Here we go again: 5 reasons hiring a good PR firm is smart business

Here we go again: 5 reasons hiring a good PR firm is smart business
May 10, 2013 11:34 AM
Patrick Ward

I feel like I have this same argument at least twice a year when a disgruntled entrepreneur lambastes PR agencies. And I am invariably bemused when I dig deeper only to find the complainer has poured a bunch of negative experiences into a collective bucket and thrown the PR industry baby out with his or her personal bathwater.

So, following Kevin Leu’s recent post on “5 reasons you’ll regret hiring a PR firm for your startup,” here I go again, but this time I’ll mirror his points with my own five reasons you won’t regret hiring a good PR firm for your startup.

1. They will keep your story honest

I have always been a PR agency guy and have been working deeply with startups for almost my whole career — starting with companies like Sun and Autodesk in the late 1980s through launching Digital Chocolate and Webroot 10 years ago to companies like Evolv today. I have never met a CEO or founder who thought his or her product was anything but newsworthy.

Good PR agencies temper that enthusiasm and ingest some realism. No one wants to hear their company isn’t newsworthy, but some companies just aren’t. Good PR agencies keep it real and really good ones find other creative ways to communicate the company’s brand value. Bad PR people feed egos and apologize later — that serve’s no one’s interest. You want unfettered praise about your product or your company, it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, ask her. The more sober and honest you are about your story and your media goals, the more strategic you can be.

By the way, anyone who thinks a press release is anything more than search engine fodder isn’t paying attention. Releases have value, but no reporter worth his or her salt gleans stories from press releases. Press releases are for your web site and other, let us call them, receptive audiences (again Mother’s Day is Sunday). You want to tell a story? Write three good lines in an email to a reporter whom you know covers your company or industry. If you can’t hook them in three lines, you’ll never hook them. And if you don’t know who to send the email to, well then let’s move on to Point #2.

2. Their past experience means they know the right reporters and outlets

I have worked with Pulitzer Prize winners. I’ve worked with arrogant sloths. Some of my best friends are reporters. I’ve hung around them since my days drinking with the staff of Electronic News in 1986. That means my experiences color, influence, and inform every client engagement I take. My past successes don’t mean I can always make a future client successful, but they do mean I have access. If the story is good, it will get a hearing — and that’s a valuable thing in this competitive world. If it’s bad or even mediocre, all the contacts in the world won’t help. But if the story is good, then they can help immensely (see Point #1).

3. They may not know everything, but just might know more than you

There is something in the coffee at many PR agencies that makes junior and mid-level staff think they know much more than they sometimes do — but I’ll take a confident staffer over a tentative one any day. And remember one thing: they do this everyday, all day. So when an entrepreneur is dealing with QA or buying Aeron chairs, or in a board meeting, your PR agency is doing PR. So when they say it’s uncool to send a gift to a reporter after a story has hit, don’t send it. When they say is TA-reese, not TA-rez-A, listen to them. And when they say that your enterprise software story won’t work in TIME Magazine, they’re right. Oh, and don’t always assume they don’t understand sometimes arcane technology — like what a software abstraction layer is. Sure, some PR people are, shall we say, over-extended, but others are brilliant. Again: babies and bath water.

4. They’re thinking beyond publicity

The more brilliant ones are starting to think beyond publicity. Clients complain about inflated clip reports because that’s the only measure some smaller-minded clients can think of. Here’s a fun fact: According to a Pew study a few years ago (and it’s absolutely trending this way even more now), about 10 companies represent more than 40 percent of all tech press coverage. You know which companies they are; there in the press every day.

So guess what, your media chances just got sliced almost in half. Moral of the story: you had better find another way to communicate with your audiences. The good PR agencies are doing just that. But if a client insists on making buggy whips, well guess what, we’re going to show them how many horses there are on the street. And I can guarantee you, the most carefully crafted ideas — at this time when communications are undergoing such rapid change – are not going to come from the PR manager at your new startup.

5. They’re a better value than an internal employee

That brings me to my final point. Anyone who thinks a PR manager can do the work of a PR agency is either cheap, has never had a good PR firm, doesn’t really care, or some combination of all of the above. And don’t give me some financial analysis that shows an internal hire is cheaper. If that were true, you’d have formidable accounting and law departments at every company in the US and fewer accounting and law firms. And the fallacy that a $100,000 PR contract is better spent on one or two employees is especially ill-conceived. With payroll taxes and benefits, any employee actually costs about 20 percent more than a service contract.

But, here’s the real kicker: When you hire an employee, you only get that individual’s personal experience. When you hire an agency, you get the whole team’s perspective and background.

Finally, what do you think happens to that PR manager after six months? He or she realizes that the growth path inside the company is outside PR and he or she starts to attend a bunch of meetings to demonstrate their other skills and assess where they might contribute to the organization in a larger, more lucrative role. Then, they turn to you and say, “You know, with all the other stuff I’m doing beyond PR, I’m really not getting to my core function and I think we should consider hiring an agency.”

There are business reasons to hire or not hire a PR firm. Many reasons are valid. But to dismiss any option categorically or to blithely substitute one’s own poor experiences as a reflection on an industry is questionable advice.



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The Hidden Benefits of Social Media Marketing: Why Your Strategy May Be Working Better Than You Think

Stephanie Chandler, Contributor

Most businesses venture into social media expecting to see a big return on investment. The hope is that new customers will come in droves, and that the benefits and revenue generation will be huge. However, this is rarely the case. It takes time to build momentum with social media, and the benefits aren’t always as obvious as we would like.

If you’re feeling a bit skeptical about social media marketing and whether or not it’s worth the effort, following are some reasons why it may be working better than you realize.

1. Brand Recognition – One of the most powerful ways to use social media is as a brand-building tool. With social media, you get to decide how you want to position your company and what you want people to know about what you do. With consistent effort and great content, you can build a reputation for your brand around your company’s values, benefits, and advantages.

2. Community – There is nothing like social media when it comes to cultivating a community. When your followers become part of your community, you gain instant access to them. That means you can find out what challenges they are facing and what they like and don’t like about your offerings. You can engage in ongoing dialog that can be more valuable than any kind of paid market research.

3. Repeat Exposure – There is an old marketing adage that says it takes six to eight exposures to a product before a customer decides to buy. A clear benefit of social media is repeat exposure with your network. You have the opportunity to remind them over and over again about what you have to offer, which can shorten your sales cycles dramatically.

4. Authority – For coaches, consultants, authors, speakers, and other service-based businesses, social media can be very powerful in helping you establish authority in your field—making you the go-to resource for your target audience to seek out for help. Share great content, answer questions, and serve your audience, and you will inevitably build loyal fans.

5. Influence – As your following increases, your influence grows. Having a substantial social media audience creates a snowball effect that can attract new customers, media interviews, joint venture partnerships, and all kinds of other opportunities. It’s a bit like when you see a crowd hovered around something. You can’t help but want to see what all the fuss is about, so a large audience will only attract more interest.

6. Website Traffic – Many people don’t realize that social media can be a leading traffic generator. When you share blog posts, videos and other content from your website, you give your audience a reason to click through and visit your site. Once there, you have the opportunity to inspire those visitors to take action by inviting them to sign up for your mailing list, make a purchase, or call to schedule a free consultation. Install traffic monitoring service, such as Google Analytics, and if you are committed to your social media efforts, you will clearly see that social media brings traffic. Also, make sure that your visitors receive a clear call to action when they visit your site so that you can convert that extra traffic into business opportunities.

7. Ahead of the Curve – Whether you realize it or not, your prospects and clients are checking to see if you are engaging in social media. I always find it a bit odd when I’m investigating a potential service provider online and I can’t locate a social media presence or worse, I find Facebook pages that haven’t been updated in months, empty Twitter feeds, and a clear lack of interest in engaging. Social media isn’t a fad and it’s not going away. Even if it’s not your top priority, if you stay current with activity, your prospects will notice.

8. Mindshare with Lurkers – There may be days when you wonder if anyone is paying attention to your social media networks. But if your efforts are consistent, I guarantee that more people are paying attention than you realize. Give it time and you’ll start to understand what’s happening behind the anonymity of the internet. You will eventually hear from people who say, “I’ve been following you on Twitter for ages. I love your posts!”

9. Competitive Advantage – The reality is that most of your competitors aren’t likely doing a very good job with social media (most companies aren’t), which gives you the chance to stand out. Also consider the flip side. If you avoid social media, you leave a big opening that allows your competitors to capture your audience.

10. Big Wins – While many businesses large and small are trying to justify the cost and time investment for managing social media marketing, an important benefit often gets overlooked: Big Wins. For example, if someone from LinkedIn connects you with a significant government contract, then that would certainly qualify as a Big Win. If a major media outlet finds you on Twitter and interviews you for a national article, then that is also a Big Win—one that you can’t measure based on revenues directly generated.

Big Wins don’t happen often, but when they do, they make it all worthwhile. It’s easy to forget results like these six months down the road you’re trying to assess whether your social media efforts are paying off. But that one contract you landed could cover your social media marketing costs for years. And that major media interview could lead to subsequent interviews and a line item on your resume that impresses a corporate sponsor three years from now. Never forget to factor in the Big Wins in social media.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Raise awareness like this news anchor did. 


We are all for new ways to use social media to promote your brand and it looks like T-Mobile hit the nail on the head with this one…

T-Mobile launches ‘Twitter race’ as part of rebranding effort

Last month, T-Mobile’s TV-ad spokeswoman ditched pink sundresses for a black-and-pink leather motorcycle suit, to wear while blasting down the highway on a roaring motorbike.

The TV spots are one component of a rebranding effort for the cellular carrier, one that aims to make the company’s service synonymous with blazing-fast mobile data speeds. In early May, T-Mobile launched another portion of that campaign, prompting some of Twitter’s most influential users to race for a free phone.

“We were really looking at transforming a brand,” says Peter DeLuca, senior vice president of brand, advertising, and communications for the company. “We were going to change the impression of what you thought about the brand.”

The brand’s Twitter race certainly had an impact, with about 24,000 tweets over a 15-day period containing the company’s hashtag, #4GTweets.

Influences and influencers

T-Mobile isn’t the first brand to attempt something called a “tweet race.” In early 2011, Mercedes-Benz offered four teams the opportunity to compete in an “Amazing Race”-style dash to Dallas for a free car and Super Bowl tickets. Tweeting was also a component of the competition. T-Mobile eliminated the road-race part of the challenge.

“We landed on Twitter, because we really wanted people’s social graph to decide the race here,’” says Andrew Vitellaro, senior manager of social media for T-Mobile.

In January, the company tested a Twitter race at the CES trade show, and by mid-April, it was preparing its full-on 4G race.

Teaming with social media agency Big Fuel, the company teamed with social-media-ranking firm Klout to contact thousands of Twitter users with high Klout scores.

“We cast a huge, wide net,” Vitellaro says.

About 2,500 high-influence tweeters—whose follower counts extended up into the millions and whose influence extended into some unexpected areas, such as relationship advice—agreed to reach out to their networks about the tweet race, he says.

And they’re off

In the last few days of April, T-Mobile sponsored several stories on Mashable and did some promotion via Thrillist for the race, but most of the interest was driven through Twitter, Vitellaro says. The company posted a tweet about the race in its Twitter feed, including a link to the contest rules and a short YouTube video showing off the hashtag. T-Mobile also paid to make it a promoted tweet.

The race kicked off May 1 and lasted until May 15, going through seven heats over that period. For Twitter users to participate, they had to sign up through a microsite. People who simply tweeted #4GTweets weren’t actually entering to participate in the race.

Using the monitoring tools Mass Relevance and Crimson Hexagon, Big Fuel monitored each entrant’s number of retweets to declare a winner for each heat. Whoever had the most retweets in a given heat got a free HTC One S phone. Tweeters were limited to one tweet during a three-hour heat.

T-Mobile offered users some suggested language for their tweets upon registration, but didn’t auto-tweet messages for them.

As the heats progressed, contestants got more and more acclimated to the competition, Vitellaro says. People who came in second or third one heat figured out ways to build up retweets the next time.

The winners of the seven heats competed for a grand prize of $4,000.

Checkered flag

T-Mobile racked up 91 million impressions with the race, DeLuca says. The brand’s name got 32,000 mentions, 395,000 people visited the microsite, and 3,340 people registered to compete in the race itself.

Over the 15 days, T-Mobile gained 3,100 new Twitter followers , he says.

Vitellaro says the company won 99 percent of the share of voice in the online discussion of the HTC One S; every carrier has its own version of that product. Likewise, the race helped the company’s Klout score shoot above every other mobile phone carrier’s, and it’s still holding strong a month later, he says.

By Matt Wilson | Posted: June 20, 2012

Yes, free PR.  It is an oxymoron in a way, because if you are not paying someone to spearhead PR efforts for you, you are spending time (which equals money) to do PR activities yourself.  However it is correct in the sense that the field of PR does refer to activities that do not include paid media, that is, advertising.

Most PR practitioners would probably bristle at something promising Free PR, but the book I just published does just that.  What I mean is that “121 Ways to Build Buzz and Make Big Bucks” (please see dedicated page on this blog for details) takes the best ideas from big brands and boils them down to ideas that are essentially no cost or low cost to implement.

That is the great thing about the world we live in today.  We have so much available to us that’s essentially free.  It’s like the democratization of marketing, in a sense.  It’s a wonderful time to be an entrepreneur.