NBC in Connecticut, and ZetrOZ, Inc.

We spent the afternoon on site at the University of Connecticut Health Center, where client ZetrOZ, maker of wearable technology for pain therapy, was being filmed by NBC Connecticut. The segment features an interview with ZetrOZ founder George K. Lewis, Jr., along with a UConn Health center physician and patient who was treated with sam®, the FDA-cleared wearable device that uses ultrasound therapy. Pictured below is Lewis with Lisa Carberg, special projects reporter for NBC Connecticut’s “Be Healthy” series.

ZetrOZ NBC CT

Five Qualities Of The Best PR People

We in the PR agency business talk a great deal about “talent,” and with good reason. It’s what we’re selling. And in my mind there’s a nature vs. nurture debate about what makes a talented PR practitioner, particularly in the agency environment.

So, are PR stars born or made? Are they great at what they do because they’ve gained experience, or do successful communicators have essential qualities that enable success?

Reading The Guardian‘s excellent interview with Brendan Paddy of the Disasters Emergency Committee about what it takes to be a Director of Communications made me think again about what makes a top PR professional. Paddy’s comments about experience being more important than technical qualifications are logical, but it’s hard to separate the respective influences of experience and native ability.

As a practitioner, I tend to favor experience as I, um, gain more of it, but there are innate skills – some overlooked – that differentiate the very best PR people I’ve known. Here are a few of them.

Analytical skills. It’s impossible to sum up it up in a word, but it’s the ability to cut through complexity, extraneous detail, or bureaucratic process to identify and articulate the heart of a great story. This takes a blend of objectivity, analysis, and raw storytelling talent. If you can make the complex simple, while being faithful to its core, you can write your own ticket in many aspects of PR and positioning, particularly in technology communications.

Writing ability. Yes, we’ve entered the age of visual communications, but clear, solid writing is still the key to persuasion and a critical skill in our business. Here’s my case for why. Personally I think it’s tough to learn how to write well if you lack the foundation, so I classify it as an innate ability, but there are many who disagree.

Perseverance. Let’s face it, we encounter a great deal of rejection in PR, particularly in media relations and new business development. The ability to keep on going and focus on the one interaction in 50 that was positive instead of the 49 discouraging ones is a gift in this business and in many others.

Resourcefulness. This quality is an asset in any profession, but it’s critical in the agency environment. I’ve sometimes thought there are two kinds of personalities: those whose gut response to a problem is to seek advice from a manager (or client), and those who will reflexively look at creative solutions before seeking advice. Of course, resourcefulness is learned on the job, because it IS our job, but the PR superstars I’ve known have had it in great measure.

Curiosity. This one’s underrated in my book. Some of the best practitioners I’ve hired have a journalist’s native curiosity about just about anything, from how new technology works to a product’s supply or distribution chain. It’s irreplaceable as a personality trait not just because it drives them to learn, know, and ultimately do more for clients, but because it makes doing it less like homework and more like joyful discovery.

Five Ways To Ace A PR Presentation

Your PR agency team has made the finals and is invited to present your brilliant campaign recommendations. You’ve succeeded “on paper” and now must bring your strongest talent to seal the deal. Here are some pointers to help ace the process.

Know your audience. Learn as much as you can about them ahead of time. Who are the decision-makers? Who might have a pre-set agenda? Audiences divide into two categories: voluntary (those attending by choice and open to hearing everything), and involuntary (those who must attend for their job). The latter are also important; work hard to win them over.

Dress for the party. A face-to-face selling occasion, of course, is radically different from a phone conversation or a proposal delivered in writing. Stack the deck with “performers,” real rock-star presenters who can attract and keep attention, in addition to data-heads who know the company and industry. But beware of overkill; a varied group of presenters who will actually work on the business beats a sales presentation team who are all flash and little substance.

Case the space. Find out what physical space you’re presenting in. We’ll never forget a presentation to a beauty products manufacturer with our team of five, their team of a dozen, and a room without enough chairs! Coming with one associate to a palatial conference room is no better. Ascertain company culture before you go. Is this a jeans-and-sneakers operation or a buttoned-up corporate environment? Much can be determined by social media sleuthing (think Instagram). Use your findings to dress and plan accordingly.

Think on your feet. We all know the sinking feeling of a presentation going south. This is why it pays to bring team members who are able to read all the signs of a temperature change in the room and can course-correct in a heartbeat. Pay attention to the feedback that audience members give. If a presenter notices that several people look confused, or are on their devices, which unfortunately is becoming prevalent –  then it may be time to stop and ask the audience questions, which is always good. Everyone gets a chance to pause and re-focus.

It isn’t over when its over. Every team member should connect with someone in the room. In the brief time before and after a presentation you may learn key details, like whether someone has kids or has just returned from a great trip — useful nuggets  in post-meeting communications. Follow-up is key in eliciting important feedback and determining where the decision-making process stands. If there are fence-sitters, they can sometimes be swayed through after-the-fact communications.

Five Books That’ll Change The Way You View PR

The role of PR agencies and the work of communications professionals is constantly evolving. Business leaders are more savvy about PR, and the content explosion has enabled businesses to communicate more directly with their customers. With summer reading season (finally!) upon us, here we recap our favorite reads on the ins and outs of the profession. While there are many books about PR, these are the ones we think have the potential to alter the way you might think about the biz.

Trust Me, PR is Dead, by Robert Phillips (2015). PR insiders will be familiar with Phillips’ exit from the world’s largest PR firm. What might not be as clear, from the book’s title, is that Phillips advocates for communications leaders who have greater insight and decision-making power regarding business itself, not just communications. This book is the result of Phillips’ break from the PR establishment, and while it won’t give away salacious details about a large agency’s inner workings, there’s just enough to keep things interesting. Read an excerpt here.

Leave Your Mark, by Aliza Licht (2015). If salacious inner details (of The Devil Wears Prada ilk) are what you’re looking for, Licht’s book will do the trick, while offering chatty, practical tips on forging a successful career in PR. The Donna Karan communications executive, perhaps best known for her Twitter handle DKNY PR GIRL (@dkny), is heavy on social media advice, which is not a bad thing in today’s constantly changing universe. For a taste, check out Licht’s TED talk here.

Epic Content Marketing, by Joe Pulizzi (2013). The rise of original content has taken the PR world by storm, causing shifts in the way brands and organizations think about their public facing communications campaigns. Pulizzi, of the Content Marketing Institute, offers straightforward, no-gimmicks advice on creating stellar content for your company or brand. In an industry where “spin” and less-than-sincere messages sometimes rule, these tips are most welcome. Find a sneak peek here.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath (2007). We go back eight years to this title that pays homage to another fave, Malcolm Gladwell (whose Tipping Point gets credit for the term “stickiness,” according to the Heaths). What’s PR without a good idea to start with? Made to Stick looks at why some ideas last, and others don’t. Cracking the question of why some ideas catch on and others don’t is the essential question in PR.

Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time, by Bill McGowan (2014). With endorsements from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, McGowan’s book is particularly geared toward entrepreneurs and business owners. A two-time Emmy award-winning journalist, McGowan parlays his experience into coaching some of the world’s most successful business leaders. Read a helpful review and summary here.

Six Personal PR Tips For Introverts

It’s the age of personal branding, and everyone is expected to be their own best PR person. If you’re a startup founder, a company CEO, or simply a business professional wanting a higher profile, you’re meant to be relentlessly building an image as — maybe an innovator. Or, possibly a change agent. Certainly a thought leader!  And it’s true that you can and probably should use classic PR techniques to build your brand.

But what if you’re an introvert?

In psychological parlance, an introvert is someone who finds social encounters and large-group interaction draining but is energized by individual, often creative pursuits. In the workplace, it can mean someone who prefers to hide behind a keyboard or stay silent in a meeting rather than promoting himself to senior management or interacting socially with colleagues or even clients.

The good news is that for every Gary Vaynerchuk there’s a Mark Zuckerberg. (For inspiration, check out this list of famous introverts, headlined by our own POTUS.) But for many people the business day is already challenging, so any extra effort for personal branding or PR can fall by the wayside. It can be exhausting.

Here are some pointers for leveraging PR tactics to boost your profile, even if you’re not a TED talk candidate or a six-night-a-week networker.

Set (realistic) networking goals. For an introvert, it’s useful to set a manageable goal for building relationships, like an hour at a networking event every month, or coffee with a new contact (just one!) once a week. The same applies to social media on a daily basis. It’s easy to sit back and read a social feed or repost interesting content, but to build a profile, you need to actually engage with others. For business owners, the key journalists and analysts in your sector, prospective business partners, and potential customers should be at the top of this list.

Build your digital footprint. Digital media is one of the world’s greatest gifts to introverts. The key is to be purposeful in how you present yourself and spend your digital and social media time. Stake out the social platform that feels most comfortable – whether Twitter or LinkedIn, or a creative Tumblr or blog – and make sure your profile that reflects your business offering and goals. It’s also good to mix a bit of your personal story in your digital profile and real-life interactions with people. If you lived in five different countries as a kid, built your first business at 13, or are passionate about science-fiction novels, it helps to work that into your digital and social profiles.

Or, go small. If taking on Twitter feels too big, join a LinkedIn networking group and become active within that one community. Or, check out Quora, whose Q&A format lends itself to sharing expertise. Introverts are natural listeners, so any forum in which interested parties engage to seek help or advice is a good prospect. It’s unlikely to win you business or make you a rockstar, but the right social community can help you establish your credentials and warm up cold leads, if not build outright relationships.

Let your content speak for you. Introverts are often more comfortable expressing themselves in writing than in social or business networking situations, so if that’s the case, it makes sense to leverage your authority through content that you create or that you inspire and others create. In my opinion, a business blog is still the best way to do this. But if it’s too large a time commitment, a thoughtful piece posted once a month on LinkedIn will go a long way toward raising your profile.

Reference your own authority. This is something I tell clients in media training sessions, and many introverts have difficulty with it, because it feels like bragging. But it pays to remember that you’re not selling a service or product, you’re offering expertise.  And that expertise isn’t always as obvious as you think from your job title. Whether it’s 30 years in supply chain management or three “dog years” building a tech startup, it is your experience and resulting insights that can raise your profile with the people who count.

Be a resource. To that end, one of your goals should be to position yourself or your company as a go-to for relevant journalists. Think in terms of specifics. What data or insights can you offer? Hard stats, evidence of category trends, competitive intelligence, or actual news will get the attention of media who follow your industry.

Top Tips For A Successful PR Media Tour

As PR agency professionals we rely heavily on digital communication, but face-to-face interactions like “deskside” meetings can be invaluable. A well-executed media tour, or series of one-on-one meetings with journalists, can establish genuine, long-term relationships. While the media might not become your new weekend brunch besties (although maybe down the line!), deskside visits help you and your brand stay top of mind. Here are some tips for a successful media tour.

Schedule meetings smartly. Propose a few specific dates so editors can let you know right away if they’re available. Look up travel times between meetings and add at least 15 minutes for leeway. Double-check your routes; remember, Google Maps is not infallible!

Do your research. Compile an itinerary, and a concise overview of the reporter’s beat, his or her background, recent articles and details of the publication. Familiarize yourself with the publications and develop a solid grasp of news within relevant industries so you can carry a knowledgeable conversation.

Overprepare. Your client or spokesperson should understand the goals of the desksiders and feel comfortable addressing questions, including tough ones. If the product is complex, make sure they can explain it in simple terms by rehearsing beforehand. If your meeting involves a product demo, obviously it should be tweaked, tuned, or otherwise prepped, and be sure to check the wireless connection at your destination where possible.

Overcommunicate. Confirm meetings the day before, even if you’re sure that everything is lined up. If you’re running more than five minutes late, let the editor know. Ask editors if they have a hard stop, and politely inform them if you do. If you’re with a colleague and one of you tends to be chatty, agree upon a subtle or overt signal on when to wrap up.

Pack mindfully. As a PR rep, you are there primarily to enable the media relationship, but any small emergency will fall to you as well. Besides hard copies of the briefing book, consider bringing items like tissues, an extra portable phone battery, water, mints, granola bars or other snacks, and an umbrella. If driving, check small details like loading your EZ-Pass for cash-free toll roads or researching public parking near your destinations.

Be engaged. All that attention to small details beforehand will help you stay focused during the meeting, contribute where appropriate, and keep your spokesperson steered in the right direction if the conversation veers off. Pay special attention to your client or spokesperson’s comfort level and responses, and offer constructive feedback after each meeting to help prepare for the next one.

Follow up and stay in touch. Send thank-you notes the day after, either by email or snail mail. If editors requested additional materials, share in a timely manner. Let them know you enjoyed meeting them and would like to know about potential pieces. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter – check in occasionally to see what they’re working on!

Don’t panic. Inevitably, things won’t go exactly as planned. Think quickly and remain confident, or at least pretend to be! Once, in the midst of conversing with a client, I realized I was leading us towards a different subway station than I had planned. Thankfully, I managed to improvise the route to our next desksider without my client noticing. No matter what, keep smiling, remain calm, and stay focused on your goal.

Pump Up Your Website’s PR Potential

As a consumer and tech PR agency, we sometimes field journalist questions on matters that should be on a client website, or we actually get media complaints about the site. So we have to ask, is your website helping your PR efforts? Are you getting the results you need? Have inbound inquiries steadily risen? Is content generating engagement?

Like fashion, websites become dated, and when that happens, it discourages interest. And just like home redesign, your site may just need a “fresh coat of paint” or a total “tear-down.”

Here’s what to consider when pondering a site refresh, reface or redesign. An industry rule of thumb is to redesign roughly every two years, but it’s wiser to look at what the site is delivering to determine what, and if, you need to change.

When to refresh. If the site is performing well, consider cost-effective ways for incremental improvement. Remove dated posts or promotional offers and ensure you constantly add fresh content. These could be new products or services, timely and provocative blog posts, or media coverage. If search engine optimization is your main concern, then a change or upgrade in technology on the back end will provide the update you need.
A good first step is to put yourself in the mind of a journalist or customer and go through the entire site to see how appealing it is aesthetically, how easy it is to navigate and whether there is any incorrect or outdated information. Often a refresh is as simple as adding fresh case studies, personnel bios and head shots, or upgrading your site photography – all information that will interest customers and help PR efforts.

When to reface. Start with an audit to see what works and what can be improved. A reface is recommended when the template for the site is considered sound but certain strategic and creative changes are necessary to make the site work harder for your marketing and PR. It’s smart to begin by partnering with your PR team to re-examine core messaging to develop the clearest and most accurate version.

Next a website designer will go page by page through the site to help edit or replace existing content, particularly with new images (original or royalty-free stock) and sometimes with navigation. Often the mission of your site has evolved and it may now be important to explore a shopping cart plug-in or other interactive sales or data-gathering tool.
Part of the design partner’s creative outline will be a vision for the restructured sitemap that will be more appealing to all audiences – customers, potential business partners and press. Once the creative and strategic recommendations are accepted, the programmer will make the necessary changes.

When to redesign. A complete website overhaul is necessary when your company’s mission has drastically evolved, you find your site is “out of touch” or is simply not performing by expected metrics. For example, how busy is your site? Have reporters contacted you in frustration looking for basic info? Are your SEO/SEM efforts just not working?
Start by mapping out the goals of your website – to generate more visitors, leads, customers, media attention, etc. Put all pertinent info into a business plan for the site. Once committed to the overhaul, look at websites you admire and seek out the design talent behind them. Talk to trusted advisors and other business partners. Discuss both budgets and timing frankly, since both can throw major curve balls at your day-to-day operations.

But go for quality! Resist the urge to hire “my nephew who’s home from college and very good with computers” or say “maybe we’ll just design it ourselves, how hard can it be?”
Remember, if your business is being judged by your website (as so many businesses are) and the site is giving the wrong impression about your company, this is a prime reason to talk redesign.

Want more tips on how to make your website more PR savvy? Download our tipsheet — it’s free!
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Ultimate PR Lessons From "Mad Men"

For eight years “Mad Men” has chronicled the golden age of American advertising and the rise of its most iconic agencies, but it also offered insights about public relations – the practice of PR more than the business itself. Here, then, in an homage to the show that’s kept us riveted throughout those years, are our favorite Sterling Cooper lessons and insights about public relations.

Perception is reality.
Perhaps because he’s reached lofty career heights by living a lie, Don is an expert on perception versus reality. Just as he has reinvented himself, he perpetually reshapes the agency, as in season four’s aptly named “Blowing Smoke.” When the agency is fired by Lucky Strike, Don moves to save its reputation by taking out a full-page newspaper ad to trumpet the fact that Sterling Cooper will no longer accept tobacco clients.  Talk about the ultimate spin!

News can trump paid advertising.
You knew that, of course. But it’s played up in a priceless, sitcommy way when Peggy cooks up a PR stunt to save the Sugarberry Ham account. She hires two actresses to stage a “food fight” over the last ham in a supermarket, and although the tussle turns violent and one actress ends up suing for assault, the agency does retain the business. Ironically, Don disapproves of the stunt, but the PR-savvy Peggy is the hero.

But earned media must be earned.
In the episode entitled “Public Relations,” Don utterly fails to charm a New York Times ad industry reporter who’s writing a profile on the hot young Creative Director, behaving instead like his typical witholding self. The result is a weak story about Don the cipher rather than the sparkling agency feature that SC hoped would propel its image.

Creativity is a meritocracy.
One of the best exchanges of the earlier seasons took place between Don and Peggy, when he dismisses the tagline she’s pitching. “That one’s yours,” she protests. “That doesn’t make it good,” he snaps. He’s right. In PR, as in advertising, even the top guy doesn’t nail it every time.

Great work doesn’t come cheap.
When in season three, Lane Pryce calls out Don and his team for excessive travel and office expenses, Don loses his temper. “You want to make money, start getting your nails dirty,” is not only about Lane and his own role at the agency. It’s also a reminder that, after a point, cost cuts are self-defeating in a creative service business. It’s the work, the quality of the service, and the relationships, that build an enduring business.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.
These were Don’s words to Peggy and they’re the favorite of most PR professionals because that’s what we strive to do. Even as uttered by a fictional character forty-plus years before the birth of social media, they’re a pretty fair summation of the challenge – and the power – of great PR.

3 Groups That Deserve Good PR This Memorial Day

As a consumer and tech PR agency we routinely analyze the calendar to consider the best ways to tell stories that are relevant and compelling, and with Memorial Day around the corner, we find tons of examples. As the date approaches, expect to see and hear stories about remembrances, ceremonies and individual stories of bravery and sacrifice. As a way to honor the holiday, we call out three organizations that deserve some good PR for the work they do year round on behalf of veterans and, in doing so, honor the memories of those who gave their lives while serving our country.

Open Bionics. We’ve seen our share of tech PR clients and think their story is worth noting. One reality of modern warfare is that more people are returning home as amputees. In previous times, options were few, but the convergence of two kinds of innovations — 3D printing and open source development — have the potential to change this entirely. Recently, one Afghanistan veteran became the first wounded soldier to wear a 3D printed bionic hand. An engineer friend began developing the hand using an open source 3D printable robotic hand design, adding his modifications. Open Bionics is the company spawned from the open source effort to design 3D printed prosthetics, and is devoted to making brilliant, affordable products for amputees.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA). Founded in 2004 by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans out of concern for how veterans were being portrayed and treated, the IAVA is devoted to generating positive PR as well as informing government and  the general public about the true circumstances returning veterans face. The organization has done important advocacy on critical issues such as mental health, lapses in VA care, and inadequate care for female veterans. We had the honor of working with the IAVA on behalf of a client whose employee ranks are filled with veterans; not only are they doing important work, but are a pleasure to work with, too.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation.  Memorial Day is about remembering soldiers who did not come home, but for those who do, returning home can be a traumatic, difficult transition. Depression, substance abuse, violence, even suicide are common risks for many who have experienced combat duty. The Bob Woodruff Foundation finds and funds organizations and programs that help veterans not only survive the challenges of re-entry, but thrive in their lives back home. The foundation was born after Bob Woodruff, who in 2006 was ABC’s new anchor, was struck by a roadside bomb while covering the conflict in Iraq. His recovery from a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him prompted him and his wife to start the foundation, so to us, the Woodruffs epitomize the principle of doing well by doing good.

PR Lessons From The Internet Shame Machine

Building a reputation can take years, but you can lose it in a PR minute. Britt McHenry is a recent example of the internet shame machine. The previously obscure ESPN journalist was videotaped hurling harsh insults at an employee of a company that towed her car. Her one-week suspension touched off a debate involving entitlement, classism, privacy, and the power of the web to make or break a reputation. The humiliation may have been deserved, but its speed and cruelty was notable.

Yet the shame game isn’t only for quasi-celebrities. Just ask Justine Sacco, the PR executive who lost her job after a controversial tweet in 2013. Sacco tweeted just before boarding a long plan flight without the internet access. Her inability to respond to criticism of her tweet exacerbated her punishment by the social media mob.

As Jon Ronson recounts in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it can happen to anyone who makes an online misstep. He recaps the experience of Lindsey Stone, the special-ed teacher whose reputation was ruined after she posted a photo that she meant as a joke, but others considered disrespectful to the military. Then there’s Adria Richards and the two male developers whose picture she tweeted after they made puerile comments about dongles at a technology conference. Not only was one of the offenders fired, but Richards also lost her job over the mess. As one journalist puts it, “the internet is unforgiving of stupid mistakes.”

What Are The Takeaways for PR Professionals?

Here’s some commonsense PR lessons for anyone caught in the brutal teeth of the internet shame machine.

Apologize

And mean it. Britt McHenry’s initial apology was focused on herself, which is never good. A better strategy would have been to apologize directly – and more sincerely – to the towing company employee. For outstanding examples of celebrity mea culpas after a public shamestorm, see Jason Alexander or Jonah Hill.

Don’t lie or deny

If the bad behavior is real, admit it. In these digital times, it’s nearly impossible to hide anything, even the most private of private behavior.  There are many instances where the attempts to cover up are more damaging than the actual sin. Digital behavior in particular leaves fingerprints. A claim that your Twitter account was hacked or that a certain email was never sent isn’t likely to hold up, and it brands you as a liar to boot.

Take a break

Some victims of the shame machine try too hard to take on their antagonists directly through social media.  It’s hard to be objective, and often it’s adding fuel to the fire.  Remember, retreat doesn’t mean defeat.

Let allies defend you

If you must go on the offensive, let surrogates carry the water. Third parties can be tapped to post comments, tweet, or be interviewed on your behalf in a truly viral reputation crisis.  The advantage here is intense media interest, which can often be parlayed into exclusive access to new information or insight.

Mend fences

If you have no allies, it may be time to launch a charm offensive to cultivate or woo back those you have alienated.  Depending on the nature of the infraction, it may take months or years to win back a reputation.

Shame the shamer

If the criticism is out of line or below the belt, turn things around by taking the high road.  Look at how Pink responded on Twitter when trolls tried to shame her as overweight.  Or Kelly Clarkson, who was criticized by an anti-obesity activist as a poor role model. Each rose above the criticism and made the attackers look small (but not in a good way.)

Use your shame for good

In the case of a truly sensational shaming, redemption can be a long time coming.  Look at Monica Lewinsky, who refers to herself as “patient zero” of internet ignominy.  Now, 18 years after she was originally “outed” for private behavior with a very public man, Lewinsky has made lemons into reputation lemonade.

She did it by embracing and owning her own victimhood in becoming an anti-bullying activist. Today the buzz around Lewinsky is about her being a champion of those targeted for the very digital humiliation that she endured. Lewinsky’s TED talk has been viewed millions of times and she’s received apologies from many of the comics and columnists for whom she was a punch line and a punching bag.

This post was originally published in a slightly different version on MENGBlend.