From The CEO

Achieving Effective Public Relations

By Steve Syatt, CEO of SSA Public Relations, Los Angeles, CA.

The assignment: To briefly review some pr dos and don’ts — things clients should do to get the most out of their publicity agencies. Whatever I write here is simply not going to be anywhere near enough to tackle in a column, so I’ll try to highlight a few of what I regard as the really important points. Let’s start with some questions I pose to clients and see where it takes us…

  • What is it you as a company want to achieve from your pr? Have you had any experience working with pr agencies? How committed are you or your management to working with the firm to strategize and achieve results?
  • Then there are a few questions clients should have of the pr firms they’re looking at — what are examples of projects you’ve completed successfully that closest resemble our own objectives? How will my account be handled — and by whom in your agency? How proactive is the agency in representing clients? Can I get a list of your clients and call them for references? By the way, if the firm says, “No you can’t” — run, don’t walk, away.
  • While pr should be part of a company’s marketing mix, it really is a different animal. The best pr people 1) fully understand your business; 2) fully appreciate the intense work reporters have on their plate every day; 3) fully appreciate the hard work that the client undertakes in building their businesses. Pr firms have to understand that they don’t represent merely “clients” — they represent companies, investors — people who are sacrificing a lot to grow their businesses. In fact, if a pr person can’t get excited when a client brings a board a new broadcaster for their show, or a licensee for their brand, or a co-production partner for their project — it’s time to hang it up. If a publicist can’t get enthused about speaking or corresponding with a reporter, it’s time to choose something else to do.
  • This is what companies might think about wanting from their pr firms: 1) That every possible business or consumer constituency they want to reach knows their message in a comprehensive manner; 2) That they achieve the kind of editorial coverage that will contribute toward their ongoing business-building activities; 3) That their corporate brand is underscored across targeted b2b industries and/or consumer markets.
  • If companies have not had experience with pr firms they should expect a few things — 1) pr firms have to get up to speed learning about the company, developing key corporate media messages, creating pr strategies and preparing media materials before media pitches can effectively begin. However, this phase should go quickly — no more than a couple of weeks; 2) be ready for media interviews — when reporters need something, whether it’s materials or access to executives — they should not be slowed down by pr people (or clients); 3) You have to be proactive with your agency — provide info as early as possible and as much as possible.
  • The best publicists are not necessarily “salespeople” or “spin-doctors.” Instead, I have found that they are solid communicators with a profound respect for media. My idea of the best publicists are those who have enthusiasm for their clients and media alike. They are organized and patient. They understand there is no clock on the wall. They understand and appreciate the important role they play. They want to succeed for their clients. They actually even angst about it.
  • The best clients are those who communicate regularly with their pr reps. They are there for reporters. They review press release drafts quickly — and appreciate the deadlines publicists face in working to achieve placement opportunities.

Some Dos

  • Do some due diligence before you hire an agency. Talk to reporters, talk to clients, interview the firm’s management team and publicity staff, get a proposal. (If the firm doesn’t do them, say “thanks” and move on.) When you hire an agency, participate in ongoing strategy calls, secure weekly or bi-weekly updates, sign up for a clipping service, be there for them with information, be there to review written press materials, be there for reporters, provide access for your pr reps and your advertising/marketing/promotion teams. It is also important, in industry trade pr, to utilize publicity in conjunction with trade advertising, direct mail, open houses, events and promotions. Sometimes a pr firm can handle it all (I know of one).
  • Effective pr will provide your company with dividends — branding, business expansion — even external and internal good will. It’s a trusting, positive relationship that can last forever.