Category Archives: Public Relations

My Brain Trust Weekly: Practicing PR in a Digital World

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While I have broadened the scope of my experience over the years to marketing and communications, I came up practicing public relations. My education started in the late 80s under one of Seattle’s top PR practitioners, and I was lucky enough to work with her for 10 years and learn from a master. I moved on to manage the PR functions for two large organizations, became accredited in public relations (APR), and served as President of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America – and so I have a strong understanding of the profession.

Back then, it was all about getting to know the journalists covering the industry you worked in, wining and dining them, pitching them on your product or service, and getting the coverage. And while some of this still holds true today, much has changed with the advent of technology and social media.

Today, a PR professional’s job is still to strategically place stories, but given the changes (read: loss) in the print industry, coupled with the proliferation of blogs and online mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, etc, to whom and the way one pitches has changed. It’s now about more than just pushing out your message, it’s about content creation and engaging your audience (i.e. the reporter or blogger) in a two-way conversation.

In The Evolution of Public Relations, Beth Ann McDonald writes:

According to Jack Leslie, Chairman at Weber Shandwick, PR has moved from a broadcast model to an engagement model, meaning PR professionals are in a constant two-way conversation with the media. Now PR specialist are focusing less and less on traditional efforts and are trying to make outreach and engagement with the media more organic. By doing so, the messages that we are offering to editors seem more natural and specific to their interests, rather than a mass email that reads very generic and regulated.

The Brain Trust resources below delve into more detail about the transformation that is taking place. They outline the types of skills one must have to become a successful practitioner, and show what a great campaign looks like. From my perspective, I think the job has become much more interesting!

Public relations in 2018 (Stephen Waddington)
Here’s my analysis of the opportunities and challenges that I believe public relations faces in the next 12 months. They’re not so much predictions as a work in progress. This is an article and deck about the outlook for public relations and social media in 2018. It’s based on insight from my day job working at Ketchum and incorporates crowdsourced feedback to an initial draft.

The Biggest and Most Important Media and PR Trends for 2018 (Forbes)
Reaching out via the spiritual universe, I spoke to some of the best minds in PR today to find out what’s coming next.  Unlike other columns about the future with predictions based on 2016 giving us insights about trends that are already here – People are using social media? No way! – I asked these Seers of Spin to look towards 2018, and beyond.  Many of these PR pros responded directly to me, and others with unique expertise were found on the web.  From Artificial Intelligence to Fake News, content marketing to client communications, here’s what the futurists predict for the communications industry.

Evolving PR Practice: How Times Have Changed (Muckle Media)
As an alumni of Leeds Beckett who graduated 15 years ago, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on three of the biggest changes to PR practice I’ve witnessed throughout my career.

The Future of Public Relations: Trends, Skills, PR vs. Marketing (Study) (MarketingProfs)
Public relations professionals say digital storytelling and social listening are the trends that will most influence the future of the field, according to recent research from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and the Association of National AdvertisersThe report was based on data from a survey of 875 public relations professionals (63% work for an agency; 37% work in-house) as well as data from a survey of 101 in-house marketers.

10 Tips for Enhancing Your PR Metrics in 2018 (Ragan)
Another year, another demand for ROI. PR pros will face growing pressure in 2018 to prove how their activities contribute to the organization’s bottom line. Digital-savvy marketing teams could make substantial inroads into traditional public relations turf if PR does not offer relevant benchmarks. In essence, PR could soon become a subunit of marketing.

Are You Ready For PR in 2018? 5 Questions to Ask (KalvinPR)
We’ve all heard the saying that “Any PR is good PR,” but in the BtoB world, having a solid PR strategy can make the difference between just getting your name out vs. getting in front of the right audience with a great story and message. This type of success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While many believe in the power of earned media and how the resulting credibility helps establish image and reputation and ultimately, builds business, not every company is ready to commit the time, resources and thought to reap the most rewards. Here are 5 questions to ask before embarking on a plan.

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PR, Public Relations
Old-Fashioned Marketing

My Brain Trust Weekly: Differentiation Through Traditional Marketing

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Conventional wisdom tells us that with the explosion of digital marketing, the old-fashioned or traditional ways of marketing your business are no longer viable. In fact, Sergio Zyman, former Chief Marketing Officer of Coca Cola famously declared, “Traditional marketing is not dying – it’s dead!” He believes, “The era of marketing as we have known it is over, dead, kaput – and most marketers don’t realize it.”

So include me in the “most marketers” category then, because with all due respect to Mr. Zyman, I believe that there are traditional tactics that not only still work, but can actually work better than some of the newer marketing “fads.” Why do I believe this? Because I have seen them work first-hand – both in my own business and in my work with clients. Now, please don’t misunderstand me.. I’m all about strategy and integration, so I’m not saying that these tactics should be used in a vacuum. Rather, they should be part of an overall strategy and integrated into an entire campaign that most likely does include digital and online components.

From the moment we wake up, we are literally bombarded with messages everywhere we look – on our computers, TVs, and phones – so what I’m really talking about is getting back to basics. Interacting with people – without an electronic device in the middle – has the potential to stand out, create personalization and provide a much needed respite from a glowing screen. Consider the following activities:

1. Thank You Notes: The hand-written kind that you actually put into an envelope, hand address and put in the US mail. I’ve had discussions with many people who have commented on my use of this tool, and their appreciation of the personalized touch, the time they know it took for me to do it, and their surprise and delight to receive some actual snail mail has kept me top of mind in a positive way.

2. Phone Calls: The sound of your voice when most communication is typed can make a strong impression. Call your customers, and pick up your phone when they call you. Just say no to using email communication for every interaction in order to enhance your personal relationship. Especially for those tough conversations or when the details are critical. It ensures there will be no misunderstanding of each other’s tone.

3. Free Advice: One of the best ways you can engender appreciation and show your expertise is to provide insight without an expectation of payment or contract. Now, of course, do this within reason, but providing a new idea to a client that is outside of your scope of work without billing them, brainstorming marketing ideas with new contacts, sending articles that you know will be useful to past clients and similar activities will always come back to you in a big way.

4. Connecting Others: Some of the most popular (and busiest) people I know are the ones who go out of their way to connect people in their network to those they don’t yet know in order to help them facilitate new business. They get no reward for it, other than undying appreciation by those they help. But more often than not, that undying appreciation translates to an effort by others to return the favor.

The Brain Trust resources below provide additional insight into activities that should be revisited for effectiveness:

Traditional Marketing: Reasons It Still Works for Businesses Today (Intelligent HQ)
The fact that there are many business owners investing in address printers to cope with their printed media requirements, is a clue in itself that if you dismiss some traditional marketing methods, you might be missing out on a chance to achieve solid sales growth.

The Continuing Power of Traditional Marketing (Business2Community)
Traditional advertising and marketing methods still work because they benefit from several deeply-ingrained characteristics of human judgment and decision-making that haven’t changed much despite the recent profound changes in how we humans access information and communicate.

Why Integrating Traditional and Digital Marketing is a No-Brainer (Marketing Zen)
The point is that no matter how game-changing the digital revolution has been, it’s not the end-all be-all. That’s as true in marketing as it is in any other industry—salespeople, for instance, still make phone calls and face-to-face visits, and retailers still invest in brick-and-mortar stores despite the popularity of online shopping.

Why We Need to Stop the Bickering About Digital Versus Traditional Marketing (Marketing Eye)
The issue with black and white arguments over digital versus traditional is that in general, their aim seems to be to generate controversy or ‘win’ the opinion of the marketing world, rather than helping us to improve. If you read past the blanket claims and bickering however, you can find some valuable lessons.

How to Market a Small Business Offline (Kabbage)
While many small businesses focus all of their attention and budget on online marketing, there are still many opportunities for building a brand using offline tactics. The old-fashioned strategies of connecting with customers via direct mail, advertising, and in-person still work. And in some cases, they actually seem refreshing and quite personal compared to the online world we’ve come to accept. –

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Why It’s So Critical To Have a Crisis Communication Plan

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Every couple of years I blog about how organizational leaders and executives wear blinders when faced with a crisis resulting from a misguided executive decision, operational issue or faux paux moment. My first post focused on Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” moment that is widely credited for losing him the presidential election, as well as Susan G. Komen’s fall from grace after cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and BP Oil’s trials related to CEO Tony Hayward’s remark about “wanting his life back” following an oil rig explosion that killed 11 people.

And even though these debacles played out so publicly that they provide college PR and Communications professors with case studies for years to come, it seems no one has learned how critical the framing of a crisis communication response is. We’ve seen more public displays of it including Paula Deen’s “n-word” debacle and General Motors’ faulty-ignition switch problem and the company’s attempt to deny responsibility. It is apparent from anyone who practices PR that these companies either did not have a crisis communication plan in place, or if they did, they did not heed it.

A crisis communication plan can make or break a company’s or executive’s future success – the public can be forgiving if it perceives a sincere and empathetic effort to fix the problem immediately and take care of any victims.

Consider these recent examples:

Chipotle – Chipotle became the darling of the fast-food world by attracting millennials, blue-collar workers and even whole families with its promise of high-quality, sustainably sourced Mexican-inspired cuisine, according to The Washington Post. But a series of food poisonings and other challenges are threatening its reputation and underscoring the difficulty of meeting the needs of a generation of diners who increasingly demand inexpensive food that is safe, natural and nutritious.

The latest crisis began in November when Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Washington state and Oregon after health authorities linked an E. coli outbreak to six restaurants in the region. Illnesses contracted at Chipotles have since been reported in seven more states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Then in December, at least 80 students at Boston College fell ill after eating at a Chipotle, leading the company to close another restaurant. Boston health officials said the cause was norovirus, a common virus, while citing the restaurant for two health violations: improper handling of poultry and the presence of a sick employee.

For some unfathomable reason, it took Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder and co-chief executive, until Dec. 10 to appear on the Today Show, and apologize to everyone who’d fallen ill. According to Bloomberg, “Ells announced a comprehensive food-safety program that he said would far exceed industry norms. He didn’t address why a company that had challenged quality standards with such gusto hadn’t taken on safety standards as well.” Chipotle has said it will shift more food preparation out of restaurants and into centralized kitchens—that is, it will do things more like the fast-food chains it’s long mocked.

The Post article goes on to say, “Chipotle’s reputation is perhaps more at risk than most in the fast-food industry because the chain has promised that it adheres to more-rigorous standards for procuring and serving its food. Now, industry experts warn it could face a permanent red mark even if the latest spate of setbacks proves temporary.”

Flint, Michigan – According to DogoNews, the city’s water supply is so tainted that President Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint releasing up to $5 million USD to help the city combat what is probably one of the biggest public health crisis of recent times.

The chain of events that led to this unprecedented situation began in 2013. In a bid to save money, city officials decided to stop purchasing water from Detroit and instead switch to a new water authority. This move they claimed would save the financially-strapped city millions of dollars. Given that the new water authority planned to bring in water from Lake Huron, the same source as used by Detroit, it appeared to be a smart move.

The plan, however, had one major flaw. While the contract with Detroit ended in 2014, the pipeline that would bring water from the new supplier was not expected to be ready until 2016. But the officials were not concerned. They had the perfect interim solution. They would save even more money by using water from the nearby Flint River. Though the river has a storied history because of past use as a dumping ground for chemicals and trash, it has since been cleaned up and, therefore, deemed ‘safe’ to use for the city’s water supply.

But they were wrong. Over the next few months, there would be numerous other safety concerns, including a citywide advisory to boil the water after e.coli bacteria were detected.

And today Reuters reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has suspended two state workers in connection with water testing failures in the Flint contamination crisis. Snyder, who has hired a crisis PR firm (finally!), suspended two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality workers in an increasing national furor over elevated lead readings in tap water and the blood of some children.

Snyder apologized this week (finally!) to Flint residents for the state’s failures. Reports have pointed to errors at the city, state and federal level, but the bulk of the blame has been put on the DEQ, a state agency whose director resigned at the end of last year over Flint’s water issues.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – The nominations for the 88th Annual Academy Awards were released on January 15 and for the second year in a row, the Academy handed out a whopping total of zero nominations to non-white performers in the four acting categories.

After accusations of racism from the mainstream media and Twitter’s “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag sullied last year’s awards, it’s hard to understand how the eternally progressive Hollywood community behind the Oscars couldn’t correct last year’s error and offer a measly one of those 16 nominations to an actor of color, according to The Federalist.

An Academy Awards boycott that stemmed from a lack of racial diversity among Oscar nominees has grown, with Will Smith saying January 21 that he is joining his wife in skipping this year’s ceremony, among with a growing group of others, including Oscar winner Spike Lee.

To its credit, the Academy’s swift action with a press release issued on Friday, January 22, may stop the bleeding. According to the Today Show, the AMPAS Board of Governors announced the addition of new governor seats on the board, the restructuring of committees and plans to “double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.”

In a statement, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said AMPAS is “going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” adding the initiatives “will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

How these organizations respond moving forward could have a significant impact on their future existence. Jim Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, CCEP, among the most widely known crisis public relations practitioners and senior executive coaches in North America, recommends seven steps in these types of situations. His Seven Dimensions of Crisis Communications Management: A Strategic Analysis and Planning Model, is the industry bible. Among his recommended operational responses to a crisis:

1. Candor: Outward recognition through promptly verbalized public acknowledgement that a problem exists; that people or groups of people, the environment, or the public trust is affected; and that something will be done to remediate the situation;

2. Explanation (no matter how silly, stupid, or embarrassing the problem causing error was): Promptly and briefly explain why the problem occurred and the known underlying reasons or behaviors that led to the situation (even if there is only partial early information). Talk about what was learned from the situation and how it will influence the organization’s future behavior. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information until it is all out, or until no public interest remains.

3. Declaration: A public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken conclusively address the issues and resolve the situation.

4. Contrition: The continuing verbalization of regret, empathy, sympathy, even embarrassment. Take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place, whether by omission, commission, accident, or negligence.

5. Consultation: Promptly ask for help and counsel from victims, government, and the community of origin – even from opponents. Directly involve and request the participation of those most directly affected to help develop more permanent solutions, more acceptable behaviors, and to design principles and approaches that will preclude similar problems from occurring.

6. Commitment: Publicly set organizational goals at zero. Publicly promise that to the best of the organization’s ability similar situations will never occur or reoccur.

7. Restitution: Find a way to quickly pay the price. Make or require restitution. Go beyond community and victim expectations and what would be required under normal circumstances to remediate the problem.

After all, Jim says, adverse situations remediated quickly cost far less and are controversial for much shorter periods of time.

It will be interesting to watch further developments with these situations to see if the organizations can weather these serious breaches of public trust. But one thing is for certain – a sincere and empathetic approach to communication goes a long way toward ensuring that one crisis doesn’t evolve into two – from the original transgression to a company failure.

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The Brain Trust Weekly – 2014 Marketing Trends and Predictions

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‘Tis the season for marketers to develop their strategic plans for 2014. To do so effectively, you must be aware of marketing trends – what’s working, what’s not, and how you can use this information for your business. Here are some great Brain Trust resources covering a variety of disciplines to assist you as you review your current activities and determine where to focus resources in the coming year. Go forth and conquer!

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Better 40 Years Later Than Never: How PR Helped Me Meet My Teen Idol Crush and Puppy Love

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Photo Credit: Scott Roeben

Ask most women from any generation and they’ll likely tell you about their first middle-school crush on the teen idol of the day. The following info from Wikipedia provides a sampling of the most popular for each decade (don’t blame the messenger if yours is missing):

1950s: Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, James Dean, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Paul Anka

1960s: Ricky Nelson, Bobby Rydell, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz (The Monkees)

1970s: Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Robby Benson, Jan Michael Vincent, Jack Wild, Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Andy Gibb, Tony DeFranco, Michael Jackson, Bay City Rollers

1980s: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy (Brat Pack); Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, River Phoenix, Rick Springfield, Kirk Cameron, Scott Baio

1990s: Menudo, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Jason Priestley and Luke Perry (90210)

2000 & Beyond: Zac Efron, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, One Direction

For me, it was Donny Osmond – and this is the story about how my PR background helped me and my BFF have the experience of a lifetime by meeting the man we have adored for 40+ years. Continue reading

Business Lessons Learned from 55th Grammy Awards

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As a PR practitioner I’m always thinking about how current stories and trends can be tied to my clients’ work – being able to effectively do so usually results in media coverage. The same goes for ideas for blog posts, something in which I’m always searching for inspiration. Given my passion for music, and the Larson household’s annual tradition of camping out in front of the TV for not just the nearly 4-hour Grammy telecast, but for the E! Red Carpet and preceding (gasp!) E! Countdown to the Red Carpet, I thought it would be fun to share insights on business lessons that can be learned from some of the performances and shenanigans that took place Sunday night. Continue reading

PR 101: Romney’s 47 Percent Crisis Communications Problem

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by Leslie A.Larson

For decades, multi-million dollar corporations have worn blinders when faced with a company crisis resulting from a misguided executive decision or faux paux moment. And even though these debacles have played out so publicly that they provide college PR and Communications professors with case studies for years to come, it seems no one has learned that the framing of their response is critical. Consider the most recent examples:

May 31, 2010 – BP Oil CEO Tony Hayward complains to a reporter, “I’d like my life back,” following the explosion of the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 people and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history and second-largest in world history. It took him two days to apologize via a statement on Facebook, and the company was forced to invest $50 million in an ad campaign to enhance its image. Not long after a bashing in front of Congress, BP announced that Hayward was stepping down as CEO but would play a role in one of its Russian subsidiaries (the leadership equivalent of being exiled to Siberia), according to The Elements of Power. Continue reading