The Matchbox.

Jun. 25

Why PR is Like “The Voice”

I admit it, I watch “The Voice”. Not for the celebrity judges’ playful The Voicebanter or even for the dramatic back stories on contestants, but for the first few episodes when each singer performs without the judges seeing their appearance. They each make a distinct impression, clearly expressing their tone and style while competing for the judges’ attention. Once selected, they must keep the judges’ and audiences’ interest while proving why they are the best. Is this so different from PR?

PR pros use words to craft a specific picture of an organization’s identity and then proactively communicate its key messages and vision—its “voice”, if you will—to a community of journalists and analysts.  Then we coach the senior executives to go head-to-head against industry competitors by playing up strengths and staying true to the company’s mission. Once the industry gets to know a particular player, they often become fans and regularly “follow” them – in the media, on social channels and at industry events.

While “The Voice” obviously isn’t the same thing as the world of PR (for the record, I’ve never sung to a reporter), the show does highlight some of the basic tenets of successful PR—namely the importance of grabbing attention by making a strong, positive impression, continuing the initial momentum with a consistent identity and messages, and understanding the needs of your “fan” base to keep your organization and its offerings relevant.

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Jun. 18

Media Interviews: Tackling Tough Questions

Most media interviews are known to serve up at least one or two difficult questions. To ensure an interview goes smoothly, it is important to review a potential list of topics – especially sensitive subjects – and appropriate talking points in advance. Some of the tougher areas of discussion include:

The competition. When a reporter asks about a competitor, it is always best to remain above board and avoid criticizing other organizations’ products and services. Instead, flip the question to reference your company’s differentiators and what sets you apart in your respective market.

The financials conundrum. For private companies, it is important to show company momentum and growth. However, revealing revenue figures can land you in hot water with investors, clients, partners, etc. The best approach is to politely tell a reporter that you cannot disclose financial information and show growth through new clients (that you are allowed to mention publicly), product innovation or an expanding employee base.

The product roadmap.
Describing a company’s product roadmap without giving away too much detail can be a challenge. Will the roadmap meet expectations or will competitors grab the information and run with it? While reporters will dig for the next big product development, be careful about revealing too much (even if the reporter says the conversation is off-the-record). Instead, share recent developments and what is ahead in the next quarter. Leave bigger developments to larger trend conversations and discuss in general terms.

While the goal is to secure media coverage for your organization, if you are uncomfortable answering a question it is reasonable to let a reporter know that 1) you will follow-up with the information later or 2) you cannot answer the particular question. It is better to withhold information, than say too much and risk undisclosed information running in print.

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Jun. 04

The Downside of Cheeky Videos – Besides a Good Laugh

Over the past few months, national household retailers typically known for their buttoned-up marketing and branding styles, have unleashed off-color viral commercials on YouTube to reclaim lost sales, lost customers and/or launch new products. Take Kmart’s recent and, dare I say, hilarious “Ship My Pants” video that promoted its new in-store shipping offering due to a myriad of poor customer service issues. The video has amassed over 18 million views and shares. Even more recently, the brand has launched the “Big Gas Savings” YouTube video to promote its fuel offerings, which has eclipsed the first cheeky video.

Are these silly, risqué ads really helping the company improve their bottom line? Unfortunately not. The quarterly revenues released in late May continued to show slumping sales despite the overwhelming views and primetime media coverage across the networks. So while folks seem to be having a good laugh over it all, the viral video craze may not always be the Holy Grail.

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May. 07

The Rise of Video – Benefits of Face-to-Face Time

The democratization of video has arrived at Young & Associates. While we’ve been operating in a virtual environment for nearly 10 years, it has only been in the past year that we’ve really started to leverage the power of internal video. Clients are requesting calls via Skype and we are having staff meetings via Google Hangout. Not to mention we have a client in the business. Every time we do a video call I am reminded how valuable “face-time” is to a working relationship.

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As co-location isn’t always possible in professional collaborations, technology (thankfully) has helped break down location barriers and having a video-based face-to-face meeting really takes the teamwork up a notch. Engaging with your peers, clients or vendors verbally and visually helps shorten the getting to know you curve. Ask us about it – we’d love to meet you face-to-face.

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Apr. 24

PR & SEO: Outrank Your Competitors on Google

Today, public relations provides a strong support for a company’s search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, as content created by PR pros helps build trusted links for associated organizations or clients. With Google’s Penguin and Panda updates, PR teams should ensure that news releases, blog posts and byline articles are optimized for SEO so they can help drive website traffic and reach potential customers.

Here are a few tips to help maximize your Public Relations-SEO efforts.

Develop Informative, Well-Written Content – Sharing valuable content is imperative for ranking well in search engines and attracting new website visitors. Informative byline articles or blog posts including links and even related content from other sources send authoritative signals to Google and other search engines improving a company’s search rankings. This ultimately helps companies’ online visibility, brand recognition and offers the chance to rise above competitors.

Avoid the Keyword Trap – Pushing out company’s targeted keywords is beneficial, but be careful about the quantity and quality of keywords. With Google Penguin, if press releases include too many keywords the associated websites could be penalized and pushed down in search rankings. Instead, use links minimally – no more than one per 100 words. While it might be tempting to link to product pages, links to videos, infographics, white papers and even other articles produce the best results.

Bond with the SEO Team – Whether working for an agency or an in-house team, collaborate with those responsible for the company’s overall SEO strategy. Regular meetings to share messaging and targeted keywords can help PR and SEO work together and reach the company’s goals. If an SEO team doesn’t exist, the marketing manager and PR agency should collaborate on SEO, as it is imperative for increasing online visibility, reaching customers online and ranking above competitors in Google results.

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Apr. 16

Product Announcements: Giving Away the Secret Sauce?

Companies often grapple with formally unveiling products to the media without fueling competitors’ efforts by divulging too much information.  In fact, some shy away from announcing product info at all; however, sharing a limited amount of newsworthy information for media consumption CAN be successfully accomplished without giving away the “secret sauce”.

A good strategy for promoting product launches/updates involves boiling down the value points and centering key messaging around unique benefits, rather than drilling down on the minutia of features and functionality – these items, which may contain some proprietary data, are better served for data sheets and one-on-one customer interactions.

Also, companies can ensure that they are well prepared for product announcements by pre-briefing spokespersons on the level of information to be shared with media, so there is a comfort level and understanding prior to any interviews. Also be sure to create a few screen shots if appropriate, as media often request them to accompany product-focused stories.

In the end, product announcements can serve a valuable purpose—to show your organization’s momentum in providing your customers the latest and greatest solutions or services. By formally announcing significant products and services that meet your customers’ greatest needs, your organization is showing its commitment to the marketplace and serving as a thought leader that understands your industry’s key trends and challenges.


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Mar. 27

Is An Agency’s Media Network Paramount to Client Media Success?

This seems like a fairly straightforward question and one we hear from potential clients all the time. And it should be a fairly straightforward answer, particularly if you are an accomplished PR practitioner, right? Not always. Since the beginning of our agency’s life, Young & Associates has maintained strong relationships with technology, business and many vertical trade reporters in HR, local search, marketing/media/advertising, higher ed, etc. Those relationships have proven to be very successful for the agency, our clients and dare I say, the reporters.

But, should a company hire a PR agency based solely on its network? Absolutely not. Reporters come and go, relationships change and the newsroom’s needs evolve frequently in the age of digital. Nailing a high profile story in any publication comes down to four key things:

Complete Story and Messaging – Is your storyline new and interesting? What’s different and compelling about the company or subject matter expert’s POV? Can you offer supporting data points and a client that illustrates your position? Regardless if the reporter is your drinking buddy after hours or you just pitched him or her for the first time, the reporter can’t and won’t do anything with a stale, self-serving piece.

Timing – Hooking a pitch to a timely news event helps a reporter push it forward as a compelling and newsy item to their editor. If you are tying it to a trending topic, make sure you are able to push out your company’s POV within 24-48 hours from the event.

Tenacity – Even if you know the reporter and have the greatest pitch in the world, sometimes the stars just don’t align. Following up with the reporter to discuss the topic and their needs and offering an alternative angle suggestion will often lead to a placement and help further establish you and the company as a go-to resource in the future.

A Little Bit of Luck – Yep, I said it. Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry or unnoticed. In the end, a little luck can save the day.

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Mar. 04

Clever PR: Online Petition for Springing Forward a Day Earlier

Daylight Savings Time starts this weekend. With young kids at home, my husband and I try to adjust the kids’ bedtimes a few days in advance of time changes so our bedtime and morning wakeup schedules aren’t too thrown off the day of (and after). Well, Sleepy’s, the mattress retailer, has also given daylight savings time some thought and is using it as the center of a clever PR campaign.

Sleepy’s has started a “Soften the Shock” online petition for moving the start of Daylight Savings Time to Saturday at 2 am instead of Sunday at 2 am – giving folks an extra 24 hours to get adjusted to the time change before starting the school and work week. (We’ve all heard the news reports that more accidents happen on the Monday morning after a time change.)

Kudos to Sleepy’s and their PR team for finding a creative way to remind consumers about healthy sleep and ultimately, their mattresses. PR for evergreen products can get stale but Sleepy’s used some traditional PR strategies – albeit with a 2013 twist – to get their name in front of consumers:

Challenge status quo – When the PR team or another team member recommended a petition to change the day that Daylight Savings Time begins, I’m sure there were some management groans. However, with social media and online collaboration sites like Care2 or starting and promoting a petition to raise awareness of an issue has never been easier.

Think outside the box – National Sleep Awareness Week, which ends on March 10, would have been a go-to PR hook but instead Sleepy’s linked their brand to the sleep-related “holiday” for a creative twist and seemingly less self-serving PR exposure.

Localize – No, I haven’t seen the Sleepy’s story on any of the major networks but instead I read about it in the digital version of my hometown newspaper with input from a healthy sleep advocate and a local neurologist board-certified in sleep medicine. Local news still matters.

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Feb. 25

Multi-Tasking: Productive or Bad Prioritizing?

PR and marketing professionals are famous for juggling multiple initiatives or projects, as it is important for them to have a strong pulse on their company/or client, e.g., current objectives, products/solutions, industry trends and what the competition is doing.  Staying on top of things is often as important as solid writing and media pitching skills. However, are we being more productive by multi-tasking or should we spend more time zeroing in on priorities? There is a case to be made for both.

Often PR pros do not have a choice and must be flexible.  For example, a major product launch, industry event and customer initiative might take place in the same week. However, when time isn’t an issue it is best to focus on a set of priorities. Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay productive.

Agree on Priorities – Sometimes it is difficult to prioritize projects, which can lead to an adverse “do-it-all-at-once” approach. Discuss top-level activities via an agenda with your team and/or clients to gain consensus, and then work together to tackle objectives in order of importance.

Stay Organized – With a full plate of activities, it is crucial to remain organized. Luckily, there are a host of available web-based tools that support project management and overall organization. Basecamp or Google Drive, for example, are great for team collaboration and ensuring your colleagues and/or clients stay in the loop on future projects or tasks. But be wary of using too many online tools, which can lead to confusion and unproductive time spent juggling communications across platforms.

Pause for Reflection – Take time to reflect when the activity would benefit from slowing down but don’t procrastinate.  Schedule a brainstorming session with your team, jot your thoughts down on a “real” piece of paper or go for a walk to infuse creativity into a project.  However, don’t fall down on the job by putting the activity off.

My colleague Eve Sheridan recently wrote a post about keeping a balanced mindset, which is sure to increase productivity.  Read here.

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Feb. 08

What Can PR Pros Learn from Super Bowl Ads?

Some tugged at heartstrings and some made us feel empowered…and others were like watching a train wreck (read: GoDaddy). While they varied in themes, this year’s Super Bowl ads were memorable and drove serious revenues in the hours following their appearances. News reports have repeatedly dissected which ads were effective, fan favorites, most revolting, etc., but what can PR pros take away as lessons learned?

For one, some of the best ads, e.g., Dodge Ram, Budweiser, Audi, all played down their branding in favor of a more subtle approach that focused on the consumer’s life experience. It was about appreciating the hard work of farmers, the strong relationship between the Clydesdale and his trainer/friend and the boy who takes his dad’s car to the prom with the confidence to kiss his crush. In the midst of these feel-good moments, consumers don’t mind seeing a brand’s presence and naturally form a positive association with it. PR can certainly take a page from this concept as the best PR campaigns are rooted in messaging that addresses the target audience’s experience and enables them to identify with the issues that a company’s product or service helps mitigate. Conversely, PR programs that come across as thinly veiled ads or are solely focused on product pitches are largely ignored by buyers.

Another takeaway is that a quick response to real-time developments can yield big results. I’m referring to the Oreo tweet that was posted during the 34-minute power outage—a well-coordinated effort between Oreo and its creative agency that resulted in a simply designed image with clever copy (You can still dunk in the dark) along with the tweet “Power out? No problem.” Oreo successfully made its brand relevant in the midst of the outage—a situation that everyone watching the game was focused on. Similarly, when a big industry news announcement breaks, PR pros who quickly huddle with their senior executives and proactively push out relevant commentary are the most successful in generating interviews and inclusion in timely news coverage.

While Super Bowl ads aren’t usually associated with pure public relations, many of the same basic tenets still apply for successful execution—know your audience and prioritize their experience/issues in your approach, and pay attention to breaking news or developments that your organization or clients can naturally comment on.  Of course, including a cute horse or fast car doesn’t hurt either.


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