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    Monday, November 16, 2009

    The Client/Service Provider Divide – Lessons in Over Familiarity!

    A big part of PR is about whether the face fits – the decision to engage one provider over another can come down to synergy. It really helps when you just ‘get’ each other.

    So where is the line when it comes to familiarity? A few tales spring to mind that I think are good examples of overstepping the mark.

    For instance, I worked for a guy in the early days who was pretty laid back. He was received well mostly, but I do remember going in for a big pitch that we’d spent weeks preparing for. When the marketing director reached out to take a slide printout from our stack he smacked her hand with a ruler and said jokingly ‘wait until you are offered!’ She blushed and it was very embarrassing… needless to say, we didn’t win the account.

    Then there was a manager in my team who figured the best way to connect with the client was to socialise with them.. OK, nothing wrong with that. But one night out, heavily laced with alcohol I might add, eventually took her to a strip club. She desperately didn’t want to go in but also didn’t want to seem uncool, in case it affected the client relationship. Well he sensed she felt awkward, he felt awkward that she felt awkward… can you guess the ending? He just couldn’t face her again and the partnership was quickly dissolved.

    Onto Christmas parties. Of course, I also know the PR manager that ended up in an embrace with a married client and was promptly dismissed the next day.
    And there’s the wardrobe malfunction. There was an incident with a PR director and the strap of her cocktail dress, which chose to come unfastened at an awards dinner at precisely the point that she was being introduced to her client’s CEO. Again, the relationship was irreparable. (OK that one was an example of unintentional over familiarity, but the lesson there would be choose your outfit sensibly – anything that requires the forgoing of underwear probably shouldn’t be your number one choice for a business event).

    All of the above are pretty extreme examples of overstepping the familiarity line - here are a few day to day tips for maintaining that bond without pushing the boundaries:

    • Don’t use overly familiar terms like ‘mate’ unless your client uses them first and you are sure it’s ok

    • Keep sharing down to a minimum.. your client might well think your exploits over the weekend are funny, but at the end of the day business is business and you risk a judgement on your business ethics based on your social life

    • Don’t abuse a close working relationship by assuming it’s ok to overrun deadlines, show up late to meetings, ‘wing it’ by arriving unprepared etc.

    • Take it easy with the alcohol at formal events and client parties, you still need to appear in control and professional
    • Go easy on the smilies in your emails and texts ! Save them for your friends, you want to come across as a professional, not a teenager

    • Strictly no scratching, picking or belching – I hope I don’t have to be more explicit! If that means not accepting a coke to drink in a meeting, so be it!

    • Essentially you are representing your company and its ability to conduct business – try not to do anything that shows that in a negative light.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Writer’s block – all too common in PR!

    So you have to deliver an article to a client by the end of the day. You have blocked out four hours to do it – should be plenty, right? Wrong, it’s one of those days where your vocabulary has inexplicably halved and you couldn’t form a coherent sentence if your life depended on it! Writer’s block is pretty common in PR, especially when deadlines are looming and you are up against the wall. What to do? Here are some strategies that might help:

    1. Plan it
    We get so used to writing off the cuff that we forget how useful a plan can be! Go back to basics and ask yourself (out loud if necessary) what you are trying to achieve with this piece, who will be reading it and what would benefit them the most.

    2. Talk about it
    Stumped for ideas? Still got that last client meeting in your head and having trouble switching gears? Grab a colleague, phone a friend, chat about it. Even if you’re a sole trader, find someone willing to listen because even the smallest of comments from another person’s perspective (sometimes even just verbalising it out loud) is often enough to get those creative juices flowing again!

    3. Focus
    Do what you need to do to be able to focus. It sounds crazy but I can’t write if I have hunger nagging at me. Figure out what you are preoccupied with (get a cup of tea, make that pressing phone call, write a ‘to do’ list for later) and then allocate a short (yes short) amount of time to resolving distracting issues. It’s easy to get carried away and keep finding other supposedly more important things to do, so try not to fall into that trap – but do remove the source of your irritation if you can.

    4. Write something – anything!
    If you ideas are just not translating into a beautiful piece of copy, don’t stress, just write it down anyway. Maybe you will end up with a page full of rubbish but at least your concepts are recorded, then you can concentrate on addressing style! Sometimes this ‘one thing at a time’ approach is what it takes to get the job done.

    5. Bin your work
    That said, don’t waste time labouring over rubbish –if you are really unhappy with how your piece is taking shape it can sometimes help to screw it up and flick it in the bin! Starting afresh might just jump start a whole new approach to writing that works!

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Marketing technology: a marriage of the left and right side of the brain

    Technology PR is a marriage of the right and left sides of the brain – art and science. As a PR professional who has worked on many, many technology campaigns over the years, I still consider myself to be missing the left hand side of my brain entirely! It’s all about the benefits technology brings and the issues technology resolves for me – that’s the information that stays with me.

    My husband on the other hand is in technical sales. He is all about the technology, how it works, which features make it faster, more sophisticated, better than other technologies. I guess you could say I’m the type of person who buys the pretty red car with a fabulous sounding sound system and a big enough boot for all of my shopping. He would look under the bonnet, compare horsepower and fuel consumption with similar models... you get the picture.

    So I was engaging with my regular banter with my ‘lefty’ partner, i.e. who would win in race/mental challenge/knowledge test, the CTO or the CMO? I explained that the news releases written by my technology clients with the ‘technology blinkers’ on (i.e. no sniff of a business benefit) were yawn-worthy and I found it horribly hard to stay awake to the end, no matter how awesome the technology. ‘Sometimes propeller heads have no idea how to relate to the real world!’ I complained.

    He fought back... as I hoped he would! ‘When I am presenting the latest and greatest software to a company, I simply hand the marketers a comic and sit them in the corner until the presentation is over,” he joked. ‘Then I tell them they can only keep the comic if they buy the software, it’s a guaranteed sale every time’ (well I never said we go easy on each other, hey!)

    ‘Oh, by the way,’ I suddenly remembered. ‘You couldn’t take a quick look at my case study and check that I have all the best technology points in there and that I’ve understood them correctly could you? It’s not going to work unless I’m bringing out the real differentiators.’

    ‘Sure,” he replied, ‘don’t I always?’

    ‘By the way, could you cast your eye over my presentation and make sure it’s zappy enough? He said. ‘It’s all in there, but I want to make sure it’s lively enough to keep the audience engaged.’

    ‘Absolutely!’ I replied

    And there you have it, an unspoken agreement of the essential symbiosis between technology and marketing that makes presenting technical information to the masses really work.

    I can think of many examples where companies get it wrong in both directions (too techie or too soft). I can also think of a few companies who have nailed the balance between the two sides... Apple for one! Let me know what you think.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Issues management and crisis control through PR

    If you are a PR practitioner, sooner or later you are going to come up against a ‘situation’ that needs to be controlled carefully. There are definite means and processes for navigating these issues and coming up still smelling of roses. And, there are ways to shoot yourself in the foot.

    The fact is, the impact of negative exposure can hit any company or individual with a public profile at any time, no matter how big or small. But using some high profile examples, here are some cases in illustration of good and bad issues management.

    First let’s take a current example – The Prime Minister’s Oz Cars email scandal! The Opposition has made claims that Mr Rudd used his position to help car dealer friend, John Grant, get finance through the Governments Oz Car scheme. At the time of writing this, the issue is as yet unresolved, but what I do know is that Mr. Rudd has chosen to fight for his name and address this head on. Kevin Rudd has called for an Auditor Generals enquiry into the affair. He has the advantage that the alleged email source for The Opposition’s information hasn’t been produced – if The Rudd administration has honesty on its side it is absolutely right to speak up and put up a fight on this one. Let’s see, hey?

    So when isn’t it smart to fight? Easy, when you are wrong – as my grandmother always said, ‘the truth will out!’ Take Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinski scandal that will be long remembered by people the world over. Instead of looking down the camera and professing innocence (who could forget the immortal line ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ – it’s still on YouTube)a better approach might have been to say ‘you know what, I’m sorry, how can I regain your trust?’

    But even if you are in the right, fighting can be risky if over done. Remember, the harder you fight, the more you push your issue (the negative one, right) into the public eye.

    And when you are wrong? Dominoes so adeptly demonstrated the humility approach with its recent ‘cheese up the nose’ scandal – yuk! The thought of Dominoes employees stuffing my toppings into various orifices before placing them on my pizza was absolutely enough for me to give them a wide berth forever. Until I saw the apology and felt reassured the company was dealing with it and Dominoes would probably have the world’s cleanest pizzas as a result.

    Another good strategy for when you’re in the wrong is to provide balance by highlighting what is ‘good’ next to what has been perceived as ‘not so good’ to complete the picture.

    So basically, what I’m trying to say is you have to ‘you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em’ .. ok, so that was what Kenny Rogers was trying to say, but you get the gist.

    Here are a few issues management pointers:
    1. First properly identify your issue. Make sure you understand what is being said about you/your company/your offering so you are best positioned to formulate a response strategy. Twitter is a great place to eavesdrop on the buzz and gain a full understanding of public opinion. Also check news and blogs regularly to gather information.

    2. Analyse the issue. What are the drivers behind the comments being made? There might be more than one answer here. Maybe one group are dissatisfied with your product or service. Maybe a separate group stands to gain from your demise through this issue – these groups need addressing separately and in different ways.

    3. Develop a positioning policy on the issue, so it can be addressed consistently through our every medium (a solid approach to communicating your response is a must). Include timelines and budget assignments so that you have parameters to measure results against – is your approach working or not? Does the policy need adjusting in response to a change in public comment?

    4. Define the actual tactics you are going to deploy to address the issue (YouTube response, blogging, Twittering, direct contact with customer base, press release, TV interviews etc.)

    5. Review the reaction to your actions on an ongoing basis and stay on top of the issue until you achieve a satisfactory conclusion.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    PR – The top 6 sins when producing a news release!

    Reading something that is poorly written just isn’t fun – especially when the reader is expected to make his or her way through several similar documents per day. Without exception, writing that is clear and to the point is most likely to stand out from the pile and speak to the reader… not the piece that has been cleverly crafted to include every relevant SEO term or industry buzz word.

    OK, this is a bit of a repeater in terms of PR blog topics, but I have seen more than enough Twitter complaints about the frustration of reading nonsensical rubbish to think it a worthwhile one. Here are my top 6 sins when producing written news:

    1. Beating about the bush
    Reading a press release shouldn’t feel like a fishing expedition! George Orwell said ‘good prose is like a window pane’, which means the words you are using shouldn’t cloud the reader’s view of the information. Talk facts - avoid giving an over-inflated sense of the company or its achievements, just who it is and what it did is enough – readers will make up their own minds based on the substance of the news. A reader should be able to skim the first paragraph of a news release and get from it a good idea of the ‘who, when, what, where and why’ relating to that news. Reading on should allow them to dig deeper into the news, if the opening has piqued their interest.

    2. Waffling on
    Empty and meaningless words have a tendency to creep into business prose. Tell your story articulately and accurately. Approach the construction of sentences with the Twitter 140 character limit in mind, if that helps! Once you have finished a draft of your news release, go back through it and remove empty words – you will cut your piece by 10 percent again, I almost guarantee it!

    3. Ignoring the audience
    It’s all well and good to write about something you find exciting. But are the things you find exciting relevant to the intended audience? Maybe the latest new compact camera on the market is neat enough to fit in a clutch bag when out with the girls, but if you are including men’s magazines on your distribution list, that’s irrelevant. Make sure that what you’re writing meets the needs of your audience. Do this by organising newsworthy points in a list and then matching those points to target audience. Also ensure that your overall piece sticks to a consistent single theme, even if you are making two or three separate points to illustrate that theme (returning to the example of the camera, maybe the overall theme is it’s a great new product for young guys and the sub-points are that it fits easily in your pocket, it’s more technically advanced than any similar product on the market and it’s a great looking product!)

    4. Not revealing your sources
    If you allude to a fact, provide an accompanying information source. List all relevant URLs, names of research documents and creditable spokespeople that can verify your facts and add depth to the points you made within your news release.

    5. A writing collaboration
    How many bestselling novels do you know that are written by three or four different authors? The fact is written work is better when a single author is responsible for content and style. Microsoft Word’s ‘track changes’ feature makes it all too easy for each manager and director within the company to add their own input, but that often leads to repetition and style confusion. Instead, comments should be submitted to the author who can collect them and address them within the final piece in a way that’s in keeping with the original style.

    6. Skimping on proof-reading
    Now I’m going to say the opposite on editing and suggest more than one editor be involved in producing one news release. By editor I mean someone to sanity check your work, not someone to confuse it by applying additional content of their own. It is vital to pass your finished work before the eyes of one or more other persons prior to distribution. If you are a sole trader and honestly don’t have a trusted friend or long suffering spouse to read your every word, try walking away for an hour or so and then coming back to look at your work with fresh eyes. Another useful tip is to read it to yourself out loud – it’s amazing how sentences that read well in your head sometimes reveal glaringly obvious errors when vocalized!

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Is your PR provider ace, or waste of space? 10 Questions to ask.

    I have been inspired to write this post by the companies I work with that have found me after having a bad experience with a PR provider that had…well, bad experience!
    It happens in PR more than other industries because it is relatively easy for people to set themselves up as a PR consultant or tack PR onto their offering when they are not really able to achieve the results you deserve. You just end up paying for the privilege of being their guinea pig and you come out feeling unsatisfied and out of pocket.

    Or worse, there are PR agencies that are happy to take your cash but don’t have the resources to assign experienced people to your account – beware of agency oversubscribing!

    They say you get what you pay for…not so with PR. You can easily end up paying full industry rates for a less than comprehensive service if you are not careful. So how should you avoid these pitfalls?

    1. Ask your prospective provider to talk about your business, competitors and industry space. These are the people who are going to be selling your merits - you need to feel comfortable that they are immersed in what’s going on in your market space and have a firm grasp on what you do.

    2. Ask for proof of their creativity. If they suggest that press releases and articles are the be all and end all, you might as well swap them out for a good copywriter and news distribution service and save yourselves a heap of cash! Ask them to bring examples of truly creative campaigns they have run on behalf of other clients (preferably in your market space) and to point to the parts that were unique, as well as demonstrate the results.

    3. Find out their 5 best known client names and get an outline of what they achieved on their behalf.

    4. Ask about retention rates – how long does the average client stay with them? If they have a habit of turning around clients every three months, this might warrant investigation.

    5. Ask specifically what sets them apart from other providers – a PR provider with its finger on the pulse will have a good knowledge of what the others are doing and how they differentiate themselves. They will be proud to demonstrate their strengths.

    6. Ask who will be involved in the account, what experience they have, and which parts of the campaign each person will manage. It’s no good meeting the account director in the pitch only to find they are nowhere to be found once the contract is signed.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a spread of experience across your campaign (especially budget-wise) you don’t want to be charged account director hours for filling out report updates, for example. But it is also essential to know that someone with many years broad experience in conducting successful PR campaigns is steering your activities.

    7. Look for a provider that is able to offer you a progressive vision of your PR going into the future. If they present you with a multi-phase strategic plan that integrates nicely with your marketing roadmap and includes milestones for working towards long term goals that make sense to you, you’re getting there! Be wary of PR consultants that are only able to respond to your immediate needs.

    8. Ask for references – ideally you will be able to contact them directly, as opposed to the agency simply offering you a document that puts a client’s name to a couple of nice sentences about them. The best scenario is one in which you are able to put your own questions to the references provided.

    9. Find out how your agency invoices. If they are recommending an all inclusive monthly retainer for example, clarify (and don’t be afraid to negotiate) exactly what that means. Find out whether there is flexibility built in, for example ‘if I am allocated one news release per month but I don’t have any news in February, can I roll that allocation over to another month?’

    If you are entering into a ‘billing by hours’ agreement, ask them to estimate the hours associated with set activities in advance. Request some examples of typical monthly costs for other clients with similar PR requirements.

    10. Last but not least, chat with them, take notes, compare and discuss. Basically take all the time you need to find out whether your PR consultant is the real deal and in doing so you will reduce the risk of throwing away money on poor performance.

    Ask any successful agency, PR is founded largely on experience – it’s about having an in-depth understanding of how different aspects work. It’s also about having come across various situations before and using that experience to create new approaches. The more knowledge your consultant is able to bring to the table, the safer your investment in their recommended PR strategy will be.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Clients on Facebook - Yes or No?

    More and more of us are networking online with multiple services (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linked In). And the various services tend to be used in the same way by the majority, e.g. Linked In for business, Facebook and MySpace for friends, with Twitter achieving a nice mix of both worlds.

    From my part I’m clear on who I need to be connecting with on Linked In and to what end. But when it comes to social sites, the lines are a little more blurred. Do the clients you are close to qualify as friends, therefore achieve Facebook friend status? Or not?

    As with every grey area, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to opening your Facebook up to preferred clients. For one thing, it allows you to forge closer bonds. Several industries thrive on the strength of the supplier/client relationship (think public relations and advertising). The closer you are, the more synergy you have and the more you can achieve as a team, right?

    Tim Hill, Senior Account Manager at a Cape Town PR agency agrees, “I use Facebook as a networking tool for both personal and business use. Networking online can be a powerful advantage in this very social industry. Of course you have to be sensible and exercise a bit of caution, so as not to negatively impact on your credibility or that of your business. But it’s no different to behaving appropriately in public – there are things you only say and do in the company of your closest friends, and in my mind it’s no trouble to make that distinction.”

    The fake Stephen Conroy Twitter incident which put a Telstra employee under scrutiny is a perfect example of how your behaviour can throw your professional reputation into the spotlight!

    This is enough to persuade many that work and pleasure simply shouldn’t be mixed;

    “I think it’s essential to place a barrier between your work life and social life,” says Julian Ford, Manager - Sales Engineering, Australia New Zealand (@julianford) of "You have to maintain a level of decorum in business, which you don’t necessarily need to uphold among friends on Facebook. There are sites specifically geared towards business networking – I’m all for using those for business and reserving Facebook for my friends.”

    So, what is the correct Protocol if a client approaches you and asks you if they can link with you in Facebook? Is it offensive to decline?

    “As long as you make light of it, no offense can possibly be taken,” says Libby-Jane Charleston (@ljcharleston), PR Consultant and author of crime fiction Light Sweet Crude. “I just tell my clients that they don’t want to trawl through all of my family photos on Facebook and suggest they connect with my on Twitter instead."

    At the end of the day, the choice is down to the individual. There many people who have a relationship with clients that more closely resembles a friendship and who benefit immensely from socialising in Facebook – I do it myself. But I do sometimes wonder- if one or other of us decides to end the business relationship where does that leave us?

    My feeling is that, if when you talk to a client face to face about your life or your weekend you feel the need to offer the edited version, then maybe you should consider keeping business and pleasure apart… ‘one way or another, the truth will out’, so says my wise grandmother, anyway!

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009


    What’s chemistry got to do with PR, you might wonder? A lot! In fact it is the one key ingredient in the pitch that you simply can’t prepare for. It’s the nature of agency PR that you partner with companies very closely, so you need to think the way the company thinks, work the way they work and BE the kind of people they are to some degree.

    Basically, pitching for PR is like interviewing for a job – no matter how qualified you are, if the face doesn’t fit…

    We might all consider buying a great product from a not so great sales person because we know we won’t have to put up with them for long – I remember a software salesman coming into one company where I worked and parking his car so that he blocked the cars of a couple of company employees. As a result they couldn’t get out to meetings. He sat on the desk, quite obviously on a long personal phone call, and shushed anyone who tried to politely interrupt him to let him know that he was making people late for an important appointment.

    But a PR consultant is for keeps (well hopefully long term, at least!)
    So when I enter the pitch, knowing full well that I know the market space inside out and I am armed with great ideas and valuable connections to impress, it’s whether I will connect with the right people in the room that most rattles my nerves.

    While there’s nothing you can do to force good chemistry, a little foreknowledge of the company and people you are going to meet goes a long way to helping you relax and behave naturally. I always try to find out a bit about the company before heading off for a meeting and I like to know in advance who will be there. You can also tell a lot about a company from the style of their website – is it relaxed and modern, traditional and formal? Does anyone you know deal with this company and can they give you any valuable insights?

    It’s no good turning up in jeans when they are strictly a suited and booted operation. (I’m usually an excellent judge when it comes to wearing the right thing, but even I have been guilty of a wardrobe malfunction in the past – I once found myself the only dress in a room full of suit pants. Even the women were all wearing pants… and I could swear my dress had shrunk en route because I was suddenly painfully aware of how inappropriately short it was!) Equally you won’t relax in a shirt and tie if the people you are meeting are all in mufti!

    Once you are in the meeting, let smart judgement dictate your behaviour. It’s ok to try to break the ice with a joke or two, but make sure they are in good taste and they don’t push any personal boundaries! I remember an occasion when someone I was pitching with made a serious error in how familiar he could be with his audience. When the marketing director reached forward to take a handout he smacked her hand jovially and told her to wait until she had been offered one… she was notably embarrassed and didn’t make eye contact for the remainder of the meeting. Needless to say, we weren’t asked back.

    That said, if you arrive in good time and deliver a clear presentation that addresses all of the company’s needs succinctly, you will often have time for a general chat afterwards – a time to explore common interests like children, hobbies, sports etc. A couple of my clients have ended up being friends for life this way, simply because we just ‘clicked’ in that first meeting.

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Increasing your chances in the pitch

    Bringing on new clients can be challenging; you have relatively little time to be up to speed with the company, its offerings and the market. Then there’s the competition! Here are some tools that can help you in the pitch:
    1. Love what you pitch
    It’s tempting to go after the best earning prospect, but not necessarily the smartest long term strategy. If the most lucrative market doesn’t match with your own interests, your lack of enthusiasm could betray you in the pitch, not to mention make memorising facts difficult and hamper your creativity.

    Go for accounts you can really get passionate about. Instead of waiting for them to land in your lap, network at shows, conferences and other events where these businesses can be found, make direct contact with the top players in your favourite field. Consider a pro-bono project to break into your favourite market. When you are pitching within a market you love, you stand a far greater chance of winning and keeping your client.

    2. Get up to speed with what’s happening in the market space
    Reach beyond research of the company’s own marketing materials and product sheets. Read up on competitive companies and market news. Track down and read relevant blogs, do a Twitter search on a key term to tap into links to the latest news and articles; it can be a goldmine for market research.

    3. Have a good natter!
    Gather opinions; hearing and debating several diverse opinions on a topic provides fuller knowledge and greater confidence in discussing that topic in the pitch. Approach peers, people in the industry and Twitter friends for insights (many Twitterers are happy to help with information on their own business sector or specific area of expertise. There are Twitterers that actively invite questions, for example @IreneKoehler holds ‘How Can I Help’ Wednesdays via Twitter, inviting people to Tweet their questions on all sorts of topics including life, business and travel, with a #canihelp prefix.

    4. The wow factor (if it makes you go wow, write it down)
    While you are doing your research and preparing to stand in front of your prospect, it’s useful to remember that if it makes you go ‘wow’ it will make a great talking point in a meeting. Write down the things that wow you; you’ll be surprised how many of them will spring to mind during the course of the pitch.

    5. Think quirky
    It pays to give a little extra thought to what you could do that is a bit out of the ordinary, attention grabbing, even if it’s not in the PR brief. Performing above expectations will rarely put you at a disadvantage (be mindful of the client’s budget, mind you!)

    Hearing technology company Sensear ( has fun choosing deliberately noisy, lively and unusual venues for events, knowing that attendees will appreciate it and a live demo of its speech distinguishing technology will be all the more impressive; a break from the comparatively boring format of a quiet hotel conference room, hey?