PR at the Bat: What Public Relations Pros Can Learn from Spring Training

Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is in full swing.  It’s the start of a new baseball season, when ballplayers focus on getting in shape and every team, regardless of its payroll, has visions of playing in the World Series eight months from now.

Watching some of the coverage of spring training on ESPN it’s not too much of a stretch to think that—considering the constant newness in marketing communications—PR pros are forever in spring training, awaiting the next pitch, er, digital channel, technology or social network that they need to game.

With that in mind, here are a few PR lessons to gauge from MLB’s spring training:

> Singular focus:  With myriad new media platforms being batted around, not to mention the race for social-media supremacy, it’s easy for PR pros to get wrapped up in what the competition is doing. Sure, rivalries abound in any market but, as with spring training, the overriding goal for PR departments and agencies is to put the together the best possible team. Communications execs need to assemble a squad with players who complement one another; are leery of injuring the brand and know how to pace themselves for what truly is a never-ending season.

> Strength and conditioning:  In an increasingly social-media world, PR departments need to make sure that their social channels stay loose and flexible, but don’t suffer from any flab, or extraneous and/or unnecessary information that can drive eyeballs away from the channel as fast as screaming base hit down the third-base line.

> Deploying utility players: You see it all the time in baseball: A player is called in to pinch-hit or pinch-run or the outfield is reconfigured to adjust to a power hitter.  In a similar vein PR departments now must have their eyes peeled for specialized talent—videographers, analytics gurus, Web designers or media buyers—to bring into the fold and improve the overall prospects for the team.

What do you think? Are the other analogies between PR and baseball that I’m missing?

— Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjouro1 

BlackBerry’s PR Life Lessons

A while back, prior to the launch of the new BlackBerry 10, LPP posted a blog offering three startup PR lessons from BlackBerry 10.

Lesson 1, the blog said, was to know when to pivot. That is, know when and whether the world has passed your solutions and products by, and adapt quickly.

Lesson 2 was to remember that you only launch once, so make that one moment critical.

And Lesson 3 was that perception is everything.

Let’s look at how BlackBerry has fared on those three counts. BlackBerry did not know when to pivot. Back in the day, 12 years ago or so, BlackBerry was the definition of cool in mobile devices. Pre BlackBerry, there were the flip phones, and the ever-smaller cell phones. There was even Palm’s Treo, which with its stylus was hot for a while. Then BlackBerry came along, with a QWERTY keyboard and seamless integration of phone, text and e-mail. For a long time, BlackBerry was THE phone. Then came the iPhone and the game changed. BlackBerry came up with a variety of responses, all of them lame and late. It remains to be seen if the new BlackBerry 10 can get the brand back into the game.

Which leads to Lesson 2. So far so good. Six months ago BlackBerry was a company for whom oblivion and “dead brand” were only a matter of time. I teased co-workers who still had BlackBerrys. But in the few weeks since the launch of the BlackBerry 10, the reviews have been very positive. The New York Times over the course of two days gave the new phone here and here the kinds of reviews that PR communicators would give anything for. Business Insider and others followed suite. The phone also looks cool.

So the Hail Mary pass is in the air. Whether it gets successfully caught in the end zone—and whether the early buzz is enough for skeptical buyers—remains to be seen. But at least the pass is in the air and BlackBerry didn’t get sacked with no time on the clock.

And that leads to the third lesson, about perception. Most former BlackBerry users have pretty decent memories of their phones. It’s not that the BlackBerry was a bad product, it’s just that better solutions came along. So if BlackBerry can leverage that relatively large reservoir of goodwill by offering a next-generation product that’s better than Android and the iPhone, then there’s life for it yet.

What Message Do You Want to Send to the Hispanic Community?

When Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday night, flubbed a reach for a water bottle, he took to social media to manage the PR around the awkward moment.

During the speech, Rubio tried to sneak a sip of water from a bottle off camera, a move that made many observers cringe. But Rubio took it in stride, tweeting a photo of the water bottle after the speech.

And in doing so, Rubio demonstrated that he is social-media savvy. At the same time, perhaps, he reflected a larger trend toward the use of social media throughout the Hispanic community.

According to recent study conducted by NM Incite, 57% of Hispanics have turned to the social space to ask a question about a brand or report complaints/issues with products, compared with 47% of the general population.

What’s more, 19% of Hispanics turn to social care daily, and 30% weekly, the report said. Hispanics are 25% more likely to “prefer” social care to traditional customer service methods than the general population.

There are other indicators that illustrate the growing influence of Hispanics on business and the economy. For example, Hispanic spending power will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2015, or 11% of total U.S. buying power, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

By 2050, Hispanics are expected to make up one-third of the population, or 133 million people, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

These are consumer-trend lines that communication executives ignore at their own peril.

With Hispanics now ensconced in the mainstream, PR pros at both the corporate and agency levels will need to create campaigns that fully embrace the Hispanic community, as opposed to putting Latinos in a neat, little box that doesn’t command constant attention.

Like most every audience, there are some aspects to the Latino community that are more niche than broad.

Still, PR departments can no longer be able put Latino messaging on the margins of a campaign. When it comes to how to deploy effective communications, Hispanics are increasingly at the center of the conversation.

-     Matthew Schwartz: mpsjourno1

Battle Facebook Fatigue with Compelling Content

While Facebook continues to be the social platform of choice for many brands, a couple of interesting studies released last week could trip an alarm for communications pros.

A Pew study found that the majority of the 1,000-plus people surveyed said they have taken breaks from Facebook at some point, and those breaks can be long: 61% took extended, weeks-long breaks from social network.

Those that took shorter sabbaticals cited these reasons: too busy (21%), lost interest (10%) and a waste of time (10%).

In and of itself, this study shouldn’t prompt brands to move exclusively to Google+. But couple this with other findings released last week: Just 4% of Americans ages 15 to 25 think that a brand page on Facebook is a credible source of information about the product, according to InSites Consulting.

What is their idea of credible brand sources? Consumers’ feedback on online forums and blogs (22%), what they are told by their friends about a brand or product (14%) and the opinion of other brand users (20%).

As these Millennials age, there’s nothing to indicate they’ll head back to Facebook for enlightenment by brands.

What can PR pros do to get a busy, bored or disillusioned public glued to a brand’s Facebook page?  I recently  spoke with content marketing experts for a story to appear in the today’s premium edition of PR News. In a nutshell, their suggestion for deeper engagement across all platforms was the creation of regular, compelling content devoid of marketing-speak that will keep fans coming back.

Building a “content factory” might seem daunting to communicators with limited resources, but as social platforms mature, but it’s a good bet we’ll see more of the same findings with other social platforms down the road.

Sot it’s time to identify your core audience, find out where their interests lie and provide them with content that will spark that interest—again and again.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

There’s Nothing Fishy About The Weather Channel’s #Nemo Hash Tag

The tweet caught my eye: “Don’t support The Weather Channel by calling this storm Nemo.” But I liked that name, and so did thousands of tweeters who tucked #Nemo into their 140-character updates. While not intended as the cute Nemo fish of Disney/Pixar movie fame, the name lent some unintended levity to what was promising to be a historic storm, and #Nemo built community among those dealing with or watching the storm (“We may have found #Nemo,” tweeted one person, “Take that #Nemo!” tweeted another shoveling out of two feet of snow). For The Weather Channel, the flurry of support and displeasure with the #Nemo name was a PR win for the network.

Like thousands of people, I preferred to use Nemo in references to the storm when family and friends were checking in because it’s good to put a name to an event, isn’t it? It makes you feel part of something bigger.  Kudos to The Weather Channel: from a social media communications standpoint, not having a hashtag associated with your big event is like writing a book and not giving it a title.

The Weather Channel giving the storm a name is more credible than, say, Starbucks or Zappo’s floating the #Nemo hashtag. The Weather Channel has some cred when it comes to, um, weather stuff.

And so what that the (government-run) National Weather Service had nothing to do with the storm naming and refused to use it? And so what that the true definition of Nemo for this storm is the Latin equivalent of “nobody” and in Greek means “from the valley”? This was neither a “nobody” snowstorm nor from the valley, but The Weather Channel’s social media department wanted to use Greek names –  and the letter “N” was the next one up.

Bryan Norcross, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that he and his team created a series of #hashtag names for upcoming storms because “Everything needs a hashtag to get noticed.” The Weather Channel definitely got noticed, and Disney’s “Finding Nemo” might even see a slight spike in DVD sales. I call that #Winning.

- Diane Schwartz




Blaming it on PR: A Cautionary Tale

“It’s PR’s fault.” This is what a reporter acquaintance for a daily publication recently told me, as she was lamenting the inability to set up a meeting with a top executive at a major trade show coming up. “They didn’t get back to me, and then the head of the company was mad that we didn’t interview him.  PR there sucks.”

There are a few things wrong with this story:

> First, it’s easy for reporters to place the blame on the PR department if an interview falls through or is never even set up.

> Second, the reporter refers to a PR professional as the profession itself: instead of Jane Smith or even “the PR representative,” this reporter sees the PR rep as the lump sum of Unhelpfulness.  PR’s just a department.

> Third, this reporter doesn’t truly understand the role of Public Relations and possibly (don’t tell her I said this!) her role as a reporter. If you really want to interview the head of this organization, find a way to do it. Make your pitch to the PR person compelling enough that he’ll call you back. Give the PR person enough time to set things up, too.

(Turns out, the reporter contacted the company PR department two days before a major event, and most of the company was either heading to the big conference or diverted with trade-show planning.)

Interestingly, the reporter didn’t know what she was going to interview this executive about; she just needed to get the interview. With newsrooms and media departments spread thin, it is increasingly less likely that the beat reporter will be getting specific guidance from her editor about coverage and story ideas. So it’s beholden on the reporters to figure it out, and for Public Relations professionals to be one of their guides.

I asked the reporter is she had a relationship with any of the PR people at this major company.  “Not really. I mean, they send me press releases, but that’s about it.”  Then she remembered they had invited her to product launch parties and have reached out for interview requests with their key execs, but she usually ignored the outreach. Why did she ignore them? You know the answer: because she didn’t need them at the time.

Media Relations is a two-way street.  In the past month, I had the pleasure of editing PR News’ latest Media Training Guidebook, and one of the themes was the difficulty of relationship-building in a too-much-information culture where it’s so much easier to just hide behind social media and email, and not develop substantive relationships.

And, as many of our guidebook contributors advised, if you have a good story to tell, your chances of getting covered by the media goes up exponentially. Maybe the story of my journalist friend and the PR rep would have ended better if it began with a good story. If the company was telling a new story about its brand, the reporter would be interested in learning more and would be more proactive in building a relationship with PR.

But somehow, it all got lost in translation: the reporter didn’t know what she was going to be writing about; the company didn’t have a story to tell and therefore didn’t care that much about getting coverage, and a cloud of indifference marred progress. So, unfortunately one of the stories to come out of this is a tale of media relations gone awry, told by one side.

Those in PR know this is an old story and it must be put to bed.

- Diane Schwartz


20 Annoying Behaviors During Meetings

Meetings are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, great ideas and solutions abound when you bring people into a room, face to face.  People learn from one another and also get to know their colleagues better.  Ideas, concepts, hot-button issues can get lost in translation via email, phone or memo.  A great communicator who knows how to facilitate the discussion and keep the conversation flowing and productive can make or break a meeting.  Yet even with a leader who comes prepared, a meeting is only as good as the people in the room.  When meeting attendees misbehave, everyone and everything suffers: you are annoyed and feel your time is being wasted and the thing you came to discuss get short shrift.  We are all guilty of imperfect etiquette during a meeting, and in that vein I present to you 20 annoying or improper human behaviors during business meetings. I asked friends, colleagues and communications consultants to contribute their meeting pet peeves. Please add your ideas to this list:

  1. Talking over one another
  2. Interrupting a colleague, apologizing, then continuing to speak
  3. Checking email
  4. Answering email
  5. Whispering to a colleague
  6. Laughing at or chastising a colleague’s comment
  7. Arriving late
  8. Arriving really late
  9. Banging a pen, water bottle or other objects against the table
  10. Napping
  11. Not putting your phone on vibrate
  12. Doing other seemingly more important work on your laptop
  13. Shopping on your laptop
  14. Setting up your Powerpoint presentation in real-time (not beforehand) and troubleshooting while others watch
  15. Not participating
  16. Asking off-topic questions
  17. As the meeting organizer, not having an agenda with clear objectives, and starting late, ending late
  18. Taking copious notes rather than listening and jotting down key takeaways
  19. Texting
  20. Sexting (it must happen somewhere) – plus, it’s sometimes good to end a meeting or blog post on a light note.

What would you add?

- Diane Schwartz





Will PR now Become Part of Apple’s Core?

It may not equal Jonas Salk discovering the polio vaccine or Albert Einstein discovering the theory of relativity, but Apple Inc.’s recent discovery of public relations is worth noting.

For years the technology and consumer-products giant was notorious for treating PR as a marginal asset, at best.

With its digital products having cornered the market on “cool,” a stock price hovering in the $440-range and a market capitalization of roughly $415 billion—not to mention the typically glowing articles in the media—the Apple brand has been the closest thing to a deity in the global economy.

Perhaps that deification was a function of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, who during live events personally introduced Apple’s major products (iPhone, iPad), sprinkling the presentations with his own brand of showmanship.

The media ate it up and subsequently ran delicious stories about Apple. Nevertheless, the company has been a poster child for stingy communications.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since Jobs died, and Apple CEO Tim Cook appears to be taking a slightly different approach to public relations.

Last week the company issued a press release to announce it was upgrading its mobile operating system from iOS 6 to 6.1, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It was the first time Apple has issued an official press release for a non-major mobile software release unrelated to a new device since 2010,” the report said.

The report added that Apple’s PR team has started to ramp up the number of third-party reports about the company that it sends to reporters, such as a study that predicts Apple will be as accepted in the enterprise by 2014 as Microsoft is today.

The report in the Journal, as well as several other media outlets, stressed that Apple’s current PR strategy is likely a response to a spate of negative stories about Apple’s declining stock price, flattening profits and increasing competition.

It would be a disheartening if Apple’s current PR blitz turned out to be just a blip on the screen and the company reverted back to espousing secrecy as a communications strategy.

In a digital (and extremely fluid) era, that would be a mistake. Surely, there is now some young genius banging away at his or her computer keyboard or crafting a new algorithm that will eventually give today’s digital titans a run for their money. Apple needs to more communicative about its future prospects.

Right now Apple can afford to do as it pleases, PR or no PR. But, in the long run, thinking that the media laurels will last forever is a gamble. As it gets further into a post-Jobs era, Apple could do a lot worse than giving its PR crew more of an opportunity to shine.

-  Matthew Schwartz   @mpsjourno1


PR Needs to Mitigate the Negative Returns of Executive Rants

What was the CEO of Tupperware thinking? On an earnings call last week the executive, Rick Goings, explained to a reporter why the company had flat performance in 2012.

“We are a high-quality product and a brand,” Goings said. “Why do we do better in Europe than we do in the U.S.? Hey, take a look at the average brand of cab that you get into New York City. I mean they’re filthy. They’re junk. Get in a cab over here. It’s a Mercedes or an Audi.

The U.S.A. is Basically a Wal-Mart market,” Goings added. “They buy price. Europe buys quality, Japan [buys] quality. And our issue is how do we find the right product mix for the U.S. to make it happen there? And I’ve got to tell you, Olivia, it is challenging.”

Here’s the thing: While Tupperware is a $2.5 billion global company, with growth in Asia and South America offsetting slower activity in North America, according to financial reports, why would the chief executive of the company want to insult the world’s largest market?

The United States is a homogeneous market with more than 300 million people. Unlike the E.U., it has no internal borders. It has a single language, and an economy three times larger than any other.

And not only that, Tupperware is perceived as a utilitarian and versatile brand—which syncs up nicely with how Americans like to think about themselves.

Perhaps Goings is frustrated that lower-cost competition is crowding out Tupperware, and that the brand is seen more as a food-storage product, and not, as the company wants to stress, as a convenient food-preparation solution.

But even if that’s the case, why go on a rant that extends far beyond the product and its marketing challenges? Why call New York cabs “filthy?” Why turn positive brand characteristics—convenience, value, versatility—into negatives?

What strategic marketing or PR objective could Goings possibly think he was accomplishing by saying, effectively, that the U.S. is a “Wal-Mart” market and that we are okay with “junk?”

I did a Google search this morning on the term, “Tupperware CEO retracts comments.” There was no corresponding result—but it’s only a matter of time, that is, if the company has a sense of the PR harm it caused itself.

- Tony Silber  @tonysilber

Super Bowl Momentum: How Would You React When the Lights Go Out?

As you were waiting for the lights to go back on in New Orleans last night, were you thinking to yourself: if this were my Super Bowl, what would I be saying to my team? What would I be doing to keep my team on the winning side? And is some poor worker at the stadium in big, big trouble for turning off the light switch? Thirty four minutes of darkness and delay surely is a long time, and certainly enough time to dull the edge, to lose momentum.

And as you watched the Ravens lose 17 points in 4 minutes, 10 seconds shortly after the lights went back on in the third quarter, did you marvel at the concept of Momentum? How the 49ers snapped into shape as energy was sapped from the Ravens? Maybe you weren’t thinking about this, but surely you weren’t marveling at the mediocre commercials.

As a Baltimore native and Ravens fan, I was flabbergasted that my team might actually lose. Before our very eyes, we saw the power of Momentum, both in the way the Ravens lost it and the 49ers rallied, and in the way the Ravens held on and persevered.

As a businessperson who hosts many events and conferences, I found a certain cold comfort in knowing that one of the most choreographed events in the world could hit a major snag, such as the lights going out in half the stadium for a half hour that’s worth nearly $240 million in Super Bowl commercials. (So next time the AV isn’t working at a PR News conference, I will tap into Super Bowl 2013 Memory Bank to calm my nerves.) And from a crisis management standpoint, the power outage presents interesting post-game scenarios for the city of New Orleans and the stadium management – surely they are meeting on this topic as you read this blog. From a leadership standpoint, the power outage and new-found half hour of Waiting forced on Brothers Harbaugh and their quarterbacks the need to rally their team, keep them focused and driven while marveling at the bad or good luck just presented to them. And kudos to the cheerleaders, who kept swinging their pom-poms during the crisis.

Momentum is a powerful force. We saw it on the field last night, and we see it every day around us. Success begets more success. If you and your team are on a roll and you are feeling the momentum, you hold on to the ball and keep moving forward. You might lose sight of it for a short time, but you find it when it’s most needed. It’s just what you do! When your team has no momentum, it tends to continue on a downward slide until someone finds the right switch and the lights go on, figuratively. The power can and will go out every now and then. It may not happen in front of millions of people, and it may not be your fault. But it’s Momentum that will save the day.

- Diane Schwartz


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