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
We are well into “conference season” when us avid learners hit the streets and land in a semi-comfortable chair in a meeting room or ballroom to do what we love to do most when attending an event: stare at our phones. It’s so tempting, right? You have the choice of listening to a panel of speakers share ideas on the very topic that you signed up to hear about; at the same time, there are screens to be tended to, be it your laptop, iPhone, iPad or, if you’re lucky, your Google Glass.
Being at a professional conference gives us an incredible opportunity to:
- Meet new people
- Hear amazing speakers
- Hear mediocre speakers, thereby inspiring us to hit the speaker circuit
- Develop new ideas
- Crystallize strategy
- Forge partnerships
- Learn about new technologies
- Un-learn bad habits
- Create a notebook full of smart tactics to take back to the office and implement
Likewise, attending a day-long business conference also allows us to:
- Catch up with old friends on Facebook
- Create a new Pinterest board with summer vacation ideas
- Email your child’s teacher about a homework assignment
- Scroll through Instagram and like a lot of photos
- Take a BuzzFeed quiz
- Check out eHarmony (for the singles set)
- Catch up on news via Twitter and search for retweetable items
- Complete an overdue work project — finally, you have time!
Surely, we can take advantage of both opportunities: there’s no law preventing you from liking your sister-in-law’s latest status update AND listening to panel of speakers share presentations prepared over weekends and late nights (we presume). There’s nothing unethical about taking that BuzzFeed quiz about which Game of Throne character you are (I got Arya Stark) while writing down the 7 Barcelona Principles. Nothing wrong with that at all. Except do you now understand what the Barcelona Principles are just because you sat in a room in which it was discussed? My point is that there’s a time to Buzzfeed and there’s a time to feed your mind with new ideas that will make you smarter, better than your competitors and a valuable contributor to your team.
Next time you’re at a conference, try to be “all in” – which doesn’t mean 100% listening and engaging. That’s impossible, IMHO. If you could just shed half of the bad habits that you personally engage in at conferences, you’ll be way ahead of your peers. Maybe I’ll see you at our April 8 PR News Measurement Conference and we can share our progress on this front. I will spot you right away – you’ll be the one taking notes, asking questions, nodding affirmatively at the speakers and setting goals (which, by the way, is one of the 7 guiding principles of PR).
– Diane Schwartz
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
Over the weekend, I repeatedly came across examples of the realities of the new media ecosystem. On Saturday, I saw on Facebook a hot conversation about an apparently serious car accident in my town. People were reporting what they saw. They were sharing second-hand accounts, and of course, opinions. I toggled over to the local daily newspaper’s website. Nothing. I went to the weekly paper’s site. Nothing. The local Patch sites have been decimated, so I didn’t even bother checking them.
The next day I spent part of the morning reading about the crisis in the Crimean Penninsula online (in old-school newspaper brands) and engaged in conversations on social media around that situation. I subscribe to the paper New York Times, but only opened that later, after I had read the most recent headlines on the paper’s home page, or on links shared through Facebook and Twitter.
Later on Sunday I read about how “social buzz” can be a very accurate predictor of key pop culture events, including, of course, last night’s Academy Awards.
The article relies on an Adobe initiative, called the Adobe Digital Index, which is based on an analysis of data from more than 5,000 companies worldwide that use the Adobe Marketing Cloud solutions. The ADI, this story reported, has already demonstrated pretty convincingly the ability of social buzz to predict a movie’s financial prospects. ADI correctly predicted that “Ender’s Game” and “Delivery Man” would do poorly, while “Thor: The Dark World,” “Anchorman 2,” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” would make money.
So how did it do with the Oscars? Hmmm. It predicted that Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence would win, and we all now know that Matthew McConaughey and Lupita Nyong’o won. Beyond that, the ADI was close. It predicted that Cate Blanchett would win, and she did. It predicted that the race for best picture was too close to call between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” The latter won. It did, however, say that “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen had run away with the social buzz and would win best director. He did not.
But put aside the accuracy of those particular indices and you realize that something really important is going on in media. Social is where the action is. It’s where people get their news. It’s where they engage with commmunities. It’s where marketers measure pop-culture resonance. One of the things I was thinking about as I read about the Ukraine crisis was how old the headlines in the print newspaper really were. They were published on the Saturday, probably late afternoon. They were based on reporting from earlier that day and the day prior. So what I was reading in the print version of the Sunday New York Times was anywhere from 24 to 48 hours old, while what I was reading on the New York Times website was very close to real time. At best, it was a few hours old. Where would you gravitate?
All of which leaves PR pros with five important takeaways.
• Don’t obsess over traditional media relations and media placements. Instead, make your brand and your clients part of the social-media news and information ecosystem.
• Old-style media coverage, while still important, has absolutely been eclipsed by social communities, and sometimes those communities don’t even need the established media brands.
• News travels fast. Don’t find yourself responding to what was relevant 48 hours ago.
• Make social-media monitoring and measurement a top priority for your team. It’s a more productive source of cultural understanding than older media.
• Old media brands offer first-rate journalism. Social buzz tells you how your own brand (and other relevant entities) are faring among stakeholders and the culture at large.
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.
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.
You can feel yourself age when you use such antiquated words like “telephone” in front of your 12-year-old son. “Mom, who says ‘telephone’ anymore?” He has a point.
Every now and then “telephone” creeps into my language, as do other throwbacks like Rolodex and VCR. Just as we don’t say “telephone” very often, we also don’t use the device as much as we should in the communications business. We’re so used to emailing, texting, posting, pinning, sharing and liking that we often put phone communications on the back burner. That phone taking up space on your desk is a bit lonely.
In the past week how many times have you engaged in a business conversation via the phone versus email or LinkedIn or even texting? How many times have you thought, “I should have just called her”? Or, “I wonder what he meant in that email when he said ‘let’s discuss’”? Perhaps it means we should actually talk.
Phone communication for business is not yet an antiquated activity but it’s getting there. Let’s not contribute to its demise. Communicators who pick up the phone – either to make a call or receive a call – will (and do) have the edge with stakeholders. Social media cannot replace phone calls. Emailing cannot replace a one-on-one conversation. An interview with a reporter that’s done by email is inferior to one that’s either in-person or by phone. A customer-service related issue is usually more efficient via email but if you really want to ‘wow’ a customer, check in by phone. A press release does not replace verbal communication with key stakeholders.
As we embark on a new year for communications excellence, let’s make the call to take the call or make a call.
- Diane Schwartz @dianeschwartz
Call me with topics you’d like to see covered in this blog: 212-621-4964.
English has 1.1 million words, more words than any other language, according to the Global Language Monitor and other sources. That’s double the next most prolific language. And English adds about 15 words per day, or one every 98 minutes.
So 400 years after the greatest English wordsmith of them all, William Shakespeare, the language remains a living, changing, vital form of communication, something PR folks use every day. And they work hard at it. It’s said PR is, at its core, storytelling. But if that’s true, then storytelling, at its core, is about words.
It stands to reason, then, that as words get added, other words become obsolete. Who uses “groovy” anymore? And as technology transforms our lives, the lifecycle of some words speeds up. In that spirit, we offer a list of words we came across as 2014 dawned that should be banned, starting now.
Words to be Banned, Generic Edition
(Courtesy of Lake Superior State University, and selected by them for the sins of misuse, overuse and general uselessness)
• Mr. Mom
• _____ on Steroids
A related list, from USA Today, gets at a few more words and phrases that have become persona non grata.
• Combined celebrity couple names
• “Abbrevs,” like “ridic,” “totes,” “obv,” “cray,” and lots more.
Phrases and Words to be Banned, Work Edition
(Courtesy of USA Today)
• Noncommittal language
• Describing things as “surreal”
• Saying “quote-unquote”
• Starting all sentences with “So,” and ending them with “right?”
Phrases and Words to be Banned, PR Edition
(Courtesy of Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue)
You’ll never catch me using terms like “price point” when I mean “price,” or “form factor” when I mean “size.” I’ll never say “content” when I mean video, “solution” when I mean product, “DRM” when I mean copy protection, or “functionality” when I mean “feature.” Also, I will never refer to you as “the user.” (If you think about it, only two industries refer to their customers as users.)
So there you have it. What do you think? So when I was compiling this list, it seemed like a valuable study in the use of language, right?
At PR News’ recent Media Relations Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Amy Eisman of American University’s School of Communication and a founding editor of USA Today brought up the concept of the “journalist whisperer.” This is a PR professional who can speak a journalist’s language on the platform they want to be reached on. Someone who doesn’t have to use press releases or mass emails but has developed relationships to the point where they are only a call, informal email or G-chat away from the right journalist to cover their client’s or organization’s story.
Isn’t this what the whole media relations function is all about, what it’s always been about? Perhaps in the bygone days of long lunches, ad-stuffed newspapers and magazines and fat expense accounts (both on the PR and media sides of the equation) no one had to be told to be a journalist whisperer. There was time to build relationships.
Now it’s just plain hard to keep relationships of all types together. The pace of life and technology itself seems to have driven wedges between individuals—between family members, between friends, between business colleagues.
It’s up to you to break that pattern. Amy Eisman didn’t cook up the term “journalist whisperer”—she heard it from a journalist friend who made it plain that she needs the help of great PR pros. She needs their help to do her job, more than ever. She wants to forge bonds with PR pros who know her, know her work habits, know the unique pressures she’s under, know what she needs to hit her own deadlines and drive the bottom line for her own media organization.
So commit to building those relationships with the media professionals who matter to you. And the best way to do that is to do what you would do in any relationship. Don’t wait until you need something to reach out to them. Ask them how they’re doing and what they need when you don’t need anything in particular. Just a little whisper, once in awhile.
Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI