Evelyn Mertens, Principal, QED Associates LLC
You’ve thought it through, examined your budget carefully, and decided to launch a targeted PR campaign to raise the visibility for your architecture/engineering/construction company or your real estate firm. The next question is - How do you choose a PR firm to create and implement the initiative? Should you go with a large, established agency, a boutique firm or a solo practitioner? Should you choose a company/person who serves diverse markets or specialists in your field?
Though budget always plays a role, what matters most is not the size or the diverse clientele of the agency but is (are) your assigned representative(s) highly familiar with your niche market?
Whether you choose an agency with a staff of 400 or a single person, you need to be sure that you’ll be working one-on-one with a PR specialist who:
• Not just knows the relevant media outlets but knows them well. This goes beyond the old axiom of the importance of contacts – which are, of course, extremely valuable. In addition to being on a first name basis with key editors and reporters, your representative should know such minutiae as: What are the REAL drop dead deadlines and when does the publication actually go to press? Which publications prefer prepared articles and which insist on using only staff writers? Which publications have online versions that can accommodate the text of longer releases that won’t fit into the print version?
• Knows how the industry works and knows the lingo – even the acronyms. Though a PR person doesn’t need construction or architectural training, you want someone familiar with standard terms like “curtain wall” or “core and shell.” If you mention RFPs, CM, GC, FAIA, M/WBEs, CRE or LEED not only do you not want a blank stare, you want someone who’ll jump into the conversation and speak of the progress and obstacles faced by M/WBEs.
• Knows which are the leading firms, head honchos and major agencies. If you tell your PR pro that you’re up against X Corp. you want them to know who X Corp is. You don’t want someone who hides an iPhone under the table and Googles the SCA, DOB, DEP, each time you mention an agency. These initials should be as familiar to them as LOL.
And, of course, you want the qualifications of any PR pro worth his/her salt in any industry. Does the person you’re hiring:
• Offer one-on-one custom-tailored attention. If your agency/practitioner doesn’t treat you as if you’re their only client, lose them. Quickly.
• Provide flexibility with cost on an ongoing basis. Whether you agree to a retainer, an hourly rate or a project fee you don’t want to be locked into any obligation for a lengthy period of time.
• Have a full slate of resources available – whether it’s an agency with in-house capabilities or a practitioner who outsources, in addition to pitching and placing and engaging through social media your specialist should be able to manage (not necessarily implement) the design/upgrade of your website, ads, and e-newsletters/eblasts.
• Craft an angle/pitch that will interest the editor – which may be very different from what appeals to the company president. This comes from a combination of well-honed writing skills and editorial savvy. A good PR person will have the ability to think like a reporter. They’ll ferret out the nuggets, those most likely to compel attention. The PR person has to be able to tell the company prez if the idea is too fluffy.
• Set realistic expectations and convey these honestly to the client - you. If an agency pledges anything– from page 16 in a trade to the front page of the Times, drop them. There are NO guarantees in PR unless you’re talking advertorials. Of course, the PR pro can and should say what is likely and what is possible– after all, without potential for success, why take the plunge at all?
Each month CEG is presenting a blog contributed by members of Professional Women in Construction (PWC). Founded in 1980, PWC is a nonprofit advocacy and
support organization dedicated to the advancement of professional, managerial and entrepreneurial women in construction and related industries. PWC has chapters nationwide.