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August '05 Build Business: PR Tips from Two Pros

by Claudia Bullmore, Gould Evans
August 2, 2005

Editor’s note: As a monthly contributor to, the Society for Marketing Professional Services is sponsoring Build Business. This series, written by industry experts, focuses on marketing and business development best practices to help you build business and advance your career.


Recently, I asked two public relations professionals to share some advice and insight on the topic of effective public relations. Annie Kohut runs an independent PR firm in Atlanta and works with Lord Aeck & Sargent. Kira Gould does public relations for Gould Evans, an architecture firm with eight offices across the United States. Both work closely with the marketing directors of the architectural firms they represent and help craft and implement the firms’ public relations plans.


Claudia Bullmore (CB): What are three key things to remember in strategizing a PR campaign?


Kira Gould (KG): 1. Focus. Focus. Focus. We like to get in front of people often, but think in terms of getting in front of editors with excellence only. If you think you have six projects they might want to see, send only the best two (send the others to another, perhaps less difficult to break publications).


2. Read the editorial calendars. That's what they’re for. Editors appreciate that you have familiarity with the magazine and that you are sending things that they can actually use.


3. Think about a strategy that touches several areas. For instance: consider a strategy that will promote a small number of projects, ideas, and people. If you approach editors with stories about architecture, the design process, and talented individuals, that betters your chances that they will find something they like – and the process of refining a message about these things can be fed into other efforts. 


Last, accept the realities of an editor's life – they see LOTS of things and they don't want to have to unravel a mystery (or view a video!) to understand your project (or other submission). Make it easy for them to see what is so great about the project. Assume that he/she has six seconds to interpret it. If they are enticed, they will spend more time.


CB: Is there such a thing as bad press?


Annie Kohut (AK): Yes, absolutely, but the important thing to remember is that your firm’s reputation can be managed by sound public relations counsel. In a crisis situation, the top person in management needs to step forward and tell the truth, take the blame for whatever went wrong (unless the crisis involves a charge of criminal wrongdoing for which the person is innocent), and explain how the firm is addressing the issue. All audiences – both internal and external – need to be addressed.


KG: Yes! Do not set yourself up for a fall. If there are unhappy clients or a leaky roof on a project, do not clear a path to those things for the media. You don't need to be deceitful but don't hand them a situation that could backfire. If there's some reason that you must do this, do everything possible to manage the outcome (but be reasonable about how much of that is possible).


CB: Words of advice to A/E/C firms about hiring a PR firm? What are the pros/cons?


AK: Regardless of whether you hire a public relations firm or decide to handle PR in-house, keep in mind that you’re making a commitment – not just a financial commitment, but one that will be demanding of your and your employees’ time. Consider the following:


Most A/E/C firms don’t have dedicated in-house PR professionals. The job is often relegated to someone in the marketing department, and most marketing pros are overloaded with so many job responsibilities that public relations usually falls to the bottom of their list of to-do’s. At best, marketing professionals will make time to respond to editorial queries about specific projects. If you really want to develop and implement a public relations campaign, you need a dedicated and experienced professional. Unless you can justify the expense of an experienced, full-time in-house public relations professional, it’s usually more cost-effective to hire a PR firm or independent public relations practitioner.


If you hire an outsider, you must do so with the view that the relationship is a long-term partnership. You can’t just hire someone to handle your public relations campaign and expect great things to happen. Your outside PR counsel – no matter how experienced – can’t work in a vacuum. Either a principal and/or someone in the marketing department must be assigned as a day-to-day contact. Their role is to educate the- PR counsel and keep him or her constantly informed of what’s going on at the firm, whether it’s a new commission, a groundbreaking, a project completion, an award, a new principal, etc.


Designate subject matter spokespersons for your firm. These people must make a commitment to be available to meet regularly with your PR professional and to do interviews with reporters and editors. Some members of the media can be flexible about the timing of interviews, but more often than not, they’re on a fairly tight deadline, so spokespersons need to try to accommodate their needs.


KG: If you can afford it, and if the right candidate exists (someone who really knows your business and has media relationships and savvy), hire an outside PR consultant because PR is something that too often isn't really someone's true job or is the lowest priority. Getting work may always seem more important, and indeed it is, but PR has a role in the big picture.


It just won't work if your PR person doesn't really know the business and the publications and the realities and differences of those publications... better off to keep it in-house and plug along. Remember: the work (or the article) that you are putting in front of an editor is more important than the packaging. Many editors find overdone presentations very suspicious. For projects, just get the images in front of them and let 'em sing.


CB: What is realistic to expect from a PR effort? And a return on investment (ROI) within what time frame?


AK: Patience is key. Be patient because it takes a public relations professional time to plan a campaign before it can be implemented. First, your PR pro needs to develop a deep knowledge of the firm and the media that need to be reached. Then a plan should be developed. If your firm has never done PR before, it needs a basic press kit. That takes time to write, and it involves your time to review and approve because you want it to be accurate.


Be patient because stories often take months to develop. Once a public relations professional is successful in securing a placement for your firm, it may still take months – sometimes a year or more – for the article to result. This happens for several reasons, but the most common is that many publications have long lead times – they plan their stories two to four or more months out. For example, if your company made widgets, and you wanted your latest widget to be included in a consumer magazine’s annual holiday gift guide, you’d have to start working with the magazine’s editors in June.


Be patient and don’t expect immediate results. Public relations is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Success won’t happen overnight. A campaign has to build momentum. Just as with advertising, most members of your target audience won’t remember your firm from having read a single article. But the more articles that appear, the more likely it is that your audience will remember your name and associate it with the specific type of work you do.


One way to help achieve a return on your investment is to maximize the good results. If a positive, accurate, well-written article appears, spend the money on reprints, and mail copies to your database. If the article is online, create a link to it from your web site. You can also purchase the rights to include a PDF of the article on your site.


It isn’t always easy to quantify an ROI for public relations. That’s why it’s so important to establish measurable objectives up front so that you’ll be able later on to judge whether you’re receiving value for the dollars spent. And remember, once you commit to public relations, you need to do it for the long haul if you really want to affect change in the way your firm is perceived.



Claudia Bullmore is Director of Business Development for the Phoenix office of Gould Evans, a multi-disciplinary design firm founded in 1974. She is immediate past President of the Arizona Chapter of SMPS with more than 20 years of marketing experience.


The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) was created in 1973 by a small group of professional services firm leaders who recognized the need to sharpen skills, pool resources, and work together to create business opportunities. Today, the association has 50 active chapters and a membership of 5,500 marketing and business development professionals representing design, building, and related firms. To learn more about SMPS and Build Business, the SMPS/PSMA National Conference (August 10-13, 2005), click on links.

(click on pictures to enlarge)


© 2005