The following was originally authored for Hager Sharp’s agency blog. You can read it here.
Every four or eight years, the United States officially swears in a new president—oftentimes bringing a new set of challenges. That’s why as a social-change communicator, I felt it would be beneficial to attend the PRSA National Capital Chapter’s most recent Breakfast Breakthrough titled, “What the (Donald) Trump Administration Means for Associations and Nonprofits.” Attendees kept the discussion lively and came away with expectations, takeaways, and tools for news monitoring.
While observing and listening to attendees’ different perspectives, I discovered some helpful tips based on the presentation and my own experience with nonprofits:
Social media is key: now more than ever—From the campaign trail to now, President Trump has never been one to shy away from voicing his opinions on Twitter. Nonprofits and organizations can adapt that same boldness on social media to advocate for their own causes. This may require a change in procedures for some organizations, where the clearance process can slow down their ability to seize the moment. In fact, a key thing about today’s social media is how quickly organizations can get their message out. The Pew Research Center found that Facebook was the third most popular source of news among all voters this past year. Being authentic on your networks is a great way to engage and gain public trust.
Study the media habits of your audience—If you are trying to influence elected officials and their policies, it’s always helpful to understand their media habits. One suggestion for doing this is to utilize Twitter to follow their accounts and the accounts that they follow. Know which media outlets matter to them. For example, this Axios article provides information on President Trump’s daily media diet. For members of Congress, their hometown paper may carry more weight than TheWashington Post. Once you understand the “media diet” of your elected official, you can understand how best to target your media messages towards getting his or her attention.
Value insiders’ and outsiders’ opinions—When the breakfast attendees were asked about the last time we analyzed who our audiences are, not many of us raised our hands. Before your organization adapts boldness on social media, it’s important to know who your supporters are—on and offline—and assess how they feel. At the same time, organizations need to assess the sentiment of those outside of their base of supporters to get a sense of what they’re up against and whether there’s an opening to change hearts and minds.
Embrace partnerships with like-minded organizations—Everyone knows the old saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” History has shown this to be true, from the early movements in the 1900s for women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Both events were the result of individuals and organizations with similar beliefs coming together to advocate for the same cause. Even after those events, organizations benefitted by combining their efforts and becoming stronger advocates in the process.
Facts matter, but emotions do too—Many of the great leaders for social change all share one thing in common: each of them successfully gained followers by incorporating facts into their messages along with relentless passion. As organizations seek to become thought leaders for their causes, the importance of using data and emotion to tell a compelling story will be crucial for inspiring current supporters and gaining new advocates.
Nonprofits and associations don’t have to fear the impending changes. Instead, by studying their new landscape and adapting boldness on social media, organizations can take advantage of opportunities to make sure their issues are at the forefront. It’s also important that organizations assess their own supporters and detractors, unite with like-minded groups, and combine emotion with facts to tell a compelling story aimed at securing more advocates. Attending this PRSA Breakfast Breakthrough gave me more confidence that the effective use of communications will serve nonprofits well—even in times of disruption.
If you’re like me, the best news about this election season is that it’s finally over. Donald Trump became the next president-elect in a race most news outlets believed heavily favored Hillary Clinton. And no matter how you felt about either candidate, data from the Pew Research Center proves this was the one of the most divisive presidential races. Millions of Clinton’s supporters woke up Wednesday morning in despair. And, had the results had been in her favor, the same feelings would’ve been true of Trump supporters.
But for just a brief moment, let’s take a look at these election campaigns objectively. Trump’s campaign often gets dismissed for the attitudes it fostered towards minorities and women, but a closer look reveals that his campaign strategy was stronger than Clinton’s. Here’s why he was able to be successful:
Inspiring change (for better or worse)—When Americans look to elect new leaders into office, they’re counting on those leaders to change the way things have been done. The idea of change is what led voters to elect President Barack Obama to two terms, and it’s Trump’s form of change that resonated especially well with white men and women without college degrees, who longed for the days of high-paying manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, instead of promising her own form of change, Clinton’s campaign was too reliant on continuing the successes of Obama’s administration.
Authenticity (for better or worse)—If you were looking for a candidate who was always politically correct, Trump was definitely not for you. From his rhetoric in the debates and on the campaign trail, to his 5 a.m. Twitter rants about sex tapes, Trump had no filter when expressing his thoughts. On the other hand, Clinton was widely accused of being “calculated” and inaunthentic. Her campaign speeches addressed progressive issues, while her leaked emails revealed a different story. Because of this, Pew discovered only 33 percent of voters viewed her as honest compared to 63 percent for Obama in 2008.
Branding (for better or worse)—The most memorable campaign slogans have taglines that resonate with both supporters and their opponents. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was both a source of inspiration and a punchline of ridicule for voters this election season; but either way, you talked about it. As for the Clinton campaign, they relied on two slogans: “I’m With Her” and “Stronger Together.” As TBWA/Chiat/Day NY CEO Rob Schwartz notes in a recent PR Week article, “if you look at ‘I’m With Her,’ it was about the candidate, and ‘Stronger Together’ was really about the party.” Ultimately, what made “Make America Great Again” so successful was that it spoke directly to the people.
Overall, supporters of Trump saw what some skeptics of Clinton realized: she represented the status quo of a nation that they believed ultimately left them behind. It’s also worth noting, even Trump’s authenticity has been questioned as some people don’t believe he stands by his disparaging remarks about women and minorities. Regardless, while Trump’s election victory has left the country divided, there are still lessons to be learned from his campaign—for better or worse.
This post was originally shared for McKinney & Associates’ blog and newsletter, where I was employed at the time. You can find it here.
Before I left Detroit for graduate school in Syracuse University I took the opportunity to work with a professional trainer for over a year. During that time I learned the sport of boxing, which is a great way to get in shape thanks to the levels of cardio involved.
Most people see boxing as a brute sport where opponents fight each other until the (sometimes bloody) end. But those who really follow and participate in the sport know the true level of strategy involved.
Similarly, communications is more than just the tactics you see carried out through social media, press releases and other forms of content. It also involves a strategy that helps you determine who your audience is and how best to attack (or reach) them.
Here are some ways you can consider boxing to be helpful for communications strategies:
Preparation–Boxing is a sport that took me about 7-8 months to prepare for. It requires months of healthy eating, a routine of calisthenics, and practice of proper techniques. Meanwhile, communications campaigns also require preparation. After all, it’s important to ensure your team has the capacity to handle the work you’ve agreed to take on and the goals you’re looking to achieve.
Scouting–In boxing, it’s important to take time out to get a scouting report on your opponent, whether by watching him/her against other people, or by getting “the scoop” from other trainers and observers. Similarly, communications efforts should have a clear idea of their audience’s preferences before they’re carried out.
Defense–Whether you’re sparring or in an actual competition, most boxers are ill-advised against throwing a constant barrage of punches without considering how their opponent might attack. It’s the same concept in communications: if you go on the offensive all the time without anticipating your audience’s needs, they will likely grow weary of your message and you’ll lose out on opportunities.
Stamina–Another drawback of throwing a constant barrage of punches is that it ultimately wears you down, making you vulnerable to attacks from your opponent. In communications, it’s also important to make sure your efforts are spread out through a timeline which is reasonable for you to execute and realistic for engaging your target audience.
Reflection–In between boxing rounds and even after sessions or competitions, you have to take time to reflect on what you did right and what you did wrong in the ring. The same is true for communications efforts—high levels of activity are not enough to justify a campaigns success. Rather, emphasis should be placed on other measures, such as how many placements you’ve secured and how large their audiences extend.
Boxing isn’t just a great way to get in shape; it also helps you to consider communications strategies. Having a good balance of offense and defense is the same as having a good balance of listening and disseminating. Ultimately, the best way to be successful in either is to have a winning strategy.
This post was originally shared for McKinney & Associates’ blog and newsletter, where I was employed at the time. You may find it here.
What’s a good way to stand up for something you believe in? Well, if you ask NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, don’t! The QB for the San Francisco 49ers has been bringing attention to social and racial injustice in America by not standing for the National Anthem before games. Since Kaepernick’s actions caught the attention of media in late August, more NFL players have taken similar stands (or seats) with every passing week during the season. The move has even inspired U.S. Women’s National Team soccer star Megan Rapinoe to kneel before the anthem during recent matches. And, this week Missouri state senator Jamilah Nasheed declined to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in support of Kaepernick.
People admire those who are courageous enough to stand for something they believe in. It’s why McKinney & Associates has been successful at taking on the bullies and helping clients find their voice. Over the years, the agency has found three common characteristics among clients who have found their voice. Here’s what they have in common with Kaepernick’s actions:
Courage: Kaepernick chose an interesting time to take his “stand.” Since taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, his performance has declined to the point where NFL experts were debating if the team should trade him or keep him as a second string player. Even with his playing time and career on the line, Kaepernick is displaying courage by expressing his disapproval for the nation’s actions.
Compelling: Being an athlete in the nation’s most popular professional sports league is one thing; playing for one of that league’s marquee franchises is another. Kaepernick isn’t just compelling because of the stance he’s taking against the nation’s issue; he’s compelling because he was once of the league’s best QBs en route to almost winning a championship.
Conviction: Despite the harsh wave of criticism he’s received, Kaepernick is displaying conviction even through adversity. He has continued to speak with media at their request and has provided thorough explanations for his actions. This conviction may have earned Kaepernick many detractors, but it has also revealed a fair share of reports.
Malcolm X famously exclaimed, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” By taking a stand by sitting down, Kaepernick and others are refusing to fall for the belief that America has upheld its promises to the people it’s meant to serve. Amidst the criticism he’s received, Kaepernick has been successful in stirring up conversations around racial and social justice; and a Black American didn’t have to be murdered at the hands of law enforcement in order to do so.
The challenge that most of the 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. face is two-fold. First, budget restrictions prevent them from hiring additional communications professionals. Second, this lack of staff capacity limits nonprofits’ ability to carry out the strategic public relations campaigns that most corporations can afford. Because of this, nonprofit public relations pros are often tasked with managing social media strategies by themselves or with minimal staff support; in other words, serving as “one stop shops.”
As daunting as the task may seem, it is possible for nonprofits to be successful on social media. Here are five strategies nonprofit communicators should consider:
Only be on networks which make sense for you – Many nonprofits believe that they have to be on all of the top social networks, when really they should focus only on using the social networks which best reach their target audiences. For instance, Water is Life‘s efforts were largely Twitter-centric with the campaign’s goal of hijacking the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems and turning it into one of donation awareness.
Tell your nonprofit’s story using multimedia – Social media content with visuals attract 94% more total views and are 40 times more likely to be shared on social networks. That’s why Water is Life teamed with advertising agency DDB New York to produce a one-minute video, where Haitian residents read aloud users’ tweets with the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems. With six million views, not only did the video decreased the popularity of the hashtag, but also solicited enough donations to the nonprofit to provide one million days of clean water to their clientele.
Develop a balance between self-promotional and other’s content – Social networks are similar to real-life relationships: very few people like to be around others who do nothing except talk about themselves. Not only were the pros behind #SFBatkid sharing content from their associated handles, but they also showed support for fans and celebrities whom were also using the hashtag through retweets and replies. The result: 117 countries mentioned the Batkid and 13% of #SFBatkid tweets came from outside the United States.
Foster relationships with your publics using your online presence – Most social networks offer tools for building relationships, such as Facebook’s ability to tag users and others within posts and comments. This feature is what allowed the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association‘s Ice Bucket Challenge to go viral, with friends and family often tagging each other to be informed that the challenge had been accepted, and in return, to issue the challenge to more friends and family.
There are dozens of articles out there that claim to have social media “best practices” for nonprofits. Ultimately, the only way to find out what works best for you is through a little trial-and-error. Still, there’s little reason for nonprofits of all sizes can be just as effective as top corporate brands at telling their story with social media.
Last week I attended the Global Alliance’s 2016 World Public Relations Forum in Toronto on behalf of my master’s program at Syracuse University. Over the span of three days, I took the opportunity to learn about different perspectives on the practice and attitudes of PR professionals around the world by attending keynote sessions and workshops.
Here are some of the most interesting insights I took away from the conference:
Canadians and Americans are kind of the same – One of the most useful tools I learned about is Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions through Janet Morgan’s keynote on “The Cultural Gap – Communications from the Centre.” Part of her presentation showed this graph comparing the United States with English-speaking Canada. Ultimately, while there are slight differences, they’re not steep enough for PR professionals to have to implement vastly different campaigns for both countries.
PR needs more balls – In a session about the recently released 2016 Global Communications Report from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations and The Holmes Report, director and Golin CEO Fred Cook compared the PR profession to a game at the pool table. Cook summarized the report’s findings by saying, “the more experiences you have, the more options you have, and the more balls you have.” By having more experiences, PR professionals can expose themselves greater opportunities to be successful in advancing their careers.
Specialization isn’t such a bad thing – Another interesting point raised at the same session involved the concept of Golin’s four communities of specialists: explorers, creators, connectors and catalysts. Admittedly, I’ve always thought that it was best to achieve career success in PR by being a generalist – someone who can be good at a little of everything. However, what I learned from Cook and the session is that large multinational firms are setup in a way that is more conducive to specialists. Maybe then, it’s best to be a master of one trade than a jack of all trades.
Don’t always have an “ask” – A topic of discussion for PR professionals from all nations is how to communicate with its indigenous population, or natives. While the panel session provided numerous strategies, one that stood out to me was the strategy of simply getting to know your nation’s indigenous population without having an agenda. This strategy can be applicable to any publics you’re looking to build relationships with, as it emphasizes having trust in one another.
Unique challenges and opportunities exist in African nations – Two different sessions on PR in Africa focused on career trends and the importance of traditional media methods. While the study on career trends found that professionals on the continent are dealing with decreasing pay and budget constraints, opportunities exists for those who demonstrate the skills and competencies needed to be successful. At the same time, while new media is emerging among African nations, PR professionals should not abandon common traditional methods for reaching publics, such as town criers, local markets, folktales and proverbs among others.
Overall, what I learned at the WPRF was that while the concept of PR is nearly the same around the world, professionals must take time to carefully listen and learn different aspects of the cultures they’re trying to reach. No two cultures are completely alike, and those who can communicate across cultures will improve their chances of being successful on a global scale.
Most public relations professionals would tell you that differentiating themselves from their peers in marketing and advertising has become a part of the daily duties. So why then would a PR professional ever be interested in reading a book titled, Confessions of an Advertising Man?
I recently read David Ogilvy’s book for my PR Management course at Newhouse. Believe it or not, Confessions of an Advertising Man draws many interesting parallels for PR professionals to consider in their own line of work. Here are my ten favorite quotes and their relation to PR:
“You don’t have to be a Christian to behave like a gentleman” – One of the more humorous quotes, PR professionals (or all reasonable professionals) should conduct their work ethically and as if the entire organization depends on it. (See Arthur W. Page Society principles)
“Imitation may be the ‘sincerest form of plagiarism,’ but it is also the mark of an inferior person” – Being authentic goes a long way in PR.
“It is easy to be beguiled by acres of desks, departments, and other big agency appaurtenances. What counts is the real motive power of the agency, the creative potency” – Bigger isn’t always better when you’re trying to find the perfect agency to work with or work at. Remember: quality over quantity.
“A habit of graceful surrender on trivial issues will make you difficult to resist on those rare occasions when you must stand and fight on a major issue” – Not every disagreement with a client is worth being right over. PR professionals must often pick and choose their battles.
“When you sit down to write your body copy, pretend that you are talking to the woman on your right at a dinner party. She has asked you, ‘I am thinking of buying a new car. Which would you recommend?’ Write your copy as if you were answering that question” – In other words, most PR writing should be factually-based with limited “fluff.”
“I never tell one client that I cannot attend his sales convention because I have a previous engagement with another client; successful polygamy depends upon pretending to each spouse that she is the only pebble on your beach” – The best leaders in PR are able to deliver personalized solutions for their clients’ needs.
“…I praise my staff as rarely as Pitard praised his chefs, in the hope that they too will appreciate it more than a steady gush of appreciation” – Maybe not everyone will agree with this one, but it’s something to think about when trying to avoid becoming complacent.
“…I see red when anybody at Ogilvy, Benson & Mather tells a client that we cannot produce an advertisement or a television commercial on the day we have promised it. In the best establishments, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime” – For PR professionals, time management and teamwork are key to avoiding such situations.
“I have never wanted to get an account so big that I could not afford to lose it. The day you do that, you commit yourself to living with fear. Freightened agencies lose their courage to give candid advice; once you lose that you become a lackey” – Whether you’re just starting out your career or an established firm owner, PR professionals should never put all of their eggs into one basket.
“I admire people who work with gusto. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, I beg you to find another job. Remember the Scottish proverb, ‘be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead” – Sounds easy enough, right?
As a fairly quick read, it’s no wonder Confessions of an Advertising Man is considered a classic for business professionals. I highly recommend it for professionals at all levels.
Vanguard Communications, a minority-owned public relations firm in Washington, DC, recently published a blog post providing six steps for organizations to focus on partnership development. In these six steps, author Shannon Walsh focuses on the need for not-for-profit organizations (whom serve as Vanguard’s primary clientele) to be able to build strategic partnerships with other organizations in a way where their core competencies complement each other. In short, this means that both organizations offer a service or fill a need that the other is missing. Walsh’s six steps include:
Determine your needs
Identify strategic partners
Have an initial outreach
Make a clear and specific “ask”
Follow up, come to an agreement and put it in writing
Nurture the relationship
As a soon-to-be graduate hoping to break further into the PR profession I’ve noticed how easily these steps could also be applied to the types of relationships I, and my fellow classmates at Syracuse University, desire to have with their supervisors. Here’s how Walsh’s six steps could work in an associate-supervisor professional relationship:
Determine your agency’s needs beyond the job description – Agencies (and really all hiring companies) use interviews to screen for the best candidates who fit their culture and get a sense for how they can contribute to their well-being through their skill-sets. So for prospective employees, why not use that same interview process to delve deeper into what the agency is looking for in their next hire?
Make your specific “ask” clear before starting – When starting in a new position there’s always some type of learning curve to help an associate get used to their new environment. During the first few weeks, it’s beneficial to both me as a new associate and my supervisor to set clear expectations and goals for what determines our team’s success.
View your hiring manager as a strategic partner – Agencies select the candidates who are the best strategic fit for their long-term goals. Naturally, this means there’s a level of trust that’s been earned where the working relationship involves two-way communication. Millennial professionals such as myself highly value this give-and-take with our leaders because it allows our opinions to be heard.
Nurturing the work relationship – While having the initial two-way communication with my supervisor is a good start, it’ll ultimately be up to me, or any new professional, to maintain that relationship. While this can be mostly accomplished through my job performance, it’s also up to me to continue to ask questions that give me a better understanding of the agency’s culture and the way it does business.
Agencies who foster a mutually beneficial partnership among their employees also develop an organizational culture that inspires others to want to work there. Ultimately, partnership development isn’t just important for agencies to be able to implement when it comes to finding new clients, but it’s also important for them in order to maintain their relationships with the associates who make the agency tick.
Meanwhile back home, the big story this week was a district-wide teacher sick-out which closed schools throughout Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The sick-out is reported to be a protest by the teachers’ union against the conditions their schools are in, as well as compensation and benefits. Overall, DPS has been dealing with a number of issues for nearly a decade, mainly due to a sharp decline in student enrollment and the district’s nearly billion-dollar budget deficit.
The night and day differences between BPCSD and DPS are part of the reason for my interest in education PR, so that I can be a part of changing the conversation to highlight the positive things going on in the latter. Based on some of the things I’ve learned volunteering for BPCSD, here are some ways I’d attempt to do for DPS:
Highlight students, teachers and staff – As a former student of DPS, I can attest to part of the reason for the perceived lack of motivation from those in the trenches: and it stems from their lack of appreciation. Deep down, there are students, teachers and staff who truly desire to do the right thing; however, their efforts for doing so are often under-appreciated. Many schools have programs in place where teachers and students work to keep students out of trouble and are successful at doing so. Highlighting these individuals and groups would be a good way to keep them motivated to influence change in their schools in spite of external situations. Everyone loves recognition, and few people could use it more than teachers in inner-city schools.
Use social media to stir up friendly competition – What’s potentially an underestimated method of engaging students is social media. Specifically at the high school level, most students use smartphones and are on many, if not all, of the most popular social media networks. But what would make them interested in following their school district or school on social media? Contests. Opportunities. Recognition. Interaction. Prizes. Ultimately it’s using social media as a tool to listen to and show concern for what they have to say.
Create micro-fundraising campaigns – Another one of the key things I learned at BPCSD was that school districts are a lot like nonprofit organizations in the way that they rely heavily on outside funding aside from tax-payer funds from both the city and state; unfortunately, those only go so far in keeping schools and their districts solvent. Using the right messaging, DPS could appeal to its parents and alums to do the little bit they can to contribute to improving their school’s conditions and resources. Although most parents of students in the district seemingly struggle with their own finances, the use of research and analytics to find the most affluent parents and reaching out to them might be worth it.
In spite of these ideas, it’s important to note that there are other factors beyond a communications professional’s control that might limit the ability to put forth new ideas in place. Ultimately, it’s up to the management and board of directors above any communications professional to do their part in repairing DPS’s myriad of issues. While that goes on, one can do the little bit they can to show appreciation to those who are directly impacted by management’s decisions.
After all, a little appreciation (and friendly competition) can go a long way.
Not only did I get to hear the story behind EKOCENTER when I attended the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta last month, but I also made it the focus of my final paper for my Public Relations Theory course at Newhouse.
In many ways, Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER initiative, which is geared mostly towards developing nations, perfectly relates to my paper’s topic – Strategies for Effective Community Relations and Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyone who knows me well knows about my passion for community relations. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to develop trends based on research and actionable steps for any organization who’s looking to use community relations as a way to improve their overall reputation.
Here are the three main trends I’ve found that make organizations successful at community relations:
Personification storytelling – What always makes stories so appealing to us are the characters behind them. The same is true for organizations who want to communicate how their community relations efforts make an impact on the people they serve. In telling the story of EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola does a great job of strategically communicating the initiative’s value while capturing the moments of all the people behind the kiosks’ success through videos and photo blogs.
Proper alignment with core focus – You would expect NFL teams to sponsor the Play60 initiative because athletes are great for promoting physically active lifestyles to kids. On the opposite end, Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign fell short in part because it didn’t make business sense for a coffee shop company to encourage its customers to talk about matters of racial justice. The point is, it helps when companies do things for the community that relate back to their core purpose. Coca-Cola realizes this, as EKOCENTER uniquely ties back to each of its three main CSR focuses.
Correlating positive CSR with profits – While it’s widely known that most companies do benefit from having a good corporate reputation, no company earns it overnight; whether good or bad. That’s why it’s important for organizations to establish a solid foundation for their CSR efforts so that in time it pays off in brand equity and an improved financial bottom line. While it remains to be seen if Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTERs have made a significant contribution to Coca-Cola’s profits, it does make sense for the company on a practical level to use the kiosks to sell their beverages.
If implemented effectively, positive community relations can lead to significant benefits for an organization, among them being improved brand equity which can lead to increased profits. Even without these motivations, it’s good for organizations to demonstrate care towards their community publics. While a positive relationship with publics is beneficial, having a negative or nonexistent relationship can also impact an organization just as much.