Can Your Social Media Use Some Spring Cleaning?

In the digital age, your home probably isn’t the only thing that needs a light dusting after a long winter. Here are a few Friday ideas to help you hit “refresh” and spring clean your social media.

It’s Cut Time

Just like in sports, it’s time to assess your blog feeds and email subscriptions. Are they valuable? If your newsfeed is cluttered with updates from people you don’t really know, or if you can’t remember opting in, go ahead and cut them. It’s okay to unfollow or unfriend a few every now and then.  If you don’t, your whole online social experience can get a little overwhelming.

Take the Dive into Timeline

Are you still resisting the switch to a Timeline Facebook profile?  It has to happen eventually, so just take a few minutes and make the big change.  Trust me, you’ll be loving it in no time.

Revisit Linkedin

LinkedIn makes spring cleaning easy, because it does most of the updating for you. But if you have a stack of business cards, or if you’ve been overfocused on another social platform, it’s time to add them. And, remember, you can import your contacts to Outlook or to most other platforms to minimize overlap.

Explore Some New Opportunities

Spring is a great time to explore new things.  Sure, everyone is on Facebook and Twitter, but have you jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon yet?  How about starting a Tumblr page?  Social media is an incredible way to express yourself and explore your interests, so be sure to take advantage of the latest and greatest developments.

JetBlue’s Response to Pilot Breakdown: Light On Crisis PR Strategy?

All airlines are prone to rough PR weather, but JetBlue seems to have more than its share. Maybe it’s because during a time of rapidly deteriorating expectations, many of us still expect more of JetBlue. It’s that rare industry bird, the customer-friendly airline. An oxymoron.

So when it goes off-course, that’s news. There was the 2007 Valentine’s Day Massacre in which ice storms forced it to ground flights at the last minute. Hundreds of passengers were stranded, and then-CEO Dave Neeleman’s national apology tour helped repair the reputation damage. In 2011, it faced the PR fallout caused by  flight attendant Stephen Slater’s famous exit. Both were serious incidents, but Slater’s actions, at least, had elements of humor, and the airline’s response was measured.

There’s nothing funny about what happened this week. A JetBlue pilot suffered a mental breakdown and had to be restrained by crew and passengers in mid-flight. Though the plane made a safe unscheduled landing, it was clear that JetBlue’s own captain had posed a security threat to all onboard. He shouted incoherently about “Jesus, September 11, Iraq, Iran and terrorists” and banged on the cockpit door demanding entry after a quick-thinking copilot locked him out.

JetBlue’s crisis response succeeded in that it got the mechanics right. Its blog referred to a “medical situation” on the flight and reported the safe landing in Texas (though with few details.) It responded in real time to questions and comments on Facebook and Twitter as the story unfolded, and CEO Dave Barger gave a live exclusive interview to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” one day later.

But the messaging was a bit off. Immediately after the incident the airline seemed to minimize it. Meanwhile, as the real story of the pilot’s breakdown emerged from passengers, the media accounts grew. “This Is Your Captain Freaking,” blared The New York Post. Web comments piled up. Boldfaced names like @piersmorgan piled on.
JetBlue scrambled to do all the right things for the passengers on the plane, offering refunds, vouchers, and personal outreach to passengers on Tuesday.

And though Barger’s candor and accessibility were admirable, he spent most of his airtime defending the Captain, personally vouching for his record as a “consummate professional,” and praising the crew who helped at 35,000 feet. It’s understandable, and the heroism of the copilot and passengers is a good story (as is JetBlue’s status as the first airline to bulletproof cockpit doors.) But the first rule of crisis management is to accept responsibility and acknowledge the seriousness of the loss or risk.

In defending the pilot so vigorously, rather than stressing how seriously it takes the situation, Barger veered a bit from the crisis playbook. Freakish though the incident was, the airline should take responsibility for the situation and call it for what it was, a grave security threat. It then needs to commit to a full investigation of the incident. It has done all three, but under pressure, and after Barger’s “consummate professional” quote was picked up by media.

Barger might take a lesson from the Neeleman era. After the 2007 crisis, JetBlue pioneered a “Customer Bill of Rights” to ensure that such a massive grounding of flights wouldn’t happen again. It showed real leadership within the industry when it could have hidden behind tough weather and unanticipated events.

The case of the erratic captain has shone a light on mental health standards for all airline pilots and possible gaps in FAA screening measures. Maybe JetBlue should lead once again by pressing for a full review of those measures, on top of its own investigation into the captain’s record and its screening process for stressed employees. Then it can take credit for teamwork, training, and, yes, those reinforced cockpit doors.

Crafting Better New Business Proposals

New business is the lifeblood of any PR agency. Often, your written proposal is your strongest selling piece, particularly in a competitive situation. What goes into writing a winning proposal? In addition to the obvious: define the client objectives, target audience, develop a strategy and create tactics, here are some tips to make your proposal pop.

Knowledge is power

All good proposals begin with in-depth research into the client, the category , the competitors and the media. Take this one step further and research the viability of your concepts – has your “big idea” just been implemented by a rival? Can you find a case history that supports one tactic you are pushing for? The more you know, the more you can exude confidence in your presentation and your creative ideas.

Group Mentality

We all know that you can’t be truly creative in a vacuum, but there isn’t always time for a formal brainstorm with colleagues. If you can’t conduct a group brainstorm, send around an email of some thoughts so your clever co-workers can chime in.

Delegating and Deadlines

Do both. A proposal can come alive when different brains take a hand in the writing. But don’t let the process overwhelm, work backwards from the proposal due date, building in adequate time for brainstorms and re-writes and make dates you can stick to.

Promise but Not Over-Promise

Set both achievable and “stretch” goals for the client should they hire you and implement your program ideas. Put real thought into what is achievable and how to get to the more “aspirational” goals you have set. This explanation will help the client best evaluate your work.
What made your last proposal a “winner?” Share here please!

When Good PR Succeeds Too Well

The Joseph Kony viral video drama and the Mike Daisey scandal have one thing in common. In each case, someone set out to call public attention to a serious injustice, exploitation, or crime. In each case, their efforts were rewarded beyond their wildest notions. Too well, some might say.

Each begs the question, can our preoccupation with storytelling and the increasingly large gray area it occupies between PR and journalism actually undermine the greater cause? Or does taking liberties with the literal truth serve the “larger story”?

The Kony 2012 situation is well known. The astounding virality of the video detailing the horrific crimes of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony galvanized a generation of young people, triggered impressive giving, and was discussed, debated and shared among millions.

It also invited scrutiny about Invisible Children’s commitment to facts, its allocation of funds raised and its treatment of a highly sensitive and complicated issue. To their credit, Invisible Children’s leaders addressed the criticisms directly, defending their commitment to the cause nearly as passionately as the video highlighted it. Had it not been for another ‘viral’ video – that of founder Jason Russell’s sad and bizarre public breakdown, caught on tape and share by TMZ, Invisible Children might have emerged from the controversy with its reputation intact.

Mike Daisey’s situation is more troubling in my view. In his zeal to hold Apple’s suppliers accountable for exploitation of workers, he simply made up facts. As recounted on shows like “Real Time” with Bill Maher and, most famously, “This American Life” on NPR, Daisey shared vivid details about mangled limbs, chemical poisoning, and 13-year-olds working the line at FoxConn. All fabricated.

When NPR discovered the truth, it issued a retraction and a full apology on its website. But the Daisey case is particularly sad, because his creativity and persistence in highlighting conditions at Apple factories in China made him a rockstar among activists. And by spinning lies, Daily has overshadowed and undermined the very cause he wanted to highlight.

Of course in each case, it’s not a question of PR that succeeded too well. The lesson is to be transparent, truthful and scrupulous with the facts. Invisible Children acknowledge they oversimplified to capture the public imagination. Daisey now admits he made compromises (i.e., told lies) to serve the “larger truth.”

The lesson for PR pros is that the literal truth always matters. And when the messenger becomes a bigger story than the message, everyone loses.

Borrowing Interest (Or Stealing It!) With Breaking News

So your client isn’t making that huge “New iPad” headline news?  You still need to get them press and attention and sometimes that can be tough. The smart PR practitioner is always on the lookout for ways to piggyback onto a broad, national event or story or something gaining ground in the cultural zeitgeist.  Get creative! Look for the latest, hottest news story or topic to latch onto and insert your client into the conversation.

Think about releasing a specially timed survey, offering up your client as a resource or expert on a current event, or creating a specifically themed infographic.  It just might get your client that strategic placement you’ve been after.
Here are three types of news stories the savvy PR person can leverage for extra ink

Special Days = Great PR

Big days or specific seasons can be great for PR, so you should always be scanning your calendar for ideas.  For example, think about ways your client can relate to the retail craziness of Black Friday, the lost rest of daylight saving time or the mania that is March Madness..  A simple (but quality) survey pertaining to the topic, and strategically released at the right time of year, can do wonders for client visibility.

2012 Presidential Campaign

The 2012 Presidential Campaign has been dominating the news for months, and it’s only getting bigger.  With so much time and press devoted to the campaign, political reporters are constantly looking for time and space fillers.  Find a creative way to relate the political craziness or marathon campaigning back to your client’s specialty. Even if they are wary of taking political sides, there are a ton of possibilities here.

Win Big with Sports Stories

Whether it’s the Super Bowl, start of the baseball season, or March Madness, sports are constantly on people’s minds.  How about a light hearted March Madness tournament style “infobracket” from your client?

More so than many professionals, PR people constantly need to be up to date on current events and know exactly what people are talking about.  Look for these hot news stories, plan accordingly, and take advantage of them.  Your clients will thank you later.

Being A Good PR Mentor

PR, like any other business, depends on its mentors.  Without them, incoming junior-level staffers have to leap into an atmosphere of industry lingo, established media relationships and ever-changing trends.  A good mentor is invaluable to a mentee, to an agency, and to the industry as a whole.

Seek out Mentees
While some people have the chutzpah to ask a senior-level staffer to be a mentor, most don’t.  Keep your eye out for talent and when you see it, nurture it.  Also be sure to seek out good opportunities for your mentees; give them the chance to shine at something they wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to do.

Change Your Tactics
The same approach won’t work for everyone.  Some people prefer an almost-micromanaging approach, some people prefer just to come to a mentor with concerns.  Ask questions and really listen to the answers.  That way you’ll be able to offer the kind of direction that works best for your mentee.

Be Available
Offering to be a mentor during a company cocktail party is very easy; the tough part is following up on that offer.  You’re no good to your mentee if you’re not around, or if you’re the type who keeps your door closed.  Keep the door to your office open, and you’ll be keeping the door to communication open as well.

Give Honest Advice
The reason people value mentors is because they honestly help out those just starting out, so help honestly.  Don’t sugar-coat tasks, or organizations or – and this one is tough – your own experiences.  Share your dismal failures, as well as your resounding successes.  We all live in terror of very similar scenarios…did you give a press conference and nobody came?  Explain how you dealt with that, and how you made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

Set an Example
The biggest part of being a good mentor is being a good role model.  If you’re the kind to snooze through company meetings or check email during brainstorms, you’re not going to be a particularly sought-after mentor.   Being the energetic, thoughtful, forward-thinking type will get you noticed by potential mentees – and everyone else as well!

PR Disaster Averted: 7 Cases of Good Crisis Management

PR agency pundits and brand watchers love to create “best and worst” lists around marketing and communications developments.  The emphasis usually falls on the “worsts” – like the most badly handled crisis situations, mangled cover-ups, or PR stunts that backfired.

It’s easy to criticize, but what about giving credit for crises averted or PR battles won?  That list is shorter and far less obvious, but here are my nominations.

JC Penney. Penney’s reputation has been worn down in the past year. First, it was outed by The New York Times for “black hat” SEO practices last January. Then, it suffered a visual identity crisis leading up to the announcement of a bold new pricing strategy. Just as it built positive momentum for the “new” JCP, advocacy group One Million Moms threatened a store boycott over its choice of spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres. Rather than try to appease critics, the company stood by Ellen….and, in a brilliant move, it escaped the Lowe’s trap by letting her do most of the talking. Penney’s was betting that Ellen was far more popular than One Million Moms, and it was right. Ellen’s explanation of her “traditional values” is a PR home run. The boycott ended faster than a flash sale.

Planned Parenthood (PP). Most of the coverage of the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle focused on Komen’s lack of preparedness for the public reaction after it dropped PP from its grants program. But Planned Parenthood mounted a first-class response to the potential crisis. After offering an exclusive interview to the AP, it let loose a barrage of news releases and launched a social media campaign to mobilize fans.  Its core strategy was simple; as spokesperson Tait Sye explained, “We gave people things to do.” PP circulated online petitions, shared tweets, posted comments, and launched a no-holds-barred media tour by telegenic CEO Cecile Richards. The public pressure forced SGK to backpedal within the week.

Taco Bell. A year ago, the fast-food chain was the target of a customer lawsuit that served up a potential PR disaster for its brand. A California woman smacked Taco Bell with deceptive marketing claims, saying its tacos have far less beef than advertised. Taco Bell wasted no time in firing back.  The chain went on the offense, big time. It filed a countersuit, posted a video statement from the CEO, and dished out a saucy media campaign featuring the headline “Thank You for Suing Us!” The customer’s beef, and her lawsuit, were quietly dropped, ensuring Taco Bell a place in the annals of crisis management. Well done.

The Red Cross. It was only a rogue tweet, so the risk faced by The American Red Cross last year may not rise to the level of reputation crisis. But its handling of a staffer’s Twitter post about a beer party was a nice example of a measured response. After realizing the employee confused a personal account with a corporate one and shared plans for “gettingslizzerd” on @RedCross, the tweet was quickly deleted. Yet, importantly, it wasn’t ignored. The Red Cross used a light touch, noting, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Best of all, @DogfishBeer joined the fun by encouraging donations, and appropriate replenishment.

Justin Bieber. Oh, baby, what a mess this could have been. When the teen pop star was hit with a paternity suit from a fan who claimed Justin fathered her child, he recognized the risk to his popstar image.  Guided by PR rep Matthew Hiltzik, Bieber delivered an unequivocal denial on The Today Show. Team Bieber then went one better by filing a countersuit and taking a paternity test to prove he was no baby daddy. His comment?  “I know that I’m going to be a target, but I’m never going to be a victim,” hit the right notes. Well played.

o.b. Talk about facing the music. The J & J tampon brand was threatened with a “girlcott” by angry users after it discontinued its popular Ultra item. The customer backlash threatened to take over its reputation, until o.b. defused the situation with a unique response. Its apology PR campaign included a hilarious video that used personalization technology to woo back customers. “Triple Sorry” was a sublime send-up of an uber-schmaltzy music video, complete with rainbows and rose petals and a vow to bring back the product. It was a pitch-perfect response to a potential crisis with double credit to Canada for a downloadable product coupon.

Newt Gingrich. He’s known for flying by the seat of his pants, but the Speaker showed real PR savvy when he needed it most, just before the high-stakes South Carolina primary. His ex-wife’s ABC interview where she claimed he asked her for an “open marriage” could have dealt his campaign a death blow. But when CNN’s John King raised it at the start of the live debate, Gingrich was ready. He denied the story, but not before exploding in indignation and casting the media as the true guilty party. It may not be enough to save his candidacy, but it was a sound strategy that let Gingrich rally his base against that classic GOP enemy – the media.

This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on MENGBlend.

Springing Forward And Coping!

Early  Sunday morning, we will move our clocks forward one hour.  As I do this, I will think about how this lost hour of sleep is going to affect me and my Monday! By then, I will feel exhausted.  I’m yawning just typing this.

But this year, in order to avoid any sleepless drama I’m going to plan ahead.  Daylight Saving Time will not get the best of me, and I encourage you to also plan ahead and try the following:

Make a to-do list on Friday at work to hold yourself accountable to completing tasks before you leave for the day.  This will mean entering the weekend relaxed and not worried about how your “lost hour” will affect your Monday workload.

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to fall asleep try eating cornflakes, French bread, or jelly beans.  According to Reader’s Digest, if eaten about four hours before you go to bed these foods and a list of others will help you fall asleep in about half the time you normally do.

Wake an hour earlier on Saturday.  You’re not losing this hour of sleep until Sunday, but by waking a little earlier you will get to take advantage of the day.  Hopefully this will also leave you tired earlier in the evening so you’ll have a good night’s sleep.

Get some sun! Go for a bike ride or jog and soak in the some rays early in the day.  The sun will help reset your body clock and the physical activity should help you to relax better at night. Be sure to drink a lot of water and avoid caffeine later in the day so you can get to sleep and wake up on Sunday feeling refreshed.

Lastly, it’s the weekend so don’t feel guilty about taking a nap.  I know I won’t.  But avoid taking the nap too late in the day or for too long.  A short 20 minute nap should leave you refreshed and energized.

How do you cope with “springing ahead” each year?

What’s In A (Brand) Nickname?

Al Ries’ recent column in AdAge, “When It Comes To Names, Corporations Just Aren’t People” got me thinking about the PR of brand nicknames. Corporations may not be people, but their brands can get pretty darn close. That’s why “pet” names for products and companies can be powerful, from the classic shorthanders like Coke and AmEx to the more creative “Tar-zhay.”

Truly organic brand nicknames are rare. They speak to a bond between brand and customer that usually takes years to develop. Or they can be the sign of an insider, like how journalists and PR people will say “WaPo” or “the FT.”

To have staying power, the brand name has to feel authentic and grow out of consumer usage.  That’s why RadioShack’s nom de cool, “The Shack” didn’t gain traction. It just wasn’t how anyone thinks or talks about the stores. And though most consumers would recognize “Citi” as Citibank, few would use the nickname with affection. I’m still not sure about “Brown” for UPS. That’s trying to nickname a nickname, and it never felt quite natural.

In Ries’ view, J.C. Penney is also vying, – wrongly, he says,  for nickname status with its new ad campaign and redesigned logo that features only its initials. I disagree. Penney’s (now, that’s it’s true nickname) does sport a new look to announce its “Fair and Square” pricing strategy. The red, white, and blue brand evokes patriotism, and the initials inside the square suggest…well, fair and square. Makes sense.

It may be following Target’s pricing and marketing strategy here, but I disagree that it’s going for a cutesy nickname. It’s all about a friendlier, more helpful brand image and a move back to sensible pricing, nicely underscored by Ellen Degeneres in the only ads I stop my DVR fast-forward to watch.

There are better and more natural candidates for perpetual nickname-dom. One that’s nearly there is Dunkin Donuts. It’s been using “Dunkin'” in its tag lines, though not exclusively, and it feels right. Another is Trader Joe’s, which, since its incursion into Manhattan has not only threatened my loyalty to Whole Foods, but had me shortening its moniker to “TJ’s” in no time.

A brand nickname is, above all, a gift. As 99% of marketers know, it’s never a good idea to fight a name born of affection or even nostalgia. General Motors found out in a hurry that it shouldn’t mess with Chevy after its effort to legislate the use of “Chevrolet” crashed and burned a couple of years back. You can’t force it if it’s not happening; but when it does, by all means, don’t get in the way.