Careful When You ‘Embrace the Hate’

In an episode of The Simpsons, titled “Simpson Tide” (1998), Homer joins the Naval Reserve (don’t ask). During orientation Homer’s drill sergeant gives him the business. He gets in his grill, and barks, “I don’t like you!”

Homer responds with a sweet smile and puppy dog eyes. “But I like you,” Homer says. The drill sergeant, of course, is miffed, having been neutralized by Homer’s kindness.

It’s Homer’s version of embracing the hate. Now, 17 years later, as social channels explode, embracing the hate may be the next hot messaging strategy in PR and marketing.

I was reminded of Homer’s actions after seeing a Wall Street Journal report late last month that Progressive has started to reach out to Twitter users to ask whether it could use their tweets for a “project” the insurance giant is working on.

However, it seems that Progressive is only interested in integrating tweets that disparage the company’s longtime spokeswoman, Flo, the Journal said. “My idea of a nightmare situation is being force-fed Parmesan bread bites while tied to a chair in Flo’s Progressive Torture chamber,” reads one tweet. Progressive responded by asking for permission to use the tweet and for the user’s email address.

Progressive’s move is in keeping with an accelerating trend in the marketplace: embracing the hate.

With the proliferation of social networks, it’s the rare brand or organization that hasn’t incurred the wrath of consumers upset or perturbed about the company’s behavior or actions. More often that not, tweets or Facebook comments that disparage a brand come from John and Jane Q. Public being snarky because they can. Either way, it’s a hallmark of online communications.

At the outset of social media—when consumers talked smack about a company—some brand managers would first try and determine how much damage the offending comment might cause and then possibly reach out to that individual to try and remedy the situation and mitigate the hate.

That’s one solution. But Progressive and other brands like Dove  may have the right idea. Instead of trying to appease consumers, why not neutralize them?

By recruiting consumers to include their “creative” in a new marketing campaign—no matter how nasty it may be—brands demonstrate a warts-and-all approach. That makes it harder for consumers to express hate and/or get on their soapbox about every little thing.

With that in mind, here are two ways for PR executives to embrace the hate—and possibly add a fresh (and all-too-human) approach to their business communications.

> Be vigilant, yet selective in reaching out. Hate on social media comes in all shapes and sizes. Tap into those tweets and social comments that may be critical of your brand but are delivered in a tongue-firmly-tucked-in-cheek style and show a flair for humor. It’s a pretty fine line between funny and down right malicious. PR managers have to make sure they don’t hurt their brands (or shareholders) with an embrace-the-hate strategy.

> Be transparent about your intentions. When you do reach out to the haters, keep the communication simple. When consumers respond to your message, make sure you clearly spell out how (and where) the tweets will be used and what consumers might get in return. This is probably an area, as good as any, in which PR and legal should work closely. When getting into what is a particularly gray (and nascent) area, you have to be extremely clear about your intentions. You don’t want the haters to get the impression that they are now quasi marketers for the company. Or maybe you do.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over, and 4 Other Takeaways From Super Bowl XLIX

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New England Patriots rookie Malcolm Butler makes a game-saving interception. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

This year’s Super Bowl lived up to its hype, and it was one of the first times in recent memory that I found the game to be more exciting than the commercials. This year’s array of $4.5m spots struck a more somber and heart-warming note than years past. Considering what’s happening on the world stage and within the NFL itself, it wasn’t such a bad idea for brands to get behind life-affirming messaging. Even Mexican Avocados looked cute! And beyond the touchdowns, interceptions and curious calls were lessons that might resonate with you as you kick off your work week, and as we count down to Super Bowl 50:

Pull the heart strings, repeatedly: The Budweiser Clydesdale/lost puppy commercial was among the most memorable ads of the night. The Budweiser commercial was rather familiar to most fans since it was viewed millions of times before it officially aired. It was a sequel to last year’s crazily popular “Puppy Love” tear-fest. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Brian Perkins, vice president, Budweiser, told USA Today.

There’s a fine line between getting consumers’ attention and turning them off: Nationwide’s “Make Safe Happen” commercial was an unwelcome surprise and quite the downer for many as we watched a “dead” boy narrate all the things he missed out on. ” Tweeters took sides, mostly against the ad. Noted one tweeter: “Nice one Nationwide. That was pretty fun to watch a commercial about dead kids with my kids. more like#scaremykids.” But people are talking about it — and the connection between your child’s safety and insurance —  so I’m betting Nationwide considers it a success. In a statement defending the ad, Nationwide said: “While some did not care for the ad, we hope it served to begin a dialogue to make safe happen for children everywhere.”

Play through the crisis: The case of the deflated footballs (Deflategate) still in play, the Patriots astutely fielded, or rather deflected, media questions before and after the game and proved their ability to not let a crisis disappoint fans, otherwise known as a 28-24 win.

Own up to poor decisions: Sports analysts and Monday morning quarterbacks are calling it one of the “dumbest calls ever,” and it just might be up there. But it was encouraging to hear Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and QB Russell Wilson take responsibility  (and not shift the blame) for the game-ending intercepted 1-yard-line slant pass. Not a rookie mistake; rather a rookie miracle that’s catnip to the media. Which leads to my last observation:

Don’t underestimate the rookies: there’s speculation that Wilson threw the pass in the direction of a less experienced player, clearly underestimating Malcolm Butler’s determination and skill. “I just read the play and made the play,” Butler said post-game. A lesson for us all.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

5 Steps to Becoming an Effective Writer (and a Better PR Pro)

In Dog We TrustWhen a Florida sheriff’s office recently noticed its new crest-engraved office rug read “In Dog We Trust,” rather than “In God We Trust” it turned a $500 typo into a nearly $10k opportunity. It held an auction for the grammatically incorrect rug in which proceeds would go to the local animal rescue organization. If we could raise $9,650 (which the sheriff’s office did) for every typo, grammatical error and poor turn of phrase, bad writing and editing could actually be spun into a rather beneficial side business. Alas, poor writing or sloppy editing persists among the best brands and among the best of us. It just happens. But we can do better.

It certainly doesn’t look good for communicators when a press release is riddled with errors, when an email to a reporter is lacking punctuation and clarity or when a business memo is strung together with disparate ideas and fails to cut to the chase. Spell-check cannot save a poor communicator.

There are a few quick fixes to our post-college national writing problem:

Find an Editor: Someone on your team should serve as your editor. Never let a press release go on the wires or an important document be distributed without another set of eyes. Don’t just have anyone edit your copy – identify strong writers who have a discerning eye. Just as importantly, track the changes your editor makes so you can see for yourself what is being changed and understand your writing weaknesses.

Read Two Great Articles a Day: Whether online or in print, read something in the news or within your markets and observe how the writer grabs your interest in the first 15 seconds and how the article articulates its main points and concludes the piece. You are reading a great story, and as a storyteller you can be as interesting as that journalist.

Let Your Best Work Marinate: By this I mean don’t rush your messaging. You need to let your writing evolve over the course of a few hours or even a few days. Come back to the piece and you will always find it needs polishing and you will embrace the act of polishing because a sparkling piece of work will get noticed.

Elevator Pitches Have Legs: Sometimes an overused reference is overused because it works. If you think in terms of how you’d convey to a colleague the main points of your press release, your content marketing piece, your client email on an elevator ride from the lobby to the 10th floor, what would you say? What you come up with forms the headline and lead and helps crystallize your message. Elevator pitches get easier the more you choose to take the ride. Which leads me to the last piece of advice:

Write Your Heart Out: While writing well is not yet a lost art, the less we write complete sentences (thank you, texting!) and the less we hold up great PR writing as a benchmark of communications excellence, the more likely we are to lose ground with our stakeholders. Take your writing seriously. Craft something interesting every day. And prepare to be edited. It’s part of the writing process.

- Diane Schwartz

 @dianeschwartz

PS: Check out our PR News Writing Workshop on Feb 10 in San Fran. I hope you’ll be able to attend!

 

 

 

 

4 Tips for Producing (Less Static) Podcasts

There are countless brands and organizations that are making intelligent use of their social platforms. Companies are deploying Facebook, Twitter et al to build closer ties to their constituents, promote a new product or service or participate in a conversation in a manner that can help to humanize the brand.

However, for every piece of social media content that adds value to, say, a media relations campaign or events marketing effort, there is another piece of social content that is at best, inane and, at worst, reprehensible. The freewheeling (ephemeral) nature of social media also makes it problematic for people to retain information, much less consider a purchase.

Podcasting is a different pitch. Where social messaging/marketing tends can be scattered, podcasts are singular, with a beginning, middle and an end. Sure, people get stoked about online contests and brand messages that might ultimately save them a little bit of money. But such efforts have a scattershot approach.

In contrast, podcasts lend themselves to plot, personality and, depending on the level of storytelling, character development. They also dovetail perfectly with what we used to call appointment viewing.

Take the wildly popular Serial, a podcast exploring a murder mystery, which ranked number one on iTunes even before its November 2014 debut.

The passion for Serial reminds us of Steve Allen’s famous quote, “Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless.”

Now comes word that Reddit has rolled out its own official podcast. The podcast is designed to tell the story behind the stories on its home page. That’s smart positioning on Reddit’s part, taking a backstory approach to its podcast strategy.

But whether it’s Reddit, your own website or a dedicated app, PR pros could boost their value—and better distinguish themselves from rivals—by developing a dedicated podcast series.

Here are few tips to consider for producing quality podcasts:

> Find good pipes in-house. Perhaps the most important aspect of developing a podcast is finding someone with a mellifluous voice. Do a deep dive to locate people (employees, partners) who are often complimented on the sound of their voice and can easily steer (but not command) a conversation.

> Don’t bore the audience. Consumers have an infinite number of choices for how to spend their time online. You have to take a thematic approach that’s designed to entertain, enlighten and inform. Don’t take the easy route by producing podcasts that take a prosaic look at products and services. Find the backstory for some of your biggest successes (or failures). Be candid, not corporate.

> Take it outside the four walls. Your podcasts need to be anchored to a specific subject matter, of course. But the beauty of radio and podcasts is to veer off course every now and again and, within reason, talk about most anything under the sun. This can go a long way toward personalizing the program. By opening up the conversation you might also stumble on an expression or idea that crystallizes your company and keeps listeners coming back.

> Make it immersive. If you’re willing to go to the time and expense of creating a podcast series, make sure it’s participatory for your audience. Have people call in to broaden the discussion. Invite some of your best customers or clients to appear on the show. Go “on location” to where your audience(s) may congregate. Make sure the community is vested in the podcast.

What would you add to the list?

Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

All ‘Signs’ Point to Brand Awareness Success for McDonald’s

mcdonalds-signs-hed-2015What is the goal of advertising and PR? To get noticed and drive profits, right?

In the realm of getting noticed–otherwise referred to as brand awareness by non-civilians in communications—the McDonald’s “Signs” ad, which ran during the Golden Globes Awards and NFL playoff games this past weekend, is a resounding success. Whether or not it drives sales is for the ad agency of record and in-house communications team to prove weeks and months from now.

During the signature TV events on Sunday, Jan. 11, McDonald’s ran an ad showing signs outside franchise restaurants with inspiring messages of solidarity for local customers (“A Little Lovin Can Change a Lot,” “Hug Those Dads,” “Welcome Home 442nd Fighter Wing”) backed by maudlin music. At the close of the commercial there’s text that says “see the stories behind the signs,” with a link to the McDonald’s Tumblr blog.

Reaction to the spot has been mixed, the media has decreed. Some think it’s crass to align caring and sharing with a multinational brand one might associate with bad eating habits, obesity and low wages. Well, you can’t blame people for not lovin’ it, but if you focus on the goals of advertising and PR you can’t help but be impressed.

Adweek reported that 45,792 tweets mentioned McDonald’s on Jan. 11, “up from roughly 36,000 on Jan. 4 and 27,000 on Dec. 28.” Adweek also said that although the ad was divisive, sentiment dipped only “slightly” when comparing the three days. Meanwhile, the Signs ad on YouTube has topped a million views in just a couple of days. So we’re talking about a pretty nice interplay among paid, owned and earned media.

What’s not to love, if you’re in the business of selling burgers?

—Follow Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI

15 Easy Changes to Transform Your Career this Year

Forget new year’s resolutions about losing weight, completing your first novel, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail while learning how to play guitar. Those sorts of resolutions just set you up for disappointment. It’s time to get realistic. As far as career resolutions go, there’s no shortage of things we can do better. As communicators, we are fortunate to be working in a field that is constantly changing and therefore challenging our skills and patience. With that in mind, I put together 15 activities that can set you up for a more gratifying year on the job. This doesn’t mean you can’t still try to master the art of French cooking or call your in-laws once a week. Give at least a few of these a try in the coming week:

1. Become data savvy not data obsessive: understand what all the hullabaloo is about “data” in your organization and then learn how to leverage it for good, not just because.

2. Tell a good story: that’s one reason why we’re in PR, to tell great stories. If it means re-reading your favorite Rudyard Kipling short story to remind you of great storytelling, well that wouldn’t be so painful.

3. Foster a relationship: whether it’s with a co-worker, a reporter, a client or a customer, get out there and get to know someone new.

4. Look up: practice proper protocol and be in the moment by not staring down at your phone while in a meeting or in social interactions.

5. Find a mentee: help a budding communicator navigate the increasingly complex areas of PR. Seek a mentee through your own organization or through industry groups like PRSSA.

6. Give your customer a face and a name: find out who your optimal customer is (or your client’s optimal customer) and tack a photo of that person by your desk. Gear your efforts toward him or her.

7. Measure twice, cut once: best to know what the key metrics are before you launch a campaign or initiative and use those as your guide; it saves you much time and heartache in the long term.

8. Write something: practice writing every day; the more you write, the better you get at writing. Volunteer to write a blog post for your company or to guest post for a client; write an article in your company newsletter or update your group or clients with a well-crafted email memo.

9. Switch jobs (for a day) with IT: gain a better understanding of what your digital team does every day by spending some time dealing with people like us who are always needing something from them.

10. Get your policies and plans in order: do you have a social media policy? An employee handbook? A crisis plan? Have you read or updated them? Now is a good time to brush up on the dry stuff.

11. Audit your assets: take stock of your content libraries (if you have them), your photo archives, press release templates, review your About Us web page, and other assets that could come in handy in the event of a crisis, merger, acquisition, corporate change or last-minute request from a reporter.

12. Drop a social media platform: do you really need to be on Pinterest? Maybe that stagnant LinkedIn Group is making your brand look bad, not good. No need to be there if your audience is not visiting.

13. Adopt a social media platform: try out a new platform – whether it’s Snapchat, tumblr or Google+, test new social media waters to develop a stronger sense of where your should invest time and resources.

14. Hand-write a thank you note:  A few times a month, thank a customer, a client, a colleague, a reporter, an analyst; be on the mental lookout for those people who are helping you and write them a note. Your letter will stand out and all parties will be grateful. (Don’t forget to mail it.)

15. Advocate for PR: I’m not telling you anything new when I say that Public Relations as a discipline is only as good as the disciples. Become an advocate for measurable PR strategies and tactics that move the needle in a positive way. Share your best practices of the trade and spread the word about the power of Public Relations.

Happy new year, friends of PR News!

- Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

The Epic List of Useless PR Tactics

A while back I compiled a list of annoying phrases and words we utter as communicators (and human beings), from “at the end of the day” to “guru” and “epic”. The list, via my blog post, grew as you added your own phrases that annoy (“I don’t hate that” and “synergy,” to name a few).

When the other day I heard someone complain about not being able to take a campaign viral, I knew it was time to create The Epic List of Useless PR Tactics. To make this epic, you will need to add to it, shamelessly and without hesitation.  Every profession has tactics that consistently don’t work because the very premise of them is flawed.

I should preface by stating that most PR people I know, and whom we cover in PR News, are hard-working, intelligent and effective.  But we all know colleagues who subscribe to one of the tactics below that only serves to set PR back as a profession:

Creating a viral campaign as goal #1: it’s gratifying when a campaign goes viral like the Oreo blackout tweet or the ice bucket challenge and social media has accelerated our ability to spread our messages (for better or worse). But understanding the motivations and psychologies of your stakeholders rather than making the medium (Twitter, Facebook, etc) the central focus will more likely result in spreadable content.

Using ad value equivalencies as a metric: While public relations is still struggling to agree on a standard metric, it has come a long way with the Barcelona Principles and matrices to better measure the value of PR in general and a campaign in particular. Applying AVEs to PR is the best route to going backwards.

Spraying and praying: you need media coverage, so the best way to get that is to send the same email and press release to thousands of journalists, most of whom do not cover your industry. Wrong! Even with updated and accurate databases at our disposal to target the appropriate journalist or influencer, telling a story to the right audience is still elusive to many.

Baiting and switching: there’s nothing a client hates more than thinking they’ve just hired a seasoned PR counselor only to be met the next week by someone a few years out of college who’s the lead on the account.  After nearly 20 years in the PR space, I can say that there’s more transparency in agency-client relations and less bait-and-switch; the minority cases drown out the advancements.

Forgetting you have a voice: Email is an excellent communication tool but nothing beats talking to someone in person or by phone. Go retro and phone an industry friend, meet with a reporter or client and meet up with stakeholders on their turf (industry conferences, for example)

Forgetting you have ears: as with most disciplines, PR suffers from hearing loss. Listen to what your stakeholders are saying and be present in the places they are saying it.  Listening is a workout: you have to discipline yourself to do it regularly but the rewards are noticeable.

Working in a silo: if you want to limit what your organization can achieve, then it’s important you stay neatly tucked into your department. But if you see that the lines have blurred and that it takes a village to raise the bar, then you know that aligning with your marketing peers (see my last blog on this), and even those in IR, IT, HR and other two and three letter departments will be the way forward for effective communications.

I want to hear from you. You’re on the front lines. What are some PR tactics we need to put an end to, stat? Please add to my list.

Diane Schwartz

On twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day?

Inevitably the question arises when you’re in a room full of communicators: how do we break down the silos between PR and Marketing? I recently moderated a panel with Andrew Bowins of Mastercard and Jay Bartlett of Pitney Bowes on the topic of marketing-PR collaboration, or lack thereof in many organizations. We agreed that a path toward “togetherness” – as we’re all in this together – could mean better performance for your organization.

Both Jay and Andrew agreed that the departments need to not only talk to one another more often, but force collaboration into the culture until it becomes the culture. A few audience members shared how their organizations are literally breaking down the cubicles and re-engineering work spaces so that marketing and PR colleagues are sitting side by side.

There are a few elephants in the room when it comes to PR-Marketing collaboration and these animals are filling the space: budget and org chart.  Most organizations have separate PR and marketing budgets and there’s an inherent competition between the two to get a larger slice of a smaller pie. Then there’s the organization chart which is dusted off every now and then and tweaked, not transformed. Who reports to whom and who ultimately has the CEO’s ear is inextricably linked to budget, performance and outcomes. Understanding the new skills needed to accelerate growth may mean rethinking job titles, responsibilities and organizational structure.

At PR News’ Social Media Summit last week there was a consensus that marketing and PR need to partner more regularly and in particular when it comes to the rapid pace of social media communications. Who owns social media is not so much the question when both departments agree that their audience owns it.

PR and Marketing may get married one day – perhaps by necessity. But for the marriage to last it needs to do what most successful couples do: spend a lot of time together, move in and get to know how each other lives (my mother would disagree on this) and then get engaged. Work out the money issues and day to day responsibilities. Stick together in sickness and in health. You’re going to need each other.

– Diane Schwartz

PS: Check out the PR News Webinar on April 23 on this topic: Breaking Down the Silos Between PR & Marketing

 

Does ‘Building Relationships’ With Journalists Matter? Not If You Ask Journalists

004_bears-940x626I was moderating a PR News session in Boston on communicating with journalists, and I thought it was going rather well. We had two veteran PR pros and two veteran journalists (one a broadcast journalist, the other a newspaper reporter), and we had some disagreement. The PR pros talked about the value of building relationships with journalists, and the journalists said, essentially, that they don’t have enough time for relationships with their family members and old friends, let alone relationships of any kind with PR practitioners.

“Just send us something we can actually use,” was their message.

Afterward, a few of the attendees were disturbed that the four speakers weren’t in perfect alignment, which I found surprising. Edifying, but friendly, conflict was what I was after. That’s how you get to the truth of things.

“Shouldn’t they have been in sync before the session?” an attendee asked me. What I didn’t tell this person was that the two journalists had in fact had the opportunity to see the PR pros’ presentations ahead of time and had been asked to offer their unvarnished opinions on the PR pros’ viewpoints.

The opposing messages on the podium made clear—to me, at least—that there are conflicting yet equally valuable truths about media relations. Journalists bristle at the feel-good PR lingo about “trust-based relationships” and just want to see pitches and news that’s valid and useful to them. Yet, at the same time, the journalists are blind to some of the valuable relationship building at work.

In fact, the journalist who was most skeptical of relationship building was there solely because of the networking skills of one of the PR pros on the panel. She follows her own advice and belongs to every journalists’ association in the region. She puts herself out there physically and, yes, builds relationships. It was through this network of relationships that she made contact with this journalist and invited him to the session in Boston. His mere presence was proof that building relationships works.

Two conflicting truths do not cancel each other out. They coexist uncomfortably side by side, making life more interesting.

—Steve Goldstein
Twitter: @SGoldsteinAI 

 

Measure Twice, Cut Once? How About We Just Measure!

Measurement is one of those irrefutable initiatives in the PR and marketing world.  You cannot argue with the idea that what can’t be measured can’t be managed. Nor can you dispute the reality that many practitioners do not take measurement seriously.

Is PR Measurement like hand washing at the restroom? Let’s face it: there are those who always wash their hands, those who sometimes do, and others who pretend they do. Unlike washing your hands in the bathroom, measurement is not mindless, and it can’t be done in a minute. Some would even say it’s a bit messy.  Communicators still do not have a standard by which to measure communications practices, though it is finally agreeing that ad value equivalencies are ineffective in moving the needle.

This week marks the first annual AMEC Measurement Week,  a global “event” sponsored by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication.  PR firms and communicators at organizations worldwide are hosting meetings, events and social media discussions to tout the benefits of both measurement and evaluation.  Check out PR News’s web site, newsletter and social media (#prmeasure) for interviews with measurement leaders and practical ideas on measurement.  This week shines a spotlight on an area of our practice that is less shiny and new. Now is a perfect time to reflect on your personal philosophy about measurement and your commitment to the daily practice of measurement.

In countless conversations with communicators, and on the stage at PR News’s Measurement Conferences in DC (and coming on Nov. 20 in Chicago), experts on the topic are heated and singularly passionate about measurement. Attendees take copious notes and nod in agreement. These are clearly the people who care about measurement and carry the torch.

It is beholden on every communicator to understand The Barcelona Principles (66% of communicators in a recent PR News survey said they never heard of the Principles), to set measurable goals and to be willing to acknowledge when a campaign or idea didn’t hit the mark. The latter takes time, courage and teamwork.

Please share your measurement thoughts with us at PR News, and contribute to this important conversation.

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter; @dianeschwartz

 

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