Reality Check for PR Professionals

Posted on January 8, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

When police officers leave for work they literally put their lives on the line. Ditto for military personnel and firefighters. When PR pros leave for work they may face a manager unhappy with the results from the latest branding campaign or have to engage in interoffice politics that few companies and organizations are immune from.

PR folks juggle an increasing number of balls, of course. The deadlines are constant, and, because of a need for speed in the marketplace, the business can be unforgiving. But one thing they do not do is put their lives at risk, and that’s what makes the latest list of the 10 most stressful jobs for 2014  so problematic.

The list, which was released by CareerCast.com, taps PR executive as the 6th most stressful job, behind event coordinator, airline pilot, firefighter, military general and enlisted military personnel.

Rounding out the list, and following PR executive: corporate executive (senior); newspaper reporter, police officer and taxi driver.

Now which PR manager or director worth his or her salt can say with a straight face that working in PR is nearly as stressful as being a  cop, firefighter, airline pilot or soldier? We didn’t think so.

The same goes for newspaper reporters, show runners and taxi drivers. Hard work all, but, with the exception of reporters covering the hot spots throughout the world, not life threatening.

Sure, PR is a tough and grueling business. However, in a global and hypercompetitive economy there are few sectors these days that don’t fit that description.

This is not to deny that PR pros have a demanding—and, at times, nerve-racking—job. Indeed, the PR profession has undergone more change in the last five years than the previous 20, what with the onslaught of digital communications and social media.

No longer on the margins of marketing efforts, PR pros in many respects now steer the company’s overall marketing strategy, and must deal with the territory that comes along with it.

What’s called for here is a bit of perspective.

We like to say that PR pros help put out fires. But the flames are metaphorical; they’re not going to hurt (or kill) you the way real flames can. And when the boss is rupturing a gasket because of a negative story about the brand, it’s not fun and it’ll probably ruin your day, but that can hardly be compared to operating in an utterly hostile environment with bullets whizzing above your head.

We also like to say PR pros are in the perception business. To lump the PR field together with ultra-stressful jobs like protecting the country from terrorists and grappling with hardened criminals is a perception that PR pros ought to change. It’s an opportunity to bring some reality to the conversation.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

 

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Journalist Whisperer?

Posted on January 3, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, Media Relations, Social Media | Leave a Comment

women said, woman listening to gossipAt 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

New Year’s Resolutions for the PR-Minded

Posted on December 31, 2013 
Filed Under Crisis Management, Digital PR, General, Internal Communication, Measurement, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

The good thing about New Year’s resolutions is that no one is really listening closely to what you are resolving to do.  But resolutions do crystallize our goals and make the month of January, at least, a little more interesting. For communicators the world over, you should expect 2014 to bring the following:

> Crises, smoldering or quick

> Reputations under fire or on fire

> Media coverage, for better or worse

> Employee morale issues

> Financial ups and downs

> Product and company launches

> Product and company failures

> A new social media craze

These are just a few of the sure things in PR as we herald in the new year and perhaps a new approach to PR.  In my nearly two decades covering Public Relations, I have never seen a bigger opportunity than now for PR practitioners to be the dominant force in brand leadership, message management and tying intangibles and tangibles to the bottom line.

There are many ways to not screw up this trajectory and to possibly make 2014 the most exciting year for you in PR. To do that, however, will take some commitment to the core tenets and practices of the best PR practitioners. Here at PR News we benchmark outstanding communication leadership across all areas of the market. From our Platinum PR  to our PR People Awards, from Corporate Social Responsibility to the Digital PR Awards, we see a pattern in excellence that underscores why resolutions are worth keeping.  Like many New Year’s Resolutions, the following list may sound familiar but I submit that the best ideas are worth repeating:

* Find the interesting story behind your message – and tell it

* Measure your PR and be bold enough to make adjustments

* Listen to your stakeholders: your customers, investors, employees are your keys to success

* Learn to work across silos – marketing, HR, IT, Finance, Legal

* Become a better goal-keeper:  of your goals, your department’s and your organization’s

* Collaborate internally and externally – 1+1=3

* Hone your writing skills: you reach more people when you can spell, turn a phrase and use your words correctly

* Foster diversity: in thought and experience

* Don’t fear missing out: resist the urge to be on every social media platform

* Be transparent: people are smart enough to see through the BS anyway

* Advocate for PR: become a voice for Public Relations inside your organization and in the marketplace of ideas.

What are some of your PR resolutions for 2014? Please share with your fellow PR News blog readers.

Best of luck to you and your team for a meaningful and memorable 2014.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

PS – Check out more of my blog posts from the past few months:

Beyonce’s December Surprise is a PR Masterpiece

Ten Tough Questions to Ask Yourself Now

Nine Tips for Public Speakers Who Hate Public Speaking

The Most Annoying Sayings: The Epic List

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Verbal Communications: The Underutilized Skill

Posted on December 19, 2013 
Filed Under Internal Communication, Media Relations, Media Training | Leave a Comment

There are certain people who even when they’re smiling warmly have a certain gravitas. They have a certain air that suggests intelligence, calculation, control, even as they engage the people around them. Bill Clinton has that. So does Denzel Washington. Oprah Winfrey. Colin Powell does, and Ronald Reagan did too. One thing that struck me about the photos and the movies of the late actor Paul Walker was that he had that quality as well.

Last week, at our annual PR People Awards presentation, our featured speaker was John Neffinger, co-author of the book, “Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential.” Neffinger’s talk was filled with specific, compelling points, all based around a simple premise: People judge other people based on two things, strength and warmth. Strength is the root of respect, and warmth is the root of affection. If you plotted both qualities out on an X axis and a Y axis, the ideal location would be the upper right quadrant, where strength and warmth are maximized. Any of the other three quadrants means a bad mix—either too much of one and not enough of the other, or too little of both.

Neffinger’s whole point was that this is the essential way all humans size each other up. And that only relatively few people ever master the ability to project both qualities at the same time.

And it seems to me that for communicators, especially those who spend a lot of time in public, representing the company—or interacting with employees, for that matter—that Neffinger’s counsel is important. Here are some highlights from his talk that are relevant to communicators looking to sync verbal messaging with non-verbal cues to convey both strength and warmth.

• Try to develop the knowing smile that the people mentioned above have. Neffinger describes is as “feeling the bottom eyelid.”
• Stand up straight. Posture is extremely important, but not used enough.
• Use poised but open gestures. Holding the hands up, Neffinger says, conveys warmth and openness. Holding them down conveys the opposite. Similarly, the chopping gesture with the hands conveys strength, as does holding an imaginary ball in hour hands while speaking.
• Replace all the “ums,” and “uhhhs” in your communications with silence. It’s more powerful.

What are the tools you use to project strength and warmth?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

Beyonce’s December Surprise is Public Relations Masterpiece and Lesson in the Halo Effect

Posted on December 16, 2013 
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Surprise!

Beyonce released her fifth album on Friday without advance notice and with much fanfare as 80,000 fans purchased her self-titled album within 72 hours of release on itunes, and if it doesn’t hit #1 this week then call me Stupid.

That’s right – Beyonce’s non-marketing marketing included no ads, commercials, media interviews, late-night hosting gigs. And to make matters more interesting and retro, customers had to do what they did decades ago – or never – and download the entire album rather than one song (until Dec. 20 when singles will be released).

Essentially, Beyonce relied on social media and the love, kindness and curiosity of her loyal customer base to spread the word. It is not surprising that it worked, is it? After all, Beyonce is one of the most popular celebrities in the Western World. By not doing what the marketplace expected, she generated more buzz than she ever could have created with a full-flung marketing strategy.

But let’s not worry about PR and Marketing being sidelined here. Make no mistake, there were communications pros behind this non-marketing, social media strategy. For one, she issued a press release with the album (that’s right: press releases are cool enough for Bey) and second, even though social media appears to be free, there were people behind the scenes tweeting, posting, pinning and monitoring.

The album has 14 tracks and 17 musical videos including collaborations with husband Jay-Z, and with Timbaland, Timberlake, Drake, to name a few. And daughter Blue Ivy Carter gets her second album credit before she’s out of diapers – a feat either incredible or disgusting, depending on your viewpoint.

It is worth studying Beyonce’s moves — marketing moves, that is. She is a master of her own image and understands how to engage with fans, keep her story interesting and be unpredictable. Though critics didn’t get to sample the album in advance, nearly all the reviews have been positive. This is the most compelling part of the December surprise: Beyonce orchestrated a triumph of both style and substance.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Holiday Parties Can Be a PR Fact-Finding Initiative

Posted on December 11, 2013 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

The next two weeks are prime time for holiday office parties. Office parties are the few occasions when we gather with our colleagues but don’t necessarily feel obligated to talk shop.

They’re a license for people to lighten up from the daily and demanding grind. But for PR managers and directors, these gatherings are an opportunity.

The office holiday party may be the one time of the year that you get to take the collective pulse of the company, gauge the major concerns among the employees and harness those concerns into more effective communications.

With that in mind, here are a few ways the PR team can use the holiday party to enhance its service to the organization and build reputations and relationships for the company.

> Check the DNA of the company and determine which areas of the enterprise that fall under the purview of PR—say, the CSR plan, social-media guidelines or brand-ambassador program— may need to be revisited or reset altogether.

> Play the role of conduit by introducing C-level managers to the rank-and file, and vice versa. By doing so, you break down some of the inherent barriers in many corporations and better familiarize yourself with the entire communications ethos of the company and how people relate to one another.

> Listen, listen and listen some more. You seldom get a chance to meet with all your fellow employees and communicate with them in a no-pressure environment. So take perfect advantage of it by allowing your colleagues to do most of the talking. By listening (and asking sincere questions) you might learn about someone who has a talent (voice, design, videography) that can be harnessed for content creation, Web programming and other areas where PR shares ownership.

And more than that, uncovering hidden talents among team members provides you with new ways of thinking about the brand and how the company can behave more like a media company (regardless of what you’re selling).

With heartfelt apologies to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, once in a while you can get shone the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Start with the office holiday party.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

Is the News Release Dying? Maybe That’s the Wrong Question

Posted on December 6, 2013 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

press-release-formatIn a Dec. 6 PR News webinar on writing relevant, share-worthy press releases, Myra Oppel, regional communications vice president for utility company Pepco Holdings, and Jana Telfer, associate director, communication science, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tackled the thorny question of whether the news release is dying—or already dead. Their answer: it’s toast.

That is, if you’re talking about the stand-alone news release unconnected to a larger PR strategy, sent scattershot over the wires at a random time.

“The press release is not what it used to be,” said Telfer. “It doesn’t have the all-encompassing role it had in the age of typewriters. Nevertheless, a release provides an incredibly useful repository of information for journalists. You just have to be much more judicious and rigorous in how you use them.”

“News releases are evolving, the same way media is evolving,” said Oppel. “Releases have to be targeted and go to the right person. You’ve got to sell it hard with the email subject line, headline and lead. But releases will be perennials as long as there are journalists on the other end. They will still depend on them.”

That leads to another question. Let’s assume that the news release—properly structured and written so that each sentence adds value—will remain a useful, condensed repository of information for journalists. They will always need them—as long as there is a “they.” So the question should be, for how much longer will there be working, salaried, professional journalists who even know what a news release is?

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

The Hunger Games at Work: How to Sound Very Fantastic This Week

Posted on December 2, 2013 
Filed Under Crisis Management, General, Internal Communication, Media Training, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

HUNGERGAMESIt’s said that we speak an average of 16,000 words each day. That’s a lot of talking. As communicators, we appreciate fine words and clever turns of phrases.  But on this day after a long holiday, still recovering from a turkey and pumpkin pie stupor and constant conversation with distant relatives, I challenge you to insert into your dialogue or work- day imagination at least two of the quotes below from the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

On the surface, there’s little we can find in common between the roles of Katniss, Peeta, President Snow and Haymitch Abernathy and our role as communicators. But scratch just a little beneath that surface and you may find that the lines below could be very helpful as you get your week off to a fiery start:

“No waving and smiling this time. I want you to look straight ahead as if the audience and this whole event are beneath you.”  (possible scene: you are at a meeting with new competitors)

“Remember who the real enemy is.” (scene: at the meeting above you realize your competitors are not really your enemies)

“You’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.” (scene: you give your team a challenging project to take on)

“Chins up, smiles on!” (scene: instead of ending your meeting with “OK, that’s all” you decide to shock the attendees with this uplifting, inspirational decree)

“From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.” (scene: you’re moved from PR to HR)

“So far I’m not overwhelmed by our choices.” (scene: you’re at a business lunch at a restaurant with limited, unappealing menu choices)

“I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now, and live in it forever.” (scene: the media loves your story idea and you are inundated with interview requests)

“This is no place for a Girl on fire.” (scene: Katniss or someone similar to her shows up to your afternoon meeting)

“Convince me.” (scene: the response from your boss after asking for a bigger PR budget in 2014)

You might be thinking your job is not scripted nor are you an actor in a major motion picture. But after testing these quotes on your unsuspecting colleagues and peers you’ll realize that the Hunger Games isn’t as fantastical as originally thought.

– Diane Schwartz

(Join me on Twitter)

 

11 Sources of Literary Inspiration for PR Pros

Posted on November 26, 2013 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

When I want to cleanse myself of all the bad sentences I’ve read or written, I go back to the same, reliable tonics: the books and stories written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Whether you’re a PR professional or a journalist, you deal, essentially, in sentences, and you probably have your own writing masters or beautifully told stories that you turn to time and again to rid yourself of your own bad habits and reconnect with the inspiration that put you on your career path.

At PR News’ Writing Boot Camp in Chicago this month, we asked our attendees what literature they love and turn to for inspiration. Here’s a list of some of their true loves. It’s an eclectic list (presented in no particular order), but many of them have one thing in common—a magical allure that demands repeat readings.

1. “The Purpose-Driven Life,” by Rick Warren. Though based in Christian scripture, this book appeals to readers who yearn to find their true direction in life, and who find the search itself to be a spiritual endeavor.

2. “True Compass, A Memoir,” by Edward M. Kennedy. American royalty, the Kennedy clan continues to fascinate. Ted Kennedy could have been the source of a series of plays by Shakespeare.

3. “Jackie After O,” by Tina Cassidy. See above.

4. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. Smalltown America, Southern-style, seen through the eyes of a young girl.

5. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. The Young Adult genre comes of age for all ages.

6. “Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center,” by Daniel Okrent. Money, power, creativity and master planning converge in midtown Manhattan during the Great Depression.

7. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” by Hunter S. Thompson. The apotheosis of HST’s reporting skills, deep compassion, savage political point of view and humor. Thompson had the gift for writing sentences that sing.

8. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams. The sci-fi novel even sci-fi haters love.

9. “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett. A character-driven tale of the civil rights movement in the South.

10. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. If you want to be a great leader, you might as well learn from masters who’ve been given the historian’s seal of approval.

11. Marvel Comics. Victor von Doom’s thwarted love of Sue Storm turns him into a vengeful, ultimately self-destructive monster. Who hasn’t been there? Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and their colleagues combined soap opera, saturated images and a spirit of adventure decades before David Lynch conceived “Twin Peaks.”

What’s on your nightstand, or in your e-reader?

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

The Give and Take of Media Relations

Posted on November 25, 2013 
Filed Under Digital PR, General, Media Relations, Media Training | Leave a Comment

It’s not everyday that PR is taken to task for sending unsolicited emails to reporters. Oh, wait – it is every day that this happens. And sometimes the magnifying glass is placed directly over the Public Relations trade, as is the case this week with an unflattering article by The New York Times’ Haggler (Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Segal) that took to task emails the columnist received and persistently tracked back to an industry vendor’s media database. It doesn’t help that the headline is”Swatting at a Storm of Public Relations Spam.”

Whether fair or not, this sort of coverage sets us up for the defensive.  Even with fantastic media databases, dedicated PR reps tracking down the right beat reporters, and guerilla PR efforts targeted by time, day, demo and topic, no media relations effort is perfect.  And to blame a database for an incorrect email campaign is akin to blaming the tools, not the carpenter, for shoddy construction. But we can all agree that a bad PR pitch is a bad PR pitch in whatever form, format or formality it’s received.

Email remains the “killer app” for communicating with our stakeholders.  By “killer” it can also mean relationship killer. The result of targeting the wrong reporter too many times, or the right reporter with the wrong pitch, usually is one of nonchalance — of just ignoring, deleting, opting out. The Haggler is an extreme version of one recipient revolting, perhaps for the sake of writing a column about it.

At the PR News Writing Bootcamp last week in Chicago, a panel of reporters reviewed mock email pitches from an audience of PR pros and implored the audience to keep their email pitches simple, short and crafted with an obvious reason for the reporter to care.  The journalists on this panel — from Chicago newspapers and a mommy blog — were characteristically cynical. They are inundated with email pitches daily, and as with press releases, you have 7 seconds, at most, to get their attention.  The panelists advised to think of an email pitch like it’s a movie trailer: grab the viewer’s attention but don’t give away the plot.

Assuming you have a story to tell, you still need to give the reporter something. Here are a few somethings to consider:

Before you send out your next email pitch, make sure “the give” is in there. Media Relations is the art and science of give and take.

- Diane Schwartz

Twitter: @dianeschwartz

PS: I’ll be at the PR NewsMedia Relations Conference on Dec 12 at the National Press Club. If you’re attending, DM on Twitter so we can set up a time to chat in person.

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