Archive | Public Relations RSS feed for this section

NHL Skating on Thin Ice With Many Supporters Post Lockout

A version of this article was written in mid-January and originally appeared in the February issue of PRWeek (subscription required)

On January 6, after 113 days, 625 missed regular-season games, and countless starts and stops, the National Hockey League ended its third lockout in 19 years.

After the last lockout, the NHL launched the “My NHL” campaign which portrayed hockey as a battle and its players as warriors. They also wrote thank you notes on the ice at every arena and increased their promotional giveaways. Marketers may point to the increased attendance and TV ratings that followed as evidence of this campaign’s success, but most people seem to think that had more to do with the very clear fundamental changes in how the league operated, including a salary cap, elimination of the two-line pass, shootouts, and a draft lottery.

Now, the league has to be wondering if fans will come back as quickly, if at all. After all, fans then were almost willing to accept the lockout if it meant the league would be healthier over the long-term. This time, fans view the situation as a greedy money grab by owners unwilling to reign in their spending. Nike’s new “Hockey is Ours” commercial even celebrates this “us vs. them” mentality by highlighting a defiant attitude among players and fans.

What the NHL faces isn’t simply a PR, marketing or image problem. This is a trust problem, with fans feeling betrayed more than once in less than a decade. Earning trust back won’t happen with commercials and thank you notes. It’s going to be about what the league does not what it says. Sure, the hardcore hockey fans will probably soon forgive, but the casual fan—the fan that’s been so responsible for the success of the league over the last ten years—isn’t going to be so ready to spend money on a league that seems to have so little regard for the people keeping it in business.

Here are five ways the NHL can start the process of repairing its damaged reputation:

  1. Start communicating with fans NOW MORE. Open up communication as soon as possible. Give fans details about the new agreement, what it means to their favorite teams, and how it makes the game better. At this point, over-communicate – not with marketing messages, but with contrite honesty.
  2. Create a space for fans to vent. The NHL should create an online space for fans to vent their feelings about the lockout, ask questions (which actually get answered) and offer ideas for improving the league. While some of the discussion will be rooted in frustration, the league is potentially opening up an opportunity to learn more about its core fan base and maybe even stumble on a good idea or two. Get the fans talking and keep them engaged, even if they’re hurt.
  3. Stop insulting fans and offer them stuff they actually care about. Thirty-percent-off merchandise and free parking for five games isn’t going to cut it. Make NHL Center Ice free for everyone. Offer free parking for the rest of the year. Offer free tickets to kids under the age of 13 – this is going to be your future fan base. Lower ticket prices across the board (e.g., if you lose half the season, make tickets half price, etc.).
  4. Increase transparency. Create content that pulls the veil back on league finances and operations. Now that the lockout is over, force teams to open their books. Hire someone to translate it into non-insider language to explain how the league is more viable now, and better yet, how this will ensure that yet another lockout isn’t going to happen again in ten years. The NHL already has a blueprint for how to do this – Brendan Shanahan’s video series explaining penalties and suspensions is a fantastic example of how to make complex things consumable to the average fan.
  5. Ramp up your community relations. All teams should have their players deliver the fans their tickets like the Penguins do. Hold open tryouts where fans can come and try out for the team like the Minnesota Wild have done. Go beyond sponsoring local teams and leagues and get involved with them, like the Nashville Predators did in the video below. Do all of this and more. Much, much more.
This was the second long lockout in less than ten years. Sure, some fans will come back as soon as that first puck is dropped, but to repair relationships with the vast majority of fans, the league is going to have to go beyond apologies, press conferences and tweets and show the fans that they care. It doesn’t matter what the league says, but what they do. If the league wants fans’ dollars (and loyalty) back, they’re going to have to first win back their fans’ trust.
Continue reading...

Ten “Boring” PR Skills You Need to Have

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some college students about PR, advertising, living in Chicago, and the work I'm doing at C-K. They loved hearing about the work that we've done with Corona, Porsche, and Cedar Fair. We talked about branding, TV commercials, media tours, and social media. By the end of our conversation, they were all telling me that I had their dream job and were asking me if we had any openings. At this point, I was feeling pretty proud of myself – after all, this was a much cooler reaction than when I'd regale them with stories of working with the IRS or the TSA. However, when I got got back to my office, I realized that I did those students a disservice. I got them all excited about riding roller coasters, drinking beer, and driving fast cars, but failed to mention the really fun stuff that I do every day. 

You want to get really excited about PR? Check out my budget spreadsheets and staff forecasting tools! Join me as I write a statement of work and analyze row after row of statistics! Excited yet? Maybe you'd rather stay at the office until 8PM writing a performance review? 

The best PR pros do a lot more than Tweeting, drinking with press contacts, and attending events. That might be what got you into the industry, but if you want to move up the ladder, you better sharpen these ten boring PR skills too. 

You may think these things are about as exciting as watching grass grow, but you'll want to learn these things if you want to keep growing.

  1. Manage Upward. Do you know how to pitch new ideas and get fast approval to try them? Can you manage your boss and his/her time so they don't become a bottleneck? Learn what makes your boss tick. Learn how they work so that you can expedite getting things done when you want to try something new. Gain their trust so are empowered to take risks and know they've got your back. 
  2. Manage your time. How many hours does it take you to write a press release? Do you know how to estimate how long it will take you to do something and then manage your own workload to get that job done on time? One of the best skills a junior person can develop is the ability to accurately estimate how long it will take them to do a job. 
  3. Give feedback. Do you know how to give honest, constructive feedback to a colleague? To your boss? Learn how to give both positive and negative feedback. This goes beyond saying "good job" – it means giving feedback so that people are motivated to do better. It means giving feedback so that they learn from their mistakes without feeling like an idiot. 
  4. Analyze statistics. Do you know how to make sense out of a mess of numbers? Can you comb through a bunch of spreadsheets and tables to find something meaningful? Learn how to analyze data, but even more than that, learn how to distill it down to laymen's terms. 
  5. Build and manage a budget. Do you know how to allocate $10,000 to get the job done? How many hours do you need? How many hours does your Assistant Account Executive need? How much of that should be allocated to hard costs like giveaways or vendor fees? Learn about hourly rates, profit margins, and scopes of work. Learn how to adjust on the fly and reallocate costs as needed while still staying under budget. 
  6. Delegate. You aren't scalable. You may think you're a hard worker and that you'll do whatever it takes, but at some point, you're going to realize you can't do it on your own. Learn how to delegate work to other people. Learn how to accept that other people may do things differently than you, but that doesn't make them wrong. Learn how to leverage your team's strengths and understand their weaknesses so that you use everyone's time most efficiently. 
  7. Develop and manage a project plan. Can you break up a big project into small tasks, assign them deadlines and then manage to those deadlines? Learn how to create a project plan that integrates deliverables, interim deadlines and costs and how to manage against that. This goes for small projects and multi-million dollar accounts. I've used project plans to help plan my work for everything from website content to huge accounts with multiple workstreams. 
  8. Work remotely. Can you be productive from your couch? How about on a plane? In line? Learn how to maximize your productivity when you're not in the office. I'm not just talking about using technology like wireless cards, cell phones, and video conferencing. I'm talking about knowing how to manage your work so that you're able to take an early weekend because you know you've scheduled your conference calls for while you're on the road. I'm talking about using your time on the plane to write your blog posts or catch up on your RSS reader.
  9. Ask for help. I don't care how smart you are or how hard you work – you're going to need someone's help at some point. Maybe it's because they've got a skillset or experience you need. Maybe it's because you're on vacation and need someone to handle a client crisis. Learn that you don't have to do everything on your own. Learn how to ask for help before it's too late. 
  10. Write a performance review. Sooner or later, you're going to have to write someone's performance review or at the very least, contribute to one. Many organizations have implemented 360-degree reviews where you may be responsible for collecting feedback and writing a colleague's review. Learn how to objectively solicit feedback about someone else, analyze that data and write an objective review of that person's work.  

What other "boring" skills would you add to this list? The opportunity to pitch an idea to the producers of the Today Show or to go bar-hopping with the editors of Maxim may be what got you interested PR in the first place, but those opportunities only happen once someone has done the dirty work first. Someone has to build the strategy, develop the project plan, allocate the resources, manage the budget, and get someone to sign off on the idea before you're going to get the opportunity to make that call. Learn these boring skills now so that you can contribute to the entire process, not just the fun stuff at the end. 

Continue reading...

Start Your Community With Role Models, Not Influencers

I just finished reading this article in last month's Fast Company where the CEO of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, discusses how Pinterest got started, where it's at today, and what its future may hold. In it, they highlight some of the ways in which Pinterest defied best practices when they first started – they didn't include any leaderboards, they didn't highlight the most popular pinners, they used an infinite scroll layout instead of pushing for more clicks and pageviews, and most interesting to me, their first community members weren't "influencers" with high Klout scores. They were role models who would care for the community as if it were their own.

"In Pinterest’s early days, Silbermann gave out his cell-phone number, attended blogger meet-ups, and personally composed weekly emails that were sent out to Pinterest’s tiny, but growing, community. "It’s like you’ve built this little city with nobody inside of it yet," he says. "And you want to fill it up with the right kinds of people who are going to teach future people what they should be doing when they move in." Most Silicon Valley types look at early users as viral marketers; Silbermann saw them as role models. (Until recently, Pinterest’s welcome email advised users to "pin carefully" because "your pins set the tone for the community." The site bans nudity and discourages users from posting images of too-skinny models, otherwise known as "thinspiration," after the phenomenon became a problem.)"

What if PR and social media community managers stopped worrying about targeting the influencers with the most Klout, the highest PeerIndex score, or the highest Empire Avenue share price, and instead worried about identifying the people who are best equipped to create and maintain a healthy community? What if we looked for qualities like good taste, helpfulness, and compassion instead of followers, pageviews, and likes? What if we focused our efforts on the people who will become the community leaders, rather than simply the people with the loudest mouths?

If what we're doing is truly building online communities, shouldn't we first recruit the people who will actually be you know, building that sense of community and modeling the behaviors you want to see from all members?

One of Pinterest's first and most active members wasn't a social media influencer. She's the founder's mom. Silbermann's tactic of starting his community with role models isn't new. This is a tactic that I've used when building online communities behind corporate firewalls. In those closed communities, the first members weren't the VPs or the corporate comms people – the people with the most influence – they were the people who were most passionate about the community. These individuals felt a deep sense of responsibility for the success of the community. They shared the same goals and philosophies. They were the ones who modeled the behaviors that we wanted the rest of the community to emulate. They were the ones who would tell the boss he was wrong so that it would be ok for others to do the same. They may have only brought in 50 new people, but that wasn't their purpose. They were recruited because they were the ones to create that strong sense of community among the current members so that when new members joined, they joined a community with an established culture and purpose.

Now, if your goal is to simply get a million Facebook likes or sign up two million users to your branded community, then by all means, pay Lil Wayne to Tweet your URL to his 8 million followers and watch the numbers stack up. You can trot out your pageviews and member numbers to your boss all you want. Just don't expect those thousands of people to actually do what you want them to do. On the other hand, if you're looking to build a vibrant community of brand advocates who will buy your products, share your messages with their networks, give you honest, constructive feedback and build other brand advocates, then you should instead look for people who will model those behaviors. These people may not have the biggest names or the most "influence," but they're the ones who will create the foundation for what your community will be.

Continue reading...

Why I Hate the Word “Pitching”

I've grown increasingly frustrated when I hear my PR colleagues tell me they're going to "pitch the media." Maybe it's because my non-PR friends look at the term so pejoratively. Maybe it's because it implies a certain level of salesmanship. Maybe it's because it erodes my own idealistic view of the media as the fourth estate and that I hate seeing so much of it be controlled by pitchmen who take advantage of lazy journalists. Maybe it's all of the above. For me, it's almost as bad as our industry's most hated word – "spin." Then I read Amber Mac's excellent piece on Fast Company about how social media can help save the PR industry from bad pitches as well as Gini Dietrich's follow-up post on Spin Sucks, and I got all riled up again how PR people rely on blind pitching instead of focusing on the "relations" part of public relations.

When someone tells me that they're pitching something to the media, the default image in my head has sadly become this –

From spamming thousands of reporters and bloggers at a time in the hopes of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship. At some point, it became acceptable to send an awful pitch out to 10,000 people and hope that 1% would cover it instead of crafting customized pitches that go to 200 people with the expectation that 50% would cover it. Wonderful. Glad to see that we're modeling our pitching approach after Nigerian email scams. Aren't we better than this? PR people have to stop trying to take the easy way out. Stop being lazy and start taking pride in each and every pitch you make. It is YOUR name after all that will be tied to that pitch. It's YOUR agency's name that may end up on a blog somewhere as an example of a bad pitch.  Act like every pitch you make is a reflection of you and your agency…because it is.

One of the things I've told my teams over the years is that the best media pitch is usually pretty simple. It's usually something along the lines of "hey man – just read your latest post and wanted to clue in on a client of mine who's got a cool new product that I think you'd like. Check it out and let me know what you think." While the "pitch" is surprisingly simple, the reason it works is because of all the work that's required to get to that point. For it to work, it assumes that you've established a relationship with this person, that they trust you, that you only share things like this that they are truly be interested in, that you've interacted with them before when you weren't pitching him on something, and that the link they click will give them everything they need to know – photos, videos, quotes, contact information, research, etc. In other words, there's no need to worry about crafting a perfect pitch if you've already laid the groundwork – at that point, it's just two people talking with one another.

Let's all work together to change the connotation of the word pitch and agree that we should aspire to be better than used car salesmen and spammers.  Let's make pitching less about trying to sell the media on something and focusing on providing them with what they need – good stories to tell that will be interesting to their readers. Let's pledge to:

  • Get to know the people covering our clients before we start pitching them
  • Read at least three different stories/articles/posts they've written before reaching out to them
  • Know if my contact prefers to be contacted via Twitter, email, Facebook, phone, or carrier pigeon
  • Avoid making our first contact with the blogger/reporter our pitch email – Retweet them, comment on a blog post, answer a question they have
  • Help the media do their job even if there's no direct benefit for me
  • Pitch fewer people but aim for a higher success rate
  • Stop blindly "trying to create more buzz" and instead be more of a PR consultant to my client
  • Write my pitches in actual English like I'm talking to a person instead of my client's key messages
  • Refrain from spamming dozens of reporters with the same email
  • Never ever send an email with any form of the words – "just checking to see if you got my email" (because they did, and then they deleted it)
  • Validate everything that I find out about a reporter/blogger from a PR database
  • Clearly identify the "what's in it for me?" for everyone I contact
  • Include my name, contact information, and links to more information
  • Stop overselling our pitches – when everything is ground-breaking, innovative, and the first-of-its-kind, nothing is
  • Coordinate our pitches with our clients so that they aren't surprised by questions from the media
  • Realize that no one likes to feel like they're being pitched, but they do enjoy hearing a good story
  • Read and proofread and read and proofread everything before I hit send

These are just off the top of my head – I'm sure there are plenty of others. If you're a PR pro, what other tips would you add here? If you're a reporter/blogger, what do you wish PR people would do better when pitching you? 

Continue reading...