Archive for November, 2008

Social Media Embodies PR

I just read an interesting blog post by Richard Bailey, a university lecturer who teaches PR at Leeds Metropolitan University. Richard cites the the chapter “Survival of the Publicist,” in the book Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble, when he asks the question, “is social media killing PR?

In my mind, PR at its highest and best invites two-way open communication with your stakeholders. This is no longer the age of “push” marketing—social media presents the opportunity to engage stakeholders and respond to their beliefs and opinions. Yes, it can be a little intimidating at first, but my clients are really excited about the results they are getting.

So if a publicist is pushing out information for the public to swallow, I hope social media does kill it. And if true PR is inviting open community engagement, then I say a resounding “No, social media is not killing PR; social media embodies PR!”

It takes more than a giant cheque

chequeI’m often surprised by the lack of attention that companies give to their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. CSR can be powerful and energizing for a company but oftentimes, the investment isn’t being maximized to its full potential.

So how do you make your charitable efforts make sense financially and a sincere difference in the world?

First, you look at your company’s values and identify a cause you and your employees as passionate about. This will likely be a cause that relates to the work you do.

Then, you identify unique ways for your efforts to make a real difference. You do extensive research to find a service or organization that you believe in. Then, you decide how to support their efforts and maximize your contribution. It can be an annual cash donation, supplying goods, giving staff time off to volunteer or hosting a free event (all of which our client Townline has done this year). You can also consider setting up your own program, such as having your staff drop individualized milks off at a low-income school every Friday for the kindergarten classes.

Lastly, you promote your efforts. Some people hate this part, but it makes your employees and clients feel good about your company, and it encourages others to pull up their socks and give back too.

There are lots of reasons to have a program: corporate values, building your brand’s reputation, stakeholder benefits and sales (87% of consumers would switch from one brand to another if the other were associated with a good cause), to name a few. Through a strategic, meaningful and sincere corporate responsibility plan, you can maximize your contributions and see benefits from your actions.

I’m curious to know: Have you heard of a cool CRS program lately? What companies come to mind when you think of CSR?

So you want to be in PR…

People often ask me how to get into public relations. Here’s a summary of what I tell them:

Get an education. Being good with people or enjoying events isn’t enough. There are a lot of ways to get PR training, and I don’t want to promote one over the other. I’ve hired people with creative writing degrees, communication degrees, English Lit degrees, and PR certificates. Once you’re done, don’t stop. Lifelong learning is a requirement, and should be a passion, for PR professionals. Take courses – almost anything is relevant – as often as you can.

Polish your writing skills. Write, write, write and then write some more. Know the basics: style, structure and grammar; become a grammar nut; learn CP Style; and practice creative writing so you can create cheeky headlines and write compelling copy for websites and other marketing materials.

Read. Read the news, search the web, check out blogs. Know about local issues, national issues, what bestsellers are out and what makes compelling reading. If you don’t read, you can’t write.

Stay on top of current events and be a trend watcher. You’ve got to know what’s news to help people make the news.

Be a sponge. Learn everything about anything. Do you know a construction worker? Ask her or him about trends in the workforce, the different jobs on a site and absorb the terminology. A huge part of my job is learning about industries and issues so that I can help my clients communicate more effectively. The more you know, the more you have to draw on when you’re standing in front of the media or a boardroom.

Keep your skill set wide open. PR requires a diverse set of skills. Yesterday, I made a presentation to clients (public speaking), finalized a communication plan (strategizing), proofread marketing materials (editing), brainstormed slogans with my team (creativity) and reviewed the logistics of an event (detail-oriented). To be a good practitioner, you need to keep yourself well rounded. Don’t get caught up in having a specialty.

Volunteer. There are a lot of great organizations looking for communications help. Gain experience by volunteering for them, then put it on your resume.

Maintain a portfolio. Keep all those essays you stayed up all night writing. Lay out your best writing samples in a professional and creative way. Interviewers don’t want to just hear you say you’re a good writer. They want to see that you are.

Promote yourself. Your first job is to do your own PR. What are your potential employers looking for?  How can you make yourself standout?

Network. Get out there and meet people. Keep in touch with classmates and past colleagues. You never know who will lead you to your dream job.

Find a mentor. Make friends with someone who has been in the industry for a while.  They’ll be able to offer you advice, can be a reference for you and might even give you some good job leads.

Join a professional association. The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) or Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in the US are wonderful resources for networking, job leads, professional development, mentorship and more. If you are enrolled in a PR program, you can join for a student rate that more than pays for itself.

Please post your questions, and I’d be happy to answer them. And good luck!

Why cutting back on marketing in a bear market is bull

I won’t say the R word, but we all know these are shaky economic times. Doom and gloom financial reports are making people nervous, and consumers and companies alike are cutting back spending. During an economic slump, budget cutbacks are a necessity, but experts warn companies against lumping marketing, advertising and PR budgets into their “discretionary spending” category.  And for good reason: it’s harder than ever to maintain your client base and reach new customers. Now is not the time to let marketing fall by the wayside.

No matter what kind of business you are in, now is the time to communicate to your customers that you still have a service/product they want/need.  A strong brand will always put you ahead, and an economic downturn can even present an opportunity to outsmart your competition. Many of your competitors may be cutting back on their marketing expenses, leaving your brand to standout in the minds of wary consumers looking for high-value products and services. Now may be the time to re-vamp a tired brand.

Companies with strong brands have historically outdone their competitors, in strong and weak economies. A 1998 PIMS study showed that increased marketing spending during the last recession achieved an average return on capital employed of 4.3%, compared to 0.6% for those that maintained marketing spending, and -0.8% for those that cut spending.

Top five ideas for brand management in an economic downturn:

1. Just do it.  Nike did it during the economic slump in the early 90s.  Reebok didn’t.  Nike upped their marketing budget and created one of the most recognized brands in the world.  When’s the last time you bought a pair of Reeboks?
2. Through good times and bad.  Recessions go away.  A strong brand won’t.
3. Spend wisely.  Just like your customers, your business is looking for value. You need sound business reasoning on all of your investments. The right blend of marketing, advertising and PR can promote your brand and reach your target markets, keeping your business afloat during hard times. Savvy marketing is worth its weight in gold.
4.  Get smart. Pay attention to how your target market is reacting.  Have you noticed a decrease in business?  What can you do to increase customer confidence in your brand and increase brand awareness?
5. Get noticed. Don’t be a wallflower!  Hiding in the corner won’t bring in timid consumers. Reaching your target market with a brand that reflects the strength and uniqueness of your organization will.