PR Tips for Entrepreneurs

Errant Musings

I was recently asked by a reporter at my local daily, the Austin American Statesman to provide some PR tips for entrepreneurs. There are so many great PR professionals in Austin; I was flattered they asked me and was of course happy to oblige.

As with many of the best opportunities, this one required a very quick turn around. Happily, it was an easy request to fulfill. I work primarily with entrepreneurs and I have been giving an Austin Rise session, “PR for Small Business” (aka Business Aligned Communications) the last couple years.

In general, for entrepreneurs still working out proof of concept, I don’t recommend working with a PR agency or consultant just yet. Unless you have a proven track record of substantial success in a specific industry, media, analysts and customers are not going to care. Remember PR is a strategic asset for engaging with your external audiences. Make sure you are ready. If you are manufacturing goods, then have a prototype and some interested customers/partner retailers. If technology, such as a new app or software tool, have one or two satisfied beta customers that are willing to endorse your service or product. Wait until you have something real to share.

Following are the tips, with expanded detail, from the version that I provided to the Statesman. I have 4 Simple Truths that I try to always follow. These also come in handy for you as you build your business.

1. Be real

2. Keep it simple

3. Focus is your friend

4. Let the story unfold

Ok, you have your product or service ready to go. Before you begin, focus internally and be able to answer the following (while keeping the 4 Simple Truths in check):

1. Who are you?

2. What makes you special?

3. Why should anyone care?

You have done your work and now it’s time to get started. Armed with your “what makes you special” story, you’re ready to start testing your message. Begin by asking people in your network to listen to it, to read it, to watch it, and to have them tell you what they think. This is called “bulletproofing with friendlies.” Don’t get sidetracked by every comment or suggestion, but listen to the feedback to ensure that your story is compelling and that it makes sense beyond your internal team. Then prioritize. You can’t do it all – pick your battles. What can we do now, what can we do later, and what can we let go. Be consistent across all touch points. The look, the feel and the messaging should be the same. Tailor it to the medium. Consistency of messaging creates awareness.

Unless you have cured cancer, it will take multiple layers of exposure for your story to be remembered. There is no one hit wonder in PR. It takes ongoing, consistent effort to win true, meaningful mindshare and to build measurable awareness that counts. Good luck!

Companies with the Best Reputation Have the Best Public Relations (Hint: It’s not just about press coverage)

Errant Musings

What am I paying for if I am not seeing media coverage of my company, product or service? This question comes up often, in even the best client relationships. Good – no, great  – public relations practitioners know that what we do is not just about chasing media impressions. Do not get me wrong; this is important and is often one of the most tangible parts of a good PR practice. However, many people fall into the easy trap of measuring results, simply by the numbers.

PR is about more than tactical execution and earned media coverage. Strategists understand the P&L, see the business holistically, and create a path to success that aligns with the goals of the business. These folks have earned their seat at the table where decision making and planning begin.

Public relations as a profession has changed dramatically since I started almost 15 (!) years ago.  I say this with bias and with the perspective of my own career, but I believe PR is a hugely valuable and critical arm of any successful company. I believe the best companies, with the best reputation, have the best public relations.

So then, why does it always come down to clip counts and impression numbers? PR has always been more art than science. The magic happens when collaboration, creativity + execution, meets distinctive, unique + compelling.  Plug and play simply does not win. I wish I had a dollar for every time a CEO asked me what I would do for them, after just one conversation. If what you do is so simple that I can plug you into a template PR playbook, then you need more than a good PR program!

What makes your company unique and stand apart from the rest? And who will care about what you have to offer?  What are your business goals? What does it look like in 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years? How strong are your brand assets and which ones do we have to create in order for us to develop and to then to tell your story? How much time and budget do you have in order for us to execute on your goals?

The answers to these questions will drive the creation of the best plan that will win results. If you do not offer something special, then you need a really good advertising budget and you need to be willing to spend money to convince people that you really have something they need to know about. With enough money, you can make yourself look special. PR is not for you. PR alone cannot make you attractive. Companies are increasingly held to rigorous standards of price, quality and desirability. You will not win the day on PR alone if you cannot deliver.

About those media impressions. The filter of third party media and expert analysts opinion are still fundamentally important, vis a vis credibility and targeted reach. When I started, PR was primarily about winning the eyeballs of media and analysts. Company’s PR departments often consisted of a single, junior level tactician with little or no understanding of the overall business. Today, while media relations are still a core part of a solid PR strategy, it cannot live solo, on an island, and help you build a company or create meaningful mindshare.

The fundamentals of smart planning and execution are key. You need collaboration with your leadership team and/or your client contact. Many people use media relations interchangeably with public relations. Media relations are an arm in the PR arsenal, but having a media relations program in place is not the same as a PR program.  PR provides the overarching strategic plan for defining the objectives, goals and measurement for a successful program. Often a media relations program is an important part of meeting those objectives.

If I do not get a press mention, than what am I paying for? When a company chooses an agency, they are not paying for editorial or product placement.  That is an ad strategy not a PR strategy. There are no guaranteed placements with PR. Each and every media placement is earned. That is why the weight of a third party endorsement carries the mantle of credibility. If the goal is to garner covetable third party media endorsements in the form of product or editorial features, there is no (credible) PR agency that will guarantee results.

What should I expect from PR? What you are guaranteed and what you should look at when evaluating the right agency partner is: Do they understand my business, who I am and what I do? Do they have the industry expertise and contacts to put our story in front of the most important influencers for my industry?  Do they have the ability to shape and tell our story across multiple platforms and diverse audience and influencer groups? Are they trusted advisers and not just arms and legs executioners? Are they passionate and excited to work with us? Will they be good spokespeople for our brand, our company? Do they make us look good? Do they speak our language? These are the things that you are paying for.

And when those coveted, hard-earned wins happen, than you know that the strategy and the direction you have taken, is the right one. These wins are the validations of all the work that your PR strategy has won. Enjoy.

In a nutshell, a lot goes into a successful PR program, and reducing it down to a clip count or eyeball number is doing yourself and your PR partner a disservice. If it were easy, than anybody with a media list and a phone would be a PR superstar or just dumb lucky.

About the author: Kimberly Strenk built her namesake firms’ reputation for launching and growing truly unique, authentic consumer brands such as bambeco, an eco home and decor company, Bella Pictures, national wedding and video photography, Beanitos, the first all natural bean based chip, and Key Ingredient, the first digital cookbook for every day chefs.  Kimberly Strenk founded the  company in 2008 after tenure with some of the most iconic and successful consumer companies including, Williams Sonoma and Nordstrom, Inc.

We Like To Build Things

Errant Musings
lego-shoes

We are all good at different things.  But what makes some people thrive while others flat line or simply falter?  The key is to understand what kind of employee you are. Regardless of title, we all answer to someone.  As a business founder and manager, my goal is to hire for the best skill set needed + personality fit.  As adept as I think I am at “peeling the onion,” you simply never know what you get until they walk in the door and start running.  And if they don’t run, well that presents a different set of problems!

But I digress.  The purpose of this post is to say that at the midway point of my PR career I have found my “good.”  I am a builder.  I like to create things.  Once I started my namesake agency and tried on several different types of clients, at various life stages, I soon found my good spot.  Servicing young companies at the just-launched, but no one knows who we are or what we do phase has become a perfect fit.  I meet a new client with a great product or service, I see endless possibilities to create and build something special.

To that end, here’s a sneak peak at a new ad (yes, an ad, not editorial placement), we created for our client, UK based Tints of Nature.  They are a global beauty brand, available in 38 countries.  We are in charge of helping them to build their nascent but growing US business.  But why would a boutique PR agency be creating advertising?  Back to my original point – I am a builder.  Running my namesake firm has removed the impediments of layers and decision by committee, as well as silo verticals that many large companies suffer from.  We don’t work with big companies with big budgets.  We service the great ideas. Sometimes we do things that are not traditional.  If it helps our clients define their brand and grow their business, we build it.

A shout out to our fantastic graphic design partner, Omnibus Designs. We’ve worked with them for many years and we always look forward to the magic.

Happy building,

Kimberly

Preview of Ad for Feb issue Austin Monthly
RISE Logo

RISE Austin, PR for Small Business

Errant Musings, Projects + Events

Very often I am asked to share PR insights and best practices.  PR is such a misunderstood profession that I relish these opportunities to share, educate and inspire.  My goal is to break down PR myths, one presentation at a time.   Just this past week for example I had the chance to host a RISE (Relationship and Information Series for Entrepreneurs) session, “PR for Small Business.”

Although, PR should be such an integral part of any business, most business owners don’t approach PR with an understanding of how it fits into their overall business strategy.   My focus for the session was to provide a solid framework for thinking about a business-aligned communication strategy.  That is to say, to create guidelines for all external communications. Businesses need to have a proactive approach to PR as opposed to a reactive approach, i.e. they should actively seek PR opportunities that will move the needle on their business, not just respond to whatever might come their way. In order to create a true business communications strategy, PR should have a seat at the table when business goals are being mapped out.  If not, a true business aligned communications strategy is not a realistic goal.

When I launched my namesake firm almost 3 years ago, I began with a simple premise that has guided my business; I stick to what I know and love and the business will grow.  I was fortunate to have learned the craft and honed my skills while working with some of the most respected and beloved consumer brands, from Williams Sonoma to Nordstrom and many companies in between. An insider perspective is what is needed to create and sustain a brand that evokes a positive, loyal consumer response.  There is no magic bullet.  Understanding smart PR and being able to execute consistently in partnership with marketing is a powerful business driver.

Kimberly Strenk PR is a boutique lifestyle PR agency.  We focus on promising young companies in the premium brand space.  Premium is not about a price point.  In our lexicon, it means that a company delivers on their consumer promise.   Sound simple?  Companies have to do what they say they will do and offer up products and services that delights the consumer.   That is why we are successful delivering consistent and sometimes spectacular results; the story is real. That is when PR can be realized as a truly powerful and strategic asset.

With that, let’s jump right in:  Common (PR) Myths

Common Myths

  • You need a big budget. Social media and proliferation of specialized boutique agencies makes it easier to do PR on a smaller budget.
  • Editorial = Advertising. Editorial is not the same as advertising. Editorial is earned. Advertising is paid.  Talk about ROI!.
  • If I could just get on Oprah. A press hit like this is a gift, say thank you and move onto a sustainable + strategic plan.
  • It’s all about spin. Authenticity is the benchmark. Consumers have a voice because of social media.  Be real, be consistent and deliver on the consumer promise.  A company that relies on their PR agency to “spin” the story will not be sustainable in today’s environment of instant publication and connectivity.
  • Just do it. There is no short cut.Competitive analysis and smart planning BEFORE execution will always pay dividends.

Simple Truths

  • Be real. Avoid hyperbole.  Are you really the only, the fastest, the first and the best?
  • Keep it simple. No jargon or trendy catchphrases, please.
  • Focus is your friend. Prioritize.  None of us can do it all, all of the time.
  • Let the story unfold. As your business grows and captures important milestones, always communicate the vision and let the facts speak for themselves.
  • Share. So busy moving forward and executing day to day, don’t forget to communicate your successes.

Now that we have some basic ground rules, how do we get started?

Getting Started: Internal

  • Who are you. What’s your story.  How did you get here?
  • What makes you special. Understand what makes you stand out from the crowd.  Be able to articulate this.
  • Identify key influencers.  Who are the people in your industry, in your marketplace and in your social circle who can impact your business?  Identify these influencers and prepare to reach out to these folks.
  • Build your network.  You can’t do this alone.  From employees, to vendors and contractors, surround yourself with talented and smart people that can become trusted advisers beyond their individual contributor role.

You’ve done your homework, let’s start communicating.

Getting Started: External

  • Feedback. AKA “friendly bullet proofing” is the first stop.  Ask people in your network to listen to your story and have them tell you what they think.  Do people outside your industry understand your story?  Are you compelling?  If not, why not?
  • Prioritize your battles. Again, remember to focus and prioritize.  Don’t get discouraged and feel overwhelmed.  There’s a lot you could do.   What can you do today? And what can be pushed out?
  • Be consistent across all touch points. Your brand should look and feel the same everywhere. Think about how adults process and learn, as espoused by “Consciousness of Competence” theory.  Basically, an adult has to see a message/new idea four different times to really process and learn it.   This theory of adult learning can be applied to branding as well. Logos, business cards, web sites, FB, twitter and messages all need the same look and feel.  Create an identity kit and share it with all your contractors and business partners who work on your behalf.  Everyone should speak with the same voice.
  • Low hanging fruit. Long-term goals are essential to your business, but short-term goals will serve to give you momentum and open up immediate opportunities. Local based business?  Reach out to your local editor who covers your industry and book a meeting.  These folks are tasked to cover their beat in their local market.  They are always looking for great new products and services to share with their readers. Don’t make all your wins long term: you need some achievable wins in the short term, too.

The participants generated some great dialogue and discussion points.  I encourage them and you to post questions on our FB wall facebook.com/kimberlystrenkpr.

Here’s link to the PPT preso I used:  Austin RISE 2011, PR for Small Business.  Was this helpful?  Do you have other tips or best practices that worked for your business?

Best,

Kimberly

Sunrise in San Francisco

A Look Back

Errant Musings

Kimberly Strenk PR 2010 Sizzle

I’m excited to see what this year will bring.   The holidays were filled with so much joy and energy.  Each moment with our 3 little girls was truly so precious and f-u-n.   It’s impossible to talk about my family without sounding saccharine, even to my own ears (!), but it is a very, very, sweet moment in our lives.  I am grateful.

I was also feeling the itch to get back on schedule.  It began slowly, intermittently, but increasing in velocity very quickly: thoughts, tangents, ideas, plans swirling in my head each night and again in the mornings.  So, before I dive headlong into this New Year, I want to pause for a brief moment and reflect on another growing year running my namesake firm.  Funny, when I incorporated the business, I really did not give it much thought beyond, well it’s a name I’ll remember.  I do recall I wanted to keep it simple. Clever or obtuse has never been my mantle.

There were so many ups, downs, hits, misses and amazing moments.  Too many to remember in one post.  It was a year of very focused media relations for all of our clients.  We kept a relentless focus.  In the premium lifestyle space, consumer magazines still rule.

We made great relationships and garnered wins in the new media/social media space.  However, the right placements in top-tier consumer magazines moved the needle, with measurable result to the bottom line for our clients.  Anyone in PR (read public relations, not just “publicity”) understands that so much more is involved than media relations, but it (publicity) is one of the most measurable and tangible returns clients, investors, other stakeholders, employees and especially customers, want to see.  Editorial wins still matter.  They are hard earned and still elicit that oh-so-fleeting, but triumphant moment of happy.  This year had many moments of happy.

I enter this year excited and prepared to move the needle a little more.  Thanks for reading.

Best,  Kimberly

The Four Seasons Hotel Logo

Seasonal Outreach

Errant Musings

Much of my PR life has followed the rhythm of the seasons.  Living in the world of premium consumer products, we are always working one or two seasons ahead.  Christmas 2009 has already happened for us and we still have Halloween candy unwrapped!

Currently we are deep in the throes of spring 2010.  It’s always exciting to get a preview of what’s to come.

Right now we are looking at bambeco’s spring collection of eco-chic home furnishings and decor.  Initial products show a strong story developing in tabletop and beddings.   Now we begin examining the trends in design, such as shape, color and materials, then we begin tying it together in terms of themes.  At the same time we are thinking about what audiences might be interested in what stories.  Having lived in fashion and home furnishings world,  it’s interesting to note that trends in textiles and furniture tend to follow fashion by several seasons sometimes longer.  Clearly not all fashion trends make sense for the home, but even over the last couple years, design editorial has been looking and sounding more and more fashionable with an emphasis on seasonal updates and makeovers.  This is only a benefit for the consumer – who wants to look at the same home decor every season?  Even if you don’t want to change your look, it’s always inspirational to see what’s new.

Exclamation Point

Social Media – Results Now Please

Errant Musings

A year ago, new clients did not mention or even ask about social media.  Today, it’s invariably the second question I get asked.  I tell clients not to get overwhelmed by this hugely influential, but unwieldy new medium.  Social media from a PR perspective doesn’t really change how we approach the business of telling a company story.  What has changed, has been the acceleration of time.  None of us want to wait for quarterly or monthly recaps, demographic reports, analysis and trend studies or for the 3-5 month lead time required by most consumer lifestyle magazines.  We want feedback and results on a daily basis.  Luckily,  this just makes my job more exciting and certainly interesting!

Social media platforms provide more opportunities to not only reach out direct to consumers and influencers, they allow us to target our information so that it’s more closely aligned by consumer’s specific interests.  Sounds simple, but there are now hundreds and thousands of potential consumers and influencers out there.  Where do we start?

As a PR professional, I look at these new audiences in terms of market segments.  My clients are lifestyle – food, fashion and home.  So for instance, my home clients, the market is centered on interior design.  Great, now we know we want to target interior design bloggers.  We can’t track them all, so let’s approach this in segments – let’s only monitor and engage the top bloggers in this space.  How do we do this? What qualifications are we looking  for?  Traditional media relies on demographic info, circulation and in the premium consumer lifestyle space, overall wow factor – how well a magazine stands out for visual artistry and influence.

In the social media world the metrics have changed.  For interior design space, we’ve found Technorati to have the best search for this particular industry.  For our food clients we are using other SM search tools, but that’s for another post.

My amazing intern, Jen pulled together the following information on Technorati.  Check it out and let us know if it works for you.

What is Technorati?: Technorati was founded as the first ever blog search engine. It generates comprehensive information on the blogosphere by indexing millions of blog posts and sorting them by tags, keywords and topic. Technorati also releases a “State of the Blogosphere Report” every year to analyze the trends and themes of blogging.

The new age of media: This is an important step for PR because people now look to bloggers for their expertise on trends, products and ideas. As the blogosphere continues to grow, the lines between blogs and mainstream media sites are becoming less clear.

How to do searches: Most people use Technorati for its blog search capability. You can search blogs or blog posts by keyword, tag or URL. You can also search the blog directory for blogs in certain categories (e.g. fashion/lifestyle blogs, business and finance blogs etc.).  Technorati also lets you browse top videos, photos and news articles to see what people are blogging about at that moment. Additionally, if you set up a profile, you can monitor your favorite blogs and specific topics.

What is Authority?: One way Technorati tracks the influence of a blog is through its Authority. Authority simply counts the number of blogs linking to a website within the last six months. The higher the number, the more people are linked to your blog and the higher the authority-It’s the who and what is most popular in the blogosphere. This approach also eliminates spammers looking to profit off traffic from keyword searches.

What’s new?: You can now claim your Twitter profile on Technorati. By doing this, you can use Technorati services to help make your Twitter more visible.

Stereotypical PR Girl - Samantha Jones

But What Do You Do?

Errant Musings

I love meeting new people.  It’s always interesting to hear not only “what they do” but how they talk about what they do.  Lately I seem to have been out more than normal and have consequently had lots of opportunities to answer this question.  I’ve encountered many politely interested, but completely blank stares.  You can’t just say “I’m in public relations” and expect anyone to know what you’re talking about.  Thanks to Hollywood, apparently I plan parties ( I do of course, but that’s another post).

So, there are many ways to explain public relations but I will keep it somewhat generic and straight forward.  According to Wikipedia, public relations is “the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.[1] Public relations gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.[2] Because public relations places exposure in credible third-party outlets, it offers a third-party legitimacy that advertising does not have.

I like this definition because it reinforces the heart of PR – legitimacy.  Because the review, the coverage, the placement or story must be EARNED, each and every time – it maintains a credibility that advertising can never claim.  Don’t get me started on the ROI of PR versus traditional marketing and advertising.  There are so few hard costs associated with PR.  It really is about understanding your product/company/service, creating a great story and delivering it to the right audience(s).  Sounds simple of course, but it’s in the execution (a bit of luck and timing never hurts) that differentiates a successful campaign from a merely forgettable one.

So, next time you’re at a party and someone tells you they are in public relations, you can impress them with your thorough understanding of earned coverage versus paid placements.

Welcome Mat

Musings on PR

Errant Musings

Welcome to my first official blog on my first official blog entry.  A brief explanation to the obvious – why blog?

I hope to use this as a forum to share best practices and open the proverbial kimono a bit more, share the process, thinking, and tactical execution that goes into the things we do for our clients.  Initially, I was worried that I might give away ”proprietary intellectual capital” but have come to realize that someone may be inspired or borrow some of the tactics or ideas, but no one can execute and deliver in the same way.  Social media has really moved the needle and opened up the floodgates to information that we have never been able to access.  In the spirit of sharing and connecting, I hope to contribute as well.

Some background.  I feel very lucky to have a “job” that I love.  The difference between owning my own agency and working in-house or at a big firm?  I feel truly vested and responsible to my clients at a whole new level.  It is a very one-to-one relationship.  I also get to choose the people I work with and qualify the products and services I represent.  This keeps my”pitch” honest and real.

Feel free to comment, share and visit.  I will try to keep the content relevant and fresh.  Enjoy,  Kimberly