Weekly Tasting Names Crenshaw Communications As PR Agency

New York, N.Y., September 5, 2017Crenshaw Communications, a New York-based public relations and digital content agency, has been named agency of record for Weekly Tasting, the newest online wine sale site. The appointment was made after a formal review involving 15 PR firms in New York and elsewhere. Crenshaw was tapped for PR, media relations and content services to support Weekly Tasting, a curated selection of high-quality wines hand-picked by Certified Sommelier Elizabeth Schneider and Master Sommelier Laura Maniec.

According to Mallory Stampone, Weekly Tasting Director of Marketing, “Crenshaw’s track record in beverage alcohol brands, coupled with the team’s knowledge of consumer lifestyle media, is a strong fit with Weekly Tasting. The online wine market is growing in the US, and we look forward to a successful campaign.”

Crenshaw Communications was founded in 2009 by Dorothy Crenshaw, formerly President and cofounder of Stanton Crenshaw Communications.

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About Weekly Tasting

Weekly Tasting is the newest way to experience wine.  With the help of Master Sommelier, Laura Maniec, and Certified Sommelier, Elizabeth Schneider, you’ll uncover your wine palate in a fun new way. Every Weekly Tasting pack comes with 4 different bottles of wine, a 10-minute Sommelier-led tasting video, a pack of tasting & food pairing cards, and access to an online wine cellar where you can rate and share your favorite finds. Weekly Tasting will enable you to learn about and expand your wine palate in the comfort of your own home.

 

About Crenshaw Communications

Crenshaw Communications is a New York PR agency with specialist expertise in traditional and digital public relations. Whether the goal is to launch a new product, drive web traffic, or create a leadership brand position, Crenshaw extends PR tools and tactics beyond the limits of the traditional to create both earned coverage and word-of-mouth in order to build brands.

 

 

 

After The Russia Scandal, Is Facebook Growing Up?

Is the Russia scandal an ultimate comeuppance for Facebook? Will its reputation suffer real harm as a result, or will it rise to the occasion and grow up?

When it revealed it had sold about $100,000 in targeted ads to a shady Kremlin-funded organization bent on reaching U.S. voters, I was initially skeptical about any real impact on Facebook’s reputation or its business.

Facebook has weathered many storms in its 13-year history. Today it is unrivaled as a digital advertising platform. In fact, by the end of this year Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent) will account for half of all ad revenue worldwide, and more than 60% in the U.S.

Yet the original social network’s early challenges over platform changes, competitive practices, and even user privacy policies seem almost quaint compared to today’s knotty issues. Live-streamed violence on the platform, ubiquitous low-quality clickbait, and the scale of the “fake news” problem have emerged as real business threats.

Technology platform or media company?

Most important, perhaps, is Facebook’s identity crisis — or, rather, identity denial. As it has grown in size and influence, Facebook stubbornly maintained that it’s a technology company, not a media business. Insisting that it’s an agnostic tech platform, of course, makes it seem less accountable for unintended consequences around content abuses or the sway of fake news. And Facebook seemed determined to have it both ways, wanting all the growth and influence with little of the responsibility beyond basic moderation. Facebook resisted the media company label even as it dove deeper into content paying media companies to create content and planning to develop its own TV-style shows.

That positioning began to change after the fake news scandal hit. Facebook watchers talked about a “maturing” at the company. Zuckerberg even launched a kind of national listening tour, which led to speculation he will run for higher office. (For what it’s worth, I think the true presidential contender at Facebook is Sheryl Sandberg, not her boss.)

But the real tipping point came with the revelations of Russia-sponsored ads. No one – least of all the media who covered the story and dogged Mark Zuckerberg about a paid Russia connection – has forgotten his response. He famously called it “kind of a crazy idea” that Russians might have used the platform to influence voters.

Today that idea isn’t so crazy. And Facebook looks clueless, or, worse, deceptive, for its denials. (Some of the ads were paid for in rubles, for heaven’s sake. How hard could it have been to spot them?) Instead of “bringing the world closer together,” as outlined in its mission statement, it seems Facebook has been used to divide us here at home.

Moreover, the public has grown exasperated over the situation. A recent poll conducted by the Factual Democracy project shows that most Americans hold Facebook responsible for inaccurate stories.  Seventy-three percent of voters said they think “Facebook should hold itself to the same standard as other media companies to only publish accurate stories about candidates during election season.”

Perception is reality, of course. Facebook is the world’s largest media company, and it must own up to that status. To his credit, Zuckerberg issued an apology for his “dismissive” attitude. He followed the familiar pattern of Facebook-in-crisis-response mode, including a soberly scripted video that addressed the situation on Facebook Live. Most importantly from a reputation management perspective, he has pledged tangible measures to prevent such weaponization of the network in the future. The company is naturally cooperating with the Congressional investigations and it recently detailed measures to root out fake stories and shutter imposter accounts.

Most observers think the recent revelations are the tip of a larger iceberg. If so, what Facebook does in the coming months is crucial to the future of its brand and even its business. According to Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times, Zuckerberg’s true skill is not that of a visionary, but “in looking back and fixing where Facebook has failed.” Manjoo sees hope in the example of Facebook’s failure to fully anticipate the rapid shift from desktop PCs to mobile devices, and the initial mobile strategy that Zuckerberg “tore up” and rebuilt from scratch when he realized it was inadequate.

Quoting someone close to Zuckerberg who claims the Facebook founder has an uncanny ability to learn from his own mistakes, Manjoo writes, “He was late to appreciate how the world’s most-used social service might be used for ill. Now that he finally seems to understand the problem, there may be hope that he can do something about it.”

I hope for the brand’s sake, and for our own, that he is right.

Creating The PR "Dream Team"

When it comes to choosing a public relations agency,  experience, credentials and creativity are key factors.

But it’s the people who make up the team that really count.  The human factor is often the most important one. A good agency will assemble the ideal team to match a client’s needs, ensuring not just the right titles and experience levels, but the right personalities as well.

 Starring roles for an agency team

No matter how big the account is or how long the engagement, it’s important to have a blend of account strategists and implementers to do the job. For accounts with many “moving parts” — like events and media tours — a team might mean five or six staffers while other engagements focused on thought leadership and content placement can thrive with two or three. Here are the roles to look for when onboarding an agency.

The designated day-to-day

This is the chief client contact and all-around utility player. Ideally, this is the person the brand has been dealing with, at least in part, since it issued an RFP or began an agency search. This person was deeply involved in crafting the strategy behind the winning proposal and has the confidence of both the client and the agency team. Must-haves include a thorough understanding of the client’s business as well as its client culture. The day-to-day contact is also someone who can see the business big-picture, looking ahead to a client’s next big story and factoring in industry trends. On a more nuanced note, this player should be expert at “temperature-taking” and sussing out concerns before they become problems. Finally, the role calls for an even temperament who can get along with distinct personalities, managing both up and down the chain on the client, agency and media side.

The senior coach

This role is where “the buck stops” as far as key client communication and quality-control are concerned. In smaller companies this person may even be the head of the agency, while in larger organizations it’s likely a group director or EVP. The senior manager should be involved in regular internal account reviews to ensure that work product conforms to program strategy and that materials and service levels are of high quality. The role includes high-level troubleshooting and engagement at the client C-level. It may also comprise development and oversight of brand messaging, though at some agencies that is handled by a strategic services specialist.

The star pitcher

Creative, fearless, assertive and on top of the news and pop culture. That is just part of the job description for a media relations specialist. This person is also well-versed on the inner workings of broadcast, print and online media and on how to sell a brand’s story to an outlet. We have covered this important topic before; successful media placements seldom come from a mass blast and email follow-up. Those who work to generate high-impact coverage get to know contacts personally and use creative follow-up to gain a reporter’s interest. It may sound shocking, but these are the people who can actually get a network producer or major business reporter on the phone. Yes, it happens.

A backup content creator

Everyone in our office creates content; we’re hardwired that way. But, like many agencies, we create so much written content – bylines, blog posts, op-ed pieces, etc., that we have a dedicated content manager who handles overflow and specialized content. These individuals may be behind-the-scenes, the better for them to tackle topics from multimedia advertising sales tools  to cutting-edge email marketing. But whatever the case, they must be a quick study and a nimble author, able to produce 800 solid words, often in under an hour. While the deadlines aren’t always so tight, the position typically requires strong research skills, focus, and a sharp, analytical mind.

A digital/social media star

Many PR teams manage social media accounts and digital output for clients. The role starts with setting social media strategy and determining which sites and tactics align with the desired audience. This group will often be involved with influencer relations as well. And, for many clients, the work touches messaging as well as design, writing and distribution of content. Like most social media teams, ours  provides analytics to gauge performance and make recommendations to grow followers, shares, friends and other KPIs.

A graphic design talent

Much of PR work today relies on the visual to attract interest. It’s no wonder that Instagram now boasts over 800 million users. We are a nation of visual learners and we like images, videos and other graphic ways of absorbing information. In PR, this translates into everything from the well-designed event invitation to catchy infographics and visually appealing reports and studies. We employ a graphic designer to help bring all of this account work to life, as well as client social media platforms, and to make our new business presentations as attractive as possible.

An account coordinator

This one’s part junior utility player, part team assistant, not always seen, but indispensable. The account coordinator is on top of scheduling calls, creating agendas, recording meeting actions, and organizing reports. ACs often have a role in media list prep, client media monitoring and, event support. For this role, we often look for someone with fresh ideas – to inspire co-workers, promote our clients and our company. As they rise in the role, ACs also take on research assignments, like trade conference submissions or awards opportunities. In our experience, the best and brightest don’t stay account coordinators very long. Those with drive and ambition are soon on their way to climbing up the PR dream team roster.

PR Rules To Break For Killer Media Relations

The best and brightest public relations teams have guidelines to achieve the best media relations results. However, when it comes to connecting with a producer or editor who is pitched hundreds of times in a single day, sometimes it pays to break the rules.

Break these rules; improve media relations

Always offer an exclusive

While it’s true that for many journalists, the word “exclusive” is an immediate attention-grabber, it’s not always the best way to share a client’s news. If the product or service is new and unusual or the company’s research is groundbreaking, an exclusive (actually a “first-look”) should absolutely be considered, before going out to other media. However, if a brand is already well-known in the space and the product launch or other news has very broad appeal, going out broadly to press may be the best strategy. Decisions like this depend on brand goals and target audience and should be taken up together by both teams as part of overall media strategy.

Never follow up by phone

Ah, the eternal quandary of PR people — the media follow-up. Our experience shows that it’s worth a try. Although many journalists say they hate receiving follow-up phone calls, some of our most memorable placements have resulted from simply calling someone and having a conversation. We’ve found that one polite call that gets to the point quickly can sometimes do the trick. We also advise against lengthy voicemails – or any voicemails unless you already have a relationship with a reporter. Fearlessness is a coveted quality in PR, so never be intimidated by a little phone rejection. It’s all part of the process of getting to know contacts and their preferences.

Keep all pitches under two paragraphs

Well, that depends! A recent survey of journalists by Cision counts brevity and economy as the most crucial aspects of any email pitch. The results went on to say that the best pitches get to the point immediately and demonstrate value to an audience. However, there is varying opinion about the ideal length for emails. Suggestions include 20 words100 wordstwo paragraphsthree paragraphs and everything in between. The fact is, some stories can only be explained by going into detail.  For example, we set up deskside visits with editors on behalf of a new IoT home health device that offered fairly complicated messaging. Our email pitch letters were three paragraphs long, with an image inserted. Here, the real key to success wasn’t the length of the letter but the subject line. We went with “Sick home” facts you need to know, and the open rate for the emails sent was among the best we’ve ever achieved. The ultimate outcome was dozens of desksiders and an equal number of stories.

Never re-pitch once you’ve been turned down

We say, always re-pitch – if you’ve tweaked the story angle enough to be fresh and newly relevant. We recommend getting as much feedback from a media contact as possible to see why a story pitch was rejected. This way the smart PR team can go back to the drawing board and come up with an angle that’s more workable. As long as the pitch feels new and incorporates more of what an outlet or journalist needs, there’s a good chance of developing interest. Managing client expectations at this point is important as well. Everyone involved needs to understand that certain media pitching is the “long game” and should be viewed as one part of an overall media strategy.

Always start with just a simple email

For some pitches, a simple to-the-point email is probably enough to get a reporter’s interest. But for more complex, visual or experiential concepts, a physical mailing can best communicate the idea. For example, to sample a new IoT security device or other tech product, we often send the item directly to the media to test. We also like to arrange for individual meetings or select groups at a single media outlet to take part in a fun presentation. And, often the way to these journalists’ hearts begins with a cleverly packaged, attention-getting physical mailer.

Never pitch more than one contact at an outlet

In today’s fractured media world, this is a fairly antiquated notion. We believe in pitching as many appropriate contacts as possible. These can include writers and editors for different sections of a magazine or newspaper, or more than one segment producer for a TV interview. It can also mean a vast array of print freelancers and contributors to broadcast outlets. Penetrating this vast media world means reaching out as broadly as possible as there is also likely to be overlap. For example, we began a relationship with tech writer/TV contributor Carley Knobloch by offering her a piece of wearable security tech to review for her column. This turned into a TODAY show appearance and mentions in subsequent women’s magazines in which Carley was interviewed.

Never reach out to a journalist on Twitter

It’s considered smart strategy to follow journalists on Twitter to help PR teams get to know likes and dislikes and areas of interest. But it has been frowned upon to reach out to media with a Twitter DM. We say, break that rule as well – but with care. By politely reaching out with appropriate messaging, we have forged some strong relationships that way. The bottom line is, [some] media rules were made to be broken.

PR’s Top Tech Tools

Just when you thought you had all the public relations tech tools you need, fresh innovations come along. Technology never sleeps! Also, we may have been inspired by this piece about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in PR, including insights from our very own Chris Harihar.

Tech tools to improve PR performance

Nearly anyone in PR can embrace and incorporate cool new stuff that encompasses AI, machine learning and other tech tools of the trade to streamline, improve and increase output on behalf of clients.

Quill untaps the potential of your data
We know it’s all about the data. But your data is only of value if you can use it to plan and create better content or refine strategy. Quill transforms data into automated, human-sounding Intelligent Narratives that offer brand insights to improve every aspect of communication. The founders tout the software’s “data storytelling at machine scale” to add value to sharing intel – including product news, financial data or analytics. Quill lets you customize narratives by audience to get the best outcomes.

Radio Guest List – the HARO of audio!
Want to hear from producers and hosts of radio broadcasts and podcasts? This site sets up email alerts from those searching for experts on specific topics. PRs can then reach out to pitch  “thought leaders,” authors and other spokespeople to any number of shows looking for talent or topic-specific expertise. Just like HARO, (Help a Reporter Out), the service is free and requires a simple sign-up to receive daily email queries.

Talkwalker for realtime Newsjacking
There are quite a few players offering social listening, influencer management, campaign measurement, and other analytics designed to measure success and uncover opportunities using advanced AI. What we like about Talkwalker is its Newsjacking product. This service allows PR teams to discover what people are talking about now, using Talkwalker’s proprietary trending score feature. By monitoring “speed of sharing” of articles, tweets, images, video and more, savvy users can find the top stories on varying topics in minutes.

Scoop.it  helps determine which content resonates best with an audience
So you and your team think you have mastered content creation that speaks to your target audience and incites action. Think again, you may need Scoop.it, a content marketing automation SaaS platform that uses AI to help grow traffic and lead generation through content. The service employs a unique dataset of over 35 million webpages to enable more and better content through research, curation technology, predictive insights and content marketing intelligence technology. Users include marketers who want to scale the volume of content they publish on their blogs, social media or newsletters. But founders look to evolve to unearth ways to generate measurable impact with content.

SelfMade digitally styles entrepreneurs and SMBs to help grow their brand on social media
Is your brand’s Instagram stalled at a few thousand followers? Are your images less than striking?  SelfMade lets you “be the creative director of your life” with packages that offer slick professional photo editing and social media support at an affordable budget. SelfMade boasts a team of digital stylists and experts in “brand aesthetics” who will take your images and edit to create a more winning digital “you” to help achieve business goals through thoughtful and creative use of social media. It was created with Instagram in mind but can be applied to any social platform. It’s a hot commodity, so there’s a waiting list. Jump on now.

Scoro manages all aspects of PR events
Whether it’s a fundraiser for a not-for-profit, a media launch party or a panel discussion, events make up a certain percentage of PR activity for every client.  And every event has a long list of to-dos ranging from budgeting to venue management and workload delegation. Scoro is one of a handful of digital event management tools designed to take some of the agita out of event management. It’s seamless system that begins with proposal building and takes your team all the way through pre-event, onsite and post-event tasks. Multiple teams can collaborate and customize events of any size.

Wakefield Research adds value to traditional PR surveys
This survey provider goes the extra mile in a couple of ways. They not only take your brief and turn it into questions that are most likely to return newsworthy results, they also provide a Pitch Guide. Consulting journalists and PR pros have helped the company create a guide that includes headlines, story angles and ideas for infographics that appeal to media. The company goes one step further, serving as support for the “life of the data,” proofing releases for data accuracy and even answering media questions.  Now, I’m not sure I’m ready to cede that much control to a third party, but those of us in PR are always open to new ideas, innovation and strategies that work.

PR Lessons From The Bungled Equifax Crisis

Public relations people like to talk about “getting out in front” of a crisis; in fact, for a taste of real-life preparation, check out this stress-inducing story about a crisis simulation by The New York Times‘ Sapna Maheshwari. Yet it’s a myth to think you can prevent any event that could wreck a company’s reputation. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to mitigate the damage in the days and weeks after a crisis blows up. Still, one goal of all communicators – similar to the physician’s creed of “first, do no harm” – should be to avoid making the situation worse.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when the news broke that credit-reporting giant Equifax suffered a breach that could compromise the privacy of some 143 million consumers. How did it escalate? And what can we learn from how Equifax handled the crisis?

First, Do No Harm…To  Your Brand Credibility

Take the full measure of the situation

Maybe Equifax believed that the media and public would shrug off the breach. If so, that was a big error in judgment. The situation was unprecedented in its sheer size and the number of people it placed at risk. YouGov BrandIndex, which tries to quantify reputation impact of negative events for brands, compared the Equifax situation unfavorably to the Volkswagen diesel scandal. One difference, however, is that not everyone owns a Volkswagen. As a YouGov spokesperson put it, “Equifax is on a different scale – much wider and more personal.” My personal theory about the company’s failure to assess the situation is that as a largely B2B brand, Equifax underestimated the level of concern and anger on the part of those affected.

Prepare for a negative reaction

Yes, this one’s laughably obvious, especially when a company is lucky enough to be able to control the announcement of the bad news. And Equifax did have that luxury; it disclosed the breach a full six weeks after it occurred, and new information suggests it had experienced a similar intrusion in March of this year. With so much time to prepare, it should have started an internal security investigation, and maybe it did. But it also needed to stage carefully crafted communications with customers, stakeholders, and regulators, as well as a media announcement and full plan for mitigation of harm to those affected. Instead the company seemed unprepared for the response to its disclosure. The site it set up for customer inquiries was quickly overwhelmed, and after the initial statement, the CEO did not formally respond until four days after the announcement.

Let professional communicators lead the way

This is what top PR professionals and crisis experts are paid for. In the wake of the breach Equifax offered free credit monitoring to customers – but the offer required anyone who enrolled to waive their right to sue the company. (Equifax later backpedaled on the waiver.) This is a sign of a classic crisis management mistake — letting lawyers manage the response messaging. An attorney’s goal, of course, is to limit  liability. But this particular move worsened the reputation damage by making Equifax look like it was trying to avoid culpability at the customer’s expense.

Take responsibility

To some extent, Equifax did this, despite the liability it can bring. CEO Richard Smith‘s apology is frank and forthright. “Protecting your data should have  been our highest priority”… his comment in the press release notes. “We let you down, and it’s going to cause enormous pain. For that, I apologize. Obviously, we’re overhauling our security now.”
Yet, plans for the “overhaul” were not explained. And if you look closely at the language in the company press release, it’s – well, weaselly. The headline details a “cybersecurity incident” (not a “breach”) and later refers to “the application vulnerability” – huh? It also apologizes for the “frustration and inconvenience” experienced by consumers, which obscures the graver potential consequences of damage to one’s credit rating or even identity theft. Again, lawyers are crafting the communications, at the expense of clarity and transparency.

Tap a crisis response leader

When things blow up, it truly takes a village – or a skilled team – to cover rapid media response, on-the-record media interviews, social media communications, stakeholder and government outreach, and other aspects of a swift and appropriate crisis response. But there should be a single expert who is empowered to lead the response — a communications professional, not the CEO, and not the on-camera spokesperson. Too often, companies give decision-making power to a group of individuals that may comprise their legal counsel, Board of Directors, and key executives, leading to group paralysis.

Address any questions about the company’s response

Surely one of the senior executives planning the public announcement of the breach noted sales of Equifax shares by insiders just days after the breach was discovered. Those officers included the Chief Financial Officer and the U.S. Information Solutions president, who, along with another senior executive, sold nearly $2 million in company shares. Corporate officers sell stock all the time, and the timing of the transactions may have coincidental, but the optics are terrible. Equifax responded by dismissing the insider sales as “a small percentage” of its shares, emphasizing that the executives weren’t aware of the breach when they sold. That’s not an ideal response, as it sounds far too casual about the transactions, and it raises the question of who did know about the breach, and when they knew it.

Align communications

It may seem a small thing, but the day after it disclosed a cyber-intrusion affecting nearly half the U.S. population, @equifax tweeted, “Happy Friday.” Of course, the tone-deaf tweet was pounced on by critics, with good reason. It’s hard to imagine why the brand’s social media communications weren’t looped in as part of a unified response to the announcement of the breach. Ditto customer relations; those who called the number provided by Equifax and managed to reach someone or receive a return call were told that the call-center company brought in by Equifax had no information to share. Aligning and centralizing communications to respond to a business crisis is simply PR 101.

The good and bad news for brand Equifax is that this situation will drag on for a very long time, as lawsuits mount, an FTC investigation proceeds, and a DOJ inquiry into the insider trading commences. Just yesterday we learned that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 34 state attorneys general have announced inquiries into the attack. And, of course, this is the kind of thing that members of Congress jump on. Smith, the Equifax chief executive, will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in October, and the Senate Finance Committee has requested information about the timeline of events. He may very well lose his job over the breach, and such a move, though traumatic for any such corporation, might help Equifax move past the worst of it.

There’s plenty of time for the brand’s reputation to sink even lower, and yet there’s every opportunity for Equifax to learn from its mistakes and take steps to improve the situation over the longer term. The best thing is can do is to explore the causes and ramifications of the breach so thoroughly, and invest in solutions so heavily, that it becomes a data security poster child for other companies who are vulnerable – and that means everyone.

PR Tips For Successful Media Training

It’s hard to overstate the importance of quality media-interview preparation to a successful public relations program. As most PRs know, an unprepared or ineffective spokesperson can unwittingly squander a media opportunity, while a well-prepared one can move it from mediocre to meteoric!
Here are some “must-dos” along with new tips to incorporate into your media training arsenal.

Good media training builds confidence

Typically PR teams prepare spokespeople for different types of media – broadcast, print, online as well as different formats. But there are some more nuanced tips for preparing for media interviews.

Prepare your spokesperson for different kinds of reporters.

Good media coaching goes beyond prepared messages; it can include on-the-spot strategizing on how to neutralize an uncertain or even negative scenario with disarming, non-defensive responses. Beyond helping a spokesperson speak effectively for a print interview vs. broadcast, we look to arm clients with intelligence on a few different types of reporters. These can include an inexperienced journalist or blogger (who may be a time suck), an adversarial reporter who already has a story in mind, or an interviewer who is skilled at drawing out more information than may be prudent to share. We show clients how to “read” reporters at the outset, and, as with any good training, the sessions include simulated interviews to prepare for each of these one-on-one scenarios.

Develop “go-to” phrases to capture important messages.

No matter how complicated the product or service may be, its story is better understood with a short and colorful turn of phrase. Much of the media prep work should be done in advance, in order to shrink a longer or more complex thought into something we all “get.” A client offering a high-quality wine selection for people who are new to wines, or who want to get out of a buying rut, is positioned as “the Rosetta Stone of wine” — a shorter, easily understandable term that helps set up the story in a quick interview.

Exercise control during the interview.

A top media coach will offer ways to politely pivot or rephrase any question that is uncomfortable or irrelevant and move toward a better response – within reason. This can be as simple as redirecting the interviewer with a transitional phrase like, “I don’t know about that, but what I can tell you is…” or  “the real issue is…” This can be challenging when a reporter asks the same question in different ways to try to get that response. Politicians have mastered this type of segue, although some practice it to excess, which simply looks like they’re avoiding the issue. It’s better to behave like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand when she was recently asked several times in the same interview about possible plans to run for higher office. “I’m focused on 2018,” she repeated calmly, patiently each time. The best advice: listen closely, acknowledge the question, and choose what you’d like to answer.

Beware “fake news” reporting.

There’s always the chance that a reporter can misquote, take out of context or edit an interview in some provocative or unflattering way. This isn’t usually fake news, but more like sloppy reporting. It takes a well-prepared spokesperson to remain unruffled and poised and give thoughtful responses to interviewer questions. The particularly adept will even lead the reporter to the topics they want to cover, often resulting in a terrific showcase for the brand. However, when an interview appears and contains errors or falsehoods, the only recourse is to reach out to the reporter, cite the errors and ask for corrections.

Aim for fluency, not stilted scripting.
The best spokespersons come across as relaxed and natural, not robotic. It’s hard to be impressed by someone who sounds as if they’ve memorized message points, no matter how much authority they bring to the interview. This is why practice sessions are so important, and it’s a reason for a professional spokesperson to be involved in writing about the brand or product they represent, and to have hands-on experience with it. The greater the familiarity with the product, the more fluid and comfortable the interview will be.

Be that spokesperson who gets quoted. 

Certain industry pundits are called upon again and again for their views on a particular subject, usually because they are reliably up on current events and pithy when quoted. Odds are if there’s an article on the power of online marketing and social media, Gary Vaynerchuk will likely be quoted. Is this because Vaynerchuk is that much more brilliant or knowledgeable? Maybe. But it’s also because he has packaged his expertise in a smart, accessible way and knows how to string together an interesting quote. Take this recent one referencing how to become famous through social media. “If you want to be Internet famous, you have to wrap your head around seven years, and I think most people are in seven weeks.” His advice is simple, but rooted in authentic experience. We recently offered even more advice on achieving “quotability,” in this article. 

Must-Read Books For PR Professionals

One of the smartest ways to keep producing high-quality public relations work is to keep reading – and not just work-related headlines or the clickbait on your Facebook page! We’re talking about long-form thought pieces, well-written blogs posts, and newsletters designed for particular verticals.

We’re also talking about books. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly a quarter of all Americans report not having read a book in the past year. Shocking! With all the ways that reading can improve work (as well as life) it’s time to take a look at some important books to consider in the coming months.

Reading helps critical thinking, creativity

Check out our short list of some must-reads for fall in non-fiction, fiction, essays and more.

Unbelievable by Katy Tur
Who can forget then-candidate Trump calling out “Little Katy,” the NBC reporter assigned to cover the campaign last fall? Well, certainly not Tur. Thrown into the assignment most thought would be a short one nearly by accident, the journalist got a front-row seat to the spectacular that was the presidential race of 2016. And she has stories that will make PR people, journalists and others laugh, shudder and think. Tur’s book is full of insights on dealing with high-stress, high-profile situations and personalities. Her life story also includes that of her parents, pioneers of helicopter news reporting in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s and it offers a great perspective on news-gathering through the decades.

The Power of Broke by Daymond John
Have you watched “Shark Tank?” Of course you have! Daymond John, FUBU founder and regular “Shark,” extols the business virtues of maintaining a “broke” mindset as a way to attain wealth. It’s not necessarily a new idea, but in the age of the entrepreneur-as-brand, it carves out a nice niche for John and offers some lessons for those beginning to build a business and a public image.

A Legacy of Spies by John LeCarre
If there ever was a time that the world needed fictional intelligence agent George Smiley, that time is now. LeCarre invented the character and the modern spy thriller based on his own experience with the British Secret Intelligence Service. Smiley became the blueprint for spy-heroes since the Cold War era, and he’s more relevant than ever as a whole new generation has a heightened interest in Russia. There is more to appreciate about LeCarre – -although he is in his 80s, listen to this recent interview he gave, which should help any executive preparing for an upcoming appearance.

No One Understands You And What To Do About It by Heidi Grant- Halvorson
Halverson is a social psychologist at Columbia Business School. Here she synthesizes a wealth of peer-reviewed research about how we perceive one another and how we can manage perception. Most of us assume that others see us as we see ourselves, but this isn’t always the case. This very reader-friendly volume shows how research can help us align our behavior to better communicate with and understand friends, family, and business colleagues.

The Platinum Age of Television by David Bianculli

We’ve written before about the benefits of reading well-written criticism. Criticism demands that the writer continually stretch to offer descriptions that readers can use to make well-informed decisions about art, pop culture and more. And that’s what all good writing should do! This book critically examines the last fifty years of television by a renowned critic of the genre, explaining what makes particular programs “platinum-quality.”  If TV is not your area of interest, try reading criticism of film, music, or other literary works to improve vocabulary and expand creative thinking about any writing, from business plans to new product announcements.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
While we believe all of the above books qualify as “self-help,” no well-rounded reading list is complete without a book devoted to self-improvement. In The Four Tendencies, Rubin’s extensive research seeks to categorize us into  Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Understanding which tendency we lean toward, according to bestselling author Rubin, can help people make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress, and engage more effectively. Feel free to take the quiz here to determine your “tendency.”

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
We like to end on a funny note. While not all of this autobiography by the Minnesota Senator is humor, a good portion of it reflects Franken’s dry and wry midwestern wit.  The Senator tells his “fish out of water” story – comedian, SNL writer and star who mounts a successful campaign to win distinguished elected office. And what could have remained a one-note joke has instead become the tale of a public servant bent on making change in an absurd environment. Pick it up to read well-written humor, stick with it to glean inside-baseball about the inner workings inside the Senate chamber.

PR Heroes Of The Hurricanes

Back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma were unprecedented in their impact, destroying lives and homes, wreaking billions in damage, and knocking other news out of the headlines (a minor challenge for the media and public relations professions.) But the storms of September also brought some good news. Experts tell us that the U.S. is improving in how we prepare for and respond to hurricanes, for one thing. An A1 story in The New York Times cites better “weather forecasting, evacuation policies and hurricane-resistant building practices” as factors in the relatively low numbers of deaths and injuries in Houston and Southern Florida.
And like any disaster, the hurricanes created heroes, from first responders to small businesses. Here are some of the reputation “winners” born amid the chaos of the storms.

Mattress Mack cushions the blow

Houston furniture impresario Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale scored early PR points by opening two of his showrooms to shelter people who were displaced by Hurricane Harvey. He seized national attention with a Facebook video inviting all who could safely make it to one of his Gallery Furniture stores to come and even bring their pets. McIngvale has navigated these waters before; he offered shelter to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Clearly he’s a local businessman with a flair for PR and promotion, as well as a deep commitment to community. McIngvale’s bold gesture came in contrast to the response of Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen. Osteen was criticized for not opening his 52,000-seat megachurch to flood victims until Monday, after a weekend of bad press and shifting explanations. He could learn a thing or two from Mattress Mack.

JetBlue caps costs

Airlines are typically victims of a weather disaster, or occasionally, villains who are forced to make things worse by canceling flights. As Irma bore down on southern Florida, United was criticized for fares on flights out of the state that cost as much as $1000. But many carriers made news by capping fares instead. Those were led by JetBlue, who offered seats out of South Florida for a gentle $99 and waived fees for passengers having to change flights because of the storm. JetBlue’s move was followed by a response from Delta, which announced it wouldn’t charge more than $399 for tickets on flights to and from southern Florida and the Caribbean, including first-class seats. Of course, tickets were scarce by the time these announcements were made, but a few airlines did earn some reputation cred for their efforts.

The American Red Cross is there

The hurricanes were both an enormous test and a branding opportunity for the ARC, which has weathered some PR challenges due to questions about what percentage of donations flows to helping disaster victims. Bolstered by third parties – from former president Barack Obama to Beyoncé, the organization met both the logistical trial and the PR challenge head-on with transparency about how donations are used in major media interviews by CEO Gail McGovern. For an excellent take on the importance of local disaster communications, check out this column by Houston PR professional Jennifer Evans.

Everyday people step up

Most poignant and powerful of all might have been the stories of everyday heroes like the human chain of Houston apartment residents who helped a woman in labor make it through rising flood waters to be driven to a hospital. There were countless stories about regular people who went out of their way or even placed themselves at risk to help a neighbor.

5 Brilliant PR Stunts And Why They Worked

 

Every so often a public relations team comes up with a PR stunt that earns stellar media coverage. But no stunt is worth the effort and resources if it doesn’t advance brand messages in a positive way. Even seemingly stale “World’s Largest [insert brand name]” can pack a strategic punch — if well executed.

Here are a handful of masterful PR stunts that pass muster in our eyes, and each offers learnings for any brand that wishes to create their own.

Creating an inspired PR stunt

Window Company Shatters PR Expectations with Baseball Promotion

It’s quirky, but effective. The CEO of Cleveland window supplier Universal Windows Direct is shelling out $1.7 million to local customers. Why? It was part of a summer 15th anniversary promotion to challenge the local baseball team into winning 15 straight games. If the Cleveland Indians managed a 15-game streak, the company promised to refund window purchases from throughout the year. Against all expectations, the Indians did just that, and Universal Windows Direct refunded thousands to approximately 220 customers, with a smile. The campaign generated enormous good will, with many customers vowing to spend at least some of the money on more windows. The ball club was also on board as they now march toward the play-offs. The PR outcomes won’t be known until the season’s over, but outlets from NPR to CNBC and USA Today have covered the company in glowing terms, and even the $75,000 insurance policy it purchased for the promotion seems worth it. What separates this sports challenge from others is the company’s attitude – it adopted a “go big or go home” mindset and embraced the payout instead of finding a loophole out of it. Winners all around.

Local Author Stages Book-Signing at Favorite Retailer… 7-Eleven?

We love the story of Orlando, Florida author Kristen Arnett, who will celebrate the publication of her short story collection, Felt in the Jaw, at her local 7-Eleven later this month. The author feels at home at 7-Eleven, calling it her “convenience store second home” and she knows her readers will, too. This story, already picked up by the New York Times, resonates as a PR win for its smart take on the unexpected. Book and author events at bookstores or trendy restaurants are a dime a dozen. But, Arnett’s clever juxtaposition of Slurpees and beef jerky with literary fiction adds spice to the typical book event. We also appreciate the authentic connection between author and venue. Interestingly, this is the second time in recent weeks that 7-Eleven has found itself in fairly erudite journalistic circles. Last month’s need for eclipse eyewear earned the retailer a spot in Food & Wine magazine as a prime purveyor of the coveted specs.

Hotel Chain Drinks From the Fountain of Youth

European hotel chain Warner Leisure has a core audience of older, even elderly, travelers with healthy incomes. Recently the chain sought to retain that audience while expanding to a somewhat younger group, namely 55+ Boomers.  Together with Bompas & Parr, a customized food experience company, the chain created the world’s first “anti-aging gin.” According to the packaging, “Anti-aGin” touts ingredients like collagen, antioxidants and ‘skin-healing’ botanicals to help ‘reduce cellulite and sun damage’. Does the gin work? Well, does it matter? The campaign is on-brand, and according to the agency that created the initiative, it earned over a thousand pieces of coverage, with highlights including The Daily TelegraphMarie Claire, and Mashable.

Netflix Pops Up with a Gilmore Girls Diner

Celebrating the 16th anniversary of the first episode of the cult favorite “Gilmore Girls,” Netflix smartly brought to life one of the show’s cultural touchstones.
It transformed 250 cozy local U.S. and Canadian coffee shops into one of the fans’ favorite settings for the show’s Luke’s Diner. The shops promised free coffee and a comfy nostalgic return to the original series. Not every brand has the budget for a promotion this big, but it’s the thinking behind the tie-in that really hits, because it’s so true to the brand. Like the best PR-driven ideas, it is creatively designed yet simply executed.

Irish Independent Coffee “Davids” Protest Starbucks’ “Goliath”

This “protest” may not have achieved the desired effect – preventing Dublin’s 51st Starbucks from opening – but coverage resulting from the stunt served as a reminder for the citizenry to appreciate their local vendors. Here’s how it worked: independent coffee shops in Dublin banded together to offer free coffee to all for an entire day. The group was reacting to what they see as “corporate coffee creep” and its impact on their business. According to local media, the protests won’t keep Starbucks away – can anything? But local caffeine providers claimed victory for raising the visibility of indie options and reminding consumers that they have a choice. An interesting footnote is the protest’s apparent “life imitating art” quality. A famous episode of South Park presaged the entire event in 1998.

Cautionary note – for every PR stunt that is a well-executed success, there are many flops. We recently wrote about KFC’s ill-fated experiment in chicken-scented sunscreen products. It seems that isn’t the brand’s only foray into branded beauty. Who can forget KFC flavored nail colors, including Original Recipe and Hot & Spicy? Apparently many! But we give them props for trying.