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.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wore many hats. He was the chronicler of the Jazz Age; author of “The Great Gatsby;” a charter member of the so-called “Lost Generation” and inveterate boozer. He also coined one of the most enduring quotes: “There are no second acts in American lives.” Well, no one is perfect.
In America, second acts are a dime a dozen, and we can’t get enough of them.
To wit, Martha Stewart barely missing a beat as America’s homemaker following a five-month prison stint for insider trading; Robert Downey Jr., now the embodiment of box-office mojo after spending the middle part of his career in and out drug rehab, and the ultimate second act, Richard Nixon, who was left for dead after losing the California gubernatorial race in 1962 only to be elected president six years later.
The latest second act to emerge is cooking queen Paula Deen. It was just last summer that Deen acknowledged using the “N word,” according to her deposition in a lawsuit, and other racial slurs.
Sponsors dropped her like a hot potato. The Food Network dumped her. Then she went on NBC’s TODAY Show for a weepy sit-down, where she exclaimed, “I is what I is,” and was subsequently written off for all eternity.
Now comes word of the newly formed Paula Deen Ventures, which is being funded by a reported $75 million to $100 million investment by private equity firm Najafi Cos.
Jahm Najafi, who heads the firm, told The Wall Street Journal he believes that “the Paula Deen brand is alive and well.” Sounds like a man who wants solid return on his investment. So, how long before Deen reemerges with her own show on cable or, at the very least, online?
However things shake out, the Deen saga holds important lessons for communicators whose brands may have taken a hit from which they have yet to recover or may be foundering amid myriad changes in the marketplace.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for PR pros who are grappling with how to revive their brands or organizations and win back the confidence of consumers and constituents.
> When emerging from scandal or controversy, make sure all of the company’s key players get a fat slice of humble pie. Don’t let the company pretend that the scandal never happened. Don’t harp on it, of course, but make sure that your spokespeople are prepared to answer questions from the media and other stakeholders about why it happened and what you’ve done (or are doing) to remedy it.
> Without being mawkish, try and make amends to the person or persons who may have been offended by your actions. Embrace those communities that have abandoned your brand. Don’t window-dress, but demonstrate that you won’t take any audience(s) for granted.
> Make sure your employees are in the loop regarding any changes stemming from a scandal, and can serve as brand messengers. If you don’t get buy in from the rank-and-file, it’s unlikely that consumers will believe that you are trying to do the right thing.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
Yesterday, I was driving home with a friend, and the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, to Howard Dean’s famous scream in the 2004 presidential campaign.
(Okay, it’s not really inevitable, it’s just funny to say that, and it goes to a point I’m about to make.)
And that point, to borrow from an old Douglas MacArthur phrase, is that old crises never go away.
Today, as Paula Deen launches a comeback, and as the 20-year-old allegations against Woody Allen are back in the news, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal resurfaces, that’s a fact worth addressing. For brands and their communications teams, crises are part of the permanent record. Dealing with that, though, can be tricky. It starts with the knowledge that while apologies will be demanded in the heat of the crisis—and most of the time must be offered—and forgiveness will be granted by many, mistakes are never forgotten. (In the case of Woody Allen, of course, he denies the allegations absolutely and has never apologized.)
So what to do? Here are a few essential principles.
1. Be aware that the record will include the crisis, no matter how old. This means you must plan for that inevitable resurfacing. That starts with the creation of a plan, but even more fundamentally, you need to learn from the crisis, and resolve never to repeat it. All subsequent business activities and decisions need to be made to ensure that objective. The elements of the plan, though, start with these next concepts.
2. Be open and non-defensive. You’ve acknowledged that the crisis occurred and is part of the permanent record, so there’s no point in reacting defensively if it comes back up. Don’t be emotional or angry. Don’t be indignant. If appropriate, use humor, as Howard Dean does when asked about his scream. And outline how you’ve learned and changed.
3. Have testimonials lined up. One of the best ways to reassure stakeholders when an old crisis crops back up is to have credible testimonials from well-selected supporters. It may be that you won’t want to directly address an old crisis, or respond to those who are reviving it. But having others speak for you can be very effective.
4. Deliver on your word. This is the most important. If an old crisis resurfaces, the most eloquent response you can make is to have a record in the intervening time that demonstrates that you didn’t just apologize and promise to make adjustments to get past the crisis. If you have years of a flawless track record, then that will be very persuasive in the court of public opinion.
There are three types of PR professionals: ineffective, good and great. It’s as simple as that, really. Most PR pros are good – they’ve found a comfortable place to practice their trade and are making an impact with their organization or clients. But Public Relations cannot afford to be a majority of Good professionals if it wants to lead the charge in moving markets and reputations.
Going from Good to Great takes work and new habits. Fortunately, habits are hard to break – so if you can acquire these 9 Habits of Highly Effective PR People, then you’ll no longer settle for Good. Based on conversations with PR professionals and our PR News team’s interviews with thousands of leaders, here are nine great PR habits:
1. Listen hard: don’t pretend you’re listening. Focus during key conversations and jot down what you heard, because you think you’ll remember the key takeaways but you won’t.
2. Speak the local language: understand the lingo of the communities and markets you serve and learn their language. The nuances can make a difference in your communications campaign.
3. Read until your eyes hurt: Always be reading something – be it a magazine article, a news item online, a fiction or non-fiction book. Reading stirs your imagination, helps you to become a better writer, and, of course, keeps you well-informed.
4. Embrace measurement: you’ve heard that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s true. Sometimes it’s tough to swallow the results, much less communicate them. Establishing reasonable metrics and evaluating regularly will allow you to pivot, improve, learn and succeed.
5. Become a subject matter expert: Being a Jack (or Jackie) of All Trades is over-rated. Find a niche, study it, live it and become the go-to expert on that niche.
6. Practice your math: Knowing how to read a Profit/Loss statement, how to build and execute on a budget, how to calculate growth and decline will position you for leadership, and improve your PR initiatives.
7. Hone your writing skills: whether it’s a finely crafted memo, a post-campaign report or an email to a colleague or client, make your writing sing. How you write is often how you’re perceived in the field of communications. If you can’t articulate your message in writing, you can’t go from Good to Great.
8. Master your Social: Social media is not a strategy, it’s a platform. Understand it and use it regularly but don’t let Fear of Missing Out make you an obsessive social communicator. The other “social” — communicating and networking with peers and stakeholders (preferably in person or by phone) — holds more long-term value for you as a PR leader.
9. Be a PR advocate: Public Relations often suffers from an image problem; PR is not just about pitching to the media or bitching about the media; it’s one of the most important disciplines within an organization. Advocate for your profession – and the best way to do that is by being a Great PR Person.
I might have missed a few habits, so please add to this list!
- Diane Schwartz