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American Idol had it all wrong by asking contestants to sing Billy Joel tunes this week.  Even though he was 24 years old when The Piano Man was released, Billy Joel was not your typical 20-something – certainly not like this year’s Idol contestants.  By then, he had earned his stripes as a lounge singer, healing his wounds from a first album failure.

Plus, you have to consider the idea that Billy Joel’s ’24′ is not the same as yours and mine – that dude is an old soul with a lot of layers.  Which is perhaps why Garth Brooks performing New York State of Mind with Billy Joel and Barry White’s take on Just The Way You Are works…

Aside from wanting to share some old footage of Barry White, there is a marketing communications lesson here: don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

American Idol tried to make its contestants (square peg) sing songs that just weren’t (in my humble opinion) suited to their strengths (round hole).  These contestants have some very strong voices – something that may be better suited for the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Marc Anthony and the like.  You don’t need a powerhouse voice to perform a Billy Joel song – his music doesn’t require vocal gymnastic.  I believe that the more you add on, the less ‘Joel’ you get.

As a marketing communications pro, you should never try to fit your square peg into a round hole – epsecially if you’ve delivered at a  certain level on other projects.  Case in point: when I was in New York, I worked with this one guy who could write just about anyone under the table – he was fast, smart and very creative at re-working dull copy.  The one time we let him speak to the client was enough to give him the opportunity to decline future meetings – the dude was sweating, stammered his way through a few sentences and looked shifty.  He was so nervous that it just presented an inaccurate portait of his strengths.

Squre Peg | Round Hole.

This is not to say that you should stay in your square peg world.  Nay Nay.  You should definitely try new things and strengthen what weaknesses you may have.  But to put yourself out there as being able to perform at the same level with *everything* that comes with the gig…is…a…mistake.  Know when to ask for help; seek advice; get a mentor; and lean on your team.  That’s what they are there for!

So, when was the last time you saw a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation?  Have *you* ever put yourself into a ‘square peg | round hole’ situation?

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I remember the time I went through my first fire drill. I was finger painting in kindergarten and having a good ole time.  No doubt I was probably doing what I thought to be a rendition of Hong Kong Phooey or the Lone Ranger(both great heroes in their own right, in my humble opinion).

I was so shocked by the noise and the flurry of activity that I began to wipe the paint on my clothes to hurry myself outside. And of course, then came the questions from my mom: “What happened to your clothes?”

Fire drills are important – they get kids used to the idea of orderly exits in case of an emergency and ultimately aim to keep them safe.

In the business of communications, the need for a “fire drill” can be equated to needing a crisis plan in place. Although not quite as simple as school’s fire drill, having a crisis plan serves the same purpose: to keep everyone in the company (including its reputation) safe.

Not everyone agrees with this… before it hits the fan, that is.

Tiger Woods took things into his own hands by saying NOTHING when he had his accident not too long ago. He avoided the press, refused to make a statement and just stayed out of sight. This kind of attitude BEFORE this incident made him come off as mysterious or unattainable – like a hard-to-get kind of prospect. Not realizing that his circumstances were quite as big as they were, this same demeanor made him look like he was hiding something…

…or guilty of something.

You can also see this kind of attitude with the current housing crisis. A lot of builders went into duck-n-cover mode – quite a PASSIVE move if you ask me. Especially since this kind of climate serves as a great opportunity for homebuilders to identify themselves as homeowners, reconsider their plans and RETHINK their efforts – not pull back. The smart brands kept their chips in: they stayed in the game with different messages, new incentives and, ultimately made themselves part of the conversation.

I can go into other examples, but… you get the point.

Keeping all this in mind, following are my top tips for whenever you have to develop a crisis management plan.

1. Prepare contingency plans – like we did as kids with the fire drills, we have to

  • Know what to do.
  • How to do it.
  • When.
  • How to behave.

2. Move swiftly; unlike Tiger and BP, this is no time to hide out or “ride the storm.”

  • Take charge of the situation by making yourself the focal point.
  • Speak with the press.
  • Use your online presence.

3. Adapt & change; keep yourself loose and flexible. Things happen, and change, in times like these: long hours…emotions.

4. Give accurate & correct information.

  • Don’t provide “shades” of the truth.
  • Keep it real.
  • Be a resource.

5. Be yourself – people and the press respond to a human being that is both emotional and rational. Plus, it immediately humanizes and puts a face to the situation.

What other tips would you recommend?  How have your “fire drills” helped your clients?

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.


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As you may have read in a previous post, I recently completed a Triathlon…and although it was great to have actually completed this feat, it brought out more of my competitive spirit that had not been seen since I made All State in High School Soccer (yes…soccer).  One of my cohorts told me that if there was any type of competitiveness in me, doing a TRI would certainly bring it out!  Sure enough, I’m prepping myself to be stronger, faster and more focused this next go-round.

Which brings me to this big point that I want to share: one of the biggest things I learned about myself in that race is that I need to keep it mental.  I know this because I ran into issues with

  • The Unknown: it was my first race.  And regardless how many books I may have read, advice I received from seasoned athletes, training I had under my belt, it was all new.  Transitions, the amount of people in my way, bubbles underwater during the swim – although it was great, it was unchartered territory for me.
  • Intimidation: hey, it was my first race…This rarely happens to me as I’m one to do everything I can to get myself prepped.  But seeing these athletes with their bikes, cool looking tri-tops and (let’s face it) triathlete-looking physiques.  I’m no slouch, but certainly not going to gracing any magazine covers (yet).
  • Pacing: come on now, it was my first race…!  Excitement and nerves got the best of me in certain spots – I lost good form, my flow was a bit off and I let little things get the best of me too often.  Had to keep reminding myself to stay calm and carry on to reach my happy race place.

For some, getting mental means getting in that zone where you have everything set and prepared.  For me, it means that I’ve prepared enough to stay loose and be flexible with whatever may come my way…

Be it in a race or with business, it pays to keep it mental.  You will always have moments where things are completely new to you; when you’re not the smartest person in the room; or when you’re so nervous that your hands get clammy, you start stuttering or speed through to the end of a presentation.

Get mental. Do your prep work. Find out who’s going to be in the board room and get some background info on all the players. Breath.  Pace yourself. Breath some more.  Find your ‘loose + easy Homer’ place and keep it all in perspective.

What do you do to keep it mental? How do you handle the unknown?

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Music…Sweet Music.

Whenever I think of chamber music, I think of Haydn, Beethoven or Mozart – beautiful stuff, but something I *really* have to be in the mood for.  Don’t get me wrong – their compositions have everything I look for in music: passion, depth and that element of surprise.  But you’ll be hard-pressed to find me say something like, “Hey, the Dallas Symphony is going to have a chamber music series this year – we should check it out!” It’s just not my vibe.

Nay Nay.

Then I ran across Project Trio.

Three guys from Brooklyn that bill themselves as “passionate, high energy chamber music ensemble.”  Since one of the guys is a Dallas native…AND…since we spent a little over seven years in Cobble Hill (yes, Brooklyn), I thought I’d give em’ a look see.

Aside from the obvious, here’s why I like em’…

  • They’ve taken their music to a whole new type of audience – the kind people that can jam with and appreciate the street musicians in New York City.
  • They’ve introduced chamber music by serving their own brand of jelly to the masses.
  • They look like the blue man group jamming when they play – especially in this video.

Moreover, their music has hit me on a personal level.  And, quite honestly, isn’t that what we want music to do?

Here’s the Thing: Business communications can do just that. Just because you sell supplemental insurance, it doesn’t mean that you have to ‘sell’ supplemental insurance.  Look at what AFLAC has done with that darn duck…what Nike does by just doing it…jeez, looks at what Apple does with……just about everything.

They’ve reached new audiences, introduced new ways of looking at their products and created an identity that is hard to forget…all because they realized that it’s not a product that they’re selling – it’s a brand.  A brand that has a sense of humor, runs, jumps & jives. A brand that represents companies full of humans – not products.

Let’s face it communicators: at the end of the day, we don’t really have to help our clients become an American Idol for the masses.  Our job is to help them deliver a great song for their audiences.


What kind of music are you making today?

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This concoction was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy & smart Shonali Burke.

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This past week, I gave a presentation to the Dallas IREM group about the importance of giving the implementation of social networking a second look.  Before I set foot at the place, I knew that the crowd I was going to speak with would be

 

  • a bit more conservative

  • a bit more skiddish about getting involved with social networking

  • a bit more unaware (than the ‘average bear’) on how this tool can potentially help them

  • a bit older than the average audience I’m used to speaking with

But I knew that they’d be open to hearing me out and taking notes……cautiously. 

 

So, I did what I knew: I told them that one of the best ways to tap into social media could be done by channeling Jimi Hendrix (you can see a copy of the unanimated version here).

 

 

At first glance, you’d think I was crazy for trying to do such a thing for this kind of audience.  Quite frankly, it got me a little nervous presenting this information in that kind of way.  But my experience and instincts told me 3 things:

  1. Music is a great way to help the social networking medicine go down.

  2. Using Jimi Hendrix as an example would get ME revved up.

  3. Using Jimi Hendrix would (hopefully) get THE AUDIENCE revved up.

 

And it paid off: not only was the audience engaged, but they really began to grasp what I was telling em.’  Go figure. 

 

So what does this all mean for you?  Whether you’re writing materials for a new client, gearing up for a new business pitch or hammering out some facts for a presentation to your peers…

 

Know Your Audience: the fact that they were there to hear some dude talk about social media points to the obvious fact that they are at least curious about it; so there’s room for being a little ‘different.’  I also knew that I was going to be part of one of the last presenters for the day, so I had to punch up the presentation.  Given the fact that the audience was a bit older, I bet on the idea that they would not only know who Jimi Hendrix was, but (at the very least, even if they didn’t like his music) that there was a certain amount f respect for what he did.

 

Know What Works For You: the idea of presenting to an audience about how his music inspired me  to think a little differently in business got me excited – this led to an energy and enthusiasm to ‘get it right’ in a way that naturally seeped into the slides.  I wasn’t going to talk analytics or measurement (Shonali Burke, Chuck Hemann, K.D. Paine or Don Bartholomew would be better suited for that) – I was going to hone in on showing the value of a person using ‘their own swing’ when they go up to bat in social networking.

 

Know Your Stuff: as you get ready to speak with a client; present an idea to your peers; or talk about why you believe why using something like Foursquare may be just the ticket for an event, you want to have some back-up right?  Because people are going to ask questions.  Why do you think this will benefit us?  How are other organizations using this?  Do you have any stats or research to back this up?

 

Because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a rock star like Jimi Hendrix to have that kind of influence – even if it’s on a ‘small’ scale.

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

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Last week, we went to see a live show at one of our favorite spots around Dallas.  We like it because the atmosphere is a little laid back and the bands that they book are pretty solid.  This night was no exception – the music was interesting and the overall performance was enjoyable.

At least the part of the performance that we caught.

You see, the sound levels were just WAY OFF.  Even though we witnessed one of the band members ‘test’ their levels to a point that was satisfactory (to them); and even though they asked for some corrections on their levels during the show….they never quite made it work.  In fact, the more they fussed around with it all, the worse it got.

It’s not like they had their microphones on backwards (yes….backwards)…

But the sound quality was so bad, we ended up leaving after four songs…..and we weren’t the only ones leaving.

Here’s the thing, PR pros: we don’t work around with sound levels or do mic-checks before a show.  But we do serve the ‘roadie’ role from time-to-time by providing support for a ‘featured act.’  This could come in the form of

  • making copies for a client presentation
  • getting an editorial calendar for a pitch
  • physically cutting-and-pasting a news article to make it look nice for a client that may not have access to the piece itself 

These ‘little’ things go an exceedingly long way when done right.

Truly.

Because if any of those ‘little’ things come out sloppy, EVERYONE in your team (top to bottom) looks sloppy.  And you lose trust.  Rightfully so.  Would YOU trust your money; your time; your IDENTITY with a team that can’t handle being a ‘roadie’ from time to time…?

Roadies make shows happen.  Plain and simple.  Doesn’t matter how great your music is – if you don’t have someone handling your equipment, levels, lights, etc. correctly, your only prepping for a bad show.

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

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I was born in October of 1971.  Some of you may think, “WHOA!  This dude is ancient!”  While some others of you may think, “He’s older than I thought.”  Although I’m sure most of you don’t even care.

I bring it up because I’ve been feeling like an old-timer these days when I see idiocy like the stunt that Lindsay Lohan pulled in court a few weeks back.  It seems like some kids (yes, KIDS) feel like they are entitled to do things like this or that it’s ok to fall back on a it was only a joke kind of excuse.  Thankfully, it looks like everyone in is in the same line of thinking that this kind of behavior does no one any favors.

But here’s the thing: there are lots of young, smart people (in business and in Hollywood) that don’t even approach this level of stupidity – bright people in PR & Social Media like Lauren Fernandez, David Spinks, Heather Whaling and Tom O’Keefe (to name a few) just don’t go there.  Because at the end of the day, they realized (just like the rest of us) that there is work that needs to be done – real work.  Even if it’s something like

  • Making copies the first half of the day
  • Getting editorial calendars the second half of the day
  • Stuffing press kit folders after hours for a conference
  • Making a caffeine run for the team so they can keep stuffing until midnight

 

Because we’ve all done it at one point or another.  It’s not so much about paying your dues – it’s a matter of recognizing that this ‘mundane’ work is still work.  A lot of the ‘important’ stuff could not happen without that stuff getting done.  And beyond that, it creates some grit and character in your work style.  Yes, Lindsay Lohan may not be doing this kind of stuff; but look at Lindsay Lohan.

 

Apples..Oranges, yes. 

 

But character is character.  And respect comes to those with character.  Not someone who’s in danger of contempt of court for putting a slur on her fingernails.

At the end of the day, we’re all part of the same machine – the more we work together, the better the machine operates.  And the better the machine moves, the happier our clients may be.

 

What’s the ‘most mundane’ work you’ve had to do in your career?  How did it help your team?

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

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Earlier this week, the sage & skilled Kellye Crane asked a key question in light of the General McChrystal interview scandal fallout:  Has your spokesperson ever gone off message? What do you do?

While there are numerous things you can do once this happens, here are four things to consider before any interview happens:

  1. Avoid the bot: yes, you want to have your spokespersons media trained, but you don’t want them to sound like they’ve been trained.  It’s like trying to pass yourself off as being a native in Mexico when all you’ve learned and practiced in a lab is Castilian español – you come off as a big faker and have people listen to your textbook Spanish and not your message.
  2. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight: if you know that this reporter has a reputation for being a little combative and your main spokesperson handles these kinds of personalities by trying to ‘outdo’ them, bring in another spokesperson.  Make sure that this person can keep themselves cool when the questions get heated and are good about keeping their emotions in check.
  3. Learn how to fall: one of the first things they teach you in tae kwon do is how to fall.  You have to experience this to keep bruises to a minimum and to know how to pick yourself back up…quickly.  Like this, in an interview, when something does go a little off-topic or when the interview begins to stray, your spokesperson has to know how to bridge back the interview to some focus.
  4. Keep the ‘blunder’ in perspective: not everything will require ‘all hands on deck;’ in fact, a good portion of interview foul-ups include a minor slip of the tongue.  Normally, this kind of thing can be cleared up with some humor (quick wit goes along way) or a quick phone call.  So be sure to keep your spokesperson a little loose……and know what to do when you accidentally hit yourself with a hammer.

 

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What do you do to keep your spokespersons ‘on the ready’…?  How do you keep your spokespersons loose and relaxed…?

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Just yesterday, the always irreverent and uber creative guys from DEVO released ‘Something for Everybody’ – their first studio album in 20 years.  You can hear these frolicky, biting and catchy tunes at ColbertNation.com or at Spinner

What I really dig about these guys is that they are a prime example of artists that didn’t even approach the idea of homogenizing their look, sound performances to reach a ‘mass audience.’  In a time when, across the board, album sales are lagging and record execs are trying to get their next ‘American Idol’ to cash in on (even if it’s just for a limited amount of time), it’s great to see someone hit the ground with a DEVOlutionized thud.

Whether they got help (from their creative team, their fans, etc.) on any of these ideas or not, DEVO reeks of fringe-spirit and originality…

  • They had a ‘cat party’ yesterday to celebrate its new album
  • The Everybody Face masks are cool…and kinda scary-looking
  • They launched an ‘Official Song Study’ for the album. The band posted portions of each of the tracks they recorded for the album and asked fans to rank and vote about which songs would appear on the final full length.
  • DEVO released yesterday the first in a five-part web “reality” series that documents the making of the album, a few live performances and their flirtation with corporate marketing culture (among other things)

My point in all of this is that creativity comes in many, many forms.  And it can come at any time.  Open yourself up to being a little creative in work – especially if you think you’ve found a way to make things a little better.  Push a little harder for your idea – the worst thing ‘the man’ can tell you is no.  And don’t let something as limiting as ‘age’ or fear hold you back from exploring the new.  It works in music; it works in art; and it certainly works in business. 

It could be that one thing that leads you to something so fresh.

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Early on in my career, much like everyone else in PR, one of the things that I was called to do was get some editorial calendars together.  This was right around 1996 and 1997, and since these kinds of things weren’t online just yet, I had to talk to the editorial assistant to get that information.

Even though this was a very timely task (especially since these were faxed back, providing the additional chore to make sure that these faxes came though clearly enough and, if so, enter in all of the data), I actually liked doing it.  At that time, I wasn’t really allowed to speak with anyone from the press; so, conversing with a ‘fellow grunt in the field’ was great for me – I saw it as a way to speak with someone at TIME Magazine, ComputerWorld or Forbes…!

Turns out, I was right.

Because, you see those editorial assistants I spoke with

 

Not that I had really planned on it, but since I was nice to those people when I was asking for the stuff that was easy enough for them to pass along, it paid off.  I was the fella with the interesting name that actually treated them like a human being…in truth, I treated them the way I wanted to be treated…I saw the game as well as they did and knew enough to know that being a good person went a long way.

So, PR pros, new & old, play nice.  You may very well be in a different part of the sandbox this time next year….the part that has you dealing with ‘widgets’ instead of ‘knobs’…who knows, there may be a writer that you’ve been cordial to in the same boat. 

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This post was cross-posted on Waxing Unlyrical – a blog that is owned and operated by the wonderfully savvy and smart Shonali Burke.

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