Crisis Managment for Regular Joes

Anyone who has worked in public relations for any significant length of time has had to deal with a difficult client at some point. Perhaps you had the client who didn’t understand why you can’t just call a press conference for no reason. Maybe you had the client who wants to be the spokesperson for their new anti-aging cream – and they obviously look like they need to use it. On the other hand, maybe you represented a client who found himself or herself in the hot seat because of some scandal.

There are many sources and opinions out there on how to handle a crisis, but it seems that most of these focus on the corporate environment such as this article from Bernstein Crisis Management. Where is the advice for helping individuals, the average Joes, who find themselves in the middle of a media firestorm?

This week, a former student of mine made headlines as the new teacher who posed for Playboy in college. She was 18 at the time and now, as a 21-year-old first year Spanish teacher, it seems her career is already over after just five weeks even though what she did was legal and occurred almost three years prior to her employment. Fresh out of college with no PR firm or attorney to represent her, it seems she has no one to turn to for crisis management.

All of this got me thinking about public relations for regular people. As industry professionals, we constantly examine crisis management case studies in business, nonprofits and the occasional public figure. Where is the advice for the average Joe who suddenly finds themselves thrust into the spotlight? Most people have no media training and no idea how journalists think so they don’t know how to react. Then I came across this article from Epic PR and it gave me some inspiration.

  1. Don’t make excuses. If you know what you did was questionable then own up to it. Take responsibility for your actions without saying anything incriminating. This is not the same as admitting guilt. In a situation like with this teacher where the truth is unavoidable, there is no point in denying it. Just acknowledge it with a bit of contriteness, sincerity and understanding.
  2. Be proactive. If you can’t stop the negative attention, take the wind out of their sails a bit by eliminating the need for reporters to dig for the truth. This means that you should develop a short, honest, thoughtful statement for the media that will hopefully diffuse their need to dig into your personal life. The last thing you need is for people with strong research skills exposing or exploiting every detail of your life that they think is relevant. When they call you at home or confront you in a parking lot, a thoughtfully prepared answer is better than “no comment.”
  3. Make social media work for you. You may not have a PR team at your disposal, but you can be your own advocate. In situations like this, reporters love to dig into social media for clues so use it to present your side of the story, clear up any misconceptions, and protect your image. Start with Twitter, then Facebook, because these will help you keep it brief. If the situation is more complicated or requires a longer response, try blogging a brief statement or make a short video (keep it between 1-3 minutes). Notice I keep saying brief. Seriously – less is more. Today’s reporters LOVE using a tweet or post in their reports and sound bites are the norm. Just remember than anything you say “can and will be used against you” in the court of public opinion – and the HR office or unemployment line.
  4. Wait for it to blow over. Now that you’ve done what you can to minimize the media frenzy, it’s time to lay low and keep your mouth shut. Don’t post anything else to social media. You’ve said what needs to be said, so now you are on radio silence. Don’t respond to comments below the online story or get into arguments with Internet trolls. Be cautious about text messages and stay out of the public eye for a while.
  5. Accept the inevitable. Like my former student above, you probably won’t be able to save your job even if you didn’t break any laws or rules. Accept it and move on. It may not be fair (hell, it probably isn’t) but don’t let it consume you or make you bitter. Use this as an opportunity to explore your options, strengthen personal relationships and focus on your future.

Just because you made the news today does NOT mean your life is over! Handle the situation with as much dignity, grace and class as you can manage and don’t let your emotions (especially anger) get the best of you. It may be embarrassing and it may cost you your job, but you don’t want to add fuel to the fire by running your mouth or making it worse. You can overcome this and may even come out better on the other side.

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It’s Just Lunch

business-lunch-close-up_pan_17147We all know the importance of networking, but too often we ignore the opportunities that are right in front of us or completely bumble it with mistakes. In the last four months alone, I’ve been to more networking events than I can even count. As public relations professionals or marketers, it’s important that we get out of our offices and meet as many other people as possible. Who knows where it could lead?

One of my favorite ways to network is at a luncheon. Typically held at hotels, high end restaurants and country clubs, these meetings usually have good food, impeccable service, and offer a good way to build relationships and learn something valuable from the keynote speaker during your lunch hour. I’m lucky in that my boss is a big believer in networking so it usually costs me nothing, not even tip. Free lunch, new people, posh environments, and professional development – what’s not to love?

But to the uninitiated, there are certain codes and unspoken rules to follow if you want to make that connection and build relationships. Here are 10 simple rules to follow to make your next luncheon a success:

  1.  Put down the phone. You are here to network and you can’t do that if you are playing Candy Crush, trolling Facebook or checking email. When you walk in, your phone should be put away and on silent (not vibrate). Your job is to meet people so say something. If appropriate, you can pull it out later to live tweet the keynote presentation (another way to meet people in the room at other tables).
  2. Don’t be a wallflower. If everyone is already engaged in conversation, here is what you do. Mill around listening for an interesting conversation. Then, mosey your way up to one that sounds interesting. Listen first and as you step closer and closer until you are making eye contact with the participants. This lets them see that you are joining them without interrupting. Wait for a pause and say something relevant. Boom! You are in and shaking hands with at least three people!
  3. Sit with people you don’t know. Mingle, talk, and keep your eye out for a lively group to sit with. Don’t sit with the people who rushed to pick out seats first and have been looking lonely ever since, and don’t be that person either. Don’t sit with people you came with or people you know too well UNLESS they are sitting at a table full of people you want to be introduced to. Sitting with people from your department or at a table full of people you already know means you miss out on new people. You can, however, sit with someone that you’ve met once or twice before and use this as a chance to get to know them better.
  4. Listen. Don’t dominate the conversation and don’t make sales pitches. This isn’t about you and what you have to offer; it’s about making connections and building relationships. Listen to what they say. They may have something that you need or vice versa and that’s an opportunity to build a mutually beneficial relationship down the road that could lead to something important.
  5. Be likeable. Be friendly but not too personal. Nobody needs to hear about your divorce or your grandma’s hip surgery. Be funny but not offensive. Save your raunchy jokes for your friends. Don’t talk politics or religion. Voicing your opinions about the president or something controversial is a sure fire way to piss off at least half the table. Don’t badmouth anyone or any company because you never know who knows who. Be polite, gracious, and somewhat reserved. Need I say more?
  6. Mind your manners. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with food in your mouth. Say please and thank you. Start with the outside fork and work your way in. Don’t be a glutton or ask for seconds. And don’t complain about the food, service, location or presentation. Your mama raised you right – act like it!
  7. Always have business cards, but... wait and see how everyone else handles them. I’ve been to some luncheons where nobody handed out business cards at all, which seems like a waste to me. Other luncheons provide a contact list for everyone in attendance. Just don’t whip them out right away or give them to every single person you meet or you look too desperate. Wait until after you’ve talked to someone and then decide whether to offer one or not. If someone offers you one, take it and offer one in return. Keep a pen handy and jot a quick note on the back to remind yourself who that person is and how you met them. If it’s someone you want to follow up with, make another mark or fold the corner as a reminder.
  8. Connect on social media. Go to LinkedIn first. This is where you should be building your professional network. When you send the connection message, make it personal. Follow them on Twitter or add them to a Twitter list and engage with them. Do not add them to Facebook. These people are not your friends and your political, religious, or funny posts may be offensive to them – not a good way to start. Besides, do you really want them seeing those Spring Break or bachelor party pictures you keep “forgetting” to take down?
  9. Follow up. Send an email or call them on the phone. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them and say something personal so they know you aren’t spamming them. Offer to have lunch or coffee, ask for a specific date range (next week) and be specific about why you want to meet. “Your in-house photography studio sounds really amazing and we are considering a photo shoot soon. How about lunch next week and a tour?” or “You mentioned you needed some help with social media. Why don’t we meet for coffee on Thursday and talk about it more?” This gives a clear agenda and allows the other person to choose a time or place without the full burden of making plans.
  10. Add connections to your database. You should be keeping a database of connections that you can add to your mailing list or newsletter list. Add them to it with the option to opt out. This can help build your network and keep you fresh in their mind.

Most importantly – get back out there! Try to go to one luncheon per month and see how much that expands your network. It’s not that hard. With a little courage, a few business cards, some table manners and professional etiquette, you are well on your way to building a wide network of connections. Remember that in public relations it’s not about who you know; it’s who knows YOU.

Parents Just Don’t Understand PR

Parents Just Don't UnderstandIn a recent poll on LinkedIn, public relations ranked as the 7th most confusing job for parents to understand. That’s not surprising to any PR professional or student. We are all too familiar with the glassy-eyed, open-mouth blank stare that occurs anytime we try and explain what it is we do. Comments like “Oh, you just play on Facebook all day” or “So are you on TV?” are commonplace. Perhaps that’s why LinkedIn is sponsoring a “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” on Nov. 7 in 14 different countries.

But it looks like we are in good company. The top 10 most misunderstood jobs, with the highest percentage of parents who aren’t confident in their ability to describe the job, are:

  1. UI Designer (82%)
  2. Data scientist (63%)
  3. Social media manager (59%)
  4. Actuary (59%)
  5. Sociologist (53%)
  6. Sub editor (51%)
  7. PR manager (42%)
  8. Investment banker (41%)
  9. Radio producer (39%)
  10. Software developer (34%)

When I was an undergrad PR student, my dad was convinced that I wasn’t pursuing a “real” profession and constantly hounded me to get a teaching certificate as a backup. I completely ignored him until two years after graduation when I needed a job – and became an English teacher. Oh, the irony!

albert-einstein-physicist-if-you-cant-explain-it-simply-you-dont-understand-it

Eight years later when I decided to return to PR and go to grad school, I found myself once again trying to explain the field of public relations, except now it included the world of social media. I tried to explain the industry as best as I could, but 20 minutes into my definition my mother cut me off mid-sentence to ask me if I wanted something to eat. I had obviously lost her.

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The fact that my mother had no idea what I was talking about after 20 minutes just proved how difficult it is to understand our industry. PRSA finally decided to update their definition to a simpler model but that didn’t seem to help much.

I started thinking about what it is we do, but soon it dawned on me that the only thing our parents care about is knowing how we make a living so they can rest assured that we won’t be mooching off of them forever. So here it is in terms that any parent can understand:

  1. We write all the time. We write about virtually any topic and sound like a credible authority on the subject. We write for a variety of audiences, taking into account political correctness, cultural sensitivities and the standard writing conventions for the media we are utilizing. If we work for an agency, we could write about heart attack symptoms, public transportation, hamburgers and telecommunications all in the same day and sound like we know what we are talking about. That means we spend a lot of time reading, researching and verifying facts in addition to editing and proofreading everyone else’s work.
  2. We work in every industry. The best thing about working in PR is knowing that we can work in any industry we want. We represent Fortune 500 companies, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools, energy and gas companies, nonprofits, religious groups, politics, human resources – you name the industry and somewhere is a PR job.
  3. We are planners. We always think ahead, strategically planning our next move. We advise caution and push to take risks. We gamble sometimes and play it safe other times. But we never make a move without a well-thought out plan of action and an even more thoughtful response to the “just in case” moments.
  4. We are rarely, if ever, on TV. Sure, some higher profile PR people are on TV regularly but they are the 1%. The majority of us will never see camera time and very few of us will ever see our name in the byline. That’s because our job is to make other people look good. We coach them for their TV interviews. We write the press releases and pitch the stories that someone else is going to write or produce and take credit for.
  5. We are NOT liars and spin doctors. We keep the public informed through other people’s voices sharing the words we spoon fed them. Our messages are designed to put them in the best light, of course, but we don’t lie and or act unethically. Those who do are the minority and there are always a few bad apples.

Remembering 9/11

It’s been 12 years since that fateful day and although we all swore we would never forget, apparently that’s exactly what some people want. Because of the delicate nature of this tragic event, it is becoming more and more apparent that brands need to be more sensitive than ever to avoid damaging their reputation. Kevin Allen for PR Daily wrote a piece this week on this exact topic and how so many brands were either praised or criticized for their tributes.

The most notable “mistake” came from AT&T when they tweeted this:

ATTtweets1

At first glance, it may seem innocent enough. But the phone in question is the new Blackberry Z10 and their “tribute” came across as a full blown advertisement instead. An article by Dale Buss for Forbes put it into perspective.  “If Nike tweeted a photo making it seem as if the twin beams were holding up the latest basketball shoe, or an auto brand imagined the tribute lights as the piercing LED headlights of a swanky luxury car pointing heavenward, those images clearly would have been beyond the pale.”

AT&T took the photo down quickly and issued these apology tweets:

ATTtweets

Other brands used similar tactics or images but without the shameless product placement. But if we think about it, isn’t any mention some form of self promotion? In articles from Mashable and Digiday, writers argued that “the most respectful thing a brand could do would be to not say anything at all.” This is especially true if your brand has no connection to the events of that day. Exceptions were made, however, for brands that played an important role in the events of 9/11 like the Red Cross.

RedCrosstweet

Many brands just made use of the hashtag #neverforget but some of the favorites seem to be from brands like Sherwin Williams or Canon USA who chose to not tweet at all.

SW-Canon-tweet

So what can we learn from this?

  1. Be sincere and authentic in whatever message you send. Keep it short and sweet or just let the image speak for itself.
  2. Don’t use this as a promotional opportunity. That means no brands, no products, and no self promotion.
  3. Check your reasons for posting. If you think you have to tweet or post to Facebook just because everyone else is, then you’ve already failed the test.
  4. Silence is golden. When in doubt, don’t say anything. The chances of backlash are much smaller if your brand stays quiet.

For a more in-depth look, check out this video on the twitter fails of the day:

Blurred Lines of PR

No, this isn’t another post analyzing and rehashing the details and controversy surrounding Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke. I think we can all agree that it’s time to move on to something else – anything else. The blurred lines I’m talking about are the lines between public relations, marketing, advertising and digital media. Just googling the phrase “lines between public relations” brings up 273 million choices and just the first page alone offers a selection of articles asking the same question.

First, there is the line between public relations and advertising. PR Daily ran an op-ed suggesting that “the PR industry today looks an awful lot like advertising” because modern day PR practitioners no longer need third-party validation – they can bypass traditional media and go straight to the source.

Then there is the line between public relations and marketing. Frank Strong from Sword and the Script penned a piece suggesting that although their tactics are different, marketing is actually becoming more like PR by seeking third-party credibility in form of link-building and other SEO strategies.

Then you have social media – where the hell does that fit in? Is it a PR function, a marketing strategy, advertising or something else entirely? Look at what Oreo did during the Superbowl. PR bloggers everywhere praised Oreo for their brilliant strategy, but that moment of brilliance actually came from a digital marketing firm – not the PR department – a firm that was then named a 2013 best place to work by AdAge. Can the lines get any more blurry?

For decades, PR execs have struggled to have their voices heard and to earn a seat at the table, seats that their advertising and marketing colleagues had long since secured. And after all that, now advertising and marketing wants to act more like public relations because the advent of social media and the decline of traditional media has changed the way audiences receive messages and perceive brands.

Traditional advertising and marketing strategies were a one-way communication method where the brand’s image and message was pushed onto consumers against their will. Social media turned those channels around and allowed the audiences to give unfettered, and initially in many circles, unwelcomed feedback about those same products and services. This change made it imperative that advertising and marketing departments rethink their strategies and adopt new methods for fostering trust, strengthening relationships and building their brands. And there, waiting in the wings like always, were the public relations professionals who already understood the importance of communicating and understanding their audiences.

Now the lines are blurred more than ever before with ambiguous terms like “content marketing” and “thought leadership” and “social media marketing” – terms that could easily apply to PR, marketing or advertising. The good news is that now we are have secured our seat at the table and people are listening, but which department is really calling the shots now? Our titles are already becoming more broad as a result, titles like Data Storyteller, Mobile Marketing Jedi or Truth Engineer. It might not be long before there are no lines at all instead of the blurred lines of today.

 

Facebook for Babies?

When Facebook was conceived in 2004, the idea was to create an online community where people could get to know their peers a little bit better and allow us to keep in touch with people we barely knew. Over the years it evolved into a digital projection of our lives, the place where we share everything including our relationships, adventures, what we ate for dinner, our daily prayers, political rants, and how we feel about rush-hour traffic. In short, it has transformed from a place to brag about how awesome our lives were as young adults to the ultimate source for over-sharing the mundane details of our exceedingly boring grown up lives.

Through Facebook we have celebrated each other’s weddings, birth announcements, promotions and other personal achievements as they are posted on our Timelines, but now one of these trends has taken an interesting turn. Recently, some parents have decided that it is not enough to simply post pictures of their new baby for all the world to see. Instead, they have decided to create a Facebook account for their baby. That’s right – the baby has his/her own account.

We’ve seen this with pets before. I am even guilty of signing my two dogs up on Dogbook, a Facebook app that gives your dogs their own profile and allows them to connect with other dogs through their owners or even by joining a breed group. I was surprised to find that there were five other chiweenies (that’s a chihuahua/weenie dog hybrid) other than my own, but what did they really have to say? It was funny for about five minutes and then I was done with it.

But Facebook for babies? Really? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the Tumblr and Twitter accounts for babies and pets and some of them are pretty funny. One of my favorites is @HollyBasset, a basset hound with a pretty snarky sense of humor and a higher Klout score than me, which I find kinda depressing. But even Holly Basset doesn’t have a Facebook account.

According to an article on The Next Web, a recent study by AVG, the Internet security firm, 5 percent of babies under the age of two have their own Facebook account, 7 percent have an email address and 23 percent of fetuses had a sonogram picture posted online. And according to CNN, 92 percent of babies in the U.S. have an online presence through a variety of sites.

When I was pregnant last year, I gave this a lot of thought and I could see why someone might do this. On one hand, it could be considered quite practical for someone who doesn’t want to pollute the news feed with daily pictures and risk annoying everyone they know who doesn’t care about their baby. There are even apps like Unbaby.me that can remove the unwanted baby pictures from your news feed. (If one of your friends is so annoyed with pictures of your child that they feel the need to replace it with pictures of bacon and kittens, then perhaps you should reconsider why they are your friend.)

On the other hand, it has potential to be even more annoying and encourage over-sharing of things that could be potentially mortifying to the child as they grow up. At what age do you stop posting? When they are 3, 7, 15? And what do you do with it at that point? Do you sign it over to your kid and let them manage it or do you delete the account and the years of recorded history you built along the way?

Even more importantly, could any of those pictures be damaging later on to the child? I was one who proudly showcased my sonogram pictures and nursery decorations, but I had my limits. One of my hard limits was that I refused to post sonogram pictures that proved I was having a boy. Even though he was in utero and the pictures looked more like a doppler weather radar from the 1970s, I had a big issue with posting pictures that potentially showed my baby boy’s junk before he was even in this world. I know some people who have gone so far as to post adorable naked baby pictures and disgusting dirty diaper pictures, but how will that affect them down the road.

We have already learned our lessons the hard way that what we put on Facebook can come back to bite us in the butt and can even adversely affect our careers. So why would we risk doing this to our children before they even have a say in the matter? Maybe I’m over-thinking the issue but I’m not the only one.

Tell me what you think:  Do you think that creating a Facebook account for a baby is okay or not?

Other links:
Facebook for Babies: A Generation Growing Up Online 
NYTimes:  Making Facebook Less Infantile

Blogging Basics

Nothing will kill a the spirit of a blogger quite like having the grade the blogs of 120 student bloggers. Ugh. Now you know why I haven’t written a blog in months.

For the past two semesters, I have been working as a TA for the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. In the senior level PR communications course, the 32 students were required to create their own blog site and write weekly about something related to PR, branding and/or social media. I originally started this very blog as a student in that same course a year ago.

In the social media course, taught by the same professor, the 80 students were required to post bi-weekly to the Eagle Strategies class blog. Posts were mostly about social media including new or changing platforms and the occasional corporate mishap, like the Applebee’s waitress fiasco or the Burger King Twitter hack.

Sometimes reading and evaluating these can be a real chore. Most of the students are first time bloggers and very few of them have ever run a professional blog. Despite this though, some of them wrote some really fantastic, entertaining and thought-provoking blogs. But through it all, we all learned the basics of business blogging as it relates to public relations. Here are a few takeaways from the student blogging experience:

  • Make your blog visually appealing.  We constantly reiterated that blogs should appeal to the visual nature of the readers. Pictures and videos are always a good thing, but they aren’t always necessary. When dealing with just text, try to use bullets, numbers, bold text, block quotes or short paragraphs to make the text easier to follow. 
  • Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are vital but AP Style isn’t everything.  A blog, by its very nature, is supposed to be more relaxed and conversational so the rules of AP Style don’t have to be followed quite as closely. But thanks to budget cuts in newsrooms across the nation, GSP mistakes are more and more prevalent in the media – especially in their online versions. It’s no wonder that students don’t understand the importance of correct grammar because they see professionals making mistakes every single day! Some rules still stand though. Internet is always capitalized. Alot still is not a word. Most of them made drastic improvements while a few stubbornly clung to their own “creative” style.
  • Be original. Be different. If something big happened in pop culture, I knew I had at least a dozen of the same blogs to look forward to. I read so many blogs about the Manti Te’o controversy and the Carnival Triumph that I thought my eyeballs would start bleeding. The worst part is that none of them sounded original or different. It was just the same driveling recap and the same boring commentary. Was there nothing else to write about? If you are writing about something that you know others will write about, look for a different angle or give a fresh perspective that makes YOURS the one people want to read. 
  • Find your niche. If your have a passion for music and love branding, then write about branding bands and musicians. If you love social media, then write about the latest platforms and how they work for the industry. If your heart bleeds for nonprofits, then write about fundraising and messaging tactics. If you love thrift store shopping, then write about the best deals you found. Whatever your professional or personal interests may be, keep your blog focused to set yourself up as an authority on the subject.
Now that this is all over, I can focus on my own blogging and put what I preach into practice.