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“Disney-fying” Your Story

18 December 2010 1 comment

Walt Disney World and Disneyland parks are often called “The Happiest Places on Earth,” however if you ask many of Disney’s detractors they’d say that Disney’s marketing just tells a good story. Regardless of how you view Disney (I personally am a huge fan), you should grab your Moleskein or netbook and take a trip to either park for a couple of days to take notes and learn how to “Disney-fy” how you tell stories.

When I talk about “Disney-fying” your story, I’m not talking about making a simple story, I mean think about how to create a more immersive story, using multiple media, online and offline, community development and more.

I was watching a special on Disney World when I started writing this piece. The show was describing the Disney Animal Kingdom’s Everest Ride, and how the “story” behind the ride started long before you arrived at the ride – it started as soon as you entered the “village” area for the ride, with posters about the yeti being shown on screen, and how the little shops, food areas, etc around the ride had elements about the yeti and the Nepalese mentality of “forbidden areas” around mountains that are believed to have yeti. These elements gave more of an “asian flavor” to the ride, giving it more background and depth than just another basic rollercoaster ride. (Think of your messages in this way, what can you do to provide more information or depth to your message – going beyond just having another message to tell.)

When you visit one of the Disney theme parks there are a myriad of stories being told beyond the obvious “Walt Disney” story. Far too often people are rushing around to really let the stories sink in with them, and if your communication efforts aren’t ready to meet the challenge of connecting people, they’ll rush away before your message resonates with them. (regardless of if it’s a sales message, a communication message, or a community building message)

This also goes to show you that you the importance of having people knowledgeable about storytelling and the elements of your organization, people who can’t fake this interest and knowledge, engaging with your audience in these multiple media. How do these elements work together, how do you play on their various strengths to tell your story?

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PR Tips: What Should NFL Players do in 2011?

11 December 2010 Leave a comment

The ending of the 2010 NFL season is quickly coming upon us.  Not soon enough for those of who are Bills fans.  And while the usual suspects are once again at the top of the league, when next August rolls around there is a strong chance that the players and owners will be at an impasse as to how to address the issues of player contracts, etc.

We’re on the edge of a lockout/strike, the two words that are going to be bandied about back and forth between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.  Athletes in previous strikes were not quiet about what they felt they had earned because of their skills and started talking on camera, and then lost any public support they had in their negotiations.

As an academic exercise, I’ve been thinking about what the players should do given the media storm that will start up as soon as the season ends.  Below are a few PR tips, this is not a complete list, but a starting point for a discussion.

  1. Take some time off – I know it’s going to be hard for you to understand, but don’t seek out the camera.  Let your agent, or better yet an actual PR professional (not one of your peeps) handle the media questions.  Eventually a player is going to say something that’s taken out of context that will hurt the negotiations between your representatives and the owners.
  2. Create one simple command message to give the media when you are asked: “To all of our fans, we are incredibly sorry that the owners have decided to lock us out and forfeit the 2011 season. We look forward to when we can be back out on the field entertaining all of you.”
    1. Period. That’s it. No discussion of the owners, their vast oceans of cash, their personal hygiene habits, the fact that they talk with their mouths full at dinner, or how that magic jumpsuit has been able to keep Al Davis alive after being clinically dead for so long.
  3. This is going to be hard for a lot of NFL players who are used to being the center of attention, but don’t talk about the lockout – period. Go back to the talking statement above, “We are sorry about…”
  4. Take a tip from the recent “Digital Death” campaign, get away from the social media a bit more.  I’m not saying stay off of it, but you’re going to be asked about the lockout, what your feelings are, why “rich, spoiled athletes are ruining the game we love so much,” etc. Don’t fall for the bait.
  5. Be seen in the community.  Not the community of sycophantic peeps that you’ve created around you, but your actual community.  What causes do you believe in (animal rights, poverty, education, etc)?  Why not dedicate some time helping your community out – above and beyond what the NFL appears to mandate you do. It’s a great way to build goodwill in the community, and it’s something you might want to start on now.
  6. I might have mentioned this already, but DO NOT COMMENT ON THE NEGOTIATIONS!  The owners realize that if they hang together, and don’t comment on the lockout outside of official spokespeople, that eventually one of the players is going to say something stupid (remember the NBA lockout? Latrell Sprewell I believe said something to the effect of “I have to feed my family, I need my millions.”)
  7. Each team is supposed to have one player represent them in the NFL Players Association. If anyone needs to speak for a team’s roster, let it be these players.
  8. This is possibly the worst economic time to negotiate from, the fans are not going to support you as much as you think because while you and the owners are fighting over a big pile of cash, fans are going to be busy trying to find jobs, to keep their family in their house, to pay for their kids education. And the owners are going to play the “greedy players” card on top of this.
  9. At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game – There are 32 team owners against hundreds of players. The odds of who will crack first and say something stupid to the media are slimmer for the owners than it is for the players.  It requires more than a bit of mindfulness on your part as an NFL player, but remember these tips in the upcoming negotiation period if you want a better chance of keeping the public on your side.
Categories: Football, public relations

Play to Your Strengths

Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?

I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.

This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question.  The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.

When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.

PR Firms as “News Stations?”

10 March 2010 1 comment

(crossposted at PR Open Mic)

Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.

Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog.  It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.

Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?

  • It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
  • With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
  • Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
  • Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
  • Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.

And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)

Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?

PR is not a four-letter word

26 January 2010 1 comment

Note: This is an edited transcript of a Google Wave exchange between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications (http://will.crosscutcommunications.com) and Benson Hendrix, author of Net News 54 (http://bensonhendrix.com/about/), a blog about new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Several times in the last couple of years, we’ve been asked to present to budding communications students to give them an overview of the world of public relations. We have both been struck that their perception seems to be that public relations as an industry is equivalent to “spin.” We’re not naive. We know there’s a reason that PR people have been called “flaks,” and we know there’s a reason that shows like “Mad Men” continue to capture the popular imagination. Still, we thought we were past all that. We’re both huge fans of PRSA’s code of ethics, and in our experience, the PR industry is conscientious about doing the right thing. We’re both former passionate journalists who believe that PR has a vital role to play in modern organizations. Here’s part of the conversation we’ve been having on the subject.

Will: My theory is that PR is like legal representation–we’re all entitled to a vigorous defense within ethical bounds. That’s our system. But many of the people I talk with seem to feel the world exists in black and white, as though each situation has one “right” and one “wrong” answer. When I try to explain that situations are intricate and that the best PR people work to ensure that organizations are communicating everything they should be to their multiple publics, I see blank faces. I try to point out that all of us, every one, makes choices about how to present him or herself each day. We choose our words, our clothes, what to post on our Facebook pages, how to sit in a class or walk down the street. We are constantly choosing what to communicate. People seem to have a very hard time separating conscious communication from malicious manipulation. They tend to forget we’re all using these techniques every day.

Benson: One of my greatest concerns about public relations is that we as PR professionals are all too often seen as “spinners” by members of the C-Suite. This is a view that has been perpetuated on the profession not only by members of the media, including some memorable rants from Rachel Maddow – comparing one PR firm to “The PR Firm Hell Would Hire” – but also by a minority of public relations professionals who are beyond willing to please their bosses. There are firms willing to do what is necessary, and usually those same firms specialize in taking on clients whose public personas are seen as less than positive (see Wal-Mart, oil industry, nuclear industry, etc.). (And now to contradict myself, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. These companies can stand behind a record of providing jobs, bringing in money, etc., to a local community–if it’s true. When they get into problems is when they say these things without actually doing it, in the hope that the PR team can “spin the facts.”)

One of the main tenets of Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda” is to not sell a product, but to sell the need for a product. Following up on that idea, good public relations professionals try to sell causes, ideas and concepts that might impact a person’s beliefs, instead of selling a group, or just a cause, etc.

Will: Perhaps it’s that our society is gravitating as a whole toward polarizing platforms. A world of “American Idol,” a world communicated in 140-character bursts, doesn’t have a lot of room for acknowledging that nuance is essential, that the “truth” is an intersection of multiple viewpoints, each of which must be clear and critical.

Or maybe it’s that we’re all so conscious of the controlled and mediated nature of communications that we want to dislike anyone who acknowledges it and calls attention to the fact. Maybe PR–as, ironically, one of the most upfront institutions when it comes to its motivations–occupies an important space as something we can point to and say, “We are not that.” We’re not so hyperattentive to our personas that almost any image we can project is by definition manufactured and, thus, largely impersonal.

Benson: Another reason could be that most people don’t realize the impact that public relations efforts have had in their day-to-day lives. Have you ever signed a petition for a politician? What about called in to a talk radio show on behalf of a cause? These are but two tactics that PR pros helped craft into the effective tools you see today. Many non-profits, especially non-profits that advocate, have taken cues and clues for effective communications strategy from public relations efforts of the past. In fact, later this month there will be a big communications conference for progressive non-profits (some of which don’t really realize how PR has impacted their groups).

How the public personally views each of these industries should be less of a concern for PR people (because for every person opposing a site like WIPP, there’s another in favor of the jobs it brings to the area). What should be a bigger concern for PR professionals is the ongoing view that we are nothing more than cleanup. Perhaps a future role for PR professionals is to go beyond PR and into Corporate Social Management, looking at the best moves for a company to make before they make them.

Will: Great points, Benson. In the executive MBA program at UNM, we spent a fair part of the program studying corporate social responsibility, which is heartening. Cultures change very slowly, but at least things are changing. Communications as a management objective is creeping closer to the C-suite. And fortunately, part of what managers are learning now is to look for a certain level of professionalism when they’re hiring public and community relations staff. I know you had mentioned recently that we’re seeing a lot of unskilled agents creeping onto the scene.

Benson: That really is another problem we in PR have been dealing with–the tendency for anyone to say “I’m a publicist” after watching 4 episodes of Entourage or Arliss, and the unwillingness of people who represent PR (either in PRSA or “stand-up guy” PR practitioners) to call out these faux-publicists when they do something wrong. I’ve heard stories about PRSA wanting to institute a “licensure” test for people to conduct PR professionally, but I don’t see that happening. Because unlike practicing law or medicine, you can’t stop people from getting in front of a camera and talking, regardless of how they sound.

Conclusion: What do you think of when you think of public relations? What does the industry do well, and what could it do better? Thank you for reading.

When Bloggers Attack – Swinging Back

15 December 2009 Leave a comment

I love working in social media – blogging, podcasting, video work, social networking and more.  All of them give you ample opportunity to interact with others. Sometime for good, and other times you’ll find you or your organization getting blasted by a blogger, content creator or just a plain old curmudgeon.

While many people in social media, a lot of whom are incredibly knowledgeable, and many communications officers feel that your organization should “rise above” any kind of crossing swords with people online who are attacking you, I wish to disagree. There is a line in the sand where you should be willing to kill any detractors with kindness (always remember to be understanding and offer the honey-laden olive branch as much as possible) but once that line is crossed you should be able to respond factually, forcefully and passionately.

Many social media peeps, especially when looking at business social media, will tell you to keep your statements and content as even-keel as possible. You never want to engage in mud throwing or flame wars. I agree with them on this, but where we might diverge a little bit is my opinion that when your organization is being attacked, possibly unfairly, by online peeps who are unwilling to look at facts, or try to skew facts to match a caricature they created to attack your organization.  Then these are the times when you will need to stand up, use the facts as your sword and shield, and call out your detractors.

This isn’t an open call to start flame wars and a rousing round of “nanny nanny boo boo.” Keep your responses slightly snarky (maybe a little more. Remember that you want to keep a little bit of a bite to them). They need to be classy, but sharp as a razor’s edge. You want to remind your opposition that if they want to misquote you, or tweak facts to match a false claim, that you are going to repeatedly respond by throwing high and inside.

Look at how various political campaigns ran their social media outlets during the 2008 and upcoming 2010 campaigns. They brought in bloggers who already had followers, but more importantly were passionate about their candidate’s stands (or, let’s be honest, became passionate about their positions once they started receiving a check) and were willing to stand up for them. In addition, Barack Obama’s campaign built online tools from scratch to help foster their community of supporters.

Balancing the Playing Field

If your organization is going to have “what it takes” to respond to online attacks this way, you need to have a CEO who has the spine to understand that for a short while, the attacks might intensify as your opposition tries to determine how far you will go before folding.  In order for this to work, you have to be willing to repeatedly defend your position with this idea of “classy passion.” Again, humor is one of your best weapons here.

Look at what the Obama White House is doing right now with FOX News, they are repeatedly responding to FOX News when they believe facts are in error.   For a while the peeps on FOX News were calling it the “War on Fox,” or some such thing.

There used to be a saying that you never go to war with people who buy ink by the barrel or tape by the yard.  Meaning it was never in your best interest to cross swords with people who run the media, because they can come after you day after day for any perceived slight.  That used to be true, but with the advances in social media, social networking (for audience building) and online communications you suddenly have the tools to create your own media outlet to respond, “balancing the playing field” more in your favor.

Being the old rugger I am, I’ll leave you with this analogy. While you want to play cleanly as much as possible, and give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ve found that one of the best ways to stop someone from throwing punches in the ruck is a good, old-fashioned cleat rake every so often.

Random Thoughts

These are some random thoughts that hit me when I was walking the dog last night.  I hope you find some of them useful.  I’m pondering which of them to expand on as upcoming blogs posts.

  1. “Fact Vomit” stories
    1. For Buddha’s sake, New Media and social media outlets have given you the opportunity to write and present your information creatively and with conviction. Take advantage of it!  Don’t just regurgitate stale talking points, tell a compelling story in video, text, audio, images, whatever you can think of!
      Read more…