Can Bach Save the World if Yo Yo Ma Brings It to Us?

By Aimee Lauren Stern, Chief Bravery Officer, Brave Now PR

He is certainly giving it his best shot. The Bach Project, which Yo Yo Ma rolled out in August 2018, is a two year project in which the cellist commits to playing all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Cello in 36 cities around the world. Yo Yo Ma discussed The Bach Project at the Atlantic Festival last week.

Alongside each concert is a Day of Action, which can be a series of conversations and collaborations that explore how culture can help us imagine and build a better future. Days of Action range from building 36 wooden tables in Pittsfied, Massachusetts, to discuss the concept of a resilient community to planting a community garden.

The Bach Project tour has reached, Chicago, New York City, Flint, Michigan, and Washington DC, among other cities, and is headed to Australia and Indonesia this fall. It will conclude in summer 2020.

When Yo Yo Ma first began playing the cello at the age of four the first song he played was Bach’s prelude to the first Cello Suite. He is still playing it. “Music can feel, inspire, create wonder,” Ma said.

Bach’s six Cello Suites are for unaccompanied cello and are either performed by Yo Yo Ma solo or with other musicians. y Johann Sebastian Bach. They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello.

Culture needs a seat at the table, says Ma. His point is that sharing what we love about art, music,  and telling each other our stories brings us together. The overriding message of the tour is that culture brings us together, and telling each other our stories turns other into us. bring all of us together as a species, through whatever art form we choose to inspire us. His is obviously music.

Aimee SternAbout the Author

Aimee Stern is the president of Brave Now PR and Content based in Washington DC. She specializes in helping senior executives find their industry voices, develop a platform and share it broadly.

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Time for an employee communications fall tune-up

By Susan C. Rink, President and Owner, Rink Strategic Communications, LLC

It’s fall ─the season for tailgate parties, apple festivals, plaid flannel shirts and pumpkin spice everything. For most private sector companies and non-profits, it’s also time to start working on the 2020 operating budget. If you are an employee communications professional reading this blog, chances are you will be asked to do more in 2020 than you did in 2019, and most likely with less money.

It’s a fact of life. I’ve often joked that while my friends in marketing can get a million dollars to do a customer event, we employee communicators have to hold a bake sale to get the money for a simple email template. Sad, but true.

But instead of lamenting our lack of funds, employee communicators should look at fall budgeting season as an opportunity to tune up our communication campaigns and vehicles. It is just like taking your car into the mechanic, and watching them hook it up to one of those computers to assess the battery, spark plugs and all the other mysterious things living “under the hood.” This is the perfect opportunity to take an unbiased look at what you and your team have worked on over the past three quarters and whether or not you have met your performance goals.

How do your programs measure up?

For starters, are you measuring your communications vehicles? Are your measurements limited to open rates, or do you include polls and feedback loops to see if people are actually reading the articles and receiving information that they find useful?

What about your all hands or town hall meetings? Do you track attendance? Do you do any type of post-event survey and track those results to monitor trends and identify areas for improvement?

What about messaging? Are your employees able to describe the company’s strategic platforms, do they know how the company is performing against key business metrics, and can they explain the company’s culture?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, kudos to you! The bulk of your work is done and now you can get down to the nitty gritty details of determining which programs to sunset (or cut off cold turkey at the end of the calendar year), which to maintain, and where there are gaps to fill.

But what if you answered no to most of the questions? In that case, you have a bit of work to do. The good news is that it won’t take you a lot of time and won’t cost a lot of money to do so. (Although I probably shouldn’t tell you that, since companies hire me to do communication audits for them. But hey, we’re all friends here, right?)

The “Do it Yourself” Mini Audit

To conduct your mini-audit, you’ll need to get a feel for what is working and what isn’t. There are a couple of ways to do that.

One is to take advantage of existing data, such as a recent employee opinion/engagement/culture survey. These surveys are a wealth of information about employee attitudes on such topics as leadership candor/approachability, connection to the company’s mission, and health of the culture – all topics which are influenced and reinforced though effective communications.

Another idea is to institute a “flash poll” of a random group of employees, about 15% of the workforce. Keep the number of questions limited to five or so, and focus on messaging and information flow. You can issue the poll after an all hands meeting or a couple of days after an employee email newsletter is distributed (if you have one of those, if not, there’s another tool for consideration). There are lots of great online polling tools you can use, like Survey Monkey and Poll Everywhere, which offer free 30-day trials.

The third option is to host some informal focus groups to gather anecdotal feedback. To drive participation, schedule them during lunch and market them as “brown bag” sessions. One word of caution, you’ll need to be very clear that the topic is communications; otherwise it may devolve into 60 minutes of complaints about anything but communications.

Armed with the data you have gathered, you can now gather your team to discuss the findings and make informed decisions about what you can do differently and/or better in 2020…including measuring all your communications programs on a monthly basis.

Happy fall!

About the Author

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps their clients talk to and listen to their employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing and hospitality companies to professional associations and non-profit “think tanks.”

Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.

How to Get a Patient to Talk: Lessons in Health Care PR

By Aaron Cohen, President, Aaron Cohen PR LLC

“Norma Smith was diagnosed with stage-three cancer in December.” – Fresno Bee

Photo credit: John Walker and The Fresno Bee

An anecdotal lede like that is rhetorical device meant to grab a reader by the lapels and demand they keep reading. According to Carmen George of the Fresno Bee, Norma is important because she can “connect people’s compelling personal stories to larger issues.”

To me, as a media relations consultant, people like Norma are the difference between press release pickups and agenda-setting coverage. Earning coverage like this requires sensitivity, patience, and skill.

Getting Norma’s story published is how a journalist explains the life-changing decisions of policymakers and businesses.

It’s the same drill when a Des Moines Register looks at how an Iowa corn farmer’s market is affected by trade policy decisions or how a head shop owner in Massachusetts is impacted by a new e-cigarette crackdown.

“The real challenge in writing a policy story is getting people to read it. If I can focus a story on a real human being who’s been impacted by the policy in question, it automatically becomes more engaging and meaningful — and dramatically more impactful, too,” says Lev Facher, reporter for Stat News, which covers the life sciences industry.

To reporters like Facher, real people resources are the Holy Grail of journalism for three reasons:

  • Real people humanize dry government or academic data, and are great at, “engaging readers on an emotional, intimate level to help them care more about what they are reading,” said George.
  • They provide an important layer of credibility to a story that might have just an antagonist and a protagonist.
  • They demonstrate a cause and effect relationship.

A dramatic example is Sheri Fink’s moving New York Times Magazine, post-Hurricane Harvey cover story about Casey Dills-Dailey. Casey was sent home from the hospital without medicine crucial to her health. When Harvey struck, her health deteriorated. She later died.

Casey’s widower Wayne, and his two sons, allowed Fink “to accompany them through the difficult days after Casey’s death in the hopes that telling her story might help others,” according to a Times Insider account of how the magazine story was reported.

Altruism like Wayne’s, is often what leads medical patients sign health privacy forms and allow journalists into their homes at the most vulnerable and sensitive times of their lives.

Fink told me she discovered Wayne and Casey without the help of a publicist, but stories like that and Norma’s are there, if you know how and where to look. To Terry DeMio, a Pulitzer Prize winning Cincinnati Enquirer reporter, it’s essential to good storytelling. “People are indispensable in a good narrative,” she said.

Here are a few steps to creating a narrative towards getting that groundbreaking placement:

  • Understand how a policy, a report, a piece of state or federal legislation will impact individuals in a negative way, and focus on the negative – happy news doesn’t usually sell papers!
  • Identify an individual, or individuals effected by a bill or a natural disaster, etc.
  • If a medical patient is involved, get the provider to have privacy waiver forms signed to stay legal.
  • Interview the person and make them comfortable with the alien process of an encounter with a journalist.
  • Don’t overly message-train a real person. They’re supposed to sound real, remember?
  • Act as the person’s agent and appointment secretary, like they were your client and protect the patient’s time and health.
  • Do follow-up work with a reporter and treat them like they were your client or boss.

There was no way the Fresno Bee or any daily newspaper in the United States was going to report on the arcane practices of the health care system’s middlemen, known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) without a Norma Smith. It’s too dry and, to many readers, just plain boring.

For the Community Oncology Alliance, we tapped into a Fresno oncology practice and found Norma, a plain-speaking, stage three blood cancer patient who felt shafted by a PBM.

Carmen George liked the story, interviewed Norma about how a PBM delayed the cancer medicine her oncologist had prescribed, and published a blockbuster that was a sensation on the internet, stirred a reaction from the Fresno congressman and an explanation from the PBM in question.

Norma wasn’t quoted for her knowledge of Prior Authorizations or Direct and Indirect Remuneration Fees. Washington Post health care reporter Lenny Bernstein says, “stories profit from quotes from the people who are going through these situations, whether they are mental illness, a hurricane, war, or an election.”

Here’s why Carmen George’s story in the Fresno Bee profited from Norma’s central role. Norma said, “I’m a human being. I’m not a used car. I have feelings. I’m a person. I want to live. I want to spend time with my grandchildren. I want to quilt. I want to do things. I want to live.”

About the Author

Aaron Cohen has owned and operated Aaron Cohen PR since 2014, and has been a health care PR specialist for a decade. In addition to media relations, messaging and media training services for clients, Aaron offers a training course to teach organizations how to start new, or improve existing, earned media programs. Aaron has been in communications for more than three decades, having worked in a succession of PR firms and as a Washington- based radio journalist. For more, visit www.aaroncohenpr.com

Experts Needed – That’s You!

This blog is a forum for members of the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and other public relations professionals. Your expertise is a welcome addition to this community.

Please consider writing a post. This is a great way to give to the profession and the professional society that has helped us all as PR professionals.

We welcome blog submissions from members and other contributors who are interested in providing content that can be useful for public relations practitioners. Below are blog submission guidelines.

Helpful Blogging Tips and Best Practices

  • Length should be between 500-800 words
  • Submission should include subheads and paragraph breaks (if appropriate) to avoid the appearance of a “wall” of text
  • Author should use a conversational tone and show personality in writing
  • Post should include links to the chapter website and other websites if appropriate
  • Author should submit images when possible along with caption and permission information
  • Mentions of a company/website within a post and/or in the author byline are allowed, but posts cannot overtly promote a product or business (only sponsor organizations are promoted to members)
  • While the posts are the opinion of the author, submissions that demean individuals, companies, professions or businesses will not be accepted. The purpose of the blog is both to advance the profession and provoke intelligent discussion among peers.

NCC Blog Submission Process

  • Send a Word document and images to jill [at] kurtzdigitalstrategy.com
  • Word document should include:
    • Byline with author name and title
    • Post title and content
    • Links, if applicable
  • Image should be accompanied by caption and permission information
  • The post will be scheduled and the author notified upon publication

This is a great way to get more exposure for your ideas and expertise. All blog posts are included on the PRSA-NCC home page and also shared on PRSA-NCC chapter social media channels.

4 Tips for Planning Your Next Networking Happy Hour

By Allie Erenbaum, Board Member and Co-chair of the University Relations Committee for PRSA-NCC

Who do I talk to first? What questions should I ask? How can I hold a drink and a plate of food, and successfully shake someone’s hand?

If you’ve ever asked yourself one of the above questions, you are not alone. Although networking happy hours can be intimidating, they also present informal ways to grow your professional network. From learning about new areas of your profession to practicing your elevator pitch, attending a networking happy hour offers several benefits.

On August 14, PRSA-NCC hosted an August Summer Happy Hour. In addition to bringing together current chapter members, the event attracted recent graduates, young professionals, new members, and new arrivals to the Washington, D.C. area. The event ended up being one of the most successful networking happy hours in PRSA-NCC’s recent history, with 83 people attending.

Consider these tips when planning your organization’s next networking happy hour:

  • Bring stakeholders together early. For the August Summer Happy Hour, PRSA-NCC collaborated across committees (e.g., Membership, Marketing and Communications, University Relations, and New Professionals) to ensure far-reaching attendance. Each committee helped facilitate individual outreach to people in their network, which resulted in close to 100 registrations. Getting leadership buy-in and amplification of your networking happy hour will also help generate interest.
  • Consider the event’s timing. If one of your organization’s competitors or stakeholders is willing to share their events calendar, it may be useful to sync on efforts to ensure you can attract the widest group of people. If your organization produces events on a regular basis, make sure you are not competing with other initiatives on your own calendar.
  • Pricing and location can make or break interest. Professionals already go to several happy hours on their own time with their colleagues or clients. To make your organization’s networking happy hour accessible, keep your price point low and consider engaging, centrally-located venues in your area.
  • Remember your audience. Since the August Summer Happy Hour wanted to encourage individuals that may not be familiar with PRSA-NCC’s structure, PRSA-NCC made sure brochures and fact sheets were available for attendees. PRSA-NCC also encouraged chapter leadership and committee co-chairs to attend, ensuring that questions could be answered in real-time.

 About the Author

Allie Erenbaum is a one-year Board of Director and Co-chair of the University Relations Committee for PRSA-NCC. Through the University Relations Committee, Allie collaborates with leaders from universities across the Washington, D.C. area to connect students with industry professionals to create job, internship, mentoring, and networking opportunities. She is currently a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in strategic communications and public affairs. While working towards her degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communication at American University, Allie completed internships at Porter Novelli, APCO Worldwide, and Participant Media.

How to Plan Your Next Video

By Pete Cousté, PC MediaWorks and Chair, PRSA-NCC Independent PR Alliance Committee

I covered more than my share of National Press Club events as a broadcast journalist and TV producer early in my career at CNN, WUSA-TV9, and others.  However, I had never appeared on a panel to present to a few hundred PR colleagues until recently at the 2019 PR Summit DC.

For the first time, I was invited to speak on a panel underneath that NPC sign. It was called Ready, Fire, Aim: How (Not) To Plan Your Next Video. Not surprisingly, the topic of video in PR was either the main focus or a big part of the discussion in at least three sessions in the daylong conference.  

It was a new perspective for me. After my 25-plus years of work in broadcast TV news, PR, marketing, and digital video in DC, there was a lot to talk about.

I was fortunate to be teamed with other accomplished creatives to offer others insight across the agency, client and production perspectives.  They included moderator Glenn Greenstein, the creative director and founder of Mean Green Media; Mimi Carter, the US General Manager & SVP of Proof Strategies and a longtime local PR and marketing agency veteran; and Thorsten Ruehlemann, Chief Marketing Officer of Service Year Alliance and former Worldwide Managing Partner at Ogilvy & Mather.

Our goal was to help other PR pros like yourself get better results from the process of planning, managing and implementing video projects.  We met, collaborated and trade ideas for a couple of weeks to come up with our top ten list of best practices and tips to share.

Be Transparent

A good partner shares information openly with the team. We as clients must define the boundaries of a project. Provide your team with the freedom of a tight creative brief. Put it in writing. Articulate client goals clearly.

Be transparent about your expectations. Explain the business objective of your video. Share reference material/benchmarks (creative examples you like or do not like). Make budgets and internal deadlines transparent (e.g. board needs to approve concept in their meeting on this date).

Achieve Stakeholder Alignment Early

Ensure that purpose, scope and objectives are clear to all stakeholders before production begins. Video is a team collaboration requiring time and resources. Verify that SMEs, approvers, and key decision makers are committed and know when they’re needed and carve out time to participate.

Assign a single point-person to collect and control feedback-approval loop. Educate reviewers on what feedback you need from them. Keep them in their lanes. Avoid committee groupthink. Get individual feedback submitted in writing.

Make Video Part of Your Integrated PR or Marketing Plan

Think integrated video strategy upfront. Use your same APR PR process stages with video (Research, Plan, Implement, Evaluate). Think in categories of earned, owned, and paid media. Include the creative lead of the video team at strategy table early to help consider how to integrate video across your campaign’s tactics, platforms, and audiences.

Save money through economies of scale by planning and producing videos with overlapping content, shared assets, resources, and for multiple uses at the same time. Save time and money by re-purposing and re-versioning content across channels. Grow a video asset library.

Learn More

For the entire list, feel free to email me and I’ll send it to you, pete [at] petecouste.com

It was both a humbling and inspiring experience to try to give back a little of what I’ve learned that works best. I recommend it to all of you. Once you have logged enough time and feel you have something valuable that others want to hear, it helps to share it.

As an active member of PRSA, I felt as I spoke that I was in part representing fellow NCC members. It helped to see many familiar faces from our chapter in the audience as I spoke.  Thank you. You know who you are.

Easy as Pi: How Comms Pros Can use Numbers to Shape Social Strategy

By Kevin Coroneos, Digital Director, Aerospace Industries Association

When it comes to communication professionals, there’s one thing that usually unites us: a hatred of math.

But for a digital strategist, numbers – specifically social media metrics – should be your best friend, especially if you have a wide-ranging audience.

With the growing divide between generations on social media platforms, relying on audience and post analytics can help shape a cross-generational digital strategy that can grow your engagement and your community.

In running communications for the world’s largest student rocket contest, I get to speak directly to some of the brightest young minds in the country. But these students aren’t launching rockets on their own. They have teachers and a network of mentors and aerospace professionals guiding them along the way!

With this full network of participants and supervisors comes a generation gap. We have adults who want the facts, and students who worship Fortnite and think storming Area 51 is hilarious.

Luckily, that’s where the numbers come in.

Audience analytics on each platform are wonderful for figuring out who you’re actually talking to. There are, of course, several fancier tools to analyze your audience, but if you’re a smaller organization with limited budget, you can get pretty scrappy with the back-end analytics.

At our organization, by looking at the ages, genders and locations of our audiences, and matching them up with the locations of our participating teams, we were able to gain a very strong idea of the individuals on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

To confirm our beliefs, we also analyzed key metrics, including total engagement and engagement rates (the number of engagements divided by the number of impressions). With that information, we were able to build audience profiles to match to each platform.

On Instagram, we found that our audience was current participants – both their personal and team accounts – and young alumni.

On Twitter, we found our most diverse audience: a mix of media, politicians, teams, sponsoring companies, teachers and more.

And on Facebook, we lacked our current participants, but we had the adults and family members involved in the program – an important outlet for communicating with the students.

So basically, we’re talking to a lot of different people in a lot of different places – and our digital strategy must reflect that.

For example, our data showed that content around participants in action had a much higher engagement rate on Instagram than other platforms. We knew that in order to engage students, we needed to give them the content that they cared about. But with a nationwide contest, we can’t get in every classroom.

But we can put the content in the hands of the students so they’re communicating to one another. Using these analytics and information, we did two things.

First, we ran weekly photo contests as a way to get our audience to post on their own accounts more often, as well as provide us with more content.

Second, we began executing Instagram takeovers – letting our audience decide their own content. Not only did we see increased engagement across Instagram, but also we grew our audience because the students wanted to show off to their friends.

By looking at the top-performing content on the platform, we were able to build a strategy to give our audience the content they wanted, increasing our engagement and our audience over time.

But that’s not all we were able to gain from our analytics.

By exploring the metrics and audience breakdowns, we also determined HOW to talk to each unique group. You wouldn’t necessarily talk to a 15-year-old the same way you’d talk to a 50-year-old, so why would you do the same on social media?

On Facebook, we saw our posts were highly engaged with when our tone was more informative, resourceful or supportive. When it featured a more playful voice, we saw much less engagement. This helped us develop the appropriate voice to effectively communicate with our audience and provide them with information, as well as develop a legitimate, supportive community in which there was information sharing and well wishes.

Since our audience features older mentors and teachers, we also learned that posts that featured a call-to-action directed at “your students” or “your rocketeers” outperformed general calls to action.

But on Instagram, if we were a bit sarcastic or humorous – we saw more likes, more comments and more direct messages. This, of course, makes the role more fun, but requires me to try to be hip and stay up-to-date on the meme culture…

By developing an audience-centric strategy and building our voice and tone based on data analytics, we saw our engagement on each platform grow organically. We also built an overall stronger community because of it. All it took was for communicators to finally accept math as a part of life.

Kevin Coroneos is the Digital Director for the Aerospace Industries Association and Communications Director for The American Rocketry Challenge.