Unlike most other firms which charge for the work
they do, Annie Jennings PR only charges for resulting media placements. It's sort of the CPA (cost per acquisition) media model applied offline.
Which means, just as with online and email CPA campaigns, she needs a to run a much higher outreach volume than average to meet her bottom line. Instead of relying on a few clients on retainer, she literally needed thousands on CPA.
How does a small PR firm get thousands of exclusive clients to sign up for its services? "My job is to convince them I am the *only* choice -- not one of the choices. The only choice," notes Jennings.
"Word of mouth was 99.9% of the way we got new clients since 1994," she adds. "We got them the old fashioned way." But, even if your clients adore you, there's a natural limit to relying passively on referrals. CAMPAIGN
One afternoon two years ago, Jennings noticed an ad in
an email newsletter she was reading that offered a teleseminar. "I instinctively knew it was exactly where I needed to be."
-> Step #1: Technology
She started by researching telephone bridge line vendors (the technology that makes a teleseminar possible.) She learned:
o You arrange to rent a bridge line by the maximum number of people "seats" you expect to call in. Bridge lines range from 30-seats to 1,000. Costs depend on whether you want an operator to hold your hand (smart idea at first), the length of the event, and whether you'll need an audio-CD and/or transcript output.
o If you do a lot of teleseminars, you can save considerably by paying a flat monthly bridge line rental fee. Costs can be well under $1000 for 1000-line bridge. (Jennings pays less than half that.)
o It's critical to be able to have one number for speakers and moderators and a second number for attendees. Why? Because you need to put attendees on "mute" or suffer a variety of messy background noise.
o If you want attendees to be able to ask questions, you can either have them submit questions beforehand on the sign-up form, and/or email or IM them in during the teleconference for the moderator to ask on their behalf.
o Listen to the standard welcome audio message the bridge line company uses for all call-ins. Some force your attendees to listen to commercials for their services before letting attendees through to your teleseminar. You may be able to negotiate this.
-> Step #2: Content & format
Next, based on her PR experience of noticing which types of radio interviews have helped her clients' grow their businesses the most over the years, Jennings invented a teleseminar formula all her events would follow:
o How-to Topics: Just as with white paper and Webinar offers, the ones prospects respond best to are never thinly veiled sales pitches for your company. Instead Jennings picked topics that reflected business problems and questions typical to her client and prospect base.
The topics weren't even about PR much of the time - but about complimentary things such as how to write a great newsletter or branding techniques for Web sites.
o Guest Star Experts: Jennings felt if teleseminars worked, she wanted to run them continually through the year to maximize effectiveness. "It's a question of repetition. They hear it so many times, they start to think of publicity as Annie Jennings PR."
This meant getting guest stars for the teleseminars, because no one wants to listen in to the same speaker every single week. Jennings was the expert for any PR-specific events of course, but otherwise she lined up experts to interview.
She found if you've got a platform for them to speak from, many experts will submit pitches to speak without payment. Jennings used a two-step process to weed out the possible duds -- first she asked the expert to write a pitch note that includes five specific talking points they'll cover, plus six-eight great questions they'd like you to ask them.
Then she called up the folks with the best pitches and chatted with them on the phone for a few minutes to hear how they sound. "I look for tonality, a presence, a strong radio voice." Obvious passion for their subject also helped.
o Two moderators: Jennings knew a standard lecture-format, of the guest giving a speech as though they were at a trade show, would not work because attendees would be quickly bored without visuals. And when you don't have them stuck in a real-world room with you, it's a lot easier for attendees to turn you off.
So she opted for doing the teleseminars in interview format, where the moderator would continually interact with the guest."Nobody likes to listen to a boring professor-type. The interaction needs to be high between the guest and the moderator."
Plus, to make it doubly powerful, she hired her friend radio interviewer Tony Trupiano to be a co-moderator, sort of playing Regis to her Kathy Lee. "We have tremendous synergy. We enjoy each other tremendously and there's more energy because of it."
Trupiano asks the serious questions and keeps the interview moving on target. Jennings cracks jokes, shares real-life experiences from her PR practice, and asks "questions that are on everyone's mind but they are too afraid to ask, like 'What exactly does that mean?'"
"Dual interviewers are able to ease the guest into it, cover until the guest starts to find the ground." Plus of course dual interviewers mean the personalities, tone, and style carry throughout the teleseminar series in a much more branded fashion then relying on a series of different guests can.
Note: If you'd like a co-moderator but don't know anyone,
Jennings suggests asking media trainers and/or radio
personalities you like. The cost can be about $250 hour.
o If the guest's a dud: Jennings learned the hard way that
inevitably some guests will be duds. She covered her bases by always researching the topic so she could fill in for a speaker who either didn't know as much as they said they did, or whose phone lines failed (yes it's happened.)
Plus, she set up a page on her own company Web site specifically for guest offers. So if that guest was self-promotional, at least the traffic went through her Web site.
Lastly, she made a practice of speaking out politely but honestly when a guest said something that contradicted her own experience or knowledge. You shouldn't just swallow and move on -- your attendees appreciate knowing you have a separate opinion.
-> Step #3: Promoting the teleseminar
Previously Jennings thought of her Web site as mainly a static online business card. There were a few pages of information, but "we simply closed the business that came to us and didn't need the Web site to convince them to do business with us."
Now Jennings had her Web designer turn the site into a
teleseminar sign-up form, with event offers and links on the home page and many other pages. Everyone who signed up saw the special phone number on their "thank you" landing page.
Plus, hoping for viral pass-along, she launched an email
newsletter to promote the teleseminars - generally mailing out a notice about the latest topic no more than a week or two prior to the event. She felt this timing worked best because complimentary teleseminars are impulse events. "We don't like to go too far ahead, they're able to go and sign-up immediately."
She also asked guests if they wouldn't mind emailing their own lists hotlinks to sign up for the event as well. Many were happy to oblige because it made them look good being a guest star somewhere.
Jennings decided to always hold events the same day and time of the week (Wednesdays at 1pm) to increase attendance because hopefully over time people would remember it as a routine part of their schedule.
-> Step #4: Offering teleseminar tapes
Most bridge line vendors can send you a high-quality audio CD of your event quickly for an extremely reasonable price.
(Transcripts are pricier and take longer, plus require more editing on your end. You can also have the vendor set up a canned version of the event accessible by phone, but it's not nearly as appealing to audiences as a tape, CD or transcript.)
So taking the path of least resistance, Jennings set up her staff with CD-tape reproduction equipment so they could make a stack of tape copies for each event. She noticed that most other companies were offering their tapes for about 20 bucks, but felt that price made the content feel less valuable than she wanted it to.
The options were two - either she could price much more highly but sell relatively few, or she could give the tapes away as a lead generation, goodwill, and branding device to any client or prospect who asked for them. She opted for the latter, and added tape request forms to the Web site.
Naturally every tape mailed out includes a brochure for her PR practice in the package.
"I knew it was going to affect my business in a positive
way," says Jennings, "but I never expected it to be as wildly successful as it is. We've had to have bridge lines of up to 1,000-seat capacity."
Due to demand, Jennings has expanded the program from fortnightly to now two-three times per average week. (She sticks to Wednesdays and adds extra events first on Thursdays and then on Tuesdays.)
Her daily Web site traffic grows tenfold on the day she sends out the email newsletter with new teleseminar sign-up links. Although this figure can vary wildly by teleseminar topic, the average number of sign-ups is 230, and roughly 85% attend and about 90% stay on the phone line for the entire hour.
On average Jennings expects about half the number of tape
requests as sign-ups per event. So if 230 people signed up, about 115 will ask for a tape afterwards. These are either folks who couldn't make the event, or those who want to relive it, or those who want to share it with others.
"I've had to add a staffer to cope with demand for tapes." In total, Jennings' team has sent out more than 15,000 tapes in the past two years, and now they are considering offering a choice of audio CD as well.
Last but not least, Jennings currently has a roster of more than 5,000 exclusive clients.Useful links related to this article:
Annie Jennings PR
Black and White Communications - the bridge line provider
MarketingSherpa Stories on Webinars and other marketing with info