Uncle SamHiring the right PR agency to lead your communications initiative – both internal and external – can lead to many positive results for a business. From increased brand awareness and more website traffic to motivated employees and industry accolades, PR promotes the best of what a company represents, and even inspires others to rally to the brand.

Hiring a PR agency at the wrong time, however, can result in in a catastrophic failure amounting to lost money, productivity and disillusionment in PR’s ability to grow a business and its brand awareness.

The bottom-line is it pays to know when the optimal time is to hire a PR agency. With that in mind, I have listed some scenarios below that could justify talking with, if not actually hiring, a PR agency.

Startup funding: we work extensively with startups in technology, and even in consumer and healthcare, and very often a funding event occurs early on to help them scale rapidly. One of the best ways to reach a mass audience and motivate early adopters is through aggressive and ongoing PR.

Time to pitch: anytime a new business launches, there is potential to interest the local, national and trade media. Even the smallest of small businesses — yogurt shops, pet groomers, cross fit gyms — can get covered in hyper-local media outlets.

Expansion: if you are a retail store expanding to more locations or a healthcare company like a heart clinic adding a new location and doctors to the practice then you should share that news with local media outlets. A PR agency can refine your message, herd the media to your doorstep and keep you in the spotlight for longer than you can on your own.

Merger or acquisition: when a company enters into a merger or decides to acquire another company then it may have achieved a margin of success that deserves ongoing media outreach. The messaging around mergers and acquisitions needs to be managed so that the positives get emphasized while the possible negatives get put into proper perspective. The last thing you want is the media focused on possible lay-offs or office shutdowns.

Best in class: if your company strives for quality and wants a reputation as a leader in the industry then PR can help. By reaching out to key media outlets –- for example, gaming blogs and magazines if you are a game design startup –- you can improve your chances of getting into the “Best of” or “Top 10” lists that people pay so much attention to these days. How else do you think a relatively unknown barbecue pitmaster like Austin’s Aaron Franklin, founder of Franklin Barbecue, became an overnight sensation leading to a kind of rock-star status, appearances on the Jimmy Kimmel Live, a show on PBS, a successful cook book? To be the best of the best you have to do a little shake-and-bake with the media, and PR is your instrument of choice.

Rapid growth: your company has enjoyed rapid growth and all signs point to ongoing economic success in the form of hiring, investments and profitability. Now is the time to double-down on your overall marketing strategy with a PR campaign aimed at solidifying your reputation. Failing to do that means you give your competition dibs on snagging the glory and owning customer mindshare. In no business book does it say to lose the battle of public opinion to your rival.

Million-dollar baby: there really isn’t a good line in the economic sand to determine the best time to hire a PR agency. I have seen companies earning less that $400 thousand annually pursue a robust PR initiative as part of a calculated strategy to grow revenue and market share. Generally speaking, however, if your company earns north of $1 million annually, then you can probably afford to spend some of your marketing budget on PR as part of an overall growth strategy that should include both inbound and outbound marketing.

Workforce effectiveness: another key objective of PR is to help with internal communications. When you have a workforce in excess of 250 then you are probably inching toward a critical mass that requires you to communicate with employees on a variety of topics: training, safety, hiring, benefits, productivity tips, etc. A PR agency can help you immensely by formalizing your communications with thoughtful, well-composed content. Need to lower workplace injuries, increase sales performance, locate more talent? PR can help with that!

Competitors: if your competition is eating your lunch in the media then it may be time to take their lunch money with a PR strategy of your own. PR is often viewed as a branding exercise, and it does serve to promote a brand, but keep in mind that when consumers research their purchases, they often dip into their recent memories about brands that made a favorable impression. PR excels at winning hearts-and-minds, whipping up passion, and planting semi-conscious cravings in far less time and for much less money than most advertising or marketing campaigns.

Crisis: last, but certainly not least, when something bad happens that impacts the general public, and media catches wind, you could easily have a reputation meltdown if you don’t take immediate and decisive action. Some agencies and PR consultants specialize in crisis communications, while others offer it as part of their overall strategy. Whatever you do, be sure the person you are about to hire is an authentic expert in the field of crisis communications (like our own Libba Letton!) or you may end up regretting the decision. Finally, crisis communications will likely cost a premium simply because it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation requiring around-the-clock reputation monitoring in all forms of media — print, TV, social, radio, digital.

These and many more scenarios justify using some of your hard-earned resources in a sustained PR initiative designed to grow your business, seed the market and generally dominate media buzz in a given industry or market.

Got some ideas worth sharing? Please feel free to tweet about this post or comment below.

Journalists I interview as part of my PR over Coffee community in Austin report having to sort through hundreds of emails daily – literally hundreds. On Mondays when they come back to the office that number often doubles. This means you have mere seconds to stop a journalist in his or her tracks in hopes of getting a second, longer look.

The only way to get a journalist to not hit the delete key is by having a carefully worded, high-impact email subject line.

Here are some thoughts and examples of email subjects that pack a punch and might cause a journalist to take a closer look at your news announcement.

 

Short: keep your email subject line short and to the point; basically no more than 8-12 words.

Example: Mobile health app predicts heart attacks, sends 911 alerts

 

Punch: add some punch to your email pitch with a subject that relies upon hard-hitting action verbs.

Example: Snow blower maker plows through revenue goals after record snowfall

 

Verbal vigor: consider using alliteration (words beginning with the same letter/sound in close proximity) to make the subject stand out.

Example: Austin Chocolatier to serve chocolate cherry ganache at Presidential Inauguration

 

Local, local, local: if you are trying to get the media to cover you in your own community then point out in your email subject line that you are a local company or mention the community by name.

Example: Local home builder to break ground on development in southwest suburb

 

Provocative: be as edgy as possible given your topic and audience. I’m not suggesting you say anything inappropriate. But saying something too conservative or tepid won’t arrest a busy journalist’s attention.

Example: New luxury car rental company promises zero crappy car policy at LAX

 

Deadline: if there’s a deadline or event date then mention it in hopes of getting the journalist to take action.

Example: Annual Take Back the Night marathon and candlelight vigil set for March 15

 

Name drop: sure, why not? If there’s a well-recognized name associated with your news announcement like a tech company getting funding from Mark Cuban then jump on it!

Example: PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel joins board e-commerce startup Xzap

 

Don’t sell: what I mean by this is don’t sound like you are selling something; you are trying to sell a story idea, not a used car.

Example: Enjoy “Chocolate Stout Night for Singles” on Valentine’s Day at Draft house

 

Relevance: try to capture the essences of why your news should be shared with a journalist’s audience. Pitching a college-related publication like U.S. News & World Report – Education on a new mobile app for college students? Mention something about the app’s ability to help students’ in their studies, find dates, travel abroad, etc.

Example: 25% of students in study abroad programs lack the proper insurance

 

Final tip: don’t be afraid to spend time on getting the subject line just right. Run it by your colleagues, staff and even friends and family. Come up with a subject that will stop the journalist in his or her tracks and you’ll win that coveted 2nd look every time.

Got a few left hooks and right jabs you want to share to help others create knock-out subject lines?

PR means a lot of things to a lot of people these days. For some, it means putting ads in newspapers. For others, PR involves social media and blogging. Others think of PR as placing quotes and securing interviews in print, online or TV news by “legitimate” reporters guided by an editorial staff.

So who’s right? And what are the goals of PR anyway?

Turns out everybody’s right in some form or fashion – except for the one about buying ads in a newspaper, which (last time I checked) is still called advertising.

PR informs brand awareness in so many mediums and formats that it defies easy categorization: blogs, Twitter, magazines, listicles, forums, speaking opportunities, TV news, Facebook, print newspapers, tech trades. The list goes on.

The lines between PR and marketing have blurred in recent years in large part because the Internet has created new ways for a brand to engage with various audiences. Ten years ago PR limited its professional reach to the media, which is to say engaging with the media in hopes of getting them to say favorable things about a brand.

Today’s PR professional is as likely to pitch a reporter at the Wall Street Journal as create a series of tweets supporting a product launch in advance of SXSW or write a contributed article for a trade publication or boost a post on Facebook promoting an upcoming event.

Whereas marketing is about filling a sales funnel with leads and clicks, PR is about getting a future buyer passionate about a brand after learning about it from a variety of “objective-leaning” sources.

So while the goals of PR are many all come back to a desire to grow awareness for a brand by building its credibility, reputation and authenticity.

The results of a PR campaign can and should be measurable, encompassing some of the following:

 

  • Website clicks: every PR campaign should result in additional clicks to your website or another online assets
  • Social media: there should plenty of social engagement which lead to tweets, Facebook posts likes, LinkedIn visibility, even Instagram likes
  • Traffic: PR can stimulate good old-fashioned foot traffic and phone calls for a retail or services company
  • Speaking: one goal of PR is still to book speaking opportunities as part of a thought leadership campaign
  • Expert quotes: solicited interviews and expert quotes happen when a PR thought leadership campaign creates relationships with media outlets interested in content related to a brand
  • Industry, business and community awards: accolades in the form of awards bolster a brand’s credibility and put it in the eye of potential customers and media.

 

The last goal of PR is perhaps the most important? Revenue growth!

Caveat: every dime you spend cannot be tied directly to specific leads. This isn’t sales, after all. What you will notice over time, however, is an incremental growth in revenue due to the influence PR has on your brand. Nothing fires up interest in a brand, be it a product or a person, like glowing coverage in the news and its corresponding buzz in social media.

The extent to which a brand benefits from sustained PR is not only determined by how skillful the PR campaign is built and executed but also by how daring a brand is at courting attention through its various marketing activities.

So now you know that the end goal of PR is nothing short of your business’ growth and market domination through the skillful use of stories that media and customers can get excited about.

What happens next is up to you.