Mower’s Partnership with MassRobotics Rings Gold and Silver Bell Awards

The Mower Boston team won both Gold and Silver Bells at the 50th Annual Publicity Club of New England Bell Ringer Awards.

Presented by the Publicity Club of New England (now the PR Club), the region’s leading communications trade organization, the Bell Ringer Awards are a symbol of outstanding achievement for New England public relations and communications professionals. The awards celebrate and honor the teams that raise industry standards of creativity and craftsmanship.

Mower’s “Creating the Hub of Robotics” campaign moved MassRobotics from concept to reality as the two worked together to develop the organization’s aspirational story (Rallying Cry), brand identity (logo, website), strategic public relations and marketing program that helped brand and promote the compelling concept.

The MassRobotics team had this to say about our work:

“The team at Mower is a significant contributor to the success of MassRobotics and has been an integral part of our team since the beginning. Their creative staff has provided support from logo design and website development, to setting up and managing social media accounts. Our Twitter and LinkedIn are always fun and engaging, and it’s amazing the number of shares and comments we get every day. They manage our content, press releases and media outreach – we’ve had a tremendous amount of media coverage this year in print, online and on TV.

They created promotional videos that capture the essence of MassRobotics; these videos are key tools in our growth as we approach additional partners, sponsors and new residents. Most recently, they helped us celebrate our first anniversary in our space with a video commemorating all we’ve accomplished in a year. The video has been watched thousands of times and is being shared all over our social networks. 

Simply stated, the Mower team is our marketing department. We rely on their recommendations for marketing campaigns, messaging and more – we even asked them to help us figure out what color scheme to paint our office!

This extremely responsive team keeps pace with us, and that’s not easy in the startup world where you’re never sure what the next day will bring. For example, when we hosted this fall’s Robot Block Party, it was like throwing a party, inviting everyone you know, but really having no idea if anyone would show up. Mower secured so much coverage and facilitated so much conversation in advance of the event that when we showed up for it, there was already a line out the door to attend. It became one of the most attended and memorable events for all of HUBweek.

We can’t say this any more succinctly: Mower has built our brand! And we can’t thank them enough for their continued support of our mission.”

In addition to the tremendously successful launch, which received both regional and national print, TV and radio coverage, MassRobotics was also awarded a $2.5 million MassWorks grant, allowing the organization to triple its space, which was more than 80 percent occupied upon opening and reached 100 percent within the first three months.

Mower also contended for the Super Bell for the first time in agency history, the Bell Ringer’s “best in show” award, by earning one of the five highest scoring entries of the evening. 

Learn more about our work with MassRobotics by clicking here.

 

You’ve Cat to be Kitten Me: A Quick Lesson on Cats in the Media

I recently switched desks, moving to another section of the office.

As I broke a sweat hauling a bookshelf, client folders, pictures and knick-knacks to my new space, I realized how much of my stuff is cat-related.

Cards.
Cat butt magnets.
My day-by-day tear-off calendar.
A sticky note dispenser.

(Mind you, these things were given to me. Okay, except the cat butt magnets.) But it isn’t just the tangible “stuff” that’s cat related, it’s also my social media feeds, news sites, emails, TV news segments, GIFs and more.

We all know that dogs are America’s favorite pet. But, IMHO, cats are the ones that are dominating digital media… search algorithms and Google crawlers aside. Nearly two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014 alone, resulting in almost 26 billion views. That year, cat videos received more views per video than any other content category.

For example, since being posted in 2007, Keyboard Cat has received more than 48 million views (and counting) on YouTube. These countless hours of watching cat videos have led to some interesting research.

In a survey of nearly 7,000 people, the Indiana University Media School measured the relationship between watching cat videos and mood. Overall, participants reported fewer negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before. They also felt more energetic, and the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed the guilt they felt about procrastinating (#preach).

These views, videos and memes eventually led to the world’ first CatCon, held in Los Angeles in June 2015. Modeled after ComicCon, the “cat convention” attracted 12,000 people that year. This year, the crowd topped 30,000, plus 162 cats.

In the media, cat-related stories tend to go viral. Per BuzzFeed’s “Beastmaster,” the average feline story gets almost four times the viral views as canine. That’s not even going into the social media behind it.

Hashtagify reports #cat having a popularity score of 76.2 (never fear, #dog is right up there at 75) on Twitter. However, it looks like cats aren’t spending as much time on Instagram. On the platform, #cat has a mere 124 million posts, compared to #dog’s 147 million.

hashtags data by hashtagify.me

So, what’s a marketer to do with all of this information?

  1. Cat content works – well, really anything furry and cute works. Users can’t resist liking and sharing animals on the internet. Even in terms of B2B social media, don’t be afraid to break through the clutter with furry content. A cat GIF is sure to spark more engagement and produce more smiles.

  1. Cats are your competition – there are thousands of memes, GIFs and videos out there competing for attention. Use this as a way to challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to your strategy. At EMA Boston, we do our best to surprise people. This GIF was sent agency-wide to express this idea… it’s the perfect example.
    1. Animals trigger the emotional appeal of your brand and there is a direct connection between sales volume and the emotional connection your consumers have toward a brand. Build a friendship with your audience by using good humor or a soft story – remember this Super Bowl commercial?

     

     

    1. Millennials love cats (or cat content). If your brand is looking for a way to reach millennials, a good cat-themed campaign may do the trick. According to a survey by Mintel, 51 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s have cats. Just sayin’.

     

    1. Marketing can be fun, people. Do we need another super-serious graphic filled with stats about the user journey or decline in white paper consumption? If you enjoy your own company’s marketing, guess what? Others probably will too.

     

    1. As the winter grows darker and colder, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – Google it) begins to kick in, start watching cat videos. It’s cheap therapy. In the meantime, enjoy this cute picture of my feline friend.

     

Sip & Share: Vehr Communications

sip_share_logo_finalIt’s not everyday that you get to talk to and share a drink with friends and leaders in the communications industry. But each year, the IPREX annual Global Leadership Conference becomes just that opportunity. At this year’s event in London, I met Darcy Little, senior account executive at Vehr Communications. When Nick Vehr, president of the Cincinnati-based agency, was elected IPREX Americas President in May, I knew it was the perfect time to reconnect with Darcy to talk about Vehr, her experience and her thoughts on where the industry is headed.

HB Agency: You worked at a few other places before landing at Vehr. What do you believe sets Vehr apart from other communications agencies? What’s life at Vehr like? 

vehr website r8DL: Before arriving at Vehr, I worked at a couple of other great agencies full of really smart folks. Cincinnati has a lot of bright minds living and working in it! What sets Vehr apart, I think, is that each of us brings our own set of experiences, backgrounds and interests to the table, which, along with our shared commitment to honest and dedicated client service, provides great value to our clients.

“We challenge each other – to make ourselves better and our clients better.”

HB Agency: Vehr was founded in 2007 by Nick Vehr. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the agency and how it’s grown and evolved?

DL: Vehr Communications’ first office space consisted of a desk in the corner of a room at Nick’s house. It then moved to an office space in downtown Cincinnati to accommodate new team members. As the agency continued to grow, Nick moved the agency to another, bigger space in the same building. We completed an expansion a few months ago and are actually in the process of expanding again – to the entire floor.

The agency’s early days occurred during the recession. A scary time to start a business. But with low overhead, starting small and a laser-focus on hard work, the agency thrived.

Ultimately, Nick has a knack for finding good, smart talent. This has been key to our growth and success.

HB Agency: The Vehr website states, “We think about what’s coming next.” What do you think is coming next?

More ways for companies to generate content. Opportunities are becoming more and more limited for others (i.e. media) to tell their stories for them. There will be many new and creative ways for companies and organizations to tell their stories themselves.

HB Agency: Vehr does a lot of work to promote the city of Cincinnati, not to mention many of its businesses. Was this a concerted effort by the Vehr team? Would you say this sets you apart from other agencies in Cincinnati?

DL: Many agencies in Cincinnati support our city’s businesses, including its iconic brands. Vehr has a lot of roots in Cincinnati, and we want to see it thrive (and it has been!). We love working with Cincinnati-based businesses, but we service other companies around our region and organizations with a national footprint, too.

HB Agency: There have been many recent discussions on the importance of company culture. What’s your take on the relationship between producing good work and an effective company culture?

DL: An effective, healthy and (dare I say?) fun company culture is critical! People like to work with people they like. Fostering a company culture that allows employees to get to know their coworkers and have some fun puts their minds at ease. How can you do effective work with a cloud of drama hanging over your head, or if you’re absolutely bored to tears? Happiness produces good work.

We definitely have fun at Vehr. I’ve been known to hula hoop on occasion (I have two hula hoops at my desk), we have an (award-winning) Vehr softball team and we’re not immune to practical jokes. Not that I would know anything about that.

HB Agency: Can you talk to us about your most valuable communications learning moment?

DL: There have been many! It’s hard to name just one.. and I think, many times, learning and professional growth occur over time—without us even realizing it.

If I had to pick one moment, though, I’d say one of my most valuable learning experiences was at the IPREX Global Leadership Conference in February of this year. It was then that my mind truly opened to the potential of breaking down “silos” and the value of agencies and professionals to be more holistic in their offerings.

“It’s not enough to be a ‘PR pro.’ We need to learn to be creative directors and media planners (in varying degrees) to add more value to our clients and agencies.”

HB: You’re the treasurer of the Cincinnati chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. How does your regular involvement with this organization help or inform your client work at Vehr?

DL: PRSA has been invaluable to my professional growth. Like most professional organizations, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You can’t put a price on the networking opportunities, and I’ve learned so much from our chapter’s programming events.

Specifically, by serving as treasurer, I’ve learned a lot about budgeting and the “money” behind an organization. I was never one to love math, but serving in this role has challenged me to dive deeply into financials and interpret them. This has helped give me perspective when budgeting for client work and has given me a general understanding of the “math” involved in running an organization or business.

HB Agency: In one of your recent blog posts, you shed light on a Wall Street Journal retrospective about the way newspapers covered Lincoln’s assassination 150 years ago. Clearly a lot has changed, but some elements have persisted. What’s one thing you’ve seen change since you started working in PR? In another 150 years, do you think there will be consistent elements in the way we communicate?

DL: When I began working in PR in 2007, I considered deleting my Facebook account. I wasn’t in college anymore so I wouldn’t need it, right? WRONG. Social media, of course, has changed everything: from the way companies communicate to their audiences, to the way reporters break news. Social media only became more and more relevant to public relations during my eight years working in the business. And it’s not going anywhere—perhaps it’ll take different forms, but it’s here for the long haul. Companies have a greater mandate than ever to be transparent. And the prospect of making a mistake is scarier.

Social media and smartphones have forced us to communicate fast. This won’t change in 150 years, except to say that we’ll probably be communicating faster. The need for immediacy will only get greater and greater.

 

Sip & Share: DH

Lisa Cargill, PR powerhouse and our IPREX partner, shares her proudest professional moment, what makes DH unique, and describes one especially important initiative that she’s worked on getting off the ground in Spokane, Washington (oh, and her favorite beverage of course). 

HB Agency: How long have you been at DH?

LC: This is my thirteenth year! No two days have been the same here. That’s one of the things I love most about my job.

HB: What types of clients do you typically work with?

LC: We have clients in just about every sector, as we are a generalist firm. I especially enjoy working with healthcare clients, public health in particular; so many of my projects are in that space.

HB: Describe DH in 5 words or less.

LC: Talented team ready to help

HB: What makes DH unique?

LC: DH is such an awesome place to work. We’re a team of zealots. The key word in Webster’s definition of the word zealot is “fanatical” – we love what we do and we love our clients. Their goals become ours and we won’t stop until we achieve success. We never compromise and the entrepreneurial mindset our company was founded on 20 years ago is alive and well today.

One of the things that’s funny about our culture is over the years we’ve developed our own language for communicating internally. When we hire someone I always feel for them because it’s like learning a foreign language. Three of my personal favorites:

  • “I’ve got hot snakes” – urgent issues lurking in your email
  • “I’m digging out” – back in the office and buried in to-dos
  • “It’s gonna be a rip snorter” – really crazy day/week/month ahead

In fact, a lot of funny stuff can be overheard at DH. Check it out on Twitter @overheardatDH.

HB: What has been your proudest PR moment at DH?

LC: Earning my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) is a highlight for sure. It pushed me to grow as a PR practitioner and helped me demonstrate my knowledge, skills and abilities in a formal way. It was an opportunity to prove to myself (and others) what I was capable of in the PR world. I became so passionate about the process that I now chair the local APR program and guide other APR hopefuls through the process.

HB: We’ve heard about your work with Give Real Change. What was the genesis of this campaign and what was (or still is) its impact on the community?

LC: Like so many urban cores across the country, downtown Spokane, WA experiences chronic panhandling. The Give Real Change campaign was born from the Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP) and City of Spokane’s belief that in the most basic sense, panhandling is a supply and demand issue. Past experience and research here showed nearly all chronic panhandlers have housing and food despite what their signs claim, and they use spare change to fuel alcohol and drug addictions.

In short, we set out to encourage people to stop giving money to panhandlers and instead donate to local organizations making a measurable difference in the community. This would not only wane the supply and thus the demand, but would ensure two important outcomes: panhandlers needing support to overcome addiction or other chronic issues would be forced to seek it at local service providers like House of Charity and others (who are no where near capacity) and the dollars from compassionate community members would be put to good use to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable people – meeting the givers’ real intent.

HB: What did you and the DH team do to get this campaign off the ground?

LC: These are just some of the tactics used in the campaign strategy:

  • Partnered with Catholic Charities who connected us with former panhandlers who acted as spokespeople and talked about the realities of where the money goes, how much they made on the streets, and the deception that runs rampant
  • Tools for employers to educate employees who work in the downtown core because they’re often the biggest givers
  • Posters at local businesses, eateries and shopping venues to raise general awareness
  • Bill stuffers in City utility bills to reach a broader audience who live near downtown and frequent it for restaurants, shopping and entertainment
  • A CrowdSwell webpage and app to make giving to charities fast and easy

As expected, the campaign was met with some criticism from people who felt the DSP and City were not being compassionate toward people in need and/or were telling people where to donate their hard-earned money. Criticism is never easy, but it’s why I believe your heart has to be in the work you do. We knew the realities and what the research shows so we had no reason to waiver and if anything, it pushed us to spread the word even more.

Our client was very happy with the campaign, but as we all know, behavior change takes time.  Now that the assets are developed, ongoing pushes will be initiated as funding allows. This effort continues to be just one of the ways the DSP and City are improving beautiful downtown Spokane.

HB: Finally, what’s your drink of choice and why?

LC: No frills. No gimmicks. Just plain, iced, black tea. It meets my three criteria: tasty, less sugar than soda, and enough caffeine to help me function. Mmm.

Lisa at DH (1)

DH is a public relations, advertising and branding agency in Spokane, Washington. They build multi-disciplinary programs that communicate complex ideas in simple, compelling ways. At the heart of everything they do is a strategy built on a company’s market, opportunities and where it can move the needle. Their team is grounded in multi-disciplinary work and campaigns. Please visit www.wearedh.com to learn more or connect with DH on Facebook and Twitter.

Seeing the Unseen: A guide to understanding media

The Muppets only show us what's in the frame, but understanding their genius is seeing what otherwise goes unseen.

The Muppets only show us what’s in the frame, but understanding their genius means seeing what otherwise goes unseen.

When it comes to media, what we don’t see matters as much as what appears. Of course, how do you know what you don’t see?

Every journalist leaves some great quotes and details behind in order to create a good story. It doesn’t mean they leave out relevant facts, it just means they need to cut in order to clarify. Plus, they rarely tell you the origin of a story. Did it come from their own experience? Did a PR person pitch it? Was this an editor’s suggestion? Did they start reporting on something else and stumble across this gem?

This matters because it better helps us in PR learn how to bring journalists stories that matter to them. Just because someone writes a story about coffee doesn’t mean they’re interested in other coffee-related stories. How they came to write that article and what engaged them about that particular story is often more important than the subject. PR people often forget this and will begin emailing reporters with pitches that don’t match their area of expertise or passion.

The easiest place to understand this is in the world of photography. Today, people take pictures as a quick process in which we snap almost without thought. But true photography is something entirely different. During a recent interview, Photographer Tom Zimberoff brought that differentiation to light by pointing out “photographs, which are 2 dimensional objects which you can hold in your hand and admire with completely different aesthetic qualities than you see on a computer screen.” He also said that Instragram is to photography as texting is to prose.

For many photographers, however, the work has a huge editing component. They take an idea, snap the shutter, select only the images worth using, modify them in some way to better tell the story, then only show their best work. This is true whether you’re talking about carefully staged art photography or more journalistic “decisive moment” photography.

Ansel Adams wrote three seminal works that break the photographic process into distinct areas: The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. While the idea of a “negative” has been replaced with a digital file, the three-step execution remains. What you do with the camera is distinct from the images you capture that are distinct from the product finally produced. Of course, the modification can go too far, as it has recently in some journalistic circles.

One of the most amazing moments in my own photography education was viewing the contact sheets produced by Diane Arbus. I had been experimenting with a camera similar to hers and would have the occasional misfire or an out-of-focus shot. These frustrated me as I wanted every image to turn into gold. That is, until I saw her contact sheets and found the same errors. I learned that she would often spend a day or more shooting but only deemed a few images as worthy of printing.

One if Diane Arbus' most famous photographs.

One of Diane Arbus’ most famous photographs.

Among her more famous works is one of a set of twins, an image that inspired such iconic film moments as the twins in The Shining. The father of those twins once commented that he felt it was a lousy picture of his daughters. But that wasn’t Arbus’ point. She liked capturing something off in her images, which is why she loved photographing nudist colonies and what subjects who she termed “freaks.” To her, the twins were part of that narrative: the odd ends of society.

cutsheet

But if you look at her contact sheets you can almost see the “notes” she’s taking as she’s creating the narrative. She has a series of photographs with twins, all standing next to one another dressed alike (she came to a gathering of twins specifically to get two kids who looked alike). Each set of twins was photographed a number of times in different locations and focal lengths.

Then she took all these images, found the one that came closest to the story she wanted to tell, and that image went on to become famous. We have a better sense of what she was trying to say by looking at what she didn’t say.

The same goes for reporters. As PR people, we can learn a lot about a reporter by looking at their other stories, following their social presence, and even reading other quotes or articles written by the people who are interviewed. All that data begins to tell us what’s missing and can help us as we pitch reporters new stories.

By knowing what’s missing, we can know how to fill in blanks and better understand what’s valuable to different journalists.

Measuring PR Performance Against Budget – An IPREX Conversation

sip_share_logo_finalYears ago a public company CEO told me: “I hate PR. I  know we need it, but I never know if it’s worth the money. I don’t know if it’s doing well. I don’t know how much I should pay. Yet I know we have to have it.” I was shocked because I had a deep conviction about the short- and long-term value of good PR. Yet over the years I have met many other business leaders who felt the same way. Sales are easy to measure. PR, not so much.

 

That has shifted with social media and easily-destroyed reputations, and an increasing number of executive teams see PR as a necessary part of building and maintaining a strong reputation while making deposits into the “bank of goodwill,” as one IPREX partner notes below. Yet they still have trouble measuring PR’s value.

 

At the IPREX annual meeting in Berlin, I asked a few of our colleagues from various regions and countries how they measure PR performance against budgets. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that performance metrics vary dramatically according to company, marketing manager and campaign. In a business where the only certainty is what you give — the effort and creativity devoted to building awareness or shifting audience perception — there’s a wide range of ways to look at what you get in return.

 

Michael Fineman, President, Fineman PR, San Francisco
First, it’s critical to benchmark campaign goals at the very beginning and obsessively measure and report on the agency’s progress specific to these goals.

 

Second, there is the intangible element. We all know when our client is doing well. When that’s the case, a campaign or program can fall short of its goals and there can still be a sense of success. This can be enough to keep a relationship healthy and moving forward, and obviously adjusting for better results. Conversely, if a client’s business is struggling or failing, it might make no difference if the agency meets or exceeds program goals — the relationship is at risk.

 

Kathy Tunheim, Principal & CEO, Tunheim, Minneapolis
It’s all about taking responsibility for being understood. That is what we help our clients to do, and we know we need to hold ourselves to the same metrics.  So value is achieved – and measuredas a combination of our level of effort and the difference we made in our clients’ business.  If we spend lots of effort but don’t impact their results, that is low performance.  The goal, of course, is high impact with optimal effort:  Score!! 

 

Casper Jenster, EMEA Director, IPREX, The Netherlands
We often will look at the level of effort and help our client understand what this should have cost with other firms or, based on results, if they bought advertising for that kind of space. They often don’t realize the value of what they get. Also, it’s important to note that level of effort is clear and easy to quantify, but results are not always predictable in our business. Sometimes they can be disappointed, even though there was great effort put into a program.

 

Nick Vehr, President, Vehr Communications, Cincinnati
We measure against expectations and report regularly for most clients. Our goal is to initiate a conversation with each client engagement/project focused on the client objective. When it is increased sales or market share growth, we look at how we influenced leads understanding that we cannot close sales — the client’s sales team must do this. Some of the metrics we use include:
  • Ouputs: the work we do/things we produce (content, plans, posts, white papers, etc.).
  • Outtakes: attitude change in target audiences as a result of outputs generated. This often requires original research for which not all clients are willing to pay.
  • Outcomes: desired target audience action (inquiries, leads, sales, etc., which typically become the client’s responsibility).
John Scheibel, CEO and Mary Scheibel, Founder and Principal, Trefoil Group, Milwaukee, WI
John: “You need to work with the client to find metrics that tie as closely to the client’s income statement as possible. And if you wait until the end of an initiative or campaign to do this, it’s too late.”

 

Mary: It’s important to counsel companies who are transitioning from sales-centric to marketing-centric cultures. When they are just beginning to invest in marketing and public relations, they often invest just enough money to be dissatisfied.”

Helga Tomtschick, Managing Partner, Lang & Tomaschtik Communications, Austria
One of the key metrics is the CEO’s personal satisfaction. The client CEO needs to feel like PR is an insurance policy. Whether there is a crisis or difficulty, whether there is good news or bad, the PR agency is there to help. If the client CEO understands that his marketing team and agency feel responsible  for his or her well-being, then the relationship will be strong.

 

John Williams, CEO, Mason Williams Communications, London
We have an agency mantra – Did It Make Any Difference? (DIMAD). We use this as a measure against all activity. We work really closely with all our clients to understand what results THEY want and, in our case, it is usually sales or influence of one kind or another. All communicators need to understand that a nice big piece of media coverage is great, but if it doesn’t make any difference to the parameters against which the activity is judged by their client the only benefit is to the ego.

 

Andrei Mylroie, Partner, DH, Spokane, WA
One of the things we’ve seen over the past five years is marketing and communications being viewed as a core business strategy for many of our clients. This is a big shift from the past, where it was viewed by many organizations as a more tactical service or department. Along with this shift we’re measuring differently as well. So it’s not just reach, frequency, ad equivalency, etc., but we’re tracking reputation, consumer sentiment and business outcomes in far more holistic ways.

 

Alyn Edwards, Partner, Peak Communications, Vancouver, Canada
Unfortunately scope-creep is part of our industry, and in media relations we are always trying to do more for the same budget. We often have to measure by number of impressions, and while it’s not the only measure, it’s a pretty strong one. For some clients, such as in real estate, the sales effect can be quickly measured.

More importantly, clients need to understand that PR is making deposits in the bank of goodwill. When you make those deposits in the bank of goodwill, which is commonly called your reputation, this will:

  • help sales
  • help recruitment
  • help with instant recall
  • and help dramatically in times of crisis.

We have had clients with significant food recalls, but their decades of deposits in the bank of goodwill have helped them through it. What is the ROI for having a good reputation? It’s unending.

 

Of Soviets and Starbucks

February 15th, 1990 was my father’s first day in America, and according to family-lore, the day he quit smoking. Two months ago I went home to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his arrival in the country. He made his way here during the waning years of the Soviet Union, leaving his home country of Ukraine for Austria and Italy, until he was finally granted permission to immigrate to the United States.

I’m always amazed at the admiration he has for this country, so in the spirit of his 25 year anniversary in the US, I asked my dad what word best represents his thoughts and emotions when thinking about America. In his noticeably Russian-accented English, he said, “inspirational.”

I was a bit struck after hearing that word. “Inspirational” is a nice soundbite, but more than anything it represents an abstract ideal. Don’t get me wrong—I know my dad meant it when he said it, and I admire him for it. But having come of age during one of the most polarizing periods in American politics, “inspirational” sounds like the hollow fluff you expect to hear from our politicians during election season.

Which brings me to my work in PR.

inspire

While interning at HB over the last few months, I’ve come to recognize that companies, particularly those catering to Millennials and consumers of technology, are increasingly promoting that abstract fluff over the reality on the ground. It’s the idea of the socially responsible but still profit-driven company adeptly navigating morality in the marketplace. Sometimes, the public will buy into a company’s social message. But the strategy isn’t foolproof. What starts out as a socially-conscious message could easily backfire. The recent PR debacle at Starbucks is a good example of this.

In March, the company implemented a new initiative, “Race Together,” where baristas would place stickers with those words on customers’ cups in hopes of jump starting a national conversation about race. In Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s head, this was a great idea, but it didn’t translate well with the American public, across the political divide of left and right. Starbucks was hammered by pundits and the average Joe for displaying poor judgement and naivete.

Uber, which promotes its societal contributions by stressing its outsized role in the sharing economy, was heavily criticized last November when Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber New York, decided to a boastfully tell a journalist,“I was tracking you,” as she pulled up to their meeting. Uber’s privacy policy prohibits contract drivers from tracking customers, but it’s widely available to employees at the corporate level. The breach of privacy resulted in harsh criticism and damaged Uber’s reputation among the public and government officials.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect more such PR disasters to proliferate among companies that cater to Millennials and other tech-savvy and socially-conscious groups. This is not to say that running a business responsibly is impossible. But large companies like Starbucks and Uber will have a difficult time managing their image if they continue testing the waters with what Americans believe to be ethically and socially responsible.

My dad might never learn how to order an Uber or a tall, nonfat latte with caramel drizzle from Starbucks, but I know he’s always looking to buy from companies that do good and inspire. It’s up to companies to either live up to the missions they set, or get out of the business of morality.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

This Valentine’s Day, Let’s Take a Break (From Pitching)

Dear Journalist,

February 14th has been a tradition to celebrate Valentine’s Day for as long as we can remember. Although the world has seen hundreds of years and countless technological evolutions since the first valentine was sent via snail mail, there are a few special Valentine’s Day memories that we all have in common.

Whether it was a handmade card you sent to your secret crush as a preteen, cheap candy your mother or father bought for you to pass out to the kids in school, or the overpriced roses and assorted chocolates in a heart-shaped box you gave to your sweetheart, Valentine’s Day has always been a way to show appreciation we have for one another – whatever the gift may be.

Rather than overflowing journalists’ inboxes and voicemails this Valentine’s Day, the HB PR team has put a new meaning to the holiday and proclaimed it #NoPitchDay.

16candles

That’s right – this Valentine’s Day we hope you can feel the love as we switch our gears into other PR priorities. Here’s a taste of the kinds of things we do when we’re not pitching reporters:

  1. C’mon, we aren’t just pitch machines – we also focus on PR strategic planning. Press releases you read today may have been in the works for months. Like any strategic business consultants, we are always living in the moment while thinking ahead.
  2. While we may always have our next pitch in the back of our minds (it’s a habit) we’re also supporting our clients’ events attendance. This means we’re uncovering the latest hot conference that could positively impact their business, and in preparation may even help formulate interesting speaking topics for them.
  3. How do you think we determine if our PR programs are effective? Well…that’s where PR measurement and analytics reporting comes into play. We are always evaluating the effectiveness of our work and making course corrections to maximize our client investment.
  4. Content creation is a critical part of modern PR. Byline writing and uncovering thought leadership opportunities are responsibilities we must master on a daily basis.
  5. Every day we conduct market research in B2B technology, high tech, energy and sustainability, and medical technology. This keeps us abreast of the latest trends and makes us better PR practitioners.

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Valentine’s Bonus: As an added thank you we wanted to share some secrets about PR you might not know.

We don’t like liars or cheaters.

We won’t lie to you just to get a story. Good PR people have integrity and it means everything to us.

OK, we admit it. We’re not perfect.

Have you been wronged by a PR person in the past? Probably. Will it happen again? We hope not, but no one is perfect.

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CORRECTION: This guy thinks we are perfect.

We impact each other’s personal brands.

PR people talk about journalists. Journalists talk about PR people. Sometimes this happens in a public forum. (That’s what Twitter was invented for, right?!) Our personal brands are at stake and we want to do our best to keep those intact.

PR people enjoy working with journalists.

One of the reasons we work in PR is because we love working with you. We spend much of our time interacting with journalists, so we better. Journalists are truth seekers and while sometimes we may give our slant on a story, we’re hoping you’ll put together all the facts and share something compelling and accurate with the world. Of course, we’ll be crossing our fingers you’ll include our clients and say nice things. Is that too much to ask for?!

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We hope you enjoy a break from our pitching this Valentine’s Day. Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and don’t worry…we’ll be back Monday!

PR Lessons from New England’s ‘Evil’ Empire

An informal poll conducted before the start of the 2014-15 NFL season showed the New England Patriots to be the NFL’s most hated team.

We can expect the recent Deflategate scandal, in which the Patriots are accused of deliberately deflating footballs against the Indianapolis Colts, to only fuel the rage of ordinary fans across America.

The Patriots have a lot of image cleaning up to do in the coming weeks, but it’s worth using this episode as a way to think about how New England can learn from its PR mistakes for the future.

Here are 4 rules for the Patriots to think about in 2015:

     1. It’s Okay To Be Hated, Just Not For The Wrong Reasons

While growing up, my parents used to tell me that people “love to hate you” for the things you’re good at. Baseball fans everywhere hate the Yankees for grossly outspending every other MLB team, for their ability to consistently make it to the playoffs, and of course, win championships.

It would be fine if America despised the Patriots only for their ability to win an impressive three Super Bowls in the last fifteen years. But I sense that emotions run high when New England is brought up for other reasons. It was only a few years ago in 2007 when the Patriots were implicated in another scandal, “Spygate,” where head coach Bill Belichick admitted to videotaping opposing teams to gain an unfair advantage. Belichick was personally fined $500,000, while the Patriots coughed up $250,000 and a coveted first round draft pick in that year’s draft.

During Spygate, Belichick immediately apologized and took full responsibility for his actions. To regain the trust of fans and revive the Patriots brand, it would be wise to follow in similar fashion. To clean up their image, the Patriots should stay away from sabotage and return to what they do best–winning games. Its okay to be hated, but New England is doing it for all the wrong reasons.

     2. Smile When You’re On Camera

According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, Bill Belichick smiled only 7 times this entire season. After reviewing 114.5 minutes of video from this season’s postgame news conferences, the WSJ learned that those 7 smiles come out to an average of once every sixteen minutes.

Some perspective: the Patriots’ season record was 12-4 this year and the team is heading to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in fifteen years. There’s certainly more to smile about there.

For a team that is mired in controversy, it might help if Bill showed a different side of himself than the one he’s normally used to. An attitude that’s more personable and willing to engage reporters would go a long way in shoring up the team’s image.

     3. Give the Media Something to Work With

Bill Belichick is notoriously known for conducting odd press conferences filled with a combination of curt answers that he then proceeds to repeat continuously. Here’s just one example from September of last year:

While the above conversation got a good chuckle out of the average fan, answering the press with vague, repetitive answers is only going to create more problems for the Patriots as they battle through Deflategate.

Perhaps Belichick doesn’t care to think about it, but someone working in Robert Kraft’s offices should take heed. This coach needs coaching. Giving five seconds of thought into the answers he provides the media isn’t going to cut it anymore.

PR works when there is a standard message being repeated confidently and consistently to the public. Pats fans have stood by their team, but a new poll shows that 50% of NFL fans label the team cheaters. Belichick’s shenanigans might win him Super Bowls, but it won’t help the New England Patriots regain the trust of NFL fans.

     4. Don’t Talk About Things You Know Nothing About

At a press conference, Belichick surmised that rubbing the footballs to break them in was the main culprit for the loss of pressure.

Speaking on Good Morning America, Bill Nye The Science Guy called out Belichick’s “science” as bogus and simply wrong. The only way to really change the pressure of a football, according to Nye, is by using a pump.

The best way to put your foot in your mouth is by jumping into topics you have no knowledge in.

Good PR means being authentic, sticking to what you know best and not veering off into unknown territory. Belichick and the Patriots should stop talking about the physics of pressure and focus on their strengths: stopping the run and making sure Tom Brady throws at least 30 passes every game.

What’s Next for Pats PR?

The only thing harder for New England than winning the Superbowl is shoring up its NFL image. Patriots fans will always love their home team, their star quarterback, and mastermind coach. But to be remembered in the the great halls of history, the Patriots will need to do more than just win. They need to engage the public and remind fans that they play by the rules. After all, no one likes a cheater.

How Law Firms Can Find Their Stories

While the ways in which we communicate keep changing, the reasons why do not. For a law firm, this means showcasing the firm’s expertise, the brilliance of its attorneys, the clear differences in its practice areas, the cases it has successfully closed that no other firm could, and the firm’s amazing approach to customer service expressed through its fair rates and senior-level counsel.

Right.

legal booksThere is often an amazingly confusing resistance to law firms hiring PR firms. Sure, they could do PR in-house. Sure, they have a marketing manager (who is, I’m guessing, drowning in executing activities like lead-generation, proposal development, firm events and submitting for all-important awards like Super Lawyers.) Sure, they have attorneys who blog. And sure, the local business journal may cover them once or twice a year.

But who is shaping and telling their story? What should a law firm expect from its PR program? How does it get to a storytelling mentality? And why should it have one?

Listen to NPR much? Ever heard an ad that touts some or all of the above? Wondered how you could actually tell one NPR law firm sponsor from the other?Me too.

When considering a public relations program, there is a clear hierarchy to follow. Adhering to this order puts context around marketing efforts, presents a firm as a unified entity rather than one composed of many pieces but lacking cohesiveness, and shapes a story that is memorable, repeatable and representative of the firm’s desired personality. To get to the right story priorities must be addressed in this order:

  • Firm priorities
  • Practice area priorities
  • Attorney priorities

Putting the firm first gives it an identity. Whether the firm is known for one specific practice (employment law, for example) or offers disciplines that range from IP to estate planning to divorce, its story will make it easy for clients and future clients to understand why the firm may or may not fit their needs.

Practice area support allows a firm to prioritize its marketing efforts. If the corporate law practice is virtually self-sustaining (the right amount of business coming in from the right clients) then that area may get very little marketing attention.

Attorneys are the faces, voices, perspectives, personalities and community leaders that most tangibly showcase a firm and its capabilities. While not all attorneys may want to participate in a PR program, many will participate. To successfully contribute, attorneys must be willing to:

  • Share perspective and opinion to feed thought leadership efforts
  • Communicate the firm’s mission and value
  • Write content or adapt existing content for use in law journals, business media outlets, the firm’s blog or as part of a formal content marketing program
  • Talk to the media
  • Present at industry or business events
  • Make time to keep the PR team informed

Whether you hire a PR agency or not, building the following elements into your program will start you on the road to uncovering and telling your firm’s story:

  • Establish a rallying cry
  • Promote firm news
  • Communicate opinion and thought leadership through expert positioning
  • Take advantage of newsjacking
  • Submit for and promote awards at the firm- and attorney-level, and do more with them than issuing a press release and hanging a plaque
  • Place articles that speak to practice areas and trends
  • Find and secure speaking opportunities beyond the legal trade
  • Create and distribute content as part of a content marketing program

So, law firm marketers, partners and managing directors, challenge your marketing and PR teams to find your story, get buy-in on it from the partners, and tell it broadly using all the marketing and communication channels available to you. My guess is that someone (most likely that coveted prospect) is listening and will want to learn more.