We’re inspired to be working with Fuigo, a new, industry-changing service for interior designers. Founded by Maury and Mickey Riad, owners of legendary Venetian textile company Fortuny, Fuigo offers a custom software platform and beautiful collaborative work space for interior designers on Park Avenue. As a kind of upscale “WeWork for Designers,” plus back-office business software, Fuigo helps its resident designers focus on creativity rather than logistics. Since its launch in May it has been featured in Inc. magazine, The New York Post, and many high-profile design blogs.
Huge congrats to Jopwell cofounders Porter Braswell and Ryan Williams on being named to Inc’s 30 Under 30, the most dynamic and brilliant young entrepreneurs of 2016!
It’s been an amazing spring for startup company Jopwell, which helps technology companies and other businesses connect with and recruit underrepresented ethnic minority candidates for jobs and internships. It was also recently featured in Forbes and on CNN for the launch of its content hub, The Well.
It’s a joke in our business that no one outside public relations really understands what we do. In fact, PR has the dubious honor of ranking among the top ten most misunderstood professions by parents of those in the biz, according to a LinkedIn survey. It’s right up there with data scientist and UI designer when it comes to jobs your mom just doesn’t get.
That’s okay in my book. It’s silly to be sensitive about it or to take offense when people ask if you made that hilarious TV ad. But more frustrating than ignorance about the practice of PR are the misconceptions and stereotypes about it. Some date from the birth of the industry, just after World War II, while others are more recent. They just won’t quit.
Here are the top tropes about PR people that I’d be happy to never hear again.
PR is all about spin
The term originated with the expression to “spin a yarn,” which isn’t a bad reference if you think about it. Public relations today is largely about storytelling. In a 1996 Esquire magazine article, ”The Age of Spin,” Randall Rothenberg notes how the meaning of “spin” morphed from a synonym for “deceptive” to something more respectable with the rise of what he calls the political “media spindustrial complex.”
But for most public relations professionals, the word is distinctly negative. More importantly, it mischaracterizes the job. The typical PR engagement is far more ordinary, and more complicated, than the word implies. Most PRs work hard to advance a positioning or point of view, and we usually succeed without any compromise of integrity. In the end, it’s more about solid research, a dash of inspiration, and honest negotiation than legerdemain.
PR is about who you know
Not really, or at least not entirely. When it comes to the media relations piece of PR, having the right journalist contacts is useful. It helps to gain a fair hearing for your pitch, and even a negative response can offer insight on how to make a weak one better. But friends in the fourth estate won’t get you very far unless the idea is solid. Currying favor doesn’t make a career. The relentlessly networking name-dropper is a pretty dated trope in PR, especially these days. The more important set of contacts for agency pros may be the client types who stay loyal to a PR professional even as they change jobs.
PR professionals are “people persons”
This stereotype shows a fundamental misunderstanding of PR. It’s not the kind of customer-facing position that takes a specific personality (although perseverance helps.) A successful campaign is often a collaboration – requiring relationship skills like any other – and a top PR agency executive needs to be able to sell ideas. But there are plenty of introverts in this business. In fact, minutes before I was set to post this, I ran across this piece by Nicole Laoutaris about why introverts actually make superior PR people. Well said, Nicole.
PR people are failed journalists
It’s true that many journalists have crossed over into PR as the traditional media industry has contracted, but the business is neither a dumping ground nor a haven for sellouts. And the skills required for each are distinct. Check out Michelle’s post about the transition between journalism and PR if you don’t believe me. There’s a big difference between between running down stories for a newsroom and advising a corporate client.
PR is about parties and special events
This one’s silly. Of course public relations work can involve special events, like red-carpet premieres or high-profile technology product launches. But they’re in service of a strategy, and the the amount of preparation and planning far exceeds the hours spent flirting and partying. When it comes to stereotypes, the Samantha Jones one dies hard. But while most people working in PR love the variety and find it fun and even inspiring, we tend to take the job pretty seriously.
Because writing is such an integral part of public relations work, those in the field often make terrific bloggers. But good, crisp writing – and the inspiration that drives it – is only part of what makes a blog well-read and shareable. There are some do’s and don’ts that can make the difference between a blog that “talks to itself” and one that is a must-read. Take a look at the tips below to help take your blog to the next level.
Do blog with a purpose. Sure, many professionals feel they must have a blog now to be au courant. But there is nothing compelling about a blog that doesn’t have a consistent point of view, a distinct voice, and reason to be. Start by focusing on the ideal reader for the blog and that reader’s key interests, problems, and needs. Then, identify the top areas where you can lend expertise, insight, and opinion. The area in between is what your blog should cover.
Don’t try too hard. Wordiness, cutesiness and “high-priced” phrases need not apply. Start with simple posts that impart advice from your personal experience. The best are plain-spoken but well-crafted, easy to read but with a specific audience in mind. Remember, 99 percent of people will skim your post, so agonizing over every word is probably a waste of time.
Do give practical advice but don’t preach. Readers often look to business blogs for actionable advice that they can use in appropriate situations – in language that doesn’t “talk down” or preach. Avoid “kiss-of-death” phrases like “you should” or “always remember to.”
Don’t shy from provocative copy. In the right situation, taking the controversial or contrarian point of view is often exactly right for a blog post. don’t be reluctant to continue a conversation already started by someone else in the industry, particularly if you have something to add to that person’s post, or if you disagree with their view. Just be sure you link to the post in question and that you maintain a respectful attitude. A professional blogger will welcome the attention and the conversation.
Do create an editorial calendar. Treat your blog like any professional publication with a calendar that leverages seasonal activity and time periods. But don’t let the calendar limit your creativity; leaving room for what’s going on in the news and popular culture keeps the blog fresh and relevant. If you’re stumped for ideas, we like this blog post topic generator.
Do learn from bloggers who do it well. Get a good blog roll of your own encompassing other PR bloggers, B2B bloggers and just general interest. Gene Marks, who pens “Main Street Mornings” is a good example. As evidenced here, great blogs can translate to mainstream media as well.
Do follow some basic blogging rules. These include getting to know the right keywords to help encourage search; avoiding lengthy posts that no one will read and linking back to your own website where applicable. Got the basics down? Then get creative and start blogging.
It seems there’s no end to the conversation over how public relations will change in the coming years. Predictions, warnings, and optimistic expectations about the future of PR and communications abound. It’s helpful for a PR team to consider what lies ahead, as it helps keep us sharp, adaptable, and in a constant learning mode. Looking too far ahead can be daunting, so here we consider what the next 10 years will bring.
Nuts and bolts won’t change. For all the upheaval in traditional media and the conversion to digital everything, the fundamental formula for telling stories and gaining public awareness remains the same. Getting stories into the public eye will continue to consist of researching, understanding the elements of a good story or idea, and knowing out how to package and tell it — or have someone else tell it — appropriately. How those things are executed — the where and when and how of it all — will evolve, but the underlying ideas will be the same.
More measurement, metrics, and quantifying value. In the age of data insights, nothing will escape the reach of precise measurement tools. As marketing and advertising become more data-driven and trackable, PR professionals will be expected to deliver the same kind of metrics and attribution. This is already happening more and more. In 10 years it won’t be unusual for PR to have its own data science experts to develop new tools and metrics for showcasing the value of PR.
More paid tactics like social advertising and sponsorships. Publishers are increasingly looking to monetize content everywhere, especially newer media startups without the legacy of a solid wall between editorial and advertising. This can be unnerving for those whose goal is earned media, but it’s good for content creators. It spells more opportunities for content creators, including brands and the PR teams behind them, with more platforms and channels amping up the competition for attention, but also the number of opportunities. It will be routine for PR pros to use paid media to amplify content distribution.
Imagination and creativity will rule. Paying for content won’t make it go viral or inspire the public — only the spark of imagination and creativity will be able to do that. In the age of higher quality content and greater competition for audiences, brands will be looking for more creative, novel, eye-catching ideas. The lines between social media and traditional media will have completely blurred. There won’t be a difference between what people talk about over drinks with friends versus what news pundits talk about on the airwaves.
Mobile video media will be the norm. We’re well on our way toward this trend. In 10 years time, shorter but more densely packed content will abound, including virtual reality. Video content quality will become more complex, yet easier to access from anywhere, requiring more technical teams, and more specialization of talent, behind the scenes.
Even more globalization. We’re already at the point where even the smallest of PR agencies have no problem working with international clients, as well as media scattered around the globe. But as communication technology improves, the workflow will become even more seamless. That will mean an even more relentless 24-hour cycle of news and work flow. A “distributed” workforce will be the rule, not the exception.
Crafting the right messaging for public relations is like laying a strong foundation for a solid PR program. Whether your brand is strictly B2B or consumer, it’s worth spending the time to make sure core messages are bulletproof, easy to understand, and translatable in any format. This must hold true whether your team is speaking to media contacts, a room full of potential investors, or prospective customers. Here are our tips for perfecting your public relations messaging.
Maintain a “living and breathing” messaging document. When our team starts with a new client, we take a “deep dive” into the company’s background to capture its most important principles and develop a core narrative. The resulting document is key to guiding the PR team in every type of outreach as we tell the brand story. It also allows us to anticipate and answer questions from the media or public. Consider the document somewhat malleable, so the team can remain flexible and adjust to the company’s needs as they develop and change. It should contain the company’s founding story, provide an overview of what services or products are offered, and answer two crucial questions: “What sets you apart?” and “What difference will this make?”
Keep it short. Being concise can be challenging when there’s so much to say, but messaging needs to be short enough to be memorable and focused. Narrow the responses to the most important elements of the story, and edit again until the points are easy enough to commit to memory.
Steer clear of jargon. Buzzwords and jargon are the enemy of clear, concise messaging because they cloud the story with phrases that are either empty or unclear. Try testing the messages on friends and colleagues in the target audience who aren’t involved with the brand. They’ll be able to help you weed out jargon and empty words.
Tell a story that resonates. Messaging isn’t just about providing information about the product or services you offer, it’s also about tapping into ideas that resonate with listeners by getting them excited or engaged. Emotion is an important part of resonance, and so is familiarity with the stories we hear — the sense that the message ties into some broader theme we already know and love. We once wrote about the story types that repeat themselves over and over again in the news. Make it personal, when appropriate, and use compelling stories as part of your messaging to capture the listener’s imagination and keep them asking more about who you are and what you do.
Practice and perfect. Many company founders and spokespeople are completely at ease telling stories to media and the public, and some could use some practicing and polishing. Regardless of where you are, practice your elevator pitches and two-minute answers to the most important questions about the company or brand. Doing so not only builds confidence, but helps ensure that the most important points aren’t forgotten in the heat of the moment during a media interview or speech. Practice also helps you control the direction and focus of a media interview, by maintaining focus on what matters most.
Memorial Day is both a somber holiday and the joyful unofficial start to summer, making it ripe with potential PR pitfalls for the uninitiated. Many a well-intentioned company has put their foot in it on the day when Americans remember those who died in service to the country. Those who labor in public relations should think through the potential pitfalls of any campaign, but when orchestrating programs around this holiday, it’s important than ever to be extra vigilant, as the stakes tend to be high.
Drawing from the PR missteps of others over the years, here are three pitfalls to avoid this (and every) Memorial Day.
Being distasteful or disrespectful. Retailer PacSun learned this lesson the hard way last year when it drew flak for prominently displaying a black t-shirt featuring an upside-down American flag in store windows over Memorial Day weekend. Customers quickly lambasted the brand on social media for being disrespectful on a holiday meant to honor those who died for the flag, and the store quickly withdrew the product. Creative expression and style is subjective, to be sure, but consumers do tend to be more sensitive to signs of patriotism (or the opposite) around certain key moments.
The takeaway: if freedom of speech or creative expression is a value your company holds, perhaps there are better times to showcase that edginess than a day meant to commemorate the fallen.
Missing the forest for the trees. The swanky Standard Hotel in New York enjoys enviable brand recognition, but zealousness for maintaining its stylish standards (no pun intended) hurt its reputation last Memorial Day, when a bouncer refused entry to a sailor in uniform due to its strict dress code. The sailor’s friends, dressed in more “appropriate” attire, appealed to the manager and others, and the incident drew the attention of bystanders and the New York tabloids. Denying servicemen and women an evening of leisure any time of year because of a dress code isn’t the greatest PR move, but doing so during Fleet Week and Memorial Day weekend, when the entire city rolls out the red carpet for sailors in white, is glaring error. The Standard eventually issued an apology, a public statement, and extended an invitation to the rebuffed sailor to come back any time.
The lesson here: encourage discipline in sticking with agreed upon messaging and protocol, but keep the “spirit of the law” in mind above all else. Also make sure those representing your brand on the front lines are empowered to use their judgment, and well prepared for the spotlight.
Losing sight of the occasion. When hosting an event attended by media, it can be tempting to cater to what media want, to make a good impression and attempt to maximize coverage. But journalists covering the event should be held to the same standards of respect as everyone else. CNN host Anderson Cooper got this right when, while covering a commemoration for shooting victims in Canada, he reprimanded another reporter who approached him and asked for a selfie.
We’ve known clients in the past who have decided against media opportunities on this holiday, even though they would have earned media coverage, out of a sense that it wasn’t the right time to be taking advantage of the spotlight. While it’s a personal, nuanced decision, that can be a commendable choice, too, and makes its own statement.
Although they’re sometimes confused, marketing and public relations are very distinct. Marketing builds brands by communicating directly to the customer, while PR drives reputation through third-party endorsement, among other techniques. But in the ideal world, the two work together and reinforce one another to reach business goals.
The visibility generated from a smart PR program can enable a B2C brand to move into the consideration set in a shopper’s mind, or help fill the funnel for a B2B company offering products or business services. The results of earned media coverage in top-tier media may lack the scale or reach of paid advertising, but they’re like fuel for the marketing engine. Here are my “five R’s of PR” – a few reasons why PR and marketing can and should work together.
Reputation. Paid media and direct marketing are powerful ways of communicating brand benefits. But the third-party endorsement that comes from earned media creates a type of credibility that marketing typically can’t generate. A reputation – driven by credible customer reviews, industry awards, and media features about an organization or its product – can be harnessed for marketing campaigns where PR and marketing truly work in concert. Again, it’s fuel for direct marketing and paid media efforts.
Recognition. Positive brand visibility helps build familiarity and trust, and it can be accomplished in many ways. In its early days, Starbucks actually based its marketing on its own storefronts rather than paid advertising. “Our stores are our billboards,” said CEO Howard Schultz, and he was right. Other brands create exposure with subversive ad messages or clever promotional offers. But the buzz that comes from word-of-mouth (or its digital equivalent) by influential people, favorable mentions in the press, or positive social media posts is often the outcome of pure PR.
Resonance. The practice of public relations got a big boost several years ago when Google changed its algorithm to reward mentions in high-authority domains. It meant that earned media stories and relevant branded content are likely to place higher on internet searches. So by “resonance” I’m referring to a brand that will move to the top of the search queue by virtue of its inclusion in content from trusted sources (like well-known media brands) as well as shareable content on popular social networks.
Reach. In my experience, the earned media results of a media relations campaign will fall short of paid media or direct-marketing when it comes to reach. We offer quality over quantity. Yet, when earned media is amplified through paid efforts – content syndication, or social media advertising, for example – it’s a powerful boost for both. Even a modest budget can extend the reach of earned media or guest posts with impressive results through simple tactics like sponsored posts or syndication.
Return-on-Investment. The ROI of public relations has historically been difficult to define, particularly when it’s used – as it should be – with other marketing and promotional techniques. This is why the PR industry introduced revised principles for evaluating PR outcomes. Our point of view is summarized in a recent post about the latest industry thinking, combined with practical ways to set KPI’s for what PR does best. In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but with pre-PR benchmarking, and a modest budget allocated for analytics and message analysis, public relations and marketing can work together in ways that neither is likely to do alone.
In public relations, the work we do is often described in military terms: we have a mission or we go into attack mode; some teams are positioned as “boots on the ground.” Whatever the PR “mission critical” is, here are some actions to avoid for flawless execution as well as some genius moves.
PR faux pas
Proposing tactics in search of a strategy. Nothing says “off-the-shelf” like trotting out the same old, same old for every new PR project. The ability to take time and delve deeply into a business before engaging will ensure a plan that is truly aligned with business objectives.
Mishandling media. This catch-all covers everything from less-than-diligent media list creation to over-promising a media contact. It’s best to have dedicated staffers parsing the media relations plan and executing a realistic, results-oriented approach.
Shuffling team members. Obviously, there must be personnel shifts if an account person is a poor fit, but when a team is really humming and clicking, it’s best to keep it in place to ensure continuity. Shake things up a bit when work appears to be getting a stale or repetitive, which leads to:
Uninspired work. Particularly if you have a long-standing relationship, you might scratch your head every so often trying to think of fresh ideas. This is where it probably pays off to do a thorough creative review of a key account brainstorm with non-team members to get a fresh perspective.
Poor reporting. This can’t be stressed enough. Don’t wait to be asked for a project status update. The best PR teams have several “built-in” ways to keep on top of work so that weekly, monthly or quarterly reporting is a simple function. Project management tools, group chats, and weekly meetings help keep everyone in the loop at all times.
A few genius moves…
Keep your cases up-to-date and relevant. Nothing speaks better to a PR team’s experience than a well-documented, compelling and current case study. The best tip: do them immediately after a project has wrapped and revisit them to amend or update.
Always ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to get some constructive criticism from a PR partner, a media contact or a colleague. Recently a media contact told me exactly why my pitch wasn’t working, and it proved invaluable to re-writing and making something successful. We’ve also had a PR partner take that opportunity to extend our engagement.
Turn even bad news into media gold. Ok, so a recent political or business development may negatively impact a PR initiative. Regroup and maybe you can leverage that news for opportunities to present an opposing view and make a strong case. At the very least, always be thinking about ways to create your own PR “genius moves.”
In public relations, as with with so many practices, having good data is important. Whether your focus is in consumer or B2B tech PR or communications programs for fintech or nonprofit work, being able to serve up precise numbers can go a long way in media relations. Surveys are effective for generating such data. If done well, the facts and figures can be used immediately, and then keep working for months to come. Here are our keys to using surveys effectively for good PR.
Make it super relevant. New stats about snow-related injuries in New York City can make for compelling stories, but if it’s the middle of summer, who cares? Similar to our point about “newsjacking” as an effective way to find a story angle, it’s better to find ways to connect a survey to what’s making headlines right now. Presidential election, anyone?
Don’t get too complicated. If the reader has to struggle or work too hard to understand the math, it’s too complicated. Keep the calculations simple but not dumbed down, and the points streamlined. A good survey should be constructed around a key theme anyway, with some sense of the outcome already in mind from the outset.
Be transparent. Use sound principles and an honest vendor partner (if not conducting the survey in-house), and be able to answer questions about how the survey was conducted. Always be prepared to provide access to the raw data if asked (but not many will ask for it anyway). Cite sources of information, and provide ample context about how and when the survey was done.
But don’t reveal too much. Answer all media’s questions, but you don’t need to reveal every detail. Over explaining tends to bore people, and certain details about how your survey was conducted might make it seem less strong. For example, did you need to cut the respondent pool to 400 from 1,000? Did it take two weeks to achieve the required number of responses? No need to reveal these facts unprompted, and if no one asks, why tell?
Have more than one or two key data points. To ensure good coverage in media, data from a survey must be enough to work as a standalone story, as opposed to one fact woven into a possible story about other things. Make sure survey results are mined and organized in such a way that they reveal several interesting, takeaway points, not just one or two.
But have a clear lead. In providing adequate messaging, however, don’t allow key takeaways to fight for attention or confuse the reader. Include a clear, strong point that can work as a headline, making it easier for journalists to understand what’s most important. Other points should back up, or relate to the lead message.
Keep data on hand for talking points. Compelling facts unearthed by surveys make for great fodder that can be sprinkled throughout media interviews and presentations. Including precise figures adds credibility and gives media and audiences some concrete to latch onto, so be sure to keep a cheat sheet of sorts with relevant points from surveys.