5 Ways to get the Most out of Your PR Firm

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We’re here to help. Really.

By:  Julia Prior

Having a PR firm under contract can be a huge asset to your brand, and if you know how to use them they can help your brand grow and succeed in the media and the minds of your customers. We’ve put our heads together on the top ways you can get the most out of your PR firm.

  1. Communicate with them. Your PR agency is an extension of your marketing team. Keep them in the loop with any changes to your marketing strategy. Allowing them the same insight as members of your in-house marketing team will allow your agency to create a more seamless, comprehensive strategy for your brand.
  2. Take them with you to events. Big events, small events, your PR team can help you extend the value of your trade show investment.  We can promote your news at the event and schedule 1:1 interviews with media and analysts. We can ensure that your news appears in the conference Show Daily or newspaper. As communicators, PR people have skills and knowledge stretching across many subjects and are the perfect asset to help you make the most out of your event.
  3. Don’t underestimate them. PR professionals are skilled multi-taskers and jacks of all trades. It’s easy to assume that they just do press release writing and media pitching if that’s all you’ve asked them to help with.  However, their list of services may range much wider.  If it isn’t in their scope of work, not only will they tell you, but they might also advise you on where you can get the service you need.
  4. Don’t think you’re overloading them-unless they say you are. Your PR firm is there to help you. Their primary role is to help you do your job and  o help your brand grow. Don’t be afraid to call them, think you’re interrupting them or think they’re too busy for your project.
  5. Trust their instincts. The value of hiring a public relations agency is the perspective they offer as an outside member of your team.

At its very core, your contract with your PR firm is a business relationship. Communication and collaboration are the basic steps that will allow both you and your firm to grow and succeed with each other.

7 Things You’re Doing Wrong on Social Media

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By Julia Prior

There is no denying that social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. It has opened up so many ways for us to keep in touch with our friends, family and, more significantly, our customers.

But there are right and wrong ways to do everything and the same holds true in social media.

1.       Not linking your posts to other pages.

When you mention another page, person or entity in your social media posts, make sure to link back to their page. On Facebook, make sure to put @ before their name, and select them from the drop down menu that will appear. On Twitter, make sure to research the correct handle and use that in your post. A lot of times it will save characters, and all the time it will help your brand reach to other users. It also helps you develop a relationship with the brand. And isn’t that what social media is all about?

2.       Linking your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Yes, it is very easy, and efficient to link Facebook and Twitter and only have to post once. But Facebook and Twitter are completely different networks with completely different audiences and different engagement metrics. A few words and a shortened link work well on Twitter, but falls flat on Facebook. Take the time to rework your message, add in a couple details and tailor the link for the network.

Also, on Facebook, make sure to delete the link out of your post after the preview pops up. You wouldn’t say “Visit this Link. Visit this Link” so why are you putting more than one link in your post?

3.       Blatantly asking for people to “LIKE this if you agree” or “COMMENT with your favorite story”.

I read a fantastic post over on PR Breakfast Club about this. It’s pretty simple. If you create great content, you won’t need to ask for engagement.  True, it’s an easy way to get interaction and feedback from your audience. And yes, it’s a good tool to have in your arsenal, but don’t make it the backbone of your social media strategy.

4.       Not having a strategy.

We are communicators. Every word we write has layers of strategy behind it. So why don’t your social media posts have that same background? Every post should get you closer to your goals and you should know how it is going to do that.

5.       Liking your own Facebook posts.

Why would you skew your metrics and numbers by liking your own post? To get true engagement metrics, you need to know how many of your fans are interacting with your content, not how many of your employees are doing so.

6.       Automating all of your posts.

Scheduling posts has its time and place. It makes it easy to post on evenings and weekends when engagement is higher, and it streamlines the whole process. But again, don’t let it be your go to move. Social media is meant to be spontaneous and organic. Your audience wants to know they are interacting with a real person, not a machine.

And if you do schedule posts, please keep an eye on what’s trending and what’s going on in the news. You don’t want to be that brand putting out a promotional message amongst a stream of posts about Hurricane Sandy. Not only does it make you look uninformed, but it makes you look insensitive as well.

7.       Only sharing your own content.

It’s important to share your own content, yes. But it should not be in every post you make. Be sure to interact with customers and partners online as well. We always tell clients for every one post about yourself, you should have three others promoting someone else or building a relationship with someone else.

What else do brands do wrong on social media?

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?

Leading Pro-Am Day with PRSA Dallas

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Since the beginning of this year, I had the privilege to join the 2012 Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) of Dallas leadership board. I serve as one of the two co-chairs on the University Relations committee. PRSA is a wonderful national organization to be involved in, especially as an entry-level employee, because of its diverse networks, educational meetings and leadership opportunities.

My committee hosted the first big event of the year, Professional-Amateur Day, which is known as Pro-Am Day. This annual event connects undergrads and recent grads with seasoned public relations practitioners in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Students are paired up with a professional- who we call the ‘mentor’. The students had a firsthand view of the public relations industry in their desired sector- corporate, agency or non-profit.

(from left to right) Sana Merchant, Chase York, Nelli Tokleh

Planning this event with the University Relations committee started as soon as the first leadership board meeting was hosted in January. Chase York (chair) Sana Merchant (co-chair) and I made up the team. As the girls and I recruited students to sign up, we also contacted local professionals to volunteer as mentors. With our combined efforts, we recruited 40 students and 25 mentors. Some mentors hosted multiple students in their offices. Our other duties on the committee were selecting professionals for the luncheon panel, drafting tweets, creating post-event surveys and attendance and sponsorship outreach. After the students shadowed their mentors that morning, everyone headed to the Park City’s Club in Dallas for the monthly PRSA Dallas luncheon. Attendance for lunch hit 103 people overall! Brooks and Associates’ account executive Stephanie Santos McLeese was among the audience.

(from left to right) Denise Stokes, Carmen Branch, Scott Allison and Wendell Watson

Working on this project taught me valuable lessons that I can apply to any job, especially while working in the PR industry. Communication is crucial. My team and I set up weekly committee calls to review our plans of action and set deadlines for ourselves. We couldn’t have moved forward so quickly without meeting via phone or sending emails multiple times each day. Also, we’ve all heard of the phrase, “There’s no “I” in team.” That statement is absolutely true. Without my team present and having the additional PRSA Dallas board members available right away to help, the event wouldn’t have been successful. Each board member provided a unique service to Pro-Am Day.

Working with the board overall gave me the chance to meet PR folks in Dallas, and it helped establish new friendships. If you would like to get involved with PRSA Dallas or learn more about the benefits, shoot me an email at Nelli@BrooksandAssociatesPR.com.

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