Good public relations works, over time, by building the public's or the targeted audience's perceptions of you. By positioning yourself well and being frequently seen in the public eye -- whether that's being quoted in the local newspaper, interviewed on the radio or hosting your own show, appearing on TV, writing a column with your own byline, serving on a foundation board, or hosting a charity event -- you will build the perception that you are a professional who can be trusted.

When there is negative press about your firm or the financial services industry (think Bernie Madoff and the Wall Street scandals of 2008/09), you can counterbalance potentially negative perceptions by being especially proactive in providing helpful articles and educational information to the general public and your consumer media contacts. It is essential to remember, though, that at all times the tone should be on helping the readers (or listeners or viewers), not pushing a purely commercial agenda or driving for an immediate result.

Remember that PR stands for public relations – not press release (which is just one of the many communication tools in your public relations tool belt).

Since financial advice is a trust-based business, PR should play an important part of every advisor’s marketing plan. And given that much of today’s news and media articles are carried online -- and the fact that people will almost certainly “Google you” at some point during the get-acquainted process – having a good number of media mentions that show your professional character and business philosophy can really make a difference in how people perceive you and your potential value to them.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT PUBLIC RELATIONS AND WORKING WITH THE MEDIA?

Over the coming weeks, I’ll provide answers to some of the questions posed to me when I speak at industry conferences about public relations for financial advisors. If you have additional questions, the best way to get them to me is to post them as a “comment” right here on The Marketing Maven blog. I’ll try to address them in a future column.

HOW ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA AND BUILDING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE?

You might also want to attend the free webinar being offered this Friday, July 15th, 2011, at 9:00 am EST.  The topic is: Building Your Online Presence in a Smart, Compliant Way. Leia Farmer, Deputy Chief Compliance Officer for Securities America, Inc., will be joining me. Space is limited so, while the webinar is free, you will want to register now. Details at: http://www.marieswift.com/.

So, here’s the most frequently asked question I hear at industry conferences, related to PR and working with the media.

QUESTION #1: HOW DO PR FIRMS WORK AND GET PAID?

In a nutshell, there are five basic structures:

Retainer Plans

Hourly Service Plans

Project Work Plans

Pay-for-Placement Fees

Group Training and Empowerment Programs

This week, we’ll talk about retainer plans.

OPTION #1: RETAINER PLANS

Most PR firms work on retainer, with monthly fees ranging from $3,000 on the low end to $10,000 or more depending on the complexity of your PR agenda and size of your firm. If you opt to work with the PR firm on a retainer basis, they will ask you to pay in advance, usually on a monthly basis, for the activity that they’ll be undertaking on your behalf. The firm will usually build in some incentives such as no additional charges for basic newswire distribution, a free seat at a business round table or a high-powered New York Media Tour, as long as you’re a retainer client.

Most PR firms will insist you sign a contract, typically for 6-12 month’s worth of services, and will offer a 30-60 day termination clause. The reason the PR firm needs 30-60 day’s notice should you wish to suspend services is because they may have one or more wheels in motion already; they want to represent you through the complete media cycle. A truly professional team will also be responsible for a smooth baton pass to anyone who might be stepping in to take over.

The advantages of working on retainer are:

The firm will commit to providing an appropriate level of time and attention, over a sustained period, to help you achieve your goals. 

The PR firm will hold regular meetings and teleconferences with you and your team to synch up activities and ensure your objectives are being met.

The lead people on your PR team may be willing to travel to your offices, by air if needed, for a day of media training and strategic planning.

They will help you crystalize key messages and prepare your talking points for interviews.

The PR team will secure media opportunities for you and key spokespersons, sit in on the interviews, and handle all follow up tasks with journalists and/or publications.

The PR firm will write and distribute news releases for you and provide strategic counsel on what should be announced when, and how.

The firm will track media mentions and report back to you, providing news summaries for your website and/or media clips as appropriate and available.

They will pitch you as a resource to the journalists they know and pro-actively cultivate opportunities for you with new targets.

The PR firm should send “media leads” or “press requests” to you for your consideration. They should challenge you when you don’t immediately see something as worth your time and attention, providing their logic and making a case for why you should respond or allow them to do so on your behalf.

The PR team will help you write bylined articles and should have a track record of successfully placing other articles with similar publications.

They will generate and sustain a strong online presence for you, maintain an online news room for you, do your ghost-tweeting, ghost-blogging, LinkedIn status updates, and other social media activities.

Your PR team should create a calendar of events and pitch you as a speaker to right-fit groups. The firm should help you create a “speaker’s package.”

The firm will try to secure a regular column for you with a key media outlet or two. They should help you write and/or edit the articles and build on your thoughts.

Some PR teams include marketing communications consulting services in their retainer plans, so can help you with invitations, meeting planning, advertisement strategy, marketing planning, logo development, rebranding, website creation, book development and production, forming an advisory board, doing a client survey, etc.

If the PR firm does not have a professional graphic artist on staff, they will work with a freelance graphic designer or outside firm to bring visual communications to life. It’s “a plus” if their resource is a steady dance partner.

As time goes on, you’ll spend less time synching up your thinking with theirs and, depending on the level of trust their build with you, you may be able to outsource large portions of your marketing planning and implementation to the PR firm.

Some PR firms will even serve as a fully outsourced marketing department for you.

Considerations:

You will need to be able to invest in the retainer plan, month after month, sometimes without being able to see immediate results.

Recognize that public relations is an active, time-consuming business that requires Santa’s Elves to be ever busy in the background; it takes time to get the Christmas presents ready and properly delivered.

It’s important that your PR team “gets you” and your message.

You need a team you can partner with and trust.

They should have their own media connections but don’t be surprised if they ask you to share yours – the left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing (or has done).

Since the benefits of a good public relations plan accrue over time, forward-thinking financial services firms are wise to consider the retainer option. While there may be peaks and valleys to the results produced, the activity will be sustained and fees will be held to the monthly budget. When you have the right team working on your behalf, good things will happen.

WHAT’S AHEAD?

In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss the four remaining options for working with a PR firm and/or doing some of the work on your own:

Hourly Service Plans

Project Work Plans

Pay-Per-Placement Fees

Group Training and Empowerment Programs

I’ll then tackle these Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I measure the ROI on my PR Investments?

Does it ever make sense to advertise?

What’s the best way to leverage the press I get?

If you have additional questions, the best way to get them to me is to post them as a “comment” right here on The Marketing Maven blog.

As president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., Marie leads a dedicated team of marketing communications and PR professionals serving financial institutions and a select group of independent advisors on an exclusive basis. Marie can be reached through her website, www.ImpactCommunications.org.