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

How to Prep the Boss For a Major Presentation

As the GOP prepares to hold its first presidential debate in Cleveland Thursday night, many PR pros are probably asking: How would I advise the 10 White House wannabes participating in the debate?

Civilians most likely will watch the debate to see, for example, if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sticks his foot firmly in his mouth or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as is his want, threatens to punch one of his opponents in the nose.

Executives who reside in PR precincts will watch the debate with a more jaundiced eye. In the spirit of conjecture, they might wonder why Senator Rand Paul is getting stuck in the policy weeds and failing to display his (salty) personality or why former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who was supposed to run away with the GOP nomination—comes off as a big stiff.

The debate begs PR pros to locate their inner media trainer. Sure, your boss may not be running for the highest office in the land. But, whether it’s a speech before an important group of shareholders or a joint press conference with a partner to talk about a new product, communicators are responsible for making sure senior managers appear in the best possible light and reflect well on their brand or organization.

With that in mind, here are a few essential tips on prepping the boss for a major appearance/debate/presentation:

> Have a sense of humor. If people relate to one thing in life, it’s humor. Serious subject matter aside, the boss has to show that he or she is quick to laugh and, when appropriate, can make light of a situation. That’ll win more converts than forever taking an unsmiling, somber approach to the discussion/debate/forum.

> Maintain eye contact and pay close attention to body language. There’s nothing creepier than when the boss is holding court with the media and/or other constituents and his eyes are darting around the room. Perception is reality, of course, and failing to maintain eye contact may suggest ulterior motives, or worse. For similar reasons, it’s crucial that communicators tutor the boss to pay close attention to body language and make sure that certain facial expressions or physical stances may send the wrong message without uttering a word.

> Say, ‘I don’t know.’ It wasn’t that long ago that a top executive responding to a media question by saying, “I don’t know,” was considered the kiss of death. No more. In an increasingly complex world, saying, “I don’t know,” shows a certain humility and frankness that people appreciate. It helps the cause if an “I don’t know” is quickly followed by, “We are working very fast to get you an answer, which we’ll put up on our website as soon as we get the most accurate information.” Don’t stoop to give a false impression.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

 

 

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

 

 

 

This One Simple Question Can Transform Your Business Relationships

The moving company that assisted with our house move last week sent us a hard-working crew. Hauling boxes and furniture to and fro, they didn’t spend much time chatting, but when they did they usually framed it in a question: “How am I doing?”

When Danny, the head mover, first asked me that question I thought he was asking how I was doing. After all, moving out of a house is stressful! Then I realized he wanted to know if he and his crew were meeting my expectations. Were they careful, efficient, polite? Danny wanted this feedback. He stood in my kitchen holding a big box labeled “Dishes,” and looked me in the eyes as he awaited my reply.

“How am I doing?”

After hearing from me that he was doing a great job, he and his crew continued the laborious task ahead of them. A few hours later, Danny asked me the same question and this time I thought harder about it and provided some specific feedback having to do with not scratching a certain wall. Over the course of this 10-hour whirlwind round-trip relationship we had with our movers, “How am I doing” was asked at least a handful of times.

In the course of a week, a month, a year, how often do you check in, one on one, with your customers, business partners, clients, journalists, colleagues and stakeholders and as them “How am I doing”? We are more accustomed to asking “How are you?” then we are “How am I doing?” It seems the former is more about them and the latter can appear self-serving or insecure. But what you’re really asking is “Are you satisfied and can I do better for you?” Of course, you have to be prepared to heed the feedback, which is sometimes not what you expected. That’s the point – and it’s well worth the heavy lifting afterwards.

 – Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

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

PR Lessons from David Letterman

It’s the end of an era. Early Thursday morning David Letterman signs off as host of CBS’ “Late Show” after a 33-year-run on late night TV  (including 10 years as host of “Late Night With David Letterman” on NBC).

Whether introducing America to “Stupid Pet Tricks,” swimming in a large vat of breakfast cereal or having Larry “Bud” Melman promote Toast-on-a-stick (“Bread’s answer to the popsicle!”), Letterman is a testament to original content.

Creating original content—often with an anarchic quality—is a lesson communicators can take from Letterman. In homage to Letterman’s “Top 10” lists, here are the Top 5 PR lessons from the soon-departed late night king.

Make conversation an art. Amid an increasingly social media age—where 140 characters qualifies as communication—Letterman was a strong long-form interviewer, where the goal was to inform, educate and entertain, rather than simply push product and generate yuks.

Show off your personality, warts-and-all. Letterman could hardly be accused of pretense. Often, he could be cranky and/or ornery, with and without his guests. He didn’t try to hide those facets of his personality, but played them up because they were an authentic part of his brand.

Diverse guests bring diverse audiences. Not so much in the last several years—in which A-list celebrities predominated—but certainly during his NBC tenure Letterman didn’t think twice about featuring peripheral yet impossibly interesting guests, such as surrealist Brother Theodore and musician/painter Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). And we’re forever indebted to Letterman for launching the career of Chris Elliot. Musicians credit Letterman with his eclectic taste, which has helped boost a variety of musical genres, including Americana. The takeaway for communicators: look beyond the usual suspects when trying to cultivate new relationships and partnerships. And don’t judge a book by its cover.

Tonality is everything.  The remarks Letterman made about the 9/11 attacks during his first show back after the crisis became one of his finest hours. His comments were humbling and sincere for a city and nation that had suffered incalculable loss. The comments were made “on the other side of the glass,” of course, but it was as if Letterman was sitting right next to you, providing comfort and kind words. He knew his audience; he knew the situation and acted accordingly.

Make your audience cringe (if only a little).  Letterman and his writers were masters at creating scenarios that were slightly uncomfortable, but always compelling. Case in point: A 1983 split-screen interview with actor Charles Grodin that Letterman conducted remotely, with Grodin sitting alone in the studio. PR News dares you to watch the video and look away. Bet you can’t. Same with PR marketing campaigns.  Nuke the ‘same old, same old’ and create strategies and tactics that are a little edgy, but not off-putting.

So long, Dave. It’s been real.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Ten Lines from Mad Men You (Hopefully) Won’t Be Hearing at Work Today

mad-men-2The series finale of ‘Mad Men’ left it up to us to decide if Don Draper took on a new, third identity or whether California bliss and an inspired retreat experience led him back to the advertising life and to create the iconic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial.”

After 92 hours of great storytelling by show creator Matthew Weiner, we say goodbye to Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan, Pete, and the iconic, misogynistic and inappropriate ’60s workplace. So one cliffhanger from the show which may frustrate communicators is: Where was the HR director at Sterling Cooper & Partners? Today, that HR dept. would be working overtime to deal with the goings-on among its troops.

To wit, I recap wonderfully horrible lines from ‘Mad Men’ over the years that hopefully you don’t hear in the workplace anymore:

“Give me more ideas to reject.”  – Don Draper

“Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people’s names before I fire them.” – Roger Sterling

“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.” – Roger Sterling

“I’m Peggy Olson and I wanna smoke some marijuana.”

“Say yes with your voice not just your eyes.”  – Pete

“I’m not a solution to your problem. I’m another problem.” – Joan

“Remember when God closes a door he opens a dress.” – Roger Sterling

“I know you’re ashamed of your body. Or you should be at least.” – Stan [to Peggy]

“Although things are precarious financially, it’s been a magnificent year.” – Lane

“Could you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” – Don Draper

‘Mad Men‘ is arguably one of TV’s best written stories and will be fondly remembered for years to come. The workplace culture and the dialogue that accompanied it? It’s good to know we’ve progressed, or as one ’60s advertising slogan noted, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Blue Bell Creameries Tries to Get in Front of a Crisis

When an organization is hit with a crisis, the response will often determine how long the crisis will last, in terms of negative media coverage, as well as any long-term erosion in brand reputation or lead revenue.

That’s why PR execs need to keep a close eye on how the crisis now engulfing Blue Bell Creameries plays out. On Monday the company announced that it is voluntarily recalling all of its ice cream products, because of listeria concerns, following a succession of smaller recalls.

Blue Bell realized its initial assumption that the bacteria was isolated to one machine in one room was “wrong,” after an additional half gallon of contaminated ice cream was found in its Brenham, Texas facility, according to a statement from Paul Kruse, the company’s president-CEO.

Blue Bell is trying to get in front of the crisis, which, considering the severity of the situation, may cause further damage to the 108-year-old brand. In a little more than a month, three deaths and several illnesses in Kansas and possibly Texas have been linked to the company’s products.

For communicators, the major takeaway from Blue Bell’s initial response is that however fast PR attacks a problem, it’s probably not fast enough.

In a digital age, the window for responding to a crisis keeps getting smaller.

“When there’s a recall and somebody does something quickly and when they handle it properly, we forgive it,” Phil Lempert, food industry analyst for SupermarketGuru.com, told The New York Times. “When it’s the entire product line or the entire company, people are very concerned.”

Blue Bell, which sells ice cream in 20 states, in no way is downplaying those concerns.

In a video apology (get used to it) posted on the company’s website and Facebook page, Kruse said: “We’re heartbroken over the situation and apologize to all of our Blue Bell fans and customers. Ice cream is a joy and pleasure to eat. It certainly is for me, and I do it every day. And it should never be a concern. For that, we apologize, and we’re going to get it right.”

Kruse hits the right tone, but, for the sake of transparency, he probably should have mentioned the deaths that have been linked to the company products and how the company intends to compensate the victims’ families.

Blue Bell reportedly has contracted both Burson Marsteller and kglobal for crisis management.

Now comes the heavy PR lifting. How will Blue Bell use both traditional media channels and digital venues to communicate how it’s fixing the problem? A FAQ post on its website—and linked on its Facebook page—is a good start.

Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this is the sort of crisis in which digital needs to be subordinate to the human touch. Blue Bell’s senior executives should visit the communities that have been affected by the recall and tell consumers how things are being corrected. And it has to be a multi-pronged conversation.

 

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Spring Cleaning PR Checklist

As Major League Baseball’s 2015 season gets under way this week, another rite of spring is just around the corner—spring cleaning.

It’s as good a time as any for PR managers and directors to assess their work, reevaluate those campaigns that worked (or failed) and recalibrate how they use media channels to get their message out and measure the results.

With that in mind, here are a few spring-cleaning tips for PR and marketing execs to consider.

> Sharpen your pitches. It’s getting increasingly harder for PR execs to get their message across the plate. This could be a function of time-poor reporters, a saturated media market, a fickle public or all of the above. Either way, communicators should take some time to sharpen the way they and their team members pitch the media. Try and figure out how to boost your odds. Does a reporter covering your industry seem to gravitate to certain stories about the sector while avoiding others? Maybe the reporter wants to cover your company but has a problem with the designated spokesperson? Maybe he or she wants an interview with the top brass? Get better (and below-the-radar) intelligence about reporters and your pitches should improve

> Retool your lineup. PR managers should get out their scorecard to see if they can reconfigure their lineup in a way that plays to individuals’ strengths. The person who seemed to get tripped up by Twitter may be better suited for producing online video programming. The person who tends to strike out pitching the media may have a knack for online analytics. With PR campaigns needing more and more disciplines—whether digital or behavioral—brand managers need to determine who’s the best person for the gig without squeezing a square peg in a round hole.

> Gauge your measurement efforts. With apologies to the late management guru Peter Drucker, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Nevertheless, PR measurement remains a severe sticking point to enhancing business communications. Part of the problem is that too many brands and organizations take a reactionary approach to measurement, failing to bake metrics into the campaign/project from the get-go. Any PR gains may be thwarted by lousy PR measurement. Senior managers don’t want “good news,” they want to see a correlation between PR and revenue (if not earnings). Use a change in season to make some changes in your measurement efforts. Perhaps you need to be more selective in the metrics you use, or maybe you’re relying too much on the algorithm and not enough on the human touch. Are you still banking on so-called vanity metrics such as “followers” and “likes”? Keep the Endust handy.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Are You Engaged in Reverse Mentoring?

All the talk about mentoring can make you feel a bit left out. If you are neither a mentor nor a mentee, then what the heck are you doing with yourself?  The truth is, you are probably mentoring or being mentored without even knowing it. It’s the new fabric of our work culture – people helping people. If you’re not guiding someone or asking for help on a regular basis then you are missing out in a significant way.

As communicators, we need to recognize that our pace of advancement might be inversely affected by the age of our mentors. The older you are, the better off you may be if you are mentored by a Millennial.  The concept of Reverse Mentoring, first championed by GE’s Jack Welch more than a decade ago, is not only a great way for senior executives to learn the nuances of social media, it’s a way to bridge the communications gap between generations, increasing morale, retention and knowledge.

Three influential PR executives I met with recently were eager to share their  experiences with reverse mentoring. Said one: “One of my young employees has been showing me how to do a tweet chat. I had no idea.” Said the other: “They are taking over – best to get to know how they think.”  While much of the conversation was centered around social media and younger generations holding comfortably the Digital Native mantle, it goes without saying that Millennials and the Generation Z following them into the workplace are the future leaders, current and future customers and business creators.

Identifying a mentor – formally or informally – who is of another generation than yours and embracing the unique perspective and skills that person holds will take you far.  And many Millennials are schooling the senior set to great effect for the company’s brand, too.

If you’re not engaged in some sort of reverse mentoring, you are not only missing out, you will be spinning your wheels until they eventually fall off.

– Diane Schwartz

 @dianeschwartz

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