Ballantine IPA Wins Rave Reviews!

Before it even hit the shelves, the newly re-launched Ballantine IPA was poised to take press, pubs and the public by storm, thanks in part to smart influencer outreach. Like a Broadway revival, the brew has won accolades from critics, press, and the beer elite. Our team has garnered 45+ positive stories, including USA Today and CNN, many with rave reviews for the legendary brew. With a big assist from Master Brewer Greg Deuhs, who famously reverse-engineered the beer, coverage has been “heady” to say the least.

Here’s a sampling:

“The beer has a nice malt/hop balance, and leans more toward the hoppy side of the fence and not at all the malty-British-IPA balance I anticipated,” says Bil Corcoran who runs My Beer Buzz.

“…this stuff was delicious. The beer is hoppy, but it doesn’t just bludgeon your tongue with hops like a lot of West Coast IPAs. It’s extremely well-balanced. There isn’t too much bitterness and there isn’t that cloying sweetness you sometimes get from too much malt. It has a really lovely finish with no funky aftertaste. In fact, it’s excellent all the way through. It’s a very smooth ride, but it has a ton of character. Brent Rose, Gizmodo

“The 2014 reincarnation of Ballantine IPA, brewed on contract at the Cold Spring (MN) brewery. does not disappoint.” Beer Advocate

This is just the beginning of Ballantine’s successful comeback tour!

Before You Hit "Send": Effective Communications For Communicators

Ever exchange 12 emails with someone in an office next door when a 10-second conversation would do? It happens all the time, at our PR agency and plenty of other companies. And here we thought we were the communications experts!

In award-winning novelist Joe O’Neill’s compelling new book, “The Dog,” the narrator has a tricky relationship with his employers, who are mysterious Middle Eastern billionaires. The situation is so tenuous that the hero spends hours “mental-mailing,” or composing emails he rarely sends but instead uses to decide which channel, if any, will accomplish his goals.

I can identify. PR people and other communications professionals do this also. Since we juggle multiple constituencies, and our livelihood often depends on getting the attention of very busy people, we are well served to be selective about our outreach. It’s easy to hide beyond  email, but options for communication should be weighed carefully.

In our experience, every relationship benefits from a mix of multiple contacts and channels, and the forms keep evolving. Here are our best practices when it comes to everyday business communications.

Social media outreach works best when you want to demonstrate that you’re familiar with someone’s work or persona through their published content. Commenting on a blog post or RTing a savvy observation is a great way to progress a relationship. Benign social stalking can also be effective if a media contact or client honcho is particularly elusive. If they’re active on Twitter, by all means, DM. Or, if more of a LinkedIn type, try Inmail. Judicious contact will show persistence and can eventually transition to other, more direct forms of communication.

Texting is effective when you have an established relationship that transcends the “BAU” workday. It’s best used for time-sensitive messaging or to skirt the “official” office communications network, offering a more personal touch. Although it can never be assumed private or secure, texting is recommended when you want to create the feel of “offline” conversation and you have a certain comfort level in doing so.

Email is best when you don’t require an instant answer, as with a program recommendation that requires thought and deliberation, with a workable deadline.  It’s also a top choice for regular and frequent project updates, or, naturally, when it’s the recipient’s preferred way to communicate. But email is overused and often not sent thoughtfully. It’s notoriously iffy when conveying sarcasm or edgy humor and an imperfect tool for communicating constructive criticism. Most importantly, don’t email anything you wouldn’t want to see in the news. My draft folder is filled with unsent messages that I thought better of, and that’s a good thing.

The phone is shockingly useful when the email thread is becoming untenable, or ideally, before it happens. Make a call to discuss anything that’s uncomfortable, like criticism of a team member, or sensitive salary or budget negotiations.  When I have a fabulous media opp for a top exec, I call them. At the same time, if there’s bad news on any front, a call demonstrates concern and directness in dealing with the situation. PR people strive for regular calls with their day-to-day contacts to stay on top of projects and discuss changes in strategy or direction. These regular touchpoints are key to keeping and building relationships.

Schedule a face-to-face when the information is too complex  to convey in a deck or memo, or when building a relationship and striving to earn trust.  There are actually key words to use to help master any meeting.  MIT researchers actually found that certain words helped participants appear more persuasive, including “yeah”, “give”, “start” and “discuss”.  So, yeah! Schedule face-to-face meetings with some regularity and plan time together that’s not directly work-related. That’s healthy communication for any working relationship.

Personal PR: The Rules Of Reinvention

Nancy Gottesman, a terrific freelance writer and longtime friend, recently had an experience that any upwardly mobile PR professional can benefit from. She traded her computer for a pen and notepad to pursue “next-chapter” employment as a bartender/cocktail waitress. That’s right; waiting tables was a gig she had loved thirty years before in her twenties. The machinations she goes through to compete with the “PYT”s who also want the job in sunny southern California — offer a master class in personal reinvention. There are also some great takeaways for anyone thinking of making a shift, even within your own company or industry. Here’s what we can learn from Nancy’s experience.

Do the necessary homework. Nancy tells the story of being the only one in her bartending course to score a 100 on the written exam. When her instructor lauded the effort and asked how she did it, she told him she “read the materials,” a grown-up response that shocked the instructor. Presumably her competitors, accustomed to college Cliff’s notes and other shortcuts, could not imagine putting in the effort.

Stand out from the competition. Female bartending openings are like acting cattle calls where applicants are judged on looks, youth, and sex appeal, and Nancy knew that the deck was likely stacked against her. So, she went home and wrote a lovely cover letter explaining her qualifications and desire for the job. One restaurant manager called immediately and told her he had to meet her because her letter was so great. He ultimately explained that she probably wouldn’t fit in with the other employees, wished her well, and sent her on her way.

Don’t take no for an answer.  But that wasn’t the end of it! Knowing that she wouldn’t likely hear from the polite restaurant manager again, she called a few weeks later (as any smart job-seeker would) to remind him of their conversation. Finding himself in an emergency, he asked how soon she could get to the restaurant and start working. Of course, she arrived and handled the new job with aplomb, while dodging nasty asides from co-workers.

If you can’t stand the heat…Work around it ’til things cool off. Nancy eventually won over her colleagues and became close to them, just “one of the girls,” and it has been a gratifying experience at a job she loves ever since.

Keeping The Technology In Tech (Or Any Other) PR

Taking the Tech Out of Tech PR” has some useful advice for PR agency professionals, mostly about keeping communications personal and not abusing email outreach. It can’t be said often enough. We monitor an inbox for a major technology news site, and the quantity of PR pitches that come in through it is truly staggering. So is the variation in quality. But that’s another post.
It’s true that automation can only go so far in a professional services business like PR, and that mass email is overused in media relations. But overall, I’d say many technology PR practitioners should make a greater effort to explore and embrace technology when it comes to emerging tools and methods for getting the job done.

As Tom Foremski points out, Bill Gates recently predicted that most jobs will be automated in 20 years’ time. Is our work so distinct that it’s immune? Are we assuming that a degree of automation is a bad thing?

Given the huge – and sometimes alarming – strides toward automation that have been made in digital advertising and media, PR, by contrast, has not embraced technology tools beyond mass emails and news sites. Can we automate without sacrificing quality and insight?

One way is in outcomes measurement, of course. As an industry, we’re moving, albeit slowly, towards a standardized marketing mix model that can actually quantify the impact of any individual marketing activity on sales volume. But can our day-to-day work be optimized by technology tools? The answer is yes, and below are three simple ways to get started.

Market intelligence. This is intuitive for PR professionals, and most of us are already familiar with basic (and free) tools like Google Trends, IFTTT, and others. There are countless apps and other resources that allow us to more easily harness the power of the web, but the most useful boil down to a handful.

Content marketing. Another organic move for PR, since content creation is familiar, and content marketing is a natural way to extend services beyond earned media relations. We create great stuff for use by media outlets or social sharing; why not use technology to amplify its reach? Content marketing is essentially the art of making it easier for those interested in your subject matter to search and find your content on the web. Hubspot calls it “inbound marketing” and offers tools designed for small businesses, but anyone with basic web skills can undertake it.

Marketing automation.  It’s tough for brand marketing PR to drive lead generation, particularly in the consumer sector. But when earned media is tied to marketing automation – a more highly personalized and behavior-driven form of email and web marketing – then the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A click on an article (or native ad) can segment the user and trigger options for relevant content that can gradually move  him right down that marketing funnel.

A review of more sophisticated tech resources makes one thing pretty obvious; the tools help us adapt to a changing media environment and specifically extend beyond earned media generation, but they don’t necessarily automate what we do on a daily basis. The creative skills, critical judgment, and relationships that a top PR professional brings to the table aren’t likely to be replaced by technology any time soon. As for the rest, we’re learning fast.

Positive PR For Posture?

PR friends, it appears that Sheryl Sandberg was wrong. We do not need to “lean in” to be winners, we need to stand up straight. According to Amy Cuddy, creator of “Power Posing,”  the second most visited TED talk of all time, at our agency’s next new business meeting or your executive presentation, we should remember not to shrink in our seat, or touch our face or neck or cross our ankles tightly while sitting. “These postures are associated with powerlessness and intimidation and keep people back from expressing who they really are,” Ms. Cuddy said, and she is talking mostly to women.

Of course no one can control all aspects of a presentation – technology, or a sleepless night experienced by your audience, but you can control the image you project. Body language affects how others perceive us, particularly for women, but it can also change how we see ourselves.

“Power Posing” — standing in a posture of confidence a la Wonder Woman, even when you don’t feel it — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and might even have an impact on our chances for success. Here are three simple rules from “Power Posing” to take with you to your next important meeting.

Make yourself big. When you stretch out, you take up space, you’re basically opening up and power is about opening up. We get it from the animal kingdom. Even if you aren’t feeling powerful in the moment, this simple posture shift, this expression of pride, can give you the power to take command in any setting.

Fake it til you make it. This adage applies in business in so many ways. It means demonstrate the confidence that you can succeed even when you doubt that outcome. In Amy Cuddy’s world, this means let powerful poses give you the outward appearance of dominance in a situation, and this physical state can help give you the mental confidence to overcome your doubts and actually “make it.”

Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. Do you have two minutes to work to incorporate changes into how you conduct yourself in business situations? Of course you do. Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, get your power pose on! Inn the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors. Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation and never leave any situation feeling like you didn’t show your best self.

The NFL’s Black Eye Offers Lesson In Crisis PR

For the NFL, the (reputation) hits just keep on coming.  Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press briefing following the release of the notorious Ray Rice videotape in which he knocks then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious is a lesson in crisis PR, but mostly about what not to do. Here are some of the more instructive learnings from the NFL’s efforts to manage its battered reputation. In this case, the errors outnumber the wins, starting with these “Don’ts”:

In the event of a crisis, do NOT:

Hope that you can run out the clock. Goodell waited ten days to fully address the situation, which was about 9 days too many, given its seriousness and the credibility stakes. Although it’s not always realistic to face the press right away because facts must be gathered, the delay allowed the situation to fester, and it made the League look like it’s hiding something.

Go for deniability. The League handed down that initial two-game suspension for Rice based on the part of the videotape that shows him dragging an unconscious Palmer out of a hotel elevator. It later claimed to lack full knowledge of what had happened a few seconds earlier. But even if Goodell never actually saw the full videotape, his story doesn’t stand up. Anyone who wanted it could have obtained it. It’s clear that Goodell either didn’t want to know, or wasn’t willing to accept responsibility once he did know.

Ignore the victims. Goodell’s statement on Friday was targeted more to the team owners than the NFL’s fans or the many victims of domestic violence at the hands of players over the years.  And though it’s unclear if the League pressed Palmer to express regret about “her role in the situation,” her public apology – issued well before Goodell opted to speak to the press – was embarrassing and sad, and it reinforced the NFL’s lack of accountability.

Ignore stakeholders. It’s impossible to know if the NFL tried to tap major sponsors to unveil its proposed changes, or if it previewed the information with them, but it’s a good idea. When Goodell was asked about sponsors, he expressed hope that they would stick with the League, only to have P&G drop its breast cancer awareness tie-in shortly thereafter.

Avoid objective scrutiny. The investigation led by former FBI head Robert Mueller, whose firm has ties to the NFL, made the League look like it was retreating into a protective huddle. It should have been more sensitive to the optics here at the very least.

Don’t get emotional. Showing anger or regret in a public situation can be tricky, but a little passion can go a long way in showing you care. Goodell’s robotic delivery didn’t do much to convince observers that he’s truly invested in tackling the problem or its cost in pain and suffering.

Here are some things that Goodell did right:

Admit mistakes. “I got it wrong,” were the Commissioner’s words. It may be too little, too late, but admitting to the wrong call is the first step in limiting reputation damage.

Outline the fix.  Goodell followed the classic crisis PR playbook by outlining changes to the League’s personal conduct policy, educational programs, and relationships with two major domestic violence organizations. He also gave a timetable for the plans, which is vital to restoring credibility.

Despite his efforts, it looks like the NFL will only move past this latest reputation crisis when Goodell steps down or is sacked. TMZ’s easy acquisition of the “rest” of the videotape has badly damaged the League’s credibility. What’s more, the Commissioner’s actions just weren’t enough to satisfy the chorus of media and advocates determined to hold the NFL accountable for the Rice scandal, as well as its history of lenience in the wake of a years-long disgrace.

PR Debate: Big Data vs. Big Intuition

Has all the focus on Big Data steered smart and experienced PR people away from one of our greatest strengths – our intuition? This will be just one of the big issues tackled at the Council of PR Firms Annual Critical Issues Forum in New York on October 23.  The speaker, Teddy Goff, Partner, Precision Strategies, led the digital strategy team that helped get President Obama elected twice by connecting the people to the politician online. His team was responsible for President Obama’s massive online presence and he is part of a consulting firm that seeks to do the same for others.

We don’t have the “data” on Goff’s talk yet, but we can “intuit” that it will address some of the following burning questions:

How to harness Big Data. Even the name is overwhelming! If you have a “small” client, can they benefit from Big Data too? We’d like to see some concrete examples of actionable use of truly large data in real-world PR campaigns, like using information to help determine social influencers; further segmenting campaigns; performing A/B campaign testing; and evaluating media and social channels. Determining what you’re after will help you decide what data to start tracking.

How to interpret it once you get it. Are there tricks of the trade to make terabytes less terrifying or minutiae more manageable? We’d like someone to explain the tools that are out there to process the information in a way that is palatable to what we actually do not jargon-filled gibberish.

The Yin and Yang of it. There must be a balance between mining this data, cold and analytical, but often brilliant and precise, along with PR wisdom, experience, and gut feelings, however warm and fuzzy.

The Forum, sponsored by CPRF, the association comprised of America’s 100 leading public relations firms, will explore how we can move brands past “disruption” to engage more fully in people’s lives. We’re proud to be a member of CPRF, and we hope to see you there. If you can’t attend, we’ll update you, or you can follow the action at hashtag: #PRGenome

Is "Big Data" In PR's DNA?

“Back then, I was a geek. Now all of a sudden I have a sexy job.” – Claudia Perlich, Chief Data Scientist at Dstillery and panelist at the upcoming Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum

The rise of digital media and availability of ever-more granular data about how we use it have transformed marketing, but public relations has been a laggard in the data revolution. Yes, we know about data-driven marketing, most of us have promoted clients with a “Big Data” angle, but many of us remain in a state that a former client used to call DRIP (Data-Rich, Insight-Poor.) Public relations has an opportunity to take advantage of the democratization of data, but how? Is data really in our DNA?

The data debate will be part of The Council of PR Firms Critical Issues Forum, “The PR Genome Project,” on October 23, and not a moment too soon. As the lines between PR, advertising, and digital marketing blur, most communications professionals use data in our daily work, but we’re not even close to leveraging its full potential. In our view, here are just a few of the promising areas for PR practitioners.

Web analytics. Most PR pros are comfortable with social analytics tools and conversion as an important metric for measuring the impact of earned media placements, so it’s an excellent starting point. But a social dashboard or site traffic report doesn’t inform strategy.

Defining our audience. This is where harnessing and interpreting the vast amounts of available consumer data can offer insights that define the people we’re trying to reach and enable more precise messaging. As Perlich, the data scientist, told Mediapost, “I am not a generic 35-45 year old soccer mom and as such, should not be targeted with baking products. I am much more than that.” The old demographic segments are dead. We’re all much more than that.

Influencer research. As with the customers we’re trying to engage, we often tap influencers through a mix of social web search and intuition. But deeper data can glean insights that will help focus the spend of time and energy on those that really pay off.

Crisis preparation. Analysis of data from customer service calls, social media complaints, and online chatter can pinpoint customer dissatisfaction in advance of a full-blown crisis situation or identify pain points before they become serious.

For our industry, the promise of data is not just in the insights it offers and the validation of measurement tools and standards, but in how it can help elevate the role of corporate communications.  Data-driven insights that result in true strategic counsel for the company, in a way that cuts across marketing, reputation, and internal communications, can change the essence of what we do and drive the skills and insights that shape future programs. And there’s no more critical issue for PR than that.

6 More PR Awards We’d Like To See

This witty post on 8 PR Awards You’ll Never See by Critical Mention’s Dave Armon looks askance at some less-than-scrupulous PR behavior, but it was food for thought as we look back over a year in which we were recognized with three different “legit” PR awards for client campaigns.

Awards criteria in our business are fairly similar; you describe the goals, strategies and tactical plan for a campaign and showcase outcomes that are presumably not simply a laundry list of media hits but those that show the campaign supported business goals. And while this peer recognition for a successful media relations or B2B PR campaign is appreciated, it seldom touches on what happens “behind-the-scenes” of a winning program.

The awards we’d really like to see (but are equally unlikely to) would recognize those endeavors for which we all toil but seldom reap anything beyond private satisfaction or a great war story. Or, they might wag a finger at those practitioners who fail to follow best practices. We think you’ll agree. Read on.

Pig Wearing Lipstick Award. Someone (the boss, perhaps?) has come up with a boneheaded, self-serving or just plain bad idea with no inherent earned media value. Despite thoughtful, fact-based protests, you have no recourse but to try. Miraculously, you manage to tweak it into a newsworthy concept and eke out some stellar coverage.

Stuffed Press Release Award. Earning this accolade will require at least 10 consecutive and utterly nonsensical, jargon-heavy sentences, a minimum of 6 links and at least five keywords in the first paragraph.

Best Link-Bait Headline Award. This recognition will be bestowed on the most alarmist, repulsive, or deceptive headline on a blog post or bylined article. Bonus points for body copy that is utterly irrelevant to the header.

Most Creative Campaign Under $20 Award.  Okay, we’re exaggerating, but even awards that specify low-budget campaigns may not allow for a modestly budgeted one that had to compete with a splashy and overstuffed event with Kardashians at every turn.  You had zero OOP budget, no paid media spend, hired spokesperson or charity partner, and the campaign still garnered recognition through good old-fashioned creativity, ingenuity and media acumen!

Blood, Sweat and Tears Award.  Sabotage, psychological warfare and potential landmines at every turn? For this award, you managed to keep an even temper and achieve dazzling outcomes even though you had an egomaniac spokesperson, a committee of “direct reports” with different agendas, and a two-faced team member claiming credit for your efforts.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Award. Or, the Murphy’s Law Award.  “Oh calamity!” To earn this recognition, you and your team were plagued by a combination of calamities and crises such as disastrous weather at an event, breaking news on the morning of the announcement, or a competitive assault. Yet you persevered and claimed victory with resounding media results.

Which is pretty much what we do everyday, isn’t it? Kudos to you!

Just One Crazy (PR) Idea…

I think they called the late, great Robin Williams’ cancelled TV show about ad execs “The Crazy Ones” because many great creatives – even PR types – are known for that one wacky idea.

At our agency we subscribe to a school of thought that encourages – with limitations – the full expression and exploration of crazy ideas, provided there’s a “sane” foundation that means the idea might turn into a workable concept. We’ve all experienced the “that’s so crazy it just might work” phenomenon, like our creative job searches for clients, or our Valentine’s Day “break up with your bank” campaign for a credit union that actually had some journalists humming break-up tunes.

Herewith we provide a method for taking those sometimes out-there concepts and smartly shepherding them into reality.

Nurture an effective idea system. This means an environment where ideas are actively encouraged—from all quarters. Make submission simple, and let staff know that evaluation of their suggestions will be quick, egalitarian and effective. Implementation of even one employee suggestion, no matter how “off the wall,” helps boost morale and can positively impact the health of the workplace, literally and figuratively.

Foster fun, not fear. Gather brainstorm participants (don’t necessarily call this session a brainstorm, though, because that adds “idea anxiety.”) Take advantage of a weekly meeting or other gathering and get each participant to come up with the most impractical ideas that could help solve a company need.

Use parallel thinking to mold and improve ideas.  Try this exercise to help mold a crazy idea into a workable, even breakthrough one. Then probe deeper to see how the “ridiculous” concept might actually work. Participants can do this on paper and not share with the group – just yet. Next, partner up some people to share and refine the idea more. Each team works on the idea until they feel they’ve got something to share with with the group, who can then build a way to implement.

Build in safeguards. While freewheeling thought and spirited discussion can lead to game-changing ideas, there have to be parameters to reign in the crazy. In our office we are always quick to use our past experience for what works and what doesn’t as a barometer for final idea selection for a client or company need. Sound rationales are bound to trump crazy in the real world!

If you lead with the crazy….You are taking a big risk whether presenting to your internal team or to a client or customer. Know the audience, be prepared to answer any tough questions and always have a few more concepts in your pocket.