Is Public Relations Right for Your Business?

Posted by A. Smith on Jan-20-2011

About a month ago, I had a colleague who runs an advertising agency call me for advice. One of his long-term clients wanted to know whether public relations might be a good option. Off the top of my head, I suggested his client go through a three-step discovery phase. Nothing I said was planned, but when I hung up I realized other people contemplating the same question might appreciate what I had to say.

So, if you’re wondering whether PR might be right for your business, here’s a simple yet effective discovery process to help you decide:

  1. Story identification
    Explore what stories your company has to tell. Start by interviewing people inside your company. You’d be surprised what people have to say and what ideas emerge. Brainstorm. Talk to people individually. Hold an open session where people can bounce around ideas. Look at the past and consider your company’s back-story. Envision the future and what ideas might come of it

    The key here is to DIG. Every organization has stories. Uncover them.

  2. Channel distribution
    Increase the value of your stories by creating opportunities to leverage them. Yes, pitch your stories to the press, but have additional outlets for sharing them, as well. Consider blogs, social media, guest posts, etc. Think about ways you might be able to weave stories into speaking opportunities, annual reports, and so forth. This will help you determine whether you can get your stories out to more people, as well as get more bang for your buck.

  3. Relationship building
    Reach out to the press to get a feel for what’s possible. Contact an editor or reporter at a relevant publication and explore the possibilities. Could you do a column or an advertorial? Do they sponsor an event that you might partner with them on? Are they willing to meet for coffee? What are the opportunities for building a relationship and getting press coverage?

At the end of this process, evaluate whether public relations makes sense for your company. Do you have solid footing, good stories, and a strong foundation for moving forward? If so, build public relations into your overall marketing strategy. If not, you’ve determined this is not an area to spend your time, energy, and money.

Quite frankly, though, companies who take the time to work through this process – and unearth their stories – typically find public relations has great merit.

“To Tweet or Not to Tweet…”

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-1-2010

I suppose Shakespeare would complete this line with, “…that is the question.” But, in my opinion, there is no question – only an obvious answer. TWEET.

I started tweeting about two years ago, and I’ll admit I was a skeptic. Heck, I didn’t even put any thought into my Twitter handle (@Asmithconsult) because I figured I’d never really use it. Boy, was I wrong. Twitter has become an integral part of my work – and my life. Seriously.

People who use Twitter effectively get this. But, they aren’t the people I need to reach. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.

I’m here to convince people who aren’t using Twitter, or who haven’t found its value, that they are missing out – and it’s time to get in the game. And, it’s okay to take it slow. Actually, I recommend it. When I joined Twitter, I set my account to private for the first nine months because I really wanted to understand how people were using it – and how I wanted to use it.

During this time, I realized I wanted to use it primarily to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. I also wanted to garner and share knowledge. And, heck, have a laugh or two while I’m at it (thanks @ConanO’Brien).

Once I learned the ropes and “practiced” with family and friends, I opened my account to the world and started building a strong and relevant community.

I started to follow and interact with people in my local community, as well as with:

  • Innovative people/companies (@ZapposCEO, @Skap5, @FastCompany)
  • Storytellers/writers (@GetStoried, @BrianAndreas, @EllMcgirt)
  • Branding and public relations professionals (@McGrathComm, @BrandNarrative, @MeChristopher)
  • Social media difference makers (@JeffPulver, @ChrisBrogan, @DigitalRoyalty)
  • Happiness drivers (@Karl_Staib, @GretcenRubin, @HollyMac)
  • Nonprofits (@UlmanCancerFnd, @Livestrong, @TheTellingRoom)

This is, of course, just a short list (I also interact with the health care, organizational design, appreciative inquiry, and leadership arenas). My point is to give thoughtful consideration to the communities in which you want to play. Once you do, connect with them. Study them. Follow them. Learn from them. And, build authentic, meaningful relationships.

Thanks to Twitter, I have built lasting relationships, joined the Reinvention Summit design team, gotten new business, shared in conversation with an artist I’ve admired for 15 years, befriended a reporter and editor from Fast Company, volunteered for big ticket conferences, met Tony Hsieh on the Delivering Happiness bus, and more.

The best part…it’s all unfolded naturally. Twitter is not a “What’s in it for me” kind of platform. People who approach it this way are the ones that never realize its value. My experience is the more I share, the more I engage, and the more I listen… the more I gain.

Most people agree that Twitter is changing my industry (marketing and public relations). I’ll go a step further – a leap further. I believe Twitter is shaping lives and, in ways both big and small, changing the world.

Improv for Freelancers

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-24-2010

Today marks one week since I came home from SXSW with high hopes of spending some time reflecting on my experience. Well, let’s leave it at this…time management is not my strength. My thoughts remain jumbled. So, I am going to improvise, which is fitting because I am going to write about an improv workshop I attended at SXSW that could change the way I work, maybe even the way I live.

I always connected improv with comedy until about a month ago when I was enjoying coffee with @DaveWeinberg, a Maine creative versed in improv. He drew a parallel between improv and life, and I was instantly intrigued by this connection. After all, we never really know what we’re going to say next, do we?

So, when I ran across Improv for Freelancers (by Amanda & Jordan Hirsch) in my SXSW planning, I immediately added it to my agenda. And, boy, am I glad I did. As freelancers, we are always writing our own script. And, as Jordan put it, “This is both exhilarating and terrifying.”

Here are 10 improv lessons I learned that will help ensure freelancing is exhilarating:

  1. Practice being in the moment. Don’t think ahead. Live in the now.
  2. Be an active listener. Listen, listen, listen, and absorb what your client is saying.
  3. Take in more than words. Sometimes what people say and what they mean are different. For example, if a client says, “The graphics on this website need to be bigger, and we need to add red,” chances are what they mean is “Make the site bolder.”
  4. Strip yourself of instinct. Listen and process, then respond.
  5. Come on stage knowing something but not everything. Be open to what your client brings to the table.
  6. Respect people’s ideas. You are not always going to love your client’s ideas, but you should always respect them.
  7. Add value to the conversation. With every line, accept what your client is communicating and build on it.
  8. Stay in the positive. Improv is about learning to respond, “Yes, and…” – even when the answer is really “no.” Here’s a sample scenario:
    Client: “I would like to meet today.”
    You: “Yes, and I would, too. However, I am booked. How about we get    together first thing in the morning?”
  9. Make a commitment – and declare it. You can always change your choice, but be bold and make a choice in the first place. Get in the action.
  10. Be in the scene you want to be in. Invent your career. Live out your passion. And, give it all you’ve got

I love these ideas, and I hope to incorporate them into my own life. After this workshop, I even had someone say to me, “If you want to change your life, study improv. Seriously, it will change the way you think.

Ironically, in the middle of writing this post, I received a message from @DaveWeinstein about an upcoming improv workshop in Portland, Maine. The thought alone takes me way outside my comfort zone, but then again, I just might have to commit.

Not your ordinary business lessons

Posted by A. Smith on Dec-30-2009

I could spend hours, heck weeks, thinking through all I’ve learned over the past 15 years in marketing. Instead, I am going to share what comes top of mind because these are the ideas that live in my head. This is not an end-all-be-all list. It is a rapid reflection of lessons that keep me afloat and moving toward excellence:

(Top five lessons that came to mind, unedited, in no particular order)

  1. I am not an expert.
    This is one of the first things I tell clients. And, it’s true. I am not an expert. I bring expertise to the table…and so do they. I respect my clients and have come to truly understand the meaning and power of real collaboration. When I enter a room, I always go in believing the answers are already there.
  2. It’s okay to struggle with confidence so long as confidence wins out.
    On the last day of my first job (which I left because I was moving), my boss Sandy said to me, “You have the skill, now you need the confidence to go with it.” In delivering this phrase, she gave me confidence. I whisper this sentence to myself almost daily.
  3. There’s nothing more powerful than a story well told.
    I just witnessed a wonderful example of this. The agency I share space with is kicking off an ad campaign for a local nonprofit to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Many organizations would celebrate this milestone by simply focusing on the number. In this case, however, they are telling 50 heart-opening, human stories every Sunday in 2010. Ah, I get chills just thinking about this. If given the option of communicating about helping hundreds of people or telling the personal story of one of them, tell the story.
  4. Part of my responsibility is expectation management.
    One of my not-so-glorious responsibilities is to help clients understand that branding is a process. Overnight success is unrealistic. PR, for example, requires meaningful story ideas and time to nurture and grow them. Companies shouldn’t expect one press release to land them a front-page article in the New York Times – but they do. Therefore, it’s important that I am clear and honest upfront: Commit or don’t bother.
  5. People are the heart of business
    I inherently believe that every employee matters – and contributes to business. This belief was reinforced for me a few years back when I was a patient in the ER at Maine Medical Center. My brain was bleeding and I was completely disoriented. I remember very little about that night – except for the friendly janitor who calmed me down by giving me a Tootsie Roll and reassuring me that everything would be okay. He got through to me in a way no one else could. I love Maine Med, and he is among the reasons why. Every person at an organization has the opportunity to live its brand.

These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned. And, I know it’s just the beginning. As we approach the end of this decade, I encourage you to reflect on your personal journey. What lessons have you learned in business?


Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Media event

EnvisioNet, a technical and customer care support partner, was preparing to make a major announcement: a new strategic alliance with Microsoft that would create hundreds of jobs in Maine. The company wanted to share this news in a big way, elevating its status as a major player in the technological revolution and catching the attention of potential talent.

Strategy & Solution:
We coordinated a press conference at the Capitol, followed by an optional media tour of
EnvisioNet, headquartered in Brunswick, Maine. Speakers included Governor Angus S. King Jr., and EnvisioNet President Heather Blease. We assumed responsibility for planning all aspects of this highly successful event, from strategy to press kit development to speech writing to event planning to onsite media relations and follow up.

Our media event garnered statewide media coverage – print and broadcast. We also caught the attention of the Associated Press, regional publications such as Mass High Tech, and trade publications. In addition to generating external buzz, this media event spurred excitement and pride within the organization.

In collaboration with DW Group

Hope Medical Group

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Despite its deep roots in the community and high experience in the field, this group of cancer care specialists had little brand recognition in the marketplace. As the case with many health organizations, patients only referred to the practice by their physician’s name, not the organization’s name. Our goal was to unearth and communicate a strong organizational brand and position Hope Medical Group (then, Hematology Oncology Associates) for projected growth.

Strategy & Solution:
We engaged the whole organization in a branding process, centered on dialogue, to create cohesiveness among the physicians and staff, and to discover and define an authentic, compelling brand story that would connect with the marketplace at a values-based level.

We changed the organization’s name to Hope Medical Group to better reflect the spirit of its people and the true identity of the organization. We also developed an internal and external brand development plan, including stunning creative and rigorous strategies to align internal systems and processes that deliver on the brand promise and are designed to create unparalleled patient experiences.

In collaboration with idgroup

Santa Rosa Tourist Development Council

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Branding and Integrated Public Relations & Advertising Campaign

Santa Rosa County is located in Northwest Florida along the Gulf Coast. It is flanked by popular tourist destinations on both sides. The county is characterized by its many diverse communities that are situated within the county – from Navarre Beach in the South to historic towns, woodlands, rivers, and rural farmlands in the North. Our goal was to differentiate Santa Rosa County by communicating its diverse attributes. We also wanted to develop the tourism industry while also protecting its natural and cultural assets.

Strategy & Solution:
We developed the brand name “Beaches to Rivers of Santa Rosa,” positioning the destination as a natural retreat characterized by diversity in nature-based activities – a brand promise that cannot be claimed by any other destination in the Northwest Florida region. We developed strategies to target eco-tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, and other visitors who connect to the Beaches to Rivers brand on a value-based level.

We designed and implemented an integrated marketing plan, which heightened visibility, fostered unity among the diverse communities within Santa Rosa, helped rebuild the brand following a major hurricane, generated positive press, and enhanced tourism. Key successes included numerous media tours, a state-of-the-art brand video, and award-winning creative.

In collaboration with idgroup

TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Branding and Integrated Public Relations & Advertising Campaign

Santa Rosa County was one of the fastest growing counties in Florida, but the region needed an identity so that it could continue to attract and retain businesses. The county is characterized by its many diverse communities, from Navarre Beach to historic towns, woodlands, rivers, and rural farmlands in the North. Our goal was to differentiate Santa
Rosa County by communicating its diverse attributes into business/lifestyle benefits.

Strategy & Solution:
We undertook a major branding process, which included about 100 personal interviews, as well as several large group facilitations. Building on this dialogue, we developed the brand: Santa Rosa County is Life By Design. We came up with this positioning because we discovered that, in Santa Rosa County, what people shared in common was a reverence for individuality, complemented by shared values.

Once we established a strong brand, we collaborated with the client on a comprehensive and integrated marketing communications plan, which included a new identity package, website, media relations, advertising, newsletter, and so forth. We also explored ways to engage existing businesses and community members in economic development efforts. In working with TEAM, we were fortunate to tell the stories of many innovative organizations such as AppRiver, CH2M Hill, Andrews Institute, and Trinity DNA.

In collaboration with idgroup

Seaside Pavilion

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Branding/Integrated Marketing Communications/Launch Events

Formerly known as the Old Orchard Beach Pavilion, Seaside Pavilion needed some help to become better known in southern Maine as a high-quality performing arts venue. We began working with them in late 2008 to develop a plan for redefining their brand and building their image with residents and tourists in Maine.

Strategy & Solution:
We first conducted a brand discovery process, which entailed interviewing patrons, volunteers, board members, and employees of the Pavilion. We also analyzed their competitors, as well as other noncompetitive similar venues doing great things. From there, we develop a new name, logo, tagline, followed by a communications plan for the 2009 season.

The first step was to plan and coordinate launch events – both internal and external allowing us to communicate the new brand to the key stakeholders of Seaside Pavilion. This kicked off the season with a bang and lead to event advertising, public relations efforts, event brochure, social media, and guerilla marketing activities.

A greater number of people attended the shows at the Pavilion than did in 2009, and more people became aware of the Seaside Pavilion. We’re currently in the process of evaluating specific results of our campaign.

In collaboration with Huard Marketing

Maine Potato Board

Posted by A. Smith on Oct-27-2009

Integrated Public Relations & Advertising Campaign

Maine’s potato industry nourishes the state economically, culturally, and historically.
However, too few people know that this traditional industry also upholds a strong commitment to innovation and is constantly evolving with the hope of raising the bar for excellence nationwide. Our objective was to raise the industry’s visibility and value statewide.

Strategy & Solution:
After conducting personal interviews with farmers and industry leaders, we developed a campaign coined “Innovation at Its Best: Innovative Technology, Innovative People, and
Innovative Markets.” We developed a comprehensive press kit, media pitch, and print and radio ads. We complemented our campaign with a newsletter, industry report, etc.

Our media relations campaign was a success. In addition to small-scale stories around the state, we collaborated with media on two huge feature stories: a front-page story in the statewide newspaper MaineBiz and a front-page business story in the Maine Sunday Telegram. One of our farmers highlighted in the campaign was even chosen on the NEXT List (10 people shaping Maine’s economy). Our advertising efforts led to extensive buzz, especially in Augusta where the Maine Potato Board plays an active and critical role in shaping legislation as it relates to Maine’s agricultural industry.

In collaboration with Huard Marketing