Episode 36

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Don Beehler has worked with news media from local to international levels and has won numerous professional awards throughout his career. He also has co-authored or ghostwritten three books for clients and has a blog called The Art of Telling Your Story.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The dramatic changes PR has seen over the years
  • How agencies can use PR as a strategic tool to drive new business
  • How to determine what stories to pitch
  • Ways you can become discoverable so that reporters can find you
  • The kind of news that is truly newsworthy for agencies
  • Why you shouldn’t think about using PR with the expectation that people will write stories about your agency
  • How agencies can get the right kind of attention
  • Incorporating PR into your business plan
  • How to correctly use PR in relation to speaking engagements
  • How to use Google Alerts to capitalize on PR opportunity
  • The steps to take right away to boost your PR

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Never underestimate the value of being one of several experts in a story.” – @donbeehler Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome, to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am your host, Drew McClellan, and I know that this is going to be an awesome conversation. I hope that every podcast we do helps agency owners fight the good fight, create a great life for themselves, their families and their employees. And I know that there is no topic that agency owners love to dig into more than the idea of chasing and winning new business. And that’s why I know today’s guest is going to really be somebody you’re going to be fascinated by and get a lot out of. So let me tell you a little bit about Don. So Don comes from a long range of experiences. So he has been working with agencies and his core focus is helping agencies use public relations tactics to create awareness and to draw prospects into the agency, to generate sales opportunities and also to improve client retention.

He has a great blog called the Art of Telling Your Story, which is at www.donbeehler.com. So it’s D-O-N B-E-E-H-L-E-R.com. And he provides agencies with great PR tips, tactics, strategies, and tools. So throughout his career, Don has worked with news media from local to international folks and has won all kinds of awards. He’s ghost written, and co-authored a bunch of books for clients, and he works with agencies and other clients all over the country, but he happens to reside in the beautiful city of Franklin, Tennessee, which is a suburb of Nashville. So we were just talking about weather and how much nicer it is there than it is for me in the Midwest right now. But Don, welcome to the show. Thank you.

Don Deehler:

Thank you, Drew. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Drew McClellan:

So let’s talk a little bit about your background, anything in the introduction that I left out that you want everybody to know about you?

Don Deehler:

No, I would just make the point that in my career I’ve worked on corporate communications side. I’ve worked in marketing. I’ve been in journalism as a correspondent for a daily paper and also an editorial staff of a magazine. And I’ve worked with advertising, PR agencies in Chicago and Nashville. So all that has helped me to really see public relations and action from a variety of perspectives, which I think is helpful in kind of looking at the big picture and some of the things we want to talk about today and helping it agencies generate new business through effective PR.

Drew McClellan:

When you’ve been doing it long enough, that PR certainly has changed quite a bit, I suspect when you started your career.

Don Deehler:

Yes. As a matter of fact, I started my career really with a large nonprofit organization out of Southern California. It was international in scope. And I had a wonderful mentor, a guy who’d been in the newspaper business many years who was heading up the department. And he kind of took me in under my wing and mentored me. But back in those days, it was basically the phone rang and we answered it. And we tried to be as helpful as we could, but except for some large events, we really didn’t do a lot of what I would call proactive media relations work in terms of trying to generate publicity.

And part of that was just because we had a small staff and we were so busy all the time handling requests that we just really didn’t have a lot of extra time to do that. But when I went to work for my first large agency, I quickly discovered that clients expect to have publicity. They hiring us to do publicity and they want that ongoing. And so we have to be creative and change a way of thinking and being creative in finding ways to keep them and their products and services in the news as often as possible.

Drew McClellan:

And today it’s just about really having so many more channels and opportunities. And the formality has changed a little bit too, hasn’t it? I mean, in terms of… When we get written up in a trade pub or a newspaper we’re on television, it feels more formal than it does is when you’ve got a blog post or something else going on in the digital space.

Don Deehler:

Yeah. It really gets to the heart of it really gets to there’s more perceived credibility when you have a news story and that’s because publicity allows an objective secondary source, the news media, or nowadays many times bloggers can be very influential, to tell your story and present your expertise to the people that you’re trying to reach.

Drew McClellan:

I think that’s true. So in my intro, I said, and you and I have talked and we’ve sort of acknowledged that this is an area that sort of undertapped by agencies. Agencies don’t do as much of this as they could or should. Why do you think that is?

Don Deehler:

Well, I think a lot of times there just may not be a real clear understanding about all that public relations could do for an agency. And it’s been my experience that a lot of agencies will use PR tactics to create awareness, but I’ve run across very few that use it as a strategic tool to drive new business. And by strategic, I mean, that it has a clear, their efforts, have a clear target, focus and purpose. There’s some agencies of course that have no PR capability or initiatives in place. Or there’s others that are just very sporadic and they don’t seem to have any real clear target or purpose. And I really believe to be effective that PR should be an integral part of a news business plan. Because as I said, the one thing that it can do better than any other marketing tool is give your agency credibility.

Drew McClellan:

So, one of the things I bump into sometimes is that agencies struggle with understanding what’s newsworthy and what’s not. What’s actually worth covering. So how do they determine what stories to pitch and what things are while they may be very important to them? The news media would go “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Don Deehler:

That’s a very good question. And really it gets down to learning to understand how the news media operate and how they think and what they want and what constitutes a good story. I essentially encourage people to try to put themselves in the shoes of the reporter and then just ask themselves would the story that I’m trying to present to this reporter be appealing to me if I were on the other side? Because I’ve been on the other side and I’ve gotten people contacting me with pitches and some were very good and very targeted, but others were not. And one way to really help yourself become more sophisticated in dealing with reporters is to really take the time to understand how the news media work and then research specific reporters that you want to try to reach and then understand who their readers or viewers are, their target audience. And take a look at some of the stories that they’ve written to see what kind of things they like to talk about.

And there are also some very helpful media directories around that will give you some great input on all that in terms of what reporters… They don’t just provide the contact information per se, but some better ones might have things like… Oh, there’s one from USA today. I remember seeing some contact notes. She said that she works from home, but she prefers that all the materials be sent to the paper. She prefers to be contacted by email and hates follow-up calls. She said, she’s interested in ideas behind the technology, but not the products. So having that information ahead of time is very helpful in helping you to craft a pitch and then presenting it at the right time to the right person.

Drew McClellan:

And how does an agency go about sort of creating a knowledge base around that sort of thing? How does an agency learn that stuff?

Don Deehler:

Well, there’s different ways I suppose to do that. I think it would be helpful for a lot of people to just do some reading. There’s a number of good books around about how to work with the news media. It would probably be beneficial if an is really interested in that. Doesn’t have a person currently on staff to try to look for ways to establish relationships with people that can help them, guide them through that process on a consulting basis or just coming alongside them and helping them craft their stories, create their messages and present it to them. Because it usually works better if you have a professional person presenting you as an, as an expert, then for you to be trying to do that yourself, it just changes the whole dynamic.

Drew McClellan:

I was just going to ask that. So let’s talk about that. Talk us through the idea of pitching yourself or your expertise versus having a third party pitch you as a subject matter expert?

Don Deehler:

Well, the first thing you want to do is, if you wanted to do it yourself, I would encourage people to, again, to learn as much as you can about the particular media that cover your area of expertise. The people you really want to get that you feel like are going to reach your best prospects. And then of course, social media now has really been a game changer in many ways for communications professional in recent years. So many reporters now have blogs. So many use social media.

I saw a survey recently where 94% of the journalists said that they use social media on an average day. And the reason that they’re using it is… One of the main reasons they’re using it is they’re looking for sources of information. They’re looking for people that can provide expert insight. So if you can make yourself known to those people, follow their blogs, comment on things that they write about. Maybe ask some questions, try to engage them. Retweet them on Twitter and add your own comments pretty soon, they’ll start noticing that. And they may discover you, which is really a great way to do it. Nowadays, rather than pitching the news media, if you can become discoverable by being out there as a source and with good information that can really make you very attractive and appealing to the news media.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, I think the whole relationship has sort of been flipped down side. I mean, you think about Help a Reporter Out and other tools like that. I think the reporters are using social to identify sources ahead of time, but it also makes them much more accessible. So you can have the relationship prior to asking for coverage.

Don Deehler:

Yes, absolutely.

Drew McClellan:

And I’m assuming one of the ways to sort of develop that relationship from your perspective is to identify some reporters who would be sort of naturals to cover the kind of work you do or clients, or your expertise, and be helpful to them prior to asking for their help in covering your story.

Don Deehler:

Absolutely. Yes. That’s a great way to do it. I can give you a really good example from a client that I have, actually, we learned how to do this. This is a client that runs a hedge fund. And so even before I started working with him, he had forged a relationship with Dow Jones and he was regularly quoted by Dow Jones reporters on various movements in the commodities market, which was his area specialty. And one of the stories that Dow Jones did was picked up by the wall street journal. So he was already off to a very good start before I ever began working with him. But what I did was build on some of that initial coverage. And that’s really important because publicity can beget publicity and you want to really build on any coverage. You have to attract the attention of other reporters.

But I built on that coverage, sending some introductory emails about his firm to a variety of financial news media in his industry. And that resulted in several additional interviews. And we also created a free weekly e-newsletter that provided expert insights into the commodities market. And then we announced the newsletter through a news release that we distributed on PR web. Well, it wasn’t long after we did that, that this who’s the founder of the firm was contacted by bill business writer for Associated Press. And this AP reporter found him by doing an internet search for a commodity source. And so he interviewed him, he was quoted in the AP story, it received extensive pickup from other major media outlets all over the country. Next thing he’s on Fox’s Bulls and Bears, and he’s been on there several times and it’s just become kind of a perpetual media generator for him.

So the key thing was that the media discovered him through the internet and through some of the other news media sources. So once you’ve been covered by one media outlet, others will tend to notice and interview you as well. Particularly if you have good things, insightful things to say. And publicity can really start to kind of snowball on you and build momentum. So the thing that was particularly interesting about this guy though, is that just three years prior he was still just finishing up college as a business student. But he had learned… And he had a one man operation, but he was perceived as being older and more experienced and more credible because he was being quoted in the media. And of course he was a good, very credible person for them to talk to as well.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. A fascinating example of remember that reporters using the same Google searches that everybody else is.

Don Deehler:

Right. They sure are.

Drew McClellan:

So when an agency thinks that they have a story… Let’s back up, what is worthy of coverage from an agency’s perspective? So a lot of agencies send out media releases when they get a new client or they hire somebody. And that might get a little mention in their local paper or in a trade pub, but that’s never going to get them a big story. What is noteworthy enough that a reporter would want to cover it? What kind of news?

Don Deehler:

Well, it depends on really what industry you’re in. Let’s just say you’re a business to business, you want to really identify those trade media that cover the particular niche that you’re in. And well, the way I would start is when you found somebody that you think would be a good person that you’d like to talk to. And maybe you followed that person on social media and their blogs and so forth, but there will come a time when you can just send an introductory note and just explaining your area of expertise and letting them know that you’ve followed their blog, you’ve read some of their articles. You know what the readers are, you know the kind of stories they’re interested in. And share a little bit about your expertise and insights and make yourself as available as a source, because as I said they are looking for sources and when they get something like that, they’d be happy to… A lot of times, they’ll be happy to try you out, particularly if you’ve demonstrated that you have some understanding of their industry.

So that’s a really good way to do it. There’s a lot of things that you can, really trying to segment your pitches. There’s things you can do in your community. A lot of stories that can be available, where you can provide maybe some expert insight on trends. I mean, we have an agency here in the Nashville market where one of the ad agency principles, he’s actually the founder of the agency has had a column for several years, a regular column where he talks about various marketing and advertising issues in the business section. Well, that’s just worth a ton in terms of the publicity and credibility that that’s generated for him. So there’s things like that. And there’s also a lot of good stories. Just sometimes it doesn’t have to be a real major story or insight. Sometimes you can just do things, to kind of have a variety of things that you’re doing.

For example, you may have some employees that are involved in the community who are doing some interesting things. We had a story a while back about a real estate agent, who rather than giving the traditional gifts, when he would sell it to the person when they would sell their home, he donated money to sponsor a child in an impoverished country. And he had a whole bunch of these kids that he was sponsoring. Well, I mean, it made a terrific story. And it was great publicity for him, but it was also great publicity for the real estate company.

Drew McClellan:

So one of the things you said, I think probably when agencies think about trying to get PR for their agency, they think about the story being about their agency. And really when I’m listening to you talk, it’s really more about using their expertise and knowledge to be featured in a story about something as a subject matter expert. Is that accurate?

Don Deehler:

Yeah. You want to think about it from the media’s perspective, not from your perspective. In other words, how can you be helpful to them? How can you make their job easier and how can you provide some insights and knowledge that will enable them to do a better job with their story?

Drew McClellan:

So really it’s about thinking about what your agency is good at and what you have a depth of expertise in. And then looking for trending stories around either that industry vertical or whatever that may be. And pitching those kind of stories is that…

Don Deehler:

Yes. That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

So agencies need to get over the fact that they’re probably not going to be a lot of stories about and their agency in the media or the trade pubs.

Don Deehler:

Right. But I would also add to that if you can be one of several experts quoted in a story that’s worth a lot too. Because don’t ever underestimate the value of that, because it does position you with other people who have expertise. And again, what you’re trying to do is get your name out there as often as you can talking about your particular area of expertise. And having a specialty, a particular niche is really important because that’s what a niche or is covering a specific area of industry really wants. He wants a person who’s knowledgeable in that particular niche. So you can’t be all things to all people.

Drew McClellan:

But I would argue that there’s probably better play for an agency to be positioned as an expert in a story than there is to have like a feature article about your agency.

Don Deehler:

Oh yes. Now, unless your agency is doing something just really really different and really… Sometimes you can get feature stories done like that. If you got really innovative things going on, but generally speaking, no, it’s more the commentary, the insight you can give to them, that’s going to be helpful. It’s not going to be about your agency per se.

Drew McClellan:

So we’ve talked about sort of reaching out to identifying reporters who cover the areas that you have expertise in and reaching out to them, creating a relationship. We mentioned just briefly the Help a Reporter Out tool, which most agencies are very familiar with and use for their clients often much more so than for themselves. How else can agencies generate this kind of attention?

Don Deehler:

Well, in addition to Help a Reporter Out, there’s a couple other resources that I would mention. There’s one that’s called radioguestlist.com. And it’s very similar to Help a Reporter Out only it’s for radios and broadcast people that are looking for sources. And you can see the kind of stories that they’re looking to cover. And bloggerlinkup.com is another one that’s, of course, for bloggers, for guest posts, or they also have people that review products in some cases. So you cover the waterfront with that because you get Help a Reporter Out is really good. Well, it covers a variety of media. But a lot of print too. Radio of course is just focused on the radio, the broadcast side. And then the blogger would be obviously the bloggers, but the blogger community is huge and growing and as newsrooms shrink and the number of reporters that they’re able to have in house, they’re looking for other places to get sources of for information. So bloggers are becoming increasingly influential.

Drew McClellan:

And are there different rules at play with when you’re dealing with bloggers versus reporters. Is there a different etiquette or protocols that people need to be aware of?

Don Deehler:

No. I think if you do the basic things do your homework and reading the blog, understanding what they talk about and try to understand as much of their target audience and so forth. Be familiar with the blog style, kind of its personality and content. And when you’re contacting them just like with a reporter, you want to briefly establish your credibility. You want to get to the point. So one thing is reporters work on deadlines and a lot of bloggers do too nowadays. So they don’t have a lot of time to spend with any particular pitch.

So you want to get to the point right away. And if you’re talking to whether it be a reporter, in particular, I always ask them if they’re on deadline, because the last thing you want to do was be talking to a reporter who’s distracted and trying to get a story out. You want to arrange to have that conversation at another time, but basically help make the blog just the same thing with a reporter or a blogger you want to help make their job easier. And writing for their audience in a guest post, for example, with something that will be useful, that the audience will like, those are all very valuable things that you could contribute.

Drew McClellan:

So if an agency is thinking that they want to do this, is there a way to sort of… My concern is that they’re all listening. They think this is all great. And we’ll get to some action steps in a little bit, but do they need to have some sort of a ongoing effort or a program, or how does an agency build this into the DNA of their shop?

Don Deehler:

Well, great question. I think really it’s critical to have a written plan. Because a written plan will give your agency focus by creating a roadmap to where you want to go. And I think that if you lack that, it’s just too easy to get diverted by other things. But another important thing is that I really am a big believer in having the public relations plan integrated into the new business plan. In other words, you don’t want to create them so that they’re siloed. You want them working together. And if you’re using… For example, if part of your new business strategy is you want to have one of your agency principles, have several speaking engagements the PR plan needs to reflect that and try to generate publicity for it ahead of time. And then maybe even some post-event publicity as well.

Drew McClellan:

So let’s talk about that because a lot of agency owners are embracing this idea of using public speaking as a new business tactic. So give us an example of if someone were going to speak at, say an industry conference, how would they generate publicity before and after the speaking gig? What would that look like?

Don Deehler:

Well, I would, first of all, sending something to your local paper, the business section of your local paper would I think be worthwhile doing. Because again, they may not do much with it, but whatever they do with it will just, again, show you as being a thought leader out front speaking at conferences and that type of thing. If there are industry publications that are affiliated with that, then certainly they’re worth contacting. Some of the larger conferences will have a communications person. And I would have a conversation ahead of time with that person and say, try to understand what they’re going to do to promote the event and the speakers. And then see if there are some things you could help with or contribute.

So you want to be working in a coordinated effort, not two or three different groups kind of approaching the same pub with the same information. And then there’s some real inexpensive news release services that you can… PR Web is one of the ones that I personally like, but there are a number of them out there and they will really help you generate some online buzz about what you’re doing.

Drew McClellan:

And then after the event or during the event, are there are things you should be doing while you’re at the event. I’m thinking of things like have a staff person there that takes a picture of you on this stage and that sort of thing. What are some things I should be thinking about that I have to plan in advance, but I’m going to do during the conference. And then what do I do with that afterwards?

Don Deehler:

Well, I’d be thinking about how you can maximize any publicity you get, and then also be looking at ways to repurpose it on social media, on your blog. These are things that could be helpful to you if you happen to be time at where you’re speaking in a prestigious event, i