This Blog Post Was Not Subsidized by Amtrak

Posted on February 25, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, Media Relations, Social Media | Leave a Comment

Amtrak_train2I’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.

—Steve Goldstein
@SGoldsteinAI

Directing What Could Be the Second Act for Your Brand

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

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

 

When an Old Crisis Resurfaces: 4 Principles for an Effective Response

Posted on February 13, 2014 
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, Crisis Management, Media Relations | Leave a Comment

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.

—Tony Silber
@tonysilber

9 Habits of Highly Effective PR People

Posted on February 10, 2014 
Filed Under Corporate Responsibility, Crisis Management, Digital PR, General, Measurement, Media Relations, Media Training, Social Media | Leave a Comment

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

@dianeschwartz

 

 

Your Most Credible Spokespeople Are Hiding in Plain Sight

Posted on February 4, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

One of the more intriguing facets of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer concerns the credibility of spokespeople for companies and organizations. The trend lines bear watching for PR executives and communicators looking to both personalize the face of their brand and improve employee relations

The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer online survey sampled 27,000 general population respondents with an oversample of 6,000 informed publics ages 25-64 across 27 countries.

The most trusted sources of information remain people whose access may depend on what kind of relationship they have with your company: Academics and experts. They’re the most trusted sources this year (67%), up from five points from 2009, followed by technical experts, according to Edelman.

But here’s where things get interesting: After technical experts the most trusted source of information is what Edelman defines as a “person like yourself,” (62%), which grew 15 percentage points since 2009.

Little wonder that regular folks have gotten more credible as spokespeople  during the same period that social media, which abhors hierarchy, has gone mainstream.

Delivering an organization’s message used to be a fairly straightforward exercise. Have the CEO or chief spokesperson share the information, regardless of the what kind of credibility that person has with stakeholders or whether he or she is media savvy. So long as that person got a bio in the first few pages of the company’s annual report.

Not in a Twitter age, though. Now, your most credible spokespeople are hiding in plain sight.

As information becomes democratized so, too, does the credibility of “regular” employees who can carry a message and, at the same time, attain consumers’ trust for the long haul.

The most trusted sources of information increasingly are the rank and file, folks who don’t have an axe to grind, and can inspire trust because when they explain a product, service or idea they’re sincere about it and unscripted.

The Edelman survey also found significant gains for regular employees, to 52% in 2014 from 32% in 2009, as the most credible spokespeople.

The credibility of CEOs grew to 43% in 2014, from 31% in 2009, but is still near the bottom rung.

That CEOs have some of the least credibility as spokespeople is not exactly earth shattering, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s the rising credibility of a person like yourself and regular employees that’s likely to have a bigger impact on your communications strategy.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate—With Millennials

Posted on January 31, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, Internal Communication, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

cool-hand-luke-martinMaybe you recall Strother Martin’s pained, twisted line of dialogue spoken to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, delivered after Martin has struck chain-gang prisoner Newman with a blackjack: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

I thought of this line after seeing the story making the rounds yesterday that British millennials check their mobile devices every nine minutes and 50 seconds. This kind of data and story promotes the concept that millennials are an entirely different species of human, and insinuates that they’re unfocused, difficult to manage, flighty and much more addicted to technology than the rest of us.

The failure to communicate with millennials—from both the brand and personal perspectives—stems not from what makes them different from the rest of the population, but from assumptions based on anecdotal evidence, bite-size statistics and generational resentment. It’s the old saw: “These kids today, they want everything handed to them on a silver platter—we never had it so good.”

First, about the stats making the rounds yesterday: They sprang from a U.K. Daily Mail story that quoted a study conducted by a “customer service solutions” company called KANA, which has certainly succeeded in getting its name out there. Are its findings telling? Perhaps, but it’s too easy to take its showcase stat about 18-to-24-year-olds out of context. I know this is anecdotal on my part, but it seems to me that we’re all hopelessly addicted to our mobile devices.

“Millennials are people, not ‘a people,’” says Jake Katz, VP, audience insights & strategy for music-focused TV network Revolt. “Behaviorally, they are more similar than different to other generations,” says Katz, who will be keynoting PR News’ Digital PR Summit in San Francisco on Feb. 5, and who was formerly general manager of Ypulse, a youth market research firm.

For brands, the first step to communicating with millennials, according to Katz, is to discard the popular myth that they are massively different from everybody else, and pivot from thinking about what they are to how to communicate with the many different geographical and age ranges within the millennial demographic.

It’s time to lay the proverbial generational blackjack to rest and begin the real work of learning about the people around you—on a business and personal level.

—Steve Goldstein
@SGoldsteinAI

 

 

Why Daft Punk was Speechless at Grammys, and Other PR Lessons from the Big Night

Posted on January 27, 2014 
Filed Under Digital PR, General, Media Relations | Leave a Comment

For those of you tired of awards speeches, you’ll find no better honoree than Daft Punk, the electronic music duo that won four Grammy Awards on Sunday including Record of the Year and Album of the Year. The French helmet-headed duo took the stage at Sunday’s awards show multiple times in their loud silence, letting others speak for them.

While some media trainers may warn their clients to avoid appearing robotic, the opposite would hold true for Daft Punk.

While some media trainers would work tirelessly with a client to get the messaging just right, there are no words to be spoken, no lines to get wrong, no Teleprompter to worry about.

Makeup, hair, outfit? Not a problem for these robots. Just stand up straight and stiff and channel your inner robot.

Whether or not they are musical geniuses, Daft Punk has managed their image straight to stardom and have resisted the urge to put their egos ahead of their product. Their performances are lauded for their creativity and visual elements: the music version of visual storytelling (and you thought Daft Punk and PR had nothing in common?). When asked in the rare media interview about their robot get-ups, they speak in themes of human + machine, or the separation of their personal and public lives.

Let’s not get any strange ideas to start dressing our senior executives in robot suits and helmets and avoiding the media. (I believe that the president of France Francoisdaft punk Holland tried hiding behind a helmet recently and couldn’t avoid the media, but I digress.) What makes Daft Punk so interesting and compelling – regardless of one’s musical tastes – is the originality of their idea, the honing of their unique craft and a loyal fan base that accepts them for the robots they are really not.

– Diane Schwartz

If you’re not a robot, please follow me on twitter @dianeschwartz

Richard Sherman and the Danger of Misinterpretation in Communications

Posted on January 26, 2014 
Filed Under Media Relations, Media Training | Leave a Comment

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.

Make Sure Newsjacking the Super Bowl Doesn’t Turn Into a PR Fumble

Posted on January 21, 2014 
Filed Under General | Leave a Comment

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

Why Smart Communicators Use the Phone

Posted on January 17, 2014 
Filed Under General, Internal Communication, Media Relations, Social Media, Staffing and Management | Leave a Comment

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.

 

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