The Landline Telephone Has Some Ring Left

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

 

Directing What Could Be the Second Act for Your Brand

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

 

9 Habits of Highly Effective PR People

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

@dianeschwartz

 

 

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

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