Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

Posts Tagged ‘public relations’

Castle adds partners, capabilities in India and Russia

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 20, 2010

Castle’s global PR network, PRGN, recently appointed two new member agencies. Joining the ranks of PRGN are Perfect Relations in India, and CROS Public Relations and Public Affairs in Moscow.

For clients with global needs, our network is more informed and “plugged in” than just about any other communications group. With local knowledge and histories of success, PRGN has grown significantly over the last few years.

Let us know if you’d like to learn more.


Posted in Castle News, PR | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Social media, Project Runway and the right accessories

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 2, 2010

Sandy Lish, Castle co-founder, recently attended a meeting with our international PR partners. Read more below.



Last month, I met with the principals in our international PR alliance, the Public Relations Global Network, four days with our counterparts from around the country and around the world—from as far away as Australia, South Africa and India. As you might imagine, there was a lot of discussion about social media. While nearly every client of every firm has some level of social media engagement or interest, the dozens of member firms unilaterally see social media as a means to an end…not the end.

It’s difficult sometimes to convey that when folks are all abuzz about the latest Facebook app, but let’s travel back to the days when websites were new. (This is about the 10th time in two weeks I have used a cultural reference and massively dated myself, but what the heck….) Companies were building websites and some new websites were, for a while, actually news.  You could announce that “XYZ Company Today Launched its First Website.”  Then everyone realized…if you build it, they may come, but only for a little while. Some websites were cool but not driving business. Others were just the opposite. You had to commit to an overall marketing communications strategy, and then consider a splashy new website (for a fun look at companies’ older-model websites, check out the Way Back Machine) as a tool to apply to that strategy.

It’s the same thing with social media. Building a fan page or setting up a Twitter account is not enough. You can’t just sit back and wait for the customers to find you. The traditional marketing rules apply—you have to reach your audience in a number of ways, creatively, consistently and memorably. Social media is a great way to do that, but it is a strategic element, not the strategy itself. Like “professional media” (my colleague in Sweden tells me this is the term preferred over “traditional media,” which I quite like!), speaking and conference strategies, relationship marketing, events and the many other communications avenues, social media must always map back to the business goals.

On “Project Runway,” Tim Gunn tells the fashion designers to “Use the Bluefly accessory wall wisely” to perfectly showcase their garments. It’s not a mad dash to combine any pair of shoes or purse with any outfit…it’s about being thoughtful and strategic, and keeping an eye on the big picture. I like “Project Runway” (and my 8-year-old daughter does a fabulous Michael Kors impression), so I’ll attempt to apply the fashion analogy to social media. If you’re trying to sell a dress, make sure your tools—color choice, model’s makeup and hair, accessories—complement that dress. If you’re trying to market your product or service, make sure that your chosen social media tools, like your other communications tools, support your message and your strategy.

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The evolution of public relations

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 19, 2010

What’s different about PR today?

  • Fewer media outlets, fewer beat writers, fewer trades publications
  • Transition of “traditional” media to online media with varying degrees of success
  • Bloggers are media, though influence among individual bloggers varies
    • Aggregating blogger communities (e.g. Mom bloggers or elder bloggers) helps amplify a message to specific communities

 What’s the same?

  • Traditional media outlets remain the path the most exposure
  • Editorials, speaking, awards still remain viable publicity options
  • Smart experts, strong news hooks, great images still support and enhance story angles/pitches

 What else?

  • Search favorability is a critical factor to any content
  • Spectrum of social media tools and services must be factored into any news announcements or publicity efforts
  • Content dissemination tools and services (Publish Relations?) help spread news, stories and ideas without the need for traditional media involvement

What else do you see in this transition in the PR industry?

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Independence day

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 13, 2009

For the first time, we submitted to O’Dwyer’s ranking of independent PR firms. We made the top 100, which seems pretty good. At a minimum, this gives us a good benchmark for future growth against our peers (or competitors).

I took this from the O’Dwyer news brief on the rankings:

“The 157 firms ranked by O’Dwyer had a total of $1,689,996,342 in fees, a 30% gain from the total of $1,299,877,004 reported by 190 independents in 2007.”

This 30% growth number shows the faith companies of all sizes put in independent firms. We have the agility, flexibility and pricing to deliver the best results in the PR community. Technology, coupled with smarts, makes independent firms as formidable as any global conglomerate now.

Our partners in the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) espouse our belief that independent firms provide the most value and best results. Give us a try and find out for yourself.

(Updated May 27, 2009) O’Dwyer’s has segmented where each ranked agency sits with regard to specific industry categories. According to the rankings, The Castle Group is:

  • 27th largest travel, tourism & hospitality firm
  • 34th largest professional services firm
  • 39th largest food & beverage firm
  • 41st largest financial services firm
  • 56th largest healthcare firm 

Additionally, we are the 8th largest Massachusetts firm.

Our partners PRGN also fared well in the rankings. Listed members and their rankings are below.

67.    CooperKatz & Co., New York

70.    DVL, Nashville

75.    L.C. Williams & Associates, Chicago

91.    Xenophon Strategies, Washington, D.C.

109.  GroundFloor Media, Denver

140.   VPE Public Relations, Los Angeles

149.   Landis Communications, Inc., San Francisco

157.   Buchanan PR, Philadelphia

Independence is nice. And so are those rankings.

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PR (public relations) meets SM (social media)

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 10, 2009

Is your PR agency engaged in social media? Not all are, nor do they need to be if that is not a priority of their clients. Here’s my Social Media 101 take as it relates to PR, and how it can impact this industry. 


Social media is an interesting development from a PR perspective. It aligns with all the values and strategies we recommend to clients – deep customer engagement; relevant, topical commentary to establish expertise; content immersion into “earned” marketing and editorial channels. So from that level, social media serves as a way to extend the best practices we already employ on behalf of clients.


As part of your marketing mix, social media offers an inexpensive opportunity to engage more directly with your audience(s), often on a one-to-one level. The rewards can be great, especially if these efforts help convert your audience into evangelists for the company and its products. Social media does require a higher level of engagement and interaction than more static marketing vehicles though, so sustainability of the effort should be considered before moving forward.


What’s different is the level of engagement required. One-to-many engagement through Twitter or blogs down to one-to-one engagement in chat rooms requires more human resources, usually from both the agency and client sides. So we need to really assess what channels make the most sense for a client to engage with, and what will deliver the most relevant results for their businesses. For example, the best mainstream media hit may not work for a client looking for select opinions in their industry or those trying to identify sampling targets for a consumer product launch.


Conversely, deep blog interaction may work to develop great intellectual discourse but may not result in new business for a client. So we really need to consider the full spectrum of publicity opportunities – this isn’t much different than what we’ve always done except that the playing field has expanded.


The biggest challenge is trying to educate clients to the benefits of social media while portraying our expertise in this area in a way that showcases our deep knowledge and successful projects, but does not scare away “beginners” from giving social media a shot. 


Social media isn’t going away. Tools and technology have been evolving in this direction for several years. Will Twitter be here in five years? Will Facebook become a mainstream business application? What new technologies will emerge? The future for the PR community, in my opinion, needs to be complete immersion and ownership of social media engagement.


Social media is a promotional vehicle, a conversation opportunity, a marketing tool, a sales platform.


PR must own this category, lead clients in their social media programs and recognize the opportunity to create vital content platforms for clients.

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Measured response

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 10, 2009

rulers1Chris Penn writes about social media measurement in his new blog post “It IS a Numbers Game – Thinking About What Numbers Actually Matter.”

He addresses simple yet significant points about what you should measure and what that measurement metric means. He tells those in social media to investigate the what and why of their numbers, not necessarily the quantity of the numbers.

In PR, measurement remains the Holy Grail. We’ve created a long list of metrics to show clients the value of their campaigns. None of them are perfect.

Social media gives PR agencies an early opportunity (because it is still early in the development of social media – you’re not as far behind as you think!) to define measurement criteria and show clients what is working and what is not. Social media will not be for everyone, even though almost everyone is asking about it today. Do you need a Facebook page? Do you need a Twitter feed? Probably, but only immersion will fully reveal the return on these marketing efforts. 

And by applying sound measurement principals to social media, public relations professionals will have a much needed chance to show clients what to do, why to do it and what the value is to them.

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Modest damage?

Posted by thecastlegroup on March 6, 2009

The USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center has issued a report analyzing the recession’s impact on the PR industry. The good news? PR seems to be pushing through today’s economic problems with less bloodbath than previous recessions. OK, so maybe it’s not “good” news, but it’s encouraging.

Think about the dotcom crash. Working in Boston, with its large number of technology companies, in 2001/2002 was not pretty. Large firms got significantly smaller, small firms disappeared, “sole practitioners” filled the streets, and internal PR and marketing teams were decimated. Granted, that recession was not as widespread as today’s, but in this town so many agencies had so much skin in the tech sector, pain was all around.

Did agencies learn lessons from the early part of the decade? I think so. We manage our businesses better, staff more appropriately, and the stronger firms have become more judicious about working with clients that “get it.”

Is there still pain? Sure. Many firms have had layoffs. My “Smith Index*” is running high.  Budgets are lower.

But there is still activity. We are getting a steady stream of RFPs across our primary PR sectors: financial/professional services (they need us more than ever), education, healthcare, consumer goods and travel. The USC report states that financial services and healthcare are two of the revenue growth industries for PR. That’s good for Castle; we started our firm with a focus on healthcare and financial services; while we’ve expanded our offerings, these industries still drive our core PR business.

Highlights from the USC report show that:

  • Three-quarters of firms expect no staff size changes this year
  • Staff compensation will suffer; more than 50 percent expect to freeze wages
  • Digital PR and measurement/monitoring are expected to drive revenue
  • Research is playing a bigger role in PR, further blurring the lines between PR’s role and that of the ad agency, marketing companies and digital firms

What’s next? I’ve always believed that audience-facing efforts should be the purview of PR — websites, digital/social engagement, media, content creation/distribution. And I think the best PR firms will consider how all these elements can work for their clients and emerge from this recession stronger and with a bigger share of marketing mind-share and budget.

*Smith Index: My economic gauge is driven in part by my “Smith Index.” John Smith (name changed to protect the freelancer!) is an area PR freelancer. I never hear from John when things are good. But when I do hear from him with the “do you have any work” e-mail, my stomach churns. John has become a leading indicator for me; when I get his note, it’s usually about six months before wider spread economic issues hit. This time I heard from him in the summer of 2008. Historically, his e-mail has been a pretty good forecast of problems to come. And he was right again. Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that John’s business improves. And John, next time, try getting in touch when business is booming.

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