Monday, June 7, 2010

The Value of Partnerships

So much to catch up on and so little time.  I'm flying out to Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with a client and hopefully drum up a few others while I'm out there.  I was in New Mexico last week, a quick note, if you've never been to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, take a few days and check them out.  Wonderful, friendly, open and packed with history and art.  You won't be disappointed.

What We've Missed:

There's the BP disaster that continues to unfold and their continuous PR gaffes.  But I think I'll save that one for when I get back.  I was asked recently what I would do if I were in charge of BP's public relations efforts in the face of this fiasco.  I had to think about it for a second.  Mostly because the moves that BP have made have been mostly textbook.  TRY to get out in front of the story (although this is difficult with this situation).  Write Op-Eds, make TV and radio appearances, reach out to the community through social media and public appearances.  It's hard to argue with that strategy, unless, of course, the story simply won't go away and every effort you have made to end the disaster has failed so far. 

I think the biggest thing I would do different is to find a different spokesperson.  BP's Exec. Tony Hayward has been nothing short of a second natural disaster, in my opinion, in his handling of the spill.  I'll have more on this in future posts, but truly, he has been totally ineffective.  And I understand why BP would put him out there.  He is the Boss, and people want to hear from the boss in times like these.  It would be like a U.S. President trotting out his Undersecretary of Interior Affairs in the middle of a national crisis.  You just don't do that.  The boss has to be seen and heard.  But what do you do when the appearance of "The Boss" actually makes things worse?  I have a few thoughts, but they'll have to wait until I get back from Los Angeles.

There's the ever-present iPad explosion and how it could change the future of media.  Hyperbole?  Maybe, but Advertising Age doesn't think so.  I'll post a link to a fascinating article about that early next week.

What's Coming Up:

I'll also be delving into some politics upon my return.  I have an interview lined up with Adam Schrager, a political reporter and author who wrote the book, "The Bluepring" about how the Democrats used an effective PR and message strategy to change the political landscape and how they're adapting to the upcoming elections.  By the way, you can find the book at most bookstores.  If you like politics and love learning about the inside world of politicos, you'll love this book.  You can read a review of the book from the Wall Street Journal here.

I'm also working on getting an interview with Andrew Hudson, PR Guru, and currently the head of one of the largest free online jobs services.  He'll give his take on the upcoming elections, particularly the Governor's race, since he was the spokesperson for one of Denver's most colorful and arguabley most successful mayor's, Wellington Webb.  It will be fascinating to hear his opinion on the impact social media will have in the upcoming races.

Soooo, there's a lot on the plate and I'm excited, I hope you are as well.  But for today, I want to talk about partnerships.  I've written about this before briefly, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion among small businesses and non-profits when it comes to developing partnerships, media or otherwise.

Your Media Friend:

Regardless of whether you're a small business or non-profit, a media partnership should be part of your overall PR plan, period.  Yes, I hear you, "But Chris, you make it sound so easy, it's not."  You're right, it's not easy.  You don't just walk into a media outlet and demand to be partners.  It takes some time, some research, timing, a little luck and perseverance.  But it can be done.

The biggest part of cementing a media partnership is knowing your value.  I'm not talking monetary value here.  The value I'm focusing on is of a different kind, it's audience value. 

You know your organization has value.  You have a customer base, you have loyal followers and customers.  You hopefully have established a name for yourself, or are at least working on it.  These people, these friends and followers and customers are your cache, so to speak, when attempting to partner with a media organization.

One of the first things a media outlet is going to do is look at compatibility and what you bring to the table in terms of value, i.e. potential audience, to their station or publication.  If you are a VERY small business, then your potential audience might be limited, but even then, you can offer a media outlet a link to an audience that they might be weak in. 

Before you can even consider approaching a media outlet, you have to do some research.  

1.  Take an honest look at your customer demographics and size.  Where do they come from, how much do they make, what do they do with their free time, where do they get their information or entertainment from?  It's a good idea to take a poll of your customers.  Get as much information on them as possible, you'll want this information later when you approach an outlet.

2.  Look for the unique elements in your customer base.  What sets them apart from your competition?

3.  Look at your own organization and pinpoint the characteristics that set you apart from your competition.  This should be easier since you have probably established yourself as something unique in your field.

4.  Study the local media.  Find which outlets cater to your specific customer base the best and begin focusing on them as potential partners.

5.  Decide what kind of events you would like to participate in.  

6.  Look at the kind of events the media outlets you targeted participate in.  Is there any crossover?  Is there focus something that would appeal to your customer base?

7.  Attempt to get the "numbers" of these particular outlets.  This can be tricky, but it can be done.  Local entertainment beat writers get the most recent ratings and demographic information for the local media outlets.  You can contact the station itself or try one of the beat writers.  You can also pay for this information, but it can be expensive.

8.  Once you get the numbers (ratings, household viewers, demographic breakdown) see if there is a weakness to exploit.  Is one station suffering from a lack of younger viewers or readers?  Older viewers or readers?  Is there an outlet that is weak in the area that pertains to your customer base?

Once you've gathered and processed all of this information, start looking at compatibility.  For instance, if you run a Western clothing store, it makes no sense for you to try and partner with a hip-hop station.  But perhaps a Spanish-speaking station might work, or, obviously, a country station, but perhaps also an oldie's station. 

Find a publication that fits best with your type of service, customer base or product.  You'll have much more success in brokering a partnership.  When it comes to your local TV stations or major newspaper, the compatibility issue isn't as big of a deal.  They cater to a wide audience, so your chances are better when it comes to compatibility, but worse overall because the competition is steeper.

The next thing you have to do is put together a plan.  You can't just ask to be partners without knowing what you want to get out of the deal and knowing what you can offer the potential partner.  Let's say, for instance, you have a small boutique that caters to pregnant women.  You could come to them and offer to partner with the outlet by providing advice, tips and information about pregnancies, maternity clothes and health subjects.  You could push for a weekly segment, either live or pre-packaged (although types of partnerships are generally pay for play) or you could ask to be linked to their website. 

You could also look for particular events they participate in and ask to be partnered with them for that single event.  However, again, these types of deals are often pay for play and involve sponsorships.  A better way to go about it is to create an event yourself and then ask them to be a media partner in the event. 

This often works better for a number of reasons. 
1.  The outlet doesn't have to spend any money on the event.
2.  The outlet gets exposure at the event.
3.  The outlet doesn't have to conider long term partnership agreements; it's usually a one and done.
Obviously, the station gets value because they can plaster their logo and name all over your event and even have representatives at the event to promote their outlet.  They get this exposure with a minimum of effort and time and money invested. 

You, on the other hand, get the exposure that comes with being mentioned and maybe even featured on a local TV news broadcast, radio station or newspaper.  It's a win-win situation.  It's a no-brainer, right?  Well, it seems that way, but it doesn't always work that way. 

Two examples:

When I was with the PRAS Group, we had two clients that we attempted to set up with media partnerships, one worked, the other one, fell by the wayside.  In retrospect, the one that fell by the wayside, was actually the one that would have been a better media partner.

We were working with a client who ran a website for premature births.  NICU101 was, and is, an excellent website.  Owned and operated by a doctor who had given birth to two preemies, the site offered a ton of great information for families with preemies and offered a great networking experience. 

We attempted to partner her with the big local news station, KUSA.  The station was intrigued, but they had questions.  Legitimate questions.  The big thing, however, was that they had already partnered with a website that catered to mothers.  Not specifically mothers of preemies, but mothers and families in general. 

They also questioned the newness of the site.  Stations have to be wary of businesses that are too brand new.  They like to see some stability and proof that they won't just close up shop one day, leaving them hanging and having to fill space and looking embarrassed. 

The other problem was that the site wasn't ready, at the time, to go into a media partnership.  It needed to grow a little, build its audience, establish a name and evolve into a multi-media site.  It was about six months away from really being a quality partner that would have added value to the stations' product.

We might have been able to pursue a partnership with another TV or radio station, or even the local papers, but even then, it just wasn't ready to give the outlets full value.  Remember, you get one shot at this and if you agree to a partnership and don't deliver, you will hurt your chances in the future of getting another partnership.

You can overcome these obstacles, but it's not easy.  When I was working on the Colorado Colfax Marathon we were lucky that the organizers had spent a year preparing and had partnered with KUSA, The POST, KOA and The Rocky Mountain News.  They hit all the major outlets in town.  They were able to do this because, first, they were a non-profit with some heavy hitters on their board, and second, they spent time getting ready. 

Even with these partnerships in place, we couldn't demand that they run stories on the brand new marathon.  We had to wait until they were ready to talk about us.  We were kind of on their schedule.  All of the outlets were busy covering the Olympics in Utah, and we didn't get the kind of exposure we wantd until about three weeks before the event.  Frustrating, yes.  But the increased exposure allowed the marathon to far surpass their first year participation goals and the entire event was a screaming success.  The point is, even though it was a brand new event, the marathon took time to prepare so they were ready to add real value to the outlets.

Example #2:

The second client was Big Box.  They really wanted to be part of the Denver Bronco broadcasts on KOA.  We talked to KOA about partnerships, but, as expected, they were already full of partners.  Plus, most of the agreements they had involved the client paying money to be involved, something the client couldn't afford to do.

So we changed our strategy and went with another local radio station that was very popular, had some connection to the Broncos, and could use a potential partner.  We went to KOOL, the oldie's station and proposed a plan that involved the client and the station in a joint venture.  It was essentially a giant tailgating party with games using the boxes provided by the client, meat and barbecuing provided by a local butcher shop and the station would broadcast from outside the games. 

It was a three-way deal that worked out great for the meat shop, and for KOOL.  However, the client got lost in the deal, and while it did attract some attention, it wasn't as successful as it could have been.

This was for two reasons.  
1.  The client gave up too much control to the station and the other partner, the meat shop.  
2.  Because of this, the client was stuffed into a small location which was too crowded to really allow for any meaningful interaction.
3.  The station wasn't able to do any live broadcasts during the pre-game, meaning fewer mentions on air for the client.
As big of a disappointment the Bronco partnership was, KOOL and the client DID manage to hit a home run during the holidays as part of the station's annual toy drive.  Big Box supplied the boxes to collect the toys in and in turn they recieved numerous mentions on air both before and during the drive.  The on-air mentions ended up equalling over $100,000 in free advertising for the client, which is nothing to sneeze at.  This was an example of a partnership that added value to the media outlet and to the business at the same time. 

I still believe the tailgating idea would have worked had the cilent not given up so much control in the intial phases. 

Keep in mind that, while you want a media partnership, you still have to get something out of it.  If you're not getting everything out of it that you think you should, then don't hesitate to make adjustments or talk to the outlet to make sure you're getting value as well.

Media partnerships can help you grow quickly by establishing your name and growing your brand.  But in order for them to work, you have to bring value to the table and you have to make sure you get value out of it as well.  If it's done right, you will recieve free advertising and the outlet will receive value through your product, service or exposure to new audiences.

Yes, it takes work, but the payoff could be enormous!

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