This article first appeared in PRNews on Thursday, July 17th.
Over the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to create and re-organize communications teams for five global brands. Time and again the main issue was a lack of integration with the structure and goals of the organization and a lack of a concerted effort within the communications team to reach those goals.
Fundamentally, I believe this is the greatest challenge facing most communications directors today – to create a synchronized team with a clear division of labor that understands, and makes, a concerted effort towards helping an organization meet its goals.
Part of the reason this has become more of a challenge of late has been the tremendous economic transformation that has taken place globally over the past decade. Many CEOs are maneuvering through industry landscapes in flux and are reconsidering their market position and overall identity in these changing times. Adding to the complicity, the communications field has undergone seismic shifts during that same time period with the power over a brand’s image moving from the business to the consumer with the advent and global adoption of social media.
Here are five tips to help you create a synchronized communications team:
Assess your current team. First and foremost, take an audit of each member of your team. Meet with each one individually to learn more about their background, skill sets, and future goals. Do they have the skills fit for their current job? Is there any position that would be more suitable given their background?
Look under the strategic hood. How many of you can find your organization’s current business strategy? Is it up-to-date? Have a “legacy” look at past strategies to understand the strategic goals the organization has set for itself and is setting for itself to identify trends. Interview leadership and ask them what the business strategy is. Don’t be surprised if their answers do not match the written strategy.
Evaluate your communications strategy. If you have a communications strategy, review it and compare it to the business strategy. Does it support the organization’s strategic goals? If so, how?
Determine fit. Now it’s time to go back to the first step and analyze your team as a whole to see if the job functions, locations and reporting lines fit with the overall organization and enable it to meet its strategic goals.
Beware of ego. Both internally and externally, communications is a service for others, not a fiefdom to espouse wisdom from a tower. Your team needs to integrate well with your organization to be successful. This begins at the hiring process. Make sure you are hiring team players, not solo actors. To have a successful team, each member must be confident, secure in their skill set, willing to take risks and able to work well with others.
The following article appeared in PR Insider on May 19th.
You’ve been asked to create a comprehensive public relations plan. Maybe a three-year or five-year plan – you are either filled with excitement or anxiety – most likely, a mix of both.
The goal of a comprehensive public relations plan usually falls into three buckets: a) to increase awareness for a company or organization entering new markets, b) to increase awareness for a company or organization experiencing a slow-down in market segments or to increase awareness of a new product or division.
Here are six tips for creating a comprehensive public relations plan.
Understand your current scenario. What is the needle that needs to be moved and why? Design your plan to do just that. Have discussions with your senior leadership, and Board where appropriate, on their concerns and desires. Research your industry to see what competitors are doing with their public relations. Develop a strong understanding of the climate your organization is operating in, both internal and external.
Establish your goals. Determine what will be achieved after implementation of the plan. Is it a change in behavior or perception of your organization? Is it more customers? Is it greater brand recognition and higher sales? Try to keep your goals in the area of three to five and remember to ensure that they are measurable along the implementation of the plan.
Define your audiences. Who are you trying to reach and what do you need to communicate to them? Defining your key audiences, segmentation, is a critical part of ensuring your plan will be effective. It’s important to also have consensus among leadership and your Board as to who these audiences are and how they are defined.
Choose tactics and channels. Next are your tactics. How will you communicate to your audiences using what mix of channels? To get your mix of tactics and channels right do research on your individual audiences through personal development to determine a.) the most effective tactics to grab their attention, and b.) what channels they engage with most to target them where they are.
Determine measurement and reporting. As you are developing the tactics and channels think of how you will measure and how you will report these measurements and to whom. Typically, it is a combination of campaign metrics, benchmarking and surveying/focus groups. Choose the right combination that works for your organization and measures your audience engagement as effectively as possible. Don’t forget the internal here – decide early on how you will present the results of your measurement to senior leaders and how often.
Prepare an itemized budget for each year of the plan. Your last step will be to prepare an itemized budget for each year of the plan to determine overall costs and areas for potential scale back. It may be hard to cost for every step of the implementation. If need be, provide as close to accurate range estimates as possible.
The last, and the most crucial step, is to shop your plan to your organization starting with presenting to your CEO and Board and then your senior leaders. Adjust your plan as you go to reflect the input you receive but be mindful of any input that may create obstacles within the plan and raise that issue to senior leaders.
By building consensus, you will create a clear path ahead for the implementation phase of your plan.
Whether you want to sell a product to a client or sell an ad campaign to your CEO, storytelling is the single most powerful way to capture your audience’s attention and to make the not yet tangible real in the eyes of others.
So how do you do it and how do you do it well?
Break it down into simple parts. Remember those story books from your childhood? Why where they so appealing? They were simple. A photograph here, one or two sentences followed. To be effective, you must break your story down into digestible parts. Even if you think it is simple, go even further.
Believe in it yourself. You, the storyteller, need to believe in your story or no one else will. Be passionate about what you are portraying and keep your energy up even if it is the 20th time you are telling your story. Remember that, for your audience, it is the first time they are hearing the story.
The all-important protagonist. Every story has one. Your story needs one too. If it doesn’t have one, you can reference a member of the audience and interlace them into your story so that they become the protagonist.
Set the scene. Create visuals that help you tell the story but do not take away from you telling the story. They should enhance the story you are telling be it a few PowerPoint slides, photos or videos. Sometimes a single photo will do the job.
Know your audience. Do your research and try to put together what the motivators will be for the audience you are telling your story to. This will require that you tweak your story as you go to fit each audience. Don’t be afraid to alter the script.
Watch the body language in the room. As you engage in storytelling be very observant of the body language in the room. Is the audience leaning forward? Has their expression changed? Both are good signs. Leaning away or checking their phones every several seconds; not a good sign. But don’t give up. Adjust your efforts – including inserting them into the story by mentioning their first name – to see if you can engage them.
Practice. Create practice that works for you and makes you comfortable. I tend to mentally run through what I will present in broad themes beforehand. This gives me the flexibility to create as I walk the audience through the story live. If you are not comfortable with practicing and get nervous presenting, contact your local theater. Most offer acting for non-actors and can help you get comfortable as a storyteller.
What does it take to become the best of the best?
This question came to mind as I was reading a biography on one famous woman who was continually quoted as the master of public relations in the 20th century. However, she was never formally trained, had very little formal education, but had an innate sense and timing for controlling her image to great effect. It brought to mind whether the cream of the crop in public relations has those skills innately or whether those skills can be taught.
So what did she have that others did not?
There are the essential foundational skills to work in public relations: an ability to write well, a deep understanding of social media, experience with multimedia and an ability to pitch journalists. But there is also that magic mix – which few talk about – which separates the good from the great.
Here are four steps towards developing that magic mix:
Cultivate relationships. Not only with journalists but also with their editors. Arrange deskside editorial briefings, not just once, but ongoing to update on developments with your company and/or client.
Maintain persistent awareness of your brand image. It is critical to keep a day-to-day understanding of your company’s image. Be observant of media, social and the data underlying your coverage.
Monitor the industry and your competitor’s tactics. Be cognizant of how competitors are also perceived and the changing trends within your industry. Watch how your competitors or emerging companies use pr tactics to enhance their visibility. Don’t be afraid to adopt those or modify for your own use.
Maneuver within the media landscape. This is the magic mix that takes practice and also an innate sense of timing and a deep understanding of your brand story. Use your brand awareness and industry trend information to quickly identify innovative ways to maximize your brand’s exposure. Don’t be afraid to create the story. Tap into your relationships and be proactive not reactive.
The truly great are able to maneuver well and have a passion for staying in the game. I’ve seen many a public relations professional become more comfortable and relaxed the longer they are in the field. Fight against that and always seek new ways of positioning your company, your client or your own brand within the media conversation. Not only will you become more engaged, the media will start to see you as an effective source and will seek you out.
Keeping control of your message in a crisis situation can be challenging. Facts and misinformation fly fast and furious. Externally and internally the feeling is that control is being lost and you are running to even catch up let alone getting ahead of a fast-moving crisis.
Getting the media to share your message will go a long way in damping down the chaos and will be the first step in getting control back of the situation.
Here are several tips for getting the media to carry your message in a fast-moving crisis:
Identify your strongest relationships, across several channels. Cementing several strong relationships with the media is vital at times like this but the work needs to be done prior to a fast-moving crisis.
Keep the media informed by developing your narrative. Communicate as often as possible through updated statements to keep the media abreast of what is being done to fix the issue. Being seen as a reliable source of news in a fast-moving crisis will influence coverage.
Make your narrative simple and straightforward. Keep your eye on the coverage and the reaction to that coverage. This will help you to course correct as you go to ensure you are addressing the most important elements of the crisis with your audience.
Don’t forget social media. Make sure all of your owned channels are communicating the narrative step-by-step as well with links to the updated statements. Do not let your team get bogged down in responses on social. Pick 1 or 2 comments/replies and respond to those.
Be as transparent as possible. State the truth and always focus on the steps you are taking to address the issue. Keep your messages forward focused.
Employees can be your strongest brand ambassadors. In essence, you have a captured audience that lives your brand and is often just waiting for a chance to effectively communicate their work to their family and friends. But how do you effectively engage that audience to expand your brand awareness?
Here are five steps for engaging employees as brand ambassadors:
Message training. As you develop your key messages for your brand, remember to provide training to all staff so they become comfortable with using them. Ask them to practice using the messages with their families and when out with friends.
Culture matters. Set the tone in internal communications on the importance of brand ambassadors. Encourage employees to become involved in external events to help expand brand awareness and to actively engage as ambassadors.
Provide tools. One way to start to engage employees as ambassadors is to create an intranet that is in effect a social media channel for staff to share their stories, brand ideas, promote events and to update their status on their latest projects and successes. This will help employees to learn the skills of a brand ambassador within the organization before expanding outwards.
Encourage social media engagement. Encourage staff to engage with your organization’s social media channels and to interact by commenting, sharing and re-tweeting information to their followers, friends and circles.
Make being a brand ambassador “cool”. Your employees take pride in what they do – encourage that by instilling the importance of their role as ambassadors of your company’s brand. Encourage leadership to reward those employees who engage and to include it as part of their overall assessment.
This article first appeared in the PR Insider @PRNews on April 24th.
Many of us in the public relations field coach others on how to be effective spokespeople but never have the opportunity to actually be a spokesperson ourselves. And for those of you who are facing the transition, it is not as easy as one would think. Teaching and being are not one in the same.
The following six steps will help you become a point person for the media and will help you make the transition effectively.
Research your industry, company and programs/products. You may have been training others, but now it is your turn to become intimately familiar with the industry, your organization’s subject matter and the latest programs, innovations, and/or products. You should be able to speak to all topics, even if you intend to use internal experts as a secondary source. Most importantly, brush up on all research reports created and/or used by your company.
Practice interviewing. You may either want to hire a coach or have a member of your media team run you through a series of interviews – broadcast, phone interviews, audio – until you are comfortable with the subject matter and are able to deliver the company’s key messages smoothly and professionally.
Cultivate relationships with key journalists. Remember that it is a two-way street. They are looking for a story and you are guiding the story with the intent of conveying your messages to the wider public. Have your talking points prepared and be familiar with the journalist’s story coverage and interests before the interview. Target your messages to address those interests.
Be a source for information. If you are not one, recommend another individual at another organization. Realize that the journalist has an editor and that story will not see the light of day unless the editor approves it. Help them out. You want to see that story get out there just as much as the journalist does. Both of your jobs depend on it.
Ensure they understand your subject area. Reporters are often generalists. You will need to take the time to ensure you provide them with a full understanding of the issues without talking down to them. This may include scheduling internal expert interviews, recommending other experts to interview along with research and reports. And make sure those research and reports are at your fingertips for easy access during the interview and for quick follow-up with the reporter.
If you need time to prepare, ask for that time by scheduling the interview. Always consider what the angle could possibly be and run through those scenarios. Ask the journalist what the angle is and what potential interview questions they may have. Most importantly, make sure your messages are ready and can be conveyed in your responses.
Mauricio Bonas is a journalist who has worked for some of the most influential Brazilian newspapers and is the founder and senior partner of the PR agency Allameda.com (@Allameda) based in São Paulo.
Exploring and entering new markets, however much you prepare for it, almost always involves surprises. The excitement and adrenaline of a new market can sometimes cloud logic and judgement. There’s a desire to control the outcome, to manage expenditures and to ensure profits which can create more obstacles than needed and hamper innovation and creativity.
One of the favorite forms of control is the “if it worked here, it will work there” syndrome. It’s a naive simplification that is costing both executives and companies. It is the belief that the skill and ability to create sophisticated public relations strategies for one market will apply to many, achieving the same results.
With over twenty years of working in public relations for foreign firms in Brazil, I have seen this happen with alarming frequency. Although the structures of the press and of public relations services are fairly similar around the world, how they work and relate is not.
For example, in some countries sending small gifts to reporters without real value – like a mug with your corporate logo – sounds like a nice gesture. In others, it can be viewed with contempt or even suspicion. And in some countries the lack of a gift of real value is what breeds contempt.
Here are five tips for effective public relations outreach in Brazil:
You’ve invested a lot of time and energy in selecting a public relations agency in country, now listen to their advice. Whether positive or negative, the advice you are receiving will help advance your business. Second guessing it based on the “it’s not what we do here” syndrome will not help you. Their goal is to get you widespread coverage for your brand. Trust them.
You know that awesome press release product launch that you are using in the US? Well throw it away. At least in Brazil. Releases full of adjectives and quotes from the CEO are viewed with disdain by Brazilian journalists. The text format used in Brazil is more direct and objective, and qualitative information in the text must be verifiable: if you say that your service is “a leader in the Japanese market” have verifiable data to prove it.
Provide numerical and statistical data to help Brazilian journalists understand the position of your company in the market. Local journalists are sensitive to billing information, investment values, growth and other similar data showing the positioning of your company and its potential. This holds true even for releases where you are simply talking about a new venture.
Even if you think your business is important and it is well-known in other markets, do not assume that Brazilian journalists are familiar with it. Unless you work for an established global brand like Apple or Boeing, people tend to value their own internal references and domestic market brand than foreign brands. You will need to approach your public relations efforts, particularly for a new product or venture, by informing and educating first.
Learn to listen. Nowadays it is hard to get the attention of a reporter or editor in Brazil. If you have the opportunity to give a long interview, at a luncheon for example, use more of your time to understand what the journalist would like to have on hand to write an article about your company, products or investments. The exercise of listening in these situations is as important as what you would like to convey to the journalist. Listening and understanding the journalist’s needs can be the difference between coverage or no coverage.
Lastly, try to stay away from gifts and if any media outlet offers editorial advantage in exchange for paid advertising space, consult your public relations agency. As in the US, this is unusual with most media outlets in Brazil.