You know how athletes celebrate by jumping in the air and banging into each other? Or develop ritual dances and other showboat-y gestures? This is especially true in football. I noticed in the Seahawks-49ers game a week ago how when the Seahawks scored, they eschewed the dances. They just shook hands. I thought that was a refreshing contrast that to my eye indicated professionalism and focus on an unfinished task.
So when Richard Sherman had his outburst on national TV in a post-game interview, it seemed out of character from the team’s overall approach.
In the days since that interview, Sherman has been the topic of a nonstop national conversation about sportsmanship, classiness, class and more.
And at the core of that national conversation is a cluster of valuable lessons for communicators around things like cognitive dissonance, preconceived notions, stereotypes and most important, understanding that the message you want to communicate might not be the same as what you’re really communicating.
I don’t know what Sherman’s objective might have been when he screamed that he was the best cornerback in the league to Erin Andrews. Maybe he was just caught up in the moment. I read that Andrews said that he hugged her and smiled at her before his rant. The 3.9 GPA graduate of Stanford University and high school salutatorian probably didn’t expect to be labeled a thug. And worse. He probably didn’t expect to become the major sports story in the country for a week and counting.
And conversely, if Sherman had been, say, Wes Welker, he might not have been. Sometimes people see what they want to see, based on their own set of experiences rather than what really happened. Sometimes things are not what they first appear to be. And sometimes those preconceived ideas are very resilient.
Come to think of it, my notion of gentlemanly handshakes, not elaborate dances, is itself a preconceived notion that maybe many others don’t share. Who knows?
What I do know, though, is that image, and message, have to be clear enough, and broad enough, and widely accepted enough to not be susceptible to misinterpretation, whether you’re communicating for a manufacturing brand, a buttoned-down CEO, a Web startup, a non-profit—or your football team.
Super Bowl XLVIII is now set, with the Denver Broncos pitted against the Seattle Seahawks. But brand managers and PR pros have been scrambling for weeks if not months to come up with the most effective way(s) to align their message with the big game.
Indeed, throughout the next 10 days or so, expect to see more so-called “newsjacking” than you can shake a stick at. Newsjacking—which has become another PR tool borne of the digital age—is leveraging the popularity of a major news story to highlight your products and services and brand attributes.
One of the biggest newsjacking coups was during last year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, when the lights went out and Oreo quickly posted a photo on Facebook with the caption, “Power Out? No Problem.” The picture, showing an Oreo cookie against a dark backdrop, had the tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark.”
Less than a day after the Super Bowl, the image had reportedly garnered more than 19,800 likes and more than 6,600 shares.
The newsjacking was a perfect PR play: Oreo was able to capitalize on the news that millions of people were at that instant talking about, while reminding consumers of the longtime appeal of Oreo cookies, which is dunking them in a cold glass of milk.
With this year’s Super Bowl being played less than 10 miles from midtown Manhattan, the media capital of the universe, there’ll be much more hype for the game than usual—and seemingly more opportunities for newsjacking.
While newsjacking can be an effective way to boost your brand and get your message out with relatively low cost, it shouldn’t seem forced, or the PR equivalent to trying to stuff 10 pounds into a five pound bag.
Considering that the game is one of the last instances in which we all gather “around the fire” to watch the same program, communicators can be forgiven for thinking that, by blending “creative” with some media buying and/or social media messaging, newsjacking is a surefire way to generate “earned” media.
But be careful what you wish for. As the Super Bowl approaches, there will be a strange sense that nothing else in the world is happening, as the excitement surrounding the game reaches a fever pitch. Yet after the game’s opening kick-off, it often feels as if the air has been let out of the marketing bag.
A study by research firm Communicus, for example, found that about 60% of Super Bowl ads it tested don’t increase purchase or purchase intent. The firm took the pulse of more than 1,000 consumers before and after they were exposed to the ads in the 2012 and 2013 games.
If Super Bowl ads have a tough time getting into the red zone with consumers, what chance do you have newsjacking the Super Bowl?
You can increase your odds, of course, by demonstrating a legitimate connection between your brand and the news at hand.
There are plenty of brands that can find ways to hitch their product to the Denver Broncos, Peyton Manning, the Seattle Seahawks or Russell Wilson, with regional brands having the best shot due to having a built-in audience and catering to local tastes.
However, national brands have to be careful not to do newsjacking just for the sake of doing so. They have to bring some value to the table and have a good (and fairly obvious) reason for why they’re aligning their message with the Super Bowl. It’s akin to showing up at a Super Bowl party with a gift that adds to the festivities and gets people engaged, rather than showing up with a six-pack of beer that is quickly consumed and all but forgotten a few minutes after you enter the door.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
You can feel yourself age when you use such antiquated words like “telephone” in front of your 12-year-old son. “Mom, who says ‘telephone’ anymore?” He has a point.
Every now and then “telephone” creeps into my language, as do other throwbacks like Rolodex and VCR. Just as we don’t say “telephone” very often, we also don’t use the device as much as we should in the communications business. We’re so used to emailing, texting, posting, pinning, sharing and liking that we often put phone communications on the back burner. That phone taking up space on your desk is a bit lonely.
In the past week how many times have you engaged in a business conversation via the phone versus email or LinkedIn or even texting? How many times have you thought, “I should have just called her”? Or, “I wonder what he meant in that email when he said ‘let’s discuss’”? Perhaps it means we should actually talk.
Phone communication for business is not yet an antiquated activity but it’s getting there. Let’s not contribute to its demise. Communicators who pick up the phone – either to make a call or receive a call – will (and do) have the edge with stakeholders. Social media cannot replace phone calls. Emailing cannot replace a one-on-one conversation. An interview with a reporter that’s done by email is inferior to one that’s either in-person or by phone. A customer-service related issue is usually more efficient via email but if you really want to ‘wow’ a customer, check in by phone. A press release does not replace verbal communication with key stakeholders.
As we embark on a new year for communications excellence, let’s make the call to take the call or make a call.
- Diane Schwartz @dianeschwartz
Call me with topics you’d like to see covered in this blog: 212-621-4964.
English has 1.1 million words, more words than any other language, according to the Global Language Monitor and other sources. That’s double the next most prolific language. And English adds about 15 words per day, or one every 98 minutes.
So 400 years after the greatest English wordsmith of them all, William Shakespeare, the language remains a living, changing, vital form of communication, something PR folks use every day. And they work hard at it. It’s said PR is, at its core, storytelling. But if that’s true, then storytelling, at its core, is about words.
It stands to reason, then, that as words get added, other words become obsolete. Who uses “groovy” anymore? And as technology transforms our lives, the lifecycle of some words speeds up. In that spirit, we offer a list of words we came across as 2014 dawned that should be banned, starting now.
Words to be Banned, Generic Edition
(Courtesy of Lake Superior State University, and selected by them for the sins of misuse, overuse and general uselessness)
• Mr. Mom
• _____ on Steroids
A related list, from USA Today, gets at a few more words and phrases that have become persona non grata.
• Combined celebrity couple names
• “Abbrevs,” like “ridic,” “totes,” “obv,” “cray,” and lots more.
Phrases and Words to be Banned, Work Edition
(Courtesy of USA Today)
• Noncommittal language
• Describing things as “surreal”
• Saying “quote-unquote”
• Starting all sentences with “So,” and ending them with “right?”
Phrases and Words to be Banned, PR Edition
(Courtesy of Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue)
You’ll never catch me using terms like “price point” when I mean “price,” or “form factor” when I mean “size.” I’ll never say “content” when I mean video, “solution” when I mean product, “DRM” when I mean copy protection, or “functionality” when I mean “feature.” Also, I will never refer to you as “the user.” (If you think about it, only two industries refer to their customers as users.)
So there you have it. What do you think? So when I was compiling this list, it seemed like a valuable study in the use of language, right?
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
At 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
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
PS – Check out more of my blog posts from the past few months:
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?
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
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