6 Ways To Lose A PR Date

With Valentine’s Day upon us, we hope you’ve found just the right gift for your favorite PR agency person. But in case you’re still figuring out the quirks and preferences of the PR pro in your life, we have some advice.

On a date with a PR professional, avoid these six surefire ways to make him or her run in the opposite direction.

Tell her, “I never pay attention to the news.” The savvy PR professional lives and breathes media, so admitting to being news-averse would be like telling a die-hard football fan you don’t know what the Super Bowl is. (And bear in mind that the Super Bowl is really a brand showcase, so even a sports-ignorant PR person probably follows it.) If you’re not a major media consumer, you might want to keep that to yourself in front of your PR date!

Yawn at her musings about the future of magazines. An extension of the first one, this is sure to lose points with your date quickly. PR people (and plenty of other smart folks) enjoy a good debate about the future of media of all kinds, as the state of media impacts the direction of PR. Being able to engage heartily in such a conversation will win you extra points for sure.

Assume she’s just like Olivia Pope or Samantha Jones. You work in PR? That must mean drinking gargantuan glasses of wine and planning parties all day, right? Or otherwise scheming about ways to make those bodies disappear. Nothing is more laughable to a legit PR pro than comparisons to fictional Hollywood publicists. (The same probably goes for comparing any real life profession to its fictional TV counterpart, for that matter).

Think PR and advertising and marketing are all the same thing. This is simply a lapse in knowledge that would not impress your communications date. While marketing and advertising are industries that work side-by-side with public relations, and are often related, they are separate and distinct disciplines. For example, although the line between earned media and paid content is blurring, PR people still don’t create or place ads.

Tell her, “So you just write press releases all day, right?” The debate over the fate of press releases aside, assuming PR is equivalent to writing press releases would be a major faux pas! Impress your date instead by asking questions about pitching and winning new business, or what it’s like getting to know the ins and outs of different client companies.

Fail to offer an introduction to your sister who writes for Buzzfeed. Not that a PR person would ever try to leverage a personal relationship for publicity purposes (wink, wink). But if you do happen to be close with a media person of stature, that’s a bit of information your PR date will be very keen on knowing — and could work to your advantage.

5 Things To Look For In A Blogger Relationship

Do blogs and bloggers still matter for PR agencies and professionals? While it seems that every news organization, business and activity “enthusiast” has a blog, blogging itself has quieted down in the past few years. Many blogs are extensions of mainstream media, rather than disrupting or supplanting it, and when it comes to working with bloggers for visibility, the “pay-for-play” approach demanded by some name-brand bloggers doesn’t always yield the returns that brands want.

But there are certain advantages to working with bloggers, who continue to hold influence over consumer behavior. Blogs still rank as the most important information source for buying decisions among consumers age 18 – 34, according to one study, and the number of blogs out there only continues to grow.

Here are five things to look for in a blogger relationship.

They’re cost-effective.  Working with bloggers on product reviews or sponsored posts can cost as little as the price of product giveaways, or about $150 up, making it a highly cost-effective choice. Look at specialist bloggers in particular if you’re interested in targeting a niche demographic (people who live in a particular neighborhood, for example, or who adhere to a specific type of diet.) For hyperlocal or hyperspecific PR programs, bloggers are a gold mine.

They’re flexible and collaborative. Though many journalists or former journalists do go on to write blogs, bloggers as a whole are not journalists, and working with them can be more relaxed than collaborating with media professionals from traditional outlets. Look for bloggers who are authentic enthusiasts about their topics, as well as very open to product-specific mentions, without the constraints of editors who frown on “commercial” mentions.

They’re in it for the long-term.  Enthusiast bloggers make great partners to keep in mind for multiple interactions. They can be outlets for offering a first look at new products or services, for example, akin to VIP customers or “frequent fliers” who are already positively oriented toward the brand.

They’re well designed. A good blog has a very specific look and feel, and some do a fabulous job of presenting a certain image to the world. Work with a blog that has the look and feel you want your product or service to be aligned with. The resulting post will benefit from the good taste and style of the blogger, who will shape the content in her own unique style. Use the final product not just as a media placement, but as an additional marketing asset to be leveraged by your sales team.

They represent a new direction. Working with bloggers — who have more of an independent, free-spirited flair than traditional media — is likely to put your product or services in front of a different audience than the ones you’re reaching through traditional means. If you’re looking to go beyond your existing base, a well researched blogger program can provide a new outlet.

Five Brand "Disasters" That Built Positive PR

In the world of brand PR, change is risky. Even a tweak to a product that enjoys a loyal following must be managed deftly. Case in point: the feeding frenzy after Cadbury altered the recipe for its classic crème egg.  The brand’s switch from dairy milk to the more standard cocoa mix chocolate for the egg’s shell resulted in a PR meltdown.  The UK Guardian termed the change “an abomination” and called for fans to “fight for chocolate justice.”

The “shellshock” recalled other cases where well-intended updates or other changes were greeted with customer revolt.  Yet, sometimes, what seems like a PR crisis can have a paradoxical effect. It can rekindle dormant public sentiment, nostalgia, or even positive visibility for a brand or product.

Ever since the launch of New Coke in 1985 — arguably the most storied, and disastrous, product update in U.S. history, marketers have occasionally tapped deep reserves of consumer loyalty that they may not have even known existed. Here are some recent and classic examples.

Positive PR Driven by Loyal Customers: Trop’s Packaging Loses Its Juice

Tropicana never even saw it coming.  When the brand moved to refresh its iconic packaging, customers reacted sourly. They criticized the carton as “sterile” and “generic” and complained that it didn’t stand out on the shelf. Plunging sales figures seemed to confirm the disaster. Feeling the squeeze, Tropicana’s marketers wisely restored the original packaging and apologized to consumers. Trop’s marketing head explained in major media interviews that the brand had listened to its customers and even thanked them for the renewed attention. Crisis averted.

Maker’s Mark Waters Down The Brand Image

This one played out almost like a PR ploy by the bourbon distiller—and, who knows, maybe it was.  Maker’s Mark announced that it would lower the alcohol content of its bourbon to stretch its supply in the face of anticipated product shortages.  Loyal Maker’s customers found the change hard to swallow.  They responded with such outrage that the bourbon retreated on the change within days.  “What we’ve learned is that this is the customer’s brand,” summed up Maker’s Mark COO Rob Samuels. I’ll drink to that.

Trouble Brews for Twinings

Another PR tempest in a teacup occurred when Twinings tinkered with its 200-year-Earl Grey recipe. Despite a successful market test, the new blend had a bitter reception from Earl Grey fans, some of whom threatened to throw a Boston-style tea party. Customers created a Facebook page dedicated to restoring the original brew. It succeeded, with one comment calling the campaign “democracy at its highest level.”  Smart marketing, too.

Gap Returns to Classic Form

The backlash against Gap’s refashioned logo is familiar to most brand marketers and visual identity experts, and it’s a quintessential case of unintended consequences. A stark new Gap logo triggered a harsh reaction from the social mob, and traditional press was quick to pile on. At first Gap tried to tailor a solution by crowdsourcing new logo designs, but the search only spurred more scorn.  It ultimately reverted to the classic logo, and “Gapgate” faded into brand history. But the irony is that the uproar – which was probably confined to design and marketing professionals – gave its brand currency and may have made it more relevant than it had been in years.

Chevy Hits a Roadblock

Chevy’s backfire wasn’t a product change, and it really didn’t amount to much, but it reawakened some longtime love for the brand. A GM marketing executive tried to mandate the use of “Chevrolet” (instead of “Chevy”) in the name of brand consistency, obviously not realizing what a huge asset a nickname can be. When his private memo became a public joke, Chevy quickly shifted gears to welcome back its old moniker.

A version of this post originally appeared on January 27th, 2015 on MENGBlend.

A Journalist’s POV: 3 Questions From A NY PR Firm

PR agencies treat relationships with media contacts like gold. We pride ourselves on moving beyond “pitch-and-place” and establishing a professional friendship. Part of that relationship is the journalist’s willingness to be honest about what works and doesn’t work when interesting them in a story. We recently had the pleasure of  working with Paula Rizzo, Emmy Award-winning senior producer at FoxNewsHealth.com. She’s also the author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed as well as the founder of the productivity site ListProducer.com. Paula agreed to  provide some helpful (and amusing) answers to some burning PR questions.

What are your PR people pet peeves? I produce video, so I want to see how a potential interviewee looks and sounds like right away. I often get pitches without any video clips of the expert, headshots or animations attached — even if they are available. That leads to a lot of back and forth over email and slows down the process or means that your client doesn’t get booked. Send complete pitches with talking points, photos and video clips – and you’re more likely to seal the deal. Keep the copy clear and to the point and always make it known who your client is. Even make bullet points to make it simpler. Producers get hundreds of emails a day and it’s easy to lose track of a good pitch if it doesn’t stand out.
I also appreciate it when PR people join me on shoots in the field. However – it can be counterproductive if they are still coaching their client or stopping the shoot often to work on message points. This should all be worked out ahead of time so when the crew arrives we can get what we need as quickly as possible.
Also – please don’t change a shoot location 15 minutes beforehand and then not apologize. Yep – that’s happened to me before! Needless to say – that guest wasn’t asked back.

What was the best/worst pitch you ever received? I was pitched “Bangs instead of Botox” during the recession. We still laugh about that one at our office. It was definitely creative as a less expensive beauty treatment but it was just too ridiculous to do a story on. So we took a pass on that one.

What makes a good / bad interview subject for you? Here is how a guest can get asked back over and over. Show up on time, be prepared and charm the host. If you deliver what you’ve sold in the pitch and stick to your talking points – then the producer will be happy. Make sure to give examples when you speak and know when to stop talking. A short soundbite is always better than a long meandering thought. So practice in advance and come in ready to perform. Be conversational and engaging without being preachy. This is a formula for a really great segment.

7 Ways Twitter Matters For PR

Twitter is coming up on 9 years old — practically “vintage” in social media terms! — yet it’s still relevant for PR agency pros and communications people.  Just consider the Super Bowl: with a record-breaking 24.8 million tweets during the broadcast, Twitter declared the game was the “most tweeted @Superbowl ever.” Fancy real-time graphics aside, Twitter still has an estimated 284 million active users, making it a mistake for professional communicators to ignore the Twittersphere. And with the announcement last week of group messaging and in-app video, Twitter is making a bid to increase engagement.

Updates aside, Twitter works differently from messaging apps like WhatsApp, and that’s okay. It can still be helpful for public relations pros and businesses alike.

Networking and relationship building. Twitter is still a quick and easy way to connect with other professionals and build a relationship online. Because of its ephemeral nature (a 140-character tweet only stays in the consciousness  so long), it’s a pressure-free, light way to make contact. It takes little time to follow, “like” or RT, but it’s appreciated when you do.

Keeping up with the news stream. I’ve heard many a communications professional say a well-curated Twitter feed is their best source of relevant news. In the age of curated social content (think Pinterest), use Twitter to create collections of sources and to read content you’re truly interested in. The “list” function of Twitter — which allows you to segment streams by category, even for those you’re not following — makes curated viewing even more functional. What’s more, Twitter has become practically a necessity for journalists to join, so the options for following news beats is endless.

Research. Since tweets are public, the Twittersphere is a great place to do searches. Find out what’s trending, who said what, and when, to flesh out your research. And when news is breaking, fast, Twitter will often have the news first, outpacing Google’s ability to pick up breaking news quickly.

Not for pitching directly, but for understanding media before you pitch. Most PR pros avoid directly pitching journalists via Twitter (though there are some who would argue otherwise!). But there is much to gain from following reporters to see what they’re working on, what they’re interested in, and what particular vantage point they might take, to inform how you’ll pitch later on. For example, our colleague knew a certain journalist was a fan of craft beer. When it came time to promote a new product, she casually mentioned the launch of Ballantine’s IPA and quickly landed a spot on a popular radio show.

Painless learning. Twitter chats have been around for a long time, so they’ve had a chance to evolve. Take it from our own “power user,” @dorocren, the best chats are ones that are recurring, employ a strong moderator, and have active participants who are ready to jump in and make the chat constructive. There are some longstanding, useful chats where PR people can learn much about the business, including #PRprochat, which are all archived here.

Self-expression. Because tweets are so succinct, it’s a great way to express a quick opinion or observation without having to commit to too much. The sum total adds up to conveying your or your company’s personality, which is good for PR, because people like to know they’re dealing with real human beings.

For building a movement. In addition to showing how clever you are, a good hashtag can create a movement. Take the #LikeaGirl movement from Always, another Super Bowl winner, beating out Budweiser and McDonald’s in commercial views and engagement. The brand’s message — to redefine the phrase as complimentary, rather than insulting — has been adopted by dozens of other brands.

5 B2C Tips To Add Life To A B2B PR Program

B2B PR doesn’t have to be boring. But business-to-business content and PR programs, particularly those that promote a technology product or service, do have that reputation. And while it’s true that the B2B sales process is usually longer, more complex, and more highly targeted than on the consumer side, the PR need not be bland. The B2B game has been revitalized by the growth of social media, and the range of creative content choices has opened up new opportunities for communicators.

What some B2B marketers don’t realize is that classic consumer PR techniques can also go a long way to add juice to a B2B PR program. That’s because, despite significant differences, both depend on the same thing — capturing the end user’s attention.

By now, most B2B marketers know to tell a story visually through real-time data, infographics, slideshare presentations or short videos, and most have crafted a strong narrative around the company or its offering. Here are some additional ways to add flavor to a vanilla B2B tech or professional services PR program.

Borrow interest from pop culture or breaking news. Most consumer PR programs are built around seasonal calendar changes or other predictable happenings, from back-to-school to the Super Bowl. Journalists are always looking for a fresh take on the humdrum seasonal story. Beyond the obvious, you can tie content to the latest web meme, film release, or entertainment personality in the news.  One of our clients, Exponential Interactive, gains attention and visibility by using data science to forecast the outcome of big events like the Academy Awards, with outstanding results in marketing and entertainment press. (Don’t bet against them!)

Use conferences for targeted promotions. Conferences and trade shows are a great opportunity to use contests, scavenger hunts, or other promotional tactics within the business bubble of the show. Contests and giveaways that could never be driven through expensive mass media channels can work well when amplified by a trade show daily, direct-mail list of attendees, or through conference hall “street teams.” (And, yes, most PR people have a few “street team” stories in their repertoire.) Some best bests here include product giveaways, social media contests, or even a conference-themed gaming app.

Think beyond LinkedIn and Twitter. Getting creative on social media, or adopting a new or counterintuitive social channel, is a great way to break through the noise.  IBM, for example leverages its company history on Instagram and Tumblr through #throwbackthursday vintage photos that highlight company milestones and illustrious employees from the past. It earns Big Blue currency with prospective customers while reminding us of its storied heritage.

Leverage people, not technology. This may be heresy within some technology companies, but communications that highlights pure technology is rarely a winner. A story about an engineer obsessed with developing a better algorithm for fraud protection, or a data analyst who can apply her skill to predicting flu trends will gain far more traction than buzzwords or white papers. As MLT Marketing Creative Director Billy Mitchell puts it, “It’s not really B2B or B2C, it’s about H2H, or human-to-human.”

Crowdsource content. The B2B company’s best resource is often customers, so why not let the hive mind of client contacts revitalize your content? Crowdsourced material from customer surveys, testimonial interviews, or simple social-media-driven polls or quizzes can help create entertaining, relevant, and shareable results. There are some clever companies who market to the PR industry who have mastered this technique; they interview “thought leaders” like agency heads and corporate communications executives on topics of the day and count on us to promote the stories where we’re featured. Simple, targeted, and highly effective.