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Archive for the ‘corporate responsibility’ Category

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been kept busy recently with a bevy of high-profile cases concerning false and deceptive advertising. While we have the FTC to police these types of issues, deceptive behavior toward consumers erodes trust and ultimately harms not only the advertiser but also the advertising, and by extension, public relations industries as a whole.

While many feel that a reasonable person should be able to understand that tennis shoes will not give you a fit body or that a hazelnut spread is a delicious but in no way nutritious addition to your child’s breakfast, these types of outlandish claims foster consumer skepticism and weaken the level of trust and belief consumers have in the advertisements they are exposed to every day.

Furthermore, not all of these cases are so overtly deceptive. In 2010, the FTC cracked down on statements from Kellogg Company about two different cereals. According to an FTC press release, the company claimed that Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%” and Rice Krispies cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” with “25 percent daily value of antioxidants and nutrients – vitamins A, B, C, and E.” The cereal packaging also claimed that “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.”

Phrases like “clinically proven” alongside quantifiable statistics masquerading as scientific data make it difficult for the savviest of customers to discern fact from fiction.

If businesses, its advertisers and public relations teams do not take it upon themselves to increase the level of honesty and transparency in all communications, we risk falling into the treacherous category of the snake oil salesman.

In addition to ethical considerations, consumers are inundated with advertisements on a daily basis. Cutting through the noise and getting noticed is hard enough – let’s not add “accepted as truthful” to the obstacles.

 

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You’re ready to hire a public relations firm and have worked through the exercises we suggested in the first two blog posts.  You’ve identified your objectives and have a good idea of what you need from a PR firm.  Now it’s time to find the right fit.

Size counts

There are many different types of firms out there – large multi-national organizations as well as free-lance PR consultants, and everything in between.  To help you narrow your search, we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of working with different size firms.

Larger firms have many advantages – associates experienced in working within multi-cultural environments, large staffs available to expend concentrated energy in a short amount of time and in different locales, deep internal resources including industry-specific knowledge and experience, and ready access to graphic design and advertising professionals.

Mid-sized and small PR firms can either operate as generalists – applying the core principles of public relations theory to a variety of industries, or as boutique firms – specializing in specific industries or applying specific PR tactics such as publicity and promotion or crisis management.  Mostly regional in nature, some of these firms are aligned with a large multi-national firm, allowing them access to resources while also providing local contract services in areas where the large firm does not maintain offices.

Technology has spawned a new form of PR firm – those that work virtually.  These types of firms vary in size and structure, generally relying on building a network of PR professionals with specific skill sets to fill client needs.  Without the overhead costs associated with brick and mortar, many of these firms are in the position of providing exceptional services at a lower cost.  The very nature of their structure allows these firms to engage professionals in different regions of the country in order to better service client needs.

Generally, larger firms won’t consider taking on a client for less than $15,000 to $20,000 a month, but some have worked with smaller clients in recent years in order to weather the recession.  If your organization is smaller, you may want to restrict your search to small and midsize firms.

It’s all about building relationships

When you begin talking with PR folks, you want to look for someone who listens carefully and takes the time to understand your needs.  Look for curiosity – learning about a new company or industry or taking on a new challenge energizes some of the best PR pros.

Look beyond fancy offices and long impressive client lists.  Instead, find out how long the firm’s clients have maintained their relationships with their PR counsel.  Ask for references.  Effective PR is all about building relationships with your customers, your investors, your employees, the media and your community.  Are the people you’re talking to good at building relationships?

Red flags and ethical considerations

It’s important to know if the firm promotes ethical standards among its staff.  You won’t want someone representing your company who doesn’t abide by the PR industry code of ethics.  A simple way to assess this is by asking if managers are accredited or certified in the field of PR.  Do they support continued education and accreditation of junior staff?

Find out how your work will be staffed.  In many cases, once the contract is signed you may find that the people you met during the presentation phase take a big step back and your work is assigned to junior staff.  When this happens, you may find that you have to provide more guidance and oversight, which may defeat the whole purpose of hiring a PR firm in the first place.

Find out how the firm handles conflicts.  If they represent several companies in your industry, how do they determine which client gets the referral when a journalist asks for an expert opinion?

Make sure you understand the billing system.  Will you be billed by the hour?  Is there an alternative?  What about costs associated with media databases and news clipping services?  If you are placed on a retainer system, what exactly does the retainer cover?  Is your account manager experienced at managing a budget?  Be wary of discount pricing – you’ll only get what you pay for.

Are you being promised front-page coverage in the New York Times?  Do status reports provide clear information?  Are you finding yourself mentally correcting grammar or have you caught typos in the presentation materials?  Has the PR pro been a little lazy, quickly throwing together a plan that doesn’t address your objectives?

While no one firm is expected to be perfect, you can find the best fit for your company when you do your homework.


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Public relations is a complex discipline with lots of moving parts.  Many people think of PR as publicity and dealing with the media, but it is really much broader and plays an important role in every industry.

So, how do you know where to start when you need to find a PR firm?  Navigating this vast and complicated space may seem like a daunting task, but break it up step by step, and you’ll be on your way to finding public relations support that fits your needs.

In this series of blog posts we’ll walk you through the process of finding the right PR champion to meet your very specific goals and objectives. Every organization has a unique structure and mission, but asking the right questions and knowing what to look for will help you find the right fit.

The first step is to look inward. What type of organization do you run? What does your internal structure look like – who would be responsible for directing the company’s PR efforts and do they have the time? What are you looking to accomplish?

Organizations have a variety of goals that require the dedication of additional resources to public relations.  Consider the following scenarios:

  • Start-ups and early phase companies looking to create buzz without the steep costs of advertising placement.
    • WARNING: If you fit in this category ask yourself if it’s truly time. Careful consideration of business objectives, a clear vision, and room in the budget amid myriad costs of starting a business is mandatory to establishing a successful PR program.
  • Companies wanting to build brand recognition and move to the next level.
  • Mid-size organizations looking to secure their place in the market.
  • Larger companies with a specific need to be filled whether it be media relations, community engagement, issues management and crisis communication, reputation building, social media, employee communications, and more.
  • Organizations that must maintain a strong reputation or ones that have recently suffered damage to their reputation.
  • Organizations that must engage multiple audiences on different levels.
  • Professional service firms that rely on establishing expertise and building relationships.
  • Organizations with complex messages, not easily packaged for key audiences.

So who are you? Take a step back and look at what stage your organization is in, what specific goals and objectives you have, your existing resources, and where you need help.

 

Art credit: © Aidarseineshev | Dreamstime.com

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