June 2, 2014
Recently, PRSA members and friends gathered at Bentley University in Waltham for the third annual Social Media Summit. The theme this year was “Social Crossroads,” in honor of the maturation of social media at organizations from “Awareness” to “Adoption” to more mature models, represented by many of the speakers and panelists that day.
Below are just some of the insights shared by our speakers. Before diving into the summary, we should point out that we collected the presentation slides from the Summit on SlideShare here.
In the opening keynote, Victor Lee, vice president digital marketing at toy and game company Hasbro, reminded us that social media is still young, and will continue to change. Facebook is already 10 years old and Lee pointed out that is an incredibly young age for a company and an industry. He added that we really don’t know where social media and its various channels will take us. What we do know is that we have already been able to deduce such tactics and strategies like the effectiveness of visuals in reaching audience and using outside factors to attribute mood as well as always experiment.
Next, our panel on Internal Communications with companies including IT service provider EMC Corporation, financial services company State Street Corporation, and IT company Progress Software focused on something we don’t always see in an industry that leads with external media (and social media) relations: How social media has changed relationships and interactions with and among employees. To hear that the century-old company State Street is embracing such unlikely tools as Vine and Google Plus, was one thing; to hear that through use of social, total emails went down 29% was something even more. Rather than restricting social media use, these companies are looking for ways to make it easier for employees to participate, allowing for their internal social media programs to succeed.
Next, we heard about The Power of the Celebrity and CEO. One early point that stuck out is having celebrities, even celebrity executives, does not have to be all flash and glitz. “LinkedIn is the boring cocktail guest at the party,” said Katie Burke, director, media & analyst relations at marketing software provider HubSpot. Yet the company’s use of the LinkedIn Influencer program has been hugely successful. Other points centered on making the most of the celebrity’s time and connections such as New England Patriots player Matt Light’s use of his friendship with the Duck Dynasty family to help promote his foundation. Also, it’s important to be prepared to handle controversies appropriate to each situation namely, knowing when to tackle a situation head-on and when to back off. In the end, the celebrity’s own posts in the service of the organization need to seem unforced and in the celebrity’s own voice in order to have the most impact.
The third panel was on Regulated Industry, represented by financial services firms Liberty Mutual Insurance and Fidelity and healthcare/pharmaceutical companies Genzyme Corporation and Boston Children’s Hospital. What was striking about this panel is that the image of the organizations paralyzed by regulation is falling away. These same organizations are finding ways to be innovative and creative, while still dealing with regulations such as HIPAA and retention (the need for finserv organizations to retain every piece of communication, no matter how small). Liberty Mutual gave one example of fast, creative turnaround with the story of Olympic skier Heidi Kloser’s injury right before the 2014 Winter Olympics. In less than a week, Liberty Mutual was able to quickly create an ad featuring the injured skier with accompanying social content (a Boston.com article about the ad can be found here). One key to making things happen is to constantly educate people internally. All stakeholders – executive, legal, communications and more – need to know their part in the process and what they can and cannot do in order to keep things moving.
The penultimate panel was on paid media – How to Buy Across Platforms. To many in PR, this is still a new and strange land. The convergence of communications practices though is happening, and knowledge of paid media has earned its place in conversations about all social media programs. The panelists tried to frame the differences between “paid media” and “advertising,” with the key differentiator being that paid media includes active engagement rather than passive. A general consensus among the panelists was also that paid distribution is more targeted than traditional advertising, enhancing great content and community by locating paid content in the right place at the right time.
Finally, the day ended with a discussion of CPG, Retail and Hospitality. With a consumer focus and an easy-to-sell product, this industry set may seem a more natural fit to social but how do these brands go about it? As moderator Christine Koh of Boston Mamas put it, “Social media is a vast playground; how do you decide where to play?” The example grocery delivery provider Peapod set forth is that they have a lot of success with visual media, meaning that Instagram and Pinterest have been areas of focus. Another tactic that is important, as food manufacturer Kayem does, is to plan social content around planned media campaigns. The campaigns then feed on each other throughout various media and the brand speaks with one voice. The focus for Yasso yogurt was to make sure the brand’s attributes are defined (the joy of frozen treats, for example) and the voice carries through all content.
One final piece of advice, from Jarrod Cohen, social media marketing coordinator at Kayem Foods: “Take pictures of food: We’ll acknowledge it.”
March 18, 2014
It’s nice to tell someone, “you are very talented at your job,” but does that make you persuasive? It certainly can.
Whether it’s the spoken word or in writing, a key to persuasion is the ability to tap an audience’s emotions and flattery makes people feel good about themselves. With a compliment, a person is in a more cheerful mood, and it is more likely you can persuade her to do something for you in return.
Here are two examples where people deliberately used flattery as a tactic to persuade others:
- Psychologists who used descriptive adjectives that appealed to a person’s generosity (“you’re so thoughtful”) were successful in persuading people to fill out a questionnaire. The reason is that if you insert terms about yourself, such as “I sincerely appreciate your help,” you become more likeable and, therefore, more persuasive since people usually are persuaded to do things for those they like.
- Psychologist Anthony Pratkanis sent out a team to ask passersby to participate in a “stop junk mail” crusade by writing postcards to direct-mail companies. More people complied with the psychologists’ request after they had complimented the passersby on an article of clothing or jewelry they were wearing. The success, Pratkanis said, was because the compliments brightened the person’s mood.
So don’t hesitate to compliment someone; just be sincere. When you “lay it on thick,” it will seem phony.
You can learn other tactics of influence at a workshop I’m leading on persuasive writing on Thursday, March 20. Sponsored by PRSA Boston’s Independent Practitioners Network, the writing workshop will be held from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Needham Free Public Library, 1139 Highland Ave., Needham. To find out more about the workshop or to register, click here.
March 17, 2014
Keeping composure in a crisis situation is an essential skill for public relations professionals. The Boston Marathon bombings took crisis communication to a new level, and challenged the PR pros involved in effectively managing their composure and, in the end, the crisis.
Sponsored by PRSA Boston and The Publicity Club of New England, “Code Red: Crisis Communication and The Boston Marathon” included a panel discussion between PR professionals involved in the event where they talked about communications crisis preparation and response from the journalist, government, health care, and local business points of view.
Held at the Boston Museum of Science recently, the panelists included:
- Michael Morrison, Media Relations Manager, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)
- John Guilfoil, Deputy Press Secretary to former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino
- Timothy Sullivan, Director of Communications, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Partners Continuing Care
- Nicole Russo, Executive Vice President at 451 Marketing and spokesperson for Forum Bar and Restaurant
- Kat Powers, Director of Communications, American Red Cross
Prepare, prepare, prepare
While the Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt tested the skills of the PR pros, MGH’s Morrison reminded the audience that the hospital has disaster plans in place to coincide with any large event. The hospital’s quick response to the bombing’s casualties are part of those larger already-established disaster plans.
Of course, Spaulding Rehab’s Sullivan admitted that along with the preparation for these types of events, it’s also about recognizing and capitalizing on those precious in-the-moment opportunities. While many of Spaulding Rehab’s employees normally would have been on spring vacation on Marathon Monday, he said the opening of the new facilities mandated a vacation freeze. When the crisis hit, there were people available to handle the communications crisis that might not have been available under normal circumstances.
In the middle of the storm
MGH’s Morrison quickly encountered his first challenge during the crisis while searching for a media spokesperson in the middle of MGH’s lobby, which was turned into a triage center. Time was tight and medical staff were busy caring for the injured. Morrison managed to find a trauma surgeon but with no media training. “I prepped him in about 10 minutes before the interview, because that’s all the time he had in between patients,” Morrison said.
On the Marathon route was Powers who was working the race for the American Red Cross. While helping with the injured, Powers was also managing the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well website where people in disaster areas in the U.S. can register their current status and their loved ones can then access their information.
Russo of 451 Marketing and Forum spokesperson was working directly with the restaurant, which was the site of the second blast. In the immediate aftermath, she said it was necessary to appoint a handful of Forum senior-level employees as the official spokespeople and communicators in order to keep accurate information flowing among employees.
Social Media: The connector
For many though it was social media that provide the lynchpin to communication.
Brunner and other reporters found themselves relying heavily on social media for information while remaining vigilant about journalistic ethics, which required vetting information found online with sources that could confirm facts.
For first responders, medical crews, and the City of Boston, social media became a reliable way to disseminate accurate information at a time when other means, including cell phones, were not dependable.
Managing the aftermath
As Deputy Press Secretary, Guilfoil recognized the importance of his former boss, Mayor Menino, and Gov. Deval Patrick in making appearances and communicating to the public that attention was on the crisis and the neighborhood. Also, as the Back Bay reopened, he said the appearances are a visible way to show the public it was safe to do business in the affected area.
For Spaulding Rehab’s Sullivan, managing the aftermath included respecting the privacy of their patients, managing the daily influx of media requests, and constantly training staff and patients on the proper use of social media.
Powers and the American Red Cross needed to focus on the outpouring of well-meaning volunteers. For example, immediately after the bombings, many marathoners wanted to give blood. However, the need for blood was going to be greater in the weeks following the bombings. An education campaign needed to be organized and managed informing the public that giving blood in the days and weeks following the event was just as, or even more, helpful to victims.
Throughout these different coinciding events occurring during the much larger crisis event, panelists agreed that it was keeping composure that helped successfully manage the constantly changing variables in such a chaotic environment.
January 30, 2014
On January 27, the PRSA Boston Chapter gathered for our Client Perspective Roundtable discussion. Held at the offices of Communispace (with its replica Fenway Green Monster, pictured below), the panel was moderated by Mike Sacks of Emanate PR and included Jackie Lustig, APR, director of communications, Alere, Inc. andJake Messier, director of marketing & communications, The Boston Conservatory. Lustig and Messier both brought agency experience to their current roles on the client side, experience that greatly informs their agency choices and ongoing relationships and fueled a wonderful and illuminating evening.
Here is a sampling of the discussion:
Trust and Chemistry Top the List
When working with an agency, Messier said that the number one issue is trust: he needs to have trust between himself and the agency partner for a relationship to yield results. Lustig referred to the selection process for a similar thought: the deciding differentiator among the agencies pitching her business was chemistry. In the end, the relationship between the agency and client teams have the greatest impact on the client/agency’s relationship, and the PR campaign’s success.
Part of that trust also extends to time and task management. Messier prefers not to spend a lot of time on reporting, going so far as to requiring only a single page document each month with a “logo farm” representing each placement. At Alere, Lustig doesn’t expect her agency to have to navigate the more than 80 acquisitions that comprise the company; she connects them to company resources most relevant to program priorities. Similarly, Messier acts as liaison for the many experts within The Boston Conservatory’s talented faculty, staff and students.
Different Needs for Different Companies
While Lustig and Messier agreed on a lot of issues, they also took the time to explain what was different about their communications programs and PR needs. At The Boston Conservatory, Messier stressed that he needed an agency adept at increasing local media visibility and “getting them into the conversation” between their competitors, while at Alere, Lustig is overseeing a complex marketing program both national and global in nature.
In addition, messaging needs can differ. The Boston Conservatory is a well-established institution who didn’t need to be told how to define itself. For Alere, however, the public relations program is new and Lustig relies on their agency partner to be an outside perspective and “thought partner” to help construct concise and effective messaging.
Measurement? Important But Still a Struggle
PR measurement has advanced and received more attention in recent years, but it is still unique to each company. For Alere, the immediate need was to set baseline metrics for a nascent program – numbers that the executives can be aware of, and that the agency can set out improving on. At The Boston Conservatory, the campaign’s success was expressed concisely each month as a simple expression of what the President and Board needed to know: what are the last two placements, and what are you are working on now?
What Does PR Need to Learn?
At the end of the evening, Lustig and Messier talked about their roles working with multiple PR, marketing, advertising, media buying agencies, and were asked what PR can learn from other disciplines. Messier answered that PR agencies tend to be more responsive than others, while Lustig agreed they are better at deadlines. Adding to that, Lustig said that PR agencies could learn from ad agencies’ creativity, and other firms could learn more from PR firms about planning and meeting deadlines.
Please be sure to join us for the next PRSA Boston Chapter event, February 24, on the Boston Marathon and Crisis Communications at the Old State House. Please see our website for details and registration information.