Monday, December 20, 2010

The Key To Selling Non-Profit Stories: Find a 'News Peg'

There are so many worthwhile programs and causes out there. Every day, selfless people give of their time and resources to make the world a better place, but for the most part, these organized acts of kindness take place in obscurity.

Unless you have a good PR Man (or PR Woman, of course).

When you are working with a non-profit or charitable organization, getting the media interested in covering their good work often requires some creativity. It's not blood and guts ("Clerk shot dead in convenient store robbery") mayhem, death and destruction ("Three-alarm fire leaves dozens homeless"), or something totally off the wall ("Man bites dog"). It's just good folks doing good work. Not something the media is usually interested in. (As a grizzled old editor of mine once remarked after reading my copy, "There's no sex in this story!")

The best way to sell these otherwise overlooked stories is to find a "news peg," something timely that relates to the tale you are trying to tell - a milestone, a statewide or national observance, a policy change or a trend. Clients always think their stories are interesting, but the challenge as a PR communicator is to find a way to make it interesting to a majority of readers or viewers. (See "The Media Wants Stories, Not Announcements") That's where the news peg can prove invaluable.

Remember, a story is not newsworthy without news.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Building Brand One Story at a Time: Why Your Organization Needs PR

Yesterday was a prime example of how an enterprising PR person can help your organization build brand and market share.

Media across the country and (thanks to the Internet) around the world were buzzing with a story about how Tuesday was going to be the busiest day ever for FedEx. CNN had a reporter riding along on a FedEx delivery truck; the AP called it the “pre-game show for Santa.” The same news cycle, the national media carried a quirky feature about the Top 10 Quotes of the Year, which are compiled annually by an associate librarian named Fred Shapiro at Yale University. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Quote of the Year was U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” quip.

Both of these cases are excellent examples of why it is so important to have PR people inside your organization watching and listening for stories. I can imagine the FedEx story starting with a routine traffic report by a vice president at a management meeting at FedEx headquarters. It took a PR person, however, to identify it as a major story, package it and sell it to the media. The annual quotations story from Yale is a no-brainer: It’s quirky, timely and interesting, and you can sell it over and over every December. Keep your eyes and ears open for other PR-generated year-in-review stories in the coming weeks.

The point is, there are newsworthy stories everywhere inside of every type of organization. You just need a seasoned PR person to identify them and help you sell them. Ordinary consumers don’t realize that much of what you see and hear every day in the media are stories that started with a press release or phone call to a reporter from a PR person. Some of the biggest brands in America – Google and Starbucks, for instance – have been built almost exclusively through the relentless use of PR. It’s much cheaper than advertising and people assign it more credibility because it is filtered through the media prism. (If you read it in the newspaper, it must be true, right?)

If you are looking to build brand, defend your brand, reinvent your brand, rehabilitate your public image or establish yourself as an authority in your field, forget advertising. PR is the way to go.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Media Wants Stories, Not Announcements

Veteran CNN political reporter Bill Schneider recently did a Q&A interview with PR News on media relations and offered the following advice: The media wants stories, not announcements.

Schneider’s advice is something I’ve been telling my clients for years, having spent nearly 20 years on the other side of the desk from PR people pitching nonsense. Clients inevitably come to me with what they think are great “stories,” but as their PR consultant, I have to inform them that their great story will never get published. Or, I have to figure out a way to shine it up so it will.

In order to get the media interested in covering your story, it has to be “newsworthy,” but news value is a concept that most people who never worked in the media, including many PR professionals, simply don’t understand. The standard for newsworthiness is that a story has to interest a majority of readers, viewers or listeners. The decision-making process on the media end, however, can be fairly subjective. That’s why it’s invaluable to hire a PR professional who has spent time in the news business because they know how to throw a pitch over the strike zone. Whether an editor will swing at it is another matter.

If you are a non-profit organization, community group, church, etc., it’s relatively easy to get publicity about your event because most small and mid-size media outlets publish community news as a matter of policy. But if you are a for-profit business trying to get free publicity about a promotion, the news department will most likely tell you to talk to advertising. There are three possible ways to avoid this pitfall: 1) find something undeniably newsworthy about the event; 2) stage a “PR stunt” (something extraordinary that’s impossible for the media to ignore) or 3) if you are already an advertiser, ask your rep at the station to apply some pressure.

The best way, however, is always newsworthiness. A legitimate story is impossible for the media to ignore.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lawyer Marketing 101: It’s Not the Steak, It’s the Sizzle

As a lawyer, you’re taught to be a linear thinker. You’re taught that if you build a case using pertinent case law, present compelling evidence and testimony, ask the right questions and make a well-reasoned argument, you will win. The process is always finite and conclusive – a zero sum game. In the end, you either win or lose.

But marketing is neither finite nor conclusive. It’s not a linear process; it’s a cumulative process. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about building. It’s a combination of a lot of little things ― often intangible or unexpected things ― that combine to build public awareness and get prospective clients to choose you over your competitors.

It’s not about the steak, it’s about the sizzle.

The Purchasing Opportunity
Two things you need to recognize up front before engaging in marketing and/or PR:

1) The practice of law involves a limited purchasing opportunity. Any marketing success is dependent on purchasing opportunities, and purchasing opportunities are few and far between for attorneys. For the most part, people only need you when they’re hurt or in trouble, which doesn’t happen that often. By contrast, if you own a restaurant, purchasing opportunities abound because people have to eat – usually three times a day, sometimes more.

2) The purchasing decision is more complex and the stakes are higher. Let’s take the restaurant. When deciding to patronize a particular eatery, a prospective customer might see a TV commercial and think, “The food looks good and they’ve got that two-for-one special on Wednesday nights. I think I’ll give it a try.” If he doesn’t like it, there’s always next Wednesday night.

When choosing a lawyer, a prospective client is weighing dozens more serious factors: Is she experienced in cases like mine? Does she have a track record of big verdicts? Does she have experience trying cases before a jury? How much is this going to cost? What happens if I lose? The list goes on and on, and the prospective client knows if he makes the wrong choice, it could ruin his life.

The Three C’s of Marketing
I’m pretty sure this isn’t an original idea, but I always tell clients there are three C’s of marketing – Commitment, Consistency and Creativity. I list Commitment first because building brand and convincing people to choose you takes time. Consistency is second because if you don’t stay in front of the consumer and build top-of-mind awareness, or “mind share,” they won’t choose you when a purchasing opportunity arises. And, while some advertising consultants might argue creativity is most important, it’s least important in my book because the most creative campaign in the world is worthless if consumers don’t see it or hear it often enough to remember it.

Building Brand
In essence, your brand is your name, but it’s really much more than that. It’s a collection of feelings and perceptions about quality, experience, image, status, credibility and other intangibles associated with you and your law firm. The goal of your marketing campaign should be to create a perception in the minds of prospective clients that there is no other firm in the market quite like yours. In short, effective branding offers the prospective client a promise and then delivers on it.

Branding for law firms includes the following factors:
• Presence ― Prominence in paid (advertising) and unpaid (news) media; a high-profile market presence leads to brand recognition and increased sales.
• Awareness ― Top-of-mind awareness, or “mind share,”  residual awareness (how much do they remember you after you’re gone) and recognition are directly related to presence; higher “mind share” translates into more and better cases.
• Positioning ― Differentiation from the competition, which is established by a combination of all elements of the brand. (We’re more experienced, we win more cases, etc.)
• Quality ― High-quality service and results will translate into more satisfied clients who will come back for other legal needs and refer family and friends.
• Reputation ― Public opinion of brand character, which is built over time and difficult to change once it’s established. PR and free (news) media are key at building a good reputation.
• Image ― Perception of brand traits resulting from a variety of factors, including paid media presence, free media exposure, word of mouth and many other intangibles. Like reputation, image is difficult to change once it’s established. Again, PR and free (news) media are key.
• Benefits ― Consumers may associate certain positive and negative consequences ― warranted or unwarranted ― from using your services.
• Preference ― Predisposition displayed by consumers toward a specific brand.
• Market Share ― Increased market share is a direct result of successful branding.
• Client Loyalty ― Built through long-term branding and consistently high-quality service.

Building “Mind Share”
Creating a strong brand identity will lead to “mind share.” That means prospective clients will think of you first when they need to hire a lawyer. For example, when you think of tissues, which brand comes to mind? Kleenex, of course. That’s because Kleenex (yes, it’s a brand) has built so much mind share that it’s literally synonymous with facial tissues. When wrapping a Christmas present, you’ll say, “Hand me the Scotch tape,” not realizing you are actually referring to a specific brand. Similarly, when you want a cup of coffee, you might say, “Let’s go get a Starbucks.” Did you know Dumpster is a brand name? The reason behind such strong brand-product associations is the rock-solid brand identities and “mind share” these companies have built.

For new lawyer advertisers, the first step is making the public aware you exist, building brand identification and recognition, creating a positive perception of your brand and positioning your brand against your competition, all of which of course doesn’t happen overnight. New advertisers often find it frustrating that after a month of TV advertising, clients aren’t beating a path to their door. But after a month of TV advertising, unless you have a huge budget, the majority of people in your target demographic (adults 25 to 54) have probably only seen your ad once or twice, which doesn’t even register. Studies show that TV viewers don’t remember a commercial until they have seen it at least 3.5 times.

The key to marketing success is staying in the market long enough and often enough, so that when the purchasing opportunity arises, a prospective client calls you instead of your competitors. When that occurs, you know you have achieved mind share, and you have lept from step one to step three – awareness to purchase. Steps four and five ― repeat purchase and loyalty ― occur only after a client has used your services and has come away highly satisfied.

Everything You Do Is Marketing
I always tell clients advertising will bring clients through your door, but what they see and experience when they get there is what sells them and makes them come back. If you can’t show clients that you and your staff are worthy of their trust, no amount of advertising will help you sign up new cases. Therefore, successful marketing begins at your door with a commitment to superior service that permeates your entire organization.

Think about a five-star hotel and everything that goes into the experience – from the bellman to the bed sheets to the chocolate mint on the pillow. It all matters and it all creates a positive customer experience. It’s all marketing. From your receptionist to the d├ęcor in your waiting room to the on-hold music on your phone lines to your restrooms to the clothes you wear to work – it’s all marketing and it’s all important.

Think about it. If a prospective client comes into your office for the first time and there are files strewn all over the place, your clothes are disheveled and you have a big coffee stain on your shirt, what is he going to think? You could hope he thinks, “Gee, this guy’s really busy and has a lot of cases. He must be a good lawyer.” But he’s probably going to think, “This guy’s a disorganized mess! If I hire him, my case is going to be buried in one of these piles. Get me outta here!”

Everything you do is marketing!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Artful Dodge: How to Handle the Surprise Media Call

Phone rings.
YOU: Hello?
REPORTER: Hi Congressman Duckincover? It’s Ino DeStory from the Daily Muckraker. Got a minute?
YOU: Actually, Ino, I’m going into a meeting. Can I call you right back?
REPORTER: Yeah, sure. No problem.
YOU: What are you looking for?
REPORTER: I wanted to ask you about the Appropriation Committee's approval of $12 million for the business park being developed by your brother.
(Don't panick.)

YOU: I’d be happy to talk to you about that. What’s your deadline?
REPORTER: I have to file the story by 5 p.m.
YOU: Give me a number where I can call you back.
(Reporter gives you a number.)

YOU: Okay, as soon as I’m done, I’ll call you right back.

As soon as you hang up, you call your PR people. You discuss the story, get your message together and decide how best to handle the press call. Do you do submit to a phone interview, have your spokesman return the call or email a written response? One thing is for certain: NOT responding is NOT an option. Remember, every media call, no matter how difficult or controversial, is an opportunity for you to get your message out. If you duck and cover, you forfeit the chance to frame the debate and get your side of the story in the first day's coverage. You also look like you're hiding something. (See "The Cardinal Sins of Public Relations")

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Politics, You Need Them Far More Than They Need You

Unless you control access to the White House Press Room and can yank reporters’ credentials at any time, they really don’t need to stay in your good graces to do their jobs. They don’t really care if their stories piss you off. But you need to keep them in your good graces because without access to the media, you lose access to your constituency. Remember the old saying: “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” At the same time, to the extent that you do control access to information, use it as leverage. If you give a reporter a “scoop,” don’t hesitate to call in a favor when you need one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Welcome to The PR Man!!!

Well, I've finally bitten the social media bullet. After cogitating far too long on updating my web site, getting onto facebook, twitter, etc., I'm finally jumping in whole hog. This blog will be a place to share some of my experiences, thoughts and ideas about public relations, advertising, communications, politics and public discourse with my clients, prospective clients and other out there surfing the web. Look forward to your thoughts and comments.