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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Communications Agency

November 22, 2013
Image credit: thetaxhaven via Flickr

Image credit: thetaxhaven via Flickr Creative Commons

After searching for the right fit, you’ve finally found a PR and Communications agency that seems like the perfect match. Now that agency will create and implement your communications plans and you can get back to business, right? Well, yes. But it is important to remember to view your agency as a partner and expect to engage with them on a regular basis to ensure your needs continue to be met. When working with your agency through a series of ongoing communications, rather than one business transaction, you can focus on what you do best with the knowledge that you are truly getting the most out of your agency.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that you and your agency partner remain well-matched:

  1. Communicate Regularly – Ongoing communication is absolutely vital to the success of your campaign. Make yourself and your team available for weekly calls with your agency to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you are used to communicating via email, but are unsure of specific details, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk it out.
  2. Discuss Both Business and Communications Goals – Only you and your team members know exactly what makes your company tick. Make yourself and your key business partners available to participate in an   initial messaging session with your agency to discuss and determine business and communication objectives. And remember to make yourselves available for subsequent sessions periodically to determine if goals have changed. What do you value the most as a company? Who is your target audience? What is your ultimate goal? What is your competitive advantage? This information is needed to craft and implement an effective communications plan.
  3. Let Your Agency Do What it Does Best –Once you have carefully chosen your agency partner, make the leap. Trust your decision. Trust that your company’s success is very important to your agency partner. And trust that they will do everything in their power to shape your message and brand according to your business and communications goals. Your communications plans will most effectively align with your business goals when you allow your agency partners the freedom to do what they do best—create and execute strategic plans.
  4. Assign A Decision Maker – It’s a good idea to assign one person on your team to be the final decision maker. Involving multiple people in the decision-making process is an excellent way to generate new and creative ideas, but it can also create unnecessary delays, impacting you and your agency’s ability to meet deadlines and effectively implement a campaign. Designating a final decision maker will ensure that your plans and projects move forward at a steady pace.
  5. Enroll in Communications 101 – It’s helpful to understand the basics of communications in order to effectively manage expectations. Before or immediately after signing on with a new agency, ask them to explain all of the services they offer, the services they will be providing you, and how they expect those services will benefit your organization. A good agency will interview you to ensure that they can meet your goals and will be more than happy to take the time to ensure that you understand what they do and why.

Wondering how to align your business and communications plans effectively? Contact Nereus for a consult.

#PDXchat – Craft your message in a digital world

November 7, 2013

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Not too long ago I had the pleasure of attending the second of the #PDXchat series hosted by the Social Media Club of Portland. #PDXchat is a free panel series providing insider information and best practices from industry experts whose professions are highly influenced by social media.

For the event, KGW News offered up the perfect venue — their TV studio. I was surrounded by stage lighting, professional video equipment and dozens of mobile devices, as fellow attendees tweeted live from the studio floor.

The theme for the evening was “Crafting your Message in a Digital World.” Stephanie Stricklen, KGW news anchor, did an exceptional job moderating the panel of local news experts, including:  Frank Mungeam, KGW Director of Digital Media; Rebecca Marshall, KXL 101FM news director and AM Drive news anchor, and Ali Manzano, Social Media Editor at the Oregonian. Terry St. Marie, president of @SocialMediaPDX, definitely deserves a shout-out for organizing.

The panelists shared many tips and tricks for landing your story in front of legacy media (TV, print and radio) in a now digital world. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Connect via social media: Continually keep tabs on journalists’ beats and audiences
  • Humanize the story: Make it relatable to the community
  • Leverage social networks: Find an angle that easily integrates into social channels

As for pitching techniques, the panelists offered up some advice:

  • Get to the point: Don’t use fluff in your initial correspondence
  • Avoid errors: Grammatical mistakes deface your credibility
  • Time it right: Send your idea and follow-up with a phone call prior to editorial meetings

At the event, I learned a lot about working with traditional media platforms in our digital landscape. What success stories have you experienced working with TV, print and radio, and what made them successful? Share your stories with our team.

Are Hashtags Taking Over our Online Lives? #Toomanyhashtags

October 22, 2013

If you saw the latest lampoon with Jimmy Fallon & JT on Jimmy’s Late Night show, you’ll know what I mean by #hashtagsoutofcontrol. If not, you can catch it here and see how ridiculous we’d all sound if we spoke in hashtags: “#monalisa, #isshesmiling, #speakingofsmilingjustsawmydentist, #dentalcare, #cavityfree, #thatshowwedo, #wegohard, #wecantstop.” Regrettably, the phenomenon of hashtagging verbal communications may not be too farfetched, according to Chris Messina – inventor of the “#” use on Twitter.  Younger generations often speak in “hashtag” and what’s to stop them? We already incorporate online acronyms such as “LOL”, “B.T. Dubs”, and “JK” into our colloquial babble.

Source: rottenecards.com

Source: rottenecards.com

By no means am I a hashtag “hater”. Thanks to the hashtag, it’s easier to transform words and phrases into short, searchable links. Social media pundits use hashtags to group topics and key phrases and seamlessly track them in discussion threads; however, their overuse is endemic in today’s twitter and social media status updates. According to Mashable’s Beginner’s Guide to the Hashtag, you should only use one to three hashtags in a post, yet many fail to stay within this limit. I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I see status updates with a hashtag in front of every word. It was not Messina’s intention for us to overdose on hashtags. In a Guardian post Messina asserts “That’s not something I had really anticipated and now that I’m here I’m kind of like, ‘Oh my God… what have I done?”

Some people believe hashtags create more harm than good. Sam Biddle of Gizmodo wrote a piece on How the Hashtag Is Ruining the English Language. The post cites the hashtag as a “Linguistic tumor—a tic more irritating than any banal link or lazy image meme.” He also refers to the hashtag as “Conceptually out of bounds, being used by computer conformists without rules, sense, or intelligence...”

While I agree with Biddle that “The hashtag has been applied so sloppily that it has killed a form of interesting commentary,” I disagree that the hashtag is a “vulgar crutch and ruining the English language.”

The benefits of using hashtags shouldn’t be disregarded. I’ve attended conferences, networking events, and special occasions such as weddings, where a specific hashtag was assigned to help connect with others in attendance. Major brands make use of the hashtag when promoting a featured product or contest. In the PR field, our team uses hashtags to search for relevant coverage, connect with targeted media, interact with tradeshow attendees and engage with individuals that are interested in the same topics as our clients.

There’s no doubt the hashtag will be trending for some time. Given this, I hope hashtag addicts will relent and become more selective when applying the “#” symbol.

What are your thoughts on today’s hashtag practices? Are you bothered by overuse of the “#” sign, or are you guilty of hashtag abuse? Share your comments with us. #SOTuesday #AintNobodyGotTimeForThat #hashtagmania

Taking a Side on PR Stunts: If that’s the Game, I Don’t Want to Play

October 10, 2013

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Twitter hacks, fake proposals, PR stunts. Various methods of increasing followers and gaining recognition by staging some type of fake scenario are becoming far too common in public relations. Consumer products, sports teams, food franchises, everyone seems to be getting in the game, but what does this mean for the public relations and communications field?

Yesterday my colleague Joe defended these stunts as acceptable ways to increase followers and brand recognition inTaking a Side on PR Stunts: Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game.” He asked you what you think about them. I’ll tell you what I think—if that’s the game, I don’t want to play.

These are cheap tricks and I don’t think it’s creative—quite frankly I think it’s dishonest, borderline unethical, and in the long-term it isn’t very effective. Let’s say you have a goal to reach 10,000 Twitter followers and you fake an account hack and it gets you up to 13,000 followers. Congrats. But looking at those new followers and watching them over time, do they stay? Are these people engaging with you? Are they part of your target audience?

We, as communications professionals, need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Innovation is proposing a campaign or developing content that genuinely appeals to your audience. How do you explain to your client that the only way you can increase their brand recognition is by tricking the target audience to pay attention? If these types of stunts are considered strategic, count me out.

What do you think? Share your views in the comments below.

Taking a Side on PR Stunts: Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

October 9, 2013

“Account hacked, please disregard last message!” seems all too common in today’s digitally connected world. After a pro athlete, politician, or company gets caught posting a distasteful tweet or picture, the “account hacked” excuse from the crisis team is released like clockwork and the media pounces on the story.

Whether you think it was funny or just plain awful, the brands or individuals involved in these types of stunts typically gain a significant number of new ‘followers’ and public attention. Growing a following on a social network increases the perceived popularity of the brand or individual associated with the account and can even translate into lucrative business deals for the brands involved. Given this possible outcome, some of the very people in charge of cleaning up the messes associated with these accidental leaks or hacks are now purposely employing the tactic to bolster their client’s fan base.

Chipotle recently used this tactic to help promote its 20th anniversary scavenger hunt called “Adventuritto”. The game involved 20 days of questions that fans would answer using clues provided by Chipotle. On July 21st, @ChipotleTweets had some peculiar posts that read like someone was using Siri to find ingredients:

  •  “twitter friends search bar”
  • “Do I have a tweet”
  • “twitter Find avocado store in Arv”
  • “Hit send too soon!”
  • “Find avocado store in Arvada, Colorado”
  • “Found it!”
  • “@chipotletweets What is cilantro? How do you pronounce it?”
  • “Hi sweetie, can you please pick up some line, salt, and onions? twitter”

Then the cover up tweet popped up:

“Sorry all. We had a little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now! –Joe”

Many believed someone was accidentally logged into Chipotle’s account or that it was hacked, but after a few days of speculation, Chipotle’s director of communications admitted they had planned the “hacked” tweets as a set of clues for that day’s puzzle. Effective PR stunt? Chipotle thought so. The director of communications stated, “We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people’s attention and make them talk, and it did that.” Indeed it did. On an average day, @ChipotleTweets adds around 250 followers. On the day of the “hack” they added 4,000 followers and received 12,000 retweets. It had such a positive result, they planned to release shirts with the fake tweets printed on them.

Due to Chipotle’s success and the success of others employing similar tactics, we are sure to see other brands or individuals put this type of PR stunt to use. Those who copy it exactly are likely to get called on it from the start. They’ll end up taking all the flak without being rewarded with the bump in followers.  So, in order to emulate Chipotle’s success, companies and individuals will need to get clever.

This does not mean that the tactic cannot be overplayed. Eventually, if every company does it, this strategy of faking hacks will be less effective and even create significantly negative PR—but to these brave few who took a chance and blazed a trail, this was effective and I salute you!

What do you think about this type of PR stunt? Let me know in the comments below.

Converged Media: The Future of PR?

May 28, 2013
Image source: Smart Insights

Image source: Smart Insights

I recently attended the 2013 Communicators Conference in Portland, Oregon where there seemed to be one common theme presented throughout the majority of the keynotes and sessions: The Rise of Converged Media. The term “converged media” refers to accomplishing PR goals through a combination of earned media, paid media, owned media and shared media over time. Converged Media can be broken down into the following four categories:

  1. Earned Media –  “free” publicity gained in publications (on and offline) through PR and media relations
  2. Paid Mediapublicity gained through paid opportunities (can be in the form of display advertisements, sponsorships, etc.)
  3. Owned Media content created and published by the brand, including websites, social media channels, blogs, newsletters, etc. More and more, brands are behaving like publishers and editors by creating and managing their own content. “Content Marketing” comes into play in this category.
  4. Shared Media –content/articles that are shared through social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). This can propel content from one network to another through various channels and must be constantly monitored by PR agencies.

How will the rise of converged media affect the PR field? For me, it raises the question of credibility. Isn’t PR supposed to be about securing positive coverage from the most credible sources? This is one of the reasons why earned media has been so powerful and why PR professionals have been valued in business in years past. When I’m looking at a brand’s “owned media” content, whether it is an article or a product review from their blog or website or a social media post, I always take it with a grain of salt. We know that everything about the brand will be portrayed positively here since the brand owners are creating the content themselves. I’m not saying owned media isn’t important or valuable and can’t be leveraged to gain awareness and/or increase brand interaction, but is it as valuable and credible as earned media? For instance, if you read a review about the new Nokia phone on the Nokia website by a writer who is employed by Nokia, would you believe this review to be as credible as a review about the same phone written and published in Engadget?

When reading an article from a 3rd party source, I am more likely to trust that source since I know the reporter or blogger does not have a hidden agenda. This is a real opinion from a respected member of the media, who is not directly connected to the brand in any way. In my mind, this article or product review is far more credible, and thus, more valuable to the brand. So even though the value of owned media and content marketing may be emerging in the industry, I still think the value of earned media can’t and won’t be replaced in the near future.

What do you think? Is converged media and specifically “owned media” the future of PR?

The Price of Popularity: $18/1K Followers!

May 16, 2013
Robot Love - Source: VisualizeUs

Robot Love – Source: VisualizeUs

This just in! Justin Bieber’s biggest fans are… robots?

No, I’m not referring to the army of ‘Bielbers’ with posters of the singer hanging in their bedroom. I mean ‘bots’ or fake Twitter accounts. Of the international pop sensation’s 37.3 million followers on Twitter, 53% are so called ‘bots’. And he’s not alone. Recent news has exposed many celebrities with a significant percentage of their Twitter followers coming from inactive or automated accounts. This doesn’t stem solely from Hollywood either. Supposedly, President Obama’s Twitter audience is made up of around 70% inactive or fake profiles, totaling over 21 million. That’s more than the population of the state of New York (which has 29 electoral votes!).

All this hoopla surrounding fake followers has uncovered an industry for purchasing Twitter accounts. According to a recent study, there are more than two dozen companies that create, program and sell various packages of automated accounts ready to follow their most recent buyer. Based on the amount of accounts from the most popular providers in the industry, with average prices estimated at $18 per 1,000 followers, this equates to a $40-$360 million dollar industry.

The market for augmenting followers and ‘likes’ brings up the reoccurring question surrounding social media metrics: where’s the value in an inflated following? Quite often, PR pros dismiss the idea of accumulating followers and ‘likes’ as a primary way of measuring successful social media strategies and campaigns. We point clients and colleagues to metrics of engagement (‘talking about’ or shares, retweets, @mentions, etc.) as a much more indicative measurement of achieving one’s social media goals. Why then would politicians use limited campaign funds for ‘bots’ that are unable to vote? Why would celebrity social media managers add followers that can’t buy tickets to the next show or movie?

There wouldn’t be a market for followers and ‘likes’ if buyers only wanted to pad their egos. There has to be a more economical reason and I believe it boils down to the value of measuring popularity. These buyers have found a cheap and easy way to fudge the numbers so to speak. For example, if a performer is looking to book their next round of shows or land a big endorsement deal, they can point to their inflated social network audiences as a way to demonstrate their value or popularity to prospective sponsors: More followers, more money. In addition, these numbers can also increase the perceived popularity of politicians or brands. This in turn can attract real followers (potential consumers and voters) to specific messages, commercials or campaigns. They see that something or someone has more than a million followers and think, “There must be something special about politician ‘X’, let’s follow them and find out why!” Monkey see, monkey do.

There are risks to cheating the system, however. The issue of fake accounts hasn’t gone unnoticed by Twitter. More and more, the social network giant has gotten better at identifying and removing fake accounts by spotting the usual signs of inactivity; no tweets, no profile picture or bio, profiles following many while having no followers of their own. When massive spikes (bulk purchases) and drops (ensuing Twitter enforcement) in followers occur, those who closely monitor a celebrity or politician’s social network numbers will expose it, creating a public relations disaster. This happened to 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, when he suspiciously gained 116K followers in one day, and it didn’t help his chances in November.

What do you think? Is the potential reward of artificially inflating social networking numbers worth the risk? Does this practice seem unethical or is it just the nature of the business?

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