A New Year’s Resolution That’s Doable

Right around now we’re planning New Year’s resolutions—which few of us will actually keep. New Year’s resolutions are all well and good, in theory. Sure, go nuts—make a vow to hit the gym more frequently, cut down on fried foods or get more sleep.

However, there are some resolutions that don’t require time, money, or being a killjoy. We propose that PR pros vow to banish the following words and phrases from their vocabulary.

> Just saying. Are you just trying to be a wisenheimer? This has to be one of the more obnoxious ways to reinforce a point (and make the person you’re talking to feel like a dolt). The phrase is probably all the rage in collegiate precincts, but has no place among PR execs angling for a seat at the table.

> At the end of the day. Have you ever heard a more superfluous expression? The soul-crushing phrase can disproportionally trivialize (or inflate) a conversation. It just may be a crutch for covering your behind about a subject or idea about which you’re not too confident. Saying “at the end of day”—as if the situation is out of your hands and in the cosmos—does not reflect well on your PR skills.

> Pain point. Talk about one of the biggest euphemisms of our time. A “pain point” is a problem that’s plaguing your clients, or your own campaign/relationships/communications efforts, and must be overcome. Call it what it is—a problem that is adversely affecting the situation.

> Best of breed. This makes your vendor/partner sound like the company is from the canine world. And considering how fluid the marketplace is, what is best in “best of breed” on a Monday could be knocked off its pedestal by Friday. Are you working with a solid company with a sterling track record? Demonstrate to managers and clients why the company is a good fit, rather than simply saying “best of breed,” which, in a weird way, may sow doubt.

> Awesome. We may be committing heresy by suggesting that you should eliminate “awesome” from your vocabulary, but let’s face it, the word is so played out as to have lost all meaning. What isn’t “awesome” these days? We’ll defer to childbirth, spaceflight and the discovery of penicillin. But, for all else, find another adjective to describe a job well done or a successful campaign.

By divorcing yourselves from these terms, communicators will sound less colloquial and more professional. You’ll demonstrate that you don’t have to rely on jargon (and words that are more fit for hyper-active teenagers) to get your message across to clients and C-suite executives.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Controlling the Message: 3 Lessons from the Janay Rice Interviews

We’ve seen the video and we’ve read countless articles about Ray Rice’s behavior back in February of this year at an Atlantic City casino when he was caught on tape assaulting his fiancee Janay Palmer and then dragging her limp body out of the elevator. We’ve read with fascination the NFL’s multiple reactions to the assault and we’ve watched Janay stand by Ray, marry him and even apologize for her behavior.

Fast forward to now and we get to watch an incredible media plan at play. Opinions aside about domestic abuse, whether the former Baltimore Raven should be reinstated or how abhorrent his behavior was (or is). The way Janay and her PR team are handling the media is a lesson for communicators in crises.

You may or may not agree with Janay’s decision to stand by her husband, but for the sake of this post, let’s say that’s beside the point. Her control of the message over the past week was impeccable. It was neat and clear. It was consistent and had emotion. It was well-timed and facilitated the broader purpose of getting her husband back on the field.

Hiltzik Strategies was among the advisors that screened more than a dozen media outlets before choosing ESPN and The Today Show. Specifically Jemele Hill at ESPN and Matt Lauer at Today. In both interviews she portrayed her relationship as not that different from most couples: we argue but we love each other, we have weakness but we have strengths. There was no real bridging of the message away from assault or domestic abuse because she controlled the pace and tone.

While the interviews took place in early November, their release was timed to go live after an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate Rice to the NFL.

She told Lauer: “Everybody makes mistakes. After this whole situation, you would think we lived in a country full of people who never made a mistake.”

For the ESPN interview which took place (not coincidentally) at Ray Rice’s mother’s home in New Rochelle, NY, Janay negotiated the byline, with the video interview positioned “By Janay Rice as told to Jemele Hill.” In the Nov. 5 interview she spoke of how she met Ray, the Baltimore Ravens’ “knee-jerk” reaction to the assault and all the lessons learned since the incident. “I hope when people read this they realize that we’re real. I want people to know how much we love each other and how far we’ve come. Everyone has their own story, this is mine.”

If you find yourself, your brand, or a member of your team in hot water, it wouldn’t hurt to turn to the Janay Rice crisis management playbook:

> Take time to formulate a strong response that is aligned with the end goal: Janay waited seven months to speak to the media.

> Choose your interviewers, not just the media outlet: vet the journalists who are going to interview you and limit the number of interviews you grant.

> Time it well: The Rices waited until the arbitrator ruling to get their message out. It helped that the ruling favored Ray over the NFL, but either way it was the right timing.

While Ray Rice’s behavior back in February is condoned by no one, the narrative is now about rehabilitation and forgiveness.  In many circles, Ray Rice is still vilified. But when the very woman that he assaults is asking the public to forgive and move on, and she does so with grace and compassion, it is difficult to turn away.

– Diane Schwartz

 @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

The End of Garden-Variety Conferences Is Nigh (or Should Be)

I was watching a New York Knicks game recently when Carmelo Anthony sank a three-point bucket to tie the game. Melo jumped for joy, as the Madison Square Garden crowd roared with approval.

A guy sitting courtside (probably in his late 30s or early 40s) leaped out of his seat to revel in the moment, pumping his fists in the air. But the boy sitting next to him (probably 10 or 12 years old) was oblivious to the live action surrounding him. He looked like he couldn’t care less about all the excitement on the basketball floor. His eyes were glued to his smartphone.

If you thought holding people’s attention during events and conferences was tough now, just wait until that young fellow gets into the workforce.

Good luck getting your message through to him. That’s why PR managers have to take the lead in figuring out how to reimagine their company’s events and conferences. And fast. Otherwise, funding live meetings might turn into a profound case of throwing good money after bad.

Despite the dramatic changes in consumer behavior wrought by the Web, most business conferences/events/meetings remain painting by numbers.

You know the drill: The work session starts off with an anecdote or two, which goes into the heart of the presentation, accompanied by bullet points and visuals to help illustrate the spiel. A Q&A usually follows and then the speaker wraps things up before assuring the audience that he or she is available for follow-ups.

Remarkably, the model has changed very little, just as more and more people who attend conferences consider them a mere trifle to their computer screens.

Communicators may not want to blow up their events and conferences altogether, which is understandable from a budgetary standpoint. But they certainly need to shake things up and create more compelling ways to hold their audiences’ attention.

Here are a few suggestions:

> Make your meetings much more participatory. And we’re not talking about asking attendees at the beginning of a work session how many of them heard of (the latest product making a splash in your industry). Put on your disruptive hats. You need to engage attendees in ways that go beyond having them nod in response to a question or simply raise their hands. And it can’t be a one-shot deal. The participatory aspects should thread throughout the entire presentation.

> Create a playlet; insert strategically. Make it challenging for attendees to stay glued to their smartphones. Instead of starting a presentation with a talking head, produce a very short play (with characters) that can goose people’s attention and help drive the overall message. Surely, you have some frustrated actors, directors and comedians in-house. Harness their talents to make a more creative presentation—and one that is rooted in storytelling (as opposed to lecturing, which makes younger folks run for the hills).

> Rethink the Q&A. We may be committing heresy by suggesting this, but don’t end work sessions with a Q&A. By making presentations more freewheeling in nature, attendees won’t be conditioned into thinking that they can tune out the bulk of the presentation because there will be a Q&A at the end. You need to close your presentations with a sharp and resounding message, and one that the brand owns.

What are we missing?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

The Epic List of Useless PR Tactics

A while back I compiled a list of annoying phrases and words we utter as communicators (and human beings), from “at the end of the day” to “guru” and “epic”. The list, via my blog post, grew as you added your own phrases that annoy (“I don’t hate that” and “synergy,” to name a few).

When the other day I heard someone complain about not being able to take a campaign viral, I knew it was time to create The Epic List of Useless PR Tactics. To make this epic, you will need to add to it, shamelessly and without hesitation.  Every profession has tactics that consistently don’t work because the very premise of them is flawed.

I should preface by stating that most PR people I know, and whom we cover in PR News, are hard-working, intelligent and effective.  But we all know colleagues who subscribe to one of the tactics below that only serves to set PR back as a profession:

Creating a viral campaign as goal #1: it’s gratifying when a campaign goes viral like the Oreo blackout tweet or the ice bucket challenge and social media has accelerated our ability to spread our messages (for better or worse). But understanding the motivations and psychologies of your stakeholders rather than making the medium (Twitter, Facebook, etc) the central focus will more likely result in spreadable content.

Using ad value equivalencies as a metric: While public relations is still struggling to agree on a standard metric, it has come a long way with the Barcelona Principles and matrices to better measure the value of PR in general and a campaign in particular. Applying AVEs to PR is the best route to going backwards.

Spraying and praying: you need media coverage, so the best way to get that is to send the same email and press release to thousands of journalists, most of whom do not cover your industry. Wrong! Even with updated and accurate databases at our disposal to target the appropriate journalist or influencer, telling a story to the right audience is still elusive to many.

Baiting and switching: there’s nothing a client hates more than thinking they’ve just hired a seasoned PR counselor only to be met the next week by someone a few years out of college who’s the lead on the account.  After nearly 20 years in the PR space, I can say that there’s more transparency in agency-client relations and less bait-and-switch; the minority cases drown out the advancements.

Forgetting you have a voice: Email is an excellent communication tool but nothing beats talking to someone in person or by phone. Go retro and phone an industry friend, meet with a reporter or client and meet up with stakeholders on their turf (industry conferences, for example)

Forgetting you have ears: as with most disciplines, PR suffers from hearing loss. Listen to what your stakeholders are saying and be present in the places they are saying it.  Listening is a workout: you have to discipline yourself to do it regularly but the rewards are noticeable.

Working in a silo: if you want to limit what your organization can achieve, then it’s important you stay neatly tucked into your department. But if you see that the lines have blurred and that it takes a village to raise the bar, then you know that aligning with your marketing peers (see my last blog on this), and even those in IR, IT, HR and other two and three letter departments will be the way forward for effective communications.

I want to hear from you. You’re on the front lines. What are some PR tactics we need to put an end to, stat? Please add to my list.

Diane Schwartz

On twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

Shattering a Few Myths About How to Find the Influencers

William Goldman, the author and screenwriter (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men), famously said, “In Hollywood, no one knows anything.”

You might say the same thing about the PR field, at least when it comes to so-called influencers.

In his book “Everything is Obvious* Once You Know the Answers,”  (2011,Crown Business), Duncan J. Watts, a principal researcher at Microsoft, discusses influencers and the ability of a person (or a blogger) to magnify a message to help raise brand awareness and boost visibility.

Watts gave a presentation last week at the PR Council’s Critical Issues Forum.

Whether they care to admit or not, for many companies and organizations locating influencers is often a nonstarter.

“One of the most confusing aspects of the influencer debate, in fact, is that no one can really agree on who the influencers are in the first place,” Watts writes.

In that vein, Watts shatters three myths about influencers and provides a dose of reality for each:

Myth #1: Social epidemics can be engineered by targeting influencers.

The Reality: Social epidemics are brought about in largely unpredictable ways, just like forest fires, Watts said. “You wouldn’t see a large forest fire and think that there was anything special about the spark that started it,” he said. “Yet for some reason when we observe dramatic social change, we assume it required some special person to start it. In reality, social change depends on some complicated combination of context and environment and interactions between many people. Boiling it down after the fact to the influence of a handful of special people makes for a good story but has little predictive power.”

Myth #2: There is some class of “influencers” who are both extraordinarily influential and also accessible like ordinary people.

The Reality: People are either accessible or influential, but seldom both. “At one extreme there are ordinary people who are reasonably accessible but who exert ordinary influence. And at the other extreme there are powerful figures like celebrities who have extraordinary influence, or gatekeepers who control access to influence, but in either case they are hard or expensive to influence,” Watts said. “Given some budget, it ought to be possible to find some optimal tradeoff between targeting a smaller number of more influential individuals and a larger number of less influential individuals. But there’s no free lunch.”

Myth #3: You can find the influencers just by using your intuition.

The Reality: Every campaign is only effective or ineffective compared with something else that you could have done with the same budget.  “Just because you create some influencer map and use to target some influencers and something good happens doesn’t mean your campaign ‘worked,’” Watts said. “It would be like running a drug trial without a control group and claiming your drug worked because some people got better. To get FDA approval you have to show that the drug worked better than whatever the control group received. The same test should be required for all claims about influencer marketing.”

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

 

 

Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day?

Inevitably the question arises when you’re in a room full of communicators: how do we break down the silos between PR and Marketing? I recently moderated a panel with Andrew Bowins of Mastercard and Jay Bartlett of Pitney Bowes on the topic of marketing-PR collaboration, or lack thereof in many organizations. We agreed that a path toward “togetherness” – as we’re all in this together – could mean better performance for your organization.

Both Jay and Andrew agreed that the departments need to not only talk to one another more often, but force collaboration into the culture until it becomes the culture. A few audience members shared how their organizations are literally breaking down the cubicles and re-engineering work spaces so that marketing and PR colleagues are sitting side by side.

There are a few elephants in the room when it comes to PR-Marketing collaboration and these animals are filling the space: budget and org chart.  Most organizations have separate PR and marketing budgets and there’s an inherent competition between the two to get a larger slice of a smaller pie. Then there’s the organization chart which is dusted off every now and then and tweaked, not transformed. Who reports to whom and who ultimately has the CEO’s ear is inextricably linked to budget, performance and outcomes. Understanding the new skills needed to accelerate growth may mean rethinking job titles, responsibilities and organizational structure.

At PR News’ Social Media Summit last week there was a consensus that marketing and PR need to partner more regularly and in particular when it comes to the rapid pace of social media communications. Who owns social media is not so much the question when both departments agree that their audience owns it.

PR and Marketing may get married one day – perhaps by necessity. But for the marriage to last it needs to do what most successful couples do: spend a lot of time together, move in and get to know how each other lives (my mother would disagree on this) and then get engaged. Work out the money issues and day to day responsibilities. Stick together in sickness and in health. You’re going to need each other.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Don’t Let Your Social Channels Stifle Opinion

How much do you listen to your constituents via social channels? Be honest.

A recently released Pew report should worry communicators who are tasked with cultivating a dialogue with, customers, prospects and other stakeholders, particularly via social channels.

Pegged to Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records, the survey asked 1,801 adults about their willingness to talk about the revelations in various in-person and online settings.

According to the study, 86 percent of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42 percent of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media.

Is social media having a chilling effect on conversation that in any way deviates from the mundane and the celebratory?

If you think back about some of the positive moves you have made in your life, some of them were probably sparked by comments by your friends, family, spouses, that you initially deemed negative.

Indeed, the Pew study raises larger questions for PR pros about consumers’ readiness (or lack thereof) to discuss sensitive issues on social channels.

Of course, when social channels started to flourish they were supposed to herald an era of open communication, where consumers need not feel cowed by expressing unpopular (yet valid) opinions.

However, follow this trend uncovered by Pew to a logical conclusion and it won’t be just matters of national security that people aren’t willing to discuss on social channels, but any issue deemed sensitive or, worse, benign.

A globalized (and shrinking) economy demands that PR managers engage in conversations about their products and services that are going to point out their flaws and provide recommendations on how to build a better mousetrap.

If all the comments on your social channels speak to how wonderful your brand is then something is probably not right. And that’s a recipe for resting on your laurels, which is no recipe at all.

With that in mind, here are three ways to encourage warts-and-all conversation on your social platforms—and generate the kind of market intelligence that’s going to build your brand and find new audiences, rather than play it safe.

> Insert some language on your social accounts that will assuage people who may think that their comments about a particular subject may be off base. You want to maintain respect for the process and not let things get too personal, but not at the expense of stifling opinion.

> Try and start off a conversation on social platforms by taking a skeptical yet inquisitive approach about some challenges your company or agency may be experiencing. This gets so-called influencers to take your brand communications more seriously and demonstrates that your company won’t shrink from criticism.

> If you do get comments via social channels that, at first blush, seem to besmirch your brand, don’t be so quick to nuke them. Sure, the comment may be vituperative in nature, but it may also include insights about your company that you hadn’t considered and, with a closer look, helps to solve a problem.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

 

Measure Twice, Cut Once? How About We Just Measure!

Measurement is one of those irrefutable initiatives in the PR and marketing world.  You cannot argue with the idea that what can’t be measured can’t be managed. Nor can you dispute the reality that many practitioners do not take measurement seriously.

Is PR Measurement like hand washing at the restroom? Let’s face it: there are those who always wash their hands, those who sometimes do, and others who pretend they do. Unlike washing your hands in the bathroom, measurement is not mindless, and it can’t be done in a minute. Some would even say it’s a bit messy.  Communicators still do not have a standard by which to measure communications practices, though it is finally agreeing that ad value equivalencies are ineffective in moving the needle.

This week marks the first annual AMEC Measurement Week,  a global “event” sponsored by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication.  PR firms and communicators at organizations worldwide are hosting meetings, events and social media discussions to tout the benefits of both measurement and evaluation.  Check out PR News’s web site, newsletter and social media (#prmeasure) for interviews with measurement leaders and practical ideas on measurement.  This week shines a spotlight on an area of our practice that is less shiny and new. Now is a perfect time to reflect on your personal philosophy about measurement and your commitment to the daily practice of measurement.

In countless conversations with communicators, and on the stage at PR News’s Measurement Conferences in DC (and coming on Nov. 20 in Chicago), experts on the topic are heated and singularly passionate about measurement. Attendees take copious notes and nod in agreement. These are clearly the people who care about measurement and carry the torch.

It is beholden on every communicator to understand The Barcelona Principles (66% of communicators in a recent PR News survey said they never heard of the Principles), to set measurable goals and to be willing to acknowledge when a campaign or idea didn’t hit the mark. The latter takes time, courage and teamwork.

Please share your measurement thoughts with us at PR News, and contribute to this important conversation.

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter; @dianeschwartz

 

The NFL, the Ravens, and Ray Rice: Does it Really All Come Down to a Video?

nfl_a_rice_d1_600x400Today, the Baltimore Ravens cut Ray Rice, the running back who was involved in an ugly altercation in February with his then fiancé, and now wife, Janay Palmer.

The NFL followed the Ravens’ action by suspending Rice indefinitely.

What a difference a video makes. The contract cancellation and the suspension come just a month and a half after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a two-game suspension on Rice to start the season—a move that was widely criticized as a meaningless slap on the wrist.

Just over a week ago, Goodell got a do-over, and announced a much tougher domestic abuse policy for the league.

And that August 28 policy came down just three days before the San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony charges in connection with a domestic violence incident involving him and his fiancée.

But all this was before the video came out on TMZ.com showing Rice in an Atlantic City elevator knocking out his fiancé with a withering punch to the face.

Have you ever looked at Rice’s arms? It had to have been a horribly powerful punch.

With the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before the next act of criminal behavior. But the league is hyper-popular, and fans just want to see great athletes play—they care less, seemingly, about what kind of people those players are.

This creates a major communications dilemma for the league. With so many players in so much trouble, what’s the league to do? And many of these players are not just not nice guys, but some are really bad. Two words: Aaron Hernandez.

So far, the NFL’s handling of its terrible publicity has been terribly poor.

Consider what Christine Brennan said today in USA Today:

“Ray Rice is gone from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That’s a very good ending to an absolutely horrible situation.”

(One thing sort of bothers me reading Brennan’s item and others today: The media tends to pile on: Rice was considered a decent guy for a long time. He was personable, accessible, a humble guy from New Rochelle feted on the local sports radio station, WFAN. Now he’s a monster.)

Anyway, Brennan’s point is that now that Ray Rice is gone, what about Ray McDonald? Or Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, who was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and is still playing? Or Ravens teammate Terrell Suggs, whose longtime girlfriend described repeated assaults on her by Suggs.

Why are these people and others still playing? Does it really all come down to a video? Why has the Ravens management—until today—been absolutely supportive of Rice? Well, we all know the answer—yes, it all really does come down to shocking video evidence. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good communications strategy, or the right thing.

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

‘Meet the Team,’ Ferguson and PR’s Diversity Problem

Take a look at your “Meet the Team” and “About Us” pages on your web site. Do these pages reflect a multifaceted workforce? Do the photos of your team and their bios underscore an understanding of your many stakeholders? In other words, can visitors relate to you? You might not think these questions are worth asking until a reporter clicks on Meet the Team and asks just that.

That’s what happened late last month when Common Ground Public Relations was hired by the City of Ferguson, MO, to handle calls from the media following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb. As if the media didn’t have enough angles with which to cover the Ferguson story, it was handed one on a white porcelain platter. The PR firm that was hired to take all media calls following the crisis, as Talking Points Media noted, “appears to be staffed entirely by white people.” Noted Daily Kos in its headline about the firm’s hiring: “City of Ferguson PR Firm Has Something In Common with Its Police Force.”

Ouch.

The PR industry has been slowly working on its diversity problem, recognizing that less than 15% of PR professionals in the US are of African-American, Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is a real problem that needs a more aggressive push by our industry associations, PR leaders and hiring managers in communications departments and at PR firms. PRSA’s Diversity Tool Kit is a nice-to-have resource, along with its Diversity Committee, but is it enough?  Ironically, the press hasn’t mentioned that Common Ground’s team supposedly includes just one male among the seven pictured.  Diversity comes in all colors, races and genders.

I agree with Denise Bentele, president and CEO of Common Ground Public Relations, when she told Odwyer’s  that “the color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.” It appears the firm is doing a decent job helping the City of Ferguson communicate not only to its residents but to a world that’s watching the investigation and public unrest.

There was nothing Common Ground could have done in the time that it was solicited by the City of Ferguson and the hours that it took for the media to click on Meet the Team and see a sea of white faces. To have quickly added some diversity to that page would surely have been snuffed out and would have positioned the firm as disingenuous. (That doesn’t stop Common Ground, however, from exploring diversity in its hiring practices.)

The knock on the City of Ferguson for hiring an “all white” firm amid a race-infused crisis is fair, and such obvious bait for reporters that it’s already a non-story.  For the PR industry, the bigger problem is why more people with diverse backgrounds do not want to make PR their career.  Here’s to a future where Meet the Team is not met with scrutiny.

-       Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

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