STRAIGHT FACTS ABOUT PUBLIC RELATIONS FEES, SERVICES
After more than ten years of communications and marketing experience with large and small corporations and large and small agencies, Andy Marken formed Marken Communictions in 1977. A frequently published writer on management, marketing and communications, we asked Andy to strip away some of the rhetoric that surrounds the public relations field and discuss the art and science of publicity in terms corporate management understands price/performance and return-on-investment.
What level of support should I expect from my Public Relations Agency ?
That's difficult to answer since each client's needs and program goals are different. However, there are some basic levels of support you should expect from your PR counsel, regardless of your situation or goal.
First of all, you should expect objective counsel and recommendations, not "yes" persons. When you're wrong, they should strongly disagree with you and when you're right, they should agree just as strongly.
Next, you should have counsel that is continually prodding you into action, not vice versa. Nothing is worse than continually having to go to the agency to ask whether or not you should be doing something in this or that area. Your public relations counsel should be continually searching for opportunities for you to promote your image and industry position.
Finally, you should be provided with a public relations program that includes objectives and accountable benchmarks. Putting out X number of news releases and making X number of telephone calls per month aren't objectives. Writing and placing an agreed upon number of major industry trend, technical, technology or op-ed articles, carrying out a similar schedule of one-on-one editorial or market research interviews during the month, producing a marketplace newsletter on a monthly or bimonthly basis and similar programs are means to achieving your objectives. Objectives are detailed and measurable goals. And whether your objective is to increase your share in a particular market segment, open a new market or position yourself a certain way within the industry, your public relations counsel should be able to show you how tasks completed on your behalf have moved you closer to your predetermined goal. What does a good public relations program include ?
We recommend and use what we call an intermedia mix because regardless of whether you're using advertising, public relations or marketing/sales support, you're communicating. And all of your communication has one ultimate objective...to sell something (the company, a product or service) to someone.
Intermedia Mix Chart
A good public relations plan includes a broad range of efforts and activities which must work in conjunction with your advertising and marketing/sales support programs. All of these tools have to work together to achieve a common corporate and marketing goal. They all have to be working in the same direction and with the proper mixture and timing. If they don't, time, money and effort is wasted.
Chart of PR Activities
Too often public relations activities are thought of in terms of news releases and product announcements. Both of these activities are important to the company's programs but are relatively minor in terms of the overall efforts and plans.
Public relations and publicity go far beyond the simple news release. If public relations activities are carried out efficiently and effectively for the company there can be some dramatic results.
How much editorial exposure should a new product receive?
That depends on the merits of the product and the amount of time alloted the agency. There are essentially two classes of products that should be considered here. The first is a major new product which your organization has spent considerable time, money and effort in developing. The second category is products less significant to the marketplace and your firm.
Given sufficient time, we like to gain maximum and extended press coverage for a major new product. This includes:
- Major new product article ( including cover treatment if possible) with one publication on an exclusive basis
- Major technical article on the product and the company's innovations written by the agency and bylined by a senior engineer in an industry-specific publication
- Featurette coverage with 2-3 industry publications immediately after the cover feature appears
- Series of management and technical interviews with key local editors immediately prior to feature and featurette coverage in business, financial, trade and user press arenas
- Product/service release and backgrounder written and distributed by the agency to all pertinent media with appropriate quality photography
- Industry trend articles written by the agency and bylined by senior management
- User case study articles, researched, written and placed by the agency
That kind of publicity can give a new product six to nine months worth of solid press coverage.
For a secondary new product, which will neither warrant nor receive major new product or technology coverage, we recommend starting at the featurette level. This squeezes as much quality editorial coverage as possible out of the new product.
How involved should the company be in the new product and other public relations activities?
This is about a 50/50 proposition.
You have to provide all of the input, including documentation
and interviews with senior management, marketing and technical
staffers. With that information and insight, the agency can write
quality articles that properly project your company, the
products, the applications, the technology and your perception of
industry trends. Then, you have to carefully read and edit the
completed articles, backgrounders and releases to ensure that
they are not only accurate, but that they get the key messages
The agency should interview the key people and draft the article for placement. If the agency does a good job of interviewing and reviewing the documentation, the article will be close to releasable the first time around. Sometimes the write-up is off because the product is in a state-of-flux so everyone involved will have to expect changes to be made.
The agency should pre-place the articles and set drop-dead deadlines for all concerned. They should ensure you meet those deadlines so that you can get the coverage you need and deserve. Your agency should have people on staff who understand your product areas and the technology so that pieces can be written quickly, effectively and economically.
A good agency will have established relationships with key editors to ensure you receive optimum coverage. And they will follow-up with the editors and reporters. They should also have the integrity to make certain that your articles are placed in the publications that reach your prospects.
How do we ensure that we are covered in all of the special reports that appear in the trade publications throughout the year?
There is no easy answer to this question except that the agency has to be alert to every editorial opportunity and special issue out there. A good agency will make sure that at the very least, your organization and products are exposed to the right editors and reporters at the appropriate time.
Every publication has beat reporters who focus on specific product areas. They also have feature reporters, special report writers, and freelance reporters. In any given, year we will work with ten or more editors and reporters with a given publication, on a variety of subject areas...all for the same client.
To ensure that we stay on top of the publications' special issues and reports, we maintain an editorial calendar database of more than 800 publications. We have to continually update the application and subject areas on our editorial calendars. This process is time consuming and expensive, but it helps us gain quality coverage for our clients in as many special issues as possible.
For round-up reports, we provide the editor or reporter responsible for the article with background information on our client's company, their products and applications. Then we discuss the key company and/or product points with the editor, offer to arrange interviews with key management and users and provide trend pieces.
For cover issue special reports, we work with senior editors as early as possible. We will often help them develop the graphics for the cover. We provide the editor or reporter with the information they need to complete their report. We also approach the publication about developing an industry trend, technology or user case study series that is tailored to that special issue.
The more help we provide the editors, the better our client's coverage and for us that's when the rubber hits the road.
What kind of editorial activity should an agency carry out for us at a trade show?
In many instances, a trade show is the deadline management needs to get a product out of development and into production. Because this is usually the case, nearly every company introduces new products at shows. In this highly competitive environment it is up to your agency to ensure that you get the editorial coverage your products deserve.
This process starts with a comprehensive and attractive press kit that includes:
- Stock and user photos
- Summary news releases
- Product/technology backgrounders
- Application backgrounders
- Company backgrounder
After the written materials are produced, we generally focus on setting up a series of one-on-one editorial meetings for senior management with senior editors and reporters. The one-on-one format is mutually beneficial in that it provides both parties the opportunity to discuss the company, the products, the applications, the technology, trends in the market and the company's market position. A four day show typically means anywhere from 10 to 30 editorial meetings.
Additional activities like hospitality suites at shows can also be used to generate editorial coverage. Activities that we have carried out for clients in the past include:
- Key editor dinners--designed to say thank you for editorial support, but not designed to be product pitches
- Industry position press seminars--an opportunity for the press to meet industry luminaries, key management and even highly visible buyers/users
- Press conferences--when appropriate, an effective means for management to unveil the product, the technology and the applications
What kind of guarantees should a client expect from an agency on article placements?
If you believe any agency that guarantees the placement of articles, releases or interviews, then I really want to talk to you about buying a summer home on the San Andreas fault.
You don't get a guarantee from your lawyer that he's going to win a case, from a salesperson that they are going to double your sales or from an engineer that he or she is going to develop the next quantum leap forward in technology.
A reputable agency though will only plan and carry out those activities they are highly confident they can achieve. That means they won't recommend the development of an article they don't feel they can place or an activity they don't feel will have a positive impact on your sales and profits.
The reputable agency will only recommend those things that will achieve mutually agreed upon objectives. The reputable agency doesn't need to practice at your expense and part of the satisfaction they get is seeing positive results for the client.
How much should a sound public relations program cost a company?
First of all, sound public relations efforts don't cost a company, they are an investment in the firm's market position and image and this will translate into increased sales. We've seen one too many organization invest $500,000 to develop a product that they think will sell itself.
The investment in a sound public relations program varies, since agencies use a variety of compensation schedules. They include:
- A base counseling fee with all activities/projects billed at an hourly or project fee rate plus out-of-pocket expenses billed at cost or with standard agency mark-up
- Straight hourly or project charges for each and every project plus out-of-pocket expenses billed at cost or with standard agency mark-up
- Fee for a certain number of hours of counsel, effort and activity with additional hours charged at the prevailing hourly rate plus out-of-pocket expenses billed at cost or with standard agency mark-up
- Flat fee for all agency time and activities plus out-of-pocket expenses billed at cost or with standard agency mark-up
Over the years, we have evolved to the flat fee approach since it doesn't produce any financial surprises to management or their accounting when special opportunities arise that we want to take advantage of for the client. And since we only work with companies we can be partners with we don't mark-up outside purchases. Our goal is to consistently do the best job at the lowest possible cost, free of any consideration of additional compensation from agency mark-up.
Certainly, the fee is based on time and activity. But it also means we focus on results, not how long the meter has been running. A program will generally include:
- Research and writing any number of news releases a month
- All special issue/special report activities including interviews and articles
- Development and placement of one or more major articles a month (technical, technology, industry trend, end user case study)
- Setting up, coordinating and following up on local editorial meetings throughout the month
- Complete support at major trade shows
- Unlimited counsel
- At least one annual editorial tour
- External newsletter/magazine research, writing and production coordination
- And similar activities/efforts
That type of program can produce tangible results from the company. It can also keep the agency interested, involved and concerned with the company's long-term growth and success. And in the final analysis, that's where we both benefit...the success of the company.
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