PR Lessons With HPRMS

We dropped by a panel discussion last week hosted by the Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society of Greater New York, and came back with a slew of helpful tips on improving our health PR pitches. The morning discussion featured healthcare journalists from Crain’s New York, the Daily News, CBS, and Capital New York sharing their insights on what works and doesn’t work when it comes to pitching healthcare stories.

Topping the list of components of a strong story: real life patients. Real people out in the world, using your product or science in real life always helps tell the story. We also got some insight into how national, broadcast organizations work, especially when it comes to posting stories to their news websites. But the jury was all over the place on other topics, such as how to approach multiple journalists covering healthcare at the same organization.

Stay tuned for a blog post from us on more tips for the healthcare PR professional…


Putting A Good “Spin” On The Holidays…

Oh, the company holiday party! Depending on where you work, it can mean either awkward moments or the one chance to let loose during the year (or maybe a little bit of both). At Crenshaw this year, we went with something different, holding the annual holiday party at Spin New York, the establishment owned by Susan Sarandon featuring ping pong tables, drinks, and food. The irony of the name is not lost on us, as PR professionals! We had a great time — the perfect way to close out the year…



5 PR Stereotypes That Are Outdated Or Wrong

It’s an inside joke that no one outside the industry understands what communications professionals or PR agencies really do. I don’t actually believe that, but this week, at a family gathering far from New York City, my niece confessed that she’s always likened me to Samantha Jones, the infamous PR woman on “Sex And The City”  – ten years after its final episode! I proceeded to (gently) set her straight, but the cringeworthy comparison was a reminder that TV syndication is forever, and that, in our business, professional stereotypes die hard. Here are some of my favorites.

PR people are all about the spin. This trope is a little too sensationalized to die a natural death, and some of us only wish it were more accurate… the power! the sway! But though it plays well in the movies, the truth is more complicated and more prosaic. Most of the time, our work is utterly non-controversial and absent any pressing ethical quandaries. Most PR professionals work hard to advance a point of view, and we often succeed without any compromise to integrity. In the end, it’s more an honest negotiation than a feat of legerdemain.

PR is about who you know. Not really, or at least, not entirely. Personal relationships can open the door to communication and they certainly help in getting an audience for a pitch. That, in turn, can generate valuable insight on a story idea or client angle, but friends won’t get you very far unless the idea is solid. And the stereotype of the relentlessly networking name-dropper or socializing press agent is sadly outdated.

PR people are failed journalists. In an era when newsrooms have suffered large staffing decreases, this is a nonstarter. Many journalists have crossed over, but the PR industry is neither dumping ground nor sellout.  And the difference between running down stories in a newsroom and counseling a corporate client are significant.

PR professionals are “people persons.”  Argh. This one may be the most irksome. Although a good public relations campaign is often a collaboration – requiring relationship skills like any other – and a top PR agency executive needs to be able to sell her ideas, it is truly not a customer service or retail job. The positions that require daily contact with the public are, at least in my opinion, the real “people” gigs, and they’re probably also tougher than what PR people do.

PR is about parties and special events. This may be true in some sectors, i.e. the red-carpet film premiere or the elaborately choreographed technology launch. But those happenings are in service of a strategy, and the the degree of preparation and planning far exceeds the hours spent partying. And hardly anyone even has time for lunch anymore.

7 Writing Mistakes That Make PR Look Bad

We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling: you’ve just hit send on an important PR or program document, only to realize it had a glaring — and completely avoidable — error in it. Honest mistakes are bound to happen, but some writing slipups are too common, and they simply create bad PR for PR people! We’ve flagged a few here.

1. Misused apostrophes

Using “it’s” (contraction for “it is”) instead of  “its” (the possessive) is basic, yet it happens all the time. Keep an eye on apostrophes of all kinds to avoid an inexcusable grammar mistake, as in: “they’re” and “their,” “who’s and whose,” “you’re” and “your.”

2. To Comprise

Since “comprise” means “to consist of,” it’s never OK to say “comprised of.” Yet the word is so commonly misused — and by prominent people in communications who should know better — that I fear the incorrect usage will slowly make its way into the permanent English lexicon.

3. Overused keywords

One for the digital age, keyword stuffing can be a fatal flaw for PR writing that lives on the web. And since most original content — i.e. blog posts, product descriptions and narratives, tweets, and captions — is published online, this is a mistake to be avoided, lest the search engines ignore your content completely.

4. Empty, complicated-sounding words

In grade school one could be pardoned for using big words in an effort to sound smart, but not so in the grown-up world of communications. Words like “utilize,” “subsequently,” and “implement” (instead of “use,” “later,” or “put in place,” respectively) border on jargon and can cloud the conversation. Choosing words that are more clear and concise will make you sound smarter every time, because people will actually understand what you’re saying.

5. The run-on sentence

Ever start writing a sentence so full of parenthetical phrases it’s hard to tell which verb relates to which noun? That’s a good sign the sentence is too long. Again, resist the urge to try sounding smart with complicated sentence structures and opt for conveying your message clearly.

6. Over punctuating

We are not referring to the serial comma here (for the grammar nerds out there), but rather simply dropping commas and other punctuation into language when it’s not necessary. Here the old grammar school rule does usually apply: when it doubt, leave it out.

7. Finally, overhyping anything

PR people are notorious for excessive use of exclamation points, screaming headlines, and words like “fastest-growing,” industry-leading,” “dynamic,” and “cutting-edge.” Sometimes it helps to take a page from the fiction writing mantra, “show, don’t tell.” Let’s resolve to reduce the hype in the New Year.

2014 News Drives PR Trends In 2015

Memes about memes, “breaking” the Internet, scandalous leaks… 2014 has been a turbulent year for PR agencies and other communications professionals. We’ve heard plenty about the mobile explosion and big data this year in PR and ad tech, but it’s not over. Here are the developments that get my votes for top trends likely to impact the new year.

Data and more data

Online ads are more relevant, earned and owned content more targeted, and overall communications are more data-driven than ever before. Yet data-focused marketing continues to bring heightened concerns about user privacy. And when it comes to data security, I’m reminded of an industry maxim repeated by a marketing technology client who was hacked back in 2010. “There are two kinds of companies: those who know they’ve been hacked, and those who haven’t yet realized it.” The Sony crisis raises the stakes for data security and reminds us that when it comes to a breach, it’s not a question of if, but a matter of when.

Higher standards for transparent communications

Earlier this year, the UK Guardian published a list of top global PR firms who have pledged not to represent companies who oppose or deny climate change. The piece signaled the growing clout of the global PR community, as well as the greater scrutiny it will draw in the coming months. Media, NGOs and political watchdogs on both sides of the aisle will press harder than ever for transparent and ethical business practices, and our industry must be ready.

A new generation of influencers come of age

Had you heard of Bethany Mota a year ago? What about 8-year-old EvanTubeHD? An emerging generation of influencers has opened up a whole new world of social influence. These rising SMEs (subject matter experts) have amassed huge followings on Instagram or YouTube. In 2015, PR professionals will be looking to identify or even create the future Michelle Phan, to name just one.

The rise of the visual web

Humans process images much faster than we decipher text, and the rapid pace of mobile content consumption on smartphones and tablets has driven an explosive shift from word-based to to image-based communications.  In 2015, look for more brands to join Starbucks, West Elm, and National Geographic in a commitment to more image-based content creation.

Podcasts rule

Communications isn’t just visual. Audio is enjoying a resurgence – even though it never left. Podcasts and even audiobooks will climb higher on the list of PR tools and tactics, partly due to huge rates of mobile adoption, but also because of the astounding success of “Serial.” The podcast was such a cultural phenomenon in 2014 that it’s driven big audiences for other podcasts dedicated to reviewing and dissecting each episode, like Slate’s popular weekly discussion. There’s even a holiday-themed parody of “Serial” on SNL. That’s a high bar for season two but a boost for the medium.

Blurred lines getting blurrier

With brand reputation profoundly affected by public opinion, social sharing, and earned media coverage, responsibilities within PR, SEO/content, and social media keep blurring. Optimal brand communications means closer alignment among previously siloed business functions. That means large PR agencies will continue to add new skills and practices, and specialist agencies will dig deep to master the many ways that earned media coverage can be used to drive sales and support  business goals.

6 Resolutions For Better PR In 2015

Welcoming in the New Year provides a great chance to take stock of things and set some goals and refresh your public relations. Whether it’s tech PR, consumer, or B2B, we resolve to do better in 2015 with the following resolutions.

Get visual. If you haven’t already jumped on this trend, now is the time. Infographics, images, short videos and other visual content are more important than ever in today’s Instagram-dominated landscape.

Go onsite. Speaking of the visual experience, there’s something about visiting the physical site (if there is one) central to a company’s work to spark creative ideas for communications. We recently visited a client’s manufacturing plant for a broadcast story and came away with a fresh perspective on the company, and a pocket full of new story ideas.

Build your expert database. When media opportunities arise, time is of the essence, and you want to be able to call upon some standout expert voices quickly. Work on strengthening relationships with expert sources, and aim to build new ones; doing so also builds you a reputation among journalists for being able to deliver.

Focus on quality content. As content marketing becomes more standard, audiences are getting more savvy, and selective. Boilerplate, promotional, or uninteresting content simply won’t do. Focus on developing material that’s authentic, unique, helpful, relevant, and increasingly, interactive.

Try something new. It’s great to have certain go-to skills and tactics, but everyone wins when you go out on a limb with a creative new idea to drum up more interest for your company or brand. For example, rather than pulling together the usual conference calendar and speaking gigs, why not offer to produce an on- or off-site branded activity for attendees that will draw attention to the company and its culture?

Keep it simple. This is more challenging than we often think. When projects or ideas become so complex and multifaceted, the desired outcome gets muddled, making it harder to know when the goal is met. We take a page from Greg McKeown’s NY Times bestseller, Essentialism, for this one (which, by the way, has great visual illustrations of key points).

Five Cases Of Top PR Crisis Management In 2014

It’s hard to find terrific examples of crisis management PR, presumably because we don’t hear about the crises that never happened. When a true reputation emergency hits, communications experts like to criticize it and offer retroactive advice.  Armchair pundits urge businesses to “get ahead of the story,” – good counsel, in theory. It’s not so easy when you’re the one in the PR hotseat.

In the real world, things are more complicated, even chaotic. Smartphones are blowing up, social media feeds are flooded, and conflicting advice abounds. Sometimes key advisers aren’t even reachable within the first hour.

Yet there are times when potentially fatal situations are brilliantly managed. Here are a few examples of this year’s most skillful crisis management.

Virgin Galactic’s Tragic Test.  CEO Richard Branson showed why he’s a master of communications in the wake of the fatal crash of the Virgin Galactic test flight in October. First, he rushed to the crash site to show that he was completely engaged by the tragedy and that an investigation was top priority. Branson then issued a statement that mixed compassion with determination, pledging to get to the bottom of the accident, yet reinforcing his commitment to commercial space travel.

Renee Zellweger Faces Critics. It may seem silly to include a case of apparent cosmetic surgery on this list, but when Zellweger appeared at a screening with a dramatically altered look, the media coverage was relentless and the social media reaction fierce. For an actor whose most important creative instrument is her face, that’s a career-threatening situation. But Zellweger kept her cool, offering a polite response to the uproar but largely letting friends and advocates fight on her behalf. As crisis expert and author Eric Dezenhall advises, sometimes less is more.

Under Armour Skates Around Trouble. Just before the 2014 winter Olympics, new speedskating suits from Under Armour were promoted as offering a high-tech performance edge to the U.S. speed skating team. It was terrific exposure for the brand – at least, until the U.S. team stumbled in early races. Some thought a flaw in the suit design was to blame. Under Armour was caught between arguing with the players it sponsored, or admitting that the suits may have been at fault. Instead, it publicly supported the team’s decision to revert to older suits (also made by Under Armour), while reminding us that the same skaters had turned in stellar times in pre-race heats while wearing the newer apparel. Sadly, the U.S. performance never improved. But Under Armour raced past the controversy and looked like a team player when it announced it would continue its sponsorship for eight more years. Well played.

Silver Ousts Sterling. After L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racist comments, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver slammed Sterling with a $2.5 million fine and banned him from basketball. Sterling’s response was a PR power play; he acted swiftly and decisively, while articulating NBA values. The language in particular was a winner; Silver conveyed anger and distress and apologized on behalf of the association, showing personal commitment as well as professional leadership. Contrast Sterling’s strategy with that of NFL president Roger Goodell after Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee on video. Goodell ultimately acknowledged that the initial two-game suspension of Rice was inadequate, but his weak response, and the fact that he claimed not to have seen the full video (which was available for the asking) hurt his credibility, to say the least.

“Boo Boo” Goes “Bye-Bye.” TLC made a quick decision to cancel “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” after news broke that “Mama June” had taken up with an ex-boyfriend who is a convicted sex offender. I give the network high marks for acting decisively and making its position clear. Less than twenty-four hours after TMZ broke the story, TLC pulled the plug on its hit show for the sake of “the health and welfare of these remarkable children.” Contrast the move to A&E’s response when Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson made anti-gay remarks in a magazine interview. Robertson was suspended, but the network stalled on announcing a decision about the show. It then reinstated the patriarch, but the damage was done.

PR Tips: What Not To Say To A Reporter

As any good PR agency will advise, media interviews are not: an interrogation, a game of ping-pong, or a commercial. A good media interview is actually a conversation, as well a chance to educate and an opportunity to tell a story. A great media interview is a usually a choreographed affair with the interviewee at ease, yet aware of potential pitfalls.
And there are pitfalls. Here are some examples of what not to say to a reporter.
“Could you just cut that part out?” This infamous comment by Bill Cosby during an AP interview only served to multiply Cosby’s problems. Requesting that a journalist “unhear” a response isn’t going to happen, and the request itself implies that that the interviewee has something to hide.
“No comment.” Duh. We’re still surprised when this happens, and happen it does. The immediate perception is one of guilt or obfuscation, and in the era of transparency and 24/7 media, it never bodes well. Two journalists working for the Center for Public Integrity have created a new blog devoted to these types of responses, “Couldn’t Be Reached,” which is a testimony to the persistence of stonewalling.
“This is ‘off the record’ or ‘not for attribution.'” Clearly there are occasions when a spokesperson may want to divulge information that suits a purpose, but is viable only as background, but it’s often risky. Unless a spokesperson is seasoned and savvy, we recommend avoiding the tricky navigation required to pull this off. The best interviews take place when the interviewee is most comfortable and unencumbered.

“We don’t give out that information.” Proprietary information or earnings numbers may be off-limits, but every corporate steward can divulge some data with advance preparation. No numbers question should come as a shock, and any media spokesperson should be armed with facts or other information that supports the story, even if it’s not the data requested. Without giving away precise growth stats year over year, use a percentage or trend information to answer the question without shutting down and frustrating the reporter.
“Did you hear the one about?…” Never get comfortable enough with a reporter to risk an even slightly off-color joke. Enough said.
“I have no idea.” Even the best preparation can’t guarantee softball questions, but there are better ways to handle the situation. We like, “interesting question, I’ll check and get back to you, but what I can tell you is….” This type of “bridging” response insults no one and provides the opportunity to formulate the best possible answer.
Want to know more? Download our tipsheet “The 6 Toughest Interview Questions & How To Handle Them

5 Taboos Of PR Business Pitching

As the year comes to a close, there has been a whirlwind of new business opportunities in the PR agency world, inspiring us to share our wisdom about selling and closing to prospective clients. To end the year on a high note with some exciting wins, here are some moves to avoid.

Scripting the presentation too tightly. There’s no greater turn-off than a group of presenters who’ve memorized their portions like they’re auditioning for a telemarketing job. The presentation has to stay flexible to allow for changes in mood, comments, and spontaneity. Presenters should be like the best improv performers in reading the room, comfortable with one another, listening actively, and confident enough to offer impromptu comments and responses.

Presenting too formally…or too casually. It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time about wardrobe, introductions and speaking style, but a good rule is to base the conversation on input from the prospective client, coupled with advance intelligence and insights based on research and experience. Any team presenting to client-side execs should have a detective’s dossier worth of knowledge about the crowd  and be able to seamlessly match or complement them in tone and demeanor.

What, no questions? The intellectually curious win the day here, so plan intelligent, thought-provoking questions that show how well the presentation team did their research and how much their insights and experience bring to the table. It flatters the client and helps bring the conversation to new places, which will help the team stand out from the crowd.

No discussion of outcomes. It’s a mistake to put time and energy into PR strategies, tactics, and accompanying budgets without including a definition of success and how it should be measured. Another mistake is relying on “outputs” or deliverables such as earned media placements and white papers, instead of actual outcomes that support business goals.

Failing to follow up. Of course, the gracious post-meeting thank you is a given, but if the days drag on and there has been no communication about a decision, find smart ways to stay in touch. For example, we often follow up with a journalist query that fits well into a prospect’s area of expertise or highlight a news story we think they will find of interest. Be creative and clever but not overbearing.

What PR People Can Learn From "Serial"

PR agency professionals like to talk about storytelling, and we’re good at identifying and shaping a narrative. But, let’s face it, much of the content about brand storytelling doesn’t always make for a great story.

Enter “Serial,” the podcast. If you’re one of its five million listeners, or even among those tired of hearing about it from obsessed friends, you know what I mean. Within a few weeks of its debut, “Serial” shattered the iTunes record for fastest podcast and it’s still going strong.

What makes “Serial” so compelling? It starts with the narrative itself. It’s based on a 15-year-old murder of a high-school student which may have been improperly investigated and prosecuted, and which in many ways remains a mystery, so there’s a natural fascination. There’s also the Rashomon-like appeal of multiple points of view. But its success is also due to its structure, its serialized nature (a little more than bite-sized, but still leaving us wanting more), and perhaps most importantly, the skill and voice of narrator Sarah Koenig.

Here are the storytelling takeaways from “Serial” that I find most relevant to professional communicators.

It’s messy. Because it’s based on real events, and the re-investigation of the murder is happening in something close to real time, “Serial” lacks the neat packaging of branded content or the structure of actual reporting. It’s full of blind alleys, minor digressions, and details that don’t necessarily advance the story. But that rawness is what makes a story both fascinating and real.

It’s authentic. Koenig breaks the wall between listener and journalist and actually lets you in, without losing her journalist cred. She admits mistakes, makes dryly humorous references to her own reporting, and is utterly transparent. It’s a refreshing change from traditional journalism, but without the typical POV of a blogger or journalist advocate. In many ways, Koenig is as torn, confused, and malleable in her point of view as we are.

It’s personal. Few forms of media are as intimate as the spoken word. Listening to Koenig’s narration makes me feel like I could be sitting at a cafe with her, completely looped in and sharing her every frustration or triumph. Yes, podcasts have been around for over a decade, but audio is still an underutilized medium. The success of “Serial,” and the way it leverages the medium to draw out the story, will definitely influence a new generation of podcasters. As communicators, even if we don’t opt for a podcast, we can strive for the tone, narrative style, and personality that convey immediacy and intimacy.

It respects the audience. At times, “Serial” is work. There’s a very strong main narrative thread, but it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the many secondary characters and their relationships to one another, and we can’t begin to absorb the reams of documentation that Koenig has accessed. A marketing narrative with this amount of detail would be very risky, but it’s a lesson in not underestimating the intelligence of the audience. The story actually asks for a commitment from us, and we’re happy to give it.

It has stories within the story. Part of the addictive quality of “Serial” comes with the stories within the main narrative. Many detours and personalities are explored in such a way as to offer their own arc, much as a TV series brings in a guest character for a few episodes without losing the main dramatic thread. Each episode brings us not only fresh information, but a new point of view.

It’s multidimensional and multimedia. Want to find out more about how cell phone tower technology works? Interested in mapping the stops that figure into Jay’s testimony? The “Serial” website, with its maps, links, images, and other graphics, is ideally designed to add depth to the story and foster a community of listeners. The more it gives us, the more we want, and that’s part of what makes it an influential cultural phenomenon and such a terrific story.