Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bad PR people…bad.

It’s a constant refrain. Unfortunately, it’s often true that PR folks are driven (either by their firm, their client, or their lack of experience) to pitch anyone and everyone each time they have an announcement to make. Problem is, not every announcement is news. That’s not to say it’s not something that is press release worthy, these are two very different things. The way we look at press releases at Connect2 is pretty simple.
  • Tier 1 Release – Major company news ( e.g., new flagship product, major customer win, acquisition, investment round, new C-level executive, etc, ) or news that is particularly relevant giving an ongoing or emerging trend in the market place. With a Tier 1, we prefer to pre-brief if possible. Analysts a couple weeks out and press that cover the market or the company are pitched so they have time, if they want, to talk to customers, analysts, influencers, to tell a complete story.
  • Tier 2 Release – Mid-major company news that is important to the company but not necessarily to the broader market in general (e.g., product upgrade, company milestone release, expansion of certain company partnerships, etc.). With Tier 2, we like to pre-brief as well but focus only on the analysts and reporters that cover the company. We’re trying to provide an update on company progress with these types of releases so folks that cover the broader market probably won’t care…so, we don’t pitch them. They will get the release when it crosses the wire as an FYI in case it peaks an interest but we don’t pitch.
  • Tier 3 Release – This is low-key news that helps the client tell its broader story but isn’t newsworthy. There are lots of releases that fall into this category and because what we’re really trying to do is connect directly with key audiences, we write these a bit differently. They are still press releases (Headline, sub-head, dateline, etc.) and they go across the wire but we don’t pitch on it. With Tier 3, we write the release in a more general feature style instead of the traditional inverted pyramid a traditional release is written in. We rely on the wire service, and affiliated news aggregators, to get this story out directly to readers.

Here’s the key point to this blog…with each tier, we’re pitching people we know cover the market or cover the company. Sure, we make mistakes, especially if we’re moving into a market where we don’t know the pubs or reporters particularly well. And sometimes, magazines aren’t that good about updating who is covering what so we pitch folks that used to cover a certain beat but are now moving on to something else. It happens. When it does, we apologize and update our lists. We consider our press lists living documents and rely on several sources, as well as our own weekly call downs, to keep our lists as accurate as possible.

Yes, there are services you can use, and we use some of them, to find the right person for the right story, but the best way to find out what someone is writing about is to research the reporter and read the publication they write for…on a regular basis. It’s not only a great way to find out who is writing about what, but what their particular interest in the topic is, what they’ve covered so far and what part of the story they might not have told yet.

One of the complaints I hear most from PR people about reporters is how someone “got a story wrong,” or “clearly didn’t do their research…”. Well, I think we owe the reporters the same due diligence. Everyone knows that magazines are short staffed and that the news is more immediate today than ever before. Help them do their job by doing yours.

My two cents, more to come.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust: Helping Local Businesses Help Themselves...

This morning I got another email from another of my favorite local businesses telling me that it is closing its doors. That brings the tally to five local businesses—two restaurants, two furniture stores and a baby store— that have closed their doors suddenly since I moved to the Raleigh-Durham area just one short year ago. After talking with most of them (as I had become regulars at most) they all had the same reaction: the community didn’t get behind us and support us. This got me thinking—what more can I do to help these local businesses stay afloat? Was it really the community’s fault?

The truth is it takes more than just financial support to keep local businesses thriving in today’s down economy. For the most part, I found my favorite local stores by chance—driving by, a random Internet listing, or a phone call. Local businesses have to look for ways to make the most of local newspapers, TV stations and word of mouth PR and marketing to be successful and, most of the time, there are free opportunities to be had!

If you run a local business, here are just a few tips that you can easily implement to get that free publicity you’re looking for:

  • Know how you’re different than the big chains. Maybe you’ll price match big chain prices, maybe you only employ experts in your field, maybe you only use locally-grown produce. Whatever the case, you have to know your competitive advantage and be able to clearly articulate it.
  • Get to know the local reporters in your area. Do you read the local newspapers? Watch the local TV station? Always pick up that local free newspaper? Give your favorite reporters a call or send them an email suggesting a story idea based on what makes your business different from the rest. This might take a few tries, but having a local reporter up to speed on your business (and the possibility of stories about you!) can only help further down the road.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Building relationships with reporters takes a long time. Be consistent, but not annoying. Make sure you are going to them with relevant materials. i.e.: If you own a sports store, you’re not going to want to approach the local food critic.
  • Support your local high school/middle school sports teams. If you own a restaurant, offer up your place for after-game meals at a slight discount. If you own a store, offer members of those teams a coupon for buy-one, get-one-free. Getting parents on your side will only help to increase business and promote extra word of mouth in and around your community.
  • Find other local businesses to partner with. If you offer each other’s patrons deals to get them to come in, you’re growing your potential customer base exponentially.
  • Make sure you appear in Internet searches. Registering on City Search or other local-based Websites is a cheap way to ensure potential customers can find you easily.
  • And finally, partner with a local PR firm. Often times, local PR firms will barter for free services. Investigate your local PR firms and see what kinds of deals you can make.

Starting with these simple tools will help you attract more potential customers and keep you thriving even in these tough economic times.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sustainable PR - The Message, the Media and What Matters.

How do you tell a story today? Not just bits of news, scrabbled together quickly to get a story listed first on some website, but a real, thought-provoking, compelling and relevant news story. It’s not easy given the pressures companies feel to get notice and the media feel to stay competitive. I’ve been in PR for a long time. I’ve worked for great companies, good companies and companies I wish to forget. Five years ago, I started a PR firm called Connect2 Communications, Inc. because I felt there was a market opportunity to reconnect PR as an integral part of a company’s business and market objectives.

For what it’s worth (and that’s up to you the reader), below is a list of things a PR person must do when they work with their clients to help tell a story:
  • Understand why the news is relevant to their target audience (note, the media is not part of the target audience)
  • Appreciate the interest, constraints and style of each reporter that might be interested
  • Understand that the media’s job is to write stories that connect to their readers so be prepared with information that provides background, context and additional, outside resources that can provide unbiased opinions
  • Good stories can happen often but great stories require a relationship between the company and the reporter and that takes time, trust and access.

The truth is, not every story a client wants to tell is newsworthy. There are lots of releases we write that fall into that category and we never send them out to our press lists. But just because it’s not newsworthy, doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of the client’s overall story. For these types of stories (partnerships, hires, new facilities), we writes the releases a bit differently and leverage the various news wires to talk directly to readers.

Fundamentally, a client’s ability to tell a story, and a reporter’s ability to write, comes down to trust, respect, honesty and integrity. No one wins when one side, or the other, operates outside of these basics.

There is a lot being written this week about good PR/bad PR, etc., so I wanted to contribute a bit to the ongoing debate.

My two cents, more to come.