Archive for February, 2013

How To Avoid Bad News Coverage

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

6a00e551d294ef88330147e30f8cee970b-800wiIt could have been a news story waiting to happen, even in a big media market. A tourist from out of town getting food poisoning from a well-known restaurant inside a landmark building, especially if it wasn’t an isolated case. But it never made it to the news. How come?

Here’s the story… last week my family and I visited Chicago. My wife suffered food poisoning and it was easy for her to pin down the meal that caused it. Our friends that live there encouraged us to contact the large company that owns the restaurant to let them know. In the current environment, many news organizations, especially on TV, have trained their consumers to call their newsrooms as a first reaction to any consumer issue. But for us, we never considered it. We just wanted her to feel better and get on with our trip. Not every consumer takes that approach. Ultimately, at our friends’ urging, we contacted the company.

I went online to the company’s website to report the situation, filling out a form and pressing “send.” I figured I would get an email back in a couple of days. I was wrong.

Less than 15 minutes after sending the form, my cell phone rang. It was the manager of the restaurant. It was not a call center operator. It was not a company representative. It was the professional in charge of the place where the suspected poisoning occurred. It was hard to believe it was really happening.

The manager apologized and said he wanted to conduct a full investigation. He spent several minutes asking us every conceivable question about what happened. He offered to host us at the restaurant – on the house – later in the weekend. When we declined that (the memories were too vivid), he offered to mail us gift certificates to other company restaurants for the next time we’re in Chicago. He gave us his direct line in case we thought of anything else or needed anything from him. It was, to say the least, impressive.

There’s an important PR lesson here that consumer-facing companies should remember. The best way to avoid being called out in “The Hall of Shame” or by the “Call For Action” reporter is to provide outstanding, one-to-one customer service. Here’s a case where the best media relations plan is to make sure the media never get called in the first place.

Weaving Social Media Into Your Overall Marketing Strategy

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

SMwoven-into-fabricThis past week I had the good fortune to speak at Automation Alley’s IMPACT 2013 event on social media. The session (two actually as I presented to back-to-back groups) focused on how social media, when approached correctly, should fit seamlessly into your overall branding and marketing communications  strategy.

For any PR program, one need start with a bit of introspection into who you are and who you are trying to reach. With regard to the former, it is an examination of your value proposition; what makes you different, better than the competition. Understanding your audience is also essential. From there, one can then develop messaging that resonates with your targets and  communicates your differentiators most compellingly and effectively. All of this “front end” work is essential and should form the very foundation for all of your marketing initiatives.

And, to roll out such initiatives, we are avid proponents of taking a multi-platform approach to telling your stories. After all, today there is really no such thing as mass media. We all get our information from so many different places – online and otherwise  - that it is essential to examine all of the places the audiences you want to reach reside. And, chances are pretty good that social media platforms, from Facebook to Youtube, are among those stopping points.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider in all this is content. The old catch phrase, content is king, has perhaps never been more apropos. Here, once again, one must consider audience. What content type of content will resonate most? How often should I be posting? What am I trying to accomplish? How measurable are my goals? Valid and important questions that should be asked, evaluated and contemplated often.

Because social media is a moving target; forever changing and evolving, forcing us to continually adapt and adjust. None of it is the “end all, be all” (just consider Facebook’s recent “pay for play” tactics post IPO). Yet, it is, to be sure, one very important place to be. What’s your approach?

All Work and No Play Not The Way

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

beach-businessThis week many of our fellow friends and coworkers will be taking time off during what is midwinter break for many schools throughout the area and across the country.  Perhaps even you are leaving the laptop and day-to-day work responsibilities behind in favor of warmer weather and leisure time activities.

Among the tenets of what our firm, Tanner Friedman, stands for is that of “work-life balance”.  This and other goals of our organization, including striving to exhibit ‘mutual respect’ and aspire to a ‘we not me approach’ set our foundation and the tone of our culture. Yet, where taking time off is concerned, many of us don’t always practice what we preach.

Americans, on average, earn 14 days off per year, taking only 12 of them.  This in stark contrast to overseas where the European Union requires that workers receive at least 20 days of paid leave per year. And what of the American work ethic vs. the European way with midday siestas and extended summer ‘holidays’? There is growing data that demonstrates that the more time off we take, the more productive we actually become.

Still, it is likely that we will continue to debate this dynamic versus the fear that more time out can also mean missed opportunity and decreased customer service.  Perhaps the old cliché everything in moderation applies here, or, work hard, play hard.  To be sure, to maintain equilibrium and proper perspective it is vital to enjoy your time doing both.  It is advice some of us, myself included, need heed – as I write this blog from home on a Sunday afternoon.

Will The “Any Publicity Is Good Publicity” Myth Please Cruise Away?

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

21141497_BG1Those of us in PR know how tough it is to get a mantra adopted widely. So how in the world did the line “Any publicity is good publicity” become well known to apparently every man, woman and child in our society? How is that the one thing that everyone claims to “know” about PR? And, by the way, it’s hogwash.

I actually read it in a news analysis column this morning speculating as to why a college basketball coach lashed out at a reporter last night during a post-game press conference. But the better example from today’s headlines is what is happening in Mobile, Alabama as crowds of media and families wait for a Carnival cruise ship to be towed into port after a harrowing ordeal that has captured the public’s attention all week.

Take a look at stories like this or the thousands of stories now online about what has been happening on board the ship. Is there any argument that can be made that this is, somehow, “good publicity” for Carnival? Or the cruise industry? Of course not.

In fact, what type of publicity could possible be worse for Carnival, a company that sells fun for a price, than a very public “vacation from Hell” for thousands of customers? These stories have not only been told via national news, but in many of their hometowns and this will intensify as the passengers reach American soil and cell phone range.

As a rule, the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” mantra is a nothing more than a myth that is busted virtually every day. An exception could be made, however, for today’s quasi-celebrities whose brushes with the law help them remain famous for being famous. But, even then, it’s hard to argue that a string of bad news could be “good” for those “careers” long-term.

For everyone else, “bad publicity” damages reputations, the invaluable aspect of business and life in our culture. Don’t let a cliche try to tell you otherwise.

Bored With Facebook? You’re Not Alone

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

A new study shows more than 61 percent of Facebook users “take a break” from the site, usually for weeks at a time. The Pew study reveals Facebook users can grow bored with the site, among other reasons for a hiatus or a dropout altogether.

I’m hearing a lot more from peers who say they have grown weary of the constant barrage of weather complaints, political rants, coffee praise, pet pictures, Friday exuberance and posts about “great weekends” with “the best friends ever.” Couple that with Facebook’s revenue-generating tactics, such as restricting the exposure for business page content for those who choose not to advertise, and you have a platform at a crossroads. Yes, it’s the biggest by number of accounts, but it’s obvious to us, as we track interaction with client pages and referral traffic from Facebook to websites, that Facebook is experiencing some negative trends.

But, unlike the constant changes and tinkering and the quest to extract revenue from more of the screen, boring content is not Facebook’s fault. The blame there can only be placed on the users.

The advice here is two-fold. First, if you’re staying with Facebook as an avid user, personally or professionally, make your content interesting to stand out from the clutter. If what you’re posting draws “likes” and comments (or clicks if you track them), think about why and keep it up. If it’s not, consider it part of the mundane stuff that is drawing your friends and acquaintances off the platform. Second, make sure you don’t weigh your communications efforts too far into any one platform.

RFP = Really Flawed Process

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Though we’ve written about RFPs (Requests for Proposal) before, as the economy continues to improve we have noticed they are starting to appear again with more regularity. A good sign?  As it pertains to new business and opportunities being projected, yes. As a procedure for identifying the right marketing/public relations partner, hardly.

There is no denying that RFPs have their place in some industry sectors, in particular governmental. At Tanner Friedman, we also have no problem whatsoever with the competitive process. Yet, in the world of professional services, the RFP approach is an antiquated, inefficient and ineffective for the company doing the searching. It is also our experience that it is, quite often, a “sham” from the start.

Companies seeking an agency should think about it this way: Do you put out an RFP to find an attorney? A CPA? A financial advisor?  No. You talk to and seek referrals from those you trust. You do some research online. You identify a short list based on who has the best reputation and who might best fit your company’s needs and culture. Then, you meet with them one-on-one to discuss your needs and their capabilities. Perhaps they then present a proposal based on your actual, specific needs and expectations.

The RFP process is the antithesis of all of these best practices; a faceless, mass cattle call that often asks for work product from the answering firms. Never mind that such work product (i.e. tactical recommendations) is what professional services are paid for. In an RFP document, there is typically no tangible information on which to even base such specific recommendations. As a result, any “meat” provided by a firm gullible enough to provide it is largely “fiction” anyway.

Ask most professional service firms today (including those in PR and marketing) about their feelings on receiving an RFP and you will almost unequivocally see eye balls roll as, all too often, the process is only being employed to appease board members or HR. In other words, the company issuing the RFP already knows who they want to work with and are merely going through the motions with regard to internal process. As such, healthy, solid firms will quite often avoid the process entirely while, on the other hand, those who are desperate or otherwise in need of the work, will participate. Unfortunately, a respectable entity looking to issue a well-intentioned RFP often finds itself stuck sorting through proposals from the bottom of the barrel.

So, if you are a company thinking about looking for a PR firm to help you move your business objectives forward, we humbly suggest you drop the RFP and pick up the phone. Talk to those in the know about what you are looking for and gain their recommendations for who you should personally talk to and meet with. Call local media outlets – newsrooms and reporters – to see whom they respect and hold in high regard. Moreover, go online. Check out PR firm web and social media sites and, importantly, google research them for more information on who they are and what they are about.

In the end, you might be amending (evolving) your process, but you and your organization will be much, much better served.

Beyonce-Gate: Honesty Trumps Trickery – Kim Eberhardt Weighs In

Friday, February 1st, 2013

First, let me start by saying I don’t care that Beyonce lip-synced to her pre-recorded track of the national anthem at last week’s inauguration ceremony, a fact she confirmed at today’s Super Bowl XLVII press conference. I think the fact that debate over whether or not she did in fact lip sync garnered major media coverage is more egregious. Nevertheless, Beyonce’s camp knew questions about the inauguration were inevitable. So, in a stroke of PR brilliance, Instead of sitting behind a table and fumbling over an overly nuanced statement, the familiar post-scandal scene we have all witnessed far too many times, she let her talent do the talking.

Before Beyonce fielded a single question from reporters on Thursday, she invited them to stand and she proceeded to sing the Star Spangled Banner live and perfectly. View the performance here

As they say in show business, “she killed it.” After the “big finish,” the press corps erupted in applause and after a laugh, she simply turned to reporters and asked “any questions?” Reporters did, of course, have follow up questions, but her flawless performance deemed the inquiries pretty irrelevant and promptly diffused much of the controversy.

In a typical “crisis,” solid PR advice is to tell the truth and tell it quickly. Beyonce clearly didn’t heed this counsel, taking more than a week to address questions about the authenticity of her inauguration performance. However, this wasn’t your typical “crisis” now, was it?

Yesterday’s stunt was not only a skillful way to dash doubts that the singer had the capability to sing the national anthem live, but she expertly deflated the inaugural discussion and redirected attention to this weekend’s Super Bowl performance.

Overall, she served her client (the NFL) well by redirecting focus to the forthcoming half time show. We may never know if this approach was hatched by NFL public relations staff or by Beyonce insiders, but nonetheless it was a creative way of putting the “crisis” to bed and moving on to the task at hand. Now we all know that Beyonce can sing, but who knew she was so PR savvy?