Why you should look outside for marketing help – and how to do it with confidence

On a scale of 1 to 10, how comfortable and in control do you feel about your digital marketing efforts?

Does it feel like you’ve spent lots of money and time on bits and pieces of marketing, none of which are really working well? Would your strategy best be described as “a little of this, a little of that”?

Maybe part of your efforts have included boosting Facebook posts, ads on LinkedIn…. or maybe you have an email list to which you’ve sent out one or two emails, but you haven’t been consistent.

Playing darts is fun, but maybe it’s not the best way to approach your marketing.

Maybe you even hired a freelancer, an agency, or office intern only to be talked into some grand campaign that cost a lot of money but yielded little results? 

I’ve seen many businesses use someone internally because the person knows how to use social media as themselves, however, it doesn’t mean they have the skills to represent your business in a very public forum. 

The benefit of hiring an outside marketing specialist is multifaceted. With one point of contact, they are linked to your marketing strategy and goals in a way that internal staff can’t be.

(How often have you been told by your staff that they wanted to finish the marketing project you assigned but other work kept getting in the way of getting it completed?) 

An outside specialist has proven connections — giving you a very diverse field of current skills in content writing, strategy, marketing research, platform options and more.

The drawbacks of hiring an outside specialist? Time and again I’ve seen agencies take on businesses that aren’t a good fit and vice versa. An agency’s job is to grow their number of clients as much as possible, which tends to leave their loyal clients increasingly neglected.

Usually for most businesses, it makes more financial sense to contract with outside marketing assistance. So how can you help make sure you are getting maximum benefit from these relationships?

IF you are looking to hire an outside marketer:

  • Make sure you ask for work samples. You’d be surprised at how many consultants and agencies I see take on tasks that they know about in theory, but not practice. Finding out what types of clients they’ve worked with can give you insight on their industry expertise.
  • Ask about their workload. How many other clients do they have? How will they ensure your needs are being met and what are their typical response and turnaround times?
  • Make sure you have a budget for marketing, AND for ad spend. These two costs can be confusing. Think of it like a car – you make the investment in the car, but you still have to buy gas. You can buy as much or as little as gas as you want, from squeezing out $3 with your pocket change or a $47 fill-up. Good marketing efforts should translate into “more miles per gallon”.
  • Agency or freelancer(s)? The benefit of an agency is that it can be a one-stop shop. They have a wide array of people and skills that can step in to help, and if someone gets sick or goes on vacation, there will be coverage to keep things moving. Freelancers don’t have the agency overhead of offices, IT and HR departments, and snack budgets, so they can save you quite a bit of money. They get to know your business inside and out and can be more flexible. The downside is if you need multiple freelancers to do the work, that means more management and coordination on your side unless you hire a freelancer with established contacts. 

For your current relationship:

  • They’re there to serve you. Remember, you are their client – if you have a question, or are feeling neglected or uncertain about the work they’re doing, ask! They’ll have the opportunity to correct and it’ll be a valuable experience for you and them. Getting questions and issues answered eliminates worries from your ‘emotional plate’ and allows you to focus on the tasks and activities that you are better equipped to handle. Lean on them to help. No question is too small.
  • They may know more than what you’re paying them for. I spoke with a business owner with a 5-location chain of pet grooming/boarding, and he said he’d been paying an agency for specific SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work, but had a question about digital ads. He was considering hiring another outside party to handle digital ads, when I advised him to just ask his current agency if that’s something they do. Turns out, that was their main specialty!
  • Get creative! Give them creative assignments every so often. Have them come up with a new campaign, or brainstorm on a new product offering or customer segment. They know your business (and you!) inside and out, and they’re in a perfect position to come up with something that will boost your business.

Now, think back to how you rated your marketing at the beginning of this article.

What can you do tomorrow to increase that by one point?

Are You Ready to Hire a PR Firm?

by Lisa O’Neill, founder of Breakaway Public Relations

Thinking about bringing in the support of a public relations firm?

Not certain if it’s the right time, how to budget, what to expect? If so, here are words of wisdom gleaned from nearly 30 years in the industry that may help.

There is absolutely no doubt that PR at some level is a smart investment for most businesses and organizations. There are certain communications objectives that only public relations can deliver. Building credibility and influence, launching a new business or dealing with a crisis are just a few examples of where smart PR is the best, if not only, solution.

However, strategic, results-driven public relations takes time, consistent effort and, therefore, money. Before you develop your PR budget, make sure you understand 1) your communications objectives and 2) PR deliverables versus other marketing tools such as digital marketing, advertising or direct mail.

To make things somewhat confusing, the lines can get blurry between public relations, digital marketing, event and content sponsorships, and more. For example, Breakaway Public Relations often either spearheads or coordinates efforts on everything from organic and paid social media to event marketing and email campaigns. This is where the size of your budget, your internal marketing resources and communications priorities come to play.

Key indicators that your business is ready to bring in outside PR expertise:

  • You have time.
    This usually means you have a designated, in-house individual, preferably a senior-level communications pro, to manage the PR person or firm. Effective public relations requires consistency and frequency over time. Your firm or solopreneur requires regular care and feeding, and can only produce when in a transparent, collaborative environment. 

  • You’re launching or re-branding a business, service, product
    and you have the budget to promote it over the course of a year (minimum). Building buzz, even among a very specific group, requires frequent messaging. PR representatives help to develop a calendar filled with any combination of feature/trend story ideas, news announcements, bylined articles, special events, etc to keep the news pipeline filled. 

  • You have a budget.
    Although usually more affordable than paid advertising, think of the PR budget in paid advertising terms. I can’t tell you how many businesses think they can generate meaningful results from just a few thousand dollars here and there. A single press release and follow-up is not a PR plan, it’s a one-off tactic that won’t take you far. 

Most PR firms work on monthly retainers over the course of 12 months.

Some firms, especially smaller ones or independent professionals, will operate on project fees that extend anywhere from three to nine months.

Large firms can charge $15K per month and higher; mid-sized firms with mid-sized clients may hover around $8-15K per month. Fees are less at smaller firms. Note that even nonprofits should have a budget unless they have formed an in-kind sponsorship or pro-bono arrangement with a PR person or firm.  

  • Your business has a proven track record with success stories and metrics to share.
    A big chunk of public relations involves media relations. Media, and even influencers (top bloggers and social media influencers), require real news or at least newsworthy stories to tell. 

  • You understand that PR will build credibility and awareness, yet building sales is usually an indirect result.
    Your public relations firm could place a killer, full-page story in your industry trade or monthly city magazine, but that does not necessarily equal a bump in sales or donors. Or, if the placement does generate some type of income, it could be an ebb and flow. Earned media WILL increase brand awareness and your reputation, especially as these placements continue. Plus, these stories can make the sales process more fruitful if properly leveraged. 

  • You want PR for the right reasons.
    In a nutshell, don’t seek a PR firm to make you or your business a household name. As I read in an article in The Observer, “Ego-driven PR is not a strategy; it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money.” Your PR firm can drive attention and build recognition for your brand, as well as set you apart from the competition. Fame is fleeting and often earned for the wrong reasons. And if you find yourself with the wrong kind of fame – i.e., negative activity and exposure – PR is your best course of reaction via crisis communications.

  • You have patience.
    It’s a fact: public relations is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no magic formula on length of time or investment required, so find an experienced, ethical PR representative with knowledge of your industry who will be a trusted partner. Your ideal PR partner listens closely, asks a lot of questions, isn’t afraid to tell you “no” (with explanation) and considers themselves an integral part of your success. 

Breakaway PR bases their services using a very customized approach tailored to your specific needs. If a few of these indicators hit the nail on the head, and you’d like to discuss further, you can contact lisa@breakaway-pr.com or call 512-761-4567. 

Are Negative Reviews Really Negative?

This is an interview with Lisa O’Neill, Principal at Breakaway PR.

When you see a negative online review, how quickly should you jump in and respond?

It’s easy to forget that reviews are there if you don’t have it built into your regular operations checklist, every day, or maybe every week or every month. 

The best answer is to respond as quickly as possible, because you don’t know how many of your potential customers are looking at your Yelp page, at your Google My Business page, or any places where reviews may appear. 

And every day that goes by could be an unknown number of potential customers who see that review that that hasn’t been responded to. 

A piece of advice I like to give to business owners is to set a reminder in your calendar either every week or every couple of weeks to go in and check your reviews (if you don’t have alerts set for any new ones that come in).

What if this review is posted in multiple places? Do you need to hit them all at the same time or just do one?

Sometimes, when people are mad, they tend to “spray and pray”, where they will post a negative review in every channel that they can find. And some business owners may say, ‘well, I already responded to it on Facebook. Why do I need to respond elsewhere?’

But think about it, not everyone uses all those channels. They’re not looking up your business on every potential website that’s out there. They may only go to Yelp. And if they see a review that’s not responded to, even though you responded to it on Facebook, you’re missing out on that opportunity to show a potential customer how you respond and how you think.

Very true. So now how do you decide when to respond to a negative online viewer? Which negative online reviews do you want to respond to? Is there a checklist?

Some people think they have to respond to every single review. And the answer is: you don’t! Some are clearly a little biased from the reviewer or they may even be a single word. If they leave a review that just says “SUCKS!!”, there’s not really anything you can do to respond to that. And sometimes people are just venting and there’s nothing you can do to give a good response. 

But for the most part, I recommend business owners respond to every review they can, especially the negative ones, because it’s their opportunity to tell their story. Why do you as a business owner have those policies in place? Why do you train your employees to respond the way that they do? 

These are representative of your core values. Even though you’re responding to that one person directly, what you’re really doing is showing every other prospective customer what you believe in and why you run your business that way. 

These are opportunities for you to show what matters to you as a business. It’s important to respond to as many as you can. Again, unless it’s something where there’s no good response you can create from it.

So what are the key components of a good response to these folks? For some industries, and especially retail, there are a lot of freebies going on.

It’s common with big consumer companies that have a lower-margin product and lots of sales for it to be easy for them to say, ‘sorry, you had a bad experience, here’s 10% off or come in for a free meal next time you visit our restaurant’. 

But what this can do is train people to complain, because then they see they get rewarded for doing so. It’s important for a business owner to stand their ground and say ‘here’s why we did what we did. Here’s what we believe in.’ 

I would only offer a freebie or some kind of incentive if it seems like you can win them back. Someone may have said, ‘I loved the food, but the service wasn’t great.’ For that person, you may be able to ask them to come back and if they get a different server, they may have a better experience. In that case I think it’s appropriate to give a freebie, but I don’t recommend to default to giving something away every time.

How can businesses respond without sounding really defensive or angry?

That can be a problem! It’s your business – it’s your baby. When you see people being unreasonable, if they came into your business and had a bad experience and are only telling their side of the story, we get emotionally involved. 

I’ve spoken with some business owners who have a review that they know they can’t respond to, because if they start writing it, they know that they’ll sound angry or defensive or emotional. 

So what I recommend that they do is to draft their response but reminding themselves that it’s not about winning that one person back. It’s not about arguing with them over  “he said / she said”, it’s about telling your story to future customers and potential customers. 

That layer of removal tends to help the emotional part of it. My other piece of advice is to draft your response and then send to someone else to look at it, like your trusted PR firm. You can even send it to another colleague or coworker to make sure that you’re not sounding defensive because it’s very easy to do, especially when it’s your business and you really care.

If your response isn’t accepted by these unhappy people, it can drag on. How long should you continue to engage?

The answer is that not many people will accept your response. They had their negative experience and they felt strongly enough about it that they went to a website, created an account, wrote a review, and posted it. Most of the time they just want to keep arguing with you. 

The rule that I use is “one and done”. Respond to the review. State your piece. Apologize if you should. Sometimes it’s important to say, “we are sorry that you had this experience, but here’s why we responded the way that we did”, or “here’s the steps we’re taking to correct it”. 

Then if they keep responding, usually what people will do is they will change the topic. They’ll pick out another piece of the story, or they’ll bring up a new detail that they didn’t talk about before. At that point there’s almost no return, almost nothing positive that comes out of continuing to respond. I always recommend remembering “one and done” as the rule of thumb.

You answered, you were respectful.

Yep. That’s all you can do.

On Facebook and Yelp, there are ways for some of the business owners to either block users or remove negative comments. Do you recommend taking that step?

That one’s hard, right? It’s easy to want to remove it, especially if the person’s being unreasonable or it was an exception. 

Online reviews are a great opportunity for customers to tell their side of the story. 10 or 15 years ago, they didn’t have a voice. I think it’s leveled the playing field for both businesses and customers to have more of a conversation and to speak with each other.

Of course, some people abuse that by really trashing a business or going after them, but for the most part, I think it’s important that people are able to voice dissatisfaction with the business, so I like leaving them up. 

It’s important to show that maybe your business isn’t for everyone, or you have specific policies that people may not agree with. 

The only time I recommend removing a review is if they’re posting multiple times, over and over again, or inviting their friends who weren’t involved to pile on and add additional reviews. 

But think about this, too: if you’re looking at a business and evaluating if you want to go there and do business with them, and there’s nothing but positive reviews. 

It really triggers something in our brains where we think this isn’t as legitimate as I thought, or that they’re hiding the negative reviews. Having one or two negative reviews on your profiles can actually help because it seems more legitimate and more real. 

It again also allows your business to explain to prospective customers why you have policies in place and how you do business, and why. 

That makes sense. Because as a user, I would be wary of total positive reviews across the board.

Yep. Having all five stars just twinges a bit in your head.