Public Relations is an industry that most people in business are aware of, but often we don’t understand the finer intricacies that go into a successful PR campaign. Merilee Kern, President of Kern Communications, joins Jason Hartman on today’s Speaking of Wealth Show to discuss the ins and outs of her marketing business and to talk about the reality of getting involved in this particular industry.

 

 

Key Takeaways

 

02.00 – Many people in the Public Relations industry view their line of work as a balance between art and science.

04.05 – PR companies have a very set series of processes which they go through with every new client to best achieve the desired final result.

07.00 – Linking the release of a product to current events and news gives a certain credibility and relevance in the eyes of an editor.

09.40 – The risk associated with ‘publicity stunt’ style campaigns can often far outweigh the reward so going down this line must not be a decision taken lightly.

12.35 – Both wire services and mainstream databases are effective methods of contact with journalists, though the wire service gives an unspoken sense of credibility.

13.45 – As well as custom databases and the wire services, there are also wider database management services such as Vocus, BusinessWire and PRNewsWire where you can buy access to these lists.

16.00 – When hiring a publicist, be sure to be diligent. You need to know what you’re getting and who their links are with.

18.15 – For more information on Merilee Kern’s own public relations network, head to www.kerncommunications.com

19.00 – www.helpareporter.com and ProfNet are two similar resources which every publicist in the country should be registered with.

 

Tweetables

Public Relations strategies focus on three things: being timely, relevant and compelling. Tweet this!

In a crowded media space, a contrary point of view can often get the greatest response. Tweet this!

If there really is no way of guaranteeing any sort of success in a PR campaign, why do we all invest in them? Tweet this!

 

Transcript

Introduction

Speakers, publishers, consultants, coaches and info-marketers, unite. The Speaking of Wealth Show is your roadmap to success and significance. Learn the latest tools, technologies and tactics to get more bookings, sell more products and attract more clients. If you’re looking to increase your direct response sales, create a big-time personal brand and become the go-to guru, the Speaking of Wealth Show is for you. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman.

 

Jason:
It’s my pleasure to welcome Merilee Kern to the show; she is President of Kern Communications and they specialize in marketing and PR. Merilee, welcome, how are you?

Merilee:
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m well, thanks.

Jason:
Good, give our listeners a sense of geography – where are you located? I’m guessing San Diego.

Merilee:
I am based in sunny San Diego, but we have clients all over the country.

Jason:
PR – and I guess I should call it by it’s proper name, Public Relations – I guess it’s more of an art than a science. Maybe you’ll disagree with me there; I’ll give you the chance to address that one. But there are so many media outlets, people have such mixed experiences with PR firms and publicists. I’d just like to take a deep dive into some of the best practices and hear about what works and what doesn’t work. What are some of the most effective PR strategies?

Merilee:
I think first is understanding that PR is really both an art and a science. There are creative elements involved with every campaign that really starts conceding a campaign strategy – an approach that will resonate with the media, it’s timely, it’s relevant, it’s compelling. That involves a lot of creativity, and then of course once you’ve decided on the direction of the campaign, typically, you’ll have to write up some kind of campaign vehicle, whether it’s a press release or a pitch letter. For me, at least, writing is very much an artform. There’s a tremendous amount of skill involved with how the information is presented, how it unfolds, what would be relevant to a journalist. It’s about writing a pitch letter vs. an article, for example. And then of course, the science is making sure the precision of your media targets is on-point, as well as your news distribution platforms and all of these logistical issues. It really is both – understanding all of the facets and elements that go into conducting a successful campaign is fundamental.

Jason:
What are those elements? If someone comes to you and says ‘Okay, I have a book that I want to market’ or ‘I have a podcast that I want to market’, or any type of thing or professional practice like that, what are the elements of a good public relations campaign?

Merilee:
At a super high level – and we’re talking about your basic grass roots campaign – fundamentally you have a continuum that looks as follows. It starts with typically you have a meeting with the client, there’s a discovery period where you’re gleaning all of the information that you can about the client, about the brand, about the product, about the competition. I call that discovery; it’s that initial research. You check out the website, you read business and marketing plans, you peruse the marketing material – all of that. From that discovery effort comes a brainstorm effort where you say ‘Okay, here’s what I think are compelling approaches for our campaign in terms of angles or a premise’ – that’s what you’re really going to hang your hat on for that particular campaign. Maybe a new research study has come out, or a news report. Pegging things to hard news is really a good idea, so we’ll take a look at the news landscape and what’s going on in current events. Again, it’s working towards being timely, relevant and compelling. You always want to keep those three things in mind. You’ll agree with the client on what the approach will be. Once that is in place, the publicist will write the campaign vehicle and depending on which direction the news is going, it might take the form of a press release, which typically would be a harder news angle, or a pitch letter, or maybe it is an article you’re looking to get placed. Whatever it is, the writing effort would ensue. Once the vehicle is in place, of course the client has the opportunity to review, edit and approve that. Once that’s done, you’re ready to – what I call – ‘trigger it’. Actually in tandem with the writing process, the publicist would be custom compiling a media list of journalists across all suitable mediums (print, online, broadcasting, radio and television), whatever is appropriate for your campaign. They’ll also be custom compiling a list of targets to ascertain who they are planning on distributing the news to. When all of that is in place, the publicist would then work with whatever distribution platform they use and disseminate the news to the media. At that point, you’re serving as the publicist for the brand or the product to the experts; you’re serving as the liaison to the media, hopefully setting up interviews, providing high-res artwork, facilitating review samples – whatever is required, the publicist is managing and facilitating all of that. And then just generally, it’s about staying on top of the media that had expressed interest – maybe they had already interviewed clients. It’s trying to keep tabs on things, trying to bring the media placement to fruition. After that it’s about following up, so making sure that the interview that’s broadcasted actually airs, or if it’s print, that it actually ran, and then on the very back end it’s trying to procure copies of the placement that was successful. Whether it’s a PDF print placement or an MP4 file of a video. From end to end, that’s sort of what a baseline campaign would look like.

Jason:
When you talk about news releases, do news releases need to be relevant to something else in the news?

Merilee:
No, there’s plenty of campaign premises that are just, for example, milestone based – maybe midyear, a company is going to do a second quarter and is going to announce various milestones such as new hires, revenue milestone achievements etc. In this sense, it’s all about the company. So no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be pegged to any external idea.

Jason:
It’s good if you can though, right? Because you talked about it being topical and relevant.

Merilee:
Exactly. I find that it’s advantageous if you can peg it to something that’s relatively high profile, or certainly relevant within the industry that that client operates in. Again, an editor wants to know not that an idea is good, but they want to know why it’s good right now. They want to know why they should give this issue coverage right now, so that best prepares you to answer that question.

Jason:
I think it’s difficult for a lot of people that are thinking about their own PR strategies: entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, publishers, who are thinking about how to get good PR for their business and get good exposure. It’s hard for them to think of how to make their content relevant. Can you give any examples or suggestions on how to think in that way, because it’s good if it’s relevant, like you said?

Merilee:
Well I think, again, just going back to what we were discussing: most obviously, to make it relevant to something that’s going on in the news right now. It’s always great if there are statistics involved and if it’s pegged to some kind of new research study or finding because that will give it recency, it’ll give the experts commentary, it’ll give it relevance and it will put it in context. You can even look at it from different angles that way so that’s really the best way to do that. Trying to take an idea that you have and spin it in a way that really hasn’t been discussed in the media – some ideas are just used over and over. Many experts operate really noisy space, meaning there are many experts that all have publicist representation that are out there pitching. Sometimes it’s a contrary point of view that goes against conventional thinking. I find that that’s a compelling way to get the attention of a journalist, especially in a really crowded space.

Jason:
That contrary point of view and being controversial, I guess that’s a good way. What about something that would be called – I doubt you call it this, but I’m going to use the name I know – a publicity stunt? Any ideas along those lines? I’ve thought of maybe challenging an established thought leader if you’ve got a different opinion, or things like that. Are there any good ideas along those lines?

Merilee:
Not that that has not been employed successfully many times over the years, because it certainly has. I just find that there’s a tremendous amount of cost involved, typically. There’s also a tremendous amount of risk involved too. Just with the inherent nature of a stunt, it can sometimes be perceived negatively by some. That can sometimes be a good thing, but I just find the risk-reward value difficult. Especially as you can expend the time, effort and budget to plan and execute it and as with anything in PR, there’s no guarantee that coverage would manifest. It has to be really calculated and weighed, and I’m more of a proponent of the more traditional approach and not really relying on gimmicks and that kind of thing.

Jason:
Maybe that’s not the right word, maybe a ‘publicity event’ is a lighter, better word for it, I don’t know. I just want to continue down this vein. What about distribution services?  We see online all the time where there are all these websites out there (most of them are hokey, of course), where they say ‘I’ll distribute your news release to 1 million outlets’ and blah blah blah, and nobody will ever see it.

Merilee:
Yeah..

Jason:
Let’s talk a little bit about distribution. So we’ve got, say in the example we’re talking about news releases and articles and so forth. We’ve got something written, it’s a quality piece, it’s got an angle, it’s hopefully got relevance with something external to it – what do we do with it?

Merilee:
Well, there’s two things you would do with it. With all of my campaigns, at least at a very basic level, I always execute a campaign via email to the list of media contacts that I’ve custom-compiled. These are journalists that I have a personal relationship with; I know that they are germane to the subject at hand and the nature of the campaign, so I personally execute via email. I try to get it in their inbox and have that direct one-on-one communication. I like to say that the wires are good insurance – as good as the media lists are, for example. If you don’t already have pre-established relationships with journalists like I do – maybe you’re newer to the game, or for whatever reason – if you’re using a media database..

Jason:
Or a wire, like when you say about the wire service.

Merilee:
I’m going to get to wire in a minute. I’m talking about a media database that will allow you to email your vehicle directly. That’s basic.

Jason:
I just wanted to distinguish for the audience a wire – you mean a wire service. I just wanted to clarify.

Merilee:
Yeah, I don’t.

Jason:
That’s like lingo.

Merilee:
A wire service would be different to a media database. A media database would be their direct contact: their email and that kind of thing. In addition to that, though, the issue over the wires is a bit of insurance because when you’re emailing direct to the journalist, like I said, the whole nation potentially is pitching to them. Their inboxes are packed. You have a very difficult time, maybe, in getting noticed. You really have just a subject line to compel them to open your piece in the first place. A wire service is nice insurance. Journalists are registered with the wire services and they get proactively pushed news that they have that might be of interest to them. They proactively look to the wires for headlines and journalists know that wires are not inexpensive. They know that a client that’s issuing news over a wire tends to be maybe a little more credible. They obviously have a budget and one that is big enough to afford the wire at least. Even that intangible unspoken image works.

Jason:
It’s a vetting process.

Merilee:
Exactly. It reflects well. Again, it’s another touch point. You want to maximize all chances that your news is actually going to be seen by the journalists that are relevant to that. To approach both through the wire and through email is optimal, and because wires really are expensive (they charge by the number of words, with a 400 word minimum), so sometimes clients do just have to forego the wire and they’ll opt just for email. You could be very successful at that, I’m just saying it’s optimal to do both.

Jason:
When you do a database, you of course, like any good PR person, have your own email list that’s probably resident on your computer, right? Like your usual email box of journalists that you know that cover certain areas and so forth, and then there are database services like Vocus and I think BusinessWire and PRNewsWire have one, I know they merged. There are other services where you can just buy access to a database and call through and send things to who you want, and then there’s the wire service. So maybe there are 3 grades or categories of getting things out there. When you do your own custom list, how big would that list typically be, when you would send an email to a bunch of journalists? Would it be 20? 50? 100? Or thousands?

Merilee:
That’s a function of the nature of your contract with the client – is a local, regional campaign? Is it national or international? It also depends on the industry. If you’re pitching a medical device, that list will inherently be smaller than if you’re doing a lifestyle piece or a travel product. There are a tremendous number of journalists that cover the travel field for example. There are so many variables that would factor into that.

Jason:
There is no average, in other words.

Merilee:
There really isn’t. Not at all.

Jason:
What else should people know?

Merilee:
They say a publicist is only as good as their last placement, and it really is important to find out not that a publicist had some success last year. Typically they’ll show you their portfolio, but you want to see what a publicist did that month. Normally they’ll be able to show you that and they’ll have tear sheets, links to footage, they can obviously provide client references, which is incredibly important. As I’ve been telling you, I would say that the majority of my client list (which is pretty substantial as I’ve been around a long time) have come to me having had a really bad experience in the past with publicists. They’ve sort of lost the taste for it and I’ve had to redeem the profession so often. There’s very little accountability. It’s not like advertising where you pay and there’s your add.

Jason:
Like a pay for play.

Merilee:
Yeah, exactly. It’s very subjective and it does require a tremendous amount of skill and forethought. You really want to know that the journalist is still as skillful today as they were however long ago, so it’s really important to check those references and do a little diligence when you’re hiring a publicist.

Jason:
Speaking of which, what is the best way to work? I know many years ago, some PR firms started working on a pay-for-play type of scenario so it’s more like that advertising model where when the client gets a placement, then they pay – although those prices tend to be pretty high for those placements. Or the vast majority of the industry is on an hourly rate. What advice would you have on actually working and engaging a PR firm?

Merilee:
What the marketplace needs to understand is PR is subjective. It’s exactly what I just described. Unfortunately, there’s zero guarantees. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a prospect meeting and I say ‘Look, I’m just going to shoot straight. I cannot guarantee you that this campaign is going to be a success’. I can show my writing samples, I can show you placements from a month ago, I can prove to you that I have all of the skill, knowledge and contacts, but at the end of the day I cannot promise you that this campaign is going to resonate with editors in manifesting coverage. It’s just not the way things work. I’m always wary, and I tell them to be wary of publicists who do make those kind of promises, because it’s just downright impossible unless they are making side deals and actually paying for placements. With that said, it’s that much more important that the client does do that diligence and does check out the writing samples to make sure that they’ve had some success within the industries of that client operation. All of those things being there – you’re comfortable, the references are good, the writing is there, there’s placements proving that they’re still in the game right now – you do have to go on a little bit of faith, and have that conversation about the worse case scenario. What if this campaign bombs? Is there any recourse? Can we shift course midstream? You want to anticipate that and sort of figure out how you might deal with that situation even before you hire the publicist so you don’t find yourself in a sticky situation later.

Jason:
Absolutely. Good point. Give out your website, Merilee.

Merilee:
Sure, it’s www.kerncommunications.com.

Jason:
Good stuff. I just wanted to ask you before you go. Do you have any favourite book recommendations so that people can learn more and become more astute about the whole process?

Merilee:
Rather than books, I’d like to give out resources. There are just certain tools that are out here for publicists, and I have had some of the biggest placements in my career manifested in these. There are two specific resources on my website that I’d rather give out than books. One is www.helpareporter.com, and the other is ProfNet, which is similar. These are journalists that will be proactively looking for experts or products, or they have a bonafide assignment typically so you’re that much further in the game. They are looking to be pitched on whatever the topic is, and it will be specified. These leads come through the desk multiple times a day and you have the chance to jump on these opportunities. At that point they’re already vetted and real editorial or broadcasting opportunities. Every publicist in the country needs to be registered with those two resources.

Jason:
OKay, great. Well hey Merilee, thanks so much for joining us today.

Merilee:
My pleasure, anytime.

Outro
Copyright the Hartman Media Company. For publication rights and interviews, please email [email protected] This show offers very general information. Opinions of guests are their own. Nothing contained herein should be considered personalized personal, financial, investment, legal or tax advice. Every investor’s strategies and goals are unique – you should consult with a licensed real estate broker or agent or other licensed investment, tax and/or legal adviser before relying on any information contained herein. Information is not guaranteed. Please call 7148204200 and visit www.jasonhartman.com for additional disclaimers, disclosures and questions.