Dec 04 2014

Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers: How to Build a Good Life in the Digital Age

By Taylor Smith

I have read many books and articles discussing the digital age and how smartphones and laptops have taken over our lives and diminished our ability to communicate face to face. I have read fewer books and articles that provide useful insight on how to not fall victim to our technologies and how to be a productive and skilled communicator in this era. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, thoughtfully crafted by William Powers, is the answer to our connected conundrum. Powers provides insight on how human beings have adapted to new technologies since writing and reading were invented in ancient Rome, and how to be a productive employee while still enjoying and utilizing our Internet connectedness.

During my time as an intern at RLF, I’ve noticed the challenges that face public relations professionals in the digital age. When is it appropriate to email a client versus call a client? What is the best way to pitch a reporter – email, social media or phone? How should I effectively communicate with my account team? While the answer isn’t always black and white, Hamlet’s Blackberry shares insight on how to effectively use new technologies to help us live a good life in the digital age.

Here are the top three digital life lessons I learned from Powers:

Create balance

Email is necessary for just about every PR function—pitching reporters, working with clients, communicating internally, etc. It is impossible to ignore our forever overflowing email inboxes, but sometimes it is necessary to take a break and step away from the emails and the computer all together. As an intern at RLF, I was surprised by the amount of emails I had waiting for me every morning and it took the first 15-20 minutes of my day to sort through them. There is something to be said about using pen and paper to take notes and draft ideas, as well as picking up the telephone to have a conversation with someone rather than sending them an email or a text. If you are using email for internal communication, try instead to get up and talk to your coworkers face to face. This type of communication provides a break from the computer screen, ensures you won’t get distracted on an unrelated website, and can ultimately be much more efficient and productive.

Be adaptable

Laptops, smartphones and tablets are just a few of a long list of technologies that have been introduced to society over the course of human history. First there was writing and reading, then printing, followed by a whole slew of inventions that were created to make our lives easier. At some point, most of these technologies were met with resistance because they were new and changed the way things were historically done. The point that Powers makes in his book is that our society eventually adopted writing and reading, and our lives would be missing substance without these technologies. It is only a matter of time before our society adapts to more recently introduced technologies, and the excessive Internet connectivity will become regularly and effortlessly integrated into our daily lives.

Personally, I use my smartphone and laptop on a daily basis to conduct school work and balance a social life, and I could not do these things without them; using these technologies are a normal part of my day from the time I get up to when I go to bed at night. In the same way, it’s important for PR and marketing professionals to adapt to and adopt new technology as part of our overall strategic plan. Whether it’s social media, digital marketing or website development, the industry is always changing and communications organizations have to keep up.

Know when to unplug and when to plug in

Knowing when to plug into the connected “crowd” and when to unplug and be alone with your thoughts is essential in obtaining and maintaining the aforementioned balance. Powers suggests taking a break from being connected because we are often plagued with information overload, and it is beneficial to unplug in order to process it all. The more time we take to process information, the more useful it will be to us in the future and will enhance our productivity. Sometimes we need to step away from the screen to foster creativity and develop new ideas and strategic plans that will help set our clients apart from the competition.

I find it helpful to take a break and walk away from my computer periodically during the day, and when I am at home I make an effort to put my smartphone down and focus on conversations with friends in person or meditating on my day. Doing these things clears my mind and allows me to be more productive and effective when it comes time to be connected at RLF or for school.

As PR professionals, we need to learn both how to connect and how to disconnect when necessary. While we need to be on top of news as it happens and constantly available for clients, we also need to be able to step away from the screen and communicate in person. Fostering relationships has been achieved without computers for centuries — we can still do it today. Growing up as a millennial, I am prone to sending an email or text instead of making a phone call or having an in-person meeting, but that isn’t going to get us as far in an industry centered around building relationships. Powers’ advice to the digital generation is this: “Sometimes the coolest device is no device at all.” Put the screen down for a moment and enjoy the ride.

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Nov 25 2014

The Future of Digital Marketing: Lessons Learned from the 2014 Internet Summit

By Michelle Rash

Digital marketing is facing a brave new world. Not only do industry professionals have to keep up with the constantly evolving climate, but they are also working in an environment where success and failure can both occur within a matter of minutes, and in a very public fashion.

These are just two main points emphasized at the Internet Summit in Raleigh a few weeks ago. In addition to digital marketing, industry experts discussed the latest trends in social media and search engine optimization (SEO), as well as tools, techniques and tactics that are beneficial to building customer communities and driving sales.

One of the key messages for me was that success in digital marketing means taking risks. While most companies want to play it safe and stick to the “tried and true,” for digital marketing to truly resonate, businesses and marketers need to step outside of their comfort zones and experiment – see what works, what doesn’t and adjust campaigns as needed.

Speakers also emphasized that not every campaign will go viral or generate instant buzz. One common analogy I heard was that in baseball there are a lot more base hits than there are home runs – so it is with digital marketing. But, as in baseball, several base hits can still lead to a winning strategy.

Other top insights I gleaned from the Internet Summit include:

Marketing influences sales

As a communications professional, I deeply believe in the power of marketing, media relations, advertising and social media to reach potential customers and strengthen a brand’s reputation and image. The Internet Summit was a nice reinforcement of the increasingly vital role these elements play in the sales funnel – and how important it is to make sure all messages across all media are communicating the information you want to share to the right audience.

People are increasingly relying on websites, word-of-mouth and social media to research what product they want to buy or service they want to use before setting foot in a store or picking up the phone to call a sales rep, according to Jodi Wearn, product marketing director for marketing software company Silverpop. In fact, studies have found that as much as two-thirds of the buying process has been completed before businesses may be aware that an individual is a prospective customer. This means it is very important for businesses to tell a good story across all digital channels and work hard to maintain a solid brand reputation.

Quality content remains king

One of the key messages of many of the sessions at the Internet Summit was that creating content remains a key part of any marketing and public relations campaign. But what was also emphasized repeatedly is that the content has to be high quality and meet the needs of your customers – which will vary widely depending on your brand.

Chris Moody, director of content and social marketing for Oracle, said that in 2008 there were one trillion pages indexed on Google; today there are more than 30 trillion. That means there is a lot of competition for your audience’s attention – so the content you create needs to be more targeted and focused on their needs than ever before. Focus on what your customers care about, not on what you think they should know.

SMS (text message marketing) becomes crucial

The era of email marketing is coming to an end and we are now entering the era of SMS, or text message, marketing. Research has found that 95 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes, said Wearn of Silverpop. While a growing number of people will automatically hit ‘delete’ on a marketing email, research has found that 90 percent of similar text messages will be opened. Conversion rates on well-crafted text message campaigns can be as high as 40 percent, much higher than even the most successful email campaigns. While Wearn said text message marketing may not be a good fit for every company or campaign, it should remain an ever growing part of the marketing discussion.

Facebook changes gears

Several speakers talked about how changes in Facebook’s model over the years now make it harder for brands and businesses to organically reach their “fans.” For even the largest of brands, only about 2 percent of fans now see unpaid content shared on the social network, and many expect that even this percentage will decrease in the coming months and years. (Even earlier this month, Facebook said it was going to push brands toward a more advertising-focused model.)

However, many brands still focus most of their social media time and energy on Facebook. While Facebook – especially paid ads and promoted content – will likely remain a staple of the social media landscape given its large presence, many speakers encouraged brands to focus more on other social media outlets. It’s important that brands understand their customers, what social media channels they are using – whether that is Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat or one of the dozens of other sites – and find a way to engage them there. As the number of social media options grow, it will be increasingly important that brands identify the one or two key mediums for their audience and message, and find a way to create relevant, engaging content for those platforms.

As we look ahead to 2015, RLF is continuing to look at the most effective ways to tell our clients’ stories, both in the emerging technology and in some more traditional ways. We are excited about the possibilities some of these digital methods are creating to allow us to hit multiple base hits, and hopefully a few home runs, on behalf of our clients.

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Nov 12 2014

e-Bola Virus: An electronic adaptation potentially more damaging than the biological disease

By Ross Pfenning

With the rampant spread of Ebola media coverage influencing the American public’s sensibilities, it really isn’t surprising that so many have expressed their fears and concerns – no matter how ill-conceived – as vocally as they have. However, the media, both social and traditional, have amplified those voices to such an extent that the panic and borderline hysteria being exhibited daily are doing far more damage than the disease itself. Welcome to the era of the “e-Bola” virus.

Before we get going, it’s important to recognize that this is not the first time that citizens of the United States have been faced with such a perceived threat, nor reacted in such a panic-stricken and frenzied manner. With this in mind, Washington Post journalist Steven Petrow writes: “Americans nationwide are showing signs of an epidemic of fear, all too reminiscent of the stigmatization, dread of contagion and panic of the early years of HIV/AIDS.”

Living in San Francisco in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Petrow witnessed the ignorance-fueled fear firsthand. As he goes on to point out later in the article: “About the only thing that happened this [time] that didn’t mirror the AIDS panic was that the phrase ‘Ebola fear’ became a trending topic on Twitter — and that’s no doubt only because the social network was unimaginable in 1983.”

The ever-present “threat” posed by the virus, compounded by the media’s fear-mongering has led to some unfortunate and devastating consequences. Teachers are being forced to take mandatory leave or resign, children are being bullied in school and citizens of our supposedly free and equal democratic nation are being stigmatized for their origins. These are all people who have had zero contact with anyone even remotely associated with, let alone afflicted by, Ebola. They are merely people who have traveled to state of Texas, emigrated from countries such as Liberia or are the children of such immigrants to the United States.

According to a poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and shared via NPR, as of mid-October, 40 percent of Americans felt they were at risk of contracting Ebola. Despite constant reminders from credible sources regarding the likelihood of catching Ebola, the public at large seems all too eager to forget that the virus can only be transmitted through bodily fluids and people are only contagious once they have begun exhibiting symptoms. Of course, showmen like Dr. Oz make it harder still for such reassuring facts to sink in, postulating (on national television) as to whether the Ebola virus could mutate and go airborne. (For anyone wondering, epidemiologists agree that it’s unlikely and not even worth discussing at the moment.)

While clearly not an isolated case of the media’s oversaturation and even exaggeration of a given situation, the Ebola scare does provide a textbook example of the systemic spread of (loosely-termed) “news” and its harmful effects. As stated in this New York Times article: “The panic in some way mirrors what followed the anthrax attacks of 2001 and the West Nile virus outbreak in New York City in 1999. But fed by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the first American experience with Ebola has become a lesson in the ways things that go viral electronically can be as potent and frightening as those that do so biologically.”

Lending further evidence to the argument that fear-stoked epidemics within the United States can cause more harm than the diseases themselves, the previously cited Washington Post article asserts: “‘AIDS phobia,’ a term used to describe discrimination against those with HIV, ravaged the United States because of a dearth of political leadership, misleading if not inaccurate information from public health officials, and a news media that stoked anxiety in its quest for ratings and headlines. Together, these became almost as dangerous to public health and civil rights as the virus itself.”

With documented cases of improper and even antagonistic responses to previous crises, one would think we’d have learned our lesson(s). However, in keeping with Santayana’s ethic – and adjusting only slightly for cultural relevancy – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to retweet it.”

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

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Oct 30 2014

The Untaught PR Task: Writing Effective Website Copy

Published by under Online

By Amanda Limoges

As an aspiring public relations professional, I can attest that we are taught the basics of PR writing in the university classroom — we are drilled on AP Style from the first communications class we take until we graduate, and we spend four years mastering how to write the perfect press release, effective pitch email and engaging social media content. However, the one writing-focused task of a PR professional that is often not explored in the classroom is drafting effective website copy.

Potential customers often interact with a business for the very first time via its website; therefore, each layout decision made and word chosen are fundamental to a business’ success. This semester, I have learned extensively from my colleagues at RLF about how to write effective website copy for various clients at the agency. Writing website copy is both fun and challenging, and can be vastly improved upon by utilizing the following strategies:

Headlines and navigation are key

The first step in writing valuable website copy is to develop an extensive site map to determine the navigation of the website and the basic content on each page. If the navigation of a website is not user-friendly, viewers will leave the page in search of alternative sources where information is easier to access. Headlines that guide a user should not be viewed as areas for PR pros to showcase their creativity. Instead, users are looking for recognizable headlines, such as “Contact Us,” “Our History” and “About Us,” that will easily guide them to the page they are seeking. In order to facilitate easy navigation, headlines should be short, simple and recognizable.

Less is more

Would you have chosen to read this post if I hadn’t broken up the text into headings with minimal text under each one? Probably not. As Internet users, we rarely read content word for word. According to Neilsen Norman Group, readers scan each website page and then pick out individual sentences and key words. Thus, we should:

  1. Keep the word count at half or less than with conventional writing
  2. Utilize numbered lists and bullet points
  3. Highlight keywords
  4. Use infographics

Optimize your copy

Marketing company Hubspot found that 75 percent of Internet users never scroll further than the initial page of results when using a search engine. This is a testament to the power of utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics to improve a website’s rankings on search engines and ultimately drive more users to the site. Two simple ways to improve your SEO when writing website copy include:

  1. Using keywords. For example, instead of using words like “fresh-baked bread” to describe products in a bakery, employ a specific, key phrase like “gluten-free bread” or “seeded marble rye.”
  2. Providing links to other articles. Just as I’ve done in this post, providing links to other articles helps to maximize SEO by adding another layer of depth and expertise to your site.

Utilize a call to action

Website copy isn’t effective unless it actually encourages viewers to do something. For some companies that might mean buying a product, while for others it might mean donating to a cause. No matter what the action is, persuading readers to act should be paramount in your website copy. According to HubSpot, utilizing verbs and numbers are most effective in a call to action. For example, the phrase “click here for 50% off” will prove more successful than simply saying “now on sale.”

While writing website copy may not be taught in the classroom, it is an essential skill for all PR pros. It may seem overwhelming at first, but writing web copy is something we all can master because we are constantly exposed to a variety of different websites, and we can easily identify an effective, user-friendly website. Use your natural instinct and the four strategies I suggested in your next website copy project, and you will be well on your way to success.

Photo courtesy of Pete O’Shea’s Flickr photostream.

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Oct 29 2014

Unreal PR

Published by under Public Relations

By Ross Pfenning

With the impending day of spirits, ghouls and costumed chicanery fast approaching, it seems most anyone with access to a blog or some social media outlet is attempting to jump on the trend-wagons of #halloween or #trickortreat. So, in the eternal spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” we give you the following fantastical feature.

For the duration of this blog post, I have one simple request: Allow yourself to believe – just for a couple of minutes – that vampires, werewolves, wizards and witches, along with all the other supernatural creatures of legend, do, in fact, exist; that they breathe the same air as you and even walk down the same dimly lit streets you do. Was that a chill or did it just get colder in here?

So, if these creatures really do exist, it raises one critically important question: Why is the (mortal) world so convinced they do not? And here’s the only ‘logical’ answer I can fathom: Someone or something is pulling off the most masterful PR campaign the world has never seen. I’m dubbing it “Unreal PR: Public relations for all beings who are mythical, legendary or otherwise fabled—and want to stay that way.”

To uncover this mysterious enterprise, we’re going to examine some of the PR tactics these folkloric fiends have likely employed – as long as they don’t get to us first!

Crisis communication

As anyone involved in the public scene knows, anticipating the next territorial werewolf dispute or vampire feeding frenzy is the key to keeping a situation under control. By pre-emptively developing and continually updating plans for different crises, the powers that be are able to regulate the release of information to the public, giving them time to perform damage control and deliver a situation-appropriate message.

Of course, in the case of paranormal occurrences, the general public’s dedicated unwillingness to accept things which cannot be explained with cold, hard facts and forensics lends a massive assist to those attempting to cover up the possible discovery of their kind. So, the headline “Amateur Wizard Accidently Ignites Warehouse in Attempt to Woo Girlfriend” becomes “Unattended Gas Leak Leads to Inferno on the Docks.” “Wrestling Giants Use City’s Buildings as Bludgeons” instead reads “First Earthquake in County History Levels Entire City Block.”

As for the eyewitnesses, who knows what happened to them?

Consistency of message

Not only is it critical to get out ahead of a crisis, but also to create and circulate a standard message that is echoed and reinforced in subsequent deliveries. Electing trained spokespeople to handle all interviews and briefings mitigates any chance of incompatible or otherwise incongruent messages from being communicated to the public.

While this “monster” of a PR campaign has inarguably been successful, it has not been without its share of complications. In carrying on such an elaborate deception for so long, mistakes have inevitably been made. Now whether some have been purposeful – to keep us guessing – or purely accidental, it’s hard to tell. But one has to wonder: Why do we have so many competing theories on the best ways to kill a vampire?

Knowing your audience and medium

No, I’m not talking about crystal balls or a séance. Crucial to delivering the right message is knowing who will be receiving it and how. More often than not, there are multiple, distinct parties seeking explanation after a crisis has occurred. While, for the sake of expediency, it is appropriate for the first public address to take more of a one-size-fits-all approach, subsequent messages should be tailored to each of the different audiences to quell their respective concerns. Of course, it is necessary to also take into account the medium by which the messages will be delivered. The public at large may accept a news broadcast and a few well-worded, sincere tweets, but stakeholders potentially affected by the situation will require greater, more personalized attention.

The general public is a skeptical bunch, except for matters concerning supernatural events. Time and again, the oblivious, disbelieving humans conveniently play right into the hands of the otherworldly deceivers. They may have our number, but where our antiquated antagonists fall a bit short is in their comprehension of modern communication. Vampires might have superhuman speed and agility going for them, but that doesn’t mean they can necessarily compete with a teenager on a smartphone (unless they’re a teenage vampire who was recently turned, in which case GAME OVER). News travels lightning-fast these days, so it’s more important than ever to respond to crises faster than a witch on turbo-charged broomstick. The trick comes in doing so without sounding like a senseless zombie.

As for the treat, who doesn’t like a PR win? Those magical, mythical, monstrous types certainly do. And let’s be real, they’re probably in the act of hunting down each and every person currently reading this post. Your only hope now is to share this information with everybody you can! Then run and hide. Just make sure to take your phone with you so you can document the experience in 140-character increments. And pics or it didn’t happen!

Photo courtesy of Daniel Hollister’s Flickr photostream.

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Oct 22 2014

From Music Sensation to PR Pro: 3 Lessons We Can Learn From Taylor Swift

By Alyssa Bedrosian

Taylor Swift is a singer-songwriter, actress, philanthropist, spokesmodel, fashion icon, and now, according to The Washington Post, a “public relations genius.”

With the release of her new album “1989” set for Oct. 27, Swift and her PR team have embarked on a strategic, full-force publicity campaign that has left “Swifties” (myself included) desperately counting down the days to the album release. The campaign started with multiple clues on her Instagram account, which led to a worldwide live stream event on Yahoo where Swift announced her new album and released her new single “Shake It Off.” Since then, Swift has been on just about every magazine cover possible and has made numerous television appearances, including an interview on “The Tonight Show” and performances at the MTV Video Music Awards and X-Factor UK.

While much of Swift’s PR success can be attributed to her high budget and seasoned PR team, it’s obvious that the 24-year-old has picked up some tips and tricks along the way and is a strong force behind her publicity strategy.

Here are three PR lessons the rest of us can learn from the star:

Know your audience

One of the basic principles of PR is to identify and understand your target audience. Swift has an in-depth understanding of her fans and is constantly engaging with them — she attended a fan’s bridal shower over the summer, included fans in the “Shake It Off” music video, and has commented on fans’ Instagram posts, most notably writing an uplifting comment to a fan who had been bullied. Swift connects with her fans through numerous channels, including magazine covers, late night talk shows, social media, television music competitions and Diet Coke commercials. Swift has secured a very wide, yet targeted, reach through a variety of channels, and as a result has fostered engagement and enhanced her credibility as an artist.

Build a strong, authentic brand

In addition to building a highly engaged audience, Swift has developed a strong brand identity that is key to her success. Swift understands who she is as an artist and public figure, and works hard to maintain her position and image. While many artists use their social media accounts as a mind dump, Swift takes a measured approach. Even as she has grown up over the years and changed from country artist to emerging pop star, the essence of Swift’s brand is the same, and she has remained honest and open with her fans about the ways in which she has evolved, a feat that can pose challenges for many artists.

PR = Relationships

While Swift works to maintain her strong personal brand, she still allows for relationships and experiences to shape her, her music, and ultimately, her fans, which brings me to the cornerstone of Swift’s success: Swift has bought into PR as a mutually beneficial relationship. PR is not a magic bullet—it’s all about building relationships that benefit both the organization (Swift) and its publics (Swifties). Swift and her team understand the importance of relationship building and have used both traditional and new media to create a culture in which Swift’s target audience can participate in a two-way, engaging conversation. Most recently, Swift has taken to social media to share lyrics from each track on the new album and has used hashtags to foster an ongoing conversation about “1989.” Swift influences and inspires her fans, and they seem to influence and inspire her as well — an achievement that most companies can only dream of.

Swift and her team have successfully built a comprehensive PR strategy focused on Swifties, a strong brand identity and relationship building. However, PR is not advertising — you can’t always control your message, and sometimes you are forced to be reactive rather than proactive. Despite Swift’s accomplishments in the world of PR and all the positive coverage she has secured leading up to the release of “1989,” she knows all too well that the “haters are gonna hate” and that the negative press will come. Her solution? Shake it off.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Oct 20 2014

New Client Spotlight: Cucalorus

By Steffany Reeve

Late this summer, RLF started working for a new entertainment and tourism client with quite a distinctive and funny name: Cucalorus, an internationally-recognized film festival located in Wilmington, North Carolina, and one of the largest independent film showcases in the United States. The five-day festival was named “One of the Coolest Film Festivals in the World” by MovieMaker Magazine in 2013.

This year, the Cucalorus Film Festival, being held from Nov. 12-16, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an impressive line-up of films ranging from love-lost unicorns and teenage bank robbers to family flicks and social justice documentaries. In total, more than 200 independent films will be screened, including two films debuting as world premieres, a host of films making their inaugural Southeast U.S. showing, award-winning international films and original works from both well-known and up-and-coming filmmakers.

Last year, nearly 15,000 people attended the Cucalorus Film Festival and this year’s attendance is forecast to be even greater.

As storytellers ourselves, the RLF team is proud to support Cucalorus and all of the artists, producers and filmmakers who turn their dreams into films that inspire, inform, entertain and shape the way we view our world. Our team is working closely with the festival’s marketing staff to share the unique story of the Cucalorus Film Festival and the compelling films it will feature this year.

Cucalorus is an important alternative outlet and launch pad for artistic, thought-provoking and educational films from exceptionally talented people. We look forward to helping the festival reach its potential and continue to gain traction to be one of the top film festivals in the world.

To learn more about the Cucalorus Film Festival, visit www.cucalorus.org.

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Sep 29 2014

Crisis Communications 101: What the NFL got wrong and what the rest of us can learn

By Alyssa Bedrosian

Over the past few weeks, the NFL has learned firsthand one of the toughest lessons in crisis communications: Your response to the crisis, not the crisis itself, matters most. So far, the NFL appears to have failed the test.

Most organizations faced with a crisis are not judged by the crisis, but by their response to it, and the first hours and days after a crisis are critical in shaping public opinion and maintaining a company’s image. That is why RLF works with several clients to create tailored, process-driven crisis communications plans to help them communicate with key audiences more quickly and effectively should a crisis ever occur.

It’s hard to believe that the NFL and its public relations team stayed silent and reactive for so long. The NFL has a history of players engaging in questionable conduct and problematic behavior—from dog fighting to alleged murder and rape, severe criminal allegations against some of the league’s top players aren’t new. However, the back-to-back nature of recent events is something that the NFL’s leadership was obviously unprepared for.

So what did the NFL do wrong, and how can companies and organizations learn from the missteps of the world’s most lucrative professional sports league?

The NFL wasn’t proactive.

The NFL knew about some of the domestic violence incidents in the news much earlier in the year and had more than enough time to prepare should these issues resurface at the start of the season (which they inevitably did). The NFL should have met with league owners, player representatives and other officials to develop a plan with key messaging to proactively address the issue. Even if the league didn’t have time to prepare, it should have had a plan in place that outlined potential crisis scenarios and the specific communication process, messaging and goals for each scenario.

Don’t wait until a crisis hits to start fumbling around for a plan — be proactive and prepare in advance for any likely crisis situations.

The NFL remained silent.

The NFL needed to show a strong front and respond quickly to the flying accusations and multiple crisis situations. At the very minimum, the league should have issued a statement that said it was continuing to work with officials to assess the situation and respond with the necessary disciplinary action. Instead, the league remained silent for more than a week after its initial interview with CBS, as many fans and women’s rights advocates called for the resignation of key leaders. In the event of a crisis, it’s not always best to stay silent and let your critics control the message. Identify the right spokesperson, remain transparent and show that you are working to address the situation and make it right.

The NFL forgot a key audience.

In recent years, the NFL has made a concerted effort to appeal to women, who make up 45 percent of the league’s fan base and are vital to the league’s apparel sales. While women across the nation have had mixed reactions to the series of scandals, many women are boycotting the league until it can show that it is sincerely working to end violence toward women. Don’t let a crisis ruin the credibility you’ve built up with a target audience, and be proactive in communicating with an audience that is specifically impacted by the crisis situation.

Organizations face a variety of crises every moment of every day, and it’s likely that at some point, a crisis will hit. When it does, it’s essential to be prepared, be proactive and communicate openly and directly to the key audiences that are being impacted. The NFL has given us the perfect case study of what NOT to do in a crisis situation and offers lessons to all organizations on how to be better prepared.

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Sep 25 2014

Don’t Get Your Torch Snuffed: Communications Lessons from Survivor

By Adam Bowers

For the past 14 years, there have been two days each year that I look forward to more than Christmas: the fall and spring premiers of Survivor. The season 29 premier was one of those nights. While most seasons include some kind of twist (this season’s twist has the castaways playing with and against family members), every season essentially begins the same way: the castaways land on the island, exchange awkward “hellos,” attempt to build a shelter and make fire, compete in a challenge, and then decide who will receive the humiliating distinction of being the first person voted out.

After watching 28 seasons of the show, it’s easy to guess who that first person voted out is going to be. The most likely contenders are always contestants who are either obnoxious or threatening in some way. SPOILER ALERT: The person voted off in the episode two nights ago, Nadiya, was a little of both.

The truth is, most of the castaways who get voted out early could greatly benefit from some simple communications counsel. Here are 3 communications lessons from Survivor that could help you not get “voted out” of a job, team or business deal:

The Loudest Voice Doesn’t Always Win

On Survivor, the loudest person nearly always assumes an initial “leadership” role because he or she steam-rolls other competing voices by sheer virtue of volume. He or she assumes this role for about three days, but then is quickly voted out because the tribe mates are tired of hearing him or her talk.

In the real world, this happens too. How often does the loudest person in a meeting dictate the conversation, only to annoy every other person who has something to say, but can’t? How often do companies think they can sell a product or service by sheer volume of ads? The most effective communicators know that the message itself is far more important than the volume at which it is said.

Sometimes, Your Audience Doesn’t Care

The domineering loudmouths who get voted off the island first never see it coming. They can’t believe their fellow castaways didn’t want their advice on how the shelter should be built or where the fire pit should be established. They assume that everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats, just waiting to hear their next piece of sage-like wisdom. They don’t realize that their audience was never interested in their thoughts in the first place.

When crafting a message in the corporate world, it is imperative to know how receptive or primed your audience is for the message. If they aren’t receptive at all, your strategy shouldn’t be to beat them over the head with the message until they happily receive it. Seeing two back-to-back GEICO ads in a commercial break doesn’t make me more likely to make that 15-minute call and switch to GEICO; it just annoys me. In cases where your audience isn’t ready to hear what you’ve got to say, it may be better to start with a conversation that gauges what they are interested in hearing. For example, you might do this by interacting with your followers on social media, listening to their opinions and then adapting your message based on what you hear.

Positioning is Crucial

For Survivor contestants like Nadiya, who get voted out largely because they are considered a threat, their demise is largely due to an inability to position themselves well to their fellow players. In this case, Nadiya might not have been voted out if she had positioned herself as a reality show expert, with the know-how to get her alliance far into the game. Instead, she seemed unconcerned about her tribe’s perceptions and failed to play up her strengths. Obviously, this mistake cost her.

In marketing, positioning is crucial. The foundation of any campaign should involve research to understand where you fit within your market, what your audiences’ needs are, and what messages will be well-received by key stakeholders. Only with the right strategic positioning will you truly thrive in your sector.

Ultimately, Survivor is a show about communication. The players that win understand their audiences, know which messages their fellow contestants want to hear and recognize how to best deliver them. One of the most enjoyable parts about watching the show is witnessing the truly great communicators at work (and also seeing the terrible ones crash, burn and get their torches snuffed).

Photo courtesy of Kristin Dos Santos’ Flickr photostream.

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Sep 17 2014

Black-Belt Tips for PR Professionals

Published by under Public Relations

By Michelle Rash

Last August my daughter, now seven, began taking tae kwon do lessons. She quickly demonstrated a passion and a talent for it, and when her dojang offered parents free trial lessons in May, she persuaded me to give it a try. I will admit, I initially thought I would do free classes and then stop, but I quickly saw why she enjoyed it so much and began taking classes regularly, earning my yellow belt last week (my daughter is now a blue belt).

As I work my way toward a black belt, it has occurred to me that there are several lessons I am learning at tae kwon do that I can apply to my professional life.

Stop and breathe

At the start of every class, we take a moment to meditate. It gives us the opportunity to clear our heads from distractions and focus our minds in preparation for class. And often, during the class, the masters encourage us to take a moment to pause and catch our breath as we prepare for the next task.

In PR, it’s also important that we pause every now and then to refocus our energies. So often we get caught up in dealing with the situation at hand, the “fire drills” of immediate client needs that come with the territory, that we forget to take the time to pause, take a step back, and make sure that we are spending our time and energy on the most important things for our clients and their businesses.

Start with the basics and work your way up

While the ultimate goal of tae kwon do is to achieve a black belt, you have to first learn the basic kicks, blocks and punches.

So it is with PR. It is important that we work with our clients to have the basic “moves” down – such as defining their audiences and determining their key messages – before any advertising or media relations campaign can begin. While we always want to achieve “black belt” results for all of our clients, we first need to guarantee that all of the basic pieces are in place to make the most of our time and energy.

And even once you have mastered some of the more challenging skills, it is important to spend some time back in the basics. Just as a black belt may spend some time focusing on a basic kick or simple punch to make sure it is perfect, we need to remember that, even in this age of businesses looking for the next big thing, sometimes the basic, tried-and-true communications techniques are the best.

Strive for consistency

Tae kwon do takes a lot of practice and preparation. As with other sports, if you miss too many practices, your skills can get rusty and the more you miss, the harder it is to get back into shape. You can’t just attend class once or twice a month, or even once a week, and expect to improve.

Similarly with PR, it’s important to be in front of your audiences consistently and regularly. It takes a constant stream of advertising to be noticed, and more importantly, stay at the top of a potential customer’s mind. And it often takes a steady stream of media relations outreach to be known as the go-to source for a reporter. While not every pitch will hit the mark with every reporter – and not every punch will hit the target with full force – the effort is still key to achieving the results you want.

Set goals and build upon success

The natural goal of tae kwon do is to get a black belt, but there are several milestones along the way – every new skill mastered or belt obtained. Each of these is celebrated, whether by a high-five from a fellow student or at a belt ceremony. Recognizing these achievements and building upon them helps to keep our focus on the larger goal, but also allows us to rejoice in the progress we are making.

So often in PR, our attention is so focused on the long-range goal of our campaigns and our clients, that we fail to recognize the small accomplishments along the way – a great media placement, a response from a key reporter, reaching a milestone in developing a new website, or even some anecdotal evidence that the work we are doing is paying off. We need to take time to rejoice in the little victories, at least for a few minutes, to help keep us energized and motivated for our bigger goals.

Pay attention to the competition and think about your next move

A key piece of tae kwon do is sparring with a competitor – going back and forth looking for an opportunity or a weakness to score a point. While I still have just a little experience with sparring, I know that it’s crucial not just to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, but also to think ahead to your next move and determine the best strategy to win the match.

While the fights are not as clear cut and obvious as a sparring match, in PR it is critical that we keep an eye on our clients’ competition and industry trends. This helps us look for opportunities to differentiate our clients from others in their field and play up their strengths. We also need to always be thinking ahead to our next move and figuring out the best way to give our clients an edge or finding the next opportunity to get them in front of their target audience.

Whether it’s the thrill of landing a hard-to-get interview with a key publication, seeing a new website go live after months of work, or the stress relief that comes from a great workout at the end of a hectic day, I get the same adrenalin rush and sense of accomplishment from both my professional life and new-found hobby. And that thrill, that joy, is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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