The Toughest Interview Your Executive Ever Does Should Never Be Seen Publicly

ImageI’ve media trained a lot of executives through the years from CEOs of start-ups who have never spoken to media before to seasoned executives of Fortune 500 companies about to go into a new market or launch a new product. I’ve coached them on how to stay on message, to deflect a question, to learn not to answer questions they don’t have the answer and to speak in soundbites.

The result? Strong interviews given by good spokespeople whose efforts helped their companies build mindshare and leadership.

And then there are the other interviews.

CBS recently did an interview with the CEO of Coca-Cola about the company’s new anti-obesity program. As Coca-Cola’s main product is basically liquid sugar they had to know this was going to be a tough interview. And it was.

Unfortunately the CEO wasn’t quite up to the task. PR News described him as looking like a “channeling a cartoon villain” and  I agree. PR News also offered some tips for prepping executives for tough interviews. They are all good points.

But prepping executives should consist of more than telling them what to do. You also need to show them what not to do. And the best way to train a spokesperson for a bad interview is to make them dry run a disaster.

ImageGetting to the point? The worst, meanest, nastiest interview your executive should ever have is one that you give him or her before they meet the media. It won’t be fun (even for us PR folks) but it will help avoid their interview appearing under a headline, “who prepped him?”

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PR and Content Marketing: More Insight on the Synergy

A few weeks ago I posted about the synergy of PR and Content marketing and how PR agencies and entities were rebranding themselves to take advantage of the growth of Content Marketing. I said that it makes perfect sense that PR agencies would play and important role and even lead Content Marketing:

Who else better understands what media outlets need? Who else is best able to creatively tell a story? Who else can take raw material and turn it into compelling content? Who else has shown they can get inside the customer’s brain and provide material that influences rather than sells?

Yesterday Laura Ramos of the Forrester Group posted about the role that PR plays in Content Marketing that aligns with that thinking:

I think that the practice of developing content, some of which may become thought leading, on important topics your clients and target prospects face is a practice with which digitally savvy PR people will have a strong affinity.

She also says:

In this Age of the Customer, marketers must move from selling to an audience to building relationships and trust across a community of stakeholders. And the advantages of PR to stimulate conversation, engage in two-way interactions, and develop interesting storylines that involve the intended audience are a natural fit for creating great marketing in this new digital world.

Is your PR agency talking to you about Content Marketing? If not ask them what they think. They should be telling you how it fits into your program.

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Three Things Lois Lane Taught Me About PR

Superman27Seventy five years ago this month the world got their first look at one of the most famous reporters in history, Lois Lane. The character made her debut, along side Superman, in Action Comics #1 which went on sale April 18, 1938. Lois Lane has long passed into pop culture as code for a sharp reporter and modern working woman. No wonder Tina Fey appeared as Lois on the cover of Rolling Stone when 30 Rock aired its last episode earlier this year.

While some people may have been inspired by Woodward and Bernstein to go to Journalism school, I was probably more inspired by Margot Kidder playing Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. But while these days I sit on the opposite side of the desk from Lois, there are still some things a PR professional can learn from her.

  1. Look hard, the real story may be right in front of you. Lois Lane and everyone around her never quite put together that Clark Kent was Superman. Does your product or client have a good story that you’re just not seeing? Is there another angle that might be a bigger story? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in one angle that we don’t stop to think, “is there something else going on here?” Ask yourself, does your client have a “secret identity”?
  2. Stunts may bring short-term results, but genuine interaction wins in the end. Lois Lane spent the 50s and 60s cooking up plot after plot to get Superman to marry her. Later under new, modern writers Lois stopped chasing Superman, focused even more on her career and slowly built a relationship with Clark Kent. In time, he revealed his identity and the two were married. I’ve occasionally worked with clients on one-off events to provide a quick jolt of visibility and they have worked. But a steady stream of stunts won’t build a sustained program.superman_lois_lane_witch_of_metropolis_huh In the end working with the media regularly by bringing them stories and news gets better result, than say, turning yourself into a witch.
  3. The media are busy, aren’t waiting for you to tell them your story and need to work their beats. If you have ever seen Lois Lane in comics, TV or movies working a story you’d know this. But unfortunately it’s a reality that some PR people still need to be reminded of. The media want real news (And the announcement of your client winning “best of show” at an industry event? That’s most likely not it). They also want stories they can tie into their beats. And know that when you call them, email or Tweet them you are competing with lots of other PR folks to get their attention. So unless you have the reporter’s Kryptonite, spend some time learning what the blogger or reporter you are targeting has written and what angles on your client’s story fit their interests.

Anything you’ve learned from Lois?

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5 Misperceptions About Tumblr That May Be Keeping You From Using It In Your PR Program

images (10)Tumblr which calls itself  “the easiest way to blog” has seen consistent growth over the last five years. It has surpassed WordPress as the top blogging platform hosting over 100 million blogs and 44 billion posts. While in comparison to sites such as Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook it has has a relatively small piece of the social media pie (about 6%) its growth cannot be ignored. The most recent QuantCast report shows that 144 million people visited the site in January with 51M of those from the United States. Digiday has some raw stats here.

Tumblr is part content curation, part social and part blogging. Creating a Tumblr is incredibly easy – you can be up and running in minutes. Give them an email, pick a template and you’re ready to go. Here’s a good tutorial. 

On Tumblr you can post a variety of content – video, photos, text or combinations. It’s that ease of use that makes Tumblr a good choice for a blog. But the real value in Tumblr comes from its social aspects and shared content. Any post you make can be reblogged by another Tumblr and you can reblog any post from another Tumblr. The end result is that you have the ability to curate content from millions of post that relate to your Tumblr theme. And larger Tumblrs with hundreds of thousands of users can make your content go viral very quickly as seen with the “Binders Full of Women” Tumblr found during the election season.

So with such an easy interface and a large, growing user base why don’t more people use it as part of their PR programs?

Unfortunately Tumblr itself suffers from a bit of a PR problem. Despite its wide use and growth, it is still viewed as a playground young people where content mainly consists of GIFs and NSFW material. Here’s a look at some common misperceptions about Tumblr.

Misperception #1: Tumblr users are all female and young

The site definitely skews young, but a recent Quantcast report shows that 22% of users are between 35-54. The skew on male vs. female depends on where you look. Quantcast has 48 vs. 52 % while Comscore has males slightly ahead. So while there are a lot of young women using Tumblr that’s not the only demographic.

Misperception #2: Tumblr’s content is all GIFS, Comedy and NSFW

There IS a lot of that on Tumblr. But there is a lot of other content that is far more substantial.

Tumblr bloggers regularly publish longer thought pieces on a variety of topics. A quick look at Tumblr spotlight, which highlights high traffic or quality blogs,  shows sites such diverse topics as parenting, developers, medicine and technology.

Misperception #3: The big brands are on Pinterest and Facebook not Tumblr

Yes, they are on Facebook and Pinterest. But they are also on Tumblr. Here’s a good look at some of the brands including Coca Cola, Target and Sesame Street. And there are also some sub-brands of interest. For example IBM has IBMblr which highlights its technical innovation.  My expertise is technology PR so I’ll note that two sites that cover technology, GigaOm and The Next Web, are on Tumblr.

Misperception #4: We already have a blog or web site so Tumblr is redundant

Tumblr is an easy way to expand the reach of your blog or content site and gain new readers or followers. Many media sites including the Boston Globe, NPR and the Los Angeles Times have Tumblrs that feed back to their web sites. And since Tumblr sites are indexed it also adds to your SEO.

Misperception #5: Commenting and communicating on Tumblr is a pain

This is true is you are looking at the native Tumblr commenting system which requires and awkward “blog and reblog” system. But any Tumblr blog can support Disqus one of the fastest growing commenting systems. Tumblr is also readying a real time chat client from Babblr with some community features. This will enable brands and companies to have the type of real-time conversation that Twitter now enables.

Tumblr may not be a good fit for every PR program but you may find there is more opportunity there than you once thought.

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Are You Ready for a PR Agency?

ImageThere was a very good post up on SpinSucks a few days ago called Seven Reasons You’re Not Ready to Hire a PR Firm. Many clients have hired me in my career and I’ve also hired a few PR agencies. When a relationship ends between a client and agency there are many different reasons – liquidity event, a changing of the guard, or just the natural evolution of a relationship. But when the relationship ends quickly – say in the first year – more than a few times it was because the client wasn’t ready to work with an agency. I agree with all the points that the post makes and have added two more reasons why a company may not be ready to hire an agency.

Not understanding the level of focus and hard work required. Agencies do their best work when clients understand the effort required for a PR program and have assigned someone with the time, responsibility and power to fully enable the agency. This doesn’t necessarily mean a person has been devoted full-time to working with the agency, although that’s great when it happens. But if the person charged with the agency relationship has dozens of other responsibilities or isn’t going to be empowered by top management to make the relationship a priority that situation needs to be fixed before moving forward.

Having an agency do “turnkey” PR with little or no input may sound good but it’s not going to result in a good program. Successful programs need to have a constant flow of information between the client and the agency.

Top management isn’t a part of the process. The day-to-day contact may have worked successfully with dozens of agencies. Their boss may have as well. But if the top executives – the C level folks – don’t buy into the need for an agency, you’re going to eventually be swimming upstream. If the situation is “s/he needs to be convinced” that is also risky. If that is the case make sure that there is a clear set of goals for the agency that will “convince” the C-level of the value of the relationship. Top management also needs to be willing to meet with the agency to provide insight and collaborate. Once a quarter is best although for larger companies it may be one or twice a year.

This original list and my additions are not meant to turn people away from working with agencies but to generate important discussions within companies as they look to spend precious dollars investing in PR. Agencies can also use it to evaluate their prospects.

What would you add to the list?

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Is your agency ready to add content marketing to your PR tools?

PR programs have always included client generated content such as contributed articles, blog posts and white papers. When working with clients, one of the first things I’ll do is an inventory of their assets – reviewing all Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 12.54.39 PMtheir content that can be packaged or repackaged  for the PR program. Creating this content is not a new thing for PR agencies. Focusing on the creation of good content to build inbound communications, thought leadership and leads isn’t that new either. Collaborating with publications on paid content, aka advertorials, isn’t that new either. Even the proliferation of channels due to the increase in social media outlets isn’t that new. Any company or technology has spent the last 15 years learning that blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and curation are important to the brand.

But what has changed is the focus on combining company created content and those channels into content marketing to not just to raise visibility but as a vital and ongoing part of the sales cycle. Today, instead of just pitching your self-generated content to a publication as was done years ago, today companies and brands have more ways to leverage their content to reach customers and potential customers.

So it makes perfect sense that PR agencies would lead content marketing. Who else better understands what media outlets need? Who else is best able to creatively tell a story? Who else can take raw material and turn it into compelling content? Who else has shown they can get inside the customer’s brain and provide material that influences rather than sells?

But while content marketing may leverage all the things PR does really well, it also requires the collaboration of advertising, marketing, SEO and sales management. That sounds a lot like digital marketing, doesn’t it? And there lies the challenge to the opportunity for PR. PR’s challenge in capturing the opportunity around content marketing isn’t in offering content marketing services, it’s in offering a more compelling solution for it than advertising and digital agencies. I saw this back in 2006 and 2007 as many PR agencies were slow to capture the opportunity around digital and social and ended up taking a backseat at the revenue table.

Will agencies be slow footed again? Weber-Shandwick, one of the agencies who was fleet of foot during the introduction of social and digital, last week announced a new division devoted to content marketing. Edelman is also offering content marketing services. Yesterday, Marketwire, which focuses on online distribution of press releases, rebranded itself to Marketwired and will up its focus on content marketing. And if that’s not enough critical mass for one week, Cision which provides tools to PR agencies to engage journalists announced it will have a speaker address “Content Marketing: The Future of PR and Marketing” in April. The wagons are being circled; it must mean money is on the table.

So with PR signaling its importance to the content marketing “craze” as Ad Age called it, what should a company be doing around content marketing if there isn’t a program right now? To start, ask your agency what role they see themselves playing in content marketing and what value they can see adding to your PR and communications program. If they don’t know or can’t provide a satisfactory answer that’s at minimum a red flag. Full fledged programs may not make sense for smaller companies but for emerging companies with long stretches between “big news” they make sense.

Here’s a good infographic  from PR Newswire that shows how PR and Content Marketing interconnect.


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Better than Chocolates or Flowers! Give your PR Agency These for Valentine’s Day!

ImageOn a day devoted to relationships, I have a few gifts for companies that want to get the most out of their relationship with their PR agency. Chocolate and flowers are always appreciated (as is food – clients that send a lunch after a big launch or placement are remembered for years) but here are some things that don’t cost a thing but will keep the flames alive between agency and client.

Overshare. This is sometimes seen as a relationship killer but not here.  By providing your agency with as much information as possible you can help to spark new ideas, campaigns and pitches. So tell them about what your sales people are hearing in meetings, tell them about the changes you’re considering making to the product, relay the conversation the CEO had with potential investors. You may not think there’s value in sharing this information but your agency will.

Spend quality time together. You probably already meet with your agency for status meetings and you may even bring them in for quarterly planning sessions or for a major launch kick-offs. But when was the last time you brought the key people from your agency into just kick around ideas with your marketing team? I know budgets can be an issue but a good agency is interested in ways to keep a relationship fresh and the ideas flowing so they may work with you on this (a good agency may even recommend the meetings).

Be open to trying new things. Your agency spends time (or should) evaluating new tools, looking at new angles and keep their pulse on the market. They should be coming to you with these and making recommendations. Most clients I’ve worked with are open to trying new things but I’ve also worked with small companies where they are already so stretched that changing anything about the program seems daunting. But listen to the ideas anyway. Not every one will be a fit; but someday one will be. And if you like the ideas but can’t do them right now, let the agency know that too.

Let them know how you really feel. No client/agency relationship is perfect but the best ones have an open dialogue. You invested a lot in finding an agency and bringing them up to speed and it’s important that you let them know when things are going well and when they aren’t. A good agency will be checking-in regularly but even in those cases there can be a cycle between the check-in and issues coming up. When that happens let the right person at the agency know your concerns and tell them what you need to fix it. Let’s face it, confrontation isn’t easy. But far better to bring up something before it leads to a break-up.

The great thing about all of these “gifts” is they can be used for every holiday and for birthdays too.   Do you have any to add to the list?

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