‘I Think I Can’t, I Think I Can’t': A New Train of Thought

The story about the little engine that could is a familiar and heart-warming one, a tale of a determined underdog fulfilling a difficult task against all odds. “I think I can, I think I can” is a commonly used refrain at challenging moments.

Sometimes, though, we might be stronger to think we can’t.  To admit, “I think I can’t. I think I can’t” and to seek help.

This idea was brought to light last week during PR News’ Top Women in PR Awards ceremony when keynoter JJ Ramberg, host of  MSBNC’s Your Business, reminded an audience of high achievers to ask for help without the fear of reprisal or embarrassment. The women who make up our 2015 class of top female communicators are a determined group that can relate to the little engine that took on the challenge of taking a stranded train over the hill while the bigger, more able locomotives refused.

I’m fairly certain that leaders of either gender know they can’t do everything well and will seek assistance every now and then.  Aside from having mentors to guide us, it’s imperative that we as communicators are also able to communicate our (momentary) weaknesses and our need for assistance. To occasionally ask for help from colleagues, peers, friends and new-found business connections is to acknowledge our limits, to learn from the assistance we receive and to pay it forward.

The next time you think you’re the little engine that could or the big engine that should, consider your options. Could you use a little help?

 – Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

No Apologies in PR Council Rebranding

apologyAt yesterday’s Communications Week “PRx” event in New York, Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, said that women need to stop saying “I’m sorry” if they want to become chief executives. The phrase “I’m sorry” is used too freely by women, according to Rafferty. It’s usually a thoughtless preamble to a statement or mere entrance into a room, and is a signifier of a lack of confidence and feeling of unworthiness.

“Have swagger,” Rafferty said. “Don’t be sorry—shine and be strong.”

I couldn’t help being reminded of her advice to women when I read today’s article in the New York Times about the Council of Public Relations Firms’ “soul-searching.”

The Times reported that the council, which is holding its annual conference on Oct. 23, adopted an informal name, the PR Council, and that in discussions of the rebranding the council had considered eliminating “PR” entirely.

The article points out that although social media and content marketing have expanded the role that PR plays in brand communications, PR—in particular, PR agencies—“has also been under scrutiny recently for a string of flubs and foul-ups.” The council was seeking a new moniker that would encompass PR’s past, present and future, but drop-kicking the term “PR” into the waste bin would have betrayed PR’s own lack of confidence and sense of unworthiness.

For generations, PR practitioners could only look on with envy and perhaps disgust at the budgets thrown at ad agencies and marketers, but the evolution of technology has been on their side, whether they realize it or not. The Council of Public Relations Firms–make that the “PR Council”—recognized that truth in the end.

—Steve Goldstein
Twitter: @SGoldsteinAI 

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

@dianeschwartz

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

 

‘Meet the Team,’ Ferguson and PR’s Diversity Problem

Take a look at your “Meet the Team” and “About Us” pages on your web site. Do these pages reflect a multifaceted workforce? Do the photos of your team and their bios underscore an understanding of your many stakeholders? In other words, can visitors relate to you? You might not think these questions are worth asking until a reporter clicks on Meet the Team and asks just that.

That’s what happened late last month when Common Ground Public Relations was hired by the City of Ferguson, MO, to handle calls from the media following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb. As if the media didn’t have enough angles with which to cover the Ferguson story, it was handed one on a white porcelain platter. The PR firm that was hired to take all media calls following the crisis, as Talking Points Media noted, “appears to be staffed entirely by white people.” Noted Daily Kos in its headline about the firm’s hiring: “City of Ferguson PR Firm Has Something In Common with Its Police Force.”

Ouch.

The PR industry has been slowly working on its diversity problem, recognizing that less than 15% of PR professionals in the US are of African-American, Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is a real problem that needs a more aggressive push by our industry associations, PR leaders and hiring managers in communications departments and at PR firms. PRSA’s Diversity Tool Kit is a nice-to-have resource, along with its Diversity Committee, but is it enough?  Ironically, the press hasn’t mentioned that Common Ground’s team supposedly includes just one male among the seven pictured.  Diversity comes in all colors, races and genders.

I agree with Denise Bentele, president and CEO of Common Ground Public Relations, when she told Odwyer’s  that “the color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.” It appears the firm is doing a decent job helping the City of Ferguson communicate not only to its residents but to a world that’s watching the investigation and public unrest.

There was nothing Common Ground could have done in the time that it was solicited by the City of Ferguson and the hours that it took for the media to click on Meet the Team and see a sea of white faces. To have quickly added some diversity to that page would surely have been snuffed out and would have positioned the firm as disingenuous. (That doesn’t stop Common Ground, however, from exploring diversity in its hiring practices.)

The knock on the City of Ferguson for hiring an “all white” firm amid a race-infused crisis is fair, and such obvious bait for reporters that it’s already a non-story.  For the PR industry, the bigger problem is why more people with diverse backgrounds do not want to make PR their career.  Here’s to a future where Meet the Team is not met with scrutiny.

-       Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

3 Wise Ways to Tie Your PR to Sales

It’s the definitive question in C-suites, boardrooms and industry conferences: is there a correlation between PR and sales? It’s safe to say that, as a whole, communicators have not done a stellar job at demonstrating the link between PR and the top or bottom line.                                                                                                                  

While PR can sometimes directly be tied to sales, I am not espousing that it should always be tied to sales. Rather, your role as a valuable public relations practitioner includes demonstrating a return on investment from your PR efforts (refer to #3 in the Barcelona Principles). That “return” is not always about revenue; it’s about building awareness, improving reputation, informing stakeholders, and more.

There’s only so much you can control when it comes to the actual sales close. But you can be a part of ensuring there are processes in place to draw a correlation between your performance and that of your organization.  Get familiar with your typical customer’s buying journey and understand that your sales team comes into the journey rather late in the game. Consultant Debbie Qaquish, in a column on prnewsonline, explains rather adeptly how PR can, and why it should, augment sales.

What’s missing in many organizations is a collaborative approach in which the marketing mix includes PR from start to finish: PR is not thrown into the mix half way for good measure. It’s not sprinkled onto the mix as a nice to have ingredient and it’s not heaped on at the end to give it flavor. Rather, PR is a formidable ingredient in an organization’s marketing mix. For this to happen, the leaders in an organization need to believe in the power of PR and you need to preach what you practice.  Here are 3 ways to begin connecting your PR efforts to sales:

1. Talk to your sales team regularly. Do you know who the top salespeople are at your organization? Ask them what their clients are saying about your brand and products.  Equip the salespeople with supporting data, materials and anything you think would help them sell more. Set up monthly meetings with your sales colleagues, with the goal being to give them the updates, trends, thought leadership pieces and other supporting materials that will set them apart from competitors. You can’t sell for them but you can sell with them.

“Run your communications team like a sales team,” advises Mark Stouse, vice president at BMC Software, in a recent Q&A with PR News. “Focus on aligning your marketing and communications efforts with the three legs of sales productivity — demand generation, deal expansion and deal velocity.”

2. Know SEO.  Search engine optimization is not the sole domain of IT, Marketing or an outsourced firm. Optimize your content so it’s landing high in search results and attracting the right eyeballs. Whether you’re on WordPress or a custom content management system, you need to make your words sing louder and live longer online. There are countless tools available to learn the keywords your prospective customers are using (such as SEO Moz) and helpful PR/SEO workshops, but there’s no gaming the system. Produce fresh, relevant content and you’ll increase traffic, which should boost sales. Whether it’s Google Analytics or a premium tool, track your visitors’ conversion rate so you can prove that what your department is producing online results in positive, monetizable action.

3. Optimize social for sales.  Understand your audience behavior on social. Work with your marketing team to drive traffic to your Pinterest board or your Facebook page and don’t be afraid to sell them something while they’re there. You might currently be investing in social promotions and advertising, so why not complement those efforts with direct selling on your own social pages? Additionally, if your press release is not optimized with multimedia and unique links to points of sales (where applicable) then you are wasting a good press release opportunity.

There will come a day when we stopping putting a question mark after PR’s role in the marketing mix and its tremendous value to organizational growth. But this will require an integrated communications approach and a collaborative spirit. Do you have it in you?

- Diane Schwartz

Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

6 Business-Meeting Do’s, and 6 Absolute Don’ts

dos_dontsSo you have a major meeting this week. Let’s say it’s a really important client meeting. You just landed a big account, and now you’re working out the details of who’s going to manage what. Or maybe the corporate communications department is tasked with implementing a social media and earned media campaign for a new branding initiative. It could even simply be an important cross-department meeting on employee relations.

The details differ, but the stakes are always the same. This is strategically important. It always strikes me as odd, then, that behavior in meetings is like the Wild West. It’s remarkable how norms for meeting etiquette vary so much. It depends on the company culture, and even on senior person present. I’ve seen people on their computers and phones for extended periods when they’re in meetings with the CEO. Or with a client. Wait, who—or what—is more important than that? I’ve seen people leave sales calls and return 10 minutes later—to me that’s absolutely unacceptable.

I’ve seen senior managers ignore or forgive favored folks for that kind of behavior while getting upset at others. A lot of the cues come from the managers, and too often, the managers are too busy with other things, or other agendas, to enforce decorum.

So here’s my list. Basically, as a communications pro, you should always behave in a meeting as you would if you were on the agency side and meeting with a prospective client or, if you’re in-house, with your C-suite.

Here are the do’s:
• Come prepared with ideas.
• Pay attention at all times.
• Do more listening than talking. You learn more, and people who withhold comment until they have something really important to say only enhance the importance of what they’re saying, because they’re perceived as deliberate and wise.
• Don’t interrupt. (There are at least two exceptions: When you’re the boss and someone is droning incessantly. When you’re a participant and the speaker is factually incorrect and droning incessantly.)
• Sit up straight.
• Take notes, but don’t take them on your computer because you look like you’re on e-mail.

And here are some don’ts:
• Don’t open your computer and give the screen more attention than the meeting.
• Don’t engage with your phone for e-mail or anything else.
• Don’t conduct side conversations.
• Don’t leave the room unless absolutely necessary.
• On conference calls, don’t mute the phone and do other tasks.
• Manage conflict well. If you’re debating, always offer a solution.

What other important items of business-meeting etiquette are there? What rules can you share?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

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