Pioneering art e-commerce site 20×200 has named Crenshaw as PR agency of record to build its leadership and support company growth within the art, technology, and business communities. 20×200 was launched in 2007 by gallerist Jen Bekman. Bekman was named one of Forbes.com‘s Top Ten Female Entrepreneurs to Watch, as well as Fast Company‘s Most Influential Women in Technology.
Recently I attended an awards luncheon where a prominent PR woman was honored for her fierce protectiveness of her clients and her way of shutting out press who didn’t promise positive coverage. It made me wonder about the guard-dog publicist in the age of social media.
A few days later, I read the New York Times feature about entertainment publicists who struggle to rein in their clients on Twitter and other social platforms, often with limited success. (Are you listening, Gilbert Gottfried?)
Is the publicist as gatekeeper an anachronism? Maybe it should be.
Of course, we all want to do well by our clients, and that can mean blocking media access or counseling against certain actions. And I know it’s standard operating procedure in Hollywood, where celebrity representation has always meant painstaking image crafting and aggressive press management.
But, in becoming “suppress agents,” entertainment publicists (and some corporate communicators) may be going too far. First, they miss opportunities to convey the human dimension of their clients, and to actually build something like authentic engagement with fans. And when access is too limited or the image too divorced from reality, they might just be setting them up for a fall.
Think back to Tiger Woods. His drive into the rough might have been smoother if it hadn’t contrasted so sharply with the carefully crafted image of Woods as a loyal family man and a paragon of self-restraint.
And one of the reasons Charlie Sheen’s outburst was so fascinating was that it felt so real. I, for one, am tired of the bland diet of banal profiles, puffy writearounds and praise for brilliant colleagues. Sheen’s unfiltered outbursts were like juicy red meat. As Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd wrote, “Well, at least he’s not reciting the same carefully crafted humility that we hear from everybody else.” It’s true.
Where can we get a break from those overscripted moments? The answer seems to be Donald Trump and Snooki. I wish there were something in between.
Every publicist wants to help clients be the best possible versions of themselves. But there needs to be something genuine at the core. Sometimes you can just feel the journalist struggling to eke out a spontaneous moment. It’s not to terrible to show your client’s humanity, and in the age of social media, it just may be inevitable.
Typos happen. Everyone makes them, but if you’re not careful, you can end up on blogs, as the topic of office chitchat, or even in the news. (See here for how Adweek spelled “Zynga” as “Zenga” on the front page of its re-launch issue, causing a small backlash.) It’s human to overlook something that you’ve been staring at for hours, but with a preponderance of pundits out to scrutinize, you must do your due diligence.
Sound it out – After working on a draft for awhile, it all meshes together and you aren’t really seeing it anymore. Reading out loud allows you to catch anything that sounds amiss and make corrections.
Four eyes are better than two – Regardless of how many times you’ve checked your work, there’s no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes. Typos and grammatical errors will pop out, and a fresh read can also help you curb verbosity and improve the flow of your document. If there’s time and the resources, have two other people look it over.
Be careful about the basics – It may be elementary, but review the common mistake-makers –infamous words such as “their,” “they’re,” “there” and “its” versus “it’s.” Spell-check will not catch these, so double-check and give yourself some memory clues to help banish problem words
Not sure of the “rule”? – Look it up! There are online sources that teach various accepted writing styles such as AP or MLA. How good is your current knowledge? Is it ok to start a sentence with “so”? (Answer below.)
Sloppy word usage and punctuation give the impression that you’re either uneducated or that you don’t care. Though some would say any publicity is good publicity, you don’t want to end up here! The Best Spelling Mistakes on Education Related Signs.
So, (perfectly acceptable) help rid the world of lousy writing by improving yours a little every day.
There was lots of discussion in PR circles this week about CareerCast‘s annual list of Most Stressful Jobs, because public relations has moved into the #2 spot. That’s right, PR officer beat out photojournalist and even emergency medical technician, among other gigs, and was second only to airline pilot (where’s air traffic controller on this list?) I can’t speak for colleagues, but I wouldn’t want to swap my stress level with that of an EMT.
Among the reasons we’re so stressed, according to CareerCast, is that PR pros must often speak in front of large audiences, and that we sometimes “are required to interact with potentially hostile members of the media.” Huh? For most of us, that last bit is more amusing than accurate. Sure, the publicists among us face rejection on a daily basis, as do many others in related fields, but it’s not generally a hostile situation.
So, the list and the methodology, if there is any, are definitely open to debate. But there’s something about PR that creates a special dynamic. Experts tell us that true stress occurs when you lack a degree of control over your circumstances. In PR, we serve many masters. Most of us have a direct boss, but our ultimate bosses are our clients.
And unlike other creative services firms, our deliverables often depend on the decisions of members of the media, with whom we have a strange and symbiotic relationship. Is that any worse than the typical journalist or ad executive? Maybe not, but it does contain an extra layer. The adage about the difference between PR and advertising comes to mind: “Advertising you pay for; PR you pray for.”
Do you agree that PR is stressful? What’s your biggest source of stress at work, and how do you deal with it?
Cue the organ music… here’s the dirt. A top appliance brand is so steamed by the demise of ABC’s daytime serials that it’s yanked its advertising clean off the network.
That’s right, in a move worthy of Erica Kane herself, Hoover announced that it won’t be advertising on ABC after Friday of this week. What’s more, it’s started a movement to salvage the soon-to-be-scrubbed shows.
SaveTheSoaps@Hoover.com was set up on Hoover’s Facebook page to “pull together the mass emotional outpouring of support for our beloved ABC soaps.” Hoover’s pledging to forward every last email from fans who are all in a lather over ABC’s decision to pull the plug on the sudsy dramas.
Efforts to revive the shows will probably end in grief, but Hoover has sucked in plenty of soap fans, as well as media and bloggers. Marketing VP Brian Birkendall reports receiving 400 emails on the day after the announcement. And in a nice twist, Soap Opera Digest has declared this Friday “Buy Hoover Day.”
Great stuff. But, the drama does beg the question of whether anyone really watches soaps anymore. Clearly, ABC doesn’t think so. Soaps were once a money machine for the networks; Luke and Laura’s 1981 wedding drew 31 million viewers. But in recent years the once-beloved shows have been killed off like an evil twin. The reasoning seems to be: Why pay a professional cast if you can get nearly the same thing at a discount by ditching the writers and using “real” housewives or D-list celebrities? Only four remain on the air, with the venerable “General Hospital” resorting to the stunt casting of James Franco to attract new fans. Now, that can’t be cheap.
So the trend is downward for the daytime dramas, but in my opinion the petition is a brilliant PR and reputation move. The good folks at Hoover know their customers, and they know there’s a large overlap with soap viewers. Most importantly, they know that these are the most loyal fans in the world, and they’ve connected with the powerless feeling fans get when an important decision is out of their hands.
Plus, there’s a virtual cottage industry of bloggers, fanzines, chat groups, and social networks devoted to the “stories,” as my grandmother used to call them.
So, bravo, Hoover. You probably can’t save the shows, but you’re right to, um, call ABC on the carpet to advocate for fans. For at least one of the players. I suspect this story will have a happy ending.
Bring My Planet to Work Day?
The BP oil spill is one year old this week, coincidentally the same week as Earth Day. Although the gulf is recovering, and Earth Day is already 41 years old, are we doing much in our day-to-day lives to effect change? Since much of my day-to-day life is at my office, I figured I’d share a few easy tips any of us can choose to put into practice starting this week.
Commit to ZERO disposable coffee cups. Did you know that most cups are made from virgin wood, and that more often than not recyclable cups don’t end up in the recycling bin? An easy solution would be to either keep coffee mugs at the office or bring your own reusable mug.
Use shredded paper for packing. Many of us still use peanuts and other stuffing materials, which are bad for the environment, to cushion the contents of a package. Next time, try using shredded paper or newspaper. It will get the job done just as well, while cutting down on environmental waste.
Print double-sided. Developing the habit to print on both sides of the paper will help you eliminate waste and keep your desk clutter-free.
Turn off the lights. Remember to turn off the lights when the conference room is not in use or when there is no one in the office. This is such a simple thing we often forget.
Bring back the water cooler chats. Don’t use bottled water in the office. Despite the fact that we try to recycle, millions of plastic bottles end up in landfills every year. It takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose, and in the process harmful toxins leak and poison the soil.
Tempest in a sippy cup? Some might think so. But as one PR expert put it,”the story was too good.” When a Michigan Applebee’s restaurant mistakenly served a pre-mixed margarita to a 15-month-old boy, the chain found itself battling a flood of critical coverage and a reputation threat.
The media and blogosphere was stirred up even more after a similar incident at a Florida Olive Garden in which a toddler was given alcoholic sangria instead of juice. And it’s not the first time alcohol has mistakenly ended up in a child’s cup.
A careful reading of news accounts of the Applebee’s incident raises some doubts about what really happened. Reports that the toddler was rushed to the hospital with a blood alcohol level of .10 have been contradicted by later accounts. In the wake of the (inevitable) lawsuit brought by the child’s parents, it crossed some minds that the incident might have been a hoax. It wouldn’t be the first time a customer tried to cash in by slapping a big-name chain with a juicy damages claim. (Remember the Wendy’s finger-in-the-chili case?)
But there’s no way to know what really happened, and if you’re Applebee’s, you have no choice but to respond with utmost seriousness. And it did, releasing a statement about its investigation, an apology, and a social media campaign right out of the rapid-response crisis playbook making use of Facebook, Twitter, and its corporate website. Most importantly, it announced that its policy for all restaurants would be to pour beverages directly from single-serve containers at the table. Likewise, Olive Garden pledged to make its sangria only when ordered, rather than stored premixed.
The response of each chain was supported by a statement from the National Restaurant Association that expressed industry concern, while trying to put the incidents in perspective as one (or two) in a million. And that’s what those trade association dues are for, folks.
Fortunately, the toddler is fine. But as an example of crisis handling, the entire incident is a lesson in just how quickly the story can get away from you. And that’s sobering.
No one is immune.
Vice President Joe Biden may have been meditating during a recent economic address delivered by his boss, but it sure looked like he was catching some z’s. In a more serious incident, a Nevada air traffic controller was caught snoozing on the job, the third such incident in less than two months.
Sleep seems to be the new sex. And no one’s getting enough. One of my most memorable new business pitch meetings involved an executive – in the first row, no less – who actually began to snore softly during our PR presentation. My only response was to gradually raise my voice, in the hope of waking him before everyone else noticed, but I ended up shouting at the rest of the group, with no impact whatever on the snoozer. But we did win the business.
Thank goodness that for most of us, drifting off on the job is a career hazard, but not a public safety one. In our sleep-deprived culture, most of us manage to stay awake with plenty of caffeine, work breaks, or, sheer will power. But, there’s evidence that we have the wrong attitude towards sleeping at work. Apparently major companies like Google, Nike, and Procter & Gamble have instituted policies that allow staff downtime while in the office.
Researcher Sara C. Mednick makes a lively case for napping on the job in her book, “Take a Nap! Change Your Life!” In fact, she believes it could be a competitive advantage, resulting in better memory, increased productivity and reduced illness and absenteeism.
That’s good enough for me. I say, naps for everyone! What about your workplace? Is there a chance for a sleep-at-work policy? Wake me in a half hour and let me know.
For a creative services firm like, say, a New York PR agency, the two greatest blessings might be loyal staff and long-term client relationships. Each is a gift, and they often go together. But longevity can also pose a challenge. How do you keep a five or ten-year PR program new and relevant? Here are some tips from the experts.
Put a fresh brain on it. Agencies can pull staff from outside the account team and have them take a look at the program with new eyes. This may be in an informal brainstorm or an actual formal review. My favorite tack is to pretend we’re pitching the business for the first time. On the corporate side, consider bringing in an agency on a project basis, strictly to audit and breathe new life into the campaign.
Trade places. It’s usually counterproductive to swap out client-facing staff just for the sake of change, but consider switching at the manager or assistant level. New blood on the team serves two goals: it injects fresh thinking, and it offers new opportunities to staff.
Write it into the plan. There’s something to be said for “planned spontaneity.” We have a longtime client for whom we offer a new idea every two weeks as part of our ongoing work. Some are big, others small. They grow out of our weekly team meetings and give us a turnkey way of offering up new thinking.
Research. Look at what competitors and other brands are doing for inspiration. In the old days we used to review PRSA Silver Anvil entries for ideas. Today, a simple keyword search can yield examples of best practices, most out-of-the-box programs, even famous failures.
Spend a day at the client’s office. If you’re on the corporate side, spend a day with your agency, or at an offsite facility if possible. We never fail to learn something new when we visit our clients, and in general, getting out of your own environment helps refresh your thinking.
Take a blogger to lunch. I think we as PR people can underuse our status as communicators of perception issues and opportunities from a company’s customers and influencers. It always pays to learn something new and design a program element around it.
Opening today: the remake of the classic Dudley Moore comedy, “Arthur,” starring Russell Brand. From the early reviews you might conclude that certain classics are better left untouched. But the recent success of “True Grit” shows that, in the right hands, even a legendary film can be improved in remake. In my opinion, a great film or other work of art should only be remade if the new version can add a new dimension, or make the story more relevant for a different generation.
This got me thinking about remakes in general, and I wanted to proffer some elements of the PR trade that might just be due for an update, or a total remake.
The Movie Publicist – Most PR pros agree that our public image could use a makeover, and nowhere is the stereotype more grating than in entertainment. Happily, the Sidney Falco cliche has been updated by PR people like Kelly Bush of ID, who was recently profiled in the New York Times as pushing the publicist role beyond that of media gatekeeper. And she’s not a schemer or a screamer. How refreshing!
The Press Release – Though the news release’s reinvention was heralded a few years ago with the advent of the social media release, that remake didn’t really stick. And we’re still complaining about empty jargon, poor writing, and unnecessary releases. The distribution side has fared better as technology has taken over press release delivery.
The Agency Search – If not a total remake, this is due for a streamline at least. If a client has done his/her due diligence, can’t we just cut out capabilities presentations? If you have read enough about us, assume we are all capable and let us strut our creative stuff!
Surely there are parts of our business you would like to “remake,” or those things, like “Arthur,” that are great just the way they are. Let us know!