How many of you watch television news daily? Listen to news radio as you commute? Read your local daily newspaper? Or the Wall Street Journal?
Have you ever wondered how the stories on people and companies got there? About 75 percent are planted by public relations people. That’s public relations at work, getting companies such as yours exposure by strategically designing what you have to talk about in either a newsworthy or public service fashion. In fact, at The Blaine Group, we often say that nearly everyone can become famous overnight.
Keep this in mind as you contemplate and prioritize the possibilities. And, to borrow a phrase from one motivational speaker, “plan your work, then work your plan.”
Now that you’ve determined what you are going to do, who is going to do it?
Some of the most effective early-stage public relations campaigns have been handled by the president’s assistant. He or she is someone who knows the company, its customers and goals and has regular access to you. And, if that person is also articulate and writes well, it is logical for some public relations activities to be added to his or her job description. In fact, this may be the only way a new business can afford a public relations effort early on. However, it is important to realize that with limited staff available only part-time for communications tasks, the targeted outlets and anticipated outcome must be minimized.
Implementing a public relations campaign requires an extraordinary amount of time. Gear your expectations accordingly. And, in a situation such as the above, prioritization is particularly critical.
Then too, assuming the president’s assistant has no professional public relations background, he or she will need to acquire some media “savvy.” This includes:
- Developing a broad-based knowledge of business hot topics;
- Framing a story in terms of the trend it represents;
- Understanding both the targeted outlet and your market;
- Knowing how to pitch the piece in several different ways;
- Offering exclusives;
- Being aware of conflicts;
- Persevering, even after several rejections, while accepting “no” gracefully;
- Following AP style and double-checking facts, phone numbers, etc.;
- Knowing what is and what is not generally accepted practice;
- Following through on commitments in a timely fashion; and
- Establishing a reputation for credibility and honesty.
When your company has expanded and its communications needs are greater than those that can be handled by the president’s assistant on a part-time basis, the next step is to add an experienced full-time public relations staff person or persons, retain an outside agency, or both.
A number of factors should be considered in the equation. Here are several possible scenarios.
- If trade publications are the only media important to your company, one professional who has specialized in your industry and knows the editors are your best bet. Then too, his or her specialized knowledge will be useful in writing brochures, collateral materials, and copy, etc.
- If penetrating one marketplace is critical to your success, whether it be the hospitality industry, financial services, car dealerships, retail stores, etc., who has the proven expertise to do the job? This could be an individual or an agency.
- If a mix of trade and general-interest publications plus financial public relations and investor relations is required, is there any singular person who can provide the diverse support you need? And, if so, can you afford him or her?
The more expansive and sophisticated your communications activities become, the more you’ll benefit from the combined expertise of a number of professionals. Then too, it is at this stage that the campaign truly needs to be managed. Will you feel confident assigning that responsibility to an agency that is offsite, to people you see only periodically? Or, would you prefer to have a solid generalist on staff, someone with whom you can meet whenever you choose, to oversee the agency’s effort? One is not necessarily better than the other. It is truly a matter of personal style and preference.
Should you decide to retain an agency, here are some questions to ask:
- Have you ever worked on an account in this field before? (There is both pro and con on this.)
- Is our account conflictual with any other account in the agency?
- Please provide references we can check.
- Who are your clients?
- With whom in the agency will we be working? (Sometimes the person who makes the presentation is not the person who will service your account. You must have a rapport with your contact.)
- How will you position our product/service?
In accessing the company, look for open and honest answers. Look for distinguished clients, a successful track record, strong creative concepts, a talented staff, energy, enthusiasm, flexibility, and ambition.
Also look at how the agency plans to correlate your public relations and advertising activities. When they are cohesively planned and utilize the same theme, they cross-index and cross-collateralize and provide maximum visibility for minimal expenditure.
As far as budget appropriation is concerned, agencies work in several ways: an hourly fee, a per-project fee, or a monthly retainer. Ask for a quotation and get several estimates. Plan to spend more on a new product/service launch than on an established one. Do appropriate an amount annually for public relations; stealing from another budget does not serve any area of the company well.
About the Author
Devon Blaine is experienced in all facets of the communications industry. Formerly an actress, model, and stunt driver, she founded the agency in 1975. Besides designing communications campaigns that help businesses maximize their success, she has long been active in numerous entrepreneurial organizations, thus earning a reputation as “the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.” She has incorporated the knowledge gained from these ventures into the philosophy of The Blaine Group. The agency has an award-winning track record in serving the public relations needs of fast-track emerging-growth companies and major corporations alike.
She was three times president of the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA), a founding board member and a past president of the Los Angeles chapter of (NAWBO) National Association of Women Business Owners. Devon also serves as a mentor for the Stubbs Alderton & Markiles Precelerator, the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center, and the Innovation Incubator at Cal State University Dominguez Hills.
About The Blaine Group, Inc.
The Blaine Group specializes in developing and implementing public relations campaigns and marketing strategies as comprehensive communications campaigns or as stand-alone entities. The firm represents many authors and fast-track, emerging-growth companies. It also handles investor relations and financial public relations activities for its publicly-traded clients. The Blaine Group is located at 8665 Wilshire Blvd., Suite #301, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. The telephone number is 310.360.1499 Visit www.blainegroupinc.com.