Archive for the ‘reputation management’ Category

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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On Wednesday, January 18, you were more than likely impacted by the protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). Major sites like Wikipedia, WordPress, and Reddit shuttered websites for the day and many others, like Google and Firefox, emblazoned homepages with protests of these two pieces of legislation.

The Internet community took this message by storm, generating an incredible amount of buzz around the issue and I don’t know of a member of Congress that would touch PIPA or SOPA with a ten-foot pole.

I found an especially intriguing grassroots campaign by Fight For The Future on the WordPress homepage. After watching an informative video explaining the issues surrounding SOPA and PIPA I was led through the following steps.

  • Option to provide your zip code and phone number to be directly connected to your local Congressperson.
  • Talking points to review while waiting for a phone call from Fight For The Future.
  • Receive phone call with instructions that reinforce key talking points and provide coaching tips for how to handle conversation with politician.
  • Connect directly to local legislator’s office to voice concerns.

Whether for or against PIPA and SOPA, we can all agree this was a superb campaign. If all grassroots programs were this organized and well executed, we would see more changes in how our society operated.

Lessons learned are:

1) Drive home key messages.

2) Equip audiences with the tools to deliver these messages.

3) Provide an immediate outlet for audiences to exercise these tools.

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Just a few days ago, after more than three weeks of frustration, I once again found myself explaining an issue with my business bank account to yet another call center employee, and being placed in yet another voice mail that would likely go unnoticed or ignored, just as previous ones had. I needed to vent a little and my significant other didn’t want to hear any more about it.

So, even as I was headed out the door, I jacked up TweetDeck and let it fly … “After close to 25 yrs as loyal customer, I am VERY close to taking biz away from SunTrust”.

Little did I know what was to happen. You see, based on the non-response to several telephone calls, I really didn’t expect the bank to notice my little cyber-rant. You can imagine how surprised I was when, the next afternoon; I logged into Twitter and saw that someone from SunTrust had reached out to me.

And, even more unexpected, SunTrust’s social media maven, Bianca, went as far as to track down my contact information and call me, leading me to acknowledge their excellent use of Twitter … “SunTrust follow up through Twitter is quite impressive”.

Then, the following day, between client visits, I received a phone call from a friend alerting me to a blog post that recapped my Twitter experience. Even though my former colleague was not aware of the telephone calls and behind the scene efforts, she was still impressed with SunTrust’s use of Twitter.

Repairing customer relationships goes well beyond a few Twitter posts. It requires passion and a commitment to excellence. Both of these traits were expressed through telephone conversations with SunTrust representatives. While I’m glad I was able to provide some inspiration for a blog post, I am even more gratified that my experience has led SunTrust to review its operational procedures in order to provide a better experience for customers.

The real lesson here is that we still need to pick up the phone or go see clients. Social media and e-mail are great tools when properly used, but they will never replace a genuine voice that exhibits empathy and respect.

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“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106BC – 3BC)
Roman statesman, scholar, orator



Good listening skills are critical to building lasting business relationships.  However, listening is one of the most difficult skills to cultivate and even good listeners must constantly work on honing their skills.  Effective listening takes more than just hearing the words; it means one must engage both body and mind in order to fully understand the message.  

The steps to good listening are simple:

1)    Give your undivided attention to the person who is speaking, show empathy and respect.

2)    Exhibit your attention through body language, by maintaining eye contact, nodding or shaking your head, and through facial expression – smiles, frowns and maybe even a laugh.

3)    Think about what the speaker is saying – really engage your mind in the process.

4)    Let the speaker finish – don’t interrupt.

5)    Show you understand by repeating what the speaker said in your own words.

6)    Ask questions and provide feedback.  

While we know the steps for effective listening when we interact face to face, we need to consider how to utilize some of these same skills online.  First, we must recognize that the proliferation of social media tools threatens to further erode our listening skills.  It’s easy to become preoccupied with posting another tweet or answering that ever-present question on Facebook – What’s on your mind? 

Even so, the importance of creating and building relationships through social media continues to increase.  The word listening has a different meaning in the world of social media, where it primarily refers to monitoring key words through a variety of Web applications.  But many conversations are happening online, through blogs, social networks and in private topic-centered networks.  And, these require active listening skills.  

1)    With so many conversations going on, choose wisely and carefully consider what’s being said.  Your choice might be predicated upon the person’s reputation or the topic of discussion.    

2)    Exhibit your attention through posts that exhibit empathy – sort of a written nod.

3)    Show your understanding through re-tweets, links in your blog post, or comments.

4)    As always, ask questions and provide feedback.

5)    And finally, remember that social media requires reciprocity, relevancy, transparency, authenticity and commitment.  (10 Best Practices in Social Media – http://stwem.com/2009/07/24/10-best-practices/

As social media and all its possibilities continue to evolve, we must continue to look at best practices for engaging in conversation and effective listening.

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 A company’s response to a crisis will affect its reputation and can cause irreparable harm. The following ten steps, taken from a presentation I did for the Legal Marketing Association, Orlando City Group, should help you begin preparing a crisis communications plan. Just remember that anything that even remotely resembles a cover-up will backfire and is certain to destroy a solid reputation. Transparency is the word. The first eight steps are meant to be completed long before a crisis erupts.

1. Establish Company’s Crisis Management Approach Your company’s approach should be derived from its vision and values. Decide up front what you will protect – the company’s reputation? the brand name? current management?

2. Establish Relationships and Build Your Reputation Know that it will be too late to begin establishing relationships and credibility with key stakeholders and media once a situation arises. Companies need to continually work at building a solid reputation which will help it to weather a crisis should the need arise. Another thing you’ll want to remember is to share the details of your emergency plan with local emergency response and law enforcement authorities.

3. Identify a Crisis Communications Team The team should include the CEO, the firm’s chief communications or public relations executive, legal counsel, and management from other offices and divisions, including HR, finance and operations.

4. Identify and Train Spokespersons Know that you’ll need people not only for media, but also to speak to external and internal audiences – on camera and off. Training is critical – make sure your spokespersons are prepared to respond and are equipped with the information that needs to be conveyed. The authority to speak for the company to media representatives should be vested with a single individual.

5. Establish Communications Systems Know who your stakeholders are – employees, investors, board members, vendors, clients, regulators and government officials, others – then establish methods to rapidly reach these stakeholders during a crisis. Consider audio and visual messages sent through e-mail and cell phones – use social media such as Twitter if your audience is there. Pre-purchase blocks of radio time and set up a dark Web site. Establish a database and consider automatic systems that allow stakeholders to confirm receipt of a message.

6. Set Up Central Information Management Center This may be a conference room that is already wired for the technologies you will employ – phone lines, computer modems with access to needed databanks, video conferencing, satellite television, radio, etc. All the other things you’ll need should also be stored in the center – stakeholder lists and emergency numbers, stationery items and a packed bag ready to travel with needed supplies, including a laptop loaded with prepared statements. You will need two sets … one always kept off property. Consider the possibility that you will need an offsite central information management center.

7. Prepare Holding Statements and Advance Materials These are messages designed for immediate use once a crisis emerges – generic, positive information about the company, as well as a press release stating that you don’t yet have all the details, promising to provide information as soon as feasible.

8. Perform a Risk Audit Knowing your risks and proactively preparing is essential. Once you perform a risk audit, you can anticipate crisis situations in order to prepare possible responses. But even more important, this will give you an opportunity to avoid a crisis by implementing necessary operational changes. You might also consider holding an annual mock crisis exercise that involves all necessary decision makers.

9. When a Crisis Hits – Assess the Situation, Then … Always put the safety of people first. Prepare to answer tough questions. Tell what you know, when you know it – apologize if you are in the wrong and promise to implement corrections.

10. Managing the Crisis Using holding statements as a starting point, then develop situation-specific messages – two to three main points. Finalize internal and external communications, including press releases and Web content. Provide regular, honest feedback to stakeholders, monitor news coverage and inquiries, and of utmost importance … be accessible.

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