3 PR Lessons from the Redskins Controversy

For communicators following the latest wrinkle regarding the Washington Redskins’ controversial name, it’s your basic PR blocking and tackling.

On Wednesday a federal board cancelled the team’s trademark registration, calling its nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.”

While the ruling puts a bit of a squeeze on the Redskins’ bottom line—the Redskins and the NFL are now limited to pursue legal action against those who use the Redskins’ name and logo on T-shirts, hats and other merchandise—it doesn’t force the team to abandon the name.

Even though the writing seems to be on the wall, Redskins owner Dan Snyder is defiant, saying he would never change the name.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf told the New York Daily News. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. We are confident we will prevail once again.”

According to the News, a previous revoking of the team’s trademark in 1992 was locked up in the legal system until 1999 on appeal. A group of Native Americans brought the original suit. But the team and the NFL won the appeal in federal court.

However, unlike 1999, there’s now a groundswell of support to put the Redskins’ name to pasture. For example, a sector of the United Church of Christ voted Saturday to urge its 40,000 members to boycott the Redskins, while half of the U.S. Senate recently wrote letters to the NFL demanding a name change.

Snyder has every right to fight the ruling. But from a PR standpoint, the Redskins are probably on the wrong side of history. The issue also raises some fundamental questions for communicators who have a responsibility for managing their brand’s reputation.

> They don’t call it “evolution” for nothing. Controversial names (or icons) that once caused a collective shrug may now spark consternation, hence the Washington Bullets changing their name to the more benign Washington Wizards in 1995. Demos change. So, too, do consumer perceptions, which PR pros have to pay very careful attention to, lest they start to lose touch with reality.

> The court of public opinion often trumps the court of legal opinion. Synder could emerge victorious in court, but that would not stem the erosion in the Redskins’ brand (or Synder’s personal reputation). In this case, a legal victory would be a hollow one.

> Know when to cut your losses. So long as the protests against the Redskins’ name persist, the communications team will be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time defending the namesake and less time getting the brand’s other message out. Such a case also serves to, in some ways, denigrate the PR role. Rather than take a leadership position, PR pros will have to defer reporters’ question to the Redskins’ legal department. There’ll be fewer opportunities to tell a different story—stories that can renew trust in the organization and remove the suspicions that are now surrounding it.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

9 Social Media Tips that You Can’t Afford to Overlook

If you weren’t at the PR News Social Media Summit last week, I forgive you. But really, you should try to attend an upcoming conference of ours because you are going to pick up a lot of unique, sound and creative tactics and strategies  – what we like to call “stealable ideas” – that will move your PR and marketing efforts forward more than a notch. I must confess that I am engaging in shameless content marketing as I write this blog post. I get very excited after one of our PR News events and want to share some (not all!) of the gleanings from the day’s event. So herewith I present 9 really smart social media tips to get your week off to a #greatstart. These are made possible by our outstanding summit speakers, attendees and sponsoring partners.

  1. Best quote of the conference: “No one wants to be friends with a butter cracker.” Kathryn Sheaffer, brand manager for Ritz Crackers, so aptly summed up the challenge of Facebook communications for brands. Be realistic about your brand’s presence on social media and engage with your fans in realistic ways.
  2. Get a few social platforms rights, then start to take chances on others. In other words, don’t dive into the entire social media pool. Pick a few lanes to swim in first, be it Twitter and Pinterest, or Linkedin and Facebook, master your strokes there, then start exploring other waters.
  3. Take your press release off cruise control. First of all, the press release is not dead. But the old-fashioned press release should be put out to pasture. Make sure your releases are optimized for search, have multimedia components that drive stakeholder engagement, are written well and most of all, are interesting!
  4. Tweet short: A tweet that’s less than 100 characters lifts share rate by 17%. You thought 140 characters was short? Think again.
  5. During a crisis, Twitter is for news and Facebook is for hugs.  Don’t mix it up.
  6. Great question posed to the audience: Why don’t PR pros do more A/B testing with their campaigns? Smart advice from Brandon Andersen of Cision, noting that A/B testing goes to the heart of Marketing 101 yet the PR discipline often overlooks this smart exercise in testing your messaging, be it on social media or in a traditional PR campaign.
  7. You cannot automate judgment. With all the talk of data mining, programmatic and cloud-based communication, the truth is that people still drive decisions.  Make sure you put a premium on good judgment when hiring talent and executing on campaigns.
  8. Content marketing is a commitment not a campaign. Most brands are engaging in some type of brand journalism and the jury’s out on how well it’s working. Those committed to content marketing, weaving it into their marketing-PR matrix rather than a one-off campaign here and there, are most likely to succeed in this area.
  9. Visuals are the new headlines. A picture is worth a lot more than 1,000 words. Invest in video, infographics, photography and graphics. Take time to learn about Vine and Instagram. See what your audience is seeing and then give them some of that.

I hope you’ll heed a few of these tips and let me know how it goes for you. Also feel free to add a kernel of advice below.

– Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

The Yin and Yang of Social Media

I love Yelp. Not because I’m a foodie or a big restaurant goer, but for its reviews.

Whatever the establishment—whether it’s a new Bobby Flay creation or garden-variety diner—you can easily find wildly divergent views of the same restaurant, which makes for some entertaining reading.

For one person, the meal is so deliciously good that it’s as if he died and went to food heaven, while another person, who ate at the very same place on the same night, crows about how the Potatoes au Gratin were ice cold, the roasted chicken was way gamey and, oh yes, the waiter spilled wine all over the table.

Reading the comments on Yelp is like a massive Rorschach test, with subjects’ perceptions and interpretations running across the board, and back again.

It’s a similar syndrome with regard to social media, in which one person says it’s the greatest thing since canned beer while another may curse its very existence.

We’ve got ample evidence on the disparate views of social media— and whether it truly enhances the value of PR and communications— via a recent PR News/Cision survey on the state of social media for communications professionals.

We asked PR pros what’s the best/worst thing about social media, and the comments were all over the map, even contradictory.

Here’s a sampling:

The best things about social media:

>  You are able to connect with people virtually everywhere.

>  You’re able to place your information out at a specific time of day.

>  Two-way communication that results in trust and enhanced relationships.

>  The ability to build relationships with customers and even strangers that can become customers.

> The ability to get your word out to so many people at no cost.

The worst things about social media:

> While the numbers seem huge, actual reach is often very small.

> There’s way too much of it. Too much content that isn’t relevant.

> Hard to measure and hard to define ROI.

> I can’t find our customers.

> It appeals most to a demographic that has no purchasing power for my products.

Perhaps it’s the aperture with which you view social media. Maybe it depends on whether you look at life as a glass half full or half empty.

There are no right or wrong answers here. But social media is not going anywhere. It will evolve and change, like the rest of digital PR, and, most likely, become an even greater force in marketing communications. The trick is to make it work for your brand or organization, despite any budgetary or operational limitations.

See more survey results.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter:  @mpsjourno1

Target CMO Sends a Powerful Message to PR Field

Rumors continue to swirl that Target CMO Jeff Jones may be named as the company’s new CEO.

Target is looking to fill the top slot after it announced earlier this month that CEO Greg Steinhafel had stepped down.

Steinhafel’s departure was precipitated by a massive security breach late last year in which hackers may have gained access to millions of customer credit and debit card records.

If Jones does get the nod as CEO, we’d like to think his response to an anonymous employee’s complaint (via Gawker) had something to do with the decision.

Indeed, the response may help Jones ascend to the top spot of the second largest discount retailer in the U.S.—and serve as a watershed for communicators and PR pros grappling with how to communicate with critics in an increasingly digital age.

The episode stems from an anonymous email Gawker received from a “mid-level employee” at Target’s headquarters in Minnesota.

The email does not paint a very flattering portrait of Target, saying the company prizes conformity above all else.

“You’re penalized and viewed as unfriendly and not a team player if you spend too much time in your cube working and not enough time socializing,” the email said.

The email also stressed that senior management at Target is essentially clueless about how to pivot the retailer, which dates back to 1902.

“Former [CEO] Greg Steinhafel getting fired was a good step, along with the CIO being fired a few months ago, but it’s not enough. The entire executive team with the exception of the CMO Jeff Jones needs to go. Why? Because everyone was homegrown and ‘Targetized’ and has no concept of how to run a 21st century business,” the email added.

Jones saw his opening and ran with it.

Rather than put out a news release about how the company is turning things around, Jones responded via a LinkedIn “influencer” post with the title, “The Truth Hurts.”

The post is remarkable for its candor. “And while it was difficult for me to read this account for many reasons, the reality is that our team members speaking with honesty is a gift. Because much of what they are saying is true.”

He added: “The culture of Target is an enormous strength and might be our current Achilles heel. In the coming days and weeks we will embrace the critiques of Target—whether it’s from outsiders or our own team—like an athletics team puts the negative press on the wall in the locker room.”

You know what they say about not letting a crisis go to waste.

But, perhaps more important, Jones’ response could serve as a model for PR pros and brand managers who realize that the current marketplace demands more of a warts-and-all approach to communications (as opposed to airbrushing the corporate blemishes).

Jones may or may not land the CEO gig at Target, but our guess is that he’ll be an integral part of the new regime at Target.

However things shake out, he’s provided some invaluable tips for PR execs who realize that traditional ways of communicating with irate customers (and employees) no longer cut it.

Here are some takeaways:

> When your brand is called on the carpet by critics (anonymous or not, in-house or external), use the criticism as a springboard for some soul-searching about your brand.

> When your brand is criticized don’t get into a defensive crouch. Look at the criticism as an opportunity to tell your story more effectively and meet the critics head-on.

> Corporate managers who grew up in the analog age were conditioned not to admit their mistakes. They also were made to feel like failure was somehow a fate worse than death. But, in a digital age, it’s just the opposite. Consumers embrace brands that own their mistakes and seem to put more faith in companies and organizations that aren’t cowed by failure, but, instead, use it as a communications tool.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

The One Thing Every PR Person Needs to Do

“PR is losing its leadership position in Social.”  That’s what the founder of a new company that provides social media measurement/monitoring tools to brands told me the other day when I asked about his target audience. He continued to note that “PR got too comfortable” and now Marketing, Advertising and automated services are taking over Social.

Let’s say we had a friendly disagreement over his claim, as I defended PR’s role in Social and shared stories gleaned from the PR News front lines of communicators’ role in driving social media. But perception can be reality, as we know.

If there’s a sector of the marketplace that is devaluing PR’s role in any medium, then every PR professional needs to do a better job of tying Social and other activities to the metrics that matter to their organization. Just as importantly, we need to make sure we’re communicating our success stories – effectively and regularly. That is one thing every PR person needs to do to help advance the communications profession.

Take a lesson from the trope about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. As communicators, you’re busy doing PR. Your days are filled speaking with stakeholders, writing, listening, measuring and implementing. Do you sometimes forget to tend to your PR success stories? It’s the last mile of your efforts: to communicate your successes not only to your superiors but to your superiors’ superiors, to the media, to your counterparts in Marketing, Finance, HR, IR, IT and Sales. I’d like to think the cobbler eventually noticed that he forgot to provide shoes for his own kids. PR needs to take care of its own, as well.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

Is There a Game of Thrones Character on Your Team?

I am writing this blog post because I know you either watch Game of Thrones or have to listen to people who watch it. Not that I’m trying to game the system, but let’s face it: you need a break from your cerebral workday to think or water-cooler-talk about your favorite TV show, be it Mad Men, Dora the Explorer, The Voice or Game of Thrones.

Just as you can’t imagine yourself as an explorer with a talking map or a talented singer whose voice would cause people to turn their chairs, you can’t imagine working with someone whose manners and actions smell and feel like a Game of Thrones character. Or can you?

To wit, herewith I present four characters from the May 4 episode “First of His Name” — let me know if any of these folks are akin to people you work with, for or against? Or perhaps one of these characters is a reflection of yourself.

Cersei: she senses that she is not only getting older, but that being a woman may prevent her from running the kingdom. Would her father Tywin even consider his daughter to be his heir? She’s a strong woman (deeply flawed and sleeping with her brother – I must add) but are the male leaders even noticing her?

Petyr: he’s been pulling all the strings. A savvy, cunning politician whose investment in brothels has resulted in both unparalleled financial acumen and insider knowledge that keeps on giving, Petyr is also known as Littlefinger. Here’s the ultimate manipulator who has a nickname that is the antithesis of his true power.

Sansa: always the victim. She goes from one bad situation to another. Now stuck in the house of her aunt Lysa Arryn, she feels helpless and foolish. We’re rooting for her to figure out a way to break out and be an independent woman. It is best that she finds her way back home, to Winterfell, and stay put.

Podrick: the loyal one. Formerly the squire to Tyrion Lannister, Pod is asked to testify against Tyrion and refuses. For his safety, he is sent away to be the squire of the very capable Brienne, who discovers that Pod is not a good horseman or cook. But he is loyal and interested in learning new skills. And that is worth something.

For those of you who are diehard Game of Thrones fans, there’s no doubt I am insulting you with my perfunctory description of beloved or hated characters. But if we can better understand those around us and improve our communication with characters of all natures, then it will have been worth it.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Winning in the Court of Public Opinion

It’s a PR nightmare. Imagine your brand is under siege because one of your own uttered some repugnant remarks that found their way into the media and went viral.

All hell is breaking loose and the “talent” that has made your brand very rich and very popular is putting the squeeze on you to make amends or face serious consequences.

It was through this vortex that NBA Commissioner faced the media earlier this week to address the furor sparked by racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling during a private telephone conversation with Sterling’s girlfriend.

The NBA’s PR team must have breathed a sigh of relief following Silver’s presser, in which he banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Silver also said he would urge the NBA’s board of governors (the other 29 owners) to force Sterling to sell the club.

The legal fallout will likely follow, with multiple reports now saying that Sterling, a divorce attorney by trade, lives for litigation.

But by taking swift action, Silver was able stop a radioactive leak that threatened to blow up the NBA brand.

Silver’s presentation conferences was a clinic in how communicators can cauterize a deep wound and get their brand back on track following a major derailment.

He provided takeaways for communicators who are grappling with controversy and need to provide counsel for managers at the top who have to deal with issues head-on to right the ship.

> A need for speed. A fast-moving controversy can only be met with a quick response. While there was some outcry that Silver should have acted sooner, the press conference was not five days after Sterling’s comments were revealed. People may pine for you to respond to a controversy virtually immediately, but you need to afford yourself some time to make sure the message is consistent and leaves no room for ambiguity (that the media will surely pounce on).

> Listen closely. As the Sterling controversy became the top story in the country last weekend, Silver met with NBA owners (who are his collective boss) to gauge their reaction. But by bringing down the hammer on Sterling, Silver also showed that he was also listening carefully to the court of public opinion and the general consensus that a slap on the wrist (or lawerly language) would not fly and probably make a terrible situation worse.

> Bring a touch of class. Silver helped to mitigate some of the raw emotion caused by Sterling’s remarks by apologizing to multiple audiences, including fans, active players, former players, coaches and partners. “To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize,” Silver said. Well played.

> Don’t dance around any questions. In light of the white-hot glare of the media, dancing around the media’s questions is a no-win situation. Counsel that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”—as Silver did a couple of times during the press questions— to questions in which there is no definitive answer (and assure the reporter that the company will follow-up once it does have a definitive answer). This is a perfect example of the “authenticity” (that PR folks are constantly talking about).

> Do your homework. Try to anticipate any and all questions. For instance, during the presser Silver was asked if members of Mr. Sterling’s family, including his wife, Rochelle, will be allowed to remain in an ownership or managerial position in the league. Silver emphatically said there have been no decisions and that the  “no,” and that the ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling’s conduct only.

The rub is to convince managers to adopt some of these lessons. If nothing else, keep the video of Silver press conference handy. You never know when you might need it.

As a PR pro, what would you add to the list above?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

14 Pieces of PR Advice to Read and Heed

Dispensing advice is a centuries-old activity and it never gets old. When the PR News team decided to produce a Best PR Advice Book, it looked to the smartest people in the room to write it: the speakers and attendees of our PR News conferences. Over the past two years, we’ve disseminated the little black Advice Book to our conference attendees, asking them to write one piece of advice that has helped them get ahead in their career.  With smiles on their faces, our friends of PR News would stare up at the ceiling for a second until they had their Eureka moment, and with pen to paper (most but not all legibly), they’d share an interesting piece of wisdom.  Key themes emerged – among them the need to be empathetic, to constantly hone writing skills, to humanize PR efforts, and to not be afraid of failure. The Advice Book is validation and a reminder that the best communications efforts require the best communicators.

I had the honor of editing this first volume of The Best PR Advice Book and enjoyed the contributions from PR professionals from all walks of life and organizations, including Southwest Airlines, Clorox, Easter Seals, IKEA, Raytheon, Weber Shandwick, Ogilvy, AARP, NASCAR, sole practitioners and small businesses.  We all know how easy it is to give advice; it’s the heeding that’s the challenge.  The book is divided into chapters based on the themes shared by our community: Social Media, Crisis Management, Leadership, Employee Communications, Media Relations, Agency/Client Relations. Below are some of the highlights. I’d say they are my favorites, but as my mother told me when my second child was born: “Remember, never play favorites.”

Check out these words to the wise from your peers who contributed to the Advice Book:

“Empathize before you strategize.”

“Don’t bury the bad.”

“Give social media platforms a face, not a logo.”

“Communication is not what you say, it is what the other person hears.”

“If you come with a problem, come with two solutions.”

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“If there is a smile on your face, then there is a smile in your voice.”

“Do the job you want before you get it.”

“Talk to strangers.”

Choose your boss carefully.”

“Get on the good side of your IT department.”

“Flawless execution of a bad strategy is still a bad strategy.”

“You cannot improve what you don’t measure.”

“Give your people the resources to do their work, then get out of the way.”

…Please feel free to add your favorite piece of advice to this blog post, and we’ll consider it for the next volume of the PR Advice Book.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

3 Ways that Filing Taxes is a Lot Like Public Relations

It’s Tax Day today, when individual income tax returns are due to Uncle Sam.

On a personal level, I’ve had my requisite sobbing about my tax hit and gotten a sympathetic nod from my accountant as he told me that, no, next year probably won’t be any better on my wallet.

But then I got to thinking about the handful of similarities between paying taxes and public relations.

> Transparency: It’s all in the receipts, and not hiding anything that can come back to bite you. To make sure that your PR campaigns go off without a hitch and don’t suffer from any surprises, practice transparency. Even you think the information is marginal to the campaign, don’t risk keeping it under lock and key. It’s better to be open about how the campaign is developing and any bugs you need to iron out. It may cost you in the short run (by upsetting the client) but will pay off in the long run by establishing a reputation for transparency and keeping the client fully informed.

> Integrity: Sure, we’re all susceptible to creative accounting and thinking that, hey, the government doesn’t have to know about that freelance gig that paid a pretty penny. But the reality is that an overwhelming majority of Americans file their taxes down to the very letter. That’s because personal integrity is involved. It’s the same thing in PR. You’re not always going to create a killer campaign that wins kudos from the boss. But demonstrating that you did the right thing every step of the way and didn’t cut corners can pay decent returns in marketing communications.

> Timeliness: Don’t be the PR equivalent of the poor saps standing on line at the post office just as the deadline for filing taxes approaches. Yes, taxpayers can get some grace for submitting their taxes, but that won’t translate to PR, which is dictated by deadlines. As you develop a campaign, establish some hard-and-fast deadlines for the process so that when it comes time for the event/press conference, etc. you’re well ahead of the game rather than cobbling things together at the last minute—and raising the ire of the client.

Filing taxes can be a nerve-wracking experience. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also teach you a thing or two about improving your PR chops.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

9 Tempting Activities You Should Avoid When Attending That Next Conference

We are well into “conference season” when us avid learners hit the streets and land in a semi-comfortable chair in a meeting room or ballroom to do what we love to do most when attending an event: stare at our phones. It’s so tempting, right? You have the choice of listening to a panel of speakers share ideas on the very topic that you signed up to hear about; at the same time, there are screens to be tended to, be it your laptop, iPhone, iPad or, if you’re lucky, your Google Glass.

Being at a professional conference gives us an incredible opportunity to:

Likewise, attending a day-long business conference also allows us to:

  1. Catch up with old friends on Facebook
  2. Create a new Pinterest board with summer vacation ideas
  3. Email your child’s teacher about a homework assignment
  4. Scroll through Instagram and like a lot of photos
  5. Take a BuzzFeed quiz
  6. Check out eHarmony (for the singles set)
  7. Catch up on news via Twitter and search for retweetable items
  8. Complete an overdue work project — finally, you have time!
  9. Daydream

Surely, we can take advantage of both opportunities: there’s no law preventing you from liking your sister-in-law’s latest status update AND listening to panel of speakers share presentations prepared over weekends and late nights (we presume). There’s nothing unethical about taking that BuzzFeed quiz about which Game of Throne character you are (I got Arya Stark) while writing down the 7 Barcelona Principles. Nothing wrong with that at all.  Except do you now understand what the Barcelona Principles are just because you sat in a room in which it was discussed? My point is that there’s a time to Buzzfeed and there’s a time to feed your mind with new ideas that will make you smarter, better than your competitors and a valuable contributor to your team.

Next time you’re at a conference, try to be “all in” – which doesn’t mean 100% listening and engaging. That’s impossible, IMHO. If you could just shed half of the bad habits that you personally engage in at conferences, you’ll be way ahead of your peers. Maybe I’ll see you at our April 8 PR News Measurement Conference and we can share our progress on this front. I will spot you right away – you’ll be the one taking notes, asking questions, nodding affirmatively at the speakers and setting goals (which, by the way, is one of the 7 guiding principles of PR).

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

 

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