We’ve all seen it – the Fiat travelling the streets of Washington and New York with the Pope waving from the back seat.

I was on my way back from a meeting – Starbucks in hand – when I encountered the Pope and his Fiat.

What struck me was the respect shown by the motorcade – the slowest moving, most silent motorcade I had ever seen – and this little Fiat with a very hunched over Pope (he looked uncomfortable) surrounded by numerous SUVs.

It was clear from the reaction of the people around me that he is adored and is creating a new awareness and affection for the Catholic Church among all denominations. Just a few years ago, the Church was beset with scandal and the Vatican was appearing increasingly out of touch.

So what have they’ve done to change perception?

Establishing a Strong, yet Simple, Brand. Pope Francis is very much the everyman Pope. Taking seriously a vow of poverty and becoming the voice of the voiceless. That is his brand. With every speech, he exemplifies and expands upon his brand, and with every appearance, he symbolizes his brand.

Using Symbolism to Reinforce Message. The Fiat exemplified symbolism in action. It was simple and everyman while also underpinning the message of his visit – addressing climate change. It was a powerful message that was shared via social countless of times – further extending the message.

Ensuring Image and Actions are Aligned. There is a story making the rounds that an aide to the Pope carried his luggage on board one of the flights. The Pope asked him to bring the luggage back so he could carry it onboard. He is very aware of his image and works to ensure his actions are consistent with his image.

Being Straightforward and Honest. The Pope has been straightforward on the issues facing the Catholic Church and has taken these issues on directly as opposed to ignoring or hiding from them. By doing so, he has engendered trust and respect among the public not only for himself, but also for the Church.

Late on Saturday night after a hectic day in Manhattan, I hailed a cab on fifth to take me to the airport. The first thing I noticed was how clean it was – I had never seen a cab so clean.

The driver was also dressed immaculately and was very calm. I thought to myself, “Is this real?”

Lou the driver explained that he had been driving a cab in New York City since 1969. He considers himself an ambassador and his cab an embassy. I wanted to ask if he offered asylum as well. It was as if we were driving around the city in an oasis of serenity.

As a little boy growing up outside Guayaquil, Ecuador, he had dreamed of a job and a city where he could meet many people around the world.

He achieved his dream and has shared advice on how he aims to be the best in his job every day through the brand experience he creates:

Create the experience from the beginning. From your first interaction with a brand you should feel – and notice – the difference that sets it apart from other similar brands. Of the 13,600 licensed cabs in New York, Lou is able to set himself apart from the start.

Engage with your customers. At this point in his career, Lou is a great psychologist and knows how to subtly get his customer’s attention. And he starts with the customer’s favorite topic: themself. He is not overbearing in his approach.

Be a great conversationalist. He is also a great conversationalist and a master storyteller. He provided me with many life lessons on my way to the airport. He also had me in tears laughing after I learned he was married to his fifth wife (he highly recommends marrying several times and advises to always have a bag packed in case they ask you to leave).

Listen carefully. Lou’s best tip was to remember that your mind and your words are connected – use them well and remember to actually listen to your customer. Find out what makes them tick, what their needs are from their perspective, not your brand’s perspective.

Lou has a manuscript about his life sitting in the passenger seat of his cab. I urged him to get it published. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough to meet Lou on your next trip to NYC. And if not, his book will be a riveting read.

Working with a public relations agency can help public relations professionals amplify and target their efforts more effectively. However, it can often times be a relationship fraught with ups and downs over its lifecycle.

Keeping the relationship – and the results – on an even keel takes work on both parts. The agency needs to understand your organization’s vision and goals and you need to understand the skills, capabilities and strengths of the agency.

Here are a few tips for managing an agency:

Do your research. From the beginning, try for the best possible match by researching agencies to ensure they have experience and media contacts in your field, they are the right size for your organization right now and their culture matches yours.

If you have a limited budget, you may want to choose a smaller agency that would not relegate you to the bottom of the client pile based on your budget but may give you more attention due to your potential.

Define success. Make sure you have a clear definition of what success would be from the relationship. Know what results you want and communicate that in the RFP process as well as in your agency interviews. It is okay to adjust these based on input with the agency you select – it is a two-way relationship. They may know the business better than you but be clear on what your organization’s expectations are.

Plan and measure. Develop a plan in coordination with the agency to reach your definition of success with effective measurement along the way. Have the agency offer advice and ideas on measurement and listen to them if they caution you that your plan may not be taking in real world implications. Develop a process on how to work through lack of performance or conflicts before you begin.

Communicate. I know this seems obvious but it often does not happen. Your agency should be kept up to date on your organization, changes in business, focus or new visions and plans that are being developed. The more aware they are of the changing needs of your organization, the better they will be at seeing opportunities and maximizing them for results.

Manage effectively. It is critical that someone from your team be assigned to manage the relationship with your involvement through at least the first quarter of the relationship. It is also critical that the agency maintains consistency with their account team and that the relationship between these teams is open with rules established from the beginning on regular engagements. Will there be weekly calls? Will there be regular report-outs on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis? Are there conflict resolutions set up in case the relationship goes off track?

Remember that it is a 50/50 relationship and a two-way communication channel must always be open for the agency to perform well and for you to get the results you and your organization expect. Most important, you must be comfortable with each other, honest and open sharing dialogue on ideas and potential obstacles for the relationship to work. If you are not comfortable picking up the phone and talking to them at any point during your day, you are with the wrong agency.

Is your brand recognized as a thought leader in its industry?

In today’s social age, potential clients are making business choices based on the quality and visibility of your brand’s thought leadership before they engage with you. Thought leadership is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity.

By sharing insights and ideas – online and offline – that are relevant to your current and potential markets, thought leadership can differentiate your brand from the competition.

Here are six steps towards building a successful thought leadership strategy:

Revisit your brand strategy. You will need to know the core offerings of your brand and how that will evolve in the future. Review your strategy with leadership and have a conversation about the future.

Identify the experts. Review the expertise and background of your c-level executives. Align their expertise with your core offerings now and in the future to begin to determine how their knowledge can be maximized to make your brand more credible and marketable. Keep in mind your most valuable thought leader might be the most unassuming person in the room who never ‘toots their own horn’.

Examine the playing field. Research the channels and opportunities available within your brand’s current and future target markets. Understand themes and content trends over time. Which are more successful than others? Which brands are well positioned and why?

Determine your timeline. How long will it realistically take for you to implement your thought leadership strategy? Your experts may need training first so you will need to allow additional time and you may need to socialize the importance of thought leadership throughout your company.

Develop your thought leadership strategy. Create strategic goals, a content plan and pipeline that align each expert with a particular market segment. Identify what mix of channels will not only be most effective but where the experts will be most comfortable. Ideally, it is a mix of both online (platforms and channels) and offline (speaking events and webinars). Determine how you will measure results and how often.

Take content risks. Clients and potential clients will want to know how your brand envisions the future. Your experts should be comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone to discuss what will be happening in the future within their market areas – whether right or wrong.

Remember to include your experts and leadership in the development of the strategy and to keep your content within your brand’s service areas now and in the future. This will enable you to establish your company’s commitment to thought leadership and to maintain content alignment with your brand strategy in the long-term.

Walt Disney Japan has had a rough day on social.

The latest was an unfortunate tweet sent on the 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing which translated to “congratulations on a not special day”.

How can you avoid tweet trouble on Twitter or for that matter, how can you ensure your global brand channels are engaged with local culture and customs in your key markets?

Hire for local context. Ensure your social media talent is well versed in the culture and customs of the country for the channels they are managing – either by hiring locally if you have a decentralized structure or hiring someone with work experience in that country.

Establish clear goals. Understand what business goals you are trying to achieve with your channels in each of your markets and how that ties into your content, campaigns and promotions.

Understand your audience. Do the research by developing personas to determine your audience given your business goals. Determine how and where your audience engages on social and how often. Plan to keep your engagement with them at their preferred level, not at your brand’s comfort level. Make note of important holidays and dates within the country in your editorial calendar.

Educate on brand values. It is essential that your social staff understand your brand values, your positioning and your overall strategy so that they can develop and manage content that aligns with your overall image. It also helps to prevent any “going rogue” scenarios. Educate continually, not just once.

Develop and train on protocols. Create protocols and crisis plans for your social channels with your social team to ensure it is clear and that there are response plans in place that will minimize any reputational damage.

The Lion That Roared

August 2, 2015 — 1 Comment

By now, we all know the fate of Cecil the lion and the Internet firestorm that followed. As The Guardian put it last week: “Nous sommes Cecil”.

The one quote that stood out from the many hundreds over the past week was from Zimbabwe’s Acting Minister of Information when asked about Cecil. Her response, “What lion?” And press reports confirmed that not all Zimbabweans were familiar with Cecil.

The meaning of her words were quickly interpreted by the Western press – many of whom took the comment as a callous remark or an affront.

In public relations terms, the story was getting out ahead of her fast. And just like in a road race you want to close that gap as soon as possible and overtake the story if you can.

So what was missing?

Context. It was an education moment if there ever was one. Zimbabwe has been wrestling with serious economic issues – conditions that most in the West could not believe or relate to. Passion overtook the reality of Zimbabwe’s economic conditions which if you peel back the layers of this onion, was a significant, long-term contributor to Cecil’s demise.

Understanding the near immediate, seismic shift in publicity. In many ways the Government of Zimbabwe has been handed a global platform to highlight the disparity between the reality of every day Zimbabweans and the Zimbabwe of those who visit or experience through images and documentaries about their wildlife.

Transforming that platform. An opportunity still exists for the Information Minister to get her message out by telling the story of Zimbabwe through everyday Zimbabweans and their vision for the future. And to make the country a global cause for the West to get behind – for the sake of Cecil’s cubs and other lions – and for the people of Zimbabwe.

When was the last time you took a hard look at your communication channels and compared the message and experience with your communications strategy? Are they aligned?

Most of us use analytics as the litmus test for communications campaigns to prove return on investment. The downside of which can make us quite micro-focused, losing sight of the overall messaging and experience. And in a global context, with different staff managing different channels, this is where drift can come in over time – undermining your efforts to support your company’s goals long-term.

Here is a checklist to help your realign your day-to-day efforts with your strategy:

Revisit your strategy, as a team: Review your current strategy with your team and compare it to your company’s strategy. Are they still aligned? Have there been changes in your market due to competition or a disruptor? Is there a need to make adjustments? Then review your communications strategy and goals against the reality of what has actually been happening to ensure you are on track.

Create a strategy culture: Hold regular meetings around the strategy with your staff. Create buy-in by assigning ownership of quarterly goals, either through KPIs and/or by team agreement. Encourage staff to be more cognizant of the long-term and reward them for it.

Implement supportive technology. Do you have a dashboard that reflects your overall strategic goals or are they campaign based? Are you using annual editorial calendars matched to your strategic goals? Audit what you and your team are using on a day-to-day basis and ensure they are aligned to your strategic goals.

Engage your customers. Have you been engaging directly or indirectly with your customers (or stakeholders) lately on your channels? Conduct some Google Hangout focus groups with a cross-section of your customers as a message and experience check-in. Make this a regular habit.

Deciding to launch a personal brand into the marketplace can be an exciting moment and one that also comes with some anxiety and apprehension.

The urge to stay in the safe phase of researching (or conducting due diligence among your peers) is powerful and many never move out of the research phase to actually launching their personal brand.

Here are four questions to help you assess whether you are ready for your brand reveal:

What will your audience gain from interacting with your brand? What is your audience most concerned with day in and day out – fulfilling their own needs. Think of your day today and how many times what you wanted was the priority – from choosing your morning coffee to deciding what music to listen to as you walked, biked or drove to work. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Talk to your potential audience and follow influencers in your field to develop an understanding of what is and is not appealing to them.

How is your brand unique from what is already out in the market? You know you are on the right track when you sense a market need that no one else is filling in a way that is unique. And it’s rare when that happens. It can either be how you approach an issue or challenge, your expertise and knowledge or who you are as a person.

Why you and why now? Life does not exist in a vacuum. Trends develop in industries constantly and public sentiment is along for the ride – watch the news in your field, speak to experts and your potential audience. This will give you an indication of when entering into a market would be most timely with the most long-term benefits for your brand.

Are you relatable? Probably one of the more difficult questions to answer and one that will involve external assessment whether from a public relations professional or an informal focus group. What is being measured is your likeability factor, which directly correlates to expertise. If you are able to back up an approachable brand image with a deep knowledge of your industry and the issues within your industry, you will have a winning formula.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who runs an agency in the UK on the challenges of accurately identifying the right target market for campaigns. Whether the US, the UK or India, knowing your market today – not last year or three years ago – and what their needs are can make or break your campaign efforts.

It’s seems obvious but often times that involves some deep soul-searching with your senior leadership to determine what the challenge or opportunity is that you are trying to address. What your leadership or client’s leadership perceives may not be what the market perceives.

Here are a several tips to help you zero in on your market:

Go back to the drawing board. With your senior leadership team, determine what it is that you actually offer today whether a product or service. How has the market responded to that product/service? What shifts have occurred within your company and within the market that you may need to adjust for? What are competitors offering and what markets are they targeting?

Let the data speak. If your leadership thinks your market is the same as it was two or three years ago, you may want to conduct primary research to confirm those assumptions. Primary research includes focus groups, questionnaires, surveys and interviews. Do not be afraid to bring to the table those that may not always agree with the product or direction of your company.

Look towards the future. Identify where the opportunities for expansion are. Analyze your quantitative data on your product/service to see any patterns that are emerging and/or shifting. Work with in-house market researchers or hire a firm to help you delve into those trends further to determine future potential.

Managing a crisis is never easy and requires very strong leadership to lead everyone to a safe harbor. It also requires a close-knit, respectful and fully aware crisis communications team.

Here are some quick tips for creating a crisis communications team that is technically well planned and is prepared for any breakdown in communication:

Create a crisis communications plan. You may already have a comprehensive plan for your organization; however, you will need a simple and straightforward plan for an actual crisis. Make sure you have both on hand and that they are up-to-date and accessible quickly.

Determine your team before a crisis hits. Preparation is key. Within your crisis communications plan, you should have outlined – and have executive agreement on – who among senior leadership will sit on the team and who will chair the team during an actual crisis.

Choose a leader who is ready and able to lead. Crises can become very difficult. Choose a leader who has the wherewithal to lead the team to the finish.

Keep your team to a maximum of 5 members. This is crucial. Research has proven that a team larger than 5 can become ineffective in a fast-moving crisis. Each member should represent one of your key operational divisions within your organization.

Practice. Run mock drills at least once a year with the team. These drills should be as real world as possible and preferably run by a crisis communications expert.

Monitor behaviors during the drill. Use the drills as a learning experience and review with the team their interactions and decisions made throughout the drill, highlighting areas that could be potentially harmful in an actual crisis.