The communications world has changed drastically in recent years and practicing effective public relations strategies and tactics are no exception. Gone are the days of only having to know one or two reporters or knowing all of the potential publications to pitch. Today, there are so many more channels and opportunities that agencies struggle with understanding how best to utilize PR for their agency and for their clients.

My podcast guest, Don Beehler has been involved in all aspects of communications. He has worked in corporate communications, advertising, public relations, marketing and in journalism as a correspondent and as a member of an editorial staff. All of that has helped him to really see how PR can help agencies create awareness, draw prospects into the agency to generate sales opportunities, and improve client retention.

Join Don and I as we dig deeper into the PR world and discover:

  • 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
  • How to incorporate PR into your business plan
  • How to correctly use PR in relation to speaking engagements
  • How to use Google Alerts to capitalize on PR opportunities
  • The steps to take right away to boost your PR

Don Beehler has worked with news media on the 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.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (http://buildabetteragency.com/don-beehler/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.  

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

If you are 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, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both in agency owner and agency consulting to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew: Welcome to another episode of “Build a Better Agency.” I am your host, Drew McLellan, and I know that this is gonna 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 there’s 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 are gonna be fascinated by and get a lot out of. So let me tell you little bit about Don.  

So Don comes from a long range of experiences. He has been working with agencies, and his core focus is helping agencies use public relations strategies and tactics to create awareness, and to draw prospects into the agency to generate sales opportunities, and also to improve client retention. So 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 has 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: Thank you, Drew. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

Drew: 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: 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 in action from a variety of perspectives, which, I think, is helpful when kind of looking at the big picture, and some of the things we want to talk about today and helping agencies generate new business through effective PR.

Drew: When you’ve been doing it long enough, PR certainly has changed quite a bit from I suspect when you started your career?

Don: Yes. As a matter of fact, I started my career really with a large non-profit organization out of Southern California. It was international in scope and I had a wonderful mentor, a guy who had been in the newspaper business many years who was heading up the department. And he kind of took me under my wing and mentored me. But back in those days, basically the phone rang and we answered it. And we tried to be as helpful as we could, except for some large events. We really then do a lot of what I would call proactive media relations work in terms of trying to generate publicity.  

And part of that was 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 are hiring us to do publicity and they want that ongoing. So we have to be creative and change the way of thinking, and being creative and finding ways to keep them and their products and services in the news as often as possible.

Drew: 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…you know, when we get written up in a trade pub or a newspaper or on television, it feels more formal than it does when, you know, you’ve got a blog post or something else going on in the digital space.

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

Drew: Yeah, I think that’s true. So, you know, in my intro I said…and you and I’ve talked and we’ve sort of acknowledged that this is an area that is 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: Well, I think a lot of times there just may not be a real clear understanding about all that effective public relations strategies and tactics 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 run across very few that use it as strategic tool to drive new business. And by strategic, I mean that it has a clear…efforts to have a clear target, focus, and purpose. You know, there are 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: So one of the things I bump into sometimes is that agencies struggle with understanding what’s newsworthy and what not. So what’s actually worth covering? 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, “Oh yeah, I don’t think so”?

Don: 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, 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, you know, “Would the story that I’m trying to present to this reporter be appealing to me if I ran 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.  

One way to really help yourself become more sophisticated and deal with reporters, is to really take the time to understand how the news media work and then research the 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 all sorts of very helpful media directories around that will give you some great input and all that in terms of what reporters…  

They don’t just provide the contact information per se, but they might have…some of the better ones might have things like… There’s one from USA Today, I remember seeing some contact note. She said that she works from home but she prefers that all materials be sent to the paper. She prefers to be contacted by email and hates follow-up calls. She said she is 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: 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: 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’ll probably be beneficial if an agency is really interested, and that doesn’t have a person currently on staff, to try to look for ways to establish a relationship 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 expert than for you to be trying to do that yourself. It just changes the whole dynamic.

Drew: 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: Well, the first thing you want to do is…if you wanted to do it yourself I would encourage people to, again, learn as much as you can about the particular media that cover your area of expertise, the people you really want to get to, that you feel like are going to reach your best prospects. And then, you know, of course, social media, and now it’s 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 are using it is they’re looking for sources of information. They are 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 will 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 with good information, that can really make you very attractive and appealing to the news media.

Drew: Yeah, I think the whole relationship has sort of been flipped on it’s side. I mean, you think about, you know, 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 it much more accessible, so you can have the relationship prior to asking for coverage.  

Don: Yes, absolutely.

Drew: 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, right?

Don: Absolutely, yes, yes. That’s a great way to it. I can give you a really good example from a client that I have actually…who learned how to do this. This is a client that runs a hedge fund. Even before I started working with him, he has 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 of 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 the 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 this guy, who was founder of the firm, was contacted by a 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 you know, he is on Fox’s Bulls and Bears, and he has been on there several times. And it’s just become kind of a perpetual, you know, 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, you know, once you’ve been covered by one media outlet, others will tend to notice and want to interview you as well, particularly if you have good things, insightful things to say. In publicity it can really start to snowball on you and build momentum. So the thing that I was particularly interesting about this guy though was that he was…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…a very credible person for them to talk to as well.

Drew: Yeah, a fascinating example of… remember that reporters are using the same Google searches that everybody else is, right?

Don: Right, they sure are.

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

Don: Well, it depends on really what industry you are 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 are in. The way I would start is, when you found somebody that you think would be a good person that you would like to talk to and you follow…maybe you follow that person on social media, their blogs, and so forth.  But there will come a time when you can just send an introductory note, and just offering, explaining your area of expertise, and let him know that you follow their blog, you’ve read some of their articles, you know what the readers are, you know the kind of stories they are 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’d be happy to try you out, particularly if you demonstrated that you have some understanding to their industry. So that’s a really good way to do it. There’s a lot of things that, you know, you can do…really trying to segment your pitches or things you can do in your community. Lot of stories can be available, where you can provide maybe some expert insight on trends. We have an agency here in the Nashville market where one of the ad agency principals, he is 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 about…kind of have variety of things that you are doing. For example, you may have some employees that are involved in the community or 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 to the person, when he’d 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 a great publicity for him, but it was also great publicity for the real estate company.

Drew: So one of the thing 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: Yeah, you want to think about it from the media’s perspective, not from your perspective. You know, 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: 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: Yes, yes, that’s right.

Drew: Okay. So agencies need to get over the fact that there are probably not gonna be a lot of stories about them and their agency in the media or the trade pubs, right?

Don: Right, but I would also add to that, 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, you just…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 reporter, you know, that’s covering 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: But I would argue that there’s probably better play for an agency to be positioned as an expert in a story that there is to have like a feature article about your agency.

Don: Oh, yes. Right. Unless your agency is doing something just really, you know, really different and really… Sometimes you can get feature stories done like that if you’ve got innovative things going on.  But generally speaking, it’s more the commentary, the insight you can give to them that’s gonna be helpful. It’s not going to be about your agency per se.

Drew: So, you know, we’ve talked about sort of reaching out, identifying reporters who cover the areas that you have expertise in and reaching out to them, and creating 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 for themselves. So how else can agencies generate this kind of attention?

Don: Well, in addition to Help a Reporter Out, there’s a couple of 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 are looking to cover. And bloggerlinkup.com is another one that’s, of course, for bloggers for guest posts.  They also have people that re-review products in some cases.  

So, you know, 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 are able to have in-house, they’re looking for other places to get sources for information. So bloggers are becoming increasingly influential.

Drew: Are there different rules at play when dealing with bloggers versus reporters? Is there a different etiquette or protocols that people need to be aware of?

Don: No, I think if you do the basic things, you know, do your homework and reading the blog, understanding what they talk about.  And, you know, try to understand as much as their target audience and so forth, be familiar with the blog style, kind of its personality and content. And, you know, when you are contacting them just like with the reporter, you want to briefly establish your credibility.  You want to get to the point so you don’t… You know, 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, you know, if you’re talking to, whether it would be a reporter, in particular, I always ask them if they are on deadline, because the last thing you want to do is be talking to a reporter who is distracted and trying to get a story out. So you wanna arrange to have that conversation at another time. But basically, you know, help make the blogger…just the same thing with the reporter or a blogger, you want to help make their job easier. And, you know, 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 can contribute.

Drew: So if an agency is thinking that they want to do this and implement these public relations strategies and tactics, 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 actions steps in a little bit, but do they need to have some sort of an ongoing effort or a program, or how does an agency build this into the DNA of their shop?

Don: Yeah. 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 road map to where you want to go. 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 integrate into the new business plan. In other words, you don’t want to create them so they are siloed. You want them working together, and when there’s…if you’re using, you know, for example, if part of your new business strategy is you want to have one of your agency principals have several speaking engagements, you know, 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: 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 we’re gonna speak at, say, in an industry conference, how would they generate publicity before and after the speaking gig? What might that look like?

Don: Well, I would, first of all, send something to your local paper, the business section of your local paper, I think would be worthwhile doing. Because, again, they may not do much with it, but whatever they do with it, it will just again show you as being a thought leader, and out front speaking in at conferences and that type of thing. If there are industry publications that are affiliated with that, then certainly they are worth contacting.  

Some of the larger conferences will have a communications person  Then I would have a conversation ahead of time with that and say are there…try to understand what they are gonna do to promote the event and the speakers, and then see if there are somethings you could help with or contribute. So, you know, you want to be working in a coordinated effort, not two or three different groups kind of approaching the same publication with the same information. And then, you know, there are some role and expensive news release services that you can… PRWeb is one of the ones that I personally like, but there are number of them out there. And they will really help you gather some online buzz about what you’re doing.

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

Don: 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. You know, these are things that could be helpful to you. If you happen to be, time it where you speaking in a prestigious event, industry event, and you’ve got a new business presentation coming up, you know, two weeks after that, be sure to make mention of that. You want some photos of the event, maybe some video of the event, which, again, you can put it on photos and video can be on a YouTube channel. You can put those photos on your website.  Be sure that you’re blogging and tweeting about it, that type of thing.

You don’t want to do in such a way that’s blatantly self-promotional. I really need to emphasize that, because with the news media there’s no quicker way to turn them off then try to come at them with sort of a disguised advertisement, you know, that you’re trying to pass off as news, when really it’s you’re trying to promote yourself overtly. You want to focus on the news aspect of it.

Drew: Is the news aspect of it, the content? So it’s not really Drew McLellan is speaking on this conference, woo, woo, woo. It’s really five trends about XYZ is the topic I’m speaking on and that’s really the point of the news release, and then I’m speaking in a conference is the backdrop? What’s the structure of that?

Don: Well, you know, it really depends. I’m a big believer in customizing things. So it depends on what you’re doing. But one thing I do now is that, for example, if you’re gonna speak at an event and you’re gonna take a contrarian point of view, that can be a good thing to emphasize and talk about why, you know, conventional wisdom says X, but you believe Y. Or talk about trends or things that you’ve experienced with some of your client’s, problems that you’ve solved, and how you’ve gone about doing that. I think those are all things that are good legitimate angles.

Drew: Okay, so then after the event, so I’ve taken pictures, maybe I helped add a blog post in the trade…let’s say it’s a trade conference. I had a blog post on their website prior to the event talking about the topic that I was gonna talk about.  I took photos, and what do I do? How do I merchandise it afterwards besides re-purposing some of that content? Are there other things I can do to get more PR out of that?

Don: Well, you know, it doesn’t hurt if you have an interest in speaking at other events to certainly again have a presence of that on your website very clearly. But maybe even just drop a note to someone that…a reporter that covers that particular industry and say, “In case you’re unable to attend this or haven’t heard about this particular conference, I was pleased to be a speaker there, talked about this and this and this.” You don’t want really lengthy. But, you know, again, it may not generate a media story but it keeps you top of mind awareness with the reporter. And I’d also send something out to your clients. If you have a…of course, you have an agency newsletter, you certainly want to mention post-event, anything like that in there.

Drew: Sure. Merchandise it there, right? Yep. So what are other great sources of, I guess, newsworthy tidbits for agencies? If they’re sort of looking at their daily life, and they’re trying to build this into…they’re trying to write a plan but they are trying to build it into their new business plan. And as you know, agencies struggle with having enough time to do anything for themselves, let alone do something complicated. Are there like three…? What’s reasonable? How often…? If you’re quoted in an article, what’s a reasonable target for an agency? I would like to be featured, you know, X number of times a year.  Or this many tier one or tier two publications.  What should they expect is possible?

Don: Well, again, there are probably a lot of variables on that depending on what they are trying to achieve and what industry they’re in and so forth. I really believe that a key part of an effective public relations plan is consistency. You need to try to find different ways to keep yourself in the news and reaching to the, you know, getting in front of the decision makers that you want to reach. I mean, you know, certainly, an ambitious target might be, say at least once a month we would like to have something somewhere that’s related to what we are trying to do new business-wise.  So, you know, that would be a pretty ambitious goal but then, you know, when you set out and start looking at all the opportunities that you might have, there is probably, as you start crafting a plan, you’re going to find, and if you think creatively, there are more opportunities than you realize.  It’s amazing how many companies will have really good stories, for example, just sitting there.  And everybody knows about it but they are so busy with everything else that they hadn’t thought about who all should know about this?  Who else would think that this is a good story and be inspired by it?  And again, I think there can just be some simple things like great human interest stories too, involvement in the community.  Maybe some expert commentary you could do.  Just look at a whole variety of ways that you could use the kind of drip, drip, drip approach to being relentless and intentional about getting your name out there.

Drew:  So, in some ways it seems like that a lot of this is about … this is really a twist on the whole idea of content marketing, which is creating helpful and