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
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
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
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
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:
- Meet new people
- Hear amazing speakers
- Hear mediocre speakers, thereby inspiring us to hit the speaker circuit
- Develop new ideas
- Crystallize strategy
- Forge partnerships
- Learn about new technologies
- Un-learn bad habits
- Create a notebook full of smart tactics to take back to the office and implement
Likewise, attending a day-long business conference also allows us to:
- Catch up with old friends on Facebook
- Create a new Pinterest board with summer vacation ideas
- Email your child’s teacher about a homework assignment
- Scroll through Instagram and like a lot of photos
- Take a BuzzFeed quiz
- Check out eHarmony (for the singles set)
- Catch up on news via Twitter and search for retweetable items
- Complete an overdue work project — finally, you have time!
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
For the past few years, the New York Knicks have put on a clinic on how not to conduct media relations.
With Jim Dolan at the helm, Knicks’ brass has valued secrecy more than storytelling. They prefer to hide from the media rather than face the fallout from nearly a decade and a half of losing and lousy decisions.
Phil Jackson, aka the Zen Master, who last week was named president of basketball operations for the team, needs to change the Knicks’ media policy. In doing so, Jackson may inspire PR managers grappling with a business culture that continues to shun the media to its own detriment.
If early returns are any indication, Jackson’s wheels are already grinding with regard to how to make the Knicks more media-friendly.
Jackson was in attendance for last week’s Knicks game versus the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden, and the mood was downright electric. Throughout the game Jackson made himself available for sports reporters from both ESPN and MSG Network, fielding tough questions about the beleaguered club with candor and good humor.
Asked what it was like to return (as the big enchilada) to the team where he had his most success as a player, Jackson smiled, and said, “Pretty cool, eh?” It was just like two pals in a bar having a pleasant conversation, and, from a PR standpoint, how can you argue with that?
Of course, sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.
Now, as Jackson’s gets into the minutiae of the day-to-day operation, he should spread some of that sunlight throughout the Knicks’ organization.
But Jackson has got his work cut out for him.
When he was introduced to the media last week, the press conference was an exercise in selectivity, with radio commentators remarking that some beat reporters were called on to ask questions while others were ignored
This does not bode well for any organization. The media taketh away, of course, but they giveth, too.
Do you believe in your product or not and, despite some serious setbacks, are you willing to defend it against the critics who, after all, are just doing their job?
Fortunately, Jackson exudes certain qualities that should permeate the building, and the way in which the Knicks approach the media.
It’s a formula for any company or organization that wants to be ahead of the game and not let others define it.
> Calm. Jackson is Buddha incarnate. He brings a sense of calm that other senior executives can adopt when dealing with the media. This is not to suggest that PR reps should have media-shy managers take a crash course in “Serenity Now,” but, rather, maintain a sense of equilibrium with the media and know that (in most cases) the media are not out to get you.
> Cohesion. Whatever Jackson has said to the media in the last week, most of his comments have revolved around a sense of team, trust and communication. When dealing with reporters, too many top-level executives personalize the conversation (which tends to draw the ire of reporters) instead of making it about how to lead an enterprise populated by disparate individuals who have to face their challenges together.
> Cool. Who wants to hang out with Jim Dolan, who, despite his rock rock ‘n’ roll bona fides, comes off a real drip. You want senior executives who have a sense of cool about themselves, their brand and their employees and won’t wilt at the slightest knock or criticism, but understand that’s part of the (media) territory.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
They’re breeding. In the last couple of years, social networks have started to proliferate in a big way, coursing through the brains of communicators who are still trying to figure out how to monetize some of the original social channels à la Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
New social networks and apps are coming fast and furious. As they get additional rounds of funding, the platforms will inevitably look to brands and marketers to drive them toward the mainstream.
PR pros might ask, what’s the purpose of using a social network that encourages anonymity? There’s been a similar response in PR precincts with regard to Snapchat, a photo messaging application in which the messages self-destruct within 10 seconds.
So far, the general consensus among communicators has been: How can Snapchat help to get the word out when it’s based on ephemeral messaging? Perhaps HBO, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other mega brands that are experimenting with Snapchat can provide the answer.
Medium is another startup that, considering the track record of founder Evan Williams (Blogger, Twitter), may become a household name soon enough. The website, which caters to amateur writers and professional ones, now gets 13 million unique users a month, according to The New York Times.
Unlike most websites, there are no comments at the end of posts on Medium. However, readers can leave notes tied to specific words or phrases. Sounds like a subtle yet legitimate way to get your message out.
As traditional media outlets become subordinate to social platforms, the onus will fall to communicators to figure out which of the nascent social networks can juice their PR programs and which to leave well enough alone.
With that in mind, here are few questions to determine if some of the new social networks referred to above—and those that we haven’t yet heard about, but no doubt will emerge—can apply to your PR and marketing efforts.
> Does the network hold appeal to any of your audiences? Better yet, is there a solid percentage of younger people who flock to your brand? If so, they’ll probably flock to nascent social networks, too. Then you have to monitor how “sticky” those audiences might be with a specific network.
> Do your brand attributes dovetail with myriad technologies afforded by the social networks? Does your PR strategy sometimes include teasing an audience or promoting scarcity? (That’s Snapchat’s raison d’être, for now.)
> How can new social networks enhance your events and conferences? Is Medium a vehicle to get a better read on which keywords (and thus ideas) might work best when a C-level executive is making a presentation about the company’s products and services? Is Whisper a way to surreptitiously start a conversation with customers and prospects?
These are questions PR pros are going to have to start asking. Better that than to pooh-pooh yet another social network. That’s a nonstarter.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
Is the landline telephone headed for a museum near you?
It increasingly seems that way, what with more and more people wedded to their cell phones and myriad hand-held devices.
If landline phones do get mothballed, though, so, too, will what remains an effective communications tool for PR pros.
But we may be getting ahead of ourselves.
Despite the country’s increasing dependence on the Web, consumers who have landline phones still thought that their home phones would be harder to give up than social media, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
That’s just one aspect of a larger survey, titled “The Web at 25 in the U.S.,” which took the pulse of 1,006 adults living in the continental United States. According to the survey, 28% of the respondents (who have landline phones) said it would hard to give up landline phones, as opposed to 11% for social media.
At the same time, the number of U.S. households that have landlines fell to 71% in 2011, down from 96% in 1996. Follow that stat to a logical conclusion and, within the next 15 years, the landline telephone may be considered exotica from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sure, PR pros can call reporters and editors from most anywhere on the planet.
Whether you’re on a cell phone or a landline, it’s important to convey to the person your calling that he has your undivided attention. During the analog era, with a landline, that was easier to convey because with the exception of a pay phone, you had to be indoors and in a relatively quiet place.
While it’s hip in technology companies not to have landline telephones in their offices, my guess is that, for PR pros, picking up a landline to call a reporter about a story is becoming a novelty.
And being novel begets curiosity.
For reporters and editors, that’s half the battle. Now you can close the deal with a relevant pitch to the reporter’s audience(s).
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
F. Scott Fitzgerald wore many hats. He was the chronicler of the Jazz Age; author of “The Great Gatsby;” a charter member of the so-called “Lost Generation” and inveterate boozer. He also coined one of the most enduring quotes: “There are no second acts in American lives.” Well, no one is perfect.
In America, second acts are a dime a dozen, and we can’t get enough of them.
To wit, Martha Stewart barely missing a beat as America’s homemaker following a five-month prison stint for insider trading; Robert Downey Jr., now the embodiment of box-office mojo after spending the middle part of his career in and out drug rehab, and the ultimate second act, Richard Nixon, who was left for dead after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962 only to be elected president six years later.
The latest second act to emerge is cooking queen Paula Deen. It was just last summer that Deen acknowledged using the “N word,” according to her deposition in a lawsuit, and other racial slurs.
Sponsors dropped her like a hot potato. The Food Network dumped her. Then she went on NBC’s TODAY Show for a weepy sit-down, where she exclaimed, “I is what I is,” and was subsequently written off for all eternity.
Now comes word of the newly formed Paula Deen Ventures, which is being funded by a reported $75 million to $100 million investment by private equity firm Najafi Cos.
Jahm Najafi, who heads the firm, told The Wall Street Journal he believes that “the Paula Deen brand is alive and well.” Sounds like a man who wants solid return on his investment. So, how long before Deen reemerges with her own show on cable or, at the very least, online?
However things shake out, the Deen saga holds important lessons for communicators whose brands may have taken a hit from which they have yet to recover or may be foundering amid myriad changes in the marketplace.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for PR pros who are grappling with how to revive their brands or organizations and win back the confidence of consumers and constituents.
> When emerging from scandal or controversy, make sure all of the company’s key players get a fat slice of humble pie. Don’t let the company pretend that the scandal never happened. Don’t harp on it, of course, but make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to answer questions from the media and other stakeholders about why it happened and what you’ve done (or are doing) to remedy it.
> Without being mawkish, try and make amends to the person or persons who may have been offended by your actions. Embrace those communities that have abandoned your brand. Don’t window-dress, but demonstrate that you won’t take any audience(s) for granted.
> Make sure your employees are in the loop regarding any changes stemming from a scandal, and can serve as brand messengers. If you don’t get buy in from the rank-and-file, it’s unlikely that consumers will believe that you are trying to do the right thing.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
There are three types of PR professionals: ineffective, good and great. It’s as simple as that, really. Most PR pros are good – they’ve found a comfortable place to practice their trade and are making an impact with their organization or clients. But Public Relations cannot afford to be a majority of Good professionals if it wants to lead the charge in moving markets and reputations.
Going from Good to Great takes work and new habits. Fortunately, habits are hard to break – so if you can acquire these 9 Habits of Highly Effective PR People, then you’ll no longer settle for Good. Based on conversations with PR professionals and our PR News team’s interviews with thousands of leaders, here are nine great PR habits:
1. Listen hard: don’t pretend you’re listening. Focus during key conversations and jot down what you heard, because you think you’ll remember the key takeaways but you won’t.
2. Speak the local language: understand the lingo of the communities and markets you serve and learn their language. The nuances can make a difference in your communications campaign.
3. Read until your eyes hurt: Always be reading something – be it a magazine article, a news item online, a fiction or non-fiction book. Reading stirs your imagination, helps you to become a better writer, and, of course, keeps you well-informed.
4. Embrace measurement: you’ve heard that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s true. Sometimes it’s tough to swallow the results, much less communicate them. Establishing reasonable metrics and evaluating regularly will allow you to pivot, improve, learn and succeed.
5. Become a subject matter expert: Being a Jack (or Jackie) of All Trades is over-rated. Find a niche, study it, live it and become the go-to expert on that niche.
6. Practice your math: Knowing how to read a Profit/Loss statement, how to build and execute on a budget, how to calculate growth and decline will position you for leadership, and improve your PR initiatives.
7. Hone your writing skills: whether it’s a finely crafted memo, a post-campaign report or an email to a colleague or client, make your writing sing. How you write is often how you’re perceived in the field of communications. If you can’t articulate your message in writing, you can’t go from Good to Great.
8. Master your Social: Social media is not a strategy, it’s a platform. Understand it and use it regularly but don’t let Fear of Missing Out make you an obsessive social communicator. The other “social” — communicating and networking with peers and stakeholders (preferably in person or by phone) — holds more long-term value for you as a PR leader.
9. Be a PR advocate: Public Relations often suffers from an image problem; PR is not just about pitching to the media or bitching about the media; it’s one of the most important disciplines within an organization. Advocate for your profession – and the best way to do that is by being a Great PR Person.
I might have missed a few habits, so please add to this list!
- Diane Schwartz