By now you’ve heard the news that Adam Levine hates his country. No, he loves his country. Wait a minute: what does he really feel and why do we care? If “The Voice” coach and Maroon Five singer truly hated America, the worst that could happen is he gets kicked off “The Voice” and his band suffers in the Apple store.
For communications professionals, Adam Levine’s gut response, “I hate this country” made after two of his singers got voted off “The Voice” on Tuesday night, is an example of public figures saying something stupid for a split second. That’s all it takes, a split second, for a quote to go viral and escalate to a top story. The public and media know a great sound bite when they hear it, especially surprising when it comes out of the mouths of generally well-liked, behaving celebrities.
What PR advice would you give Adam? Here are some steps Adam has already taken and that he might want to consider over the next 48 hours:
Respond via social media. On his Twitter handle, he tweeted definitions of “humorless,” “joke,” “misunderstand” and “lighthearted.” His fans are on Twitter, so responding to them in a less conspicuous manner was the right move.
Issue a statement. That he did:
“I obviously love my country very much and my comments last night were made purely out of frustration. Being a part of The Voice, I am passionately invested in my team and want to see my artists succeed. Last night’s elimination of Judith and Sarah was confusing and downright emotional for me and my comments were made based on my personal dissatisfaction with the results. I am very connected to my artists and know they have long careers ahead, regardless of their outcome on the show.”
Ride it out. This too shall be passed over by other non-important news. Justin Bieber continues to behave badly, Arrested Development is back and Beyonce might be having another baby.
Be more careful. That microphone works, Adam. Think before you speak into it.
Here are things Adam shouldn’t do in the next 48 hours:
> Wear red, white and blue.
> Get a tattoo of the U.S. flag on his wrist (wait at least a year).
> Write a song about patriotism.
> Become the spokesperson for the Armed Forces.
> Step down from “The Voice.”
And, for the producers of “The Voice,” enjoy the boost in ratings.
- Diane Schwartz
We’ve been doing a lot of writing in PR News lately on great PR writing and as I was reflecting on this very intricate craft—a form of writing that requires immense skill—I thought it might be useful to reflect on what a journalist looks for in PR writing—not just press releases, but also corporate letters, comments from executives, and more. So here goes, more or less in the order of importance:
• First and foremost, tell a story, but remember your story is not automatically interesting to the media and stakeholders. You have to anticipate what your external constituents will view as significant from their perspective. But let’s get back to the concept of story-telling. If there’s a narrative—if there’s a sense of progress, or change, or surprise, or accomplishment, that’s what will get the attention of a reporter. Especially if the story is unexpected, or counter-intuitive, or it defies the conventional wisdom. That’s what reporters look for, because those are the things they want to offer to their readers.
• Don’t force big news out of small news. I got a press release just last week from a media company CEO, who assured me this was “big, big news.” Well, it wasn’t. Loss of credibility because of a breathless effort to turn non news into big news is hard to repair.
• Don’t lead with the “what,” lead with the “why.” It’s harder for a reporter to care that your CEO just gave a speech at the TED Conference, or that your company just won a major industry award, or even that you exceeded earnings expectations for the quarter by 4 percent. It’s much easier to care that the CEO’s presentation was really important because it generated news, or caused a stir, or that your earning would have missed except for some specific act. You get the idea.
• When using quotes, avoid “happy talk.” I’ve read 10,000 quotes that proclaim a CEO is “delighted to have Bob join the team…” Perhaps you thought we were expecting to hear that you’re “kind of bummed out that Bob is joining the team, because we really wanted Jane.” It’s better to simply lay out what Bob or Jane is expected to do, and why the hire matters.
• Avoid hackneyed and hyperbolic words. Nothing makes journalists’ eyes glaze over faster than you touting your ”solutions,” your “global” reach and your “industry-leading” position.
• Don’t bury the lead. Usually, you can tell the gist of your story in half the number of words you used. This mainly comes down to disciplined self editing, but you also have to keep in mind the fact that early drafts of writing almost always take their time getting to the point and usually back into the point.
• Don’t use exclamation points. Don’t use bold-faced words. Don’t use all-caps. You’d be amazed at how well-crafted sentences and solid choice of words actually speak for themselves, without any need to call attention to them.
- Tony Silber
On Twitter: @tonysilber
You’re a busy journalist. You’re on deadline. You’re trying to round up sources and interviews for a story you need to crank out today. One of your most promising sources is not responding, gone off the grid. But you’re still hopeful, especially because she and her company have PR representation.
So you go to the PR agency’s website, looking to email or call someone from the agency and either enlist their help or leverage the connection into a direct call with the source.
But wait: You get to the “Contact Us” page, and you hit a wall. What? Instead of a helpful list of members of the team, with their areas of specialty, their email addresses and their phone numbers, not to mention their Twitter addresses, you hit a cinderblock. You get one of those “Fill-Out-This-Irritating-Web-Form-And-Send-An-Email-To-Some-Anonymous-Address” pages.
You get one of those contact pages on websites that force users to send their media inquiries via email to a faceless, nameless depository and hope that they get a response in a timely manner.
Guess what that journalist is going to do? Correct.
Which leads me to ask: Why do PR firms—communications agencies, after all—use those depersonalizing forms? I know a lot of companies do it, and maybe there’s a good reason, but I say not in PR.
In PR, the whole point is to connect with stakeholders—especially the media—in as expeditious a manner as possible. In PR, with a few exceptions, the chance to tell your story is something to be embraced. So why make it hard? It makes no sense. You’re not doing yourself, or your clients, any favors that’s for sure.
For that matter too, the strategy is debatable even for companies that don’t often get a lot of media inquiries. That’s because, due to the rise of “content marketing,” every company is now a quasi-media company and needs to be able to respond to inquiries—from either media reps or customers—with more speed and more substance.
For PR agencies, the whole objective is to humanize—you. Your firm. Your clients. By having a faceless Contacts page you’re ultimately robbing yourself of the opportunity to get your messages out and cultivate relationships.
Social media is rewriting the rules for PR and dramatically changing how PR reps communicate with the media. Fair enough. But PR departments and agencies that insist on using a faceless, “Media Inquiries” page on their websites, are, when you come to think about it, being downright anti-“social.”
Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1
Has writing become a lost art, a nice-to-have skill but not a necessary one? I sure hope not. For those of us who cherish the written word and are prone to find typos on cereal boxes or wine bottles, we appreciate a well-constructed sentence that concisely conveys a point. Smart communicators know that good writing is essential, not optional.
PR News hosted a Writing Boot Camp at the National Press Club on May 14, and I was pleased to see hundreds of PR professionals of all levels taking time to hone a skill that can be a game-changer for their career. That is, if you’re a terrible writer, how far can you really go at your company? If you can’t consistently communicate a message creatively and succinctly, how likely is it that your stakeholders will look down on your brand and possibly move on?
If you recognize you have writing deficiencies, do something about it now. Don’t wait. It’s all well and fine to be a social media expert or a great account manager. But sooner or later, you will be found out:
“She’s great with the clients in person, but have you seen her emails? They make no sense.”
“We can’t give him that report to write, because we’ll be up all night rewriting it.”
“Did she miss the punctuation class in grade school?”
To avoid such maligning, I’ve compiled seven tips to help you become a better writer:
Read at least 3 articles a day: Whether online or in print, read about current events and take note of how the writer is articulating a point, how quotes are being used, how the article begins and ends.
Resist the urge to abbreviate: In a short-messaging world, we think what works in a text or tweet is OK in an email, a memo or a press release. It’s not. Spell out words. Make your sixth grade English teacher proud.
Say it out loud: after you’ve written a business piece, read it out loud. Does it make sense? Can it be improved? Is it so long that you tire of hearing your own voice?
Avoid jargon: At the Writing Boot Camp, trainers implored the audience to avoid hyperbole and be real about how “innovative” your company is or whether “best” and “great” are really the right words to make your stakeholders believe in your product. For more tips on avoiding jargon, check out my Boot Camp coverage.
Know your channel: It’s been said that Twitter is the office and Facebook is the dinner table: your messages should reflect the channel you’re writing for. Where it gets sticky is with email communication. Know these things about email: your email can be forwarded, especially if it’s irresistibly incomprehensible; don’t use emoticons in emails to people you’re not close with, and (drumroll…) you can use spell check with your emails.
Break the right rules: let’s face it, the AP Stylebook is a guide not a rule. You can break rules in writing in the interest of creativity and keeping people awake. Every now and then start a sentence with the word “And” or remove a verb from the sentence, for effect.
Think in headlines: As you begin to write a piece, ask yourself what the headline would be. Likely you’ll change that headline several times. If you can’t come up with a headline, then you are unclear about the message you’re conveying. Every story has a headline.
Any other tips you’d like to add? If so, please chime in. And don’t abbreviate.
- Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Earlier this week I noticed this tweet from Business Insider’s Henry Blodget:
“RT @SullyCNBC: I’ve interviewed many successful people over the years. Many began with nothing. ALL shared one trait—optimism.”
Blodget, of course, was retweeting a comment by CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, whose tweet sparked a conversation among his followers and was retweeted more than 30 times.
Later that day I saw this report on Gawker, a video called “This is Water,” tied to the audio of a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College by the late novelist David Foster Wallace. The speech is about empathy, and perseverance, and outlook on life and career. It’s inspiring and well worth listening to.
Both the tweet from Blodget and the Gawker story got me thinking about the notion of optimism in marketing and communications. That simple concept—a worldview, a sense of the glass being half full—is a powerful tool, and one that people tend to underestimate. People respond to optimism in very real ways. Of course, when you talk about optimism, you can also get very new age-y, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about how an intangible thing—an attitude or approach—can be converted to very real, tangible results, in both careers and communications.
Consider this report on the declining deficit, and how all the U.S. economy needs to take off is a sense of optimism.
Or this one, where a sense of optimism among global business executives led to their believing that their marketing efforts and sales would improve.
So why is it, then, that the pessimists and the cynics often have the aura of credibility? Even in Blodget’s Twitter conversation, someone said that on Wall Street, the bears are viewed as the smart ones. But data, and plenty of examples in the field of communications suggest that optimism is a legitimate PR strategy. Take this study by Margaret Greenberg, president of a Connecticut consulting firm, and Dana Arakawa, who, with Greenberg, is a graduate of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania.
The report showed that optimistic managers are more likely to be engaged managers, who are more likely to engage employees; engaged employees, in turn, are more optimistic and productive than disengaged employees, and their increased productivity increases profitability.
A report in PR News illustrates the point: Maytag, in the middle of a product recall, launched a Facebook page with the explicit objective of turning negative feedback into positive dialogue. The result? The Maytag Facebook page went from 400 disenchanted fans to 42,000 fans (at of the time of our report).
• Throughout the period analyzed, engagement spiked by 4,000%.
• Maytag’s “Big Game” sweepstakes increased likes by 5,000 and ultimately began the wave of engagement.
• The “Faces” gallery received more than 12,000 submissions.
• Money wrote an article that mentioned a positive customer service interaction on Maytag’s Facebook page.
The takeaway for PR pros? It’s simple: build a campaign (and a career) through a positive outlook, an empathetic approach and an optimistic demeanor, and watch as markets and stakeholders respond with increased engagement. Everyone wants to associate with a contented person and a positive vibe.
In ‘Iron Man 3,’ there’s a scene featuring a reporter shoving his iphone in Tony Stark’s face asking him to make a public statement to his enemies. Stark stares into the iphone, makes his superhero threat, then throws the reporter’s phone into oblivion. The press just can’t catch a break these days. Like many CEOs, Stark could use some media training.
In the spirit of heralding the start of summer blockbusters and because this blog can’t really be a movie review, I give you seven practical communications lessons from ‘Iron Man 3′:
- Keep your sense of humor. If Tony Stark can get kicked, smashed and thrown out of airplanes and still have a sense of humor about it, surely you can handle a disappointment at the office.
- In a press conference, do not give out the home address of your CEO. Repeat, keep executives’ home addresses confidential.
- Look for answers in less obvious places. Clue are everywhere – check the shadows, look around you, ask questions. You’ll eventually find what you’re looking for.
- It’s hard to get close to someone if you’re wearing armor. Shed the pretenses, be yourself.
- Don’t discount the people you meet at parties, on elevators and places in between: they may come back to haunt you, or help you.
- Stay until the end: anyone who has watched a Marvel superhero movie knows to be on the lookout for the Stan Lee cameo and to stay until after the credits, when there’s a short reel featuring another Marvel superhero and a forthcoming movie. It’s the treat you get for surviving all the credits. (By the way, check out the incredible overhead on this movie.)
- Test your piece of work in other markets: Even before hitting U.S. theaters a few days ago, ‘Iron Man’ bagged more than $500 million at the box office overseas. Success begets more success. If you know you’ll get a great reception from other audiences, start there to increase buzz and confirm the epic quality of your work.
- Kids are cute and lighten the mood when you’re trying to beat the competition. Feature them in your next campaign.
- Diane Schwartz
There you are, reporting to your CEO on the outcome of a recent PR campaign you spearheaded. Your excitement is contagious as the CEO wants to know more about the positive tone, product awareness and visual dimensions, more about your company’s share of voice and the way you were able to tie sales to the efforts. He asks you what the ad equivalency would be for this PR campaign and you explain, patiently, that AVEs are not how we measure anymore; that’s for amateurs. You refer a few times to the Barcelona Principles, but you had him at “awareness.”
Measurement is the new black. Those who measure their PR understand the profound impact the activity can have on a company’s brand and bottom line. Measurement experts go far in their career because they have gained a keener understanding of their activities by tracking what’s important and by dispensing of activities that bear either no fruit or rotten fruit. One of the best indicators of an organization’s support of the PR department is its investment in measurement and its willingness to listen to the results (however tough they may be) and heed PR’s counsel.
What used to be cordoned off as the geeky discipline within PR, measurement and research is now integrated into everything communicators do. Or it should be. Whether it’s measuring the impact of a tweet or analyzing the performance of a year-long community relations effort, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
In a recent PR News/CARMA survey, roughly 10 percent of respondents admitted they don’t typically set objectives for some campaigns and don’t measure social media, and nearly 64% still use clip counts more than other metrics. And surprisingly, 32% said the primary reason they measure is because their boss or senior management requires it. Until we get the 32% of PR pros to measure because they want to be better at PR and until we get 100% of communicators setting real objectives, then we are not done with evangelizing the power of measurement.
- Diane Schwartz
PS: At PR News, we are bringing hundreds of communicators to the National Press Club on May 15 for our annual PR Measurement Conference. We’ll share measurement tips, tactics, war stories and advice. Hope you can join us for this “sexy” event. I hope you’ll join us. Email me your hot-button measurement questions to pose to the speakers at email@example.com.