When PR People Overshadow Their Clients

A while back, my firm was in a competitive review for a plum account. At our meeting, the potential client confided that he’d just come from a session with a well-known name in our industry and had crossed him off the list. The client wasn’t impressed. Or, rather, he was, but in the wrong way. “It was interesting to meet him, but he wouldn’t shut up about himself and his new book,” the prospect complained. “He’s too busy with his own PR to worry about mine.”

There’s an adage that PR pros should generate the story, but never be the story. It crossed my mind then, and again today after Romney press aide Rich Gorka lost his temper during the candidate’s recent trip to Poland, telling a persistent reporter to “kiss my ass” and to “shove it.” Gorka later apologized, but the exchange, caught on video, was fodder for at least another news cycle or two. The incident wasn’t serious, but it’s an example of the worst kind of behavior from a PR person; not only did it distract from the campaign’s messaging, but it reflected badly on all involved.

But what about flattering press? Hot tempers aside, should PR pros really stay in the background? In the age of Twitter, Facebook, reality TV and 50 ways to build your personal brand, isn’t that advice outdated? After all, what’s wrong with a little self-promotion, as long as it’s positive? It’s good for business – just ask Brooke Hammerling.

At first blush, the biggest risk for a well-known publicist seems to be eliciting the envy of peers. And envy might have been behind some of the harsh criticism of Hammerling as a strategic lightweight after she was profiled in a New York Times piece about Silicon Valley spinmeisters a few years back. But does anyone think she lost sleep over East Coast smugness?

Yet there is a downside to overshadowing your clientele. Anyone who hooks up with a boldface PR pro will attract greater than normal attention to the relationship. That’s okay when things go well, but if they go badly, you’re likely to be under a brutal microscope.  And if the publicist’s fame overshadows that of her clients, or, worse, seems to ride on a client’s own celebrity, it’s usually the beginning of the end of the relationship.

Hollywood uberpublicist Howard Bragman has the best advice. Actually, it’s his advice for clients wanting to achieve fame, but it applies as well to communications pros. According to Bragman, it’s a bad idea to be famous for fame’s sake. Don’t be known for flashy clients, parties, or gossip. Instead, be recognized as an expert – a crisis manager, cross-promotion queen, creative marketing genius, or social media pioneer.

For PR professionals, it all comes back to helping our clients reach their goals. The bottom line is, it’s better to be a Bethenny Frankel – known for building a business based on personal skills and drive – than, say, a Kim Kardashian. For professional recognition to be valuable, it should grow out of good work. The rest is icing on the cake.

So You Want to Work in Luxury Goods PR

by guest blogger sodelba alfaro
So You Want to Work in Luxury Goods PR

Although it would seem counter-intuitive, now is actually a good time to be handling PR for a luxury brand. Fueled by increasing demand in China, luxury goods makers are resisting the global economic slowdown and gaining large profits with the sales of high-end handbags, expensive watches, and fancy cars, among other items.

Results for the first half of 2012 released this week indicated that leading high-end brands had rising profits driven by growing sales in emerging markets.  As the audience for luxury goods and services shifts, it is up to marketers to keep finding meaningful ways to keep their products on the high-end radar.   Below are some tips for succeeding in the luxury goods PR market.

Who are the “luxe lovers?”
Whom do you perceive your customers to be? How have you identified those that will purchase offerings from your luxury brand? It is very important that you use only media outlets that will help you to connect with the target audience you seek.

The power of plus
Just as in traditional PR, increase your client’s brand strength by forming strategic alliances with other luxury brands that add value. Here, one plus one can equal three. Partnering with celebrities and charity causes is also an excellent opportunity to promote brand awareness.

Blog now
Encourage your client to create (or augment an existing) blog showcasing knowledge about the luxury market and where the brand fits. Keep the brand mentions subtle but connect with customers by promoting industry happenings, offering style tips and giving an insider perspective of the “luxury life.”

Use the new to emphasize the old
Many luxury brands have rich traditions to promote and social media can dynamically show off a quality pedigree. Recently, on its Facebook brand page, luxury watch maker Patek Philippe boasted that in 1851, England’s Queen Victoria was the first royal to wear a Patek Philippe & Company watch.  Next to the post is a portrait photo of Queen Elizabeth today, clearly sporting a Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse.

What’s your favorite luxury product campaign?

Universal Truths About Pitching PR Clients

Right now, we’re waiting to hear whether we have won some new clients pitched in competitive presentations over the last 90 days. Granted, we may not win them all, but whatever the outcome, I am proud of our efforts and have decided to dissect the reasons why I feel so confident. These are my personal “universal truths” about client pitching and acquisition in the agency world. Hope it is helpful to all of you in your own “biz dev” cycle.

If you’re pitching, you should be writing. Or at least reading and contributing to the proposal during the process.  Ideally each member of the pitch team should have a hand in researching, writing and editing the proposal – the more familiar a presenter is, the stronger they will be in selling your agency’s plan.

Tweak and tweak more. Keep honing and refining till you get it right. Particularly if you are presenting in PowerPoint, you have the ability to tweak up until the last minute to take advantage of sudden brilliance or breaking news in the prospect’s company or industry.

Get the scoop on the group. Learn as much as you can about those you are presenting to, the room set-up, the time, and the expectations for the meeting (discussion or formal presentation, etc.) Advance knowledge is often key to getting the best read and adjusting your recommendations accordingly.

Over-rehearse. No, really, do that! Remember, it’s almost always more intimidating to present in front of just your team than it is to present IRL.

Politely pester. If you don’t hear from the prospect within a reasonable amount of time, drop ‘em a line! Send a great placement; a news item pertaining to their business or something you know interests them personally. And if you still don’t hear from them, do it on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. A potential client recently said that he had found it effective to hear from our office during their decision-making process.

Now if they’d just make a decision!

Are We Too Old To "Get" Social Media?

Cathryn Sloane’s recent post arguing that social media managers need to be 25 or younger was a bombshell.

Not so much because of her youthful myopia; that’s not rare. Or even the (somewhat shaky) thesis that because her peer group grew up with social media and used it socially to start, they understand its business potential better than the more seasoned among us.

No, it was the emotional response to the post. It clearly struck a nerve among the 40+ crowd, among other segments. More than 500 comments have been logged since Friday, with plenty of sidebar discussions raging all over the web. The tone of the posts ranges from snarky to truly nasty and insulting.

My question to my peers is, “Why so defensive?” It’s one person’s opinion, and objectively speaking, it’s not even particularly well articulated or argued. Many would say it’s just linkbait. A digital-native version of “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30,” truncated for these recessionary times. So why are so many social media professionals of a certain age so up in arms?

Maybe because there’s something there. Of course, no one agrees in arbitrary age limits, and practical business experience is undeniably valuable. But there’s also value to one’s point of view. That can’t be bought or earned on the job. It’s in the DNA.

Do you have to drink the social Kool-Aid to understand it? Yes. That’s why the claim that the 25-and-unders understand it best because they were “first” isn’t the strongest argument. Those working in social media – at any age – are likely to be power users.

Yet I’d posit that one’s very relationship to technology is equally important, particularly in positions like community manager (not what Sloane specified, but perhaps what she meant) and in social content generation targeted to twentysomethings.

It’s that relationship to all things digital that is likely to be more intimate and more organic for a younger person.  Multimedia producer Bobby Rettew (who graduated in 1997) says this about the 18-34 generation.

Gen C uses technology as their oxygen where networking online is critical with the need for instant gratification. They are and will be multi-focused in work-life. Technology is completely embedded into their daily life and their physical space and technology are well integrated.

Of course, I can think of 40-year-olds who are completely enmeshed with digital technology, but ask yourself this. Would Mark Zuckerberg have created Facebook as a 30-year-old, or even a 25-year-old? I doubt it. And need I remind anyone that Steve Jobs, the most iconic of the Baby Boomers, was a college dropout who started Apple at the tender age of 21? (the same age as Bill Gates when he founded Microsoft with Paul Allen)

My point isn’t that Sloane is right. In many ways she’s wrong, or at least naive and narrow in her view. But, as the writer Neil Gaiman said to a group of new graduates recently, “People who know what they are doing know the rules…You do not. And you should not.” Gaiman’s comments were about testing the bounds of the possible in the arts, but they can apply as well to social media. Sometimes experience can work against you, particularly when it comes to new and innovative ideas.

So, let’s give Cathryn Sloane a break. By our vitriolic reaction to her post, we may be revealing as much about our own biases and shortcomings than we are about hers.

PR Internship Dos And Don’ts

by guest blogger Lauren Silverman

In PR, tangible experience is just as important as classroom experience (if not more). Real-world opportunities build skills and provide an integral part of any career path. It is important to know at the outset that internships are a two-way street and it’s the intern’s responsibility to maximize the experience.

This summer at Crenshaw Communications I’ve added to my internship acumen. Here are some of my best tips to make your internship more meaningful:

Do be hungry. A former supervisor told me this; be hungry for more information and experience. Ask to sit in on meetings and try new tasks. Make yourself invaluable—the company should notice your absence.

Don’t dress for the job you have. I’ve always lived by the mantra that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Dress appropriately for work and wear pieces you feel good in. If you feel confident, your work will reflect that.

Do “fail forward”. The best part of an internship is that the job provides the best opportunities to learn from your experiences; that is key! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but make sure you learn from them if you do.

Don’t suffer from device-itis. PR is one of the few fields where you’re encouraged to be social media-savvy and your job might require some tweeting or Facebook posting. However, allot a certain amount of time for browsing and don’t overdo it.

Do read up, be in the know. As a PR professional, it’s beneficial to know about pop culture and celebrity gossip. You’re expected to “keep up with the Kardashians” as well as current events and industry news. Stay attuned by picking up a trade magazine or browsing your favorite news source, it’s a good way to show you’re aware of the world around you.

Don’t re-invent the wheel. When writing a document for the first time, be sure to review older office files for examples or do a Google search before asking for help. By taking initiative, you’re proving to be self-reliant and proactive, two great intern qualities!

It goes without saying, but don’t forget to keep in touch with your mentors and team members after an internship ends! These are some general guidelines, but interning is a never-ending learning process. What are some other recommendations you might give to a current or prospective intern?

Do We All Have Nomophobia?

Last summer on a bike trip through Montreal, my Blackberry was accidentally drenched in sunscreen. The little keypad just oozed off and you could see oil inside the screen. It was messy and sad and caused me to sweat and hyperventilate at the thought of how long I might be without a phone.

Now that I have an iPhone, it’s worse. I am always clutching and checking it – texting, emailing, posting to Facebook, Twitter or checking the NY Post (there’s an app for that!). So the fact that Nomophobia (no mobile phobia) is now a recognized condition is of incredible interest to me.

Here are the signs of the phobia at its worst:

     Feeling anxious if your cellphone isn’t nearby

     Just the thought of losing your phone makes your heart pound

     Taking your phone to bed with you

And if you think you suffer from the affliction, you are not alone. A recent poll found that:

66% of the 1,000 people surveyed say they fear losing or being without their phone.

70% of female respondents fear losing their phones, compared with 61% of males.

People 18-24 tend to be the most nomophobic (77%), followed by those aged 25-34 (68%). The third    most nomophobic group is 55 and older.

What does this mean for cell phone providers? How can they capitalize on this great (for them) information without seeming predatory?

I liken it to the approach of security alarm companies, who preach preparedness and adopt a cautionary tone that, yes, okay, plays a bit into our fears. But I see phone providers leveraging this information to the good by upping the ante on customer service, replacement devices and plans that offer multiple phones where possible.

Of course, the campaigns would be directed mostly to making women feel safe and assured that they will never be too far from a repaired or new phone.
Because I don’t see it changing anytime soon.  Now, where did I put my phone?

Can Penn State’s Reputation Be Saved?

Among the casualties of the Penn State sexual abuse coverup were the personal reputations of university officials, including the late football coach and sports icon Joe Paterno. Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz and others will be forever linked to the efforts to minimize and conceal shocking crimes against children. (Who can forget the email in which Spanier calls the decision not to inform police a “humane” approach?)

But what about Penn State, the institution? Can it be redeemed? I was surprised to read many online comments, even in the wake of the Freeh report, that shrugged off the scandal and its impact on the school’s enrollment, alumni giving, and academic standing.

I’m not so sure. You can’t blame an entire university for what happened, but where Penn State lost the PR game, in my view, wasn’t just when its leadership failed to report and prevent crimes against children. That was a moral failing.

Where the university erred in PR terms was when news of the Grand Jury charges broke. It had an opportunity to get ahead of the story and at least be a part of the investigation, rather than the unwilling subject of it. The legal crisis had been in the making for three years, an eternity in issues management terms. Yet it wasn’t until the damage was done that the school tried to get control of the situation, and by then it was far too late.

So, what should the university do now? Here are some useful steps to consider:

New leadership. The school has a new president who seems committed to moving forward in a transparent way. But its housecleaning should go further, to the coaching staff and most importantly, the Board of Directors.

Open communications. The Freeh report was funded and commissioned by Penn State’s Board of Directors, which is a strong first step to communicating openly and letting the chips fall where they may. But the very fact of its funding wasn’t sufficiently communicated, in my view. PSU needs to redouble its efforts to show its commitment to getting at the truth.

Athletic program reform. Whether PSU football will be suspended is up to the NCAA, but it’s a fair question and one that should be seriously considered. I tend to agree with those who think a suspension would only serve to punish the innocent, but the program needs to be restructured, possibly by folding the athletic department into the university at large, along the lines of the Vanderbilt example.

Reparations. A “sudden death” suspension would have a real impact on the school and would show it’s serious about consequences, yet it doesn’t make amends. There will be civil damages paid to victims, but that’s reactive. The school needs to establish a formal program to compensate victims. Only a serious, long-term reparations program, along the lines of the BP fund or even the 9/11 victims’ fund, will demonstrate that PSU, as an institution and a community, is committed to never letting such a thing happen again.

Third parties. Penn State should bring on an independent third party to oversee claims resolution and, most importantly, to undertake a long-term education program like those run by The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children or Prevent Child Abuse America. Independence and moral authority are critical in any partner organization.

Money and sports. Arthur Caplan decries the “pernicious and corrupting influence of big time college sports” due to the huge sums of money they bring in, and he’s not alone.

The business of football and men’s basketball at many of our most visible universities is so huge — from the sale of sports paraphernalia, to TV and media rights, to gambling to stadiums filled with luxury boxes and corporate sponsors — that it is laughable to think that administration, legal staff or faculty would not think their primary duty is to protect those programs at any price.

Caplan makes a compelling case, but it’s not realistic to think that college sports – and the big dollars they generate – will go away any time soon. Better for Penn State to take smaller, but steady steps, towards reputation rehabilitation.

Who I Follow On Twitter And Why

by guest blogger Claire Shriver

Celebrity gossip, daily news, pictures of your friends—Twitter has it all. As a college student and PR intern who enjoys reading and writing in 140 characters or less, I’ve found Twitter to be the ideal location for new and (for the most part) accurate information when I want it, where I want it. Nearly all companies have accounts and all news outlets frequently generate useful content. The difficult part?

How to determine who to follow!

To reduce clutter on my Twitter homepage, I have narrowed to a succinct top four.

1) Friends I first joined the social networking site as a way to talk with my friends on a different platform since many of them were already tweeting. About half of my Twitter content is communicating with peers and colleagues, reacting to topics we deem interesting.

2) Celebrities I’ll admit it, I love following my favorite actors, musicians and athletes, including Zooey Deschanel, Kina Grannis and Megan Rapinoe, who maintain a strong and relevant presence. By following government officials like my very own Governor, Chris Christie, I stay on top of local news. I also choose relevant bloggers. My favorite is street fashion photographer Face Hunter. This way, all my celebrity news is in one centralized, convenient location.

3) School-Affiliated Accounts One of the reasons I love my school, American University, is because of its Twitter presence. To stay informed, I follow all school clubs, departments and publications. By providing students with information on a social platform, the school helps promote events and inform students in a way that best communicates to us.

4) Media Outlets Like much of my generation, I rarely read a physical newspaper or even an entire story on a website like CNN.com, but I read many tweets by such outlets as Huffington Post College or AP Style and this is how. I stay informed and up-to-date. I also have one rule when it comes to whom not to follow – over Tweeters! These newsfeed spammers abuse the point of Twitter, which is to send short, timely, messages.

Any Twitter rules of your own you’d like to share?

SCOTUS And What It Means When The Media Get It Wrong

Media mistakes happen all the time. Publicists joke about mangled names and massacred quotes, and even The New York Times – especially The New York Times – is regularly skewered over its errors and omissions.

But occasionally media get it wrong in a big way, – an unforgivable, historically indelible, “Dewey Beats Truman” way. That’s what happened when the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Both CNN and Fox News reported the decision inaccurately, and not just for a second, and not only in the details. CNN’s banner blared “Supreme Ct. Kills Individual Mandate” as wire reports from Bloomberg, the AP, and other networks carried a different headline. Within seconds, the story that Obamacare was dead was shared, tweeted, posted, hashtagged and live-blogged. CNN didn’t correct the story until 12 long minutes after its initial inaccurate report.

For a fascinating play-by-play on how this happened, see Tom Goldstein’s account in SCOTUSblog.  Goldstein explains that technology was a contributing factor to the confusion;  the Court declined to email the decision to reporters, confident that its servers would hold up against the onslaught of those with a stake in the outcome. Of course the servers crashed, and the only people in possession of the decision for a full half hour were those holding the paper version in the press room in the courthouse. Incredibly, even POTUS was in the dark.

So, a small group of experienced journalists were in a race to be first to take it all in and report on the fly. If you didn’t read beyond the decision’s first page – where the Government loses the Commerce argument – you might conclude that the mandate was overturned. The next page had the language upholding its constitutionality as a tax. But at least two respected journalists didn’t get there before the wrong story lit up the web.

The lapse may be unforgivable, but it’s certainly understandable. Yet, what’s more interesting is how CNN and Fox handled their respective gaffes. Fox, led by Megyn Kelly, was quick to spot the error, and Fox’s less integrated digital machine didn’t run with the story as swiftly. And Fox had a different, almost casual attitude about the reporting of the story on their air. This is breaking news, breaking news is dramatic, confusing, breathless, and this is the way the story comes out. No embarrassment, no apology, just real-time reporting. (Kind of a Republican attitude, some would say.)

NN, on the other hand, felt more married to its reporting given the tight integration of its digital content and what seemed like a fear of having to flip-flop right back again if they were wrong in their correction.

So the on-air talent simply vamped, hedged, and filled time, promising more information as it happened, pointing out “conflicting reports” and using words like “may have been struck down” only to correct its report at last. The reaction internally was said to be “apoplectic.” (Isn’t that just like Democrats, always beating themselves up?)

The whole thing was more exciting than an episode of “The Newsroom” and will be parsed and debated for years. It tells us a lot about ourselves and the news business today, – the highly questionable premium placed on being first (if only by seconds) to break news, our distaste for complexity, for waiting, or even, it seems, for reading.

We were also biased. Not for the outcome we wanted, but for the one we were sure we’d already figured out. Just about everybody, from the talking heads to the insiders, both progressives and conservatives, actually believed the mandate would be ruled unconstitutional, based on earlier arguments and weeks of aggressive punditry. It was overkill.

I was embarrassed for CNN and Fox. Jon Stewart’s sendup of the gaffe is particularly painful, and particularly hilarious. But then I read why this would never have happened in Canada, according to The Edmonton Journal.

The Canadian Supreme Court holds lock-ups for journalists, where they can read through the decision and write their stories at a non-frantic pace. All the cell phones go into little Ziploc bags for the duration and the reporters all file at the same time.

File at the same time? How un-American! Where’s the fun in that? Despite the sturm and drang over the errors, I prefer the mess and the drama, the incoherency and the backpedaling – and, yes, the recriminations and self-analysis. Lessons have been learned, and they’ll need to be learned again. To paraphrase Comedy Central, let’s not make a federal case out of it.

Managing Your Managers In An Agency Environment

by guest blogger Lauren Silverman

In PR, it’s not uncommon to wear a few hats over the course of the day; one minute you’re a writer, the next an event organizer, and you’re always a juggler. Balancing work for multiple clients and managers requires not only the right organizational skills, but good communication with higher-ups. Here are a few tips to stay on top of your tasks and “manage up.”

Read your relationships
Take responsibility for the relationships at your PR agency. Get to know what works best with each member of your team. Does your direct report prefer written detailed progress memos or just email updates throughout the day? Do your peers like to meet to divvy up tasks within the team? Find the methods that work best up and down the chain of command to keep work flowing, clients happy and the office humming along.

One of the most challenging (and exciting!) things about PR is how often tasks spring up on a moment’s notice. A day that seemed slated for press release writing and a meeting or two can be derailed when a client announces they need a major task done by end of day. Throw in clients from different time zones, and before you know it, your day just got hectic! Take a deep breath, you CAN manage this by making sure to confirm deadlines and priorities with your higher-ups. When in doubt, ask your manager to rank priorities, and in the case of competing tasks from different managers, be proactive by asking them to make the call, — before the 11th hour.

Be clear on deadlines
Always ask for specific deadlines; then, strive to exceed them. For a multi-day project, keep your managers in the loop as other things come up. “I’m still planning to deliver the draft report by Friday, but I’ll need to spend this afternoon on Sharon’s research,” is a subtle reminder to your managers that you’re multitasking as much as they are, and that you’re responsive even in a dynamic environment.

Anticipate tasks before they happen
At a busy PR agency, not all assignments are going to be spelled out in advance. It’s helpful to anticipate and complete some tasks you’ve already become comfortable with. Does your management team have to assemble a report at the same time every month? Make sure all useful files are up-to-date and easy to find. Offer to assemble contacts, or update a media list before a big media relations campaign. Not only does this alleviate your manager’s stress in the moment, but will help make your tasks more seamless in the future.

When you’ve completed a task or assignment, let your manager know before you move on to the next project. Don’t assume she realizes something’s put to bed. If you hit a roadblock that might delay a deliverable, make sure to communicate that also, but be solutions oriented where possible. (“We may be short-staffed for the event; shall I ask Tom to be on standby?”)

Are there other techniques you have found to be effective when juggling your tasks?