What Being a Girl Guide Taught me about Crisis Management: How to Prepare a Holding Statement

One of the few things I remember from my time as a Girl Guide was their motto, “be prepared”. That message was reinforced in everything we did – from camping to cooking, to parades, to showcases; every activity required planning, and within that planning, we had to make accommodations for a ‘rainy day’.  

As a first-generation Canadian whose parents didn’t venture too far out during the winter months, my first winter camping experience reinforced that you can never be prepared enough for a winter deep-freeze when you are camping in unheated, poorly-sealed, unsupervised cabins. 

After spending that first night in the public ski chalet (since our cabin door was frozen open), sleeping on a worn-out couch in the corner while overzealous skiers drank and sang the night away to live music, I swore to myself that I would never again be caught off-guard in the cold – I have never needed thermal underwear, extra socks, fleece and heat packs since. But, as the eternal girl guide, I’m always prepared. 

Accidents and incidents can happen at any time. While you can never be prepared for every eventuality, you can be ready to respond quickly to any unexpected scenario that might come your way.

As publicists, our canvas is often the written word, although thanks to social media, we’ve expanded our art form to images and video – our gallery, any communications platform connected to the internet. 

When a crisis strikes you often don’t have time to craft and then seek multiple approvals on critical incident statements or responses to media inquiries. You have to act fast and be smart about responding in a timely manner while maintaining your company or brand’s core values. You are told you have to get ahead of the narrative before it gets ahead of you.

In most industries, you can anticipate what some of the threats or key concerns may be: industrial accidents, untimely deaths, natural disasters, environmental impacts, harassment claims, criminal charges, fraud, impropriety, consumer claims, product safety, or these days, unimaginable consumer challenges (think the Tide Pod challenge or Lysol injections to curb COVID-19).

Here is a simple table to start brainstorming what scenarios are relevant to your business or industry:

ScenarioKey Message 1Key Message 2Communication tool(s)Spokesperson
Accident
Criminal investigation
Harassment
Product defect or delay
Environmental

Enter Holding Statements. 

Preparing a set of holding statements that contain your key messaging, customized for some of the most likely scenarios you may face, will help you buy time while you as a communications team can assess the threats, invoke your crisis communications strategy and audit the situation as it unfolds. It will also provide clarity on the current state of the situation, manage rumours and misinformation, and essentially help your comms team control – or at least massage – the narrative.

While this may seem reactive, it’s proactive and you’ll be grateful for it in the heat of the crisis.

Adam Fisher of PR Daily, recently wrote a great blog on the six crucial key elements of a holding statement. To summarize and elaborate on his key tips, holding statements should include:

1. Acknowledgement – This is not the time for cover-ups or denials. Clarity of the incident, even without much information to go from, will help contain rumours and misinformation. 

2. Empathy – Adam explains that organizations must show concern and empathy for those who have been affected in a crisis incident. Putting those people first and showing you understand the severity of what has happened will demonstrate compassion, concern and humanity.

3. Action/Commitment – You need to show that you are taking steps to rectify the situation and ensure that something similar cannot happen again. Even in the initial stages, it is important to outline what your organization is doing to deal with the crisis. This could be as simple as stating that you have launched an investigation to determine what has happened, or that you are reviewing procedures and working with the relevant authorities.

4. Reassurance – Try to put the incident into context and show that it is isolated. If the crisis has been triggered by an accident, highlight the safety protocols you have in place and your previously good record. If it is related to employee behaviours or misdeeds, note that the company is taking strong measures to investigate. 

5. Apology/Recognition – An apology is only important if there is any responsibility on behalf of your company or brand. Otherwise, ‘recognize’ that this incident or situation is likely causing pain or concern to those affected.

6. Details – Put your journalism hats on and provide as much information as you legally can: What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who was involved? Why did it happen?

Note that most people understand that given a criminal investigation that information will be forthcoming but can’t be forced. 

7. Regular Updates – Even if they are just for reassurance, they are recommended. Giving visibility to your brand, a human face the public can relate to or evoke empathy or compassion for can help with post-crisis reputation recovery.

So, what are some examples of holding statements:

Example 1: Workplace Injury

“We are deeply saddened to confirm that [Individual(s) Name] of our colleagues/clients/customers/crew were injured at [set/office location] in [city/town] earlier this morning. They are currently receiving medical treatment. We are in contact with their family and are doing everything we can to support them at this difficult time.

An investigation has been launched and we are fully cooperating with authorities. We have / will / are going to  [ postpone /shut down /limit / maintain] [site/business/factory/office].  

Over our XX-year history we have maintained an excellent safety record. We will be reviewing our procedures and will put in place any recommendations from the authorities to ensure this does not happen again. We will share more information as it is released to us and provide an update about this incident on our website and social media channels at [date and time]”

Example 2: Delay in Service or Release

Dear Customer,

Yesterday, we learned that several shipments of our [product] contain [contaminated/damaged/XXX] goods due to [specify reason if there is one].

We are working around-the-clock with our producers/distributors/quality control/safety inspectors/ transportation providers and internal teams to ensure your orders/shipments are fulfilled in the coming [provide timeline if possible].

At [company name], we are always looking for ways to better service our customers. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you, and are working tirelessly to ensure this issue doesn’t happen again.

Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me at XXX@xyzcompany.com.

Example 3: Technical difficulties

“This afternoon, we were made aware of a technical issue/outage that is affecting our [specify which service or product]. This [issue] took place [date and time] in the [region/city]. We apologize that we are not able to provide you with [service or product] at the moment. Our technicians are working diligently to get our operations to full functionality as soon as possible. 

Alternately, you can download/use/stream/ [alternate product or service] for your XXX needs at [URL or app].

We will continue to update you on our progress in resolving this matter at [website] and on Twitter / IG / TikToc @XXX. We have created a dedicated customer service line to address any inquiries related to this issue. We ask that you please be patient with our customer support team as they work to help address your concerns/needs. The XXX customer service team can be reached at 1-800-123-4567. 

Media inquiries should be directed to our communications team at 1-800-555-1234.”

Example 4: Accidental Death on Set or at Workplace

Date

Time

“We are heartbroken and devastated by the passing of our treasured colleague, [name and position], after an accident which occurred at a [location and set or workplace area in city/region] during the [circumstance ie. preparation and testing for an upcoming shoot, or workplace activity] ,’ [quote from production company/rep/CEO]. 

“[Name] is beloved by all who worked with him during an impressive XX-year career as a [specialty] in [industry]. The [executive team designation/producers], along with everyone in the [list of stakeholders], wish to express our deepest condolences, and heartfelt love and support, to [name] family and friends at this most difficult time.”

We have no further details but are working closely with investigators as they review the incident. We will be providing updates as they are released to us. 

We ask that you please respect the highly sensitive nature of this incident for our employees/colleagues and refer any queries to our media relations team:

Contact information

Name 

Phone

Email

Example 5: Some Key Messaging within Holding Statements :

  • “XXX’s statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values”
  • “ XXX [words/actions/behaviour] is antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an [company/brand/agency], consequently, we have made the decision that we can no longer [represent/employ/collaborate/partner with] XXX.”
  • “We are deeply saddened by this tragic news of XXX passing. XXX was an exceptional talent and an even more exceptional person. He was a true joy to work with and we will all miss him tremendously. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones”.
  • “We are saddened by the recent allegations surrounding the [incident/accusation],” [company rep/company name]. “While the investigation is ongoing, we have made the difficult decisions to suspend production at this time and are no longer working with XXX”
  • “Today, we tragically lost a member of our crew while filming [name of production]. We’re heartbroken, shocked and devastated … but recognize nothing can come close to the grief and inexplicable pain her family and loved ones must feel in this moment. Our hearts pour out to them — along with each and every person they touched in this world.”

Regardless of the format, you choose to articulate your holding statements, identifying your internal and external threats and preparing a strong, coherent, and well-received message for each one, ahead of any unexpected or unpleasant scenarios, will help alleviate the stress and panic usually associated with a crisis. 

NOT Business As Usual: How PR and Marketing Techniques are Changing in Today’s COVID-19 Climate

This is an interesting time to work in PR and Marketing. If our industry ever had to lace up our sneakers and practice our pivot, this is it.

When unexpected and dramatic global events take place, our marketing environment and audience shifts as well. How we adapt our content and PR strategies during a crisis is what will help us navigate through the storm.

In today’s climate, “business-as-usual” PR and marketing tactics can seem tone-deaf to consumers who may be struggling during these unprecedented times. There’s a big difference between pitching your product or service in a relevant manner, to capitalizing on fears. 

So how do we maneuver our strategies in a way that is meaningful, while optimizing opportunities without being opportunistic? Never have you ever had such a captive audience on so many accessible channels – traditional media, online media, podcasting, social media, video conferencing sites, YouTube, etc. 

Now that the vast majority have binged through streaming content like Tiger King, Too Hot To Handle and Pandemic, they are craving something more authentic. And they’re taking the time to become familiar with platforms like Tik Tok and Zoom. 

You don’t have to be an influencer or TV producer to successfully channel your inner JJ Abrams. There has never been a more opportune time to play with social, to practice your hand at becoming a content creator, and to connect with your ideal audience in a more laid back way. Where to start? From your own home of course!

The New Content Creators

Zirkova Vodka co-founders, Katherine and John Vellinga, decided to have fun with the ways they engage rather than focus on the face-to-face connections they’ve lost due to this ‘new normal’.  Until recently, the brand had depended on exposure and sales from in-store tastings, so when those were halted, they introduced their 7’oclock-tail hour on Facebook and Instagram. Every night at 7pm, the founders share a video of themselves in their kitchen creating innovative cocktails with whatever they have on hand. Not only did their engagement and views increase by hundreds of thousands, they found a new online audience! It didn’t take long for others to be inspired to share videos of their own concoctions! 

Anaida Deti, registered dental hygienist and founder and CEO of DentalX recently spoke to CTV’s Pauline Chan about how to keep your oral health in check while in quarantine/self-isolation, and what to do if you think you have a dental emergency. Since her dental clinic has temporarily closed for all non-emergency appointments, Anaida knew at-home oral hygiene maintenance is of utmost importance. She regularly communicates with clients through written and video posts about current content that is relevant and valuable. It’s also a great substitute for the face-time we’re all craving.

The Mompreneur organization led by founder and CEO Maria Locker, took a different approach. When they made the difficult decision to postpone their annual awards and conference, Maria chose to get in front of their members right away. Her team took their conference online, while also increasing their online educational sessions, speaker  engagement, webinars, and weekly online meetings. Instead of closing up shop, they have continued to communicate to their members and be transparent about their shift into the virtual world. 

Pitch Perfect

If you’re sick of COVID-19 coverage, just know that the media is, too! Alas, this is our current reality and with daily updates and breaking news, these types of stories will continue to dominate the headlines. 

As former producers, our team is creative when it comes to coming up with relevant and timely angles, and you can too – just make sure that if you are going to pitch something to the media that you come from a place of service and not self-service. Ask yourself, ‘what value can I bring to an audience?’ and how does what you have to share affect them in a way that will inform, improve, educate, elevate or entertain them?

If you’re looking for media coverage or to provide expert commentary, create pitches that:

  • Are relevant, timely and seasonal
  • Provide valuable resources that will help viewers, readers or listeners cope – or even better, THRIVE – under these circumstances
  • Aren’t SELLING, but marketing to a need (yes, there is a difference!)
  • Provides tips and tricks that will help navigate through this quarantine, be it financial, health, wellness, legal, parenting, mental health, taxation, fitness, food and drink, gardening or whatever other secret sauce you can share

Don’t forget, you have a captive audience online right now – use this time wisely! And have fun while you’re at it.

A NOTE FROM FRONT DOOR PR ABOUT COVID-19

We are in the midst of an unprecedented and scary time where COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle and our everyday lives. In order to protect the health and safety of our clients and our media colleagues, Front Door PR has made the decision to suspend all in-studio media appearances until further notice. 

While we recognize the shift in headline news, our objective is to continue our strategic outreach, and to execute the marketing initiatives we are able to, even if it means having to pivot our strategy and do things a bit differently.

We are fortunate to live in a time where we have access to a breadth of online options and video conferencing solutions that allow our clients and colleagues to share their expertise, good news, and innovative tips and ideas without putting themselves or our media friends in jeopardy.

We encourage our colleagues and friends to take this time to experiment with different video conferencing providers, try out the various video or content development options on mobile phones and through apps, and get creative with how you connect with your clients and customers—people are craving content that is positive, engaging and fresh!

As we navigate these new challenges with creative approaches, our standard of service and commitment to you and your brand remains our primary focus. We will continue to promote and advocate and are striving to find new avenues to share your business, brand, book or thought leadership with your audience. 

In the spirit of collaboration, our team is proud to offer FREE webinars (register here) to help you creatively leverage your marketing efforts during this difficult time. In addition to our online webinars, we have shared some of our simple tips and tricks on our blog page, including our latest blog: “Five Ways to Effectively Market Your Business In The Midst of Being Quarantined.

History has shown us that uncertain times spur innovation, progress and a spirit of community. Together, we can take advantage of the opportunities before us as a community of entrepreneurs and businesses, and find new ways to tell our stories, create a positive impact through our offerings and thought leadership, and infuse our feeds with optimism.

From your team at Front Door PR,

Rania, Erin, Dessy, Grace, Jordan, Chantal, Colleen, Mike

Five Ways to Effectively Market Your Business In The Midst of Being Quarantined

Nearly every individual and organization is feeling the effects of the Coronavirus outbreak. With widespread, indefinite closures and cancellations, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our lives in ways we’ve never imagined—and I’m not just talking about the mystery of panic toilet paper hoarding. Globally, businesses are suffering, and they are feeling the devastating financial effects ripple through like rapid wildfire. 

As hard as it is to believe, challenging times can create opportunities for many; along with adversity comes creativity. And now more than ever, it’s time to re-think how your business can survive and evolve during these unprecedented times. 

  • Speak up: Out of sight means out of mind, so staying silent during a time of turmoil is an easy way to sink your business. Your customers want to know what measures you’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Will you be offering your products online? Are refunds available? Keep the lines of communication open: reach out to them via email, post a note to the homepage of your website, call them, let them know what they can expect in the coming weeks and how they can find you. 
  • Get Social (at a distance): Increasing your social media presence has never been as important as it is now. Consumers are yearning for some sort of entertainment while in quarantine. Engage with your audience via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Set up a virtual fitness group, do a Facebook Live every day with a new craft idea or product demo, or share some educational content, perhaps even a webinar series. Whatever is relevant to your business, share it! Check out what our friends at Zirkova Vodka are doing on their Instagram page for some inspiration!
  • Spotlight: Brand Awareness and visibility are of the utmost importance during this time. Don’t be shy about leveraging your local media partners to provide tips, advice and insight on how this pandemic is affecting your industry. You may even suggest doing a light-hearted interactive segment (virtual, of course)—people still need the ‘feel-good’ stories, especially at a time when we’re being inundated with bad news.   This is the time to start writing those blogs or how-tos, experiment with video and video conferencing platforms, and brainstorm new methods of getting in front of your audience so that it is meaningful and helpful to them.
  • Reflect: Whether we like it or not, life is moving a bit slower these days, which is a great opportunity to catch up on ‘administrative work’. Re-evaluate your business plan, work on business development, ensure your website is well-optimized for search engines, create evergreen content, offer online deals or discounts, maybe even think of creating a more engaging marketing campaign. 
  • Build Relationships Not Just Connections: More and more people are online using social platforms to network. Take the time to engage with them by sending a personal note, comment on their posts, get to know them, look for opportunities to collaborate or partner with them. Support them, don’t pitch them.

Let’s all take this opportunity to slow down, reflect, learn new skills, experiment with social media, share with each other, find new ways to collaborate, AND build relationships rather than just connections….and have some fun while we’re at it!

Zirkova Vodka’s Instagram feed is full of inspiration!

The Luck of an Intervention

Have you ever had an intervention?

Ever had an earth angel give you a loving shove out of your comfort zone?

Ever wonder why some people bother interfering in your business?

This week marks the 7th Anniversary of my business, Front Door PR. It’s been through a couple iterations over the years but at its core it’s always remained true to its original vision.

I couldn’t have even imagined seven years ago when I showed up with bottle of wine and 16 pastries at my dear friend Nicola’s birthday party, that she would have arranged for it to be a party of 2 (rather than the gang we usually celebrated these events with), and that she would have already put the wheels in motion to get me out of my head and into the beginnings of a business I thought I had no business being in.

My friend was a successful TV host, producer, wellness advocate, and meditation and yoga teacher. She was fun, popular and quite the bossy boots sometimes. If she told you you should do something, somehow, you just did it. Not because she was a bully, but because somehow she just knew.

She chose her birthday, February 1st, as the date of my intervention. I’m not entirely sure why she chose her birthday, but that day became, in part, a rebirth for me, and the birth of my new career.

She declared, with absolute certainty, that starting the following week I was going to start a PR Agency.

Come again?

I told her she was crazy.

See, I had been a TV producer who had transitioned into the financial industry – a move that started out great until the aftereffects of the recession really took its toll in 2009/2010.

Throughout my career, I had always helped friends get media exposure, provided media training, connected them with reporters, put together marketing plans, consulted on their PR challenges, but despite an early stint working in PR, and having taken and TA’d a PR course in University, I never felt that I was ‘qualified’ to offer the services.

She had been watching, and she thought otherwise.

I beseeched her to be real. I wasn’t looking for another business. Where did this idea even come from?

More importantly, I asked, who on earth would hire me?

Quoting the Dalai Lama, she smiled and said, ‘If you put it out there, they will come’.

Now what kind of mumbo jumbo was that?

This all took place on a Friday night. Friday night!

I showed up for drinks. She showed up for my transformation.

She would give me the weekend to come up with a name, my service offerings and a simple blurb about me, my experience and my new business bio. I was to meet her and a mystery web designer, whom she had arranged to create a very simple website to get me started, first thing Monday morning.

Throughout the weekend she would call me and check in, vetting the many unsuitable names I came up with. Finally, on Sunday afternoon she gave a thumbs up to my original business name, Speak Boutique.

It seemed fitting. If you know me, you know why.

Monday morning, I met up with her and the web designer, who it turned out was my former Editor/Switcher, and we sat down to hash out the details.

As we wrapped up the meeting, me, armed with a list of to-dos, a new logo (graciously designed by the web developer), and a head screaming out internally every possible reason this was insane, and questioning how had I ever even gotten myself to agree to this, I turned to her and asked:

“So how is this going to work now? How will I get clients, especially since I’m working in finance? Who on earth is gonna pay me to do this for them?”

She replied:

“I don’t know, doesn’t matter, just put it out there, they will come”.

Not two minutes later my phone rang. It was a colleague from my financial company who worked in a different office.

That was odd.

We never really talked and here he was calling me out of the blue. I wasn’t going to answer since we were trying to clear out of the coffee shop, but a voice told me to pick up.

“Hello”

“Hey Buddy”, he replied “How are you?”

“I’m great, just wrapping up a meeting” I said, “Is everything ok? Can I call you back in 5 minutes?”

“Sure, no problem, but quick, I just have one question really, can you get me on one of the Toronto morning shows? I’m doing a big event and would love to get the word out, and I have an amazing speaker that the media would love…and I’ll pay you whatever you need if you can help me out”

I swear, for one of the very few times in my life I was truly speechless (remember, I came by my business name honestly!).

I couldn’t speak.

His words echoed in my head.

The dumbfounded expression on my face somehow gave my friends the lowdown on our conversation.

“Hey, are you still there?”

…. “Uh, yah, sure, no problem, in fact, I’d love to! No promises but let’s meet so you can fill me in on all the details”.

We arranged to meet up later that day.

As I hung up the phone I found myself in a state of both disbelief yet absolute awakening.

Did that really just happen?

I slowly turned to my friend, who was smiling knowingly, and asked her: “What kind of White Witch are you?”

She just laughed, shrugging it off, as if this was some part of a script and I was just catching up to the storyline.

She had no doubt. See, they were coming.

That first job led to many introductions, which led to even more calls, which led to me learning, refining, building, and connecting to more people, more clients, and ultimately over the last 7 years, developing my boutique agency into what is now, Front Door PR, with a team of amazing colleagues and a roster of some of the most incredible human beings anyone could hope to ever work with.

Seven years.

I know I was lucky.

Lucky to have a ‘White Witch’ decide to intervene in my fate and set me on a new path.

It wasn’t easy.

There were many difficult and challenging periods. There were times I felt like a fraud despite feeling like I was finally in my own skin.

But every time I questioned, or struggled, I would ‘put it out there’, and every time, they would come.

My beautiful, giving, thoughtful friend, my ‘White Witch’, passed away 3 years ago.

Far too young.

Far too wise.

Or maybe that was why. She was too wise.

But then again she was always a bit different.

I’d guess you’d have to be to host an intervention on your birthday.

Thank you Nicola, for opening the door!

 

Is It Time To Invest In PR?

So, you’ve kickstarter’ed your start-up. You’re ready to launch your new website, app, service or innovation and the time has come for you to focus on your marketing efforts.

One of the biggest challenges facing start-ups is how much or how little to invest in PR and marketing. There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. Blast the masses with a campaign launch or develop an integrated PR and media strategy so that you create some name recognition, peak curiosity and build your audience and customer-base.
  2. Build organically through word-of-mouth, and let the people, your users or customers, become your key driver.

There are many white papers out there that will advocate for each of the two approaches noted above, because depending on your audience, the influencers associated with your product (Ashton Kutcher anyone?), and truly, timing, both can work. So how do you decide?

Years ago, I was at an entrepreneur conference and Dragon’s Den Alum Robert Hergevic was asked how much a start-up should invest in marketing and PR. His response: Zero. Everyone was taken aback by his answer. In fact, if you watch him on Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank, he’s true to his position: if you want him to invest in your business, don’t tell him you want the money for marketing; he’s not the dragon for you. Conversely, some of the first offers fellow Dragons make to start-ups are peppered with promises of access to marketing whizzes, collaborative brand campaigns, influencer connections and ultimately media exposure. By now, most people know that their journey onto the show is not so much about getting the deal as it is about getting eyeballs on their brand; a greater PR and marketing tool for some than going for another round of venture funding. But you can’t stop there.

So what’s a start-up to do?

Start by assessing your needs, your resources and determining through the checklist below if the time has come for you to invest in PR, and if YOU are ready to start. Despite what most people think, PR is not a matter of writing press releases, distributing them to media and hoping something gets picked up. These days it’s a comprehensive, integrated strategy that expands across several platforms, executed over a defined timeline that builds momentum from one ‘hit’ to the next.

Knowing what you already have in place, what needs to be prepared, what you can do yourself and what you’d rather or can not do, will help you determine if the time has come to invest in PR.

  1. Your Unique Value Proposition: Do YOU know who you are? – Seems like a redundant question but most brands are so busy building their product and all its use cases that when it comes to the messaging and communications pieces they have a hard time summarizing or articulating them.

    With so much to say, where do you begin? With your Unique Value Proposition. You will save a lot of time if you can hone in on this one question: What unique value do you bring? What do you offer that others don’t? Focus on your ‘solve’ or key differentiators. A good PR person can help you define your value proposition, build your narrative and tell your story.

  2. Your Target Audience: Do you know where your audience lives? Depending on where your core audience ‘lives’ – online, in front of a TV, in the trades, at conferences, on social media, YouTube, etc – you may need:
    1. a PR person to help you create a strategy to unleash a campaign to your specific audience across the relevant channels, in the language that they ‘speak’.
    2. A community manager. Simply creating a post and reposting identical messages across all boards is not be effective. You need to engage with, communicate and mingle with, that audience, not plaster them with promos. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean they’re listening, or will relate to you. People promote people/brands they like and relate to.
    3. A savvy integrated PR and marketing team that can be a combination of the above and include expertise with events, videos, content/blogs, marketing collateral, building partnerships and collaborations, etc.

    And please do not discount traditional media, it still holds the highest credibility for most audiences and legitimizes you and your brand as an expert or emerging leader in your space, and provides additional media content for our website, youtube channel, social media, etc.

    Most PR pros know how to target these audiences for your maximum benefit and are there to ensure your success – they want to impress you, not fleece you. We’re only as successful as our clients.

  3. Your Network: Do you have a crew of trusted Influencers, Advocates and Ambassadors? Look around and determine who can help you promote your brand, provided the proper content and tools to share.
    • Influencers: Those people who have at least 10K of legitimate followers who engage with their posts (unlike people who have 500k followers yet get no likes, comments or retweets), and hold sway with an audience in person or online.
    • Advocates: Organizations or strategic partners who have credibility in your field or area who you can collaborate with to build legitimacy with your audience and expand that audience within their network.
    • Ambassadors: Those friends, businesses and bloggers who can help spread the word. They may not have a huge audience but have built a smaller but dedicated community in their groups or network.

    Influencer Marketing is fast becoming a complimentary branch of most PR pro’s plans. If you have enough of these people who can get the word out to the masses then you can focus your efforts on providing the messaging and follow-up rather than doing the outreach.

  4. Your TEAM: How big is your team? The reality is there is a reason that corporations and businesses have people dedicated to these activities; they take time to plan and execute and require a certain expertise or skill set to do it right. IF you have those skills and can focus your time on the marketing and PR then by all means do it, but if you’re a party of 1 or even 3 you may need to reassess your task list and decide what makes the most practical business sense. If your budget is small, consider working with an established freelancer, boutique firm or agency for an initial launch campaign (3-6 months) to get things started.
  5. Your Time: How much time do you have? Back to the basics – how much is YOUR time worth? Can you do the same job as a PR or Marketing pro in the same time they can? The reality is, PR efforts take time. Even writing this article took me hours to put together, and this is my area of expertise. Where is your time better spent? I’m not here to make an argument for either, just ask that you really assess your own value and the ROI for your time.

    Another consideration is your time working with a PR pro. It will require an initial investment of your time, collaboration and the expectation of timely communications. They will need prompt feedback, approvals, additional materials and upon starting a campaign, your availability for media and promotions – can you realistically devote your time to this?

  6. Your Marketing Collateral and Communications pieces – Are you ready for prime time? Tying back to your team and your time, there are some basic materials you should have prepared for any media or PR opportunities. The list includes:
    1. Bios – short and long for your brand and founder(s)
    2. Boiler Plate for Press Releases (yes, the media still ask for them upon booking you)
    3. One Pagers with a summary of your product or service and its use cases, stats, etc
    4. Press/Media Kits and EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits that include multimedia links)
    5. Launch Announcement
    6. Editorial Calendar and/or a list of possible story ideas spanning key markets
    7. Visual Identity pieces including hi-res logos, images, videos, and headshots
    8. Source Sheets for CEO’s or Founders

    One benefit of working with a PR pro from the beginning is the creation of professionally-written and produced communication pieces that you can build on as your grow.

  7. Your Thought Leadership: Content is key – don’t sell them, inform them. This should be my number one tip but I am biased, and come by it honestly. As a former TV producer I used to get pitches all day long, about half that read like a marketing brochure and had no ask. I didn’t work in sales, my work was to generate good content, and these materials, while slick and well-written, didn’t tell me how they fit or would benefit my audience.

    The ones that caught my attention were the ones that I knew would engage my audience by informing, educating, entertaining or evoking emotion. My goal in the media was to keep my audience watching (there’s this thing called ratings that ultimately kept me employed).

    These days, sales departments are very attuned to what’s content versus what’s an infomercial, and if they smell a sales opportunity, be ready to be offered what is called a ‘paid integration’. If you pitch an ad, be ready to pay for one. PR pros know to how to create engaging, interactive and sought-after content.

  8. Your Contacts – Do you have a roster of solid contacts in the media? If you do then you’re way ahead of the game, but you’re just getting started. In a global, connected and busy world where everyone is schlepping something and everyone is creating a personal or corporate brand you need someone to advocate on behalf of your brand, to put you in front of the right gatekeepers, correspondents and influencers, and do timely follow-ups.

    PR pros invest a lot of time and money to keep up with who’s in the newsroom (they’re a transient bunch), who’s determining editorial and who’s the best story-teller for you. They make it their business to build those relationships. There is a value to those connections. I wholeheartedly encourage you to build your own relationships, regardless of whether you work with someone or not. Establishing solid relationships with media, influencers, bloggers and business leaders builds familiarity and affinity, and will cut down on time invested in outreach.

  9. Your Crisis Communications Plan: Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? This is usually last on people’s minds, if at all. As you launch, you might get opposition from competitors or detractors, or worse, what if something goes wrong along the way. Outline how you will manage opposition or a crisis. What are the possibly scenarios? Who will be your spokesperson? Have some basic responses prepared that are on brand and can guide you in the unfortunate case you need to make a statement so that you manage rather than react in the moment. Many a brand has been brought down by a Public Relations disaster.
  10. Your Budget: What is your budget? There I said it. You all knew it was coming. Your PR efforts are likely going to be dictated by your budget. If marketing and PR where not effective, then big brands like Apple, Coca Cola and Nike wouldn’t need to invest millions of dollars in it across multiple platforms. By now, you’d expect word of mouth would be enough. The reality is that for most start-ups, PR should be incorporated as part of your business plan. Having an expert provide you with guidance at the beginning or as you build momentum can bolster your visibility and provide the brand recognition you might need to stand out from the crowd.

Often the best places to start is with a conversation with a PR pro. Respect that they may limit the time they chat (people love to ‘pick our brains’) but by having the discussion you may find that you can create a campaign that is creative, integrative and within budget. And while everyone’s approach and offerings may be different, by knowing who you are, what you need, what you don’t, what resources you already have in place, and your budget, you’ll have a better idea if you’re ready to invest in PR.