Thought LeaderBy Gini Dietrich

During an internal meeting earlier this week, we were talking about why some client relationships work brilliantly well, and others, well, do not.

Of course, it’s up to us in the prospecting phase to make certain clients truly understand what they have to do to help the relationship succeed.

Too many think they can hire a communications firm, send a check every month, and let the magic work itself.

Au contraire.

I can always tell if a prospect really understands the kinds of involvement they will have to have when they hire us.

In a recent new business meeting, out of one side of his mouth, the vice president of sales told me they didn’t have any marketing expertise in-house, which is why they launched a product with nothing behind it. And, out of the other side, told me he thought we could lower our price if his imaginary marketing team could take on half of the work we recommended they do.

Clearly that is a red flag. A prospect who commits to doing half the work and then doesn’t do any of it will create a situation where communications cannot be successful for them…no matter how hard we try.

Earned + Owned + Shared = Success

The media world has done nearly a complete 180 in the past five years, which has tossed the PR industry into a bit of turmoil, particularly where earned media is concerned.

A recent story in The New York Times talks about how USA Today has introduced Social Media Tuesdays, where journalists are required to promote their content through the social networks.

The goal is to help them understand how their readers get and consume their information, but the implication to communications professionals is that we have to help journalists promote their work, particularly if our clients or executives are included.

This means it’s even more important for earned media to be integrated with shared and owned…and even paid, if you use sponsored posts.

An organization that doesn’t consistently use social media or have a blog or a content marketing program has less of a chance to get earned media in the traditional way than those that do.

Five Ways to Become a Thought Leader

To that end, I thought it would be helpful to create a list of things clients have to do if the relationship with a PR firm is to be successful.

  •  Social Media. The “fad” isn’t over yet and every organization — consumer, business-to-business, non-profit — needs to have a social media presence. It doesn’t need to be on every platform — definitely hang out where your customers and prospects do — but to get any earned media coverage, journalists will want to see that you have social networks that people actually respond to so you can help them increase their own pageviews. Unless you have a product or service that no one else has, if the story is between you or your competitor and they have robust social networks and you do not, the story is going to them.
  • Blog. It is my belief that every organization should blog for lead generation, thought leadership, and brand awareness. You don’t have to blog twice  a day, like we do. You don’t even have to blog once a day. But if you blog consistently and people read and share your content, journalists will be much more willing to work with you. There will be pieces of an interview that end up on the cutting room floor. Blog those things. Blog an excerpt from the piece and link to the rest of the story. Interview the journalist and run a Q&A. There are lots of ways you can extend the story.
  • Thoughtful Commentary. In many cases, a communications firm will create your content for you. It is extremely important that you review that content thoughtfully and provide constructive feedback. Even if the ghost writer has your voice down perfectly and you trust them implicitly, it’s still important for you to sign off on something that is being published in your name. Think of it this way: You’re at a trade show and a prospect you’ve been chasing for a couple of years mentions a blog post or OpEd you wrote. You have no idea what he or she is talking about because you haven’t read your own content. 
  • Comments. And, to that end, every, single person who has a byline in your organization must respond to comments. Comments on the blog. Comments on the social networks. Comments in forums. Comments in groups. It’s very, very rare there won’t be a single comment, but there certainly won’t be more if you don’t respond to those who take the time to comment on your content. A communications firm cannot pretend to be you and respond to those people. See the trade show example above.
  • Thought Leadership. Publications want to publish thought leaders. Most of the big publications today — Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes — all accept bylined articles and blog posts from industry leaders. While a communications firm can find those opportunities for you, can help you write the content, and can help you place it, you have to be involved every step of the way. A thought leader is not someone who hires a firm, sends a check every month, and waits for the magic to happen. A thought leader is intimately involved in the communications of his or her organization (consider Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Mark Cuban). 

Publications Want Thought Leaders

You cannot hire a communications firm today to just do media relations — or earned media.

Many, many business leaders still call and say, “We’re looking for PR help” and what they mean is, “Get me on the front page of The New York Times.”

If you want earned media, you have to integrate it with shared and owned, at the very least. A paid media budget — particularly on the social networks and just a few hundred bucks a month — also is important, but not as critical.

If you don’t have the team internally to help you achieve these things and if you can’t delegate some things off of your own plate so you can free up three to five hours a week to work with your communications team, none of this will work as well as you expect.

Sure, a communications firm can take the bull by the horns and do most of the work, but we still need your involvement at a very high level.

A thought leader we cannot make you without you.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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