PerkettPR’s ‘Naughty & Nice List’ for PR and media in 2012

Before 2013 gets too far ahead of us, we wanted to share our look back at 2012 – a year in review of the PR triumphs and tragedies that made headlines: The good, the bad, the ugly. Here are a few of our top picks, along with the applicable business lessons we’ve learned from them.

First, the ‘Nice’…

Election Goes Social. This year’s Presidential race was one for the record books. The polls were close, the predictions were numerous and the attack ads were relentless, but it sure got national conversation going. From Big Bird memes to non-stop Invisible Obama jokes, the 2012 Election was one of the most shared and commented-on events in social media history.

Our takeaway: Ignoring the opportunity to engage via social channels is no longer an option.

 

NYC Marathon Near-Misstep. After becoming a lightning rod for criticism in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and organizers of New York City Marathon cancelled the race amid growing concerns that holding the event would divert resources from cleanup efforts. As a result, thousands of would-be marathon runners converged on the area to put their endurance training to work by lending a hand.

Our takeaway: The most effective crisis control always includes empathy for all involved.

 

Hostess Hoarding. After filing for bankruptcy twice this decade, Hostess threatened to liquidate after announcing that it will lay off 18,500 workers, blaming a labor strike. As a result, consumers took to convenience stores to snap up the snack cakes, and a ten-count box of Twinkies was even seen listed on eBay for an opening bid of $200,000, with a buy-it-now price of $250,000.

Our takeaway: Beloved brands die hard (as does the nostalgia of childhood!).

 

Royal Treatment. After years of tragedy (Diana) and scandal (Fergie) plaguing the palace, the Queen sought outside PR assistance, but it wasn’t until 2012’s Diamond Jubilee, Royal Wedding and baby news that the Monarchy seems to have emerged from its former dark days. As the most popular royals in history, William and Kate’s impact is far-reaching and, as a result, support for the Monarchy is at a 20-year high.

Our takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of the ‘right’ spokesperson.

 

And now for the ‘Naughty’…

 

Fast Food Backlash. Between McDonald’s supersized #McStories Twitter backlash, Burger King workers behaving badly, Taco Bell employees defiling menu items and the industry grappling with the stigma of pink slime, it’s been a rough year for the fast food industry.

Our takeaway: For better or for worse, remember that every employee is an extension of your brand – and a network branding blitz can do a lot to promote panic.

 

Rogue Tweets. In an epic #BrandFail, we saw several companies get burned in social media mishaps: Chrysler’s Twitter account dropped the F-Bomb, a Red Cross employee tweeted about getting “slizzered,” a Ketchum exec insulted a client’s hometown and KitchenAid mocked President Obama’s dead grandmother on Twitter, just to name a few.

Our takeaway: Heed the old “measure twice, cut once” woodworking maxim and always “check twice, tweet once” when manning multiple handles.

 

Retail Blunders. In an attempt to ride the coattails of the storm, several retailers tried to be savvy with their marketing efforts, but ended up getting soaked for capitalizing on bad news. For those “bored during the storm,” American Apparel advertised a “Hurricane Sandy sale” in the Northeast with the checkout code “Sandysale.” Gap had the decency to plead that residents “stay safe,” but then followed it up with an inappropriate, “We’ll be doing ‘lots of Gap.com shopping today; how about you?” And last but not least, Urban Outfitters glossed over the storm with an offensive pun about wind, offering free shipping with the checkout code “Allsoggy.”

Our takeaway: There’s a thin line between agile and opportunistic, edgy and offensive – tread lightly.

 

Apple & Instagram Outrage. This year we also saw rivalry and greed get the better of some companies. For example, in the next chapter of the Apple vs. Google saga, Apple ditched pre-loaded Google services, such as Maps and YouTube, from its iOS 6 update. This was only made worse by the release of their own (ineffective) Apple Maps platform. And most recently, the majority of us have been involved in the collective Internet outcry against Instagram’s change(s) in its terms of service, which is still in the process of getting settled.

Our takeaway: Consumers don’t take kindly to feeling taken advantage of, and thanks to the web and social media, they have found their voice – and it can be heard louder than ever before.

 

Any other PR peaks and pitfalls from 2012 that you’d like to add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!

Running a PR Agency – Big or Small, Challenges Remain the Same

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Council of PR Firms‘ Boston roundtable, to discuss industry and agency issues with fellow Boston agency leaders. This was my second time attending this annual event, and I again came away inspired, energized, reassured and enthusiastic. The folks I was lucky enough to sit around the “asylum white” Board room with at Weber Shandwick included agency leaders in executive management, HR and business development from large, global firms such as Porter Novelli, Weber and Fleishman-Hillard, to midsize and smaller agencies such as CHEN PR and March Public Relations. In all, there were about 20 of us who talked about what’s looking up in the PR industry, how PR has evolved since the advent of social and digital media, HR and recruitment challenges, the integration of advertising, digital, social, mobile and video into PR campaigns and much more. We spent a great deal of time talking about measurement – what clients want, how we provide it and what tools and strategies we are using to get there.

The thing that I always find most interesting about meeting with my industry colleagues – some of them even competitors – is that we all face similar issues. Large or small, focused on tech or healthcare or consumer PR – the agency challenges are always along the same lines. As the owner of one of the smaller agencies, I love to hear that we are successfully navigating the same issues that agencies of any size do – how to motivate staff, how to identify and hire the right people for our culture, how to juggle client demands with realistic budgets. It reminds me that sometimes getting together with your “frenemies,” as I like to call them, benefits everyone. Here are some of the issues that resonated across the board:

Recruiting. Currently, the biggest challenge is finding social and digital experts who understand communications strategy and PR. It’s easy to find one or the other, but the combination of both is valuable and rare. PR folks –that’s an open invitation to you to hone your social and digital skills and surpass those “social media experts” for jobs that require knowing more than how to Tweet. What’s the real value in using these tools in a strategic communications campaign?

HR. One of the big issues on the table was telecommuting and virtual work. I am obviously – as an owner of one of the first and most successful virtual agencies – fortunate to not have to deal with a traditional office environment where executive staff is trying to figure out how to provide the opportunity for employees to work from home some of the time. That balancing act can get tricky – providing the perk without it getting out of control, managing expectations between management and staff and still keeping employees motivated and happy. Almost every agency provides the opportunity to work from home some of the time for some of their employees, but much was discussed about how this affects training of junior staff, expectations from clients, and the overall culture. Apparently the new wave of workers expects this perk, so agencies are navigating their way and trying some interesting combinations of integrating virtual work with traditional office environments. Other topics on the HR front were how to manage employee demands for more and better perks, investment in training and opportunities for growth from within, as well as the return of bloated salary requests. We were all enthusiastic about joining an HR roundtable next to continue to inform one another and discuss these issues – helping to keep the industry in check.

Client Expectations. This is always a topic of discussion and I was glad to hear that budgets all around are returning to a more realistic level to align with the results desired by clients. Remember, you really do get what you pay for in PR. You can’t expect to saturate the market if you don’t put the proper investment behind that (money, time and executive commitment and belief). Remember what Bill Gates allegedly said about his last dollar

Measurement and Proof of Value. Speaking of client expectations, the burden of proof of reaching those expectations continues to drive discussions within all agencies. We talked about using tools such as Radian 6 and (our PerkettPR client) uberVU. We discussed the value of measuring how our promotions are driving traffic, sales leads, brand awareness and more – but the challenge remains to find the exact best way to do this. There is no PR industry standard and furthermore, clients don’t want to pay extra for it. The burden of proof is on PR firms – and how the different agencies handle that is all over the place. (On a self promotional note, our agency is working on a tool that fellow firms will definitely find of value – stay tuned for our launch this Fall.)

Competition. A great deal of discussion was spent on how PR agencies are taking business not from each other, but from other entities such as advertising agencies, digital houses and even the new found “social media” agencies. The common belief – and trend we’re all seeing – is that the shiny new ball syndrome of hiring an entire agency to execute social media is quickly fading. Social media is simply a new set of tools, not an enlightenment of communications strategy for newbie professionals who have never dealt with brand strategy, corporate crisis and more. The competitive landscape is wider, but PR is holding its own, as effective communications that illicit the proper actions continues to be key. Also hot for PR agencies is adding staff for mobile, digital and video content. Most agencies are moving from outsourcing this type of position to owning it in-house with a dedicated team or position.

I do believe there were a few laughs when I mentioned that the telephone has been around for quite a while, but it certainly doesn’t make everyone good at communicating. It’s true – and neither do social media tools. This is why the PR industry is not dying. We’re thriving – and our 2012 budgets and client rosters continue to reflect that truth. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings to us as an industry.

If you’re a PR executive or agency, what trends are you seeing in the above areas? How are you navigating the changes discussed (or the traditional issues we all still face)?

Thanks to Weber for hosting, and to Matthew Soriano and the Council for including me. And of course, to my industry colleagues for participating. It’s always a pleasure learning from you all.

PS Head on over to the Council’s website for more industry stats, insights and information! It’s  a great resource.

Five tips for finding your writing mojo

We’ve all been there before: Under an impossibly-tight deadline, in front of a blank page, hypnotized by the unrelenting blinking cursor staring back at you. You’re desperate for inspiration to hit and the words to start flowing, yet the harder you try to force it, the more frustrated you become, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle otherwise known as “writer’s block.”

It’s no secret that some of the best writing comes from having the ability to let your mind wander to more creative places…but when you don’t have the luxury of time during a busy work day, what’s a pressed PR person to do?

First, know there are no shortcuts or surefire routes to producing good copy; it will take a bit of time, effort and good old-fashioned concentration (something that can be tougher and tougher to come by in today’s age of 140-character attention spans!). But on the flip side, also know that it is possible to regain your writing groove, regardless of any momentary lapse in ability.

Here are five of my favorite tips for unblocking the writer within:

Move. I’m not talking about the pack-up-your-house kind, but the need for a change in location if you feel “stuck” in one spot. Whether it’s across the room, out of the office or through town to your favorite coffee shop, a fresh perspective and some new scenery can work wonders.

Unplug. I know, I know; this might as well be a four-letter word in PR. But try turning off your phone, waiting to respond to email and closing down other distractions on your desktop – just for a bit. I promise you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time without constantly trying to multitask.

Condition. Much like Pavlov’s dog, we can often train ourselves by pairing one stimulus with another. Have a spot in which you’ve been super productive before? Save it for when you need to get important work done, and eventually you’ll associate being there with tackling even the most complex projects with abandon.

Listen. Some people need silence to get work done, while others need to drown out the thoughts bouncing around in their heads. Whether it’s to the silence of an empty room, the ebb and flow of instrumental music or the energy of top 40 tunes, go with whichever noise strategy works for you. I happen to prefer classic rock and 90’s hits at a low volume for background noise, for example – so keep turning that dial until you hit on something that strikes a chord.

Experiment. Everyone’s writing process is different. If something isn’t working for you, don’t force a round peg into a square hole; instead, try another approach. And if that doesn’t work, try something else until you eventually stumble upon something that does work for you. But whatever you do, don’t stop investigating new avenues to unleash your inner creativity.

Have any other tips to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

You Get What You Give with a PR Firm

As I was sitting in a planning meeting with our newest client last week, I was impressed with how much information they were sharing with us and how much effort they were putting into the relationship from the start. Not only did all of the key executives, including the CEO, meet with us for a half day and answer all of the questions we could throw at them, they also had sales executives present to our team – to show us how they sell and let us ask questions of them as any prospect might. This kind of exposure and information-gathering is key to helping us truly understand their business – what’s going well, what the challenges are, how the company presents itself, etc. Sharing information and communicating your overall business goals – not just the marketing department’s – is key to building the most successful relationship with your PR firm.

Too often, companies believe hiring a PR firm is just a notch on the marketing team’s belt and they are afraid to share “too much” information with the agency. Despite NDAs and contracts, they fear that providing deep insight into the business will cause the agency to lose focus or know too much. But think about why you hired a PR agency in the first place – you expect them to represent you, your products/services and brand to the world. You turn to them in times of crisis and you expect their strategic insight will change opinions, capture mindshare and alleviate naysayers. You expect them to be able to position you in the best light and in the most relevant opportunities, and you expect them to be able to speak intelligently about your space and your market – as though they worked for the company themselves.

And in essence, we do. At PerkettPR, we insist on being privy to marketing and sales discussions as well as C-level planning – because we’re a part of each client’s team. We can only do our best work when clients trust us, communicate with us and include us. You cannot expect any PR firm to do a good job if you aren’t letting them see the whole picture – good and bad. Let your agency help you figure out how to build the best positioning, strategy and approach with all the pieces clearly laid out in front of them. With such knowledge, they can help you to highlight your best assets, deal sensibly with any challenges, and turn around any negativity.

If you’ve hired a PR firm, you have already made a sizeable commitment. Make sure you get the most return on your investment by trusting your team and working closely with them on all fronts – great PR goes well beyond news releases and media relations, and should be treated as an investment in the overall future health of your company.

Key points:
• If you are making the investment in a PR firm, truly engage them
• Ensure C-level executive involvement
• Trust your agency – you didn’t hire them to be “yes men”
• Make the relationship open and honest
• The more you give, the better results you receive