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:

  1. Determine your needs
  2. Identify strategic partners
  3. Have an initial outreach
  4. Make a clear and specific “ask”
  5. Follow up, come to an agreement and put it in writing
  6. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Earlier this week I got my first taste of education PR at the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District (BPCSD). Through the Newhouse Alumni Partnership Program, I volunteered for two days to work on PR related projects for the district located a little more than an hour away from Albany, New York. Under Michele Kelley, who works for Northeast Regional Information Center (NERIC) through the Capitol Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), I authored a feature story for the high school and provided my insights for the district’s social media communications. In addition, Michele introduced me to some resources for me to consider in the educations communications space.

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.

Research shows that more companies are beginning to recognize the importance of having a good corporate reputation. As one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola has long recognized the value and importance of corporate reputation and giving back to their consumers. With a CSR focus on women, water and well-being, in 2013 the company launched EKOCENTER – a mobile community kiosk ran by a local woman entrepreneur that provides safe water, solar power and Internet access.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Lately there’s an emphasis on public relations professionals to know other communications disciplines such as advertising, marketing and journalism. We talked about the idea, otherwise known as integrated marketing communications, a few weeks ago in my PR Theory course at Newhouse, where the discussion began with this question: What is the difference between PR and IMC?

As I understand it, integrated marketing communications encompasses everything in the mix to help an organization sell itself, while PR largely focuses on building relationships with those who’re involved with the organization. So it’s no surprise that PR is part of the IMC mix as building relationships with stakeholders in turn helps you better sell your products and/or services to them.

As demonstrated in their latest advertising campaign, GE understands the need for communications to be integrated. In their recent string of commercials on TV, GE use advertising as a tool to educate stakeholders on what it is they actually do through the life of a young professional, named “Owen,” who deals with skepticism from family and friends when he tells them about his new job with GE as an industrial internet developer.

Without delving too much into the nature of the commercials, here’s why I think it works:

It personifies an era – The genius behind GE’s campaign is that the character Owen is a millennial entering a new profession in traditional corporate establishment. For GE to build interest in the next generation’s workforce to be excited about their opportunities, it makes sense to cast a character who speaks to their culture. Overall, GE ties a new and exciting field (technology development) with their staple offering (sustainability) in a way that merges generations.

It educates – With most campaigns in PR, the goal is to raise awareness for a cause or an issue. In GE’s case, they use commercials to indirectly enlighten their audience that they’re not just an industrial company anymore, and that the scope of what they do is much broader. Putting this message into their commercials not only allows GE to reach the millennials they’re trying to target to work for them, but also older generations who’ve known GE to be something else.

It’s funny – Humor can be a slippery slope when your message is meant to communicate something of value. Everyone’s sense of humor is different and what may be funny to one person may be offensive to another. GE makes the wise choice to go with subtle humor in each of its commercials for its campaign. Whether it’s the competition between Owen and his friend who’s also a developer, or his father who assumes he can’t pick up the hammer, it’s hard not to chuckle a bit when you’re forced to empathize with Owen’s struggles to get his point across.

As IMC becomes the new trend for companies to get their message across, you’re going to see more companies like GE utilize various mediums to get their PR campaigns across to their audience. Gone will be the days where advertising is strictly used to sell products and services, but rather used a starting point for an even greater brand conversation. After all, why else would a brand like Twitter, who doesn’t sell anything tangible other than advertising, take out a commercial like this?

If you’ve ever been responsible for managing a page on Facebook you’ve likely noticed how difficult it is to get your posts to reach your page’s fans lately.  That’s because Facebook’s algorithms have made it tough for marketers in the past few years to organically reach their audience.

Through my previous experiences and my current internship as the social media director for Student Startup Madness, it seems lately that in order for you to really be effective you’ll have to invest in paid ads.  Sure, $5 every now and then isn’t bad, but if you find yourself spending it daily the cost will really add up.

Luckily, putting money behind your content isn’t the only way to organically reach your audience.  Here are some things I’ve noticed in my own work that allow your Facebook posts to truly reach your fans organically.

Balance – If the saying is true that “marketing speaks to you, while advertising yells at you,” then some organizations’ pages are nothing more than a constant advertisement.  Doing this over time hinders your page’s reach to your audience and Facebook makes it harder for you to reach them when you’re simply selling to them.  Instead, balance your content by sharing outside information that might be related to what your page’s purpose is, but isn’t directly selling something either.

Originality – Facebook’s algorithms are smart enough to recognize when you’re simply stealing content from other sources.  However, too much unoriginal content can work against you and limit your reach to fans.  That’s why Facebook tends to reward content you “create” yourself, whether that’s homemade videos, pictures from your phone, or even memes you generated.  There’s a bevvy of other content creation sources such as Canva, FontStudio  and Font Candy, which allow you to make your materials as well.

Timing – Ensuring your content has balance and originality can only take you so far, but if they say “timing is everything,” then you need to know the best times to post in order to reach the most fans.  But how can you determine the best times to reach them?  This goes back to my posts about using social media analytics – in this case, Facebook Insights – to figure out what times your fans are most online and when you have the most (or maybe even least) traffic to get your message across.

I’d be remiss to tell you that there is an exact science to Facebook posts; because there isn’t (at least one that I know of).  Sure there are a number of “best practices,” and there’s nothing wrong with using them for your page. Ultimately though, posting on Facebook is a matter of initial trial and error, until you figure out what works best for you.  Only once you do that can you really develop a consistent rhythm – which ends up turning into your own best practices.

Fall is definitely the season for change, and not just as far as weather is concerned. Two of America’s most popular companies underwent their own changes this past month as both Google and Verizon debuted updated wordmarks to their iconic looks.

Recently I also had the opportunity to work with an organization for their rebranding efforts. The Somali Bantu Community Association in Syracuse is becoming Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment, also known as RISE. It makes sense for the organization to rebrand itself now that they deal with a more diverse clientele. So, to help them out with their rebranding process, why not give them a new wordmark?

In public relations, there are a few things to consider when your organization is undergoing a rebranding effort. Your new look is a reflection of your company’s culture, attitude and persona, making it all the more important for getting your new look right.

Here are some elements communicators should consider when going for a new look:

  1. RISE wordmark finalFont styles – Knowing the difference between serif and sans serif typefaces can make a tremendous difference in the type of personality your new wordmark conveys. Google’s old wordmark had a serif typeface that portrayed the company’s practicality and ease-of-use. Now, their logo is sans serif giving their brand a child-like exuberance, much to the dismay of critics. As for RISE, I decided to use a sans serif typeface to communicate the organization’s easiness to deal with and approachability.
  2. Colors – What many people may not know is that there are meanings behind the hues a brand uses. The difference between blue and red can be immense in terms of setting the mood for what you want your audience to feel. For RISE, I decided to use two colors: a lighter hue of blue to communicate the organization’s approachability, and a medium hue of green to reflect the organization’s positive direction that it provides clients. Together, the colors portray RISE as a globally diverse organization, hence, the use of Earth’s colors.
  3. Symbolism – When you have a name that also doubles as a noun or verb, you have room to experiment with wordplay. Verizon’s new wordmark keeps a similar concept from its old one by keeping the red check or V, symbolizing that “you’re good” (from the old commercials). The symbolism in RISE is much easier to notice. I used the “I” to form an arrow signifying the positive direction the organization is moving its members. Also, when you think of an upward arrow, you tend to think it being positive; therefore, I gave the “I” and arrow in this wordmark a green hue.

Rebranding isn’t just a thing for designers and creatives; PR professionals need to know the characteristics that go into a brand as well. Not knowing the little characteristics that can set your new wordmark off can unintentionally turn away an audience at first glance. That’s why PR professionals need to be involved, so that they can clearly communicate an organization’s rebrand to old and new audiences.

Whether you’ve read up on reviews to help make your next car purchase, or simply asked around about gift ideas for your loved ones, on a personal level you are a constantly subconscious researcher.  At the professional level, you likely conduct research to determine your stakeholders’ attitudes towards your organizations’ potential moves.  The same holds true for public relations professionals, who need to have an understanding of their audiences’ attitudes and beliefs before developing messages tailored to their tastes.  Gaining this understanding usually involves more research, which admittedly sounds like a tedious and expensive process at times.  However, there are many tools out there that professionals can use to create a measuring stick of how their target audience feels about something.

Here are three ways to conduct research even when you’re trying to pinch pennies:

  1. Free online survey tools – When done properly, surveys are a great way to identify characteristics about your audience, and there are many great websites which allow you to create them for free.  Some of these sites even include features like skip logic, which allows survey takers to skip certain questions based on their answers, while others let you customize your site with your organization’s colors.  Although the two most popular tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, there are many others out there that could better suit your organization’s needs.
  1. Focus groups – If you work in a professional team environment, chances are that you’ve had a brainstorming session where you bounce around various ideas.  If you have, then you’d also understand the benefits of a focus group and how great they are for gathering a few people to get a general consensus of your target audience’s attitudes.  However, conducting focus groups usually come with a minimal financial cost as you may have to give potential participants some sort of incentive to convince them to participate, such as free food or gift cards.
  1. Social media-based analytics dashboards – Social networks have come to recognize the importance of proving their worth to businesses and their bottom line.  Digital analytics helps professionals by providing data to demonstrate how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics tools for users who are interested in their posts performance.  LinkedIn also comes with an analytics dashboard for managing company pages.  Even websites can be tracked for effectiveness with the use of free analytics tools from Google.

What’s one of the best ways to find out how your audience feels about something? Ask them!  On the surface, utilizing these tools may seem to be overwhelming and complicated.  Luckily, Dr. Ford and I will demonstrate how easy these tools really are to use at the 2015 PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, November 9.  We’ll also provide real-world examples of organizations and businesses who’ve used successfully used these tools even while having little-to-no budget to work with.  Simply put: it’ll be a way to get in touch with your inner-grassroots communications self.

When it comes to getting information and news about your interests, who do you turn to?  Is it their personality that draws you in?  Do you often find yourself modeling your opinions after theirs?  Just what is it that causes them to have such an affect on you?

Whether you know it or not, your favorite media personality, blogger or even entertainer may be a “One-Percenter” – that is, an influencer in the vast community of content creation.  According to W2O Group‘s strategists, who spoke to Newhouse students at many events this week for Social Commerce Days, the influencers make up the top 1% of your interests’ community of content.  Influencers are the ones who create the content that becomes shareable with their audience.  Their biggest fans, or their advocates, are in the 9% who repackage this content into their own.  Meanwhile, the other 90% consists of enthusiasts – average consumers of content who look to influencers and advocates to stay on top of trends.  This is the 1:9:90 framework of social content, and it’s important for PR professionals to understand this as they seek out non-traditional methods of getting their message out to target publics.

Influencers have three characteristics that make them appealing to communications professionals:

  1. Reach – Influencers get to be in the 1% of content creators because of the large audience they attract.  They have their fair share of advocates who not only repackage their content to reach more people, but they also defend their influencers from criticism.
  2. Relevance – If you let the strategists from W2O tell it, relevance is the new reputation.  Previously, communications professionals wanted to align themselves with someone with a positive reputation.  Now that attention spans are shortening, communicators have to find ways to align their content with influencers who have a stronger grip on their audiences’ attention.
  3. Resonance – Finally, it’s not just enough for professional communicators to create content – it has to actually be good, if not, exceptional.  Audiences flock to influencers because their content has a personal touch or flair to it.  Influencers brand themselves to be memorable and not just put out content that their audience won’t find useful; therefore, communicators must be sure their content fits the same criteria when pitching it to the influencers they want to work with.

At the end of the day, being in the 1% isn’t always glamorous.  Influencers have spent months, and probably years building their audience and delivering content that matters.  It’s this drive that makes influencers unique, enviable and in a position to be gatekeepers of information, similar to journalists.  Once PR professionals find and build the relationship with influencers, their clients will reap the benefits of an increased audience and another channel to reach them.

 

Arguably one of the most hotly debated topics in 2015 has been the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has lead millions around the nation and the world to gather in protest of racial injustice in the United States. However, a closer look at Black Lives Matter reveals that it’s not just an activist movement, but also has the characteristics of a public relations campaign. Specifically, when you compare its process to PR’s R.A.C.E. model of strategic communication, it’s easy to see why Black Lives Matter is more than just a demonstration in activism.

  • Research – Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are constantly searching for stories of black Americans who’ve lost their lives at the hands of police.  Similar to the environmental scanning PR professionals must do in their daily work, Black Lives Matter activists search for every opportunity they can to continue their work.
  • Action – Once PR professionals have the information they need, they’re better educated to make decisions and create a plan for executing their strategy. Black Lives Matter did this by taking their action steps after former police officer Darren Wilson was acquitted in the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After the ruling, the movement began with protests around the globe, in one case closing down shopping malls in St. Louis the day after Thanksgiving.
  • Communication – While none of the founders of Black Lives Matter movement have backgrounds in social media, they each have prior history in community organizing. Using their relationship-building skills, similar to the ones PR professionals need, they’ve been able to communicate their strategies with activists and organizers around the world. Even when organizers aren’t protesting, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter allows supporters and criticizers alike to join the conversations about equal justice.
  • Evaluation – Judging the success of Black Lives Matter is difficult without a set of predefined goals and metrics. For many PR campaigns, success is achieved if the strategy meets the organization’s financial bottom line. For others, success might be determined simply in the amount of awareness a campaign’s raised. Black Lives Matters seems to fit the latter as it hopes by raising awareness that it can influence change in the U.S. justice system.

It’s too soon to say whether Black Lives Matter will make the impact that it truly desires since it is a relatively new campaign. One can only hope that eventually its founders will come up with a true set of outcomes beyond simply raising awareness. As most PR professionals would agree, conversations are nice, but they mean little to nothing if they don’t lead to actions that deliver results.

Last week I gave you reasons why public relations professionals should embrace digital analytics since it was a common theme among my courses and projects.  Another discussion about digital analytics spilled over into the earlier part of this week as my Advanced PR Writing for Digital Platforms class had a speaker presentation.  The assistant director of social media for Syracuse University shared some helpful insights for us as we consider developing social media strategies for our prospective clients or employers.

Hearing our speaker’s presentation gave me additional ideas for reasons why PR professionals should embrace the tools of digital analytics.  As it specifically pertains to social media, gaining knowledge of analytics can be helpful in the following ways:

  1. Determine your audience’s demographics – When developing a communications strategy, it’s usually common practice to know your target audience or primary publics.  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have analytics dashboards that can help you determine if you’re really reaching them or another unintended audience.  Characteristics you can find are average ages, ethnicity, and geographic location among others.
  1. Find out when they’re viewing your posts – There are a ton of articles out there which will tell you that there’s a specific time to post on social media – usually between 1 and 3 p.m. on Facebook.  These articles, however, take a generalist approach and assume that what works for one page works for the other.  Once your communications strategy is implemented, you may find that your target audience requires a different approach.
  1. Uncover their purchasing preferences – What might be creepy to know is that analytics can dig more than just your audience’s demographics.  Analytics uses tracking codes that can tell you where your audience likes to shop and what items they like to buy. That’s when you can use this information to publish social media ads that tie-in to their purchasing habits.
  1. Find out what they’re saying about you – Analytics is useful for finding the conversations which your audience is having about you.  At a basic level, you can use searches on Twitter and Instagram to find almost every post that mentions your brand’s hashtag or name.  At an advanced level though, you can use tools such as Foresee, Ubervu and Meltwater to get a general scope whether those conversations are positive or negative.
  1. Create social media ads geared towards their interests – Once you use analytics to find out the information you need, you can use its many tools to figure out the best way to reach them.  As one example, Facebook allows you to “boost” certain posts beyond those who’ve liked your page. Of course it’ll involve a monetary investment, but you can spend as little as $1 for five days to expand your posts, and your page, to a broader audience.

It’s inevitable that understanding digital analytics will be crucial for public relations professionals going forward.  However, those who understand its tools and tricks sooner will reap the benefits of being able to communicate well-crafted messages that speak exactly to their public’s tastes.

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