Posted on April 21, 2014
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, Crisis Management, Digital PR, General, Internal Communication, Measurement, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment
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
It’s Tax Day today, when individual income tax returns are due to Uncle Sam.
On a personal level, I’ve had my requisite sobbing about my tax hit and gotten a sympathetic nod from my accountant as he told me that, no, next year probably won’t be any better on my wallet.
But then I got to thinking about the handful of similarities between paying taxes and public relations.
> Transparency: It’s all in the receipts, and not hiding anything that can come back to bite you. To make sure that your PR campaigns go off without a hitch and don’t suffer from any surprises, practice transparency. Even you think the information is marginal to the campaign, don’t risk keeping it under lock and key. It’s better to be open about how the campaign is developing and any bugs you need to iron out. It may cost you in the short run (by upsetting the client) but will pay off in the long run by establishing a reputation for transparency and keeping the client fully informed.
> Integrity: Sure, we’re all susceptible to creative accounting and thinking that, hey, the government doesn’t have to know about that freelance gig that paid a pretty penny. But the reality is that an overwhelming majority of Americans file their taxes down to the very letter. That’s because personal integrity is involved. It’s the same thing in PR. You’re not always going to create a killer campaign that wins kudos from the boss. But demonstrating that you did the right thing every step of the way and didn’t cut corners can pay decent returns in marketing communications.
> Timeliness: Don’t be the PR equivalent of the poor saps standing on line at the post office just as the deadline for filing taxes approaches. Yes, taxpayers can get some grace for submitting their taxes, but that won’t translate to PR, which is dictated by deadlines. As you develop a campaign, establish some hard-and-fast deadlines for the process so that when it comes time for the event/press conference, etc. you’re well ahead of the game rather than cobbling things together at the last minute—and raising the ire of the client.
Filing taxes can be a nerve-wracking experience. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also teach you a thing or two about improving your PR chops.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
I was editing a report the other day about a PR person who got into a spat with a news organization. And the report used the phrase, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Some of you might know that one. Many of you may not have heard it. But that phrase and many others like it are so clearly out of date that it’s interesting—even comical—how they’ve hung around long after their original meaning has faded into history. And it got me thinking about those phrases and why they’re still with us. Here’s a partial list (that is, all I can think of.)
• Stop the presses. Okay, this one is used more for dramatic effect than its actual literal meaning these days, but it is still around.
• The Press. This reference to the journalism industry is still common (think “Meet the Press,” the TV show. But it has a diminishing relationship to media today. You could just as easily call the show “Meet the CMS,” and you’d be just as accurate.
• Hot off the presses. Another term that’s more theatrical than literal these days, but still around.
• Above the fold. Why do we use this term in 2014? It refers to the front side of a broadsheet-style newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. It is not really an effective metaphor for how Web pages scroll.
• Ink-stained wretches. What journalists were called—usually by themselves—until 15 or 20 years ago.
• Cutlines. This actually refers to a caption that was pasted onto a makeup board below a photo, which was then turned into film, which was then printed.
• And speaking of “pasted,” why do we still use “cut-and-paste?”
• Op-ed. This used to mean the position opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. Now it just means an opinion piece.
• Press release. Seriously, why are they still called this?
• Clips. PR folks love this one. They love to collect clips. Except that no one “clips” stories anymore.
Then there are a few phrases and words that have not really survived.
• Morgue. This was also known as the library, where story clippings were cataloged and stored for future reference. Think of the morgue as a much less functional Google of the 20th century.
• Yellow Journalism. This was used to mean unfair reporting, but it came from a type of ink used in a cartoon in the New York World.
And then, finally, there are the terms from the old days of journalism that are still true to their original meanings today.
• Breaking news
• Gotcha journalism
• Puff piece
Which terms and phrases have I missed? What can you come up with? I’d love to hear from you!
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
For the past few years, the New York Knicks have put on a clinic on how not to conduct media relations.
With Jim Dolan at the helm, Knicks’ brass has valued secrecy more than storytelling. They prefer to hide from the media rather than face the fallout from nearly a decade and a half of losing and lousy decisions.
Phil Jackson, aka the Zen Master, who last week was named president of basketball operations for the team, needs to change the Knicks’ media policy. In doing so, Jackson may inspire PR managers grappling with a business culture that continues to shun the media to its own detriment.
If early returns are any indication, Jackson’s wheels are already grinding with regard to how to make the Knicks more media-friendly.
Jackson was in attendance for last week’s Knicks game versus the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden, and the mood was downright electric. Throughout the game Jackson made himself available for sports reporters from both ESPN and MSG Network, fielding tough questions about the beleaguered club with candor and good humor.
Asked what it was like to return (as the big enchilada) to the team where he had his most success as a player, Jackson smiled, and said, “Pretty cool, eh?” It was just like two pals in a bar having a pleasant conversation, and, from a PR standpoint, how can you argue with that?
Of course, sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.
Now, as Jackson’s gets into the minutiae of the day-to-day operation, he should spread some of that sunlight throughout the Knicks’ organization.
But Jackson has got his work cut out for him.
When he was introduced to the media last week, the press conference was an exercise in selectivity, with radio commentators remarking that some beat reporters were called on to ask questions while others were ignored
This does not bode well for any organization. The media taketh away, of course, but they giveth, too.
Do you believe in your product or not and, despite some serious setbacks, are you willing to defend it against the critics who, after all, are just doing their job?
Fortunately, Jackson exudes certain qualities that should permeate the building, and the way in which the Knicks approach the media.
It’s a formula for any company or organization that wants to be ahead of the game and not let others define it.
> Calm. Jackson is Buddha incarnate. He brings a sense of calm that other senior executives can adopt when dealing with the media. This is not to suggest that PR reps should have media-shy managers take a crash course in “Serenity Now,” but, rather, maintain a sense of equilibrium with the media and know that (in most cases) the media are not out to get you.
> Cohesion. Whatever Jackson has said to the media in the last week, most of his comments have revolved around a sense of team, trust and communication. When dealing with reporters, too many top-level executives personalize the conversation (which tends to draw the ire of reporters) instead of making it about how to lead an enterprise populated by disparate individuals who have to face their challenges together.
> Cool. Who wants to hang out with Jim Dolan, who, despite his rock rock ‘n’ roll bona fides, comes off a real drip. You want senior executives who have a sense of cool about themselves, their brand and their employees and won’t wilt at the slightest knock or criticism, but understand that’s part of the (media) territory.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
They’re breeding. In the last couple of years, social networks have started to proliferate in a big way, coursing through the brains of communicators who are still trying to figure out how to monetize some of the original social channels à la Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
New social networks and apps are coming fast and furious. As they get additional rounds of funding, the platforms will inevitably look to brands and marketers to drive them toward the mainstream.
PR pros might ask, what’s the purpose of using a social network that encourages anonymity? There’s been a similar response in PR precincts with regard to Snapchat, a photo messaging application in which the messages self-destruct within 10 seconds.
So far, the general consensus among communicators has been: How can Snapchat help to get the word out when it’s based on ephemeral messaging? Perhaps HBO, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other mega brands that are experimenting with Snapchat can provide the answer.
Medium is another startup that, considering the track record of founder Evan Williams (Blogger, Twitter), may become a household name soon enough. The website, which caters to amateur writers and professional ones, now gets 13 million unique users a month, according to The New York Times.
Unlike most websites, there are no comments at the end of posts on Medium. However, readers can leave notes tied to specific words or phrases. Sounds like a subtle yet legitimate way to get your message out.
As traditional media outlets become subordinate to social platforms, the onus will fall to communicators to figure out which of the nascent social networks can juice their PR programs and which to leave well enough alone.
With that in mind, here are few questions to determine if some of the new social networks referred to above—and those that we haven’t yet heard about, but no doubt will emerge—can apply to your PR and marketing efforts.
> Does the network hold appeal to any of your audiences? Better yet, is there a solid percentage of younger people who flock to your brand? If so, they’ll probably flock to nascent social networks, too. Then you have to monitor how “sticky” those audiences might be with a specific network.
> Do your brand attributes dovetail with myriad technologies afforded by the social networks? Does your PR strategy sometimes include teasing an audience or promoting scarcity? (That’s Snapchat’s raison d’être, for now.)
> How can new social networks enhance your events and conferences? Is Medium a vehicle to get a better read on which keywords (and thus ideas) might work best when a C-level executive is making a presentation about the company’s products and services? Is Whisper a way to surreptitiously start a conversation with customers and prospects?
These are questions PR pros are going to have to start asking. Better that than to pooh-pooh yet another social network. That’s a nonstarter.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
Is the landline telephone headed for a museum near you?
It increasingly seems that way, what with more and more people wedded to their cell phones and myriad hand-held devices.
If landline phones do get mothballed, though, so, too, will what remains an effective communications tool for PR pros.
But we may be getting ahead of ourselves.
Despite the country’s increasing dependence on the Web, consumers who have landline phones still thought that their home phones would be harder to give up than social media, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
That’s just one aspect of a larger survey, titled “The Web at 25 in the U.S.,” which took the pulse of 1,006 adults living in the continental United States. According to the survey, 28% of the respondents (who have landline phones) said it would hard to give up landline phones, as opposed to 11% for social media.
At the same time, the number of U.S. households that have landlines fell to 71% in 2011, down from 96% in 1996. Follow that stat to a logical conclusion and, within the next 15 years, the landline telephone may be considered exotica from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sure, PR pros can call reporters and editors from most anywhere on the planet.
Whether you’re on a cell phone or a landline, it’s important to convey to the person your calling that he has your undivided attention. During the analog era, with a landline, that was easier to convey because with the exception of a pay phone, you had to be indoors and in a relatively quiet place.
While it’s hip in technology companies not to have landline telephones in their offices, my guess is that, for PR pros, picking up a landline to call a reporter about a story is becoming a novelty.
And being novel begets curiosity.
For reporters and editors, that’s half the battle. Now you can close the deal with a relevant pitch to the reporter’s audience(s).
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
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.