How to Forge Stronger Connections and Still Have Time for a Bath

“Don’t talk to strangers!”

That was the advice many of us received as children. No one told us when to start talking to strangers again (at 19? 22? 43?) We had to figure that one out on our own. As professionals and communicators we need to not only talk to strangers to build our network but we need to talk to the right strangers to build a robust, meaningful network.

“You only need a small network – 25 to 50 people can get you what you need,” advised Judy Robinett, author of the best-selling book “How to be a Power Connector: the 5+50+150 Rule.” Judy keynoted PR News’s Top Women in PR awards luncheon in NYC on Tuesday and she shared her top networking tips with the hundreds of powerful women and their teams who gathered for this annual event. She says there are essentially three levels of networking that really matter: a friend of a friend of a friend. That means that the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (4 removed) won’t do much for you.  Further, if you want to build a meaningful professional or personal network, you need a warm introduction by someone. That fourth or fifth removed “friend” won’t get you places.

The PR News awards luncheon was packed with other great advice, including how important it is to share what you know and give other people credit where credit is due.  I credit the 75 Top Women in PR for sharing on stage the following nuggets on success, work/life balance, hiring talent and staying at the top of your game. Please share in the Comments section your favorite piece of advice  (we’re in this together!):

That’s right: take more baths. Some of the best advice is the simplest.

- Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Leaving Las Vegas and Entering Reality, Here Are 6 Key Takeaways from CES

ces-2016-tech-companies-have-eye-virtual-reality-drones-smart-home-categories-grow-salesThe buzz surrounding this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was predictably ubiquitous and positive. Even the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport was talking drones and smart homes. Surely, when you have 170,000 people attending a trade show about the latest technology, you’re gonna get some press. So as I walked the exhibit halls, listened to panel discussions, chatted with peers and observed my mostly human counterparts in Sin City, I was on the lookout for trends and ideas that would help communicators. That’s right, you. There were a good number of PR folks attending CES on behalf of companies or clients and to trend-spot. Not to mention to gamble and catch a Cirque du Soleil show. Work hard, play hard, right?

You can and should read the news coverage of the hottest technologies coming out of CES – from smart refrigerators to 8K TVs (4K, we hardly even knew you). You will start hearing references to the automobile as the ultimate mobile device. And you might get paranoid that your new Wi-Fi-enabled light bulb could get hacked. You’ll be wowed by how interactive your television is, only to realize that it’s had those features all along (We humans haven’t caught up with the technology yet). Which brings me to some takeaways that we as communicators can apply to our business strategies:

Create products that are intuitive. As mentioned above, we have a lot of features on our TV (and phones) that have been there for years. We just don’t know how to use them, or they just aren’t that interesting and useful. We also have short attention spans. When you introduce a product or service, be sure to ask two simple questions: Will it be easy to use and am I improving my customer’s life in some way? Make it easy. Make it intuitive. Remove friction.

Know your medium. One of the biggest trends at CES this year was Virtual Reality and its counterpart, Augmented Reality. Where AR enhances reality, VR helps you escape reality. A lot of brands and many film and TV studios are tinkering with VR. It’s the new, new thing, and it can be an amazing storytelling device. Tread carefully, though. If your story is better told in 2D, stay there. Don’t waste time, resources and your stakeholders’ attention by jumping on the VR bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. If, however, an immersive experience is your ultimate goal, you’ll find nothing quite like Virtual Reality – except actual reality.

Connect = Integrate. Whether it’s the connected home (Internet of Things), wearables or smart cars, Connected now has multiple meanings in work and life. For communicators, it’s worth aligning the idea of different systems effectively talking to each other with that of complementary departments talking to one another, ie Marketing and PR.  Imagine a “smart” office in which marketing and PR were integrated, where all systems were aligned and the shareholders’ experience was improved because of it. Is there an app for that? No, but there are smart PR and marketing professionals working on the problem.

Choose your spokespeople wisely. I heard a lot of business executives complain that the companies exhibiting at CES staff their booths with people who aren’t educated about the product and aren’t empowered to do deals. While most of the deal-making at CES takes place outside the exhibit halls – as with most trade shows – it’s worth noting that if you are exhibiting at a trade show or conference, be sure you have educated representatives on hand who are empowered to at least jump-start a business transaction. And if you are showcasing technology, have tech-savvy representatives who can answer the technical questions.

Put it out there. If you’ve got an interesting idea and want to test consumer interest without breaking the bank, consider a crowdsourcing site, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. At a panel discussion hosted by our sister brand Cynopsis during CES, Christian Busch, vp of marketing at Indiegogo, said many brands are now turning to his site to source innovation (110 companies exhibiting at CES started on Indiegogo). GE, for example,  launched an Indiegogo campaign to see what consumers thought about a portable nugget icemaker called Opal. According to Busch, GE saved 75% on R&D costs by going straight to the people. A startup called Flow Hive raised $12.5m through Indiegogo for a product that allows you to harvest honey without opening the hive.  It’s good for the bees, and takes the sting out of beekeeping. Put it out there too see if you’re on to something.

Instant gratification is here to stay. CES keynoter and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that “We live in an on-demand world and there’s no going back.” Netflix’s amazing comeback since launching just eight years ago is one of PR’s top case studies in reputation and pivot management. Consumer desire to have it now and have it all (ie binge-watching) is coming to an office near you.  Employees aren’t going to be as patient when an issue is not immediately resolved or if they are not recognized in a timely manner for a job well done. Customers tweeting a complaint now expect an immediate response. When it comes to entertainment and conflict resolution, instant gratification makes sense. For communicators managing  messages and reputation, too much might actually be too much. Better to be in-demand than on-demand.

If you attended CES, survived Vegas and have some options about the show, please share them here. 

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Smart Steps All Communicators Should Take Before Year’s End

2016-new-year-ss-1920-800x450Let’s assume you are brilliant.  And you’re an inspiration to your peers, an asset to your organization.  Let’s also assume that while you’re an A-player you still have a lot to learn. As the late, esteemed UCLA coach John Wooden noted, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

If you’re still with me on this concept, then let’s assume you have less than a month to prep yourself for a stellar 2016. If you’re taking time off for the holidays then really you have just a few weeks to get things together, to get your particular Act in motion. To give you a running start on 2016, I’ve compiled a list of 11 things you can do in the next few weeks to sharpen your PR skills and acumen. Like the bowl of vegetables at the holiday table, these ideas aren’t what you’re craving to add to your plate. But make room for them if you are truly hungry to succeed.

Consider these 11 simple activities at work:

  1. Conduct a content audit: review the posts and articles on your web site and social media platforms to get a clear picture of your brand’s story over the past year. Too much of one topic, not enough of others? Create an Edit Calendar with wiggle room.
  2. Reverse mentor: if you were born after 1992, then match yourself up with a Millennial at your organization and spend some time learning from him/her. Likewise, if Mary Tyler Moore and Wite-Out don’t ring a bell with you, there’s a lot you can learn from the Baby Boomers and Gen X. (Read my blog on this topic.)
  3. Brush up on the Barcelona Principles. You already know what they are (right)?
  4. Have a meeting with your Marketing colleagues to share ideas and develop cross-discipline communication strategies.
  5. Do a Social Media Cleanse. Does your brand need to be on Pinterest? Is Instagram working for you? Are your Twitter followers not the best representation of your brand? What’s Facebook doing for you?
  6. Review your Crisis Plan and update it, if necessary. If you don’t have a crisis plan in place, create a first draft asap and share it with your team and C-Suite.
  7. Assess your media relationships. That holiday card you’re about to send won’t endear you to a reporter. Set up a meetings with key journalists in the first quarter of 2016.  Brush up on their body of work beforehand. Commit to developing meaningful relationships with this important stakeholder group.
  8. Familiarize yourself with your organization’s stated mission and goals and make sure your PR dept’s Mission and Goals align with Corporate. Likewise, if you’re with an agency, be sure your client is in sync with its organization’s overriding mission.
  9. Audit your resources. Do you have the right team in place to take on the challenges of 2016? What are the most important job responsibilities and skills you need on your team next year? Consider this carefully and don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations and make bold moves.
  10. Do a Diversity Check. Is your brand inclusive and are the voices representing your organization and brand diverse?
  11. Host a Failure Fest in the next few weeks; members should share their favorite failure of the year and what they learned from it. No #Winning stories allowed.

Keep me apprised of your progress on these 11 ideas. If you can’t get to all of them this month, there’s always next year.

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

Zappos Takes ‘Giving Back’ Literally With Dead-of-Night Gift Drop-Off in Hanover, N.H.

zappos_smalltown_5Please visit your local mom-and-pop shops this holiday season. Go to that toy store that’s been around for 65 years and which just suffered another humiliating rent increase. Buy your wrapping paper at the greeting card store that’s hanging on by its fingernails and getting by on deeply felt smiles.

OK, my commercial’s over. I’m here to talk about Zappos. I’ll bet you’ve got the Zappos.com site pulled up on a browser window right now as you balance work email against crushing holiday gift pressures.

We all know how good Zappos’ customer service is. The Zappos site is a breeze to wade through. Ordering is similarly a breeze and returning shoes is as easy as firing a paper airplane at your recycling bucket. We also know that it’s reportedly a great place to work. Every employee is considered a customer service rep, whether or not they deal directly with customers. Risk-taking is encouraged.

Zappos’ customer service and its skill in publicizing its workplace culture have snowballed into a self-perpetuating snowball of positive PR. So what has Zappos done this holiday season? It packed a new snowball and sent it rolling.

At 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, vans and trucks ferrying 30 Zappos employees and nearly 2,000 gift boxes rolled into Hanover, N.H. Through the night and continuing until 6 a.m. on Nov. 10, the intrepid Zappos employees dropped off on doorsteps boxes containing warm-weather gear such as hats, gloves and socks, as well as sunglasses, headphones and backpacks, a reward to Hanover for being home to so many loyal Zappos customers.

This Grinch-in-reverse stealth move was captured on video and promoted to the media, building on Zappos’ legacy as a PR-savvy company that transmits its values through action. The notion of giving back could not be made more literal.

The Hanover surprise gift drop-off is in character for Zappos, but what if you work for a risk-averse brand that’s not as adept at customer relationships? You might have some trouble selling such a dead-of-night stunt.

“This sort of out-of-the box big idea thinking has to start internally,” Kristin Richmer, Zappos Awareness Marketing, said to me via email. “We’re big proponents of our culture that encourages these types of bold stunts, but I’m sure there are companies out there that may have hesitations about taking on such a daring activation. We believe having a well-thought-through plan and plenty of passion will typically help generate internal excitement.”

Richmer counsels marketers, PR pros and anyone involved in customer relationships to harness their own conviction, determination and drive when trying to sell internally a seemingly outrageous loyalty-building effort. “That will help prove an idea is the right one, and what’s the worst that can happen?” she says.

In the case of the Hanover drop-off, the worst that happened was a sleepless night for some employees. All in a night’s work.

—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI

 

 

8 Ways to Create Thankfulness and Cheer Year-Round

give-thanks1Now is the time of year when we dispense a lot of thanks. Yet after the ball drops in Times Square and we start referring to the year 2016, the amount of thanking we do will undoubtedly diminish. Whether at work or at home, we are avid thankers between now and December 31. Why not keep it going?

After the last leftover turkey meal is consumed, the umpteenth hug and handshake exchanged, and the gifts opened, used, returned or re-gifted, I propose we create more holiday-inspired opportunities year-round.  The gestures and activities we’re engaging in during the holiday season can, indeed, be continued for the next 10 months at very little cost and with high reward. Consider these ideas for creating more Thank You opportunities at work:

The Cards: Each week, send a card to a stakeholder – a reporter, a customer, a client – thanking him/her for something that transpired (a great interview, purchasing your product or service, etc)
The Parties: Commit to hosting a small party for your team every quarter to celebrate recent successes.
The Gifts: Every few months, give a small gift of thanks to someone in your organization with an under-the-radar job – perhaps the guy in IT or the people in the mailroom or the woman in HR.
The Community Service: Volunteer your time at a food bank, homeless shelter or any organization that could use your time and assistance “off-season” and encourage your company or team to participate too.
The Decorations: Take a look at your work environment: does your office best reflect who you are and does your workplace in general need some uplifting? Your team will thank you for caring.
The Photographs: For no declared reason, have a new team picture taken half-way through the year; add it to your new decorations (see above) and give a framed copy to each team member.
The Long-Lost Friends: Reach out to colleagues from conferences past and to peers who got away. You’ll be surprised how thankful you’ll feel for reconnecting.
The Time Off: get away from it all throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. Don’t be that person who is the first one in the office and the last one to leave.

Intentionally kept off is the Ugly Sweater, if you so choose to wear one at a holiday party. Some things are meant to be embraced just once a year. You’ll thank me for that piece of advice.

– Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

 

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

@dianeschwartz

9 Issues for a Nationally Televised PR Debate

151013_POL_who-won-democratic-debate.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2Envision 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

@dianeschwartz

 

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:

THE EPIC LIST

“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.”)

Ideation

“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

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

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

Factoids

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.
@skarenstein
@PRNews

 

 

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