We Need to Dispel These 5 PR Myths

mythsSearch the term “hires a PR firm” on any given day and you’ll find a fresh news story about a company hiring a PR firm to handle a crisis. Shocking news! Stop the presses! How dare they revert to PR!

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

‘PR’ Stands for ‘Public Relations,’ in Case Your CEO Forgot

Public-Relations-Questions-Tiles-Dice-Feature_1290x688_KLSubway 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

 

3 Ways to Cut Through in the Shark Days of Summer

560We’ve reached the point in summer when the accumulation of heat and humidity slows the reflexes and thought processes. This is when stories about shark attacks dominate news cycles. Calculated, outrageous statements by politicians running for national office barely raise an eyebrow.

As professional communicators know, it always takes a lot to cut through. In midsummer, it seems, unless you’ve got a video of a great white shark chomping on a surfer’s leg, you’re better off waiting until just after Labor Day to launch a campaign or pitch journalists.

You may not have that privilege, though. If you’re on the clock, your job is to get coverage for your organization, attract new customers to your brand or donors to your nonprofit, protect and enhance corporate reputation—despite the season and capacity of living creatures to assimilate anything new in consistent 91 degree heat.

So, how to cut through with your brand messages when sluggishness reigns? A few suggestions:

1. Use yourself as a test case. Unless you live in San Francisco, where it’s currently a foggy 61 degrees (and my old hometown and destination on Aug. 5-6 for PR News’ Google Boot Camp and Big 4 Social Media Conference), you’re either dragging your knuckles on the melting sidewalks outside or shivering inside as your sweat freezes from the blast of office air conditioning. What kind of content—aside from anything NSFW—is catching your eye on social, in your email inbox, on any kind of screen or printed material? This being summer, it’s likely that anything to do with vacations, time off, food, cold beverages and socializing with friends are the best lures. Try to find ways to connect your communications and business goals with where people’s desires are, if not their physical selves.

2. Find an excuse to use pictures of animals. I can’t tell you how many speakers at PR News conferences have closed their presentations by saying “and if all else fails try this,” and then shown a shot of a cute puppy, kitten or marmot. They’re only half-joking. Pictures of animals will always cut through. It’s no accident that Cecil the lion has shoved aside Donald Trump as the number one news story here at the end of July. Someone in your organization has a new kitten or puppy. Now is the time to put that critter to work.

3. Follow my example and make sure you include “shark” in any headline and “shark attacks” in any opening paragraph.

—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI

 

PR is Sales is Marketing is Advertising

Silo-bustingThe 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

@dianeschwartz

 

 

 

A Much Sharper Vision for Online Video

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. My older brother, knowing that that I want to get into online video but continue to procrastinate about it, got me a Sony camcorder as a gift, and I thank him for it. He gave me a push to finally start to better educate myself about how to shoot and produce online video, which is red hot in PR and marketing.

So, I’ve spent the last two weeks discovering the many moving parts to creating online video, and have had to disabuse myself that, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, I would take the camcorder out of its box, punch a few keys and my years-long dream of producing a documentary about Moondog would soon morph into a tentative reality.

Man, was I ever wrong. Shooting video of my cat pondering the significance of her water bowl, and playing it back, is easy. But transferring the data, whether to my smartphone or my laptop—not to mention the editing process—is going to require me to take many lessons online and probably look to my younger colleagues for reverse mentoring.

My nascent venture into online video has made me appreciate the challenges that PR execs now face in creating online video programming that can boost the brand against competitors. The effort requires both a long-term commitment to make online video a regular part of your communications as well as constant conditioning to what is still a relatively new aspect of public relations.

Machinations aside, in order for online video to work with your audience, it must have a sharp message and purpose. Technical wizardry won’t hurt your brand or organization, but the larger goal should be figuring out how the message in the video will tie to corporate objectives, financial and otherwise. It’s a steep mountain to climb (and I’ve got my Sherpa lined up).

With that in mind, here are a few video-scripting tips, with a hat tip to Reg Rowe, founder of GrayHairPR, a virtual PR agency based in Dallas, TX.

> Call to action. The idea of your video is to get the viewer to do something. Be sure to include a call to action: buy our product, attend our seminar, download our latest infographic, sign up for special offers, etc.

> Tone it up or down. Don’t write down to or over the heads of your audience. Know your audience intimately, its likes and dislikes, its level of expertise and write accordingly. A video for mechanical engineers will have a much different tone than one for soccer moms. The tone you set will influence the setting, talent used and type of dialogue.

> Support the message. After you’ve stated your key message, you need to back it up with facts and figures. Tell the reader/viewer/listener how your brand or client’s company will deliver on the key message and provide benefit to the customer. Credible third-party endorsers (subject-matter experts, analysts, satisfied customers, etc.) can provide believability and support your key message.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Would You Like Ice Cream with Your Omelette? How to Surprise, Delight and Build Loyalty

It’s not every day that you get a free scoop of ice cream with your bacon and eggs, unless you’re eating breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s. The iconic Chicago diner has been surprising first-time customers and delighting return diners with this extra touch. When the waitress handed me the check, then asked if I wanted some ice cream, I looked around as if I had won the lottery. The last thing I really wanted was ice cream after a hearty breakfast but I didn’t realize how much I loved being surprised by the offer.

Surprise: it’s surprisingly powerful!

When was the last time you offered your brand’s version of ice cream with breakfast? When you provided an unexpected benefit or show of appreciation for your stakeholders, be it a customer, a reporter, an employee, an investor, a client? Even the most beloved brands shouldn’t assume they are good to go with their customers, who are just a click or step away from turning their attention to your competitor. MasterCard is just one of many smart brands employing “surprise and delight” to build customer loyalty. Through its “Priceless Surprises” campaigns, cardholders have randomly received a gift, such as a meeting with Justin Timberlake, and are encouraged to send surprise gifts to friends and family (using MasterCard).

When Tania Luna, co-author of “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” keynoted our PR News Digital PR Conference earlier this month in Miami, attendees expected her to talk about how to communicate via surprise tactics given the name of her new book. What the audience didn’t expect was to be handed a pack of Pop Rocks and asked to place the fizzy crystals in their mouth and create a symphonic sound with fellow attendees, with Luna as the conductor. “At the count of 3, this side of the room should start swirling their Pop Rocks in their mouth,” Luna instructed. Amazingly, the attendees exploded with glee and there was a communal sense of pleasant surprise at the activity, the nostalgic quality of Pop Rocks and the silliness they found themselves in. They weren’t expecting this activity at a PR conference. Surprise!

In a recent interview with PR News’ Steve Goldstein, Luna offered 9 surprise tactics and implored communicators to remember that acting human is different than being human. She suggests that communicators “scriptease” to build trust with stakeholders, especially with the media. Put your scripted pitch aside and just have a conversation with the reporter like you would with a friend.

And never stop surprising and delighting: To wit, if you’re waiting in the long line at Lou Mitchell’s or as you’re leaving the restaurant, there’s an endless bowl of fresh donut holes for the taking. Just another way for this brand to sweeten the experience.

- Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

A World Without Twitter?

Snoop+Dogg+Snoop+Dogg+Twitter+Pics+kimbFShLKyHlPR News’ millennial advisory board members were pretty emphatic when they told us Twitter is the social networking platform they use the most in their work lives. Nothing else comes close. These dozen or so PR pros at b2c and b2b companies, nonprofits and agencies rely mostly on Twitter to communicate brand messages on social and to stay on top of news and trends.

Nevertheless, judging by recent events, Twitter’s future is bleak. Current CEO Dick Costolo has one foot out the door, Google may or may not be looking to acquire the company (“absorb, digest and atomize” might be more appropriate than “acquire”) and, to add to the air of doom, Snoop Dogg has offered himself up as the new CEO.

The problem in a nutshell: Twitter isn’t that good at being profitable.

So it may be time to start imagining your life without Twitter. I know, it’s not exactly like imagining your life without easy access to clean drinking water, but it would be a severe rupture in your daily routine just the same. If you’re at an agency, what kind of billable time would fill the hole left by Twitter? If you’re at a brand or nonprofit and 90% of your communications on social are on Twitter, to which alternate platform would you try to migrate your community?

Better to ask these questions now, before Snoop calls his first board meeting.

Follow Steve Goldstein (while you can): @SGoldsteinAI

 

How Can PR Pros Build a Digital Business With 2020 in Mind?

2020It seems like every day communicators are confronted with a new marketing discipline/media channel/social platform that management wants them to master ten minutes ago. The pace of change is only expected to accelerate in the next few years, as digital media starts to eclipse traditional media.

While PR pros can be forgiven if they think that planning for the next six months or a year will suffice, they have to play longer ball and try to look further into the future. Their brands and organizations depend on it.

During PR News’ Digital PR Conference in Miami on Monday, senior communications managers tackled the subject of how to build a digital business with 2020 in mind.

“Moving into 2020, connected individuals are becoming more and more important to every organization out there,” said Allison Sitch, VP of global public relations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. “The idea of connection is to understand what people are talking about and then bring in those influencers who are valuable to your organization.”

Throughout the next five years, PR managers will also need to empower their staffs so that managers focus more on corporate goals and objectives.

“Choose people for your team who you trust,” Sitch said, “and know that they can articulate and speak to the values of your brand without having to come back and ask you first.”

How to motivate your audience as they are increasingly inundated with online choices will be critical. “It’s about the community at large and conversing with the people who really matter,” Sitch added.

Kai Wright, VP of communications and business development for the Atom Factory, said that PR managers will have to take on the persona of an editorial director. They’ll need to steer editorial scheduling, create editorial calendars and build a solid bench of editorial contributors.

“What’s the voice? What’s the frequency? What are some of the [issues] that your brand can speak to intelligently?” Wright asked. “You need a strong pulse on your market, you have to be an early adopter and have an eye on aesthetics. The Web is getting much more visual.”

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Colonel Sanders is Back and He’s Spreading

Darrel Hammon as Colonel Sanders.Years ago—during a time before the Internet—PR and marketing executives, not to mention advertisers, were talking about the future of television, specifically the television commercial. VCRs (remember them?) were coming on the scene, and the business community was becoming antsy about the possibility that viewers would tape shows and skip commercials.

When business leaders gathered for conferences, many a session centered on whether or not television commercials, media’s lifeblood, were going to die. The consensus was the VCR would not kill them, although the impetus was on brands and their advertising agency partners to create better, more compelling commercials.

Skip to today. While the quality of television commercials generally may be only slightly better than it was years ago, we have a new phenomenon—people watching commercials for their entertainment value. And not just during the Super Bowl.

This phenomenon is related to what W20 Group president Bob Pearson calls “the new owned media” (see PR News, June 1, 2015). Today, brands house content not only on their Website but also on partner sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Brands hope, of course, that fans share the message on their personal sites. In fact, it’s more than a hope: spreadable media should be a top priority of PR practitioners in the networked society, MIT’s Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green argued in “Spreadable Media.”

This leads to opening YouTube and finding suggested ‘Videos of the Day.’ During a recent weeknight, the featured video was part of a series of spots starring former “Saturday Night Live” regular Darrell Hammond (see above) as a slightly goofy, musical version of the late Colonel Harland Sanders, the KFC patriarch who passed away more than 30 years ago. The effort is part of a $185-million resuscitation of the brand in the U.S., which changed its name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to the more-healthy-sounding KFC in 1981, one year after Sanders died, aged 90. While his visage remained conspicuous, the Colonel hadn’t been featured in a KFC ad in some 20 years.

As you might expect, the ads have found fans and detractors. Hammond’s portrayal of the Colonel as a bit of a jokester is disrespectful and far from the truth, says former Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown Jr. In fact, Brown says, the Colonel was a deadly serious hombre when it came to his fried chicken. Stories abound about Sanders, a perfectionist, driving round the country in a Cadillac or Rolls Royce to make appearances on behalf of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. His visits generally included a spot check. Heaven help the franchisee who was not up to Sanders’s standard. Pots and their contents would fly.

When Sanders made commercials or appearances on behalf of the brand he founded he was unscripted and all business, Brown argues. Always attired in a white suit and black string tie, he joked with small children only. In fact, the Colonel’s temper with adults was infamous. His language could get so blue it would make truck drivers blush.

Governor Brown should know—he bought the Colonel’s secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices in 1964 and turned Sanders’ thriving business into a national and later international icon. In fact, the biggest market for the Colonel’s chicken is, get ready for it, China. General Tso must be turning over in his grave.

But back to the short ads featuring Hammond as the Colonel, created by the current KFC owner, Yum! Brands. They’re good PR, touching many of the points PR and communications pros have been espousing in PR News and at prnewsonline.com to keep brands, especially older ones, relevant. Here’s why:

That leads to the larger business story. Why has KFC parent Yum! decided the brand needs a revamp? The quick answer is that it no longer is the top fast-food chicken brand in the U.S. That crown belongs to Chick-fil-A, which topped the Colonel’s sales in 2013, and did so with fewer restaurants.

Like McDonald’s, KFC is going to be making changes large and small to see if it can get back on top. As with the burger chain, there will be advice-givers aplenty. While many have counseled both brands to feature healthier items, some urge them to stay the course, making the case that their food might be greasy, fatty and sodium-laden, but it tastes good and is no less healthy than other fast-food establishments.

Another reason to return to Colonel Sanders? The company admits that KFC has lost its way a bit and wants to return to a time when it was #1, and that includes Colonel Sanders personally making sure things were being done the right way. Yum hopes it will be infusing KFC with the Colonel’s spirit of quality, integrity and hard work. Needless to say, KFC can no longer rely on  Colonel Sanders to make spot visits to franchises, but perhaps Darrel Hammond as Colonel Sanders can surprise a few franchisees with a surprise inspection and throw over a bowl or two of gravy. I’m licking my fingers at the thought of it.

Seth Arenstein is Senior Editorial Advisor to PR News. Follow him on Twitter: @brahmsandmahler

PR Agency Pros and the Cure for In-House Anxiety

client-agencyIn-house PR practitioners don’t have it easy, in general. Sometimes they have to deal with a lack of understanding and appreciation for the work they do. (Did I say sometimes?) Sometimes they get recognized internally only when something goes wrong that needs to get fixed, now. Sometimes they’re asked to wear so many hats and expected to be masters at media pitching, crisis management, Facebook, Twitter, speech writing, SEO and measurement dashboards that they run to webinars and conferences to boost their skills, only to be frozen by anxiety when they see how much they have to learn.

Sometimes these in-house PR practitioners—and their senior leaders—need to enlist a PR agency to combat and defeat all of this fatigue and anxiety. What an agency offers is not the brand and reputation of the agency itself—that’s beside the point. It’s the unique mix of skills and experience that an individual agency practitioner can offer that really matters.

In a recent issue of PR News’ premium newsletter, Catherine Frymark, SVP, corporate communications for Discovery Communications, reflected on her time spent working for agencies before joining Discovery. “I don’t regret one minute of starting my career in the agencies,” said Frymark, who was honored as one PR News’ Top Women in PR at a luncheon in New York in February. “In fact, when I am hiring I give a lot of weight to candidates with agency experience. I know they have the fundamentals. They can multitask and serve the client.”

Frymark pointed out that working on a portfolio of brands keeps agency pros fresh. And that’s the key selling point for brands and organizations that may be considering working with PR agencies. Agency pros are like the proverbial shark that Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer discusses in “Annie Hall.” Alvy says that “a relationship is like a shark—it has to constantly move forward or it dies.” If you work at a PR agency, to survive and grow you have no choice but to keep moving forward, from client to client, from skill to skill.

This brings to the in-house team—which may live their brand but may be lacking the outsider’s perspective—a freshness that’s very difficult to achieve inside the brand.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

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