PR Pros, Time To Unwind!

Feeling stressed? Not enough hours in the day? You’re not alone. A few months ago, PR manager came in at number 5 on a CareerCast survey listing the most stressful jobs in America. – PR jobs vary, but most certainly aren’t the lives of wining and dining that some imagine.

While unpredictable situations, crazy deadlines, and great client expectations play a role in our day-to-day stress, you can’t let it get the best of you! Here are some ways to unwind at work.

Get out. That’s right, go for a walk. While it’s hard to even think about leaving your desk on a busy day, sometimes the best thing you can do is step away and take a walk. Whether you head to a nearby Starbucks or just the building cafeteria, changing your physical surroundings can help clear your head and remind you that there’s a whole other world outside your work environment.

Manage your email. For me personally, there’s nothing more stress-inducing than a chaotic Inbox. At the end of each day try to spend some time sorting and filing the emails from the day. This helps with organization, and it’s a good way to make sure you didn’t miss an important note. Plus, you’ll start the next day in a calmer frame of mind.

Shout about it. Maybe you shouldn’t literally shout, but grab a co-worker with whom you feel comfortable and talk the problem out. Sharing client dilemmas, reporter struggles, and other daily problems with someone else helps relieve pressure.

Lighten up. It’s easy to take things too seriously. Instead of feeling down and out about a media hit that didn’t pan out or an event that hit some speed bumps, consider what went well, too.

Work out. Some people swear by evening workouts. Activity is a great way to vent your aggressions, and the more challenging your class or routine, the harder it is to let other worries creep in.

What are some of your tips for de-stressing at work?

What Is "PR" Thinking?

According to PR industry newsletter to The Holmes Report, “PR thinking” will dominate marketing communications in future years. That’s meant to be encouraging news for PR pros.

The basis for the forecast is a new survey of 2000 marketing communications students in four European countries. Seventy percent of this “next generation” of marketers say they believe that a PR mindset will dominate among marketing and ad agencies within the decade.

Even more startling, more than 80 percent percent predict the death of specialist shops, like social media or digital. It’s only one survey, but it’s a comprehensive one, and these are surely marketing’s future leaders.

So what is “PR thinking”? The post defines it as the belief that “word-of-mouth and trust for brands is most important.” I would add that for many of us who work in PR, the essence of PR thinking is about generating and using influence. It’s explicit or implied third-party endorsement, – what most of us learned during our first week on the job.

But beyond the survey, there are many, even more compelling reasons why “PR thinking” will continue to dominate marketing communications. One is Google, which rewards content and social sharing and metrics like follows, comments, and views over black-hat SEO tricks.

Another is the obvious struggle of the traditional ad industry to redefine itself and to move towards word-of-mouth marketing and even brand journalism. But here’s my list of the key ingredients.

Adding value. We’re trained to do this for journalists and bloggers, and to help them, in turn, add value for the end user. Today this means quality content. PR standards still aren’t journalism but they’re getting there.

Storytelling. This is a newer trend, but jargon-stuffed press releases and commercial messages are giving way to real stories, complete with conflict, drama, and emotion.

Influence. It’s not what we say, it’s how we influence others’ own content, sharing, and behavior.  This is the heart and soul of PR and very different from the paid media mentality. It is how the PR investment should be measured.

Trust. There is no influence without trust. The gap between what consumers believe when companies talk about themselves (8%) and when those they know talk about the company (80%) is huge.

Relevance. No amount of influence matters if the message isn’t relevant.

Of course, key marketing communications values like relevance aren’t proprietary to those trained in public relations. And that’s the point. The “new” marketing isn’t limited to PR, or social media, or WOM marketing, or any of those.

Maybe “PR thinking” really means forgetting about channels or disciplines or labels. For the digital age, that’s just good marketing.

PR Tips for Networking Events

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

No phrase better captures the importance of networking, not only in public relations, but in just about any industry. It’s an essential part of getting ahead, yet there are many ways to self-sabotage. For some shy folks in the biz, networking can be absolutely terrifying.

But successful contact-building is something you can practice, and with the weather warming up, there are sure to be tons of relevant opportunities to do so. Here are some important reminders for the next event you attend.

Do your research. See if you can take a look at an RSVP list before the event to get a feel for those attending. Will it be mostly young professionals? Industry vets? Getting to know the crowd beforehand not only is a great way to prep conversation topics in advance, but it helps calm nerves or anxiety.

Do come with some ice-breakers. Easy ways to strike up conversation include: comparing notes on a recent speaker; asking about membership in the sponsoring group/organization; industry trends, or topical news. Open-ended questions or casual comments (“I’m glad I rushed out of my office for once instead of working late again; how about you?”) can start a conversation flow.

Don’t dress down. Networking events are great opportunities to meet people quickly, so it’s important to leave a positive first impression. Your role doesn’t matter; there is no reason a college intern shouldn’t dress like an executive! Accessories are also a great way to express your personality and could act as a potential ice breaker.

Don’t cling. It’s fine to go with a colleague, but don’t huddle with her all evening; you’ll be more approachable if you’re mingling and have an open body posture. By the same token, don’t monopolize those you’re meeting. After 5 or 10 minutes, excuse yourself to take a call/visit the bar/find a contact. Better yet, play (business) matchmaker and introduce them to another contact or associate of yours, then move on.

Don’t abuse the open bar. Bee-lining to the bar might seem tempting in an intimidating crowd of people, but be sure to control your drinking! Limit yourself to one or two drinks for the event and take your time with them. You want to be remembered for your business or employee potential, not for being a party animal.

Don’t forget to follow up. Just because the event is over doesn’t mean the networking is! Look through your new collection of business cards and follow up, whether through Linkedin or email. It’s helpful to reference something you talked about at the event and look for opportunities to connect again.

PR And Social Media Move Movies

Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off of the summer movie season, marked more and more by social media-infused promotions. The goal is to drive interest among the typically young, male movie fans with a fusion of traditional and digital PR and marketing, increasing the hype and the ticket sales.

Beginning in 1999 with the “found-footage” film ‘The Blair Witch Project’, the practice is now a must-have movie promotion strategy.

Hunting for (box office) treasure. Think of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as online scavenger hunts to build hype and provide background for new projects. They act as modern-day grassroots PR campaigns. “Cloverfield” hopped on the bandwagon in mid-2007 with MySpace character pages and “in-world product” sites. The mysterious trailer and secrecy-saturated campaign spurred curiosity, and coverage.

“The Dark Knight” raised the bar with worldwide scavenger hunts led by the Joker, including cakes embedded with cell phones and a mock District Attorney campaign. The results were no joke; the campaign generated TV coverage as it connected more than ten million players in 75 countries.

More recently, “Tron: Legacy” rallied moviegoers with a “crashed” press conference and tokens to the film’s arcade. Even the upcoming “Man of Steel” joined the party, creating an in-world online project that mirrored the hunt for extraterrestrial life through satellite signals.  All the campaigns were covered by popular film blogs.

(Smile for the) cameras. Another form of social media promotion is interactive or 3D theater standees, the attention-grabbing larger-than-life posters like this one for “Transformers”.  Standees encourage theater-goers to take photos and share them on their favorite social networks while tagging the film’s accounts to build buzz. Despite the visual appeal of a photo with Gandalf or a “Despicable Me 2” Whack-a-Minion display, they rarely result in traditional media coverage, but the social sharing can be a blockbuster in itself.

The “Social Network” path to profits. More and more movies generate buzz with exclusive hashtags, Instagram reveals, and Facebook “likes”.  The horror fad film “Paranormal Activity” built a fan base through screening demands on Eventful, an event-sharing and requesting site, with resulting buzz in non-film outlets like Advertising Age.

The savviest film marketing uses in-world social media reveals, custom apps, and hashtags that unlock special poster content. Part of the success behind the megahit “The Hunger Games” was clever use of social sharing and exclusive content, generating recognition on such “mainstream” sites as CNET. For the “Hunger Games” sequel, “Catching Fire,” the studio has already created an updated “Capitol” fashion site, Instagram page, exclusive stylized images linked to the movie, and its first trailer, all some six months before its premiere.

Pay attention this weekend and in coming the months to spot some new trends.

For Bad PR, Blame The Lawyers?

Was Shakespeare right after all?

When legal strategy contradicts PR or communications strategy, PR usually loses. Typically, it’s in high-stakes liability suits or congressional investigations where avoiding stiff legal or financial penalties is considered more important than brand or personal reputation.

But the Nutella PR mess shows that legal protocol can gum up the works even in far more trivial situations. Which is nuts. It’s enough to evoke the famous Shakespeare quote about lawyers, which, though widely misinterpreted, remains the classic complaint of many for whom legal procedure is an obstacle, including PR pros.

For those on a media starvation diet, the heartburn started when Sara Rosso, an engaged Nutella enthusiast the likes of which most brands can only dream of, launched a campaign to celebrate World Nutella Day. Rosso created a Facebook page that has attracted a community of 40,000.

Instead of thanking their #1 fan, Nutella sent her a cease-and-desist letter. Naturally, the letter prompted a backlash against the brand and its heavy-handed tactics.

To its credit, Ferrero SpA, which owns Nutella, realized its error and retracted the cease-and-desist. It explains the unfortunate letter as “routine procedure in defense of trademarks, activated following improper use of the Nutella trademark within the fan page.”

Well, whatever. The sticky situation just reinforces the importance of bringing together the  communications and legal functions when it comes to brand impact and social media. Why can’t we all just get along? Or at least be present at the table?

Nutella fans are still miffed, so the brand has some more sweet-talking to do to win back their affections.

But as Shakespeare also said, “All’s well that ends well.”

Avoid Social Media Disasters

As PR and social media professionals who often share content on behalf of brands and company executives, we literally have their reputations in our hands…and on our dashboards.

That’s why every PR pro must guard against the unscrupulous. Recent Twitter hacks of major brands like Burger King, Jeep and Chrysler show that no one is immune.

With hackers growing more sophisticated by the day, no one can guarantee a 100% bulletproof social account. But we can avoid the kind of sloppiness that invites trouble. Hacks are not only embarrassing in professional circles,  but they can have reputation repercussions for companies and their brands.

Here are some tips for dealing with, and preventing social media mishaps.

Follow good password protocol. Passwords such as “hello123” and “love” are a temptation to mischief-makers. By regularly changing passwords, limiting the number of approved users, and safeguarding your personal email and social accounts, you can eliminate easy security loopholes. Also, never save passwords to your browser; it’s an invitation to hackers.

Be prepared. Have a written and approved set of steps for a social media hack or mistake so you can “nip an issue in the bud” and minimize any damage as quickly as possible. Build in redundancy. For example, make sure that automated tweets can be suspended quickly and easily in the event of a disaster or other breaking news.

Think before you delete. If a questionable update is posted, think before you rush to delete. Sometimes, a deleted tweet just calls greater attention to the situation. A simple correction could be all you need to fix the error; or, if you have caused offense, apologize promptly and sincerely.

Separate your personal and client streams and dashboards. It’s easy to make mistakes (e.g. auto-log in), which is all the more reason to separate your business and personal streams. This helps safeguard your Twitter worlds with an extra layer of security if one of your accounts be compromised, and it reduces the chances you’ll tweet about your wicked hangover on a client’s account.

Double-check vendors. If you use a subcontracter, make sure they’re buttoned up. Every entity contracted to deal with your brand needs written security and content guidelines.

PR Myths And Facts For Marketers

A favorite former client calls PR “the cheapest form of advertising.” Not really. But his comment shows that, even among sophisticated marketers, misconceptions about PR and what we do for clients are still prevalent.

These are the top seven myths that persist about public relations, and a perspective on each.

1. PR is advertising lite. Not so. The two are so distinct that they shouldn’t be compared, and neither is a surrogate for the other. As one pro once put it, the comparison is a little like arguing which is more important to football, offense or defense. Ideally they work in concert.

2. PR is cheap. It’s true that a modest PR program’s cost is probably peanuts compared to a heavy paid media schedule, but it’s still significant. Budgets vary widely. The key is to match the need with the right PR resource and approach.

3. PR is publicity. Sure, media coverage is often an end result of a PR program, but a well-crafted plan starts with a strong strategy. To generate earned media, there’s plenty of foundation to be laid. Overall brand positioning, relationship-building, messaging, etc. – all are critical to a successful outcome. And when the publicity breaks, it’s just the beginning. We still trade a measure of control for credibility.

4. PR is about getting the word out. True, but many marketers don’t realize it’s a two-way street. A successful public relations program is designed to tell a brand or business story, but the PR team should also serve as a source of feedback and intelligence on what customers and influencers are saying and thinking. If you’re not using your PR function that way, you’re not maximizing your investment.

5. PR drives sales. When a prospect says they’re counting on the PR spend to replace other marketing tools and activities, it’s a red flag. Despite exceptions, PR isn’t the most reliable way to achieve demand generation. What it does best is build brand visibility and enhance reputation over time. When it comes to sales, it will often fall short, particularly because frequency is nearly impossible to achieve with publicity alone.

6. PR = press releases. The news stream is important, and well-written releases are essential, but they’re a commodity. Press releases don’t add up to a strategic PR program, and the impact of any one release is likely to be minimal. If you’re paying for news releases, you’re wasting your money.

7. PR isn’t measurable. Actually, it is. But this one’s tricky, for two reasons. One is that the old metrics that gauge volume and outputs, like impressions and ad equivalency, are outdated and inadequate. Again, the comparison to advertising doesn’t truly measure what PR does well.

The second challenge is that the research needed to demonstrate the value of PR’s outcomes can be nearly as costly as the program itself. The good news here is that as social media adoption grows, things like sentiment, message delivery, impact, and action are now trackable.

Better Brand-Building Through Cultural Archetypes?

On this past week’s episode of “Mad Men”, Ted Chaough, while trying to dream up campaign ideas for a margarine, riffs on the notion that various category brands can be viewed through the lens of the very popular, very silly 60s-era sitcom, “Gilligan’s Island”.

The notion is that the seven ship passengers stranded on a desert island after what was to have been (sing along if you know the lyrics) “a three-hour tour,” embody archetypes that endure across time, cultures and disciplines like PR, marketing, and advertising.

Ad/marketing wisdom holds that twelve archetypes are useful in brand-building, helping creatives define the personality and character of a brand. Here is a look at a few of the types through some of today’s cultural icons and hot products. See if it helps you write your next PR proposal!

The Hero or Explorer is someone who will have a major impact on the world or help people be all they can be – Rick Grimes on “The Walking Dead” is your basic archetypal hero. A brand like Nike, with its glorification of the athlete and the nobility of competition, is often thought of as a “hero” brand.

The Innocent or Jester is exemplified by that which offers a simple solution to a problem and is associated with goodness, morality, simplicity, nostalgia or childhood. Brands like Dove Soap and Ben & Jerry fit the mold, and Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory” is a terrific example of an Innocent.

The Sage is distinguished by traits like truth, intelligence, and analysis. It has wealth of knowledge and an urge to share it. This archetype screams Carrie (Claire Danes) on “Homeland”, perhaps minus the bipolar aspects. It evokes brands like PBS or possibly even Google.

The Magician makes things happen. It makes dreams come true but can also be a bit of a manipulator, given its passionate and charismatic ways. Magician archetypes include Walter White on “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men”’s own Don Draper. Magical brands might be anything from Apple or perhaps Disney.

The Lover archetype, is no surprise, physically and emotionally attractive, passionate and helps people have a good time – put Victoria’s Secret and Godiva Chocolate there and think Sophia Vergera of “Modern Family” as the TV embodiment.

Recognize any of your clients in the archetypes?

PR Tips for Interview Prep

A former colleague once told me that she “interviews recreationally” – that is, she actually enjoys going on job interviews even if she isn’t actually looking to make a jump.  She interviews for sport – to see what else is out there, remain savvy about the PR marketplace, and stay competitive within the field.

Assuming you’re in the majority who don’t rank interviewing among your top hobbies, you probably get apprehensive the night before an interview.  The what-ifs can be killer, especially if you’re new to the interviewing scene.  Below are key tips borrowed from PR media training as well as life experience, to help you prepare for, and ace, your interview.

Nail the “tell me about yourself” question. Set yourself up for a successful meeting by “wowing” your interviewer when asked an open-ended question about yourself. Think of three major points you’d like to convey about yourself and your background and memorize them. Then supplement each with anecdotes or supporting points that you can use throughout the session. If you’re a publicist like me, you might list media relations as one of your greatest strengths, but take it a step further by sharing an example of heroic work.

Anticipate difficult questions. You’ve agency-hopped three times in the last year?  There’s a mysterious time gap on your resume?  Know how you’ll tackle these questions, because they will be asked.  For tough queries, honesty and brevity are always best – if the company wasn’t a good fit, say so.  Follow your response with a genuine reason why you’re interested in this company.

Practice out loud. What sounds good in your head might not sound as compelling out loud, and the last place you want to learn that is during your interview.  Sure, you’ll want to talk about brilliant accomplishments or ideas, but delivery is the differentiator between confidence and arrogance.  Practice reading in front of a mirror, or better yet, in front of an audience. If all else fails, call your mom, whose unconditional love for you will force her to oblige.

Like the company. On Facebook, that is. And follow them on Twitter.  And Pinterest.  Many companies have a newsletter and/or blog – sign up for it.  Social media is a great way to obtain information that can’t always be found on the company website, including icebreakers like hometowns or sports team favorites.

Prepare intelligent questions:  Always have questions.  I once met with someone who rocked the interview until I asked “Do you have any questions?” and the candidate said, “No.”  Really, nothing?  So you’re telling me you know EVERYTHING about this agency and this position?  This was a red flag that may have signaled a lack of interest. To play it safe, prepare roughly ten thoughtful questions (in case some are answered during the interview).  Don’t ask about salary or benefits until later in the game.

And finally, remember that it’s just an interview: Think back to a time you were mortified beyond belief.  Chances are this interview pales in comparison.  Even if this is your dream job, the worst thing that can happen is you bomb the interview, learn from it, and move on.  And, you’ll have a funny happy-hour story.

How To Find A Job in Public Relations

Graduation season should be joyful, but in the past few years, the media coverage has been dominated by slim employment prospects, hefty college loans, and depressed salaries. Yet things are looking up; for one, the public relations industry is booming, and new grads know it.

As the resumes pour in, here’s my (updated) post with tips for finding a job in an agency or corporate PR department.

Work your contacts. Ask everyone you know for either one name or one piece of advice on landing a meeting. Don’t ask for a job, ask for insight about the industry. It’s much harder to turn that down, and your goal is to make connections that lead to more connections.

Work your interests. If you fall short on contacts, think about what you may have in common with hiring managers or agency executives. Social media is your friend here. If you share a school tie, hometown, or favorite TV series with a prospective employer, lead with that in your approach.

Be different. PR is often about helping clients to stand out, so be your own best PR person. Package yourself by focusing on what’s truly different and relevant about your background, education, drive, or real-world experience. Tell your story briefly in a cover letter. Be compelling, focusing on obstacles overcome, early learnings, or role models.

Don’t spam. It’s amazing how many emails we get with another agency’s name in the body, or with telltale font changes or other evidence of an e-blast. An obvious mass email tells a prospective employer that you’re not serious. Prospecting for a job is a lot like pitching media; the personal approach is time-consuming, but it’s well worth it.

Be social. As in following prospects on Twitter, engaging them on Facebook, and participating in industry or company LinkedIn groups. Consider Facebook ads, an introductory video of yourself, a career-themed Pinterest board. Show that you understand the medium and how to use it.

Offer independent thinking. When you do get an interview, be ready with your opinions. Read up on recent PR campaigns, hot-button industry issues like measurement or integrated communications. If an agency owner asks what you think of a website or a campaign, have a point of view.

Be a media junkie. Or be media. Start blogging. Drop names, visualize stories, show that you’ve not only done your homework, but that you consume a broad diet of traditional and social media on your personal time and take an interest in PR industry and business topics and developments. You are what you read.

Be curious. Always have questions. Even if you’re speaking with six executives in a row and have heard the corporate spiel from each of them, prepare a question. Even if you know the answer. Your job is to show engagement.