Why I Value Strategic Planning: The Story of a PR “Dirty Harry”

Strategic planning. You can’t avoid, ignore, or gloss over it. It’s elemental to what we as marketing professionals do for our clients.

Our firm values planning and presents its approach on our website, and discusses it with our prospects. But something happened last week that compelled me to write about it.

It began with a movie.

When I was younger, I was much more of an avid movie watcher. Kids changed that. Heading out to catch a dinner and flick with my wife was not a regular event. Frankly, sometimes paying the babysitter was almost as expensive as the ticket and the meal.

Now, my kids are older and I’m catching up on a few films that I missed during their first runs. Last week, with a few hours to myself, Michael Clayton caught my eye. Something to do with shady lawyers and unscrupulous global corporations. So much for escapism.

The flick was great. The ending was delicious. But it unexpectedly delivered a glimpse back to my early PR agency career that earned me the nickname of “Dirty Harry.”  As Harry Callahan said in the movie, “Every dirty job that comes along.”

The lead character, Michael Clayton, is a bagman. A fixer. His sole purpose is to clean up the dirt made by clients and family of clients to grease the skids for the firm to retain its big corporate retainers. My dirty jobs moniker didn’t go to that extreme. But I proved myself adept cleaning up other people’s account messes.

Because I went from a corporate background to an agency (note to younger PR pros: best do it the other way around), I had to work harder to prove to a skeptical V.P. and the account supervisor who championed me that I had agency mettle.

The first assignment was to re-pitch a pitch gone wrong. Not the best circumstances when you’re presenting the same information from the same agency to the same contacts but with a different voice. I nailed it. And it got me noticed. What else can this guy do?

From there, it was on to handling more difficult media relations issues, poor project management and understanding clients expectations. All this prepped me for the biggest dirty job: Propping up an alcoholic senior account executive, whose boss took a vacation, right before a high profile client event in New York. The entire project, from the strategy to tactical, on-the-ground details, was a complete disaster. And that’s when it struck me: where was the planning? Where was the collaboration? Where was the leadership?

The project was rudderless, from a clueless client, right down to the agency where no one could make a decision.  And the event was only three days away. So, I started making decisions.

“Do you think that’s the right decision,” the team would ask?  “I have no idea,” I responded, “but it’s the decision we’re making today.”  As the quote says, “Done is better than perfect.”

After three days of hurried, non-stop activity, the event came and went off without a hitch. I was thanked with an on-the-spot bonus. But I found myself mystified about how the situation arose in the first place.

Seeing so many weak links, I came away with a greater appreciation for planning. After this experience, I started asking questions that were more pointed, about goals and objectives and what the client was really out to achieve. That was met with the higher-ups responding with, “Don’t worry about those details; they’re above your pay grade.”

True, the people who work at agencies and clients are only human. Mistakes will be made. But with thought-through strategy and tactics, everyone will know which way everyone is shooting. And when you’re working in the clutch, you’re more likely to know the answer to this question:

“…Did he fire six shots or only five?”




The One Step to One-Up Your Competition

Every business asks itself: how can I better compete?  My products or services are competitive – heck, they’re better than competitors!  They are priced right.  Customers are happy.  What more can we do to attract customers?

Even breakthrough products face this challenge.

A recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal addressed this succinctly, talking about AOL.com as the first to market with a social network – a service which is now, of course, failing in the social network department due to Facebook’s prominence.

If AOL had millions of members back in the late-90s, long before Facebook launched in in 2004, what went wrong?

Ignorance of the value of the communities its members were creating.  “Not using the service the ways its customers did,” according to the author, a former AOL employee.  Instead, AOL put the emphasis on attracting advertisers to its content.  They didn’t “get it.”

This is a lesson that translates to marketing.

    • How deep is your grasp of your customers’ use of, and experience with, your product or service? (Be honest!)
    • Do you understand the business value/implications of their purchases of your product, versus others?
    • Are you ignoring the potential community that could be built for your customers?

As we’ve seen with the wild success of Facebook, people want to belong, for personal and business purposes.  This was proven in business long ago by IT companies who have vital user communities.

The overall takeaway is that engagement with a product or service is not about what the company thinks, but what the customer thinks.

Exploit that in all of your marketing efforts (as previously discussed in this blog) – even if you aren’t ready to develop a community – and give yourself a competitive edge.


Blocked From Blogging? Create a “Non-blog” Blog Instead

There’s a lot B2B companies should like about blogging when it comes to raising awareness of their companies and delivering customers.

Consider the following eye-opening stats courtesy of HubSpot’s “State of Inbound Marketing” report for 2011:

  • 57% of companies using blogs reported that they acquired customers from leads generated directly from their blog.
  • Businesses are increasingly aware their blog is highly valuable: 85% of businesses rated their company blogs as useful, important or critical. 27% rated their company blog as critical to their business.
  • Businesses are now in the minority if they do not blog. From 2009 to 2011, the percentage of businesses with a blog grew from 48% to 65%.


The writing on the wall as to how blogging could serve your business is so big that Mr. Magoo couldn’t miss it.

To be sure, not all companies need a blog nor should they if they can’t marshal the time and resources to make it good.

But then there are those enterprises that understand enough about social media to go as far as to create social media policies to ensure everyone understands that engagement isn’t allowed.

They have their reasons, some real, some imagined. Compared to many other industries, social media engagement for highly regulated industries, such as financial, pharmaceutical and law, is more of an involved undertaking.

If you work in one of these segments, is developing and sharing content out of bounds for you? The answer, thankfully, is no.

One of the huge benefits of blogging is increased traffic. Search engines rank more highly those websites that offer users regularly updated content. Consistent updating brings search engine spiders to your website frequently, resulting in an increased number of crawls, which in turn increases the number of citations on Google, which means more people could find your business.

But you don’t automatically need a proper blog to deliver targeted, helpful and educational content to your prospects. Blogging platforms make this regular addition of new content easy. They’re designed for it. But even with outreach limitations, you can still build better organic search results with a simple alternative: a non-blog blog.

A non-blog blog is single page of a website altered every week to include a new piece of content, along with an additional page to archive previous weeks’ posts. Here’s what you need to get started.

      • Gain permission to post previously corporate-approved and publically available content. There is nothing controversial about sharing what has already been approved by your legal department
      • Take stock of available content, such as white papers, reports, educational materials, videos, podcasts, etc.  Also, ferret out all related stories occurring within your industry.
      • Revise the page’s layout to include copy that explains what visitors will see on the page and why you are providing it. If you have a rationale, share it.
      • Set up your weekly content portion of the page so it is easily distinguishable from the rest of the page’s content.


Now, for a quick note of caution about limitations. First, don’t get too fancy with the page and don’t work to alter the primary navigation. That won’t go over well with the corporate Webmaster. What is limiting about this approach is that it will take the Webmaster time to update the page.  He or she is likely stretched thin.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re thinking, “Just how effective could this be?”


For one of our clients, we altered its portion of a huge large corporate site to mimic a blog using this very approach, encompassing a piece of new content every two weeks (yep, busy Webmaster), such as existing articles, podcasts and curated information. You can read how that turned out here.

Spreading your content, while adhering to company policy and without running afoul of industry regulations, is possible with some imagination and a little hustle. Obstacles to social engagement can be overcome. After all, bureaucracy is the art of making the possible, impossible.





Fight B.A.D.D. (Business Attention Deficit Disorder) with A Five-Point Approach to Tying PR Strategy to Business Goals – Part II

Part II of II

When fighting Business Attention Deficit Disorder or B.A.D.D., (see part one) use the following five-point approach to better tie your business objectives to PR strategy:

1.  Subject matter – The subjects or topics of your PR campaign can be broad, narrow, or anything in between. PR can be used in many different ways to support and achieve your overall business and communications objectives.  Some examples (but certainly not exhaustive) will shed light:

Strategy: To inform and educate:

Tactics: Basic guide to selecting your product/service; answers to questions customers commonly ask

Strategy: Introduce a product or service

Tactic: Intro package to editors/bloggers; press release; tailored pitch for editorial coverage; messages as premise for videos and other social media

Strategy: Support sales

Tactic: Content for sales presentations and leave-behinds (re-use of intro materials, educational pieces, industry issues and statistics); content for content and inbound marketing and social media; content for whitepapers and other downloads;           customer success stories; testimonials for website

Strategy: Establish visibility

Tactics: Proactive content placement; thought leadership pieces; blog and other social media comments; establish a blog on topic and other content marketing; one-on-one interviews with editors at trade shows

Strategy: Enter new markets

Tactics: Speak on platform at national conference; sponsor a published roundtable; content for creative introduction to prospects/media

Strategy: Play up staff or staff knowledge

Tactics: Educational pieces addressing sales issues, business problems related to your product or service; published Q&A interview with company executive

Strategy: Showcase thought leadership

Tactics: Position pieces on industry trends; articles incorporating commentary from other industry members; educational and opinion pieces

2.  Tone.  While there still a place for formal writing in any published content, companies need to get away from corporate/industry speak, a heavy commercial message, and strive to truly be informative — and importantly, more personal in tone.  (Think about Southwest, and how different flying is because the attendants inject personality into the ho-hum recitation of standard safety instructions.)

– What kind of company personality do you want to convey in your communications? Does your industry     necessitate a strictly business approach?
– How can you show how your company is different?
– Can you convey what your customers like most about your company in your content?
– What do your prospects most need to hear, and what is the most effective way to
  present that information?


You can even go as far as creating a company persona, and have some fun with it.  Your ultimate approach will be dictated at least in part by the final form of your content… Will it be a feature article, a staff written piece, a blog, a sales support document on your website?

3.  Placement strategy and campaign length.  Ideally companies should be prepared for an ongoing, monthly outreach program to capture all the opportunities available in print and online.  Like advertising, you can’t just do one PR piece and expect the world to knock on your door.

Your objectives should guide you on how long and how active your PR program should be. If you’re trying to achieve growth via maximum exposure, for example, you’ll need a year-long effort. If you have something especially timely to announce, a shorter burst campaign is workable. We announced an award for health-related company that had zero media exposure prior to the campaign. Through a very aggressive media relations effort, we achieved print, online and radio coverage to 60 million people within a matter of a few months.

In terms of placement strategy, with all the digital media you simply must go beyond your trusty trade publications and their websites. There are a wealth of outlets for your message.  All your selections should be based on a thorough understanding of where your prospects are finding the information they rely upon.  Newer tools like Slide Share and YouTube, as well as the old-fashioned advertorial, should not be overlooked for re-use of any of your PR content.

4. The public part of public relations. PR goes beyond media. While I’m personally not particularly fond of PR stunts, they can be effective at attracting attention. The real question here is, how and where can you interact with customers and the marketplace?

A great forum for this line of thinking is trade shows. Instead of just having an exhibit, plan a year ahead to pitch your talk at national conferences. Or give a live presentation at your exhibit. Hold an event of your own, and involve the industry in a relevant way, as we did with an “Innovation Gallery” for USG’s introduction of Fortacrete.

5.  Investment versus other marketing strategies. How much you invest versus other tactics again goes back to your communication objectives, and how you’ve planned as a whole to attack them.  PR can work alone, but ideally you want true integration across all of your communications tools.  Since connecting with the prospect takes multiple touches, it makes sense that you’d want to reach them not only with PR, but through direct sales and marketing, interactive/digital/social outlets, e-mail marketing, advertising, etc. PR can be the backbone of your communications program, or a smaller piece, again depending on how you’ve decided will be the most effective ways to reach your target.

In our experience, many companies don’t exploit their PR strategy or toolkit to their fullest potential. A skilled practitioner can guide you from the easy steps, to the more sophisticated (like hosting roundtables, or using a PR topic as the basis for an integrated educational campaign). With the online and social media worlds’ voracious appetite for content, PR can be taken to a whole new level – helping you achieve your business goals faster than ever.