Your Most Credible Spokespeople Are Hiding in Plain Sight

One of the more intriguing facets of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer concerns the credibility of spokespeople for companies and organizations. The trend lines bear watching for PR executives and communicators looking to both personalize the face of their brand and improve employee relations

The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled 27,000 general population respondents with an oversample of 6,000 informed publics ages 25-64 across 27 countries.

The most trusted sources of information remain people whose access may depend on what kind of relationship they have with your company: Academics and experts. They’re the most trusted sources this year (67%), up from five points from 2009, followed by technical experts, according to Edelman.

But here’s where things get interesting: After technical experts the most trusted source of information is what Edelman defines as a “person like yourself,” (62%), which grew 15 percentage points since 2009.

Little wonder that regular folks have gotten more credible as spokespeople  during the same period that social media, which abhors hierarchy, has gone mainstream.

Delivering an organization’s message used to be a fairly straightforward exercise. Have the CEO or chief spokesperson share the information, regardless of the what kind of credibility that person has with stakeholders or whether he or she is media savvy. So long as that person got a bio in the first few pages of the company’s annual report.

Not in a Twitter age, though. Now, your most credible spokespeople are hiding in plain sight.

As information becomes democratized so, too, does the credibility of “regular” employees who can carry a message and, at the same time, attain consumers’ trust for the long haul.

The most trusted sources of information increasingly are the rank and file, folks who don’t have an axe to grind, and can inspire trust because when they explain a product, service or idea they’re sincere about it and unscripted.

The Edelman survey also found significant gains for regular employees, to 52% in 2014 from 32% in 2009, as the most credible spokespeople.

The credibility of CEOs grew to 43% in 2014, from 31% in 2009, but is still near the bottom rung.

That CEOs have some of the least credibility as spokespeople is not exactly earth shattering, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s the rising credibility of a person like yourself and regular employees that’s likely to have a bigger impact on your communications strategy.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Why Daft Punk was Speechless at Grammys, and Other PR Lessons from the Big Night

For those of you tired of awards speeches, you’ll find no better honoree than Daft Punk, the electronic music duo that won four Grammy Awards on Sunday including Record of the Year and Album of the Year. The French helmet-headed duo took the stage at Sunday’s awards show multiple times in their loud silence, letting others speak for them.

While some media trainers may warn their clients to avoid appearing robotic, the opposite would hold true for Daft Punk.

While some media trainers would work tirelessly with a client to get the messaging just right, there are no words to be spoken, no lines to get wrong, no Teleprompter to worry about.

Makeup, hair, outfit? Not a problem for these robots. Just stand up straight and stiff and channel your inner robot.

Whether or not they are musical geniuses, Daft Punk has managed their image straight to stardom and have resisted the urge to put their egos ahead of their product. Their performances are lauded for their creativity and visual elements: the music version of visual storytelling (and you thought Daft Punk and PR had nothing in common?). When asked in the rare media interview about their robot get-ups, they speak in themes of human + machine, or the separation of their personal and public lives.

Let’s not get any strange ideas to start dressing our senior executives in robot suits and helmets and avoiding the media. (I believe that the president of France Francoisdaft punk Holland tried hiding behind a helmet recently and couldn’t avoid the media, but I digress.) What makes Daft Punk so interesting and compelling – regardless of one’s musical tastes – is the originality of their idea, the honing of their unique craft and a loyal fan base that accepts them for the robots they are really not.

– Diane Schwartz

If you’re not a robot, please follow me on twitter @dianeschwartz

Make Sure Newsjacking the Super Bowl Doesn’t Turn Into a PR Fumble

Super Bowl XLVIII is now set, with the Denver Broncos pitted against the Seattle Seahawks. But brand managers and PR pros have been scrambling for weeks if not months to come up with the most effective way(s) to align their message with the big game.

Indeed, throughout the next 10 days or so, expect to see more so-called “newsjacking” than you can shake a stick at. Newsjacking—which has become another PR tool borne of the digital age—is leveraging the popularity of a major news story to highlight your products and services and brand attributes.

One of the biggest newsjacking coups was during last year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, when the lights went out and Oreo quickly posted a photo on Facebook with the caption, “Power Out? No Problem.” The picture, showing an Oreo cookie against a dark backdrop, had the tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark.”

Less than a day after the Super Bowl, the image had reportedly garnered more than 19,800 likes and more than 6,600 shares.

The newsjacking was a perfect PR play: Oreo was able to capitalize on the news that millions of people were at that instant talking about, while reminding consumers of the longtime appeal of Oreo cookies, which is dunking them in a cold glass of milk.

With this year’s Super Bowl being played less than 10 miles from midtown Manhattan, the media capital of the universe, there’ll be much more hype for the game than usual—and seemingly more opportunities for newsjacking.

While newsjacking can be an effective way to boost your brand and get your message out with relatively low cost, it shouldn’t seem forced, or the PR equivalent to trying to stuff 10 pounds into a five pound bag.

Considering that the game is one of the last instances in which we all gather “around the fire” to watch the same program, communicators can be forgiven for thinking that, by blending “creative” with some media buying and/or social media messaging, newsjacking is a surefire way to generate “earned” media.

But be careful what you wish for. As the Super Bowl approaches, there will be a strange sense that nothing else in the world is happening, as the excitement surrounding the game reaches a fever pitch. Yet after the game’s opening kick-off, it often feels as if the air has been let out of the marketing bag.

A study by research firm Communicus, for example, found that about 60% of Super Bowl ads it tested don’t increase purchase or purchase intent. The firm took the pulse of more than 1,000 consumers before and after they were exposed to the ads in the 2012 and 2013 games.

If Super Bowl ads have a tough time getting into the red zone with consumers, what chance do you have newsjacking the Super Bowl?

You can increase your odds, of course, by demonstrating a legitimate connection between your brand and the news at hand.

There are plenty of brands that can find ways to hitch their product to the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning, the Seattle Seahawks or Russell Wilson, with regional brands having the best shot due to having a built-in audience and catering to local tastes.

However, national brands have to be careful not to do newsjacking just for the sake of doing so. They have to bring some value to the table and have a good (and fairly obvious) reason for why they’re aligning their message with the Super Bowl. It’s akin to showing up at a Super Bowl party with a gift that adds to the festivities and gets people engaged, rather than showing up with a six-pack of beer that is quickly consumed and all but forgotten a few minutes after you enter the door.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Why Smart Communicators Use the Phone

You can feel yourself age when you use such antiquated words like “telephone” in front of your 12-year-old son. “Mom, who says ‘telephone’ anymore?” He has a point.

Every now and then “telephone” creeps into my language, as do other throwbacks like Rolodex and VCR.  Just as we don’t say “telephone” very often, we also don’t use the device as much as we should in the communications business.  We’re so used to emailing, texting, posting, pinning, sharing and liking that we often put phone communications on the back burner. That phone taking up space on your desk is a bit lonely.

In the past week how many times have you engaged in a business conversation via the phone versus email or LinkedIn or even texting? How many times have you thought, “I should have just called her”? Or, “I wonder what he meant in that email when he said ‘let’s discuss’”? Perhaps it means we should actually talk.

Phone communication for business is not yet an antiquated activity but it’s getting there. Let’s not contribute to its demise.  Communicators who pick up the phone – either to make a call or receive a call – will (and do) have the edge with stakeholders. Social media cannot replace phone calls. Emailing cannot replace a one-on-one conversation.  An interview with a reporter that’s done by email is inferior to one that’s either in-person or by phone. A customer-service related issue is usually more efficient via email but if you really want to ‘wow’ a customer, check in by phone.  A press release does not replace verbal communication with key stakeholders.

As we embark on a new year for communications excellence, let’s make the call to take the call or make a call.

- Diane Schwartz  @dianeschwartz

Call me with topics you’d like to see covered in this blog: 212-621-4964.

 

Reality Check for PR Professionals

When police officers leave for work they literally put their lives on the line. Ditto for military personnel and firefighters. When PR pros leave for work they may face a manager unhappy with the results from the latest branding campaign or have to engage in interoffice politics that few companies and organizations are immune from.

PR folks juggle an increasing number of balls, of course. The deadlines are constant, and, because of a need for speed in the marketplace, the business can be unforgiving. But one thing they do not do is put their lives at risk, and that’s what makes the latest list of the 10 most stressful jobs for 2014  so problematic.

The list, which was released by CareerCast.com, taps PR executive as the 6th most stressful job, behind event coordinator, airline pilot, firefighter, military general and enlisted military personnel.

Rounding out the list, and following PR executive: corporate executive (senior); newspaper reporter, police officer and taxi driver.

Now which PR manager or director worth his or her salt can say with a straight face that working in PR is nearly as stressful as being a  cop, firefighter, airline pilot or soldier? We didn’t think so.

The same goes for newspaper reporters, show runners and taxi drivers. Hard work all, but, with the exception of reporters covering the hot spots throughout the world, not life threatening.

Sure, PR is a tough and grueling business. However, in a global and hypercompetitive economy there are few sectors these days that don’t fit that description.

This is not to deny that PR pros have a demanding—and, at times, nerve-racking—job. Indeed, the PR profession has undergone more change in the last five years than the previous 20, what with the onslaught of digital communications and social media.

No longer on the margins of marketing efforts, PR pros in many respects now steer the company’s overall marketing strategy, and must deal with the territory that comes along with it.

What’s called for here is a bit of perspective.

We like to say that PR pros help put out fires. But the flames are metaphorical; they’re not going to hurt (or kill) you the way real flames can. And when the boss is rupturing a gasket because of a negative story about the brand, it’s not fun and it’ll probably ruin your day, but that can hardly be compared to operating in an utterly hostile environment with bullets whizzing above your head.

We also like to say PR pros are in the perception business. To lump the PR field together with ultra-stressful jobs like protecting the country from terrorists and grappling with hardened criminals is a perception that PR pros ought to change. It’s an opportunity to bring some reality to the conversation.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

 

New Year’s Resolutions for the PR-Minded

The good thing about New Year’s resolutions is that no one is really listening closely to what you are resolving to do.  But resolutions do crystallize our goals and make the month of January, at least, a little more interesting. For communicators the world over, you should expect 2014 to bring the following:

> Crises, smoldering or quick

> Reputations under fire or on fire

> Media coverage, for better or worse

> Employee morale issues

> Financial ups and downs

> Product and company launches

> Product and company failures

> A new social media craze

These are just a few of the sure things in PR as we herald in the new year and perhaps a new approach to PR.  In my nearly two decades covering Public Relations, I have never seen a bigger opportunity than now for PR practitioners to be the dominant force in brand leadership, message management and tying intangibles and tangibles to the bottom line.

There are many ways to not screw up this trajectory and to possibly make 2014 the most exciting year for you in PR. To do that, however, will take some commitment to the core tenets and practices of the best PR practitioners. Here at PR News we benchmark outstanding communication leadership across all areas of the market. From our Platinum PR  to our PR People Awards, from Corporate Social Responsibility to the Digital PR Awards, we see a pattern in excellence that underscores why resolutions are worth keeping.  Like many New Year’s Resolutions, the following list may sound familiar but I submit that the best ideas are worth repeating:

* Find the interesting story behind your message – and tell it

* Measure your PR and be bold enough to make adjustments

* Listen to your stakeholders: your customers, investors, employees are your keys to success

* Learn to work across silos – marketing, HR, IT, Finance, Legal

* Become a better goal-keeper:  of your goals, your department’s and your organization’s

* Collaborate internally and externally – 1+1=3

* Hone your writing skills: you reach more people when you can spell, turn a phrase and use your words correctly

* Foster diversity: in thought and experience

* Don’t fear missing out: resist the urge to be on every social media platform

* Be transparent: people are smart enough to see through the BS anyway

* Advocate for PR: become a voice for Public Relations inside your organization and in the marketplace of ideas.

What are some of your PR resolutions for 2014? Please share with your fellow PR News blog readers.

Best of luck to you and your team for a meaningful and memorable 2014.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

PS – Check out more of my blog posts from the past few months:

Beyonce’s December Surprise is a PR Masterpiece

Ten Tough Questions to Ask Yourself Now

Nine Tips for Public Speakers Who Hate Public Speaking

The Most Annoying Sayings: The Epic List

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyonce’s December Surprise is Public Relations Masterpiece and Lesson in the Halo Effect

Surprise!

Beyonce released her fifth album on Friday without advance notice and with much fanfare as 80,000 fans purchased her self-titled album within 72 hours of release on itunes, and if it doesn’t hit #1 this week then call me Stupid.

That’s right – Beyonce’s non-marketing marketing included no ads, commercials, media interviews, late-night hosting gigs. And to make matters more interesting and retro, customers had to do what they did decades ago – or never – and download the entire album rather than one song (until Dec. 20 when singles will be released).

Essentially, Beyonce relied on social media and the love, kindness and curiosity of her loyal customer base to spread the word. It is not surprising that it worked, is it? After all, Beyonce is one of the most popular celebrities in the Western World. By not doing what the marketplace expected, she generated more buzz than she ever could have created with a full-flung marketing strategy.

But let’s not worry about PR and Marketing being sidelined here. Make no mistake, there were communications pros behind this non-marketing, social media strategy. For one, she issued a press release with the album (that’s right: press releases are cool enough for Bey) and second, even though social media appears to be free, there were people behind the scenes tweeting, posting, pinning and monitoring.

The album has 14 tracks and 17 musical videos including collaborations with husband Jay-Z, and with Timbaland, Timberlake, Drake, to name a few. And daughter Blue Ivy Carter gets her second album credit before she’s out of diapers – a feat either incredible or disgusting, depending on your viewpoint.

It is worth studying Beyonce’s moves — marketing moves, that is. She is a master of her own image and understands how to engage with fans, keep her story interesting and be unpredictable. Though critics didn’t get to sample the album in advance, nearly all the reviews have been positive. This is the most compelling part of the December surprise: Beyonce orchestrated a triumph of both style and substance.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Holiday Parties Can Be a PR Fact-Finding Initiative

The next two weeks are prime time for holiday office parties. Office parties are the few occasions when we gather with our colleagues but don’t necessarily feel obligated to talk shop.

They’re a license for people to lighten up from the daily and demanding grind. But for PR managers and directors, these gatherings are an opportunity.

The office holiday party may be the one time of the year that you get to take the collective pulse of the company, gauge the major concerns among the employees and harness those concerns into more effective communications.

With that in mind, here are a few ways the PR team can use the holiday party to enhance its service to the organization and build reputations and relationships for the company.

> Check the DNA of the company and determine which areas of the enterprise that fall under the purview of PR—say, the CSR plan, social-media guidelines or brand-ambassador program— may need to be revisited or reset altogether.

> Play the role of conduit by introducing C-level managers to the rank-and file, and vice versa. By doing so, you break down some of the inherent barriers in many corporations and better familiarize yourself with the entire communications ethos of the company and how people relate to one another.

> Listen, listen and listen some more. You seldom get a chance to meet with all your fellow employees and communicate with them in a no-pressure environment. So take perfect advantage of it by allowing your colleagues to do most of the talking. By listening (and asking sincere questions) you might learn about someone who has a talent (voice, design, videography) that can be harnessed for content creation, Web programming and other areas where PR shares ownership.

And more than that, uncovering hidden talents among team members provides you with new ways of thinking about the brand and how the company can behave more like a media company (regardless of what you’re selling).

With heartfelt apologies to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, once in a while you can get shone the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Start with the office holiday party.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

Is the News Release Dying? Maybe That’s the Wrong Question

press-release-formatIn a Dec. 6 PR News webinar on writing relevant, share-worthy press releases, Myra Oppel, regional communications vice president for utility company Pepco Holdings, and Jana Telfer, associate director, communication science, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tackled the thorny question of whether the news release is dying—or already dead. Their answer: it’s toast.

That is, if you’re talking about the stand-alone news release unconnected to a larger PR strategy, sent scattershot over the wires at a random time.

“The press release is not what it used to be,” said Telfer. “It doesn’t have the all-encompassing role it had in the age of typewriters. Nevertheless, a release provides an incredibly useful repository of information for journalists. You just have to be much more judicious and rigorous in how you use them.”

“News releases are evolving, the same way media is evolving,” said Oppel. “Releases have to be targeted and go to the right person. You’ve got to sell it hard with the email subject line, headline and lead. But releases will be perennials as long as there are journalists on the other end. They will still depend on them.”

That leads to another question. Let’s assume that the news release—properly structured and written so that each sentence adds value—will remain a useful, condensed repository of information for journalists. They will always need them—as long as there is a “they.” So the question should be, for how much longer will there be working, salaried, professional journalists who even know what a news release is?

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

The Hunger Games at Work: How to Sound Very Fantastic This Week

HUNGERGAMESIt’s said that we speak an average of 16,000 words each day. That’s a lot of talking. As communicators, we appreciate fine words and clever turns of phrases.  But on this day after a long holiday, still recovering from a turkey and pumpkin pie stupor and constant conversation with distant relatives, I challenge you to insert into your dialogue or work- day imagination at least two of the quotes below from the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

On the surface, there’s little we can find in common between the roles of Katniss, Peeta, President Snow and Haymitch Abernathy and our role as communicators. But scratch just a little beneath that surface and you may find that the lines below could be very helpful as you get your week off to a fiery start:

“No waving and smiling this time. I want you to look straight ahead as if the audience and this whole event are beneath you.”  (possible scene: you are at a meeting with new competitors)

“Remember who the real enemy is.” (scene: at the meeting above you realize your competitors are not really your enemies)

“You’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.” (scene: you give your team a challenging project to take on)

“Chins up, smiles on!” (scene: instead of ending your meeting with “OK, that’s all” you decide to shock the attendees with this uplifting, inspirational decree)

“From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.” (scene: you’re moved from PR to HR)

“So far I’m not overwhelmed by our choices.” (scene: you’re at a business lunch at a restaurant with limited, unappealing menu choices)

“I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever.” (scene: the media loves your story idea and you are inundated with interview requests)

“This is no place for a Girl on fire.” (scene: Katniss or someone similar to her shows up to your afternoon meeting)

“Convince me.” (scene: the response from your boss after asking for a bigger PR budget in 2014)

You might be thinking your job is not scripted nor are you an actor in a major motion picture. But after testing these quotes on your unsuspecting colleagues and peers you’ll realize that the Hunger Games isn’t as fantastical as originally thought.

– Diane Schwartz

(Join me on Twitter)

 

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