Ladies Who Laugh

An evening of laughter and fundraising for scholars, hosted by New York Women in Communications

NYWICI, as it’s known, this week hosted its annual fundraising event at Caroline’s comedy club supporting its scholarship program, and it was a good chance for us to enjoy a few laughs while mingling with our colleagues here in New York.

A stellar lineup of comediennes had us all laughing hard. Who hasn’t ordered the “panic salad” for $19 while in line during rush hour, or been made to feel inferior when bumping into “feral models” on the streets of New York.

By the end of the evening, 12,000 was raised to help support future women in communications by awarding 15 to 20 scholarship to graduating high school seniors, undergraduate, and graduate students who intend to pursue a career in communications.

Thanks so much for a wonderful evening, NYWICI!




5 Brands With Great PR On Instagram

Instagram is a powerful PR tool for brands to develop their audience and voice. A 2014 Forrester study found Instagram is 58 times more engaging than Facebook, and 120 times more engaging than Twitter. When used alongside other PR tactics, Instagram can complement and amplify a brand or company’s core messaging in distinct ways. So what makes a brand’s Instagram content stand out from the others? Here are five examples – from consumer tech and tech startups to art materials and tasty beverages – to help answer that question.

Sonix Cases (@shopsonix): The product is the star. These are not your ordinary phone cases, and Sonix’s Instagram feed shows you why. The cases come in many styles and designs, and the brand’s Instagram photos are creative and colorful. Oftentimes, the patterns on the cases are matched with beautiful scenery or fun props. But the key is that the product is always the star of the photo. Sonix is also reliable with responding to its followers’ questions, which allows the company to show it’s listening and it cares. Hats off to Sonix for finding ways to take a product that’s typically a yawn and turn it into one that is “Instaworthy.”

Veuve Clicquot (@veuveclicquot): A clear call-to-action. This champagne brand knows how to package a well-loved beverage to make it even more exciting, and then convey that to its customers through great photography. Through its social media handles, the company announced that this summer, the Cliqcuot Mail Truck is traveling cross-country to bring champagne to people all around the US. Beautiful “#CliquotMail” photos are taken at each stop and shared on Instagram with backdrops of the various cities. How can you resist? It speaks to champagne lovers and wanderlusters alike, with a call to find the truck while it’s in your city and take a picture of it, too. Bring on the champagne, please!

Misfit Wearables (@misfitwearables): Embrace popular hashtags. Hang on – is this really a tech product? Misfit Wearables’ offerings are so well-designed you’d never know they’re so packed with technology. Pictures on Instagram show you how the wearables can be integrated into your daily life. Whether it’s worn as a fashion statement at your next cocktail party or as a fitness tracker when you play tennis, there’s a way for it to fit your lifestyle. Misfit isn’t shy with using keyword hashtags (e.g., “#activitytracker”) to attract new followers, too – a good tactic to increase awareness of your products as long as you don’t go overboard.

Codecademy (@codecademy): Humanizing the brand. This NYC-based startup that teaches coding for free is not only cool because it’s filling in a gap in STEM training among millennials, but it’s also got an Instagram feed that shows how much fun everyone is having in the process. A timeline of the company’s milestones on the office air duct? How creative. You’ll also find lots of photos of staff and students eating cake, celebrating birthdays and attending workshops. Followers want to see less promotional content and more behind-the-scenes info on social media, so it’s important to feed that through your Instagram visuals. Showing who’s behind the company and what they like to do “humanizes” the brand, which resonates with followers.

Sakura (@sakuraofamerica): The well-played Instagram takeover. This beloved stationary and art supplies manufacturer is from Japan, but they know how to make a splash in the US. By including artists as guest Instagrammers, Sakura shares ways to use their products to create beautiful pieces. These “Instagram takeovers” are highly effective as they lend an authentic voice to the brand’s social media content and allows experts to share their tips (in this case, which types of pens they like). Product mentions strategically include branded hashtags (e.g., “#pigmamicron” for Sakura micron pens) and the posts are highly engaging, as followers ask the guest Instagrammers questions. It’s also a win for the guests themselves, since they’re able to gain visibility by tagging their own Instagram accounts. No doubt, these photos inspire consumers to pick up some supplies to try out themselves!

8 Ways To Bulletproof Your PR Plan

A successful PR campaign is usually only as good as its plan.  But we’re often operating in a dynamic news media environment, so stuff happens. How can a PR plan be “bulletproofed” to the extent that it’s even possible?

The key is to vet it before you start. Begin with overall business goals in mind, as well as obstacles and opportunities unique to PR and communications. Here’s a checklist based on aspects of a robust PR plan that can be overlooked or underwritten.

Does the PR function have a defined role? In other words, is it designed to do something that marketing or advertising does not? Sometimes it’s to educate about a new category or product – something hard for paid media to do in great depth. It may be to add credibility to a marketing positioning or product claim, or to convey messages that showcase competitive superiority. Whatever the case, it should go beyond vague or redundant goals like “positive visibility” or “leadership positioning.”

Does the PR plan define success? Lead generation?  Brand messages that resonate with prospects?  Web traffic? Whatever the desired outcomes, they should be more clearly defined than just reach, as measured in impressions.

Does the plan include internal audiences? Many plans don’t address employees and stakeholders, or they may give lip service to them.  But internal audiences can be important ambassadors for the PR strategy or for a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.  And if employees and partners aren’t fully informed of a program’s goals and strategies, it can mean lost opportunities.

Is it research-based? In our haste to generate social or publicity impact, we can underestimate the time and research required for a bulletproof PR approach and for multiple media storylines.  One of the advantages to earned media over traditional paid media is that PR can often shift tactics or tweak messaging with minimal cost, but the earned media approach lacks the test-and-tweak flexibility of digital advertising.

Is PR programming in sync with other marketing elements? Maybe full integration isn’t a goal, but simple coordination adds add value and help prevent mishaps.  Sometimes the PR team will spot mediaworthy pieces in the marketing plan, but too late to offer input or realize the news potential.

Is the plan reasonably flexible?  The most bulletproof plans are adaptable to market conditions, competitive developments, or changes in the news cycle. Some degree of change is the rule, not the exception. PR can take advantage of that with monthly plan reviews and adjustments.

Does it include a contingency or crisis plan? Similarly, it pays to think through potentially damaging scenarios and be prepared with a defensive strategy in the event of unexpected developments. The key here is often quick access to decision makers and a clear chain of communication.

Does it budget for measurement tools and services? New tools make measuring outcomes far easier and more precise than in the past (see below), but they can must be in place in advance of program execution and included in the program budget.

5 Ways To Make That PR Strategy Decision

Stymied by a leadership team who wants a strategic PR campaign but can’t articulate precise campaign goals or actions? It seems simple enough; the company is launching a new product or heading in a new direction, so the marketing folks want positive exposure. Now comes the hard part. Of course you’re seeking results that move the needle on new app downloads or web inquiries, but the program will live or die based on the strategy. If you’re faced with a team that can’t seem to form that strategy, try taking these steps.

Identify the true target. Some companies are eager to begin communicating before identifying their true target. For example, considering a consumer outreach campaign before achieving B2B buy-in. Smart counsel contends that rushing to market before setting the stage in the business and trade press can fail to generate consumer enthusiasm. Reaching this decision requires going the extra mile on target audience research to engage influencers and narrow-niche business press before going out to a broader audience.

Lead by example. Offer up some positive case studies in similar industries where a sharply honed PR strategy proved invaluable. For example, to improve an e-commerce company’s reputation in the nutrition space, the recommendation was to partner with a non-profit whose good works would provide a “halo effect” for the brand. Demonstrating positive results for another consumer product via a strategic alliance helped move management towards a decision.

Mold the messaging…and the messenger. The best messaging combines the company’s descriptive, internal language (not too jargony) with a PR pro’s appropriate turn of phrase, or “pithiness” where warranted. For example, when introducing a new medical device based on an old technology – ultrasound – a team we worked with coined the phrase “sustained acoustic medicine” or “sam.” The simple new terminology helped make the product and the message fresh. It also helped inform our choices for company spokespeople, both internal and external, from the dynamic young company co-founder to medical professionals with a similar profile.

Bring something new to the table. As the strategy begins to take shape, can your team bring one bold idea to the group to amplify? Real-time, near daily developments in social media make it the perfect category in which many companies can innovate. Find the perfect way to bring a corporate or product story to life, perhaps with video. Consider ephemeral Snapchat videos like these examples from GE’s recent #DRONEweek, or breathe new life into a Facebook campaign the way online retailer Chubbies is doing with its humorous 30-second spots.

Know what success looks like. Although KPIs vary from company to company and campaign to campaign, setting achievable PR metrics at the outset is always key. Start with quality media placements that deliver on message and SOV. Consider where the stories appeared – all the great placements in the world are of little value if your target doesn’t see or hear them. Most importantly, look at what business results can be tied back to media exposure – can a story be directly linked to a boost in website traffic? Result in social shares or a higher Klout score? Were downloads increased? Ideally these outcomes can be tracked back to a PR-related source. Include social shares in your metrics calculations as well.
Modern PR is less “static” and more dynamic than ever – and it all starts with a solid strategy.

In Tech PR, Women Buck The Trend

Few would argue technology remains a male dominated field, but when it comes to tech PR, women tend to buck that trend. When Business Insider compiled its list of the best public relations people working in the tech industry in 2014, 31 out of 50 were women. And women publicists are behind some of the greatest tech PR successes out there, from the launch of Tinder to the indomitable public narrative of Steve Jobs’ Apple.

Granted, women tend to dominate the field of public relations as a whole, but the leading role women have played in technology PR is significant because of the overlap into the technology sector, where men are by far the majority and horror stories from women who work in technology are all too common. Is it a trend? Hard to tell, but these examples are still worth telling, whether as proof, inspiration, or both.

Women Are Far From the Minority When it Comes to Technology PR

The PR master behind Steve Jobs’ Apple. When it comes to brand PR, Apple is probably among the best in the world, and until last spring that PR was managed by Katie Cotton. Cotton served as VP of worldwide corporate communications, joining Apple in the 1990s during its darkest days, when it was close to going out of business. To quote Hubspot’s post about Cotton upon her departure: “She worked alongside Steve Jobs and served as his handler as he led Apple through the most amazing comeback in business history. During Cotton’s tenure, Apple went from being a downright loser to a plucky underdog to the most powerful and influential company in tech, with the biggest market valuation of any company in the world.”

The success of Tinder among women. A few years back, Tinder was entering a crowded market for online matchmaking. Today — among certain circles — it’s considered the go-to app for online dating. In the beginning, though, the company had trouble convincing young women it was safe, and Tinder’s then vice president of marketing, Whitney Wolfe, led the effort to indoctrinate women. She visited college campuses and sororities around the country promoting the app. Soon after, Tinder’s adoption rate skyrocketed at a crucial time.

The charge to IPO for Linkedin. Shannon Stubo, vice president of communications and chief marketing officer at Linkedin, played a crucial role in leading Linkedin to its initial public offering. She was heavily courted for the job in a story well know among PR circles, having earned her IPO chops at Open Table prior to joining Linkedin. Today, Linkedin is a $25 billion company.

The very latest in social media. Caroline Penner, who led product communications for Twitter, recently made a big move to head up communications for Vine, the 6-second sharing app that has been all the rage.

While there’s much work to be done to reach parity for women in the technology industry, the prominent roles women have played in communicating tech stories is promising — and that’s something PR folks should salute.

Has Web Journalism Come Of Age?

Those who toil in public relations tend to be blasé about changes at media companies. After all, we’ve seen enormous disruption over the past decade. But the soap opera at some top news sites has the PR world watching.

Wired calls it “a new media midlife crisis.” To me, it feels more like an adolescent one, but never mind. First there was the public meltdown at Reddit, not a news site, but an influential community and frequent source of stories run by media. The drama, which was precipitated by the firing of a popular employee, reflects the ongoing struggle between the community’s commitment to free speech and the web’s tendency to deteriorate into a free-for-all run by its ugliest and most disordered citizens. Interim chief Ellen Pao resigned, but it’s not over.

Gawker’s struggle is about more than PR

Then Gawker, every snark lover’s guilty pleasure, stepped into its own ragestorm. After it ran a story outing a (previously) unknown executive at Conde Nast (owner of Reddit and in some ways a rival company) the site experienced a furious backlash from the community. Two days later, Gawker removed the post – an unheard of move in the absence of a factual error or threat of legal action.

Founder Nick Denton called the post a “misuse of the independence given to editorial” and not worthy of Gawker’s more ambitious and newsworthy reporting. In an eloquent letter to staff Denton warned that the episode could do lasting damage to both Gawker’s editorial reputation and its business. He said its standards needed to be more worthy of “the First Amendment protection that protects our most controversial work.” (The lofty words weren’t enough to quell internal dissension; three Gawker senior staff, including its executive editor and editor-in-chief, resigned in protest.)

Gawker’s situation is unique to its identity, but its struggle to mature from a gossip site to an independent journalistic voice is part of a larger issue in web journalism. Almost lost in the chaos of last week was the refreshingly worded announcement from top editorial staff at the Huffington Post that they would not cover Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as political news, but as entertainment.

Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

No less a bastion of “traditional” journalism than the Washington Post disagreed with the HuffPo stance, explaining that Trump’s popularity had “touched a nerve” among Republicans and therefore deserved attention as a political development. But the point here is that even in the age of digital curation, we rely on trusted media brands to tell us – through countless editorial decisions from story placement to what is publishable – what they deem newsworthy. And as the response of the community shows, those decisions matter.

Whither web journalism?

Last year the late New York Times journalist David Carr asked about web journalism, “Is there a lasting business being built or simply a lot of to-ing and fro-ing by entrepreneurs and investors…?”
The answer is increasingly obvious. And in many ways I think the changes and struggles are a positive sign that these born-on-the-web sites are “growing up.” That’s good news for PR professionals and others who make their living engaging with media, and it signals that while native advertising has its place, it probably doesn’t impact “real” journalism as much as the nature of the web itself, and the community of vocal readers and contributors that successful sites attract.

Gawker, Reddit and HuffPo were founded between 2002 and 2005. They’ve entered double digits in terms of age, and each is at a different phase of maturation. But each has had a significant impact on the journalism or media that preceded them, and the lines are very blurry as editors and journalists move from traditional media outlets to web-based news sites, and vice versa. For each, journalism, blogging, and community are part of the offering, and that mix is here to stay. Under one brand or another, these are the media names of the future.

What Your Workspace Says About Your PR Personality

Whether you’re at a PR agency or another creative business, you know the stereotypes. Messy desk = creative mind. Neat desk = rule-follower. But it’s not that simple. We surveyed some spaces in our office to discern any patterns in design to see how reflective they are of the owners’ PR work style and attitude. Here are some workspace “archetypes” – created from iPhone photos courtesy of our amazing design intern Gloria – and what they say about the people who work at them.

TechType. Characterized by multiple monitors, the latest smartphone and all the hottest apps, it may appear that this technology PR pro (Chris) “screens” out other forms of communication, relying solely on devices to “speak” to clients and press in an otherwise unadorned office. Not only is that a strategy we discourage, it doesn’t hold true for our resident “techtype,” who is quite the conversationalist and swears by the multiple screens as efficient time-savers (build a list and media monitor at the same time!) rather than ways to avoid contact.

“Personal” space. A blend of family, vacation and work photos represent healthy work-life balance. And balance is key to thriving in the super-stressed, deadline-filled world of PR, where your workspace can be a calm oasis as you wait for a client to approve a crucial release or the last piece of an RFP to be written. Marijane is somewhere between “who works here?” (the empty, impersonal workspace) and “this is your life” cavalcade of baby and wedding and awkward family photos like this.

The fun desk. Can the owner of the desk with the candy and toys be serious about her work? In our office, the answer is yes! The occupant of this area, Lauren, has craftily used Starburst and chocolate to teambuild and bring out the creativity and spirit of others. Immediately outside our conference room, this “fun” desk is a hub for the brain-stalled or meeting-fatigued to get a much needed pick-me-up.

The zen workspace. This crisp, efficient space is also serene and a touch artsy. Yet it telegraphs “ready for business” and “writer in residence” from the helpful table lamp to the prominently placed “Elements of Style.” This desk belongs to a no-nonsense PR writing whiz Michelle, who is diligent about craft with a bit of artistic flair.

“Healthy” sense of organization. From the row of color-coded Post-its to the artfully arranged organizer, this desk assures you that its owner will let no detail be overlooked. In PR, such detail orientation is critical to the implementation of perfect PR programs. The fact that the owner, Eri, is also health-conscious (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!) only further inspires confidence in her abilities!

How Marketing And Advertising Can Inform PR

If you work in public relations, there’s a chance people outside your field have confused what you do with advertising or even marketing. The three often operate alongside one another but are distinct and separate practices. Still, when working with a company or brand, there are ways PR professionals can glean useful insights from marketing and advertising. Here are some suggestions.

Use the marketing calendar to create timely opportunities for PR. Aligning the PR calendar with your brand’s marketing calendar and product roadmap is one of the first things our team does during the onboarding process for a new client. Product or service launches, which marketing builds into the calendar long in advance, provide the framework for when to plan certain types of media outreach, and can create synergies that are ultimately more beneficial to the client’s bottom line.

Learn from best practices for creating content. The lines between PR and content marketing have blurred. These days shared content can be something original that was never meant for eyes beyond a personal network of friends (think Alex from Target), or it can be a carefully crafted ad campaign, like the latest iteration of Always’ #likeagirl campaign that went viral practically overnight. PR content creators can make their work stronger by taking best practices from advertising creative teams. For example, what’s the optimal length for video content?

Stay ahead of trends to promote at just the right moments. Knowing what’s trending in the world of advertising and marketing can yield insights that help PR pros know when to pitch certain angles. Is Facebook about to unveil auto-play for its video content? Perhaps it’s better to time that video-sharing piece until just after the launch.

Check in with sales and marketing teams for insights on what language resonates with customers. PR centers on telling stories that engage end users, and sales and marketing teams have direct access to those customers on a regular basis. It can be very useful for communications people to hear from the front lines what types of messages are really hitting home with customers. Whether it’s metrics and data from marketing, which is constantly optimizing strategy in real time, or anecdotal stories from sales people in the field, the insights can help PR use the most powerful and appropriate language possible. That makes for powerful storytelling.

PR Tactics For Business Networking And Personal Branding

Smart public relations isn’t just for corporations, brands or tech startups. A PR-based approach to one’s personal brand can also help when it comes to nailing that next job opportunity, new client, or partner. Here are some common ways that PR principles can be used for successful business networking.

Boost your digital footprint.

One of the first things a PR professional does when ramping up for a new client is to assess its digital trail. Everyone knows the power of online reputation, but building a personal brand isn’t just about managing any negative mentions. It’s about owning page one of search results to reflect a track record of achievement, or a digital footprint that communicates expertise. Bear in mind that employers often “pre-shop” for senior candidates before meeting them.

Be a resource.

One of the most basic ways that B2B PR professionals gain visibility for clients is to present them as a resource for media – no strings attached. This is also a good rule for personal networking: in most of your meetings with contacts or recommenders, you shouldn’t ask for anything. Instead, offer insight or contacts they don’t already have. I have a colleague who saves up introductions to offer during informal meetings or contacts with members of her network. It keeps her top-of-mind, and when she needs a favor, it’s easier and more likely to meet a positive response.

Cultivate recommenders and keep them informed.

PR pros sometimes refer to the “newsstream” for a brand or company, and just like any growing company, you want to tell a story about momentum, success, or positive change to prospective employers or clients. Make sure KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) in your industry are in the loop and ready to say the right things if they’re asked, because the most credible references are often the informal ones. Make an edcal (editorial calendar) of updates and reach out every quarter or so with personal notes or links to social media posts.

Reference your own authority.

As we say when preparing a client for a media interview, you can refer to your own track record or expertise without sounding pompous. Position yourself as a legitimate authority in your area of expertise through relevant content. Be a favorited resource on Quora – a terrific community for sharing knowledge. Or start an industry group on LinkedIn. Make connections that allow you to convey your own expertise instead of merely asking for connections or liking content.

Package yourself.

I’m not much for grandiose or silly job titles like “social media sherpa” or “experience curator.” But explanations that reflect real experience or accomplishment (“my specialty is using technology to solve problems” or “I translate great ideas into new products”) can add punch to your presentation.

Sharpen your storytelling.

Having trouble with your “narrative”? Do what the pros do: draw up a list of open-ended question or difficult questions, write the ideal responses, then edit them to be shorter and more colorful. The point is not to be canned, but to replace rambling or boring anecdotes with memorable ones. For important opportunities, consider videotaping yourself in a simulated conversation.
Remember, the near-disaster, turnaround story, or big sales win is memorable material for interviews or meetings. There are some great tips on shaping a story from books like Ted Talks Storytelling by Akash Karia and my favorite, film producer Peter Guber’s memoir Tell To Win.

5 "Magic" Words To Boost A Consumer PR Pitch

The summer months are in full swing, and as PR professionals know, seasonal pitches are a tried and true tactic. How do you use the season to help your pitch resonate with media when it comes to calendar opportunities? As Sigmund Freud once said, “Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power.” Here are a few fun, summer-esque buzzwords to consider in your communication.
PR energize
Energize. Warm weather calls for more activity. This is the perfect time to promote products that revitalize or stimulate with a boost of energy. Heat can be draining, so it’s helpful to use words that flag how products or services can fuel and energize users.
PR light
Light. This can apply to a wide range of products and scenarios – light clothing, light flavor, lightweight, etc. It’s the time of year when we latch onto the less-is-more mindset. Show media how your product allows users to be playful and carefree, whether they’re doing sports or relaxing at the beach. Play up portable goods as well, since everyone has a vacation in sight.
PR sweeten
Sweeten. The heat tends to bring out the sweet tooth in us. Whether used literally (“sweeten your smoothies”) or figuratively (“sweeten the deal”), this buzzword will add color to your language to help grab attention.
PR freshen
Freshen. Summer calls for more time outdoors, which means more dirt, sweat and an overall need for refreshment. This is a versatile word that can be used to describe products we use personally or in settings like homes, offices or airports. It can imply efficacy, newness, or even rejuvenation.
PR colorize
Colorize. Winter black is long gone. Exciting hues, patterns and lights are in demand, so make your story angles pop by explaining how your product can colorize consumers’ everyday lives for a summer vibe. “Bold” and “glow” are also good alternative buzzwords.