Help! We Just Fired Our PR Firm…

There’s an air of hushed excitement around these offices, waiting for the last Buzzie entries to arrive. Finally, we’ll get to see the best online work PR has to offer in each of three categories: Best Corporate Program, Best Product Support Program, and Best Nonprofit Program. In addition to the coveted Golden Mouse award, winners will receive ribbons, certificates, and have their work plastered all over the web world.

You still have time: The deadline is midnight, June 23. To enter, submit a brief email description of your entry to Don’t send fees, stamps, or presentation folders. We’ll get back to you with the details. The top five in each category will be presented right here, and you get to select the winners via an online ballot.

Over the past four weeks, we were able to showcase the PR work of a few professionals, but readers want to know a lot more. What works and what doesn’t?

Here’s an email from Mitchel Harad of GetRelevant:

    Hi… enjoyed the article and look forward to seeing more! So here’s the conundrum: The press is inundated, and PR firms have confused themselves with rock stars but us poor, young, and innovative companies still feel that solid coverage and public relations are the most effective marketing tactic we can utilize. So what do we do? We just fired our PR firm for gross underperformance at an outrageous fee, and we’re coming to the realization that things aren’t going to be much better anywhere else. So here are my two questions for you:

    1) Can you cover this problem in your new column and actually offer some advice and solutions as well?

    2) Care to recommend a good PR firm and/or freelancer? (Seriously!)

While waiting for the Buzzies — which hopefully will open up the template of possibilities for online PR work — we offer some advice:

Calibrate your expectations. There’s no silver bullet here. The publicity end of PR is tough work. It means digging out the story and presenting it among a sea of other stories, usually via email to editors who are deluged with equally viable material. Sure it’s expensive… but compared to what?

You Might Try In-House PR

If you want to bring your PR effort in-house and try your hand at it, here are a few tips.

It helps to differentiate between hard news and features. You’re swimming with schools of barracuda when you attempt to crash into print with your news release. To improve your slim chances, winnow out the stragglers. For example, appointing an officer or director with strictly local credentials? Not news. Raising $1 million most likely isn’t news outside of the trades and your personal circle of friends and creditors. Closing an affiliate deal with an unknown company? Next.

Once you have your hard news story boiled down to the basics — no blah blah speeches about missions or yada yada pronouncements — and you’ve glitzed it up with a catchy subject line, let it fly. The old “five W’s and one H” lead plus rigid cutoff formats may no longer apply, but do get your key information up top. You get only a few nanoseconds of undivided attention. And keep your sentences and lines short. Sixty characters and a hard return is a good rule of thumb for email.

Play a numbers game. Distribute your press release to all appropriate media — newspapers, wire services, magazines, radio-talk-show producers, TV, and online e-zines and newsletters. And post it on your web site. It’s your only guaranteed placement.

You can use the services we covered last week — like PRNewswire or Businesswire — or distribute it yourself to email addresses taken from directories like Bacon’s. If you’re a total newbie, have a service do it for you. It’s probably cheaper and better. You can use PRWeb absolutely free just to see where that gets you. Unless you know an editor personally, or you’re a masochist, don’t call to say the release is on its way and then check back later to see if the editor got it. This is the millennium. The editor got it.

Feature stories are different. Here you can work on industry applications and round up articles as well as company profiles. Rifle in on the writer’s beat. Contact columnists, freelance writers, and editors who’ve run related stories in the past couple of weeks. It helps to work up a good industry background, provide creative photos or other graphics, and feed editors material that isn’t entirely self-serving.

The Issue May Not Be How But Why

“Dot-coms seem to regard PR as an essential function,” says Greg Hill, longtime Wall Street Journal bureau chief in San Francisco and now features editor at Time Inc.’s E-Company. “I think the reason is their market is so crowded they need every edge they can get. They’re looking for a buzz. I just think it’s a waste of money, until you have a story to tell… In the old days that was when you were making money. Now we’re looking at no product, no sales… and companies substituting buzz as a placeholder. They don’t think they can afford to wait, so they’re hiring PR agencies.”

As far as recommending a good PR firm, sorry. My favorite remains Beatus & Buzzhead in San Francisco, the incredibly expensive and incompetent foosball champions of South Park. If your fellow dot-commers can’t refer you to a PR group, for short-term projects you might try Rates and profiles are available online. For outright PR grunt work, try some of the English departments at local colleges to locate an intern for the summer. It’s amazing the results good writing and hard work can get. Maybe even a Buzzie.

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