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.
Yesterday, I was driving home with a friend, and the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, to Howard Dean’s famous scream in the 2004 presidential campaign.
(Okay, it’s not really inevitable, it’s just funny to say that, and it goes to a point I’m about to make.)
And that point, to borrow from an old Douglas MacArthur phrase, is that old crises never go away.
Today, as Paula Deen launches a comeback, and as the 20-year-old allegations against Woody Allen are back in the news, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal resurfaces, that’s a fact worth addressing. For brands and their communications teams, crises are part of the permanent record. Dealing with that, though, can be tricky. It starts with the knowledge that while apologies will be demanded in the heat of the crisis—and most of the time must be offered—and forgiveness will be granted by many, mistakes are never forgotten. (In the case of Woody Allen, of course, he denies the allegations absolutely and has never apologized.)
So what to do? Here are a few essential principles.
1. Be aware that the record will include the crisis, no matter how old. This means you must plan for that inevitable resurfacing. That starts with the creation of a plan, but even more fundamentally, you need to learn from the crisis, and resolve never to repeat it. All subsequent business activities and decisions need to be made to ensure that objective. The elements of the plan, though, start with these next concepts.
2. Be open and non-defensive. You’ve acknowledged that the crisis occurred and is part of the permanent record, so there’s no point in reacting defensively if it comes back up. Don’t be emotional or angry. Don’t be indignant. If appropriate, use humor, as Howard Dean does when asked about his scream. And outline how you’ve learned and changed.
3. Have testimonials lined up. One of the best ways to reassure stakeholders when an old crisis crops back up is to have credible testimonials from well-selected supporters. It may be that you won’t want to directly address an old crisis, or respond to those who are reviving it. But having others speak for you can be very effective.
4. Deliver on your word. This is the most important. If an old crisis resurfaces, the most eloquent response you can make is to have a record in the intervening time that demonstrates that you didn’t just apologize and promise to make adjustments to get past the crisis. If you have years of a flawless track record, then that will be very persuasive in the court of public opinion.
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
Maybe you recall Strother Martin’s pained, twisted line of dialogue spoken to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, delivered after Martin has struck chain-gang prisoner Newman with a blackjack: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
I thought of this line after seeing the story making the rounds yesterday that British millennials check their mobile devices every nine minutes and 50 seconds. This kind of data and story promotes the concept that millennials are an entirely different species of human, and insinuates that they’re unfocused, difficult to manage, flighty and much more addicted to technology than the rest of us.
The failure to communicate with millennials—from both the brand and personal perspectives—stems not from what makes them different from the rest of the population, but from assumptions based on anecdotal evidence, bite-size statistics and generational resentment. It’s the old saw: “These kids today, they want everything handed to them on a silver platter—we never had it so good.”
First, about the stats making the rounds yesterday: They sprang from a U.K. Daily Mail story that quoted a study conducted by a “customer service solutions” company called KANA, which has certainly succeeded in getting its name out there. Are its findings telling? Perhaps, but it’s too easy to take its showcase stat about 18-to-24-year-olds out of context. I know this is anecdotal on my part, but it seems to me that we’re all hopelessly addicted to our mobile devices.
“Millennials are people, not ‘a people,’” says Jake Katz, VP, audience insights & strategy for music-focused TV network Revolt. “Behaviorally, they are more similar than different to other generations,” says Katz, who will be keynoting PR News’ Digital PR Summit in San Francisco on Feb. 5, and who was formerly general manager of Ypulse, a youth market research firm.
For brands, the first step to communicating with millennials, according to Katz, is to discard the popular myth that they are massively different from everybody else, and pivot from thinking about what they are to how to communicate with the many different geographical and age ranges within the millennial demographic.
It’s time to lay the proverbial generational blackjack to rest and begin the real work of learning about the people around you—on a business and personal level.
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 Francois 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
You know how athletes celebrate by jumping in the air and banging into each other? Or develop ritual dances and other showboat-y gestures? This is especially true in football. I noticed in the Seahawks-49ers game a week ago how when the Seahawks scored, they eschewed the dances. They just shook hands. I thought that was a refreshing contrast that to my eye indicated professionalism and focus on an unfinished task.
So when Richard Sherman had his outburst on national TV in a post-game interview, it seemed out of character from the team’s overall approach.
In the days since that interview, Sherman has been the topic of a nonstop national conversation about sportsmanship, classiness, class and more.
And at the core of that national conversation is a cluster of valuable lessons for communicators around things like cognitive dissonance, preconceived notions, stereotypes and most important, understanding that the message you want to communicate might not be the same as what you’re really communicating.
I don’t know what Sherman’s objective might have been when he screamed that he was the best cornerback in the league to Erin Andrews. Maybe he was just caught up in the moment. I read that Andrews said that he hugged her and smiled at her before his rant. The 3.9 GPA graduate of Stanford University and high school salutatorian probably didn’t expect to be labeled a thug. And worse. He probably didn’t expect to become the major sports story in the country for a week and counting.
And conversely, if Sherman had been, say, Wes Welker, he might not have been. Sometimes people see what they want to see, based on their own set of experiences rather than what really happened. Sometimes things are not what they first appear to be. And sometimes those preconceived ideas are very resilient.
Come to think of it, my notion of gentlemanly handshakes, not elaborate dances, is itself a preconceived notion that maybe many others don’t share. Who knows?
What I do know, though, is that image, and message, have to be clear enough, and broad enough, and widely accepted enough to not be susceptible to misinterpretation, whether you’re communicating for a manufacturing brand, a buttoned-down CEO, a Web startup, a non-profit—or your football team.