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Mary Rice

As a former journalist, I bring a perspective to PPBH that comes from working in the trenches side-by-side with the reporters and producers for nearly a decade. Before making the jump to what many journalists lovingly refer to as the “dark side,” I found myself smack in the middle of a newsroom evolution and picked up some great tips along the way.

The fact is, we are in an era where journalism is rapidly changing. From the influence of social media to cuts in staffing, newsrooms are continuously evolving across all media. With these changes come unique challenges and opportunities. That means public relations professionals need to evolve and adapt to today’s news environment. Tactics that worked well for clients just a few years ago do not work as well today.

Here are few tips and tricks that will ensure your clients don’t get left in the dust:

Press conferences are boring. Gone are the days of simply sending out a media advisory and having news crews show up in droves to a boring staged press conference featuring “talking heads.” While this tactic is still revered by many clients, it just doesn’t make for a good news story. If your client must have a formal press conference, arrange for media interviews with key players before the event. With reporters covering multiple stories in one day, it is simply not realistic to expect them to sit through an hour-long press conference just to get their interviews at the very end. In fact, if your client is willing to try something new, consider hosting a media briefing rather than a press conference. It is a great way to provide journalists with the opportunity to come get their interviews, video and photos in a flexible setting and timeframe that works well for them. The stories they produce will also come across more authentic, and you will often get better coverage than you would from a standard press conference.

Keep it simple. Press kits can be a very helpful tool in telling a client’s story. Make sure that the key messaging doesn’t get lost in a “creative” press kit. Be sure to provide media with a simple fact sheet that is easy to read and understand. I can’t tell you how many times I passed on a story just because the press kit was too complicated and the information was not presented well. Journalists don’t have time to read a novel. They need the information quickly and seamlessly.

Find the human interest story. With so many news stories to choose from each day, if your pitch doesn’t have a human-interest factor it may get overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, public officials do not always make the best interviews. In fact, there are some news outlets that do not allow reporters to use public official interviews in a story. That creates a challenge for PR professionals because you might have to really work to find the human interest story that will capture a journalist’s attention. Always ask yourself, “So what? How does this affect the audience? Why would they care?” That is exactly what the reporter, producer or assignment editor asks when a pitch or press release comes across their desk.

News photographers are your ally. Many PR professionals only consider their event or story a success by the number of reporters in attendance. However, in today’s evolving newsrooms crews are doing more with less. In fact, it is not uncommon for a photographer to be sent out solo to shoot a package or story to pass off to a reporter. As a PR professional, it is your job to treat photographers with the same respect you would treat a reporter. Make sure that a photographer gets everything he or she needs and that you are as accommodating to them as possible. Never forget that the photographer is your ally, and the fate of your client’s story often rests in their hands. Don’t get discouraged if the photographer doesn’t show up with a reporter. Photographers have a huge impact on a story and its success.

Sometimes, you’ve got to pay to play. The reality is many opportunities for earned media have gone the way of the dinosaurs. The economic downturn has impacted news outlets, and that has led to many companies looking for unique ways to make up the difference. You may have heard of a new “added value” opportunity where a news station will offer interview slots on a news program as part of an advertising package. In the past this was a fairly common occurrence for lifestyle shows, but added value has now crossed over into the news realm. The good thing is, it gives a client another great opportunity to ensure their message is communicated to target audiences.

Relationships are key. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut and forget that in PR it really is our job to work hand in hand with the  media. We all have a job to do, and we need each other to do it. All PR professionals should take the time and effort to get to know the journalists you are working with. It can pay huge dividends for your clients.

We can never forget that newsrooms are in a constant state of change. The tips I shared today may not be relevant six months from now. As the news industry changes, PR professionals need to learn and adapt quickly to ensure continued success. Flexibility is key, and you can’t be afraid to try new things. In the end, your clients will thank you for it it.

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Justin Bieber’s Klout score is 100. Sarah Palin’s is 73. What’s yours?

I’m sure you’re aware of the importance a high credit rating carries in getting you great loan rates, or SAT scores in getting your kids in the top schools, but did you know that your social media influence can be measured by a single number? According to some, it all comes down to your Klout score.

Klout.com measures users’ online influence on a scale of 1 to 100, essentially ranking the influence of every person online using proprietary algorithms to quantify this influence. For example, a large following on Twitter or Facebook can boost your rating. Also important in determining your score is the number of posts on social media sites that are ‘liked’ or retweeted.

Even if you have no idea what your Klout score is (or even if you had no idea what Klout was until this post), it could be already affecting your life. In a recent Wired Magazine article, author Seth Stevenson writes about how some top brands are discussing how to use Klout scores. In fact, soon people with high Klout scores could board planes earlier, receive discounts from top retail stores and stay in better hotel rooms.

Not everybody wants a Klout score to determine what kind of service you get, according to the article. The article quotes Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadgetsaying, “People’s lives are being run by stupid algorithms more and more.”

So, the feelings are mixed on whether these scores carry any real clout, but while the jury is still out, it may be worth your while to see where you rank. Let us know in the comments where you come in at, and whether your ranking surprised you or not.

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Contributed by Patty Clark

The word creepy can be pretty relative. In dating, imagine that a guy asks a friend for a girl’s number because he’s too shy to ask her himself. If the girl finds the guy attractive, then the backdoor approach is kind of endearing and cute. If he smells weird and breathes kind of funny, then it’s creepy.

Same method. Different response. Why the double standard?

The same thing happens in advertising. It doesn’t matter what your message is. If you deliver it badly or look unappealing, even a good product will struggle to break through a bad font choice or cheesy tagline.

The tricky part is that sometimes even a well-designed ad can fall short if it’s not designed for your target market. Even if your idea is creative and witty, a business looking for an established accounting firm won’t be impressed by a handsome man in a towel, no matter how nice his abs look.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing for a target market:

1. We have to know all about our target. Who are they? What do they like? Where do they live? What’s their favorite brand of socks? What are they up to on Tuesday nights at 8:30? Are we creepy or dedicated? You tell me.

2. A good place to start is to look at what other companies are doing to advertise to your market. It’s useful to see what tone they use, what’s been successful or what messages they’ve sent. It will also help you discover what hasn’t been done yet and what opportunities are still out there.

3. Remember that you are very seldom the target. It’s an easy mistake to think that if you like something, your target will like it too. So stop asking, “is this cool?” Instead ask, “does my target think this is cool?”

4. Consider why your target market needs your product or services. Is it to feel good, to fulfill a need or to solve a problem? If you can identify which it is, then you can communicate in a way that’s relevant to them.

Think it’s creepy that we know so much about our target? It’s all relative really.

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PPBH produced an award-winning PSA for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

Contributed by Patty Clark

We do our part around PPBH to help the environment. We pick up our trash. Some of us bike or take public transportation to work. I even recycled the three cans of soda I drank this year. While I’m not sure if my three cans are reducing my ecological footprint by much, PPBH is making big steps toward pollution reduction.

The PSA we produced with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality recently won the Most Valuable Pollution Prevention (MVP2) Award in the multimedia division. We’re proud of the work we’ve done, showing that good ideas can make a big difference.

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Define a brand. What exactly is a brand?

If you ask 20 people what it is, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. The other 10 will probably say something like, “A brand is a logo, right?” While most advertising and marketing people understand the value of a strong brand, we often find that they can’t differentiate between activities that create brand equity and those that erode it.

Branding is something that every organization needs to take seriously. In fact, to bring it into perspective, think about your own personal brand. Everyone has one. You may call it your perception or a personality, but no matter how you look at it—this is your brand. Some people are obnoxious and pushy, and others are quiet and reserved. A fun exercise is to take an evening and sketch out a logo of how you perceive your brand might look. Then, have someone that knows you very well draw one. It may surprise you how different they look. (Don’t be offended if the logo doesn’t look like you think it should. It’s just for fun!) Now that you have an idea of your personal brand logo design, think of the activities in your past that may have created that brand position. Your actions have cultivated that position and it is important to remember that you cannot choose it—your actions create it. If your past activities would have been conducted without an audience, you would have no perception. Your audience would be meeting a total stranger, virtually brand-less.

The same thing happens with a company’s brand. Companies that don’t take their brand’s relationship with their audience seriously usually experience a shallow loyalty from them. And, interestingly enough, it is the actions of the company that position them that way. Engaging an agency will provide you with the third-party perspective of your brand position in your market space. Agencies also have the skills and talent to move that brand to a desired position through professionally crafted advertising, public relations and even public involvement or public engagement. They will pay close attention to your website because it is a powerful impact point in setting your brand personality.

Even your employees have a powerful impact on your brand equity. The things they do and say will reflect people’s perceptions of your company. Here are a few ideas that will help cultivate brand equity and protect it from erosion.

Brand Ambassadors: Get your people all on the same page. Make sure that your desired brand position is well communicated and genuine. Create and maintain an internal communication strategy to make sure the desired position becomes a culture.

Brand Consistency: Be sensitive to activities in your organization that fragment your branding efforts. Don’t let departments create their own logos and cultures. Make sure all public messaging is coordinated through your marketing and public relations departments and agency. Develop a design guide for your marketing materials and enforce its adherence. If you hate your website, you need to fix it. More people probably visit your website than your staff communicate on any given day. If it is off target, so is your brand.

Evaluate and Adjust: Periodically meet with your agency and evaluate the activities you are engaged in and make sure they are on target with your desired position. Conduct research to see if your audience perceives that your brand is what you think it is.

Branding is a science; you can’t just draw a bunch of circles and call it Target and become the retail giant. As simple as Target’s logo is, the messaging and philosophical effort put into it everyday to hold its position is mind-boggling. Your brand is important. It is the personality of your organization. Take the time to evaluate it and get it where you need it to be—you will find success in your efforts.

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Contributed by Mitchell Vice

This is usually how the conversation goes:

Us: “Thank you for calling PPBH. How can we help you?”
Them: “We need someone to redesign our website.”
Us: “We can help you with that. Why do you think your website needs a redesign?”
Them: “Because we hate it.”
Us: “My, that is regrettable. What particularly do you hate about it?”
Them: “It doesn’t work.”
Us: “What about it doesn’t work?”

You can see where this is going.

Almost as common as the conversation above is this one:
Us: “Thank you for calling PPBH. How can we help you?”
Them: “We just had our website redesigned, but it’s still not working. We need someone to make our website work.”

There is no point in redesigning your website without clear expectations of the results the redesign will bring and a concise set of criteria necessary to reach these expectations. Before we even begin sketching wireframes and choosing colors, we perform a web audit to determine what the goals of the website should be and why it’s not achieving them.

You can search “web audit” and find a myriad of methodologies, metrics, checklists and guidelines. A couple that we’ve used as a resource for basing our own criteria can be found at USERFOCUS.COM and SEZMOZ.ORG.

A comprehensive web audit should focus on the following criteria:

Target
• Audience interviews/surveys/focus groups
• Stakeholder interviews/surveys/focus groups

Usability
Web analytics/statistics
• Copy and language usage
• Navigational structures and methodologies
• User experience
• Response times
• Broken links

Standards Compliancy
Current compliance to standards
• Cross browser performance
• Adaptive technologies performance

Accessibility
Section 508 compliance
Web content accessibility

Information Architecture
• Use of taxonomy
• Meta tags
• Search engine ranking and optimization

Branding
• Visual design
• Branding guidelines
• Branding and design consistency

Business Process
Aligning web strategy to business strategy
• Online marketing/site promotion
• Competitive positioning

Whether you conduct your own web audit or hire a firm to perform it or you, do not suppose a new design, an “SEO Package”, more money for Pay-Per-Click advertising, or a social media campaign could solve all the problems you perceive your website to have. Without the precise data that a web audit provides, neither you nor the firm you hire will have the information necessary to make your expectations of a new website a reality.

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Image via Facebook.com/Glee

Contributed by Jane Putnam

Did you tune in for Glee last night?

We have many Glee fans at PPBH, and last night’s episode hit home, especially given our work with Zero Fatalities and distracted driving. Distracted driving—or, as Glee’s Quinn Fabray (played by Dianna Agron) did, texting while driving—is no longer a message just from safety advocates. Ask Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) from Glee—she will forever regret texting back and forth with Quinn over dresses and weddings. Life is much more important than a bridesmaid dress. What’s our hope from all of this? The Glee characters are fictional, but the texting-while-driving story is very real—just ask the families of the 3,000 people killed in 2010 from distracted driving.

Ask Reggie Shaw, a young man from northern Utah who forever changed his life and the lives of many families when he was texting behind the wheel and two men died in a car crash because of it. The Zero Fatalities message is real, it’s important and it’s something that if we don’t take seriously, we may find ourselves wishing for the one thing you can’t bring back: your life or the life of a loved one.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood discusses Glee and texting while driving on the US DOT blog, Fast Lane. It’s a great read and one that, for us at least, hit home. Over the past six years, our work on the Zero Fatalities program has changed the lives of many—including our own staffers. Zero Fatalities is a goal PPBH can live with.

Are you a Glee fan? What did you think of last night’s episode? Let us know in the comments.

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Contributed by John Haynes

At PPBH we follow the “Suitcase Model”—it is easier to pack when you know where you are going.

We are constantly asked, “Is it worth the time and money to do marketing research?” The answer is simple—yes, especially in tough times or down markets. Research offers the best legal means of taking advantage of your competition’s lack of research.

So what is marketing research? In simple terms, it is understanding who is purchasing a clients’ products and for what reason. In the process we often discover problems and opportunities we were not aware of. It usually causes us to refine our approach or the client’s product offerings in order to maximize sales or reduce marketing costs—both of which are welcome outcomes during tough times or not.

Getting Your Ducks In a Row for Successful Marketing Research

Before you actually dive in to the gathering and analysis of the data, follow these crucial steps to set your research project up for success:

  • Know what you need to know. Nothing is more expensive than spending money on useless research because it would “be nice to know.” I would much rather find out why our sales are up in one region and down in another. That will give the research something to focus on.
  • Getting the Information. Now that we know what it is we need to know, it is easier to select a method to collect good accurate data. It may be a focus group, one-on-one interviews, a written survey, interactive assessment, polling, etc.
  • Sample Size: How Many is Enough? Determine your sample size. For example, do you need a five percent population sampling, or do we just need to talk to the opinion leaders at your top 15 clients?
  • When and How Much? With some products, seasonality or new product launches will dictate timing. In other instances, time is more of a luxury. However, never wait until there is a crisis. That’s when bad decisions are made to just guess what is going on.
  • Set a budget and timeframe.

So before you pack that suitcase, plan out where you’re going. Research can be pricey, but if done right, its ROI far exceeds any perceived “expenditure.”

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Contributed by Lauren Soderberg

Given the recent box office explosion that accompanied the film adaptation of Susanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, I thought it would be apt (and perhaps slightly satirical/humorous) to draft a list of my public involvement (PI; some may also know it as public engagement) dos and don’ts in the context of this pop culture phenom. Luckily, we live in a world markedly less brutal than Susanne Collins’ dystopian Panem, but that doesn’t mean that PI doesn’t have the potential to be unpleasant if not applied correctly.

When conceptualizing a PI plan for a given project, it’s important to consider the following:

1. Know Your Audience.
Just as the Capitol uses the Hunger Games as a tool to keep the inhabitants of the 12 districts in subjugation, so too can a flawed perception of an audience quell an otherwise successful PI project.

Key things to consider: Who are we talking to? What are their expectations? How can we best communicate with our audience?

One important don’t: Don’t patronize your audience.

Katniss plays to her audience (the inhabitants of Districts 1-12, and perhaps even the Capitol) in order to simultaneously survive the games and thumb her nose at dictatorship and ends up accomplishing both. (Or does she miscalculate the wrath of the Capitol? This is getting deep, people. DEEP.)

2. Know Your Message(s).
Another part of a successful PI plan is to know your key message(s). This ties in to knowing your audience. Because once you know who you are speaking to, you’ll (hopefully) be able to figure out what exactly you’re trying to say. I think this is where Katniss severely miscalculates the power and effect that her actions (or should I say messages) have on her audience and what their perception of these actions will set in motion.

Another important don’t: Don’t oversimplify or overcomplicate your message. (This ties into the aforementioned don’t for obvious reasons.)

3. Set Measurable Goals.
When planning for a new PI project, it’s important to already have an end-game strategy. Once you’ve figured out the whos, whats and hows, you need to establish the whys. Why is this project important? Why are we working on this project now? Why are we communicating the messages we are communicating?

Once the whys are established, you can figure out the goals of a given project. In my experience, the more measurable the goal is, the better results you’ll have. That way, when you move along to future projects, you can apply what you’ve previously learned and hopefully build on that foundation.

Even if the goals are “simple” they can still make an impact. Sometimes they can evolve throughout the PI process; however, it’s important have a completely thought-out plan in the beginning, that has a bit of wiggle-room to accommodate unforeseen bumps along the road.

This leads me to my last don’t: Don’t find yourself under-prepared.

Just like Katniss needed some, er, supplies (i.e., deadly weapons) to survive the Hunger Games, it’s vital to come into a PI project sufficiently armed and ready to weather any potential storms ahead.

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