The Matchbox.

Jun. 13

Taking a Risk: Hippo Mania

Prior to 2017, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens had a rough few years. With the shooting of adult male gorilla Harambe and questions surrounding the death of a baby giraffe, the zoo had endured significant negative publicity.

HippoloveSo it was a huge risk for the zoo to embark on a full scale PR and social media campaign documenting the birth of a female baby hippo who arrived six weeks early. Fiona was the youngest hippo ever born and her chances of survival were low. Despite this, the zoo decided to publicly share her journey – celebrating milestones and asking for prayers when there seemed to be little hope.

Despite many twists and turns, Fiona celebrated her first birthday this month and has become an international viral media darling. Hailed as the “Best Thing to Happen in 2017” from ABC News and appearances on The Tonight Show, she has become a bona fide brand.

Fiona now consistently garners millions of views on her “Fiona Show” YouTube videos and the zoo enjoyed a record 20 percent increase in zoo attendance in 2017. Earlier this month, the zoo announced a $150 Million expansion “More Home to Roam” campaign thanks in large part to the hippo mania. People from all over the world come to see the Fiona effect. I, for one, am a huge fan and so proud of my local zoo for taking on this incredible yet risky journey.

*This post originally appeared in the February issue of The Spark newsletter.

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May. 09

And The Winner Is… Awards Programs 101

Awards are an important element of public relations programs as they provide third-party validation of company growth and momentum, product innovation and customer satisfaction. Whether trying to secure market credibility to support sales, drive thought leadership or boost company cachet for recruiting purposes, a robust awards program requires a strategic eye and due diligence in determining the right awards to pursue – ones that are not only respected within your industry but also ones that your organization has a real opportunity to win.

gold star trophy against shiny sparks background emitted from sparkler

As an example, if you are interested in a “Fastest Growing” award, proactively look at the winning growth rates from previous years as this will be a good indicator of the baseline minimum growth needed to compete. Similarly for a product or service innovation award, you will need to determine if you need customer references to evaluate whether your organization has the qualifications for a strong nomination. If you want to be a “Best Places to Work” contender, ensure you have the staff satisfaction levels and internal bandwidth needed for your team to complete the survey. Also be sure to check how many surveys need to be completed – at a minimum – and about how long the survey takes to complete.

Here are a few quick tips for ensuring your awards program is rooted in best practices – and reality.

  1. Do your research. Identify target awards including their deadlines. Award nominations are often due 3-6 months before winners are announced.
  2. Ask questions. Find an award resource – someone at the organization who helps facilitate the awards program. These individuals are often helpful in answering nomination questions and clarifying requirements.
  3. Respect the deadlines. If you are running up against the deadline and need more time, don’t be afraid to ask for an extension. You probably aren’t the only one.
  4. Know the award history. Read up on previous winners to better understand the style of the submission and the types of projects that typically win.
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Apr. 06

The Denver Post Has Moment of Redemption After Stadium Photo Gaffe

Denver Post TweetIt started off as an embarrassing situation for The Denver Post. The only major daily newspaper serving the Denver metro area published a Colorado Rockies 25th anniversary Opening Day story with a very large photo of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia instead of the Rockies’ Coors Field. ESPN and Sports Illustrated, among others, highlighted the error, and droves of people took to social media to call out the mistake and disparage the outlet’s reputation. The memes started flying.

But The Denver Post editorial staff acted swiftly and professionally – turning the gaffe into an opportunity to engage the public. They formally admitted and apologized for the error and issued a social media contest in response, asking readers to submit their best photo of Coors Field via Twitter or Instagram for a chance to win two front-row tickets to the Rockies game on Monday versus the San Diego Padres. They also added that, “With your help, we might finally know what Coors Field looks like.”

Following the newspaper’s instructions, hundreds of people have flocked to Twitter and Instagram today to post their “best” photos along with the hashtag #ThisIsCoorsField. The Post successfully turned a difficult moment into something positive with humor that reflects the publication’s level of integrity and dedication to its readership – and perhaps even attracted more readers as a result of their chosen response.

Best of luck to the Post’s photo editors, who will likely have their hands full this weekend selecting the winning photo.

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Feb. 28

When There’s A Lull: Getting Media Traction During Slow News Times

It can be challenging to keep key media engaged if your organization struggles to generate a steady pipeline of newsworthy announcements. However, there are ways to keep the momentum going. With the right mix of relevant touchpoints and topic strategies, companies can keep the media fires stoked even in slow news times. Here are some key tips:

1) Offer Contrarian Comments

If you have a new slant on a stale topic, don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Offer your take, but be sure to back it up with solid points and examples.

2) Cover Conference Topics

If you’re attending an industry conference, proactively offer viewpoints to on-site journalists that relate to key presentation topics. This raises your chances of being included in a story that is likely already planned based on the conference agenda.

3) Showcase Best Practices with Client Stories

Even if there’s no news-driven activity within your organization, media are always interested in client examples. Take the opportunity to showcase a client success story (with the client’s permission, of course) that demonstrates your organization’s best practice approaches.

*This post originally appeared in the February issue of The Spark newsletter.

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Jan. 23

Kicking off the New Year

Q1 remains a time when most organizations want to kick their PR activities into high gear, but don’t forget that solid planning helps set the tone for the course of the year. This means making time to hold in-depth, strategic PR planning meetings either internally or with an agency to ensure goals are set, aligned with marketing and sales objectives and measured on a routine basis, e.g., monthly, quarterly.Processed with VSCO with q1 preset

From an agency standpoint, it is critical that any PR or marketing partner be integrated and in the know on important company initiatives and, at a more granular level, the company’s marketing plans. The closer an agency is brought in the fold, the better the overall PR strategy and recommendations will be.

PR is not just a one way street with an agency delivering content, media plans and results. Rather, it is a collaborative team effort among a company’s marketing department and specifically the PR liaison. An investment is necessary for an agency to produce the best results.

We often get questions from clients about what specifically can help bridge any communication gaps and what materials can be helpful in supporting PR initiatives.
Here are a few:

  • Yearly Corporate Objectives
  • Town Hall Meeting Notes
  • Advertising/Marketing Plans
  • Buying Profiles/Sales Decks
  • RFP Responses
  • Competitive Analyses
  • Analyst Presentations

Also, involving an agency in any company-wide meetings (even as a silent participant) can help a partner acclimate to the company culture, messaging and more. Being open with an agency and integrating them into an organization pays dividends as it maximizes PR and marketing efforts.


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Dec. 08

Rock the Media Interview

So, you’ve spent the last month crafting and pitching a storyline to the “holy grail” reporter. And after several conversations, they finally agreed to a call with the CEO.

However, despite your insistence that some preparation work be done, the senior exec feels confident they’ve got this and doesn’t need any hand holding. After the intro pleasantries on the interview, the reporter asks the first hard-hitting question and the overly confident exec says, “Well, this is off-the-record, but xyz competitor is tanking and we are stealing their clients and planning an IPO in the next 18 months.” Oy vey.

Let’s talk about how to avoid this scenario moving forward:

pexels-photo-4049761) Don’t Let the Holy Grail Outlet be the First – If TechCrunch, the WSJ or niche media outlets are your capstone publications, do not put a senior exec on the phone as their first media interview. Even if they have had previous media relations experience, set-up a call with a friendly publication as a trial run.

2) Provide Backup – While most reporters don’t jump up and down when a PR person participates in an interview, they are usually accepting of it. When a difficult question is asked or if the exec gets off track, the PR rep is there to steer the conversation and tactfully navigate pitfalls.

3) CYA – We’ve all had bad days and sometimes the best laid plans go astray. If sensitive information is inadvertently revealed or misrepresented, call the reporter following the interview and diplomatically suggest an alternative or correct the facts. Most professional journalists are receptive to getting the story right.

* Originally published in the December 2017 Edition of The Spark

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Nov. 13

Q4 PR Race to the Finish

calendar imageWith 2018 planning becoming an immediate priority, it’s hard not to look ahead. But don’t say goodbye to 2017 just yet —there’s still a lucrative PR  window between now and the end of the year. During this time, reporters tend to focus on year-end industry wrap-ups, forward-looking trends to expect in the coming year, and seasonal-driven content and commentary.

With the right timing, content and approach, marketing and PR teams can help bring companies an end-of-year visibility and reputation boost. Here are some best practice tips for generating results.

— Compile + Analyze Customer Trends: Poll executives and customer-facing professionals alike regarding the top 3-5 trends and pain points among your company’s customer base. Ask in-depth questions and analyze the reasons for the resulting outcomes. This type of real-world content is valuable to journalists and can help establish company executives as trusted industry resources.

— Offer Real Statistics: If possible, survey customers directly for their input on major issues that impact their business. Keep the survey short but include hard-hitting questions about current and future innovations, anticipated hurdles to adoption, and perceived maturity levels regarding key trends. Package the results thoughtfully and you’ll be sitting on media content gold.

— Push Counter-Trend Viewpoints: While trends may be widely accepted as headed in one direction, consider giving counter-trend perspectives where appropriate. Having thoughtful analysis that represents a different viewpoint on common trends – backed up with real-world examples – will help set your executives apart for media opportunities.

With these strategies in place, marketing and PR teams can leverage the last bit of 2017 runway left by engaging with priority media and ensuring that their thought leaders have a strong, relevant voice in resulting coverage.

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Oct. 30

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Andertoons CartoonThe idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words” may date back to the early 1910s but it still holds true some 100+ years later. And while many of us get our news in multiple formats online, the images that go along with those news stories are critical to the messaging and impressions.

This is especially true for new product stories. A great story with a shoddy image or unreadable screenshot jeopardizes the impact and reputation of the product in question. In fact it can be a sticky situation for the PR team responsible for promoting the new product. Pitching an editor on the importance of a product but not having any visuals (or the right size or resolution image) to show the product or what it can do is awkward. Further, with less print-ready opportunities existing today, marketers aren’t always ready with 300-dpi images, and this can be challenge when securing media coverage with print publications.

Image issues also extend into social media as so much of the social landscape is image-centric and each social media channel uses slightly different file sizes. So when preparing for an announcement – whether product, person or trend driven – proactively address your image resources. Do you have a relevant image? Is it a good representation of the story or product? Do you have the right size, type and resolution? Answering these questions will go a long way in making sure your image’s “thousand words” support the messaging you’ve spent weeks or months crafting.

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Sep. 27

Doing the Right Thing: Corporate Giving

Everywhere I look over the past few weeks, there are heroes among us. Specifically, the many courageous heroes who are tirelessly advocating for those devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. During moments like this we should consider how we can personally lend a hand and for the organizations we represent to find ways they can show support.

While the monetary contributions are impressive and very important, companies are also donating goods, their employees’ time and offices to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Bass Pro Shops supplied 100 boats for government agencies and rescue organizations and Home Depot’s Team Depot volunteers have helped with the cleanup effort and delivered supplies that customers have donated. In Houston, a local furniture store, Gallery Furniture Stores even opened up store locations for 300 evacuees to take shelter.

As the victims of the recent hurricanes begin long-term rebuilding efforts, it is important to reexamine corporate giving efforts, company match donations and employee volunteer hours. Organizations should do all of these things, not because it is “good PR,” but because it is the right thing to do.

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Sep. 18

Is Your PR Program Flatlining?

shutterstock_125143757As many established PR professionals adhere to proven strategies and tactics for executing successful long-term PR initiatives, how can you tell if your program includes the best approach? And how do you know that your key messages are reaching the right journalists and industry analysts?

It’s a good idea to assess your current PR program on a regular basis to determine if it is generating the intended results. Following are some best practices to keep in mind:

Thought Leadership: Offer Actionable Advice
Whether in a byline capacity, delivering a presentation at an industry conference or serving as a resource in a marketplace trends story, your spokespeople have the opportunity to impart in-the-trenches advice and marketplace takeaways. Avoid self-serving sales messages and be willing to discuss areas outside – but related to – your core business. Is your organization offering relevant thought leadership?

Media Coverage: Forge Real Connections Successful media relationships are symbiotic. Your organization offers valuable perspectives to journalists who cover your industry and are willing to use you as a trusted resource. These connections require an investment in time and a willingness to engage multiple times. Is your organization proactively engaging with key media?

Press Releases: Quality Over Quantity
Instead of pumping out press releases that aren’t newsworthy for the sake of volume, focus on the key announcements that will hook the media – especially if they involve customer successes or new innovations. Save less news-worthy content for blog posts, social media and other avenues. Is your team executing an effective press release and content strategy?

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