Monday, September 29, 2014

Escaping the firing squad

I love employee recognition. I despise 90 percent of the photos taken to recognize great employees.

HR leaders love to talk about employee engagement. If they wish to do more than talk, they'll advocate for a communications person to strengthen internal communications. 

One strategy: beef up employee recognition programs. Some organizations do employee recognition well. Hospitals and health care providers do a good job of honoring their employees. Colleges and corporations, less so. 

Often, someone will line up a group of employees for a recognition photo that's destined for a local newspaper, company newsletter, or website. The photo itself? It's often rushed, unposed, and you wonder if the organization is recognizing people, or lining them up for a firing squad.

Look at these actual employee recognition photos, and consider the following suggestions:

1. The Line-Up: a non-motion perp walk featuring a casual, backlit gaggle of employees who don't know where to stand or look. You or the photographer need to take ownership of this shot, and make it less deadly. Try dividing this ensemble; seat a few in a front row, and move in closer so it doesn't look as if they're awaiting the firing squad. And crop! (My rule: no head-to-toe shots. No one's shoes are that photogenic, except perhaps on "Sex and the City.")

2. Lighting from Hell: Every camera built in the last 10 years has an LCD screen that lets you review your photos. This shot, with sunlight creating weird reverse goatees on the award winners' faces, screams "delete." A simple fill-in flash would have made this photo 90% better. Digitally removing Lefty's creepy hand on the shoulder would take care of the other 10%.

3. Waving Your Award: Not the most flattering image,but Mr. Vest not only waves his big white envelope in front of a co-worker's face -- it's an ENVELOPE, not the award itself. Did no one tell him it's OK to open the envelope? Again, own the shoot: it's your job to pose the subjects, get the certificate out of the envelope, and tell Mr. Vest not to wave it around. Award winner should hold their award in front of them, at chest level, angled slightly so the camera flash doesn't wash them out.

4. Too Many Faces: you want to accommodate all honorees, but large group photos guarantee that someone's face will be obscured. Or, your shot will include pieces of mismatched lobby furniture. (Stripes and patterns? Hope it's not a rehab clinic.) Recommendation: Don't Be Stingy. There's no rule that says you must cram every honoree into one photo. Break up this crowd into three separate group photos, and make certain every face is clearly visible in each picture.

Honoring employees' achievements and hard work shouldn't be an afterthought. Some organizations do a fine job of celebrating their workforce. I've never visited Liberty University in Virginia, but I'm very impressed with the scrolling, 24-image online gallery that mixes posed and casual shots of the event where its employees were recognized. Even the posed group photos -- captured from a balcony, so every face (not their footwear) is visible -- are fresh and appealing.

This online real estate costs almost nothing, but its pass-along value is limitless. More organizations could do this with in-house resources. It's a fine way to engage employees and their families. And avoid the tired "line-up" photo.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Embracing hyperspace, or not

A headline that failed: "have you embraced the new Instagram Hyperspace app yet?"

By Braden Kowitz (Hugs!) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Seriously? Embraced?

First: you can call Instagram an app if you wish, but that's a misnomer. It's a thief.

When you post an image, the metadata in your photo tells Instagram (and its corporate overlord, Facebook) where and when the image was created. Algorithms comb the image for clues about your buying habits and likes. The image's information becomes something InstaFacebook can re-sell to marketers.

I don't embrace thieves.

If anything, InstaFacebook has you in more than an embrace. It's got you in a headlock.

Second, Hyperspace: compressed time-lapse videos that make the best footage look like it went through a cappuccino machine. I could do this with a $75 digital camera, but I prefer high-quality videos that lovingly showcase my scenes, or my clients' products.

Third: From a prose perspective, I don't "embrace" software or apps. I use them. They are appliances. 'Embrace' suggests you have an emotional investment in an app.

You don't, do you?

I embrace people. I can embrace some beliefs, ideas, and philosophies. I cannot embrace an app.

PR and marketing copywriters possess a vast Dopp kit of prosaic words -- passion, embrace, companion, etc. -- for tech pursuits. And, I'm a fierce user of technology. But neither you nor I truly embrace these appliances. Unless you go to sleep with an iPhone under your pillow.

And if that's true, consider re-thinking your priorities. Embrace life. Not tech.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Roger, over and out

If Roger Goodell is still commissar -- er, commissioner -- of the National Football League by the time you read this, it's because he has 32 team owners who love him. And a legion of fans who'll buy anything with an NFL logo. Including balderdash.

Roger Goodell,
 By Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, I led my public relations class through a discussion of the Ray Rice-hit-his-fiancee-now-wife episode. But I might as well have done the lecture in origami, because new details keep unfolding.

Last Friday, Baltimore Ravens fans -- including many women -- were shown in USA Today wearing replicas of Rice's jersey in support of the banned running back. The story continues to change, but here's a reasonable snapshot of what's taken place. It's not pretty.

Rice and his wife may be right in blaming the media for their woes, including his indefinite suspension. They both appear to have behaved with amazing stupidity. Public opinion labelled Rice as an abusive personality long before the punch-in-the-elevator video went viral.

But Goodell's claims that the NFL never saw the latest video sound hollow, if not false. When he told CBS News that the NFL hadn't seen the in-the-elevator footage before Monday, Sept. 8, he shifted the public's furor away from the Rices, and onto himself.

But then, that's Roger's job.

Goodell's credibility -- already stretched thin by the NFL's long dance around the concussions and brain injury issues -- wasn't helped when the AP reported that the punch video was sent to the NFL in April.

Goodell's job is to be the lightning rod for any and all criticism of the NFL. That's so the 32 team owners don't have to take the heat when a player or coach behaves foolishly or violently. And, as the  New York Times' Joe Nocera points out, Goodell's well-paid for taking all that heat.

Meanwhile, NFL fans consistently overlook its mistakes and its arrogance. Why? Perhaps because the league -- with its own cable network, plus incredible influence over other TV networks through multi-billion dollar contracts -- manages public opinion better than any celebrity rock star.

Their tax-exempt, anti-trust exempt status frees the NFL from meaningful scrutiny. And no one's held accountable. At least, until now, when U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's asking for federal hearings about the NFL's domestic violence issues, which may be more widespread than just between the Rices.

My view: the NFL needs to get its stories straight. Goodell appears either out-of-touch or an exceptionally gifted hoodwinker. Either way, his credibility as an in-touch senior leader is severely impeded. And the team owners can't hide behind a $44 million man with zero credibility.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The PR issue we're not ready to talk about

(c) DKassnoff, 2008
Next week (Sept. 18-19), hundreds of public relations pros will visit Rochester for the Public Relations Society of America's northeast regional conference. They'll talk about social media, SEO, media relations, and many other hot PR topics.

They'll drink coffee. They'll multitask. They'll swap and lose business cards.

But they won't talk about communicating with diverse audiences, or hiring diverse account executives.

A colleague invited six diversity PR experts (including me) for a panel discussion. But it isn't taking place. Just one attendee registered for the panel, so it's been cancelled.

That's disheartening for PRSA's Rochester chapter, which has had a very active diversity committee for about five years. A committee that has earned national recognition for a pioneering "Diversity Apprentice" initiative introducing high school students to public relations.

That just one PR practitioner signs up for a discussion about diversity communications is a disgrace. It says that our PR profession doesn't understand segmentation, or speaking to different audiences in ways that respect their needs and cultures. It says we don't need to reach out to African Americans, Latinos, Asian, Native Americans, LGBTQ and other segments any differently. That one message works for everyone.

That's just dumb. And for a profession that just a few years ago was branded a "pink-collar ghetto," it's incomprehensible. 

Ours is a profession that's supposed to engage untapped and under-represented audiences. Cultivate those audiences who are growing faster than the majority population. Not ignore them.

Yet in Rochester -- a town with a handful of minority-owned agencies, a number of women-owned marcom shops, growing ethnic and LGBTQ populations, plus simmering racial problems -- we're just going to say: "Skip it."

That's a PR fail far worse than any corporate blunder I can write about. And it sucks.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Are you WED?

This is not asking about your marital status. It's about becoming an extraordinary PR pro.
(c) DKassnoff, 2014

In my workplace, "WED" is more than a word on a calendar page. It's a personal reminder:  WRITE. EVERY. DAY. WED. 

The surest way to become extraordinary at some skill is to practice it every day. That's how Derek Jeter, Mo'ne Davis, and Jimmie Johnson become legends in their sports. Jeter takes batting practice before every game. Johnson doesn't wait til race day to log hours at the wheel at 180 mph.

Writing is the same. Do it every day. You'll get better at it. Even if you're not writing a news release or a speech script. An actual letter to a friend will do. (Caveat: texts and emails don't count. Use paper and ink, not your thumbs. Your writing will have a greater sense of permanence, and you'll impress whomever receives your letter.)

Yes, we all know some PR people who don't write. They may be capable delegators. They may have great media relations skills. But they stumble when pressed to place words on paper, and if you've honed that skill, you'll be in constant demand. Because you'll be able to build relationships for yourself, your clients, and your co-workers -- based on the calibre of your prose.