Brilliant Example Of Engagement Reminds Us All To Keep Pushing The Envelope

bodyformTo say that the lines between PR, media and marketing are blurred is putting it mildly. What was once about facilitating and gatekeeping has now become a creative free-for-all as more brands step into the role of content makers to try to strike a chord with their respective audiences.

As an agency, we’re constantly thinking about best practices among the complimentary disciplines, along with how we can leverage a combination of them most effectively for our clients.

One of the more recent discussions was around engagement on social media. While we’re all familiar with it from a personal perspective, it’s still an area that can be a challenge from a business standpoint.

Even though there’s a general understanding among brands that social media is a marketing tool that can help them reach out to their customers, it can be difficult to convince them to loosen the reins and fully harness their network’s power to unlock the true potential.

Bodyform 1But rather than brainstorming something like a list of the “10 tips for better social media engagement,” we simply wanted to show an example of the magic in action in this video from UK maxipad maker Bodyform, made late last year. The company created it in response to a man’s tongue-in-cheek “rant” on their Facebook wall, claiming that he’s been lied to about the “happy periods” depicted in their ads over the years.

What might make some brand managers bury their heads in the sand to avoid addressing, Bodyform embraced as an opportunity to get a conversation, ahem, flowing in its community.

“We found Richard’s post very amusing and wanted to continue the positive dialogue around periods that this generated,” said Yulia Kretova, brand controller for Bodyform, in a statement. “…Breaking down the taboo around Bodyform and periods has always been a challenge, and I hope that we have started to address this.”
The result? Well, not only did it delight fans and followers, but the video went viral, and we’re still talking about it months later as a hilarious – and effective – example of engagement at its best.

While the saying “no publicity is bad publicity” will always be up for debate, there’s no denying that any kind of feedback – even negative – can be a major opportunity in social media to convert its loudest naysayers into its most fervent fans. And that’s something none of us should overlook – period.

A lesson in social media missteps: Advice for Amy’s Baking Company

o-AMYS-BAKING-COMPANY-facebookBy now most of us have heard of the recent social media meltdown by Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro owners, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo.

The Scottsdale-based couple was recently featured on an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” where, ultimately, the Bouzaglos were allegedly so difficult to work with that Ramsay fired them.

But what started as reality TV fodder unraveled into a crisis communications professional’s dream this past week, when they took to the company’s Facebook Page to respond to criticism and comments.

Instead of quelling the storm, however, the Bouzaglos only added more fuel to the fire. In their misguided attempts at defending their brand, they provoked exponentially more derision via comments on Reddit and negative reviews on Yelp.

The downward spiral continued (although many of the negative comments have been removed, highlights were documented in this Buzzfeed post) until Amy and Sam seemed ready to wave the white flag by declaring that their Facebook, Yelp, Twitter account, and website had been hacked.

But the next chapter of the saga started when, in an attempt to disassociate itself from the surrounding firestorm, the restaurant opened a new Facebook page and posted an update about the alleged hacking.

Strangely enough, though, the tone and content of the posts on the new page were very similar to the “hacked” comments on the original page. This has only incited further interest from Internet trolls who are still flocking to the page in droves (follower counts went from 2,800 to more than 100,000 at this writing) to follow the drama as it unfolds.

As the tirade continues to make news, many people are calling for the restaurant to close its doors. The incident has certainly sparked conversation amid the PR community about brands and how they handle social media, so we wanted to share a few takeaways on best practices for managing similar situations before they become a national debacle.

  1. Pick your battles. The Bouzaglos attempted to take on the entire Internet, it seems, by responding to every Facebook post and creating fake Reddit accounts to take on commenters there as well. Instead, had they prioritized and responded only to a select number, they could have avoided they angry mob that ensued.
  2. Don’t engage trolls. It’s a fact of our digital world that some people get their entertainment by being a thorn in others’ sides. Instead of feeding into this aggressive group, the Bouzaglos should have had the sense to step away and ignore these commenters, as nothing good comes from interacting with them.
  3. Keep a cool head. Online, as in real life, it’s a good rule of thumb to restrain yourself from knee-jerk reactions. Although the Bouzaglos were no doubt feeling attacked, defensive and angry, they would have done well to wait and let their emotions settle before resorting to name-calling, insults and other derogatory language. Remember, everything is permanent once it’s posted online.
  4. Finally, be honest…or be prepared to face the consequences. This is the golden rule of social media, PR and marketing. In the case of the alleged hacking, the last thing the Bouzaglos should have said was what they did: “Obviously our Facebook, YELP, Twitter and Website have been hacked. We are working with the local authorities as well as the FBI computer crimes unit to ensure this does not happen again. We did not post those horrible things. Thank You – Amy & Samy.” Consumers are very savvy and can sniff out the truth, so other brands would do well to heed this warning, as well.

Got any other words of wisdom for the Bouzaglos? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

What does a public relations agency do?

QuestionMarkNo, seriously! Perhaps you’ve come here looking for public relations help with your company or a job in the field, or maybe you simply stumbled across our blog (in that case, hello and welcome!). But either way, there’s a good chance you may find yourself asking that very question at one point or another.

And you’re not alone. There’s a reason we have a dedicated Facebook page about the fact that explaining what we do can be tough – even for us folks in the industry!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded questions from people about “ads” or “articles” at personal gatherings and family functions when the inevitable job topic arises. I don’t think I’ve ever described it the same way twice; the definition may start off the same, but it usually ends up taking different paths each time, based on the audience and the types of questions they’re asking.

And rather than give a tactical rundown of a ‘typical’ days’ worth of activities (e.g. writing a press release or pitch, tweeting, calling media contacts, brainstorming during a messaging session, monitoring client and competitor news), it’s oftentimes more effective to address the actual purpose of our job – meaning raising awareness, shaping a brand, influencing demand, generating leads, and much, much more.

So, inspired by a recent Forbes article on the topic, we decided to tackle the topic ourselves. See below for a sampling of some of the PerkettPR staff’s perspective on wrangling the ever-evolving definition of PR and what it is we’re doing here:

“One of my favorite quotes having to do with the definition of PR is from Reader’s Digest, attributed to M. Booth and Associates: “If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,’ that is advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that is promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that is publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it that is public relations.’ But even though this definition drives at the heart of PR, what we do encompasses a whole lot more than that!”

“On a daily basis our roles are ever-changing and hard to define – from media relations, crisis communications, social media, copywriting, event coordination, C-level strategy sessions, reputation management, videography, web design, customer service, infographic creation, etc. But the one constant is the overarching common thread between them that stays the same – the value we add by earning people’s attention though a thorough understanding of our audience(s), well-crafted stories and good old-fashioned communication skills.”

“Public relations is a form of marketing where I utilize my writing and communication skills to make the public understand my company’s product or technology. It is my job to spread the word about the product or technology in a positive way to keep customers coming back again and again.”

“When I started in this business, I thought of my job as creating awareness. And while I think that’s still true, the way we accomplish this has changed dramatically. Now I tend to think of PR as a form of content creation. Whether it’s creating news via press releases; visuals such as infographics or video; events like Twitter chats or Google Hangouts; or creating community via engagement across social channels; these efforts and the resulting content combine to create awareness for our clients. Regardless of how we define PR and the role agency plays, there’s no doubt we play an important part in our clients’ success directly and indirectly.”

“Defining PR is no easy feat – especially as its definition is constantly evolving. Good PR, however, is the process of building relationships, creating conversations, influencing the news while shaping a company’s brand perception. It’s how a company engages, discusses and fosters positive awareness with the right audience at the right time using the right medium. PR is powerful, and Bill Gate’s summed it up the best when he said, ‘If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.’”

Got anything to add to our descriptions of the PR function? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

The Article I Want to Read on PR

Yesterday morning I woke up to the same New York Times article that the rest of the PR industry did – although I had known that it was coming. Whenever there’s an article on our industry, it seems to cause a huge hoopla – I guess we’re not used to being the ones in the spotlight – so I suppose I would be remiss to not mention it. I sat on it for a day to decide what I wanted to say and I’ve concluded that I’m not going to give my assessment of the article or the PR strategy because a) that’s been done and b) we have a connection to one of the subjects in the article, Brooke Hammerling, in that we share a client and I wouldn’t want any of my comments to be misconstrued.

Instead, I’ll say here’s the article I would have rather read – or would like to see someone take the time to write – about PR. Let’s follow the next PR subject and his or her clients around for a good six months to a year. Let’s get past the launch phase and the initial hoopla (if done well), and watch how the PR team tackles strategy during the tougher times. Let’s follow a PR executive or firm that has to promote completely new concepts and companies, vs one that works for say, Facebook or Microsoft. And let’s see what else PR executives do besides “spin.”

Hell, let’s see if PR executives even know strategy, right? Michael Arrington says in his post on the subject that we (PR executives) just “Smile, Dial, Name Drop and Pray,” that we’re “frustrated by always being in the back seat” and that we’re just “there to spin whatever happened in the most favorable light possible.” Jason Calacanis has said in the past that anyone can do it and you should fire your PR firm. Robert Scoble says in his post that “PR companies haven’t figured out yet that the traffic has moved onto social networks and that journalists and influencers are watching those like a hawk.”

First of all, some of us have, Robert, and have likewise been involved in these social networks for years. Secondly, these are all yet again sweeping statements – sparked by the moves of one PR person and then applied to the whole of our industry. They are also very focused on one thing: coverage. Even if Ms. Hammerling’s strategy was to leave the tech blogs out and instead garner online mentions from the “Who’s Who” of tech, the story still began with “Ms. Hammerling, while popping green apple Jolly Ranchers into her mouth, suggests a press tour…” And anytime bloggers and reporters seem to assess the PR industry, the viewpoints usually only take into account only that one element of what our job is – and that one thing that happens to be what they do for a living: writing on and assessing products, services and companies (and I include blogs in that).

But let’s remember – I’ve said it before – PR is so much more than media coverage – it’s more than promoting a product or service. It’s more than pitching and praying, smiling and dialing or spinning and dancing. And it’s much, much more than name dropping. (Just for the record, I’ve never been much of a name dropper – I know the right people to reach when it’s important and if I don’t, I’ll quickly find out – and I seem to be doing “ok.” As I have written in the past, my approach is not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – journalists or otherwise. The “meaningful” way is what traditional PR agencies are struggling with – it doesn’t exactly fit the “process, repeat” model of yesteryear that likely sparks comments such as Arrington’s “smile and dial” assessment.)

Arrington is right when he says PR executives aren’t who a CEO calls “when wondering what she should do next to drive her business forward.” However, to imply that we as an industry do not influence our clients’ “strategic actions”at all is inaccurate. In fact, we do help to shape the directions of some business decisions based on what we believe the communications outcome or impact will be. We have helped to name companies, products, events and even product categories. We very carefully think about timing – and influence business actions based on it and a host of other elements. We help tongue-tied entrepreneurs to better communicate not only with customers or partners, but with  media, analysts, employees and even VCs. To focus on media coverage or “influencer” tours – or just this one PR strategy from Ms. Hammerling – as “the new world of promoting start-ups” is telling only part of the story.

So again, I’d love to someday see a real analysis of the PR industry – more than a press tour, more than a product launch, more than a stereotypical pretty blonde executive working the room at a trade show. How about the daily life of a PR executive handling both small start ups and major corporations – and how the PR strategy for each not only exists, but entails much more than reaching out to media and bloggers, and how such strategies for each type of client varies greatly. And I’d prefer that the story show different types of PR executives so we don’t end up with another Lizzie Grubman MTV-style show representing our entire industry.