Secrets of a Successful CSR Campaign

It’s no surprise that public trust in corporations, along with government and faith institutions, seems to be at an all-time low. According to the Reputation Institute’s 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility RepTrak 100 Study, only 17% of respondents trust what companies promise in their marketing. What’s more, a mere 6% perceive the top 100 companies as good corporate citizens. That’s one reason why so many major companies make reputation management and Corporate Social Responsibility a priority.

Microsoft has the best reputation for CSR in the world, according to the study, followed by Google, The Walt Disney Co., BMW, Apple, Daimler, VW, SONY, LEGO and Colgate-Palmolive. But what about a more typical company? How do corporations who do not happen to be globally recognized brands make CSR work for them?

Look for a strategic fit. The best CSR campaigns are intuitive to the companies or groups who underwrite them. Often a corporate CEO or other executive has a personal or pet project and somehow it snowballs into a CSR commitment. But it’s far better to analyze your corporate values and focus in on a strategic bullseye. Tide sending a mobile fleet of washers and dryers to disaster-hit areas makes perfect sense. KFC supporting the Komen Foundation? Maybe not.

Get buy-in at the top. A successful CSR program usually needs more strategic heft than an executive hobby or pet project, but it stands a far greater chance of surviving if the C-suite champions it. Buy-in should start there, and be vigorously reinforced. Look at Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, who personally gets behind its corporate social programs.

Make it horizontal. Any corporate social responsibility campaign will be longer lived and more powerful if it transcends corporate communications. Take a cue from Microsoft, which describes its CSR commitment as a horizontal function, not a series of vertical tasks. In fact, Microsoft’s Dan Bross explains that it has the added benefits of breaking down silos.

Start small. A new CSR campaign can die from ambition. It’s far better to start with a manageable program, say, in a local market, or even a pilot effort, before rolling out a larger campaign.

Take the long view. Many companies, by design or due to corporate executive changes, alter their programming in a CSR flavor-of-the-month strategy. That’s a mistake. It typically takes years for a social commitment to fully penetrate key constituencies and become linked with your brand. Let it happen naturally and organically, but with some help from good PR practices.

Merry Mad Libs 2012

The Global Language Monitor has released its annual list of the Top Words of the year.
“’Apocalypse’ tops the list. Armageddon, and similar terms reflect a growing fascination with various ‘end-of-the-world’ scenarios,” said Paul JJ Payack, President of the Global Language Monitor. In fact the list is chock-a-block with some scary terms!

Once again, with apologies to Mad Libs , we have created a press release template where you can use some of the most interesting of the top words. Please enjoy it and feel free to adapt for any of your clients. Think of the SEO possibilities!
1. Fiscal Cliff
2. apocalypse
3. Frankenstorm
4. omnishambles
5. obesogenic
6. memes
7. phobes
8. the 47
10. adorkable

The End of the World as We NO it?
World Celebrations Mark No “(noun) Now”

Partying like it could have been its last, the world over issues a collective (noun/acronym)

December, 2012 – – Despite dire predictions, the world did not come to an end! This turn of good fortune in a year that saw too much tragedy has prompted an outpouring of positive good will and festive good times.
According to international cultural anthropologist Wanda Rallover, “It is collective human nature, even in times of despair and with an overwhelming sense of various different (plural noun) occurring all over the world, the spirit is unbroken.”
This unbroken spirit has been evidenced far and wide.
Tri-state area – Although the freakish (Proper noun) Sandy wreaked unparalleled havoc, people remain buoyed and helpful towards neighbors and perfect strangers alike, bringing holiday cheer to entire affected communities.
Silicon Valley – In the heart of technology, innovation and (adjective) self-proclaimed nerds, rational thought prevailed when the Tech Museum in the valley announced the opening of a Mayan-themed exhibit…on December 21.
New York City – Even with the mayor’s ongoing battle against sugary sodas and (adjective) fattening foods, on this New Year’s Eve, the city needs some comfort food! One hopes Mayor Mike will retain his sense of humor about it as he has done in relation to his Spanish-language skills as evidenced by the slew of popular parody (plural noun) circulating online.
Washington DC – Yes, there is financial fear and loathing that we have not solved the potentially devastating (adjective/noun.) The President is listening to (number) Mitt Romney’s ”percentage of Americans who pay no Federal taxes” and cutting his Hawaiian vacation short to come home and tackle it. The (plural noun) on the other side of this debate need to do the same!
Have you used all ten words? Have fun and let us know any of your own personal best-liked (or most disliked) words of 2012.

PR Skills You Need (And Won’t Find On Google)

In a recent Seattle Times piece, Allison J. Head announced her qualms about new workers. Like many young PR folks today, I am a child of Google. As long as there’s been internet, we’ve had questions and Google’s had the answers. However, not every on-the-job dilemma can be solved by the master search engine. Here are the top PR skills that can only be learned away from the computer screen—maybe you can find inspiration for a New Years resolution.

People skills. For a career that has public in its namesake, it can be astonishing how much we can build on our face-to-face or phone communication. Some lost art forms in communication include: How to properly answer a phone, how to act when staffing an event and the ability to keep up lively (and professional!) conversations at networking mixers. Some skills can only be learned on the job. A Google search for “how to act in social situations” should really be answered with an automatic “turn off the computer.” Master this skill by adding more networking events to your calendar every month—if you work in a city there are dozens at your disposal!

Organization. With the innovations of cloud computing, there’s always a way to back things up and avoid loss of data. However, look around the average PR pro’s desk and it’s a disorderly mess of memos, agendas, notebooks and the like. Solid organization skills such as proper filing, note taking and tidiness are essential to keep both you and your office working more fluidly. Improve your organization through use of a planner, color coding and consistent note taking – practice makes perfect!

Packing and shipping. If you’re a fan of the TV show Girls, you may have been able to identify with main character Hannah, when during her first office job she struggled with breaking down a box. Weekly, even daily, trips to FedEx or UPS are standard for aspiring PR pros. Learn how to properly set up a box, as well as how to pack and ship. Master the fed ex schedule so items go out in a timely manner; these skills are typically learned through experience.

Read offline. It can be way too easy to set your homepage to the New York Times, follow news organizations on Twitter and consider yourself well-informed. In reality, by relying on the web for news you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. By picking up a print newspaper or magazine, you can learn more about the journalists and publications that cover your client’s space. Additionally, by surrounding yourself with the highest caliber of writing, you can become a better writer yourself. New Yorkers, strive to at least pick up am New York or Metro in 2013- these papers are free all over the city.

As reliance on technology becomes more commonplace, and the rate at which we obtain information increases, it’s possible that this list can grow over time. Longtime PR folks, what common skills do you wish more new hires or interns already had? PR newbies, what were the hardest lessons you had to learn offline? Tell us in the comments!

PR For Mr. Claus

For many PR pros, the days leading up to Christmas can be eerily quiet.  After weeks of intense holiday outreach, the somewhat sudden slow down can be jarring – clients taking vacation time, reporters’ OOO emails flooding your inbox.

Which had me thinking, what if Santa was our client?  There certainly wouldn’t be a pre-holiday slowdown; instead the opposite would be true, with a flurry of activity right up until Christmas Day.

Here are some of the Santa PR plan elements we would implement:

Run of Show

Santa’s trip brings a whole new meaning to a “Run of Show” doc – the game plan for the day/night is intense and will likely involve tweaking right up until the moment he departs the North Pole.  It’s best to make these docs as comprehensive as possible – hourly break downs, contact details for anyone who may need to be reached, etc.

Making a list, and checking it… at least three more times the day before

In the PR biz list development and management are a big part of our job. While building a list may seem like an easy task that can be delegated, it’s not that simple.  A good list is of the utmost importance and if I represented Santa you bet I’d be making sure the “Naughty & Nice” columns were accurately color coded and names were spelled properly.

Prepare for anything

Sick reindeer? Faulty GPS? You just never know! If it’s your client’s big day you should always make sure you have a “tool kit” prepared for any situations that could arise. For Santa, I might suggest some Red Bull, an extra navigation system, a flashlight, and extra copies of the “Naughty & Nice” list.

Share, share, share! And encourage more sharing

Social media platforms, from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram and more, are great ways to spread your brand’s message and spark engagement – nothing you haven’t heard before.  Same holds true for Old Saint Nick.

Have a crisis plan ready

Hope you never have to turn to your crisis plan, but if anything happens you’ll be glad to have it in place. Things occur that are out of a PR pro’s control – Santa could miss a house, accidentally leave coal for someone who deserved one of those new (yet kind of creepy) Furbys, or maybe even drop his “Naughty” list – imagine what would happen if that ended up in the wrong hands? Have a plan in place for some of the key “worst case” scenarios and know which media you should proactively reach out to in the event any of these situations ever occur.

What if Santa were your client?…

The Most Notable CEO Apologies Of 2012

The public apology has long been a staple of PR and reputation management, and this year saw a large number of C-level mea culpas. Some were mandated, while others were designed to beg forgiveness, right wrongs, or restore good will. Here’s my list of the most notable.

Picture this: Instagram is forced to backpedal after issuing a modified Terms of Service policy that many feared could “effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency.” In a blog post, cofounder Kevin Systrom blamed “confusing language” and pledged not to sell users’ photos. His statement did quell one controversy, but the social media storm has raised other issues about privacy and user protections.

Pink slip-up? The saddest, and possibly most ineffectual, apology might have been that delivered by former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson about his “resume inflation.”  The embattled chief issued a statement taking responsibility for the goof and apologizing to Yahoo employees, but without any explanation or clear way forward. It wasn’t enough; he was ousted after just four months on the job.

J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon‘s apology for unprecedented trading losses was surprisingly robust for the previously untouchable banker; in “contrite” and widely publicized testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, he called the bank’s $2 billion error “embarrassing,” adding “the buck stops with me.” Dimon’s statement got mixed reviews, primarily due to his opposition to regulatory measures that many feel might have kept the bucks in the bank. The apology was articulate, yet Dimon’s credibility took a hit.

Among the most delayed and ultimately impotent apologies was that offered by Nancy Brinker, Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Brinker’s explanation of Komen’s initial decision to withhold funding from Planned Parenthood, in which she admitted that she “made some mistakes” in letting things be politicized, wasn’t enough to pacify critics, and the group’s fundraising continues to be less than healthy.

The most shocking public admission of culpability might have been delivered by Irene Dorner, president and CEO of HSBC Bank USA. Dorner testified about the lack of controls that allowed Mexican drug cartels and other illicit organizations to launder billions through HSBC’s U.S. operation. Though the misconduct predated her tenure, Dormer expressed “deep regret” for the lapses and pledged that the bank had “burned bridges” so that it could not happen again. But many were skeptical of a whitewash, given the bank’s relatively light fine, and no criminal prosecutions.

Talk about bad taste. One of the lamer apologies came from Popchips CEO Keith Belling after a video ad threatened to fry the brand’s reputation. In it, Ashton Kutcher impersonated different characters in what resembled a video dating parody. One persona was “Raj,” a Bollywood producer complete with brownface and a phony singsong meant to be an Indian accent. Many viewers thought it racist, prompting Belling to respond, “Our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs…. I take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended.” In my book, anyone who utters such a mealy-mouthed sound bite should eat his words; a half-baked apology usually makes things worse. Yet, Popchips took down the video and the food fight calmed down.

By most accounts, the Apple CEO Tim Cook’s mea culpa following its Maps debacle hit all the right notes. The full letter to customers is a masterpiece of good communications. It was swift and direct, and in the statement Cook took responsibility for the lapse and pledged to fix it. He won extra credibility by recommending that users download competitive products until such time as Apple could get it right. The apology succeeded because it reminded us how rare it is for Apple to disappoint its customers.

5 PR Relationship Builders For The New Year

The New Year is almost upon us, and with it, the resolutions. One thing that we can all resolve to improve is our relationships. Relationships are central to our success in the business world, so why not make sure we make the best of every potential opportunity? Here are some tips to consider when resolving to build relationships.

Take Initiative
If you are at an event, push yourself to meet new people instead of huddling with colleagues. Even if you’re at the very beginning of your career it’s important to be proactive about relationship-building with colleagues at other firms, potential clients, or media.  Get over this initial hurdle and you will soon be communicating with others up and down the business ladder, more effectively.

Promote Honest Feedback
Honest feedback promotes clearer communication between yourself and others with regards to expectations and outcomes. It also affords a great opportunity to build rapport with your co-workers and clients (or potential ones) on a personal level. Asking for constructive feedback on projects that succeeded or on those that could have performed better demonstrates your commitment to accountability.

Listen More, Talk Less
Practice really listening instead of talking. Of course you should be actively engaged in the conversation, but by choosing to be a receptive listener and offering only well-thought out points (instead of random comments to fill the silence) you can present yourself as a considerate business partner.

Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to be (slightly) inquisitive about people when you first meet them. Innocuous, open-ended questions are best, like “What attracted you to this business?” or “What did you think of the conference?” But if they volunteer personal details, take note. You never know when a client’s three years of high school French or interest in baking may come in handy.

Go the Extra Mile
Finally, be sure to make every communication touchpoint COUNT. For example, consider giving a new contact a phone call or suggest meeting face-to-face instead of relying solely on e-mail. This provides you with a tremendous opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level, demonstrating that that they are more than just an email address.

Got any other tips that may come in handy for improving business relationships in 2013? Then be sure to leave them in the comments section down below. And last, but not least, best of luck in the New Year!

12 Days Of Christmas (or holiday of your choice) PR Edition

Fellow PR practitioners, clients, and media, it’s time to revisit the famous gifts from the “12 Days of Christmas” song. Here’s this year’s “ripped from the headlines” spin on the evergreen list.

Twelve drummers drumming. An awesome gift this year, when at least twelve top drummers from Charlie Watts to Max Weinberg gathered on 12.12.12 for the concert to benefit Superstorm Sandy survivors.

Eleven pipers piping: Not quite 11 states where you can legally pipe “pot” but marijuana did become legal in Colorado, Washington and New Jersey. Counting California, definitely a trend.

Ten lords a-leaping: The lords are leaping in London, trying to stay ahead of social media. It seems the UK’s House of Lords has summoned senior figures from Facebook and Google in their ongoing investigation into media convergence, media power and how it might be regulated in the future.

Nine ladies dancing: Many more than nine ladies (and men and kids and YouTube cats) were entranced by this year’s dance craze, — “Gangnam Style” — the most viewed video on YouTube. Note to self: How can we “borrow” for clients?

Eight maids a-milking: A statistic sure to make Mayor Bloomberg a little sad, cow’s milk consumption is down this year, trailing soda (and beer and bottled water, too.) I feel a Dairy Board RFP coming our way.

Seven swans a-swimming: As long as they’re not “black swans.” We in PR love new phraseology to have “pun” with, but this term, emerging after Superstorm Sandy, is downright scary. It means “a surprise event with a huge impact that can’t reasonably be anticipated based on historic records.”

Six geese a-laying: All we really want to know here – are any of them laying the proverbial Golden Egg, and can it save us from the (proverbial) Fiscal Cliff?

Five golden rings: A perennial favorite – contemplating why awful jewelry commercials fill the airwaves this time of year? Can’t the PR firms for Jared, Pandora and Kay help influence the scary bad creative for their clients?

Four calling birds: Maybe the calling birds can call the Angry Birds and create a new game!

Three French hens: Wisdom from French hens (women) have dominated book publishing this year, from staying thin to raising children. Here’s the latest advice on living la vie en rose, demonstrating that some trends have real staying power.

Two turtle doves: For centuries doves have symbolized peace, and they’ve long been a part of Christmas and weddings. But the association we like best is the brilliant PR campaign that’s still going, but always morphing, the Dove Soap Real Beauty initiative, recently highlighted for its creativity here.

And a partridge in a pear tree! As it turns out, partridges may alight on pear trees (likely for holiday photo opps), but they don’t actually live there. However, if you Google this, you will get upwards of 600,000 results, which I imagine other PR pros are trying to spin into something this time of year as well.


Five Ways PR Can Build Brands

It’s been said that PR drives reputation, while marketing builds brands. But that simplistic premise defines both PR and brand far too narrowly. It may not always take the lead in brand-building, particularly with large, global companies, but there are many ways in which the classic PR approach and tactics help defend, deepen, and even create an indelible brand identity. Here are some of the most common.

Storytelling.  This sums up PR’s advantages. A corporate or brand story might be threaded through all aspects of its marketing, but only PR can tell it in depth. Those stories aren’t just the splashy entrepreneurial chronicles, like Steve Jobs’ life or Richard Branson’s latest exploits. The most influential storytelling might involve how an innovation saved a business, improved a life, or rehabilitated a community, and it can usually be done in far more detail and with greater authenticity through social and traditional media relations than through paid media channels.

Third-party endorsement. To be strong, a brand promise must be credible. The essence of good PR is having someone else talk about your brand rather than the company itself. The third-party endorsement – either implied or explicit – is often very effective, sometimes more so than paid media. It helps when the publicity results include “proof points” that reinforce a brand proposition or identity.

Thought leadership. Staking out a position on a relevant issue and sharing new insights or ideas can yield far-reaching brand benefits. When Starbucks’ Howard Schultz weighs in on healthcare reform, or unveils a jobs program, for example, it’s more than a corporate reputation campaign. It’s an example of thought leadership about a critical matter relevant to most customers that has nothing to do with its products, but everything to do with its brand.

Education. In PR, “education” usually evokes unbranded behavior modification campaigns that seek to impact public safety or health, like obesity prevention or safe sex. Yet for companies and brands in “high-involvement” categories like automotive, technology, and some luxury industries, the depth and detail that product education provides can be a strong brand differentiator and a way to inspire customer confidence.

Creating advocates. This is where branding and reputation come together. Social media is like word-of-mouth on steroids, and its ubiquity brings an explosive acceleration of the cycle whereby regular citizens become passionate advocates, either for or against a brand. Through the power of social sharing, every customer interaction is potentially a public one, and a brand reputation can be formed – or dismantled – in a matter of days.

Year-End PR Winners And Losers

Year-end wouldn’t be year-end without the inevitable lists! In PR it’s instructive (and full of just a little schadenfrude) to reflect on those who burnished their PR image and those who bruised and battered it. Here’s our best shot at PR Winners and Losers. See what you think.

PR Winners

Chris Christie
Jersey’s often-mocked Republican governor scored major points at home after Hurricane Sandy. Gov. Christie threw himself into the relief efforts as soon as the storm hit the Garden State. His ability to blur party lines and work with President Obama days before the Presidential election helped him maintain the image of a focused leader during the disaster, which led to a huge spike in his most recent approval rating.

Lydia Callis, Bloomberg’s Sign Language Interpreter
How often does the “hearing” public pay attention to sign language interpreters? The answer was ‘not often’ until Lydia Callis signed for Mayor Bloomberg during his post-Sandy addresses. Her enthusiasm and clear sympathy made her stand out, earning her an inspired skit on SNL and rocketing her to internet stardom. She also put sign language interpreting into the zeitgeist.

Hillary Clinton
Who knew that a photo of Hillary Clinton checking her phone would redefine the Secretary of State? The ‘Texts from Hillary’ Tumblr began as a fun way to portray the former presidential candidate, as ‘Hillary’ and ‘Humor’ aren’t often synonymous. The site launched popular memes, which Clinton chose to embrace, and her farewell video and latest “selfie” taken with Meryl Streep just confirmed her appeal with multiple audiences. Welcome to the world of memes, Hillary! We hope you’re here to stay!

PR Losers

When McDonald’s turned to social media to hear their patrons’ #McDStories, they could have never anticipated the can of worms they were opening. McDonald’s diners used the hashtag to air their grievances about the chain, instead of share their success stories. The twitter campaign promptly ended once it was deemed a #McFail.

Penn State
It’s sad to see an institution like Penn State fall from its pedestal, but that’s what happened when the school was caught in a child molestation scandal. Although assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of the awful crimes, the school was burned when the Freeh report revealed that the late head coach Joe Paterno and the administration covered up the situation. As a result, the school took a major hit to its reputation and football program.

Donald Trump
Of course, no PR list would be complete without “The Donald.” Trump claimed he had a “game-changer” in the Presidential election by challenging Obama to release his private records in exchange for a $5 million charitable donation. Celebrities took to the twittersphere mocking the mogul’s cry for attention and Trump’s offer became a joke. But, we were still talking about Trump, so maybe he belongs on both lists!

Can you think of other great PR moments? Any that should be left in the dust? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

What PR Pros Want For The Holidays

No matter whether you’re too old to write to Santa, celebrate something completely different or just want world peace, pretend someone could give you some gifts to make you better at your job or to make your job easier, what would be on that list? We took a crack at it.

The computer program (that I like to think we may have someday) which spins media pitch letter gold from the client facts you input complete with pithy language and perfect punctuation.

Is there anything better than hijacking a holiday for publicity gain? With Have-a-Holiday, you needn’t wait for “National Pound Cake Day” or “Buzzard Day” (really, that exists) Conveniently turn any day into the day YOU need to publicize some important client messaging.

Proposal Wizard
Not that your agency ever writes anything “off the shelf” but wouldn’t it be swell if you could take your brilliant strategy and a program could whip out some tactics, news bureau description, budgeting and some of the other more mundane aspects of proposal writing, leaving your team to dream up all the creative ways to tell your client’s story?

Meeting Clone
And its companion product, Conference Call Clone for those of us who just have too many meetings to attend!

But let’s not forget what the holidays are truly about, tis better to give than receive after all, so how about giving something tangible and helpful to the PR colleagues in your life?

Give an associate a pat on the back, a thorough review of whatever it is that they just emailed you; constructive criticism on a pitch letter or blog post; timely turnaround on that thing that they just emailed you and support when they are going through a rough patch with a project. Now those are some gifts that can make the job easier!

Got any other suggestions to share?