Archive for March, 2012

What To Do When A Client Wants A Page 1 Story, A Viral Video Or A Trending Topic?

It’s a beautiful thing when a company successfully marries its products or services and corporate ethos/culture to its customers, and, best of all, to things that affect the society at-large. These are the elements of viral marketing. When it happens, it creates rewards exponentially: It can create a contagion of good feeling that moves in waves across society. Those are the better times to be a PR professional.

Sadly, these moments don’t occur enough. Too often, we’re left to revel in small wins, and declare victory at any action that nudges the needle forward. It’s too bad, because as we’ve recently seen with the Kony 2012 video, the Millionhoodies campaign and even Planned Parenthood’s successful campaign on its principles in light of the Komen for the Cure episode, achieving these high points can have infinite benefits for all involved: the company brand, employees, customers, business partners, communities, etc.

With this in mind, some of the activities of a couple of companies have recently warmed our hearts. In previous blogs, we’ve referred to the successful cause-related moves by Panera (see Blog #4), with its Pay-What-You-Can Cafe and Starbucks, with its Create Jobs for America partnership (Blog #1). Add to the list Chipotle, who’s staked its brand on a campaign for healthy eating and to support family farms.

In each case, the company took a stand—no doubt outside of its corporate comfort zone—to create or support a signature cause that helped define its corporate ethos/culture, support its products & services, and lead the advance on a significant social issue.

So, beyond those companies and their specific publics and communities—which could be any or all of us—why should this be important to you?

Well, as a communications professional, when you’re faced with a client who requests (we’re using the term advisedly here) a Page 1 story, a viral video, or a trending topic on Twitter, here’s what it’s time to do:

  • Assessment-It’s a real test of how well you know the client: their strengths, weaknesses, the company’s mission, philosophy and culture [esp. whether all those elements are aligned]. What’s the client’s narrative? What’s their story or situation? If you don’t know those things, it’s time to do the nitty-gritty research to find out. You have to identify the element of the company or brand that will ignite passion.
  • Frank discussion-Armed with information, it’s now possible to have that talk: What will it really take to create something that will have impact for the company and resonate with the public? Is it even possible, given the present circumstances? What have you got to work with?
  • Meeting of minds-What has promise? What are the perils? What are the motivations or the reasoning behind the effort?
  • Creative brainstorm-All brakes are off—What fits? How can we get attention? Which vehicles will have the most impact? What is the sequence of activity/events to build on or maximize impact?
  • Pre-testing-If you’re not sure, pre-test or sample. PR has long since past the point where high-stakes campaigns are launched on a “hunch” or “gut instinct.” Even in today’s fast-paced climate of social media, if you want to try something different, it may pay to test it out first. Intranets, email, and other messaging systems may provide a quick way to test key messages, tactics, etc., within a select audience before they go “live.” Keep in mind, you won’t have a great deal of time to deliberate given the spontaneity of the Web. Yet, in today’s accountability environment, there’s usually always a way to pre-test theories and ideas, assumptions, past practice and professional instinct.
  • Excellent implementation-From the preparation to the launch, detailed and timely execution of all tasks, along with ongoing monitoring, evaluation and modification.

Taken altogether, these steps can create campaigns that deliver virally, as well as offline, across all media.

What Makes A Good PR Person?

As we discussed in our last blog, the world is abuzz regarding the practice of public relations. Since we last posted, PRSA has established its new definition of PR, and a raucous debate on standards of practice, lobbying, etc., has sprung forth in the UK– which could have implications industry wide.  Consequently PRSA officials felt the need to weigh in on the UK debate.  All of this self-examination, redefinition, and realignment of standards and practices, caused us to ponder the question: what makes a good PR person? You would probably get a different answer from every person to whom this question is posed, but for us, a few   common characteristics stand out. Here’s our take on what are the compelling characteristics of a good PR person:

  • Inquisitive, thinks expansively. Has a global and universal view of the world at the same time. Practically speaking, this means you’re a person open to ideas—whether ancient or new, within your realm of experience or beyond, and across  the usual boundaries of age, race, culture, geography or language. We like to say about PR practice:  You never know where your next good idea will come from. True enough, we are surprised each day about how much of our past experience—the things we’ve done, read, seen or been involved with, are somehow surprisingly relevant to the projects we’re working on now. It’s absolutely uncanny, and the good PR person never underestimates the value of his or her accumulated life experience to the job at hand.
  • A good writer. We think a good PR person is, by definition, a good writer; someone who writes well and is on their way to becoming an excellent writer. By this, we don’t simply mean grammar and execution: what we mean most profoundly is that they understand “the voice” of the subject they’re writing about. They understand perceptions, feelings, and nuances related to the subject in a way that’s otherwise hard to explain. A good PR person is a good writer, on the lifelong journey of becoming an ever better writer.
  • Honors the profession. A good PR person is self-regulating: He or she accepts that the profession, similar to journalism, is built around a bond of openness, mutuality and trust with the audience(s). They refuse to corrupt the process of communication. They accept the inherent responsibility of speaking truth to power, and vice versa.

A fundamental principle of practice at our firm is that [responsible] “PR does not seek negative outcomes.” We’re not about trying to tear something down; we’re about raising something up—creating room for an alternative voice.

So, these are some of our thoughts on what makes a good PR person (not exhaustive). We’d like to hear yours …Chime in.

By the way, as we tweeted about earlier, here’s the latest ad from Google (the coffee stains are ours!), presumably to offset concerns about privacy of information. Clever, but are they “winning”? You tell us.

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