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I don’t know how many times my cohorts at the Las Vegas Review-Journal grumbled that I was headed to the dark side when I accepted a public relations position three years ago.

The dark side? Is it really that bad?

The dark side is a term used to describe public relations professionals because in many journalists’ minds PR folks are hired to be obstacles, to cover up corruption, to put their own “spin” on an issue rather than speak the full truth.

Here’s a quick example and one that taught me my first lesson in PR–don’t give a negative story legs:

As a traffic columnist, I called up the airport communications office after witnessing and experiencing firsthand traffic attendants’ boorish behavior toward motorists picking up passengers.

The PIO, a former colleague at the paper, returned the call and asked the make and color of my vehicle and the date and time I was at the airport, etc. It became clear what he was doing–an investigation into whether I was there and in the wrong. He wasn’t willing to provide the information requested.

A week later, when the results of the my-car-at-the-airport investigation were released, my potentially mundane column suddenly became captivating. The story gained traction when more than 150 readers chimed in about the rude officers and the airport’s response, leading to another column about others’ experiences.

I never believed I veered into the dark side when I joined Penna Powers. If you believe in an issue or project, it is rewarding advocating for it.

That’s not to say the transition from journalism to public relations is simple. There are distinct differences in the two professions.

PR experts are upbeat and optimistic; journalists are typically cynical and hardened– they’ve seen more bodies and tragedy in general than most can imagine.

Journalists are accustomed to proceeding without a concrete plan. That’s the way it’s supposed to be unless you are covering recurring events (e.g. elections, holiday stories). If you have an agenda about how you plan to cover a news story, you will not likely tell it in an objective manner. A story unfolds and the reporter covers it fairly and comprehensively.

This might sound unworldly in the PR realm.

In PR it’s imperative to have a communication plan. You must have sources ready to speak to the media on issues. You must identify that there is news worthy of media coverage and then think of creative ideas for your pitch to stand out to reporters to gain coverage on a particular issue. You must gain approval from the client before acting on your strategy.

There are distinct differences in communication and working styles too.

For instance, journalists are procrastinators and typically do their best work under a tight deadline. I learned to write fast and accurately early in my career when I was a sports intern and assigned 10 game briefs due within a half-hour. On election nights, journalists make calls to candidates when the projected results are in with the understanding that the quotes won’t be published if the numbers change. That’s a tight deadline.

In public relations, because of the planning involved, rarely are you on a tight deadline. In the end, the planning and strategizing invested in campaigns pays off with well thought out initiatives.

Exclamation points. Exclamation points! In journalism, this is rarely used punctuation typically spared for a direct quote to describe someone shouting. Not even in emails do reporters use exclamation points, unless they are angry.

I’ve caught the bug. In public relations, exclamation points are not taboo. People use exclamation points to show enthusiasm or support. So, I’ve learned to still use sparingly so they don’t lose their meaning, but don’t drop the explanation points!

Overall, journalists making the transition to public relations firms and government agencies can bring an invaluable perspective.

They instinctively know what stories will intrigue reporters and know what it takes to get crews of journalists to cover an issue. They know which press releases grabbed their attention when they were reporters and which were tossed into the trash.

Similarities also exist between the two fields.

In both professions, it’s important to build healthy relationships to be successful. A PR expert’s robust relationship with a reporter can lead to positive news stories.

Both professions are in the business of selling. Journalists are interested in selling newspapers, PR professionals are in the business of pitching stories to raise public awareness on particular issues and programs.

I had always heard in the newsroom that 20 percent of reporters actually make it with a PR agency. That was the unofficial word in the newsroom. I say believe in what you do and you are going to succeed.

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When my dad was a kid there were five different channels on the television and some mud out back. At least, that’s what he says were the most entertaining things for him to do over half a century ago. Now-a-days, we have millions of different games, videos, message boards and distractions that we can engage with to make a mundane Monday morning a little more exciting. In recent history, video games have really solidified themselves as one of the most entertaining, and lucrative, forms of media on the market. In fact, video games easily surpass the film industry and the music industry in terms of revenue.

Surprised? Don’t be. Video games, whether on a phone, a computer or even in an arcade are masters at motivating people to stay focused at a given task. It’s incredible when you think about it really. According to Forbes, over 50% of employees who work a desk job admit to wasting over two hours of work time every week just browsing the internet. That’s what they admit to, and that’s not including countless other distractions that don’t involve online activities. The point is, it’s hard to stay focused for 40 hours a week.

Or is it? In September of last year, Bungie, a triple-A game development company, launched a new game titled “Destiny.” Bungie, well known for creating the famous Halo franchise, had a budget upward of $500 million to create and market their new game. The game launch was incredibly successful and they recovered their production costs within just months. The really impressive part, however, is the dedication of their players.


That’s not all though. As of today, thousands of players have logged over 1500 hours worth of time into Destiny. As of writing this, Destiny was released 216 days ago. That means that thousands of players average nearly seven hours of game play each day. That’s some serious dedication.

So the question is, how does a game motivate players to stay focused for so long? And, more importantly, can we use similar tactics to motivate our customers and clients to stay focused on our brands? It turns out, there may be some correlation.

Bungie has long been known for their mentality that a successful video game only needs to have about half-a-minute of entertaining content. Then, as long as that content is repeatable, you can engage audiences for hours. Destiny is no different. In fact, you can beat literally every piece of content in Destiny in less than 20 hours. However, lots of that content lends itself to being repeated. Players work to find better strategies, experience the same sense of accomplishment over again and receive new rewards. These are the three things we can learn about motivation from video games like Destiny.

1. Rewards Must Be Obtainable

One of the things that makes Destiny so addictive is the classic “carrot on a stick,” gameplay (only you can actually catch this carrot). There are any number of top-tier items and rewards to be found in the game, but getting them is based almost entirely on a random number generator (RNG). As a player, you have as good a chance as anyone of getting one of these top-tier rewards assuming you play just as much as the next guy. But you don’t get to choose which reward you get, or when you get it. So if you wanted a particular item within the game for example, you need to keep playing and praying that you’ll eventually just get lucky.


In marketing ourselves and our brands, we can use this same approach. If we offer real and obtainable rewards for supporting our brand, we can expect our audience to feel significantly more motivated. The trick is the reward has to be obtainable. For example, if you were to offer a contest where everyone who comments on a video is entered to win a new iPad, you’ll get a fair number of people commenting on that video. However, only one person is going to get that reward, so it really isn’t an obtainable reward. Conversely, if you did a contest where everyone had to submit a funny comment on a video and you would feature the best 10 comments on your website, suddenly your reward is 10x easier to obtain (and you don’t have to buy someone an iPad).

2. Provide a Sense of Accomplishment

Another wildly popular game is called Candy Crush. Many of you have probably played it. In case you haven’t, it’s a mobile game that people play on their tablets, phones and other smart devices. The gameplay is relatively easy to understand and purchasing the game costs you nothing. Despite the fact that the game itself is free, however, Candy Crush is estimated to earn over $1,000,000 a day.


Here’s how they do it: You start the game with 5 lives. Every time you fail a level (or puzzle) you lose one life. If you have no more lives you can’t play anymore. Your lives regenerate once per half hour, or you can pay some money to get more lives. Guess what? A lot of people are willing to pay money to keep playing after their lives run out. But why?

It has a lot to do with feeling accomplished. When you start a puzzle on Candy Crush it’s engaging and entertaining, but also frustrating. If you can’t solve a certain puzzle and your friend can, for example, your motivation to spend money, solve the puzzle and catch up (or even surpass) your friend, increases greatly.

In terms of marketing, this means we need to help our target audience feel accomplished within their experiences with our brand. For example, my friend is a big fan of 7-11. Recently he received a coupon to get a free slurpee as part of a larger campaign 7-11 was running. After enjoying his slurpee, the coupon prompted him to post his positive experience on Twitter. He did so and was sure to include the appropriate hashtags that the campaign was based around. Within minutes, 7-11 responded to his tweet. Not only did this leave him feeling quite accomplished, but it made him motivated to share his brand experiences in the future. In fact, he continues to share his positive 7-11 experiences with me today #NotAPlugFor7-11

3. Use Goals to Measure Improvement

Within video games there is a very popular genre known as a “Role-Playing Game,” (RPG for short). In this genre you start with a weak character with few abilities end eventually progress and level up your character until they become incredibly powerful and strong. This is a very motivational tactic for video games as it gives players a purpose to work toward (you could even say a goal). Players will invest hundreds of hours to see their character become “maxed out,” meaning they become as powerful as possible within the realm of the video game.


In advertising and public relations, this same thing can be accomplished with goals. If you give your audience goals that will help them “max out,” you will see an increase in their motivation and desire to help. For example, if you’re working to help people eat more carrots, you should start by sharing a goal and benefit with them. You might say, “Eat three carrots a day, see three times farther at night,” (technically not true, but it’s just an example). This gives them a goal and explains how working toward this goal will improve their life. Your target’s motivation to eat carrots will rise drastically, especially if you combine this tactic with the other strategies we’ve already discussed.

So what do we know? We know that video games are incredible at motivating people. People will spend millions of dollars and invest thousands of hours into a video game that has enough motivational tactics woven in to its gameplay mechanics and story. If we take even a few of these same tactics and apply them to how we market our brands and advertise to our target audiences, we will see an immediate improvement in our consumers motivation to engage with our brand. The trick is having an obtainable reward, providing a sense of accomplishment and using goals as a measure of improvement. While that might not be a one-size-fits-all solution to motivating your target market, those certainly are “3 Things Video Games Can Teach Us About Motivation In Advertising.”

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Office800A colleague of mine recently told me about her friend who has a strict workplace policy regarding office spaces: they cannot have any personal items at their desks. No family pictures, no personal items and basically nothing that might imply they have a life outside of work. It’s as if the management is saying, “When you’re at work, you have no life. WE are your life. Check it at the door and you can have it back after you leave the building at the end of the day.”

I can’t imagine how this impacts their corporate culture. It sounds like a depressing place to be for the better part of a day.

Of course, the office is where we work. It’s not an extension of our living room, bedroom or man-cave. But that doesn’t mean our workspace has to be sanitized of our personal lives. Most of us spend more hours than we’d like sitting in our offices, so here’s some advice on how to make the best of it:

TIP #1:  You can still be professional AND show some personality. Just don’t go overboard making your workspace so cluttered that it prevents you from fulfilling your primary responsibility. Also, make sure your space reflects your company’s culture and values when customers and clients walk your halls.

TIP #2:  Look around at what others have done to their workspaces to gauge the acceptable level of personality you should let out. Are their offices laden with knick-knacks, funny posters and jokes or is it a more conservative style with simple pictures of family and friends?

TIP #3:  Whether you’re in a cubicle or corner office, you can still show some personality in the space you occupy. Even if you only have room for a picture frame, there are plenty of inexpensive digital frames that can bring life, variety and personality to a cramped cube.

TIP #4:  Don’t be afraid to let others know who you are outside of the company doors. Giving your co-workers a glimpse into your life outside of the office will allow them to connect with you and strengthen friendships within your company. Who knows, maybe you have more in common with your co-workers than you think.

TIP #5:  Do your blank walls and empty desk make it seem like you’re not planning to stay for long? Do you feel like you’re in a short-term temp job ready to jump ship at the first sign of trouble? If not, unpack your bags and stay a while.

Your workspace reflects the style and personality of your organization and can help raise or lower employee morale. At Penna Powers, we frequently get very positive feedback on our corporate culture and there’s no doubt that our office spaces contribute to that vibe.

I wandered around the office, asking a few fellow P2ers, “When you’re not looking at your computer monitor (which we’re doing 90 percent of the time we’re in our offices), what personal item at your desk do you look most at and what does it do for you?”

Stephanie: “My clocks. They remind me of the time zones for each of my clients and how stressed I should be based on deadlines.”


Wendy: “My favorite thing to look at is the Christmas card when we did a motorcycle theme. It makes me feel I’m part of something and reminds me that I was there when this cool thing happened. It makes me feel like we’re all a team and we do fun, exciting things just for fun and for work.”


Traci: “My painting. It’s an original, one-of-a-kind piece of art. I got it for my 10-year anniversary at the agency. The painting is called “Walk a mile in my shoes.” It goes with who I am. I try to think of how the other person is and it keeps me grounded. It reminds me that walking in someone else’s shoes might not be as ideal as we think it is.”


Tyson: “I play with my hands a lot. My son gave me these two rings that I like to click together. It calms me down and centers me when I’m frustrated or confused.”


Brian: “I have stuff that makes me feel less stressed. Yes, I’ve got to meet this deadline, but at least I have my stuff. It reminds me who I am.”


Charlotte: “I look at pictures of the different places I’ve been and want to go, like New York, Korea, and Singapore. When I need to look away from my computer, these pictures remind me that I’ve got to make more money so I can travel the world.”


Alli: “My cat mug, it is one of the many items in my crazy cat lady collection. Somehow that has become my reputation here at the agency. It was a gift from Chuck and reminds me of how funny and thoughtful my coworkers are. Plus, I really do love my cats.”


Frank: “I put this up very soon after starting to work here. It’s a line in a song by Faithless. For my job, it helps me see things differently. I’ve always loved that.”


Kenny: “I look at the creative stuff my boy does. His creativity is an inspiration. He’s kind of, “out there.” It reminds me not to kill ideas so quickly. As a kid, anything goes. So don’t stifle creativity. Sometimes as adults, we do that more often than we should.”

What’s your favorite personal item in your workspace and what does it do for you? I’d like to hear about it. Let us know about it in the comments below. And if your company won’t let you display personal items in your office – we’re hiring.



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social800Social media has come a long way from the days of needing a college email address to sign up for a Facebook account and using hashtags to search tweets. Social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are daily destinations for millions of consumers across multiple generations. Increasingly, new and exciting ad products are coming online offering hyper-targeting capability based on specific demographics, social connections, interests and behaviors.

What can brands expect now as social media continues to elbow its way into the planning table? A fractured media landscape where few digital channels offer any scale, while social networks offer an array of large growing audiences with a plethora of data on interests and behaviors that would make any marketer drool. By 2017, forecasts call for over $10 billion in annual social media spending with an increasing amount of those dollars heading toward native content. This is an increase from the $4.7 billion spent in 2013.


Social media advertising is a growing market. Today promotion of social content represents between 1% and 10% of ad budgets, but huge growth potential is expected as more and more traffic shifts to mobile. As we have seen with clients’ content marketing strategies, there is a need for front-and-center social media and advertising strategies where the marketing is focused around the mobile consumer and their social behaviors online.

Ask yourself, “Where is social media in our marketing strategy?” If you answered it doesn’t exist or the intern named Jeremy handles it, then get back to the drawing board because there is a lot you’ve missed in targeting your potential audience or market segment.

Based on the statistics, the marketing direction moving forward is clearly defined as becoming more prominently social media and mobile. Social media statistics:

–    Both Facebook and Twitter have passed 50% mobile usage

–    Mobile accounted for 11% of Facebook’s ad revenue in 2012 and 23% in 2013

–    Americans spend on average 12 hours per month on social media networks

–    The key demographic of 18-24 year olds spend 20 hours per month on social media networks

–    90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years thanks to social media

Combined, we will for the first time be able to tell a story across multiple social media channels and devices. Effectively telling your story as your target moves from Facebook to Twitter and finally to Pinterest or Tumblr, will entice your audience to turn to the next chapter. As social media continues to mature you will see it take the center stage of content marketing.

The numbers prove it. No longer can social media be the “little brother” side project or an advertising medium no one understands. Instead social has grown up, becoming the gateway to the mobile generation and data that allows hyper-accurate content and pinpoint targeting. After all, what other medium do you know that can deliver, on demand, the story you want to read and serve it to those that you want to read it?

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The tent is set, the cobbler is eaten, the stars are brighter and the fire is settling. You’re with friends, sitting back in a circle of camp chairs as the stories are getting funnier. This is the ideal setting for what branding consultant kCross calls the Campfire Effect.

This environment of trust, reflection and connectedness is what they say every brand should compose for their customers. Why? Because people crave connection more now than ever as technology has made the world smaller but the distance between people sometimes larger.

Just as others often hire Penna Powers to make recommendations for their brand from a third-party perspective, we hired kCross to do the same for our brand. Here is what we’ve learned about using a brand to connect with customers in a campfire-like way.

Tell a Story
The campfire setting isn’t complete without stories. Stories help your customers understand how your brand aligns with what they want most in life. They help your audience get to know and trust you and they inspire action. Beyond that, people enjoy stories. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) shows that the same part of your brain lights up when you receive a reward or compliment as when you’re about to hear a story.

A brand story doesn’t have to be longwinded. It can be about a moment—your first kiss, your first job offer or that time you walked through the wrong public restroom door. Who was there? What did you see? What did it smell like? Think of a moment that your brand creates for your customers and put your customers in that moment.

Adidas illustrates moments with their #mygirls campaign. They describe life glimpses of several strong female athletes in Adidas garb. The stories are not about selling a product they’re about connecting to their athletic, strong, determined female audience by linking those traits with their brand.

Another communications group,, revamped a toy company’s social media with stories. Instead of posting images of the toys in stock, as was the standing practice, they posted pictures of kids unwrapping the toys on Christmas morning. Showing the reactions, what the kids said and what they did, humanized the brand and elicited more likes and shares.

Be Authentic
People feel safe to be their best, authentic selves around a campfire. Likewise, if you want to connect your brand with your audience, it needs to be authentic. As English writer, George Orwell said, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

So how do you avoid insincerity? Know who you are and be who you are. You can’t create an authentic brand and tell your brand’s story until you clearly define your brand and its audience. Brand integrity is crucial. Make sure all of your stories reflect your brand and what you want to be known for.

Story2, a group that assists high school students with the college admissions process through online storytelling tools, suggests standing in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eye and telling your brand story out loud. If you believe it, tell a friend or family member face-to-face. If it connects with them, write your story down. This is a simplified version of what could be a bigger research effort involving focus groups, stakeholder interviews and surveys to assess whether your audience finds your stories authentic.

Telling stories and being authentic are a few ways to connect your brand with your customers, campfire style. Do you know of other campaign examples that exemplify campfire-like branding? Just let me know in the comments below.

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fools800April Fool’s day has come a long way since the 1500’s. Not only does the general public use it as an excuse to play practical jokes on friends or strangers, but even brands have hopped on the bandwagon with the long standing tradition. Here’s a list of some of our favorite 2015 April Fool’s day pranks by companies. Some we wish were real, and some we’re glad are not.


Dominos Pizza UK announced on their blog a pizza delivery car that has no driver. This would definitely change the pizza industry. But the question remains, do you still have to tip?domi-no-driver

Samsung Galaxy BLADE Edge

It’s not a new idea to use your phone or tablet to look up recipes while cooking, but what if it was even more convenient than that. Yet again, “The next big thing is already here” as Samsung announces a smartphone that doubles as a chef’s knife.Samsung Galaxy BLADE Edge

Amazon Dash Button

What is the ultimate point of purchase for any customer? Right where they use the product of course. If the Dash Button is real, Amazon could make a killing. I won’t say whether I requested an invite or not in case it ends up being the joke we all suspect it is.

Petco’s Dog on a Stick

Better grab this product while you can since it’s only available today. Petco brings taking selfies to pets and their owners with Dog on a Stick. This product actually reminds me a lot of the GoPro Fetch harness which I think is totally awesome who wouldn’t want to see everywhere our furry friends go in a day?petco-dog-on-a-stick

Cottonelle Toilet Paper for Lefties

This product sure fills a gaping need for lefties everywhere. How have they survived without it. Announced by Cottonelle on Twitter this morning, let’s hope we see it in stores soon.Cottonelle_toilet_paper_for_lefties

Grøüber by Groupon

The convenience of getting a ride with Uber now has a feline twist, cat drivers. Although I wouldn’t trust Groupon’s new laser navigation technology myself, I can see the appeal.

Google Maps

One of my personal favorites today comes from the pranking company we’ve all come to love and depend on daily. Google allows you to play endless amounts of Pac-Man levels on google maps. Just click the button with Pac-Man in it and transform your map into a game. Here’s a link to the streets around Penna Powers’ building if you want to give it a try.


Have you seen any other worthy April Fool’s pranks from brands today? Let us know below in the comments.


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