It’s said that good things and bad happen in three’s. Sometimes in two’s, and a few times they’re mixed, good and bad. Recently several events happened in quick succession and while not good or bad, the contrast between them was stark and yielded a bevy of lessons from a PR and marketing standpoint.
Last Saturday I was reviewing a concert for a classical music site. A cheerful representative of Washington Performing Arts greeted me outside the concert hall, handed me the complimentary tickets and said, “I hope you enjoy the concert.” Stapled to the outside of a Washington Performing Arts envelope containing the tickets was a small, white piece of paper. Typed on the paper in rather large typeface were the words: “Please mention Washington Performing Arts in your review.” A direct message, decidedly low tech, maybe a little bold, simply presented, without color or logo.
The next day, during a sketch troupe rehearsal, I was taking notes on an Apple iPad Air 2. The iPad was housed in a black leather case that includes a keyboard, which I used to make note taking easier. A fellow participant asked about the keyboard. I heartily recommended it to her, pointing out that it was Bluetooth enabled and part of the unit with the protective casing. It essentially protected the iPad and made it act like a small, light PC, good for taking notes during rehearsal, writing and saving scripts etc. I added that I had used a similar product from the same brand on a full-size iPad for a few years previously. I was very happy with that earlier product, too, I said.
She then asked me for the brand name of the keyboard and casing. I searched for a few seconds. The casing, as I said, is black, so I thought the name might be hard to see. I kept looking.
Slightly embarrassed, I said if there was a brand name on the product I couldn’t find it. I told her I thought the brand name was odd, but couldn’t remember it. I promised to find the box that the product came in at home—thank goodness I kept it—and relay the information to her. The following morning I did.
The brand name is ZAGG. In existence since 2005, ZAGG makes products that “protect and enhance mobile devices for consumers around the globe,” its website says. ZAGG is based in Utah, was founded in the garage of Phillip Chipping and trades on the NASDAQ. Its site is useful, direct and contains the usual tabs (about us, investor relations, products, executive biographies) and, oops, at least one broken link on the day we looked at it.
The next day on a walk I passed a small store in downtown Washington, D.C. It was a ZAGG store. Inside I found the folio (the product model’s name) and asked the salesperson if there was a reason it lacked a brand name on it. Thinking I had a story for PR News I reasoned perhaps ZAGG feels that less is more and in an attempt to avoid logo-mania, ZAGG elects to go low key, at least on the product I own. Sounded like a good theory and a cool story.
The salesperson was unaware that the product lacked a brand name, unfortunately. He joined me at the display rack and showed me a folio with a white ZAGG logo on the keyboard’s space bar and stamped into the black leather on the case. The logos were understated but visible. He then realized he was showing me an updated folio. Indeed, my model, he admitted, lacked branding.
Edelman represents ZAGG, according to ZAGG’s site, so I contacted the representative listed and asked why there’s no branding on my folio. Within minutes an Edelman rep, Alexandra Kenway, responded. She said my question was “relevant” and that she’d have a ZAGG response soon. She also asked me a series of legit questions: Was I writing an article? Where would it appear? When did I purchase the ZAGG product? What was my deadline?
Good to her word, the next morning she wrote to me: “[ZAGG is] really happy you’ve enjoyed the products and would like to thank you for the recommendation to your friend. In regards to your question, they replied, ‘As we’ve grown as a company and a brand, we’ve been more intentional on how and where to include our brand on our products.’” Kenway added that she’d be happy to take further inquiries.
Similarly, Washington Performing Arts, which has presented music, dance and vocal performances in the D.C. area for some 40 years, responded quickly to my inquiry about its version of branding for the media. My question to president/CEO Jenny Bilfield, relayed through a helpful media rep, Amanda Sweet of Bucklesweet Media, was: Does this simple, direct message to journalists and reviewers work?
As Sweet promised in a cordial note to me, Bilfield’s answer arrived promptly. Like ZAGG’s response, we print it in full: “It makes me crazy when Washington Performing Arts isn’t mentioned in conjunction with a performance we’ve presented. Granted, we’re an unusual arts presenter in that we don’t have a sole venue that ‘brands’ us, nor a standing ‘troupe’ as in a dance company or theater company. Journalists often assume venues and presenters are one and the same…and in most cases they are. Not the case with us, and the distinction is very important.
We attach a note to the tickets so that writers remember that it was Washington Performing Arts that made the curatorial decision, raised the money, engaged the audience, and put the event together…took the risk. When a writer mentions Washington Performing Arts, then a reader may visit our website and discover more that they like and enjoy from our curated season; whereas, if they trace the performance to the rental or host venue, they’ll not have the selective view of our programs across the city.
It’s our intent to build long relationships with the people who attend our performances and support our programs. By omission, it is inaccurate to document — in a paper or magazine of record (online or in print) — only the location of the event, when the event would not have happened were it not for us.”
She then thanked me for mentioning Washington Performing Arts in my review. “Much appreciated. Truly!!!”
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
We’ve reached the point in summer when the accumulation of heat and humidity slows the reflexes and thought processes. This is when stories about shark attacks dominate news cycles. Calculated, outrageous statements by politicians running for national office barely raise an eyebrow.
As professional communicators know, it always takes a lot to cut through. In midsummer, it seems, unless you’ve got a video of a great white shark chomping on a surfer’s leg, you’re better off waiting until just after Labor Day to launch a campaign or pitch journalists.
You may not have that privilege, though. If you’re on the clock, your job is to get coverage for your organization, attract new customers to your brand or donors to your nonprofit, protect and enhance corporate reputation—despite the season and capacity of living creatures to assimilate anything new in consistent 91 degree heat.
So, how to cut through with your brand messages when sluggishness reigns? A few suggestions:
1. Use yourself as a test case. Unless you live in San Francisco, where it’s currently a foggy 61 degrees (and my old hometown and destination on Aug. 5-6 for PR News’ Google Boot Camp and Big 4 Social Media Conference), you’re either dragging your knuckles on the melting sidewalks outside or shivering inside as your sweat freezes from the blast of office air conditioning. What kind of content—aside from anything NSFW—is catching your eye on social, in your email inbox, on any kind of screen or printed material? This being summer, it’s likely that anything to do with vacations, time off, food, cold beverages and socializing with friends are the best lures. Try to find ways to connect your communications and business goals with where people’s desires are, if not their physical selves.
2. Find an excuse to use pictures of animals. I can’t tell you how many speakers at PR News conferences have closed their presentations by saying “and if all else fails try this,” and then shown a shot of a cute puppy, kitten or marmot. They’re only half-joking. Pictures of animals will always cut through. It’s no accident that Cecil the lion has shoved aside Donald Trump as the number one news story here at the end of July. Someone in your organization has a new kitten or puppy. Now is the time to put that critter to work.
3. Follow my example and make sure you include “shark” in any headline and “shark attacks” in any opening paragraph.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
In-house PR practitioners don’t have it easy, in general. Sometimes they have to deal with a lack of understanding and appreciation for the work they do. (Did I say sometimes?) Sometimes they get recognized internally only when something goes wrong that needs to get fixed, now. Sometimes they’re asked to wear so many hats and expected to be masters at media pitching, crisis management, Facebook, Twitter, speech writing, SEO and measurement dashboards that they run to webinars and conferences to boost their skills, only to be frozen by anxiety when they see how much they have to learn.
Sometimes these in-house PR practitioners—and their senior leaders—need to enlist a PR agency to combat and defeat all of this fatigue and anxiety. What an agency offers is not the brand and reputation of the agency itself—that’s beside the point. It’s the unique mix of skills and experience that an individual agency practitioner can offer that really matters.
In a recent issue of PR News’ premium newsletter, Catherine Frymark, SVP, corporate communications for Discovery Communications, reflected on her time spent working for agencies before joining Discovery. “I don’t regret one minute of starting my career in the agencies,” said Frymark, who was honored as one PR News’ Top Women in PR at a luncheon in New York in February. “In fact, when I am hiring I give a lot of weight to candidates with agency experience. I know they have the fundamentals. They can multitask and serve the client.”
Frymark pointed out that working on a portfolio of brands keeps agency pros fresh. And that’s the key selling point for brands and organizations that may be considering working with PR agencies. Agency pros are like the proverbial shark that Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer discusses in “Annie Hall.” Alvy says that “a relationship is like a shark—it has to constantly move forward or it dies.” If you work at a PR agency, to survive and grow you have no choice but to keep moving forward, from client to client, from skill to skill.
This brings to the in-house team—which may live their brand but may be lacking the outsider’s perspective—a freshness that’s very difficult to achieve inside the brand.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI
Amid all the noise surrounding Barneys New York and its alleged racial profiling, and whether the rap mogul Jay-Z should back out of his partnership with the luxury retailer, came this little noticed fact: Only 25 percent of the proceeds from the partnership, where sales are intended to benefit Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation, will actually go to the foundation.
And no doubt, only a fraction of that 25 percent will go to the ultimate objective, scholarships for economically challenged students.
And therein lies a significant issue inherent in all CSR efforts—trust. When people hear about a non-profit entity serving a worthy cause, the first thing many people think is, ‘how much of the proceeds are actually going to the cause?’
It’s a common question people ask themselves before they take out their checkbooks, and it’s legit. For example, Business Insider reported earlier this month that “a shockingly small amount of money from NFL pink merchandise goes to breast cancer research.”
How small? Business Insider said that for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society and the NFL keeps the rest.
What these reports do is dampen charitable giving because people have images of well-paid executive directors, lavish staff salaries and benefits and rich expense accounts.
And so, from a communications perspective, PR pros who manage CSR and charitable giving need to know at least one thing: The actual percentages of funds going to a charity or cause needs to become part of CSR messaging, because the media is going to report on it anyway and it’s better to be ahead of the story.
And by mastering this one thing, you can avoid the reaction that ‘oh, well, it’s just another non-profit enriching itself before doing accomplishing social good.’