Posts Tagged ‘communications’

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

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.

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


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