Media Relations: A Marathon – NOT a Sprint

Alert the media! We have a shining business over here! Who? You!

You may not realize it yet, but your business is full of exciting stories and expert insights the media, and more importantly their readers, viewers and listeners, want to hear about. Not sure what kind of stories to share or which media outlets to target? That’s where an ongoing media relations strategy can help.

A strategic, ongoing media relations campaign allows organizations to connect with their target audiences and raise awareness of their brands. We’ve helped countless clients more than triple their media relations coverage through continuous media relations efforts over the course of several years.

“Media relations takes patience and persistence and it truly pays off! Each placement brings a new opportunity to expand your reach, share your knowledge, and engage with a new customer or future business partner. The Bottom Line team has been a true partner and a member of our team, helping our business grow to new heights.” – Ted Uczen, CEO of FEI Behavioral Health

A common misconception is that media relations is a sprint, not a marathon, and a few months of pitching results in instant hits across numerous platforms. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. To have successful results, media relations requires continuous work and ongoing pitching to create relationships with the media and get your company’s name on their radar. Think about how long it takes your sales team to turn a lead into a customer – the same is true with media relations.

How it works

We train for the media relations marathon by pitching your expertise and story ideas to various publications in your industry and target markets. When media are interested in publishing an article on your business, we help remove the barriers to provide them with a professionally written content piece or arrange an interview with one of your experts. Placements across local media and trade publications raises awareness of your services to consumers in your target markets as well as generates new leads, in turn creating more business opportunities for you.

For example, the first year we did media relations for a community health center, the organization received eight placements and 462,664 impressions. Not a bad start! That interaction snowballed as the media became more and more familiar with its brand, and in just two years, its media relations reach expanded by 69 percent with 38 placements and 1,500,499 impressions. This included placements in multiple local print outlets, spots on local TV stations and a monthly column in a trade publication. This kind of media engagement turned a local health center into a household and community name.

If you’re interested in getting your name out there and expanding your business, give us a call! Let us help run down some leads and showcase you as an expert in your industry with the help of a media relations program. We’re ready to help you win the race!

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Bring Your Brand’s Future into Focus

So you want to take your business to the next level. Knowing what your customers, employees and the public want and what they think about your brand is sure to set you up for success. Since we’re not psychics, we can use focus groups in place of a crystal ball to see inside the minds of your audiences and bring the future into focus.

Crystal Ball

Focus groups can be used for a variety of marketing projects, including product launches, employee engagement campaigns, brand assessments and more. Focus groups are a useful tool to benefit your customers, employees and overall public perception.

Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes

You’re serving your customers, so you should be aware of what they think. When conducted by a third party vendor, customer focus groups create an engaged discussion providing you with an inside look at your audience’s thoughts on a number of topics. For example, we partnered with a national real estate developer to facilitate focus groups that gauged residents’ satisfaction with rental units, staff and amenities to find what sets the developer apart from competitors. Additionally, you can experience the language of your customers and weave that into future marketing campaigns to better target potential customers. The expression, tone and attitude of an individual also can be captured and added to the research results.

Focus groups can be especially beneficial if you have a wide customer base of differing demographics. Splitting up your participants into groups based off of similar characteristics, such as age and gender, will create engaged conversation specifying their feelings, perceptions and opinions. It provides you with the opportunity to compare and contrast the views and opinions of varying groups and utilize that information to enhance your brand.

Keep your ear to the ground on the front lines

Focus groups aren’t just for gaining insights from consumers. You also can observe your internal audiences and set up a focus group for your employees. Our same real estate developer client held employee focus groups in addition to customer focus groups. This allowed the developer to discover ways to improve processes and procedures to make work more efficient and improve employee happiness.

Creating a team of satisfied employees carries outside the office and creates a great reputation for your company. Internal focus groups led by a member of your HR team, or by an impartial third-party like Bottom Line, can ignite opinions from employees they’d be hesitant to share in regular business meetings. This type of focus group can elicit discussion and give you an honest assessment of job satisfaction from across your workplace to help identify discontent and areas of improvement.

Employee focus groups can identify gaps between leadership and frontline perspectives. Feedback from frontline employees can often get isolated and fail to make its way to the leadership team. Make sure all levels of employees are engaged in the process to gain valuable insight and keep your employees happy and your brand strong.

Take a look at the big picture

In addition to gaining the inside scoop on your customers and employees, it’s time to examine how the public views you. The public’s perception of your brand identity is essential when it comes to growth and awareness. By only focusing on the customers you already have, you can become stagnant and sales can decrease. Focus groups allow you to manage your reputation in the market and gain an understanding of what draws people in or pushes them away.

Focus groups provide for engaging interactions and cook up new ideas for you to improve the interaction between your customers, employees and overall public. Not only is it accurate, it’s directly received and allows for companies to take action immediately.

Tired of staring at a blank crystal ball and guessing what your target audiences are thinking? Contact Bottom Line Marketing & Public Relations to set up a focus group based on your company needs and we’ll bring results into focus.   

New Year, New Plan – Using a PR Agency for Next-Level Strategic Planning

We’ve counted down and popped some champagne, so it must be true – it’s the New Year! With each New Year come resolutions – what will yours be this year? Will you eat healthy, get to the gym more or just resolve to smile? It’s great to make personal changes in the 2018, but consider what resolutions you can make for your organization as well. We at Bottom Line suggest a strategic planning resolution – don’t just prepare for a single new year, but three to five by creating a strategic plan!

A strategic plan is important to help set the direction, vision and expansion of your organization. Just like New Year’s resolutions, strategic plans don’t last forever. If five years—or more—have passed since your last planning session, it’s time to look at revising and changing your plan.

Not sure where to start? Here is a guide for achieving this New Year’s strategic planning resolution:

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Preparing

Like any good New Year’s resolution, begin your strategic planning by gathering ideas and establishing your organization’s goals, guiding principles and mission. These will reinforce the direction for your plan.

Next, gather information on your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, things going well and things to be improved. Engaging staff, decision makers and stakeholders can give you a diverse pool of information to analyze for key results and new ideas.

Planning

After information has been gathered and key takeaways have been identified, it’s time to gather to create your actual plan.

It’s important to ask a number of questions in your planning sessions: what do you want to accomplish? What will you do to get there? Who will be responsible, and how will you track if you’re making progress?

After these questions have been discussed and your ideas have been built on, it’s time to draft a plan to be shared with stakeholders and, eventually, finalized.

Implementing

Don’t let your strategic plan be something you write and forget. After it’s finalized, it’s time to put it into action!

Depending on the size of your organization, it’s likely not everyone was in the room for planning. If so, be sure to distribute the plan and explain it to all employees of your organization. Responsibilities also should be delegated to involved parties (action teams) by managers and leaders as specified in your plan.

Once the plan is in action, managers should make sure to track progress and monitor how successful the implementation has been.

Revising

Keep in mind, your strategic plan is a living document. If something isn’t working, change it!

Weekly or monthly meetings with managers and actions teams can reinforce goals, deadlines and responsibilities, and reporting on what’s working and what isn’t can help keep the plan up-to-date. If major changes need to be made, you may need to reconvene planning groups to make changes, update your plan and circulate those changes to employees throughout your organization.

Resolve to better yourself and your organization this New Year. Hiring an external public relations agency can make a world of difference in your strategic plan. Our approach is flexible, offering everything from day-long planning sessions to several shorter sessions spaced out over months to match your organization’s resources.

Give us a call! Our best practice strategic planning process and third-party facilitation will guide your team to a tangible plan and a path to begin executing that plan, helping your organization make serious changes in 2018.

Elevate Your Brand in Today’s “Trust Gap” World: PR Answers the Call

Trust GapPublic relations can deliver the authenticity and distinctiveness to elevate a brand, bridging the trust gap in today’s world in ways that advertising cannot. Numerous studies over the years have suggested that public relations often may be more important to building and maintaining brand value than advertising, especially for purchasing decisions related to complex products and services.

Consumers are demanding greater transparency in nearly all aspects of public life: transactions in the financial services industry, executive compensation, government spending, even transparency for social networking websites. In this environment, the most effective messages likely will be those that are transmitted through trusted third parties or by word-of-mouth.

As third-party validation becomes more important, public relations also matters more to brand value. In a recent Nielsen report, researchers asked consumers what factors would increase confidence in the safety and soundness of their financial institution. Only 21 to 25 percent reported that consistently seeing internet and regular advertising would boost their confidence. Nearly 45 percent of consumers reported that reading positive news stories would increase their confidence.

A recent study by Content Analytics assessed how both earned media and advertising spend contribute to brand value. By looking at the relationship between brand value, the study found that media prominence accounts for 27 percent of the variation in a brand’s value compared to only 2.3 percent for advertising. For perspective, research using similar methodology has demonstrated that high SAT scores account for only 10 to 20 percent of the variation in whether or not the first-year college student will earn a high GPA. 

In his book, Unleashing the Power of PR, Mark Weiner reported on AT&T’s marketing mix. In the model, he compared public relations to outbound telemarketing, direct marketing and advertising. The model revealed that positive media coverage of AT&T increased the success of other marketing efforts, but the effects were not reciprocal.

A key takeaway: the more complex purchasing decisions a product requires, the more likely it is that buyers will research the category and seek information that they can trust. The current cultural tensions and the economy only serve to amplify the importance of trust and marketing via third-party influencers and neutral venues. These third parties vary widely, from mainstream media to blog, to forums to friends, but consumers are going to rely more and more on trusted third parties for advice.

The bottom line: public relations can be just as effective, and often more cost-efficient, than advertising for building long-term brand value. How are you using public relations to build brand value, both short and long term? Let’s have a conversation.

Mission Critical

Crisis response improves when PR and crisis management teams partner

Partnership in teams is important.

Communications plays a key role in crisis. However, PR professionals aren’t the only ones on the team. During large-scale disasters, we often work side-by-side with crisis management experts who handle the support call centers and on-the-ground response for those affected. The way these two roles—communications and crisis response—interact and work together is a determining factor in successfully managing a crisis. 

Preparedness

It’s essential for both communications and crisis management to have a seat at the planning table. Each brings invaluable insights in three areas:

Assessment and Planning: The Value of a Matrix

One of the most helpful assessment tools is a crisis matrix, which organizes potential crises according to their 1) likelihood and 2) potential damage. No one can create a crisis plan to deal with every eventuality. The matrix helps you focus on the most-likely, most-damaging scenarios, and allocate resources accordingly.

Drills and Exercises: Don’t Get Rusty

Many institutions put a plan on paper, but never actually practice it. Savvy PR practitioners develop “Crisis Toolkit” templates in advance, which might include a corporate statement or news release, internal and external talking points, Q&As and phone protocols for employees.

Crisis management experts, meanwhile, guide the company in drills and mock scenarios that help clarify roles and responsibilities. We often compare this to fire drills — you want to become familiar with what to do when there is no fire, so you can respond via muscle memory if a fire occurs.

Evaluating Resources: Balancing Internal Expertise with Outside Perspectives

You also can help your colleagues make realistic assessments about whether to engage outside resources during a crisis. In the wake of 9/11, businesses built up their crisis management and business continuity departments. However, since then, those departments have shrunk to only one or two people—not enough to handle a potentially large-scale disaster. Ideally, companies and campuses should examine their internal support options, and then determine how to outsource appropriately for either communications, crisis management or both.

When evaluating resources, remember that internal employees will likely not be operating at 100 percent in the face of a company-wide disaster. Engaging an outside firm can help maintain calm and perspective. We saw the importance of this in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Amid Crisis

Developing the Message

Most people want three things from communications professionals during a crisis: 1) Acknowledgement of what’s happened, 2) An explanation of what’s being done to address the situation, and 3) A means to provide feedback and ask questions.

Messaging is a great example of why PR and crisis management must work together. Understanding your audience is essential, and a strong partnership with crisis management people can give you a deeper glimpse into audience perceptions, attitudes and behaviors at that precise moment.

Through their call center or face-to-face interactions, crisis response teams can offer insights about how to match message tone with what audiences are going through emotionally. While PR is responsible for creating the messages, counselors and crisis responders also use that messaging on the phone or on the ground.

Getting the Message Out

So, you’ve developed fantastic messages, but how do you get them out? And how do you handle the influx of questions that’s sure to follow?

Most in-house PR or crisis departments aren’t staffed to handle large call volumes. This is where an outside crisis management firm can bring huge advantages through experience and capacity.

It’s important to ask who’s going to be the best at delivering a message. Typically, PR people are in the best position to communicate with the media, industry regulators and other internal or external stakeholders, while crisis management teams are better suited to communicate directly with the employees and families involved. Crisis response counselors are trained in how to deliver bad news to families and how to deal with the reaction. That expertise takes the burden off the company.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Sometimes PR professionals make the mistake of thinking their job is done once the crisis has been communicated, but it’s a smart idea to sit down, re-evaluate how the plan worked—or didn’t—and identify the next shoe drops or communication opportunities.

Engaging crisis management also is a good way to ensure that the support doesn’t disappear a few days after the event. Crisis call centers often remain active for months or years following a disaster. For example, more than a decade later, our partner, FEI Behavioral Health, still manages the crisis line for families affected by 9/11. Though the crisis itself is over, it’s not over for those involved.

Together, communications experts and crisis management professionals can talk people through the worst, connect them with support resources, and help them bounce back more quickly.

FEI Behavioral Health has a 35-year history in enhancing workforce resiliency by offering a full spectrum of solutions, from workplace violence prevention and crisis management to EAP and organizational development. FEI is the nationally known crisis management organization that handles the Sept. 11 call center, as well as crisis preparation for several government agencies. FEI responds to a wide variety of crises, whether it’s a workplace death, plane crash, building damage or a large-scale natural disaster.

For more than 20 years, Bottom Line Marketing and Public Relations has partnered with its clients to provide media relations, strategic planning, government relations, branding, and social media campaigns to create awareness among their target audiences. We have effectively managed communications on behalf of clients during dozens of crises.

Getting Employees to Talk About You

So, you’ve invested in a shiny new brand. Or, maybe, your latest ad campaign is getting ready to roll off the shelves. Do your employees know about it? And, more importantly, do they know how to talk about it with others?

These questions often get answered with a hesitant “no,” followed by a moment of panic, but don’t worry. There are two tools we use to empower your best ambassadors—employees—to speak consistently and powerfully about your company.

Message strategies
These are the guiding themes that help employees remember which factors to highlight when waxing poetic about your company. They demonstrate your key differentiators—operative word there being demonstrate.

Message strategies aren’t the nice succinct sound bites you hear (For that, see Talking Points below). Instead, they answer customers’ questions of “Why should I believe what you’re telling me? What proof do you have?” They identify HOW you will communicate the key points, but they don’t specify the exact messages or language.

For example, if your brand, positioning statement or ad claims you provide “compassionate, skilled professionals,” then two of your message strategies would be:

  1. Highlight the compassionate approach employees use during interactions with customers
  2.  Detail the schooling, certifications or skills-tests your employees are required to have.

Message strategies create powerful communications materials because they tell you what to DO to communicate your ideas to your customers. For example, if you want your customers to understand that you have compassionate, skilled professionals, then you need to follow both of the message strategies listed above.

You can use message strategies as a checklist for measuring the strength of your collateral materials. Ask yourself if a particular brochure or sales flier accomplishes each of the message strategies. If it does, the chances are that your customers will be able to more easily understand the messages you’re trying to get across.

Talking Points
Talking points are detailed statements that provide consistent, clear ways to talk about your business, and always tie directly back to the customer benefit. They also support individual message strategies. In the example above about “compassionate, skilled employees,” a sample talking point that fulfills message strategy #2 would be:

“Our customers have peace of mind knowing they’re in capable hands because all of our staff have attained the highest certification available in our industry. They also are required to complete 120 hours of continuing education each year.”

When we develop talking points, we carefully craft the most powerful language because this is what your employees will actually be saying and what your customers will actually be reading regarding your company. The talking points are a living document and likely will evolve over time as new research, data and stories are uncovered.

Since everyone is working off of the same talking points, your message will be clear and consistent no matter who is communicating it. Talking points also help in cross-selling because employees can speak about the values and benefits of an unfamiliar service line simply by knowing its talking points.

Talking points become the basis for developing collateral materials, including sell sheets, brochures, Web site, etc. They also become the sound bites that employees use during sales pitches. To make the talking points even stronger and more relevant, each employee can personalize them with their own perspective and stories.

Next time your company has an important message to get out, help your employees take the lead!

The Brand is the Business. The Business is the Brand

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Everyone has a brand. Whether you like your brand, whether your customers relate to your brand is another question.

The key to a strong, lasting brand is to hardwire it internally first  –  articulating the brand story clearly and consistently to every single employee, regardless of title.

Your brand is your company’s heart and soul. It defines not only what you do, but how and why. It defines the experience your customers will enjoy (or not) with every touch point and the benefits that experience will bring  –  some call it the value proposition.

By hardwiring your brand internally, you define for every employee the expectations the customers have about them keeping the brand promises  — delivering on the value proposition.  By consistently articulating the brand story to every employee, you make certain that no matter who the customer interacts with everyone will deliver the same positive, on-message experience.

The bottom line is your brand is simply what your customers take away from their experience with you  –  good or bad.

Secrets to a Good Interview

Now, that was a great interview
It’s not just PR folks and journalists who conduct interviews. Many business people conduct interviews, too, and I’m not talking about employment interviews. Whenever we ask questions because we are looking for answers we intend to use in a report, a presentation, a white paper, an article we are submitting to a trade publication, web or social media content or even a video, we are engaged in various forms of an interview. No matter the reason, the art of the interview is really the art of asking questions while making a personal connection. Doing that isn’t hard, but it does take practice.

Do your homework
For an interview with a subject who holds the information you need to complete an assignment or project, do your research ahead of time. Often, this is as easy as Googling the subject, and his or her area of expertise. Sometimes it means talking with other people who can share background and insight.

Occasionally, this can be challenging. We interview many patients for our healthcare clients, for example, and HIPAA laws prohibit the sharing of personal health information. Often, understanding the patient’s personal health situation is key to the story we’ve been charged with writing. So, like it or not, we go into the interview under-informed. That’s where a friendly, personal style can help.

It’s not an interrogation
Want people to open up and talk about what you’re really interested in? Start with a genuine interest in them and their situation. Avoid an insincere or perfunctory introduction, and strive for balance between respect and friendliness. You’re in the driver’s seat, so maintain your professional demeanor – and listen carefully and respond sincerely. Take this approach from your initial contact through any follow-up conversation.

It’s all about the questions
You did that homework for a reason – to understand your subject as thoroughly as possible, and to help develop questions that will draw out the information you need. Write down questions as you research, then develop a final list. The process of drafting the questions is essential for directing your own thinking and visualizing the interview ahead of time.

Strive for questions that elicit robust answers. Get the basics – who, what, when – and spend most of your time on why and how. Have some follow-up questions at the ready, and develop ease with a few more probing prompts like, “Can you help me understand that more clearly?” and “That’s interesting – tell me more about that.”

Go with the flow
The best interviewers are prepared – and flexible. That’s where the “art” comes in. If you’re closely following and listening during a phone interview, you’ll catch the subtle change in tone of voice that makes you ask a follow-up question you hadn’t planned on, or the off-hand mention that leads to a new question. Or, if the interview is in person, you’ll see the body language and make eye contact that could prompt a different way to ask the next question – a way that might be more respectful.

Step up your interview process and style, and when it’s all said and done, you and your subject will be able to say, “Now, that was a great interview!”

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving…

The team at Bottom Line Marketing & Public Relations wants to acknowledge a brave little girl who helped save her mother’s life. Last summer, Iyara Yang of Appleton, Wisconsin, called 911 when her mother collapsed. She cared for her three younger sisters while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. She translated English into the Hmong language and back again so paramedics could communicate with her mother. She remained calm and composed. Her quick response, helpful attitude and language skills resulted in a happy outcome – her mother is healthy today.

Iyara was 8 years old when she demonstrated such bravery in the face of crisis. The Gold Cross Ambulance paramedics who responded that day realized that what Iyara did was rare, wonderful and beautiful. Recently, Gold Cross publicly recognized Iyara in a simple yet meaningful ceremony that brought together her family, her teacher, her principal and the responding paramedic who understood this was no ordinary little girl.

We’re thankful Gold Cross Ambulance is our client. As with all our clients, it’s a privilege to work with them, and to help tell inspiring, important stories like Iyara’s. We’re thankful to know Iyara and to salute her. We’re thankful her mother is doing well. We’re thankful other children and families have learned that even a youngster can make a difference.

Let the Thanksgiving spirit prevail today, and every day.

The Imperial CEO is Dead!

Trust and Authenticity

The era of the imperial CEO is over.  Command and control behavior is less effective in today’s business climate.  Neither is the absentee CEO, who operates in a void by failing to engage strategic stakeholders critical of the company’s behavior, internally and externally.

As the Economist recently noted:  “Effective communications skills are a relatively new requirement, the result of the increasing intrusion of the outside world.  A corporate leader must talk convincingly.  Motivating employees requires a gift to present a clear vision persuasively.  A leader who cannot inspire trust and convey authenticity will find the task difficult.”

Hard Power and Soft Power

There is an analogy for business leaders in the foreign policy model developed by Professor Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  He talks about the hard power of military force and coercion, while soft power is based on attraction and intellectual legitimacy.

Hard power, for CEOs, is making the numbers; soft power is about values, ideas and leadership.  Soft power can inspire and justify corporate decisions, which may be based on hard power considerations.  Effective CEOs and corporate leaders explain their decisions in the context of the company’s vision and mission.

CEOs also need to exert leadership on the public stage, interacting with key players in government, the media, activist groups and the community.  The CEO’s absence from the stage surrenders the spotlight to all manner of opponents, from disgruntled employees to demagogic public officials to headline-grabbing plaintiff’s lawyers.

At the same time, CEOs must act as stewards of the corporate reputation, which is the umbrella for workplace values, product excellence and social responsibility.  They must forge relationships with multiple stakeholders based on continuous communications, respect and transparency.  The key to effective corporate reputation is trust, built by regular interaction with strategic stakeholders.

What Matters Anywhere, Matters Everywhere

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was recently asked what advice she would give to world leaders.  She did not hesitate for a second.  “An essential qualification for any world leader is the capacity to understand that what matters anywhere, matters everywhere.”

It’s not hard to see how this advice applies to leaders within your own organization.  What matters in any division, function or team within a company matters everywhere.  What matters to your customers should matter to every division of your company.  To the degree that it does not, you’ve got trouble.  Like a car with an engine that can’t fire on all cylinders, a business consisting of silos with competing agendas may move forward for a while, but eventually, it stops running.

A leader’s most valuable currency is not money, charisma, self-sufficiency, an MBA, industry expertise or the ability to analyze a case study, read a P&L statement or build a really cool PowerPoint deck.  A leader’s most valuable currency is relationship.  It is emotional capital.  Leadership defined in terms of relationship, and taught and measured in terms of capacity to connect with employees and customers at a deep level.

The next frontier for exponential growth, the place you’ll find a new and sustainable competitive edge, resides in improving human connectivity.  It is here that significant gains can be made, both in inter-company relationships and increased market share.