Tips From A New York PR Agency: Make Your Blog Stand Out

In browsing the blogosphere, one runs into quite a few examples of “blogging for blogging’s sake.” In other words, someone read in the PR handbook that a blog is a surefire way to attract eyeballs to a company’s website.

Well, it’s not. A blog has to be treated like any other part of a strategic communications plan. It should conform to specific goals and be supported by a thoughtful action plan to keep it current, meaningful and “shareworthy.”

Here are some tips:

Don’t use your blog as a commercial for your product/service. Savvy readers know the difference between a blog that smartly weaves in a mention of a product or service because it furthers the “storyline” and one that is 300 words on your company’s latest offering. The former? Good journalism. The latter? Total turn-off, and a likely Google bounce.

Do incorporate news headlines. Although you likely have an editorial calendar (if not, create one!) it’s a good idea to leave room to comment on or include real-world developments, particularly when they have bearing on your industry. For example, the President’s State of the Union address provides fodder for those in the insurance industry, employment industry and countless others to “borrow buzz” and provide a keen POV to a topical issue.  And, yes, it’s a great example of CEO message communications as well.

Don’t overlook keywords. Invest some time and resources in determining the keywords that your target audiences use to find companies like yours. Incorporate them organically into what you write. Their mention should never seem forced or artificial, but a natural part of the topics you cover and the “voice” your blog has come to acquire.

Do mention clients and other business partners. Sometimes the best way to illustrate a case history or a best practice is to cite examples where your company has had a major role. Sharing the “stage” with others, however, keeps the company humble but also illustrates skills and accomplishments. And it can increase the “shareability” of the post when other names are given shout-outs.

Don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. With a company blog, it’s tempting to have guest bloggers and other voices within the organization share views. As egalitarian as the notion is, it is far more practical to limit writing to a handful of people. Your blog should have developed a particular voice, cadence and look which is best produced by a few who are truly invested.

Whatever changes you undertake to improve your posts this year, recognize that keeping a blog fresh and relevant takes work. Set some goals and get to it!

For Super Bowl SodaStream Pours On The PR

When it comes to PR, it’s hard out there for a challenger brand. Even with creative marketing, a smaller brand is likely to be drowned out during a heavily hyped marketing event like the Super Bowl. That’s one reason why some marketers try to get their ads kicked out of the game for the (sometimes questionable) PR value of being able to turn around and publicly complain about the “ban.” Typically, it’s a tired and irksome strategy, especially when the trick involves an unlikely sponsor like Ashley Madison or an annoying real one like GoDaddy. (Although this year GoDaddy claims to have created some commercials for grownups, so we’ll see.)

In my book SodaStream is different. The DIY soda upstart specializes in sparking controversy, and  for some time its selling proposition is pretty bold; it claims to be helping to “save the world” by delivering a more healthful product, without the plastic bottle. For the second time, it has the the Fox network in a lather over its Super Bowl ad, this time due to a campaign featuring sexy brand ambassador Scarlett Johansson.

The PR groundswell wasn’t as easy as it looks.  The whole thing nearly evaporated under harsh criticism about SodaStream’s factory, which is located in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Some have called for a product boycott, directing consumer ire at Johansson as the spokesperson.
But the real controversy that’s bubbling isn’t about politics, nudity, or sexist content. It’s because SodaStream dares to tweak Big Soda. Coke and Pepsi, naturally, are big-ticket advertisers who pour millions into ads and special events for game day, and SodaStream isn’t afraid to fling rocks. In fact, its entire approach is based on poking the giants, while tapping into the natural sympathy it evokes as a little guy.

It’s a classic PR strategy and one that has worked well for the brand year after year. In 2013 it submitted a commercial that blatantly targeted Big Soda by showing exploding Coke and Pepsi bottles being delivered to a supermarket. The spot was deemed too competitive and SodaStream ended up having to substitute a more tepid one, supposedly at the last minute.

These “unintentional” bans are done so often they’re in danger of falling flat. But for Super Bowl 2014, SodaStream has shaken things up again, this time with a softer sell. Wearing a bathrobe, Johansson talks up SodaStream’s benefits, sips it seductively through a straw, then flings off her wrap to reveal a form-fitting dress. She wistfully muses about ways to make the message “go viral.” The spot is sexy, sure, but there are far more daring ones.

The “ban,” of course, was a result of the words she uses to close out the spot…”Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.”
Yep, that’s the type of foul language that can get a commercial booted. Of course, SodaStream knew this. And it knew it could simply edit out the last line and let viewers see the “uncensored” version, where it’s well on its way to fulfilling Johansson’s viral dreams. Sweet.

Tips For Top PR Firms: More Creative Proposals

The start of the New Year signifies the beginning of RFP “season” for PR pros, since many consumer and B2B companies are looking for fresh marketing direction.  During this time you can expect to hear catch phrases like “out of the box thinking” and “disruptive innovation.”  It’s not a good idea to embrace creativity for creativity’s sake, but you can make your proposal and pitch stand out to demonstrate that you understand the brand and its target audience.  Here are a few pointers.

Dress to kill. We don’t mean put on your best suit (but do that if appropriate); we mean, dress your presentation. Banish boring templates. Jettison jargon and be so comfortable with your concepts that you could sell them in your sleep. But not so comfortable that you come off robotically reciting. Take breaths, make jokes, if you’ve read the audience and it feels right, and encourage conversation.  Just as the comments section of a blog post are often the most compelling, the same goes for the conversation sparked during a dialogue with a prospective client.

Be in the know. What’s the latest fad these days?  Tebowing?  Twerking? A healthy dose of pop culture – when used correctly – can go a long way to demonstrate that you are constantly current and know how to make a brand relevant and keep it in the news.  Same goes for suggested platforms – if Twitter chats are no longer the “it thing” figure out what is.  Gif, anyone?

Gather round the campfire. Recently, no doubt, you’ve heard the term “storytelling” ad nauseum. But when you think about it, it’s true – even the most dyed-in-the-wool corporate types would rather be told a story than “presented” to. So treat your presentation like a story. Include these five components:


Incident (illustrative of challenges and opportunities)

Stakes (what client has to gain and what you recommend they must do)

Main event (Big idea!)

Resolution (proof points)

When in doubt, enthusiasm wins out. Even if you feel less than confident, focus on enthusiasm. Heartfelt and genuine can trump cold and precise anytime. Even if you skip a slide or cover something twice, if you’ve already got the audience on your side, it will be hard for them to resist your passion and easy for them to remember you when decision-time comes.

(Don’t) bask in the afterglow. No matter how awesome you and your team were, never laurel-rest. Perform a post-mortem with the group to see what worked and what didn’t and keep notes for the next presentation. Stay in touch with the prospect in a polite way to determine next steps.  Congratulations if you win and on to the next, if someone else does!

PR Advice on Responding To Negative Coverage

It can rise from a long-simmering situation or come out of nowhere. You, or your company, is being attacked or criticized in public.

The way you handle a negative story can make all the difference. Here’s how to respond without fanning the flames of a negative situation.

Do respond.  Don’t hide. In many cases, a lack of response will be seen as a validation of the criticisms, or at best, an information vacuum. The sooner the response, the easier it will be to control the situation. Yet, a speedy reaction is often difficult. In a high-stakes situation where the facts are unclear, say so, but refute any untruths, and pledge to get out the supporting information as quickly as possible.

But don’t dignify baseless rumors. One exception to the above is the case of an unsubstantiated rumor, where you risk calling more attention to it by responding. The same is true of an Internet troll. In that case, let the community handle blatant misbehavior, foul language, or abusive comments.

Let your advocates defend you. In that vein, if you have trusted clients or customers willing to comment in your defense, by all means, let them. The essence of reputation is what others say about you in public, so third parties, even those who are not 100% objective, are your allies.

Don’t overreact. It’s natural to feel emotional or even use defensive language when attacked, particularly if things get personal.  When accused of copying a competitor’s intellectual property, a client drafted a lengthy defense on his website that referred to “slander” and “lies.” We ultimately convinced him that the post might raise more questions than it answered, particularly for site visitors with no knowledge of the situation. If you can’t be objective (and it’s hard when it’s your business), seek objective advice.

Ask for equal time. Most legitimate websites or news sources will give you the opportunity to refute a questionable story. Where facts or details are wrong, your smartest approach will be to calmly insist on your right to set the record straight. Don’t threaten or bully; appeal to the journalist’s desire for accuracy. No one wants to get it wrong.

Use objective facts and figures. A convincing response is usually one that uses statistics or objective facts and cites sources. Where possible, quote third parties. Corporate recognition, ratings, and recommendations can be useful in making your case.

If at fault, apologize. If your company has made a mistake, admit it and offer a prompt and sincere apology. Avoid weaselly or legalistic language like, “We’re sorry if anyone was offended.” Take responsibility. Then, take steps to fix the situation or make amends.

Look for the opportunities. Public criticism can be a gift in disguise. Think about whether it could be an opportunity to remedy a problem or improve your business offering. If appropriate, thank your critics and take advantage of the opening to tout the fix.

PR For Start-Ups: Avoid These Pitfalls

For an early-stage company or start-up, a strategic PR campaign can help drive visibility, highlight what makes the company or its products different, and propel the business forward.

But while early-stage entrepreneurs and their associates typically value what strategic PR can bring, they are usually wearing many hats, and they don’t always understand how to use PR as a real business tool.

Here are some pitfalls to avoid.

Arriving late to the game. Don’t assume you should start your PR efforts right before you’re about to make your first announcement. Getting a savvy PR team involved early is often helpful, particularly if your goals include reaching investors and stakeholders. The key here is focus.

Operating without a communications plan. Determine what your objectives are and develop a PR plan that will help support your business goals. Visibility for its own sake is nice, but unless it reinforces the right product messages and develops a company narrative with real momentum it will fall short.

Relying on a cool product. Yes, a differentiated product or service is a big advantage, and it should be fully ready for launch and bug-free if at all possible. But even more important than the great technology is its reason for being. Does it solve a problem? Save time or labor? Make people laugh? Your story should connect the dots and make even an unsophisticated user see its usefulness.

Thinking press releases are enough. While reports of the death of the press release are greatly exaggerated, you can’t rely on it to generate media interest. To produce worthwhile media buzz, you’ll need a fully developed media relations strategy involving tailored media pitches. The trick is marrying the message to its audience, which you can only do well if you understand the audience. Before reaching out to any reporter you should spend time researching recent coverage, learning more about his/her writing style, etc. Quality coverage doesn’t come easy, it’s earned.

Confusing the founder with the company. A charismatic founder is a huge PR asset for any business, particularly an early-stage one. But the founder isn’t always synonymous with the company, and it’s best to make the distinction between the two. A talented management team is important to the company’s perception, and a 100% investment in the founder as the “face” of the company can be risky if the situation changes.

Don’t Leave This Out of Your Strategic Communications Plan

When approaching a client PR proposal or strategic communications plan, it’s easy to get lost in the excitement of insightful strategies and creative tactics. But it’s also important to prepare prospects or current clients for any downside risk. In the era of instant communication and real-time social media response, it’s best to put plans in place that can minimize, neutralize, or even preempt any kind of negative coverage. The best time to start is before it happens.

Here are a few tips for crisis planning within a strategic communications plan.

Address the negatives. Don’t be afraid to address risks in the context of a proactive and largely positive recommendation. It’s natural to want to maximize excitement and enthusiasm, but clients and prospects will appreciate strategic thinking as well as concrete steps to safeguard reputation. Just be sure to place the “crisis” section in its proper context.

Think like a reporter.  Make sure your client company understands media objectives: their job is to disclose and report news, not to protect anyone’s reputation. If there are skeletons in the corporate closet or ordinary customer problems that are easily searchable, a good journalist will balance out the positive with the not-so-positive.

Understand the user experience. If you haven’t experienced your client’s product or service, make sure you do so, in order to identify with the typical customer and vet the user experience.

Treat the crisis plan as a living document. It should be separate from your communications plan, and refreshed regularly. One of the most common mistakes made by corporations is a defensive plan that’s kept in a drawer. Things change, people move on, and logistics will always need to be updated.

Use case histories. If you’re having trouble “selling in” a reputation management component to your plan, research and quantify the cost of not preparing for likely contingencies. PRSA has an excellent digital library on the topic.

Look at your plan from every angle. As in Newtonian theory, for every action there (can be) an equal and opposite reaction. So, think this through by preparing.

Communications Lessons From Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the half-century since Martin Luther King delivered his final speech, many social movement leaders and politicians have walked in his footsteps, but few have matched his gift for leadership and, yes, public relations. Like most great leaders, King was a natural communicator. Here are some of the timeless communications techniques that King used to catalyze change on a grand scale.

Take the high road. Despite the ugliest possible insults and threats, King never stooped to the level of his opponents. Nor was he too passive, although his non-violent philosophy angered some who advocated for more aggressive tactics. King walked the fine line between passivity and combativeness by linking his appeals for racial justice to the very principles that our democracy was founded upon, and to the very best in human nature.

Inspire, don’t incite. Closely linked to his “rise above it” approach was King’s ability to inspire followers, even the unsure or weak. That charisma and courage are summed up in the phrase, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  He didn’t just talk the talk, he marched the march.

Cultivate allies. King not only developed advocates and allies for his own vision of racial equality and equal opportunity, but he fostered cooperation among various disparate groups as part of the overall civil rights struggle. He has a genius for consensus, which is essential to true leadership.

Talk about ideas. The first rule of thought leadership is to harness your mission not just to tangible goals but to abstract ideas. That’s one reason why the King dream was so compelling, and why it endures today. He invites us in by painting a picture of his vision of racial harmony, and by connecting it to a shared future.

Tap the power of language. Was there ever a more perfect speech than the iconic “I Have a Dream” address of August 1963? It is 17 minutes of flawlessly crafted and impeccably delivered rhetoric that will live forever at the core of the King legacy.

PRs, Don’t Pitch Media On Twitter—Build Relationships

In tech PR, Twitter is as valuable an asset as Cision or Vocus. It’s a strong tool for staying up-to-date on what reporters are writing about and interested in. What it’s not? A tool for explicit/direct PR pitches.

Despite articles that say otherwise, when was the last time you saw a colleague or company successfully pitch media on Twitter or social, in general? You probably can’t recall a single example. It’s that rare. In fact, it’s safe to say that the mishaps—which are often very public—are much more frequent and common.

So, for PR, how can Twitter actually help?

We can use it to build relationships with media and master the “soft sell.” Instead of pitching,  demonstrate that you know a reporter’s beat and are interested in their writing. This helps when you open Outlook or pick up the phone for your actual pitch efforts. They’ll be familiar with you.

But how does one build relationships on Twitter? Here are 3 tips that I live by.

Show you’re paying attention.  This one is simple enough—retweet a reporter’s articles/tweets and favorite their content regularly. This will put you on their radar and make them familiar with you.

Don’t just RT; start a conversation.  Whenever you tweet an article, be sure to include the author’s handle (if you don’t know it, find it), as well as a POV on their piece. If you agree with it, let them know. If you disagree, ask questions. There’s no better way to show that you know a reporter’s beat. You’ll also learn a lot about the writer’s POV for future pitches.

Share information. Another way to show you’re following a given reporter is to share information that’s relevant to their beat or personal passion. This should be totally distinct from a client pitch unless it’s a truly great fit.

Don’t focus only on the rockstars.  It’s great to engage with a journalist or blogger with 100K followers, but don’t ignore those who are less known. Their feeds tend to be less cluttered, and there’s often a greater chance for a real dialogue.

Not everything has to be business.  I find that the most memorable tweets are often the funniest/oddest. That’s why sometimes being silly or quirky is your best bet. In fact, my most meaningful interactions with reporters have come from somewhat bold tweets with an odd remark or funny GIF. This works if you give it some thought and think through the idea. If they respond, great. If they don’t, no harm done.

5 Ways To Be A Better PR Employee

There’s quite a bit of useful advice on how to be a better PR person these days. But reading Reba Hull Campbell’s excellent list of 20 pieces of advice for PR professionals reminded me that there’s sometimes a gap between the skills needed to be a great PR practitioner and those required to advance in a corporate environment, particularly at an agency. It also put me in mind of some of the best employees I’ve had the privilege to manage, some of whom managed me better than I did them. Here’s my list.

Take the initiative. Back in the go-go late nineties, when we were chronically understaffed and clients were joining faster than we could manage them, an entry-level account coordinator asked me a question about his (admittedly vague) job parameters. My answer was, “When in doubt, assume it’s your job.” That advice may not be as applicable in a large corporate environment today, but I stand by it. Better to apologize for jumping in than to regret what you missed.

Be solutions-oriented. This one’s on everyone’s list. Don’t approach your manager with a problem until you’ve thought about solutions. One of the more talented staffers I ever worked with was a master of this. She’d come in with a knotty issue, then proceed to outline some fixes in a way that made it clear she’d thought about the problem. Of course, there are circumstances where no solution is obvious, but it’s well worth the effort to put some energy there.

When pushing back, choose your spots. Asserting your point of view in the face of an unreasonable decision or – more likely – a flawed or hasty client recommendation is highly valued among PR practitioners. Who wants a yes-person? But as an employee, you should ration your pushback very carefully. Too many, and you’ll get a reputation as difficult, and your opinion can be diminished when it really counts.

Learn how to write. I know, I know, it’s been said too often, but if your manager has to rewrite everything you do (as opposed to judiciously edit it), you should be doing something else. That’s all.

Be a consumer of media. A lot of what we do is being able to connect the dots. That means knowing what’s in the New York Times op/ed as well as current Internet memes. You should be informing your managers, not the other way around.

Use all resources at your disposal…and more. This advice can be controversial, but in an agency environment, it’s critical to be resourceful. One of my superstars was terrific at this. She’s squeeze an extra hour out of a shared staffer, “borrow” help for media events, and lure non-team members to brainstorms or even administrative tasks. Most importantly, she was brilliant at letting me know exactly what she needed from me and where I should engage on client issues.

Get in early. It gives you an advantage, sets a great example for junior staff, and shows motivation. Really.

PR Pros: Turn Your Client Into a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)

Smart PR practitioners know that it’s integral to strategic communications to have a client you can confidently and consistently put forward as a subject-matter expert (SME). Whether you’re trying to pitch a fresh story, “newsjack,” or prep a conference speaker proposal, having a go-to SME with the right background is key to many a PR campaign’s success.

Executives who can demonstrate superior understanding of issues, trends, etc. can earn the profile of a trusted industry insider – which only helps PR pros garner publicity on a client’s behalf. In short, if you’re client isn’t an SME already, it’s time to make him/her one!

Here are some ways to establish your client as an SME:

Home in on a topic and own it. Subject-matter experts are people who know a subject inside and out. Figure out precisely the topic on which your client can shine. Sometimes, the more arcane or obscure, the better. For example, there are a lot of retail marketing experts, but perhaps your client is an online retail marketing expert who specializes in imported footwear? Be as specific as possible.

Encourage continuous learning! Truly great subject-matter experts are eager to amass even more expertise, and good PR pros can help. Set up relevant conversations with other industry folks for your client, share applicable videos to his/her industry, recommend networking events to attend, etc.

Develop authentic, useful content. Subject-matter experts can create more of a name for themselves by publishing timely, useful, in-depth content. Whether this content is shared via a personal blog, the company website or through byline articles in key outlets (ideally a combination of all), it’s important to get it out there.

Don’t be selling. The expertise you’re sharing should be relevant to the brand, with credit to the client company, but it should never come across as a sales pitch. Content that’s overly commercial will hurt your case rather than help.

Take advantage of speaking opportunities. Speaking opportunities on panels and seminars, particularly at major industry conferences, are a great way to get your SME out there and “strut their stuff”! The majority of conferences have reporters in attendance and this is an excellent opportunity for the SME to get the recognition they deserve.

Keep it social and keep it current. As an SME, your client needs to be on company and other social media platforms putting his/her POV out there. Be mindful about keeping it fresh. Nothing says “no thanks” quicker than a stale blog post from last spring. Although time-consuming, it will raise your client’s profile and keep them at the top of the must-have industry source list!