Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. It only feels like the last five weeks have spanned a year. For some PR professionals, the past five weeks have probably felt more like five years.
In honor of those particular PR pros, I present to you a few choices for 2016 Spokesperson of the Year, Premature Edition.
1. Chris Arnold, PR Director, Chipotle Mexican Grill
Think it’s easy leading communications for a company that’s literally making people ill? Just yesterday, on Feb. 8, 2016, Chipotle closed more than 2,000 restaurants for a few hours while it held what the New York Times called a virtual town hall meeting with its employees to let them know what it was doing to prevent future outbreaks of E. coli, nonovirus and salmonella. The company invited a couple reporters and tweeted some statements to give the meeting a sheen of transparency, but good PR can do only so much to make food safe and reverse a steep decline in sales. Through it all, Chris Arnold has been responsive and readily available to reporters covering this story, including PR News editor Seth Arenstein.
2. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
For the second year in a row, all the actors nominated for Oscars in the four acting categories are white. No women or African-Americans were nominated for best director. It was up to Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a longtime representative of the organization’s public relations branch, to cart out a pained statement, saying, “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion…This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes…The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” What else can she do but “conduct a review”? It’s not like she has the power to greenlight movies at a motion picture studio. She’s had to take the heat while the powers that be rally for Leo’s guaranteed Oscar.
3. Steven Drummond, Director of Communications, Carolina Panthers
Imagine this: The face of your organization barely answers reporters’ questions, sulks and walks out on a press conference. Wherever you stand on Cam Newton’s actions after his team’s loss in Super Bowl 50, it’s going to be a long hangover for Steven Drummond, who’s going to have to manage the hassles with the media from here to eternity—or at least until Super Bowl 51.
Who’s your pick?
—Steve Goldstein, Editorial Director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI
“Don’t talk to strangers!”
That was the advice many of us received as children. No one told us when to start talking to strangers again (at 19? 22? 43?) We had to figure that one out on our own. As professionals and communicators we need to not only talk to strangers to build our network but we need to talk to the right strangers to build a robust, meaningful network.
“You only need a small network – 25 to 50 people can get you what you need,” advised Judy Robinett, author of the best-selling book “How to be a Power Connector: the 5+50+150 Rule.” Judy keynoted PR News’s Top Women in PR awards luncheon in NYC on Tuesday and she shared her top networking tips with the hundreds of powerful women and their teams who gathered for this annual event. She says there are essentially three levels of networking that really matter: a friend of a friend of a friend. That means that the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (4 removed) won’t do much for you. Further, if you want to build a meaningful professional or personal network, you need a warm introduction by someone. That fourth or fifth removed “friend” won’t get you places.
The PR News awards luncheon was packed with other great advice, including how important it is to share what you know and give other people credit where credit is due. I credit the 75 Top Women in PR for sharing on stage the following nuggets on success, work/life balance, hiring talent and staying at the top of your game. Please share in the Comments section your favorite piece of advice (we’re in this together!):
- Kick fear to the curb
- You can disagree without being disagreeable
- Communicating is about listening more than talking
- Don’t ask, don’t get
- Just be nice
- Sometimes great ideas come when you’re not thinking about work
- Hire people who look and think differently than you do
- Work with people who have intellectual curiosity and a sense of humor
- Learn how to say NO – you will miraculously clear your calendar for more important things
- Your network is your critical asset; your network equals your net worth
- Rethink your assumptions
- When hiring for your next star, look for people who understand that PR has a PR problem and who wants to help change that perception
- Work hard, work fun and take more baths.
That’s right: take more baths. Some of the best advice is the simplest.
- Diane Schwartz
We’ve all had to deal with unhappy customers, whatever our line of work. If you’re an agency PR pro, you have to respond to unsatisfied clients from time to time. If you’re an in-house PR or marketing pro, perhaps you’ve seen customer dissatisfaction played out in public on Twitter. It can be disheartening for sure, but managing other people’s disappointment is one of those skills that can be developed quickly, and the process itself can teach you a lot about yourself.
These recommendations for managing unhappy customers don’t apply to all situations, but they can be easily adapted to most situations.
1. If a customer complains about your product or service in a social post, go beyond taking it offline—which usually means just shuttling a person to email—and ask the customer to send you an email with their phone number. You’d be sending a clear message that you take the complaint seriously.
2. If a customer complains about your product or service in an email, immediately suggest a time to talk by phone. Again, suggesting a phone call is a mark of seriousness and respect. Using the phone also minimizes the possibility of anger escalating or misunderstandings percolating.
3. If you speak to the customer by phone, refrain from interruptions. If you interrupt the customer in mid-sentence you’re, in effect, telling her or him to shut up. Listen well; speak infrequently.
4. Once you’ve truly heard your customer out, take a couple of moments to consider the validity of the complaint. Did you or your company promise something that you didn’t deliver? Or did the customer buy your product or service without paying attention to the PR or marketing messages around that product or service? Aggrieved customers can’t be talked out of their emotions, but it’s helpful for you to make a considered judgment call. If you feel the complaint is totally without justification then an apology may not be in order, but that doesn’t mean your job is done (see No. 6).
5. If the complaint if valid, then you owe the customer an apology and gratitude for helping you to improve your product or service. Express them both succinctly and professionally.
6. Offer the customer something special. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a refund. The customer is already interested in what your brand has to offer. Provide a couple of options—just don’t let one of them be a coffee mug with your company logo.
You’ll find that the conversation alone is something special, for you and the customer. It’s full-on communication—and that’s where the self-knowledge comes in.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News
Let’s assume you are brilliant. And you’re an inspiration to your peers, an asset to your organization. Let’s also assume that while you’re an A-player you still have a lot to learn. As the late, esteemed UCLA coach John Wooden noted, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
If you’re still with me on this concept, then let’s assume you have less than a month to prep yourself for a stellar 2016. If you’re taking time off for the holidays then really you have just a few weeks to get things together, to get your particular Act in motion. To give you a running start on 2016, I’ve compiled a list of 11 things you can do in the next few weeks to sharpen your PR skills and acumen. Like the bowl of vegetables at the holiday table, these ideas aren’t what you’re craving to add to your plate. But make room for them if you are truly hungry to succeed.
Consider these 11 simple activities at work:
- Conduct a content audit: review the posts and articles on your web site and social media platforms to get a clear picture of your brand’s story over the past year. Too much of one topic, not enough of others? Create an Edit Calendar with wiggle room.
- Reverse mentor: if you were born after 1992, then match yourself up with a Millennial at your organization and spend some time learning from him/her. Likewise, if Mary Tyler Moore and Wite-Out don’t ring a bell with you, there’s a lot you can learn from the Baby Boomers and Gen X. (Read my blog on this topic.)
- Brush up on the Barcelona Principles. You already know what they are (right)?
- Have a meeting with your Marketing colleagues to share ideas and develop cross-discipline communication strategies.
- Do a Social Media Cleanse. Does your brand need to be on Pinterest? Is Instagram working for you? Are your Twitter followers not the best representation of your brand? What’s Facebook doing for you?
- Review your Crisis Plan and update it, if necessary. If you don’t have a crisis plan in place, create a first draft asap and share it with your team and C-Suite.
- Assess your media relationships. That holiday card you’re about to send won’t endear you to a reporter. Set up a meetings with key journalists in the first quarter of 2016. Brush up on their body of work beforehand. Commit to developing meaningful relationships with this important stakeholder group.
- Familiarize yourself with your organization’s stated mission and goals and make sure your PR dept’s Mission and Goals align with Corporate. Likewise, if you’re with an agency, be sure your client is in sync with its organization’s overriding mission.
- Audit your resources. Do you have the right team in place to take on the challenges of 2016? What are the most important job responsibilities and skills you need on your team next year? Consider this carefully and don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations and make bold moves.
- Do a Diversity Check. Is your brand inclusive and are the voices representing your organization and brand diverse?
- Host a Failure Fest in the next few weeks; members should share their favorite failure of the year and what they learned from it. No #Winning stories allowed.
Keep me apprised of your progress on these 11 ideas. If you can’t get to all of them this month, there’s always next year.
– Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
At the Oct. 26 Platinum PR Awards Luncheon in NYC, PR News honored the top PR campaigns of the past 12 months and the teams behind them. The level of sophistication and creativity among the winning campaigns is a testament to the power of public relations and the advancement of our profession. (Check out the winners and see for yourself.)
Meanwhile, back on the awards stage, we asked award winners one-answer questions, such as what is the one skill that PR people will need going into 2016, and what one characteristic are you looking for in your next great hire?
Patterns emerged in the answers, and most noteworthy was a growing sentiment that PR and Marketing need to collaborate more – or at least start earnestly talking to one another. Being nimble and flexible were also mentioned often – perhaps a nod to the do-more-with-less even as things change at warp speed. The obvious skills such as being a great verbal and written communicator, knowing how and what to measure, possessing business/financial acumen were not mentioned because they are a given and also do not make for pithy sound bites when you’re on stage in front of hundreds of peers.
We also asked the winners to name the social media platform or app they wish would go away. The majority answered Snapchat, which surely is all about disappearing but there’s no sign it’s going away anytime soon.
Here’s what your peers say are the most important characteristics and skills for PR pros going into 2016:
- Collaborating with marketing
- Marcom skills
- Sense of humor
- Positive Attitude
- Willingness to be nimble
- Multitasking abilities
- Ability to adapt
- Willingness to adapt
- Insatiable curiosity
- Ability to focus
- Adept at identifying new stakeholders
- Able to deal with volatility
- Embracing technology
Which top skills would you add to the list? Don’t be shy!
– Diane Schwartz
Envision a nationally televised debate among leaders in Public Relations. Who you picture on that stage is a pretty good indicator of the state of our profession. To keep the personalities out of this for now, what issues would you want debated? What are the themes resonating now that also will prepare us for a stronger future as the leaders of reputation management, storytelling and fair public discourse?
Following are some potential debate topics that Anderson Cooper and the like might ask PR leaders. Please chime in since it’s about all of us coming together for a brighter future, right?
- Social media as strategy: After all the Facebook likes and Twitter followers, what do you have to show for it? Does social media move our brands forward or are we wallowing in a false sense of popularity or unpopularity? How can we make social media communications more meaningful?
- Are we really that into Measurement? At a PR News conference in early October, roughly 90% of attendees said they did not know what the Barcelona Principles are. Does that mean communicators aren’t following those measurement guidelines, and is it beholden on senior leaders to ensure that all PR staff study and execute on this short list?
- Are we getting closer to integrated communications? How can Marketing and PR collaborate more effectively and how can we resolve the issue of who gets a bigger piece of the budgetary pie? In other words, why can’t we all just get along?
- Is the press release dead?: Media relations is a touchstone of Public Relations, but are reporters and other stakeholders reading press releases? We know the release is an important communications vehicle, so how can we make sure it’s leveraged effectively and is not the sole means of telling a story?
- Is voice communication losing its sway? With texting, social media, emoji mania and email communication representing the majority of daily interactions, are people forgetting how to talk to one another and how can PR lead the way?
- Is employee communications an HR thing? Though employees are on the front lines and the most likely brand ambassadors, what role does and should PR play internally?
- Can PR be tied to sales? We’re told that it can, but how are you proving this and once proven why are we not shouting it out from the rooftops? This goes back to my Measurement question earlier. Shouldn’t PR be a driver of sales?
- Why isn’t there more Diversity in PR? What more can we be doing so that at all voices are represented in this profession, that ethnic, racial and gender diversity are not a problem within our own ranks?
- PR advocacy: there are at least a handful of PR associations representing the industry, but are we doing enough within our organizations to evangelize the power of PR?
Let’s end the debate on a high note. Public Relations is stronger than ever, as evidenced by the growing number of people entering the profession, the increase in PR compensation year over year and the utilization of PR counsel at the highest levels of an organization. The issues we face, however, will continue to challenge our profession. Let’s deal with them head-on.
- Diane Schwartz
Why is it still newsworthy when PR is called to the rescue or joins a strategic team? “Pet Company Hires PR Firm to Clone Calico Cats” or “PR Counselor Recommends AshleyMadison.com to C-Suite” – now those would be worth writing about. To wit: there is still a jaundiced view of PR. To utilize PR is sometimes akin to admitting you’ve reached The Last Resort.
Part of the reason for this mentality is the media’s view of PR – the same journalists creating a news story out of a non-story are the journalists whose respect for PR is wavering at best. Surely there are outstanding relationships between PR pro and journalist. Enough rotten apples and we become spoiled, in a bad way.
Another reason PR is not yet elevated within an organization is a lack of strong and ongoing advocacy for PR. PR professionals are the go-to storytellers, writers, advisors, counselors, organizers, implementers and strategists — right?
Some heavy lifting is needed. We might start by dispelling these 5 myths about PR:
PR is nice to have but not need to have. The truth is that the strongest brands and reputations deploy smart public relations tactics that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission and culture.
PR people suck at math and finance. PR execs need to add metrics and measurement to the business conversations and hold PR accountable in front of senior management. We talk about measurement among ourselves – time to apply what you know to the conversations you have with the C-suite and marketing colleagues.
PR should not be seen — and needs to stay behind the scenes. Of course not. You have the advantage of context and clarity – there’s no reason you can’t be the spokesperson and certainly no reason why an organization shouldn’t be proud to have a smart PR counselor backing its reputation.
PR’s main role is media relations. Media relations is a subset of PR and not the end-all, be-all. While strong relationships with journalists are critical for many PR people, the Public in Public Relations includes those hanging out on social media, the employees in your organization and the people on Wall Street and Main Street. Change the conversation from positive media coverage to positive coverage.
What other myths would you add to the mix, and what are your suggestions for busting them?
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s follow each other on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Subway must want this year to end quickly. Jared Fogle, the company-created celebrity spokesperson, this week agreed to plead guilty of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and the distribution and receipt of child pornography, according to the Associated Press. Sales were already falling. Now, with Fogle’s child pornography case, Subway has a worst-case-scenario PR problem.
Make that “public relations” problem.
For non-practitioners, “PR” has become synonymous with spin, obfuscation and corporate-sponsored scientific studies designed to facilitate sales. This perception reaches the C-suite, where PR is sometimes designated as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.
Until a Jared Fogle moment comes along.
Fogle’s case sends shivers beyond Subway’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut and 21,000 franchises, to any organization that hovers over the border between a good reputation and a tarnished reputation. (In an upcoming issue of PR News’ weekly premium publication, editor Seth Arenstein will share possible ways forward for Subway from public relations thought leaders.)
That’s where all organizations exist—near that border. From the CEO to the customer service representative to the supplier’s floor manager in another hemisphere, every individual in or connected to an organization has the potential to damage it with acts done, words said or written, images shared. PR as it’s commonly perceived is merely a tourniquet, but thoughtful, effective public relations has clarity of purpose. It’s relating to the public, communicating with people, listening and responding—in good times and bad.
If you’re a public relations professional, you know this already, but do the executives who approve your budgets know this? Those executives need smart, effective public relations practitioners in their highest-level business meetings—before their Jared moment crashes through the window like a wrecking ball.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
The lines are blurry. As a communicator you are usually selling something – an idea, a story, an interview to the media, a budget, a campaign. To close on that effort – to get the story, win the account, score a larger budget – is a similar feeling your Marketing counterpart has when her campaign idea is approved or when a customer buys the product based on her messaging. And the salesperson down the hall from you? He is always prospecting, aims to be in front of clients or at least on the phone with them, understanding their pain points and their spending limits.
These three levers of Communications – PR, Marketing, Sales — are at their best when they’re working together, not separately. Most practitioners and strategists agree with the premise, but the underlying pain points, frustrations, budgetary constraints, conflicting goals may stop the three from even wanting to work together. I’ve posed the question in a previous post, Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day? A lot of you responded and as a whole we’re in favor of this matrimony. But how about we go on a few dates first?
The best communicators will be the ones who have a firm grasp on Marketing, who partner with Sales to help close business, and who are pushing for consistent messaging across this spectrum. If you shy away from Sales or snub your nose at Marketing (that department that steals some of your budget), then you will be OK, possibly. That is to say, you can get by. But to be an extraordinary communications executive you need to spend some time in their shoes. Here are three easy things you can do in the next 30 days to narrow the gap and broaden your organization’s (and your own) opportunities:
Lead a Sales Call: Try to sell something to a client: ask your sales dept if you can sell your company’s service or product to one prospect. Set up the appointment, do your research, lead the meeting, close the business, send out the proposal, wait for the signature. Sometimes you’ll be waiting longer than expected for a signed contract and that’s part of the process and why the rewards taste so sweet.
Be a Marketer: Sit in on Marketing meetings and listen without your PR hat on. Understand how they measure success and manage budgets. Ask to work on a campaign in which you need to partner with the PR team. It’s not always easy to collaborate and see the other side. As a marketer, you may want to spend more on b-to-c advertising while PR is pushing for a media relations push with the trade press. Find common ground and share in the hits and misses.
Break Bread & Barriers: Set up monthly Integrated Communications Breakfasts. An early morning meeting of the minds where you are fresh and prepared could work wonders. Share current initiatives, report on performance of campaigns, ask for help and guidance. This will increase transparency and lead to more collaboration.
There’s nothing like coffee and bagels to smear away the friction that exists when three departments are used to eating alone.
– Diane Schwartz
We all have our pet peeves that we cherish and use to define ourselves to ourselves. One of mine is the way people behave when looking at their mobile phones while walking or standing in public. Specifically, people in elevators gazing at their phones.
Perhaps this has happened to you: You’re waiting for an elevator, the doors open, you allow a couple of moments to pass for people to leave the elevator, no one leaves, so you step in just as some mobile-phone addict starts to leave. You nearly collide with that person as he looks up from his phone and starts to exit, and then you get the dirty look.
Each day, as I deal with this inconsiderate behavior, I feel a growing urge to take to Twitter and write, “Fellow citizens, please look up from your phones when elevator doors open to help avoid collisions.” Except I wouldn’t put it so tactfully.
So far I’ve resisted the urge.
I resist the urge by asking myself, “Would I make this statement aloud to strangers in a crowded elevator?”
Of course, I wouldn’t. At least one person would curse me out and the rest would write me off as a nut.
And that’s what Twitter and all other social channels are—elevators packed with strangers. Sharing a link to worthwhile content is one thing. Before expressing a strong opinion about anything, or making a stand about a controversial issue, remember that you’re communicating with strangers who didn’t ask you for your opinion. Would you disparage an NCAA basketball team during March Madness in a crowded elevator, to no one in particular? Maybe you would, but you would have to prepare for and expect some negative consequences. Imagine doing the same thing on Twitter.
Individuals and brands should keep this elevator test in mind before posting anything on social channels. For instance, while no one asked Starbucks to start a national conversation about race in the U.S., it launched its daring online and in-store #RaceTogether campaign, and things got so out of hand that one of its senior PR executives shut down his Twitter account temporarily.
Perhaps if Starbucks had tested this campaign in an elevator filled with strangers, it might have played out differently.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI