The Matchbox.

Jan. 28

When Image and Messaging Really Matter

As the “Deflate-Gate” saga rages on and nearly half of Americans think the Patriots are culpable of the wrongdoing, the bigger issue called into question is image and messaging. From a public relations standpoint, rather than a legal or moral one, the Patriots have bungled or fumbled this mess from the onset. After nearly a week of silence, both the team’s head coach Bill Belichek and quarterback Tom Brady took to the podium during separate press conferences with questionable, ill-handled statements and answers to reporters’ questions. While I agree that Deflate-Gate is a minor issue when juxtaposed with world issues like terrorism, hunger, etc., I wouldn’t make the statement, “This isn’t ISIS, no one is dying.”

It was quite apparent following the press conferences, the PR team quickly convened behind closed doors and hosted a “Round Two” media event where answers were much more polished and precise from Belichek. With any crisis communications issue, regardless of whether the organization believes it is small ball or a huge organization-changing incident, getting in front of the messaging and treating it seriously can mean the difference between the public quickly moving on to another story or the media dragging it out for days as is the case with this incident. Both Belichek and Brady’s flippant attitude and responses to the controversy called into question their truthfulness and unfortunately now the team’s pre-Superbowl preparation and pride have been forever altered.

Sadly for football lovers, 2014 ranks as one of the worst handled PR years for the NFL and many of the teams. Let’s hope they clean up their image in 2015.

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Jan. 15

Renew Media Pitching in 2015

As we jump into a new year, it’s beneficial for us to reexamine and refresh our media pitching approach. And, a recent conversation with tech journalist Kira Newman gave me a few ideas for doing just that.

Keep media pitches short. When reaching out to journalists with a new story idea, it is tempting to offer everything but the kitchen sink, but the reality is that we are operating in a 140-character world and pitches need to be more succinct than ever. Wait for a journalist to express interest and then offer supporting details and research.

Make your PR pitches human. Today, journalists are receptive to a personalized approach and even a more conversational tone. Taking cues from journalists’ tweets and previous stories and using that intelligence is necessary for building a relationship that will help you amplify coverage for a client’s or your own internal campaigns.

Just say no to jargon. In the tech world, it is easy to drift into jargon speak, but breaking down a new technology so everyone can understand will help you quickly convey product value and differentiators. Also, with so many jargon-filled emails running rampant, clear and concise descriptions can help you stand apart from competitors.

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Dec. 23

Longevity: Remember, Recharge, Reset

As 2014 comes to a close, all of us are reflecting on the last 12 months and the impact of that time on our lives. For our team, Young & Associates was recently honored as the #1 Boutique PR Agency by the Ragan Ace Awards. As part of the award, the agency was recognized for its unusual longevity–both in staff and clients–as a core strength that drives our success and accomplishments. This is no coincidence as Y&A was founded on this philosophy more than 32 years ago, and it continues with purpose through today.

The idea of achieving longevity got me thinking about three key cornerstones that support its true manifestation in many businesses, including ours: remember, recharge and reset. These concepts are strongly woven into each year for the agency.

Remember: With ever-flowing lists of goals and objectives, it’s easy to just continue moving forward to keep up with the rapid flow of business (and life). However, it’s tough to learn from past experiences without taking an honest, retrospective look at what you’ve done–whether on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. This type of regular reflection is helpful not only for examining work products/services but also from an HR and corporate identity perspective. Is your organization living out its intended mission based on how it operated and presented itself during the last year?

Recharge: We’ve all come into contact with workaholics at some point – what I notice about these people is that they often fail to slow down long enough to see what happens when they’re not thinking about the next strategy or ticking off a to-do list. That unstructured time is often when the magic happens for executives and employees alike. Carving out time to recharge means investing in rest, which can be a hard concept to put into practice but is also integral to fostering long-term productivity and creativity at all levels.

Reset: When you or your team have been doing the same thing for awhile and it begins to feel stale, or you’ve gotten yourself into a rut, these are clues to switch out of autopilot mode. Sometimes you just need a “reset” opportunity to stop the train and think about whether a different approach is worth a try. Consciously abandoning something that’s been done the same way for some time can be frightening but also empowering, as it opens the door to new and more innovative ways of thinking and approaching problems. Plus it invites team members to collaboratively contribute new ideas for improving results.

As our clients and friends look onward to 2015, I hope you take a few moments to reflect on the past year and think about steps to foster longevity in your own organizations. Cheers!

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Dec. 12

Y&A Planning Retreat Takeaways: Thank You NOLA

The team and I just arrived home from a successful Young & Associates planning meeting in New Orleans. Even before we moved to a virtual model Young & Associates has always put a lot of stock into annual planning meetings. It is invaluable to have focused time together talking about the company, our successes and goals, our challenges and how we can best tackle them. We talk about what we can do better – for our clients, for the agency and our own professional development.

Approaching nearly 10 years since we moved from our Courthouse Square offices in Rockville, Md., the in-person planning meeting has taken on an even more important role in the agency’s evolution. While the benefits of being virtual are numerous, we can’t deny the power of sitting face to face with a colleague, client or peer. All of our client relationships – most of which are multi-year collaborations – are cultivated working in the virtual model. But one of the takeaways from this year’s planning meeting focused on the face-to-face relationship with our clients and not forgetting the invaluable benefit it affords the account dynamic and chemistry, as well as the impacts on the account strategy and delivery. So a warning to all of our clients – we’ve made it a goal to see more of your smiling faces this coming year – in your offices, at an event or at a mutually convenient destination.


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Nov. 18

Clients to Be Thankful For

As we near the the season to reflect on what we are truly grateful for, in my professional life, I am very thankful for the outstanding clients the agency has represented over the years. These are not just our customers that we provide a ongoing service for, but rather business partners for whom we strive to make a meaningful year-over-year impact. Their success is our success.

These partners often embody many of the same shared characteristics that we look for and embrace as part of the agency’s culture and future. These attributes include:

Willingness to share the good, the bad and the ugly. They know we do our best when all is revealed–not just talking points that can be regurgitated to media and analysts.

Shared common goals across marketing and PR. We hear about silos all the time and continue to evangelize about this pain point on behalf of our clients, but the same remains true in marketing and PR. Information sharing and top-down objective setting is a must.

Flexibility in getting there. Our clients know we strive to reach our goals but sometimes the best laid plans go awry. Working together and understanding that different strategies and tactics can achieve the same desired goals makes a meaningful, long-lasting client relationship.

– Hey, we are humans. These same partners know that, yes, even near-perfect PR professionals make mistakes. And if we admit it, and offer our right to the wrong, they acknowledge it and move on.

There are many more partner characteristics we love at the agency, but most of all, a good many of our clients we now call friends. And that may be the most important blessing of all.

Happy Giving Thanks!

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Oct. 16

5 Questions For Your Future PR Partner

Choosing the right PR partner can be challenging, as presentations, websites and agency materials can often blend together and become repetitive. Professional chemistry and mutual respect play a role but here are a few questions to ask your potential partner prior to an engagement to clarify differentiators and ensure they are a good fit.

1) What creative ideas do you have for our company?

Creativity can make an agency stand apart from the crowd. If PR professionals aren’t able to offer original suggestions during the exploration phase, they likely will be limited creatively moving forward.

 2) Can you provide an example of a client’s media coverage?

Concrete examples are imperative. Ask your potential partner how they generated media coverage for a specific client, from beginning to end. This will shed light on the agency’s processes and ability to deliver.

3) How do you measure success?

Measurement and evaluation of PR strategies is critical for determining a program’s success, so it is important that this is clarified from the get-go. Inquiring how results are measured can shine a light on the agency’s approach.

4) What is your biggest accomplishment?

While this might tread in the territory of a cliché job interview, asking about big achievements tells you a lot about an agency’s ability to reach high, as well as about their vision and prowess.

5) Who will serve as my account team?

Probably the most important question — ask your potential agency partner who will be your day-to-day contact and who will serve on the account team. By asking upfront you help ensure you get an ‘A’ team and mitigate the risk of any bait-and-switch.

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Sep. 22

The Art of Media Relevancy

One of the most important parts of achieving stellar PR results is positioning corporate news so it fits into reporters’ interests today. Forget about the fact that hundreds of emails are slamming into their Inboxes each day and the phone rings off the hook—once you’ve moved past these timeless obstacles, the real challenge is nailing the right “hook” for sustained interest and relevancy. Here are some tips for a gut check on whether your announcement plans pass muster.

  • Examine Marketplace Storylines – Take a close look at the stories that your marketplace has focused on over the last six months. Are there patterns? How does your announcement fit into the grander scheme of things and more importantly, what high-priority issues does it help mitigate?
  • What’s Coming Down the Pike? – As Meggan Manson mentioned in her previous blog post, it’s important to evaluate upcoming known major industry announcements when considering press outreach. If your news is a natural fit, then you may be able to cultivate a plethora of opportunities to weigh in and serve as a resource. On the other hand, it may be better to avoid the major news timeframe if there isn’t a tie-in so you’re not competing for reporters’ bandwidth.
  • Line Up Validation Voices – You may believe your news is highly important to your industry, but often times including client, analyst or partner commentary in your outreach can help seal the deal. Third-party commentary provides validation for your news and shows reporters that other key industry players are invested in it.


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Sep. 02

Back to School and the Post-Labor Day Push to 2015

As Facebook news feeds move from family beach pictures and ice bucket challenges to back-to-school snapshots (guilty on all accounts), the change in seasons and tempo is upon us. The post-Labor Day push into the final quarter of 2014 is here – where did the year go? If you haven’t already planned your September and Q4 media relations calendar, here are a few items to consider for your to-do list this week.

Map out your news calendar: Marketers and PR pros should sync up to plan for the rest of the 2014 announcements and PR pitches. Pay attention to holidays and known news announcements to either avoid or leverage as appropriate. For example, while Apple’s planned Sept. 9 announcement (presumably for the iPhone 6 and some wearables) may not have a heavy impact on the HR space, the news will likely keep mobile, advertising and consumer reporters busy for a few days.

Got conferences? Yes, a lot of them! – Name the industry and I can almost guarantee that there is a significant industry conference taking place in late September or October. Conferences are a great place to meet key reporters and industry thought leaders and brief them with news and end-of-year trends. Briefing schedules fill up fast so reach out now.

Holiday shopping isn’t far off: If your company has any alignment with the retail world, then your holiday shopping PR strategy should be well underway. Halloween decorations are already in the stores and that means the Black Friday and holiday shopping stories aren’t far behind. Find your angle and pick a date to start making connections.

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Aug. 07

The PR Pay-for-Play vs Retainer Model

Over the years, we’ve received questions from potential clients about our business model and the value of a retainer relationship – often coming from companies with either limited dealings or previous negative experiences with PR agencies. Recently though, these questions are originating from direct experience with a newer agency model – the pay-for-play or placement agency – where the client pays only if the agency scores a placement in a priority publication, often on a tiered basis depending on the priority of the publication.

The challenge with the placement model in the B2B world is that there often is a limited investment on the agency’s part in getting to know their client’s business – what makes them unique, the nuances and types of problems they are they solving for their clients, who the real buyers are, their take on industry issues and mostly importantly, market trends. These are all critical components in what makes up a strong and successful PR program. Because without them, yes, you can target publications all day long and get some media placements, but they are likely the wrong publications and the wrong messages for creating sustainable and targeted marketplace visibility. For limited, short-term engagements, sometimes the pay-for-placement model can be appealing, but beware if you are looking for long-term visibility and consistently on-point value messaging that resonates with your buyers.

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Jul. 16

The $9/Month PR Strategy

Yesterday, TechCrunch brought a new email database company, Pressfarm, some unwarranted attention. While the spotlight might be undeserved for the company, which supplies tech-focused reporter emails to users for $9/month, the tongue and cheek article from TechCrunch reporter Romain Dillet makes several good points about reaching out to media in an effective and appropriate manner.

If our job were as easy as collecting 200 email addresses, everyone would be a PR expert. However, an email address will only get you so far. That seems obvious, but spammy email pitches continue to run rampant. This hurts the PR profession, along with us pros that attempt to cut through the clutter with thoughtful story ideas and well-crafted pitches. Why this method of madness continues isn’t clear, as results surely do not line up with the effort.

Effective media relations entails much more. From tracking trends to understanding reporters’ interest and writing styles to timing, PR professionals need to be smart and agile to gain ink for their company or clients. Some reporters might prefer short, straightforward pitches; others require a meatier story idea. What is clear is that journalists do not want to receive mass pitches unrelated to their areas of interest that were also sent to the other 213 reporters in the Pressfarm database.

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