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Expanding the service offerings of your media relations agency

Chip and Gini frequently hear from PR agency owners who want to move beyond just offering media relations services, but aren’t sure how best to do it.

They may love the idea of Gini’s PESO Model, but they also recognize that they probably can’t get there all at once.

In this episode, Chip and Gini share some of their tips for how to supplement media relations services and better position yourself for success in an environment in which media hits are harder to come by and clients expect a more integrated approach.


Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “Contributed content is a really easy way for a traditional media relations firm or professional to get into doing more content marketing or owned media to be able to fulfill a PESO model program.”
  • Chip Griffin: “It’s one of those things where as you start having success with it, it makes the internal battles easier.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “One of the things I like to do when we’re testing stuff out is instead of giving it free to clients, test it on ourselves.”
  • Chip Griffin: “The bottom line is the future of media relations agencies is bright as long as you’re looking at other ways to serve your clients.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Clients only care if the work gets done and if it’s done well. They don’t care who does it.”


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome for another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And today we’re gonna talk about, I’ve got nothing cutesy. We’re just gonna talk about what’s the future of media relations agencies. Right after this.

Gini Dietrich: Wow that was, okay.

Chip Griffin: Boring, but, accurate.

Maybe I should have said something like, stop the presses.

Gini Dietrich: Not a thing anymore.

Chip Griffin: But that’s what we’re gonna be talking about.

Gini Dietrich: It actually drives me nuts. This is a pet peeve when people call it press release and press conference, not how it’s done anymore. It’s a news release and a news conference. Drives me nuts.

Chip Griffin: But if we sat here and made a list of all of your pet peeves, Gini.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, it’d be a lot.

Chip Griffin: This would be a really long episode.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, it’d probably be like two hours long.

Chip Griffin: I mean, me personally, I have no pet peeves.

Gini Dietrich: You do too! We talked about it a couple weeks ago.

Chip Griffin: Yes. Well, if we ever get bored, we can do an episode where we just do nothing but list our pet peeves. Then we’ll have enough content that we’ll just split it up into 52 episodes. We’ll call it The year of pet peeves.

Gini Dietrich: The year of pet peeves. I like it. Let’s do it.

Chip Griffin: I hear what you’re saying on those.

I guess I’m just not nearly as…

Gini Dietrich: oh yeah. It drives me nuts.

Chip Griffin: But what we actually are going to talk about are there are a lot of what I would call traditional PR agencies and they focus primarily on media relations. And so the question that I get asked often by folks like that is, look, we, we know that, you know that media is having all sorts of challenges that are only getting worse year by year.

We know that focusing exclusively on media relations may not be the best bet. But we’re not quite sure how do we expand our services in a smart way so that we’re not just fumbling around in the dark or trying to be all things to all people. So as the author of the PESO model, which is ideally where most agencies should get to. Yep.

What’s the first step that they should be taking to think about how they expand that circle of services?

Gini Dietrich: So on March 14th, my Spin Sucks podcast episode is about contributed content. And I think contributed content is one of the most underused tactics that we have in our toolbox. Because it’s… people for some reason, PR professionals tend to shy away from it.

Maybe it’s because they don’t have the budget, because once you place contributed content, you have to of course write it unless you have a subject matter expert at your client’s organization then can do it, but usually the agency is writing the content or producing the content. It might be because it’s scary.

It might be because you’re asking for a link inside your content. Like there’s all sorts of reasons that agencies don’t do contributed content. But it is one of the easier, easier ways I think, of doing media relations. You have control of the message. You have control of the link, the anchor text. You have control of the link that you insert into the content that drives back to your client’s website.

You control all of that. With traditional media relations you don’t control any of that. And so kind of shifting that, thinking, that mindset to say, okay. We’re gonna do our traditional media relations and we’re going to do some contributed content, which starts to get you on the path to doing owned media.

And once you get on that path, it’s a little bit easier to say to clients, okay, well now we’d like to do blog posts or white papers, or, you know, whatever it happens to be, videos or podcasts or whatever it happens to be. But contributed content is a really easy way for a traditional media relations firm or professional to get into doing more content marketing or owned media to be able to fulfill a PESO model program.

Chip Griffin: So it’s interesting that you suggest contributed content first before owned content. So let, let’s ex – well, actually before we do that, why don’t we define what you mean by contributed content? Because it, I think it means different things to different people.

Are we talking about traditional op-eds? Are we talking about pay-to-play on websites? What kind of contributed content are you talking about?

Gini Dietrich: No, I would, I would consider it more earned, so no pay-to-play. You know, if you’re gonna do Forbes Communications Council or something like that, I’d probably consider that in there, even though you’re paying a little bit for that.

But really, you know, pretty much every trade bus and business publication on Earth takes contributed content. There was a study recently done that shows that 97% of website editors take contributed content. So it’s content that you’ve written because you are an expert, or your client is an expert is a subject matter expert in something, and it defines greatly with the readers of the publication.

So now your client in this case is a byline author for that publication. So like, early in my agency life, I wrote for Crane’s Chicago Business, and I had a byline every month. And I was contributing the content. I didn’t get paid for it, but it helped me build my brand, especially among organizations in, in Chicago.

So it’s, it’s that kind of thing. It’s still earned. You’re still earning the opportunity to get that in there, but you’re producing the content yourself. .

Chip Griffin: Right. And so therefore it’s more thought leadership as opposed to advertorial.

Gini Dietrich: Correct.

Chip Griffin: And so I think that’s something that, that’s important for folks to keep in mind, because I think a lot of times folks think of contributed content and think, oh, I can basically just, you know, write a subtle advertisement for my own business.

And that’s, that’s not what this is.

Gini Dietrich: It’s not.

Chip Griffin: Particularly if it’s on the earned.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like we, we accept one contributed piece a week. And if somebody sends us something, A that’s been published elsewhere, we knock it out and B, if it’s self promotional or sales-y we either ask them to rewrite it or we tell them we decline it.

So, and, and we’re, I mean, we try to stay up at the same standards that you, that many of the, you know, media outlet editors do as well. Like, they’re not going to, to accept content that’s self promotional or sales, they’re not going to accept content that’s been published somewhere else. They’re going to accept content that’s means something to readers, viewers, listeners. It’s, it’s, it’s expert content. It’s something that they’re not able to get on their own. So they either don’t have the expertise with the reporters they have internally to be able to do that, or they don’t have the network or they don’t, whatever happens to be, but they’re looking for content that is really, I mean, it’s, it’s written from an expert’s perspective and it’s case studies and its research and its insights.

Chip Griffin: So then now let’s get back to the question I had earlier, which is, so why focus on contributed first before owned? What’s the logic there? Because I, I think some people might say, well, you know, owned, I control, I don’t have to worry about the placement. I just kind of churn it out and, and have something there.

So what’s the logic from a service perspective of getting your clients to go contributed first?

Gini Dietrich: I mean, I would prefer you go owned first, but I think that’s a harder leap, especially if your clients are not doing that yet, right? So it’s a lot harder from a budgetary planning perspective because it’s not a, it’s not cheap, to say, okay, well now we’re gonna add this on.

It’s an easier sell. On or up, up. What’s the word I want?

Chip Griffin: Upsell.

Gini Dietrich: Thank you. I was like, uplift. That’s not right. It’s easier to do that with contributed content because they see it as in the media relations realm. And because you’re going to actually produce the content for them, you’re gonna be able to get an incremental increase in your budget.

And it’s easier for clients to absorb that. We, if you go in and you say, okay, well now we’re gonna do the PESO model, they go whoooaaa and it’s, it’s not as easy. So that’s the only reason. Like if I were designing this entirely from scratch, I would do the PESO model and I would start with owned, and then I would go share, earned and paid.

But the, that’s the reason that I would start with contributed content. Because clients tend to see it still on that meeting relations realm.

Chip Griffin: Right. It, I mean, it, it’s more logical from a client perspective. I think the other thing is that it, it’s also logistically simpler because it’s something that you as, as a PR agency would have more direct control over. As opposed to perhaps, you know, if it is having to deal with, with owned for a blog or something like that, or shared on social, you may then have to start dealing with other departments within the client that you didn’t have to deal with previously. Particularly if it comes to shared right. When you’re starting to deal with social, you know, everybody seems to want their fingers in that pie, but nobody really wants to do the work. But they all, they all…

Gini Dietrich: Right. That’s exactly right.

Chip Griffin: You know what I mean? So it just, it gets messy. And so I think the advantage of looking towards contributed first is everything that you said, but also just the logistical headache. Even if someone’s already got, you know, social accounts, it’s a lot easier to not have to deal with them. Unless if, if you control it, and I agree with you. I mean, I, I think that the own shared first always makes more sense because you do have complete control over it. You don’t have to worry about, well, is this gonna get published tomorrow or next week? Or, you know…

Gini Dietrich: eight weeks from now.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Yep. Or is, is it gonna be published at all? Yep. You also don’t have to deal with the challenges a lot of publications will not allow your links to continue to function in contributed content. So they may take the links out. And so I always tell people don’t create, contributed content with the, the mindset that it’s, it’s all about the link because you may not have it.

You have to have value there for yourself beyond the link.

Gini Dietrich: You do. But I will tell you that in our experience, It’s a lot easier to get the link to stay in when you’re doing contributed content than it is if you’re pitching a story. So if you’re pitching a story and they do an interview or a feature, they almost never will include your link.

But in contributed content, I’d say about 95% of the time it stays in. If the content is really good and valuable and, you know, demonstrates that expertise for sure. Because you’re usually working with a different type of editor than you would with the, so you’re working with a web editor in some cases, and the web editor understands that the link is valuable to both you and them.

Chip Griffin: Right? Exactly. And so, so if I’m, if I’m a traditional media relations agency and I’m looking to, to start down this path, do, do I pick an existing client and try to convince them to go the contributed content route? Do I try to find a new client who’s interested in going that, you know, what’s, how do I best methodically go about this?

What’s, what’s my, my highest probability of success and my lowest risk, I guess I should ask.

Gini Dietrich: Well, this is the favorite answer, but it depends of course. Right? I would think, you know, it really does depend, you know, for many of many of our clients, we just slowly started to add that stuff on. When, you know, when we started doing the PESO model, we said, okay, well now we’re gonna add on blogging and now we’re gonna add on podcasting.

And you know, it just sort of grew. But then with all new clients, that’s just what we did. Like anybody who calls today and says, we want pr, I always dig into what that means. Because it usually means they just want media relations and we won’t do that work. I always, always direct them somewhere else. So if that’s all they want, then we won’t do that.

And, but you know, that’s, this is 10 years running now, so it’s not like that happened immediately in the, in the first few months where I was like, okay, we’re not doing just media relations anymore. Like, we had to slowly transition our existing clients and then bring the new ones on in a full PESO model program.

So, it depends on how you’re structured and, and whether or not your existing clients are, are willing to, to increase the work that you’re doing together.

Chip Griffin: So now we, we’ve added contributed content. What should be next, owned or shared?

Gini Dietrich: Owned.

Chip Griffin: So, so that’s easy if an organization already has a blog or something like that because now it’s just a matter of creating the content.

But let’s say that, that someone doesn’t have an existing platform that you can use, would you still advocate for that before social?

Gini Dietrich: I would. And you don’t have to necessarily do a blog, you know, for one client, they didn’t have a blog. We started with them in October and we launched a podcast and it’s killing it.

I mean, they’re killing it. Their competitors are starting to, to copy too, which is kind of fun to see. Makes them mad. But I think it’s fun. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog, but it can be something, you know, it could be a podcast, it could be a video series. I have a woman on my team, our, our social media manager who loves storytelling with pictures and videos.

So if you, if we get her out in the field talking to customers, she comes back with stuff that you’re just like, wow. I mean, her brain, she used to work at, she used to be a television producer, so her brain works in that way. And so we look for opportunities to get her out in the field to be able to do those kinds of things.

And it may, in some cases it ends up being testimony or case studies. In some cases it ends up being just a really great reel on Instagram, so, you have to kind of think about it more holistically than just a blog.

Chip Griffin: Mm-hmm..And, I think one of the advantages to going with something other than a blog is that you can often set them up on other platforms so you don’t have to deal with some of the internal rigamarole of clients that you would need to do. I mean, you can certainly do that with a blog as well, but you’re probably gonna get a little bit more resistance from the, the in-house marketing or IT people over that versus something like a podcast that you can, you know, easily set up and host somewhere else, or a video series that you can put on YouTube or something like that where you’ve got you, you can more easily spin up something with your control over it without having to run all the traps internally at your client that can really slow things down.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. And I would also recommend that you run those traps, so don’t, don’t wait to run the traps and then launch, like go ahead and launch and get it started, but run the, run the traps because you want that living on the, on their website at some point. So I would, I would fight that fight.

That’s a battle worth fighting. But don’t wait to fight that battle to get it launched. For sure.

Chip Griffin: Right. And it’s one of those things too, where as you start having success with it, it makes the internal battles easier. Yep. Right? Because, you know, if, if, if you go to management and, and say, look, you know, we’ve got all these listeners on the podcast or these great guests, or you know, any measures of success that you come up with, you know, they can use that to, to beat down the IT department or whoever is resisting putting it on.

Yep, yep. And I don’t mean to pick on my friends in IT. I have a lot of friends in IT, I’ve overseen IT departments, but they are often an obstacle, shall we say, in these cases. A necessary evil that organizations often have. Yeah, so now let’s say as, as an agency, I want to go down this path and, and certainly contributed content, that’s pretty much within the, the wheelhouse of the capabilities of the team that I probably have. I probably need to get a little bit smarter on, you know, how to, how to find those opportunities and that kind of thing. But if I start going down the route of podcast or video or social media, I may not have the internal skillsets. So how should I go about doing that? I mean, I, I probably don’t wanna go out and hire someone full-time who is a podcast video or social media expert. So how do I, how do I start offering those services and test the waters?

Gini Dietrich: Well, I would find contractors who can do that work. And I like to work with solopreneurs, not necessarily agencies, because my idea is that if we’re testing out a new idea or a new project with a client, if it works, I want to eventually hire that person full-time.

So I look for people who are freelancing, or solopreneurs, but not, don’t, don’t necessarily want to continue to run their own business forever. So I’m looking for people like that. And I always, you know, they go through an interview process the same as anybody else was, would, and then I give them a project and see how it does.

And if, if we like to work together and it works out, then we continue to add on and add on an add-on. And that’s actually how I found my social media manager. I actually posted in Spin Sucks probably two years ago that I was looking for somebody with social media experience, with a sports emphasis for a client that we were working with, and we hired her specifically to work on this client.

And I will never let her go. She’s so good, she’s so good. But that’s how I found her. And she was probably working 10 or 15 hours a week on this specific client. And then we just grew her, our relationship together, over the last couple of years. So it wasn’t immediate either.

Chip Griffin: Well, I think that’s important for agencies to understand. They, they can and should test things before they decide to fully commit to a new service offering. Yes. To make sure that it really does fit with the clients that they have. Yes. That people are willing to pay. That they are… I mean, you know, one of the mistakes I see agencies make is they offer services for free to test them. To a, you know, with a new client.

Gini Dietrich: Oh no!

Chip Griffin: The problem is you haven’t actually verified that it’s working, right? I mean, so you have developed some experience, so that’s a good thing. But if someone hasn’t actually had to pay for that service, then you haven’t proven that you actually have market fit. Yes. Because it may just be that they said, sure, it was free.

Why not? And so you need to charge as if they were, it’s a common thing, you know this. Right. And, and I, and I understand the impulse because you want to, you want to get the experience, and to some extent, you sit there and say, well, you know, until I know I can do it, I don’t want to charge someone for it. But look, if you, if you charge them and you, you don’t manage to do it up to expectations, just refund them.

Right. But don’t tell ’em in advance that they’re getting it for free.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Right. One of the things I like to do when we’re testing stuff out is instead of giving it free to clients, test it on ourselves. I mean, yes. That’s how the blog came. That’s how Spin Sucks the blog came about. That’s how the podcast came about.

That’s how like everything came about because we touched it on ourselves first. So have, if you’re going to pay somebody to help you do this, then pay them to do it on your own agency. Figure out what the pros and cons are, where you’re weak, where you need help and where your strengths are, and then go sell it to clients.

Chip Griffin: Right. And obviously you would like to get results for your agency out of that work, but if you don’t, you’ve still figured out whether it’s, whether it works. So, right. You know, so, so you have to be, because I’ve seen some agencies tell me, well, you know, we don’t really need, you know, this for what we do. So it’s, it’s kind of overkill.

Who cares? It’s overkill. But you’re, you’re, you’re learning in the process and you’re testing it on yourself. So the risk is basically zero. Yes. Because it’s not like you’re, I mean, unless you’re creating really crazy videos, you’re probably not gonna do anything that is truly damaging to your brand. It may not produce any results, right?

But that’s different than causing damage. And if you’re not causing damage, the risk is zero. So try them out. By all means, use contractors. I mean, I, this is, this is one of the things that I just, I have a hard time wrapping my head around because a lot of agencies push back and say, well, you know, I can’t afford to hire a social media manager or a podcast producer.

No, you can’t. And shouldn’t, because you haven’t even figured out if it’s the right thing. Right, because I mean, there are different ways that, I mean, we’ve talked about in this episode some of the ways that we would go about expanding, but there are other ways you could get into influencer marketing or you could get into events, or there’s all sorts of other areas that you could expand into.

But this is probably the most logical path for a traditional media relations agency based on the skills that we’ve generally seen in those agencies in our experience.

Gini Dietrich: And I will say like from a podcast production standpoint, video production, design work, all of those things. We use agencies for that.

And I have a great network. So if you, if you’re looking for people or agencies to help with that, because we’re not gonna bring that internally. We’ll never bring those skills internally. So I work with agencies, so if you are looking for people like that, let me know because I have worked really hard for the last 10 years to build a great network of agencies, freelancers, and solopreneurs that are really good at their jobs and,you know, there may be some I’m willing to share and some I’m not.

Chip Griffin: Right. Well, and the thing to remember is that as an agency, your job is to do things that produce the right results for the client, whether that’s through in-house staff, contractors, partnerships. It doesn’t matter. And if you’re producing results and you’re the one who is coming up with the strategy and managing the process and all of that, you’ll be rewarded for that by your ideal clients.

And so you don’t need to worry about Well, I, yeah, but I, I can’t do that entirely on staff, so fine. Just charge appropriately for it. As long as you’re charging appropriately. It doesn’t matter how the work is getting done.

Gini Dietrich: That’s exactly right. That is exactly right. It does not matter. I actually was just thinking about this this morning because a client of mine was like, oh, you know, I just don’t think, and I’m like, you don’t have to do the work.

Clients only care if the work gets done and if it’s done well. They don’t care who does it. They don’t. Right. They don’t care.

Chip Griffin: And we’re, while we’re at it, just a sidebar here, and it, it, it’s sort of on topic, but it’s a little bit not. It bugs me that when agencies are working with contractors or other agencies, they like bend over backwards to hide this from the client.

That makes everybody’s life so much more difficult. Yes. If you’re partnering up with an agency to do the podcast production, just let your client know that. Yep. If your client decides that you’re not worthwhile and they’re gonna work directly with that podcast production thing, you weren’t providing any value outside of that anyway.

Right? So the problem you need to solve is not that your client went behind your back, but that you weren’t producing enough value that they saw a reason to continue to work with you. That’s right. And when you try to hide this, when you try to create white label arrangements with other agencies or contractors, you just make the logistics so much harder.

because now you can’t give out their direct email address. So maybe you’re creating an internal one that forwards and that’s messy. And then they gotta remember not to respond through, just stop. Just let everybody know what’s going on. As long as the client is getting results, that’s what matters.

Gini Dietrich: They don’t care. They really don’t care. And if you go on vacation, or as we’ve talked about in the past, if something happens to you and you can’t do the work, they have people that they can go to. But if you’ve hidden that from them, All of a sudden there’s nowhere for them to go. And either you spend your whole vacation working because you haven’t been honest about that, or, you know, if you get hit by a bus in other fashions, then you know, like there are great opportunities for you to just be honest about it.

And, and they really, they don’t care. They really don’t.

Chip Griffin: So the bottom line is the future of media relations agencies is bright as long as you’re looking at other ways to serve your clients. Hopefully we’ve given you a few ideas that you can use as you’re contemplating how to do that. And if you have questions, by all means reach out to either one of us.

We have lots of ideas we do. And connections and resources and that kind of stuff. And if you’re not subscribed to Spin Sucks already, you should be. Because that’s what a lot of the content’s about. With that…

Gini Dietrich: thank you.

Chip Griffin: I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich

Chip Griffin: and it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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