Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 2

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

In last week’s blog post, I shared with you two key parts of building your company’s message document, and this week, I’ll highlight the remaining two—must-say messages and “factsheets.”

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

3) A Dozen “Must-Say” Messages

Using your company ID (the “boilerplate graph at the bottom of your press releases, among other things) as a starting point, your next step is to build a clear, concise set of short messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most. Your first message point might be “XYZCo. is the leading maker of software that enables law enforcement officials to…..”

By answering questions similar to those below, you can build the dozen or so messages that make the case for paying attention to—and doing business with—your company.

  • What are we? What category defines us? Then, what do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them? You’ll end up with something like “XYZCo. is a leading Internet-related, financial services company that enables ordinary people to pay their monthly bills using other people’s money (VCs, take note).
  • Why do other companies do business with us? Because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? Our “first-mover” status? Create a “bandwagon” approach that gives your company cachet through “gilt” by association with other well-known companies. If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with the US Navy, American Airlines or Wal-Mart, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
  • What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a pitch for business, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Be sure to include a few easily digestible stats like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
  • Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.

4) Overall Messages

This is the rest of the information about your organization, the stuff you’ll want to put into a factsheet so everyone on your team will have accurate information. Examples include product lines, past revenue figures, company locations and notable successes.

So that’s it—those are the four key points to your company message document. Get one step closer to having your team “on message” by starting to put these items together for your business.

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Get Your Whole Team “On Message” Now: Part 1

Spark Public Relations Cover

This article is excerpted from the book: “Spark: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business” by PRSA-NCC member Robert Deigh

Remember the “telephone” game we used to play as kids? You’d whisper into the ear of your friend something like: “Alf doesn’t know where Kate went” and, after making its way from person to person, the phrase would come out of the last kid’s mouth as “Kate would make a great president.”

The same thing happens in business. That’s because many companies—even large, well-established ones—often don’t make time to define their company and its benefits in writing so they can be understood, and then create a good, solid set of messages. Instead, information gets passed around, email by email, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services. The sales people are telling potential customers one thing, the marketers are saying another and the CEO, something else entirely.

The Power of a Unified Message

Customers won’t buy if they don’t understand exactly what it is they are being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can’t figure you out, they’re not going to pay attention. Both the definition and the messages can be used by every member of your staff – and others outside of your company who champion your cause, service or product – as a roadmap for effective communication. A group of people, all using the same key talking points consistently is a very powerful communication and public relations tool!

My company, RDC Public Relations, LLC, has worked with dozens of organizations to create effective key messages.

A good message document has four parts:

  1. The company ID
  2. The elevator speech
  3. 4-5 key must-say messages that need to get into all your communications, from press interviews to presentations.
  4. Overall messages: the “factsheet” stuff that everyone on the team needs to know.

In this week’s blog, we’ll explore the first two parts of a good message document, and next week, we’ll take a look at the last two pieces.

1) The Company ID

With a bit more detail, the elevator speech (#2) can be expanded into the company ID (No. 1).  The company ID is most often called the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases. It need not be difficult to create a good, solid definition. Start by looking at what your competitors say about themselves. Yours needs to be more compelling than theirs, of course. So, look at all your communication—marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, the web site and the slogans on those little frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can’t find at least three markedly different ways in which your company has been defined, you’re not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they are engraved on the building.

2) The Elevator Speech

Creating a killer elevator speech is critical. It’s the 15-second answer to the question, “So what does your company do?” What they are really asking is “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to interest a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee.

Look at it from your customers’ perspective. If you are a gadget maker, it’s not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it makes life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you “make software” — thousands of companies do. But if you make software that “helps law enforcement officers around the world share evidence and close otherwise unsolvable cases,” that’s compelling. Compare that to “we’re a software company that makes products for law enforcement.” Once you draft your elevator speech, try it out on everyone, particularly employees and customers. They’ll tell you quickly if you’re off base. Then, when you have the right one, go back and incorporate it into all your communication.

That’s a quick look at your company ID and elevator speech and how they’re critical to your messaging. Next week, we’ll explore the must-say messages and “factsheet” for your company.

Media Layoffs and the Future of Public Relations

medialayoffs

Guest Post by Sangeetha Sarma, Account Supervisor at Vanguard Communications in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,000 journalists lost their jobs recently as Verizon Media, BuzzFeed and Gannett announced deep cuts to their newsrooms. HuffPost’s entire Opinion section. Cut. The national desk at BuzzFeed. Cut. Dozens of local journalists at Gannett newspapers across the country. Gone.

It’s a blow to journalism and a shame for the reporters who lost their jobs. While this round of layoffs is the latest in a trend of newsrooms scaling back and realigning their structures to stay in business, it likely won’t be the last.

The effects of these layoffs and this evolving media landscape have an undeniable impact on public relations. And as newsrooms adapt to stay in the game, communications professionals, especially those in media relations, should do the same.

Here are a few tips to navigate these inevitable changes and set yourself and your clients up for long-term success:

Emphasize quality over quantity.

It’s not how many reporters you can send a release to — it’s who you know. (By the way, if you’re still sending a bunch of press releases, stop!) Identify a few outlets that reach your primary audience and focus on developing relationships with reporters covering your issue at those outlets. Three reporters who consistently answer your emails and calls are far more useful than 300 reporters who never respond to your releases.

Foster new relationships.

Now is the time to develop relationships with new reporters who may start pulling double duty to cover a wider range of beats. It’s also the time to consider media outlets and types of media (such as podcasts and smaller trades) you haven’t previously pitched.

Step up your Twitter tracking.

If you have existing relationships with reporters who got laid off or who were key players covering your issue, track them on Twitter. They may get hired at another outlet, and just like that, you have a contact at a new media outlet that you may not have had before.

Expand your communications strategy.

While media relations will always be an important part of PR, it cannot and should not be your only method of communication. Start expanding your communications strategy to include different digital platforms, partnership development and potentially conference attendance. A good communications plan should include multiple channels for conveying your message to your audiences.

Set realistic expectations of success.

Everyone wants a story in The New York Times or one that gets picked up by every major outlet. But, now more than ever, it’s important to manage expectations and set realistic measurable objectives. For example: Aim for developing at least two strong relationships with reporters in outlets that reach your audience, step up your trade media relationships, and track the quality of your hits instead of quantity.

Finally, if you know a reporter who has lost their job, reach out to them. Ask how they’re doing and how you can help.

Public relations can’t survive without media. And the best journalists know that publicists with integrity add tremendous value to their stories. Applying these strategies will enable you to continue to thrive in your career and bring value to your organization or client, even in the face of an uncertain media landscape.

 

 

 

How Businesses Can Balance Strategy and Authenticity When Speaking on Social Movements

Post by Toby Cox, Clutch

Businesses and the public relations industry have a tenuous relationship with authenticity, especially when it comes to corporate social responsibility and speaking up about social movements.

The question of authenticity sometimes arises when a company announces its support for a social issue or cause.

Although most people (71%) think that companies should take a stance on social movements, they unsure whether businesses are genuine and whether it even matters as long as it raises awareness for an important issue or cause.

Most people think businesses support social movements for self-serving reasons, like to earn more money (29%), attract specific customers (20%), and earn media coverage (19%).

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Twenty-eight percent of people (28%) think businesses support social movements because they care about the issues the movement addresses.

Of course, these reasons aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible for a business to both care about an issue and recognize that speaking up about it will earn them more money, customers, and media coverage.

PR experts actually recommend businesses approach speaking up on social movements in ways that make sense for their brand.

“There’s nothing wrong with social responsibility being a strategic decision, but it should also be one that you strongly believe in and are willing to stand up for,” said Josh Weiss, CEO of 10 to 1 Public Relations.

Businesses that balance strategy and authenticity when they choose to speak up on social movements and issues do what’s best for their brand, employees, customers, and the movement itself.

Identify Which Issues Align with Your Brand Purpose

Businesses that have a strong understanding of their brand purpose will have an easier time identifying which issues are relevant to their brand and which they can stay silent on.

“Your corporate purpose is your North Star in determining whether to respond to certain movements,” said Steve Cody, CEO of Peppercomm digital communications firm.

Patagonia, for example, have always aligned its brand purpose around the environment and environmental issues.

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Source

In 2018, Patagonia announced that it will donate the money saved from the tax break to environmental organizations. Its customers supported this bold, political statement because they have come to expect Patagonia to stance unwavering on issues regarding the environment.

“I’m not in the business to make clothes,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, in an interview. “I’m not in the business to make more money for myself… Patagonia exists to put into action the recommendations I read about in books to avoid environmental collapse. That’s the reason I’m in business — to try to clean up our own act, and try to influence other companies to do the right thing, and try to influence our customers to do the right thing.”

Patagonia identifies issues surrounding the environment and conservation as a central component of its brand purpose and has never wavered from that stance.

Consider Your Stakeholders

Businesses typically have a lot of stakeholders to consider, such as funders, employees, and customers.

Every business’s first goal is to make enough money and grow. Taking a stance on a social movement can either help businesses elevate their brand and increase revenue or negatively impact their brand.

This is why it is important for businesses to consider not only their brand purpose, but how their stakeholders will react to them speaking out on a social movement.

Nike, for example, considered its brand purpose before launching its 2018 “Dream Crazy” ad that featured former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick as its narrator.

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The ad featured 16 athletes that have overcome challenges and that challenge people’s stereotypes of what an elite athlete looks like.

When the ad was first launched, it received harsh criticisms and people showed their dissent by burning Nike shoes.

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However, shortly after the ad’s release, Nike’s sales went up, reflecting that most of their customers supported the message of the ad.

Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick as the ad’s narrator was a strategic one.

“They made their decision with intent,” said Jen Fry, a social justice educator. “It was very data-driven, knowing who their clientele is and what they’ll accept.”

Think About How Your Stance Can Both Elevate Your Brand and Contribute to the Movement

Authenticity and strategy complement each other when it comes to businesses deciding whether to take a stance on a social issue.

By identifying the issues that are a natural fit for their brand and by considering their stakeholders, businesses can do what’s best for both their brand and the movement they address.

About the Author

Toby Cox is a content writer and marketer at Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm, where she covers public relations firms and industry news.

Communications Lessons From the Government Shutdown

By Lawrence J. Parnell, Associate Professor, Strategic PR, The George Washington University

With the government shutdown now exceeding 30 days, it’s worth asking: – Are there any lessons we, as communications professionals, can learn from this ordeal?

Given the current state – no end in sight and no talks scheduled  – the simple answer is NO. Neither side has distinguished itself in either its communications strategy or public behavior.

However, maybe there are lessons we can learn? At the very least: How not to communicate during a labor dispute or a government shutdown.

A few examples:

  • Don’t let emotions – or scorekeeping – drive communications strategy or tactics
  • Don’t negotiate in the public media (or on line either)
  • Exercise restraint in your comments (limit the posturing and “gotcha” quotes)
  • Limit the use of surrogates and control their messages
  • Remember the stakeholders (e.g. employees, citizens) are more important than you
  • Ultimately no one “wins” or “loses.” Let that go. A settlement is, by definition, a compromise.

While I do not have “the solution” to end this drama – maybe we could get back to actually negotiating? That would be a good start.

The silver lining – if there is one – is learning how essential government services are in our everyday lives and gaining an appreciation for the workers who provide them to all of us.

No one wins when everyone is focused on “winning” the battle – and ok with losing the war.

Don’t forget the old adage: “Never get in a pissing contest with a skunk – you’ll both end up a smelly mess.”

Here’s hoping for a reasonable settlement – for all of our sakes – soon.

Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media

By Aaron Ellis, Professional Development Committee member

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If you attended the National Capital Chapter’s “Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media” professional development event Dec. 6 at Hager Sharp in downtown Washington, you probably walked away feeling you invested your time wisely.

For most, it was their first interaction with crisis management expert and instructor Brian Ellis. A former broadcast journalist who is now executive vice president for Minneapolis-headquartered Padilla public relations and who also teaches crisis management at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellis’ riveting, rapid-fire lessons about responding to various crises reminded participants that advance preparation is the key to success.  

In today’s age of 24/7 news cycles, where media must constantly produce content and anybody with a smart phone (“citizen journalists”) can record an event and post it online within minutes, the timeline as to who controls the narrative of a story has collapsed to mere minutes. That means professional communicators and the organizations they represent must anticipate questions in advance to tell their side any story, or risk losing the advantage.

With the steep decline in professional journalists over the past two decades, public relations practitioners now outnumber reporters five-to-one. That leaves citizen journalists to fill in the gap.  Ellis said a typical citizen journalist’s response to getting a news event onto social media is two to three minutes after it begins. He said the first hour of a news event is the only window available for public relations professionals to shape the story. After that, it’s mostly damage control and trying to correct errors and misperceptions.

According to Ellis, there are three steps for effectively communicating during a crisis:

  1. Identify what audiences want and need to know by writing out in advance the questions they are most likely to ask.
  2. Based on the anticipated questions, develop three key messages and short, memorable quotes to go with them.
  3. Practice your messages and quote(s) out loud, honing your transitions until they’re seamless.

Ellis said the key messages should focus on: a) showing compassion for those impacted; b) providing information about your organization’s crisis response plan, and c) explaining your organization’s crisis investigation and how to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

In Padilla’s online Crisis IQ test, a recent sampling showed that only 21 percent of participants felt “well prepared” to communicate effectively in a crisis, while 63 percent said they didn’t have a solid plan. Seventy-one percent felt they didn’t practice their crisis plan often enough and 86 percent said they weren’t prepared to manage the social media onslaught of a crisis that affected their organization and its brand.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Ellis noted that the “media beast” must constantly be fed. To that end, he highly recommends creating a dark website that can be quickly engaged in a crisis, then reviewing and updating its content regularly. He also reminded workshop participants that an organization’s internal audiences can be either their greatest allies or worst enemies in a crisis, depending on how they are treated and kept informed.

“In a crisis, the best strategy is to always play offense and be out there telling a positive story,” he said. “By pointing your audience to what they perceive to be inside information, they’ll pay more attention to your side of the story.”

Walking the Tightrope-Advice for DMV Advocacy and PR pros after the 2018 Midterms

By Lawrence J. Parnell, Associate Professor, George Washington University

Walkin’ the tightrope between wrong and right
Walkin’ the tightrope both day and night

Lyrics: Stevie Ray Vaughn – Tightrope

Now that we are past the 2018 Mid Terms it’s time to consider the way forward for area communications professionals.

First, where are we? In Congress, the results were mixed – the House went one way, the Senate the other. Women and veterans won elections, and some are ascending to important positions in the political and government arenas. Several key states have changed Governors. State and local governments are in flux as well.

Let’s begin with the realization that this is how it will be for up to two years. Two entrenched camps in Congress seeking an advantage over the other, while the White House bobs and weaves like a fighter trying to avoid the knockout punch. “Crazy Town”, indeed.

So, how do we defend/enhance corporate reputations; advance causes or represent clients?

The short answer is we must be constantly alert and aware of public opinion about our issue, cause or client – not to mention the latest Tweet from you know who. We need to be responsive and effective without losing our balance or our voice. And, we must be ethical throughout – even if others are not – or we risk damaging our own reputations.

How do we do all that?

In a recent outlook piece in Holmes Report, Bill Dalbec of APCO’s DC office suggests:

“The idea that you can do your stakeholder mapping, and know where everyone is going to be, is out the window. (The current climate) is really forcing companies and trade associations and others to be more agile and adapt on the fly, try new things and constantly be reinventing themselves.”

SKDKnickerbocker managing partner Hilary Rosen, quoted here as well agrees: “Since the issues have become more divisive, (organizations) need to work harder to get their point across,” she said. “The stakes have gotten higher from both sides.”

Truly, companies and organizations are being challenged like never before. Our students tell us they came to GWU to learn how to leverage social media, understand global trends and interpret public policy to be more effective.

We think they are on the right track. We add a basic understanding of finance and business – which is required if you are trying to navigate the intersection of Main Street, Wall Street, Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Ave.

Clearly, the next few years won’t be boring. If we are successful, and avoid falling, we can bring value to our clients, companies, candidates or causes. Good luck – and be careful!