Where Were You When You Heard The News?

Quick, do you remember how you got the news about:

The space shuttle Challenger crash?
The OJ not-guilty verdict?
The killing of Osama bin Laden?
The Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare?

I think you will find that, like me, you received word of each of these landmark news events in a different way owing to the evolution of technology and your engagement with different news sources and devices.

And, even though today we may grab devices for immediate news, we still hunger for opinion and analysis from traditional media.

Back before there were “devices”, the space shuttle disaster occurred. It was during “morning drive” for me in Los Angeles and I heard the news on the radio. Consequently I stayed glued to the radio to hear updates and considered it an excellent news source as they interviewed experts and painted an aural picture of the awful day.

The OJ verdict was more of a “planned media event.” The PR agency I was working at was almost giddy in setting up viewing “parties” in different offices and allowing everyone to stop what they were doing to watch. It was high drama and TV was the perfect vehicle. (It was also the perfect “vehicle” for the infamous OJ “white bronco” slow chase a few years prior!)

In re-visiting the catastrophe that was 9/11, many people heard this news via phone ––folks called all over the city to make sure friends and family were safe and were comforted when they could connect.

The event itself is very well-documented for family members by those infamous last phone calls from loved ones who perished. Of course we all became insatiable for news afterwards from all sources at the time – TV, radio, print and burgeoning online.

Osama bin Laden’s death was a watershed moment for breaking news online as people everywhere simultaneously reacted as they read the news on Twitter.

Which brings us to today’s Supreme Court ruling on health care (“Obama-care”). Certainly it qualifies as another “planned media event” but, truly media- evolved court junkies could not even wait nano-seconds for people to tweet and instead fired up the popular SCOTUS blog site which reports court decisions in real time.

It makes you wonder how we will learn about the next big news story.  Any thoughts?

PR Techniques: How To Get ZMOT On Your Side

Marketers like to talk about the Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT, for a product or brand. Loosely defined as the moment when a prospective buyer looks for online reviews and recommendations for a product, ZMOT follows the P&G tenets of the “first moment of truth,” when a customer chooses a product on the store shelf, and the second one, when she uses it at home.

ZMOT may be a new buzzword, but to PR professionals, it’s just another way of describing how online reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations converge to make the buyer’s habit of “pre-shopping” a make-or-break factor for a brand. Part of our job is to help manage that reputation.

What’s interesting is that ZMOT holds true for people also. With new graduates facing a tough job market, and many more seasoned professionals finding the employment picture equally challenging, it’s important to deploy classic, and newer, PR techniques and tactics to get ZMOT on your side. Here are some tips from the PR and communications side.

Revamp your online reputation. One of the first things we do in setting up a new client program is research, including listening to what’s said about the business or brand.  Of course, everyone in the job market knows the power of online reputation but nurturing a personal brand, or winning your personal ZMOT, isn’t just about managing the negative.  It’s about maximizing page one of search results to reflect a proactive, current positioning that communicates expertise.

Reference your authority. To that point, you can position yourself as an expert in your area through regular blog posts or – most underused – short videos on YouTube.  Start discussions on LinkedIn.  Become a regular part of the community on key blogs in your area.  Post in the professional groups on Quora.  Get more active in professional organizations online. Make connections but convey expertise as you do so.

Repackage yourself. That’s what we say when a certain story pitch isn’t working.  If your CV is being rejected out-of-hand, it’s time to replace dated anecdotes with fresh ones and present your skills and experience in a current context. According to recruiters, it’s best to focus on the last 15 years of your resume.  And everything – from your resume to your look to your digital profile – should be up-to-date.

Create a ‘news stream.’ Just as a growing company plans its press communications to craft a larger story of growth and success, you can look at your communication to your core network the same way.  Draw up an editorial calendar of planned updates to key recommenders.  Push them out in appropriate and personalized ways.

Hone your storytelling talents. Yes, the product turnaround, the team that jelled just in time to win the large client, or the career change can be interview gold.  But most people don’t work hard enough at it.  There’s some terrific advice on storytelling for business out there from experts that range from Steve Denning to Hollywood’s Peter Guber.

Media-train yourself.  Storytelling mastery is difficult, as are open-ended or unexpected questions. It’s not too extreme to do what the pros do.  Draw up a list of tough or open-ended questions, craft the best responses and storylines, and videotape yourself in a mock interview.  Then hone your answers and anecdotes and do it again until it’s natural and seamless.

Line up recommenders and keep them in the loop. This is another key ingredient of ZMOT. The power of reputation lies in third-party endorsement, whether implied or explicit.  Many employers “pre-shop” for senior level candidates before meeting them.  Make sure key colleagues, clients, mentors, and peers are in the loop and ready to say the right things if they’re asked because the most credible references are informal ones.

A different version of this post was recently published on MENGBlend.

A Smart Start To Hispanic Marketing And PR

More than 52 million Hispanics currently live in the U.S., making them the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group. Hispanics have huge purchasing power, and that clout is increasing 50 percent faster than non-Hispanic groups. The segment is desirable for marketers as well as political candidates; the buzz is that GOP candidate Mitt Romney may choose an Hispanic running mate.

How can marketers and PR pros tap into this rich demographic? The following are some essential steps to marketing to the Latino community:

Translating a campaign to Spanish does not guarantee success

Do NOT translate ongoing campaigns directly into Spanish. Many phrases and ideas do not translate well, and, campaigns may end up sending a different message than what was intended. Here are three examples that may make you laugh but we doubt the clients or intended audience found them funny:
Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea.”

A U.S. T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market that promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa), the shirts read “I saw the potato” (la papa). Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Always research your targeted demographic and create a Spanish-language campaign that coincides with the brand’s messaging, taking into account idiomatic expressions and proper word usage.

Research and understand your target audience

The Hispanic population offers a lot of diversity, with ethnicities including Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and many others. Who in the Hispanic market do you want to reach? The market in New York is vastly different than that in Los Angeles. Research your intended target to understand what shapes and influences that sub-group.

Recognize core values of the Latino community

Although the Latino population is quite diverse, many share similar traditions and exhibit similar consumer behaviors such as entertainment and food choices. An article in Adweek mentions that “one can be completely fluent in English and still lean Latino in values.” While this population run the gamut in stages of acculturation, many share values that include tradition and family. This should be taken into account when marketing to a more general Hispanic audience.

Collaborate with Hispanic organizations

Partnering with a Hispanic organization is a great way to begin to understand the audience you are targeting. These organizations already have roots in the community and can help you research and, guide you in creating successful campaigns.

As with any other market, a successful Hispanic marketing campaign hinges on understanding your audience. Got a favorite multi-cultural campaign you’d like to share?

Boundless Enthusiasm For The Boundary-less Office?

Lately there has been a resurgence in the “open office.” Now, when I say “resurgence” I refer to the fact that offices of yore (late 1800s-early 1900s) were open-floor plans with office folk generally gathered around one big table with perhaps a separate desk for the boss.

Today’s open office floor plans seem to be working well for two reasons. The first is economic – corner offices take up valuable square footage that could be used to accommodate more workers and more workers means more productivity.

The second reason is the nature of work today. Start-ups, many companies in digital, tech and knowledge-based service industries, as well as PR firms, do well amidst the thrum of active collaboration. Generation Y-ers and beyond also thrive in a hive. According to workplace strategist Margaret Serrato, “we space” is the new “me space.”

This all sounds really motivating and active and productive, and I don’t like to rain on anyone’s office parade, but after all the fun brainstorming and “Imagineering,” who’s gonna write up all this great stuff? And can you really sit at your laptop and pound out purposeful prose with the whole gang?

I can’t. I like to retreat after a collaboration-fest and filter out the useful bits undistracted as I plan for our PR clients. With pundits predicting that by 2020, half of any corporate space will be converted to wide open space, here are some of my own survival tips. Feel free to add more.

• Timing is everything. Plan your day to incorporate both group and individual work. You want to be part of the action, but make it clear that you are then devoting a certain amount of time to uninterrupted solo work.

• Headphones. Many people swear by making a playlist to accommodate each of the types of work one encounters during the day. Symphonic strains for tedious detail work? Melodic mainstream pop for creative plans? Whatever suits you.

• Get Zen with it. In a particularly noisy workspace where you simply have to disengage to get deadline work done, “find your happy place.” Breathe deeply, drink your favorite calming beverage or read something soothing to help transition.

7 Deadly PR Sins or How Not To Be An Amateur

My favorite TV character rant, linked (loosely) to the practice of public relations, is the one delivered by PR pro Eli Gold of “The Good Wife,” who is played superbly by Alan Cumming. Faced with a boneheaded media relations move by a political colleague, Gold lets loose with a wonderfully escalating barrage of outrage. He caps the tirade by spitting out a final, scorn-saturated insult,The one thing I hate is an amateur.”

In the spirit of Eli Gold, but with a kinder, gentler attitude, I present the worst, most avoidable, most amateurish PR mistakes. Call them the 7 deadly sins.

Overpromising. This is a tough one, because publicity results cannot be predicted with 100 accuracy. In the heat of battle, it’s easy for an agency team to escalate the potential return-on-investment. Sometimes it’s simple expectations creep abetted by a long selling cycle. In the worst cases, it’s the utter failure to discuss expectations. There’s usually hell to pay.

Missing deadlines. The media opportunity missed. A proposal emailed too late. A soft seasonal story idea conceived after most articles are put to bed. This one’s a tactical crime of omission, but still. Deadlines are sacred in the PR game, and blowing one is a crime punishable by expulsion from the biz.

Spamming. The more desperate (or ignorant) among us are called out for the sin of “spray and pray” media relations practice on a weekly basis. But it bears repeating. It’s not evil, but it’s unprofessional at best. A personalized approach will always work better.

The on-and-off approach. This one’s on the client side. Some companies think of PR like a spigot they can turn on or off as budgets or business conditions dictate. Big mistake. Public relations works best as a long-term branding tool, unlike sales promotion or direct marketing. There’s a large opportunity cost here.

Using (or abusing) ad clout. Most agency pros have a story about a client who insists on trying to leverage an ad buy to generate editorial coverage, or who threatens to pull a schedule if a story is less than positive. The truth is, this can work, but it’s rarely worth the cost to the media relationship. And it’s been known to backfire in a punishing way.

Thinking PR = press release. One of my pet peeves is the client or company who feels a PR program is the equivalent of a paid, SEO-enhanced newsstream. It’s not, and the buyer is selling himself short.

Confusing language. Sadly, this bedeviling practice isn’t limited to amateurs. Instead of “unique, integrated, industry-leading, strategic solution,” can we learn to write and speak in simple, powerful words? Blessed are those who communicate clearly.

Know Thy Niche! PR Tips For Micro-Targeting

Sure, your client wants The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Penetrating these publications means huge exposure for the company and a great coup for a PR pro. But sometimes an effective niche blogger campaign can be just as valuable. With a hyper-targeted focus, niche placements can drive sales and build awareness about a specific service or product.

Is your client a dopp kit retailer, for instance? Believe it or not, there’s a blog for that! There seems to be a blog for every topic imaginable nowadays, which makes niche outreach particularly useful.
With this in mind, here are three tips for PR pros looking to leverage niche blogs to build rewarding outreach programs for their clients:


One of the most difficult aspects of niche outreach is discovery—i.e., who are the targets. While a blog about dopp kits exists, finding it can be tough. That’s why using services like Alltop, SimilarSites, and Technorati can be helpful. They help you organize your search to limit endless and incessant Googling. Additionally, while often viewed as a relic in PR, blogrolls — a list of recommended blogs that a blogger includes in a sidebar — are especially useful for niche campaigns. Bloggers who post blogrolls are hyper-aware of other influential writers in their community, making those lists a PR treasure trove.


When focusing on a particular niche community, advance preparation and research is a must. To effectively reach these groups, you must know how they work and what they find interesting. Given their hyper-targeted focus, don’t dive in without inside knowledge of their space. To do so generally leads to a missed opportunity and an unsuccessful campaign. Knowing the niche group you’re pitching is half the battle.

I’m Not Niche

When pitching a niche blogger – or any blogger, for that matter – remember, just because they’re not with The New York Times doesn’t mean that you should treat them differently. Don’t ever act as if they’re a “niche blogger.” Be attentive and honor commitments. This is key to any effective program. A targeted blog’s general reach maybe smaller, but influence today is measured in a number of ways and every blog can have an impact.

These are three ways to encourage success. What are some others?

PR Agency Job Titles We’d Like To See

A recent post by journalist David Henderson posited that PR agency folk, famous for creating highfalutin’ titles, or “uptitling,” are actually running out of original (read: crazy) job names for employees. I mean, where do you go after “Director and Media Strategist, Global Consumer and Brand Marketing Practice,” for example? And is it vastly different from being “Executive Vice President/Global Strategy and Insight?” Whew, I’m tired just saying the titles, let alone knowing what they actually mean.
These flagrant examples of “title-fluffing” sent me on a search for interesting job titles in other industries and I found some that I believe better capture what many agency people really do.

Head Worm Wrangler.  Kind of requires no explanation! In actuality, a worm wrangler is part of a “vermicomposting” operation – an ecologically sound waste disposal service using worms to do the work.

Director of Chaos.  Ever been part of a new business team on deadline? Every agency could use an expert in this field. A beer brewer claims to employ one.

Remedy Engineer.  Nice way to describe a “crisis counselor” in PR parlance but it actually refers to civil and environmental engineering.

Overseer of Order.  An individual with this title would come in handy at major events or during a client or employee meltdown of some kind. Right now it belongs to a professional organizer, of course!

Director of First Impressions.  Aren’t we all? I love that this is a title bestowed upon an office receptionist!

Finally, one of my favorites has to be the Snooze Director at Sleepy’s (the mattress retailer) especially since we created it and helped fill the job. Alas, in the always-antic agency world, I don’t know that we will ever see anyone with that moniker! Any favorite titles you would like to share?

2012 Commencement Wisdom For New (And Old) Graduates

There’s just something about graduation season. Even those of us whose commencements are far in the past can catch some fresh inspiration from the wisdom dispensed at the annual college rites. And for the speakers, it’s often a strategic PR move where boldfaced names look to be humorous, colorful, and newsworthy. Here’s a recap of some of my favorite 2012 graduation moments and speeches.

Eric Schmidt, Boston University

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt‘s speech to BU’s class of 2012 had a slow start; Schmidt looked awkward and floated a silly line about Twitter that could have been penned by a borscht-belt comedian. Yet, he worked up to an idealistic finish, urging new grads to “make a difference” and speaking eloquently about the value of trust in a networked world. His most interesting advice is counter-intuitive.

In order to know that (what you really care about), I hate to say it but you’re going to have to turn off your computer, turn off your phone. And discover all that is human around us.

Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University

As an SU alum, Sorkin offered one of the most deeply personal speeches. He shared theater class anecdotes and even mentioned his 10 years of struggle with cocaine addiction. As usual, Sorkin didn’t try to flatter or patronize his audience, greeting them as a “a group of incredibly well educated dumb people.” He borrowed liberally from his own writing, but his remarks are inspiring, and the trademark idealism comes through. Nice timing, too, with his new HBO drama set to debut this month.

Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has. Rehearsal’s over. You’re going out there now. You’re going to do this thing. How you live matters. You’re going to fall down but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.

President Barack Obama, Barnard College

President Obama’s words to the women of Barnard held the same message. They were also eloquent, if a little less personal. Yet I can’t help that Mr. Obama might have been thinking of his own presidency when he delivered the Churchillian words of his finale.

My last piece of advice — this is simple, but perhaps most important: Persevere. Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure — sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit.

Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts of Philadelphia

My favorite 2012 commencement speech is that of novelist and screenwriter Neil Gaiman, whose remarks were focused on lifting students aspiring to a career in the arts. And he should know.

The rules, the assumptions, the now-we’re supposed to’s of how you get your work seen, and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be to get your work seen. YouTube and the web (and whatever comes after YouTube and the web) can give you more people watching than television ever did. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are.

So make up your own rules.

Ira Glass, Goucher College

Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” gave a charmingly quirky speech. And, why not? Glass is a great storyteller. First he dumped on the very idea of a commencement speech, calling it a “doomed form.” Then he launched into a personal narrative that roamed from the loss of his virginity on the Goucher campus to his Jewish grandmother, who once met Adolf Hitler in Germany before WWII. Glass shared the Hitler anecdote as a kind of a metaphor for missed opportunities. (His grandmother had no idea who Hitler was and what he would become, so she missed the chance to change the course of history by killing him.)

We lurch forward in our lives, we try this, we try that, we make the best guesses that we can….based on what we believe at the time. It’s entirely possible that you or you or you will get the chance to…change the world and kill Adolf Hitler and you will miss it, that is entirely possible.

But…I believe in you. I think it’s just as likely that you will…make yourselves into who it is that you’re trying to be and when you get your chance to remake the world, when you get the chance to change everything for yourself, and hopefully for others, too, when you get the chance to shoot Adolf Hitler, you will know what to do. That’s my wish for you on this day.

Jane Lynch, Smith College

The award for best ending line belongs to veteran indie actress and Glee star Jane Lynch, who said this to the graduating Smithies.

If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive — and yes, I just mixed three metaphors. Remember, I was a C-student.


What the Best Media Contacts Do And Don’t Do

If you’ve been in PR long enough, there’s no doubt you’ve received some nasty emails from short-fused journalists who’ve been inundated with misdirected, off-target and just wrong pitches.  A few weeks ago, I ended up getting the exact opposite; a good-natured note from a high-profile journalist letting me know that he couldn’t cover a story I had pitched him, but providing some great info that will help my entire team moving forward.

In this light, here are a few things that I’ve noticed the best media contacts do and don’t do:

Do: Be constructive in their rejection!

This reporter let me know that his beat had changed recently and went on to offer the contact info and areas of interest for each tech and business writer at his outlet. It was probably the best rejection email I’ve ever gotten.

Do: Come to you for a story

There’s nothing more gratifying in the PR world than having a reporter seek you out to help craft a story.  If you put in the time to cultivate a strong working relationship and stay in touch on issues of common interest, one day a contact is going to have the perfect story for your client and reach out to you proactively. That is a serious coup in agency-land and your stock will rise in the opinion of both the client and the journalist.

Don’t:  Use your information without referencing your client

Unfortunately, this happens from time to time.  You give a contact a great new study or survey from your client, they like it, they cover it, and they never even mention the source!  All that work doesn’t even turn into a hit.  Recourse? We do recommend politely seeking credit after the fact, particularly from an online media source. The “good” ones will update a post with client credit.

Don’t: Forget we had an appointment!

Reporters are very, very busy.  We all know this.  And sometimes, no matter how many email reminders and calendar requests you send, they’ll still completely forget about that briefing you had arranged between them and a client. This can be frustrating, but the only thing you can do is reschedule, move forward, and reconfirm!

What do you think?  What other helpful habits to great media contacts possess?

A PR Agency’s Take On Mad Men

As the season winds down on one of my favorite shows (that just happens to focus on an industry close to my own) it’s fun to look at what the show got “right” about our world of agencies and clients. Granted, the season isn’t over yet – the agency could sink a big fish client as Don wants, or be happy with their mid-size roster for awhile or even resign Jaguar, what with all its unpleasant associations (namely unsavory sex and suicide), but I think there were some key themes that resonate with today’s mad men and women.

Show don’t tell, all the better to sell

This little axiom proved out during the season most memorably as Don and pretty new wife Megan used their wit and banter to demonstrate to potential client Heinz the agency’ skill in getting housewives to buy more baked beans. During what appears to be just normal chatter between themselves and the Heinz head and his wife, Megan skillfully cues Don to talk colorfully about their own family dinners and, voila, the personal touch sells better than any boards and copy could.

There will always be bad bosses

New copywriter Ginsberg begins to gain real traction as a creative force and even stands up to Don pushing a campaign idea for new client Sno-Cone. Don, feeling old, threatened, jealous or all of the above, demonstrates the worst creative director qualities by leaving Ginsberg’s work in the cab. He pitches only his own idea (featuring a devil, not subtle symbolism!) and closing the deal. Ginsberg never knows about this bad boss behavior but Don later tells Ginsberg “I never think about you at all.” Ouch, bad boss, very bad boss.

Women need to know their worth

It is the mid-60’s on the show, and women have made great strides in the business world but are still treated as 2nd-class citizens (or in Joan’s case, as “chattel!”) Peggy spent much of the season chafing at a perceived (actual?) relegation to solely “female brands” and the knowledge that although she could belt them back with the boys, she wasn’t competing on the pay scale. When she dips one tiny toe into the job market, she is amply rewarded by a great competitive offer and she jumps. Although Don tries to counter, it seems desperate and emboldens Peggy all the more to move to a better work environment. Sadly, this women’s wage gap is still true, with the recent failure of the Paycheck Fairness Act, so the 60s are not dead!