Posted by Tom Gable
The judges in the 2013 Silver Anvil competition were faced with a plethora of programs built on using the latest and hottest tool or distribution channel available. Beyond the fluff, we often found a spectacular lack of substance. This leads to sharing a compelling truth that runs through the heart of every winning Silver Anvil entry and may benefit all PR professionals: good research provides the foundation for smart strategic planning, brilliant creative and precise execution toward achieving measurable objectives that matter.
The PR tool kit has expanded considerably over the past two decades of my judging Silver Anvil entries (done in years when Gable PR didn’t enter). But are we using the tools in an integrated and strategic fashion? Will the results drive anything meaningful? Are we just having fun playing with things that don’t really drive sales, help achieve marketing goals or turn around an image?
The annual competition can feel like the classic movie, Groundhog Day. The same fuzzy-edged little critters keep popping up each year and in every category (usually chirping about media hits). In reviewing results with other veteran judges from the Counselors Academy and College of Fellows after this year’s recent session, I found a universal impression that some of the entrants hadn’t read the rules or bothered to check out past winners on the PRSA website. The latter exercise would have saved several hundred of the 847 entrants from wasting their entry fees.
The judging criteria are straightforward: 10 points maximum in each category of research, planning, implementation and evaluation, or 40 points total. Sadly, we had many entries that didn’t hit double digits.
I delved deeper in last year’s Silver Anvil coverage. This year, I asked some fellow judges for insights they felt were worth sharing. Here are the highlights:
Top Five Winning Program Essentials
- Solid research to establish a baseline for measurement and evaluation (this can be both secondary and primary; polling; online surveys; crunching one year of social media data to find trends that could lead to a new position for a client; use of psychographics, demographics and other findings that would help in the positioning and planning).
- Setting measurable objectives (e.g. turning around image from 3-to-1 against the company to 2-to-1 favorable within one year; successfully introduce the new family of mobile applications, build market awareness to X percent within six months, generate reviews in the top ten media, grow subscribers by Y percent within one year, introduce one cause marketing program that adds another Z subscribers in one year and generates $X for the cause).
- Implementing strategically through all channels that can help drive a result (print, broadcast, social media, local events, direct mail, contests, guerrilla marketing, promotions, conference programs, and cause marketing).
- For evaluation, the best programs set measurable objectives in many categories. As noted last year, the top programs included achievements in: meetings and special events held, increased attendance, better product reviews, increased distribution, doubling social media likes and followers, winning design awards, expanding promotional program results by a certain percentage, improving share of voice, launching a cause marketing program that raised X dollars, doubling the number of analysts following the company, increasing stock volume, improving internal communications globally as measured by continuous progress in online surveys among all employees on impressions of quality, using social media to drive more hits and qualified leads to the company website, reducing calls to the 800 number in favor of website conversations and increasing sales and market share.
- Always keep the results-oriented continuum in mind: great research drives new creativity and smart planning; the detailed planning across all channels helps set measurable objectives and guides precise implementation; and evaluation ties back into all your brilliant work in research and planning.
Ten Biggest Shortcomings
- Poor or missing research (e.g. one entry noted that they conducted research by interviewing the client contacts; another cited research in the executive summary about consumer motivations but didn’t include anything in the Research section for validation; some didn’t have a Research section)
- Not setting measurable objectives
- Setting objectives based solely on amount of media coverage
- Setting vague objectives, such as building brand image, but with no means of measurement (the winners documented how they conducted research on baseline consumer awareness, and then built their programs to drive awareness, which was measured at the end, along with metrics)
- Developing one-dimensional plans, such as just having a social media strategy
- Not outlining the rationale behind strategies and plans (e.g. one judge called this “doing a lot of stuff because the tools were exciting”)
- Relying on huge budgets and spectacular events to carry the day (fellow judges shared background on several entries where the scope of the program was impressive but the results weren’t)
- Not having a precise plan for implementation
- Providing numbers on media hits, Twitter followers and other metrics but without tying them back into the research and planning
- And the number one shortcoming: not turning in an entry that covered each of the four areas being judged: research, planning, implementation and evaluation
Beyond the transgressions, there was agreement that the PR profession is continuing to raise the overall quality of all programs. We are being given more opportunities to conceive, create and implement complex and strategic programs that are out of the purview of most marketing, advertising and other consulting companies. We are becoming more trusted advisors in the C-suite and included in company-wide long-range strategic planning. But the bar needs to be raised another notch. These ideas may help.
Case histories will be written and studied for years on how the Obama White House has found new tools and tactics for connecting at the local level, while marginalizing major national media.
As covered in Politico in a piece called “Obama the puppet master,” the Obama White House has developed its own content creation machine to feed all channels of communication with tightly crafted messages that build the Obama brand. It chooses the channels with surgical precision. Why interview with The New York Times beat reporter who knows the issues and risk facing tough questions, Politico notes, when one can dominate local media through strategically scheduled interviews with friendly anchormen and women who may not be up on the issues? The cumulative effect can be bigger than scoring a national media hit, as covered in depth by Politico.
The orchestration of coverage of potential economic Armageddon from the automatic budget cuts scheduled for March 1 (called Sequester) is the latest and most complex example of a local-national strategy. From the Secretary of Transportation setting the stage with future delays at major airports because of fewer air traffic controllers, to interviews in local markets with data on the anticipated loss of jobs (e.g. underway Feb. 26 in military towns in Virginia), the PR efforts are carrying consistent messages carefully chosen to appeal to each audience. How does it work?
Politico and a follow up piece by the Poynter Organization (“The dangerous delusions of the White House press corps and the president”) provided details. To summarize the key elements of the Obama White House approach and one that can work for brands, organizations, political candidates, new product introductions, crisis PR and other PR campaigns:
- Develop a comprehensive, cohesive message strategy with consistent themes and supporting evidence;
- Be precise in targeting and masterful in scheduling and orchestrating the individual parts of the program;
- Go for local issues, with local examples;
- The White House (or any brand) becomes the ultimate publisher (print, broadcast, photography, video, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and more);
- Every appearance or event needs to support the brand, to include great photo opportunities with locals for driving local coverage;
- Control the content and flow through all channels by picking the media carefully;
- Stage events to focus on the big messages and memorable lines and don’t allow time at the end for random media questions that might delve into negative territory and take the candidate, CEO or other luminary off-message;
- Go for easy wins at the local level, then build regionally;
- Ignore the major media unless they are friendly;
- Produce your own photography and video rather than allow media coverage (local outlets are always looking for free content);
- Shun those who have produced or written anything that would be considered negative;
- Pound away at key messages through major pieces with the friendly media and TV personalities and support with social barrages to hit every target relentlessly;
- Use the classic “weekend document dump” to avoid negative coverage and “minimize attention to embarrassing or messy facts”;
- And orchestrate all the elements to ramp up for strategically and with surgical precision for maximum impact at a pre-designated date, such as an election or the day before the so-called fiscal cliff.
The latter – strategic planning of all elements for total control – represents the biggest challenge. Many organizations, brands and individuals can master parts of integrated campaigns. Few would have the budget, the talent, the discipline and the power even close to that of the Obama White House to succeed on all fronts.
The bottom line, according to Politico:
“With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly.”
Posted by Katelyn O’Riordan
The red, white, blue and yellow colors light up the food court, beckoning mall visitors with the bright and inviting façade. The friendly employees clad in uniforms in company colors and matching chapeau catch my eye. I immediately picture them handing over a paper boat filled with a crispy, golden-brown treat – the iconic Southern California Hot Dog on a Stick, with a cup of fresh lemonade. It was one reward my mom would offer my brother and me for our patience after dragging us elementary school kids around to stores like Ann Taylor and Crate & Barrel.
To this day, every time I visit the Fashion Valley mall, near our office in San Diego, I visit my old friends at Hot Dog on a Stick and indulge in an ice-cold fresh lemonade. Memories of my childhood always come rushing back and now I have a greater understanding of the work and passion that go into each store location.
It wasn’t until working for Gable PR that I got the rare opportunity to learn about Hot Dog on a Stick’s brand and the company culture behind the menu items and colorful uniforms. Gable PR was retained to promote the company as it expanded nationally through franchising and a new drive-thru concept. Our research and working directly with their passionate team afforded me the chance to build on a fun family memory that has endured for years and continues to make me smile (proving that the Hotdoggers behind the counter really do live up to their mission, “to stick a smile on your face!”).
For me, a remarkable trait of working in public relations is you are given ongoing opportunities to learn about a company or brand that you may have only known superficially. In preparing to launch a creative, strategic PR program, you discover a wealth of information: the company’s history, mission, vision, inner workings, team ethic, culture, history and personality.
Here are 10 interesting facts about Hot Dog on a Stick:
- Hot Dog on a Stick started in 1946 next to the sandy beaches of Santa Monica, Calif., and was originally called Party Puffs. Founder Dave Barham changed its name to Hot Dog on a Stick in 1948, and the company has since flourished into 100 stores, spread throughout 12 states and three countries.
- Employees have a vested interest in company success; Hot Dog on a Stick is actually a 100 percent employee owned company!
- Hot Dog on a Stick’s leadership team has as an average tenure of more than 19 years with the company; several started as Hotdoggers and worked their way up.
- Founder Dave Barham used to call the signature uniforms “red, white and blue, with a splash of lemonade!”
- Past celeb Hotdoggers include actress Eva Mendez and singer Sara Bareilles.
- Dave Barham created Hot Dog on a Stick’s “Party Batter” using his mom’s delicious cornbread recipe inspired from his childhood on his family’s Missouri farm.
- The employee uniform has changed over the years from polka dots and berets, straw hats and knee-length shorts to the catchy striped uniform and hats worn today.
- The lemonade is made fresh every two hours, and all menu items are made-to-order using fresh ingredients.
- Hot Dog on a Stick has new growth initiatives that include franchising and opening more drive-thru restaurants away from the traditional malls.
- If all the fresh lemons used in one year by Hot Dog on a Stick (more than 6 million) were laid end to end, they would reach from Los Angeles to Monterey!
The knowledge gained from research, interviews, writing, and ongoing involvement in new client activities gives the PR team priceless insights to help plan community events, drive media coverage of a new store, and land a print article or a broadcast segment for a company or brand that you believe in. The results bring a special joy and sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t found in other industries, putting another smile on my face!
Posted by Tom Gable
We first pitched the Internet startup in July 2012 on supporting the launch of its new hobbyist portal/platform, which was envisioned to have distinctive features and functionality that could drive rapid growth and profits (we are under an NDA, so can’t share any more). Our Gable PR team provided a multi-faceted strategic plan based on our experiences launching the world’s first Internet payment system and a pioneering online greeting card company, plus introducing other disruptive innovations.
They liked our plan. It integrated old school strategic thinking with a full array of communications tools – traditional and new – fully orchestrated to roll from soft launch, gain momentum and then rocket to greater heights after the official launch. But we were the veteran grey-haired firm (although staffed with bright young talent!), so they were also shopping the hottest social media gurus in the region. The process went on for several months. We assumed they had gone elsewhere when we got the call in December to set a meeting to launch the Gable PR program.
What changed? Although they were initially charmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the fresh-cheeked social media evangelists, one of their partners said they were worn out by the jargon and promises to build their Twitter footprint and drive other social media metrics. The partners started asking for “what could be done beyond measuring things that might not count.”
“We got a lot of great-sounding gibberish but nothing we could directly connect to helping grow the business, not just buzz,” he confided.
Not surprising. A good piece in Techi.Com cited an AdAge survey that showed some “180,000 people on Twitter who claim to be social media mavens, experts, consultants, ninjas, pros, warriors, or some other noun that’s intended to fill you with confidence about their ability to save you from the evil world of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.”
Many social media firms of note do provide valuable programs to support a client’s business and marketing plans. But all of this reminds us of one of the great parodies of social media from Onion, which packaged it as a TED presentation.
Check it out to appreciate the humor as the social media guru brags about his firm making huge amounts of money even though using social media “eliminates the need to provide value to anyone.”
He talked about helping a client raise its Twitter footprint by creating fake Twitter accounts to raise the number of followers from 300 to 900,000 in less than a week, all done by robots, so the his firm didn’t have to do any work. They added advertising the robots could see, but not buy from. And the companies didn’t care, because they were “liked.”
Saturday Night Live also had a classic bit skewering social media during the election. Seth Myers, host of Weekend Update, asked the social media expert if what voters are saying online is an accurate barometer of public option. She said of course. It captures how people feel. And each voice is valid even if it has no punctuation.
The expert provided sample Tweets from the election pointing out the physical characteristics of the candidates and their sexual attributes, plus use of scatological words to describe President Obama. Seth wasn’t too taken with the examples and asked if this really mattered.
She said in social media, everyone’s opinion is equal, including the New York Times columnist and the person using a series of equal signs and a capital D to indicate…
Long story short: As our new client came to understand, it’s not just getting excited about the latest technology, social media or other tool. It’s how to fit any tool and tactic strategically into an overall program to build image, reputation and leads in support of long-term business goals. And can you explain the benefits in something other than techno-babble and gibberish?
Posted by Tom Gable
In preparing for a speech or thinking of adding a touch of humor to an article, I used to sit in front of a blank screen (or piece of typewriter paper in bygone days) and rummage through the sometimes dim corners of the attic of my mind in hopes of finding a forgotten gem or two. I started collecting favorites in a file for easier and more accurate recall.
The file has grown to more than 60 pages. I pulled it up over the weekend to stir the senses as I worked on a piece on how to improve PR writing for PRSA Tactics. I’ve pulled out some classics on PR, writing, literary criticism and editing that might stimulate a chuckle or two (or maybe not!).
PR, Advertising, Marketing
There is nothing so futile as having the right ideas and getting no attention. – John Kenneth Galbraith
You cannot bore people into buying your product. You must interest them into buying it. You cannot save souls in an empty church. – David Ogilvy
I honestly believe that advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. – Jerry Della Femina
I love being a writer. What I hate is the paperwork. – Peter de Vries
Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it. — Russell Lynes
Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler
Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach’s ‘St. Matthew’s Passion’ on a ukulele. — Bagdikian’s Observation
My father has spent the best years of his life writing his extemporaneous speeches. – Randolph Churchill on Winston Churchill
I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top. – An English Professor, Ohio University
Literary Criticism, Guidance
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham
This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. — Dorothy Parker
From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it. – Groucho Marx
Where facts are few, experts are many. – Donald R. Gannon
There are grammatical errors even in his silence. — Stanislaw J. Lec
The covers of this book are too far apart. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary. – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway
It had only one fault. It was kind of lousy. – James Thurber
If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. – Anon
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will suffice. – Anon
Eschew Obfuscation. – Anon
Avoid awkward or affected alliteration. – Anon
Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague. – Anon
I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up. – Tom Lehrer
Posted by Tom Gable
How to develop social media programs for clients in different industries and professions but with the same need to connect with multiple audiences and build image, reputation and increased connections? After considerable research, brainstorming and analyzing potential strategies, we pulled together approaches taken from the pages of our favorite journalism books and publishing models.
The concept was presented at a PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference in 2011 to promote the PR profession as being the new “Masters of the Communications Universe.” Unlike those in any other field, PR professionals have: proven histories of using strategic programs to build image and reputation; a robust arsenal of tools and tactics; the power to change perceptions and behaviors; the abilities to position new companies, markets and industries and reposition companies that have become stuck; disrupt a market; pre-empt the competition; manage a crisis; and so much more!
Ready to become a master of the communications universe? Here are the 13 lucky steps Gable PR uses as a starting point for developing programs:
- Set Program Goals and Objectives – These can be big ideas, such as supporting an organization’s annual business and marketing plans, or can get specific about increasing penetration in each communications channel, driving leads to the website, increasing stock volume and other metrics.
- Determine Your Target Audiences – This can include internal audiences, customers, future customers, the media, suppliers, regulators, elected officials, the community, government agencies and more. Whom do you need to reach? Where do they get their information? Whom do they trust? What do they need to know to begin developing a clear picture of what makes you rise above the crowd – the clear points of differentiation that are the essence of your brand and reputation?
- Develop a Position, Personality, Tone and Style – How to deliver quality content to impress and educate your target audiences? Think about your favorite publications. Will your different publications — electronic and otherwise — be similar to a trade journal, a general business publication (Business Week, Forbes), a more general all around publication or website (Time, Newsweek, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Sunday magazines in daily newspapers), something feature-packed (Wired, Fast Company, Inc.)? Your goal is to show a consistent personality, tone and style, whether for blogging, Tweeting or posting to Facebook. How do you want to be perceived? You want to come across as helpful, knowledgeable, trusted, dependable, reliable and, of course, human! Be friendly and authentic; connect with your audiences, don’t talk down to them.
- Create an Editorial Calendar for the Year – Make a list of the topics you want to cover and then develop what the news media call an Editorial Calendar. Are you going to publish your blog weekly? How will you integrate Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and other channels into the plan? Assign a topic to each of the next 52 weeks. Once the calendar is established, have the discipline to publish accordingly. Then, if some important piece of news surfaces that you want to blog about, go ahead and share the breaking news and simply push the calendar back a week.
- Develop a Content Creation Plan to Make it Happen – Assign content development one to two months ahead of when the copy, video, infographic, photo album, news story, podcast, interview or whatever is set to run. You can use project management software to manage the process, or create your own means of tracking when an assignment is made and to whom, when the draft is due, editing date, final approval date and then run date.
- Have a Nose for News; Find Hot Topics to Cover – Subscribe to news trackers (Google, Yahoo, New York Times and most newspapers and magazines). Set up search terms in Twilert (a search engine for Twitter) to find interesting Tweets on key subjects and links to other resources. Identify your favorite news columnists, blogs, industry experts or others to follow and check them regularly. And if you ever feel you don’t have quality content but want to communicate according to your plan and schedule, blog about your “Best Sources.” Write a short introduction about why you like the sites or people and provide links to four or five of your favorites. This can also lead to reciprocal linking and more followers.
- Provide Variety – Newspapers, magazines and news websites usually have sections, such as news, sports, entertainment, business and finance, home and garden, lifestyle and people news. Think about the potential topics you want to cover. You can cover one or more in each blog. Alternate topics to keep fresh.
- Invite Guest Columnists – Find outside experts, peers, customers, visionaries, thought leaders in the industry, fellow board members in trade associations and others to invite as guest columnists and bloggers. If your organization supports important local, regional or national causes, dedicate an issue to the topic, such as promoting the annual 10k race or other fundraiser for cancer research. Invite the head of the organization to contribute a short piece on the need and how the funds will be applied. Think of other ways of connecting to the community. Having these types of contributors builds credibility, helps search engines find you in new ways and increases the number of followers.
- Ask Questions, Do Quick Surveys – A favorite trick for engaging your readers is to ask questions and create short surveys they can answer online. It can take less than an hour to create a short survey using one of the free survey sites such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang. The surveys can ask respondents to rank hot industry topics for the coming year, favorite news media in a particular niche and helpful hints from users of a company’s products or services. The surveys need to generate results that can be turned into a future news story, blog, post on Facebook and Google+ or topic for a speech.
- Have a Photo Contest – If appropriate to the company, organization, institution or cause, engage your followers (and add new ones!) by having regular contests to generate fresh content in appropriate categories. These can include nature, people, recreation, local attractions, street scenes and seasonal submissions (skiing, soccer, softball, spring flowers, cutest animals, ugliest dogs, raging rivers), most innovative use of your product and other helpful hints. Have prizes that tie back to the organization or a cause. Recruit two or three celebrity judges. Launch the contest and give it a deadline, such as three weeks to submit, then a week to judge before announcing the winners. Post the best on Pinterest then Tweet the link and post on Facebook.
- Draw More Traffic to Your Blog and Website with Email, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook – Whenever you post something new, let the world know with quick Tweets, emails and Facebook posts with a short description of your new blog content and a link. This will help build your numbers and also make it easier for people to find you when they are searching for trusted resources and respected brands in your category. To make it even easier for your targets to find your key messages, include hyperlinks to your blog, Twitter handle, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile in your email signature, Tweets, posts, news releases, comments on other sites and in the body of email correspondence.
- Be Responsive – And do so within the personality! Communicate within the core values you have established. Keep it high level and positive.
- Track Everything; Have Regular Creative Sessions to Keep Improving – Are you achieving program goals and objectives? If not, why not? Post a survey to ask for feedback from your target audiences on what they like or don’t like. Find out what works best and build on it. Be consistently creative and how you, as a publisher and master of the communications universe, can keep providing quality content that engages your readers and builds your reputation.
Posted by Tom Gable
SAN FRANCISCO — Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, meandered around the huge stage, somewhat like a magician or comedian working the space for effect as he engaged the crowd attending the PRSA 2012 International Conference here Sunday.
Giant screens flanked the stage so the some thousand PR professionals in the audience, even at the back a football field away, could catch his words and see his Cheshire grin as he told a quick person history before delving into his talk within the conference theme of “The Future Starts Now.”
The man who helped create Blogger, Xanga and Odeo said he saw the opportunity for the democratization of social media. The start was slow for Twitter until an epiphany at the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology and entertainment extravaganza in Austin, Texas, five years ago. A favorite restaurant was packed so they tweeted about meeting at another spot. When they arrived, long lines snaked out the door and around the corner.
He showed a cartoon slide of a flock of birds. The metaphor: envision the individuals moving independently then coming together and moving to a single place, drawn by a single call, common interests and instincts.
Stone said we are only at the beginning of this phenomenon called social media. The world will soon drop the term social media as we search for new tools to paint deeper pictures of ourselves.
We will be creating more information networks. The challenge, he said, is that information isn’t knowledge. Listening and then responding are key to developing understanding of the world around us. Something has to be done with the information to advance to the next level, whether it’s in public relations, marketing, philanthropy or just connecting socially.
Stone said PR has an incredibly bright future based on its ability to listen, understand and tell stories. With social media and other tools, PR professionals can create content and go straight to the source rather than through traditional media. Tell the story of the people and companies you represent directly, he said. It’s all about the narrative of the story. Stories with validity have value and the power to engage your audience.
For a new idea, Stone said there is a compound impact to altruism.
“Philanthropy is the future of marketing,” he said. He hired a corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager when they had just 16 employees – before he hired a sales manager.
The core tenet of the business is how people can work together to create tools to make the world a better place.
He made three key points that resonated with people as evidenced by the blast of tweets from the session, post-session conversations and in remarks by other presenters who referenced the Stone talk:
- To succeed spectacularly you need to be ready to fail spectacularly.
- Opportunity can be manufactured. What circumstance can I prearrange and take advantage of?
- Creativity is a renewable resource.
Butterflies swarm through your stomach and a bead of sweat slips down your forehead. This is an interview, not a death sentence. This is something I told myself from the moment I got into my car – driving in agony for 15 minutes – to the second I sat down in the inquisition chair, tucked at the back of the conference room with escape routes blocked. Will I say the right things? Am I dressed appropriately? Will they like me? Taking a deep breath, I went right for it and was ready to tackle the interview. From the first question after the casual introductions, I made sure to think through my responses before I spoke, rather than spit out some “uh-uh, um” twisted, mumbled jargon and stall for time. And as the questions continued, the more relaxed I felt.
So what is the best way to prepare for a PR interview?
- Research, Research, Research! Know what position you are applying for and exactly why you want it. A simple question such as, “Why do you want to work in PR?” can quickly become daunting if you are unprepared. Investigate the company website to familiarize yourself with mission statements, employee bios, agency style, notable case studies and company history. Be sure to search Google news as well for any recent coverage.
- Stay Informed: Know what is going on in the news and brush up on hot topics related to the company’s clientele. It would not only be embarrassing to be baffled by newsworthy questions, but a checkmark on the “reasons not to hire” list as well. Dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to reviewing headlines and news briefs (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Drudge Report, etc.) or download a mobile news app to stay informed while you’re on-the-go.
- Come Prepared: Bring printed samples of your writing. Clips should be organized and laminated (Thanks to Anna Crowe, senior AE at Gable PR, for the suggestion!) or in sheet protectors. This way you look professional, polished and detail oriented. Have your own list of questions to ask about the company, its people and its working environment. Your questions can help break the ice and make you feel more comfortable, too.
- Dress to Impress: Do yourself the favor of taking a few extra moments to ensure you look presentable. This will not only boost your confidence, but reflect to others that you take the interview seriously. Ergo, they will take you seriously.
- Think Before you Speak: Being asked tough questions can be intimidating for anyone and, unfortunately, we’re not all masters of improvisation or captains of the debate team. Listen carefully to each question, take a moment to go through the most important points you want to make and respond with a well-thought-out, honest answer. A moment of silence can actually indicate your analytical abilities and is far better than racing with whatever first comes to mind.
Lastly, be confident, smile and relax! They’re going to love you!
Posted by Tom Gable
The PR University program on August 30 featured Jon Greer, training director of PRU, moderator; Jonathan Kranz, author of “Writing Copy for Dummies”; Don Bates, APR, PRSA Fellow, former journalist, agency CEO and currently professor at New York University; and yours truly, Tom Gable, APR, PRSA Fellow, CEO of Gable PR.
Greer set the stage by outlining the six steps to being a better writer and then led the panel through ideas PR professionals could use in using the tips in their practices:
One – Be an internal reporter
Two – Organize your material
Three – Start writing
Four – Continue adding useful information
Five – Review and revise
Six – Work with an editor
Greer asked the participants about what would be their biggest hurdles to becoming a better writer. Bates said each writer needs to be a strategic thinker – content needs to make something happen and build a bigger story. Gable said each story needs to be viewed as a building block in creating a bigger image and reputation for the long term, so facts and details are important. Kranz said the best writers go beyond just presenting information; they look for compelling core messages and themes that can resonate with the right audiences.
Kranz stressed the power of telling good stories, with a beginning, middle and an end. Is it about how your service works, your products and your people, how you solve problems, how your business began, how you overcame issues, what major customers are happy and anything related to trends that help you rise above the competition?
Desire, Danger and Drama
He framed each story as having three parts: desire, where someone wants something and there is a motivating element; danger, where there are obstacles, problems, risks and challenges; and drama, where the hero comes in with a magic sword to solve things.
For a company story, Gable said to start by looking at what exists (market, technology, service, industry trend, etc.), what are the problems that need to be solved, how do you differentiate the new approaches or discoveries, what will the team do to make it happen and what will ultimately be changed? Journalists are looking for cause-and-effect, plus anticipated results. If you can demonstrate what the company has done to evoke change, and tell it in a compelling way, you’re going to drive positive media relations. Also, look for what doesn’t exist. Is there a new story hook, trend or oversight your client can speak to?
Always be Collecting
Greer said to “always be collecting information.” This includes competitive information and industry trends as well. Sometimes outside stories can stimulate new ideas for promoting your own company in new ways and further differentiating against the competition.
Kranz counseled against having false drama. Journalists will see through it, he said. The panel stressed the importance of authentic counsel. Bates said to create a catalog of stories that can be rolled out over time. His approach has been to interview key executives at the companies he has worked for. At Gable PR, teams use internal audits to delve into the heart and soul of a company. The team develops questions to be asked individually and confidentially of key client connections to delve into vision, mission, challenges, opportunities, history of the company, culture and anecdotes that can be used to demonstrate the successes of the company and its people. The process often finds stories that haven’t been told before.
The panel discussed how to work with difficult executives. In some cases, an executive will envision a story that really has no news value anywhere. PR firms and internal staffs need to provide authentic counsel. In some cases, they have to keep from falling on their own swords and be diplomatic. The panel suggested trying positive approaches such as saying “maybe there are other ideas we can use to build on this.”
Whenever in doubt, Gable said to drive clarity by asking two questions: “So what? Who cares?”
Bates said PR news copy should contain no jargon or hyperbole. Train your clients to think about action verbs and means of differentiating the company and its products with real facts. Gable said research with major media shows that the fact-based approach to public relations can be a clear differentiator and help build trust with the media.
Organize your material: what rises to the top, what’s important, what’s less important, what’s unimportant, do you have all the information you need? Greer said that most people will only read the lead paragraph so keep it short and simple.
Kranz said to consider the formats being written for – article, web, sidebar, feature, breaking news – and think about word count. What is the most important copy to include? What will get cut?
The panel urged writers to have copy reviewed by people not familiar with the client. Gable said his firm reviews copy internally and often works with freelancers who are former journalist to provide outside opinions.
The panel recommended setting aside complex stories for 24 hours. Kranz said to sleep on it, then read it aloud. Beyond words, he said get a feel for the rhythm. Does the copy flow?
Seven-Point Litmus Test
In closing, Gable shared the Gable PR seven-point litmus test for evaluating potential news stories or other messages:
1. Is it really newsworthy or of interest to anyone other than the company, the CEO’s family and a few of their friends?
2. How big is the impact: company, community, region, market niche or category, industry, technology or science breakthrough, nation, hemisphere, humanity?
3. Has the same or similar story already been told? (Quick research will answer the question.)
4. Can the premise be supported by valid data, third party sources, case histories and ongoing proof of principle?
5. Does the company have credible “gurus,” who can bring the story to life and become valuable and trusted resources for the media?
6. Can the company be further differentiated by its people, technology, culture and personality? Or if you lined up the tag lines, boilerplates, key words and descriptive clauses for the top competitors in the space would they all look and sound alike?
7. Can the story be summarized in a compelling headline, Tweet or one or two-sentence sound bite or elevator pitch?
This quick test can help focus your efforts to create a smart, compelling and interesting story or other communication that breaks through the clutter, connects with your targets and supports the long-term image and reputation of your client or organization. Failing the test can also be used as evidence to convince the client or boss to go in a new direction or risk alienating the media and beyond.
In summary, the panel agreed that strategic public relations programs supported by strong PR writing can make a difference in how an organization builds its reputation for the long term, or doesn’t.
Posted by Tom Gable
Whether working with a Ph.D./M.D. who knows too much, a CEO who loves to spin long tales about his company and his successes or a startup or anyone else who is new to trying to connect with financial, media and other audiences, we’ve found a good starting point in the communications process is drafting a classic elevator pitch.
The challenge is writing short copy, especially for engineers and scientists who are used to citing published articles, case histories and other resources ad infinitum. The long approach is perfect for pitching peers and colleagues, less so for connecting with analysts, the media and non-industry audiences. Thus, the following was created by Gable PR as a starting point for honing a one- to two-minute pitch (also referred to as the cocktail party pitch) to grab the attention of your audience in the shortest amount of time and set the stage for next steps.
TAG LINE/SOUND BITE – The opener – an instant picture or quick summation of your positioning. What you do, what you stand for, to what effect and why it’s important. One sentence is best.Practice with people who don’t know what you do and keep honing this one sentence (two at the most) until it rings like Shakespeare.
PROBLEM, SITUATION ANALYSIS – What exists – the pain or problem you solve?
DYNAMICS AND OPPORTUNITY – Quick historical overview of how it got to this point, how the challenge has been addressed, what is the sweet spot for your company or organization (keep it to three important points, no more!).
WHAT (solving the problem) – Your company (or organization) has been working X years to plan for and develop D, E and F to solve the problem, take advantage of the market opportunity and grow and succeed over the next Y years.
OVERVIEW FROM 30,000 FEET – We have done it: the macro view, the big picture of how your great concept all comes together and grows market share, sales, traffic, profits, benefits the community, whatever – the BIG PICTURE vision of future success rather than technical details and features.
SO WHAT (Benefits) – You will succeed because of the creative planning, results and ultimate value you deliver. Create a mental picture of the benefits to science, patients, customers, the world. If there is a good case history, cite the proof of principle in a sentence or two. Do it in two sentences and you get a Pulitzer Prize (plus the desired result).
THE TEAM – The team includes executives with national credentials in A, B and C. It has a combined ZZ years in the industry, has built MM, helped YY other companies or institutions grow and knows the market and how to provide an expanding array of products and services to help it succeed (make it relevant to the big picture).
THE CLOSE (call to action on the elevator) – “We have the people, the plan and the commitment to succeed in a rapidly growing new market. I can provide incredible detail that I believe will convince you to … (invest, interview, buy, etc.). How about a follow up meeting? Where would you like to meet? What else can I provide?”
Ask questions that will take it to the next step!