Best PR Practices For International Clients

At any given time our New York-based public relations teams are managing the accounts of clients from Pennsylvania to Poland. International business helps put a PR agency (quite literally) on the map, opening doors to expanded business opportunities. Given our large number of clients beyond the U.S., we’ve learned some tricks to help erase borders, ease language lapses and tame time zone issues.

All media is global media

The ability to manage coverage and race through the time zones with a new product announcement driven by embargoed stories has become more challenging. Every journalist is scouring the web for stories, and more power to the outlets that scoop a news announcement when they can. This doesn’t have to mean a loss of coverage, though. It just takes smart strategy and managing client expectations. We recommend talking to clients at the outset to understand their relationship with in-country outlets (e.g., are they covered often, positively?) and having a game plan to maximize relationships in each market. We’ve also made it standard practice to understand how the press operate in different markets. A recent Oxford University study noted that the PR industry continues to adapt to the acceleration of news cycles and the rising pressure journalists face every day. Negotiations on exact embargo times have become more complicated and exacting as major financial newspapers publish in different editions and time zones, as well as online. To mitigate the challenges, we look at trends in media coverage of international announcements, then adapt our outreach to meet media expectations. International coverage can ultimately affect strategy in the U.S., so it’s useful to know as much as possible upfront.

Communications here and abroad

English may be the universal language of business, but we don’t all speak or write the same English. Expressions that are common in the U.K. mean something different – or nothing at all – in the U.S. For instance, a U.K.-based currency exchange client assigned our office a byline on summer rentals abroad. Some of the information included the term “bedsit.” To those across the pond, a bedsit is a one-room flat. We had to make changes to Americanize that piece and many others. Literal translations of press releases from, say, French to English often read robotically, or worse, erroneously. They may fare far better when the U.S. agency totally rewrites helps edit. Additionally, owing to the differences in expectations by media outside our country, PR firms abroad often write in a much more self-serving manner. We’ve seen press releases that are little more than ads, but we  continue to think that news value is important, so we adapt accordingly.

Workweeks and time zones

If you think PR is demanding inside the U.S., well, it only becomes more so when you handle international clients. Most PR strategists know that Israeli companies are closed Fridays and start their workweek on Sundays. Courting a client in the Netherlands? Note that the country has an average 29-hour workweek lasting four days, which impacts scheduling. Then there’s the long European summer vacation, as most businesses are effectively OOO throughout August. We had a French client schedule a major U.S. launch in early October, fully intending to work with the team on crucial planning aspects through the summer, only to experience three weeks of radio silence in August. We begin relationships by going over detailed 120-day planning calendars, giving client and agency ample opportunity to plan well and factor in vacations, holidays and other scheduling needs. There are other quirks of time and culture as well. Any time you’re scheduling a call in Asia or Australia, be careful what day it’s scheduled as well as the time. An Aussie’s 9am Tuesday is a New Yorker’s 7pm Monday, of course.

Skype, FaceTime, Viber, WhatsApp and more

Nothing helps lubricate a cross-border business relationship better than a face-to-face meeting.  When you can’t travel to meet, a video conference shrinks the size of the world and brings partners together with ease. But there are glitches to manage here as well. To concentrate on a call where the language barrier or strong accents hinder note-taking, try one of the Skype add-ons like Callnote that records your conversation. To minimize opportunities for misunderstanding, we also recommend light scripting of the conversation. These calls also provide a great opportunity to observe body language and look for any “tells” that reveal impatience or confusion as well as positive signs like sense of humor. Additionally, as we become more reliant on video conferencing to make international business smoother and more efficient, we’re reminded of some key do’s and don’ts from the Wall St. Journal.

Best communications tools

Most good meeting tips work well domestically and abroad, like the importance of sending an agenda in advance of a call or videoconference, preferably in a collaborative document so everyone’s can contribute to it. To keep the communication clear, invest in the highest-quality microphone and other a/v equipment as possible. Nothing is worse than comments like “Who dropped off?” or “We can see you but we can’t hear you,” all illustrated by this popular conference call Bingo game making the rounds online.  Also important, make judicious use of powerpoints and other documents, keeping them as clear, visual and non-wordy as possible. We like to use graphs and charts to express important data for those whose first language may not be English.
Finally, if you’re fortunate enough to work with overseas companies, take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the culture. It broadens your horizons literally and figuratively to embrace the way business operates across borders,

The 7 "New" Rules Of Digital PR

Do you work in digital PR? If you work in public relations at all, the answer is yes. The difference between digital PR and “traditional” PR is fuzzy, yet worth examining, because it has transformed our profession in so many ways. And with change come challenges.

In some ways PR hasn’t changed that much. We still prize earned media stories that appear in brand-name media outlets. We’ve always worked to create content for brands, and we still do.
But like the frog in the gradually heating water, the media and technology environment has accelerated, forcing us to adapt. Some of that evolution is obvious. The targets of our efforts are likely to be digital media outlets with high domain authority – from The New York Times to Mashable. And because search visibility is critical for just about any brand, from business software to a new wine site, we work hard to get quality links in the stories generated through our efforts.

Then there’s the content explosion. The unofficial kickoff of the digital PR industry goes back to late 2011 and early 2012, when Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates turned the SEO category upside down. The updates rewarded quality content and penalized spammy SEO tricks that had propelled dubious websites to page one of the search rankings. Subsequent updates treated brand mentions, even without links, as if they were links, rewarding good PR work with higher search rankings.

Digital technology has transformed public relations

Yet the “new” digital PR has gradually had an impact on the skills, tools, and challenges of our profession. Here’s how we can make the most of it.

Mastering new tools. Press releases still have their place, but in today’s digital environment we may choose to break news through Facebook Live, or with a tweet that links to a fuller announcement. Rather than the full-blown press conference of yore (where breaking news could derail plans and quash media attendance), it usually makes more sense to share news through an exclusive arrangement with a single digital journalist. Journalist contacts still matter, and influencer currency is more important than ever. But where we once used a blunt instrument, we now can use more refined ways of getting the job done.

Understanding SEO. Any PR person who doesn’t understand analytics, or at least the basics of SEO, will find themselves working at a serious disadvantage in today’s digital environment. A course in Google Analytics or a partnership with a search expert is a worthy investment. At the same time, SEO has become more PR-oriented, and that trend needs to continue, driven by PR professionals. Building links great, but if no one notices your content, the effort is wasted.

Building new skills. Digital PR practitioners have had to step up and learn new skills. Look at content; it used to mean a high-quality bylined article or op-ed, or maybe an upbeat blog post. Today we’re challenged to use digital storytelling techniques where visual impact is even more important than persuasive writing. This can mean digital video, creative Instagram posts, and inbound marketing techniques.

Embracing a new content model. Time was, PR focused primarily on earned media, which still has a hallowed place as a outcome of a quality PR campaign. Then social media blurred the lines between paid and earned media, and “owned” or branded content expanded as companies plunged into executive blogging and invested in content to promote executive thought leadership. Today many agencies offer creative services for distributing content, and most have adopted the PESO model, for Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned content that work together to drive brand visibility and consumer engagement.

Collaborating with digital influencers. Next to content, nothing has changed PR more than the rise of the digital influencer. What we’re seeing is a move from name-brand celebrities to lesser-known figures who can offer authentic engagement without breaking the bank.  One important wrinkle is the rise of the micro-influencer. Micro-influencer campaigns involve individuals who have fewer than 100,000 followers, but who can offer a less commercial and more meaningful relationship with fans and followers. Although micro-influencer programs have their detractors, they‘re popular because they’re designed for visual platforms like Instagram and are scaleable at nearly any budget.

Adopting a customer focus. Tools and skills are one things, but the most important shift for PR professionals may be one of mindset. In the past, our efforts were media-focused. Everything we did had to get through the screen of a journalist and his editor. More recently, we need to think like the end-user, whether a consumer or a business. We’re responsible for creating shareable content that engages users and requires new storytelling skills.

Committing to outcomes as well as outputs. Today, everything is measurable and measured. PR floated for too long in a kind of nether world – we urged clients to take it on faith that earned media would move the  needle, or we promised brand reach as measure in impressions…but very little beyond. Today, the good news is that there are easier methods and a new mindset for evaluating PR outcomes. Our focus as professionals can be on quantifiable changes in SEO, web traffic, brand engagement, and ultimately on the one metric that’s familiar to any marketer – improving business outcomes.

PR Takeaways From The Eclipse

There are lasting public relations lessons from large, newsmaking, once-in-a-lifetime events. Take this week’s solar eclipse, for example. Long after we dispose of the special viewing glasses and stop listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” we can benefit from a mini-analysis of ways to leverage national events for our own brands and clients…sometimes!

Smart PR lessons from the solar eclipse

This post needs to start with a word of caution for all PR strategists – effective newsjacking of such a rarefied event is only going to work for those brands or companies who truly have a fit. Or maybe for those who are very clever in creating an unexpected fit. But forcing a fit of, say pancakes served at Denny’s, into the eclipse is most likely a wasted effort. On the other hand, there are several companies that sold glasses or operated hotels in the eclipse’s direct path with a perfectly legitimate reason to cash in. There are also some subtler connections worth exploring. Here are some “best practices” we’ve observed and some tactics to avoid.

For PR agencies, set realistic client expectations.
The eclipse was an example a super-competitive time with countless brands vying for a slice of the media pie. It pays to set very low expectations with clients who are counting on some press. We also caution that if you’re working with a “hired gun” to help earn coverage from the event, make sure the spokesperson doesn’t lose sight of key messages. This is where some targeted media training right before interviews is highly recommended. We once worked with a sleep expert, retained to talk about sleep and Daylight Saving Time, who inadvertently (?) neglected to mention the mattress company sponsoring the tour.

Exploit experts in the field.
Anyone connected to astronomy, optometry, photography or other science-related field, go for it! We like to see experts who have published guides to enjoying the eclipse safely such as this one from Sky & Telescope Magazine which was a total PR coup for this obscure pub. We also commend brands who prepped tips for watching and photographing, and experts giving smart interviews on the subject. Nothing builds credibility for a CEO or other executive like waxing smartly on a hot topic. These kind of interviews are often “gateway PR” to a profile or other more prominent piece down the road.

Find a relevant tangent and work it.
There are many pundits who peddled eclipse expertise, so the race for coverage has been fierce. Sometimes it’s a better bet to go off the beaten path with another angle that’s really relevant. Some smart publisher got the brilliant idea to push pet care on eclipse day and found her author on the Today Show, among other outlets! Did you know pets can be affected by the phenomenon? Neither did we. We also admire the beer and spirits purveyors who turn every holiday into a media frenzy featuring a bacchanalia of brand mentions. Press never seem to tire of this twist.

Leverage the local angle.
The eclipse cuts a wide swath across America, so cities  directly in “Path of Totality” like Bowling Green, KY or Kansas City, KS really cleaned up, PR-wise. Local hoteliers and restaurants offering tourist specials saw media coverage like never before. Airbnb benefitted locally and nationally in stories touting the huge lodging need in unlikely places. The local coverage has also featured the expected human interest stories that small towns often serve up, like this one about Albany, Oregon’s citizenry coming to the rescue of a couple with a mistaken hotel cancellation.  We hope all of the cities in the path receive well-earned attention that lingers long after the sun’s return.

Make sure you can deliver on your promises.
Making the most of once-in-a-million opportunities like this requires precision planning. We have learned from experience to vet all experts before you go to pitch them for broadcast or other interviews. Times like this can bring out some questionable authorities who can overpromise and under-deliver. Also important to keep in mind, for purveyors of eclipse paraphernalia – can you handle the demand? Can your website and customer experience staff manage inquiries without crashing? These are important questions to ask and answer well before the next eclipse or other similar event.

Make social media job #1
The memes! The snaps! The viral videos! Very visual and social events like a solar eclipse beg to be shared on social media. If it’s feasible, a brand can create a hashtag just for the event. 7-Eleven, with its NASA-approved eclipse eyeware covered by Food & Wine, pushing #solarselfie, for example — no doubt the first mention ever for the brand in this upscale pub. If that’s a stretch, then at the very least, PR teams should have a strategy to post images on Instagram, comment and share news about viewing parties on Facebook, all in a way that’s meaningful to a brand. Mitsubishi, with its “Eclipse Cross” sport compact, made good use of the phenomenon. We also like Stephanie Abrams, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, host of a live stream event of the total solar eclipse. Finally, we recommend this interesting read on how internet providers and others prepped for a total eclipse of the internet. Take that information to heart, along with the rest of our PR tips to help you prep for the next major cultural happening.

Avoid These "Bad-PR" Awards

There are many fabulous industry awards and “best of” lists that public relations teams help their clients go for every year. These include everything from the Stevie Awards and the EOY (Entrepreneur of the Year) to best workplace awards like those sponsored by Inc. and others. And that doesn’t even include vertical awards and “best of” lists for tech, healthcare, and other industries.

Avoid these awards and lists at all cost!

But recently I read about a new list – one that no PR person or client wants to land on. It’s a response to the Forbes’ Most Powerful People annual list and is called, of course, the 50 Least Powerful People. First, what we love about the list is the terrific PR achieved by the creator, financial news website 24/7 Wall Street. This list was everywhere. Now, the scary part; what would you do if your company or client found itself here with top-ranked Anthony Scaramucci and an eclectic bottom forty-nine that includes Chris Christie, Tiger Woods and assorted bad-acting CEOs? Before we get to recommendations for career resuscitation, let’s look at some other lists and awards to avoid.

Ranker

The granddaddy of “best” and “worst” lists, Ranker is actually a digital media platform for opinion-based, crowdsourced rankings on everything from “The Most Annoying Social Media Fads Ever” to “Most Shocking Stories from Whole Foods.”  No one is immune to the “wisdom of the crowd,” 50 million of whom rank topics comprising pop culture, sports, politics, brands and lifestyle every month.

Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards  
Esteemed men’s magazine Esquire has made a name for itself as a chronicler of poor judgment with its annual Dubious Achievement Awards. Winners have included Trump, (too easy, but a natural) as well as Martin Shkreli, Lindsay Lohan and businesses like KFC for its 2016 introduction of Extra Crispy Sunscreen, an SPF 30 sunblock with a fried-chicken scent. The list is an institution and also finds itself earning press coverage – hard to get from potentially competitive media. That just demonstrates the staying power of this kind of “achievement.”

Biggest Junk Science
Sponsored by Real Clear Science, the science portal for Real Clear Media offers the best and most relevant science stories from around the world. The platform also prides itself on outing bad science through its annual review of junk proffered as fact. Has anything ever been so relevant in the era of fake news? Some of this year’s “winners” include a false report claiming NASA had changed the astrological signs! Then there was this proclamation from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a Harvard-educated physician, about wireless connectivity.  “We should not be subjecting kids brains… to that,” later adding, “We make guinea pigs out of whole populations and then we discover how many die.” Real Clear had a field day with that one.

This list offers a caution – it’s all too easy to make a blunder or create a fiction that is magnified in the 24/7 news cycle and then, thanks to the internet, lives forever. But, never fear, there are some practical PR strategies to mitigate the negative blowback if you end up on one of these ignominious lists. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

Do roll with it!

The good news is, most of these lists aren’t taken seriously. Unless the list has labeled you a criminal, the smart CEO or other personality would do well by having a laugh at his own expense and riding the wave with some humor. Think of Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry’s move in arriving in person to accept the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress for her performance in “Catwoman.” It won Berry huge coverage and approval as a good sport and humble artist.

Do fight the negative with some positive.

We recommend helping build on positive achievements as a counterweight to press like this. Now is the time for news releases, social posts and articles heralding CSR work, internal stories and client or partner case histories that illustrate and illuminate the positive.

Don’t be snarky.

The aforementioned Martin Shkreli is clueless on this front. The Esquire list probably delighted him since his recent guilty verdict simply sent him to Twitter to post more questionable drivel.

Don’t defend the indefensible.

If in fact the list or award does call out an executive for offensive or even criminal wrongdoing, this isn’t the forum for a war of words. If the claim is truly libelous or otherwise injurious, you can always go the legal route.

Do remember time is on your side. 

News moves so fast that many of yesterday’s negative headlines are already old news this morning. Even Anthony Scaramucci found his fortunes changing a bit just this week after appearances with Stephen Colbert and others.  However, redemption isn’t in the cards for everyone, so the best advice will always be for public figures to think before they speak and have really, really good PR counsel!

Corporate Ghosting: Can We Bust It?

Have you been ghosted lately? Don’t laugh… if you’re a PR agency or other service business, chances are it has happened to you. I don’t mean that thing where a friend or dating partner suddenly stops returning all texts or calls. I’m talking about business or “corporate ghosting,” which can be just as infuriating and perplexing as its social equivalent.

As outlined in a post by Sharon Jones, corporate ghosting seems to be on the rise. In fact, colleagues and I have been talking about it for years; we just never gave it the name. But the ubiquity of email and our frenzied and blurry workstyle seems to have made it more acute, and even more acceptable.

Maybe you’ve been there. I recently swapped business ghosting stories with Richard Laermer, who sent me Sharon’s post, but we can all identify. You meet or talk with a prospective client to learn about his organization’s needs and goals. You research his category and competitors, spend hours or days on a customized proposal, and review it at a meeting that seems to go well. In most cases you expect to hear back within a week or two. You send a nice follow-up note, maybe with an extra observation about the meeting.

And then — nothing. Crickets.

You send a reminder email, then another. Maybe you give a phone call. Still nothing.

It wouldn’t be so annoying if corporate ghosting were ultra-rare, but it seems to happen more today than in years past. Sometimes I throw up my hands, and on a few occasions I’ve actually stopped following up for fear of losing my temper and being snarky. My associate Marijane has a better attitude; it’s a grim, ghostbusting determination to get an answer. She is absolutely dogged in running down ghosters, and we usually do get a response – most frequently a vague email couched in apologies.

I’ve had a few memorable ghostings of my own over the years, and I’ve grouped the ultimate responses of note into categories, Nancy Drew-style.

The riddle of the new boss

Several ghostings have involved a sudden change in senior management, requiring the agency decision process to be delayed or to simply fade away. This is understandable, although I’m surprised that it happens when the change was planned, like that Israeli security company that swore to get back to us when its new CMO is on board. It’s been three years, but, hey, it’s a tight market.

The case of the vanishing team

This is thankfully rare, because it never bodes well. For a pitch two years ago, we fought our way through three rounds of an agency review, a final presentation to senior management and a tough budget negotiation. At last, we won the assignment. We were asked to send in a draft letter of agreement for legal review. After ten days, my email inquiring about the status of the LOA bounced. So did emails to other team members. After calling around I ultimately got a return call from a junior content manager who explained very politely that the senior team had left suddenly en masse. She confided that she wasn’t sure who her boss was. Sigh. We never did start the engagement, but she and I have stayed in touch.

The secret sabbatical

There are apparently lots of long vacations in our business, particularly for lucky communications officers in Western Europe. One woman explained she hadn’t had time to get back to us because she had departed for a sabbatical in the Galapagos Islands. I’m not sure why she planned the agency search just before her trip, but at least it was an answer. I’m still more envious than mad over that one.

The puzzle of the lost package

We never heard back from our point of contact at a major blue-chip brand that had requested hard-copy proposals in response to its voluminous RFP. When contacted, a team member told me they had carefully marked up each document with comments on the recommendations in order to send back to the agencies as feedback. But, he explained, they had moved offices and it “must be in a box somewhere.” I’m not kidding.

The disappearing candidate

You can also be ghosted by prospective employees. I once offered a young woman a job by telephone. She asked for some time to think it over, and I followed up with the full written offer. But I never heard back, and she didn’t respond to calls or emails. Suffice to say it probably wouldn’t have been a good fit.

I could get bitter about the ghosting thing, except that I’ve occasionally been guilty of it. It’s easy to procrastinate about getting back to someone, and then to let it slide. Once I had to go lawyer-shopping due to litigation over a lease, and it was flattering to have law firms woo me for my business, but awkward to explain my decision to the runners-up. I found myself falling back on the old “chemistry” rationale, which no one ever wants to hear. But reading Sharon’s post has made me vow to do better.

Call it karma, or maybe pay-it-forward. If I can be respectful of the time someone puts in to pitch a job, whether an interior designer or an attorney, then maybe we can all get more respect in return.

Using PR To Help Brands Build Trust

2017 has seen its share of public relations hits and misses, and staying on the “hits” side of the ledger is linked with maintaining brand trust. Companies like Yum! Brands keep finding ways to do well by doing good. Other brands, like United Airlines, have worked to repair a loss of trust. Still others, like United’s low-budget competitor Spirit Air, may calculate that different brand attributes – like value – trump all.

Over the long run, however, trust is a valuable commodity in a brand. Customers are increasingly skeptical when it comes to brand choices, relying on the attitudes and experiences of peers, third-party endorsement, and their own take on brand values to guide their decisions. A well-designed PR campaign can play a role here.

PR can help brands can gain – and keep – consumer trust

Encourage internal authenticity first

We all know about the importance of authentic brand communications. Those who haven’t gotten this message will suffer the wrath of indignant customers and press, as Campbell’s no doubt did with this dubious Spaghetti-Os social media campaign.

What we want to stress is the importance of starting internally. Companies have to first instill brand values to their own employees and within a workplace culture before conveying those values in brand communications. Its important to “walk the walk.”

According to the Melcrum Inside Internal Communications study, effective internal communication contributes to a 40% increase in customer satisfaction and is linked to increases in overall company performance. We believe that the more a brand encourages a positive culture, the more naturally it will communicate brand values and build trust among customers.

Be mission-driven – and be clear about what your mission is

This can be as simple as a regular review of your company’s goals and objectives. Have they changed due to market forces or competitive challenges? Do you need to freshen or update the language? Being confident and consistent in answers to these questions will guide a brand and keep the mission front and center. Remember, while a brand or corporate vision focuses on the end goal, a mission is about the “how.” It’s tactical and speaks to what employees should strive to do every day.

Customize your communications

Many brands and PR representatives rely on the same modes of communication no matter what news is being shared. Yet journalists don’t always need a press release, and they may not need to be the first recipients of company news. We urge communicators to step outside traditional modes and choose the best vehicle for the brand and the target audience. If your target is millennials, social media should be considered as a default medium for breaking news. There are appropriate opportunities to bypass press, be your own media outlet and encourage dialogue.

Film distributor A24 does a great job of announcing its film and TV work, for example. The company goes one step further by consistently tweeting what others say about its productions rather than putting out straight press announcements. If your audience is an older or mixed demographic, getting the news into print may be the most effective means of communications. The lesson is to demonstrate how well your brand knows its audience by the way it chooses to engage. A quasi-personalized way of communicating goes a long way towards building trust.

Demonstrate real commitment

Brands and individuals who wear their passion proudly find that it pays off. Today’s consumers want to believe that a brand is committed to whatever it’s doing. Take Subaru’s perfectly on-brand “Share the Love” campaign. This year it culminated in a grand total of $24.8 million donated to national and local charities. Something smaller and simpler can also work; look at this local Whole Foods store’s  move to “mother” a goose and goslings in its parking lot. It’s a tiny initiative, but it speaks volumes about the store’s value. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, your audience isn’t going to either. This is crucial to not only establishing credibility, but also for building quality relationships with important audiences.

Sustain credibility through influencer relations

Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” PR experts know that in our digital culture, this is more relevant than ever. As consumers, we turn to influencers and third-party groups for guidance as we make decisions about everything from buying wine to investing in business software.

As with messaging and storytelling, influencer relationships must also be genuine, because customers can smell a fraud. We work with companies to foster relationships with a wide range of influencers who are hand-picked for the role. In the tech world these can include traditional media and important bloggers, company partners and analysts. In B2C categories, we often seek microinfluencers – like an Instagrammer with 10,000 followers  – who may not have a Kardashian-like followship but who enjoys a strong relationship with fans and is a legitimate recommender.

Create a realistic reputation plan. 

Not too long ago, crisis PR referred most often to a human error with devastating consequences like the Deepwater Horizon disaster or the Volkswagen emission cheating scandal. But today’s brand and PR experts need to be aware of social-media-driven crises that – while not fatal – can blow up in an instant and threaten brand reputation. We’re talking about Cosmopolitan’s recent headline snafu that seemed to suggest cancer as a new weight loss tip. Other examples include Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s vintage t-shirt controversy, or actually any number of Jenner-related controversies.

The point is that companies need a crisis plan that reflects the speed of the digital news cycle and the power of social media. Leadership must put the same care and attention to messaging, recruitment of ambassadors, and internal communications to be ready for what hasn’t happened. One piece of advice for today’s crisis plans? Let the data do the talking. When you can offer up support in terms of concrete numbers the way Uber did in the face of a threatened driver boycott, you’re on the path to positive mitigation.

The bottom line is brand trust is a long game, often taking years to achieve but only seconds to undermine. It’s incumbent upon PR teams to help clients build and sustain trust in brands through long-term strategies that foster authenticity, demand credibility and connect with key audiences.

Google Earns Positive PR On Diversity – Under Duress

Simmering issues of diversity and gender discrimination in the tech industry were spotlighted this week when an internal memo penned by a Google engineer went viral, causing a public relations earthquake for the company. Although the 10-page “anti-diversity” memo was actually more nuanced than some reports gave it credit for, its thesis triggered a quick backlash. The engineer was fired in the tumult following what was perceived as a screed against diversity and inclusion efforts at the company.

In the memo, the engineer – who has since been outed as James Damore – acknowledges that both men and women experience bias in the technology workplace, but that “it’s far from the whole story. On average men and women biologically differ in many ways.” He presses his case by saying that women “prefer jobs in social or artistic areas” while “more men may like coding” and – though professing to reject stereotypes – refers to a “higher drive for status” among men and a female dislike for long hours and stressful work. The bottom line, according to Damore, is that Google should stop assuming that gender gaps mean sexism is at work.

A late, but thoughtful response to a divisive situation

So, how should Google have handled the controversy? The storm was a trial by fire for its recently hired head of diversity Danielle Brown, and the response was a little slow by internet standards. This was possibly because the memo itself had been circulating inside Google for some time, but on Saturday it was leaked by Motherboard. Initial reaction came in the form of internal memos that were shared on social media and quickly picked up by the mainstream press. Brown criticized the memo as advancing “incorrect assumptions about gender,” yet seemed to be trying to defend the internal debate on principle, while making it clear that the company did not support Damore’s view. Her email explained, “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

It was a thoughtful response to the furor, and under other circumstances, it might have helped calm the debate, or at least move it in a constructive direction. But, as with the memo itself, nuance is lost amidst emotionally charged reactions shared furiously in 140-character tweets and posts. On Monday CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the memo had violated company rules. Given the wording of the Pichai’s communication and the social environment, Damore’s days at Google were numbered. He was fired late Monday.
Sexism and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley has been a topic of debate – and litigation – for years. The subject is complicated and one can make the argument that internal debate, even dissension, is a healthy sign.

But Google can’t afford to be seen as defending views that challenge diversity. The US Department of Labor is investigating it for “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Bottom line, Google had little choice but to let Damore go, even though it may suffer legal consequences from the firing.

A lack of diversity drives reputation problems

Google enjoys a reasonably strong brand and corporate reputation. It leads a ranking of companies perceived as the most responsible by the Reputation Institute three years in a row. More importantly, it faces major antitrust issues outside the U.S. and regulatory burdens at home. Legal counsel will always trump reputation counsel if the two are at odds. In this case the specter of sex discrimination – along with other, even less manageable issues like privacy and anti-competitive practices – is the last thing Google needs. In fact, in discussions with PR colleagues, some even speculated that the company leaked the memo on purpose so that it could be seen as rejecting the thinking it espouses. I doubt that, but who knows?

What can communicators learn from the situation?The larger issues here will continue to be debated but there are some PR takeaways.

Prepare for leaks. When it comes to hot-button issues, you can expect internal  communications to to be shared outside the company. It pays to be prepared.

Articulate a clear POV and stick to it. This is where Google was caught in a developing situation,  because the memo  leaked over the weekend and it attempted to navigate fast-moving internal and public reaction.

Act decisively. There will be disagreement on  whether Damore should have been let go, but Google did the right thing in moving swiftly and articulating its motives for doing so.
I believe Google has made a true commitment to diversity and inclusion, but even if that commitment isn’t fully baked, it has been forced to choose a side. Now it must work hard to lead in the process. It’s the right thing for its workforce and its reputation. And with the government breathing down its neck, good PR is good business.

Should Brands Talk Back On Social Media?

As all PR and social media pros know, a brand’s digital presence is both very powerful and very fragile. In the attention economy, we want to break though and engage customers, and a good way to do that is by showing personality. A flippant attitude or a risky tweet can take a brand even further. Social platforms are made for snark, right? Just look at Wendy’s. The fast-food brand is famous for its sassy social media voice, and what’s more, its strategy has won it praise and coverage in mainstream media.

But research shows that consumers don’t always welcome social snark from brands. Social media company Sprout Social surveyed 1,003 consumers on what they really want from brands on social media. It found that “snarkiness” was the least desired trait, with 67 percent of respondents saying it’s undesirable. According to Sprout Content Director Lizz Kannenberg, “Consumers follow brands on social for entertainment, answers to their questions and for contests and promotions.” Not a cheeky retort.

But from a public relations perspective, brands that master the art of social wisecracks can reap a PR bonanza. So, when should a brand talk back? It turns out there’s enormous variability in how far a little irreverence can go, and much depends on the individual situation. Here’s what we can learn from the most successful social brands.

Know your audience 

An irreverent social media persona is like wading into controversy; you can do it if you understand your base. There’s a good reason why a company like Patagonia can criticize the president without fear of social retribution. Its leadership knows that their loyal customers are vehemently opposed to Trump on climate issues. Conversely, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A was candid about his opposition to marriage equality when asked about the issue. The stance sparked boycotts, but it probably didn’t harm the business, because brand loyalists rallied to its support. A social media voice is an extension of a brand’s persona, and knowing your customers is an unerring guide. No such brand decision or position should be made purely for publicity purposes.

Be reliable

Look at Thrillist, the men’s digital lifestyle newsletter. Its Facebook page is a celebration of bro culture, with silly and occasionally juvenile humor. The master in this arena just might be Taco Bell. For years, it has earned a spot on the list of the sauciest and most entertaining brands on the social web. The core customer is a young male, making it a good bet to post occasionallly risky content, and the brand delivers. From the taco emoji to its Tacobot Slack integration (that’s right, taco ordering from a snappy Slack friend is now in beta) the brand is not only cheeky, but reliably innovative.

Punch above your weight

T-Mobile CEO John Legere is a great example of shrewd strategy here. His “bad-boy schtick” on social media is well suited to his flamboyant and iconoclastic personality, of course. And when Legere tweaks the big-brand competition, it’s a fairly low-risk move.  T-Mobile, whose subscriber base is roughly half the size of its two largest competitors, has very little to lose by courting controversy. Picking a fight with a Goliath competitor is a time-tested strategy with a large upside – it generates plenty of attention – and very little risk. It’s a smart play.

Use humor

This goes without saying, but it works particularly well when it’s unexpected. We expect humor from Charmin, but who could have predicted that the venerable Merriam Webster would gain social fame in 2017 for its sly subtweets?

Back it up

Wendy’s reputation for social attitude has earned plaudits, but the brand has done more than just show personality. It creates social initiatives with “meat” that pack more momentum than simple posts.

Remember Carter Wilkerson, the teenager who tweeted a request for free chicken nuggets in May? Wendy’s could have tweeted a tart response, or simply accommodated Wilkerson with coupons to earn some Twitter love. Instead, it challenged the 16-year-old to earn 18,000 retweets of his request, setting off a user-driven social media campaign that drew over 3 million RTs, surpassing the record set by the 2014 Oscar selfie. The story naturally whetted the appetite of many “mainstream” media, who ate up the quirky challenge. Even though Wilkerson fell short of the goal, Wendy’s gave him a year’s worth of free nuggets, and to add substance to the contest, it pledged $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation in the bargain. Well done.

Be real

We were startled when Delta punched back at conservative pundit Ann Coulter, but it was an unusual situation that probably did call for a tart rejoinder. As the world knows, Coulter was infuriated when her assigned seat on a flight from Laguardia to Palm Beach was given to someone else. She raged at the airline to her 1.6 million Twitter followers for two days after the flight, even tweeting a picture of the blameless passengers who were given the seat she had reserved. Given the rough PR weather that airlines handle, you might have thought Delta would apologize and lie low. It did offer Coulter a refund of the $30 she paid for the better seat. But when the nasty tweet barrage continued, Delta returned fire, calling Coulter’s comments “unnecessary and unacceptable.” As one headline blared, “Ann Coulter Is So Awful, She Makes Delta Airlines Look Good.”

Top 10 Tech Blogs PR Needs To Follow

Those engaged in B2B tech public relations have to be able to strategize and deliver at lightning speed. Whatever was hot today, will be “not” tomorrow and PR teams need to stay ahead of the curve. Here are the top 10 tech blogs you need to read to prepare for promoting clients across a range of industries, including IoT, ad-tech, tech products and services and wearable technology.

Stay on top of hot tech news every day

Our tech team recommends this list of blogs for the best information on relevant news, competitive moves, trends, and data insights. They’re useful for story pitching, new product research, and new perspectives from industry leaders.

Crunchbase
A compendium of companies, people, investors, funding and acquisitions in the tech world, the Crunchbase newsletter is a must-read for tracking startups, deals, and trends — an ideal business development resource. In addition to information on over 100,000 companies from Alibaba to Xiaomi, the site cross-references data to help craft expert commentary, industry reports, interview prep and new business pitches.

Recode
Recode features independent tech news, reviews and analysis from the most informed and respected journalists in technology and media. It has a breezy style, is fun to read and full of trend stuff you just have to know to stay ahead of the curve. Of course, it covers news from Silicon Valley big guns – Tesla, Facebook, Uber, etc. but it also offers newsy nuggets from the world of traditional media (Discovery Channel,) government and hot-button issues like race and sexual harassment in the industry.

The Verge
The Verge has popularized various guides about technology and its effects on the society. It publishes news from gadgets to startups, apps, and tech culture. Its editorial also delves into art, pop culture and science, making it a well-rounded stop for tech readers who want a less “geeky” experience. It’s also a great place to pitch new brands and stories that fit into the tech eco-system for its back-to-school guide or even features like this interesting story on how the music industry could be upended by Patreon, competitor to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Engadget
If you crave a more niched news experience – say everything you wanted to know about the latest in gear, gaming, entertainment, video and even a section called “tomorrow,” EnGadget is for you. When your client is in need of trustworthy, incisive reviews, you want to set up a demo with EnGadget. The site considers itself at the intersection of technology, gaming and entertainment.

Digital Inspiration
Now for something completely different. Digital Inspiration serves up a heap of digital how-tos and hacks on a wide range of topics designed to make your work life easier and more productive. It’s quite rewarding to master a new hack you hadn’t even thought about, or one that will change your day-to-day tasks. For example, a cursory glance at the site will show you articles like How to See all your Google Contacts on Google Maps  or Master YouTube Video Search with Simple Commands.   Obscure maybe, but handy, for sure!

Ars Technica
This pub was originally developed for  “alpha geeks”: technologists and IT pros. Since its inception, it has morphed into a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis and incisive reporting on forward-thinking scientific advancements. Of course, the site also features the requisite reviews of gadgets, software, hardware, and tomorrow’s tech like “eerily good facial animation.” It’s a great site to pitch your newest vaporware tech advances. Also enjoy the sites’s news reports, op-eds, long-form thought-pieces and in-depth explainers. No click-bait here.

Mashable
So much more than a tech blog! Read by a wide audience owing to its appealing, eclectic content, Mashable is the go-to source for tech, digital culture and entertainment news and feature coverage as well as global power. Typically, when a B2B tech company is announcing a new product, service or funding round, it’s the media outlet of choice for an exclusive. Between its “what’s new,” what’s rising” and “what’s hot” sections, the savvy PR strategist will have today’s tech world read in one sitting. Add to that its highly sought-after Chief Correspondent Lance Ulanoff and legendary founder/CEO Pete Cashmore and you have probably the most influential pub in the industry.

The Next Web
Affectionately known as TNW, its founding mission was to bring “insight, meaning—and every now and again, the lulz—to the world of technology.”  Today the site is known not just for comprehensive news about deals and companies but especially important coverage of conferences and events – an integral part of any B2B tech PR function. The site also touts its new TQ tech hub and Index, a market intelligence platform.

Wirecutter
Wirecutter is the NY Times tech review site. Given its pedigree, it was never a scrappy site with nerdy writers finding their footing at a start-up blog. But, is that a bad thing? No! Wirecutter is devoted to providing top-rate reviews of gear and gadgets. Even though the site makes money off of purchases of their independently reviewed products and services, don’t hold the business model against them. The content is deeply researched and well written and even goes off the beaten tech path for some truly novel gear. You may need it if you find yourself working for an unusual brand like these like smart posture apps Lumo Lift and Upright, for example.

The TED Blog
The TED Blog, taken from the TED Talks universe, is just a great and inspiring read. When you find yourself in need of fresh thinking for an existing product, or a new way to talk about a company or founder, delve into TED’s world. Reading about what’s new in Augmented Reality from someone unexpected like former NFL punter, Chris Kluwe, or University of Pennsylvania’s Vijay Kumar on flying robots gets you out of your own head and frees your imagination to create something meaningful for your client. Make it a habit.
Finally, it’s not enough just to read the important tech blogs. Learn from them to help improve your own writing. And engage with their writers – commenting, reposting, and liking their stuff. Strong writers are also encouraged to contribute to blogs like Mashable and The Verge. Read up and take a crack!