Diary of a PR Amateur

Lunch

June 16, 2010
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How another preposterous PR yahoo became involved regarding the highly demanding area you marketing (or media relations) people and I have been reading and writing about is beyond me. But nonetheless, here I was on Monday, face-to-face with John, our snazzily-dressed agency guy, at one of the area’s finest restaurants.

But I’m no fool. I knew he was going to leave my company with the bill at the end of this in any case, so I purposely ordered light … just a bowl of soup and a roll.

He, of course, ordered a steak, the jerk.

Anyway, the conversation was pleasant enough. Here’s a snippet:

John: I just thought it would make sense, given your disappointment – and the fact that it seems there is a disconnect regarding media targets – that maybe we should get together, away from the office, and talk through some things.

Me: Okay. What’s on your mind?

John: Well, for starters, I have a feeling that you aren’t pleased about the details surrounding my firm being hired by your company. And even though that decision must be frustrating for you, given that you had already issued an RFP, I just want you to know that we see you as our client. You are the day-to-day decision-maker, and we realize that it is you we have to impress.

Me: Well, you’re not doing such a good job of that so far, John.

John: I understand that, and that’s why I thought we should get together. So let’s start with the media targets. Which outlets are most important for you?

Me: Well, as I said the other day (It’s always good to start comments that way, because it makes the other party feel like an idiot for having forgotten what you’ve told him/her.), BusinessWeek, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are the top. That’s why I am paying you. But we also care about the tech trades …

John: Like c|Net, ZDNet and TechCrunch?

Me: Ha! I know what you are doing, Mr. Cuff-links! What? You think I’m going to say that you guys are doing a good job just because you got those three? Not a chance.

John: Now, Joe, take it easy. Remember, I’m just trying to get us calibrated here. I’m not here today to convince you we are doing a better job than we are doing. I just want us to leave here on the same page.

Me: Fine. So yes, those three are important … but there are others as well, and I want to make sure we are in them.

John: Agreed. Can you please send me your “wish list?” We will then be quite clear on what our targets really are.

Me: Sure, but why don’t you send me what you think it should be and I’ll approve or edit it.

John: Fine.

That’s generally how the conversation went. John spending time trying to show me how great he and his team are and me not taking the bait.

I swear, when is he going to realize that we are not on the same team here?

Oh, by the way, just to rub in how much of a jerk he is, John paid. I think he did that just to make me feel like an idiot for only ordering a bowl of soup.

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Sick-Day Reflections

June 8, 2010
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I realize I haven’t posted for a while. I have been out sick and just today began on the road back from what was a horrible debilitating virus, even for someone as tough as I am.

But you can learn a lot about your position in a company and your relationship with your agency when you are out sick.

For example, I haven’t received a single email from management since I let them know a few days ago that I was sick. That can only mean one thing: that they have total confidence in my abilities, even when I am laid up in bed.

On the other hand, I have my agency, which, as you know, I work with reluctantly given how they were selected. You would think that they would send me something, maybe some flowers or one of those awesome trash cans divided into three sections and filled with regular, cheese and caramel flavored popcorn, just to let me know they care.

But no, they sent nothing.

And when I get back in, which could be as soon as tomorrow, they will pay dearly.


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.”


Selection Process

February 22, 2010
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I’ve been in this business long enough to know how to approach an agency selection process. It’s simple. Send out the RFP to as many agencies as possible with an impossibly-short deadline. Then, whichever ones come back, invite the agencies that wrote the three best-looking documents. In the finals, select the agency that seems to have the best chemistry with you.

So that’s what I did. I sent out the RFP with a deadline of the next day for submitting responses. I sent it to 26 agencies and two responded on-time. So I sent them an initial document outlining what I was looking for. Here’s what it said:

Cogratulations! You’ve made it to the finals! Now, we will meet to talk about what specific things you can do to help (my company). Please be ready to present your full plan of action for the next six months to my management team in one week. You should not limit yourself regarding budget. Public Relations is a priority for (my company). You will have one hour to present, plus 15 minutes for questions following your presentation. Your account team is expected to be present for the meeting. (my company) believes in the importance of chemistry, so we want to meet the team that will be working for us, should we select your company.

Please feel free to call me with any questions prior to the presentation.

Cordially,

Joe

Now, you may not realize this, but there was only one important sentence in that brief. It is the last one. I’m not interested in working with an agency that isn’t interested in asking questions. I don’t want a know-it-all agency. I want an agency that will serve as my teammate, except for those times when they don’t get the job done. Then, I’ll come down on them like a sledge-hammer.

Hey, that was just a joke. But the work I need the agency to do is not a joke at all.


Here We Go!

February 15, 2010
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Well, I gave my agency notice yesterday. They were just not getting the job done, and I think I gave them enough time. If you can’t get results within a month, you are NOT the agency for me. So, I’m initiating a search for a new agency.

The way I see it, agencies are going to be begging to work for me. I mean, think about the following factors:

1. My company is public, and agencies love having public companies on their roster.
2. We are in a cool industry, and agencies love to be able to pitch stories related to cool industries. Plus, they like to tell their friends about it. Conversely, can you imagine a person wanting to tell his or her friend that he or she works on something boring? So by being in a cool industry, I am actually going to get my agency people talking about my company at cocktail parties, social events, etc. In fact, it’s not a complete stretch to think that my agency may do the work for free, just to be able to say they work with us.
3. I’m a reasonable client – not too demanding, but demanding enough. Agencies love that kind of balance in their clients.

So I will be sending an RFP (request for proposal) to the top PR firms around. I’m looking forward to seeing their responses. And I think I’m going to give it a really tight deadline, so I can see who’s really hungry.


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