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It’s inevitable that a new company, product or service will encounter issues and problems in its early stages. When it’s one of the fastest growing social networks, these bumps in the road happen in a very public way.

You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about Pinterest, the latest Internet sensation, where users can “pin” images, video and more to their pin boards and follow other boards that appeal to their own interests. Just last month the social network grew 52 percent to 17.8 million unique visitors.

Unfortunately, copyright issues have thrown a roadblock that is keeping the social network on its toes as it tries to quickly adjust to mend legal issues while keeping its strong momentum. In the beginning, Pinterest discouraged self-promotion and suggested its users share content they did not create – a copyright red flag if I ever saw one.

The company has now issued an updated terms of service with an easier to understand policy on copyright and trademark infringement as well as change in direction of asking users to either pin content they own or have permission to pin.

It’s important to know, that due to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, sites like Pinterest and YouTube are well protected from any type of copyright suits – the onus falls directly on the individual user, you agree to this when signing up for the site.

So, as a business looking to create a company Pinterest account, how do you keep yourself out of trouble on Pinterest? Bottom line, the absolute safest route is to only post content that you have either created or have written permission from the creator to pin.

There are still a lot of unknowns in terms of how copyright infringements will be dealt with. As of this post, there has not been an official suit filed. Businesses are undoubtedly going to be held to different standards than the mother of three who is looking for rainy day craft projects. Additionally, profit is another sticking point for copyright suits.

Treat Pinterest just as any other website – you certainly wouldn’t post something you don’t have rights to on your company homepage – and don’t use Pinterest any differently.

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.


In our last post from the Search for PR series, we talked about knowing who you are. So, now that you have a clearer picture of your existing resources and the objectives you’re reaching for, it’s time to ask yourself what kind of PR support do I need?

In order to assess the kind of PR services you need, some of the things you’ll want to think about include:

  • Will senior management, including the CEO, benefit from regular outside counsel in order to protect the organization’s reputation, assess risks and manage issues and crisis communication?
  • Is there a need to gather additional intelligence in regards to competitors, existing customer preferences, public perception or any issues that affect your stakeholders?
  • Do you need help identifying all your audiences and crafting targeted messaging?
  • If your industry is highly regulated, do you need specific skill sets or is your in-house team prepared to guide communications?
  • If public relations will play a support role in product/service marketing, what specific needs will be filled by an outside firm – media relations, community outreach, collateral, promotional events, social media or even ghost writing?
  • Do you need help developing a comprehensive marketing communications plan, or just need to add manpower to carry out an existing plan?
  • Have you developed a crisis communications plan and are your spokespeople media trained?
  • How will you measure your efforts and what kind of reporting system will you require of the PR firm?

Taking the time to specifically describe your needs will result in a search that is targeted, efficient and successful, helping you to avoid costly oversights.

 

Image – © Michael Brown | Dreamstime.com

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

It seems that customer service is often a luxury these days, only afforded to those with the time, perseverance and downright stubbornness to handle the curve balls our many service providers throw at us.

Comcast recently charged me $40 for a technician to come out and fix several months of extremely poor quality of service. After questioning the charge, Comcast immediately removed it, but not before 30 minutes on hold and being transferred to two departments. Four months into a six-month lease, my apartment management felt a significant increase for a lease renewal was justified. After a brief meeting, the price increase had been completely waived from the lease renewal.

This “let’s see what we can get away with” approach surely makes sense to the number crunchers of a company, but this strategy comes with dangerous consequences.

According to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Comcast had 22,360,000 basic video subscribers as of September 2011, not mentioning its Internet and telephone product lines. Let’s say just one percent of Comcast’s video subscribers (223,600) received an erroneous charge for a technician visit and either didn’t read their bill carefully enough or didn’t have the time to navigate Comcast’s phone system. That equates to $8,944,000 in “found” money.

But in an ever-changing landscape, this approach to customer service will not lead to long-term stability or gains. There will always be something bigger and better on the horizon and it’s a solid relationship of trust and service that will keep customers from straying.  When running an organization, don’t get caught up in short-term gains that will ruin the overall longevity of a business. Developing a sound rapport based on transparency, trust and quality are the right strategies for success.

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.

Shuttle Endeavor being decommissioned in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

In a recent blog post, I mentioned attending a NASA Tweetup – a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While in awe of the event’s tours, special speakers, close-up view of the launch and behind the scenes access, the public relations professional in me couldn’t get over the fantastic strategy behind the event.

Imagine if you were told the most popular and well-known segment of your company would be shut down. It’s a preposterous business scenario for most, but with the shuttle program officially closed as of August 2011, it was a dark deadline surely looming over the heads of the NASA communications team.

On January 21, 2009 the first Tweetup launched – and with great success. So successful, that the most recent Mars Curiosity Tweetup was the 31st of its kind.

While astronauts aren’t currently launching into space at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA has found an innovative way to keep fans engaged and take a viral approach to cultivating new space fans when a less savvy organization could have quickly become lost and forgotten.

The results are astounding. NASA tracked 10,665 tweets originating from the 150 participants of the Juno spacecraft launch Tweetup to find the event yielded 29.9 million potential impressions. By many accounts, today’s Tweetups produce close to double the impressions of the Juno Tweetup.

With each Tweetup, the momentum behind NASA’s social media presence continues to snowball and more and more of the general population become engaged with the latest updates in space exploration. The Twitter handle @NASATweetup boasts 30,062 followers and @NASA ranks in at 1,636,046 followers. It doesn’t stop there, as the majority of NASA Tweetup participants continue to support and promote the space agency long after everyone returns home.

The masterminds over at NASA honed in on the inherent nature of social media – sharing information – and found a fruitful formula to spread messages across millions of Twitter accounts. Congratulations, this is one for the social media textbooks.