Marketing-PR Collaboration Tops the List of Most Important New Direction for 2016 Success

brain_collaborationWhat happens when you gather more than 400 of the best communicators in a room and ask them to share best advice? It’s no surprise that you get really smart answers worthy of a blog.

At the Oct. 26 Platinum PR Awards Luncheon in NYC, PR News honored the top PR campaigns of the past 12 months and the teams behind them. The level of sophistication and creativity among the winning campaigns is a testament to the power of public relations and the advancement of our profession. (Check out the winners and see for yourself.)

Meanwhile, back on the awards stage, we asked award winners one-answer questions, such as what is the one skill that PR people will need going into 2016, and what one characteristic are you looking for in your next great hire?

Patterns emerged in the answers, and most noteworthy was a growing sentiment that PR and Marketing need to collaborate more – or at least start earnestly talking to one another. Being nimble and flexible were also mentioned often – perhaps a nod to the do-more-with-less even as things change at warp speed.  The obvious skills such as being a great verbal and written communicator, knowing how and what to measure, possessing business/financial acumen were not mentioned because they are a given and also do not make for pithy sound bites when you’re on stage in front of hundreds of peers.

We also asked the winners to name the social media platform or app they wish would go away. The majority answered Snapchat, which surely is all about disappearing but there’s no sign it’s going away anytime soon.

Here’s what your peers say are the most important characteristics and skills for PR pros going into 2016:

Which top skills would you add to the list? Don’t be shy!

– Diane Schwartz


Encouraging or Discouraging Brand Ambassadors: That is the Question

16467965-Abstract-word-cloud-for-Brand-ambassador-with-related-tags-and-terms-Stock-PhotoIt’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!!!”

—Seth Arenstein, editor, PR News






9 Issues for a Nationally Televised PR Debate a nationally televised debate among leaders in Public Relations. Who you picture on that stage is a pretty good indicator of the state of our profession. To keep the personalities out of this for now, what issues would you want debated? What are the themes resonating now that also will prepare us for a stronger future as the leaders of reputation management, storytelling and fair public discourse?

Following are some potential debate topics that Anderson Cooper and the like might ask PR leaders. Please chime in since it’s about all of us coming together for a brighter future, right?

Let’s end the debate on a high note. Public Relations is stronger than ever, as evidenced by the growing number of people entering the profession, the increase in PR compensation year over year and the utilization of PR counsel at the highest levels of an organization. The issues we face, however, will continue to challenge our profession. Let’s deal with them head-on.

- Diane Schwartz



The Epic List of Useless Words and Phrases (Continued)

UselessThere are many reasons people use clichés, catchphrases and trendy words of the day: it’s a communications shortcut, and for the most part it’s not illegal. Those are the only reasons I can think of. So, as in years past I present to you the Epic List of Useless Words, Sayings and Retorts. This is a working list that I edit as I live my days – I’ve removed many contributions from the last year (we’ve made progress!) but have added many new phrases (let’s not get cocky!). The list also includes contributions from PR News blog readers because we’re in this together.

While the list below may smell to you of sarcasm, it’s meant to be a fresh look at communication gone bad. It’s directional and subjective, honest and yet disposable. There are a few items in this list that could actually get you in trouble, depending on the time, place and your body language. For the most part, though, it’s just a reminder that as communicators we can always aim higher.

Feel free to make additions to the list – I’m sure this is not complete:


“To be honest with you” (Now I don’t believe you)

During a conference call awaiting a response: “Sorry! I had you on mute.” (pay attention!)

During a meeting: “Can I interrupt?” (what if you said No?)

“I think we can definitely do that.” (this response does not inspire confidence)

“Oh, Millennials!” (blame it on an entire generation)

I’m literally _________ (just remove the word literally)

“Hashtag No Way” or “Hashtag First World Problem” (cute if you’re in high school, but, um, grow up!)

“I am sooo busy!” (aren’t you special? No one else is busy!)

In a press release: “the leading solution provider…” (no reporter believes this about your company)

During a brainstorming session: “We tried that last year and it didn’t work.” (second time can really be a charm)

“It is what it is.”  (It is annoying)

“I personally feel.”  (redundant, redundant)

“You need to be more passionate.” (You can’t make people feel passionate)

The word “social” as a noun, as in, “Acme does social really well.”  (Being social means having friends, not selling product.)

“I’m a ____________ junkie.”  (Since when is addiction a virtue?)

“I’m just doing what I’m doing.”  (Redundancy will be the death of me.)

“We need to own social media.” (Um, the public owns social media. What you really mean is you need to tie your social media efforts to a bottom line, be it financial, social good or reputation.)

Guru (unless you are a spiritual leader or are the best of the best at something, find another descriptor)

“Going forward”  (Meaning “from now on” as if you could also dictate past behavior)

“No offense”  (Which means “I am about to offend you.”)

“I’m confused”  (Which means “You’re confused and I am going to set you straight.”)


“Circle back”  (Which means to bring your Conestoga wagon back into a circle.)

“True that.”

“With all due respect…”  (Hearing that phrase, buckle-up: The words that follow will certainly bear no relation to “respect” or any recognized synonym.)

“At any rate…”  (It is so seldom used in connection with a literal rate of any sort.)

“To make a long story short” (already makes your story six words longer.)

“I don’t hate that idea.”  (Otherwise known as “let’s think about that more.”)

“We want to be in high-profile media”  (…said everyone on earth that wants to be in any media.)

“How should we spin this?”  (this is why PR’s reputation sometimes suffers)

“We need to be strategic.” (“Strategy” and “strategic” are so overused; no one explains what they mean by this, what the plan of action is or the tactics we’ll use to achieve the goal.)

“Let’s take a step back.” (It’s an early indicator that you are dealing with a conservative organization where innovation is outside their comfort zone.)

Irregardless (what’s wrong with “regardless”?)

Anyways (not a word)

“Don’t take this the wrong way/personally …” (well, now I am taking it that way)

“Out-of-the-box thinking”  (cringe!)

“If you will” (No, I won’t)

“Open the kimono” (creepy)

“Drink the Kool-Aid”  (just like those in Jonestown in 1978? I don’t think so!)

“Let’s talk offline”  (but I’ll call you on your line after this meeting)

“Boil the ocean” (clever by half)


Awesome! (with or without !, better to not utter as a grown-up)

Ramp up. Tee up. Synch up. (Throw up.)


Synergy (don’t use in press releases, unless it’s the name of your company)

“Run it up the flagpole and see how it flies.”

“Skin in the game”

“Ping me.” (check with HR first)

“I’ve got a hard stop at _________” (When is your soft stop?)

“We have a horse in this race.” (Less painful than one’s own skin the game, but same principle.)

“Kill two birds with one stone.” (poor birds)

“Give 110%”  (What is wrong with your math?)

Net-net (why both nets?)

“Put on your big girl panties.”  (for so many reasons, best to not say this)

Utilizing (try “using”)

Transparency  (Those who use this term are anything but transparent.)

From an agency exec to a client: “Of course, we can do all of that!” (sounds fishy, I don’t believe you; be specific on what you can do and what you might not be able to do. )

From a client to an agency rep: “I need a dashboard” (can you be more specific? Everyone’s asking for a dashboard and there are Mercedes dashboards and Pinto dashboards – which do you want?)

From an employee to her employer: “Where is my career going here?” (you should know, bring a plan to get there; don’t let your employer tell you who you should be)

From a CEO to his PR team: “Get us some good press.” And the PR exec’s response: “Consider it done.”


– Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

What’s the Most Important PR Metric? Wrong Question

measuerAt PR News’ upcoming Measurement Conference in Chicago, Kirstie Foster, director of corporate and brand communications for General Mills, is going to present a case study looking at a new measurement program she just rolled out for brands such as Cheerios, Yoplait and Pillsbury. Historically, there’s been a lack of consistent PR measurement across General Mills’ brands, according to Kirstie, and there hasn’t been formal integration of the Barcelona Principles until now.

We’re talking about a complete rethinking of PR’s role at one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the U.S. It’s a full-scale attempt to make sure that PR is held accountable for its efforts from the point of view of management, and to make sure that management sees clearly just how vital the communications function is to a company’s business success.

One thing’s for certain about what Kirstie’s doing at General Mills—the measurement overhaul was proactive in the extreme. From what Kirstie tells me, it’s all-encompassing. We’re not just talking about the integration of social media measurement with more traditional PR metrics—we’re talking about well-thought-out training for the staff, both internal staffers and those with her agency partners.

Before our Measurement Conferences we send out surveys to attendees and ask them what questions they want presenters to address. The most common questions run along these lines:

“What’s the most widely used metric for measurement being used today?”

“What’s the single most effective way to communicate the value of PR?”

“What’s the best tool for measuring social media engagement?

It’s a human trait to want black-and-white answers to difficult questions. Solving questions about PR measurement might not be in the same realm as solving problems associated with climate change, immigration and violent fanaticism, but as with those dilemmas, there’s no simple solution, no silver bullet.

“What’s the best metric for measuring PR?” is probably not the most fruitful question to ask. If you suspect you might need the same kind of overhaul as the one led by Kirstie Foster, a more existential question might be a better starting place, such as, “What can I do to help my organization succeed?”

Proceed from there with your measurement overhaul.

—Steve Goldstein, PR News @SGoldsteinAI


A Yearly List That Can Help You Communicate with Millennials

Signs of the times:

These examples of well-established people and companies accepting change led me to think how some of our PR colleagues continue to have to evangelize about the utility of social media to senior executives. I had that experience a few years ago, during a brief break from journalism—and I worked at a well-known technology company.

This ruminating about peoples’ horizons, technological and cultural, led me to the yearly Mindset List that three Beloit College professors publish about the incoming freshman class. While it’s meant to help older professors relate better to college students, it also can be helpful to communications professionals, who may have to reach a younger market and/or work with millennial colleagues.

'What, I Have to Tweet? Alabama's Nick Saban

‘What, I Have to Tweet?’ Alabama’s Nick Saban

This year’s full list can be found here, but I’ll share a few examples. One of the most shocking for me is this guidance: “Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.” Can that math be correct?

Each item on the list proper begins with “Since they have been on the planet” and then adds something that those not of the millennial generation might  have failed to realize. So, since they have been on the planet…”Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.” Some others: “Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.” “Color photos have always adorned the front page of The New York Times.” “The Airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.” “Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.” “Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have always been members of NATO.” “If you say ‘around the turn of the century,’ they may well ask you, ‘which one?’” And one of my favorites: “Their parents have gone from encouraging them to use the Internet to begging them to get off it.”

The point? Clear communications includes remembering that millennials, and others, might not understand your cultural references. That means we probably need to think at least twice while crafting our messages. Look, if Coach Saban can make adjustments to communicate better, we can, too.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News.



We Need to Dispel These 5 PR Myths

mythsSearch the term “hires a PR firm” on any given day and you’ll find a fresh news story about a company hiring a PR firm to handle a crisis. Shocking news! Stop the presses! How dare they revert to PR!

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 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

3 Ways to Cut Through in the Shark Days of Summer

560We’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


PR is Sales is Marketing is Advertising

Silo-bustingThe 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





This One Simple Question Can Transform Your Business Relationships

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



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