Selecting the Right PR and Marketing Agency: Is Bigger Better?

Selecting the Right PR and Marketing Agency: Is Bigger Better?

When it comes to finding the right PR and marketing agency, is bigger better?

It depends who you ask.

Early in my career as an agency leader, I was surprised that it was Amendola’s largest Fortune 500 clients who most clearly understood and could articulate the benefits of working with a smaller, boutique agency. As time passed and a few comparatively smaller clients switched to a bigger agency (often in response to reaching a major growth milestone) and subsequently came back, I realized that the larger, more well-established companies simply had the benefit of experience. They’d previously worked with one or more large corporate agencies, and already understood the advantages and drawbacks.

So why do many of the world’s largest, most successful healthcare and technology companies prefer to work with smaller, highly specialized agencies? It’s a fair question, and the answer can help healthcare/healthcare IT companies of every size find their ideal agency fit.

Depth of understanding is even more key in a complex industry

Many of Amendola’s largest clients voice frustration with the inconsistent levels expertise at big agencies, especially those that don’t focus exclusively on healthcare and healthcare IT.

As one Fortune 500 client said in our initial conversation, “We don’t feel like we’re getting any value from [large corporate agency]. They understand tech in general, but don’t really have a clue about healthcare IT. And they don’t seem to have any of the media relationships we need.”

Another prospective client put it more wryly: “We spend half our time explaining value-based care, and the other half reminding them to stop talking about it like it’s brand new.”

To be fair to larger agencies and the hardworking folks who make them hum, it’s all but impossible for anyone to be an expert on multiple complex industries. Especially if one of them is healthcare. In fact, that’s why Amendola serves only healthcare and healthcare IT clients, and has since the outset. There’s always something new to learn in healthcare, and always something on or just over the horizon that will impact the industry in unexpected ways. If you don’t eat, sleep, and breathe it, how could you possibly keep up?

Still, I can understand these clients’ frustration. If an agency needs constant coaching on what’s happening in healthcare, the best case is that the relationship becomes more time-consuming for the client.

The more realistic case? Missed opportunities, muddled messaging, and even missteps in the market.

It’s harder for large and multi-industry agencies to develop strong healthcare/healthcare IT media relationships

Clients also often mention that a larger agency they worked with was unable to secure high-quality (or even very many) media opportunities. I’m never surprised to hear it. After all, any junior PR professional can pitch journalists all day every day every…but how effective can they be if they don’t really understand the story they’re pitching?

Yet inconsistent expertise isn’t the only contributing factor. The fact is, large agencies have several things working against them when it comes to healthcare/healthcare IT media relations.

Imagine you’re a healthcare reporter. You’ve just been assigned a 1,200-word article about how healthcare organizations are screening for unmet social needs and addressing SDoH, especially within their high-risk/high-cost patient populations. Your editor would like to see you include perspectives from at least three different organizations. Either vendors or providers, but at least one of each. Oh, and it’s due tomorrow. End of day today would be better.

Now ask yourself who you’d reach out to:

  • The comparatively junior contact you have at a big corporate agency—you know, the one who keeps pitching you out of the blue about the same one or two clients.
  • The comparatively senior contact you have at a smaller, healthcare-specific PR agency—you know, the one with a diverse client portfolio who can probably be your one-stop shop for all three of the interviews you need to conduct.

Actually, any chance you could turn the article around sooner? It’d be great to get it out on social ASAP.

The hotter the topic and the busier the news cycle, the higher the demands on journalists’ time and attention. During the weeks preceding HIMSS, it’s not uncommon for a healthcare reporter at a top-tier publication to receive well over 200 pitches a day. From a purely practical standpoint, the only way they can wade through the noise is to focus on their most reliable agency contacts (who, by the way, have been regularly pitching and checking in on HIMSS opportunities for months, not weeks).

How much of a difference do strong media relationships make? Consider the Fortune 500 client I mentioned earlier.

In our first month working together, we secured more media opportunities for them than their most recent large corporate agency had secured over the course of three years.

Now, did our agency-wide expertise in healthcare and healthcare IT enable us to craft higher quality, more sophisticated pitches and thought-leadership content? Absolutely. Did we also do a better job targeting the right reporter/editor/publication with the right pitch at the right time? You bet your bylines.

But the wealth of opportunities we had to choose from were partly a function of a fundamental truth about healthcare/healthcare IT PR. As a boutique agency exclusively serving healthcare and healthcare IT clients, we hear about opportunities that larger and less focused agencies don’t—because healthcare journalists’ lives are already hard enough.

Another key difference: Who’s *really* doing the writing?

The complaint I hear most frequently from prospective clients is the amount of time they spend rewriting the content their current agency produces. The shared sentiment is, “in the time we spend rewriting everything, we could have just drafted it ourselves.” And that isn’t just an idle thought for many companies—when I spoke with a large publicly traded company last week, they explained they use their current agency for media pitching only, having brought all content creation back in-house after years of constant rewriting.

Obviously, any agency of any size can hire bad writers. And, at least conceivably, any agency with the resources to do so can hire good writers.

So where’s the breakdown?

First (and this is the last time I’ll mention it), lack of expertise plays a role. If the writers assigned to the account aren’t strong on healthcare/healthcare IT, there’s no covering it up. Especially if they’re writing based on input from deeply knowledgeable subject matter experts.

Second, depending on the agency, even a reasonably large healthcare or healthcare IT company might be comparatively low-priority when it comes to resource allocation. The bigger and less healthcare-focused the pond, the more likely that other accounts or client-types will be seen as the truly big fish. And the big fish gets the worm, which in this modified idiom represent the more senior writers.

It sure would be nice if there was a just a checklist of what to look for in an agency

Wouldn’t it? I’ve always thought so. So here are consolidated insider tips and key questions you can use to streamline your search for the perfect agency.

Expertise – Do they know your space? Do they understand the lingo? Have industry connections? Will they have senior level executives on the account, or will you be delegated to a junior team? Check references and make sure the agency is everything they actually say they are. If you’re making your decision partly based on writing samples, make sure you see the samples of the writers you’ll actually be working with.

Range of Services – Do you need a PR firm only, or are you looking for an integrated marketing communications firm that can handle all of your marketing needs? If the agency only handles one service line, do they have partner agencies for other areas?

Team – Make sure you ask to meet your team. Very often with a big agency, the high-level execs you met at the presentation aren’t the team who will be working on your account. That’s unfortunate, because experience and compatibility matter.

Ideally, at least one of the people who would be on your team will also be at the initial presentation. If they are, chat them up. Are they someone you would enjoy working with on a regular basis? Remember—this is going to be a close relationship, so comfort and rapport are key!

Budget/terms/scope of work – Be sure to compare apples to apples when assessing services and quantities/deliverables. Are you going to engage in an annual retainer program or project work? Will you be billed by the hour or by scope of deliverables? Based on my experience, the latter will get you more value. Teams won’t be clocking out the second your hours for the month are used up; instead, they’ll work tirelessly to successfully execute your campaigns with no limit to the time they put in. And don’t get caught in the trap of assuming a higher retainer equals better service, especially if you aren’t going to be one of the agency’s largest accounts or if they don’t specialize in healthcare or healthcare IT.

The fit matters

Once you’ve narrowed the field of potential agency partners to a fully vetted top five, you can reasonably assume that any of them are capable of handling the nuts and bolts of PR and marketing. That’s why I recommend focusing on the fit to help you make your final decision. Does it feel right? Is this the company and are these the people that you want to serve as an extension of your own team? And where do you fit in their agency world—or to put it another way, what’s the pond look like?

Ultimately, every organization has to decide what’s right for them based on a host of factors. Understanding how agencies differ beyond the simple metric of size will help ensure the strengths of the PR and marketing agency you do select align with the work you want them to do and the results you want them to deliver. In some cases, a bigger agency can be better—but as many of the largest healthcare and healthcare IT companies already know, it isn’t always best.

Going from Serviceable Company Spokesperson to Media Rock Star

Video: Going from Serviceable Company Spokesperson to Media Rock Star

At one point or another we’ve all sat and marveled at an amazing company spokesperson. You know the type. They get on-camera, or go behind a microphone, and they just look or sound comfortable.

For some, it is without question a natural ability. Surprisingly, however, for many others it’s actually an acquired skill, learned through many hours of practice. After all, do you really think Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos started out as cool, calm and credible company spokespeople?

Anyone who knew them before they were famous can tell you that wasn’t the case. They had to get past their natural tendencies in order to help promote their companies and ensure their visions for the organization were fulfilled.

The same is true for many other corporate executives. They made a conscious effort to learn the skills and techniques to be able to deliver their corporate messages in a way that encouraged others to listen.

In this video, Amendola Communications Media Relations Director Joy DiNaro shares some thoughts on what it takes to be a great company spokesperson/media interview – and how even inexperienced executives can acquire the necessary skills.

Trade SHows and Events: Four Ways to Improve Your ROI

Trade Shows and Events: Four Ways to Improve Your ROI

Whether you personally believe trade shows are the land of opportunity or merely a relic of a bygone era where primitive being skulked through the aisles without the benefit of a smartphone, there is no question that they are still a fact of life for many of us. In fact, some (such as, oh, I dunno, HIMSS?) are not merely a minor blip on our radars but a huge disruptor to the otherwise semi-orderly flow of our lives.

Trade shows can be a time-sink as well as a budget-sink, so if you’re going to make that type of investment, it’s critically important that you be sure the organization gets something out of it. Something more than “exposure” and free leftover pens, tote bags and the kind of hard candy your grandmother gives you when you come to visit, and that you only eat when there is absolutely no other choice. Love you, grandma!

Toward that end (getting something out of your trade show investment, not getting hard candy), Amendola Communications CEO Jodi Amendola has written a blog post in her role as a member of the Forbes Agency Council. “Trade Show ROI: Four Ways to Make the Most Out of Industry Events” offers some great suggestions for ensuring marketers get a pat on the back rather than a kick in the backside for the results of their organization’s trade show efforts. The four tips include:

  • Ensuring you have a well-honed elevator pitch that carefully walks the line between proper and over-the-top self-promotion
  • Making Twitter your go-to social media platform for engaging other attendees
  • Hosting a reception for clients and prospects
  • Being sure you do something with all those leads you capture

Obviously there’s more to it than just those four bullet points, so it’s well worth giving the post a full read. You can do that here:

Whatever your personal feelings about trade shows, however, they still loom large in many industries – especially healthcare. So if you’re going to do it, do it right.

Take the time to prepare properly, and then maximize your time on the floor – whether you’re in front of the counter or behind it. It will pay off in the end.

The Science of Marketing and Public Relations

The Science of Marketing and Public Relations

You got approval for a $3 Million marketing budget from the C-suite.

While that may sound small to some and exorbitant to others – the one guarantee is the marketing team will be required to “prove their value” after the money is spent.

Unlike some other departments who can say we bought 100 widgets at $1 instead of $2 – saving the company $100 – as marketing has grown more complex over the years, it has also become more difficult to show the return on investment at the end of the day.

But, we all know that saying “it’s difficult to measure” or even worse “we don’t know what value we got from that byline or advertisement” is not an acceptable response to leadership. The C-Suite, rightly so, wants to understand what they are getting for their money. Likewise, we wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars on a car without expecting it to work every day and last for several years. We want to know we got our money’s worth.

Marketers and public relations experts must learn the data and science of the profession. So, how do you measure a byline, a press release, an email campaign, social media, or an advertisement?

Step 1: Know the goals

Do not skip this step! Before embarking on an extensive marketing strategy that the team spent weeks putting together, know your company goals. What are leadership’s short-term and long-term plans? Is it a start-up needing more brand recognition or is it in a growth-stage needing quality lead generation?

Understanding where the company is today and where leadership is heading will help drive your marketing strategy. Share your marketing plans with the leadership team to get buy-in and agree upfront on the metrics that you plan to measure.

Step 2: Set the metrics and know the terminology

Now that you know the goals, it’s time to set your success metrics. How will you know if your plan is successful? Depending upon your strategy, you will use varying measures for different tactics. Below is a subset to consider.

  • Share of Voice (SOV): Measure the percentage of coverage and mentions of your brand in the media compared to your competitors.
  • Coverage: Track the number of times your brand is mentioned in the media along with where it is mentioned.
  • Website traffic: Google Analytics is a very useful tool to monitor unique page views, bounce rates, conversion rates, average session duration, and referral sites.
  • Domain authority: A term coined by Moz – your domain authority ranking will compare your overall website, including SEO and keyword rankings, to give you a number 1-100. The higher the number the great authority your site holds within your industry.
  • Social Media: Track beginning and ending metrics including followers, likes and shares. Determine which content and messaging provides the greatest engagement with your audience.
  • Impressions and click-thru rates: With advertisements you will want to view not only the number of people that saw your ad but more importantly, how many clicked on your ad.
  • Conversion ratios: The percentage or ratio of people that clicked on an email, ad, or social content, etc. that then completed a call-to-action. This includes downloading content, completing a form for a demo, and even registering for a webinar.
  • Open rates and click-thru rates: When delivering emails or drip campaigns, you can monitor their success based upon the number of people that opened the email and the number of people that then clicked on a link within the email.
  • Cost-per-lead (CPL): To many in leadership, if you start speaking in terms of CPL – you’ll be speaking their language. Calculating the costs of your activity divided by the number of leads you gained will give you the CPL.
  • Marketing qualified lead (MQL): While this one is probably one of the most important, the definition often varies from company to company. Typically, this is a lead that has a business need, understands what you offer, and has an interest in buying your product or service.

The metrics you choose should align appropriately with the tactics you will produce and the goals of your company. Putting these in place upfront will help avoid confusion at the end of the year.

Step 3: Make sure you have the right tools

While many marketers did not get into marketing to become data analysts, the move toward digital marketing requires a successful marketer to understand and use data wisely. Fortunately, many companies have developed tools to help analyze marketing results and prove value. There are many free or relatively inexpensive tools you can use to monitor your metrics.

Most marketers will start with free tools, and depending on the complexity of their business may purchase additional tools. Due to the overwhelming number of tools on the market, make sure you understand exactly what you are getting and any feature restrictions or limitations. In addition, make sure you use all the benefits of your marketing tools. Often you may purchase an email marketing tool without realizing you can also create landing pages, deliver social strategies and even host your webpages.

The key is not to get overwhelmed. Know what you need to measure and select the tools that are right for you.