I’ve been riveted by the fast-moving situation in Ferguson, Missouri. It seems like an event from the sixties, a dark reflection of an ugly period long past, when cities burned and communities writhed in confrontations with law enforcement. I paid oblique attention for the first few days, but was shocked this morning (Thursday, August 14) to see that the situation hadn’t merely continued, but escalated dramatically. The footage was staggering—police firing tear gas, accosting journalists, knocking down TV cameras, advancing with military equipment on peaceful protestors.
What struck me today was that in five days now, it seems like hardly anyone is moving to regain control of the situation, or the narrative.
The Ferguson police chief gave a press conference yesterday, which was something, but I had to ask: Does Ferguson even have a mayor? Does the Missouri governor care as one of his towns is in anarchy and a militarized police force is exacerbating the situation, not calming it down?
Well. There is a mayor. His name is James Knowles. I looked it up on Google. He was even on MSNBC this morning to defend the police.
But other than essentially defending the near complete absence of information, Knowles didn’t say very much. He might have answered any of these questions with some precision and with actual facts, but he didn’t.
• Who’s in charge of the police in this ongoing crisis?
• Why is basic information about the incident that precipitated this confrontation (the shooting by a police officer of an unarmed 18-year-old) being withheld?
• Is it legal to withhold the name of the police officer who did the shooting?
• Which of the several law enforcement agencies on the scene is in charge?
• Who’s the media point person?
• On whose authority are law-enforcement officers pointing machine guns at unarmed citizens?
• Does the militarized police reaction really reflect whatever threat exists?
The governor, Jay Nixon, was scheduled to make a statement later today. Which is good, I guess, but about five days late. In the meantime, Anonymous, the online hacking collective, claimed to have penetrated the Ferguson municipal computer system and gotten the name of the officer, as well as other information.
In the meantime, in the midst of the worst crisis imaginable for a small municipality (and a significant one for the state of Missouri) it’s clear there is no effective crisis management plan, and certainly no crisis communications plan, and social media is lighting up with negative reaction.
Back in my reporting days, I spent a good amount of time doing something that might strike many as nostalgic: interviewing sources and talking to PR people on the phone. If only today’s reporters had time for telephonic activities. Surprise: they do! And they will take your call if you lay the groundwork first. They won’t take your call if you have nothing new or interesting to tell them. Now, this is assuming you want to talk to a reporter on the phone, as opposed to just emailing them, liking their Facebook Post, or tweeting them from afar. Let’s assume that a journalist-PR relationship is strengthened by some human interaction.
The concept is simple yet may feel out of reach in today’s always-on media environment: reporters will pay attention to you if you pay attention to them. Here are four ways to get a reporter’s attention:
- Give them the story by which to tell their story: as a consumer of news and information yourself, you are attracted to the stories about people, about a certain person, or family or community. You want to read about or hear an interesting narrative that is personal, not general. Do not send them a press release and then leave them a message in the dead of night asking if they got your press release. There’s nothing wrong with sending them a press release, but don’t mistake that (and the robocall) for “the story.”
- Serve up the visuals. Whether it’s a few charts and graphics, an infographic or eye-catching photographs, visuals are gold for reporters who are now (somewhat reluctantly) multimedia journalists. Make her job easier by handing over the visuals.
- Know (and understand) what they report on: I used to cringe at the advice at industry conferences that implored practitioners to “do your homework” — it was so basic, so obvious. And yet. Make sure you read up on what the reporter has covered in the past year, take notice of his writing style and technique, and be ready to accept that maybe this particular reporter does not cover your industry. Also be in tune to what their competitors are covering – reporters are a competitive breed and will appreciate your keeping them up to date on competitive coverage they might have missed.
- Share information with no strings attached. Info is currency: give it to the reporter without expecting an instant payback. This is a difficult task to master! Share industry news that’s not widely reported yet, tell the reporter what you heard or saw at an important industry conference (which of course, you attended), and don’t ask for anything in return. Reporters will think the world of you.
With tight deadlines, smaller newsrooms, a more educated readership and an unrelenting news cycle, journalists need trusted, go-to sources and great PR partners who understand them.
– Diane Schwartz
Visit me on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
It’s the definitive question in C-suites, boardrooms and industry conferences: is there a correlation between PR and sales? It’s safe to say that, as a whole, communicators have not done a stellar job at demonstrating the link between PR and the top or bottom line.
While PR can sometimes directly be tied to sales, I am not espousing that it should always be tied to sales. Rather, your role as a valuable public relations practitioner includes demonstrating a return on investment from your PR efforts (refer to #3 in the Barcelona Principles). That “return” is not always about revenue; it’s about building awareness, improving reputation, informing stakeholders, and more.
There’s only so much you can control when it comes to the actual sales close. But you can be a part of ensuring there are processes in place to draw a correlation between your performance and that of your organization. Get familiar with your typical customer’s buying journey and understand that your sales team comes into the journey rather late in the game. Consultant Debbie Qaquish, in a column on prnewsonline, explains rather adeptly how PR can, and why it should, augment sales.
What’s missing in many organizations is a collaborative approach in which the marketing mix includes PR from start to finish: PR is not thrown into the mix half way for good measure. It’s not sprinkled onto the mix as a nice to have ingredient and it’s not heaped on at the end to give it flavor. Rather, PR is a formidable ingredient in an organization’s marketing mix. For this to happen, the leaders in an organization need to believe in the power of PR and you need to preach what you practice. Here are 3 ways to begin connecting your PR efforts to sales:
1. Talk to your sales team regularly. Do you know who the top salespeople are at your organization? Ask them what their clients are saying about your brand and products. Equip the salespeople with supporting data, materials and anything you think would help them sell more. Set up monthly meetings with your sales colleagues, with the goal being to give them the updates, trends, thought leadership pieces and other supporting materials that will set them apart from competitors. You can’t sell for them but you can sell with them.
“Run your communications team like a sales team,” advises Mark Stouse, vice president at BMC Software, in a recent Q&A with PR News. “Focus on aligning your marketing and communications efforts with the three legs of sales productivity — demand generation, deal expansion and deal velocity.”
2. Know SEO. Search engine optimization is not the sole domain of IT, Marketing or an outsourced firm. Optimize your content so it’s landing high in search results and attracting the right eyeballs. Whether you’re on WordPress or a custom content management system, you need to make your words sing louder and live longer online. There are countless tools available to learn the keywords your prospective customers are using (such as SEO Moz) and helpful PR/SEO workshops, but there’s no gaming the system. Produce fresh, relevant content and you’ll increase traffic, which should boost sales. Whether it’s Google Analytics or a premium tool, track your visitors’ conversion rate so you can prove that what your department is producing online results in positive, monetizable action.
3. Optimize social for sales. Understand your audience behavior on social. Work with your marketing team to drive traffic to your Pinterest board or your Facebook page and don’t be afraid to sell them something while they’re there. You might currently be investing in social promotions and advertising, so why not complement those efforts with direct selling on your own social pages? Additionally, if your press release is not optimized with multimedia and unique links to points of sales (where applicable) then you are wasting a good press release opportunity.
There will come a day when we stopping putting a question mark after PR’s role in the marketing mix and its tremendous value to organizational growth. But this will require an integrated communications approach and a collaborative spirit. Do you have it in you?
- Diane Schwartz
Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
If you weren’t at the PR News Social Media Summit last week, I forgive you. But really, you should try to attend an upcoming conference of ours because you are going to pick up a lot of unique, sound and creative tactics and strategies – what we like to call “stealable ideas” – that will move your PR and marketing efforts forward more than a notch. I must confess that I am engaging in shameless content marketing as I write this blog post. I get very excited after one of our PR News events and want to share some (not all!) of the gleanings from the day’s event. So herewith I present 9 really smart social media tips to get your week off to a #greatstart. These are made possible by our outstanding summit speakers, attendees and sponsoring partners.
- Best quote of the conference: “No one wants to be friends with a butter cracker.” Kathryn Sheaffer, brand manager for Ritz Crackers, so aptly summed up the challenge of Facebook communications for brands. Be realistic about your brand’s presence on social media and engage with your fans in realistic ways.
- Get a few social platforms rights, then start to take chances on others. In other words, don’t dive into the entire social media pool. Pick a few lanes to swim in first, be it Twitter and Pinterest, or Linkedin and Facebook, master your strokes there, then start exploring other waters.
- Take your press release off cruise control. First of all, the press release is not dead. But the old-fashioned press release should be put out to pasture. Make sure your releases are optimized for search, have multimedia components that drive stakeholder engagement, are written well and most of all, are interesting!
- Tweet short: A tweet that’s less than 100 characters lifts share rate by 17%. You thought 140 characters was short? Think again.
- During a crisis, Twitter is for news and Facebook is for hugs. Don’t mix it up.
- Great question posed to the audience: Why don’t PR pros do more A/B testing with their campaigns? Smart advice from Brandon Andersen of Cision, noting that A/B testing goes to the heart of Marketing 101 yet the PR discipline often overlooks this smart exercise in testing your messaging, be it on social media or in a traditional PR campaign.
- You cannot automate judgment. With all the talk of data mining, programmatic and cloud-based communication, the truth is that people still drive decisions. Make sure you put a premium on good judgment when hiring talent and executing on campaigns.
- Content marketing is a commitment not a campaign. Most brands are engaging in some type of brand journalism and the jury’s out on how well it’s working. Those committed to content marketing, weaving it into their marketing-PR matrix rather than a one-off campaign here and there, are most likely to succeed in this area.
- Visuals are the new headlines. A picture is worth a lot more than 1,000 words. Invest in video, infographics, photography and graphics. Take time to learn about Vine and Instagram. See what your audience is seeing and then give them some of that.
I hope you’ll heed a few of these tips and let me know how it goes for you. Also feel free to add a kernel of advice below.
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
“PR is losing its leadership position in Social.” That’s what the founder of a new company that provides social media measurement/monitoring tools to brands told me the other day when I asked about his target audience. He continued to note that “PR got too comfortable” and now Marketing, Advertising and automated services are taking over Social.
Let’s say we had a friendly disagreement over his claim, as I defended PR’s role in Social and shared stories gleaned from the PR News front lines of communicators’ role in driving social media. But perception can be reality, as we know.
If there’s a sector of the marketplace that is devaluing PR’s role in any medium, then every PR professional needs to do a better job of tying Social and other activities to the metrics that matter to their organization. Just as importantly, we need to make sure we’re communicating our success stories – effectively and regularly. That is one thing every PR person needs to do to help advance the communications profession.
Take a lesson from the trope about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. As communicators, you’re busy doing PR. Your days are filled speaking with stakeholders, writing, listening, measuring and implementing. Do you sometimes forget to tend to your PR success stories? It’s the last mile of your efforts: to communicate your successes not only to your superiors but to your superiors’ superiors, to the media, to your counterparts in Marketing, Finance, HR, IR, IT and Sales. I’d like to think the cobbler eventually noticed that he forgot to provide shoes for his own kids. PR needs to take care of its own, as well.
– Diane Schwartz
When the Time 100 was released last week, our editorial team discussed how we might cover it. The context was its relation to PR, and how communicators could leverage the value of making the list.
This list is a PR person’s dream. It’s eclectic and interesting, and it covers a wide variety of human endeavor. It’s global in scope. Unlike many magazine lists, the Time 100 is worth coverage and every person on the list is deserving of recognition in some form or other.
Are they the “Most Influential People in the World?” Some might be, but many are not. Why, for example are Kirsten Gillibrand and Rand Paul on the list, but not Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren? It’s all kind of random. The common denominator is that all the selections seem to be whom the coastal elites and people in the power centers of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are talking about. Or think they should be.
The cover of this year’s edition was Beyoncé, featured in a revealing costume and an open-mouthed expression. To me, the image didn’t convey the gravity that the list aspires to. Would other designees be posed that way? But Beyoncé has the gravitas. She was also on the list last year, after her performance at the Super Bowl. Sheryl Sandberg did this year’s writeup.
(This is a cool feature of the list—celebrities do write-ups of other celebrities. It solidifies the likelihood that the list will be the preferred dinner party conversation at not just 100, but 200 parties. Of course, it leaves the door open for questions. Did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make the list because he is a “bold reformer,” or because his profiler—U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—thought that touting Abe’s economic policies might be useful?)
But back to Beyoncé. Sandberg noted that she “doesn’t just sit at the table. She builds a better one.” (This is a variation on a line from the old movie about Sting, where, when his hired musicians complain about what Sting is paying them, the response from one of Sting’s handlers is, “You might have a seat at the table, but Sting owns the table.”)
But Sandberg likes Beyoncé’s message of empowerment for young girls. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Sandberg quotes Beyoncé as saying. What I like about Beyoncé is her authenticity—there is a sense that what you see is what you get. She’s not a phony. I also like her staying power. She’s been a star since the late 1990s. That seems like forever ago. My kids loved her in the old Austin Powers movie when they were little, and they still love her for her music and style now. That is remarkable. And then there’s her sense of innovation. I’ve followed music my whole life, and I can’t remember anything as unique and unexpected as the release of a new album—a concept album complete with videos—without anyone having the slightest idea it was coming. So if you’re the communications person for any of the Time 200 (the Time 100 plus the celebrity essayists), there are three things you can take from the example of Beyoncé: Authenticity and talent beget longevity, and both beget the ability to innovate.
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
I was editing a report the other day about a PR person who got into a spat with a news organization. And the report used the phrase, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Some of you might know that one. Many of you may not have heard it. But that phrase and many others like it are so clearly out of date that it’s interesting—even comical—how they’ve hung around long after their original meaning has faded into history. And it got me thinking about those phrases and why they’re still with us. Here’s a partial list (that is, all I can think of.)
• Stop the presses. Okay, this one is used more for dramatic effect than its actual literal meaning these days, but it is still around.
• The Press. This reference to the journalism industry is still common (think “Meet the Press,” the TV show. But it has a diminishing relationship to media today. You could just as easily call the show “Meet the CMS,” and you’d be just as accurate.
• Hot off the presses. Another term that’s more theatrical than literal these days, but still around.
• Above the fold. Why do we use this term in 2014? It refers to the front side of a broadsheet-style newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. It is not really an effective metaphor for how Web pages scroll.
• Ink-stained wretches. What journalists were called—usually by themselves—until 15 or 20 years ago.
• Cutlines. This actually refers to a caption that was pasted onto a makeup board below a photo, which was then turned into film, which was then printed.
• And speaking of “pasted,” why do we still use “cut-and-paste?”
• Op-ed. This used to mean the position opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. Now it just means an opinion piece.
• Press release. Seriously, why are they still called this?
• Clips. PR folks love this one. They love to collect clips. Except that no one “clips” stories anymore.
Then there are a few phrases and words that have not really survived.
• Morgue. This was also known as the library, where story clippings were cataloged and stored for future reference. Think of the morgue as a much less functional Google of the 20th century.
• Yellow Journalism. This was used to mean unfair reporting, but it came from a type of ink used in a cartoon in the New York World.
And then, finally, there are the terms from the old days of journalism that are still true to their original meanings today.
• Breaking news
• Gotcha journalism
• Puff piece
Which terms and phrases have I missed? What can you come up with? I’d love to hear from you!
There I was in the dentist’s chair with the TV on in front of me, with the 10 or 11 “Good Morning America” co-hosts—or was it 13 or 14?—yelling and laughing maniacally as one at some unfunny cross-promotional tidbit about what’s trending on Twitter. I only prayed the whine and scrape of the ultrasonic scaler would be amplified to drown out their bleating.
I was Alex the droog suffering my personal version of the Ludovico technique.
Helga, my dental hygienist, lifted her face toward the screen when the stars of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” turned up on a semicircular couch for the next cross-promotional segment, and the ultrasonic scaler razed my gums and upper lip and ended up lodged in my left nostril.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” said Helga after I yelped. “You can rinse now.”
Helga shoved me back in my seat. “Enough water!” She looked back at the TV screen. “Maybe they’ll say who ‘A’ is finally,” she said as she aimed the ultrasonic scaler in the general direction of my mouth.
Next came a hard-hitting cross-promotional news segment on Billy Dee Williams’ dance routine on “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Ach,” said Helga. “Maybe when he was in ‘Star Trek’ he could dance. Not now.”
“He was in ‘Star Wars,’” I mumbled through a mouthful of dental instruments.
“You will not talk!” said Helga. “It breaks my concentration.”
I suppose I’m not the target audience for “Good Morning America.” Maybe they have Helga and her Viking relatives more in mind when they present the universe through a prism of Disney/ABC properties. If so, then Helga is one pissed off member of the target demo. Judging by her reaction when the identity of ‘A’ was not revealed by the stars of “Liars” despite the teases—she fired a promotional tube of Sensodyne at the the TV—she’s tired of being burned by blatant marketing masquerading as entertainment and news.
Before it all leads to a mass revolution and the whole world turns away from established media and to anonymous messaging apps, I offer these three marketing communications lies that the entire solar system is hip to.
1. No one is bothered by cross-promotion, especially if your content or message has value. False: Many people in the Western world and beyond work for corporations that indulge in their own cross-promotions. They can smell it a mile away and it dilutes trust.
2. You can pretend that what you’re offering is news even if what you offer is hardly ever news. False: It’s just another version of bait and switch, and people will always be on the lookout for something more authentic. (Yes, “GMA” overtook “Today” in broadcast ratings, but this is not 1970 and broadcast ratings are not what they used to be.)
3. If you pretend to be “thrilled” with your own product or service, no one will notice the hollowness of your pitch. False: This approach stopped working sometime around the release of Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman.” Carnival barking doesn’t work—unless what you’ve got really is a carnival with a trashy midway.
And really, who doesn’t like a carnival with a trashy midway from time to time? I might be in the mood for one in six months’ time, when I’m scheduled for my next bout with Helga.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
I’m writing this blog post on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional, but I want to make it plain that it’s not on Amtrak’s dime. So I’m free to complain about the woman across the aisle from me on the quiet car who keeps talking on her cell phone, the stopped-up sink in the bathroom, the stifling heat and the stale air.
I mention this because the railway has succeeded recently at creating positive buzz over its new writer residency program, in which it offers writers a free round-trip ride (but no pay) as a sort of mobile writing space. The New Yorker reported that the program was inspired by a comment this past December from train-enthusiast and novelist Alexander Chee, who said that he wished Amtrak offered residencies for writers. The comment was shared among writers on Twitter, and Amtrak jumped into the fray and offered one of those writers—New York-based freelance writer Jessica Gross—its first free ride in what will soon become a formal program, based around the official hashtag #AmtrakResidency.
Amtrak is still trying to figure out the particulars of the program. Gross’ ride was just a test run, and the railway was probably not expecting such a clamor for free rides from writers. While Amtrak basks in this wave of goodwill and takes deserved credit for being so quick and clever, it might want to take seriously the question of quid pro quo raised by New Yorker writer Vauhini Vara and Poynter.org writer Al Tompkins’ comments that while it’s fine for a novelist or songwriter to accept a free ride from Amtrak, journalists should always avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
It’s all too easy for a suddenly popular promotional vehicle to turn bad, so Amtrak will have to work out clear guidelines before sending the next writer out on the rails. For instance, how will Amtrak handle it when a writer complains in a blog post about the stopped-up sink, the lack of fresh air and the blabbers in the quiet car?
Damn, it’s hot in here.