Five PR Lessons I learned in Elementary School

•May 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment

PR

It all started with a box of crayons, a playground accident and a wicked game of dodgeball. See how five lessons learned in elementary school can make you a better PR professional today.

1. Sit with the kid who colors outside the lines.

There was a girl in my first grade class who wouldn’t limit her coloring to the lines on the paper. Our teacher would tell us to color the dog brown, and she would use some brown, but she would also add patterns, bright pops of color and scenery around the dog. She’d quietly whisper the dog’s back story to all of us at the table, and we’d throw in our own ideas that she’d work into the picture.

The PR lesson:
Surround yourself with creative and collaborative people. They can turn a run-of-the-mill project into something great.

2. The first thing you do is help and comfort the hurt people.
We all stood in silence when we saw Jeff beneath the swing. His face was bloody, his broken bone jutted from his arm, and he was crying. Some of us began to cry, too. I remember our teacher got down on the ground with Jeff and began to stroke his hair while she told him he would be okay. Another teacher calmly took us back to our classroom. She listened to our fears and hugged those of us who needed it. The teachers didn’t yell. They didn’t demand to know what happened. They just took care of us.

 The PR lesson:
During a crisis, people come first. Always. Our role as PR professionals is to first do everything we can to make sure people are safe from harm and then tackle the situation. Our first comments should always be those of concern and compassion for anyone who has been hurt, and our actions should center on making sure it never happens again.

3. You will see these people again. And again.

The first day of school always brought shrieks and groans. There were shrieks of joy when you saw a friend walk through the classroom door, and there were groans when the kid who picked on you came in. You learned to how to deal with the groan-causers because you knew you would keep crossing paths with these people for at least 12 years of your life. Sometimes dealing with them meant simply being civil when you saw them, sometimes it meant standing up for yourself, and sometimes it meant just biding your time until the school year ended.

The PR lesson:
The PR industry works the same way. All of us run in intersecting circles, and eventually we end up crossing paths with both beloved and cringe-worthy former colleagues. Relationships with beloved former colleagues are valuable for networking and support. Relationships with the cringe-worthy can be difficult, but I believe the grade school lesson still applies; however, standing up for yourself can no longer involve a well placed punch to the bully’s chin. Be professional, civil and assertive. And don’t endorse them on LinkedIn.

4. Criticism kills motivation and trust.

My fifth grade teacher was just plain mean. She offered very little praise and ridiculed us in front of the entire class when we made mistakes. She may have thought her criticism would motivate us and make us tough, but it didn’t work. It shut us down, and we stopped trying. The ironic part of this story? We were in the gifted and talented class.

PR Lesson: A good PR leader, like a good teacher, knows that criticism should be done privately and compliments should be shared publicly. Constructive criticism can help build people up when you give them the support and tools they need to make improvements. Meaningful compliments show that you recognize their value and it builds relationships. Dr. Raj Raghunathan, a writer for Psychology Today, explained, “When you offer genuine praise to others, you don’t just make them feel good, but you also gain their trust.”  It’s important to remember that trust is the very core of good public relations, and we must first be able to trust those around us before others can trust us.

5. Never underestimate the little guy.

Brian was the smallest guy in my fourth grade class. During a dodgeball game, some of the bigger guys decided to gang up on him. They lobbed their balls as hard and as fast as they could at him, but Brian could bob, weave and dive. No one could hit him. When their arms got tired, Brian launched his attack. His small arm was mighty, and his aim was precise. He nailed each one of them with a loud WHOMP of the red rubber ball. We cheered for his victory. The bigger boys nursed bruises for weeks.

The PR lesson: Bigger is not necessarily better. Brian’s lesson demonstrates that big and awesome things can come out of small packages. A big agency or a high-powered name doesn’t always translate into PR success for your organization. Take a serious look at solo practitioners. There are many of them out there who can rival the work done by big agencies and big names, and they do it at a fraction of the cost.

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Are You Really Anonymous on Snapchat? A Closer Look at Social Media Security

•February 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Snapchat

Want to go ghost hunting? Sign up for Snapchat.

The trendy photo-sharing service has recently implemented a feature that makes incoming users pick out its trademark white phantom from a set of nine pictures, before they’re allowed to join the network. This new measure comes in the wake of last month’s disastrous security breach for the social network.

In early January, hackers were able to access the usernames and telephone numbers of 4.6 million Snapchat users (including, apparently, the CEO himself). Much of this private information was then made accessible online, for anyone to see. This follows on the heels of discoveries that, contrary to claims, photos and videos sent via Snapchat are in fact stored locally on users’ phones and never completely destroyed.

For Snapchat’s detractors, all of this is timely comeuppance for the brash young network, fresh off turning down a $3-billion offer from Facebook. For companies that find themselves committing more and more resources to social media, however, this should also be a sobering wake-up call: Security and social media rarely go hand-in-hand.

In the last year, businesses have adopted social media in record numbers. 77 percent of the Fortune 500 now have active Twitter accounts and 70 percent maintain a Facebook Page, according to a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study. Perhaps most eye-opening, 90 percent of small businesses now report using social media. But behind the enthusiasm for Twitter, Facebook and other networks is a sobering truth. Many companies, including some of the planet’s largest enterprises, are underestimating the risks they’re exposed to on social media.

There are, of course, the obvious ones. Twitter is public: Content posted can be seen by anyone and can never really be put back in the box once sent. Start a Facebook Page, by the same token, and your company “wall” is as vulnerable to vandalism in the form of vicious or off-color comments as any back alley.

Then, there are more insidious threats, internal and external. Organizations from the Red Cross to KitchenAid have been shamed by employees—either accidentally or intentionally—posting comprising tidbits on corporate social channels. Meanwhile, malicious hackers have made short work of some of the biggest consumer brands on social media, co-opting feeds from the likes of McDonalds, the AP and more. For companies in highly regulated industries—like finance or pharmaceuticals—the challenges are even greater. Strict communication rules can make compliance on fast-paced, informal social channels a legal nightmare.

Yet, for some companies, opting out of social media is no longer a viable option. According to a recent Nielsen survey, nearly half of all U.S. consumers now turn to social media for information from brands and businesses about their products and services. At the same time, companies able to navigate the shoals and use social media to its potential stand to unlock some $1.3 trillion in value in the years ahead, McKinsey reports. In many cases, there’s too much at stake to turn back.

Security technology plays catch up

Slowly, however, social media technology is catching up and starting to fill in the security gap. Over the last several years, software systems called social relationship platforms have emerged, offering companies ways to take at least some of the risks out of social media. Big software—like Adobe and Salesforce, among others—all have their versions, though dedicated vendors focused exclusively on social media (my company is one of these) have also emerged on the scene.

At their most basic level, all of these platforms force companies to consolidate and organize their social media presence. According to an Altimeter study, the typical enterprise has 178 Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts associated with it—some official, others started informally by employees. Security risks here range from lost passwords and hacked accounts to rogue employees sounding off and confused customers who mistake satellite accounts for the real thing.

The standard social relationship platform centralizes these accounts in one software program—a kind of master dashboard for viewing and using all social channels. Access to accounts can then be regulated by a central administrator. At the same time, different permission levels can be extended to different employees, enabling, for instance, junior staff to draft messages and managers to approve them. Alerts for unauthorized access and special security features also make it considerably harder (but not impossible) for hackers to hijack company accounts.

The most secure platforms also offer an array of behind-the-scenes services from live support teams. Some vendors assist with audits to identify a client’s social media channels—both the real ones and knock-offs—then consolidate and map the legitimate accounts. Others provide crisis simulations to ready employees should a PR disaster ever go viral on Twitter or Facebook.

Increasingly, however, the real power of these systems lies in automation. A major consumer brand like Coca-Cola, for instance, may get tens of thousands of social comments everyday on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other channels. Many social relationship platform will have features to automatically weed out offensive or irrelevant content, as well as the increasing amounts of spam and malware distributed on social channels. Custom filters can even be set up to identify and eliminate comments containing flagged keywords, phrases or images.

The most robust of these platforms also have real-time monitoring functions, which automatically run messages posted by employees through a series of tests to ensure compliance with industry regulations. This kind of constant, background analysis is often critical in sensitive sectors like banking or securities, where violating FINRA or SEC rules on communications—even on social channels—can trigger heavy fines.

As for Snapchat, as a result of last month’s breach, members of the famously discrete network were besieged by spam—of the intimate variety. A steady stream of messages featuring topless women and ads for male enhancement, not to mention fake rolexes and diet pills, has invaded users’ phones, prompting many to cry foul over the network’s repeated violations of trust. Meanwhile, its new verification system has already been called out as flimsy after a hacker allegedly cracked the code in just 30 minutes.

The moral of the story: For companies for whom social media is more than a one-night stand, the path forward it seems isn’t anonymity or privacy but precisely the opposite—transparency and vigilance.

Ron Burgundy Promotes Dodge Durango and Anchorman 2

•October 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The guy who once made the Dodge Stratus a punchline of sorts is now a spokesman for the 2014 Dodge Durango, and the move appears to be paying off handsomely for Dodge. Will Ferrell, acting as 1970s-era TV news personality Ron Burgundy, has teamed up with the automaker for co-branded advertisements between the refreshed 2014 Durango and Ferrell’s new movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Like Ferrell’s fictional character, the ads are outrageous, flamboyant and a bit random. They’re also successful:Automotive News says that more than 2.7 million people have already watched the videos since they debuted on October 5.

The ads are absolutely hilarious and in many ways work to sell the car. There are several generations that know the character “Ron Burgundy,” so the ads are hitting a large demographic. By making these advertisements in a way that they will be popular on YouTube, the ad agency is reaching a group of people who may not be likely to watch it. Szymanski, the director of the ads, says “it’s not anti-product, ever. It’s about deconstructing the form—and a lot of the forms have been overdone in typical commercials.”

Those views are similar to the numbers that AN’s top viral video of the year (e.g. Volkswagen’s ”Get Happy” Super Bowl ad) received, but there will eventually be as many as 70 videos comprising the Burgundy-Durango spots. According to the report, the videos were created primarily as a viral campaign online, although some are airing on television, too. For Dodge’s part, the cost of the videos was significantly lower than a usual television campaign thanks to the fact that Ferrell wasn’t paid for the spots since they were made in cooperation with promotional efforts for his new movie.

Social Media: The Gateway Drug

•September 6, 2013 • 1 Comment

Let me make some things clear: Despite all my talk of caring about the customer, I’m not Mother Teresa. Despite my use of emerging platforms, I’m not a technologist who is out here to make the world better (I didn’t have my own computer until I was a freshman in college). I love the art of building businesses and branding through social media platforms.

It is my belief right now that social media is an incredible gateway to create a relationship that can lead to conversion. Whether that conversion happens within social, on the phone, or in-person is irrelevant, what matters is that social is the most powerful way to get people hooked on your brand or at least curious about it.

Social media is a gateway drug.

Now the reason I say ‘gateway drug’ is that in a dealer’s mentality (important to note, kids, that I have never done/sold/advocated drugs. We’re talking in metaphors here.), if you can get someone started on something cheap and easy early in their ‘career’, then you can step up to selling them something more profitable down the line. You’ve got to start somewhere, and I think there is no better place to start than social.

Maybe another way to look at it would be modern evolution of the cold-call, only now it’s more like a lukewarm call because I can hit up www.twitter.com/search and predetermine that you’re talking about Cabernet and you’re a Red Sox fan. I can then jump in and make that connection almost effortlessly, at which point there will be a pretty good chance you’ll engage with me and we initiate a solid interpersonal connection.

Now you’re potentially hooked. Maybe eventually I offer you food-pairing advice and send you a free shipping coupon. Now you owe me (have I mentioned how incredibly powerful guilt is as a motivator?). This relationship continues and eventually you’re buying cases from me and all because I was able to make that first step on social. That’s not something you can do with a billboard or a TV ad. In 140 characters and 15 seconds of research, I have achieved a more emotional, human connection than any $8 million Superbowl commercial could.

The initial point of contact really matters, and there is no other way you can do it as well and at the same scale as social (especially Twitter). If you have your phone, there is nothing stopping you from jumping into any conversation at any time day or night. That’s what I love about Twitter. On the other hand, with something like Pinterest, you can go and re-pin someone’s content. That creates a point of context.

Commenting on someone’s Facebook status, or double-tapping an Instagram post achieve the same thing. On the other hand you could put out your own piece of content, setting the stage for interaction in the comments. All of these provide an extremely high level of context that makes closing on the deal, when the time comes, that much easier than just blasting the same message to everybody watching Breaking Bad at any given moment.

 

How a PR Pro’s Typical Day Breaks Down

•August 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I want to focus on the key question: How do you spend your days in PR? In essence, what do you do each day? It’s a question almost every student has when starting out: What does a job in PR entail? And it makes sense, because PR is such a tough industry and job to define. So, how would I sum up what I do each day? I thought we’d break it down into percentages of time:

20 percent: Client management

This bucket includes things such as emails to clients, status and update meetings, and in-person planning meetings with clients. Overall, a significant portion of time each week is spent working and communicating with clients.

25 percent: Writing

This could probably be a bigger number, and it is, on most days, but I thought this was the best percentage on an ongoing basis. Writing can take many forms, too: blog posts, news releases, Web copy, Facebook posts, research reports, PowerPoint presentations. On some days, this number can be as high as 80–90 percent.

10 percent: Research

For me, research isn’t research in the formal sense. It also includes a bunch of reading I do periodically throughout the day that I use to keep clients abreast of trends and changes in the marketplace. This certainly does include more formal research I do on behalf of clients each day: competitive analysis, audience research, trend research. It all lumps in here.

10 percent: Professional development

I lump in more “formal” professional development here: PRSA events, social media breakfast events, etc. I would also include events I have created—a solo PR meet-up, for example, or a digital brand marketer meet-up that I just started. Add in some blog reading each day, and 10 percent could be a lowball estimate, depending on the day.

5 percent: Fun

A guy’s gotta have some fun at work, right?

10 percent: Media relations/blogger relations

This depends on the flow of my business, but I usually have some sort of media/blogger relations angle at work—at least for one client. This includes researching media/bloggers, pitching media/bloggers and all follow-up and coordination with the client.

10 percent: Community management

This number is actually a bit higher for me right now, due to some more extensive community management I’m handling for one client, but I usually try to keep this number a bit lower.

10 percent: Strategy/planning

Here’s another number that fluctuates. In late winter of this year, this number would have been significantly higher, as I was putting together two strategic communications plans for two clients. That was a ton of work, but it was also confined to a four- to six-week period. At other times, 10 percent feels about right.

5 Worst Things Companies Do on Facebook Today

•June 10, 2013 • 1 Comment

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When you’re using a Facebook page to build your brand, be sure not to make any of these egregious mistakes.

It’s hard to be a brand on Facebook. After all, Facebook is primarily a place for connecting with your close (and not-so-close) friends. While that’s happening, companies are furiously competing to get into your News Feed and get you to “engage” with them. And they’re not necessarily wrong to do that. Every day, people are having conversations with brands and 50 percent of people say they trust a company’s Facebook page more than its website. Facebook pages from brands can offer a lot of deals, information, or relationships with employees. But when competing in a crowded marketplace, brands tend to adopt certain personas that can make a consumer’s skin crawl.

Below are five brand personas your company should not emulate:

The Beggar
While studies show that asking for a Facebook ‘like’ or a comment can increase your interactions up to 26 percent, the Beggar does it constantly and at inappropriate times. If your posts are great, you won’ t need to ask for a like for every other one. Use the power of the “ask” when you’re trying to spread an important company message or helps the community. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it. My personal favorite Beggar post is from Oxi-Clean, asking people on tax day to like Oxi-Clean if they’ve filed their taxes. Because, you know, when you think Oxi-Clean, you think tax filing.

The Stock Boy
No, this isn’t the guy filling the grocery shelves at your local supermarket. It’s the guy who purchases stock photography of random smiling people and uses them for every single post. I wish the Stock Boy would invest in an iPhone and Instagram some pictures of his company’s products, behind-the-scenes at the office, or himself and his employees–anything other than a photo that has nothing to do with his brand. Stock imagery looks like advertising. And advertising is something people have been trained to ignore.

Mr. Inappropriate
Many brands struggle with how to handle tragic current events. Not this dude. This guy cannot resist mentioning the latest recent catastrophe. Not only does he mention it, but he attempts to use it for his benefit. Check out Kenneth Cole, who is infamous for this. During the revolution in Egypt, he tweeted “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available.” He then deleted the tweet and apologized after negative feedback. You would think that the brand would have learned its lesson, but just this April, it posted an albeit less offensive but still controversial commentary about gun control. Here’s a tip: Not every world event is necessary for you to comment on. Express what’s in your hearts, and how you feel as an organization. But whatever you do, don’t use a national tragedy as an attempt to game engagement. It’s simply bad taste.

The Long-Winded Lady
You know her. She talks a ton, but listens very little. She writes lengthy, meandering updates with three calls to action in the same sentence. Then she doesn’t understand why she’s not getting people to ‘like’ or comment. I’ll keep this persona description short because the thought of those long-winded, text-heavy posts makes me want to stop talking. Now.

The Cheeseball
Have you ever seen a brand throw up a picture of a cute kitten or a baby despite the fact that it doesn’t sell a pet or infant product? Images like these definitely resonate with the Facebook community. But the Cheeseball is all sentiment and little substance. The Cheeseball may garner a lot of ‘likes,’ but its community doesn’t identify with the image of a puppy, or know what it has to do with the brand. It’s okay to use images that are likely to be popular–just don’t go totally off-brand for the sake of being cutesy. You’ll get likes and shares–but then see a ton of unsubscribes when you show up in consumer feeds talking about something they’re not interested in.

As a consumer, what brand activity on Facebook annoys you the most?

Pitfalls of Copying A Professional Resume

•May 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

 

The worst part? The “borrower” often fails to understand this context, and goes right on using it as if it were a coherent and targeted document. So, if you’re determined to make your resume look like the masterpieces that you see on sites like mine, here are six likely problems that you’ll encounter in doing so:

1. You Can Easily Unravel The Original Brand Strategy

So… you think you have the same career path and can therefore just “tweak” a word or two? Not so fast.

For a resume to be effective, the strategy is set (prior to any writing) based on how well the candidate fits the desired role and the potential for screen-out factors based on his or her personal career path, age, industry preferences, and a host of other factors.

I often compare a client’s career path and achievements to others in the industry, pulling out any areas of strength or weakness in credentials (including education and former jobs) to make decisions about word choice and emphasis.

The writing process itself only starts after lengthy data mining and analysis of the job goal. Then, content is wrapped around and woven through the strategy, along with personality traits, resulting in a total picture and unique value proposition.

Given this process, any changes to the resume by someone who doesn’t understand the candidate will create problems in the message… and while these nuances may go unnoticed by you, they are all key factors in whether a resume gets read or dismissed.

2. You Might Slide Into Generalizations That Blur The Message

Here’s what one candidate did with my power summary that described market-leading achievements (including a 70% rise in revenue over 2 years, a totally restructured team and profitable turnaround effort, plus a total obliteration of the competition):

“Dedicated and hard working professional with over 12 years of experience in the food service sales and marketing industry, Successful experience in strategic planning, analysis of results, and international media relations.”

Ouch.

Now, if you haven’t read lists of overused words for resumes, it might be time to do so.

Words like “hardworking” or “successful experience” are both no-brainers and would not be taken seriously by employers… plus, they’re a dead giveaway the writer doesn’t know what he is doing when trying to describe himself.

3. You Could Repeat Yourself

And put words like “created,” “spearheaded,” and “developed” in the document so many times that they’ll lose their meaning.

Hopefully, you’ll refrain from describing all your achievements as “successful” and reference a thesaurus to avoid using the same word four times in one sentence (as I recently saw in a copied document).

Here’s where training in power verbs can really save the day.

Not convinced? Most professional writers count word occurrences (yes, really) and tend to scan documents for our favorite words, just to ensure employers remain fully engaged in your resume.

4. Your Changes Can Mess Up The Formatting

Professional resume writers are masters of presentation and formatting, to the point that they’ll incorporate tricks and nuances into a resume that escape your untrained eye.

In fact, just moving a sentence or two will often throw an entire page into disarray, because you’ll be challenged by figuring out how to adjust headings or change point sizes for spacer lines.

Worse yet, you might feel the need to shrink the font below 11 points. This should only be done for certain sans serif fonts, and then reviewed on different monitors to verify that the over-40 crowd of employers can read your document.

5. Your Writing Might Suck Up Space (Or Not Make Sense)

Professional resume writers specialize in something your English teacher never approved of: sentence fragments. That’s right – we boil ideas and full sentences down to the most minute of details in order to avoid that font problem that I just described.

Best practices in journalism (you didn’t know that resume writers use the Associated Press Stylebook, now did you?) dictate that sentences must be short, conveying meaning in the first 5 to 10 words. (25-word sentences are held up as the Holy Grail.)

So, with minimal practice in tight writing, your sentences might be as long as the one I just reviewed in a copied resume: 79 words!

It’s close to impossible for your resume to pass a 10-second scan with a dense paragraph like this.

In addition, lack of parallel sentence structure is a dead giveaway that your resume wasn’t professionally written. Parallel structure means that your sentences are written in alignment with each other (such as fragments that all begin with nouns, or verb forms that consistently appear in past tense).

6. There Won’t Be Any Way To Update Your “Work” Professionally

Your personal work style and energy will rarely (if ever) show up in someone else’s document. So, you’re already operating at a severe brand disadvantage before even trying to have someone update the resume for you.

Think about it: you started with someone else’s strategy, brand message, tone, and presentation, and tried to plop a mixed bag of verbiage over the original text.

Now, it really doesn’t represent you, and this will make it difficult for a professional resume writer a to make sense of it without starting fresh (which would have been my advice in the first place).

In summary, you can certainly TRY to adopt a professionally written resume as your own, but the pitfalls that can trip you up along the way can actually hurt your job search results.

You’re better off pulling in some formatting styles that appeal to you, and writing about your own career history—from scratch.