Small advertising agencies – and businesses of all sorts – often have a tough time getting press coverage for their companies and their projects. Yet for ad firms, the ability to generate press for the firm itself is nearly as important as creating noteworthy campaigns for clients.
In some ways, ad firms’ organic advertisements are wrapped up in their successful ad campaigns; the proof is in the pudding (meaning that popular campaigns are the natural way that ad firms become well known and successful in the long run). For newer firms that don’t have well-recognized campaigns to point to, promoting the firm itself via public relations marketing can be a great way to get attention from new clients – there’s no shame in advertising your advertising agency through press!
Even established ad firms need to consistently work on their public relations in order to maintain recognition and trust in the industry and stay relevant. Established firms will often hire a full time PR person to handle everything from business development stories to profiles of the company founders.
For smaller firms that may not have the budget or scale to justify hiring a full time public relations professional, there are still many ways to get reporters interested in your company and your work.
An ideal PR manager listens
As a style and food reporter, I’m always on the lookout for interesting cultural trends and personalities. Earlier this year, I wrote several articles for the San Francisco Chronicle Style Section about the creative leads at Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GSP) – the firm that made the term “Got Milk?” famous, and has worked on a myriad of accounts including Google, XFINITY, Corona Light, Frito-Lay, Chevrolet, Adobe and SONIC Drive-Ins.
Thanks to GSP’s former public relations manager Meagan Phillips (currently at 180LA), I found compelling personalities at GSP for two of my cultural trend articles. Phillips patiently communicated with me on and off for nearly a year before I wrote that first piece on GSP cofounder Rich Silverstein. The story was a lighthearted profile about Silverstein’s love of bicycling and the Golden Gate Bridge. A few months later, I was gathering research for an article on the subject of women’s restricted attire in the workplace. Without knowing that I was working on the piece, Phillips suggested that I chat with Kate Catalinac, one of GSP’s stylish creative leads who had strong, compelling opinions on women’s attire and feminism. Because Phillips had been reading my articles and following my interests on Twitter, she almost telepathically knew that I’d find Catalinac an interesting person for a potential story. “You’d be amazed how many stories I’ve done that came out of a simple interaction with someone that I just paid attention and thought to,” said Phillips.
As a reporter, this was a welcome change. Some PR people are like Phillips – they’re clearly in love with the product or company, know it well and are idea factories – but they’re rarer than the folks who don’t follow through on promises and often rely on old PR releases to answers specific questions.
Because Phillips’ approach can be applied at any level and used by founders at small firms trying to create their own publicity, as well as PR professionals who want to hone their crafts, I’ve asked her to further divulge her approach. She and I put our heads together to create a guide for small ad firms (and really, all budding small businesses) that want to get noticed by the media, their peers and new clients.
Her PR tips below can be applied to any firm looking to establish a connection and presence in the media.
Why everyone in the company should know and understand the clients and their products (including and especially PR people)
Quality growth comes from aligning yourself with clients with similar values. Sure, it’s a working relationship but you should believe in the product you’re promoting. I adhere to David Ogilvy’s wisdom to actually use your client’s products. You’ll know what you’re talking about.
How to do PR with integrity
I’m a big proponent for the power of introverts. As an introverted PR professional I’m in a bit of a paradox. I believe though you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Think deeply about something before you promote it. To do PR with integrity you have to have a genuine interest in people. Listen to them. The stories you’ll get out of your people and your work comes from being invested in them. You’d be amazed how many stories I’ve done that came out of a simple interaction with someone that I just paid attention and thought to.
Getting publicity for your small agency (even if you’re not working with high profile clients like Netflix or the NBA)
Phillips says that an agency doesn’t need huge accounts to get noticed. I’ve seen a lot to the contrary. Over half the winners at Cannes International Festival of Creativity this year had a social good angle. Partner yourself up with a local charity and get creative. Another way to get noticed is to develop your own self-promotional content. It’s a great way to stay busy and creative during new business lulls. The self-promotional work serves to establishing your own brand’s identity too. Pick a medium that’s underutilized and make something clever for it. An unusual media execution can be done once for cheap but if the idea is smart enough it’ll get a lot of coverage.
Use underutilized platforms to promote your company
Everyone goes for TV or video. Look for media spaces that aren’t as commonly used to stand out. One of my favorite media executions was from Pereira & O’Dell who printed Snoop Dogg lyrics onto rolling papers to promote Snoop’s edition of Kingsize Slim Rolling Papers. Los Angeles County Surf Life Saving Association just turned drink coasters at targeted beach bars into rip current safety visuals. Establish an audience that works for the brand, find a hyper-targeted location where they are, and create an ad natural to that space.
Why the people in your company are newsworthy too
Profile pieces are important to any agency because they humanize your company. When it comes down to it, it’s all about the people anyway, right? Who do you trust with your brand? Who would you want to share an office with? Profile pieces reveal behind the curtain a bit and welcome in new business and talent recruitment.
Phillips’ approach to reporters
Before you reach out to a reporter, do your research. It’s pretty easy to sniff out a cold call or email that doesn’t address what the reporter covers. Being relevant, intelligent and reliable keeps reporters coming back to you. Get out on the scene as well. Look into your local advertising community networks and get to know the organizers. Ask for panelist opportunities. Write an op-ed piece and shop it around. Use your own social channels to establish a point of view. There are lots of ways to build your credentials that will make you more desirable for journalists.
Phillips advice is simple: listen, observe, and then present your pitch in a concise, honest and interesting way. It takes a while to learn the patience needed to write the perfect pitch, but mastering this approach will help you build relationships with reporters and get quality coverage for your business.
For more ideas on growing your client base, check out our tips on bluevine.com.
This article was first published on September 23, 2014. It was updated on