Gini Dietrich

Three Ways a PR Firm Can Help You

By: Gini Dietrich | April 29, 2013 | 

Three Ways a PR Firm Can Help YouJust a little more than a year ago, the Public Relations Society of America set out to redefine public relations.

You see, it’d been 30 years since the last definition and, with all the turmoil the industry has seen since 2008, the organization thought it was time.

The definition they settled on is, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Sure, it’s new and most certainly better than what we had in 1982, but it still doesn’t describe what we do as communications professionals. The problem being, of course, most have the perception we’re publicists and our only task is to get our companies or client’s companies in the news.

As it turns out, though, it’s much, much more than that. Today it encompasses reputation management, customer service via the social networks, crisis communications, issues management, events, content and email marketing, lead generation, blogging, social media…and yes, media and blogger relations.

But the problem still lies, not just in the new definition, but in how communications professionals position themselves.

If you’re working with a PR firm or soloproneur or if you have a communications team in-house, there are some questions you should be asking to be certain they’re executing on business strategies that lead to real results (such as revenue or bigger grants or more fundraising dollars).

Content Marketing

The 2013 “it” term for communications is content marketing. Everyone is talking about it and, if you don’t have it, you feel lost in the sea of conversation. Ask your PR professionals what they’re doing with content…and I don’t mean they’re slapping up a blog post a couple of times a week.

Are they using white papers and webinars to secure email addresses from prospects that can then be turned over to the sales team for qualification and nurturing?

Are they using a blog to build community and create thought leadership?

Are they using an eBook to send to prospects to determine his or her level of interest before you or your sales team spend time determining if it’s a good fit?

Do they know how to creatively use calls-to-action to motivate people to want to buy from you?

Content is, single-handedly, one of the most effective ways to generate and nurture leads. It must be educational, valuable, and not self-serving for it to work. Is that what your team is doing?

Hyper-Targeted Media and Blogger Relations

When I started my career, there were these big green books from Bacons that listed all of the journalists and producers at every newspaper, magazine, television, and radio outlet in the country. We would take turns with the books, sometimes copying pages from it so the next person could use them.

Then the books were bought by Cision and everything moved online, making a PR professional’s job easier because he or she could now create a media list with a touch of a button. And then Vocus came along and introduced a way for you to email all of your contacts at once, leaving time for things that really mattered, like making phone calls and inviting journalists out for coffee.

Of course, the system was gamed and, instead of using that extra time to build the in-person relationships, some professionals just sent emails and checked it off their lists.

In today’s world, though, with email spam and doing more with less, that approach doesn’t work.

Is your PR team spending time getting to know the journalist or blogger, by reading what they’ve already written and pitching a story hyper-targeted to them?

Do they send mass emails and never get a response?

Are they counseling you on what constitutes news and what does not?

Are bloggers fed up with the way they approach them and writing about their horrid media relations skills (it happens; do a Google search).

The idea behind blogger and media relations has never changed: It’s all about relationships. If you manage the relationships correctly, stories and blog posts will abound. If you mass distribute a news release that isn’t targeted very specifically, you’ll hear crickets.

Issues and Crisis Management

It used to be you’d write a crisis communications plan and it would be shoved into a drawer until you reviewed it with your team a year later.

Now, because of social media and every customer having a megaphone, issues and crises can happen to even the most ethical and dedicated organization.

The difference between an issue and a crisis is you rarely hear about the former. In examples such as Susan G. Komen, Penn State, and Carnival Cruise Lines, they all had someone inside the organization who did something wrong, if not downright illegal. Those are issues. But, because the executives at these organizations either ignored or failed to act swiftly and decisively, the issues became crises.

Are you bringing your PR team in when an issue arises?

Do they know how to counsel you to go public with the issue so it doesn’t become a crisis?

Do they know how to monitor the web for red flags that might indicate an issue is brewing?

Can they minimize collateral damage when someone with a megaphone starts a grassroots effort against you?

Do you trust them to speak on your behalf on the social networks?

PR Firm Help

Of course, these are just three areas where communications professionals can help you and your organization. They’re not necessarily the three most important, but they’re in the top five.

Depending on what it is your organization does, social media or email marketing or product sampling may be more important, but the point is to get your team thinking about more than just building mutually beneficial relationships with your constituents.

If they can answer the question, “How are you going to help me reach my business goals?” and actually do it, you have the right team in place. If, however, all they’re doing is getting you stories that are great for your ego, but don’t help you reach your goals, it’s time to look somewhere else.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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44 responses to “Three Ways a PR Firm Can Help You”

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. #thatisall

  2. Hi Gini,
    I like how you laid things out here. One of the big challenges I see is one that has been around forever and that is the person who focuses solely upon their experience and isn’t open to alternative ideas.
    They take a “if it isn’t broke it doesn’t need fixing” approach without really being open to exploring changes or opportunity. Sometimes they can be part of your team or a decision maker on the client side, that makes life a bit more interesting.

    • ginidietrich says:

      Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes It’s as if you’re in my brain! I just wrote a blog post (to run in a couple of weeks) that talks about how to hire PR professionals. One of the tips is exactly this – make sure they’re open to change, ready to experiment, and willing to take some risk.

  3. I followed PRSA’s definition process with some amusement — and bemusement (which is actually a different thing). I understand an institution’s need to create a definition for what its people do, but ultimately we’ll be defined by the actions we take, and the conclusions others draw about us based on those actions, not by the words we use to describe ourselves. 
    Having said all that, I followed the link to the 1982 definition, and what we have now is certainly a vast improvement over this: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
    Sounds like a bad wedding vow: “Do you promise to honor, cherish and adapt mutually to the other so long as you both shall live?”

  4. susancellura says:

    This is so nicely put, Gini. I’m finding it interesting that people on the marketing team express that they had never thought of these things before when mentioned in a meeting. I don’t know if it’s age or experience, but when someone tells my boss, “I never thought of it that way before. It opened my eyes”, I’m both thrilled and scared.

  5. DiamondPRnet says:

    I really don’t know….
    I used the Bacon’s “telephone slash high chair” media books circa 1997 when I was learning what PR  was – for me – at the time.
    Regardless of all the trends since 1982 and all of those to come – I just enjoy and do PR/Media Relations the old fashioned way – tell a great story to the right media and supply them with everything they need on a silver platter – the end.
    People used to pitch using a stamp – now people “Twitch” (pitch on twitter, I might have just made that up).  Regardless, if you can’t make pals with media and get their attention in 8 seconds or with 8 words – then you probably need not pitch and instead you should totally craft a white paper – I think in 1999 that was 8 pages.

  6. bdorman264 says:

    Wow, that sounds like a lot of work to me…I think I need reputation management; how much does that cost? 
    In our heyday, 05-07 we had big aspirations and were going regional; we were locked and loaded. Then the bottom fell out and guess what position was the first to go in our agency; PR. Might have been short-sighted on our part, but that’s the way it went down. 
    I’m a firm believer if you have the right team they can do wonders for you. What you have outlined certainly looks like a winning team to me.

  7. OMGosh — those big Bacon’s books. I had forgotten about those. 🙂 You really hit everything spot on here. The key to success is building relationships, with members of the media AND with your customers. Consistently publishing quality content is helpful in the long-term, but it really needs to be combined with an outreach campaign.

  8. belllindsay says:

    I wonder how many people are looking at this list and saying “R’uh roh!” 😉

  9. Cision NA says:

    Hi Gini & community!
    Believe it or not, we officially retired the Bacon’s books this year. People
    love those big books & it’s still hard for some to part with the print
    version for an online database, but that could be a whole ‘nother discussion 🙂
    One small correction, Bacon’s was our former brand name. We rebranded as
    Cision in 2007 to better fit where we were moving as a company: an innovative,
    tech-driven solution for PR & Marketers.
    But now on to the more important discussion! I was nodding in agreement to
    every question you asked, and every PR/marketing company should read through
    this list to make sure they’re on-track. It’s so easy to look at the shiny new
    thing – measure! analytics! content marketing! – and do it, but not have a
    strategy in place to do it well.
    I especially love these two bits of wisdom from you. On Content Marketing: It
    must be educational, valuable, and not self-serving for it to work. On
    hyper-targeting: The idea behind blogger and media relations has never changed:
    It’s all about relationships.
    I think you should end this post with: #BOOM! Thank you for giving us all a
    place to talk PR & Marketing, and to learn and grow our careers. And thank
    you for the mention!
    Happy Monday!

    • ginidietrich says:

      Cision NA LOL! Lisa, you crack me up! I shall edit it to read, “BOOM!” at the end.

    • Cision NA Lisa ROCKS. 🙂

    • Cision NA ginidietrich the one caveat I have is about Content marketing. A friend and I were discussing this. He said the problem most social media ‘stars’ and agencies have is they know content marketing but not marketing outside of that. So they can’t hold their own in a board room. Most of them focus on blogging. They don’t know systems just tactics. So when the top level strategy is being discussed that for any big company involves everything from TV to Billboards to how their store fronts are designed….they get lost. If they get told ‘we have to reach 50 million people a day or week’ content marketing can’t do that. Social can’t do that….unless of course you pull a boner then you have a PR crisis allowing you to reach a gazillion people because they are all sharing what a boner you pulled. (Gini always working to add new words to the Spin sucks comment section so hope boner is ok?)

  10. ClayMorgan says:

    Hyper targeted. LOVE it!

  11. EdenSpodek says:

    So maybe I am in PR after all?  😉 Are most PR firms and soloproneurs offering the above-mentioned services to their clients? I’m not convinced they are and as a result, they’re losing a lot of ground as alternative agencies and service providers step in to fill the gaps. Even several of the agencies I speak with that claim to do these above-mentioned communications but often let them go by the wayside when they’re asked by clients to conduct more traditional media relations on a client’s behalf.

    • ginidietrich says:

      EdenSpodek I don’t know that they are, either. I’m giving a keynote tomorrow, which will give me a better feel for whether or not they are. I just saw in the NY TImes, Fleishman-Hillard is offering more of these types of services, so perhaps it’s going that way.

      • EdenSpodek says:

        ginidietrich I’m looking forward to hearing more after your talk tomorrow. I can’t speak for all of company but when I was part of the F-H family, they seemed headed in the right direction several years ago. In Canada, several of the early adopters at the larger PR agencies were swooped up by the ad agencies with larger budgets, in-house creative teams and content producers.

        • ginidietrich says:

          EdenSpodek When I worked there, they were ahead of the times, for sure. I remember when they made the decision to bring web creative and development in house. It was a big deal.

  12. Funny how often the most helpful of your posts often get the fewest comments.  
    hmm…soloproneur that sounds way to kinky for this blog Gini! 
    My comment if related to the definition of PR. I mock my adland peers who are always trying to redict ‘The agency of the future’. My friend cbaccus actually left ATT to join an Agency that says they are such a thing for PR (Golin Harris). We often try to pigeon hole and label complex things because so many folks need this for their mental state to stay calm. I bring up Myers Briggs a lot. 75% of people are Sensate communicators they prefer concrete vs abstract. 45% of folks are sensate-judgers so not only do they need concrete they are uncomfortable with change. 
    But things are complex. They keep changing. I don’t want to hire an agency of the future. I want to hire one that kicks ass as an agency today. I certainly can’t wait for the future to come to today when I have a need right now. I don’t care about terminology I want help or advice right now. Yesterday someone posted the bio for David Edelman on his LinkedIn page. Who would hire someone who only spouts Gobbly Gook? I mean he should still be an assistant account associate if you ask me. Some folks get lucky I guess.
    I was working on my mission statement for my new business entity. I finally figured it out. It relates to anyone who comes to my site. We help you sell! I have to believe PR can do the same?

    Plus industries can’t choose their definition. Customers and the Public do. Certainly a situation for Wikipedia.

  13. Tinu says:

    Love the distinction between an issue and a crisis.

  14. […] So what is it, then, a PR firm should do? […]

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