Monday, July 27, 2015

Free milk and Band-Aids

This is not a tale about grade school kids, despite the headline.

Camille* and I began a conversation at a professional dinner. We hadn't met previously, but I knew the not-for-profit agency she headed. She liked a few things I said about strengthening their external communications, took my business card, and promised to call.

Image by Kaz, from Pixabay,
via Wikimedia Commons
Reaching out to Camille over the next few weeks yielded no response. Then, one night, about eight weeks later, she phoned to ask for ideas to better market her agency's new counseling service. I shared a few thoughts in writing -- it took about an hour -- and she indicated we should meet soon and move toward a working relationship.

Nothing happened, even after multiple follow-ups from me.

A few months later, around 8 pm on a Friday, Camille called in a panic. An ex-client of the agency was frustrated with its policies, and his unhappy friend posted disparaging remarks on the agency's Facebook page. Camille didn't know how to respond, if she should respond, and was worried about negative fallout or unwanted media attention.

I counseled her, and offered to help develop a PR strategy to deal with similar social media issues. Camille promised to get back to me in a couple of weeks.

You know what happened next. Silence. Nothing.

Most executive directors of not-for-profits are busy. I get that. So, too, are PR people. Especially those of us trying to be responsive to clients and potential clients -- and run a business. At some point, a client needs to buy -- or at least rent -- the cow, instead of trying to get the milk for free.

Camille's problems aren't with her not-for-profit's branding or Facebook page. It's her inability to take a longer view, follow up, and do what she says she'll do.

PR is about relationships as much as media relations and persuasion, but Camille's more interested in snagging short-term remedies as "band-aids." And not paying for them.

Inevitably, the work Camille's agency does will earn headlines, some of which may trigger controversy. She'll need a PR counsel to help strategize and execute their key messages.

And when that happens, Camille will find she can't get the milk for free.

*A pseudonym.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yogi Berra, Public Relations, and Twitter

Had enough of the content tidal wave yet?

The web offers more than "stream of consciousness." It's scream of consciousness -- a term I attribute to the artist Carolyn Kassnoff around 2001 -- but it's more accurate than ever. Every thought, idea, wry observation, or snarky Kardashian slap finds its way into the torrent of social media.

And no place is it more evident than Twitter.

PR pro David Ericson recently blogged about many ways to use Twitter for public relations. It's a good read, describing how Twitter's alliance with Google helps the social media site reach casual web consumers who aren't (yet) Twitter members. So, if you're a PR pro who's working to get recognition for a client's services and products, there's value to including a well-planned Twitter strategy.

Yogi Berra, C. 1956, via
Wikimedia Commons
But there's another way for PR people to leverage Twitter, although you need a registered Twitter account. It's called listening. Or eavesdropping, if you prefer.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, you can learn plenty about how to find and pitch journalists and editors just by listening. (Actual Berra-ism: "You can observe a lot just by watching.")

Virtually every journalist is on Twitter, posting about issues, industries, and stories they cover. A few journalists and editors are essentially addicted to social media, posting with astonishing frequency about matters grave and trivial.

We're not talking about monitoring for mentions of your client on social media. That's statistics, and while it may provide useful data points, it doesn't help change attitudes or behaviors, which is what PR tries to achieve.

When I talk about listening, I mean using what we hear to better understand the interests and behaviors of reporters in a given market, industry, or beat. For example, if I'm helping a paddling center promote its business, I'm going to pay close attention to the reporters who Tweet about their outdoor recreation activities -- as well re-tweet the positive experiences of my customers who've enjoyed a day of kayaking.

Yes, there's a scream of consciousness on Twitter -- but it's also a fountain of media insights for PR practitioners willing to spend time listening to what's said.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Decoding Microsoft's code-speak

You can go anywhere on the Internet to hear pundits expound on the travails of public figures: Cosby. Trump. Ariana Grande, the so-called singer named for a coffee cup size.

I'm not biting. Not this week.

Instead, let's  look at the technology universe, where last week, Microsoft announced 7,800 employees would lose their jobs. 

Most of those jobs were associated with the mobile phone business Microsoft acquired from Nokia. Windows Mobile-powered handsets are not selling. Last year, they laid off 18,000 employees, also tied to the mobile phone business. That's two straight years of downsizings tied to phones. 

By David1010 (Own work),
via Wikimedia Commons
Pretty soon, Microsoft's mobile unit will have all the credibility of Radio Shack.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, explained the strategic shift in an email to employees: "We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family."

How's that again? Microsoft writes and sells software. Most of the time, it works. With the exception of the Surface tablet, however, they haven't done well in devices. Their prototype HoloLens headset looks interesting -- especially to Star Trek enthusiasts -- but I'm not saving my bitcoins to buy one.

Microsoft has a strong PR apparatus, but its communications are hobbled by a simple truth: they can't tell us what they do that adds value to our lives. Recent Windows iterations have confounded even experienced IT pros. Zunes died. And then there's the phone business.

Someone needs to decode Microsoft's communications. Maybe that "Windows ecosystem - device family" blather means they're going to add smartphone functionality to the Surface tablets. Or turn out baby Surfaces (Surfettes?) that can function like smartphones.

In other words: Microsoft may copy Apple's iPad mini strategy. (Insert yawn here.)

Hey, Satya? Want me to believe in your business and buy your product? Don't spout about "ecosystems" that have nothing to do with ecology. Don't prattle on about "sparking innovation."

Tell me what you do, and why I should care. And how it will help improve my life.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How to know when you're being baited

I seldom venture into politics or commentary about candidates for political office. This is a brief exception.

News editors, I'm talking to you.

Do you realize that when Donald Trump says something incendiary about some non-U.S. nationality, he's baiting you? When you keep re-playing his offensive comments about Mexican citizens, you give him more exposure than, say, ANY CANDIDATE WHO'S ACTUALLY GOVERNED?

Substitute image to be used in place of any
photo of Donald Trump. P.T. Barnum wasn't available.
When you report on corporations backing out of deals with Trump, that's only slightly newsworthy. Companies end business dealings all the time. When Kodak collapsed into bankruptcy, major deals with Target, Wal-mart, Disney, and the PGA Tour went away. The backlash over Trump's remarks made his torn-up contracts mildly more interesting, but not deserving of the air time and web content you're handing over to him.

Donald Trump is a very expensive empty suit. He has no experience in public service. He's P.T. Barnum with a black helicopter and some real estate holdings. In other words: Mitt Romney-style money with no policy experience.

News directors: please start holding vanity candidates like Trump accountable. Demand his policies and plans to govern. Assuming they're not written on an Etch-a-Sketch. 

Decision-makers in newsrooms need to figure out when they're being baited into covering a fringe candidate as if he had legitimate leadership credentials. In some cases, it's easy.

Every time Trump steps up to a mike, you're being baited.