The Yin and Yang of Social Media

Posted on June 5, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

I love Yelp. Not because I’m a foodie or a big restaurant goer, but for its reviews.

Whatever the establishment—whether it’s a new Bobby Flay creation or garden-variety diner—you can easily find wildly divergent views of the same restaurant, which makes for some entertaining reading.

For one person, the meal is so deliciously good that it’s as if he died and went to food heaven, while another person, who ate at the very same place on the same night, crows about how the Potatoes au Gratin were ice cold, the roasted chicken was way gamey and, oh yes, the waiter spilled wine all over the table.

Reading the comments on Yelp is like a massive Rorschach test, with subjects’ perceptions and interpretations running across the board, and back again.

It’s a similar syndrome with regard to social media, in which one person says it’s the greatest thing since canned beer while another may curse its very existence.

We’ve got ample evidence on the disparate views of social media— and whether it truly enhances the value of PR and communications— via a recent PR News/Cision survey on the state of social media for communications professionals.

We asked PR pros what’s the best/worst thing about social media, and the comments were all over the map, even contradictory.

Here’s a sampling:

The best things about social media:

>  You are able to connect with people virtually everywhere.

>  You’re able to place your information out at a specific time of day.

>  Two-way communication that results in trust and enhanced relationships.

>  The ability to build relationships with customers and even strangers that can become customers.

> The ability to get your word out to so many people at no cost.

The worst things about social media:

> While the numbers seem huge, actual reach is often very small.

> There’s way too much of it. Too much content that isn’t relevant.

> Hard to measure and hard to define ROI.

> I can’t find our customers.

> It appeals most to a demographic that has no purchasing power for my products.

Perhaps it’s the aperture with which you view social media. Maybe it depends on whether you look at life as a glass half full or half empty.

There are no right or wrong answers here. But social media is not going anywhere. It will evolve and change, like the rest of digital PR, and, most likely, become an even greater force in marketing communications. The trick is to make it work for your brand or organization, despite any budgetary or operational limitations.

See more survey results.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter:  @mpsjourno1

Business Conversations That Make Me Lose Sleep

Posted on May 30, 2014 
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they’re centered on two things: Personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.

I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:

1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation
2. The Awkward Personality Conversation
3. The Underperformance Conversation

All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.

Personnel
These kinds of issues run the gamut—from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don’t work well together. Sometimes goals don’t sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn’t fit the needs of the job, and that’s typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.

I’ve learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.

Business Relationships
This is another difficult area, but for communicators, it’s critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.

Of course, we’re talking about conversations—whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I’ve learned you can’t wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I’ve had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business—if that’s the goal, sometimes it isn’t—the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives—you’ll keep the business. If they feel like you’re officious, and policy-bound, you won’t. Never use the word “unfortunately.” That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, “We’re not set up to do that” for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.

Business Performance
For a lot of professionals, in PR and elsewhere, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you’ve fallen short of your goals. But it doesn’t have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you’re going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.

What are the business conversations you struggle with the most, and what advice can you offer?

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

Target CMO Sends a Powerful Message to PR Field

Posted on May 20, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

Rumors continue to swirl that Target CMO Jeff Jones may be named as the company’s new CEO.

Target is looking to fill the top slot after it announced earlier this month that CEO Greg Steinhafel had stepped down.

Steinhafel’s departure was precipitated by a massive security breach late last year in which hackers may have gained access to millions of customer credit and debit card records.

If Jones does get the nod as CEO, we’d like to think his response to an anonymous employee’s complaint (via Gawker) had something to do with the decision.

Indeed, the response may help Jones ascend to the top spot of the second largest discount retailer in the U.S.—and serve as a watershed for communicators and PR pros grappling with how to communicate with critics in an increasingly digital age.

The episode stems from an anonymous email Gawker received from a “mid-level employee” at Target’s headquarters in Minnesota.

The email does not paint a very flattering portrait of Target, saying the company prizes conformity above all else.

“You’re penalized and viewed as unfriendly and not a team player if you spend too much time in your cube working and not enough time socializing,” the email said.

The email also stressed that senior management at Target is essentially clueless about how to pivot the retailer, which dates back to 1902.

“Former [CEO] Greg Steinhafel getting fired was a good step, along with the CIO being fired a few months ago, but it’s not enough. The entire executive team with the exception of the CMO Jeff Jones needs to go. Why? Because everyone was homegrown and ‘Targetized’ and has no concept of how to run a 21st century business,” the email added.

Jones saw his opening and ran with it.

Rather than put out a news release about how the company is turning things around, Jones responded via a LinkedIn “influencer” post with the title, “The Truth Hurts.”

The post is remarkable for its candor. “And while it was difficult for me to read this account for many reasons, the reality is that our team members speaking with honesty is a gift. Because much of what they are saying is true.”

He added: “The culture of Target is an enormous strength and might be our current Achilles heel. In the coming days and weeks we will embrace the critiques of Target—whether it’s from outsiders or our own team—like an athletics team puts the negative press on the wall in the locker room.”

You know what they say about not letting a crisis go to waste.

But, perhaps more important, Jones’ response could serve as a model for PR pros and brand managers who realize that the current marketplace demands more of a warts-and-all approach to communications (as opposed to airbrushing the corporate blemishes).

Jones may or may not land the CEO gig at Target, but our guess is that he’ll be an integral part of the new regime at Target.

However things shake out, he’s provided some invaluable tips for PR execs who realize that traditional ways of communicating with irate customers (and employees) no longer cut it.

Here are some takeaways:

> When your brand is called on the carpet by critics (anonymous or not, in-house or external), use the criticism as a springboard for some soul-searching about your brand.

> When your brand is criticized don’t get into a defensive crouch. Look at the criticism as an opportunity to tell your story more effectively and meet the critics head-on.

> Corporate managers who grew up in the analog age were conditioned not to admit their mistakes. They also were made to feel like failure was somehow a fate worse than death. But, in a digital age, it’s just the opposite. Consumers embrace brands that own their mistakes and seem to put more faith in companies and organizations that aren’t cowed by failure, but, instead, use it as a communications tool.

What would you add to the list?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

The One Thing Every PR Person Needs to Do

Posted on May 15, 2014 
Filed Under Crisis Management, Digital PR, General, Internal Communication, Measurement, Media Relations, Media Training, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

“PR is losing its leadership position in Social.”  That’s what the founder of a new company that provides social media measurement/monitoring tools to brands told me the other day when I asked about his target audience. He continued to note that “PR got too comfortable” and now Marketing, Advertising and automated services are taking over Social.

Let’s say we had a friendly disagreement over his claim, as I defended PR’s role in Social and shared stories gleaned from the PR News front lines of communicators’ role in driving social media. But perception can be reality, as we know.

If there’s a sector of the marketplace that is devaluing PR’s role in any medium, then every PR professional needs to do a better job of tying Social and other activities to the metrics that matter to their organization. Just as importantly, we need to make sure we’re communicating our success stories – effectively and regularly. That is one thing every PR person needs to do to help advance the communications profession.

Take a lesson from the trope about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. As communicators, you’re busy doing PR. Your days are filled speaking with stakeholders, writing, listening, measuring and implementing. Do you sometimes forget to tend to your PR success stories? It’s the last mile of your efforts: to communicate your successes not only to your superiors but to your superiors’ superiors, to the media, to your counterparts in Marketing, Finance, HR, IR, IT and Sales. I’d like to think the cobbler eventually noticed that he forgot to provide shoes for his own kids. PR needs to take care of its own, as well.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

 

Path to the Corner Office for Women Is a Shared One

Posted on May 13, 2014 
Filed Under Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

corner-officeWalk into any gathering of communications professionals and the first thing you’ll notice is the large percentage of women—many of them brilliant, accomplished and primed for leadership in corporate America.

Then consider sobering reality: Women hold 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.8% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. Within PR itself, at the agency and in-house level, men tend to occupy the corner office.

If there was one dominant theme shared by the honorees at last month’s Matrix Awards luncheon presented by New York Women in Communications, it is that meaningful social change moves at a glacier’s pace, and only happens through deliberate actions taken by people who see beyond their own immediate self-interest and create a community with shared goals.

Merely deserving or earning corporate leadership and pay equity won’t get women there in large numbers. It has to be taken through shared actions. Successful women in communications can further their own cause by connecting with other women like themselves to share ideas and inspiration.

Liz Kaplow, president of New York Women in Communications, and president and CEO of PR agency Kaplow, has focused much of her energy this past year on the advancement of women at all stages of their careers in communications. “We need to break out of our day to day and connect with others to help us navigate what that next step in our career is going to be,” Kaplow says. “Especially with women in mid-career who are facing obstacles. They need confidence—they need to be mentored. Women in top leadership roles are willing to be mentors, but we need to get women in mid-career to tell their stories, too.”

Mentoring takes time, but it doesn’t have to spring from an established mentoring program in a company or from one developed by a professional organization. Rather, it should be a  state of mind, and the heart of it, according to Kaplow, is storytelling and conversation.

“In terms of changing the cultural Zeitgeist we have to start mentoring each other,” she says. “We really have to keep talking about it. We’re communicators. Whether it’s Joanna Coles’ Cosmo luncheon of the 100 most powerful women or the Matrix Awards, in order to make change there has to be a conversation. And we have to get corporate America behind it so they see it’s a win-win and that they see that they don’t want to lose that incredible talent.”

And if you question your own ability to be a mentor, all you need to do is follow these two simple mentoring guidelines, laid out by Kaplow:

1. Share information easily.

2. Take time to listen and ask questions.

That’s all there is to it. Now get out there and be a mentor.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

 

 

Is There a Game of Thrones Character on Your Team?

Posted on May 5, 2014 
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, General, Internal Communication, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

I am writing this blog post because I know you either watch Game of Thrones or have to listen to people who watch it. Not that I’m trying to game the system, but let’s face it: you need a break from your cerebral workday to think or water-cooler-talk about your favorite TV show, be it Mad Men, Dora the Explorer, The Voice or Game of Thrones.

Just as you can’t imagine yourself as an explorer with a talking map or a talented singer whose voice would cause people to turn their chairs, you can’t imagine working with someone whose manners and actions smell and feel like a Game of Thrones character. Or can you?

To wit, herewith I present four characters from the May 4 episode “First of His Name” — let me know if any of these folks are akin to people you work with, for or against? Or perhaps one of these characters is a reflection of yourself.

Cersei: she senses that she is not only getting older, but that being a woman may prevent her from running the kingdom. Would her father Tywin even consider his daughter to be his heir? She’s a strong woman (deeply flawed and sleeping with her brother – I must add) but are the male leaders even noticing her?

Petyr: he’s been pulling all the strings. A savvy, cunning politician whose investment in brothels has resulted in both unparalleled financial acumen and insider knowledge that keeps on giving, Petyr is also known as Littlefinger. Here’s the ultimate manipulator who has a nickname that is the antithesis of his true power.

Sansa: always the victim. She goes from one bad situation to another. Now stuck in the house of her aunt Lysa Arryn, she feels helpless and foolish. We’re rooting for her to figure out a way to break out and be an independent woman. It is best that she finds her way back home, to Winterfell, and stay put.

Podrick: the loyal one. Formerly the squire to Tyrion Lannister, Pod is asked to testify against Tyrion and refuses. For his safety, he is sent away to be the squire of the very capable Brienne, who discovers that Pod is not a good horseman or cook. But he is loyal and interested in learning new skills. And that is worth something.

For those of you who are diehard Game of Thrones fans, there’s no doubt I am insulting you with my perfunctory description of beloved or hated characters. But if we can better understand those around us and improve our communication with characters of all natures, then it will have been worth it.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz

Winning in the Court of Public Opinion

Posted on May 2, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

It’s a PR nightmare. Imagine your brand is under siege because one of your own uttered some repugnant remarks that found their way into the media and went viral.

All hell is breaking loose and the “talent” that has made your brand very rich and very popular is putting the squeeze on you to make amends or face serious consequences.

It was through this vortex that NBA Commissioner faced the media earlier this week to address the furor sparked by racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling during a private telephone conversation with Sterling’s girlfriend.

The NBA’s PR team must have breathed a sigh of relief following Silver’s presser, in which he banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million.

Silver also said he would urge the NBA’s board of governors (the other 29 owners) to force Sterling to sell the club.

The legal fallout will likely follow, with multiple reports now saying that Sterling, a divorce attorney by trade, lives for litigation.

But by taking swift action, Silver was able stop a radioactive leak that threatened to blow up the NBA brand.

Silver’s presentation conferences was a clinic in how communicators can cauterize a deep wound and get their brand back on track following a major derailment.

He provided takeaways for communicators who are grappling with controversy and need to provide counsel for managers at the top who have to deal with issues head-on to right the ship.

> A need for speed. A fast-moving controversy can only be met with a quick response. While there was some outcry that Silver should have acted sooner, the press conference was not five days after Sterling’s comments were revealed. People may pine for you to respond to a controversy virtually immediately, but you need to afford yourself some time to make sure the message is consistent and leaves no room for ambiguity (that the media will surely pounce on).

> Listen closely. As the Sterling controversy became the top story in the country last weekend, Silver met with NBA owners (who are his collective boss) to gauge their reaction. But by bringing down the hammer on Sterling, Silver also showed that he was also listening carefully to the court of public opinion and the general consensus that a slap on the wrist (or lawerly language) would not fly and probably make a terrible situation worse.

> Bring a touch of class. Silver helped to mitigate some of the raw emotion caused by Sterling’s remarks by apologizing to multiple audiences, including fans, active players, former players, coaches and partners. “To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize,” Silver said. Well played.

> Don’t dance around any questions. In light of the white-hot glare of the media, dancing around the media’s questions is a no-win situation. Counsel that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”—as Silver did a couple of times during the press questions— to questions in which there is no definitive answer (and assure the reporter that the company will follow-up once it does have a definitive answer). This is a perfect example of the “authenticity” (that PR folks are constantly talking about).

> Do your homework. Try to anticipate any and all questions. For instance, during the presser Silver was asked if members of Mr. Sterling’s family, including his wife, Rochelle, will be allowed to remain in an ownership or managerial position in the league. Silver emphatically said there have been no decisions and that the  “no,” and that the ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling’s conduct only.

The rub is to convince managers to adopt some of these lessons. If nothing else, keep the video of Silver press conference handy. You never know when you might need it.

As a PR pro, what would you add to the list above?

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

Beyoncé, The Time 100, and Leveraging the PR Value of the List

Posted on April 28, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, Media Relations, Social Media | Leave a Comment

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When the Time 100 was released last week, our editorial team discussed how we might cover it. The context was its relation to PR, and how communicators could leverage the value of making the list.

This list is a PR person’s dream. It’s eclectic and interesting, and it covers a wide variety of human endeavor. It’s global in scope. Unlike many magazine lists, the Time 100 is worth coverage and every person on the list is deserving of recognition in some form or other.

Are they the “Most Influential People in the World?” Some might be, but many are not. Why, for example are Kirsten Gillibrand and Rand Paul on the list, but not Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren? It’s all kind of random. The common denominator is that all the selections seem to be whom the coastal elites and people in the power centers of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are talking about. Or think they should be.

The cover of this year’s edition was Beyoncé, featured in a revealing costume and an open-mouthed expression. To me, the image didn’t convey the gravity that the list aspires to. Would other designees be posed that way? But Beyoncé has the gravitas. She was also on the list last year, after her performance at the Super Bowl. Sheryl Sandberg did this year’s writeup.

(This is a cool feature of the list—celebrities do write-ups of other celebrities. It solidifies the likelihood that the list will be the preferred dinner party conversation at not just 100, but 200 parties. Of course, it leaves the door open for questions. Did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make the list because he is a “bold reformer,” or because his profiler—U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—thought that touting Abe’s economic policies might be useful?)

But back to Beyoncé. Sandberg noted that she “doesn’t just sit at the table. She builds a better one.” (This is a variation on a line from the old movie about Sting, where, when his hired musicians complain about what Sting is paying them, the response from one of Sting’s handlers is, “You might have a seat at the table, but Sting owns the table.”)

But Sandberg likes Beyoncé’s message of empowerment for young girls. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Sandberg quotes Beyoncé as saying. What I like about Beyoncé is her authenticity—there is a sense that what you see is what you get. She’s not a phony. I also like her staying power. She’s been a star since the late 1990s. That seems like forever ago. My kids loved her in the old Austin Powers movie when they were little, and they still love her for her music and style now. That is remarkable. And then there’s her sense of innovation. I’ve followed music my whole life, and I can’t remember anything as unique and unexpected as the release of a new album—a concept album complete with videos—without anyone having the slightest idea it was coming. So if you’re the communications person for any of the Time 200 (the Time 100 plus the celebrity essayists), there are three things you can take from the example of Beyoncé: Authenticity and talent beget longevity, and both beget the ability to innovate.

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

14 Pieces of PR Advice to Read and Heed

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

@dianeschwartz

3 Ways that Filing Taxes is a Lot Like Public Relations

Posted on April 15, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

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

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