Diary of a PR Amateur

Memorial Day

May 30, 2010
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As a seasoned PR professional, I consider it my duty to point something out about Memorial Day, which as you all know, will be observed tomorrow.

It is, simply put, one of the finest examples of the power of PR that this world has ever seen.

How else can you explain the obsession with shopping on a day that is supposed to be reserved for reflection on all those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of protecting our country and our philosophies?

So, I take my hat off to all the soldiers who have died for the United States throughout the centuries … and I also take my hat off to all the department stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets for transforming the day into a day of shopping.

A PR success if ever there was one!

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I Knew John Hill … You’re No John Hill

May 25, 2010
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Well, as expected, I met yesterday with the new agency that management thought would be the right agency for us and boy, was I right about not wanting to work with them.

Luckily, I’m good enough that I will make them look so much better than they really are, which, in turn, will make me look even better to my bosses.

Anyway, here’s what happened, which I will run through in time-line format:

9:58 – The agency team shows up, obviously arriving two minutes early to impress us. They are shown into the conference room and asked if they’d like something to drink.

10:04 – I show up to the meeting, four minutes late, to demonstrate that I call the shots here and that they wait for me, not the other way around.

10:06 – My boss shows up.

10:07 – The top guy in the agency introduces his team of four people. One of them has ears that should have been pinned back when he was a child. One of them is wearing a shirt with a button-down collar. However, it is not buttoned-down, and it’s driving me crazy. One, the top guy, is dressed so perfectly that he’s immediately lost my respect. After all, if he’s dressing that well, he must be charging clients too much money. The fourth one, a woman, is a typical marcom chick-type. She’s paid more attention to her hair and nail-polish than her understanding of our business, I’m sure.

10:10 – My boss asks me my impressions of the introductions, and where we should go from here. I stand up.

10:11 – I begin … “Well, those certainly were interesting introductions, John, but I want you to know that as far as I’m concerned you can throw all that experience, all those awards, and even your first name out the window. You know, there was another John in this industry way back when. And he ultimately proved himself. He opened up his own firm. It’s called Hill and Knowlton. You, over there with the ears, your name is Dan, huh? Well, there’s another Dan in this industry, Dan Edelman. Built his own firm, too. It’s called Edelman.

“What have you built? Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters … except for what you can do for (my company).

“I’m going to be your best friend and your worst enemy. I’m going to be in your face and continually pushing you to achieve. And you’re going to thank me later because I’m going to enable you to do things you didn’t even think you were capable of doing.

“Next steps? Ha! I’m not sure I understand the question. We hired these guys to give us their advice, and I’m expected to provide next steps? I don’t think so. So, John, what are our next steps?”

10:16 – John, the top guy, explains that he received from my boss the plan of action I wrote and took the liberty of editing it a bit. He then presents it to the group, giving me full credit for, as he called it, “facing the blank page,” which is a euphemism for “boy did it stink, but it was better than nothing.”

10:18 – I decide that I can’t stand John and his fancy clothes.

10:20 – I’m now spending all my energy calculating how much money John makes by running his agency. Must be at least $500,000 a year after taxes.

10:25 – John finishes presenting MY plan of action and my boss is nodding his head like a bobble-head doll. I’m embarrassed to be associated with him.

10:26 – I explain that plans are one thing, but actual results are how the agency will be measured.

10:27 – Mr. Fancy-pants agrees with me. He’s obviously doing this because he knows I am smarter than he is.

10:30 – 10:45 – We outline team responsibilities. I explain that, with all my responsibilities, they will have to spend a lot of time chasing me for answers and approvals. Dan reminds me that I earlier said that I would be in their face, but it’s fine with them either way, and they look forward to working with me and proving to me that they are up to the challenge.

10:46 – Meeting adjourns. I offer to walk them out, but my boss says that it’s probably better if I get back to my responsibilities, so he will walk them out.

10:48 – I write my first email to our agency. After all, when you are trying to move the PR needle, there is no time to waste.

Are they the agency I would have chosen? No. Does John wear nice clothes? Yes. Are Dan’s ears too big? You have no idea.

But the fact remains that these guys are the cards I’ve been dealt, so I have to make the best of it.

And you know as well as I do that I will …


Early Returns

May 21, 2010
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Well, just as I expected, all those strange-named agencies responded to the RFP. But shockingly, all the big-name firms did not respond.

But the important thing is that each of the strange-namers gave us some terrific ideas, and we plan to use all of them.

“All of them?” you ask.

Yes, all of them. As time has gone by, my strategic philosophy has continually evolved, and so even though a couple of months ago my philosophy focused on major blitzes, followed by unusually long periods of quiet, my view has changed.

I now believe in the throw-as-much-garbage-as-possible-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.

For that reason alone, these creative ideas from the strange-namers will come in handy.

Meanwhile, I’m scheduled to meet with the new agency on Monday. I hope they’re ready for me …


The Sound of Agency Wheels Spinning

May 17, 2010
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Well, I tried to send out the RFP (request for proposal) to my long list, so that I could start weeding through all the responses (I expect all agencies to respond, of course, given how cool (my company) is.), but my bosses said they want to see my plan of action before I send out the RFP.

“How can you create an RFP if you don’t even know what the strategy is?” said our CEO.

“Well, this isn’t really an important part of the process,” I responded. “This is just the first step, to separate the men from the boys. You see, if an agency isn’t interested, it won’t respond. That saves me some work later.”

“But if they aren’t responding anyway, how does that save you work?” asked my boss, our VP of marketing.

“I’m not talking about practical work, I’m talking about brain work,” I explained, trying very hard not to roll my eyes at his ridiculous question.

I began to walk away, quite clear that I had won this battle, when suddenly …

“So just get us the plan, and then you can send out the RFP,” said my boss.

Well, I guess I had no choice, so I did put together the plan, largely based on the one I had created two years ago. It had a healthy dose of marketing lingo, but what makes my plan-writing special is that I know precisely how much lingo to use without sounding like I’m just throwing buzz-words around.

And that’s very important, readers. You always have to know how much lingo to use without using so much that you aren’t believable.

Because remember, we are in the credibility game.

So I typed out the goals, audiences, strategies and tactics, with a nice amount of expectations (without too many, of course – gotta under-promise and over-deliver, right?!) and a sprinkle of measurement mixed in. For me, it wasn’t so special, but I already knew my bosses would be impressed.

They looked it over and gave me the go-ahead to send out the RFP. I’m very excited, particularly about those strange firms I am sending it to just for the sake of seeing their strange responses.

Two hours later, when I was about to click “send” on the email, my boss came into my cube and told me to stop everything I was doing. He sat down on the corner of my desk and explained:

“Joe, our chairman has told us that he’d like to use a particular PR firm, so we’re going to move ahead with his recommendation.”

“But I already sent out the RFP,” I said, subtly clicking my mouse as the cursor rolled over the “send” button in my Outlook.

“Joe, this is coming from on-high. There’s really nothing we can do,” he said.

“Well, what do you suggest?” I asked, putting the pressure on him. After all, why should I always have to be the one to come up with the solution?

“I’ll tell you what, Joe,” he said. “Why don’t you still run through the process. The other agencies might be able to come up with some good ideas that we can use, even if we’re not hiring them. Also, this agency may not want the business, or they may have a conflict. But don’t tell the other agencies that we are 90% sure we have selected another firm. We have to keep them all hungry so they provide us their best thinking, whether or not we have any intention of even selecting one of them.”

“Got it, boss,” I responded.


The Long List

May 13, 2010
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Well, now that my bosses have given me the green light to hire an agency (once I have put the plan together), it’s important to already begin putting together the list of companies I will be reaching out to with the RFP (request for proposal, if you didn’t know). So here’s the list, as well as the reason why I am including each one:

1. Equals Three Communications – I got this clever message-in-a-name very quickly. You see, the idea is that this agency thinks it is able to make 1 + 1 = 3. So much so, that they called themselves what they called themselves. I wonder if they will be able to make a small budget equal big results …
2. Vitamin – Well, I guess they consider themselves a “Vitamin” for my communications needs. Vitamins are good for you, so maybe this firm will be good for (my company) …
3. mPRm Public Relations – What a dumb name. I’m going to invite them, just so I can see if they submit proposals as dumb as their name. After all, including them doesn’t cost me anything.
4. eLuminate PR – Ah, they must be really good at online PR, because they have a little “e” in their name.

I’m also going to invite some of the big boys, who are so well-established that they don’t need explanations. They are:

1. Weber Shandwick
2. Fleishman-Hillard
3. Hill and Knowlton
4. Burson Marsteller
5. Ruder Finn
6. Edelman

So that’s the long list. We’ll see who makes it to the short list.

But first, I have to put this plan together. Now, if I can just find the plan I put together two years ago, that’ll be a good start. Then, I only have to make a few minor adjustments …


Let It Ride

May 9, 2010
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Well, the fire blazed pretty seriously there for a couple of days, but given that I am the fireman, it is now out.

Of course, the headlines came fast and furious for a bit first:

– (My company) Looks for Answers from New CCDO

– New Officer May Be Just What (My company)’s Doctor Ordered

– (My company) Spokesperson Denies Rumors of New Corporate Direction

Yes, indeed. It was pretty ugly for a while around the office. And it became particularly interesting when our CEO and our VP of Marketing (my boss) came to my cube to ask what I planned to do to counter the media onslaught.

This, of course, was the moment I had been waiting for, and I had practiced my reaction for about an hour, until I had it down pat:

(Putting my feet up on my desk) “Let it ride, guys. Let it ride.”

My boss and the CEO looked at each other, just as I had expected.

“Please, have a seat,” I said calmly, offering them two chairs I had placed in my cube for the day, for just this reason.

They hesitated, and then sat down.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “this is PR 101. The best way for bad news to go away is to just let it go. The last thing we want to do here is keep this story going.”

“Yeah, but Joe,” started the CEO, “this wasn’t supposed to be a crisis. This was a positive announcement, and by sticking in that ‘new directions’ phrase, you turned this into a negative story.”

My boss picked up where the CEO left off …

“Joe, we’re going to need a plan of action from you by the end of next week, outlining how you are going to start generating some positive PR for this company. Enough with your ridiculous ideas about how things should be done. We are re-initiating a search for a new PR firm and we want you to run it, but we can’t do that until we get a plan of action from you that they could then implement. Am I clear?”

“No problem, boss,” I said, defiantly leaving my feet up on my desk as they both got up to leave my cube.

“Oh, and Joe,” said the CEO, “Please take your feet off the desk.”


Putting Out Fires

May 3, 2010
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I was put into this role for various reasons, and I’m happy to list them for you:

1. I’m an excellent writer
2. I’m not afraid to say what is on my mind
3. I’m creative
4. I’m a strategic thinker
5. I’m not a “yes-man,” but I can be, if necessary
6. I’m tall and not fat
7. I’m handsome
8. My name is easy to remember, which helps me develop relationships with reporters
9. I know how to take technology and make it understandable for the average person
10. My salary demands were not too high

But there is one reason that trumps them all, and it’s the one I’m most proud to discuss. I put out fires.

That’s right. I’m the fireman. You got a communications crisis? You come to me.

So when that announcement went out about our new head of corporate development, and it was clear that the media were going to attack the company for possibly expanding “in new directions,” I was ready.

Of course, I didn’t write the release the way I did for the purpose of making myself look good. In actuality, I had wanted to make the new guy look bad. But as luck would have it, I was able to put out the fire and make myself look good to management as a result. Not a bad bonus, huh?

So, how did I do it?

Simple. I called each reporter, one-by-one, and told them that the language in the release, written without thinking it through, was misleading, and that the company is not going in new directions. In fact, I told them, “you can even say that this new guy isn’t going to change things at all for us.”

Well, the articles didn’t come out yet, but one things is for sure: This fire has been put out … by the fireman.


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