Five Types Of Bylined Content That Work For PR

As outlined in my post on PR tips for effective bylines, bylined content is a powerful part of a B2B PR plan. It can help deliver key messages, communicate expertise and drive thought leadership for business brands. But there are many types of content that build credibility and leadership as part of a strategic PR program. Here are five of the most common.

Traditional Trend Piece

Content that explains a new or emerging trend is among the most valuable for business customers because it helps educate prospects. Educational content is particularly useful for any category with a long purchase cycle and steep learning curve, like software or insurance. Executives who are subject-matter experts can share relevant insights on business happenings. These will typically include a specific point of view about an industry trend, what it means, how businesses should prepare or respond, and possibly even how they can help, although this may only be implied. For example, we represent several ad tech companies at a time when major browsers like Chrome are phasing out support for third-party cookies. What does this mean for digital advertising? How can marketers cope? What does it do for publishers? These issues seem arcane for anyone outside the industry, but they’re hot-button topics in the ad tech lane because the community is rushing to adapt. As in any category, change represents opportunity for those who can seize it.

Personal/Lessons Learned

We love this type of piece because we represent high-growth technology companies often led by entrepreneurs, and they all have stories to tell. What’s more, these pieces are usually both well differentiated and authentic. The important thing to bear in mind for “lessons learned” content is that the most influential and widely shared articles will offer insights for the reader as well as an interesting personal experience. Right now, many businesses have learned and changed enormously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among our base of clients there are some excellent stories about what they’ve learned, how they’ve adapted and how they’re continuing to navigate the situation as business leaders and as citizens. A “lessons learned” piece is also among the most versatile, and it can usually be augmented or even replaced by a video version. 

Service Content

This type of content can overlap with the “lessons learned” category, but it is typically more tactical and less personal. It may also be far more grounded in research. An effective service piece can be in the form of a whitepaper that offers proprietary industry data and outlines key steps for customers who face a specific decision or business dilemma. The best service articles are generous with data but offer clear tips, steps, or checklists for moving a business forward, responding to customer preferences, or effecting specific change. Service content is among the easiest and best types of content for incorporating different types of visuals beyond text, including digital graphics, charts, and short video snippets. 

Opinion/Contrarian Piece

This type of contributed content showcases a personal opinion on an important business, social, or cultural matter. Op-ed pieces and bylined articles are a staple in politics, but they’re equally effective for entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to communicate their ideas and build a reputation for bold thinking. The most effective such articles set out a single take or point of view and back it up with statistics, experience, or other evidence. An op-ed is a perfect vehicle for experts who want to help shape a public conversation. A contrarian opinion and/or a strong call to action can help an op-ed writer stand out. In our world, a less popular opinion may have a better chance of being published in an influential business or trade outlet – but only if it is authentic. 

Call-to-Action

A Call To Action, or CTA, can exist in nearly any type of content but it’s worth calling out because it is essential to achieving content marketing goals. The CTA tells a target audience what action they should take after reading through the post. The most basic CTAs involve encouraging the customer to buy a product or service. Other types might involve asking readers to share the content, make a donation, subscribe to emails, and so forth. CTAs should be short and concise so the reader knows exactly what to do and can easily follow through. 

Leverage bylined articles for maximum exposure

After deciding on your content mix, it’s important to make sure it is seen by the most relevant target audience. Any business can ensure that its pieces are seen by those who matter most: clients, prospects, referral sources, alumni, colleagues, internal staff, and, of course, the media outlets that influence different segments. Promoting content social media and encouraging others to share it as well is important for gaining maximum exposure for your piece. Direct marketing to customers and employees through timely emails is also useful. We will explore the best ways to merchandise business content in an upcoming post. 

 

How (And Why) PR Pros Should Use TikTok

There’s a new social media app taking the world by storm. It’s called TikTok. Ever heard of it? 

Seriously, TikTok has been on the PR radar for a long time, and most recently it made news for different reasons. Media interest peaked over the weekend with reports that a deal involving TikTok, Oracle and Wal-Mart would avert a ban of the app in the U.S. The agreement is still tentative, but it’s meant to resolve the simmering controversy about the app as a potential security risk.

TikTok’s users, however, don’t seem concerned. The app has surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, with 1.65 billion downloads to date, more than 30 million active monthly users in the U.S., and more than 500 million active users worldwide. TikTok is currently the sixth largest social network in the world. 

What started out as a Snapchat-like platform for younger generations of social media influencers and general users for sharing video snippets has grown into an essential platform for marketing and advertising. Whether a brand’s focus is fitness, fashion, food, or anything else, TikTok can connect it to a highly desirable and sometimes elusive audience. 

Why TikTok? 

New and creative social channels should be key elements for consideration in any PR plan, especially for brands aiming to reach a younger audience. TikTok is essential for this demo, as 60% of U.S. users are between the ages of 16 and 24. The app is intrinsic to its users’ lives;  the average Tik Tok visitor opens the app more than eight times per day, spending about 46 minutes on it daily.  

One of the most appealing aspects of TikTok, especially for those younger users, is that everyone is a creator. It’s open to all formats, and there are no distinct guidelines or rules on how the app should be used. Creativity is the only rule. Videos range from singing and dancing, to comedy, reaction videos and challenges. On the flip side, users can find more serious content, with videos focused on topics like politics, climate change, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Depending on individual users’ personalized recommendations, TikTok plays videos instantly upon the app’s opening, immediately drawing viewers in. This is TikTok’s most central feature – its AI-driven algorithm that shows videos based on user preferences. This same feature helps guarantee that a brand’s videos will reach its target audience – an important distinction TikTok has over other social media platforms. 

TikTok is a powerful brand marketing platform

TikTok makes it easier than ever to promote a brand – reaching the right people in the right ways. Over the last year, it introduced self-serve advertising platforms, including branded hashtags, video ads, branded lenses and much more. Based on a company’s wants and needs, there are a variety of formats to choose from. 

Branded hashtags drive discovery

Branded hashtags encourage users to create videos with a certain hashtag, often accompanied by a specific song or dance move. Videos with branded hashtags are not only available in a user’s normal feed, but also in the Trending section of the Discover tab, making these videos widely viewable. In fact, with TikTok, users rely heavily on hashtags to navigate the app. It’s “For You” discovery page engages far more than Instagram’s “Discover” page, for example.

Pepsi’s #SwagStepChallenge, a great example of a branded hashtag campaign, spread like wildfire on TikTok, as well as on Twitter and Youtube. The challenge became the fastest hashtag challenge using a branded effect to reach one million video creations globally and a whopping 95.5 billion views through user generated content (UGC) on the platform.

Video ads for the win

Video ads are understandably the most common format for ad and marketing purposes on TikTok, with brand takeovers, in-feed videos and top-view videos being popular. Brand takeovers are pop-up ads that typically last 3-5 seconds. They can be videos, GIFs, or images that include links to a landing page. TikTok only allows one brand to take over a category per day, but it guarantees five million impressions, a promise that may well be worth the investment for many. Additionally, brands get immediate attention, as the ads display upon opening the app. 

Branded lenses jump on trends

With branded lenses, brands partner with TikTok to create 2D and 3D lenses for users to “try on” and share. Branded lenses also let companies land in the Trending section of the Discover tab for ten days. According to Prowly, about 64% of TikTok users have tried facial filters and lenses, making it another valuable option for marketers. 

Influencer partnerships spice it up

For any marketer wanting to incorporate TikTok into a brand PR strategy, TikTok influencers are essential. As on other platforms, TikTok influencer marketing ads partner brands with creators to generate and share sponsored content. When the partnership is authentic and the creators are given freedom, these partnerships can be highly successful. 

For example, David Dobrik, one of the most popular social media influencers, with more than 22 million TikTok followers, partnered with Chipotle for its Lid Flip Challenge, a Cinco de Mayo campaign to promote the chain’s free delivery for digital orders. Chipotle discovered that Gen Zers order delivery more than any other segment, making them the perfect audience. To participate in the challenge, users only needed a phone and a Chipotle burrito bowl. 

According to AdAge, in just the first six days of the Lid Flip Challenge with David Dobrik, 111,000 videos were submitted and the promotion garnered a record-breaking digital sales day for the chain, driving app downloads and delivery among the key Gen Z audience.

But Can It Work for B2B?

B2B companies might be hesitant about TikTok because it’s so consumer-oriented, but they shouldn’t count it out. Companies wanting to reach business customers have the same end goal of reaching and forming lasting relationships with their target audiences. So, for B2B companies, how can TikTok help? 

With any brand, it’s important to feel approachable. Stronger relationships can be formed when customers feel connected to your brand on a more personal level. TikTok users want the platform to stay a creative, authentic channel for human-to-human interaction. Do you have a CEO with a unique story? Maybe how he/she established the business, or maybe insights on building a strong culture at work? Sharing tips or short stories in visually appealing ways can engage viewers and make lasting impact. For example, marketer Adrian Brambila shares his success story on TikTok by explaining how he established himself as a marketing leader, and to date, his videos have generated more than 4.7 million likes. 

TikTok is overflowing with innovative, fresh ideas, so brands must be clever with their posts to be noticed. Even for brands thought of as “boring” that is doable. For example, just before the global shutdown in March, The Washington Post began sharing content on TikTok, but they weren’t posting videos of daily headlines. Rather, the outlet shared relatable videos on the daily struggles and adjustments of working from home, incorporating popular trends. They must be doing something right, because the content has generated more than 25.8 million likes. 

Staying relevant, influential and top-of-mind is important for all brands, whether B2B or B2C. Keeping up with content trends is one way of doing that, and some of the best, most buzzworthy ideas online are shared on TikTok. Viral TikTok videos make great templates for high-performing content on other platforms as well – Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 

With TikTok, B2B companies can connect and engage with more of their audience and show prospects the more creative and personal side of their business. B2B companies not leveraging the app may be missing out on opportunities. 

TikTok: making connections and driving lasting impacts 

TikTok is the first app of its kind. What separates it from other social media platforms is the creativity it affords users. It lets them be both creators and viewers, and exposes them to an endless stream of personalized content. More importantly, the sense of community on TikTok is what draws users in and keeps them coming back for more. It will continue to play a key role in the PR efforts of brands appealing to younger users. If you’re looking to engage with the elusive teen or young 20s demographic, chances are you will find them on TikTok.

3 Tips For A Killer Media Tour

The media tour has been around for nearly as long as the PR industry. It helps build relationships between a brand spokesperson and multiple journalists over a short period of time. The term is a little misleading, however. It dates back to the days when authors would travel from city to city to promote a new book in a blitz of media interviews, or when celebrities push a film to 20 cities in an afternoon of local TV chats via satellite. Today most media tours aren’t exactly like that. They happen when we set up back-to-back in-person meetings between an expert and carefully selected reporters who find his story particularly relevant.

There are many reasons why media tours have survived so long. Maybe an executive is based overseas but will be in the U.S. for a short time. Or perhaps a spokesperson with unique expertise is available on a limited basis. Often these meetings serve more of an introduction than a formal interview, but the tour may also be centered around specific industry news, like a new product or executive change. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure a successful media tour, whether in-person or virtually.

Manage expectations on both sides

Make sure the nature of each meeting is clear – whether it will be a casual background conversation or a formal, on-the-record interview for a specific story angle. There should be no confusion between the reporter and the spokesperson, who should be prepared with sample questions and background on the journalist (see below). During the meeting, individual PR reps may operate in different ways, but in general, the PR person is there to observe, occasionally steer the conversation, but not to have an active role in the discussion. Of course, we need to be prepared to jump in if things go off-course, or if the spokesperson needs help in reponsing or obtaining data.

Put thought into scheduling

Be sure to schedule meetings with attention to detail. If the tour’s goal is to introduce a brand executive from overseas to U.S. media, be mindful of jet lag and cultural differences — even on Zoom. Don’t plan meetings too closely together unless the spokesperson is very experienced or the schedule requires it. Be discreet when arranging interviews with publications that compete with one another to avoid awkward moments. Also, remember that no matter how much thought you put into prep for a schedule of meetings, things will go wrong in small ways. Journalists will run late or cancel, security lines for office buildings may be long, technology will fail, or Ubers may not show. Be flexible, build in extra time, and make sure your phone is charged and its address book holds the contact information for all relevant parties. 

Overprepare

Although some media tours are set up as a general introduction, all spokespersons should be prepared with the full background of the journalist involved, the media outlet’s orientation and history, and the interviewer’s goals. A sample Q&A is always advisable, even if the two already know one another. We typically prepare a full briefing doc beforehand.  In addition to helping the conversation flow, it’s useful to keep certain topics top-of-mind so the interviewee won’t be caught off-guard. The most successful media meetings occur when there’s a dynamic conversation and flow between the spokesperson and reporter.

After a successful media meeting, the reporter is far more likely to have the organization and spokesperson on their radar and to reach out for future stories. In this way, in-person chats are invaluable. We can’t wait to return to that old-fashioned way to meet!

Crenshaw Nominated For 2020 PRSA-NY Big Apple Awards

The Crenshaw  team is delighted to be nominated for a 2020 PRSA Big Apple award. The Big Apples are the gold standard of excellence for PR practitioners in the New York metro area and celebrate the best work of PR agencies, companies, governmental bodies, and not-for-profit organizations during the prior year. 

This year, we have been nominated in the  B2B PR category for our campaign on behalf of event management software company Bizzabo. “EMPOWERing Gender Diversity in Events” helped Bizzabo build brand visibility and align with diversity-conscious event and marketing decision-makers. Winners will be announced September 30 during a virtual awards ceremony. Good luck to all who are nominated!   

5 Ways to Build Better Journalist Relationships

For PR people, few things are more important than media relationships. Ties with journalists don’t guarantee results, but they’re an important entree to getting out the stories we tell for clients. Good relations with reporters and producers usually means your pitch will get a hearing at the very least. Often it means you’ll get valuable feedback even if every offer doesn’t turn into a quick story.

With that in mind, here are five ways to stay on the good side of journalists to ensure that you build — and maintain — strong relationships. 

Always make it relevant 

When approaching media, it’s critical that the news you’re sharing is relevant to their specific beat and the types of stories they cover. The way to ensure this is to do your research. This can be something as simple as a Google search on a reporter, or browsing the publication’s website. Familiarizing yourself with their work will allow you to bring them stories that fit their beat and interests. That, combined with keeping a close eye on breaking news, can give you a serious advantage over others. Jumping on breaking news is a relatively easy way to get your client covered. The key is timing and making sure you’re not late to the game.If you wait even a few hours to reach out to a reporter, you could miss the boat entirely. 

Schedule face time 

Today, the bulk of media correspondence takes place through email and phone. And while this is convenient for day-to-day, when possible, it helps to put a face to a name and meet with a reporter in person. This can be anything from post-work drinks to a quick bite — even something like group karaoke. Getting together can help humanize you outside of a professional setting and help build trust with the reporter. Since COVID-19, in-person meetings aren’t possible, so Zoom happy hours have filled the gap. They’ve become a common networking tool that plays a similar role to build relationships between PR pros and journalists.  

Don’t be a nag

Journalists are often juggling multiple stories and tasks, and their job requires undivided attention. As a result, they may not respond to emails right away. This shouldn’t be a reason to constantly follow up. It’s best to spread out any follow-up emails or calls so that you’re respecting their time. Bugging reporters too much also comes across as desperate. Further, they could be even more likely to ignore you and not consider your ideas for future stories.

Use social media..but thoughtfully 

There’s no denying the importance of social media in today’s culture. And most journalists are active on various platforms, particularly Twitter. They use social platforms to share their stories and to comment on current events in the industries they cover. For PR pros, commenting, retweeting and interacting with their posts in any way shows that you’re interested and knowledgeable about the topics they cover. Connecting with journalists on social media is also a less formal — but definitely effective — way to get their attention before sending them a formal pitch on email. But preferences about social media approaches to journalists vary, and they should be made only when you know the reporter. 

Be yourself

When sending pitches or emails in a professional environment, it’s easy to abandon your true personality for something that’s more formal, or even robotic. In PR, however, it’s more acceptable to be yourself. Keeping things human can strengthen your relationships with media. For example, I like to keep pitches casual. If journalists feel like they’re getting an automated email instead of an approach from a real person, they’ll be less likely to respond and take it seriously. In addition, it’s always good to be transparent about what you want from a reporter. Don’t beat around the bush. If they feel like you’re leading them on or have some sort of ulterior motive, it’ll turn them off and they likely won’t cover. So when communicating with reporters, treat them in a similar (but, of course, appropriate) way as you would a friend.

How To Get Media Coverage When You Have No News

When big things are happening at your organization, it makes the PR roadmap fairly clear. But what if you have no news? What happens when your big story from last quarter has run its course? Media relations can be a lot like that Ariana Grande song, “Thank U, Next.”  You’re only as good as your last story. 

One skill of a great PR team is in generating opportunities to keep an organization relevant and visible, even in the absence of hard news like a new product launch or a CEO change. Here are three ways to get media coverage when your company has no news. 

Chase a breaking story

With credit to David Meerman Scott for the name, “newsjacking” by any label has been around for decades. It can be an excellent way to generate visibility in between announcements. Newsjacking involves injecting your brand into a breaking news story that isn’t generated by your organization. When done correctly, it can generate extensive media coverage and reinforce expertise or even leadership. 

In my experience, the best way to newsjack is to offer a select number of reporters a quote relevant to a breaking story through email, shortly after the news hits. This way, reporters working under tight deadlines can use and attribute the quote in their reporting. Those who have a bit more time may respond with questions or ask for a briefing, which is ideal. But in many cases journalists covering a breaking story don’t have time to chase quotes or do interviews. So sharing a timely comment will increase the chance of your company making it into the piece.  

For example, when we saw reports that President Trump would sign an executive order to boost research and development for artificial intelligence (AI) in the U.S., the Crenshaw team offered select journalists expert commentary from executive leadership at Fractal, the world’s leading AI-provider for Fortune 500 companies. The news gained plenty of coverage, and Fractal’s CEO Pranay Agrawal was quoted in many of the resulting articles, from The Wall Street Journal to TechTarget

There are other ways to take advantage of breaking news stories, especially those that stay in the news cycle for several days or weeks. A company blog post on a newsworthy topic will often help media and influencers link a subject-matter expert with a breaking story. So will joining social media conversations about the news. If all else fails, the calendar is filled with predictable occasions and events that editors and producers tend to cover regularly, like seasonal items, or live events like the Super Bowl or the presidential election. 

Create your own news with research data

Another way to create buzz when you have no news is to make your own news through a well-designed survey. Timely research can spark coverage where there would otherwise be none. And for B2B companies, a survey can strengthen a brand’s positioning as the first port-of-call for relevant data in a given industry. 

Surveys are relatively inexpensive when conducted through a respected third-party research partner. Often the responses can be packaged into a press release or news nuggets for sharing with key media. A recent example is a survey we designed for Lotame, a leading unstacked data solutions company that works with marketers, ad agencies and publishers. 

Our team built a research report around the state of data quality with the goal of communicating Lotame’s credibility and leadership around those issues, which are paramount in the ad tech category. We pulled the most intriguing insights and offered them on an exclusive basis to Adweek. The exclusive was published in advance of a wider outreach, setting the stage for additional media conversations. The survey generated 11 stories that reinforced the company’s standing in its sector, and the data was useful for sales, marketing and analyst relations as well as PR.

Branded content pays long-term dividends

Bylines or longer-form content can be very useful for communicating a brand’s point of view or mission. And as a bonus, a well-written byline can be searchable for months or even years, adding brand visibility and promoting media requests for interviews when news does break.

Our team is very active when it comes to content creation, because it works particularly well for companies with deep expertise and insights who may be hampered in sharing news due to customer confidentiality. One recent example is a piece our team helped generate for Qure.ai, a leading healthcare startup, about the promise of smart intelligence for trauma caregivers. It’s an important topic, yet a specialized one where branded content that offers education and insight can work even harder than product news.  

When offering a bylined piece, bear in mind that each publication has different guidelines for contributed content. Their preferences for inquiries also vary from wanting a short pitch to asking for the complete piece. Also, some publications are seeking regular contributions while others are fine with one-off articles. 

It’s also important to target content thoughtfully. For QURE.ai example, we targeted a publication that reaches leading medical professionals and healthcare decision-makers for the trauma care piece, and it found a home with DOTMed. A strong bylined piece will generate coverage in between announcements, while also reinforcing brand expertise and leadership at the top to the right audience.

Media can have short memories. If you want to be on their radar, look beyond the obvious news stories or devise ways to create your own. 

Why Your First PR Job Should Be At A PR Agency

 

It’s inspiring to meet newly minted public relations or communications grads looking to crack that first job in their chosen field. And though the first break is rarely easy, for anyone set on a career in PR there are likely to be forks in the road at the beginning of the career journey. I often speak to new graduates who ask advice about how to start their career. They might be looking to join a large international company as the newest corporate communications hire, or want to break into PR at a nonprofit group. Here in New York, some set their sights on a media or fashion brand to learn those businesses while also gaining experience in external communications.

Let’s face it, any of the above would be a win for a recent graduate, but — barring a rich equity offer from a high-flying tech startup — I’d strongly advise jobseekers to take a position at a PR agency as opposed to a corporate or nonprofit gig. PR firms offer new professionals an excellent training ground and the right kind of experience for making future career decisions. My personal bias is for a small or midsize agency, but it’s really more about the classic agency structure and what it offers for team members. Here’s why:

You’ll learn the business of public relations

PR is PR no matter where you are, right? Not necessarily. On the corporate side, staff learn public relations as it serves the organization, but at an agency, it’s the core business. Usually it’s the only business. That translates into a deeper commitment to training and greater mastery of the PR discipline and a far greater breadth of experience through working for different clients. The agency environment helps those new to the workforce find out what they like, where they excel, and what the range of opportunities truly is. And you’ll benefit from layers of experiences professionals who can teach you.

Agencies offer a path to promotion

A successful agency offers extraordinary upward mobility for anyone with the right skills and a drive to succeed. Will you reach a ceiling at some point in an agency? Almost certainly, yes. But for a professional with good skills and less than a decade of experience, almost any road at a thriving agency will lead to advancement. This comes in contrast to the corporate communications world, where you’re typically dealing with a narrower path to growth.

You’ll learn what you love

Juggling multiple clients in different industries or sectors may not be for everyone. But the chance to participate in account management for clients within different industries, from B2B technology to food and beverage PR, will help anyone figure out where their passion lies and help focus career plans for the future. This is a great benefit even if you don’t plan on an agency career.

You’ll learn to produce

Or not, in which case your agency experience will be short. This is the good news-bad news side of life at a PR agency. Like nearly any creative services business, a PR firm earns its keep nearly every day. The agency has to deliver against its plan quickly and well. Those exigencies force you  to learn how to be productive and efficient, or they force you to look for a different environment for your particular skills.

You’ll learn salesmanship

For the most part, agency life is about selling. And while it varies with the type of firm, even junior staffers are exposed to the business development process. You may not be in the room where the presentation happens, but you’re likely to be a team member and observer at a minimum. And ongoing account management is a bit of a selling situation as well. Merchandising the agency’s value to clients is a part of the daily life at a PR firm. It’s experience that you can apply to your own contribution and career.

You’ll learn showmanship

From packaging dazzling content, to C-level boardroom presentations, this is also a skill that’s highly translatable to just about anything else you may do in life or work.

You’ll rarely be bored

Because it typically offers a wide breadth of work – though not as much depth as a long-term role on the client side –  the agency life is ideal for multitaskers. If you thrive on change and challenge, you may love life at a PR agency. But even if you end up running corporate communications at a large brand, the agency experience will pay off over an entire career.

To Be A Better Communicator, Listen

One of the overlooked  skills of PR practitioners and other communicators is listening – both literally (as any good manager or colleague should), and more broadly, as in hearing and interpreting the opinions and feedback of high-priority audiences.

These days, even with terrific social tools, listening can be a challenge.  There’s the speed of digital communication, the sheer amount of information we’re expected to manage, and the nearly universal tendency to multitask.

In fact, a study based on the responses of 1000 corporate executives at top companies found that workers send and receive 1800 messages each day. That’s daunting enough for a typical manager, but it’s even worse for a professional communicator, where active listening is both a critical managerial skill and an important part of the PR professional’s role.

The bottom line is this: better communications technology doesn’t necessarily result in better communication. Here are some things to bear in mind that may.

Cultivate diverse sources. We’re so tied up in information monitoring for clients and industries that it’s easy to overlook simple give-and-take conversations with stakeholders who live in the “real world” – people like customers, employees, or distributors. Nobody knows more about a given brand or business than those on the front lines in functions like sales, customer service, and retail. An hour over lunch or a phone call listening to a partner’s perspective on a product or business is worth a thousand white papers.

Pay attention to the silence. From an employee, silence may not mean everything’s hunky dory. When it comes to a key constituency like the press, it can be deafening… and dangerous. Rather than make assumptions, ask questions.

Be attuned to non-verbal cues. When meeting someone in person, pay attention to body language, facial expressions, cadence, hesitation, and word choice. Become a master of the easy, open-ended question. Don’t fear the silence; often that old reporter’s trick of pausing for a moment or two after someone speaks will encourage them to keep talking.

Don’t interrupt. This one’s tough for most of us, particularly within business cultures that reward proactive communication and fast answers. But it pays to yield the floor.

Focus on your goals. We in public relations spend so much time and energy on message development and delivery that naturally we think what we have to say is the paramount goal. But that’s not always true. As a wise boss once said to me, “What you want to accomplish is more important than what you want to say.”

Are Better Client-Agency Relations the Key to Better Public Relations?

At our New York public relations agency, we can never be accused of under-communicating with clients. Beyond daily e-mails and weekly status calls, we manage to achieve maximum “touchpoints” throughout the week. If you ask anyone in our firm, they will agree that better client agency relations are, if not THE key, certainly one key to better PR outcomes. This isn’t brain surgery or touchy feely shrink-speak; it’s simply true that better communication breeds success. Here are some examples of how this manifests itself in the PR world.

Go right to the source. If all you’ve ever done is read about the company’s latest and greatest on the website or in an RFP, get your client to tell you about it. Actually get the individual closest to the product’s creation to talk about it. You will glean untold facts, learn to better “sell” the story to the press in the client’s language, and increase your client’s good perception of you!

Let no misunderstandings linger. The minute something goes south – someone has blown a deadline, that phrase in the press release didn’t get changed, the reporter you prepared for starts asking crazy questions – nip it in the bud with a conversation. First of all, it is more direct and greatly appreciated. Second of all, there are some things that are better left “unsent” and best handled by talking.

Confirm. And confirm again. Even if you risk cluttering the in-box, when there are important deadlines on both the client and agency side, your emailed confirmation/s may be the most effective arrow in the quiver with a busy or impossible-to-reach client. And when the deadline is passed and the result is a great one, they may thank you for your hyper-efficiency.

Temperature check, often. If you get the feeling that you aren’t getting enough input to do your work well, have a candid chat with your client that can be as simple as saying, “What’s new?” and meaning it! If that doesn’t get your client talking, prepare a brief memo titled something like “In Preparation for Press Interviews” with some open-ended questions and see if that can get the ball rolling.

Get on the same rhythm.  After even a short amount of time with a client, you will learn who likes to be contacted on their cell vs. office line, who is a morning person or a night owl and who replies to email with terse one-word responses. Once you have deciphered this client code, you will communicate better with each contact and they will come to appreciate that about you. This “greases the skids” for more personal interaction and a better overall relationship.

Communications Lessons From Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the half-century since Martin Luther King delivered his final speech, many social movement leaders and politicians have walked in his footsteps, but few have matched his gift for leadership and, yes, public relations. Like most great leaders, King was a natural communicator. Here are some of the timeless communications techniques that King used to catalyze change on a grand scale.

Take the high road. Despite the ugliest possible insults and threats, King never stooped to the level of his opponents. Nor was he too passive, although his non-violent philosophy angered some who advocated for more aggressive tactics. King walked the fine line between passivity and combativeness by linking his appeals for racial justice to the very principles that our democracy was founded upon, and to the very best in human nature.

Inspire, don’t incite. Closely linked to his “rise above it” approach was King’s ability to inspire followers, even the unsure or weak. That charisma and courage are summed up in the phrase, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  He didn’t just talk the talk, he marched the march.

Cultivate allies. King not only developed advocates and allies for his own vision of racial equality and equal opportunity, but he fostered cooperation among various disparate groups as part of the overall civil rights struggle. He has a genius for consensus, which is essential to true leadership.

Talk about ideas. The first rule of thought leadership is to harness your mission not just to tangible goals but to abstract ideas. That’s one reason why the King dream was so compelling, and why it endures today. He invites us in by painting a picture of his vision of racial harmony, and by connecting it to a shared future.

Tap the power of language. Was there ever a more perfect speech than the iconic “I Have a Dream” address of August 1963? It is 17 minutes of flawlessly crafted and impeccably delivered rhetoric that will live forever at the core of the King legacy.