So, you are challenged with coming up with the proverbial Big Idea for a new public relations campaign. Where to start? How to begin? Well, I for one have always fallen upon a Big Idea in the most remarkably unremarkable places. Sometimes I find that if I leave the tumult of the office behind and literally remove myself from the everyday commotion that is forever going on in a busy office, that creativity soon follows.
Here are some of the most unremarkable creative venues in which I have come up with PR Big Ideas:
1. The bathroom break. I have gotten so good at coming up with either the lead sentence for a feature article, or a tag line to a brand launch or the Big Idea itself that, for years, I have never gone to the bathroom whether in the office or at home without a pen placed firmly behind my ear. Then, with relative ease, the roll of toilet paper becomes my writing surface.
2. The shower. I guess that it’s the sense-numbing sound of the water mixed with the penetrating heat that causes my mind to melt to mush and allows freethinking to emerge. Now, if someone would only invent a doodle board and pen that writes in the shower, that person would surely become the next tech millionaire.
3. The dog. I am fortunate to have a large black Labrador retriever who not only serves as my muse, but allows me to walk aimlessly around Manhattan, pen and note paper in tow, creativity flowing. And if I dare leave the house without pen and paper there is always my cellphone where I either jot down or send myself an audio message chocked full of Big Ideas.
4. The river. I live two blocks from the Hudson River and afford myself to glorious opportunity to walk its banks on an almost daily basis. During good weather, its banks are filled with bike riders, skaters and joy-seekers. But during the colder months of fall and winter I often feel as though the river and its hidden pathways belong to me alone. Looking out at the sturdy little tugboats pushing the larger unwieldy barges through the currents gives me peace of mind…and a peaceful mind often spawns creativity and great Big Ideas. Again, make sure to record your gems either my hand or via cell because trust me, you’ll never remember them once you return to office or home.
Life is a journey…and Big Ideas often lie in its path. Take the time to smell the roses, pet your pooch, take a shower or just meditate (with pen and paper handy). You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to close one door of your mind and open the other to a creative moment.
It’s been more than 15 years since I opened my own marketing/public relations agency and during that time I have come to realize that an entire new lexicon has developed while I was sleeping, so to speak. I’m a pretty curious gal, try so when I come across a new word I immediately Google it. And lately, more often than not, I find myself rolling my eyes, shaking my head and then just going back to reading.
The reason I resort to the eye-rolling is that marketing people now, more than ever, feel compelled to invent new words for us to learn and to replace the older, less exciting words. When I hear the younger generation of marketers uttering the newspeak, that’s when I once again find my eyes rolling.
Really? Do we really need a new lexicon to define what we’ve been doing all along? For your ease, and to enable your own eye rolling, is a list of newspeak:
1. Analytics—We used to call these reports.
2. Content—We used to call this writing.
3. Curating—We used to call this organizing.
4. Earned media—We used to call this public relations.
5. Evidence-based—We used to call this research.
6. Engage—We used to call this commenting, sharing, listening, viewing.
7. Infographics—We used to call this pictographs.
8. Layering—We used to call this researching.
9. Metrics—We used to say measurements.
10. Monetize—We used to call this value.
11. Multiplatform—We used to call this entertainment.
12. Narrative—We used to call this the story.
13. Optimize—We used to call this improve.
14. Organic—We used to call this connecting, referring.
15. Owned media—We used to call this promotion.
16. Paid media—We used to call this advertising.
17. Resonate—We used to call this shared emotion.
18. Traffic—We used to call this circulation or viewership.
19. Transparency—We used to call this what everybody knows.
20. Value proposition—We used to call this core values.
21. Verbiage—We used to call these words.
I’ve been living with cats for most of my adult life and let me tell you, they are the consummate leaders of the house and sometimes of my life. The first year that Jonny, my current 12-year-old cat, lived with me I hardly knew he existed. He hid from me, played hard-to-get, and really, quite frankly, I thought that he hated me. At one point I actually said to my sister, “OK I’ll keep him, give him free room and board, but we’ll never bond.” Well, was I wrong. Twelve years later he not only holds my heart in his tiny paws, but he has gone on to show me some interesting leadership skills that can be brought to bear on the public relations industry.
1. Understand the the target audience. I always thought that the manufacturers of cat toys arguably were not cat owners. Why else would they develop some of the least exciting and sometimes the largest play things ever? Just leave it to a cat to find creativity in a small piece of silver foil, ribbon or fallen paperclip. Great leaders find creativity in areas that the rest of us mortals may never explore as they go off to turn a problem over in their mind to come up with a creative solution. But first, they must understand their target audience.
2. Be observant. Honestly, it fascinates me to see Jonny staring off into space caught up in what, trying to determine the scope of the universe, the distance between Earth and Mars, the square root of 16? Great leaders know how to observe others, to listen to other points of view, and to thereby help to avert conflict, solve marketing problems or to just bring new perspective into an old marketing plan.
3. Be engaging. Whereas dogs have an in-your-face style of engagement, cats are far more subtle. They will quietly appear whenever you least expect them, bringing warmth and comfort. A good leader does likewise, often in the form of a fresh approach, problem-solving guidance or just a warm word of encouragement, “Good job.”
4. Be an explorer. Open a door, put down a empty carton, take out a shopping bag, and low and behold, faster than a speeding bullet your cat will be inside exploring the new space. And if you encourage him by putting in your fingers or a small toy, well, you’ve got the beginning of a brand new game. Well, a great PR leader does the same. S/he opens new ways of thinking about old problems, brings news challenges into your thought process and helps you to expand your own creative process.
5. Don’t be judgmental. A cat doesn’t judge you by your appearance, in fact, if you never put on makeup or shave that beard, your cat won’t care. A good leader doesn’t judge someone for trying out new ideas or new strategies, doesn’t put someone down for not knowing the next step and never judges a book by its cover, so to speak. Hiring someone who doesn’t seems to fit your traditional mold can often lead to new out-of-the-box thinking from someone who approaches their tasks with a fresh mine and a new perspective.
How many times have you wished that you could indeed read your client’s mind? Or even better, read the mind of the prospective client? I remember pitching a cruise ship line several years ago. They had called me because I had the relevant experience just recently having launched a new ship.
After the preliminary niceties, it was decided that I would fly out to Seattle to meet with them to present our initial public relations program. But first, I asked if they had a budget. Their response was the dreaded “zero-based budget” which quite frankly means that although they probably do in fact have a budget, they don’t want to tell us because they have the misbelief that we possibly will bring the budget in for less, and then they will have “saved money.” How foolish.
So, to remove the suspense, I didn’t get the piece of business. Why? Because when the client went to the back page budget and saw the total, he screamed, “On my goodness, this is much higher than our budget.” Now, if the potential client had only told me his budget number I would have been able to create the best public relations program at that budget number. But because I couldn’t read his mind, I came in too high and could never salvage the business.
So, what has this taught me? Here is some insight into what potential clients are thinking:
Can I trust her? Remember, it’s the presenter, not the presentation that gets you hired. They want you to look them in the eye and make them believe that if they give you their business, that you can truly help to solve their problems, make them richer, sell more product, whatever.
Will she be there when I need her? Back in the day, I remember a noted PR firm having mandated that their staff wear pagers even when they went to the bathroom. Today, with everyone’s mania about not going anywhere without their cellphones, the need for a mandate has been eliminated. Clients want to know that they can reach you anytime and anywhere. Yup, I know, that can mean nights and weekends, but if your client has a sudden crises, like a cruise ship fire off the coast of Alaska, they want to make sure that their team is there for them.
Will she be the monitor of my money? OK, so you developed a suggested budget but things happen during the implementation of a public relations program whereby you may need to spend additional monies. Don’t be an idiot and spend big money without getting client buy-in. I have never had a client tell me “no” I can’t spend that unanticipated money. I have only seen clients go ballistic when huge, unanticipated expenses come through.
Will she make me look like a hero to my boss? Everyone has a boss, even the CEO who just may happen to report to his shareholders. So, when you are hired it is your job to make him look good; to make his superiors believe that hiring a PR firm was a good and meaningful corporate spend.
Here’s a great “geek joke:” Where do you hide a dead body? Answer: On the third page of Google results.
I always tell young employees to be careful of what they post on social networks cause it may come back to bite them in the ass. Whether it’s partying at a frat house with beer bottle in hand or romping topless at a summer share, posting these shots on your social networks can lead to job declines and worse. The best protection is not to post ‘em. Next best is to become proficient at creating your own content and optimized profiles, to push offending content down to that proverbial third page in Google search results. Here are helpful PR tips to managing your online reputation:
Search yourself. Do a Google search on yourself including Google Images. Heavens forbid you see that photo of you holding that beer bottle, or worse. If you do, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
Keep private things private. Put privacy settings on all content you want to share only with a select group of friends and family. Remember that social networks are always changing their privacy settings and friends and family can easily forward embarrassing photo without your consent.
Buy your domain name. Yup, for a few bucks you too can have your own website. You don’t have to be a famous author like stephenking.com in order to get your own personal domain name. This is the place to start building your personal reputation: Place your bio, photos, blog posts, articles from sources you respect.
Join social networks. Here’s where you get the opportunity to tout yourself and your accomplishments. Post your personal information on sites like FacebookLinkedIn, Twitter and even Google+. And if you’ve got some good graphic illustrations try posting on YouTube, Tumblr and Pinterest. Then, if you want to be more active, try joining groups at sites like LinkedIn and posting new content.
Optimize your social presence. Fill out your information as completely as possibly including, of course, your URL and all social network links. Most websites give you the option of linking to other social media sites—do this—it will make your online presence stronger.
First published in 1988, medicalRobert Fulgham’s book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, rose to the ranks of a bestseller. But his rules from 27 years ago can easily be applied to today’s public relations industry with just a little jiggering. Here’s how just five of his rules can be applied today in PR:
1. Play fair. Realize that it’s not only what you do it’s how you do it. What did it take for you to land that big account? To get that big raise and promotion? To land that media exclusive? Did you play by the rules or did you have to do something underhanded in order to achieve your victory? Remember, what you do to accomplish your goals can often comeback to bite you in the rear. Play nice.
2. Don’t hit people. Remember, there is always room at the top to accommodate everyone who hope to become a winner in the public relations industry. There is never a need to bad mouth or go after your colleagues in order to assure your measure of success. Your superiors will ultimately see right through you and you will have caused your own demise.
3. Share everything. So you’ve worked half a day creating the most accomplished media list the agency has ever seen, or so you think. Would it kill you to share it will colleagues and ultimately save them the grueling time it took you to develop it? I know, it really irks you when you believe that colleagues are taking advantage of your expertise. But in the long run, remember the adage: share and share alike.
4. Clean up your own mess. I know it’s kind of a reflex action to try to put the blame on someone else for your mistake. But learn to take it on the chin and man-up to your mistakes and clean up your own mess. No one wants to have to clean up after your mistakes. If you forgot to get out that press release, admit it and move on.
5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. That goes for not only tangible items like your neighbor’s stapler, but also your colleague’s glory. If you weren’t responsible for that great media response learn to give kudos to your colleagues.
Two years ago I rescued an eight year old black lab named Leo—and as the adage says, he rescued me right back. He was a 65 pound anxious wrecking ball who, when briefly left alone, ate my desk chair and raided my walk-in closet bringing out and destroying all my stored paper products and laying waste a bag of potting soil and a toilet plunger. After the first few weeks, we were able to sort things out and develop a truce whereby I would help him get his mojo back and he would show me the wonders that are a dog. Through him, I’ve learned the merits of unconditional love. I’ve also picked up a few important life lessons that can easily be applied to the workplace. Here are five that apply to working better: 1. Be loyal. Boy, when it comes to loyalty, Leo certainly scores high marks. But historically, there have been quite a few storied dogs including Japan’s Hachiko, an Akita who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death and Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who supposedly spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner.
In business, loyalty is a huge asset. I have had both staffers and clients who have remained loyal to my company for many years, and as part of the equation, I find myself rewarding their loyalty. For the staffer the rewards manifests itself in promotions and pay raises; for the client, in extra personal time and results. 2. Trust your instincts. On a very basic level, Leo has instincts that run like clockwork. If I am not out of bed by my usual 7AM, at 7:30 he gently jumps up and nuzzles me to get out of bed. He also reminds me daily that it is time for his 4PM walk and heaven forbid I am late for dinner, there is the nuzzle under my arm as I sit by my desk.
Just like Leo, trust your business instincts. You’ll know if the client is asking too much, if the editor is really on a deadline, and if your colleague is drowning and needs some extra encouragement. 3. Persevere. Leo likes nothing more than the nearly empty jar of Jif peanut butter as a treat. He holds it between his paws and uses him long snake-like tongue to patiently lick every remaining drop. The process takes him several minutes but by the time he finally relinquishes the jar, it is clean enough to be plunked into the recycle bin.
Perseverance is a quality that all good public relations people must acquire. As with any PR agency, you have to have the ability to go after that new business lead, follow-up with that elusive journalists, pursue that client for input, or mentor that less experienced colleague. 4. Be enthusiastic. Leo’s enthusiasm sometimes just makes me laugh. He’ll run for the ball with such gusto as to run right passed it. And when eating, he gulps each meal as if it were his last. Not to mention when I return from a brief outing without him, his jumps for joy make me love him even more.
Now I am not asking you to love your client, but I’ll tell you that a client will surely love you if you show enthusiasm for her company, product, marketing campaign, and even her children’s photos that are lined up on the desk. For a client’s birthday I once sent a humongous helium balloon with a small bucket dangling beneath filled with a bottle of champagne and chocolate kisses. Everyone in the company wanted to know who his PR agency was. He got bragging rights and I got browny points. 5. Go outside and play. Even though Leo spends most of his time curled under my desk on his comfy dog bed, at the end of our day we are both ready to go out and play.
I tell my colleagues that working in PR is not like operating in a hospital. No one dies as a result of our profession. Therefore, take the time to unplug from your computer and your cellphone and go out and play. Have fun!
I always said that I could tell a good PR person within minutes of meeting him/her. And the more that I have worked in the business, the more I see that it is not necessarily age and experience that are the best qualities,but often it is their native ability.
Recently I had attended a recruiting fair at a local college and received numerous dropped off resumes from students as young as freshmen to as old as grad students. Since I manned a desk at the event, I was able to chat briefly with many of them, and I could tell the difference between those would fit in at my agency and those who might not. There are “tells,” subtle indications of a person’s true nature, that are revealed in a matter of seconds.
Let me reveal some of the “tells” that encourage me to pursue a candidate.
The elevator pitch. The candidates have to recognize that they only have a minute to inform and impress their potential employer. They should rehearse, rehearse, rehearse how they are going to sell themselves in less than a minute. Practice the handshake, the eye contact, and the smile in a mirror so that you see what your employer sees.
Confidence. They say that confidence comes with experience. I disagree. I have met with young college student who have terrific presence and confidence. I actually had one critique a client’s packaging colors in a manner that actually impressed me so much that I hired her on the spot.
Enthusiasm. I can’t overstate that genuine enthusiasm seems to come from within. Although it may be hard to learn to be enthusiastic about something that you aren’t, if you can master this, then you are on the road to a successful internship. Not all public relations agency clients are glitzy and glamorous, so if you can be enthusiastic about, let’s say a product that prevents diarrhea, then you just may have the qualities to be a good PR intern.
Look the part. If you are meeting with a prospective employer of a successful PR agency, dress like you are already working there. Yes, I know that some firms allow for jeans and t-shirts, but please don’t come to my office wearing that dress code even though others are. You are applying for a professional position, look the part.
Perseverance. So you are lucky enough to land the interview, make sure to follow up with the employer with a brief and personal thank you email (no phone, please) restating why you believe working for her agency might be a benefit to both of you. Then, wait it out. Sometimes it may take longer than you think for the company to make its final hiring decision.
Cats are the most popular pet worldwide, outnumbering dogs three to one, ambulance yet dogs are given the label of man’s best friend. How did this happen? I know from my own experience of being owned by several cats over the years, that they do have some characteristics that well, could use a good public relations professional. 1. Bad reputation. For years cats have been portrayed as aloof, distant and unloving while simultaneously portraying dogs as loyal and heroic. Seems like the dogs got all of the good PR. Having had both at the same time I can attest to the fact that my cats have been more like Tao, the loyal Siamese cat in The Incredible Journey while my dogs, instead of being Lassie, Ole Yeller or Air Bud were more like Beethoven, the lovable slobbering big-hearted giant. 2. Image as villain. Movies and television have portrayed cats as villains in films like The Godfather,Austin Powers, Tom and Jerry, and Inspector Gadget. And of course there was the movie Cats & Dogs where a secret war between cats and dogs for world dominance was depicted. Even Garfield is shown as conniving and mischievous. Even documentaries on Animal Planet and NatGeo depict cats as “little lions” ready to break out of their homes and go on the hunt killing small rodents and birds. But really, whose fault is that? If humans would just understand that cats are really home-bodies, and just want to remain indoors and sleep all day, this would go a long way to help reposition their reputation as a heartless predator. Cats don’t save the day in the media; they are either the bad guys themselves or they are marginalized. 3. Marginalization in the media. When not being depicted as a villain, cats are shown as a cheap form of entertainment on the Internet with the likes of Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. Although statistics show that 15% of all Internet traffic is related to cat videos, most of them display cats as morons either falling off the back of sofa, chasing phantom red dots or falling into water-filled bathtubs—and even worse is how they are portrayed as bad spellers with poor grammar. 4. Need for rebranding. What about the cat in Florida that is shown letting the alligators have it with a left jab? Here’s a brave lad who needs better public relation services. If you Google “dog chasing alligators” on You Tube you don’t see a darned thing. And when it comes to displaying affection, cats just do it differently. While a dog will slobber in your face, a cat is far more subtle in its gestures: tail up in the air and body rubbing against your leg. 5. Image problem. Yup, cats have an image that warrants the attention of a full-service public relations agency. The problem has stemmed from and has been perpetuated for years by the media, so it is via the media that a new image must be developed. 6. A call to arms. I am calling out to all cat owners who are also public relations professionals to do their part in helping to stem the tide on the feline image. Social media pages dedicated to your feline friends is indeed a start. 7. For my part. I have heard the call to help the cat reputation and for my part have written and will soon be publishing a book entitled Slick: The Cat That Stole Christmas. It will be available via Amazon in the fall. Forgive my commercial message but at least I have taken pen to paper, so to speak, in an attempt to help re craft the cat image.
A bad public relations agency client is like a really bad meal—miserable but not life-threatening. Still, it’s good to avoid them a much as possible. And the best way to do that is to know what qualities to look for in a good client/agency relationship. So I present, shop 5 Qualities of a Good PR Client. 1. Good clients have a realistic budget. Unless the new client has had a former relationship with a public relations agency, he is likely to be clueless about the cost of a public relations program. But, hopefully, a good client will realize that he has to spend money in order to make it. So, it is your job to help educate him as to how you work: What is your monthly retainer? How much do you allocate to fee vs. expenses? What is the average length of your contractual arrangement? Good clients take the time to be educated.
2. Good clients are interested in working with someone they can trust. When a client trusts you as a communicator they take your opinion seriously, especially if your opinion is contrary to theirs.No client like to hear the word “no.” But, after all, they have put their business in your hands and are depending on you to be the monitor of their brand image.
3. Good clients are willing to accept advice. A good client is eager for advice, that’s why they hired a public relations agency to begin with. They allow you to become a part of their marketing team—working with them and not necessarily for them. I have had the good fortune to have worked with a number of good clients who even sought my advice on matters from what I thought about their advertising campaign to how they should appropriately congratulate their boss on his promotion.
4. Good client have a single point of contact. You’re on a deadline and you need that quick approval—who do you call—the client contact. You don’t want to have to deal with several point people, when one will make your life so much more effective. Make certain that you get that point person, and then go on to earn his trust—he’ll be your client for life.
5. Good clients participate in the process. Now that you’ve got that point person, you want to make sure that he remains involved and engaged in your public relations program–but not too much. An uninformed is not a good client Assure him that part of your job is to make his job easier, and that you value his opinion as well. A good client will review your monthly status reports and not merely file them—and if possible, you’ll develop monthly review meetings so that you keep the client informed. An informed client is an advocate for your agency.