The all-round agency

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in November 2015

It’s impossible to attend an industry conference or talk without the word ‘integration’ entering your earholes. And the reason for this is because integration offers more; it enables communicators to give their clients strong, centralised solutions. 

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By Remy Raitt

More and more agencies are realising the power of the integrated service offering; and are subsequently evolving with the client and their needs. Kevin Welman, the managing director ofFleishmanHillard says; “We help tell the client’s story, and we need the ability to do that at any time, on any channel, in any way and anywhere.” He says integration makes this possible.

Pick your sides

But integration doesn’t just mean waking up one morning and taking on every service offering known to the modern marketer or public relations professional. Welman says it’s critical to seriously think about what services your agency should, and can, be offering. “The starting point is really, honestly knowing what you do and what you don’t do,” he says.

Put your client at the centre

Erica Gunning, the managing director of the South Africa MEC Group says integration occurs because clients crave “one desired effect”. She says because integrated agencies provide a full picture of how clients can reach the consumer, it’s integral the agency can fully provide the response the client is looking for. Welman echoes this, saying that integration is not for the benefit of the agency, but exist because clients want integrated solutions that are centralised.

Not only is this cost-effective for the client but also offers efficient solutions. Adrian Furstenburg, the media liaison of Just Perfect says an agency that can offer integrated services from conception to completion not only streamlines the process but also keeps it “focused in one place, with a common objective – from beginning to end, which means that it can receive the dedication and cultivation it needs to have the desired impact on the market”.

Dig into digital

Gunning and Furstenburg agree that digital is the biggest driver of integration. “Digital is fundamental as it links everything to everything – literally,” says Furstenburg. But this doesn’t mean traditional is left in the dust. Instead, Gunning says the agency has to find smart ways to merge digital platforms and traditional media. “This adds value in synergy,” she says. “But you need to work out how to build your reach and how to drive digital, once you’ve figure that out it’s easier to drive the client.”

“Digital is not new, it’s just a different channel,” says Welman. He believes the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to digital is that it’s multi-faceted, and therefore it’s imperative that the agency works out what platforms they should be offering their different services on.

The integrated employee

Around the world, advertising agencies and PR firms are coming together or morphing their service offerings to provide integrated solutions. Gunning says this fluidity between the two helps eliminate any overlap. “It makes life much easier if the client partners with one agency who can take care of the full pitch.” She says these requirements have prompted the birth of the “hybrid strategist”. Gunning and Welman say that an integrated agency would work with a two-fold approach; with one person managing the relationships and communications channels, and a team of specialists behind them who offer depth.

Challenges to overcome

When it comes to integration, Welman says the challenges are vast. “PR traditionally employed that specific A-type person, but now there’s this overlay of highly creative people too. There’s a new range of personality styles and working methods.” But he believes there’s a simple solution: “If the agency knows what they stand for, you will staff-up in direct relation to this and it will all come together.”

Do you work at an integrated communications agency? Tell us about the ups and downs of this type of operation below.

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Press release mistakes you might be making

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in October 2015

The press release is the pinnacle of the public relations profession. They present the facts to the media so that a client’s product or brand can receive optimal publicity. But, if you’re sending out press releases littered with errors or annoyances, chances are, journalists will can them before they’ve even reached the last sentence.

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By Remy Raitt

Instead of looking at how to craft the perfect press release, we’re going to look at things to avoid. These are common mistakes that can be easily overlooked, so read on to ensure you’re not committing any of press release faux pas.

Don’t create a title doomed for the trash

“The title of your press release is the first thing a journalist will see, so make sure it’s concise, enticing and gives a good overview of your story,” says Katy Cowan in an article for Creative Boom. Samantha Pugh of Pugh Public Relations & Corporate Communications agrees, adding that the subject line “should never shout ‘brand’”. If appropriate, Pugh also suggests customising the subject line according to the receiver, she says these changes may reflect personal relationships or the needs of the receiver.

Lara Doundoulakis, owner and director of ThreeSixOh PR & Communications says in order to minimise the chances of your press release landing in the receiver’s spam folder, avoid using numbers in the subject line. The same goes for whole words in caps and the excessive use of exclamation marks.

Save time. Don’t waffle.

“In your email you should begin with an opening pitch that shouldn’t exceed two or three lines,” says Pugh. She says this introduction must explain why the information you have sent is important, don’t waste the journalist’s time with waffling.

Underneath your email message it’s wise to copy and paste your press release, this will assist journalists who are strapped for time to extract the information they need without fiddling with attachments, says Cowan.

Don’t pussyfoot with your press release

It’s smart to include an attachment of the press release too. Cowan says avoid PDF’s as these are tricky to copy and paste from. And copy and pasting is something the PR professional should strive for.

“The press release needs to promote the brand or product but it should still come off as unbiased. If a journalist is strapped for time they should be able to just copy and paste the press release and it should be able to fit in with the other editorial content,” says Pugh.

Pugh and Doundoulakis agree that the opening paragraph of your actual press release is the most important part. It should explain why this information is important and relevant and it should make the key message of the press release clear. “I always like to justify whatever copy I’ve added,” says Pugh.

Language you should lose

Flowery and overly flattering language are big no no’s says Pugh, and according to Doundoulakis, when it comes to your competitors, ‘mud-slinging’ and defamation must be steered completely clear of. Doundoulakis adds that spelling and grammar errors are unacceptable, as is SMS language.

Press releases need to be factual and specific; Doundoulakis says phrases like “in my opinion” should be avoided, as should sweeping terms like “the general public”.

Lessons in layout

“Press releases need to look professional,” says Pugh. With this in mind, she suggests using a font size that’s at least a size 10, in a font that’s easy to read. Doundoulakis adds that cursive writing, the use of all capital letters or the overuse of bold, italics or underlined words should be avoided. For a clean and professional look, Doundoulakis suggests always using black writing, breaking the text up into easy-to-read paragraphs and using bullets instead of commas when listing more than three things.

When it comes to hyperlinks, don’t over-do it. Pugh says only add the ones that will assist journalists. Don’t forget to test the hyperlinks to ensure they take the reader to the right place.

Don’t photo bomb

Attaching photographs will save the journalist time and energy, but if you send the wrong sorts of pictures you’ll just end up ticking them off. “Ensure you use quality photos that aren’t blurry and not random, they must relate to the press release,” says Pugh. Doundoulakis mirrors this sentiment, adding that if you have numerous relevant photographs, instead overloading the email, rather tell the journalist about the available options so that they can request the ones they want.

What are some other press release faux pas that should be avoided? Tell us below.

 

PR; beyond the press release

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in October 2015

The days of the ‘one size fits all’ press release are long dead. If your PR firm hasn’t entered the realm of digital, soon your business will be a goner too. Carol Gallarelli, MD of Ogilvy PR in Cape Town says it’s imperative that PR agencies ‘get’ the complexity of the modern media environment. Question is; does yours?

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By Remy Raitt

According to Gallarelli, PR practitioners who do, “can deliver the required range of skills at a high level, or know how to quickly access someone else who does, and can manage the process in its entirety”. She says the days of only wearing one hat are over. “Successful agencies are extremely dynamic and flexible places with job descriptions and skill sets changing all the time.”

Talent tops the list

One thing that hasn’t changed is that talent is the biggest driver of success. And, as Gallarelli mentioned, modern PR professionals require an arsenal of skills.

According to a survey conducted by The Holmes Report and ICCO as part of the World PR Report 2015, attracting top talent is still a big concern for PR agencies. “Modern public relations requires a much more diverse set of skills,” says Paul Holmes, founder and CEO of The Holmes Group. “PR firms are increasingly worried about being able to find people with those skills.”

Stepping up those skill sets

So, to succeed in 2015, step one is to find a team who can excel in their varied positions. Gallarelli says these are the bare minimum services an agency should offer; traditional and social media strategy, social media content creation, writing skills, media lists (segmented and graded), influencer mapping, crisis communications experience, media and social media training, speech writing, event conception and management, and monitoring expertise.

Dig into digital

Judith Middleton, CEO of DUO Marketing + Communications says the silos that traditional media once operated in have been smashed. “There’s been a shift; PR now uses measurable digital tactics,” she says. “This has closed the commercial loop on PR and now we’re able to report on the specific commercial value of PR.”

“PR agencies have to be aligned with Google,” says Middleton. “Google can be your biggest friend or enemy, but it’s imperative your PR is dovetailed in the direction Google is going.”

Cutler PR mirrors this sentiment; “To keep up with the future of public relations, professionals need to get their hands dirty in analysing conversions in order to assess big data and predict trends.”

But Gallarelli says there’s no one over-arching way to measure and quantify PR tactics. “No one tool meets every need, there is an optimal bespoke mix for each client or campaign. There is now a premium on the ability to determine which tools to use and how to report back to clients in a way which delivers real insights and key learnings rather than drowning them in data or over-claiming on AVE or Brand Impressions.” 

Savvy social media

Gallarelli says all social media should start with a strategy which determines the most relevant content and channels for the brand or campaign. “Being everywhere on every platform is usually counter-productive or wasteful,” she advises.

Middleton says the depth, engagement opportunities and the broad reach social media offers should not be squandered. She also says the metrics social media deliver on your client’s brand are extremely valuable.

The modern day press release

“A lot of press releases need a wake up and a shakeup,” says Middleton. She says they have to be thought of broadly. “They are still the lifeblood of the profession but now the media might use them in new ways. We add Google trackers in the releases and include direct links to websites and then we’re able to show their worth through Google Analytics.”

Gallarelli says eye catching headlines and subjects lines, hyperlinks, ready-to-go tweets and visual material will assist time-strapped media.

Middleton believes these shifts in the industry are making PR professionals relevant and invaluable. “Thanks to these changes PRs are earning their seats at the boardroom table,” she says. “They also help to make this job very fulfilling.”

What else should the modern-day PR agency be offering? Tell us below.

Making PR personal

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First published on www.mediaupdate.co.za in September 2015

We live in a technological world but no matter how many Skype calls, emails and texts you send a day, nothing creates rapport like human interaction. The communications industry is all about relationships and if you’re not meeting with your clients face-to-face you could be squandering valuable connections.

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By Remy Raitt

Technology enables us to do business, close deals and just generally make things happen faster. In fact, nowadays almost all our business could be done from behind our desks, but as Jennifer Leckstrom saysin an article for PR News; “technology is cold and relationships need to be nurtured”.

Interaction incentive

“Relationships are key when it comes to public relations,” says Renee Schonborn, the owner of Little Black Book PR. “It is difficult to build a relationship of substance with a client without meeting them in person.” She says when considering the art of communication, so much can be gleaned from non-verbal cues; “a positive reaction versus a negative reaction, levels of enthusiasm or concern…  All of these are difficult to get across via phone or email.”

Graham Deneys the strategy director at Carat Cape Town and SSA agrees; “body language can explain things a lot better than voice or text alone,” he says. “Face-to-face interaction also assists in creating common ground elements that aid further conversation, ideas and thoughts,” he adds.

Relationship building

“A personal relationship is developed in person,” says Schonborn. She says that the relationship between client and agency should be one of substance and that while phone and email succeed in taking care of the basics, “it is vital for the agency to really understand the client and their business – I am not sure that this can be achieved by phone and email alone”.

Creating clarity

Deneys says meetings in person ensure everyone is on the same page. “The only way to really understand the “big picture” is by sitting down together and putting all the elements on the table besides the immediate marketing task at hand,” he says. “Having a more in-depth understanding of the business environment will assist in adjusting communication, marketing and media objectives with the aim of achieving overall business goals.”

Schonborn says meeting with clients can also allow for opportunity to improve the work at hand. “I find that meeting with clients face-to-face allows us to more fully explore the campaign, uncover opportunities and discuss any issues – without misunderstanding each other, which can easily happen with phone and especially email.”

The frequency of face-to-face

“Frequency of contact is a tricky one,” says Deneys, “I would say that you should always have a good reason to set up meetings and not just for the sake of having a meeting. Each and every client is different though and as such I would remain as flexible as possible.”

Due to the fact that it takes time for an agency to get into the rhythm of a campaign, Schonborn suggests meeting regularly (twice a month) at first and then more or less monthly once things have settled.

Location, location, location

Both Deneys and Schonborn suggest initially meeting in either the client’s or your offices. “This assists in creating a professional impression from the start that forms the base of your relationship,” says Deneys. “From there, I would say a comfortable environment that allows easy interaction and creative thinking that promotes conversation,” he continues.

Personal and professional harmony

Schonborn believes a great meeting will strike a balance between business and informality. “I don’t believe it is possible to develop a meaningful relationship without understanding the people behind the titles or designations,” she says. “None of us are one dimensional and so our relationships should reflect this.” That said, she does stress that there should be boundaries in place and that both parties should know where these lie.

Do you meet with your clients in person? What do you think this brings to your working relationship with them? Tell us below.

If you schmooze you lose

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in September 2015

Industry events, client functions and launches are goldmines for new business opportunities. A successful PR practitioner will use these gatherings to make new connections and develop existing relationships. But, at these functions there exists a line; on one side sits genuine networking and on the other is agenda-driven schmoozing.

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By Remy Raitt

The word ‘schmooze’ itself even sounds smarmy and when networking opportunities are squandered for self-serving purposes, more than just reputation points could be lost. Business leads and existing contacts could also be jeopardised.

What’s the difference?

“I feel that networking is the process of developing long-term mutually beneficial relationships with people, and schmoozing is more ‘light and fluffy’ in that it focuses more on small talk, one-sided benefits for the schmoozers and does not have the reputation for being the most genuine act,” says Gabbi Rego, director at urban espresso. She believes that blatant schmoozing can look like “ego-gratification” which comes off as insincere.

Networking on the other hand is just that; work. It’s a two-way street that should profit both parties. Inan article for Huffington Post, Colette A.M. Phillips says when networking it’s important to focus on what each side will be gaining from the interaction. “In fact,” she says, “when it comes to networking it’s better to err on the side of giving than receiving.”

The life span differs too

“Networking is an ongoing process,” says new business developer at Newsclip, Hannes Joubert. “If done right, it can definitely bolster your career as it builds report with your peers and other influencers in the industry.” He says schmoozers, on the other hand, are often seen as “fly by nights”. He believes they can come off as opportunists who don’t offer the people they are interacting with anything constructive, and therefore aren’t likely to leave a lasting impression.

Back your business, not yourself

The impression great networkers leave is that they care about their industry and want to share this with those they come into contact with through genuine connections. “Effective networking can open doors you never imagined,” says Rego. “It helps you expand your circle and contact base, and can be great for new business leads, if done tactfully and genuinely.”

Instead of sharing their own contacts or offering valuable insight, schmoozers are after fans, they want to impress without thinking about the end goals.

Playing the long game

Seeking this kind of instant gratification does not work in effective networking. Phillips says expecting to make instant friends or connections is naïve. “The most you can hope for at an initial meeting is to make a connection. With follow up and careful nurturing over time, a connection could blossom into a very fruitful relationship,” she says. “The key is to view networking as a long-term career strategy and to be diligent about following up with contacts.”

This follow-up contact should be done in moderation. She suggests jotting down some relevant information about your initial meeting, and then, after a week has passed, drop them a mail and continue the mutually beneficial interaction.

Networking is for everyone

Successful networkers also know that there is no such thing as one kind of worthy connection. While schmoozers may only target the big wigs and obvious hot shots, networkers make time for everyone. “According to the experts you should network laterally, vertically and horizontally,” says Phillips. “Never underestimate the power of the grapevine, good information sometimes comes from the places you least expect it.”

Do you believe there’s a difference between networking and schmoozing? Tell us in the comments section below.

Building a little black book of contacts

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in August 2015

There is probably no profession where the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings truer than public relations. So, how do PR officers fill their black books with reliable contacts who will disseminate information timeously and professionally?

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By Remy Raitt

Y&R South Africa PR officer, Carine du Preez says that without the relevant parties to receive the information the PR officer packages, messaging would be lost.

But how do PR professionals make, let alone maintain, relationships with these crucial contacts?

Grab every opportunity

Owner of Red Pen Communications, Laura Durham, says any chance to meet with someone new should be seized. “Whether it’s a new person at a friend’s braai, the person sitting next to you on the Gautrain or even the receptionist at your client’s office. You just never know who is going to help you in the future,” Durham says.

According to Tank PR, being yourself during these initial meetings is paramount.

Meanwhile Du Preez recommends taking advantage of the host of professional tools available these days. “Paid-for media lists afford you the opportunity to connect to the relevant contacts by providing e-mail addresses and beats of journalists at the publications in which you are interested,” she says. “Following relevant influencers on Twitter is another great way to make contact and to get a sense of what might add value to journalists and the publication for which they write. Attending networking events, and joining an industry body like PRISA, are excellent ways to establish and maintain your contact list as well.”

Durham says social media platforms offer plenty of opportunities. “Don’t underestimate social media sites, particularly LinkedIn as it can be a powerful network tool. Make sure your profile is well-written, with a professional picture, and you’re ready to grow your network.”

Nurture and grow relationships

Making connections is an important first step, but without communication and appreciation these bonds can easily fizzle out.

Du Preez says respect is key. “Journalists receive hundreds of e-mails a day and harassing them to publish your story will simply be destructive,” she says. “It’s also incredibly important to ensure that your news or angle is of value to them personally, and you need to be clear on why you are approaching them before you motivate for a story.” She says, in terms of other suppliers, PR officers should also ensure they are clear on expectations, deadlines and processes.

Du Preez and Durham also recommend regular catch-up’s with contacts over coffee or lunch. “They can go a long way in ensuring relevance and comfort within the professional relationship,” says Durham.

But it’s important not to overdo it. Durham says over-the-top gifts and heavy ‘schmoozing’ will only push contacts away.

What these relationships offer

A solid contact list can offer PR officers a lot; “Quicker turnaround times, a higher dissemination-to-publication conversion for press releases, and good chats over wine at events,” lists Du Preez. “It can also lead to journalists proactively approaching you and the brands you represent with requests for comment,” she says.

Keep them safe

Keeping track of all your contacts is obviously important if you want to speak to them again. Both Durham and Du Preez recommend taking advantage of electronic devices that save details across devices.

Printing out an updated list every few months is not a bad idea either, as technical malfunctions cannot always be avoided and would be an awful reason to lose the connections you have worked so hard on making.

Are you a PR officer? How do you make and maintain contacts?

 

How to do PR, politely

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in August 2015

When you think PR professional you should think efficient and friendly. Basically the kind of person who can make magic happen for your brand, on time and with clout. A great PR professional works by an unwritten code of ethics and etiquette, ensuring great relationships are maintained with clients and the media.

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By Remy Raitt

Manners matter regardless of what profession you’re in. But when it comes to PR, politeness is paramount. “[I]t’s especially important because you’re representing a brand or individual and you’re speaking on their behalf,” says Thato Tholo, PR and social media account manager at Red Flag. “Thus the most courteous and respectful tone and manners are required when addressing media in order for you to get the best results for your client and to maintain good relations with your media contacts.”

The Creative Group in an article for PRSA say rapid advancements in technology make slipping up all the more easy. Hurried mails, forgotten replies and social media faux pas can make reputation maintenance a trickier job. “Today’s high-tech world calls for vigilance, good judgment and excellent etiquette,” they say.

Email etiquette 

Tholo says today’s PR practitioner does most of their correspondence via email. “I’d say tone is the most important way in putting across one’s politeness,” he says.

A good PR will reply to emails timeously, avoid jargon, slang and superfluous statements. “Write clear and specific subject lines, break big blocks of text into bullet points, and proofread for clarity and grammatical accuracy,” says The Creative Group. “Avoid using texting shorthand and industry buzzwords that might confuse clients or co-workers from other departments. And don’t add to others’ overflowing inboxes by copying them on messages that aren’t relevant to them.”

Most importantly don’t troll or spam the media, your clients or colleagues. Send useful, coherent emails that assert your relevance.

Following up

Tholo says following up after contact with clients and media is important, but should be done in moderation. “You can remind them about what you sent and what the follow up is about and if they are unable to find it, resend whatever it is and follow up that way you’ll be top of mind,” he says.

Lisa Edwards the director of Robertson Edwards PR says with regard to clients; “it’s in their best interest to come back to you so that you’re able to get on with it”. “With a journalist – don’t follow up unless you’re very sure they might not have seen it, or require additional information,” Edwards says, “If they want it – they’ll be in touch.”

Sociable social media

Many of these factors can be applied to the way the PR approaches social media too. The Creative Group says PRs should never take to social media to vent as this could easily negatively their own reputation as well as their clients’ or firms’.

Well-behaved wording

There is no excuse for poor grammar or spelling, whether it be an email, press release or social media posts. Errors show sloppiness and apathy.

Tholo says PR’s should also avoid certain words: ‘cannot’, ‘damage’, ‘do not’, ‘error’, ‘fail’, ‘impossible’,’ little value, ‘loss’, ‘mistake’, ‘problem’, ‘refuse’ and ‘unfortunately’ should all find their way out the PRs vocabulary. Edwards advises to avoid cliché’s like ‘innovative’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘leading’ and ‘cutting-edge’. “Be concise,” Edwards says. “Back your statements with facts.”

Face-to-face grace

In the real world, Tholo says PRs should always “look presentable and portray what you want clients or media to perceive you as”. Edwards says you need to provide the skills you’re being paid for. “The client is paying for you to have an opinion – an informed and experienced opinion. Just be straight with them,” she says.

Tholo says knowing people’s names will also ease tension and will set new relationships off to a good start. From there different situations will have to be approached, gracefully, professionally and respectfully.

Are you a PR professional? What are your top tips for excellent professional etiquette?