Why Hire an Agency… When You Already Know What to Do?

Errant Musings
Whyhire

During one of several recent potential new client meetings, as I listened to a successful business owner tell me over and over again, “Yes, yes we already know what to do, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do it” I wanted to smile, but of course I didn’t.

It is true that bandwidth is always an issue, especially for start-ups or solo entrepreneurs feeding and fueling their vision. However I will argue that selecting an outside agency should amount to more than hiring “arms and legs.” If aligned, you are embarking on a relationship with a key stakeholder and business partner that will help you define and grow your business.

First of all let me dispel the notion that (the good) agencies or solo PR practitioners are in business to simply bill hours. This is not the case among successful people in our field.

We are vested in your growth and success. Your wins are a reflection and proof point of our success and our skill as PR professionals. In the consulting space, we cannot push a button; we cannot “increase production” of our services without increasing our hard costs and our investment into our business by hiring additional talented people. When the client falls short of success for whatever reasons, the agency partner is almost always the first to feel the bottom line impact.

So, agencies and practitioners cannot afford to make investments and enter into service for clients with whom we cannot envision succeeding.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, following are some tips for managing your relationship with your PR agency for maximum return on investment:

  1. Communicate + Be Honest

We know your days move at lightning speed. For most young companies, this is the norm. Take the time to share what’s happening with us. Knowledge is powerful in our hands. We know some things are not going to stick but be sure to tell us what’s confirmed and what’s in your pipeline going forward. We can continue our focused execution on what you have today but we can also start laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s success.

  1. Understand Roles

As our client contact, your day-to-day looks very different from ours. We know you need to focus on your business and continue making it happen. You have internal business partners that need you. Know that we are 100 percent focused on making sure that your most important influencers and customers know what you are doing and how your company is making an impact in your market space.

  1. Objectivity + Focus Are Your Friends

As an outside voice, we are by definition objective. This is key to achieving your business goals. Objectivity enables us to remain relentless and focused on results-based execution. Our job is to make you look good. We don’t know how to rest on our proverbial laurels of past success. We are always focused and looking at next.

  1. Knowing ≠ Execution

We know that you know what your business needs. Trust that we know how to execute a public relations strategy that compliments your company’s goals. We’ve done this before. We offer value in our ability to leverage our credibility, to craft your story, to deliver it to the right audience and to adjust as needed in order to continue to drive results.

  1. Relationships + Industry Expertise Matter

Beyond picking up the phone and pitching your story, we look at the industry and market space and we know how to make the connections for you. We have seen many of the situational challenges you face before with other clients in your space. Let us bring our relationships and our industry expertise into play to help you.

Helpful, interesting or entertaining? Feel free to comment or to share your experiences as either a client or service professional. In the end, remaining aligned on goals, defining success and most importantly, honest communication will inevitably translate into success for all.

Tips for Managing Exceptional Employees

Errant Musings

During my corporate career at big name retail brands as well as start-ups, I had the opportunity to build my own teams and to manage some very talented people. I assumed that I was a good manager. Why not? My employees seemed happy, they were focused and they were productive.

After I left my last in house manager role, I was speaking to one of my former staffers, one that I had hired. I asked her how things were going at work and she enthusiastically recounted how great things were now and how her new manager did such a great job helping her to succeed. Ouch.

Some serious reflection ensued.

I had just launched my namesake PR firm and I was thinking about the culture and the environment I wanted to create. I knew that I only wanted to work with companies with passionate leadership and companies with products and services I personally believed in. Oh, and no ass holes, but that’s for another rant, I mean post.

Dial forward six years and I can say that I have learned through countless experiences, bad hires, good hires, and unexpected great hires how to somehow become a good manager. How do I know this? My former employees still reach out to me and tell me how much they learned, how much they appreciate the time with me. Oh and they are all successful, go getters in the PR field making it happen in NYC to Los Angeles and great cities in between.

How did I get from average and over confident to inspirational leader spawning and incubating PR superstars? Following are some tips gleaned from six years of managing young talent in the PR field:

Set the Bar High. When I was single (many years ago) I had very specific expectations about how I wanted to be treated. I really loved the experience of dating mainly because I was in charge and I set expectations right from the start. People I dated either met my expectations or I simply didn’t date them. Work relationships are similar – when you set clear expectations, employees (like potential boyfriends) will meet your high bar more often than not.

Don’t Over Praise. In the beginning I caught myself often over praising young staffers for doing good work. My thinking was that I was helping junior workers feel good and that I was helping them to build confidence. Wrong. I quickly learned that the folks that were praised for doing expected work actually did less. The confidence was adorned and the low bar of expectation had been set.

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Compliment and Move On. By the same token, when someone performs above and beyond in execution, creativity and exceptional thinking, do acknowledge with specificity and when truly exceptional, a bonus, gift, or special lunch is always a welcome expression of appreciation.

Inspire and Teach. I absolutely love what I do. Every day I get to be creative, to develop strategy and at the same time be hands on with the tactical execution. This passion and enthusiasm has helped to launch and to grow exceptional young brands. It is this genuine love for “building things” that has become a natural source of inspiration for my employees. PR is a tough profession. It is not for everyone. The highs, the lows, the rejections, the big wins that none of us get to savor and enjoy because we are already moving toward the next, next. But I would not change a thing. And it is this natural love for what I do that my employees see each and every day.

I did not set out to be a manager that leads by inspiration. I was focused on creating a business with a culture and an environment that I wanted to work in. It is in this genuine effort that a management style of inspiring employees to exceed their expectations was born.

Want more tips and anecdotes from a life lived in PR? Check out some of our clients at kimberlystrenkpr.com or Facebook.com/kimberlystrenkpr for the latest musings and rants.

Getting a Head Start on a New Year

Projects + Events
Image

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love each and every moment of the holiday season. Extra time with family and friends, festive parties, and the demonstrated expressions of giving and gratitude are especially sweet. But as the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie buzz begins to lift, it feels like we are suddenly ringing in the New Year. The year’s end signals the time to prepare for the year to come. As we celebrate another great year at KSPR, here are just some of the key mantras buzzing in our heads as we plan for an even better 2014.

Don’t hit repeat. Data is your friend. Look at the initiatives and key programs that were successful and, more importantly, take a look at those that did not meet expectations. Define the metrics that matter. It’s tempting to stick with what you’ve done before but that’s a mistake. We are so busy and so focused on next, next, next that often we forget all that we accomplished. The year’s end is an opportunity to look at the big wins once again (this part is fun) and record best practices for next year. Just as critical, it is a chance to take a good, unemotional look at the efforts that did not yield the desired results. Best lessons to carry forward are often learned when things did not execute perfectly.

Reinvent. Learn from wins and losses but always keep space for something new and brilliant. We are not about plugging into existing templates and calling it done. This is not strategic and will not garner the big, shiny wins. One of my favorite anecdotes occurred early on in building my company; a prospective client asked within 10 minutes of our very first meeting, “Well, what will you do for me?” Sorry, but if what you do is so generic that I can plug it into a PR playbook, than you need more than PR, you need a really big, really robust marketing and advertising budget. The intersection of fresh ideas and focused execution is what differentiates us from the rest.

Focus on the product. Our clients are firmly in the consumer products and services space. We meet with them to understand where they want to go next. What are the key investments planned? What products and services did their customers buy and what was left on the shelf?  Why? What products and services continue into next year? What are the new introductions and when? What is marketing and sales planning to do to support? In the course of these discussions, we plan accordingly for seasonal, launch and event initiatives around core and new products and services. Deep in the trenches of metrics and planning, we never lose sight of the product.

New metrics. Once key product manufacturing and deliveries are confirmed, we put ourselves in the planning stages of these marketing and sales discussions so that PR initiatives are aligned with the business. If we can influence and align at the planning stages, we are doing all that we can to ensure that efforts and resources are aligned with the important metrics for business success. This is how we ensure our relevancy and seriously, this makes what we do much more interesting. No one here likes execution for the sake of execution. Results tied to metrics of business success are where we live to work.

In our world, Christmas in July is a reality as the consumer magazines search for the best of the best for their holiday gift guides. By the time the holidays are under way, feeling a little ‘been there done that.’ But the planning and strategy for what’s next has always been the fun part. Thinking about next year won’t take my enjoyment away from the actual holiday festivities. In fact, they will be that much sweeter with the knowledge that we are prepped and ready for what’s on the horizon. Here’s to a wonderful holiday season and anticipation for more to come in the New Year.

How to Pick the Right Video Maker?

Projects + Events
film

We recently completed an amazing video project for our client, BlueAvocado. This particular project was so seamless, embodied such pitch perfect collaboration and most importantly, produced an end product that our client loved. This got me thinking, why are some projects so easy and at-times even magical and others are ‘good enough?’

 If I have to distill it down to one key success factor – hands down – success hinges on picking the right video partner to produce it. Beyond technical expertise, they have to ‘get it.’ They need to be able to translate the look and feel of a premium lifestyle brand in an interesting, engaging way. So, once you commit to a video project – how do you pick the right video partner?

First, understand the options:

  1. There are production studios that have professional, dedicated recording studio space, great for voice-overs, working with a voice actor and recording sound in a controlled environment. They may or may not be able to do the actual filming with in house staffers. Often, studios will outsource to a trusted film person to capture the footage and they in turn pass off the unedited film to the studio person to edit and work in graphics, sound etc.
  2. There are film and video professionals that can film, edit and produce. They don’t usually work in a production studio but unless you need to record sound in a controlled environment, you don’t need one. Generally, this is the most cost-effective option
  3. Full service production house has it all, studio production facility, videographers, editors, sound mixers etc. This is the most expensive option but if your client has the time and the budget, this can be the most fail safe and robust method.

Our client base tends to be young, disruptive companies with interesting, multi-layered stories to tell. Often they don’t have the runway of time and scale to create these pieces in a full service way, but at the same time as care-keepers of these developing brands, we don’t want to give up production quality. With the variety of talented video and filmakers, you really don’t need to go full service route. I also appreciate the quick turn and flexibility you get when working with these folks.

For this most recent project, we were tasked with creating a short three minute video to launch an eco men’s collection of travel and lifestyle pieces designed by up and coming designer, Ross Bennett. We worked with Christian Remde, award-winning filmmaker who happens to be based in Austin. His portfolio is impressive and his approach to the project aligned with our vision to communicate a premium feel but with a playful attitude.

The video will push live as part of the overall launch for the collection in the fall of 2013. Will post video here as soon as our client’s official launch happens.

Qualifying New Media Sites and Blogs

Errant Musings

When working with non-traditional media sources – how do you separate the good from the bad?  In PR speak, how do you qualify a good source? Traditional media metrics don’t apply.

Since our clients play in the retail, consumer goods and services space, there really are no good Technorati type sources for us to reference. Over the years, we have come up with our own checklist of how to qualify the best new media sources and blogs for our clients.

Each and every time we reach out to or respond to a new online news site or blog, they are evaluated on our specific criterion. Are they a credible, worthwhile news site/blog for our clients?

1.  Subject Matter

Is primary subject matter a fit for our client? A fashion blog for a fashion story, a business blog for a business story, an eco blog for an eco pitch, etc. Although there are many blogs and news sites that cover a broader range of subjects – do they have content that makes sense for our specific client’s product or service. Is there a natural fit and mutual interest in the subject?

2.  Look and Feel

Just as important as subject matter fit – does the site have an overall above the norm, aesthetic that looks good? Is there a wow factor? Is the layout easy to follow? Can we “see” our client’s story here? Would our client feel positive, neutral or disappointed by a placement here?

3.  Quality Content

Is the copy well written? Does it follow basic AP Style? If no, is it well written, without being littered with obvious grammatical errors? Does the content reflect a specific POV without being overly controversial?

4.  By the Numbers

How many Subscribers / Facebook Likes / Twitter / Pinterest / Instagram / You Tube followers? Do they have presence on multiple channels?

5.  Influence

Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Does this site/individual have influence? How often do they post fresh, relevant content? Do they start new discussions that others pickup on and respond to and share? Do they get reposted/repined and liked? There’s no magical formula here, this is subjective but a good indicator of credibility and influence.

We subject blogs and online news sites to more scrutiny for three main reasons:

  • These opportunties can be just as time intensive and difficult to garner coverage as with traditional media. Input for output is always key. We never have all the time and budget to do it all – prioritizing is key.
  • We are responsible for the brand reputation of our clients –each new site or blog requires our due diligence to qualify.
  • We apply deeper level of scrutiny for blogs that request product in exchange for coverage and/or product reviews and giveaways.

Not all of these rules apply for every site or every blog, but stepping back and evaluating with thoughtful metrics has helped us to ensure that our clients are happy with the results and that we are able to deliver the right ones. Let us know if you have come up with other ways to evaluate and make sense of the new, new media landscape.

Where the Brands are the Stars

Projects + Events
expowest_brands

If you have never been to one of the big consumer trade shows, you are missing out on a great opportunity to really get to know an industry and marketplace from an on-the-ground perspective.

As a consumer, it is the one place you can learn, explore and experience hundreds, sometimes thousands of consumer products by industry (electronics, games, food, natural, housewares etc.) all in one place. If you work in a particular industry or you are interested in getting into a new one, I highly recommend the experience. It can be overwhelming — wear comfortable shoes and sport a positive, engaging attitude. Be prepared to absorb, listen and learn.

Our agency focuses on specialty, premium and natural brands, and clients often use trade shows such as Fancy Foods, International Housewares, and Natural Products Expo to introduce new products or to launch a new brand.  In fact, I just returned from Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. I was there to support two of our eco specialty brands – Tints of Nature and BlueAvocado. Tints of Nature no longer sets up a booth at the show (their sales distribution channel is pretty set). They now attend the show to see what is happening with other beauty brands and more importantly to meet with their regional field sales reps and acknowledge their success and hard work..

Our eco lifestyle essentials client, BlueAvocado, attended Expo West to preview their 2013 product collections for buyers and media. They had an amazing show.  The NPE is the show for specialty natural and organic products to showcase among their peers. The audience is educated and interested in all things eco + sustainable. Since BA has a great sustainable impact story on top of beautiful, chic and functional eco products, this was the perfect place to show their new collections.

I spent most of the show at the BlueAvocado booth. Because our clients are generally young brands, time at the booth provides a fantastic opportunity for face time with the founders and/or C level executives. Nothing beats listening and learning from the people whose vision and hard work created the company itself. I also learned a lot from the sales teams. While sales and PR are certainly different worlds, I have always understood the value of being engaged with the P&L folks. If these people can’t sell the product, the company will not survive. I love to listen and to learn from this core crew. What they say and do does not directly impact the creation of press materials and messaging, but they influence all. When creating press materials and key messages I always have an eye on the company’s direction and focus, this team has a large, if indirect, impact on how I tell their story.

For me the best part of this show was the opportunity to walk around and see all of the natural and organic products that I personally love and use every day — I was more than a little giddy. I was also able to meet a few aspiring eco entrepreneurs and to hear about and test their new products. Many of these impressive business people happened to be women: such a great reminder that we can all make our dreams happen. Many of the big “rock star” brands at the show all started with a single vision and a dream for a better, more sustainable future. I was more than just a little star struck at this amazing show where the brands really are the stars.

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

One Year One Video

Projects + Events

We put this video recap together for our awesome client, bambeco. Last year (2010) was our first full year working with this emerging, powerhouse eco-retailer.  It is always a challenge summarizing your work in any format, but I think we did a good job capturing bambeco’s story in this short video.  Let us know what you think!

Call out to Vance Spicer, a NY based music and video producer for creating this with us.  Surrounding ourselves with smart + creative people always makes us look good.

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