Clients’ desires can run a little high. PR pros have to temper them with reality.
A client once approached Camille Jamerson with grandiose expectations of securing high-level placements, sitting down for interviews with the networks and tripling their media reach within 90 days.
Then, Jamerson watched as the principal delivered a short speech in which he did not articulate his vision, nor read the audience, nor relate the main points of his message.
“We slammed the brakes on everything,” Jamerson recalls. “Putting him in front of a seasoned interviewer would have been disastrous for his brand.”
It happens all too often. Businesses approach PR firms anticipating a glamorous reception and immediate return on investment. In reality the best exposure demands planning and patience due to the intense competition for the most coveted, highest-profile TV, radio and magazine placements.
So, how can organizations harvest the most fruit from the PR firms that they hire?
They can start by understanding that the media landscape and where a customer will fit requires intensive discovery in which PR pros probe for motivations, objectives and true metrics for success.
Tara Erwin with Fifteen agency in Buffalo, N.Y., approaches every new relationship with two time-honored credos: the Golden Rule and that honesty is the best policy.
She shuns “glittering generalities” and unrealistic notions: “If their goal is to get on ‘Today,’ I tell them that, like an actor in a community theater production likely won’t fly off to make a big-budget Hollywood film as their next project, our first pitching opportunity probably won’t result in national exposure.”
PR is usually a gradual progression in which companies build momentum from, say, an earned article in their local daily paper and then working up the ladder.
Symbiotic communication and responsiveness remain paramount to contractual relationships.
Jennifer Thomas with Beauty Results PR in Fort Myers, Florida, swears that open dialogue best determines the outlets she targets and the messages that will resonate with them.
“I find that the big outlets in any industry are still the benchmark of success, like O, The Oprah Magazine, Forbes and Fast Company,” Thomas says. “Clients do need help in understanding how important bloggers, online publications and influencers are in PR outreach now as well.”
She works with customers at the beginning of each month to identify pitch content for use in the short-term and for long-lead media opportunities. “I realize they are busy with their other responsibilities, but when Fast Company has a deadline of tomorrow at 5 p.m., you have to meet it,” she adds. “Responsiveness is critical in delivering results.”
She instructs them to internalize the deadline process so that if a holiday gift guide will circulate in November, they start working on cultivating relationships in June as opposed to September.
The client perspective
Bart Zoni, chief marketing officer with a skin care company in New Jersey, conveys his frustration in not knowing what he wanted from a PR agency.
“As a client, nothing is worse to hear than, ‘If you don’t know what you want, we can’t help you,'” Zoni says. “We want a partner who can ask the right questions, probe effectively and help us think very clearly about a strategy.”
He appreciates the instinct of PR firms to make their clientele happy, but he wants his agency to tell him “no” from time to time.
“By saying ‘no’ the right way, you will make us happier in the long run,” he says. “By the ‘right way,’ I mean clearly explaining why my expectations might not be reasonable and offering clear and concrete alternatives.”
Zoni advises agencies to skip the fluff and, instead, to honestly communicate triumphs and failures. He knows when monthly reports inflate small wins and downplay big losses. He understands that some months will yield extraordinary returns and others will crawl by.
Jamerson never dropped her new client after his aspirations did not quite work in the real world. Instead, she trained him and created a new strategy that included more controlled options such as op-eds, blog posts, social media, emails, press releases and videos.
“He wasn’t thrilled,” she says, “but he knew from that moment that we had his best interest at heart and that he was gaining the training that he desperately needed.”
Dave Yonkman is a former Washington correspondent for Newsmax Media, Capitol Hill communications director and the founding principal of DYS Media.