Why is it still newsworthy when PR is called to the rescue or joins a strategic team? “Pet Company Hires PR Firm to Clone Calico Cats” or “PR Counselor Recommends AshleyMadison.com to C-Suite” – now those would be worth writing about. To wit: there is still a jaundiced view of PR. To utilize PR is sometimes akin to admitting you’ve reached The Last Resort.
Part of the reason for this mentality is the media’s view of PR – the same journalists creating a news story out of a non-story are the journalists whose respect for PR is wavering at best. Surely there are outstanding relationships between PR pro and journalist. Enough rotten apples and we become spoiled, in a bad way.
Another reason PR is not yet elevated within an organization is a lack of strong and ongoing advocacy for PR. PR professionals are the go-to storytellers, writers, advisors, counselors, organizers, implementers and strategists — right?
Some heavy lifting is needed. We might start by dispelling these 5 myths about PR:
PR is nice to have but not need to have. The truth is that the strongest brands and reputations deploy smart public relations tactics that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission and culture.
PR people suck at math and finance. PR execs need to add metrics and measurement to the business conversations and hold PR accountable in front of senior management. We talk about measurement among ourselves – time to apply what you know to the conversations you have with the C-suite and marketing colleagues.
PR should not be seen — and needs to stay behind the scenes. Of course not. You have the advantage of context and clarity – there’s no reason you can’t be the spokesperson and certainly no reason why an organization shouldn’t be proud to have a smart PR counselor backing its reputation.
PR’s main role is media relations. Media relations is a subset of PR and not the end-all, be-all. While strong relationships with journalists are critical for many PR people, the Public in Public Relations includes those hanging out on social media, the employees in your organization and the people on Wall Street and Main Street. Change the conversation from positive media coverage to positive coverage.
What other myths would you add to the mix, and what are your suggestions for busting them?
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s follow each other on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Subway must want this year to end quickly. Jared Fogle, the company-created celebrity spokesperson, this week agreed to plead guilty of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and the distribution and receipt of child pornography, according to the Associated Press. Sales were already falling. Now, with Fogle’s child pornography case, Subway has a worst-case-scenario PR problem.
Make that “public relations” problem.
For non-practitioners, “PR” has become synonymous with spin, obfuscation and corporate-sponsored scientific studies designed to facilitate sales. This perception reaches the C-suite, where PR is sometimes designated as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.
Until a Jared Fogle moment comes along.
Fogle’s case sends shivers beyond Subway’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut and 21,000 franchises, to any organization that hovers over the border between a good reputation and a tarnished reputation. (In an upcoming issue of PR News’ weekly premium publication, editor Seth Arenstein will share possible ways forward for Subway from public relations thought leaders.)
That’s where all organizations exist—near that border. From the CEO to the customer service representative to the supplier’s floor manager in another hemisphere, every individual in or connected to an organization has the potential to damage it with acts done, words said or written, images shared. PR as it’s commonly perceived is merely a tourniquet, but thoughtful, effective public relations has clarity of purpose. It’s relating to the public, communicating with people, listening and responding—in good times and bad.
If you’re a public relations professional, you know this already, but do the executives who approve your budgets know this? Those executives need smart, effective public relations practitioners in their highest-level business meetings—before their Jared moment crashes through the window like a wrecking ball.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
The lines are blurry. As a communicator you are usually selling something – an idea, a story, an interview to the media, a budget, a campaign. To close on that effort – to get the story, win the account, score a larger budget – is a similar feeling your Marketing counterpart has when her campaign idea is approved or when a customer buys the product based on her messaging. And the salesperson down the hall from you? He is always prospecting, aims to be in front of clients or at least on the phone with them, understanding their pain points and their spending limits.
These three levers of Communications – PR, Marketing, Sales — are at their best when they’re working together, not separately. Most practitioners and strategists agree with the premise, but the underlying pain points, frustrations, budgetary constraints, conflicting goals may stop the three from even wanting to work together. I’ve posed the question in a previous post, Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day? A lot of you responded and as a whole we’re in favor of this matrimony. But how about we go on a few dates first?
The best communicators will be the ones who have a firm grasp on Marketing, who partner with Sales to help close business, and who are pushing for consistent messaging across this spectrum. If you shy away from Sales or snub your nose at Marketing (that department that steals some of your budget), then you will be OK, possibly. That is to say, you can get by. But to be an extraordinary communications executive you need to spend some time in their shoes. Here are three easy things you can do in the next 30 days to narrow the gap and broaden your organization’s (and your own) opportunities:
Lead a Sales Call: Try to sell something to a client: ask your sales dept if you can sell your company’s service or product to one prospect. Set up the appointment, do your research, lead the meeting, close the business, send out the proposal, wait for the signature. Sometimes you’ll be waiting longer than expected for a signed contract and that’s part of the process and why the rewards taste so sweet.
Be a Marketer: Sit in on Marketing meetings and listen without your PR hat on. Understand how they measure success and manage budgets. Ask to work on a campaign in which you need to partner with the PR team. It’s not always easy to collaborate and see the other side. As a marketer, you may want to spend more on b-to-c advertising while PR is pushing for a media relations push with the trade press. Find common ground and share in the hits and misses.
Break Bread & Barriers: Set up monthly Integrated Communications Breakfasts. An early morning meeting of the minds where you are fresh and prepared could work wonders. Share current initiatives, report on performance of campaigns, ask for help and guidance. This will increase transparency and lead to more collaboration.
There’s nothing like coffee and bagels to smear away the friction that exists when three departments are used to eating alone.
– Diane Schwartz
The moving company that assisted with our house move last week sent us a hard-working crew. Hauling boxes and furniture to and fro, they didn’t spend much time chatting, but when they did they usually framed it in a question: “How am I doing?”
When Danny, the head mover, first asked me that question I thought he was asking how I was doing. After all, moving out of a house is stressful! Then I realized he wanted to know if he and his crew were meeting my expectations. Were they careful, efficient, polite? Danny wanted this feedback. He stood in my kitchen holding a big box labeled “Dishes,” and looked me in the eyes as he awaited my reply.
“How am I doing?”
After hearing from me that he was doing a great job, he and his crew continued the laborious task ahead of them. A few hours later, Danny asked me the same question and this time I thought harder about it and provided some specific feedback having to do with not scratching a certain wall. Over the course of this 10-hour whirlwind round-trip relationship we had with our movers, “How am I doing” was asked at least a handful of times.
In the course of a week, a month, a year, how often do you check in, one on one, with your customers, business partners, clients, journalists, colleagues and stakeholders and as them “How am I doing”? We are more accustomed to asking “How are you?” then we are “How am I doing?” It seems the former is more about them and the latter can appear self-serving or insecure. But what you’re really asking is “Are you satisfied and can I do better for you?” Of course, you have to be prepared to heed the feedback, which is sometimes not what you expected. That’s the point – and it’s well worth the heavy lifting afterwards.
– Diane Schwartz
Write exceedingly well and you’ll increase your chances of succeeding in your workplace and in the job market. Write poorly and you’ll increase the burden of work for your colleagues and be seen as potentially expendable in economic downturns. That’s just how it is.
This is doubly true if you’re a PR professional or journalist. In both cases, good writing ability should be a point of entry and not an aspirational goal. If you’ve ever edited PR copy or journalism professionally, you may have learned that this is sometimes not the case. PR and journalism attracts people who say they love to write, but many of them apparently feel it’s fine to wing it with grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation.
While they wing it, others labor to clarify their sentences and paragraphs, rid them of errors and keep their style consistent. Wing it with your writing and you’re narrowing some career horizons.
Many PR pros know this to be true—we can see this at PR News from the many people who sign up for our Writing Boot Camps. Judging by the availability of online grammar tools, insecurity about writing ability goes far beyond PR and journalism to the general workforce. One such tool, Grammarly, scored a lot of attention online last week when it published an infographic called “The MLB Grammar Power Ranking,” in which it ranked Major League Baseball teams by their fans’ ability to write with the fewest grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. (Cleveland Indians fans came in first, with 3.6 errors per 100 words; New York Mets fans were last, with 13.9 errors per 100 words.)
The infographic and ensuing media coverage—including this post—has raised awareness for Grammarly, which offers three paid plans in which you can use its online program to proofread your copy, improve your word choices, avoid plagiarism and minimize grammatical and punctuation mistakes.
I’ve never used Grammarly. Perhaps I should. I am convinced, though, that this is not the entryway to the kind of excellent writing that’ll make a difference in your professional life. It’s probably a very useful tool, but depending on technology is not the way.
Commit to being your own writing teacher first, then pay for the tool and sign up for the class. Don’t wing it with punctuation, capitalization and grammar. Get copies of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and never stop referring to them. Be your own editor and keep rewriting your sentences. Develop that ability first, so that when a trainer, author or computer program exhorts you to avoid walls of text and make every verb count, you’re already on the endless road to writing a little bit better with every passing week.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
It’s not every day that you get a free scoop of ice cream with your bacon and eggs, unless you’re eating breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s. The iconic Chicago diner has been surprising first-time customers and delighting return diners with this extra touch. When the waitress handed me the check, then asked if I wanted some ice cream, I looked around as if I had won the lottery. The last thing I really wanted was ice cream after a hearty breakfast but I didn’t realize how much I loved being surprised by the offer.
Surprise: it’s surprisingly powerful!
When was the last time you offered your brand’s version of ice cream with breakfast? When you provided an unexpected benefit or show of appreciation for your stakeholders, be it a customer, a reporter, an employee, an investor, a client? Even the most beloved brands shouldn’t assume they are good to go with their customers, who are just a click or step away from turning their attention to your competitor. MasterCard is just one of many smart brands employing “surprise and delight” to build customer loyalty. Through its “Priceless Surprises” campaigns, cardholders have randomly received a gift, such as a meeting with Justin Timberlake, and are encouraged to send surprise gifts to friends and family (using MasterCard).
When Tania Luna, co-author of “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” keynoted our PR News Digital PR Conference earlier this month in Miami, attendees expected her to talk about how to communicate via surprise tactics given the name of her new book. What the audience didn’t expect was to be handed a pack of Pop Rocks and asked to place the fizzy crystals in their mouth and create a symphonic sound with fellow attendees, with Luna as the conductor. “At the count of 3, this side of the room should start swirling their Pop Rocks in their mouth,” Luna instructed. Amazingly, the attendees exploded with glee and there was a communal sense of pleasant surprise at the activity, the nostalgic quality of Pop Rocks and the silliness they found themselves in. They weren’t expecting this activity at a PR conference. Surprise!
In a recent interview with PR News’ Steve Goldstein, Luna offered 9 surprise tactics and implored communicators to remember that acting human is different than being human. She suggests that communicators “scriptease” to build trust with stakeholders, especially with the media. Put your scripted pitch aside and just have a conversation with the reporter like you would with a friend.
And never stop surprising and delighting: To wit, if you’re waiting in the long line at Lou Mitchell’s or as you’re leaving the restaurant, there’s an endless bowl of fresh donut holes for the taking. Just another way for this brand to sweeten the experience.
- Diane Schwartz
The melding of PR and marketing is one of the biggest challenges facing communicators of all stripes.
As C-level managers demand more accountability from their PR departments, communicators increasingly are trying to take their lead from marketing when it comes to measuring activity and demonstrating value. And, unlike even a few years ago, a growing number of PR execs now report to CMOs.
Wide disparities remain between the two disciplines. Marketing is conditioned to showing fairly immediate returns on the investment—PR, not so much. Indeed, it might take years for PR efforts to flow to the top and/or bottom lines.
But the arc of media consumption is bending toward PR. Online consumers have much more interest in having a conversation with brands, the domain of PR. Still, if they’re to succeed in the future, both marketing and PR need to work together.
How marketing and PR are collaborating on digital was discussed Monday during PR News’ Digital PR Conference.
“Communication pros who think like brand marketers will have a better appreciation of the purchase path,” said Torod Neptune, VP and head of corporate communications for Verizon Wireless.
Neptune has made several moves to provide for better collaboration between Verizon Wireless’ PR and marketing teams. They include:
- Expanding the PR department by hiring executives from digital agencies, as opposed to traditional communications professionals, who are well-versed in all things digital.
- Training PR execs to speak in a marketing vernacular and learn the terminology that the marketing department uses. “This should be the way we talk about our craft, which is one of the big opportunities” for PR, Neptune said.
- Encouraging PR execs to be more proactive, rather than reactive, about establishing the corporate narrative and speaking in the brand voice.
Jody Sunna, executive VP for Havas PR North America, stressed that bolstering fundamental communication between marketing and PR is key. She recommended the following tips for better collaboration:
- Maintain message consistency across all channels and all platforms.
- Look to bring all marketing, PR and digital team members to the table from the get-go to uncover opportunities and workarounds.
- Cross-promote and amplify content outside of your channel. Share PR stories with sales teams and across social channels. Share fan feedback from Twitter and Facebook with PR and marketing, and share marketing sales figures with PR.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
The series finale of ‘Mad Men’ left it up to us to decide if Don Draper took on a new, third identity or whether California bliss and an inspired retreat experience led him back to the advertising life and to create the iconic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial.”
After 92 hours of great storytelling by show creator Matthew Weiner, we say goodbye to Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan, Pete, and the iconic, misogynistic and inappropriate ’60s workplace. So one cliffhanger from the show which may frustrate communicators is: Where was the HR director at Sterling Cooper & Partners? Today, that HR dept. would be working overtime to deal with the goings-on among its troops.
To wit, I recap wonderfully horrible lines from ‘Mad Men’ over the years that hopefully you don’t hear in the workplace anymore:
“Give me more ideas to reject.” – Don Draper
“Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people’s names before I fire them.” – Roger Sterling
“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.” – Roger Sterling
“I’m Peggy Olson and I wanna smoke some marijuana.”
“Say yes with your voice not just your eyes.” – Pete
“I’m not a solution to your problem. I’m another problem.” – Joan
“Remember when God closes a door he opens a dress.” – Roger Sterling
“I know you’re ashamed of your body. Or you should be at least.” – Stan [to Peggy]
“Although things are precarious financially, it’s been a magnificent year.” – Lane
“Could you keep it down? I’m trying to drink.” – Don Draper
‘Mad Men‘ is arguably one of TV’s best written stories and will be fondly remembered for years to come. The workplace culture and the dialogue that accompanied it? It’s good to know we’ve progressed, or as one ’60s advertising slogan noted, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
– Diane Schwartz
—inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
In 1967, in what seemed like a far less-complicated time, a McDonald’s TV commercial, borrowing the tune from “Down by the Riverside,” claimed its burger restaurants were “my kind of place, a hap, hap, happy place, a clean and snappy place.”
Today McDonald’s is a public company, a global behemoth, with nearly 2 million employees serving 68 million customers daily in some 118 countries and territories.
Last year, for the first time in nearly two decades, the company’s quarterly sales fell. That downturn mirrored what has been happening in McDonald’s’ country of origin. U.S. same-store sales at some 14,000 McDonald’s have been mired in a five-year slump.
As a result of the sales downturn, every move this traditional Wall Street darling makes as it attempts to return to glory is scrutinized, picked over by restaurant insiders, not to mention financial analysts and the media, PR News.
Whether it’s simplifying what some believe has become an overly large menu, changing prices, serving breakfast all day or becoming more transparent about its food suppliers, the former hap, hap happy place is becoming a tes, tes, test case. As such, PR pros are anxiously watching how the world’s largest burger chain attempts to reinject gold into its arches and how clearly it communicates those efforts.
The corporation’s biggest move to date had president/CEO Don Thompson, 51, announcing he was stepping down in late January. Steve Easterbrook, a 48-year-old Brit and one of Thompson’s former lieutenants, has replaced him.
In a PR News piece last month that discussed Easterbrook’s first visible moves—closing 350 restaurants—it was argued that changing consumers’ perception of McDonald’s will be critical to a turnaround. Mark Renfree wrote:
“McDonald’s product isn’t the problem; it’s how customers perceive the Golden Arches. The brand has become synonymous with unhealthy eating habits and horrifying factory farms.”
One of the great things about watching McDonald’s as a case study is that for every solution proposed, there will be someone who takes the opposite view.
Embracing Fat, Grease and Friendly, Clean Environs
While Don Draper and later Peggy Olson once counseled their clients saying, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” this may prove difficult for McDonald’s, according to Professor Adam Galinksy of Columbia University’s business school. In a book to be published in September, Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (Crown Business/Random House), Galinsky and co-author M. Schweitzer discuss whether brands should fight to change public perception or concede on certain points. Successful brands have done both, they argue. Can McDonald’s win by admitting that the burger chain ‘is what it is’?
Several brands have responded to less-than-flattering perceptions by changing their names—the Patagonian toothfish resurfaced as Chilean Sea Bass, Philip Morris morphed into Altria, Kentucky Fried Chicken modified slightly to KFC. McDonald’s is an icon, so a name change would appear to be out of the question, Galinsky says.
McDonald’s is fighting on select fronts and is succeeding. To combat the pasting its food has received on social media, McDonald’s has chosen to go to battle in the arena where the damage was done. McDonald’s has used social media to make a foray into transparency. Its “Our Food. Your Questions” has attracted more than 31 million social media views, outdistancing successes the campaign has enjoyed in other countries.
On the other hand, attempts at changing perception also have hurt McDonald’s. Adding healthier items to its menus, some argue, has damaged one of McDonald’s’ hallmarks, fast service.
This leads to the thought that perhaps part of Easterbrook’s resuscitation plan should include McDonald’s embracing its image. “We’re a hap, hap, happy place offering good-tasting food that perhaps is not the healthiest choice, but who cares? We serve you quickly, inexpensively and in a clean, kid-friendly atmosphere.”
For years PR pros have advocated a version of this prescription, even in the volatility of the digital age—have a sense of humor about your brand, own your image. In a situation where your brand is the punch line of jokes on social media, if they constitute a relatively minor threat, you could do worse than to laugh, Ivan Ristic counseled recently.
Healthy Eating or Pass the Coke?
Yet the McDonald’s case may be different. There’s deep, well-documented resentment against McDonald’s on several fronts and healthy eating indeed has risen in the public’s awareness, else Coca-Cola wouldn’t be reeling also.
Still, Americans have a long way to go before we can be said to be healthy eaters. We may be health-conscious, ie, we know we are ingesting too much sodium, fat, sugar and calories and getting too little exercise. For some reason, however, those misgivings recede quickly as we devour a few more of those delicious French fries and slurp an icy, cold Coke.
Another thing to consider, with all the moaning and groaning about lower sales and reduced income for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, Americans likely will drink more than 100 servings of Coke this year and McDonald’s boasts a consistent average of selling 75 burgers per second worldwide. These brands are not going away soon.
Still, it won’t be easy for McDonald’s and Easterbrook to laugh at and accept the perception of the brand as a purveyor of unhealthy fare. As noted above, sales are down. Shareholders and franchisees, owners of 80% of McDonald’s restaurants, are looking to Easterbrook for solutions. Of course this could be a situation for PR and communication pros to come to the fore, crafting a strategy where McDonald’s embraces its unhealthy image, but in a subtle, constructive way that helps boost sales.
Will McDonald’s admit to what it is and own its image, warts and all, or try to revise its public perception as a purveyor of healthy comestibles? It’s clear what Galinski recommends. “Stigmatized companies aren’t better off hiding from their characteristics,” Galinsky says. “They’re better off owning them.”
Most likely Easterbrook’s rescue plans will include elements of both approaches. In any case, McDonald’s will supply plenty of food for thought in the weeks and months ahead. Let the fun begin.
Seth Arenstein is Senior Editorial Advisor to PR News
All the talk about mentoring can make you feel a bit left out. If you are neither a mentor nor a mentee, then what the heck are you doing with yourself? The truth is, you are probably mentoring or being mentored without even knowing it. It’s the new fabric of our work culture – people helping people. If you’re not guiding someone or asking for help on a regular basis then you are missing out in a significant way.
As communicators, we need to recognize that our pace of advancement might be inversely affected by the age of our mentors. The older you are, the better off you may be if you are mentored by a Millennial. The concept of Reverse Mentoring, first championed by GE’s Jack Welch more than a decade ago, is not only a great way for senior executives to learn the nuances of social media, it’s a way to bridge the communications gap between generations, increasing morale, retention and knowledge.
Three influential PR executives I met with recently were eager to share their experiences with reverse mentoring. Said one: “One of my young employees has been showing me how to do a tweet chat. I had no idea.” Said the other: “They are taking over – best to get to know how they think.” While much of the conversation was centered around social media and younger generations holding comfortably the Digital Native mantle, it goes without saying that Millennials and the Generation Z following them into the workplace are the future leaders, current and future customers and business creators.
Identifying a mentor – formally or informally – who is of another generation than yours and embracing the unique perspective and skills that person holds will take you far. And many Millennials are schooling the senior set to great effect for the company’s brand, too.
If you’re not engaged in some sort of reverse mentoring, you are not only missing out, you will be spinning your wheels until they eventually fall off.
– Diane Schwartz