PR Should Own Real-Time Marketing

Mere moments after HRH George Alexander Louis of Cambridge made his entrance, the tweets and posts came in a rush. From Pampers, to Hostess, to Lululemon, all manner of brands spawned seemingly on-the-fly messages in the wake of the #royalbaby delivery. Some were witty, others were boring, and a few stretched the limits of taste, but most were covered and shared as the latest examples of the red-hot real-time marketing trend.

Of course, those spontaneous messages pushed out after the world’s longest pregnancy were anything but that. This wasn’t the Super Bowl blackout, after all; marketers had months to prepare for the global coming-out party. But the royal fuss did shine a light on real-time marketing, just as Oreo’s dunk in the dark did during Super Bowl XLVII.

Real-time marketing has arrived, because, well, it usually delivers. Whether clumsy or clever, the real-time royal-baby marketing machine was fueled by a frenzy of social sharing in the days following the birth.

For advertisers and their agencies, the new emphasis on real-time campaigns requires new skills. As Colin Mitchell, Ogilvy’s Worldwide Head of Planning put it recently, planning will be less important than ongoing campaign management. Mitchell names six “new” skills for ad pros, using words like “rapid response research” and “opportunistic media” to describe the demands and opportunities born by the popularity of real-time marketing.

Sound familiar? So where is PR in the real-time mix? PR professionals have been executing a version of real-time marketing since the business began. A story breaks, and the media relations team has four hours to take advantage of the news window with a client interview, quote, or blog post. The earned-media version may lack the polish and the broad viral potential of the social-media-fueled #royalbaby tweet or a milk-soaked Oreo, but the principle is the same.

In fact, PRs are well suited to pick up our share of real-time marketing. We’re accustomed to delivering content on the fly, we understand news opportunities, and we tend to be quite good at thinking creatively and acting spontaneously. We’ve all basically grown up around the news business, and social media has only heightened that sense of urgency.

Granted, true real-time marketing goes beyond mere newsjacking. An optimal response often requires a blend of paid and earned media, and it takes professional creative execution. Most importantly, the best real-time campaigns grow out of a brand’s story rather than being tacked onto a breaking news event. My favorite recent example is Virgin Holidays’ social campaign after same-sex marriage became law in the U.K. “Time for a honeymoon,” winks the ad, featuring the clinking of two lipsticked champagne flutes. It’s a perfect match with its intended audience, and the tone is classic Virgin, – sexy, subversive, and cheeky.

The Virgin ad was created by Saatchi. But it shouldn’t be long before we can enjoy the fruits of a PR-led team’s labor in the real-time marketing stage. Now, that will truly be a blessed event.

Managing Multiple Agency Relationships

Being a successful PR pro goes hand-in-hand with successfully navigating multiple relationships around you: getting the media what they need, on deadline; answering to multiple supervisors who oversee different accounts; and of course, making all your clients happy.

If the juggling act among media, supervisors, colleagues, and clients weren’t enough, now throw more agencies into the mix.  This might include PR firms that focus on another region or vertical than yours, or a group with a completely different function, like an ad or event agency.  Relationships with other teams can be challenging. We rarely have any say in the selection of these other agencies or the work they do, and it’s easy to become competitive when your skills or services overlap. Here are some tips to achieve and maintain a successful multi-agency relationship.

Get personal.   Have you ever met someone whose “email personality” was so different from their actual nature that you misjudged them?  It’s easy to misinterpret something in writing, or to form inaccurate opinions about someone with whom you’ve only communicated online.  Avoid this by getting to know the other agency staffers on a more personal level.  Instead of having your introductory meeting over the phone, suggest doing it in-person or via video.  If possible, hold in-person meetings every quarter (rotating who hosts is a good way to minimize travel and inconvenience) and even consider annual team-building events.  Bottom line – if you know the other agencies personally, your working relationship will be better.

Become allies. You’re all working towards the same goal – your client’s success – so instead of letting your competitive side take over, think of the other teams as an extended support system.  Next time you’re in a creative bind, consider bouncing your idea off a partner agency instead of the person in the cube next to you.  Besides, who’s better to brainstorm with than someone else that lives and breathes the account like you do?

Define roles and goals.  Never assume (you know what they say about assuming…) that partner agencies will have the same vision as you when it comes to dividing and conquering.  If your roles aren’t clearly delineated, or if there are potential areas of overlap, tackle them at the start of your relationship.
Being a good partner will make your job – and life – easier, and the client will appreciate your professionalism. Then, too, you never know where new relationships can lead; it’s no secret that many business opportunities come from other agencies, and the communications world is a small one.

Social Media Tips For Millennial PR Pros

By guest blogger Heather Scott

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Tumblr? For at least 25 hours a week? Do you think you have phantom phone syndrome?

If so, you are probably a millennial, and if you can claim that you do at least some of this social sharing for work, then you are more likely a millennial at a PR firm! Members of this cohort seem to share more intimate details of their lives via social media than other generations, leading experts to advise caution in how and how much they express themselves.

In this time of high unemployment and an economy that is only slowly recovering, millennials must learn how to use social media to advance their careers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to smart social media activity.

Profanity. Sometimes you just want to let your anger and frustration out with a four-letter-word tirade. While the occasion “hell” or “damn” is okay, keep the others off the internet. There are more articulate ways to express yourself.

Pictures. As with profanity, keep the drunken antics off social media. And profile pictures should be of you in career wear, not a halter top or a bridesmaid gown. This is not to say pictures containing alcohol should be kept off social media entirely (college students, proceed with caution), just keep it professional. A picture of yourself and friends enjoying a glass of wine says you’re a social person and that there’s more to you than your work.

Networking. Use your social media accounts to help get your foot in the door. Follow companies, employers, experts, etc. on sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to go a step further, try to actually connect with them. Respond to a discussion post on LinkedIn or comment on an article they tweeted. Engagement shows employers you’re not afraid to speak up and interact.

Expand your social media skill set. While it is presumed that all millennials know how to work every social media site in existence, it isn’t always the case. Take time to learn all the ins and outs of the social media sites you frequent. Know how to start a discussion post on LinkedIn or tailor trending topics on Twitter to a specific region. Know how to set up a Google+ chat. You never know when these skills may come in handy. More importantly, familiarize yourself with the most successful PR or marketing campaigns with social media at the core. That way, you can converse with prospective employers on the merits of “Dumb Ways To Die” vs Virgin’s #fitfoo campaign.

Politics and Religion. There’s an old saying: you should never discuss politics or religion at dinner parties. This also generally applies to social media. Until you’re the next Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter, keep your personal feelings/stances on these topics to yourself. If your comments are too extreme, future employers could be hesitant to hire you.

What other social media practices would you recommend to millennials? Leave a comment below.

How To Apologize Effectively

Mere hours after the tragic plane crash at San Francisco airport, executives of Asiana Airlines hosted a press conference to issue a formal apology for the accident. As is customary, CEO Yoon Young-doo and Asiana board members expressed their regret with deep bows of contrition in front of media and dignitaries. The Washington Post ran an insightful column about the bows as a symbol of the paternalistic corporate culture of South Korea and its possible link to the country’s business success.

For PR pros, however, the Asiana response also offers some reminders of the power of a public apology. And like Akio Toyoda’s humility in the wake of the product acceleration failures that precipitated a worldwide brand crisis for Toyota in 2010, it highlights a vivid contrast in cultures.

The typical public apology from an Asian executive often seems more sincere than those of his U.S. counterparts. Bowing will do that, but that’s not the only thing. Another reason is that our litigious society mitigates against any acceptance of responsibility, lest it be construed as liability. When the PR strategy and the legal strategy are in conflict, legal often triumphs, much to the chagrin of many communications professionals.

But there are other factors at work here. Intercultural experts point out that for Americans, an apology is an admission of error and the chief apologizer is confessing to weakness. In many Asian cultures, by contrast, a mea culpa is seen as a simple expression of regret and a desire to repair the relationship and/or move on.

The American view of the Asiana apology, therefore, may be attributing more authenticity and depth of feeling to it than it deserves. But the sight of the line of top executives bent over in a bow, coupled with language expressing “utmost sympathy and regret,” and “apologizing most deeply” is a heck of a good start to restoring Asiana’s reputation. In any language, an effective apology should offer some essential attributes.

Make it sincere

Whether a public mea culpa or a private apology, the expression must seem true. A false apology, or one made under duress, only does more damage.

Take responsibility

Yes, it’s tough or even impossible to accept the blame in our lawsuit-crazed culture, but owning the situation is the only way to move past the harm done. That’s why the lame, “We’re sorry if anyone was offended” statement is completely ineffectual.

Don’t explain or justify

While it’s tempting to put context around the offense, it almost always undermines the sincerity of the regret. Explaining can also raise more questions than it answers. In a catastrophic situation like the Asiana crash, where the facts or causes aren’t yet determined, it’s best to apologize quickly and pledge to get to the bottom of the situation.

Fix the problem

This is where many companies fall short. The most effective apologies are those that seek to prevent the issue from recurring, make reparations, or commit to positive change. Here, there must be teeth in the promise, or the entire apology falls apart.

And if all else fails, there’s always that deep bow.

Five Timeless PR Tips For A Successful Grand Opening

By guest blogger Alexandra Scott

Ready to open the doors for a client’s new venture? Congratulations! Make sure to incorporate these top PR tips into your master plan.

Know your media. Which media sources should you contact? Start “hyper-local” (think Patches, community papers etc.) Determine if your story has longer “legs” – is your company spokesperson well known in the area? Can his/her local media, alumni, religious institution or other community media be tapped for interest as well? Never forget about bloggers. “Slice and dice” your story to as wide an audience as you can.

Perfect your pitch. At the beginning of your pitch, come up with a way to grab your contact’s interest. Just because your client is opening a new store or other facility is not necessarily news. Does the opening mean new jobs? Is the construction unique in some way? Think visually, and use social sharing to get the word out. Write Facebook posts, post tweets, take pictures and videos!

Stake out all the “what-ifs”. Draft a list of “what-ifs” to help inform your PR plan – allow for latecomers, weather contingencies (plan a rain date if applicable) and breaking news. Every PR person’s nightmare is the huge unexpected story that takes all your press away! Be sure to prep the aforementioned photos and video to help get your story out to the media asap if they can’t get to you.

Incorporate a “wow” factor. A “wow” factor is part of the Grand Opening that will draw in the public. Some ideas to consider: Is a celebrity or key local notable a possible attendee and strategically a sound idea? Is there a famed local chef who can add some culinary color to the day or an unexpected free offer your client can make? Look for the unusual or over-the-top, just make sure they fit your client personality and the objectives of the opening.

The Grand Opening is only the beginning. The things you do after your Grand Opening are just as important as the event itself. So, follow-up is critical. Also, create a post-event press release. It should highlight the Grand Opening and provide a recap, including the number of attendees, names of legislators/dignitaries that attended and photos. At this point, plan an ongoing calendar of events to keep interest.

Your Grand Opening is just the first step to draw in the public and potential customers and the start of many future events to come.

These Should Be Words (PR Version)

Neologisms: 1: a new word, usage, or expression, 2: a meaningless word coined by a psychotic

Ok, going with definition one, this is an exercise many people engage in, including the Sunday NY Times Magazine, with its column, “That Should Be A Word.” There’s also my husband, who invented “clerty” – a mashup of “clean” and “dirty” for when one is undecided whether a dress shirt should be dry cleaned or could handle one more wearing.

In PR, where clever turns of phrase (or annoying coinages, take your pick) are the norm, here are some interesting terms that have recently popped up and some PR-usage examples.

HURRICATION: The unexpected day off work or school resulting from a nearby hurricane, producing enough rain and wind to shut everything down for a day or two, but not enough of a direct hit to cause damage or worry. “The hurrication left us unable to conduct any of our weekly client conference calls.”

INCOMMODEICADO: The state of being in the bathroom without a cell phone. “I excused myself from the marathon meetings to return a reporter’s call on deadline but found myself incommodeicado!”

FLIPOCRITE: One who openly justifies doing what one can’t abide in others. “We found it so flipocritical that the marketing director started Facebook advertising after they told us how stupid it was for their competitor!”

POVERTUNITY: A job that comes with no salary but has the promise of advancement. “Although it wasn’t the position she was hoping for, the offer presented a povertunity she couldn’t pass up.”

EMIND: To remind by email. “Don’t bother to call anyone on the team about tomorrow’s presentation; you have to emind them.”

CREDIBULL: Unbelievable claims made by one who is considered to be an authority. “The AE on the account had made the pitch successfully so many times, she even started to believe her own credibull.”

TEXTERITY: The ability to ably compose a text message. “Balancing a large Starbucks order for the client and his entourage didn’t affect her texterity one iota.”

GRAMMANDO: One who constantly corrects others’ linguistic mistakes. “I’ve never met a PR person who could resist going grammando on anyone’s typos.” See also: Dictaplinarian (enforces correct pronunciation); Spellot (takes a red pen to all documents).

FIDGITAL: Excessively checking one’s devices. “You could tell the meeting was over when no one was paying attention and everyone had gone fidgital.”

DAUNTLET: A small but overwhelming task. “Even though it was just a simple press release, the subject matter presented an overwhelming dauntlet.”

5 Ways PR Firms Can Set Client Expectations

Like personal relationships, PR agency-client unions can sputter or fail for any number of reasons. But it typically comes down to one key issue: the gap between expectations and reality. Often both parties rush ahead, eager to start reaping the benefits of the relationship, but without syncing their individual definitions of success. Here are some simple ways to set expectations and head off problems before the LOA is signed.

Ask. Then ask again

In our business, most clients will talk about goals like “visibility” or “thought leadership,” but those objectives are very general and open to interpretation. Push your client to be specific. “What does success look like?” “Where would you like to be a year from now as a result of your PR partnership?” “What have your ‘home run’ campaigns been, and why?” “What will have changed as a result of this investment?” These are all different ways of getting at the same answer and achieving a greater degree of specificity.

Make the agency needs clear upfront

It’s better not to wait until after the agreement is signed to spell out the agency’s needs and expectations. Many startup companies, for example, fail to understand the time and resources an agency relationship requires on their end. A candid discussion will help open their eyes and vet those who are unrealistic about the commitment.

Don’t oversell

Sure, it’s easier said than done, and no one wants to underpromise in a competitive situation, but credibility is also a selling tool, particularly with an experienced client. A couple of years ago I asked a client why we won a challenging reputation assignment against an eclectic field of large and well-resourced agencies. His answer? “You were the only one who told the truth.”

Separate service levels from goals

On a day-to-day level, clients may value responsiveness and efficiency above all else, and it’s natural for the agency team to be lulled by its ability to meet challenging tactical demands in the heat of battle. But even though service quality is critical, it doesn’t hold up in a senior management evaluation where outcomes are key.

Revisit expectations periodically

A formal review is terrific, but even a spontaneous check-in can suffice to determine if objectives are being met. Too often, business and communications goals change, or “mission creep” starts to dilute more important long-term goals. An early course correction will keep a relationship from veering off into dangerous territory.

Know Your PR Jargon

It doesn’t take long in a PR agency to figure out that practitioners can speak in a language all their own. Learning “PR-speak” is necessary to facilitate communication within a team. Industry jargon can be off-putting, but it does add a sense of camaraderie for those “in the know.” Additionally, as any industry evolves, so does the vocabulary. Check out some of these commonly used PR terms and acronyms to keep from getting lost in translation.

The Acronyms. PR people are definitely fond of acronyms, so much so that a conversation between two people in the biz can sound more like a secret code than a business plan.

B2B and B2C, as most people already know, refer to campaigns that target other businesses, or those that reach consumers, respectively.

OTR stands for Off the Record — integral to media relations by (ostensibly) allowing you to control the message when speaking to media.

ROO stands for Return on Objective and represents how your end result compares to your program’s original goals, where ROI, Return on Investment, refers to the value of a program.

SOV stands for Share of Voice, a barometer of visibility often used by brands or companies in competitive industries. SOV can be part of an agency’s KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, as the industry has moved beyond such traditional (but outdated) metrics as CPM (Cost Per Thousand) or AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent.) Phew.

Pitching. Pitching is essential to successful public relations, and, although it’s derived from baseball, it can mean a few things. A new business pitch is where an agency sells ideas to a potential new client, while a media pitch, of course, is persuading a journalist or blogger that they should feature your client’s news. You should also be learning how to pitch yourself to potential employers, i.e. your elevator pitch.

Blast. The act of sending an e-mail to numerous people at one time (and, unfortunately, often misused.)

Crossing the wire. This sounds dangerous, but it means a press release distributed over a newswire service, which helps run news in searchable digital form. It can be a real asset in spreading a story quickly. The term “crossing the wire” comes from a time when news services communicated via electrical telegraphy.

Readers. A “reader” is a 30-to-60-second piece distributed to broadcast contacts that contains the most essential information for their listeners and viewers.

Boilerplate. “Boilerplate” is actually a printing term that also refers to standard language in legal contracts, but in PR it means a brief summary of a company’s business or history found at the end of a press release. It was also named as one of the most annoying PR terms by InsidePR, but we find it pretty harmless.

Got any other examples of jargon you’ve heard recently? Do you remember the first term that made you scratch your head? Tell us in the comments!

In Praise of Independent PR Agencies

As we celebrate our national independence, it’s a good time to ponder what independence means in the PR agency world. For years, PR and other creative services firms have touted their “independent” status. What does that signify to clients and employees? Is it valuable?

Sometimes it’s a euphemism for “small,” which is itself another way of saying “inexpensive.” Or, it can mean flexible, as in, willing to work with early-stage companies, or nimble in creating and developing programs. Only in rare cases, e.g., our sister agency Widmeyer’s “Independent Thinking” slogan, has it become a meaningful selling proposition or cultural statement.

For the most part, independent status is a bullet on a powerpoint slide, and it doesn’t translate to a tangible client benefit or staff differentiator. But it should, and it can. Here’s what “independent “means to me in the PR or creative services world, with bias acknowledged.

Client-serving counsel. Honest counsel and objective advice is not always easy or reflexive in a politicized corporate environment. Any recommendation that leverages client dollars from one sector to another is fraught with peril, and subject to multiple approvals. But undiluted and objective feedback is, above all, what clients ask of their agencies, and it should not be compromised by internal politics or bureaucracy.

Risky creative. In an “integrated marketing” environment, the highest-margin service can dominate the client relationship, and even the creative product. That happens less readily in a truly independent firm, even if the tradeoff is depth of service offering.

Value. Good value shouldn’t mean “cheap.” But it’s true that the trappings of global status and marketing “integration,” like multiple brick-and-mortar offices, coupled with the demands of holding-company margins, can undermine client service. It’s the most common complaint we hear from large-agency refugees.

Entrepreneurial culture. The most client-friendly agency culture will reward staff behavior that shows accountability and a bias in favor of action. For some clients, that’s not desirable in a strategic partner. Those who define their needs precisely and look for cultural compatibility will be most successful here.

Culture doesn’t have to depend on size, or management structure, of course. But having worked at a midsize owner-operated agency, the largest independent firm, and an integrated ad and marketing agency, I have a bias toward less bureaucracy, greater simplicity, and fewer deciders. An owner-operated organization is obviously better positioned to create a truly entrepreneurial environment that rewards proactivity, accountability, and, yes, risk.

PR (Never) Takes a Holiday!

While most people are ready to kick off the 4th of July holiday early, smart PR folks have been thinking of ways to take advantage of the time period on behalf of their clients. They know that a long holiday weekend means a slow news cycle and media who may be distracted or in a rush to get out. Times like these can provide a golden opportunity for getting your clients in the news…if you’re smart and think strategically. Worried about your clients’ news being met by a barrage of out of office replies? Here are some tips on getting your news out during a short holiday week.

Do Your Holiday Homework

Think about what day the holiday falls on and be sure to get your pitch out before the mass exodus. This year, July 4th falls on a Thursday, which means pretty much everyone will begin to check out as early as Tuesday afternoon. Get your pitches out by Monday and send a quick follow-up on Tuesday morning to give reporters time to look at your story. Use the rest of the time to make calls to top-tier press to “close” some stories ahead of the holiday weekend.

No Expiration Date

Reporters are looking for content to fill in news gaps over the holiday, so this is an opportunity for your story to make a splash. Pitch news that doesn’t have a time stamp attached to it. Reporters appreciate evergreen stories, like surveys, because they’re ideal for slow news cycles. After pitching a client’s survey in March, my colleague is still getting emails from media interested in the story three months later.

Own That Holiday!

This is also a good time to make the holiday work for you. Take advantage of this window of opportunity by planning ahead and thinking creatively. Provide reporters with timely content like tips on outdoor decor, or recipes for a 4th of July barbecue, or riffing on the ” independence” theme which can be translated to almost any client product or service and easily be plugged into a story. Make sure your client news owns the holiday. Your efforts will be appreciated and you’ll be building critical relationships for future pitching and PR.

Be Prepared

Now that you’ve pitched early enough, be prepared to work with the media; don’t disconnect from your work email just yet. Know that part of making this strategy work means working bits and pieces over the holiday weekend. Once you’ve got a “bite” – go with it! Take pride in the extra effort expended to get a great placement. This also means preparing your client. Spokespeople need to be available for interviews, and members of the PR team need to be around to facilitate as well. Remember to work quickly and efficiently, and don’t forget to be patient and friendly with bloggers and media. It’s a great time to “bond” and you can be sure that they want to finish up and enjoy the holiday weekend too!
What are your tips for pitching during a short holiday week?