Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Signs You’re Ready for a PR Firm

Recently, I came across this great article I think is rather relevant to the non-profit sector.  Although it addresses the private sector, the article is relevant as many NPO execs face the challenge of knowing when it's best to hire an outside source or not.  take a look at let me know your thoughts: 

Ten Signs You’re Ready for a PR Firm
By Dorothy Crenshaw
It’s been an interesting fall so far for the PR business. At an annual forum hosted by the Council of PR Firms, P&G Chief Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard headlined his keynote by calling PR “the most authentic form of marketing.” He followed up with splashy PR case histories featuring powerhouse P&G brands. A week later, B2B marketing blogger Chris Koch offered a journalist’s perspective. “The era of PR is dead. As in over. Don’t do it anymore,” urges Koch. And he makes some valid points about the shrinking pool of media targets and the inefficiency of the agency model.  
So, how should a marketer size up an investment in PR? When, and how, does a public relations ramp-up with an outside firm fit into the mix?
Here are a few signs that additional PR support may be worthy of consideration.
1.  You have news. You might think that actually having news means you don’t need to invest in PR or media relations, and that’s possible. But it’s more likely you’ll benefit from a professional approach to the opportunity. A new product launch, rebranding, executive change, acquisition or expansion — those are often situations where you have only one chance to shape earned media coverage and tell your story.
2.  There are misperceptions about your brand. What PR does, often with greater depth and credibility than other forms of marketing communications, is inform your customers, employees and others about a complex, sensitive, or emerging issue. It takes time, but earned media is frequently a key channel to help clear up misinformation, get your story out, and educate your constituencies.
3.  Your industry’s in transition. And you’re driving change, or handling it successfully. Sure, category creators like Starbucks and Amazon more easily reap PR benefits by being the disrupters, but a “discovery” brand has real appeal as a reflection of a business trend or category shift.
4.  You’re bucking a trend. Even better than leading a trend, sometimes, is defying it. It’s a good time to shape a compelling story if you can talk about why you successfully zig when others zag.
5.  You have a reputation problem. Maybe there’s news, but it’s not good. If a Google search links your brand or corporate name with words like “complaints,” “rip-off,” or “slumlord,” it’s clearly time to call in the PR cavalry, or to look at a blend of reputation PR and SEO.  
6.  A competitor is framing the conversation in your space. If a rival is shaping perception about your category, or worse, misrepresenting facts, you can probably benefit from a PR-driven education campaign. A common reason clients call on agencies is to help level the communications field when a competitor makes claims that simply aren’t sustainable.
7.  You’re already getting some PR, but it’s sporadic and unplanned. And you haven’t been able to take advantage or build on it. A professional PR team cannot exercise control over a publicity result, but they can influence it, provide consistency, and maximize visibility to key channels.
8.  You have a large advertising investment. P&G’s Pritchard calls PR a “megaphone that amplifies the brand message.” In my experience, a strategic PR investment can work wonders in extending a sports sponsorship or creative ad campaign, for a relatively small investment.
9.  You have no advertising budget. PR can’t do what advertising does, and ideally, the two work together as complementary programs. But where advertising is out of reach, a strategic PR and media relations campaign can help drive brand and product visibility, build allies, and enhance reputation.
10.  You could do it yourself but don’t have time. I’ve caught flack for saying it, but many clients are fully capable of handling their own PR, particularly those who serve a trade or niche audience. And I’ve always felt that companies should own key trade media and analyst relationships. But a CEO makes a poor PR practitioner, and the in-house staff tends to get sucked into internal issues. The beauty of an outside team isn’t just objectivity, but accountability.
Do you have others to add to the list? Please share in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
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Photo is “I love PR” by DoktorSpinn.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

5 Ways to to Make Your Lobby Meeting Successful

Bookmark and ShareOne of the strategies I employ in getting across an organization's message is coordinating meetings with legislators.  Meeting with a Member of Parliament, a Senator, or even a Cabinet Minister (often considered the "holy grail") is often one of those services most sought.  But organizing a meeting and making certain it produces a positive experience involves more than just asking for an appointment.  When I coordinate a meeting with MPs or Senators, here are some of the methods and recommendations left for clients:

1.    Plan for your meeting to last 20 minutes or so. Bring the following materials to the meeting:
•    Your contact info
•    One-pager info sheet on the issue you advocating
•    One-pager on your asks
•    Copy of the bill or regulation you are seeking to amend, as appropriate
•    Photos of events, letters from constituents, articles from local media, and any other items that demonstrate the popularity or sense of the issue you are pushing

2.    At the meeting, introduce, and show why your issue is important in your community
•    When you introduce yourself, say that you are a constituent.  If you are not a constituent, it might be best to demonstrate how you relate to their region and the impact your issue will have on the legislator’s constituents.  Explain why your issue is important to you.
•    Show that you’re there representing many voters. Describe the group you represent as specifically as possible, including number of members. Include specific evidence that your proposal is important to many constituents. Provide photos from any recent events you’ve held. Give them copies of articles or op-eds about your issue from your local paper

3.    Thank the Member of Parliament or Senator for taking the meeting
•    Be sure to start off by thanking the elected official for any actions s/he has previously taken on your issue. This is important because it lets them know that their constituents are keeping an eye on their record.
•    Make sure you know which committees they sit on or other leadership positions s/he holds.  This will help you frame your asks in a way that appeals to his/her interests
•    …By the way…make sure to acknowledge and thank the efforts of the legislators staff, in particular the scheduling assistant and political staff.  They may not have the votes you need but they have the legislator’s assistants are the one’s that have an MP/ Senator’s ear

4.    What if they have questions or concerns?
•    If they seem hesitant to support what you’re asking for, ask them directly what you can do to make this easier for them – do they need more information? More evidence that this is important to voters? Then, after the meeting, send them that info.
•    They may try to get off topic by taking about other issues and accomplishments. Listen politely, thank them, and then get back on track. You can say something like, “That’s great. I hope that you can further demonstrate your commitment to constituents by voting for this upcoming legislation.”
•    If you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, say, “I don’t have that information now, but I can get it to you.” Then be sure to send it to them after the meeting.
•    Remember to listen. While you always want to steer the conversation back to your asks, listening to their concerns and priorities will help you meet them so they’re more likely to want to work with you.

5.    Follow up, follow up, follow up. The lobby meeting is only the beginning. The most important part is the follow-up that you do afterwards
•    Leave with a clear understanding of what the their position is and what s/he will do. At the end of the meeting, schedule a good date and time when you can call to follow up. This way, you can ensure that they’ve done what you asked.
•    Leave your contact info, and be sure to get their contact info too.
•    Send an email afterwards thanking him/her for the meeting, providing him/her with any materials you promised, and politely reminding him/her of the time for your phone call.
•    If you met with a staffer, call the staffer at the time you scheduled. If s/he has done what you asked, thank him or her. Tell him/her that you will let the grassroots activists you’re in touch with know about his/her actions. If s/he has not done what you asked, ask what you can do to make this happen
•    Keep calling in the future. Provide him/her with information about key legislation, what’s happening, and what constituents are doing about your issues in the constituency. If you’ve established a relationship with this office, and they know they can count on you as a reliable source of information, they’ll be that much more likely to listen to you in the future.

So, what's been your experience?  What works best for you in meeting with legislators?  If you need help building bridges on Parliament Hill, drop me a line.

Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. If you have questions on how you feel your organization could benefit from legislative monitoring services or even undertaking a grassroots advocacy initiative. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca