How to Be a PR Rockstar at Tradeshows

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By Robyn Brown

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is fast approaching and if you’re lucky enough to attend 1) mail me tickets and 2) check out my event reminder list below.

Here are just a few tips and tricks I’ve collected from attending conferences over the years that helped me exceed client expectations. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you as well.

  • Bring your camera, and if possible video camera. It’s not always the job of the PR pro to take photos at the event but, it’s a detail you can’t miss. Take photos of your company’s tradeshow booth with key personnel, your spokesperson speaking with a reporter (with the reporter’s permission), your company presenter whether in a demo, breakout session or keynote, and attendees standing in front of your company logo on a backdrop.

With video you can capture short (two minute or less) segments with your spokesperson or even customer speaking about your news and your company’s role at the event. Share photos and video on social media channels like Facebook and YouTube – the sooner the better – and include the event hash tags so attendees can find you.

  • Connect with media on Twitter after an interview. While preparing for the event, be sure to locate the reporter’s Twitter handle. Then, write a quick tweet to the reporter after they’ve met with your spokesperson to thank them for their time. You can even include a URL to your company’s news posted on your website. Example below:

tweet

  • Make full use of your time. You may find a few hours in between interviews, appointments and checking back in at the office. During these moments, feel free to take a swig of water, munch a power bar and take a quick breather. When appropriate, you can also pitch in to help your non-PR colleagues – relieve someone manning the booth and help answer questions from prospective customers, help your company presenter prepare for his upcoming speech, or even re-fill the tchotchkes (small giveaways) on the booth table. These folks may even remember your goodwill when you need something from them later.

I’ve also used my ‘down time’ to learn more about an industry – especially if it’s highly technical or new to me. The first time I attended the Society of Exploration Geophysicists annual conference, I asked a geologist to explain in simple terms how he used my client’s software to display 3D seismic views of deep sub-sea resources – something I had written about but wanted to understand first hand. Not only did I get a good perspective, but I gained a contact that provided a use case and quotes for a future bylined article. David Carriere, a frequent collaborator, also suggests working the tradeshow floor to do a little of your own market research, and observe how your colleagues are handling their own publicity efforts. (From David’s 2008 book, Publicity: 7 Steps to Publicize Just About Anything).

  • Hang out near the press room. While I’m not a media stalker, it does make sense to casually be outside the reporter hangout when you can. You may chance upon a reporter who you were unable to speak with prior to the event. If this happens, strike up a genial conversation, make sure they have your company news and offer the chance to speak directly to your spokesperson. You may score 20 minutes of their time for an interview or, at the very least, you’ve strengthened a relationship with some face-to-face time.

For many of us, participation at trade shows and conferences are spread throughout the year, allowing months in between to prepare for each one. For others though, there may be a three-month window in your industry called tradeshow season where one event comes directly after another. When you represent multiple clients, your calendars can even overlap over multiple seasons. Earlier this year, I attended three conferences over a month and half period for two clients in different industries. Talk about changing gears! It’s also not unheard of to wrap up press release approvals and book interviews for an upcoming event while attending another. Done that one, too!

Seasoned public relations pros are experts at multi-tasking and supporting the strategies for multiple projects and accounts. We can pull together materials for our PR kits, brainstorm messaging 1:1 with an executive, make sure everyone in the press room has seen the client’s news, and ensure that reporters show up for an interview when they’ve promised – all while overseeing the bigger picture of our PR objectives. While there’s always a set of standard PR activities at any conference, take the time to consider how to go the extra step for your company’s media and marketing efforts.

Will Public Relations Become Branded Journalism?

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More and more we are writing news. Does that make us a new type of journalist?

By: Robyn Brown

There’s been talk recently in public relations circles about our industry becoming a form of branded journalism. And it got me thinking: What is branded journalism? And that sounds like something I do already.

We all know that the size of newsrooms has been shrinking, that media powerhouses are forced to evolve in the digital age and that younger generations have less trust in traditional media. With fewer media to call upon to report our news, wouldn’t it be easier to become the media? Instead of packaging the story for someone else and hoping they get it right, why not just tell the story ourselves?

What a radical notion! But we are moving quickly into this role – from corporate blogs to short video interviews with an executive. Large businesses are even employing former journalists to write stories for their websites and social media. At the heart, brand journalism is about telling honest stories about brands and inviting audiences to respond. We are not trying to be, replace or compete with traditional journalists, and we certainly won’t be telling breaking news (election stories, crime, weather, etc.) any time soon.

As PR evolves, we must seek to imbue in our communications an even greater level of narrative and audience participation. It’s about telling stories relevant to a brand’s industry. Do you sell pool supplies? Write an informative and engaging article about the best times to winterize a pool. Are you an oil and gas operator? Be a roving TV reporter and visit your workers at the oilfield drilling sites to tell your story through their eyes.

If we’re going to continue to pump out branded content, we need to keep our audience in mind and work more like media rather than publicists. Use facts rather than opinion and source information as much as possible. Let’s not use corporate speak or acronyms. And always keep people at the heart of our stories, even when the story is about software.

And lastly, stories are memorable, but a list of your product features may not be.

Lessons about creativity from my 8-year old self

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How to exercise your creative spark at work.

By Robyn Brown

When I was kid, rainy days were never boring. My brother, my friends and I would pretend the carpet in my parent’s house was lava. We jumped from chair to couch to coffee table to avoid getting burned. Other times the carpet was a vast ocean and our stuffed animals sea monsters.

On sunny days, our neighbor’s tree house became a circus stage in the way of Cirque du Soleil. We were ring masters, acrobats, lions and pranksters; other neighborhood children served as the audience. I lived for hours a day in these made-up worlds – our props were everyday objects like boxes, furniture and even discarded rubbish.

And then, somewhere over the years our sense of imagination drifted to the back of our minds. Reality set in – the bubble of Junior High and High School years, the mix of strife and ambition in college and young professional years. Life has now settled in, and we’ve lost our creative spark.

Yet, I truly believe the long-ago skill of imagination (yes, it is a skill) that we perfected in childhood could serve us well in our professions. Most of us in communications and marketing face an almost daily pressure to be creative – on the spot at times. Think of an original idea for a new campaign, think of a catchy tagline for this product, write an engaging lead for our technical article, etc.

Imaginative play is making a comeback these days at our workplaces, and it’s a muscle we’d all do well to exercise. Companies like Group Dynamix host corporate team-building events that pull people out of the office environment and force them to work together to solve challenges by using their imaginations. Additionally, these type of activities teach us to work well together, to trust one another and to communicate. Can you picture your work team playing a game of Capture the Flag or participating in a photo scavenger hunt downtown?

Advanciel Federal Credit Union participates in The Amazine Journey teambuilding day

Here are other simple and unstructured ways to exercise your sense of imagination each day:

Think of other ways to describe everyday objects. Your coffee machine is an energy refuel station. The elevator is a space shuttle, whoosh!, to your office on planet (floor) 5.

Meet your laughter quota. It’s been said that the average four-year old laughs 300 times a day, and a 40-year old, only four. Yikes! Kids laugh most when they’re playing and it comes from their whole body, rather than their mind at work. Their giggles are infectious. Laughter is powerful – it reduces stress, it awakens our brains, gives us a more positive outlook and makes us friendlier and more attractive to others.

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing.” – Michael Pritchard

Be observant. I love to people watch in public, whether I’m at the mall or the park or in a waiting room. And I really love to imagine what they are saying in their conversations. I watch their facial expressions and body language, and I look at the responses from people with them.

Ask questions. There are people you meet every day that know all sorts of things and have valuable skills to share. Be curious and interested in the potential in everything.

Whatever you try, put your whole self into it. Kids don’t play and also think of what needs to be accomplished on their to do lists. They don’t play dress up or cowboys while checking their e-mail or texting a friend. If you’re going to commit to something, you need to commit 100% of yourself.

Get out of your element. Are you having a creative block? Take a break for an hour or two and play a round of kickball in the park. Walk through an art gallery and contemplate what you’re viewing rather than the project at hand. And, this brings me too…

Keep a notebook with you at all times – by your bed, in your purse, on your iPad, etc. I’ve found that I can’t schedule my creative thinking – it just happens, when I’m in the shower, during my commute, while I’m sleeping, while I’m working on something else. I have to train myself to stop and capture that idea on paper to use when I’m ready. If I get in the habit of thinking over a creative idea, I am actually training my brain to ignore these types of thoughts going forward. You cannot force your brain to be creative in the moment because creativity is so organic by nature.

To take this idea further, creative thinking is often like making vegetable soup. We put in all the ingredients before us including the veggie broth, diced veggies, pasta, and spices – and let the mixture sit on the backburner to stew and simmer for a few hours before it’s ready to taste.

Great ideas seem to come out of the blue. Bob Dylan, for example, came up with the lyrics to the chorus for “Like a Rolling Stone” soon after telling his manager that he was creatively exhausted and ready to bail from the music industry. (Example from the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer).

And something else to noodle on: We use imagination to construct and experience reality as we want it to be. Take a moment each day to ask your inner kid what he or she is trying to tell you.

How do you exercise your creative juices at work?

Three Corporate Words that Drive Me Bonkers

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By Robyn Brown

There are certain corporate words that just make my skin crawl. Some are corporate-speak and won’t be found in Webster’s dictionary. Others are used so much they start to lose their original meaning. Here’s my top three:

Targeted as in targeted communications, targeted media list or targeted messaging. I am very guilty of this one. It’s a good example of including unnecessary filler words. Targeted is redundant, as if we’re saying the media list isn’t normally reaching a specific audience. Of course it is! Don’t use that word unless you want people thinking your communication is not always targeted.

Drive as in “we will drive results from our PR campaign.” I laugh when I read this word. Several years ago, I sat in a client brainstorming meeting listening to overwhelming excitement for a campaign based on the word drive.  One participant, representing the branding team, got so enthralled that he suggested a race car theme complete with more language like ‘finish line’ and ‘full throttle.’ We are appealed to the word drive because it connotes focus and speed. If we are going to drive results, we will do it with lots of efficiency. Additionally, the person who uses this word is often putting themselves in the driver’s seat and will lead everyone on the road to results. Be sure you are that person before using the word!

Anything ending in –ize. Let’s be honest here: These are made-up words. In an effort to simplify, use the base word instead.

  • Use instead of utilize
  • Finish or complete instead of finalize
  • Promote instead of publicize
  • Incent instead of incentivize
  • And the list goes on

Finally, we often use extra words to make simple communication sound more intelligent, technical and corporate. And yet, we are only adding to the complexity of our message. I challenge you to carefully review your writing after a first draft and eliminate at least a dozen ‘filler’ words. Your readers will appreciate it.

Dr. Seuss once said “the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

 

Building Brand Evangelism from the Inside

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By Robyn Brown, Account Executive

Do you realize some of your biggest cheerleaders can come from inside your company?

According to a 2012 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 81% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job, with 38% of employees indicating they were “very satisfied.”

Most people will agree: It’s great to be with a company you’re proud to work for. You know the feeling – You enjoy telling friends and family about your work. You’re excited to get to the office each day. You’ll tweet the company’s new product release even when you’re not in PR.

The one-third of “very satisfied” employees in your organization are ideally suited to serve as brand ambassadors, helping to promote the company’s message beyond marketing and PR efforts.

Marketing and PR teams should support brand ambassadors within their organization or client’s organization by creating a culture of collaboration (i.e. we’re all on board with the brand) and giving them the training and tools to spread the message.

Here are some go-to strategies that have worked for several of our clients:

  • Share the corporate message… and ask for feedback.

Post your corporate messages on your intranet or SharePoint site along with typical Q&A. We all need to be repeating the same version of the truth rather than 100 different points of view.

Also, take into consideration feedback from your most externally vocal employees. From their perspective, what makes the company unique? When they talk about the company with external audiences, what do they most often say and hear in response? These answers also shape your brand and message. When employees participate in the development of brand, they’re more likely to take ownership of it.

  • Give them a platform to communicate the brand.

Encourage them to write guest articles for the corporate blog and tap into their unique knowledge base. Reality check: You’re most likely not going to receive lots of volunteers right away. Rather than sending out a mass request to the entire company, single out individual people with specific requests.

For example, Chris is known throughout your company as the resident expert on advanced analytics – an area that you’d like to drive greater market share. Send Chris a personal request and even an article template and a suggested outline to make the process less intimidating.

  • Promote regional outreach.

Although your corporate headquarters is based in Spokane, Washington, you may have regional offices in seven countries, operations in another four and manufacturing centers in three. Your employees can be the octopus legs that reach into the communities where you’re located. They’re often the face of your company in those regions.

Make sure they’re empowered to represent the company well and be relevant to those unique audiences who might need the corporate message tailored more specifically to them.

  • Have a culture of great customer service.

One of the best forms of earned media is something your employees engage in on a daily basis – customer service. Two companies always come to mind for me as examples because I’m a frequent customer: Southwest Airlines and Whole Foods. Employees are friendly, they go out of their way to make sure I have what I need, and I can tell that they genuinely enjoy their jobs. That goes a long to ensuring that I’m a repeat customer.

Even if you’re a business-to-business, business-to-consumer or even a not-for-profit organization, great customer service is critical.

  • Encourage employees to talk about you on social media.

Scary – I know! But here’s the hard truth: whether you like it or not, most employees are already talking about your company on their social media profiles. Why not back them up? Offer social media lunch n’ learns to share tips, provide a Code of Conduct that defines expectations without hindering online communication and encourage them to re-tweet your company news.

Even further, require that your brand ambassadors follow your company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and include these social links in their email signatures. Provide them with a sample email they can customize and send to their professional and personal networks about your company’s presence online.

Allow them to be real on social media, while using their best judgment. It’s important to strike a balance between free-wheeling and over-bearing in advising employees what they can and cannot say. Accept the fact that you can’t exert 100% control of what employees will say – as much as you want to.

  • Provide incentives and rewards.

It’s important to shine the spotlight on employees who are helping to bring your brand to life. This encourages brand ambassadors to keep up the good work and also shares concrete examples to inspire others to get involved.

What are other ways you can encourage brand evangelism from within your company?

Brooks & Associates Team Helps Girl Scouts Celebrate 100-Year Milestone

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2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts of the USA, a national organization dedicated to building girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. The movement began March 12, 1912 in Savannah, Georgia with 18 girls led by Juliette Gordon Low. Today Girl Scouts is 3.2 million girl scouts strong, over 850,000 of whom are adult volunteers. Robyn Brown, a 25-year girl scout and volunteer, and Virginia Brooks, a girl scout alumnae and long-time supporter, did their part to support the milestone year.

World Thinking Day

In June 2011 Robyn joined a special planning committee comprised of both Girl Scout staff and area volunteers to support the 100th anniversary momentum and celebrations in 2012.

Mattie Jenkins, a membership specialist for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX), noted why she recommended Robyn for the volunteer position: “Based on my knowledge of Robyn as a troop leader for older girls (girls in grades 9th thru 12th), the planning committee would benefit from her creativity, planning and project management skills and her keen sense of knowing what young and older girls like and consider fun.”

The committee organized a 100th Anniversary Thinking Day event for area girls to look back on 100 years of Girl Scouts through each decade and imagine Girl Scouts of the future. World Thinking Day is an annual tradition where Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world celebrate their sisterhood and commonality through culture, music, art, and food – a perfect venue to kick-off many more celebrations scheduled throughout 2012. Over 1,500 girls and adults attended the event on February 4 – deemed a success by the organizers and attendees.

Girl Scout PSAs

“Robyn played a pivotal role in the planning, decision making and implementation stages of the event,” Jenkins said. “Robyn’s signature mark was the idea to create a compilation of public service announcements (PSA) by Girl Scouts describing what they like about Girl Scouts to be featured on GSNETX website. Robyn also choreographed a historical Girl Scout timeline in a video format that was played throughout day at the event for participants to see. I am proud of Robyn’s contribution.”

To teach and encourage girls to contribute PSAs, Robyn filmed and edited a video featuring Virginia Brooks and long-time friend Sharon Parsons who shared their experiences attending the 1965 Girl Scout Senior Roundup in Farragut, Idaho. They also described how Girl Scouts has impacted their lives:

“Girl Scouting has been a lifelong experience for me,” said Parsons. “I have carried friendships and values, love for the outdoors and especially all those songs. It was a very enriching experience and one that I will treasure.”

Brooks added that her years as a Girl Scout gave her the confidence to challenge herself and believe that anything was possible if you tried. “It gave me a framework to push and challenge myself to try things that I wasn’t positive I could do. I can’t recall any other area of my life that encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and be willing to try new experiences,” she said.

Watch the interview with Virginia and Sharon to hear their more of their stories.

Girl Scout Senior Roundup – Sharon and Virginia from Brooks & Associates PR on Vimeo.

Support Girl Scouts – Donate Today!

Today’s world needs more women leaders – in local communities, in the board room, and in The White House. Help girls learn leadership skills and take action in their communities by supporting Girl Scouts. For more information about making a donation, please visit:

http://www.gsnetx.org/Default.aspx?tabid=136.

Five Reasons Why PR Should Lead Social Media Efforts

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By Robyn Brown

Who owns the social media function within an organization? Lately, social media seems to be shared among marketers, advertising, PR, IT, HR, customer service and even sales. A recent Social Media Club of Dallas gathering I attended confirmed this diversity. Clearly, everyone within the company wants a slice of the social media pie.

Here’s why I think PR pros should take the lead:

  1. Social media is a form of communication – a function managed by PR. It expands our option for sharing news, thought leadership and an organization’s story.  In addition to writing a news release, we submit a tweet, publish a video with a spokesperson or customer and write a blog article about the news. Jason Falls stated in Social Media Explorer, “Social media is public relations in the online world.”
  2. It’s a medium for social interaction. It satisfies the human desire for conversation. Once businesses realize this, they can open vibrant conversations with their customers and clients. In the current issue of Public Relations Tactics, Steve Cody of Peppercom, Inc. described the role of PR as the following: “We own the conversations. We understand better than any other marketing discipline how to engage in conversations and, critically, how to create compelling messages that will be passed along because they’re relevant and informative.”
  3. PR controls the corporate message and the story it shares to the public. We’re also best prepared to handle communications with the public during a crisis.
  4. Social media demands open and honest conversation. The minute you use corporate speak and sales language with online audiences, you lose credibility fast and people tune you out. PR is already comfortable conversing with different audiences and speaking their language. According to The Spiritual Art of Dialogue, “the key to successful conversation is being open and honest in expressing opinions, feelings, and theories, and having a willingness to share views even when the ideas are controversial and unpopular.”
  5. Journalists are now on Twitter – many looking for new story ideas. Media relations is still a PR function.

Whether you are dealing with negative feedback, communicating with the media, or engaging in conversation that represents your brand and image, a communications professional needs to be involved.

Epic PR Group offers this great analogy:

“Liken it to a cocktail party. Technology, legal, marketing, interns, etc. are all invited. But PR should be the host: introducing people, keeping the drinks filled, mingling and stimulating conversation, vacuuming beforehand to make a good impression, and handling ‘that guy’ who has had a bit too much to drink. The best parties are the ones that people keep talking about.”

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