What’s Your Mona Lisa? Finding the Fascination and Framing It Well

Mona-Lisa-at-the-Louvre-w-008It’s not every day you get to see the Mona Lisa in person. And for those of you who’ve been to The Louvre, you know it takes about a day to find the room where the Mona Lisa hangs and then a half day to wiggle your way to the front of the crowd to catch sight of the iconic painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

When my daughter and I visited Paris a few weeks ago and came face to face with the painting, we were in awe. Not of its artistry but of the power of one small painting of a Florentine housewife named Lisa Gherardini to fascinate millions of people worldwide, to cause heartbreak, suicide and spats among family members as they argue over whether it’s worth the foot blisters to find the little painting tucked in a bulletproof glass case. Let’s face it – and please forgive me art aficionados, historians and relatives of the da Vinci and Gherardini families: The Mona Lisa is not the prettiest painting in the Louvre. It’s not even the prettiest painting in that room. The Wedding Feast at Cana on the other side of the room is quite impressive.

What is fascinating is the story behind the painting: the mystery of this young woman, that interesting smile and why da Vinci chose to paint her of all people.  What’s kept us talking about this for more than 500 years is the story behind this 1503 painting, the interpretation upon interpretation of every aspect of the painting, including whether the subject really is Lisa Gherardini. “The emotions, the intelligence, the obvious wit that [da Vinci] captured are what make Lisa’s face so alive and so fascinating to us,” notes Dianne Hales in her new book “Mona Lisa”. That people of all sentiments and backgrounds are so passionate about this work of art is not enough to create the phenomenon.  It’s the story of the subject herself, the narrative of the making of the painting, and the tale of its journey that positions the Mona Lisa as the most buzzworthy subjects ever, even accounting for the Kardashians.

I have read so many stories about Mona Lisa that when I actually view the painting I see one of the greatest stories ever told. Beyond the canvas, the Mona Lisa stirs mystery, empathy, infatuation, love, curiosity. She is approachable, yet hard to get. And she might not even be the she we think she is.  She is smiling but she clearly knows more than I do. Which brings me back to reality. I don’t know much about art, clearly, but I do know that if you want to create something with appeal that is cherished for centuries (or even for this fiscal year), make sure your subject is interesting.  Choose a subject that is unconventional. Make sure your story palette has the right colors and your canvas the right texture.  Make it so good people will want to steal it, as was the case with the Mona Lisa which was stolen from the Louvre back in 1911. That, by the way, was great PR for the painting, as it brought a community together as they grieved and awaited its return.  The thief’s defense was that he fell in love with Mona Lisa. “I fell victim to her smile.”

Take a look at the stories you tell, the messages you convey, the pictures you paint of your brand. Can you find your Mona Lisa?  She might be staring right at you.

– Diane Schwartz

Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

LeBron James Learns a Lesson in Effective PR

LeBron James’ stunning announcement on Friday that he was heading back to Cleveland and rejoining the Cavaliers provides some food for thought for PR pros. Make that a feast.

For starters, it certainly didn’t go unnoticed that James chose Sports Illustrated—if ever there was a symbol of traditional media—to tell the world that he was returning to the Cavs after spending the last four years playing (and winning two championships) for the Miami Heat.

Sure, brands and organizations are tripping over themselves to develop more robust social media strategies. But James’ use of SI to get the word out is a reminder that when you have a critical announcement affecting myriad stakeholders, you might want to go with the most trusted media source and shoot for maximum impact.

James’ beautifully written letter, as told to SI’s Lee Jenkins, was in stark contrast to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding “The Decision” in 2010. That’s when James announced to the world, via ESPN, that he “was taking his talents to South Beach” after playing seven seasons for the Cavs.

Indeed, James’ most recent letter makes a compelling case that when you have something serious to say, less is more, and low-key is the right key.

“I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The 4x NBA MVP also demonstrates a knack for transparency, which is key for communications. The letter neutralizes any critics by saying his return to Cleveland is not about having trouble with Heat management or thinking that the team has cooled off competitively, but a burning desire to go home (and who among us can argue with that)? The story writes itself.

And by forgiving the erratic behavior of Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert following James’ departure for South Beach four years ago, James also shows a talent for putting himself in another person’s shoes—no small feat for PR pros whose job is to figure out how receptive their audiences will be to certain messages.

Finally, in a move worthy of one of his sweet sweeps to the hoop, James’ letter shows communicators how to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to effective messaging.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up.”

It’s another PR lesson from James, who combines an emotional pitch with a need for the practical. What more can your constituents possibly ask for?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

3 Wise Ways to Tie Your PR to Sales

It’s the definitive question in C-suites, boardrooms and industry conferences: is there a correlation between PR and sales? It’s safe to say that, as a whole, communicators have not done a stellar job at demonstrating the link between PR and the top or bottom line.                                                                                                                  

While PR can sometimes directly be tied to sales, I am not espousing that it should always be tied to sales. Rather, your role as a valuable public relations practitioner includes demonstrating a return on investment from your PR efforts (refer to #3 in the Barcelona Principles). That “return” is not always about revenue; it’s about building awareness, improving reputation, informing stakeholders, and more.

There’s only so much you can control when it comes to the actual sales close. But you can be a part of ensuring there are processes in place to draw a correlation between your performance and that of your organization.  Get familiar with your typical customer’s buying journey and understand that your sales team comes into the journey rather late in the game. Consultant Debbie Qaquish, in a column on prnewsonline, explains rather adeptly how PR can, and why it should, augment sales.

What’s missing in many organizations is a collaborative approach in which the marketing mix includes PR from start to finish: PR is not thrown into the mix half way for good measure. It’s not sprinkled onto the mix as a nice to have ingredient and it’s not heaped on at the end to give it flavor. Rather, PR is a formidable ingredient in an organization’s marketing mix. For this to happen, the leaders in an organization need to believe in the power of PR and you need to preach what you practice.  Here are 3 ways to begin connecting your PR efforts to sales:

1. Talk to your sales team regularly. Do you know who the top salespeople are at your organization? Ask them what their clients are saying about your brand and products.  Equip the salespeople with supporting data, materials and anything you think would help them sell more. Set up monthly meetings with your sales colleagues, with the goal being to give them the updates, trends, thought leadership pieces and other supporting materials that will set them apart from competitors. You can’t sell for them but you can sell with them.

“Run your communications team like a sales team,” advises Mark Stouse, vice president at BMC Software, in a recent Q&A with PR News. “Focus on aligning your marketing and communications efforts with the three legs of sales productivity — demand generation, deal expansion and deal velocity.”

2. Know SEO.  Search engine optimization is not the sole domain of IT, Marketing or an outsourced firm. Optimize your content so it’s landing high in search results and attracting the right eyeballs. Whether you’re on WordPress or a custom content management system, you need to make your words sing louder and live longer online. There are countless tools available to learn the keywords your prospective customers are using (such as SEO Moz) and helpful PR/SEO workshops, but there’s no gaming the system. Produce fresh, relevant content and you’ll increase traffic, which should boost sales. Whether it’s Google Analytics or a premium tool, track your visitors’ conversion rate so you can prove that what your department is producing online results in positive, monetizable action.

3. Optimize social for sales.  Understand your audience behavior on social. Work with your marketing team to drive traffic to your Pinterest board or your Facebook page and don’t be afraid to sell them something while they’re there. You might currently be investing in social promotions and advertising, so why not complement those efforts with direct selling on your own social pages? Additionally, if your press release is not optimized with multimedia and unique links to points of sales (where applicable) then you are wasting a good press release opportunity.

There will come a day when we stopping putting a question mark after PR’s role in the marketing mix and its tremendous value to organizational growth. But this will require an integrated communications approach and a collaborative spirit. Do you have it in you?

- Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

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