Because you still need to prove that you will succeed, it is riskier to work with you.
More labor and higher risk equals higher cost. If you can't finance your public relations efforts, you probably shouldn't take them on. And if you take on the obligation, you should honor it. Small companies often have less cash on hand and therefore can't always meet regular payments, but if you want to build a strong rapport with your PR team, you need to pay them on time. Anything else will generate bad will to people you hired, after all, to talk about you.
You hired your PR team for outreach, not administration. You should not inundate your PR firm with filling out reports, approving press releases, pitches, and phone calls. You should also keep group meetings to a minimum. The bottom line is that the more you subject your PR firm to red tape, the less value you will gain from their efforts. If your PR consultant is on the phone with your assistant account executive educating them about why it's important to identify a client that makes a good a reference, then there are larger problems than just wasted time.
Focus on noise, not substance
You should recognize that more news doesn't translate into more presence. The opposite may be true, in fact. If you constantly blast out releases on wire services just to "get the word out," you are more likely to end up in someone's spam folder. If you want to tell someone a story, isn't it more effective to tell the whole story at once rather than in bits and pieces? A story built succinctly and coherently for a full-length feature will resonate more than one pieced together in intervals. Think in terms of "crying wolf" and get every story right, one at a time.
No one is talking about you
Your clients are your mouthpieces and can share valuable information that makes you look good. You should be willing to ask them to provide positive references that you can use in future marketing efforts. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking a client, make a habit of putting provisions in your contracts that will allow you to discuss your work when courting new prospects.
Your PR team can help you negotiate these conversations, but if you don't complete any of the legwork yourself, you are once again not optimizing your PR team's time. If your PR team has to manage this element of your relationships with clients, it will have less time for other valuable outreach efforts on your behalf. At the same time, it means your team will get to know your clients better, and move toward working with them directly in the future.
PR is much more science than art, despite popular perceptions of the trade. Well-executed strategies can produce fantastic results that have many times the impact of any advertising campaign. There are many firms and individuals who can deliver these strategies, but none of them can do it in a vacuum. Your PR team is only as good as you let it be.
With all that said, remember that when well-executed PR succeeds, it can succeed with an unmatchable impact and lasting upside. Even one solid hit is worth more than you might be willing to admit. After all, if you've read this far, ask yourself, have you noticed the advertising alongside this column?