Why Should I Hire a Public Relations Firm?

Why should you hire a PR firm? (Hint: You're not Sly Stalone.)

A couple of years ago, American Greetings issued a web video that went viral. A fake advertisement was placed for a position that required 24/7 commitment to “the associate,” able to do a lot of heavy lifting and bending, a degree in medicine and finance, as well as an ability to cook, clean, and drive a car. Of course, the position, already held by billions of people, was “a Mom.”

We wouldn’t presume to compare ourselves with your saintly mother—so instead think of us as your Uncle Jack-of-all-trades. The services offered by many public relations firms, including The Knight Canney Group, encompass everything from crisis management to corporate image building to executive thought leadership. Not to mention the staples of media and public relations.

Smart leaders are smart enough to know what they don’t know and that there should be someone around who does know.  For instance, do you know—

  • How to navigate or how to mitigate a public relations crisis?
  • How to get media coverage for your corporate excellence?
  • How to reach a government official with your problem?
  • How to be viewed as a leader in your area of expertise?
  • How to persuade people to vote for your issue, to pay attention to your product, or believe in your cause?

If you don’t, it’s okay—as long as you understand their importance and the value of bringing in someone who does.

If you badly cut yourself, you wouldn’t sew your own stiches, would you? (Unless you’re Sly Stalone). Sometimes, you need to bring in a consultant to stop the figurative bleeding as well.

An unexpected crisis can do irreparable damage to your image. Thoughtful, careful, and expedient management of a crisis can keep you from losing years of hard work to a momentary change in circumstances.  Would you know what to do in the realm of crisis management?

Establishing a network of media contacts takes time and effort. Do you know how a public relations campaign could amplify your story beyond paid advertising?

Businesses, non-profits, organizations, and individuals can all benefit from professional public relations consultants.  Let us let you focus on doing what you do best.

Communicating the Value of Thanksgiving

Communicating the value of Thanksgiving: That was easy.

We had a business breakfast this morning in a local diner, which is known for good, homemade food. A regular item on the menu at The Miss Portland Diner is the house roasted turkey sandwich. Yes, they roast their own turkey, whip their own Maine potatoes, and make their own stuffing, so you know that they’d make a heavenly Thanksgiving dinner.

But the signs posted around the restaurant this morning reminded patrons that Miss Portland regrets she’s unable to lunch on Thursday. The owners want their employees to be with their own families on Thanksgiving, and they said so.

Good for them.

While many people are just as happy to go out to dinner or go shopping and skip the potential tension that comes with a family holiday meal, many more would rather stay home than wait on strangers on Thanksgiving.

There is value in Thanksgiving. What kind of value depends on who you’re talking to.

The reality is that retailers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers look to the holiday shopping season as a make or break moment. Holiday sales, which for better or worse, begin in earnest at Thanksgiving, can amount to between 20 and 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales. The history of holiday shopping and the evolution of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday shows the ever-greater focus on commerce and profits.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against profits. But do we really need Staples to be open on Thanksgiving? No, we do not. And after a couple of years of chasing the extra money thought to be made on Thanksgiving, Staples has decided this year, it will be closed. The expected sales generally did not materialize, so this year, Staples decided employees will be home. That was easy.

It’s not easy, however, for every retailer to hew to the moral value of Thanksgiving. If all your competitors are open, do you forfeit a piece of that pie? Some do, some can’t afford to, and some don’t want to. (Retailer REI has taken Thanksgiving closure a step further by shunning Black Friday.

The Knight Canney Group is based in Maine, where our so-called “blue laws” keep large retailers shuttered on certain holidays. But smaller stores have a decision to make.

Decisions also are in the hands of consumers. Some shoppers will actively avoid stores that make their employees work on Thanksgiving, and support those who don’t.

Want to communicate your own value of Thanksgiving? Here’s a list of national retailers who will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.


The Actors Fund Bombshell Backfires

The Actors Fund

The PR bonanza named Bombshell has been showering The Actors Fund in glorious news coverage and giddy Tweets since last December when it was announced that The Actors Fund would stage a major fundraiser: a one-night-only concert staging of Bombshell, the make-believe musical about Marilyn Monroe, that was the center of the NBC musical drama, SMASH.

The Actors Fund is a 133-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to providing human services to all entertainment professionals in all disciplines across the country. The Fund provides emergency grants for everything from food to medical bills and also supports nursing and retirement homes.

It’s a worthy organization. More artists and technicians in the entertainment industry live paycheck-to-paycheck than from poolside-to-penthouse.

Since the announcement, thousands of Broadway theater enthusiasts (myself included), looked forward to the chance to buy tickets. Prices ranged from $120 to $1,000. (Needless to say, most of us were planning to bring opera glasses.)

To cover the production costs, The Actors Fund launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $50,000. Kicking in gave donors a leg up on ticket sales. Make a donation and you got a pre-sale code that allowed you to buy two tickets a day ahead of the general public.

Eager to get an edge, 1,485 people (myself included) donated. The campaign raised $318,120.

At 11 a.m. on April 13, pre-sale codes in hand, we clicked on “Buy Tickets”, typed in our codes, and many of us were told, “Your presale code is invalid.”  At 11:04, I was locked out of the site completely. At 11:06 I sent an email to The Actors Fund explaining my code was apparently invalid.

Turns out the codes for many people were “invalid.”

Twitter came alive with tweeters (myself included) crying foul. Some even using the other “F” word: fraud.

The show sold out in an hour. The raging tweets continued for hours, with never a peep out of The Actors Fund, Ticketmaster, or Kickstarter.

At 8:44 p.m. I got a reply from The Actors Fund to my email:

We apologize for any inconvenience. There were issues with the Ticketmaster site due to the overwhelming response. Again, with thanks for your support and with our apologies. 

At 10:57 p.m., they Tweeted that I should see their “refund offer to generous Kickstarters.”

What’s interesting—and mind boggling—about the offer to refund the Kickstarter donations is that it never mentions the invalid pre-sale codes. It was a non-apology. It was a non-acknowledgement of screwing up.

As I explained to the gentleman from The Actors Fund who apologized for “any inconvenience,” people don’t feel inconvenienced. They feel played.

From the moment this event was announced, we all knew there would be a finite number of tickets for an infinite number of buyers. We all knew the show would sell out quickly. That’s part of the fun of the game.

What The Actors Fund should have known from the moment it received $318,120 in pledges ($200,000 of it reportedly in the first 18 hours), is that Ticketmaster would be hit hard at 11 a.m. on the 13th.  The Fund should have gone to Ticketmaster and said, “We’re expecting at least 1,500 people at exactly 11 a.m. Can you handle this?”

Ticketmaster has sold far more tickets to far larger venues than the 1,621-seat Minskoff Theatre. Ticketmaster is the culprit for the technical breakdown, but The Actors Fund owns the bad PR. A few no-brainer rules were broken here:

  • Don’t sit silent for hours while your brand is in crisis.
  • Don’t pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening.
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Don’t offer an apology that doesn’t acknowledge your mistake.

I did not request a refund of my small donation, but many did. The comments on The Actors Fund Kickstarter page are overwhelmingly negative. Phrases like “deeply disappointed,” “terrible job,” and “formal complaint” certainly are not what they wanted for a one-of-a-kind event meant to support a worthy charity.

In truth, the mainstream media coverage of the sold-out show is fine. It glosses over the faulty pre-sale codes and focuses on the good news, perhaps as it should. But PR is more than media coverage. It’s Public Relations. And The Actors Fund has lost not only donations but also a degree of credibility with many in their natural donor base, the theater-going public.