Stop! No Need to Build Your Own Community

There was a lot of learning going on at the PR News Digital Summit held yesterday (Oct 22) in New York (check out some of the gleanings on twitter at #prnsummit). It’s a great sign when it’s nearly 5 p.m. and 90% of attendees are still in the room (could be the champagne reception that shortly followed, but I like to think it’s more about the quality of the content and communicators’ quest to find the holy grail of digital PR. Some say the grail is “Community.”  It goes like this: Build an online  community and make sure it offers your stakeholders a safe place to communicate, connect and improve a slice or two of their life through like-minded people and possibly your products and services.  PR and marketing departments spend countless hours and dollars building community online.  So I was caught off-guard by a statement at the PR News Summit by Matthias Preschern, Vice President of Demand, Americas, IBM.  He implored attendees to NOT build communities. It’s not necessary, he says, since there are so many pre-existing communities online — user groups, forums, networking sites and the like, that we, as communicators, can tap into. These existing communities are ripe with enthusiasts, your own customers and constituents who, if you listen, could lead to your next great launch, a rethinking of an issue, or improve an existing service. Spend more time listening in those communities and interacting, rather than in meetings discussing the next bell and whistle for the nascent community you’ve just created that isn’t getting quite the same traction. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel. It was a refreshing piece of advice from someone who works for a company founded back in 1896.

– Diane Schwartz

The Boy Not in the Balloon & Sky-High Publicity

By now you’ve heard about the “Balloon Boy” incident in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have seen the footage of the Heene family, of the large Mylar balloon without the boy in it, of said boy, Falcon, throwing up on the Today Show.  Falcon also let slip during Larry King Live on Oct 15 that he didn’t respond to his parents’ calls when they were searching for him because: “You guys said we did this for the show.”  The media is skeptical, the general public is at once amazed and appalled, and TLC is presumably chomping at the bit since Jon & Kate’s show is now a ratings bust.  The word at the water cooler is that the family is getting great publicity and that’s what they wanted all along.  (Update:  on Oct. 18, the Colorado police announced they’d be charging the parents on various counts of fraud.)

The Heene family’s stint on “Wife Swap” this past March only got them so far and their latest ploy was an attempt to get more attention (duh).  Probably the most over-used expression about being in the spotlight is that there’s no such thing as bad press.  The public relations profession needs to change this thinking and make sure that this type of press is a mistake and not an intention. And, writing here as someone who covers PR as a trained journalist, I’d say the media as the messenger might want to resist over-exposure of this “story.” Then again, if they don’t cover it, the citizen journalists will steal the show. Just check out YouTube.

PS: If you were the PR firm representing the Heene family, what would your communications strategy be right now?

– Diane Schwartz

The Nobel and the PR Noble

I’ve been hesitant to editorialize about Barack Obama receiving the Nobel peace prize, as the debate seems so obvious. Those on the right say he doesn’t deserve it, those in the center left are jubilant and those on the far left are somewhere in the center of this debate.  But given that it is awards season here at PR News — with our Platinum PR, Nonprofit PR and PR People Awards being bestowed over the next few months — I thought I’d tie the Nobel to these lesser known awards. (That’s a first in the annals of PR – Nobel peace prize and Platinum PR Awards sharing the same sentence).  The distinguished judges of our awards programs evaluate entrants on strategy, tactics and results: tangible results often with lots of numbers and statistics to back up why an entry should win a Platinum award, or a Nonprofit PR award.  Preceding the actual results and weighing more heavily with the judges is the actual vision of the campaign or initiative: was it smart, did it move the needle, did it make a positive change? We can see through the entry write-ups in which the actual goal nicely matched the results (ie 120 million media impressions was the campaign goal — and the results? 120 million media impressions!). The PR News awards look for that somewhat intangible quality that separates a good initiative from a great one. There’s a plethora of good ideas and good results in the marketplace — just as there are good leaders and good policies.  As with the Nobel and other awards programs, we need to benchmark the best, the boldest and the smartest — even if the campaign isn’t over yet.

– Diane Schwartz

Managing Planning for an Olympic-Sized Event

For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, the host country will a South American nation: Brazil. The announcement was made today amidst considerable fanfare around the globe, as Rio de Janeiro beat out Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid to win the title of 2016 Summer Olympic Games host.

The Games are still seven years off, but today’s announcement made me think about how massive an undertaking this level of event planning must be (a digression from the usual crisis-focused posts)—otherwise, why would the selection be made so far ahead of time?. Between refurbishing—and even building from scratch—venues to handling necessary infrastructure-related challenges, the list of minutia becomes a force to be reckoned with in a matter of seconds. Plus, the city has to be able to physically accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors between the viewers, athletes, media and sponsors that pour in from around the world.

Then there’s the issue of branding—an activity that must take place on a city, country and, in this case, continent-wide level. Based on the 2008 Beijing Games, I got a little bit of perspective from the folks at Lenovo and Ketchum, who partnered to launch a branding campaign around Lenovo’s sponsorship of the Games, in conjunction with its recent purchase of IBM’s PC division.

That effort alone, which was relegated to a single company, seemed staggering. I’ll be interested to watch the progression for the 2016 Games, and I’d love to hear stories from any readers who might have experience with planning an Olympic-sized event.

By Courtney Barnes

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