The Matchbox.

Mar. 10

The Virtues of Virtual Vary

Early 1990’s, it was a big snowstorm. In my cul de sac, a dozen townhouses were isolated. No business was conducted. Even those with computers at home were hampered by broadband and Internet limitations. So we had a three-day party. Chili and beer. Pot roast and wine. Afternoon poker.

Fast forward to 2003 in Young & Associates’ expansive offices. It was an unusual morning. Two of the staff, unbeknownst to the other, announced they were moving from the area. To keep a successful team with a remarkable success record together, we decided to “go virtual”.

The “go” needed a lot of planning as our technology and work habits were geared to brick and mortar. An in-house committee reviewed and tested options to seamlessly connect remote offices, enhance intra- and inter- communication and ensure security.

Three years later, others moved and virtual became our way of life, both professionally and personally.  Although we still are exploring, here are some of the lessons we learned:

Take baby steps
– If you have employees who request working at home or you want to explore virtual options, do a test. Measure results.

Upgrade your technology for mobility
– Even if you don’t go virtual, today’s world requires the best in wireless and mobile capabilities for anyplace-anytime work environments.

Deal with the human issues –
Working in pajamas in a corner of your bedroom is not going to make it. Feeling isolated, yes, it is real. To ensure a team spirit we meet bi-annually.

Review, challenge & change
– What is and isn’t working? Formally review personal and professional issues. Something as simple as staff in different time zones impacts office hours. Make adjustments when needed.

I would like to hear your stories about working virtually, good and bad. And, do I miss the snow parties, you bet.

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Mar. 02

In Times of Crisis, Tell the Truth

Crisis communications has had its hands full over the last few weeks.  From the terrible tragedy at SeaWorld to continuing product issues at Toyota to the Tiger Woods’ scandal, crisis communications 101 has been in high demand.

When all is said and done, the first rule of crisis communications is simple and something your parents and teachers probably taught you at an early age – tell the truth.  Yes, I said it: the truth is a very powerful thing.  Public relations – in my opinion – shouldn’t be used to spin or cover up an issue that could damage the reputation of a theme park, an automaker or an athlete.  Instead, it should be used to tell the truth, explain to the public in a straightforward way the reason for the problem and focus on positive steps and actions that will take place in the future to prevent any further wrongdoing.

Of course, it is a challenge when your key spokespeople misspeak or crack under pressure during a press conference, but our role as PR professionals should be to coach them through tough times and give them a strong set of talking points to stick to when the media comes a calling.  Don’t get me wrong, rebuilding reputations is very tough work and takes time, but it can be done with a strategic communications plan that is built around the truth.

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Feb. 24

“Don’t Pee on Me and Tell Me It’s Raining”

In an effort to tighten the proverbial Y&A belt, we decided to forego conference attendance in favor of webinars, etc in 2009. This year, as things are on the upswing, I have been fortunate to get out of my lair and attend a few client trade conferences and seminars. For the larger events, I am amazed that conference organizers are still allowing presenters to so boldly pitch their own wares. Not to steal Judge Judy’s shtick, but “Don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.”

For the last few years, I have heard countless conference planners and owners bemoan decreasing attendance sponsorship and attendance numbers. No kidding. Why would I attend a conference and pay 1,000 bucks or more—plus travel expenses—only to hear a sales preso when I expected to come and learn something. If that’s the case, next time I’ll buy the $150 conference expo pass and go from booth to booth asking for my own tailored sales pitch. Conferences are always great for networking and exposing your organization, but there needs to be a safe haven for pure and simple learning.

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Feb. 17

Reflections on Four Feet of Snow

As the snow falls again in the DC-area today – luckily only brief snow showers – I still can’t get over last week’s record-breaking snowfall – 50+” at my house. Here are some reflections and anecdotes from Snowmageddon / Snowpocalypse.

1)    Thank You Social Media: Kudos to BWI airport in Baltimore for their ongoing Twitter program and regular website updates. I’m not the first to say this, but in today’s always-on world, getting minute-by-minute updates in a major weather event is wonderful – especially when you have to travel. (Wish I could say the same for the airlines.) I am happy to report that Jennifer MacLeid Qotb and I successfully and safely made it to Philadelphia and Manhattan for successful business meetings, and back to our homes right before the worst of Round Two hit. Jennifer flew in on one of the first flights to BWI early Monday morning ( Feb. 8 ) without a delay.

2)    Snow Daze: Working from home or telecommuting is not immune to snow days. Under blizzard conditions with the whole family home buzzing with excitement, it is hard to get in a full day’s work – and who doesn’t enjoy a snow day?

3)    Reconnecting and Uniting: Nothing like a major weather event to force you to slow down and reconnect. In a region dominated by horrendous traffic and bureaucratic red tape, the epic snowstorm(s) united communities against a common enemy – the weather!

4)    The Importance of Local News: While many of us in the area got hyperlocal news reports from Facebook, Twitter and blogs, the local television news was in its glory – out in the thick of it – with yard sticks for measuring the snow and Skype for taping segments where news trucks couldn’t go.

2010 DC-Area Blizzard Round Two

2010 DC-Area Blizzard Round Two

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Feb. 16

Ways to a Reporter’s (or Blogger’s) Heart

With Valentine’s Day fresh on the brain, I was thinking about how many of the same tenets for personal friendships or romantic relationships also apply to professional relationships with reporters or bloggers. The dance of communication (or miscommunication at times) plays a major role, and there must be interest on both sides for it to work. With the ”Hallmark holiday” in mind, I offer five ways to a reporter’s or blogger’s heart…Please drop a comment on whether these work for you or if you have others to add.

1)    Show a Common Interest – Do your research and demonstrate your familiarity with their work by reading their articles/posts before you contact them. This is a simple, but often overlooked, way to earn bonus points and to show them that you’ve tailored your story idea for them rather than a mass reporter e-mail.

2)    Know Their Communication Preferences – Is a particular reporter always on Twitter but you can’t get them on the phone or to respond to e-mail? I’ve recently had success with this one by sending a Twitter Direct Message to a hard-to-reach tech reporter (after we reciprocated follows) and got interest within minutes.

3)    Stay in Touch – After the correspondence for a particular story has wrapped it may seem unnecessary to continue the dialogue, but staying on the radar requires a little TLC. Don’t be afraid to check in again in a month or two if you have another valuable market perspective to share or to see what the reporter or blogger is working on now.

4)    Offer Interesting Stories – Reporters and bloggers are always looking for a unique perspective to capture readers’ attention, so up your chances of being included by giving them a spice of controversy (enough to pique attention without being reckless) or presenting a new or different angle for a relevant topic.

5)    Follow Through – Media contacts remember which marketing and PR professionals make their jobs easier by facilitating interviews around deadlines and providing requested follow-up material in a timely manner. They also remember the ones who don’t, so deliver on your promises before closing out an interview or story.

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Feb. 11

Product Placement, Anyone?

Personal email blasts. They remind me of chain letters, except the four or five old friends who have me on their lists don’t always require me to pass on or be cursed with “five years of bad luck.” Like personal blogs, the tone, e.g., “true” stories, jokes, and advice, usually reflect the person’s age, politics, interests and philosophy. As a whole, these folks are not Tweeters but they sure love their email blasts.

Several weeks ago, I received one that I actually looked at, a very sophisticated and well-produced video on YouTube re the “joys of getting old.” The jokes were pretty standard but it was obvious that this was not made in some senior’s basement. Then, halfway through the three-minute vignette, the geyser reaches into his frig and pulls out a bottle of Coca-Cola. Bingo. Paid, sealed and delivered by the folks who care about seniors…buying their product.

I made the mistake of sending back a comment that it was a Coca-Cola produced advertisement. Good grief, talk about the Holy Grail. Few of the group of eight believed that it was advertiser sponsored. Has YouTube and the “media” done such a good job that a public, even though it may be an over-50 crowd, believes that the corporate folks are not taking advantage of YouTube, Facebook and other social media tools to “sell”? Product placement, anyone?

So now, I’m curious. I’ve been looking for research on social media and unattributed advertising with little luck. Let me know if you have or see any good consumer studies. Oh, I got kicked off my friend’s email list. That’s all right. My mid-western friend still sends me dirty jokes.

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Feb. 09

Let Facebook Show the Personality of Your Organization

On a recent client call, I was asked why an organization needs a Facebook page and what the benefits are.  For me, the answer lies in the numbers.  It is hard to believe, but Facebook says they have 350 million users worldwide.  With this many people engaged, it is definitely time for organizations (who don’t already have a page) to consider Facebook as a platform for communicating with current and potential customers, former and existing employees, partners and friends.

Why, you ask?

1) Facebook shows who you are as an organization.

Facebook gives you an avenue to show your corporate personality.  By posting photos of a typical day around the office, a video from a conference or a news article, show fans who you are as an organization.

2) Facebook helps your company stay in touch.

When it comes to Facebook fans, it is about quality, not quantity. Staying connected with a core group of fans is important.  This is especially true for the BtoB crowd – think former customers or colleagues that might turn into or lead you to future business.

3) Facebook offers a forum to engage.

Not only can you share your latest products/services, news, discounts and specials but you can ask fans to provide reviews and feedback, post photos when applicable and participate in lively discussions.

4) Facebook builds SEO.

A Facebook page adds another link to your company in search engine results pages, giving potential customers a better chance of finding you on the Web.  And, that is a whole blog post in itself.

So, get moving already. The benefits of your Facebook page will continue, as your page grows.

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Feb. 05

The Balancing Act of Traditional + Social Media

When social media first came on the scene, some mused whether it would overtake traditional media as the primary news venue. While some of us would declare ourselves social media “addicts”, it has certainly not replaced traditional media.

Both sides are very much needed and can work together quite nicely, but how do we achieve that balance?

I’ve noticed that there are still camps of people who rely only on traditional media for “validated” news because they feel more comfortable with the traditional journalism, fact-checking aspect (yes, many of them are in the older crowd). However, still others are bypassing traditional media in favor of speedy, in-the-moment tweets, online conversations among a group of “friends” or thoughts from trusted bloggers. Now, this is where the lines blur–Technorati’s 2009 State of the Blogosphere survey showed that 35 percent of all blogger respondents have worked within traditional media and that 27 percent of respondents both blog and work in traditional media. This makes it difficult to completely separate traditional from social media, or even to choose one over the other, as they’re spilling over into each other’s cups.

Most traditional media outlets today have a social media presence, e.g., blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages, and vice versa, e.g., links to traditional media’s news coverage from the social sites. This gives us the best of both worlds for balancing comprehensive or more structured media coverage with the immediacy and often spirited delivery of news in a social media setting.  No need to choose one over the other—just realize what they both bring to the table and their constant evolution and intertwining.

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Feb. 03

Extra, Extra…Read All About It

Although as Meggan put it in her last post – we are fashionably late to the blog party – we have been hard at work for the past three years developing and distributing an opinionated bi-monthly newsletter, peppered with some rah rah about us including client successes. But with each new iteration, we also strive to educate our growing number of readers on the challenges and of course best practices of PR, marketing and sometimes just good old-fashioned business sense.

Some of the highlights of the current issue include taking another look at a speakers program and the challenges today of stiffer competition at industry conferences with everyone fighting for a spot at the presentation podium (or table). Jennifer Mirabile authored this edition of the My Two Cents column highlighting the debate of sharing too much strategic, or for that matter any, business information in online forums. It’s a good read. We also share our strategies on using Multimedia News Releases more effectively. Take a look and give us your feedback. If you are not on the subscriber list but wish to be, let us know and of course you can read the full edition here that just came out today.

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Feb. 01

Fashionably Late

Finally! Young & Associates has its own blog. Welcome to The Matchbox. We are very excited to have a new channel to share with readers an inside view of how we work and think. Our goal is to offer our PR and marketing insights, best practices and challenges, with a conversational style that helps everyone get to know us better and hopefully offers some valuable tips along the way. The whole gang will be contributing – both Jennifers (MacLeid Qotb and Mirabile), Eve, Jean and me – and we invite you to comment and share as well. We don’t expect everyone to always agree and hope for some lively discussions.

In arriving late to the blog party (can we even call it fashionably late at this point?), we’d like to offer a few insights we’ve dealt with along the way:

Don’t over think it: A blog is not meant to be the be all and end all on any topic. Use blog posts as conversation starters.

Don’t be everything to everyone: Our expertise is our PR and marketing counsel and that is what we intend to focus on, so while you will probably hear about some of our client pursuits this will not be a client industry forum and will not be a breaking news source.

Do be yourself: Young & Associates is a tenacious and aggressive agency with real insight to real business issues – this is what we plan to share.

Do plan: While a blog should offer timely insight, have some back up or planned editorial content to fill in the holes when life – or work in our case – gets too busy.

Talk again soon.

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