Bridgebuzz Is Moving!

April 3, 2013

3D white people. Workers unloading boxes from a truckTo our WordPress followers: we are moving the Bridgebuzz blog to a new host, and within the next day or so you will no longer be able to see our blog here. Please bookmark this page so you will be able to find our new site: http://www.bridgeny.com/blog/

Thanks for following Bridgebuzz and we hope you’ll continue to do so!

Best regards,

Lucy Siegel

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The Extinction of Physical QWERTY Keyboards

April 2, 2013

The Blackberry Z10 made headlines recently. A million units were shipped in the last three months. But I’m more excited about the company’s Q10 (scheduled to be released this month). It’s not that I’m a Blackberry fan, I’ve never even used one before; it’s that the Q10 is part of a dying breed of smartphones with physical QWERTY keyboards. UnderwoodKeyboardTheir disappearance has largely been blamed on the success of the iPhone. During the iPhone’s first few years, competitors offered plenty of physical keyboard/touchscreen combo smartphones: just look at this top ten list from 2011. However, as the iPhone came to dominate the market, smartphones all started to look more and more like iPhones.

The smartphone is an essential tool for most people who work in PR. At a recent industry event, one of the panelists chided the audience (all PR pros), that more of us weren’t live Tweeting the event. We’re expected to be constantly connected, at the very least while working at events or when dealing with a crisis. At Bridge, we specialize in PR for overseas-based companies, and we often need to communicate with clients and media in different time zones, so work hours can vary a lot, too. Most of us would probably agree that we’d feel lost without smartphones.

I bought my first smartphone in 2010, the LG Ally, and I stuck with it because I never found a much better option with a physical keyboard. I’ve been an iMac user for years and I always wanted an iPhone for the syncing capabilities, but I couldn’t fathom using a touchscreen keyboard. The keyboard has always been the most important factor for me when choosing a phone. I text like a rabid teenager (I’ve sent/received 1,036 text messages in just the last 7 days), and I take lots of lengthy notes. There is also something much more satisfying about pressing down on actual buttons versus tapping on a screen. I type much faster on a physical keyboard, and I never quite took to autocorrect. I’d rather a few typos than have my phone try to guess what I’m trying to write. After three years with the same phone, I finally came to terms with the fact that touchscreen keyboards are here to stay. I begrudgingly started shopping around when I stumbled upon this gem: a Bluetooth slide-out keyboard for the iPhone 5! I happily traded in my old phone for an iPhone 5 and after fumbling with the touchscreen for a few days, I ordered the Bluetooth add-on from Amazon. Without further ado, here’s my review.

Abco Tech® Bluetooth Sliding Keyboard iPhone 5 Case (White)

Abco iPhone 5 Keyboard

Set-up was extremely easy and intuitive. I paired it with my iPhone like any other Bluetooth device, and the phone snapped snugly into the top part of the case. It comes with a micro-USB charger and as far as battery life, I’ve been charging it at least every other night and have had no issues (though I expect battery life will decline over time). The keys take a bit of getting used to, but if you type a lot, you’ll be fine with a few days of use. There are “lock” and “home” keys, as well as two “command” or “Apple” keys which let you use basic keyboard shortcuts (ie: copy, paste, select all, undo) without having to touch the screen. There are also 4 arrow keys which let you navigate long bodies of text with ease. If you compare the proportions to a normal keyboard, the space bar is very small and off-center. This is quite annoying because you have to strain your right thumb to reach it. Functionally, this is probably the biggest flaw in the design.

Aside from the space bar, there are other obvious aesthetic flaws. The keyboard just about doubles the thickness of the phone which may be a huge turnoff for many. I got the keyboard in white, which has a matte finish that gets dirty very quickly. I haven’t tried to clean it yet, but from reading other reviews, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do it.

At the end of the day, whether you’ll like this product or not will largely depend on how much you value function over form. Most of my friends react with disgust when I whip this huge thing out of my pocket. The iPhone’s sleekness is its main draw and if Steve Jobs saw this bulky case, I’m sure he’d be rolling over in his grave. However, if you’re like me and often feel the need to draft entire novels on your smartphone, you should give this keyboard a try. It’s about the price of a normal iPhone case ($25-$29) and Amazon has a solid 30-day return policy so you don’t have much to lose.

 

Diana Kim

4 Advantages of a PR Agency Over In-house Staff

March 29, 2013

“The internal staff person has problems and limitations that an external communications company doesn’t face.”

A couple of years ago I ended a blog post about the hidden costs of in-house PR with this thought, and I promised that I would one day expand on this theme.To that end, here is a brief examination of several big challenges that in-house communications teams face:

In-house vs PR agency

1. The internal staff often gets too close to the subject matter to be objective. However, many companies look at this from a different perspective. Corporate management reasons that, since internal staffers have a wider knowledge of the company, its people and its products than any agency could have, they’re better suited to communicate externally for the company. But that detailed knowledge is a double-edged sword. Employees become so much a part of the corporate team that they often lose their objectivity. When we come across people like this at client companies we say to ourselves, “She’s been drinking the Koolaid for too long.” The danger of not being able to be objective is that you can’t put yourself in the position of external stakeholders, such as customers, investors and media, to understand their perspectives. And if you can’t do that, you can’t appeal to them with messages that will catch their attention.

2. Counseling senior management is harder for internal PR staff.

When internal PR professionals don’t agree with the directions that top management gives them, it’s a lot harder to verbalize that disagreement (after all, the same senior management has the power to fire them, or at least make their lives very difficult). Even when an internal PR executive vehemently disagrees with senior management, his counsel is not taken as seriously as outside counsel. I’ve been on both sides, as an in-house communications staff member and an agency consultant, and I’ve seen senior executives sit on the edge of their seats when we talk to them and tell them the same thing they ignored when their own staff told them! I think sometimes we’re hired simply to provide back-up for the internal team’s counsel.

3. Agencies can focus better on the media. 

We develop social media programs, design marketing communications strategies and do media relations all day every day and in a variety of companies and industries. An in-house communications team does this only for one company in one industry and doesn’t get the chance to work on each of these areas as extensively as we do.  For example, media relations is only one of a long list of tasks assigned to the internal staffer (unless the internal team is quite large so that duties can be defined very narrowly). In that situation, there’s less ability to focus intensely on media relations, and it’s easy to let media relations slip down on the list of priorities, with the result that the company is less responsive to the media.

4. It’s easier to get professional feedback and input in an agency.

When I worked for an insurance company years ago, I was surrounded by insurance executives who really didn’t understand what was involved in the work I did. But when I joined a PR firm, I was able to turn to my co-workers for feedback and input whenever I needed it. It’s a lot easier to get good feedback on your ideas and plans when you’re working in a public relations agency setting than when you’re on an in-house communications team. I also believe that agencies are better learning environments for people who want careers in communications.

Despite these challenges, from a public relations career perspective it’s a good experience for up-and-coming professionals to put in some time “on the client side” in a marketing communications or corporate communications setting. Working inside a corporation provides insight on what it takes for various departments to work together well, and also on how they sometimes jockey with each other for political favoritism and power. This kind of insight is very valuable to have in an agency setting, because it helps in understanding why agency projects sometimes take forever to get approved by a client, how easy it is for messaging to be inconsistent from one part of a company to another, and why some projects are stopped mid-course for reasons that seem incomprehensible!

Lucy Siegel

Trials, tribulations, and the impact of social media on the media industry

March 26, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Joy Scott of fellow PRBI member firm Scott Public Relations:

From Vocus’ 2013 State of the Media Report

Looking for media coverage? Ignore social media at your own peril. About 80 percent of journalists use Twitter and Facebook for research. If you are not there, your story may be overlooked.

The 4th annual State of the Media Report from Vocus examines how social media impacts the digital media revolution, and how journalists and news organizations use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and others as tools to gather, promote and disseminate information.

Some of the key findings in this report surprised us (more than 100 newspapers folded in 2012), while others (media professionals still prefer to receive pitches through email) were expected.

Highlights from the report include:

Social media has empowered newspapers with the ability to “break in” and report the news immediately. David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, says, “It (social media) is very effective if journalists are providing a service, like breaking news or interesting and funny observations. It helps build their personal brands with readers”. These social media mechanisms help journalists draw traffic and maximize page views by building loyal followers.

Social media is now also used to supplement coverage. Some professionals give blow-by-blows of events, trials and television broadcasts now regularly include feedback found from monitoring social media sites. According to Julie Holley, managing editor of television content at Vocus Media Research Group, “Social media has been a gold mine for TV because it is cheap to use, easy to implement technologically speaking (short and easy set-up time), and viewers want to be part of the conversation.”

Engagement has become a main reason that many journalists choose to use/follow social media on a regular basis because it connects viewers/readers on a more personal level with the journalist covering their community.

Magazines have social media presence today – the direct interaction opportunity is too big to ignore.

In 2012, 165 magazines debuted, with 97 print and 68 online launches.

In 2012, 152 newspapers folded; 91 were weekly papers and 34 were online. The Orange County Register defied trends in 2012. Since Aaron Kushner has taken over, the paper has been on an editorial hiring and expansion spree.

PR professionals need to make sure they supply journalists with the materials they require to pursue a lead. Julie Holley advises PR professionals to “Control the message. Interact with the journalists. Follow them, comment on their stories and suggest story ideas. As always, know your audience and that of the journalist.”

Findings from the Vocus survey of media:

*all graphs are from Vocus’ State of the Media Report 2013

 

Preparing Your Startup for Media Interviews: the Do’s and Don’ts

March 22, 2013

Successful entrepreneurs are known for being risk-takers, putting both their money and reputation on the line to launch a new product or service, often in a competitive or nascent market. Some psychologists suggest that entrepreneurs’ brains are hard-wired to take risks—they live for the dopamine high associated with standing on the edge of a tall cliff (or business deal).

It’s not surprising then that many entrepreneurs get an emotional charge when they are put in the spotlight to talk about their businesses with media. While risk-taking may pay off in certain situations, a media interview is not one of them.  Without careful planning, an interview can result in a wasted opportunity for good exposure, or worse, it can make your company the butt of “funny headline” jokes on the Tonight Show. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best of your interview opportunities:

Do’s:

  • Research the Reporter: Before every interview, you or your PR advisor should research the reporter to determine what he or she has already written about and what the tone of their reporting is like (e.g. investigative, light-hearted, opinionated, etc.)
  • Develop Talking Points:  Always solicit a list of potential questions from the reporter prior to the interview. With few exceptions, reporters will usually share some initial questions, because it makes their job easier when the interviewee is already prepared with important information. These questions should be used to develop talking points to help you steer the conversation in the right direction. The talking points should also include additional questions that could come up, especially the sticky ones.
  • Practice: If this is the first time you have been interviewed on a particular topic, or if there have been significant changes to your messaging since the last interview, squeeze in a little rehearsal time. This is particularly important when interviewing with reporters that have a reputation for being critical or when the format of the interview is broadcast, where a bad 10-second sound bite can spoil an otherwise spotless performance. If you have a PR advisor, make sure they provide you with media training.
  • Follow Up: There are times when you may do all the right things to prepare for an interview, only to find that a story is not produced or that the interview is edited out of the story. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when the story has to be trimmed to meet a specific word count or when the reporter quashes the story to make space for another pressing news item.  But other times it can be prevented with proper follow up. When following up, reiterate any points you want to make clear to the reporter and ask if he or she has follow up questions. Also consider sending them references to additional sources, including other potential interviewees, that could support the development of the story.

Homer Simpson

Don’ts:

  • Go Off the Record: The words “off the record” go against the grain of journalistic integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, the basic interest of the reporter in publishing a compelling story. Always assume anything you say is fair game.
  • Respond with “No Comment”: Reporters usually interpret this as stonewalling, and readers will likely think it means you have something to hide. There are situations when it is in your best interest to stay mum, such as when being questioned about sensitive financial or legal information or information that could reveal too much to your competition. In these situations, provide as much information as you feel is safe, and simply explain that you can’t go into any additional details at that time. This is also a good opportunity to bridge the conversation to a different, but relevant, topic that you really want to talk about.
  • Use Jargon: Reporters strive to make their stories as accessible as possible for their audiences. With the exception of trade or special interest media, where highly technical information may be required, you should stay away from industry jargon and try to simplify complex ideas into comprehensible points. Sometimes using metaphors can be a good way to explain an intricate point, but when a metaphor won’t do, you should have a succinct and lucid description at the ready.
  • Talk About a Competitor: This is another one where there are exceptions, but in general, you should let your competitors do their own talking. The two big risks here are that you may unintentionally build awareness for the wrong team, and perhaps more importantly, if you get your facts wrong, you may find your company getting slapped with a lawsuit.

Jacob Seal

Change Your Expectations For Top-Tier Media Coverage

March 19, 2013

The rise of inbound marketing is tied inexorably to the decline of both advertising and the traditional media.

By now most of you who read the Bridgebuzz blog have heard my rants about the death of the mainstream media.  The Pew Research Center, a non-profit research organization, recently reported that for every dollar newspapers are earning from online advertising, they are losing $10 in print ad revenue. Print ad revenues now are less than half what they were in 2006. It’s no wonder that  the newspaper industry alone – not including any magazines, TV or radio, all of which have also had massive layoffs – cut 39,000 jobs between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2012, according to the website Papercuts, which tracks newspaper layoffs.

The number of (employed) journalists in the U.S. continues to shrink, according to the Pew Research Center’s newest annual report, “The State of the News Media 2013.”The Pew report concludes that a continued erosion of news reporting resources has taken place at the same time that capabilities have improved for bypassing the media altogether and going directly to the public. This is the crucial message that I want the readers of this blog to understand.  Clients and prospective clients, hear this: you can no longer depend on the media to get your messages out to your target audiences.  No matter what your PR firm is telling you about their stellar media relations capabilities, you need to know that:

RIP Newsweek

  • There are now 30% fewer U.S. journalists employed than in 2000.
  • The number of stories produced by CNN has been cut in half since 2007. (You must have known this – how many times can they repeat the same stories over and over again in one evening!)
  • The number of live events produced by the three U.S. cable news channels has decreased by about 30% in the past five years, while interview stories, which require much less resources to produce, are up by about the same amount.
  • Newsweek bit the dust last year and now the only remaining weekly news magazine is Time, which made another cut in its editorial staff just recently.
  • According to the Pew Report, an increasing number of media are using a new automated technology that produces editorial content without the need for any human reporting at all, believe it or not. Forbes is one of the publications using this technology (ostensibly to supplement what its reporters are doing, since it’s inconceivable that a computer algorithm could totally replace the editorial staff – yet, at least.
  • People are noticing that the media they used to rely on for news is a shadow of its former self.  The Pew survey shows that 31% have stopped reading or listening to a news outlet because it no longer provides the news it used to provide.

PR agencies know this has been happening and understand what it means for the work they do: it’s much, much harder to obtain media coverage for our clients than even a few years ago, because the media are producing dramatically less news and information. But companies that hire PR agencies don’t seem to grasp this. Every potential client we speak to is looking for top-tier media coverage, yet getting into that level of media just doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to. As I said, no matter what PR firms are telling you about their ability to do this for you, beware, because there’s very little chance they’ll be able to deliver, no matter how good they.

If you’re one of the many communications and marketing professionals demanding what you have always been able to get in the past from your PR agency, top-tier media coverage and lots of it, please open your mind to new communications techniques.  After all, it’s the end that counts – reaching your audience with the information and messages you want to convey, rather than the means, isn’t it? As the Pew Center Report pointed out, technologies have been improving all the time for totally bypassing the traditional media and going directly to your target audience. The most savvy PR people have already acknowledged the need to do this and have become “PR journalists,” producing their own high-quality materials (articles, videos, podcasts, white papers, etc.) that they distribute online in a variety of ways, including use of social media and other online platforms. You’ll hear this called content marketing, inbound marketing and permission marketing. The same content can be used and repurposed in many ways, a method an NPR executive once called “COPE,” “Create Once, Publish Everywhere.”

In order for this type of communications to be successful in meeting your goals, it must be of very high-quality. It can’t be promotional, it can’t be self-serving, and you must provide value from the point of view of the audience – not the point of view of your boss or your company’s CEO. Luckily, there are some really good PR journalists available these days (some were trained as journalists before they went down the PR agency path). Don’t try to find them at ad agencies or digital marketing firms – look for them where you’ve always looked for help in communicating with the media: agencies that provide public relations and corporate communications services.  They will understand what you’re trying to accomplish and have the skills to be able to help.

Some of you who are reading this are thinking, “But my boss [or the CEO, or the CMO, or the company’s board, or all of the above) wants top tier media coverage, and that’s what I need our PR agency to get if I want to keep my job.” I’ll put the ball in your court. It’s up to you to educate that internal audience about the changing reality in the media today.

I’m sure as hell not saying that PR firms can’t get top tier media coverage anymore. Obviously, we do. But we don’t get it as frequently as we used to or as you’d like us to. There, I’ve put my neck on the line. You can believe me and start thinking hard about inbound marketing and content marketing as a way to inform and persuade your target audience, or not. If you’re curious to know more about how it works, read our new e-book about inbound marketing.

 

Lucy Siegel

The Catholic Church & Social Media

March 15, 2013

PontifexWhite smoke was first seen rising from the Sistine Chapel chimney on Wednesday at 1:06pm EDT. Just hours later, at 3:33pm, the Vatican tweeted “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” which translates to “We have Pope Francis.” The tweet was retweeted 25,000 times in under 10 minutes.

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines back in December when he became the first pope to start tweeting via the Vatican’s official Twitter handle, @Pontifex. This wasn’t the church’s first foray into social media. Back in 2010, the Pope asked priests take to the web to help spread the gospel. That the Catholic Church has warmed to social media so quickly may come as a surprise. After all, this is the same institution that took over 300 years to apologize for persecuting Galileo in the 1600’s for believing that the earth moved around the Sun. However, if we look at the very tenets of the religion, moving onto social networks was but a logical next step.

Evangelism is a key aspect of many Christian religions, and Christians have successfully used other types of media for this purpose. (Remember the televangelists of the 70’s and 80’s?) Furthermore, the need to gain more followers has never been stronger. The Pew Forum recently reported that “the percentage of U.S. Catholics who consider themselves ‘strong’ members of the Roman Catholic Church has never been lower than it was in 2012.”

Despite having almost two million Twitter followers already, Pope Francis still has a huge, common hurdle to overcome. Religious belief is a very personal thing, and it’s one of the most taboo topics to talk about. Given the very public nature of social media, many believers are hesitant to associate with religious figures and institutions on the web.

Opening a Twitter account was clearly a PR move- a good one, but it was only a start. Pope Benedict XVI’s 36 tweets since December have mostly been one-way broadcasts. Though he invited people to start conversations with him with the hashtag #askpontifex, it quickly became a joke on Twitter and very little was achieved. Pope Francis is starting with a clean Twitter slate, and we hope he makes more of an effort to engage with followers than his predecessor.  To start, he should probably look over our latest eBook on social media.

Who Should Interact With Your PR Firm?

March 13, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Scott Phillips of Scott Phillips + Associates:

Who-should-interact-with-your-PR-firmYou’ve gone through the process of selecting a public relations firm and are moving fast to get them up to speed and producing.   Depending on the size and structure of your company, you are probably a senior marketing executive, a product or brand specialist or perhaps even the company founder.

You are the interface between your new PR firm and the rest of the company.  Do they need to work with anyone else?   The answer is yes.

In fact, my preference is to get to know as many people in your company as possible.

The Corner Offices:  If you are going to report to superiors about our joint progress, I would like to know those individuals.  Our firm will benefit from understanding the expectations of your company’s most senior executives, as well as their vision, concerns and ideas about your competitive differentiation.

The Inside Guys:  Whether we are supporting a product, service or even a critical issue, somebody in your company was responsible for its creation or the development of the company’s position.  He or she has all the “inside baseball” information and will likely be our go-to source for in-depth explanations, technical details and the answers to questions we haven’t even thought of yet.   He or she might also be a great source for trade interviews, but we need to know that person to help make that determination.

The Finance Guys:  Whether you have a VP of Finance or CFO, that person’s perspective is always important to all of us.  From a strategic position, I want to know his or her financial objectives and concerns.  From a practical perspective, I want to know your company’s requirements for things like invoicing, expenses, etc.

Our Co-Marketers:  If you are working with an ad agency or separate social media provider, our efforts need to be coordinated.  We need to collaborate on everything from messaging to campaign timing.

The Sales Team:  The members of your sales team – the folks in the field – are among our most important contacts.   While you will direct our day-to-efforts, the sales team has information we can’t get elsewhere.   They know what messaging resonates with your audiences, the advantages you have over your competitors and where you might sometimes come up short.  They also are the first alert for pending deals and critical issues that might not get to your desk for some time.

In short, more is better.  We’ve all committed to working as a team, and we can do that best by getting to know all the players.

Is Silver The New Gold? Tips From The World’s Fastest-Aging Market

March 8, 2013

One of the biggest fears among young people is simply the fear of getting old, and society is obsessed with youth. Get ready, because the world population is aging fast. According to the World Health Organization, by 2050 22 percent of the world’s population will be over 60 and the number of people 80 or older will quadruple. This change has major implications for the global economy and all aspects of life – from healthcare to housing, workforce to personal finance, and product development to branding, marketing and communications.

Japan is the world’s fastest-aging society. With the highest life expectancy in the world (86), one in four people are currently over 65. This is expected to increase to one in three by 2040. This presents serious challenges in coping with increasing costs for pensions and healthcare in Japan. On the other hand, increased spending by seniors (called “the silver market” in Japan), estimated to be 100 trillion yen (US$1.27 trillion) a year, is creating new opportunities for the economy. Japan seems to be out front in developing and marketing new products and services targeting seniors and penetrating the growing silver market. Here are some examples.

  • Fujitsu just showcased a prototype of its New Generation Cane at the Mobile World Congress 2013. This product is a “smart cane” with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It has an LED panel on top that displays information and provides simple directional instructions for the user. A sensor on the top of the device monitors heart rate and the cane can also keep tabs on location, humidity and temperature, sending the information back to the user’s family, friends and caretakers.
  • Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo launched a new line of smartphones in 2012 targeting seniors, called Raku Raku (meaning easy easy). The phones have larger fonts and icons with simplified steps for sending email and taking photos. Senior-friendly features include audio adjustment that can slow down and clarify the voice on the other end. Also, with one push of the ‘how to use’ key, the phone will connect users to dedicated Raku Raku customer service staff.
  • Just about every Japanese girl has owned a Licca-chan doll, the Japanese equivalent of Barbie, since it was launched in 1967. (Barbie never caught on in Japan because she looked too foreign and adult to young Japanese girls.) Last year, Takara Tomy, Licca-chan’s maker, introduced a new doll, Licca-chan’s grandmother, named Yoko, targeting real grandmothers who enjoy playing with their grandchildren.

    Licca-chan & Yoko

  • Last year, Toyota unveiled a robot for seniors that can fetch, carry things and perform simple tasks using its fingers. Multiple companies are developing these types of robots with innovative technology to act as caretakers. A survey showed that 80 percent of Japanese seniors welcome the robots because they hate to burden their families with their care.
  • An electric kettle is a must-have item in a Japanese household. Zojirushi developed one for seniors living alone. When the kettle, “i-pot,” is used, the information is sent in the form of an e-mail to family members so they can monitor their parents/grandparents’ daily activities and be assured that everything is normal. Some communities are offering similar measures, products that use sensors and wireless networks at seniors’ households to monitor their safety. The Japanese government also introduced a measure with a more human touch in 2011: postal workers check up on people over 65 once a month by handing seniors seasonal greeting cards.
  • Retailer Aeon opened its first supermarket aimed specifically at seniors, with a range of products and services geared to their needs, such as a shopping cart with a built-in magnifying glass. Many supermarkets and department stores are shifting their business models in this way with items, displays and services catering to the silver market.
  • Large numbers of “dankai-no-sedai,” Japanese baby boomers, born between 1947 and 1949, have been retiring, and the travel industry is capitalizing on increased spending by the growing retiree population. According to a Japan Association of Travel Agents survey published last year, senior travel was stronger than travel by families, students or honeymooners. Since Japanese companies are not generous with vacation days, traveling is at the top of everyone’s wish list after retirement. The tourism sector is eagerly introducing new products and services targeting active retirees as well as the elderly with health-issues, including medical help and assistance from people who act as “travel helpers.”

What’s the best way to market and communicate to these growing consumers? I’ll cover that in another post.

Keiko Okano

Calling All Baby Boomers: It’s Time to Embrace Inbound Marketing

March 5, 2013

Despite our cultural obsession with baby geniuses—college students who launch tech companies right out of their dormitories—the fact is that baby boomers are now behind a large proportion of startups, and are becoming more entrepreneurial than ever before.Baby Boomer Marketing

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the self-employment rate for adults over 54 is 16.4 percent, and research by the Kauffman Foundation suggests that entrepreneurship among this group will continue to surge. Some boomers are launching startups to bolster their retirement nest eggs. Others simply don’t want to retire yet—they are passionate about what they do and want to leverage their years of experience to grow their own enterprises.

To successfully market their ideas, baby boomer entrepreneurs will need to look beyond the traditional marketing strategies they grew up with, such as print and broadcast advertising, direct mail and telemarketing. These methods can still work to generate business, but from a consumer’s perspective, they represent unwanted interruptions, and often are not tailored to the individual’s unique needs. And from a business perspective, these strategies usually require a significant investment.

In recent years, the Internet has enabled an alternative approach, in which a business creates content to attract visitors to its website and collect information from the visitors that will allow the company to tailor its marketing to various types of people to convert visitors into customers. This approach is referred to as inbound marketing. If you’re not a marketing guru, this may be a new concept, but don’t let the jargon scare you. Inbound marketing isn’t complicated: if you have a website, then you’ve already started the journey. Here are the 3 stages of inbound marketing.

1.      Get Found

The first step of inbound marketing is attracting visitors to your site. Here are some proven ways to do it:

Search Engine Optimization SEO:   Many customers start the buying process at a search engine, so your site should be listed as prominently as possible. At a minimum, you should regularly analyze and edit your content to make sure you’re using appropriate keywords.

Blogging:  The best way to attract new visitors to your site is by publishing a blog that provides relevant and credible information. Companies that blog get 55% more leads than those that don’t.

Social Media:  When people go online, they’re interacting with friends and sharing content on social media. These sites provide a great opportunity to expand visibility of your company and drive more visitors to your site.

Content Marketing: In addition to publishing a blog, think about creating other content, such as white papers, webinars and videos that provide valuable information to attract visitors.

2.      Convert Your Visitors

As you start attracting visitors to your website, your goal obviously will be to convert them into paying customers. Here are a few ideas:

Calls to Action: When you develop new content for your site, you’ll need to create a call to action that encourages the visitors to act (e.g. “Download the Whitepaper”). Other possible calls to action could be “Request a Consultation” or “Get Product Sample.” The offer you’re making must fulfill the needs of your visitors for the call to action to work.

Landing Pages:  When website visitors click on a call to action, they should be sent to a landing page. This is where prospects submit information about themselves, which will help you determine whether they are a good sales lead or not..

Email Marketing: You will get many leads that aren’t immediately converted into customers. One effective way to nurture a longer-term relationship with these people  is through a series of emails providing content targeted to their interests.

3.      Analyze

You should measure outcomes at every stage of your marketing strategy to figure out ways to make it more efficient and determine the return on your time and investment In addition to looking at common metrics, such as number of unique visitors, page visits and click-through, you should also monitor:

Conversion Rates: The percentage of people who convert from visitors to leads or from leads to customers.

Benchmarks: Benchmarks are data used to measure your marketing performance against peers. For example, conversion rate benchmarks allow you to see how your own conversion rates compare to those of similar companies.

Content Performance: You want to see how well each type of content you produce is attracting people to your website so you can get better and better at providing content that works for you.

Jacob Seal

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Unconventional Ways to Get PR Work Experience

March 1, 2013

A few weeks ago, while going over applications for our summer internship program, I wrote a post with tips for landing an internship in PR. Shortly after it went live, I got a call from veteran journalist Jack O’Dwyer, who’s covered the PR industry for over 40 years. He said that while he enjoyed my post, the market for internships at traditional PR firms is so competitive, students and recent grads may need to think outside the box to gain real world experience. He suggested that they go door to door to local businesses and offer their services for little or no compensation. “Do anything they need including sweeping the floor and washing the windows. Do what the regular employees won’t. Bring them news of new products or what the competition is doing. Show them how to create a website if they don’t have one,” he said.

At first, the whole conversation made me very uncomfortable. He was essentially saying that people with little to no PR experience should start freelancing. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. Interns make mistakes – it’s a part of the learning process, and a traditional internship is a safe, supervised environment where this can happen (usually) without dire consequences. I couldn’t see how any good could come of letting inexperienced 20-somethings run amuck with a company’s public image.

Over the next two weeks we reviewed over 300 applicants and finally hired one. The process made me reconsider Jack’s advice from the perspective of any one of the many qualified candidates we didn’t hire. If you haven’t had much luck finding a traditional internship, you really don’t have much to lose. You don’t have a professional reputation at stake, and you most likely won’t be signing any major clients. As long as you’re careful and only offer services you’re relatively equipped to handle, it just may be what gets your career started.

Andrea Marilyn GarciaJust ask Andrea Marilyn Garcia. Before becoming an Account Executive at Jaffe Communications, she gave herself a head start, making industry connections early on. “While at school I had an art blog for a journalism class and was looking for fresh new media content,” she said. “I realized that if you have a camera, anyone will want to speak with you. I would go to events and take video and interview people. Before I knew it, I was working with PR and marketing people at institutions and events.”

Christina Dela CruzChristina Dela Cruz, now an Assistant Account Executive at a PR firm in Atlanta, got her start with a virtual internship. “I graduated from college right when the economy took a nose dive in 2009, so I found it extremely challenging to find relevant internships in my area. I decided to take up ‘virtual interning’ as a means to gain experience,” she said. “I was able to intern for a small content marketing and digital PR consultant company based out of Virginia (I am located in Atlanta) via email and Skype.”

Nick Patrikis 3Nick Patrikis, a senior at Ithaca College, took a long shot, answering an ad on Craigslist for a VP of Marketing position at a record label startup. Though he didn’t get that job, the head of the company replied and agreed to meet with him. They talked basic marketing strategy and Nicholas left the meeting with his first assignment: developing a new logo for the record label.

The takeaway? Think beyond traditional internships. There are so many small businesses that haven’t even considered PR – each one is a potential client. The owner of my favorite taco truck once offered to pay me in tacos if I’d manage his Twitter account (sadly, I had to decline because I was moving). Though traditional internships may seem like a safer way to get started, in many ways, they may not be as edifying as branching out on your own. Many firms won’t let interns take on important tasks out of fear, precisely because they do have a professional reputation to consider and client accounts on the line. Mistakes will be made, regardless where you work, but fear of failure should never deter you from taking risks.

Diana Kim

Three Reasons Online Images Drive Web Traffic

February 26, 2013

ImageryYou can’t skim a video.  I would much rather take 10 seconds to skim an article to see if it’s worth reading than to stop what I’m doing, look for my earbuds, plug them in and sit in front of a video that might take a couple of precious minutes of my time. Yet study after study shows that online video is extremely popular, as is the sharing of photography online. The news media understand this, and even newspapers and magazines with roots in print are depending more and more on video and photos. Here are five reasons why:

1. Imagery Makes an Immediate Emotional Impact

When I flipped through The Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, the answer was clear about why online images (both still and video) are so prevalent and well-liked. The Atlantic’s collection of photos offers visual evidence of 2012’s Sturm and Drang. Some of these photos have the power to elicit strong emotions about the numerous and horrible natural tragedies that occurred last year.  Others make the news about game-changing political upheaval around the world come alive. Yet others document the triumphs of mankind, from scientific achievements to the performances of Olympian athletes. These photos are hard to forget.

2. Images Make the News Real

When I read about the Free Syrian Army clashing with Syrian troops, I can absorb the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the event. But when I see a photo of a Syrian man crying while cradling his dead son in his arms, one of 34 people killed by a suicide bomber, the emotional pain inflicted by the violence in Syria becomes much more real. This is certainly nothing new: a 41-year-old image of a naked Vietnamese child, running with other children away from the scene of an aerial napalm attack, was credited with helping to end the Vietnam War. It brought the horrors of the war to life better than any words could.  The difference between then and now is a matter of speed and degree: the buzz about the 1972 photo was spread by print and television media over a period of days and weeks. Today, it would take only minutes for the photo to go viral and be seen within hours by many millions around the world.

3. Images Motivate People to Act, Creating More News

Online image-sharing technology itself has played a role in empowering people to stand together and take action. No need to carry a camera anymore. A photo or a video can be taken with a cell phone and uploaded to Flickr or YouTube instantly, where it can be seen instantly and globally. The emotional impact of images has motivated people around the world to participate in political protest for the first time. It has moved average citizens to donate money to help disaster victims because of the way it brings crises closer to home for many people. Online images motivate people to take action, and that in turn creates more web traffic to see the images.

Just as these visual social media tools have helped people around the world to connect and share ideas and emotions, they have also helped communications professionals to deliver their companies’ or clients’ messages with greater impact. However, the overwhelming quantity of media images makes it harder to stand out and gain attention, so this is a double-edged sword.

It’s inevitable that I – and others who grew up without computers – will eventually gravitate more to online video.  But I’ll also be happy when someone invents a way to skim a video the way we can skim an article to find out whether or not it’s worth the time to watch.

Lucy Siegel

No More Mr. “Yes Man”: PR Professionals Can Promote Their Companies and the Public Good

February 22, 2013

The public relations industry is often portrayed as a mercenary trade dedicated to delivering corporate propaganda with little regard for the public good. To some extent, this slanted stereotype is rooted in the ethos of the old days of PR, long before the formation of professional groups with ethical standards designed to advance the practice and before it became a major academic field taught in prominent colleges and universities.

The fact is that we have come a long way since the Wild West days of PR, when sensational and sometimes deceptive information was used to influence the public. Today most American corporations rely on their public relations teams for strategic counsel, and PR executives often provide guidance to senior management on ethics. According to findings from a recent study, many PR professionals often espouse ideas for the public interest even when they are at odds with management views or not aligned with business interests.

Yes Man

The study, “Exploring Questions of Media Morality,” published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, drew on in-depth interviews with senior public relations professionals who had held top positions at corporations, nonprofits and government organizations. Most of those interviewed viewed themselves as an “independent voice” in the organization they worked for, and not “mired by its perspective or politics,” explained study author, Marlene Neill, Ph.D., of Baylor University.

There are obvious limitations to the study. The sample size of those interviewed was only 30 people, and it’s hard to draw sweeping conclusions from self-reported data (most of us probably like to think that we are ethical professionals). Nevertheless, the fact that PR professionals are embracing their role as the “organizational conscience” is a good indicator that these professionals are at least getting a seat at the table to give their input on ethical decisions.

It also suggests that these professionals are keeping their ears to the ground to monitor public sentiment about issues that could impact their companies. For these companies, PR is more than awareness-building; it is relationship management, which requires two-way communication between the company and its publics. While it may be hard to quantify the financial value of relationship management, we can assume that it’s far cheaper than the cost of crisis management for poor ethical decisions and the potential for downstream damage to the company’s reputation.

There will always be differences between individual companies in the function of public relations, but as one respondent in the study commented, “the ‘yes man’ has no value” in PR.” To be truly valued by their companies, PR professionals must have an independent voice, even when it means going against the grain sometimes by questioning the decisions of higher-ups. This can be a risky proposition. It can expose PR professionals to a “kill the messenger” mindset, and potentially put strain on their relationships with their bosses and the company’s senior management, but it is a risk worth taking.

What are your thoughts? Can public relations provide a moral compass for the executive suite while also looking out for the commercial interests of the business?

 

Jacob Seal

How American PR Is Different from PR Overseas

February 19, 2013

Foreign companies that want to build visibility in the U.S.  are usually surprised to find that there are cross-cultural differences in the role of public relations between their countries and the U.S. In many parts of the world, including most of Asia and some of Europe, the tactics used by most public relations departments have traditionally been limited to media relations and event planning, with social media also becoming more popular recently. The goal is to win over potential customers (both consumers and business customers) and to try to safeguard the company’s public image.Morpheus on PR

In the United States, Canada, the U.K. and a few other countries, there are additional aspects of PR. In these markets, PR is not relegated to building visibility and helping market products, it also includes strategies to build and enhance a company’s reputation. PR professionals look for ways to develop and strengthen relationships that will help the entire company in its interactions with various audiences, including investors, the local community, government officials and employees, among others. In other countries, PR is more top-down, with management deciding what they want to communicate and the PR department executing those decisions. But in the U.S. there is more two-way dialogue with the public, and the PR or corporate communications department is expected to monitor the public dialogue, and also to recommend messaging and develop materials to help support the company in those conversations.

In countries where the PR staff is mostly limited to helping to market products, PR professionals have a significantly lower status than they do in countries where PR professionals have a broader role that includes strategy for and management of corporate reputation. As one would expect, in the countries where PR has a lower status, PR professionals have less contact with top executives and aren’t usually seen as strategic advisors to corporate management. In the U.S., by contrast, the top PR job is often an executive position that reports directly to the CEO. In some cases, the professionals who hold those positions make very high salaries. (In large companies, the salaries are frequently in the range of $300,000. One recent news article reported that the head of corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company was being paid a million dollars a year. Those executives, and the employees and PR firms they hire to help them, manage issues important to the company, trouble-shoot in times of crisis and help with the overall positioning of their companies. They are responsible for fostering good relationships with all of their companies’ audiences, from employees to interest groups to customers and potential customers to government at the local, state and national levels. Some are also responsible for investor relations.

Often when I receive a call from a potential client from overseas, I can see the difference in attitude towards PR right away. I ask what the company is looking for from a PR agency, and the answer I get is usually a prepared list of PR tactics that the executives in the company have already decided will fill their needs. After talking to us and as they begin to work with us, the company’s staff begins to see that we can help in ways they hadn’t anticipated, and they stop telling us what tactics they want us to deploy, asking us, instead, for our counsel on helping them meet their goals.

Cross-cultural PR is a two-way educational process, since the client learns more about the U.S. business culture and sees how communications works here, while, at the same time, we have a chance to learn more about the client’s own culture.

Lucy Siegel

Click here for a free copy of our e-book on international public relations.

 

Ask Not What the Media Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the Media

February 13, 2013

Unfortunately, most emerging companies have approached public relations as little more than an extension of their sales promotion efforts, narrowly focusing their messaging on attributes of their products or services with the expectation that reporters will spread the word to the masses. At best, this approach usually yields a limited number of media placements originating around a product launch. At worst, reporters will view the announcements as editorialized sales pitches and discard them. Then comes the inevitable question from the corporate brass: “What value are we getting from that PR budget?”

kennedy

This scenario often could be averted if the question were turned around: “What value can the media get from our company?” Marketing professionals should appreciate this question—they are accustomed to defining value for potential customers, but reporters are not potential customers. Their needs are completely different.

To effectively engage reporters, it is important to understand how they evaluate information. Their raison d’être is to uncover what’s “newsworthy” to their specific audiences and to report this information in an easy-to-understand format. Thus, for a company’s message to resonate with a reporter it must be perceived to have a certain quality of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is a very abstract concept. It differs from company to company. A management change at a large conglomerate, for example, would be considered more newsworthy than a similar change at a startup. It also differs from reporter to reporter. Trade reporters, for instance, view newsworthiness through a narrow lens focused on a specific industry, while reporters with general business and consumer media often (not always) view newsworthiness through a broader lens focused on major social, economic or technological trends.

We’re at a time when major brands seem to wield more and more media influence, and reporters are becoming more and more immune to unsolicited story pitches. So how can a startup company demonstrate newsworthiness in such a tough climate?

The key is to start developing a PR plan early. It’s not uncommon for startups to focus their early-stage efforts on building out core business functions, such as sales channels, product development, logistics and other back office functions, putting off PR until the product launch approaches. This is understandable—resources are always an issue, and expenditures and staff time have to be prioritized. We also understand the competitive reasons for some companies to operate in “stealth mode” until they’re ready to launch sales. However, postponing PR planning until a month or two before going to market can seriously limit the company’s opportunities to drive greater visibility and lead to pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning.

As you begin crafting your PR plan, a key component is to identify story angles that will interest the media. This involves brainstorming with your management team and PR advisors to collect pertinent information about your company and its founders that is often scattered across many minds, and identifying the facets that could be used to create compelling story angles. Significant product news creates potential angles, as well as any anticipated milestones (e.g., acquisition of new management, new external partnerships, new funding, etc.). These events may offer good opportunities for exposure in some media outlets, with the highest potential usually being in trade and business media.

But there is no reason to limit the company’s story angles to these business events. PR planning is a creative process that requires you and your PR advisors to look beyond the obvious characteristics of your business to discover other aspects that could distinguish you from the flock. A great example of a company that has succeeded at this is Ben & Jerry’s. The company has been able to command media interest at will. Its products, however, are rarely what grab the headlines. Rather, much of the media coverage has focused on the company’s eccentricities: its unconventional founding (it was originally conceived as a bagel shop), its offbeat management practices (e.g. its erstwhile salary ratio policy) and its reputation as a champion of social issues.

Admittedly, the comparison between the media strategy of an emerging IT or biotech company with that of Ben & Jerry’s is tenuous, but there are opportunities for most companies to seize the limelight in unconventional ways if they try. Before they became iconic brands, companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Flickr were successful at this, getting attention for quirks in their corporate cultures,  business models, operational development or founders’ stories.

The bottom line is, in order for your company to derive value from its media strategy, it has to first prove its value (i.e. newsworthiness) to the media. The art of PR is storytelling: mining the various facets of your business to uncover what sets it apart—its newsworthiness—and packaging that information into compelling story angles to engage the media.

Jacob Seal

Landing a PR Internship

February 6, 2013

When I was an undergrad, I started applying for internships without a very clear objective. This approach yielded absolutely no results. Through much trial and error, I managed to land two. Now, sitting on the other side, poring over applications for our summer internship program, it’s quite clear what works and what doesn’t, and why I got the two that I did. Here are some tips for landing an internship in PR:

Internship Problems

The Search

  • Don’t spray & pray. Applying for an internship is not like playing the lottery. Spamming any and every potential employer’s inbox with your resume does not improve your chances of getting hired.
  • Don’t lie. If you think you have to misrepresent yourself to get the position, it probably isn’t right for you. This goes for everything from fudging numbers to faking enthusiasm. Insincerity is detectable in text, and this reflects especially badly on you if you’re applying for a position in communications.
  • Get a referral if you can. This often isn’t possible if you’re a student or recent grad with little to no experience, but you should still explore all your options. As this recent New York Times article explains, it’s more important than ever. One thing you can do while you’re still in school is build great relationships with professors in your department. Many have connections with professionals in their industry, and even if they don’t have an internship opportunity for you, you can ask to use them as a reference later on.
  • Don’t limit yourself to what’s on job/internship listing websites. You already know those listings are getting dozens of applicants. Don’t be afraid to reach out to any company you really want to work for – genuine enthusiasm will only help your cause.

The Cover Letter

  • Include one. If you’re applying through a web form, you can still find a way to include a cover letter. The cover letter is where you make your first impression, and without one, most employers won’t even look at your resume.
  • It’s also your writing test so make sure it’s flawless and have at least one other person look it over.
  • Don’t address it to, “to whom it may concern.” Take the time to find the name of the appropriate person. For a smaller firm, you can address it to the CEO. For a larger firm, find out who’s in charge of human resources or recruiting. If you can’t find it on the company’s website, call and find out.
  • Tailor it to the company and position you’re applying for. Show some indication that you’ve taken time to look into the company and what they do. Everyone likes to feel special.
  • Show, don’t tell. Giving concrete examples of how you’ve demonstrated great attention to detail or stellar interpersonal skills is much more convincing than merely saying that you have these qualities.
  • If you have any especially relevant work experience, summarize it here.

The Resume

  • Keep it to one page. No one applying for an internship has so much experience that it won’t fit on a single page.
  • If you state an objective on your resume, make sure it fits the position you’re applying for.
  • If your GPA isn’t very high, leave it off.
  • Think about how you can best outline your work and academic experience for the position you’re applying for. If you’ve held numerous part-time jobs while going to school, you probably don’t need to include every single one. Job descriptions should be tailored too. For example, if you’re listing your experience as a restaurant server for a PR position, you can focus more on the creative problem solving and guest service aspects of the job than the food handling or cleaning duties you had.

What really made a difference for me was narrowing my focus. I started out applying for many positions but then began to concentrate only on positions that I really wanted. That meant spending a lot of time doing research for every position, but in the end, it yielded positive results.

Lastly, if you do happen to come across your dream internship, don’t be afraid to be a little creative so you’ll really stand out. For a writing test for an editorial internship, I submitted my response using the company’s web template, so it looked like I’d really written a post on their blog. There are many famous examples, like this fellow, who designed his resume to look like an Amazon product page.

In the end, getting hired is never an exact science. Do you have any additional tips or success stories to share?

Diana Kim

Right and Wrong, Black and White: Conventional Wisdom vs. Current Wisdom

January 29, 2013

A lot of what we learned as children has turned out to be misinformation. Not only have the facts changed, many standard right and wrong ways of doing things have also evolved over time.  Both science and language are examples of how right and wrong have changed over time.My grandparents were taught in school (probably around 1910) that there are eight planets. However, in 1930, Pluto was discovered and added as the ninth planet.  But what my grandparents learned in school turned out to be correct after all (at least for now), Learning Right and Wrongsince scientists agreed in 2006 after years of debate that Pluto really did not meet the criteria for a planet. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet and plutoid (also called an ice dwarf).

Another scientific fact we learned in high school is that the atomic weights of elements on the periodic table of elements are constant numbers that do not vary. In 2010 scientists discovered that some of the elements’ atomic weights actually do vary in nature, and should be expressed as a range. For example, the atomic weight of oxygen is slightly more in the air than it is in seawater.

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to categorize scientific theories as right or wrong, since there are grey areas in between. Science is obviously a work in progress. Scientists offer theories, and other scientists offer revisions of the theories.  Theories that are proven wrong may just be proven right after all in the future.

Our use of language is another area where right and wrong shifts over time.  Most of us were taught that it’s incorrect grammar to end a sentence with a preposition.  Most grammarians now disagree with this old rule because using a preposition at the end of a sentence reflects the way people actually speak. For example, it’s uncommon to hear people say, “With what did you open that wine bottle?” It sounds pretentious. The normal way of expressing this is, “What did you open that wine bottle with?”

One language issue now being widely discussed is the spacing between sentences on a typed page. We were taught that sentences should be separated with two spaces, a rule that goes back to the time when typewriters were first used. The spacing on a typewriter was the same for all characters, whether a narrow “I” or wide “M.” As a result, typewriting looked uneven, making it harder for the eye to see the end of one sentence and beginning of the next. Two spaces were used between sentences on typewriters to mimic the spacing by traditional typesetters. Now, however, the computer has provided proportional spacing. The readability problem that existed with typewriters has disappeared. The rule has evolved and now one space between sentences on word-processed material is considered proper.

Human beings tend to feel comfortable with absolutes – right or wrong, black or white, true or false, good or bad. But most things are neither right or wrong, black or white, they are shades of grey. This is as true for moral absolutes as it is for scientific theories and language use. When we’re young, we’re taught moral absolutes of right and wrong, often based on the 10 Commandments. As we get older, we learn to live with the vast grey areas, based on circumstances and human frailties.

In the public relations profession, we are frequently faced with a need to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s truth and what’s not, and sometimes are at odds with our employers or clients over this. We can’t live with the grey areas if it’s obvious that something is actually black or white.

Senior PR professionals surveyed in a recent study by a Baylor University researcher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin believe they have a responsibility to be independent voices in their organizations not weighed down by politics or the perspectives of their organizations, and to criticize the decisions of people in senior management  when they believe them to be wrong.  The participants in the survey noted that it takes courage to disagree with the boss or the client on ethical issues. Some who did this were demoted or fired for refusing to do something that was blatantly unethical, and some resigned when their advice was rejected, including one who refused to include false information in a press release.

One thing is for certain: popular opinion is not the judge of right and wrong. The majority can be and have been wrong, time and again.

Lucy Siegel

Find out more about Bridge Global Strategies here.

347 Days Left for Entrepreneurs’ 2013 Business Resolutions

January 18, 2013

Making New Year’s resolutions is a tradition that has increased in popularity (in the United States, at least) over the years. According to Wikipedia, about 25 percent of American adults set New Year’s resolutions during the Great Depression. That number had increased to 40 percent by the turn of the millennium.  The tradition has a very old history. The ancient Babylonians promised their gods at the beginning of each year that they would pay their debts and retuThere's still time to  make 2013 business resolutions.rn whatever they had borrowed, and, similarly, the Romans made promises to the god Janus (for whom January is named).

There’s still time to make 2013 business resolutions.

Setting goals helps most people to make changes in behavior and move ahead. This is as true in business as it is in our personal lives. I try to set New Year’s resolutions for Bridge Global Strategies every year.  My business goal for 2013 is to invest both time and budget on new sales and marketing techniques to stimulate faster growth (and my personal goal is to lose 20 pounds!).

I asked a few entrepreneurs to share their New Year’s resolutions for their companies with the readers of Bridgebuzz. Ron Dizy, president and CEO of Toronto-based green technology company Enbala, said his resolution was to “start each day thinking about the best way to have the biggest impact on the most important part of our business.” I asked him what he considered the most important part of his business (Enbala operates a Smart Grid platform that helps shift power use on the grid by controlling the industrial equipment of large electricity users, paying the users to participate – a less expensive alternative to expensive electric grid power storage.)  Ron answered, “That changes through the year, depending on what is most pressing. It might be load (client) engagement, it might be utility business development, it might be regulatory affairs, it might be a personnel issue. I guess the point of my resolution is to think about what thing or action would have the biggest impact on the business … And do that TODAY!”

Carol-Davis Grossman, managing partner of New Jersey- based events company The Charles Group , said that she and her partner, Susan Dunkelman have several resolutions for 2013: “Expand our client base by better leveraging our reputation with our existing clients; increase our company’s online presence; and focus our business development efforts on target markets we identified last year.”

Gary Palermo, managing director of Palazzo Investment Bankers, a  boutique investment bank focused on marketing, interactive, digital, information and new media companies, explained that his business resolutions involved separating business from family life. “My goal is to work even harder than the past year, while spending more time with my family. Sound impossible? Maybe … but while I continue dedicating time to business growth and clients (my other family) as a singular focus throughout my work day, when I’m with my family, I want to spend the time to actually remain focused on staying engaged with them. The idea is to not cross the time, event or moment with work-related thoughts while with my family. Work-life balance? Yes, indeed! I am aiming high this year!”

For C. Filipe Medeiros, founder and CTO of online company Ancientfaces.com,  the  most important resolution for 2013 for his company is becoming increasingly focused on identifying and solving the problems of the site’s users. “When you have a site with as much data and as many users as AncientFaces, nailing that down can be a huge challenge,” Filipe said.

Benton Morgan, co-founder and managing partner of Jet Partners, says his resolution is, “To always innovate. Never get comfortable with my normal routine. Find a way to make daily tasks more efficient. The easy way is not a option!”

Most people agree that stating a goal publicly makes it more likely that you’ll reach it. I know this is true for dieting. I believe it’s true for business goals as well. So, dear readers, please feel free to proclaim your New Year’s resolutions here. It’s not too late – we have 347 days left this year!

Lucy Siegel

Learn more about Bridge Global Strategies’ services for startups here: http://slidesha.re/XkGbit

13 DOs & DON’Ts to Make the Most of Digital Communications

January 14, 2013

The new realities of the digital era of communication can sink organizations quickly or can help them to thrive, all depending on what actions they take. Here are some do’s and don’ts to make the best use of digital communications:

What helps

  • Be active rather than reactive communicators.
  • Communicate both bad news and good news about the company openly.
  • Aggressively create and share good “content” to tell the company’s story (since the traditional media is a shadow of its former self and can’t be depended on as much as it could in the past to get the story out).green thumb
  • Engage with the target audience regularly to develop good relationships and credibility. The target audience includes everyone from employees, to individual customers, to community groups, to influencers such as bloggers , journalists and analysts.
  • Since people will be talking about your company whether or not you give them information or are there to listen, be there online where they are, to hear what they have to say and to respond if necessary.
  • Treat every individual with the greatest respect, since he or she has the power to call global attention to behavior that is disrespectful.
  • Learn the new rules and use the new communications tools of the digital era. For example, be aware that the vast majority of consumers now research purchases online even if they buy in stores.
  • It’s a given that your website is a crucial tool in winning new customers, but you also have to be aware that consumers trust what others say about your services more than what you say.

red thumbWhat hurts

  • Don’t try to hide negative information – in the digital era, information knows no boundaries. Companies must assume that everything will eventually be made public.
  • Don’t be self-serving by only communicating when there’s something to promote. This annoys people to no end and is harmful to an organization’s image.
  • Don’t ignore persistent questions being asked online. Companies that do this are met with considerable backlash, and once that starts, it’s very hard to control.
  • Don’t assume that what you say in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. It doesn’t.  What you say in Las Vegas can be reported online in different languages almost instantly in Tokyo, Moscow, Beijing and Buenos Aires.
  • Don’t assume that your brand is safe simply because it’s well-known. You’d better be looking over your shoulder at startups with no-name brands, since the cost of building a famous brand has declined.  Even a small startup can use the Internet (and hire a company like mine to build visibility and brand equity at a reasonable price) to compete with you!

Lucy Siegel

How the Digital Era Redefined PR Story-Telling

January 1, 2013

Story-telling has always been the core of any company’s public relations. But a lot has changed in recent years as news and interpersonal communication have been digitalized: the way companies’ stories are told, who tells them, what channels are used to tell them, the time frame in which they are told and the amount of control a company or other organization has over the telling.

Here’s a summary of the way the traditional “who, what, when, where, why and how” of story-telling has been affected by the digital era.

Stories are passed around, from one computer to another

Stories are passed around the digital campfire, from one computer to another.

Who communicates about the company

The old way:  

  • Company spokespeople – CEO and other selected senior executives
  • PR/corporate communications department, investor relations staff

The new digital way:  

  • In addition to those above, any employee can communicate and has easy access to worldwide audiences to do so, whether or not the company approves
  • The company’s various audiences share information and opinions with each other constantly

How they communicate

The old way:  

  • Mostly via traditional mass media, filtered by journalists – news reported by newspapers, magazines, radio and TV news
  • Via analysts

The new digital way:  

  • All of the above plus online, via web versions of traditional media outlets, newer online-only news outlets and bloggers
  • Increasingly companies also filter data to micro-target their desired audiences one-on-one directly via email, texting and social media networks

What to communicate

The old way:

  • Companies communicated what they wanted people to know

The new digital way:

  • Companies must respond to questions, rumors and incidents that they previously could refrain from discussing

Decision-making process about what to communicate

The old way: 

  • Company management and PR professionals decided what to communicate
  • Professional reporters selected and developed stories using both company announcements and their own investigations

The new digital way:

  • Company engages in a conversation with its target audience to tell them the company’s news
  • However, the audiences have their own agendas, are super-critical and powerful enough to demand information they want. There is no use in trying to hide bad news, because in today’s digital environment, it always comes out
  • Self-proclaimed journalists – bloggers without credentials – select what they want to communicate about the company

Where to communicate (which channels, which geo. areas)

The old way:

  • Company management  and PR team decided which communications vehicles to use to tell their stories
  • Company chose which countries it wanted to communicate in

The new digital way:

  • The company is still often able to choose what publications to use to break a story, which can influence the way the story is reported, not only by the media outlet that breaks it, but by others who are influenced by the first media outlet
  • Stories are picked up by media from other media and reported almost instantly
  • News reported in one country can spread globally freely and instantly

When to communicate

The old way:

  • Company chose announcement time frames
  • Time frame could be planned over the course of a week, a month or more

The new digital way:

  • Company prepares announcements and selects optimal timeframes, but must be prepared to answer questions as they arise, anytime, due to the buzz that social media can generate online
  • Time frame may be instantaneous because information can be spread to millions of people at once

How the  target audience is selected; how much is known about the target audience

The old way:

  • Companies selected general demographic groupings, such as young males in their 20s, retired couples, people with incomes above $X, women with children under 12, etc.

The new digital way:

  • Companies micro-target their audiences, using the ability to manipulate data to finely target individuals they want to reach, one-on-one
  • Companies use digital data to gather large and complex profiles of individuals, ranging from standard demographics to previous buying habits and likes/dislikes that will influence future buying

Next blog post:  do’s and don’ts to make the best use of digital communications

Lucy Siegel

Public Relations Agency Best Practices, Part II: What Agencies (& Clients) MUST Deliver

December 19, 2012

With very few exceptions*, the following activities and services should be part of every PR agency-client relationship. Included on the list below are both deliverables from the agency to the client, and from the client to the agency. Without these deliverables, the level of communication between client and agency is not sufficient for the agency to do top-notch work.

Agency fees depend mostly on the time input by the agency PR team at the various billing levels of the team members. Therefore, the frequency and/or level of detail of some of the agency deliverables depend on the client’s budget for PR. However, no matter what level the budget is, each of these activities has an important place in keeping the wheels of the PR program turning smoothly.

communicate cartoonRegular client meetings:

Client-agency meetings should be held at least once a month, in some cases as often as weekly. Meetings usually are by conference call. The frequency depends on the level of PR activity by the agency team (which depends on the budget) and the urgency in accomplishing tasks by deadline dates. My firm tries to avoid long meetings. If we can accomplish what we need to in 15 minutes, then 15 minutes is what we should spend. Not everyone on the team needs to be at the meeting, and it’s especially important to be aware of staff hours consumed by these meetings if the budget is low. Billing rates of several people for even a half-hour meeting can eat up a lot of a modest PR budget. Content of meetings should include:

  • Input and update: from the client about the company’s plans and activities; from the agency on the status of the work and feedback received from media or other external audiences
  • Client feedback: on work done
  • Planning for next steps

Required elements of every meeting:

  • Agenda: sent to client and agreed on in advance of meeting
  • Conference report: written within two days of the meeting, and to include:
    • Summary of the main points and decisions made
    • Agency and client action points, with deadlines for each

Status report on activities for client: 

  • A monthly report is most common, but the time frame could be longer (such as at the end of a two-month project) or shorter depending on needs and client budget.
  • Should include a listing of steps taken and results obtained.
  • Media relations results should be prepared as a chart, divided into type of media (business magazines, general newspapers, online, TV, radio, etc.) and showing media outlet, date, and circulation or audience size for each media placement.
  • Give suggestions for adjustments to the PR plan or for next steps, and important areas for future PR work.
  • Media clippings should be assembled to accompany the report. However, any important media coverage should be emailed or faxed to the client immediately upon receipt.
  • Measurement of progress towards meeting goals set in the beginning of the PR program should be included.

Internal agency account team meetings:

  • Scheduled by the account director
  • Held on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly, or as often as needed)
  • Checklist of what needs to be done to carry out the plan
  • Suggestions and support by team members to each other
  • Coordination on who is doing what
  • Comparison of hours spent to the monthly target hours each individual should spend on the account (this is based on the level of the fees)

Taking the temperature on client satisfaction:

  • Feedback on client satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of the work should be solicited at regular intervals by a senior agency executive.
  • Ideally, annual feedback should be requested by the agency from the client, as well.

I will be the first to point a finger back at myself and my own staff for sometimes skipping or abbreviating the activities on this list – we’re not perfect. However, it helps when both agency and client team members know what is expected of them. I hope this list will help you pave the way to smooth client-agency relationships.

* There are exceptions to every rule. For example, a spreadsheet of media results is not necessary when the focus of the work is social media, content preparation or crisis management.

Lucy Siegel

Public Relations Agency Best Practices, Part 1: Starting a New Client-Agency Relationship Right

December 3, 2012

We’ve all heard horror stories about how PR agencies have screwed up – disorganized service, too little attention from senior agency staff, too little experience on the account team, and the list goes on.

I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories about clients and how hard they are to work with. (I covered that in an earlier blog post.)

hearts-birdsIn this blog post and a follow-up post, I’ll provide my own template for agency best practices. My goal is to provide a template for agency/client best practices to help clients and potential clients know what they should expect as well as what will be expected of them, and to help other agencies organize their account services for optimal success. I welcome input from clients and other agencies on anything that I might have left out.

While the budget for public relations agency services dictates the amount of work and the level of activity a PR company can provide, there are certain basic components that are necessary for success no matter what the budget is. In my experience, it’s very difficult to achieve success for any client without providing those basic services and activities. When the budget is too small to afford these basics, it’s generally a good sign that both the client and the PR firm would be better off not starting a relationship.

I’ll start at the beginning – of the client-agency relationship, that is!  Here are what I consider to be best practices for kicking off a new relationship.

1. Schedule a client/agency meeting for an in-depth briefing of account team as soon as possible after the contract is signed. In most cases, the detailed PR plan will come out of this meeting, including the client’s PR positioning, audiences, key messages, strategies, tactics and budget. Necessary information to be shared (or decided) at the meeting:

  • Complete background on the assignment, the product or the company, including the competitive landscape, strengths and weaknesses of the product or company, history of product or company, distribution channels for product or company, research done by client on perceptions of key audiences, and a description of the client’s internal organization
  • Client’s preferred modes of communication
  • The approval process between client and account team
  • Upcoming deadlines for work
  • Clear and detailed client goals for PR
  • Identify the internal point person for the agency team. The agency needs regular input, updates and feedback from the client and must determine right away who in the company will provide this
  • Identify the client’s point person for accounting and invoicing

2.   The deliverables from that first meeting: the agency sends the client a detailed written plan and budget for the first year (or for a shorter period of time, depending on circumstances and contract).  Contents of the plan should include:

  • Confirmation of the PR goals, audiences, messaging and strategies
  • Confirmation of the agency’s deliverables to the client
  • Adjustments to any ideas previously proposed to account for new information received at the first meeting
  • Detailed information on each of the components and stages of the PR plan
  • Clear delineation of who is responsible for each component of the work – client or agency
  • Deadlines for each component that must be met by the client and the agency
  • Estimated budgets for agency fees and out-of pocket expenses

 In Part 2, I will cover the best practices for agency services after the relationship is under way. 

Lucy Siegel

9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy

November 15, 2012

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to explain to a client why the announcement the company’s CEO wants us to make isn’t news and is unlikely to be covered by the media.

Here are a few examples of what journalists don’t find worth covering but companies frequently want them to cover:

  1. News that has already been announced and reported in the media is no longer news and will not capture journalists’ attention.
  2. The activities of a small privately-held company are usually not considered newsworthy to the national business media. We are often successful in getting start-up company clients covered by the media despite this, but the way we do it is to de-emphasize the company and pitch its activities as part of a new trend, or to demonstrate that it is developing earthshaking new technologies, or to position it as a threat to large and well-established companies, or to offer the CEO as an expert who has the credentials to comment on something currently in the news.
  3. Just because something is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training.  For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an alarming trend and an important issue. But it’s been written about from various angles for a number of years, and isn’t newsworthy.  An outbreak of a devastating disease like polio in the U.S. resulting from this trend, previously believed to have been eliminated from this country, would be newsworthy.
  4. The visit of a company CEO from abroad is not newsworthy unless the company has major business interests in the U.S., or has an announcement to make that will affect Americans. This is a situation we sometimes face. We are asked to set up a round of business media interviews for the visiting head of an overseas client company. Even if the company is fairly sizable and well-known in its own market, without a real presence in the U.S., journalists won’t have much interest. However, if the company president gives reporters news (that hasn’t already been announced) about a new plan to build a plant in the U.S., for example, or a new partnership with an American company, they’ll be very interested.

What’s Newsworthy, What’s Not

  1. Conflict is newsworthy, especially when it first appears. Peace and harmony are not, except for the exact time when they bring an end to conflict.
  1. Scandal is newsworthy. The juicier the better from the media’s perspective. Awards for good behavior are not.
  1. Surprises are newsworthy. Expected outcomes are not. The media give more time and space to a company that misses or greatly surpasses earnings projections than to a company that meets earnings projections.
  1. Lies are newsworthy (or rather, catching well-known or high-up people in lies is newsworthy)
  1. Announcements that have local impact are newsworthy for local media outlets. In many cases the definition of local is very narrow. Recently we approached news outlets in various Connecticut towns about the debut of a national company in the Connecticut market. Most of the media we spoke to at the small town news organizations told us they would only cover news related specifically to their own towns.

It’s natural to feel that the activities of the company you work for are important and to lose perspective on whether they’re of interest to the rest of the world. One of the advantages of working with a public relations firm is the more objective perspective that the agency PR team can bring to a company.

We’re paid to advise clients and develop workable strategies for their public relations efforts. It’s always a better use of our services and a client’s budget to ask us how to reach a particular goal rather than tell us what tactics to take to achieve that goal. Our collective years of PR, journalism and marketing communications experience will save a lot of money by preventing wasted efforts to build visibility!

Lucy Siegel

When the Apple Falls Far from the Tree

November 2, 2012

On Monday, Apple announced the firing Senior VP of iOS Software, Scott Forstall, for refusing to sign a public letter apologizing for Apple’s faulty Mobile Maps. Forstall’s team was responsible for the app, which replaced Google Maps on the iPhone 5. It drew a storm of criticism as soon as it launched; it was so bad many even claimed it posed a danger to drivers using it. Just a week later, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, suggesting that customers try out competitors’ map apps for the time being. The Maps fiasco was just the latest in a string of Apple failures since Steve Jobs’ death last fall, causing many to question the future of the most valuable company of all time. Just days after Jobs’ death, Apple launched the iPhone 4S with Siri, a new personal assistant app with voice recognition.  Siri has not lived up to its hype.

With Mobile Maps, Apple clearly made a mistake launching a faulty product. Still, what was even more abhorrent was Forstall’s refusal to apologize for it. A basic rule in handling a crisis is that when a company (or individual) makes a mistake, they need to apologize, fast. During  college, when I was a server at a chain restaurant, an acronym our management gave us for handling any and all guest complaints was L.A.S.T: Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank. We smoothed over the vast majority of problems by simply listening to the complaint, offering a sincere apology, rectifying the situation and thanking the customer for continued patronage. This applies to more than just customer service, it makes the difference between good PR and bad PR.

In contrast, Amazon stands as a shining example of how great PR can allow a company to launch even a faulty product successfully. When Amazon debuted the latest Kindle reader, Paperwhite, the company put a clear disclaimer on the Amazon homepage explaining various shortcomings of the product compared to previous models. This undoubtedly avoided a lot of negative backlash.

An air of secrecy has long been a defining part of Apple’s brand.  Under Steve Jobs, secrecy added to the brand’s exclusive allure.  However, Apple won’t be able to continue releasing inferior products at luxury prices, only to offer half-hearted apologies later on. A recent study found that for the first time ever, the percentage of iPhone owners who plan on buying another Apple phone has declined. In our ever-evolving media landscape, transparency is more important than ever. Hopefully, Cook’s new executive management team will learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

Diana Kim

Memories of an Internationalist: Ray Josephs – Author, PR Executive and Promoter Extraordinaire

October 19, 2012

This week I stumbled across a book published during World War II by an old friend, Ray Josephs, a journalist, author and international public relations executive who died in 2005 at the ripe old age of 93.  Ray was one of the best self-promoters I have ever met. It was instructive to watch him  in action, even in his 80s and 90s.

Ray started his career as a newspaper journalist in the 1930s.  He always wanted to travel, and managed to wangle an assignment from his Philadelphia newspaper to cover a story in South America in the pre-WW II years. He fell in love with Argentina and with a German

Ray Josephs in mid-career

Jewish émigré he met there, and ended up marrying her and staying in Buenos Aires for several years. Buenos Aires was the beginning of Ray’s international communications career, a journey he enjoyed until just before he passed away.

The book I found was “Argentine Diary: The Inside Story of the Coming of Fascism.” He told me about his time in Argentina but I had forgotten the details, which I discovered in an article with Ray’s byline published in the British newspaper, The Independent in 1994.  About his years in Buenos Aires, Ray wrote, “It was not only love that worked out. While in the city, I helped set up the first Latin American news bureau for Time magazine, sent stories to the Chicago Sun-Times and other dailies, and the show business weekly Variety. Through the entertainment world, I got an early lead on Evita Duarte, who later married military strongman Juan Peron, and my reporting on life in their dictatorship became my first bestseller, ‘Argentina Diary’ …”

French edition of “How to Gain an Hour Every Day”

Ray eventually moved from journalism into public relations, a new profession at the time.  He founded International Public Relations, and did work for companies and brands from all over the world, some of them quite well-known, ranging from General Motors to the Concorde.  But while his PR firm kept him busy, he never stopped writing. Among his books are “Latin America: Continent in Crisis,” “Streamlining Your Executive Workload,” and, the book he was best known for, “How to Gain an Extra Hour Every Day.”  This time management book, published in 1955, sold very briskly in in the U.S. and then was published in Japan as well.

Now I’ll move the clock up to around 1990 or ‘91.  Ray was almost 80. He had a soft spot in his heart for Japan, which he had first visited in the ‘50s after the war when the country was absorbed in the tough task of rebuilding and reinventing itself.  He had helped set up a PR firm in Tokyo that his firm worked closely with, and his clients included a lot of big Japanese companies. But he hadn’t been back to Japan for many years. Ray knew I had worked for a Japanese PR firm in Tokyo in the late ’80s, and called to ask if I could introduce him to some of my Japanese PR agency contacts. He wanted to take his wife Hanny to Japan and had arranged to write a trade magazine article on the Tokyo PR scene. I put him in touch with several of my colleagues in Tokyo, some of whom entertained Ray and Hanny royally while he interviewed them for his article.  When he returned, he told me an amazing story.

Vietnamese edition of “How to Gain an Hour Every Day”

A young man he met at one of the Tokyo PR firms said to him, “You’re very famous! I read your book about saving time– it is so popular here.” Ray answered, “My book was published long before you were born. Did you find it in the library?” The young man answered, “No, I bought it in the book store just last week.” Ray decided to pay a visit to his old publisher to find out how his book could still be in the bookstore, since he had not received any royalties for many years.

The publishing company (one of Japan’s largest) told him they had reprinted his book many times over the years, but unfortunately they had lost track of him and didn’t know where to send the royalties. Ray came home with a very large check and a great idea.

Ray figured if the Japanese were willing to buy his old book, which had not been updated since he wrote it, he could surely convince publishers elsewhere, both in the U.S. and around the world, to print new updated editions. He was successful in getting an American publisher to issue a new edition of his book, incorporating quotes from well-known modern day American business titans about their own time-saving tips.  Then he set off on a grand world tour to find overseas publishers.  He used his extensive network to get introductions to people who could help him in each country.  Ray’s country visits included interviews with well-known local business people so he could incorporate tips from them into locally-tailored editions of the book. He also met with potential local publishers and arranged media interviews for himself with the biggest local media outlets.  In essence, he was wearing three hats: journalist, business executive and what we would now call “talent.” He was doing his own PR and setting the stage for an incredible publishing coup.

He asked me for overseas contacts in the countries he was visiting who might be able to introduce him to publishers. I put him in touch with people in several countries who wined and dined him and Hanny while Ray fished for contacts with publishers and journalists.

When Ray came back from Europe, he showed me a very impressive binder full of media coverage he’d gotten for himself. The media in Europe were quite taken with this dapper little old man (he was very short and always smartly dressed), who, in his 80s, had revitalized his career as an author.

If you Google Ray Josephs, you’ll find “How to Gain an Extra Hour Every Day” for sale in a multitude of languages.  This man’s promotional skills were so well-honed that his second edition books are still selling all over the world, long after he ran out of hours himself. Ray  mentored many people during his long career, and through them, his legacy, like his books, lives on.

Lucy Siegel

Many Comments: Factors Contributing to PR Failure

October 14, 2012

In the last Bridgebuzz blog post, I reported the results of a survey we conducted of PR professionals about failure to meet PR program goals and expectations. The survey was conducted using Survey Monkey and had a total of 54 responses.  Almost all of those who responded were quite experienced – the majority had more than 20 years of PR experience. In addition to the answers to the multiple choice questions, there were a surprising number of comments added in the open-ended “other/comments” fields.  On one question, there were over 31 out of the 54 survey respondents added their comments. Many of the comments were quite thoughtful and worth the time to report here, which I promised in my last post that I would do.

The following unedited comments were made in response to the question, “What are the biggest factors contributing to failure?”

  • Most agency/client relationships fail because the expectations of the client and agency are not in sync at the beginning of a project/program. It is critical to set and agree to those expectations prior to the start of the project.
  • There’s lots of competition from similar organizations trying to get attention for the same issues, all professing to be the leader on a specific issue.
  • Unclear or inconsistent client goals.
  • Client wouldn’t budget for research. “You should know all that’s necessary; anyway, I know the situation.”
  • Our client couldn’t give us enough valuable information to create a compelling [media] pitch.
  • The client’s expectations were centered around quantity of coverage vs. quality.
  • Some clients want instant results, even though we tell them that PR takes time.
  • Our client contact was totally unresponsive; perhaps there would have been a way to go above the contact.
  • We must make clients understand that the preparation stage takes real time up front before results can be achieved.
  • True agency/client partnership means both sides take responsibility for insuring success.
  • Agencies need to think critically about client problems and identify the best means of overcoming them.  PR is not always the solution.
  • An increasing number of media outlets are asking for payment for editorial coverage. It is becoming more and more difficult to get “earned media.”
  • Problems can come from mid-management decision-makers not understanding the perspectives (or not communicating with) senior management.

Lucy Siegel

Failure to Meet PR Goals and Expectations: Why It Happens; What Can Prevent It

October 9, 2012

This month marks the eighth anniversary of my firm, Bridge Global Strategies.  Anniversaries are a good time to reflect on what’s gone well, what hasn’t, and why. We’ve had some tremendous successes for clients, but also a few instances where we haven’t achieved what we had hoped. Failure to meet expectations, whether our own or a client’s, always keeps me awake at night.

As an anniversary exercise, I surveyed industry colleagues about failure to meet PR goals and expectations. I emailed the survey to people I know and posted it in several LinkedIn groups on public relations and corporate communications. There were 53 responses.  While the methodology and number of responses may not provide statistical validity, I think you’ll find the responses informative and thought-provoking.  The survey obviously resonated with many of the respondents, as there were a surprising number of open-ended comments in addition to responses to the multiple choice questions. I sense a lot of frustration by PR professionals (whether in-house staff, or PR agency practitioners) in working with their clients.

Who responded

All survey respondents work in PR, either in an agency, a corporation, a non-profit or governmental organization or as a freelancer.  Most respondents were very experienced:

  • Over 94 percent had 10 or more years of experience
  • More than 67 percent had more than 20 years of experience.

Have you ever failed?

Asked, “After working very hard and making a huge effort, have you ever failed to meet your company’s or client’s PR goals and expectations?”

  • 85 percent admitted to having failed at one time or another.
  • 100 percent of those with 20 years or more of experience said they had failed at some point.

What are the biggest factors contributing to failure?

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Respondents were asked to select the top three reasons for failure to meet PR goals.

  • #1 (56 percent): “The budget was too small (the client wasn’t paying us for enough hours to accomplish the goals).”
  • #2 (54 percent): “My client (or company) saw itself (or its product) as really unique, but it turned out that it was not very well differentiated from competitors.”
  • #3 (15 percent): “My client contacts (or internal executives if you work for a company) were not available enough to us and/or didn’t cooperate.

The role of goal-setting

“Was the failure tied in any way to not setting any PR goals (or setting unrealistic goals) at the start?”

  • Yes: 57 percent
  • No: 43 percent

There were several comments about this question: one person said the biggest problem was clients’ unrealistic expectations; another said clients often define success differently than the PR team.

Could you have avoided failing?

When asked if they could they avoid failing in a particular instance, if they were able to go back and start over, 47 percent answered yes, 33 percent said no and 21 percent didn’t know.

Lessons learned from failure

When asked to comment on how failure could be prevented, or why it couldn’t, more than half of the survey respondents had comments about lessons learned, and ideas about how to prevent future failure.  Here are just a few of the comments:

  • It’s crucial to set clear goals with measurable criteria, and agree on them at the start, to help manage expectations. We need to fight harder and not agree to unattainable goals
  • PR professionals need to educate clients about the PR process and help them understand the media landscape and be aware of factors that could prevent achievement of goals.
  • Sometimes failure is due to the mediocrity of a client’s product. It’s especially difficult when a client misrepresents the quality and doesn’t inform the PR team about problems.  The PR team needs to conduct advance viability research to find out if the company has a realistic impression of itself and its products, and of the levels of interest of its audiences.
  • We need to insist on a big enough budget so that adequate time and effort can be spent.

 Conclusions:

  • There is considerable frustration by PR professionals in dealing with clients. Most of the comments made by respondents revolved around unrealistic expectations by the clients, and inability of the PR team to manage those expectations.
  • The majority of respondents felt that failure was usually tied to not setting any PR goals or creating unrealistic goals in the beginning. It’s easy to declare the results a failure if measurable objectives and goals weren’t established from the beginning.
  • However, it’s often difficult to get agreement on the desired outcomes. Clients with the most unrealistic expectations also tend to have the smallest budgets.  Agencies need to fight harder to resist going along with unrealistic expectations, and to make sure that budgets are commensurate with goals and expectations. If the budget is insufficient, the agency shouldn’t accept the assignment.
  • While survey respondents seem to blame most failure on clients, almost half felt that if they could start over, they could prevent the failure. Comments pointed once again to agreeing on goals from the start and managing client expectations.
  • Sometimes the only way failure can be prevented is by not accepting an assignment when you sense that a client doesn’t understand the overall PR process in spite of efforts to educate them.  As one respondent commented, “Sometimes as PR people we are optimistic that we can be successful even [in] a no-win situation.”

My next blog post will include more of the many comments made by survey respondents.

Lucy Siegel

 

How the Accreditation Fiasco in the PR Industry Relates to Poor PR for PR

September 29, 2012

One thing has been true in the public relations industry for a long time.  To paraphrase the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “We don’t get no respect.” Thankfully, this is changing. But PR people are often dismissed scathingly by many journalists as “flacks,” are paid far less than advertising professionals, and there is still a wide lack of understanding of what PR really is or how it works.

One of the problems is the PR industry’s own lack of success in doing PR for PR.  The two largest industry membership organizations, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), have done little or nothing to work together on this and neither has made much progress alone. Both have their own proprietary credentialing systems intended to create more prestige for, and confidence in, individual practitioners, but neither system has developed much traction, either within the profession or in the general business community. Have any of you non-PR industry readers ever heard of the APR or the ABC accreditation? Only a small fraction of PR professionals have cared enough about the right to use these professional abbreviations to take the required exams on which they are based.

In a recent blog post about these accreditation systems by Ed Lallo, Newsroom Ink, Lallo pointed out that PRSA requires members to have APR credentials in order to serve in national leadership positions, yet 80 percent of PRSA members don’t have an APR. This is especially true in New York, where the greatest number of senior PR executives holding top industry positions are located – and where the business community could care less about APR.

In essence, the majority of the most senior and respected industry leaders aren’t eligible to serve as national leaders in the industry’s largest professional association. The New York City community of PRSA members has tried for many years to eliminate the APR requirement for national leadership, with no success. As a result, PRSA’s national leaders have come almost entirely from outside New York (which has long been the media and PR capital of the U.S.) and have not been nationally-known PR industry executives (such as CEOs or very senior executives of big PR agencies). In my opinion, this has lessened PRSA’s prestige and clout nationally, not only in the PR industry, but in the general business community.

It’s a vicious cycle – less prestige for PRSA means less respect for the APR and limited ability for PRSA to advocate for the public relations profession.  No wonder we don’t get no respect.

Like many  colleagues who have held senior PR industry positions or have run their own PR agencies for many years, I don’t have an APR and don’t need one. Why should senior professionals in the industry take the time to earn credentials to practice PR, especially if their bosses and/or clients don’t even know what the credentials stand for? No wonder, as Lallo wrote, “Accreditation faces a rocky road at both PRSA and IABC.”

Lucy Siegel

Advance Approval of Interview Quotes: a Self-Destructive Media Policy

September 19, 2012

We’ve all been there: despite training and practice, the CEO blows a good media coverage opportunity by saying the wrong thing to a reporter, and neglects to say what should have been said to communicate the company’s key messages. We all want to see the best possible media portrayal of our companies, or clients’ companies, and there are times we’d love to rewind the interview to answer differently.

We’re finding out that within the political realm, this is indeed possible. It came out this summer that the staffs of both Presidential candidates have refused to grant media interviews with the candidates, their wives and their key aides unless the media outlet would agree to submitting the quotes used from the interview to the campaign staff for approval. Big influential media outlets like the New York Times have been acceding to this demand.

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This practice clearly undermines the quality of the reporting by allowing the campaign staff to sanitize remarks made in interviews by changing quotes to make them more vague and less likely to offend anyone. Never mind that the quote reflected what the person actually said. The purpose of checking the quotes goes way beyond simple fact-checking; it’s aimed at damage control.

Quote approval gives the candidates the power to use the media to shape public perception.  The media play an important role in a democracy as independent third-party voices reporting the facts as objectively as possible. Allowing the candidates to control the reporting to the extent that they can take back what they said weakens the veracity of the reporting.

The cat is out of the bag. Some major media outlets readily admitted that reporters have been allowing quote checking (and alteration) by campaign staffers as a condition for obtaining an interview. Readers who are paying attention and now realize this is happening are bound to have less trust in the media.

This morning I attended a meeting where Bob DeFillippo, Chief Communications Officer at Prudential Financial, spoke about the ways social media has played a role in blurring the lines among earned media (i.e., what is reported by independent news organizations), paid media (i.e., advertising, and paid editorial coverage, often called “advertorial,” which is not earned media but advertising) and owned media (i.e., content that companies create and disseminate themselves, which is neither earned nor paid media). He pointed out that the definitions of the three are becoming more blurred every day, and commented that we need to respect the definitions, not contribute to changing them, because earned media plays such a significant role in building corporate credibility.

He concluded that it’s in the interest of PR people to safeguard the integrity of earned media in order to protect the powerful contribution it can make towards reputation-building. I totally agree with him.

There are many reasons for the blurring of the lines among paid, earned and owned media, not just the proliferation of social media. For example, “pay for play” media coverage – where a publication insists that an organization be an advertiser in order to receive any editorial coverage – is more and more common these days, unfortunately, due to the desperate financial straits many media companies find themselves in. My firm advises clients to stay far away from “pay for play” media situations.

It’s the responsibility of public relations professionals to prepare clients well for media interviews. Sometimes despite our best efforts to do this, clients aren’t portrayed the way we would like them to be in an interview. The solution is not to insist on the right to see and change their quotes. It is certainly not better to rely on “pay for play” media. We just need to see to it that clients get as many media opportunities as possible so that one media mishap doesn’t play a major role in defining the client’s reputation.

Lucy Siegel

The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communications

August 31, 2012

Many of our clients are companies headquartered outside the United States. As a result, cross-cultural communications is a very important component of Bridge Global Strategies’ client services. In the following post, Bhaskar Sarma does a great job of explaining the impact of culture in communications and providing examples. His guest post, which first appeared on Gini Dietrich’s blog, “Spinsucks,” appears here with his permission and  permission from Gini Dietrich.  

By Bhaskar Sarma

In 1969 and 1970, a large part of Iraq was hit by a severe drought and famine causing a shortage of wheat.

With seed reserves running low, the Iraqi government imported nearly one hundred thousand tons of high yielding Mexipak wheat from Mexico and the United States.

The wheat, however, was laced with a fungicide called methylmercury, which was to prevent spoilage during shipping.

Methylmercury is a nasty chemical and can damage the central nervous system of humans and animals. It causes symptoms such as paralysis, brain damage, and blindness. In higher doses, it can be fatal.

Anatomy of a Disaster

All the bags in that shipment were stamped with clear instructions on how to handle the lethal contents. To underline the dangers, the suppliers even emblazoned a skull and crossbones on each bag.

That should have be enough, right?  It wasn’t.

  • The warnings were in Spanish and English – pure gobbledygook to an average Iraqi villager.
  • The skull and crossbones meant the same thing to them as a QR code means to human eyes.
  • The wheat arrived too late in the planting season to be of any use, but was distributed to the farmers anyway.

With their previous stock of wheat planted, thousands of villagers who had no clue about the toxicity of the foreign wheat, used it as food and feed.

And within a month, disaster struck.

I won’t get into the gory details but the Iraqi incident was one of history’s largest cases of mass mercury poisoning.

And to think all this could have been averted if they had added a line in Arabic.

Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication

Here’s another, less darker take on the cross-cultural communication.

A soda marketer was glumly sitting at the bar. His friend approaches and asks, “Why so serious?”

He replies, “I created this left to right comic strip for a campaign. It showed a famished man crawling across the desert who finds a bottle of soda, chugs it down, and walks away with a cheerful smile. Sales tanked after it ran in the Middle East.”

“Why?”

“Everyone read it from right to left!”

Avoid Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

While the Internet ensures your products and services can be sold all over the world, it does not make your customers and prospects react to your message in lockstep.

If you are selling to multiple countries or cultures consider the following:

  • Have localized versions of your website (if you have the resources). Don’t just have a literal, word-by-word translation of the copy from English to, say, German.
  • If you can’t afford multiple versions of collateral, avoid slang and clichés. It gets lost in translation.
  • Pay particular attention to your marketing channels. For instance, streaming video won’t be a hit in large parts of Asia and Africa where Internet speeds suck.
  • Subject lines in emails that might be marked as spam in the West could get a higher response rate in Asia. Experiment and test.

Conclusion

Cross-cultural miscommunication can have far reaching consequences. It was one of the reasons Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. It was also a major reason why the Israeli Army was beaten back by the Hezbollah  in 2006.

Do you have any “lost in translation” war stories? What would be your prescription to avoid such situations?

Bhaskar Sarma is a B2B tech copywriter and content marketer. He blogs at Pixels and Clicks and helps his clients create content that establishes them as a trusted solution provider. You can follow him on Twitter at bhas.

For Some, Earning Experience Isn’t Enough

August 17, 2012

Bridge Global Strategies had the pleasure of working with summer intern Jennifer Mulligan for the past three months, and we’re very sorry to see her go – she starts her senior year at the University of Michigan in a few days. Today, her last day, she wrote a blog post about a topic that’s hotly debated in the PR industry: unpaid internships.  According to a May 5th article in the New York Times, unpaid internships have been standard for a long time in the film and non-profit worlds, but with high unemployment rates, they’re now are very common in public relations, marketing and advertising, fashion, publishing, at art galleries and talent agencies and even at some law firms. Here’s what our own intern thinks about the subject.

Former Fox Media Group interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt filed a lawsuit against their former employer in October 2011 for violating employee compensation laws; they alleged their internships failed to meet The United States Department of Labor requirements for unpaid internships. While unpaid internships are a common practice, this lawsuit has opened up for debate whether or not this practice is ethical. What about the students who cannot afford to accept unpaid internships because they’re already struggling to pay tuition, or their parents cannot support them financially? Should companies only offer paid internships, or can unpaid internships be beneficial?

Any experience is better than no experience. That is what employers and career counselors have pushed at us college students for years. They tell us completing unpaid internships that give us relevant work experience will help us find full-time positions better than baby-sitting or bussing tables. They tell us this as we watch our student loans grow ominously (but that’s an issue for another time). Some tell us having a well-known company on our resume is better than a smaller one, but these recognizable companies tend neither to pay nor teach as well. We also don’t think we can negotiate a salary with these competitive positions. With the tough economy and more college graduates, we are willing to do anything to set ourselves up for success.

For the record, my internship here is paid; however, I have completed previous unpaid internships. I took previous positions for many of the reasons outlined above, and I am lucky to say that I learned a great deal and rarely did menial work. My paid internship, however, is the best of both worlds for me. Not only am I paid (not a lot, but it’s better than nothing); I am able to apply the concepts I learned from school into the workforce and receive training on PR procedures and programs that I can take with me elsewhere. I feel more a part of a team than a burden as a paid intern. Interning at this small firm has not given my resume name-recognition, but my portfolio has certainly benefitted. My hands are in everything at the firm including drafting press releases, participating in client meetings, pitching media, social media management, creating media lists and more. Plus, I work directly with the CEO daily. I would not have half of these experiences at a larger firm.

 With all this said, I do believe that some experience is better than none. If you can get a paid internship, great! But don’t turn down an unpaid internship if it will benefit you.

Here’s a checklist of things to consider before compensation when choosing an internship:

  • Is the position in your intended field?
  • What skills will you develop?
  • What will your responsibilities include?
  • How often will you have contact with your supervisor and more senior managers?
  • Will this lead to a job offer or career?
  • Will you gain connections or mentors from this opportunity?
  • How does the size of the firm impact your resume?
  • Is it practical for you to commute to this firm?

Jennifer Mulligan

Four Lessons in Social Media from the Olympics

August 13, 2012

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this week that social media is driving the biggest viewership of the Olympics in history, giving credence to the techies and social media flacks that have dubbed this year’s games as “The Social Games.” According to the IOC, there have been more than twice as many hours of online streaming of the events as television hours (estimated at 100,000), and a 29% increase in teenage viewership (54% increase for teenage girls)
compared to the Beijing Olympics. While many marketing gurus may shrug at these stats and say they simply point to the
obvious—that social media is now a seamless part of our societal fabric—a closer look at some of the ways this powerful vehicle is being used in the Olympics offers some key lessons for businesses at all stages of their social media journey.

Over the past few weeks, the world has witnessed the good, the bad and the downright ugly of social media, from bitter Twitter wars between athletes, fans and organizers to ingenious Facebook campaigns that helped brands forge deeper relationships with audiences. Here is a list of our top four lessons that marketing communications professionals can learn from the Social Games.

1. Think Before You Tweet

That’s right, some people still need to be reminded of this golden rule, as shown by two Olympic athletes who violated it in the first degree: Paraskevi Papachristou and Michel Morganella. Papachristou, a triple jumper from Greece, didn’t even make it to London. She was barred from participating for a Tweet prior to the games that disparaged Africans in Greece. As for Morganella, a soccer player from Switzerland, he received his Olympic pink slip after posting racist comments about South Koreans following his team’s defeat to the South Koreans.

Even a completely well-intentioned message can cause embarrassment when facts are not checked before hitting send (see Hugh Jackman’s misnaming of the Sydney Opera House). Double-checking your messages for grammar and syntax also fall under this rule—just ask Sarah Palin.

The moral is that your brand and reputation are reflected in what you say and how you say it. This is particularly important to remember when using social media, because the very same characteristics that make social media an effective form of communication—immediacy, spontaneity and community—also heighten risks and call for extreme diligence.

2. Monitor Social Media for Stakeholder Conflicts and Opportunities

Social media affords organizations the ability to monitor stakeholder opinion in unprecedented fashion. The Olympics offered two examples of how social media can be a critical feedback tool. The first occurred when NBC was subjected to a massive Twitter attack by sports fans outraged that the network was delaying coverage of major events for primetime. While NBC stuck to its schedule, the company appeared to at least acknowledge the criticism when it decided to begin reporting real-time updates from the games on its Twitter feed and network website.

In the other example, people who weren’t able to get tickets to major Olympics events became irate when they learned that a large number of seats were unused. When these fans lashed out on Twitter, the Olympics organizers publicly addressed this imbroglio by distributing tickets to students and the military.

Public smearing of businesses on Twitter is not an everyday occurrence, but corporate monitoring of social media is beneficial not only for conflict resolution, but also for identifying new opportunities for engagement.

3. Make Your Social Media Platforms an Experience, Not Just a Medium

P&G’s Olympics “Thank you, Mom” (or “Mum”) multi-channel marketing campaign launched globally.

Social media platforms have evolved so rapidly with new features and capabilities that even trend-setters are struggling to keep up with the change. In today’s world of ubiquitous connectivity, it is critical for businesses to have a holistic approach to social media, integrating across multiple platforms to create a total experience for their audiences.

At the Olympics, a number of major brands demonstrated how to do this right. Visa, for instance, launched a campaign called “Go World.” Fans were encouraged to post cheers for their favorite athletes in the form of comments, photographs and video clips on Visa’s Facebook page, and to voice their support on Twitter. As part of the campaign, Visa also leveraged television advertising and its YouTube channel. Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Samsung also launched multi-platform campaigns with a strong dose of social media to engage their audiences around the Olympics.

4. Swallow Your Pride During Conflict to Sustain Stakeholder Loyalty

Perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of how social media forged deeper relationships during the Olympics comes from an unlikely source: defeat. After Paula Findlay apologized to Canadians for finishing in last place of the women’s triathlon race, she said her e-mail and Twitter account exploded with people telling her she had no reason to be sorry.

In athletics, as well as in business, pride can be both productive and destructive. When things are going well, pride is often credited as being the impetus, and when things are going badly, pride is often seen as a sign of pigheadedness.  Put another way, successful conflict management requires the ability to swallow your pride and address the issues in question with your stakeholders in a candid and concerned manner.

Jacob Seal

Unspoken Thoughts Clamoring to Be Heard

August 2, 2012

In the course of every day, there are so many things you think but don’t say. Sometimes those thoughts come at work. Other times they hit you when you’re walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant or riding the bus.

I have many unspoken thoughts on the subway.

This morning I asked a young man who was sitting with legs splayed apart so he took up two seats, “Could you make room for me to sit down?” and got no reaction except a sullen and challenging stare.   My thoughts: “Who do you think you are? Sharing was something you were supposed to learn in kindergarten, you oaf!”

Standing in front of a mother with a very young child (both of whom were seated on a train that was packed to the gills), I thought, “The MTA gives free seats for young children because they can sit on their parents’ laps when the train gets crowded.  So why is your little princess taking up a seat, lady, when you could let that elderly man over there sit down?”

Then there are the sights you see on the streets of midtown Manhattan that make you say to yourself, but only to yourself, “That man grabbed the cab right out from under the guy who was about to hop in!” and “That woman came an inch from being hit by a car in the crosswalk, but thanks to her cellphone conversation she didn’t even realize it!” and “Oo la la, what a hunk he is!”

In an office building, as you’re waiting on line to get through security so you can go up to your meeting, you think but don’t say: “Six terrorists just cut the line and dashed for the elevator, but the security people are too busy asking for a photo IDs [which even terrorists have]!”

Like me, I’m sure you’ve had unspoken thoughts that reverberate so loudly inside your head, you wonder if the people around you heard them.

It would be great if we could articulate those thoughts without unpleasant consequences.  Sometimes I wish afterwards that I’d said what I was thinking.  But most of the time, it’s just as well that I kept quiet.

If you’ve read recent news stories about the Presidential campaign, you can see the consequences of not keeping unspoken thoughts quiet.

For example, Mitt Romney got himself into hot water with some remarks he made in Europe that would have been better (for him) if left unsaid. In London, he criticized the organization behind the London Olympics, which so annoyed the Prime Minister that he commented, “Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere” (a public crack about Mr. Romney’s own history as head of the Salt Lake City Olympics).

While in Poland, Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary with Mr. Romney’s campaign, told the traveling American press corps who were shouting out questions for Romney (who was ignoring them) “Why don’t you kiss my ass?” Gawker writer Louis Peitzman quipped, “[Gorka] ended the argument with the always effective, ‘Why don’t you shove it?’”

The consequences in both these situations were the appearance of media stories that focused on the ill-considered remarks, rather than on the messages the Romney campaign wanted to communicate. That’s what happens when you speak what’s on your mind without carefully considering what you’re saying.

We public relations specialists call this “going off message.” It can happen to anyone, but media training helps a lot in preventing it. Media training helps you focus on the key messages you need to get across, and teaches you how to avoid making regrettable gaffes.  The training gives you practice in answering questions from reporters, and helps you build confidence in yourself while avoiding being overconfident.

Lucy Siegel

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon for 99 cents:  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Recent Online Finds to Share with You

July 19, 2012

First, an apology to the fans of this blog who have been pining for a fresh blog post and haven’t gotten one for three months ( or maybe nobody’s noticed?). The good news: Bridge Global Strategies has been growing and has seen a sudden surge in new clients. The bad news: we’re all working like crazy to get everything done, and we had to put the blog on the back burner for a little while.

Infographic from the Grasshopper.com blog

I thought I’d get back into the groove with a blog post on some recent online sites and groups I’ve stumbled across that you might be interested in if you’re in the world of marketing, media and/or communications.

The first is a LinkedIn group called “Find a journalist – around the world.” Its purpose is to help find journalists anyplace in the world. For example, if an American magazine is doing a story on healthcare in India, the editors can use “Find a Journalist” to look for a freelancer in India they could hire to do the story.  Journalists from around the world can offer their services to media that are looking for freelance writers or columnists. There are over 11,000 members of the group. Here’s the link to the group: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Find-journalist-around-world-1814419/about.

The next one is also related to international journalism. It’s a place journalists can go to look for sources all over the world for their stories. Like “Find a Journalist,” it started as a LinkedIn group. There’s still a LinkedIn group, called “Media Diplomat,” but the activity is moved to a new website: http://www.mediadiplomat.com .  The LinkedIn group has over 7,000 members, most of whom are from the following countries: the U.S., the U.K., Canada and China.

Hubii is a site that just launched this year and provides an easy way to look at international media by location. The site provides a clickable map. If you click on London, instantly a choice of London-based media pops up and you can click on any of them to get an assortment of articles from the media outlet’s website.  Or, alternatively, if you want to get an international sample of coverage on a particular issue, you can enter a keyword into the Hubii search engine and you’ll be given headlines from around the world related to that key word. For example, I searched for LIBOR and found 269 articles from around the world about the banking manipulation of the LIBOR rate, ranging from the Barcelona New to the Belfast Telegraph to The Australian, and including a wide range of American media. You can filter the news results by type of media outlet and/or by language.  Very cool and convenient.

Collectors Quest is a site for collectors of just about everything and anything. It’s not a new site, but it’s been redesigned and relaunched, and it now provides a collectables marketplace side-by-side with information about the collectibles and an opportunity to share what you find with others via social media. The company has just announced a marketing partnership with media company A+E Networks to feature content from A+E’s popular “Pawn Wars” and “American Pickers” TV shows on the site and give viewers a chance to search for items similar to those on these shows. In the name of complete disclosure, I am not an impartial observer here – Collectors Quest is one of our clients. I mention this site because of the interesting marketing partnership as well as the attraction of the site itself.

Grasshopper, which offers a virtual phone system that allows entrepreneurs to run their businesses from their cell phones while appearing more established, has a blog with useful information for entrepreneurs. One of the recent blog posts features “8 Infographics to Boost Entrepreneurial Superpowers.”  Some of the most compelling infographics are “Best Infographic to Access the Newest Funding Sources,” “Can Crowdfunding Save the U.S. Economy?” and “Best Infographic to Choose the Right Apps.”

Lucy Siegel

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon, free download from July 19th-21st!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

New Technologies Changing Public Relations in South Africa

April 13, 2012

As South Africa makes economic and technological advances, both traditional and social media are playing a larger role in people’s everyday lives. Changes in media have influenced the way individuals are informed and interact with each other, both in business and in their personal lives.

To get some insight into the changes taking place in South African media and public relations practices, I interviewed Marie Yossava, founder and owner of Grapevine Communications in Johannesburg. She was able to give us an overview of the communications landscape in South Africa and some of the changes in communications the country and people have experienced.  The firm is the newest member of PR Boutiques International, an international network of boutique PR firms of which Bridge Global Strategies is a founding member.

Bridge Global Strategies: How has the media landscape changed in South Africa since you started the company?

Marie Yossava: Vastly! The media consisted exclusively of print and broadcast outlets when I first ventured into the industry. It has subsequently evolved to include global social networks, which open up communication channels to the world within seconds. It’s significant that individuals in South Africa can now own their own media outlets online – not just big media companies. The immediacy is revolutionary. South Africa, compared to developed economies, already had a much smaller base of media to start with, but those traditional media – in particular, print titles – have seen a decline with the explosion of Web 2.0 media.

Bridge: What is your strategy for reaching the different age groups in different parts of the country (urban versus rural areas, and young versus older age groups)?

 MY: It is very important to understand the media with which different segments of the market communicate in South Africa. We still have many older people in our country who are illiterate. To reach an older audience in rural areas, broadcast (TV and radio) remains a powerful and effective means of communicating key messages.  That said, the cellular market in South Africa has more than 100 percent saturation, and even the elderly have mobile handsets.  While the mobile functionality may be limited and won’t always include a web browser, Twitter, and other applications, people can send and receive calls and text messages.  SMS and mobile website (“mobisite”) campaigns are also effective communications tools in reaching certain segments of the market.

In our country’s urban areas, the youth are all connected to the internet and social media platforms via their mobile phones, which makes it easy to use communications campaigns to alert them to new products and transmit important information. Mobile platforms are ideal for capturing the attention of younger audiences and for pulling them through to other platforms, e.g. a new edu-tainment TV series, or interesting articles.

Bridge: Please tell us how social media and smartphones have infiltrated into the marketing mix and PR in the country.

MY: At the outset of the digital era, companies, brands and agencies were slow to adopt social media, but as more and more of the population consumes daily information via smartphones, organizations are more readily agreeing to let PR agencies include the use of social media in their PR strategies and to make it an essential tool for messaging.

Today, social media can be regarded as an additional and important vehicle PR agencies can use to communicate key client messaging, urgent press statements and announcements at a speed that cannot be matched by any other medium, not even radio. From the outset, however, social media needs to be aligned to the client’s communication strategy and goals, and not seen in isolation or as an afterthought. It is also important to understand that it requires regular content updates to gain a following, and decisive, quick responses to build credibility.

To cite an example, local commuters were recently stuck in an underground train when it broke down. With a simple tweet, the communications representative of the rail company could have informed passengers as to what had caused the delay and how long they could expect to wait. Even if only a few of the passengers were Twitter subscribers, the information would have soon spread through the train via word of mouth.

Bridge: What has your experience been being a woman in the PR business in South Africa? How is it different or similar from other countries?

MY: When I arrived in South Africa more than 20 years ago, things seemed very different from what I had experienced previously, working in London. However I have had the good fortune to experience the very exciting progress of the new economy that has occurred since the turning point of our new democracy in 1994, which has fast-tracked women and advanced their progress. So much so that South Africa is now fourth on the list of countries with the highest representation of women in parliament in the world.

Secondly, I operate in what remains a female-dominated business sector in our country, so there are no barriers to dealing with clients, and we are well accepted and regarded in the profession.  I also believe it is the responsibility of leaders in our industry to continually raise the bar for our profession if we are to be accepted at a senior board/management level and be part of organisations’ overall business strategies.

Bridge: My final question: how has apartheid affected communications and PR? How has the landscape changed to adjust to the political changes?

MY: I am not able to provide an informed comment as Grapevine was established post the apartheid era, so our business has always operated in an open and free market.  We also operate in a democracy with freedom of speech so our media channels are open and transparent.

Market opportunities for all races are equal in our industry and this is reflected by the number of black practitioners.  Public Relations Institute of South Africa’s (PRISA) current vice president is Mr. Aaron Ngema, and our immediate past president was Mr. Victor Sibeko.

Alexandra Huebner

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Five Key Lessons We Can Learn from Mike Wallace

April 10, 2012

In May, 2005, I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience when Mike Wallace took the podium as keynote speaker at the annual “Big Apple” awards celebration of the Public Relations Society of America – New York Chapter. Then 87 or 88 years old, he must have been the oldest speaker PRSA-NY had ever had. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke.

In the public relations industry, Mike Wallace was one of the most respected and at the same time, most feared journalists ever. He could reduce public figures to blubbering idiots with just one simple question.  Even the rumor that Mike Wallace had a research crew investigating a company was enough to send executives and PR departments into a tailspin. ABC News’s George Stephanopolis commented that Wallace became more famous than most of his subjects by mastering the “in your face” interview. ABC News reporter John Donovan, in a story about Wallace, noted that Wallace “had a gift for making the unaskable askable.” Just one example: he had the nerve to ask Nancy Reagan how much President Ronald Reagan got paid for visiting Japan after he left office.

Much has been written about this legend of TV journalism in the last few days, but from a PR perspective, the best piece I’ve read was by Larry Thomas, president of Latergy, a video services firm. I direct you to his article in a communications industry publication CommPRO.biz, “Remembering Mike Wallace: Lessons from a Master Interviewer,” which summarizes the influence Wallace had into five key lessons for public relations, corporate communications and investor relations professionals .  Thomas ends his blog by saying, “RIP, Mr. Wallace. I’m glad I was able to see you (on TV, not at my office door).”  I can certainly echo that.

Lucy Siegel

Media Pay for Play: a Bad, Old Practice Lives On

April 2, 2012

Today I stumbled across an online discussion in a LinkedIn marketing group about what we in the PR industry call “pay for play,” or the requirement that a company pay for an ad or sponsorship in order to be included in editorial coverage. The discussion was started by an associate publisher at a trade magazine company (read here “ad sales executive”).

He wrote, “Over the last few years PR firms have become increasingly aggressive in pushing editorial ‘collaborations’ for their clients, many of whom are nowhere to be seen from a publication advertising support perspective!”  His message:  companies that don’t advertise in a particular publication shouldn’t expect to be covered unless what they’re offering is groundbreaking news. Implied in his statement was that advertisers do deserve the  right to be covered, whether or not they have anything newsworthy or of interest to say.

As a PR firm owner and practitioner with many years of experience, preceded by journalism experience (both newspaper and trade media), I maintain that journalists  have no obligation to cover anyone – advertisers or non-advertisers. The only obligation they have is to inform their readers/viewers in an honest and timely way. If this means they end up not covering an advertiser because the company has nothing worthwhile to communicate, then so be it. If the advertiser doesn’t like this, there are always other media to advertise in.

Non-advertisers deserve the same balanced editorial coverage as advertisers.

It’s our policy as an agency to decline pay for play offers.  Sometimes a media outlet will approach a client directly and offer the opportunity to be included in a special issue of a magazine, or to be interviewed by a news broadcaster, or take part in a film, if the client would just pay a certain amount to “cover expenses.” On a few occasions clients have been tempted by these offers.  Generally, a little research on the publication or TV production company has demonstrated that the offer isn’t the great opportunity it was cracked up to be.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients received a call offering an interview on national TV, “Inside Business,” with Fred Thompson, the Republican politician, columnist and radio host. Our client was told there would be a fee of about $20,000 to cover the production company’s costs, but still thought this would bring some valuable visibility. We did some looking around online and found websites with discussions from other businesses that had taken the bait and were bitterly disappointed and angry at the outcome. Their biggest complaint was usually about the distribution of the video that was produced. Their interviews were aired at some ungodly hour when nobody would be watching TV – say, 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. When we showed our client these discussions, he thanked us for stopping him from wasting his company’s money.

Years ago when I was a journalist I fought with publishers who constantly pushed the editorial staff to cover advertisers. The battle between advertising and editorial has only intensified over the years as both ad revenue and readership have declined, bringing tough financial times for many media companies.  However, good, balanced journalism is what attracts readers and builds circulation, not pandering to advertisers or demanding quid pro quo for media coverage.

It’s the job of the PR professional to understand and counsel clients about what’s news and what’s not. If a company hires a PR agency to “get ink” and yet has nothing special to offer the media, it’s the agency’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations while seeking news nuggets and finding innovative ways to create news, if necessary. Let’s be clear: pay for play is not media coverage, it’s advertising.

Lucy Siegel

Get my book at Amazon!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”


Health Insurance Plan’s “Individual Mandate” Not Well Communicated by Government and Media

March 29, 2012

The biggest objection to the new federal health insurance plan is its requirement that everyone buy health insurance. A poor job has been done of explaining why this is true. This basic educational task should have been better addressed through public relations by the Obama administration. One could also blame the media for not covering this issue in simple, clear ways that everyone can understand.

Today’s New York Times has an article about an MIT professor, Jonathan Gruber, who convinced both the Massachusetts government under Governor Mitt Romney and the Obama administration that it was imperative to their health insurance plans to require that everyone buy health insurance. He showed calculations to demonstrate a “terrible spiral:”  when healthy people can opt out of the plan, it leaves the relatively sick in the plan. This causes costs for premiums to rise, which in turn causes the least sick to drop coverage, sending costs even higher, and making healthcare unaffordable to all but the wealthy.

I’m not sure why this issue hasn’t been well-explained. It’s not that complicated. I’ve done it here in eight steps that a child should understand:

  1.  Health insurance companies use the income from premiums to pay for healthcare.
  2. If everyone participates in a health insurance plan, whether young or old, healthy or sick, the premiums paid by the young and healthy subsidize the costs of healthcare for the old and sick.
  3. If the young and healthy can opt out of the plan, the premiums they would have paid are no longer available to subsidize the healthcare costs of the old and sick. Therefore, in order to stay in business, the health insurer must charge larger premiums to the old and sick.
  4. The increased cost of premiums then force the healthier sick people to opt out of the plan because they can no longer afford the premium costs.
  5. That sends costs up even more, leaving the really sick and very old in the plan. Their costs of healthcare will then become higher still.
  6. This is the downward spiral that makes health insurance less viable as time goes on unless everyone is covered.  Only two things can prevent this downward spiral:
  • If everyone is required to pay for health insurance, the cost burden isn’t just on the old and sick. Some say this is unfair to the healthy, who are forced to subsidize healthcare for the sick.  They should remember that at some point, we all become old and sick.
  • The only other way of preventing the downward spiral is to withhold healthcare from those who don’t pay premiums.  Of course this won’t happen, because as a society we feel a moral obligation to provide at least a minimal level of healthcare whether or not people are insured. Emergency rooms don’t turn away victims of car accidents just because they don’t have health insurance.

7.  Therefore, without a mandate that everyone must be covered, the downward spiral makes health insurance cost increasingly more, so eventually it becomes unviable for all but the wealthy.

Actually, this is happening in the U.S. right now. The number of uninsured has grown to one out of six Americans. As costs for health insurance have grown, companies have cut back, shifting costs to employees. This, as well as the high number of uninsured unemployed, has led to annual growth in the number without health insurance coverage.

Health insurance premiums on average have doubled since 2001. Americans pay a larger percent of their own healthcare costs than people in any other industrialized country in the world.

As costs go up and less people receive preventative care, Americans’ health grows worse, which causes costs to go even higher.

Is this simple enough to understand?

Lucy Siegel

Six Reasons Flexibility Helps Start-ups

March 20, 2012

Flexibility

Lord knows, start-ups have plenty of disadvantages (never enough money, limited staff to do all that needs to be done and low visibility compared to established competitors, to name just a few). However, there’s no point in looking at a half-empty cup when there is, after all, still half a cup left. Start-ups have some important advantages over Goliath competitors, many of which involve the ability to be more flexible. Small companies love to talk about flexibility as an asset they have over larger competitors but seldom explain why it’s an asset. Here are some of the advantages of flexibility:

1. It’s easy for start-ups to change direction. Making a big change can be done quickly and far more efficiently than in a large company. Think of turning around a small motor boat compared to an ocean liner.

2. As small businesses, it’s easier for start-ups to respond to employees’ needs by allowing less rigid work rules. If someone wants to work at home one or two days a week or come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, there aren’t layers of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through to make this possible.

3. The founder of a start-up doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. Start-ups begins with no rules and no well-established business structure, and can make up their own rules and business structure.

4. Let’s say you have a revolutionary idea, and if your company is successful, you’ll change your industry forever. Chances are that someone in a big company somewhere has had the same idea, but big companies can’t be as flexible about making revolutionary changes. They have a lot more to lose than you do: market share, customer trust, brand recognition, public preconceptions about what they stand for. Meanwhile, you’re starting from scratch and can create something revolutionary without worrying about what you’ll lose in the process.

5. The communications and management infrastructure at start-ups are much more informal and allow more flexibility to individual employees to make themselves heard and have an influence on the overall company. There’s nothing more empowering to employees than the knowledge that what they do really counts, and that their ideas and input will be listened to by senior people (who may be sitting in the same room they are) and can have a big influence the success of the company.

6. The definition of success is up to the entrepreneur. It is not predefined as generating shareholder profit. Founders of start-ups can set their own goals. There is flexibility that comes from not having to worry about short-term shareholder benefits. Some civic-minded start-up founders place heavy emphasis on the goal of helping their communities. Some founders are determined to stay small enough to allow themselves the satisfaction of doing hands-on work with clients.

Lucy Siegel

5 Reasons We Won’t Respond to RFPs

February 17, 2012

Not many things in my industry elicit the degree of anger and frustration as the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Yesterday I opened about 10 emails from colleagues at other agencies on this topic.  All of us belong to Counselors Academy,  a group of PR agency owners and top executives. Counselors Academy’s most active members are smaller and midsize companies, not the largest agencies. One of the members, a colleague of mine who owns a boutique agency in Washington, wrote an email to the group describing an RFP fiasco he had just been through and asking how other
agencies handle RFPs. With few exceptions, the consensus was that RFPs are a waste of time and energy and most of my colleagues at the small and midsize agencies refuse to participate in the RFP process unless they have a relationship with  someone in the company or have worked for the company before.

Let me sum up the main reasons:

1. RFPs are often the result of a requirement from company purchasing departments that bids be obtained from several vendors before a purchase is made. More and more over the last 10 or 15 years purchasing departments have been given approval power over PR agency hiring by the corporate communications and marketing departments. The internal marketing or communications team knows already which agency it wants to hire, but puts out the RFP to satisfy the purchasing department. In these situations, the bids are really rigged from the outset and the RFP process is a sham.

2. Many companies just don’t know how to conduct an agency search. Some of them send RFPs in writing to a huge number of agencies without talking to them or screening them in any way first to focus in on a small but appropriate group. Responding to this kind of “cattle call” is a waste of an agency’s time.

3. Some companies that put out RFPs have NO INTENTION of hiring an agency, and use the process to gather ideas to help the in-house communications team.  Of course, nobody admits to this, but it’s pretty obvious when they end up not hiring an agency at all after the RFP process and then start implementing thinly disguised versions of the proposal ideas.

4. Many RFPs ask each agency for a strategic plan to meet the company’s PR needs. However, very, very few RFPs offer to compensate the agencies  for this work.  Law firms aren’t asked to submit their plans for dealing with a company’s legal situation on spec. Doctors charge for their time and expertise when consulted about their treatment opinions. Why should communications companies be expected to give away their intellectual property? I wrote an entire blog post on this subject a couple of years ago. Some in-house marketing and communications executives claim that this is the only way they can separate the good, bad and mediocre. But that isn’t true. A decision can be made by asking for examples of past work and references from clients, holding several interview sessions, and even, if necessary, requesting the agencies for a PR solution to a theoretical situation.

5. As a small public relations company, sometimes we are given an RFP as an alternative type of firm to bigger agencies. The decision-makers will swear up and down that they’re open to selecting the best agency team irrespective of agency size. We’ll be encouraged by the prospective client to participate, the chemistry will be great, we’ll hear compliments on our proposal and be told that we’ve been selected as a finalist. And then we’ll be told that a much larger firm won the business. Sometimes the prospective client will even tell us, “In the end, we just felt more comfortable with a larger agency.” Or, “we love your team but we were afraid of what the CEO would say if we hired a small agency like yours.”  This is shorthand for, “Nobody gets fired for hiring IBM.”

Some of my colleagues will read this and say, “You just have to qualify the lead before you respond to an RFP.” This is true; you do have to ask questions upfront to find out whether your company is a good fit for the prospective client and to try to determine if there is really any chance of winning the business. But unfortunately it’s hard to get honest answers sometimes.  This isn’t just a problem for small PR firms. When I worked for a large multinational, we had the same problem. The thing is, there are more resources at large PR firms than at small firms like mine for pursuing new business. We can’t afford to waste our time on RFPs when experience has shown us that the chance of winning, for one or more of the above reasons, is extremely remote.

I don’t want any of you to think that we don’t want to compete for business. That isn’t the case. We expect and welcome competition. It’s just the bureaucratic and often rigged RFP process that we’ve opted out of.

Lucy Siegel

Read my e-book –  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Will a New Buzz-Predictor Tool Change Journalism?

February 10, 2012

It had to happen. Computer scientists have just come up with a way to predict before publication whether or not a news story has the potential to create buzz.

MIT bloggers wrote on a “Physics arXiv Blog” post this week that computer scientists at HP’s lab in Palo Alto, Calif. did research that showed they could test news articles to see whether or not they would spread widely on Twitter. Since Twitter buzz about news stories has been shown to be a predictor of general interest beyond Twitter,  the ability to

test an article in advance could have major implications for journalism, and, of course, for public relations as well.
The HP scientists used an automatic online news aggregator to collect news stories for a week. Then they scored each story on four different criteria: what news organization published the story it, what category the story fit into, how subjective the language used in the story was, and what people or things were included in the story.  They tracked these stories on Twitter to see how far and how fast they were spread. They were able to use the data to identify what levels of scores in each of the four criteria were correlated with the popularity of a news story on Twitter. Then they used these criteria and their scoring formulas to predict in advance how popular a story would be on Twitter.

The MIT bloggers speculated that it probably wouldn’t be long before someone would use this type of data to develop a “popularity checker” tool, similar to the grammar and spelling checkers that are built into word processing programs. They commented that it might be detrimental to journalism to have such a tool, since journalists would surely be pushed by their employers to write for the tool.

But think of what a boon to PR a popularity checker would be!

PR industry newbies would be able to test their news sense to get objective feedback on their news releases and media pitches. PR team leaders could use the checker to demonstrate tactfully to their employers or clients that promotional language really does not work in a news release, or to point out the lack of newsworthiness of an announcement proposed by senior management without having to argue about it.

If anyone hears that such a tool is under development, please let me know so I can sign up as a pre-release beta tester and invest in whatever company is behind it!

Lucy Siegel

Read my e-book: “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

New International PR e-Book Just Published

January 24, 2012

I’m pleased to announce the publication of “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture,” an e-book for Kindle.  The Kindle file also works for the Mobipocket reader (which can be downloaded free and can be used on many mobile devices as well as on PCs).

“Public Relations Around the Globe” is a collection of essays and articles about PR around the world edited by me. Each chapter was originally developed as a Bridge Global Strategies article or blog post by our staff  and me or as a bylined contribution by an international public relations executive.  The book is divided into geographical sections and topics, including Europe and the Middle East,  the Asia/Pacific region, the BRIC countries and a section with observations, insights and advice about international public relations. There are chapters on communications in Australia, Japan, China, Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The book is available as a download from Amazon for $2.99.  I have some copies available at no charge for people who would like to review the book. If you’re interested in having a review copy, please email me.

I hope those of you who read the book find it useful. I would welcome your input on it.

My next book will be aimed at start-up companies, with tips for maximizing communications dollars and building a reputation. If there are topics you’d like to see in the book, please let me know!

Lucy Siegel

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Best Corporate Communications Tips for 2012

January 17, 2012

I was one of a wide assortment of public relations and corporate communications people who gathered at a holiday party last month hosted by Douglas Simon, President and CEO of D S Simon Productions. The company is a broadcast and social media video production firm with headquarters on West 36th Street in Manhattan. Doug decided to take advantage of the gathering of this motley crew at his studio by recording interviews with some of us with tips for corporate communications best practices in 2012.

Some of you may remember a blog post I did last year criticizing my own performance on a video interview Doug did with me, for which I was, sadly, not well prepared. This time around I was better prepared.

I’d welcome your own PR tips for the year ahead. I just read an economic forecast predicting that 2012 would be the turn-around year that people have been waiting for, so hopefully many of you will have bigger budgets for public relations, corporate communications and marketing communications. What are your highest priorities for spending those budgets in 2012?

Lucy Siegel

(Click photo to play.)

Seven Small Business Owners’ Resolutions for 2012

January 1, 2012

New Year’s resolutions are easily made and just as easily broken. According to a Wikipedia entry on the topic, a recent study showed that 78% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail to keep them.

Research done by psychologist and author Professor Richard Wiseman showed that those who succeed have certain characteristics in common:

  • They are specific with their goal setting, not general. For example, instead of “lose weight,” a goal people can more easily reach is to lose a pound a week by cutting out complex carbs and exercising three times a week.
  • Successful resolution makers tell others about their resolutions.

My personal resolutions are just like everyone else’s – lose weight, exercise more, save more money. I also resolve to make my resolutions more specific this year, in an attempt to be one of the 22 percent who succeed in meeting their goals. But business resolutions are less predictable. I know, because I asked a wide range of other small business owners what their business resolutions are for the new year. I’ll get to mine, but first I’ll share some from other small business owners’:

1. Eric Brody, President, Trajectory (a branding and marketing company in Morristown,N.J., working across health, wellbeing and beauty):

Eric’s resolution is to more strongly focus. “To focus our passion, people, products, process, procedures to better deliver results in the industry verticals in which we provide the most experience and expertise to our clients.”

2. Elayne Kling, owner, ZP Auto (auto repair shop) and ZP Vintage Stuff (vintage fashion & home accessories ), Williamsburg, Brooklyn , N.Y.:  

Elayne comments that, after a move to a new location in 2011, she resolves to improve her company’s online presence. “I’ve also expanded to include a completely different business, so I’ll be working hard on tying the two together online with social media, blogging and coupon promotions.”

 3. William A. Regen, Partner, Regen, Benz & McKenzie, CPA’s P.C. (an accounting firm in New York City):

Bill says he will focus on communication with clients: “I always find that the most important part of my business is communicating with clients, making sure they I respond to them timely and effectively.”

4. Douglas Simon, President & CEO, D S Simon Productions (a video production company headquartered in New York City, with offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago):

“My resolution is to travel more in support of my regional offices,” Doug says. “I recognize the challenge of running a separate office in a different location and that it is easy to become separated from the headquarters operation. By traveling more, it will dramatically increase growth opportunities for the company and for those I employ in those key positions. Building the strength of our DC, LA and Chicago offices are a major goal of the company. Increasing my travel will help us be successful.”

5. Lee Weinstein, President, Weinstein PR (a Portland, Oregon-based boutique PR agency):

“My resolution is to give our business a hard scrub,” Lee says. “I’ll be looking at what we need to stop and start doing, what our weaknesses are, and how we can take our work up to the next level. I particularly want to examine where I spent my time as CEO in 2011, and how I need to work differently going forward to be of maximum value to the business and our associates.”

 6. Andrea Westmeyer, President, RMi (RMi provides marketing measurement and optimization services for the pharmaceutical industry. The firm is headquartered in Des Moines, and also has offices in New York City and Los Angeles.)

“One of my resolutions: think creatively about where competition may be lurking,” Andrea says, “and then ask myself if they are a potential partner rather than foe.”

 7. My own business resolution for Bridge Global Strategies is to keep my vision for the company in front of me at all times, and be more vigilant in assessing all of our activities to make sure our time is spent in ways that further that vision. There’s always pressure to spend time on things that may seem admirable and worthwhile, but don’t help us progress. I want to be very careful to stay on course.

Since the research shows you’re more likely to be successful with your New Year’s resolutions if you share them with others, I invite you to share them with us here. (Come on, spill your guts – it will help you take the first step!)

Lucy Siegel

Don’t Make These Five Start-up PR Mistakes

December 20, 2011

Over many years of providing PR services to start-up companies, I’ve noticed a lot of the same very basic marketing and communications mistakes being made by one start-up after another:

1)      The goals for PR are unrealistic. Start-ups (and others) sometimes expect PR to sell their products. Public relations is not a direct sales tool. It can create awareness, educate the target audience about new technologies or solutions, build positive buzz, win over influencers, develop credibility and build relationships with potential customers. It can lead the potential customer to the company’s website or store or telephone sales force. These are not insignificant accomplishments; they are necessary steps along the way towards sales. But PR can’t always deliver sales leads. (You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.)

2)      The company’s founders don’t think they need PR (or marketing) because the products are so great they’ll sell themselves.  This relates to #1 above. It’s the “build it and they will come” philosophy that usually only works in a field of dreams! PR isn’t  a sales tool, but the PR and marketing are steps towards sales that can’t be skipped. Even if the products are as great as the founders think, there must be a process to let people know about them.

3)      The target audience is ill-defined or undefined. Sometimes when we talk to start-up executives about who they are targeting with their new products or services, the answer we get is, “Everyone. Everyone needs [or can use, or will like] this.”  This is a serious mistake and marketing problem. There are important reasons to identify the target audience, consisting of those who are most likely to buy. It is more cost and time-efficient to focus on that segment of the population than to try to appeal to everyone. Even big companies with brands like Coke, McDonalds, the iPhone and Victoria’s Secret have target customers and aim their marketing towards them very specifically. There’s a good reason why you don’t see iPhone reviews orVictoria’s Secret ads in magazines published for senior citizens. It’s imperative to do research to determine the best target audience.

4)   There are  no key communications messages chosen to be communicated.  What do you want your target customer to know and think about the product? Unfortunately the answer we sometimes get to this question is a very long, complex litany of attributes, facts and figures. It’s very difficult if not impossible to get across long and complex series of messages. We work with our clients to identify three or four of the most compelling messages and to repeat these over and over until they are well-communicated.

5)      The company expects splashy media coverage just because it (or its product) is being launched. If there’s not much new or different to offer, when there is no important differentiation from competitors, there’s no news. If there’s no news, there’s no compelling reason for media coverage. We can offer the media interviews with company executives to discuss industry trends or current events, and the resulting media mentions help the company build credibility and visibility. But we can’t deliver a lot of coverage about a company and its products if there’s nothing new or different about them.

Most entrepreneurs don’t come from marketing or communications backgrounds, never had to be proficient in those areas and are not natural-born communicators. We’re there to help, by advising and educating. With a good, well-differentiated product, some education about the basics of marketing and PR – and a little luck – a small start-up can take giant strides in establishing itself.

Lucy Siegel

R ead my e-book: “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

The Specialist vs the Generalist: Who Wins?

December 14, 2011

Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, on a PR Week Webcast this week, forecast what’s coming next in the PR industry.  Her outlook for 2012, which was covered in an article by Matt Wilson on Ragan.com, included a prediction that people in the PR industry will have to become generalists, taking on a wide variety of tasks, including but not limited to media relations, developing “content” (a communications industry buzzword that means written, audio or video materials for use online) and serving as experts on transparency.Wilson reported that her explanation for the need to be generalists was, “The media is really being redefined by the second.”

Here’s the thing: some of us saw this coming years ago and refused to be pigeonholed as specialists at a time when the common wisdom was that you had to be a specialist to climb the communications career ladder.

When the dot com bubble burst and the technology sector crashed in 2000, people who had differentiated themselves by specializing in tech or internet PR were being laid off left and right. The situation got much worse after 9/11, when budgets were being cut drastically by PR agency clients in every industry. We learned at that time that it was risky to be specialists in one narrow area. Agencies with general PR practices stood a better chance of survival in a downturn than specialist firms. At that time it was tech that was the weak spot. But at other times health care, financial services, fashion and other industries have been the danger zones.

It’s not unusual for someone who has been a corporate communications professional in one industry to move to a totally different industry. I’ve watched colleagues move successfully from telecom to insurance, from television to the automotive industry, from the automotive industry to a non-profit.

One very nimble friend has gone from the corporate communications department at a Big 5 accounting firm to a beauty products company, a tobacco company, a financial services company, an educational institution, and she now works in the green IT and smart grid sector (and she’s excelled in each position!). Over the course of her career she’s also had a wide variety of roles within communications and marketing, including writing, magazine editing, internal communications, marketing communications and sales promotion.

This demonstrates that good communications principals are much more important to success than deep knowledge of a specific industry. Once we learn the basics of the communications profession, we can apply them to a wide variety of clients. I would argue that broad experience over different industries is a positive influence on creative thinking. You can leverage what you observe in one industry and apply it to another industry in a way that PR insiders in that industry would never think of doing. To be a good communications generalist, it’s crucial to be able to pick up the basics about a new industry fast, and to be able to distinguish between what you need to know and what you don’t.  You don’t need a Ph.D. in physics to be a PR superstar for a laser manufacturer, or a CPA to head the corporate communications department at an accounting firm.

All of the above is why a liberal arts education is so important for a communications professional. In college, it’s much more important to learn how to learn than it is to learn the specifics of any particular profession.

Lucy Siegel

How Do We Become Indispensable?

November 30, 2011

I just read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to make yourself indispensable. The author describes an employee that has done a terrific job, done everything right. He applied for a promotion and was stunned when he didn’t get the position. It went to someone else. He asks, “What did I do wrong?” and his boss says, “Nothing, you’re doing a great job.”

The author argues that it’s much easier to improve your performance (and your position in the corporate world) if you haven’t been doing so well, but much harder when you’ve been doing a great job. He concludes that incremental
improvements don’t help as much as developing other, complementary strengths. For example, an engineer who indisputably does a wonderful job for the company would gain a lot less by becoming an even better engineer than by improving a skill such as writing or people management.

The article stimulated a lot of comments and debate. How do you make yourself indispensable: by keeping on top of the
ever-changing needs and wants of your bosses, and then working to meet those needs? Or by determining how you could become more valuable, based just on your own strengths?

This led me to think about how public relations practitioners can be perceived as indispensable by their clients or, in the case of internal PR staff, by the top management of their companies. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing a client, or not winning a client, due to a decision not to have an external PR firm because top management feels that PR isn’t a high enough priority. In these situations, when we are considered dispensable, the marketing department or the internal communications staff may disagree, but they’re overruled.

So how do we, as PR practitioners, make ourselves indispensable? Unfortunately, just as explained in the HBR article, simply doing a great job isn’t enough. The answer isn’t to provide even better results. If what we do is really that valuable to a corporation, then the onus is on us to make senior management understand that we are, indeed, indispensable.

It helps if we set measurable goals in the beginning of a project or a year and then actually do the measurement. However, this is a lot easier said than done, and a lot of attention has to be paid to what kinds of goals are set as well as how they are measured. Otherwise, who’s to say, for example, that it was the PR, not some improvement in the product or services, the sales methods or the distribution methods, that helped sell more?

It’s very hard to measure the impact of PR in isolation from other factors. It’s crucial to agree on goals that we can, without doubt, take credit for reaching.  Often even if we can suggest appropriate, measurable goals, our clients don’t have the budget to spend on measurement.

In my most cynical mood, I’d say that very often it’s the people who have to be indispensable in order to sell senior management on PR, not the actual contribution PR makes. The most successful people in the PR industry (as everywhere) are those who have strong personal charisma as well as the ability to cozy up to the decision-makers in an organization and win them over. Sometimes indispensable means a bond of dependency.  That kind of relationship trumps PR results every time.

I wish I had the answers to how we can make PR indispensable. Maybe you do. I’d like to hear what you think about this.

Lucy Siegel

Five Reasons for Public Relations Professionals to Be Grateful

November 23, 2011

I read an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about a study done by Robert Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami on “the attitude of gratitude.” It seems they have evidence that when people are grateful, they are healthier, sleep better, are less anxious, and act more kindly to others, including their “significant others.”  In the spirit of providing readers with a calmer Thanksgiving weekend with family members, I’d like to list some reasons for people in public relations to be grateful:

  •  PR people have become the go-to professionals for social media relations.  In order to keep up with the fast pace of change in communications in general, we had no choice.
  • Our need to keep up with what’s happening online has actually made many of us who were previously considered technologically challenged into technology early adopters. (I would have laughed at anyone who predicted this 20 years ago!).
  • Unlike our brethren in the communications industry with advertising backgrounds, we have been holding up fairly well in this weak economy.
  • Our profession has never had more potential for growth than it does now. I’ve been hearing anecdotal evidence of public relations being elevated in many companies to report to the CEO.
  • It has become easier and cheaper to measure the value of what we do. That surely must be an important factor in the previous reason to be grateful.

Professors Emmons and McCullough advise people to start cultivating an attitude of gratitude by keeping a journal listing five things they are grateful for. These can be small things – a turkey that was neither dry nor undercooked, a winning football team, etc.

Five things I’m grateful for today:

  • We have great clients from whom I learn something new all the time.
  • My two sons flew home from the west coast to be with their family for the holiday.
  • I’ve been able to be my own boss and keep my company running, even in tough times.
  • My staff members are smart and often funny.
  • The rain stopped; the forecast is sunny and relatively warm for November.

How about you? What are you grateful for?

Lucy Siegel

Inc. 500’s Social Media Growth Bigger than Fortune 500’s

November 21, 2011

In a provocative article on Entrepreneur magazine’s blog this week, columnist Mikal Belicove, a social media specialist, reported there is now research showing that big companies are less social media conscious than small companies. Why are big companies less social media conscious? And, on the flip side of this question, what motivates smaller companies to use social media more aggressively?

The research data came from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s’ Center for Marketing Research. The Center’s study, ““The 2011 Fortune 500 and Social Media Adoption: Have America’s Largest Companies Reached a Social Media Plateau?”, was based on data from the 2011 Fortune 500 list of companies, the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private small companies, and also the largest charities and institutions of higher education.

The researchers looked for blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter followers at all of the institutions. The companies were deemed to have blogs if they had “a public-facing corporate blog from the primary corporation with posts in the past 12 months.” The research repeated similar studies done annually since 2008. The researchers concluded that the use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook has grown very little in the past year at these large companies. Moreover, the Fortune 500 companies came in last among all the groups in adopting social media every year for the past four years.

In his blog post, Belicove suggests that big companies are risk-averse because they want to protect their top market positions, and are deliberately slowing down their adoption of social media because they believe they have more to lose than to gain from encouraging consumer/customer participation.

Why are smaller companies using social media more than big ones? Neither the researchers nor Belicove answered this question. My guess: the absence of big corporate bureaucracies and legal departments gives the marketing people at small companies more flexibility. Of course, small companies also have less money for marketing than big ones. Social media costs less than advertising and many other forms of communications (although it is not free, as many seem to think – the people costs involved in social media program development and maintenance are considerable).

The results of this study are heartening for small businesses. Small companies are able to be more flexible and nimble than big ones, and those attributes may well be giving them an edge in the use of social media for public relations.

There was a comment on Belicove’s blog post that big companies may be slowing down on their use of social media because it doesn’t produce sales results. This isn’t true, however, since the use of social media to find and attract prospective clients is one of its most important business applications, in my opinion. The ability for a company to obtain data on customer preferences and to build closer relationships with customers is a huge sales advantage.

In addition, the advent of the internet and social media in particular has changed the sales process for most companies by enabling a switch from “outbound marketing” to “inbound marketing.” Hubspot, on its excellent “Inbound Internet Marketing Blog,” defines outbound marketing as pushing the marketing message out, via trade shows, seminar series, email blasts to purchased lists, internal cold calling, outsourced telemarketing, and advertising. These methods are less effective than they used to be because prospective customers are inundated with marketing messages and have found ways to shut them off or screen them out.  With inbound marketing, in contrast, says Hubspot’s CEO and Founder, Brian Halligan, “you help yourself ‘get found’ by people already learning about and shopping in your industry.”

Inbound marketing provides warm leads and eliminates the need for cold calling. I don’t know about you, but anything that cuts down on cold calling is fine with me!

Podcast: PR & Marketing for Start-ups & U.S.-based Foreign Companies

November 4, 2011

I was interviewed yesterday by Bruce Hurwitz  for his Blog-Talk Radio show, “Bruce Hurwitz Presents,”  as part of a series of interviews with women entrepreneurs. The show is available on-demand as a podcast and the topic is “PR & Marketing for Start-ups & U.S.- Based Foreign Companies.”

Have a listen! Click “play’ below, and then click the arrow on the radio dashboard that appears.  (There is a 10-second delay after clicking the arrow on the radio dashboard.)

Lucy Siegel

PLAY



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