PR Tricks & Treats

For every pitch that’s exciting and enjoyable, there’s one that’s a horror story.

For every media contact who’s an angel, there’s one who’s dark and intimidating.

For every colleague or supervisor who nurtures, there is one who tortures.

As Halloween approaches, here are a few favorite examples of ways we have been delighted by “treats” in our business and alas some “tricks” of which we were less fond.


The “sweet” client who praises and refers!
We’ve been blessed with many clients who are magnanimous enough to compliment AND critique, and generous enough to refer us to colleagues and associates.
The media contact who cultivates an ongoing relationship
Nothing is quite as magical as securing an awesome placement and hearing from the same reporter later, looking for new stories.
The colleague who happily shares the workload and the kudos
In PR, we work long hours, and mutual trust among co-workers is a key to success. It’s a treat to have co-workers (and supervisors) who will not let you down and want to see you flourish.


The passive-aggressive prospect
We’ve all been there – a potential client schedules an agency presentation for, oh December 26, and it’s all-hands-on-deck craziness to prepare a superb presentation. The client appears sufficiently wowed and promises to “get back to you within the week” and then, YOU NEVER HEAR FROM THEM AGAIN. Spooky….and frustrating.
The reporter with “attitude”
OK, this person didn’t like your story pitch, but is it too much to ask that they respond to a follow-up email? And if they do have a problem with the idea, could they explain instead of firing off a nasty missive? Boo to this!
The thieving colleague
This perhaps well-intentioned individual is chronically unprepared and unmotivated, and, like a zombie, steals your time, your ideas, and your support in the office. The good news? Usually you’re not the only person affected, so someone will step in to put a stop to it.

Got any business tricks or treats you’d care to share?

Trump’s "Bombshell": A PR Hit Or Hoax?

It was a hairy week for both 2012 presidential candidates – if only because the poll-watching and punditry has reached a new level of frenzy as we enter the homestretch. Yet, Donald Trump, everyone’s favorite blowhard, managed to add one more stupid election trick to his bottomless bag of PR stunts.

Like most of us, I find it hard to take Trump seriously and want to slam his “October surprise.” For anyone who’s been unplugged for a few days, the Donald started the week with relentless hype for a “bombshell” he promised to announce Wednesday. The real estate baron-turned-reality-star tweeted to his 1.7 million followers that the announcement would be a “game-changer” that would give the election to Romney.

Naturally it turned out to be – gasp – a big nothing. Trump released a video offering a $5 million charity donation if the president would release his college transcript and passport application. (Not sure what the school transcript is supposed to show, unless it’s that Obama lied about his major or dropped his Semiotics course.)

Media mostly ridiculed the tired and, ahem, trumped-up birther accusations. My favorite response was Daily Show writer @LizzWinstead’s tweet about the $5 million offer, advising the president not to negotiate with a “hairorist.” That is, until I saw Stephen Colbert’s $1 million dollar offer of his own. It’s NSFW, but you can see it here.

Celebrities got into the act as well, many with offers of their own. Ricky Gervais pledged to give $500 to charity if Trump agreed to give up his own college records and “his hairdresser’s passport.”

So, despite all intentions to the contrary, we’re talking about Trump. Not in a flattering way, yet, in a sense, the stunt worked. The Trumpster earned another 15 minutes in the news and his name was a trending topic on Twitter. More insidiously, it gave rise to a day of speculation about what, exactly he would reveal, from secret Obama divorce papers to a hidden Iran war plan. And for the Romney camp, it was probably an unwelcome distraction from the candidate’s message.

So, the lesson for communicators is that media appetite for election-season sidebars is endless, and that Trump, as always, is shameless. He may be a head case, but in a twisted way, he’s his own best PR person.

Social Media Must-Haves (for first-time PR clients)

Behind every great company is a great social media plan. I’m being slightly facetious, but there’s no denying the importance of a strong digital, as well as traditional, PR strategy. The two are complementary, and for first-time PR clients, there are definitely some must-have elements we recommend when implementing a new social media plan.

Twitter- There was a time when Twitter was a social media “consideration.” No more! Brands are reckoning with its power every day, as are political candidates: How else would #horsesandbayonets be the top trending topic? Twitter allows companies to share news at a viral rate, as well as communicate with followers in real time. The creation and maintenance of a twitter presence is one of the simplest ways to set a new client up in the digital space. Additionally, the limited-character format forces clients to be creative and selective in what they share, providing them an opportunity to think differently.

Facebook- Easily the most widely used social media platform in the world, Facebook is another integral part of a new client’s social media strategy; “friending” is not just a social pastime! The same sharing of information we enjoy on a personal level carries into Facebook on a professional level, and since pretty much everyone is on Facebook; it’s one of the easiest ways to connect with potential customers. Additionally, apps and advertising have made it easier than ever to position new clients in the most successful way.

Blogging- Although blogging is arguably one of the more time-consuming elements of a social media strategy, it’s also a powerful way to showcase your client’s expertise in their industry. By creating highly credible content that’s interactive and shareable, your client is not only using a new platform to reach interested audiences, but extending into new audiences thanks to sharing, endorsements and guest blogs.

LinkedIn- LinkedIn is essential for any professional; so it makes sense for a company to have a LinkedIn presence as well! LinkedIn helps people understand what your company is about, and can even provide insight into your company culture. Viewers can see past and present employees, as well as job openings, recommendations and more. LinkedIn is a great way to present your client to the business community and will also help them internally as a recruitment tool.

These are just a few elements, but there are a variety of other networks that can be included in your new client’s social media strategy; just make sure the medium matches your client’s specialty. What other elements do you consider to be “must-haves”? Leave it in our comments!

Which Brands Are Winning The 2012 Election PR Race?

This election year has brought plenty of PR fodder, and not just for media and political pundits. As always, it offers opportunities for brand marketers and PR experts to jump into the race. Yet, election tie-ins are tricky, particularly during such a partisan time. Not all are winners. From bad to brilliant, here are some of brands who mixed marketing and politics in 2012.

It’s not the scoop it was in 2007, but Ben and Jerry’s came back earlier this year with its mission to “get the dough out” of politics. The ice cream maker dug deeper in 2012 when Stephen Colbert created his own Super PAC to make a point about election financing, and Ben and Jerry’s whipped up a special one-day giveaway of Colbert’s vanity flavor “AmeriCone Dream,” available, naturally, in a SUPERPACK. The result was a long-running campaign that drew attention to the issue through regular plugs by Colbert.

By contrast, there’s the cheesy stunt served up recently by Pizza Hut. This one tops the #fail list. Pizza Hut tried to capitalize on the October 16 town-hall presidential debate forum by announcing it would award free pies for life to anyone willing to embarrass himself by asking the presidential candidates which pizza they prefer – sausage or pepperoni. But after it was dished for trivializing the political process, it dropped the half-baked idea and ended up with a web promotion….and, admittedly, a big helping of publicity.

Cheetos followed with a survey that claims to predict that President Obama will retain his seat as “Commander in Cheese.” Bada-bum. Far more successful was Boston Market’s campaign to launch a new menu item by offering hungry customers the chance to declare themselves “left wing” or “right wing” by choosing either chicken or turkey. Boston Market’s “Bowl Poll” had legs, and media ate it up.
Election-year newsjacking isn’t limited to consumer brands. Leading email services provider (and client)

Silverpop analyzed the email marketing strategies used by the GOP candidates, and, later, the nominees from each party. The result was a lighthearted but strictly non-partisan infographic look at the campaigns that made Silverpop’s expertise relevant and even fun.

Halloween superstore Spirit showed a savvy side by offering up its Halloween mask sales as a forecast for the election’s outcome. It’s not the first time, but Spirit’s running on the fact that for the past 12 years, its best-selling candidate mask has spookily predicted who will win the election. And the story was picked up and shared just about everywhere. Sweet.

Over the summer, iconic bourbon Maker’s Mark made its mark with an ad and social media campaign themed around…what else, a cocktail party. It featured bantering political odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin and may be my sentimental favorite because Maker’s Mark was a client many years ago. Or, it just might be because the idea of a cocktail is pretty appealing at this point during a long election year.

But my vote for the best election-year tie-in goes to JetBlue for its witty sendup of how exercised we get when it looks like our guy won’t prevail. Dubbed “Election Protection,” it offers the chance to win a free trip out of town if your candidate loses. Given how many times I’ve threatened to move to Canada when the polls take a bad turn, I feel this one will take off. The airline will give away 2,012 one-way seats — or 1,006 round trips — to destinations like Turks & Caicos, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Aruba, Barbados, or Bermuda. With no disrespect to Canada, I can now vie for a more exotic exile if things don’t turn out as I hope. Well played, JetBlue.

What We Can Learn From The Presidential Debates

by guest blogger George Drucker

From a communications and presentation point of view, without getting political and commenting on the content or quality of each candidate’s responses, there’s a lot to be learned here. The style disparity between the candidates and the difference in outcomes provide food for thought.

Based on what we have seen thus far, those most successful at public sparring must not only have full command of the facts and be fluent in sharing them, but must also heed wisdom from two adages: “It’s not necessarily what you say but HOW you say it,” and “Style trumps substance.”

No matter the audience, there’s a world of difference in how they perceive messages based on the speaker’s delivery, his or her tone, inflections, body language, and energy. Debate coaches say you should be able to turn down the volume and still be able to tell who is commanding the action.

Here are some debating tips to incorporate in your own communications:

Always cite facts, quotes and sources. You won’t have Candy Crowley fact-checking for you in real time, so know your stuff!

Don’t get drawn into personal attacks. No one wants to see a bully, unless being satirized on SNL helps your cause!

Begin answers with yes or no. Definitive and declarative wins the day.

Find common ground and stake a claim. If you and your opponent/colleague agree on something, that makes you appear conciliatory, or in presidential parlance, willing to “reach across the aisle” – nearly always a good thing.

Listen to your opponent for openings. You may not get one as good as “binders full of women,” but then, you never know!

The Scariest PR Mistakes of 2012

Most PR pros have had nightmares about a serious public mistake. Or, we’ve felt that shiver of schadenfreude when someone else’s blunder goes viral. Some of us have even experienced them. So, in honor of Halloween, here’s my list of some of the scariest PR moves and mistakes to date.

The rogue tweet. In my book, the Kitchen-Aid tweet mentioning Obama’s grandmother takes the prize here. “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president,” was tweeted from @KitchenAidUSA to its 25,000 followers during the first presidential debate October 3. The tweet was obviously an accident and Kitchen-Aid was quick to delete it and issue a well-articulated apology. But the social media slicing-and-dicing it endured is yet another lesson for those who manage multiple social media accounts simultaneously.

The cover-up. The New York Times headline last April said it all. ” Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up By Walmart After A Top-Level Struggle,” detailed how, when confronted with evidence of a strategy of brazen bribery to build its business in Mexico, top Walmart officials shut down an internal investigation and focused instead on covering up the malfeasance. Because Walmart was aware of the allegations, there’s an argument to be made that it should have gotten ahead of the story. Its response seemed to try to dismiss the scandal as an isolated occurrence, but the depth of detail that emerged make that pretty hard to swallow. A much more proactive communications strategy was required.

The amateur spy. The repercussions here were nothing like Mexico. But as a lapse in both judgment and ethics, it deserves a place on the “scary” list. In July, a young PR agency executive representing Walmart tried to infiltrate a meeting run by a labor group by passing herself off as a student reporter. The agency employee was characterized as a rogue and promptly cast out into the cold, but it’s hard to believe she acted independently. Frighteningly stupid.

The controversial stand. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy may have bitten off more than he could chew after his pro-traditional-marriage comments sparked a social firestorm. Marriage equality advocates squared off against traditionalists, with well-known mayors getting into the act. Ultimately, Chick-fil-A wasn’t badly burned by the meltdown, and it buried the hatchet with antagonists. But it was a step onto a third-rail issue with high damage potential, and one that probably won’t be repeated. The company pledged to reevaluate its funding of anti-gay groups, and its spokesperson announced its intention to “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

The polarizing move. The same can’t be said for the self-inflicted damage to Susan G. Komen for the Cure earlier this year. When Komen attempted to drop Planned Parenthood from its grants program, Planned Parenthood fired back with a very public, and highly successful, move to mobilize support among women. Komen then reversed course, angering conservatives, along with just about everyone else. More importantly, founder Nancy Brinker didn’t own up to its position, and the controversy triggered closer scrutiny of many of its marketing and fundraising practices. Komen is still struggling to recover.

The social media “surprise.” Of all brands, McDonald’s takes top prize here. Despite its PR sophistication, McD’s seemed unprepared for the Twitter backlash served up in response to its promoted tweets campaign. Meant to highlight its organic potato farmer suppliers, the promotion used the hashtag #meetthefarmers. But when it invited consumers to share their own stories under a second hashtag #McDStories, it triggered a feeding frenzy of nasty comments. The campaign was pulled and branded a #McFail. The lesson here is that when you invite a response, you should be ready for anything.

The power play. Twitter itself stepped over the line when it suspended journalist Guy Adams’s account after he tweeted harsh criticisms of NBC programming during the Olympic Games. NBC was a major Twitter sponsor, and it turned out to be Twitter itself who notified NBC of the tweets (although officially Adams’s account was shut down for including the email of an NBC executive.) But it was a rich irony and important learning for Twitter. For a top social media community that advocates for open and free speech to clamp down so clumsily was a scary – albeit temporary – mistake.

The tasteless tweet. Little-known online store CelebBoutique outraged many when it hijacked the hashtag #Aurora after the tragic Colorado shooting to promote a fashion item. This wasn’t a rogue tweet. It was either a shameless attempt to exploit a tragedy, or thoughtless and sloppy social media practice. Either way, a repugnant move.

Blog Roll: Blogs I Read And Why

There’s no better way to wind down after a long week than to catch up on some reading – blog reading. Sure, I love a great magazine or newspaper, but blogs provide just enough content to keep me interested and they also help me with my job in Public Relations. Blogs have become a go-to source of information from different points of view unhindered by editorial boards or media policies, that’s why their perspective is often so fresh and different. Here are some of my favorite blogs to read and why:

NYC PR Girls
I largely attribute my choice to pursue a career in PR to this blog (in New York, nonetheless; nowhere else is PR so fast-paced). Aimed at young professionals, it offers tips on PR fundamentals, style, professional development and even guides to NYC. I find that I always pick up something new from this blog, it’s definitely a must-read for PR girls (and guys)!

Smart, Pretty and (less) Awkward
The concept is simple: Author Molly Ford includes a tip on how to be smarter, prettier and less awkward in every post, accompanied by a meaningful quote. Some tips include fun factoids, beauty quick-fixes, how to handle unusual social situations and organization pointers. Every so often Molly will even include coupon codes; always exciting. The blog posts are short, sweet and leave my day a little brighter; a definite pick-me-up!

Leah Diedrich’s mother taught her to always write thank you notes, so she does – to everything. From foods to cities, the good and the bad, Leah writes a handwritten thank you note to all of it. Some of it gets outlandish, but always heartwarming and sincere. Leah’s perspective reminds me to never take anything for granted and to think of everything as a learning experience. I also try and write handwritten thank you notes in my career whenever possible.

PR Newser
When it comes to industry news, PR Newser should be a bookmark on your browser. PR Newser blends pop culture, current events, jobs and relevant research findings into one entertaining blog. It’s a great way to catch up what’s going on that week without flipping through as many sources. Also, posting content about a wide range of PR, advertising and marketing firms gives readers the opportunities to peep into other careers—great for professional goal setting!

Are there any other blogs that get you through the day? Tell us about some of your favorites!

PR Prep For A Flawless Trade Show

A PR team getting ready for a trade show can be like athletes prepping for the big game. There’s a game plan to follow, other teams to beat, fans to impress, and, most of all, a drive to score and score big.
Conferences and shows are always a good opportunity for companies to meet with a captive audience of media, including both familiar faces and new contacts. It can be quite chaotic, though, so it’s important to have that plan nailed down before you get there.

View and review. It’s vitally important to look back and see what your team did last year, if relevant. Compare last year’s plan/results to what you’re aiming to accomplish this time. Make sure you get all current media and attendee lists from the show operators, and it usually pays to befriend the PR rep.

Do the message drill. Spend the weeks leading up to the show finalizing your key messaging and announcements.  Decide on your most critical goals and topics, whether a new product, an updated brand identity, or an innovative new path, and make sure everyone buys in to the strategy. There should be no surprises about what you need to accomplish.

Check out the competition. Research which competitors are attending, and what they are up to. Are any of them holding events, announcing new products/services, or doing something out of the ordinary? Plan accordingly. It also helps to ask the first wave of media you meet what has impressed them the most; most of us operate in a client bubble at a show or conference, and it helps to know who’s talking about what.

Prep your star players. Make sure your key spokespersons are ready and that they’ve got the game plays down. They should be comfortable speaking to media and being on camera. You will also want to go over their schedules and prepare detailed briefing books on all journalist meetings, complete with cell phone numbers. Leave nothing to chance.

Pace yourself! Trade shows (especially ones that last multiple days) can take a lot out of you – hours spent on your feet, back-to-back meetings, very little down time – so rest up during the days leading up the show.

Pack some essentials. In addition to comfortable shoes, always have mints or gum on hand to avoid dreaded dry mouth, some emergency RX to ward off aches and pains. Also, make a point to learn some things about the town you’re visiting. You may want to talk about your client, but you could impress a visiting reporter with your tips on a great bar or restaurant.

Is "Apologize" A Dirty Word?

This election season has given rise to a new term of shame. It’s “apologize.” GOP nominee Mitt Romney never tires of criticizing President Obama for what he claims is the president’s constant “apologizing” for America. What bothers me as a professional communicator isn’t just that no one in the Romney camp can seem to point to the apology in question. It’s also the implied equivalence. Romney equates apologizing with moral failure, a craven lack of patriotism, and weakness. And to be fair, so do many of his Democratic rivals.

But a well executed public apology is not just a communication strategy for repairing reputation damage. At its best, it conveys responsibility and leadership. Tim Cook’s recent mea culpa is evidence of that. Despite the runaway success of the iPhone 5, Apple was harshly criticized by users who found themselves running around in circles due to the phone’s flawed map application. So, Cook took the direct route in facing customer frustration. He got to the point, didn’t mince words, and even recommended that disappointed Maps users turn to competitive apps and tools until Apple can get it right.

His response had all the classic ingredients of a true apology: he took responsibility, pledged to fix the problem, and offered, if not restitution, at least, alternatives. Most importantly, his restatement of Apple’s mission “to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers,” and emphasis on the gap between expectations and user experience in this case actually reminds us of just how high are expectations of Apple are…and how often they are met.

And for many Apple fans, the mea culpa moment may have been the first time when many thought that Cook handled the situation more skillfully than his former boss, Steve Jobs. Though Jobs often said it’s best to ‘fess up to mistakes (“It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations”), he was famously defensive. With his humble but sincere-sounding statement, Cook actually did Jobs one better.

If only Washington and those who aspire to serve there could do half as well.