The Matchbox.

Nov. 11

PR on the High Seas

After spending a long weekend with the entire family sans electricity or modern comforts in the Tennessee mountains, my thoughts turn to those on the disabled Carnival Splendor cruise line just pulling into the port of San Diego today after four days without electricity. Unlike my brief trip, these vacationers left expecting a luxury voyage, only to weather unsavory conditions including lack of hot food (SPAM became a staple) and water and – worst of all – waste disposal problems. One word: peeeeuuuuu.

After a fire in the engine room broke out on Monday (day two of seven) and the ship lost electricity, Carnival – so far – has successfully navigated a PR nightmare by turning its media page into a crisis communication hot spot for the Splendor. They’ve issued four news alerts, held two press conferences and used social media to keep ahead of the news with continuous updates on Facebook and Twitter and the Cruise Director’s blog. Then yesterday, in perhaps the best PR move yet, the CEO announced that all Splendor passengers would receive a complete refund, a free trip redeemable until 2012 and complete arrangements for travel home once the ship docks.

Unlike BP CEO Tony Hayward, who was completely disconnected from the lives of the Gulf residents during the oil spill, Carnival’s CEO acknowledged that this accident had ruined their clients’ vacation and was truly compassionate to the situation (I realize this comparison is not exactly apples to apples given the far reaching impact of the Gulf). And even though the news is a ‘”twitter” interviewing passengers by phone and text messages to show the ugly side of the ship, most reporters and stories have had to acknowledge Carnival’s quick and positive response. Carnival could have simply pointed to their “accident waiver” and performed the bare minimum to get the passengers safely to shore, but they rose to the occasion and – in my book- the company showed itself as a PR leader.

BTW – the true PR winner in all of this is SPAM. A new phrase has been coined – Spamcation. You go SPAM.

 

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Oct. 25

Reconnecting with the D.C. Digital Crowd

Last week I attended TechMedia’s Digital East event as a client was participating in the first session. The long drive for an early morning panel battling the DC commuters wasn’t appealing, but I got there without a hitch. (Note to self: You must get of the office to more of these events.) The content was great – kudos to TechMedia. Here are a few of my takeaways:

Mobile – Channeling Kevin Costner
We’ve all heard it: mobile is here in a big way, but Scott Suhy, CEO of PointAbout, said it best: “Mobile apps are not a field of dreams…if you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come.” So what does that mean for PR? Mobile-driven companies, especially those focused on reaching consumers, need PR more than ever. Apps, as one panelist explained, are disposable and 99.98% won’t make it. Remember: while a beta launch is key to working out the kinks out before you go live, it also is prime time for a stealth PR effort to gain traction before the big launch. This may include targeted media and analyst sneak peak briefings, a blog or Twitter program geared to your end user audience, and getting some test users on board so you have results to show at launch time.

Online Advertising – Kill the Click
Most of the panelists talked about killing the click. Sure, being able to track clicks has been a great ROI point for advertisers but it has become a crutch. If it takes at least three different ads or exposure points to really resonate with an end-user, the “last click” shouldn’t get all the credit. In PR we have similar issues – how do we prove value of a media placement? Just as there isn’t a direct line from PR to sales, it isn’t a 2+2 calculation. Some of the things we look at include media outlet’s reach, the sentiment of an article and how the placement met our initial PR objectives to measure value.

All in all it was a great day to get out of the office for some face-to-face time and even to spend some time in the car by myself to think and brainstorm. Please drop me a line if you have tips on other great DC-area events – I’m psyched to get out there more.

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Oct. 06

Freelance Journalists are Still Journalists Playing By Different Rules

With today’s newsrooms keeping only a fraction of their former staffs on payroll while still gunning for high-quality, up-to-the-minute coverage, it was inevitable that media outlets would rely on freelance journalists’ support to make it all happen. Not only are freelance journalists now covering top news stories on behalf of multiple outlets, they are often the ones covering specific publications’ beats.

My experience working with these non-tethered reporters has been mostly rewarding—I appreciate that their main focus is their story rather than newsroom politics, and many of them really know their stuff. Additionally, once you’ve proven that a source stands up, a freelance journalist is likely to trust the person for future articles and be more open to related story ideas.

However, I’ve also heard rumblings of frustration regarding some freelance reporters choosing not to talk to anyone via phone—instead relying on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for emailed responses that may or may not make it into their story or solely using email to conduct interviews. Without an interactive conversation, how can a complete picture of the issue possibly be gathered? Well, it can be done and done well if the freelance journalist has a solid grasp on the topic and asks thought-provoking questions. These folks are working on multiple stories at once and can often stay focused better by avoiding the phone (who can blame them). Additionally, the choice to include or not include a source’s contribution happens regardless of whether they conduct an interview by phone or receive proposed responses by email.

The bottom line is that companies can garner success working with freelance journalists if they understand their perspective and work style in developing a story. Relationships with publication editors and reporters are just as important as those with the freelance journalist community. And learning to play by their rules is often the key for inclusion in their frequently high-profile stories.

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Sep. 21

Long Live the Press Release

It’s been said time and time again, often to provoke controversy among the PR industry, that the press release is dead. Ad Age Media Columnist Simon Dumenco made the latest argument in his article last week, RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) — and Long Live the Tweet, in which he claims Twitter is an appropriate stand-in for the age-old press release—based on its use among celebrities and in crisis situations like the JetBlue-Steve Slater debacle.

Sure, Twitter is a great tool for reporters who want to track specific companies, products and brands. And on the flip side, PR teams should include the medium in communications outreach. However, a clear and concise media pitch with a detailed press release is still necessary for communicating the ins and outs of news.

Based on first-hand experience, reporters still use press releases to gain insight and, in some cases, still pull direct quotes from releases for their articles. That’s not to say that the press release is perfect. It certainly has a few flaws – more or less depending on its author – but I don’t expect it to vanish anytime soon.

Regarding Dumenco’s Twitter vs. press releases reasoning, here are another five reasons why the press release isn’t dead.

1. Celebrities’ use of Twitter isn’t a PR strategy or a tactic that should be copied by corporate America. On the contrary, corporate reputations are built on transparency and market relevancy, both of which require strategic, complete correspondence tactics with media.

2. Don’t tell TMZ or US Weekly, but there is such a thing as non-celebrity news that requires in-depth reporting and fact gathering.

3. Sure, a celebrity relationship status update can be accomplished in a tweet, but try boiling down a new technology product description to 140 characters. I don’t think so.

4. A tweet can give a company or a celebrity a valuable forum to apologize for a mishap or handle customer complaints, but a solid crisis communications plan needs more formality, including further strategy, integration with the marketing program’s goals and planning.

5. And finally, Dumenco’s key example of a celebrity using Twitter successfully instead of a press release – do you really want PR direction from Kanye West?

 

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Aug. 27

Fall is near…Are you budget planning?

Ahh, late August. A time for backpacks, school buses and budget planning. With Q4 closing in on us, companies are swinging into full 2011 planning mode. While 2009 was a financially challenging year for many, 2010 has seen some budget increases – or at least a correction back to similar pre-recession levels. Where is your organization this year? If you are considering a new external PR program, investigating a new agency or planning an agency search, here are a few tips:

  • Establish what you want your PR partner to accomplish and who is going to be involved in the decision making up front, so there aren’t roadblocks along the way.
  • Focus your agency search. Starting with a field of 20 agencies is going to drain your energy (and your interest in the effort) and waste a lot of time. Look for industry experience, personal recommendations and proven success for the agency’s other clients to narrow the field of candidates.
  • Be realistic about your timing. We all have good intentions about timelines to selecting partners but—in reality—it always takes longer than expected. Stay in touch with candidates to keep them updated on the latest, or at least let them know there are no changes.
  • Pay attention to follow through. Make sure the agency delivers what it promises. Timely responses and meeting proposal deadlines are absolute must haves. And don’t forget reference checks to learn what it is really like to work with a particular agency’s team.
  • Don’t lose sight of the value of chemistry. Certainly industry experience and creativity are helpful, but at the end of the day it is often about who you work with best.
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Aug. 12

How Much Corporate Social Media is Too Much?

There is still a great deal of dissension regarding social media and its value for the business community—with some ready to give their right arm in its defense and others caring less if their tweets dwindle off or their corporate Facebook page sits stale. With little hard measurement or research proving its ROI (yet), but plenty of anecdotal examples of social media’s ability to elevate a company’s reputation, I’m in the camp of social media believers, however, it shouldn’t cannibalize other priority marketing/PR activities. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Here are a few ways to balance your investment in social media without overdoing (or underdoing) it.

–Don’t Get Sucked Into Compulsive Tweeting: It’s easy to get engrossed in Twitter updates all day and feel compelled to tweet once an hour or catch up on Facebook posts while multitasking during meetings. Resist the urge and give yourself a range on both the low and high end for the desired number of weekly updates/posts, so you can better plan for them and not go wild (or dormant) in lieu of other priority activities.

–Give Traditional Marketing/PR a Social Twist: Marketing and PR don’t have to be either all traditional or all social, so why not make them a hybrid for extended reach? For example, instead of doing a straight e-mail newsletter with stagnant content, insert some social media elements such as a link to a brief industry survey on your corporate Facebook account or pose a thought-provoking question on Twitter and report on the responses (if relevant) in a press release or webinar.

–Continue Your Core PR Program Momentum – There are table stakes to a successful PR program – consistent, strong and clear media messaging; ongoing communication with key audiences to relay company news and thought leadership content on relevant trends/issues; and spokespersons who are prepared to bring their company and content to life. Remember that these elements are the underpinning of the overall marketing/PR program and that social media flows from them, rather than the other way around.

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Aug. 06

Kids Get a Clean Slate Each Fall; Businesses Deserve One Too

As back-to-school season is upon us, businesses can learn from this annual rite of passage for students and apply it to their public relations programs. That means taking a look at what is and isn’t working.

Here are a few questions to ask during this back-to-school season:

1) What are your PR goals and objectives?

It can be easy to get mired down in the day-to-day.  Take a look at your PR program’s objectives and line them up with expected metrics.  Don’t be afraid to modify elements of the plan if it will meet the desired outcome.

2) Are you reaching the right audience?

Public relations is designed to support sales team and marketing efforts and it is critical that initiatives are reaching the correct audience.  Otherwise, your efforts might not meet the goals above or boost the organization’s visibility, credibility and bottom line.

3) Are you allocating resources properly?

If you are with an agency, adding another executive to the client account team can reinvigorate a PR program and that individual might grow professionally because of the opportunity.  New ideas and a fresh perspective can help boost the account and foster idea growth among all peers involved.

4) Do you have the right toolkit?

You might need to eliminate one or two tools or add additional tactics.  Now is a good time to trial a new approach to your blog, a Twitter program or case studies.

5) Do you need a new look?

It might be time to reevaluate your website, blog, logo, corporate materials, etc. and address how you are presenting yourself visually. Keep your company’s core message front and center, but do so in a clear and concise way.  Readers are known to skim over heavy-copy websites and materials.

 

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Jul. 28

Have a Thick Skin

As a follow up to my recent blog post regarding byline articles, it seemed a natural extension to address comments on contributed content. Today, any professional who participates in media relations – who puts their name to a fact or opinion online – should expect the peanut gallery of respondents to include supporters, doubters and a few a-holes. Comments are a good sign – it means people are reading your contributions but some of the comments can be disarming as readers can post comments without identifying themselves. As we are often helping clients get their insights and opinions heard online via byline articles, quoting opportunities, case studies and more, we are often asked how to respond to comments. Here’s my two cents. First, have a thick skin – understand that the Internet affords everyone – regardless of credentials or knowledge – to be an expert.

Second, it helps to set a policy for how to handle comments so there is organizational and individual uniformity. This includes who responds and the frequency of review and responses. Similarly, set a policy or guideline for how your organization will respond to articles from others. We typically don’t recommend addressing individual comments as it can be endless. It also sets a precedent that commenters will come to expect and that must be maintained. It doesn’t help the case to selectively respond to individuals. This is obvious, but sometimes hard to do – don’t entertain irrational, nasty or threatening dialogue.

Consider an overarching response once a few comments have posted, acknowledge the input and thank them for the idea exchange. You could even offer your email address – this detracts commenters that post without identifying themselves. The beauty of the Internet and the evolution of media is there are an abundance of channels to share expertise and opinions.

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Jul. 21

The Age of Indecision

Six days before leaving for vacation with my family (husband and 5-year-old daughter), I was paralyzed with anxiety — no, not about work or going to another country. I couldn’t make a decision about our lodging. This year, in lieu of the old-fashioned route of buying/borrowing dozens of travel books on Montreal and Quebec City, I decided enough was enough and hit the vast travel sites in search of the perfect hotels. Good luck. As a proponent, user and seller of social media, I am generally a big fan. But in the case of my own vacation, social media and technology became my worst enemies.

Across the board, each travel site offered their own value or rating systems — sometimes with the travel site offering its own assessment, e.g., 4.5 stars, as well as the users’ combined score, e.g., 2 stars (this is a true example). How is it that the likes of Orbitz, Priceline and Hotels.com have such varying ratings? And then the user reviews: “Best hotel I have ever stayed in,” “Worst hotel I have ever stayed in,” “Staff were rude,” “Staff went out of their way to make our trip memorable.” Of course, I also Googled the potential candidates and found plenty of dissenting blog entries. The endless amount of contradicting information was simply crippling. In the end, I took a leap of faith and, in some cases, the hotel was superb and in others not at all what the good reviews described (complete with screaming kids and a scary ‘don’t walk around at night’ neighborhood, yet providing a clean, large room). Upon my return, I posted my own reviews but have to wonder — am I adding to others’ indecision with another differing opinion?

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