Archives for category: Public Relations

Not everything can be done via email or social media tools. It’s important to know how to professionally conduct a phone interview. I thought this article, “7 tips for giving a better phone interview” by Brad Phillips for Ragan’s PR Daily, gave some great tips. Read the article and take the time to watch the video at the end. It will crack you up.

Cheers, and have a great holiday!

Flackchick

There are reams of material available for communicators in print and online on developing, maintaining and controlling approval processes in organizations for materials such as newsletters (internal or external), press releases, fact sheets, etc. Lots of articles complaining about them too!

What I’ve yet to find is something solid on how to explain why an approval process is necessary and important.

Approval processes for materials aren’t for covering your a** (CYA) or even a professional courtesy, e.g., “We thought you’d like to know we are sending out a press release on our most important product launch in YEARS, take a glance at if you like.”

Approval processes are integral to many areas of an organization and how it is run. Approval processes maintains the professionalism, brand and message promoted internally and externally to various important stakeholders such as <gasp> CUSTOMERS! A couple of things to keep in mind when that approval email lands in your inbox, and why it is probably a good idea to open it up in a timely manner and answer it:

  1. Quality control: We are all beautifully human, and the most careful and professional communications executive, who writes materials every day for work and for pleasure and has had six other people look at the piece before sending it out, makes mistakes. Little, silly mistakes that he or she didn’t catch because they have stared at that press release for five days. After a while, you don’t see those small mistakes. The approval process helps catch those types of errors, which can negatively affect your organization’s…
  2. Professionalism: Despite the fact that we are beautifully human, we have standards and often pretty high ones, for the materials we read on websites, Facebook, Twitter and on Google. Even as a public relations professional who has committed more gaffes than I care to admit to (but will go ahead and do so, because it’s true and I depend on the approval process), if I see a press release or website content with typos, even one, I wonder, “Did anyone take a look at this?” I try to be understanding, but part of me is wondering what is going on behind the curtain and if the organization is on point.
  3. Branding and Messaging: I can write a release or a white paper or an op-ed and think I have hit all of the important messages, but there may be something emerging that I don’t know about that needs to be added to the piece for context. Or I may mention something in the piece that should be removed for legal, proprietary or other reasons. Perhaps the entire piece needs to be put on hold. How would I ever know if I didn’t send the piece for review and if no one opened it to read it and let me know the deal? Every piece that goes out, internally or externally, should reinforce correctly and clearly, the organization’s brand and key messaging. You have to check communication pieces just as carefully for message as you do typos and grammatical errors. Nothing should leave the communications/public relations, etc., department without strongly supporting the organization and its mission.

I’m not advocating not allowing a communications or public relations department to function and operate without being watched carefully – but approval processes are important. The importance transcends a department’s autonomy, what people perceive their job responsibilities to be, (i.e., I work in Finance, so I’m not sure I need to bother reading this), or assuming that everything is okay, (i.e., I’m pretty sure Bob read this…). Everyone in an organization, not just the communication department, is responsible for how it is perceived and what represents it. And it all starts with taking ownership and responsibility in the approval process.

 Flackchick wants to know: How does the approval process work in your organization? Or how doesn’t it? What would you like to change, and what do you like about it?

When I was looking for a job, I was drawn (like a moth or maybe a looky-loo who comes upon a car wreck) to news stories and blog posts on alternative job search methods. I was discouraged, I was depressed, I was tired of watching Judge Judy (and I like her). I just wanted a job and it seemed as if everything I was doing, such as studying potential interview questions and preparing great answers for them, researching the company, developing a stellar resume and applying to appropriate positions while at the same time networking and following up on all leads given to me, weren’t getting me anywhere. I also wasn’t having much luck on the freelance side of public relations.

I ignored the stories about the people who printed their resumes on t-shirts and walked around in them, bought billboards advertising their skills and work experience, and those who delivered homemade pies and designer shoes to hiring managers (!). I didn’t judge them, because I understood their pain. I just knew I didn’t want to fall off into that, because I feared that some unscrupulous hiring manager would take advantage of some poor soul so desperate to land something they would try almost anything.

I did take a closer look at the Video Resume. According to news reports, unemployed professionals were paying thousands of dollars to develop Video Resumes of themselves discussing their qualifications, there were companies popping up all over the place offering these services at various price points, and many were just setting up a camera and posting their Video Resume on YouTube on the off-chance some recruiter or hiring manager might see it.

I was immediately suspicious. I didn’t put this in the same category, as say, the pie/resume delivery, but it seemed fraught with the potential to go utterly and horribly wrong.

  • There are lots of crazies on You Tube. How do you separate yourself from those people?
  • How do you come across natural, relaxed and prepared on camera when you have never given interviews or done work in front of the camera? This is NOT as easy as folks think it is!
  • Since this is so new, how do you know how long the video should be?
  • Do you read your resume, or speak conversationally? How do you tailor it to jobs you want?
  • What the hell do you wear for something like this?
  • How do you avoid the creepy factor with something like this?

And I just didn’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to give anyone to video tape me interviewing, but not really interviewing. So I found my job the old-fashioned way.

Just as I suspected, a recent article in Smart Money Magazine by Anne Kadet, discussed this new trend and the potential problems associated with doing Video Resumes. In the article, “Video Résumés Reveal Too Much, Too Soon,” Kadet suggests readers visit You Tube to watch these Video Resumes not for potential new hires, but as entertainment on a boring, lonely Saturday evening or during a lull in your work day. She writes, “It’s a chance to flaunt engaging qualities that a paper CV can’t capture. But more often, the effort goes horribly wrong.”

Ouch.

Kadet also goes on to state, beyond the obvious reasons why Video Resumes are an awful idea, that recruiters avoid them for legal reasons (federal antidiscrimination guidelines) and that it is hard to use the Video Resume in the application tracking process of most companies.

Read here for more information. This is a job-seeking DON’T. I know it is hard, and that jobs are scarce and you always want to find a way to stand out from other really like good applicants. But this…just…isn’t…it.

Good luck!

Everyone makes it sound so simple. “Draft your content and put it on Wikipedia.” “Everyone who is anyone has a presence on Facebook.” And I guess it is simple…if you don’t care what the end result looks like. But to use either tool – or any social media tool to build your web presence – the right way takes planning, time, an infinite amount of patience, and a little HTML knowledge (or some good sites to go to for help), as well as a bit of willingness to give up some flexibility in how you are presented online and how you can use these tools.

I just finished both, a little roughed up by the processes, but I will be okay after a weekend of relaxing, not looking at either site, not even to look up new information on Tudor history or chatting with my favorite friends, and a couple of glasses of wine.  This piece discusses some issues I came across working on both, and hopefully it will provide you with pointers and information to make the process a bit easier for you as you embark on these tasks.

Facebook

You know that Facebook was not built for business use, right? Right. It was built for people to connect on a personal level and communicate with each other. But companies and organizations all over the world are using Facebook for this exact purpose. Facebook’s 500 million users seem not to mind; Facebook has even created “Business Pages” for companies to use. “Business Pages” allow you to set up a local business page, a page for a brand, product or organization, as well as an artist, band or public figure page. You also have the option of setting up a “Community Page” or a “Facebook Group Page.”

Again, it seems easy enough. But you need to keep a couple of things in mind:

  • If you don’t want your “Business Page” to be connected to your personal Facebook account, you will need to set up a dummy account. Facebook doesn’t really like people doing this. Facebook also doesn’t want you to set up multiple “Business Pages” under various accounts, or having a number of accounts connected to one e-mail. But it really doesn’t give you much of a choice. Dummy accounts may create confusion among people who try to look you up to send you a friend request.
  • You have some tough choices to make in choosing which type of page you want to create and with each choice you are giving up something in terms of the kind of information you want to convey. Each page is set up differently and has different functionality. For example, the “Facebook Group Page” allows you to communicate directly to your “fans,” but the others don’t. However, the “Facebook Group Page” probably isn’t the best choice for more traditional companies. They will want to post business hours, website links, press releases, etc., and you can do that with the Facebook Group Page, but you may need to build some FBML pages and kind of Jerry-rig it to make it work for you. I don’t think it gives you the clean professional, corporate feel you may need. If that is not your organization’s goal, that’s fine, but if it isn’t, you may have to give up communicating with fans beyond the wall postings.
  • Once you choose the kind of page you want and set it up, it gives you set tabs to use for inputting information, but you also have the option of creating custom FBML pages. I found these immensely helpful, but it did take some playing around with them to get it to work for me. You will also need some understanding – or have someone around who has some understanding – of HTML. Facebook Markup Language (FBML) enables you to build full Facebook Platform applications. You can make changes to the profile, profile actions, Facebook canvas, News Feed and Mini-Feed options. FBML is an evolved subset of HTML with some elements removed, and others that are specific to Facebook. I found that using straight HTML worked for me. But I understand it and how it works, and I sleep with a web developer, so I had free help to do the things I couldn’t do on my own.
  • You can delete Tabs on Facebook, according to what you will need and use on a regular basis.
  • You can create protection settings to prevent people from posting links, pictures, etc., which is good. They can still comment but they can’t post jokes or something to the page and you don’t get their updates.
  • Oh, and if your company changes their name – and this does happen – you will have to delete the old page and create a new one. Facebook doesn’t allow major edits to business pages. Crazy, isn’t it? Oh, and they don’t have tool to help you migrate fans either. You will just have to keep posting and reminding people on the old page to go and become a fan of the new one.
  • Here are some sites I used to pull a “Business Page” together:

Facebook needs to do better. It seems pretty shady to me to rake in ka-zillions of dollars from companies using the tool, but not allowing them the flexibility to do what they need to do. I am not advocating allowing companies to spam people. I also know I should have limited expectations from something I am using for free. But why not have a tool to migrate fans seamlessly? Why not allow edits to pages without creating a new one?

Wikipedia

The online encyclopedia. Again, it seems like the perfect place to increase your online presence and simple enough – type up some marketing and communications-division-speak, allow your c-level employees to add their spin, give it a good scrubbing by your legal department and post it to the site, right?

And you later discover that the article was deleted.

Or you write an article and post it, only to have some anonymous person post information – along with a news article, a PDF with legal documents connected with the situation, and photos – of a PR nightmare the company endured five years ago that you thought the world have forgotten about. You try to delete it, and you are contacted by the Wikipedia folks because deleting that information is a big no-no, since there are solid sources on the topic and not a total lie. In fact, it is completely true.

Wikipedia is for posting bare-bones information and facts, with plenty of sources such as news articles, web links and links to other Wikipedia articles. It is not a forum for marketing-speak, and it is not a free advertising or public relations tool.

There is plenty of information on how to write a good Wikipedia article and avoid trouble. Before writing anything, or even presenting the idea to a client or manager, I would thoroughly do my research and present them with the facts on Wikipedia. Yes, this includes admitting the negative aspects of being on the site, as well as the positive. It is also a good idea to have a plan in place for how to handle negative information posted to the article, and edits made by some well-meaning person with nothing to do. You can go in and make changes to obvious grammar and spelling errors or things that are flat out lies. Vandalism is usually caught quickly and taken care of by the fine folks at Wikipedia. But anything else may land you in hot water. You can post information to counter or refute negative items written into the article, but here you tread a fine line as well.

I have more of an understanding and appreciate for the strict rules Wikipedia has in place, than the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through to get a Facebook page to work for your company. I love Wikipedia and I can spend hours reading articles on the site. I go there for information, with a healthy dose of skepticism because I know anyone can go in and make an edit, but if I wanted spin, I would go to an organization’s website or news outlets that favor them. I don’t expect to drink corporate kool-aid on Wikipedia.

Some helpful tips for posting an article to Wikipedia:

  • Have some understanding, or someone close by with some understanding or thorough knowledge, of HTML. Wikipedia uses its own version of HTML, but it works the same way.
  • Search for organizations like yours, sort through the good and the bad articles, and if you see something you like, click on the edit box to grab code to use for your own article.
  • The code you grab from another page may not be completely flexible for your needs. Again, it helps to have someone close by who knows HTML, or to have some understanding of it yourself.
  • Copy and paste isn’t always your friend. It can be your absolute worst enemy.
  • If you have quite a bit of information to post, and lots of links, have them on hand in a Notepad page. DON’T USE WORD. This helps a BIT with the cut and paste issue. But be careful.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush this. It is not as quick and easy as you think.

I’m glad I did both. I learned a lot and I am proud of the results. But it wasn’t easy. Luckily, both sites provide a lot of information on how to set up these pages and Wikipedia’s information is far superior to Facebook. T here is also a wealth of information online.

Good luck!

A personal situation I encountered a few weeks ago prompted me to write this piece on ethics. A person I thought I knew very well and trusted turned out to be not-so trustworthy. To make matters worse, she thought that the personal relationship between me and the others she wasn’t being entirely honest with would negate the unethical and duplicitous things she was pulling in trying to secure new business. She was wrong.

As public relations professionals, we are faced with ethical situations all the time. The very often sensitive nature of the information we are privy to and the challenges we encounter in our organizations and agencies force us to make tough decisions. We often have to give the media and other target audiences information that will make them disappointed, angry or both, or give honest answers to tough questions that put our clients and/or organizations in a negative light. We often do this under duress, in the midst of a crisis and on the turn of a dime. We have little time to think and prepare our answers and the information we need to provide.  It is even harder when the emergency situation impacts people’s health and lives. “No comment” is never a good option and even less so when it involves highly sensitive and emotional situations.

New forms of media also put us in difficult situations. Blogs, message boards, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, give us immediate and powerful ways to communicate with our audiences – but it also allows us to use those tools to influence the perception of brands, companies, clients and organizations in misleading ways. Recently a large public relations firm was exposed for using interns to post positive reviews on its client’s apps on the Apple store.  Now, PRSA and IABC have explicit guidelines for ethics in our profession. And gaming an app rating system isn’t explicitly listed as a no-no within the ethics guidelines provided by these organizations, but…

The management that developed the client plans executing this “tactic” knew it wasn’t right. They knew it was dishonestly influencing people’s decisions to use or pay for and use an application and the “strategy” was flawed. They ignored their gut and pulled this stunt anyway, getting quick results for their clients and eventually being exposed, along with the clients, for being dishonest.

Step outside the pressure of getting a client, getting results, getting the media off your back, and think beyond the ethics guidelines of a PRSA or IABC (although they are a great start!): Does what I am about to do pass the gut test? Do I feel good about this? If what I am about to do was written out fully and posted in the company lunch room, on the organization’s website, my church bulletin or my child’s school newsletter, would I feel embarrassment?

We operate personally and professionally in a social and natural environment. We also expect people to be straight with us. We have to be in return. We are bound by duty as a result of this to be accountable to the environment we live and work in. Everything you do should pass the gut test.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, read this!

In reading articles and blogs in the last few months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Increasingly, I see people differentiating “social media” press releases and “traditional” press releases. Traditional press releases are releases as they have always been written – inverted pyramid, catchy title, AP Style, etc. Social media press releases are those that are search-engine friendly, with the same characteristics as a traditional release, only with keyword-rich content.

Egads! Why, in 2010, should there be two different types of releases written? Why aren’t they one in the same???

Public relations professionals should ditch this way of thinking completely and relearn how to write press releases. All press releases should have keyword-rich content and be optimized for search engines to pick them up quickly. SEO-friendly press releases are more likely to be found by those seeking information on a client/company/product or service, improves rankings online and in News search engines, drives traffic and increases link backs to a Web site, and will result in increased media opportunities. It gives a news release an edge over just sending it out on a newswire and/or shooting it to a dubious Cision-produced media list with a zillion contacts.

If you aren’t writing a press release using these steps, you need to hit “delete” and start over:

  • Research keywords for your target audience: the subject, product, industry and/or service.
  • Make sure these keywords are written into the first 250 words of your press release.
  • Ensure a keyword or two is included in the title.
  • Write keywords into the news release copy.
  • Include keywords in links back to your site

Optimized press releases are ranked by search engines such as Google and Yahoo! These sites are updated regularly with new content less than 30 days old, ensuring that people will come across the news release.

Take an additional step beyond sending the release out on a news wire and to a media list by submitting the release to an online press release service. Pandia.com provides a list here.

And lastly, as an industry, let’s stop comparing how things were done before the Web became such an integral way we live, work and play, and simply adopt methods that work with it and make it work for us. PR professionals need to act in the present and look proactively to the future to best serve our companies and clients.