Ten PR Lessons from Confessions of an Advertising Man

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:

  1. IMG_20160218_103802“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)
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.”
  1. “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.
  1. “…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.
  1. “…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.
  1. “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.
  1. “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.

Why Partnership Development Is Crucial for New PR Professionals

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.

Learned Lessons and Discovered Ideas: My Week in Education PR

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.

Strategies for Effective Community Relations: A Case Study on Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER

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.

Do You Know What GE Is? How Companies are Using Advertising for PR

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?

3 Reasons Why PR Pros Need the One-Percenters

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.

 

5 Reasons Why PR Pros Should Embrace Digital Analytics

Digital analytics has become somewhat of a dirty buzzword for those in the communications industry lately. Ironically though, it has been the theme of my third week into the fall semester at Newhouse. From Sysomos training for my research course, to my continued work as Dr. Ford’s research assistant, I’ve found myself regaining my appreciation for the science behind gathering meaningful analysis.

Whether you like it or not, public relations and analytics are becoming synonymous with each other. It’s not just enough for PR professionals to communicate their clients’ message, but they also have to prove that those messages are effective. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have decent analytics in place as social media tools like Facebook and Twitter offer dashboards for you to see how your content is performing.

Here are some ways that analytics can be a beneficial tool for public relations professionals:

  1. Finding your biggest advocates – One of the best things you could have in PR is a loyal fan who’s willing to go to bat for you. They’re the ones who are always sharing your content and are usually the first to leave comments. The frequency with which your biggest fans share your content is a metric you could utilize in addition to recognizing them for their free promotion.
  2. Following the process – If you have a registration process for attracting donations or purchases, you can use analytics to determine the likelihood of visitors to complete the process, also known as the conversion rate. High-end tools like ForeSee, and easy-to-use tools like Google Analytics, allow you to set up tracking codes to determine where visitors might be losing interest and leaving your site, especially if it’s in the middle of a process.
  3. Timing your visitors’ stay – If you’re putting out content that features multiple elements, you’ll want to find out how much visitors are engaging with it. With tracking codes on your website, you can find out just how much time the average user is interacting with your site’s pages. For instance, if you embed a five minute video on a webpage, you might be concerned if visitors are spending listen than five minutes on that page.
  4. What you’re doing right – If you’re putting out a steady stream of content you eventually want to know what type of messaging works for your audience. By keeping track of metrics such as likes, visits and page views, you can notice trends that are more effective than others.
  5. What you’re doing wrong – Of course if you find that engagement with your posts are low you can use analytics to figure out why your messaging isn’t resonating with audiences. You could also use sites like justunfollow.com to see if you’re losing your audience on social media.

With this in mind, I’d hope that more PR professionals will come to recognize digital analytics not as a niche area, but as part of the overall strategy. Just as PR has become integrated with advertising and marketing, digital analytics will continue to make its way into the mix for years to come.

Creating Motivation from Mourning: A Nonprofit’s 9/11 Story

What if you were born on September 11, 2001? Would you feel ashamed to be forever associated with such a tragic day? Or would you embrace it and see your birth as a day that brought Americans together?

That’s the question MyGoodDeed is asking as it kicks off this year’s campaign for 9/11 National Day of Service of Remembrance. For the seventh straight year, MyGoodDeed, a nonprofit organization founded by David Paine and Jay Winuk, has turned the idea of 9/11 from a day of tragedy into a day of hope and optimism. This year the organization enlisted the help of Grey New York to deliver an advertisement that tells the story of 9/11 through the eyes of children who were born on the day of the terrorists attacks.

From a public relations perspective, 9/11 Day has three elements that make it a newsworthy an powerful campaign:

  1. Timeliness – Whether or not you lost loved ones in the attacks on 9/11, you’ll always remember the day like it was yesterday. Such a pivotal day in this nation’s history often brings up negative memories rather than positive ones. However, the concept 9/11 Day capitalizes on the negative emotions and instead turns it into positive actions as it joins Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as the only nationally recognized day under federal law.
  2. Emotion – 9/11 invokes different emotions for each of us. Understandably, those who lost loved ones to the 9/11 terrorists attacks may struggling with this day of mourning. On the other hand, others will remember it as a time when people came together to stand strong in the face of terrorism. These are the people who 9/11 Day’s story most resonates with.  In spite of the lives that ended that day, thousands of others began and the children of 9/11 serve as a powerful reminder of that.
  3. Change – 9/11 Day is refreshing because it gives Americans an opportunity to change the conversation about the day’s symbolic meaning into something positive. Not only does the campaign encourage people to commit to an act of kindness, but it also provides an opportunity to donate $9.11 or more to help support MyGoodDeed’s education programs and volunteer events. Through the donations it receives, the organization uses a powerful story in hopes of promoting charitable service in honor of lost lives.

Campaigns like these that utilize storytelling through the lens of youth represent the power nonprofits have to inspire the world. This is the kind of work I hope to be involved with one day as it’s a great example of using PR for good.

The Road More Traveled: Why Black PR Professionals are Creating Their Own Agencies

inspirational-quote-by-giantsqurlIt’s no secret that diversity is lacking in public relations, particularly at the executive level of agencies and corporations. Not only have Caucasian women struggled to break into executive positions, but black men and women have also found their challenges in the profession as well. I’ve talked about this issue in a previous blog post and have given my thoughts on what it’ll take to get more men of color interested in PR. In the weeks since this post, however, I was intrigued to find that the Public Relations Society of America has efforts to increase the presence of minorities in the profession through its foundation. It just so happens that my department chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, happens to be a trustee for this foundation.

Speaking of Dr. Ford, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her as a research assistant. The project we’re currently working on involves creating high-level messages for the National Black Public Relations Society’s upcoming annual conference. While I can’t disclose the exact findings based on their recent survey, there’s one common trend that I’ve found interesting:

More experienced black professionals are opting to start their own agencies rather than climb the corporate ladder into an executive level position.

It’s apparent to me that blacks, as well as other minorities and Caucasian women, are tired of waiting for the doors of the executive level to be opened to them. Instead of waiting for their chance, underrepresented PR professionals are taking their career destiny into their own hands by becoming employers instead of remaining employees.

This trend is in line with my thinking at times as it pertains to pursuing my career goals in PR. Even at the entry-level, I experienced the same frustrations breaking into the PR profession. In the summer of 2009, I was one of thousands of Detroit teenagers and young adults who went through the excruciating process of applying for a job through the city’s summer youth employment program. To make a long story short, I spent what nearly felt like eight hours waiting in lines to go through the bureaucratic process of potential employment only to have never been contacted regarding where to report for my job site. It was this experience that motivated me to create my own opportunities upon graduating from Northwood as I established myself as a freelance consultant two years later.

Just as I didn’t want to wait for a job opportunity in PR to present itself to me, black mid-career professionals aren’t waiting around to move into executive level positions. Life is too short to wait on the things we truly want out of it. There is nothing wrong with creating the life you want, even if it means taking risks and being uncomfortable. Perhaps by more professionals starting their own firms, corporations in need of high-level PR will take notice of the vast array of capable talent out there and begin to diversify their executive offices.

My Road Map to a Successful Career in PR

This week is my first of two weeks off from my master’s program at Syracuse University. While I don’t have a blog post that’s due for a class, I figured that I’d maintain a habit of blogging every week as I’ll be doing the same starting fall semester for my advanced writing class.

Anyway, to pick up where I left off with my last blog post, I’m definitely pleased so far with my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations. Perhaps what I’ve been most thankful for is my ability to use my course projects for my portfolio to share with prospective employers. Now that the summer session is over I’m turning my attention to finding internship and job opportunities, preferably with nonprofit organizations.

tumblr_l4zu1eCcMv1qa9gi9o1_400It’s really no secret why I have a special interest in nonprofits. As you know, I’ve been telling the stories of organizations in Detroit for four years prior to enrolling at Syracuse. What hasn’t always been clear though were my ultimate career goals. However, as I’ve had time to prepare and embrace what I want from my program I’ve determined four career paths which I wish to pursue:

  1. Nonprofit PR for youth-serving organizations – The work that I’ve done with organizations in Detroit the past few years have been some of my greatest accomplishments as a professional. After I’d see an organization get published for their work in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press I’d always say to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to make a career out of this!” After all, there are few things better than showcasing youth in a positive light.
  2. Community relations for professional sports teams – This one is kind of a new interest for me. My interest in this as a career choice became clearer as I’ve thought of ways to combine my love of community and sports. Specifically, I love the work that Sam Abrams does with the Detroit Tigers as he’s constantly informing local baseball coaches of ways to get their youth involved with the team’s programs.
  3. Running my own small communications firm – With the way the economy sometimes works, it’s no wonder why people are taking control of their own futures by working for themselves. Sure, the idea of finding and maintaining clients is scary as they are your primary source of income, but it’s also just as rewarding to be your own boss and have more control over your schedule.
  4. Teaching at the college/university level – I’m really intrigued by the idea of being able educate and train the next generation of communications professionals. With time, I think it’d be cool to develop a PR program from scratch and turn it into one of prestige. Pursuing this as a career path may require some additional years of school, but at least Ph.D.’s get paid for by the university, and not the other way around!

As the fall semester starts it’ll be interesting to see where my grad school experiences lead me. One thing I’m confident of though is that now that I have an idea where I want to go I can use my connections at Syracuse to create a plan for getting there.