The Why and How of PR for chief executives and busy professionals

By Boni Sones
ECS


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Page 9. How agencies can help

  • Where to go for help?

Both nationally and locally there are PR, marketing and brand agencies that can help you devise your messages.

National agencies often have specialists who work with voluntary organisations and charities. Some even do work pro-bono. You might want to ask others who they have used, what their experiences are, what they cost and who they would recommend? But spending too much money might lead to criticisms of you.

The normal procedure is to write a brief for the work you want done and to ask others to “pitch” for it. Before you do this you might ask them in to brainstorm some ideas with you. It’s a good idea to ask them to bring examples of their work. Go to their website to research their full client list and to see what testimonials others have given them.

It is certainly true that local PR agencies will know the local media well. They may be able to devise a “meet the editors” campaign for you and take you to meet editors themselves rather than relying on your letter or cold call. Equally a local marketing company may have a very young and creative team who can help develop your ideas further.

Action: Look at the website and marketing material of other local organisations. Which design appeals to you, who do you think is communicating effectively? Find out who they have used and invite them in to meet you.

  • How much should I pay?

Let the agency know how much you have got to spend. They will sometimes revise their thinking and will try to work within your budgets however meagre. Initially it might be beneficial for them to team up with you even if you don’t have thousands of pounds.

In the long term you will need to devise a more sustainable strategy towards agency help and to finance it properly. PR agencies will quote you a price on an hourly or daily basis but plenty of journalists also work freelance for less.

The advantage of using an established local PR agency is that you get access to their known contacts and mailing lists. If you want to distribute news regionally this may be the best way to proceed. Equally just getting a few helpful hints can help.

You can work with them in a number of different ways. They can help you write and distribute the release or you may just want them to distribute it for you.

Action: You local business or charity networks should be able to help you find a good reliable local PR agency. Find out who their clients are and how they have helped others.

  • What support is best?

In the short term you may have to do the PR yourself or delegate it to someone else. At some stage you will have to decide if you want the PR function to be internal or external to your organisation. There are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches.

You can get more experienced professionals working for PR agencies. The salary you can offer to employ a marketing and PR professional often means that you will employ someone younger who does not have a great deal of experience.

Some organisations get round this by doing both. They will have somebody in-house who deals with PR but they will also use an agency to help guide them, particularly during times of crisis management.

These agencies can mentor and support your staff through difficult times and add value to the work they are doing by passing on their skills and knowledge to them. If you do decide to employ an external agency remember that you will still need to have someone internally that they liase with.

Action: Find out what approach suits your organisation best. Is there somebody you can ask onto your Board who has PR experience they can share with you? Are there any retired journalists or PR executives locally who could advise you?

  • Mentoring your team

Not everybody likes dealing with the media. Taking calls from journalists involves a lot of responsibility and it often requires individuals to think quickly on their feet. They may feel they have said the wrong thing and not know what to do about it.

Encourage an open and honest approach towards media calls. If someone thinks they have blundered encourage them to tell you. It is best to know before the situation gets out of hand.

Agencies often handle media calls for you and your staff, that’s why they are there. They will have a better idea of what to say when and how to devise some good robust lines to take on your behalf. They can be a very good go-between in both the crisis “reactive” situation and with your “proactive” launch event.

They work by developing relationships with your staff and getting to know them. Respect the advice they give you and learn from them.

Action: Who can you turn to for help with the media? Are other professionals willing to share their experiences with you? Your media trainer can often help you both in and out of the training situation.

  • Who does what?

When an agency comes to visit you find out how many people they employ, who their clients are, and who will be dealing with your account. It is important that you feel comfortable with those who are handling the media for you as they will need to develop a close working relationship with you.

Who is handling your media calls out of hours? Have your staff put a message on the answer machine to say how you or others can be contacted? A quick response to a “reactive” situation can often lessen the potential damage. Agencies often handle out of hours calls for you to lighten your load but they charge extra for this.

Also find out who is covering for who during the holiday period. This can be a difficult time for an organisation but ensuring there is a media rota with out of hours phone numbers will make your organisation appear professional.

Action: Find out who can cover for media calls when and produce a list of out of hours phone numbers for these staff. Be prepared to get an agency to help you if you are expecting a lot of calls.


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