Moving Communications from Tactical to Strategic Implementation

Inspiration for this post came from sports radio of all places.  Washington Nationals superstar, Bryce Harper, is in a contract year which creates a general sense of “outcome anxiety” that can become a major distraction for the player and organization.

I couldn’t believe my ears when the host suggested that the front office needs to have their PR team close at hand to prepare them for what the team, the manager and Harper himself are likely to face in terms of media scrutiny on the contract issue at every stop as the season unfolds.

10888776353_9c71574e19_z-620x248It struck me that this was both an excellent idea so that they can proactively prepare messaging adequately, and it is also a unique concept to elevate a PR team to a more strategic function within a baseball team.

Communications teams in organizations of all sizes are often brought in after a leadership decision (often semi-informed or outright flawed) to either promote a campaign, to clean up a bungled initiative or forced into an uncomfortable position to reactively handle a crisis response.

So many of these botched efforts (think the recent Dodge Super Bowl ad that used a sermon from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the various customer service fiascos perpetrated by airlines to very questionable celebrity endorsements) could have been triaged more appropriately, or avoided all together, if only communications professionals were at the table from the outset.

When everyday people are bemoaning how badly even a global brand handled a highly publicized issue, it’s high time to flip the script and work to showcase the bottom-line value of having communicators be an integral part of an organization’s strategic planning.

Here’s how:

  • Package your successes for leadership and don’t just share high-profile media coverage or a well-executed campaign – give the backstory on the strategic approach and any obstacles overcome that led to positive results. This will build your own credibility and value proposition to big-picture organizational thinking.
  • Ingratiate yourself into various business units to get a better sense of good story telling opportunities. This can help you stay in front of major organizational decisions that you can offer communications advice on.
  • Ask pointed questions that make leadership or decision makers think beyond their own narrow focus. This way you can advise on both how to best promote an idea, but (more importantly) you can share some worst-case scenarios that might ruin an initiative unless a few items are fine-tuned.
  • Create a brief PPT of well-known examples of “worst practices” of tone-deaf marketing campaigns or clumsy and debilitating crisis responses. Save to present to leadership soon after a well-publicized blunder happens – and these days, you won’t have to wait long to showcase instances of “we don’t want to be this.”
  • Read the room in meetings and see who might be most inclined to your point-of-view through body language. Be active in these meetings, but also be judicious as to when you speak up. It’s wise to wait until many perspectives have been put forth and you, through the communications lens, can give your perspective to help sway the strategic direction of whatever is being discussed.

The more you can position yourself as an asset to your organization’s everyday function, not merely the one who writes a press release to announce fill-in-the-blank, the more your counsel will be listened to and ultimately sought out.

It’s all about positioning yourself or your team to get crucial buy-in from leadership that communications needs to be an integral part of the overall planning process.

We will see if this happens with the Nationals this season or if they endure a constant drumbeat like the Redskins forced themselves into with the Kirk Cousins contract situation that has been a communications albatross around their neck for two years!

Internally, you want to function like one of the more famous advertising campaigns of the 1980’s, when EF Hutton talks…people listen.


By: Scott Frank, president of ARGO Communications and former Senior Director, Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects.


Study: The Press Release Is Not Dead

Despite the glut of information available to almost anyone, many journalists still rely on the press release and PR professionals for story leads. One communications pro shares some tips on crafting an effective release and the art of media pitching.

No news is not always good news, especially when you’re trying to generate some much-needed publicity for your association. But getting reporters to cover your event, study, or new CEO may not be easy, especially as newsroom staff and other resources dwindle.

A new survey of journalists by Business Wire sheds some light on how reporters, editors, columnists, and bloggers prefer to be pitched or informed of news in order to effectively cover a story.

For example, the wire service’s “2014 Media Survey” found a heavy reliance on press releases. Almost 90 percent of respondents had referenced a release in the previous week, and 62 percent had used one in the last 24 hours.

When evaluating a press release, the most important information journalists look for is:

  • breaking news (77 percent)
  • supporting facts (70 percent)
  • interesting story angles (66 percent)
  • quotable sources (52 percent)
  • company background (50 percent)
  • trending industry topics (49 percent)
  • supporting multimedia (29 percent).

“The first question you need to ask is why would reporters care about this,” Sheri Singer, president and CEO of Singer Communications, said of writing press releases. “Is it newsworthy?”

While journalists at major consumer publications may not always care about your news, smaller trade publications may pick it up. This is an important consideration when directly pitching media regarding news about your organization, Singer added.

“Should it go to all reporters? Or is it inside news that you’ve got a new CEO, which, unless you’re a big trade association, that’s probably most important to trade press and press in the CEO’s hometown,” she said.

When contacting journalists directly, you may want to forgo a standard press release in favor of an email alert, which is preferred by 69 percent of survey respondents, as opposed to 22 percent who prefer a standard press release.

Given the fact that journalists receive hundreds of emails in any given day, one way to cut through that clutter is to personalize your outreach and include contact information, Singer said.

“Don’t make the reporter work. Don’t make them go back to your website to find out how to get in touch with you,” she said. “You need someone’s name and phone number in the email, and that phone number needs to be a cell number because reporters work 24/7 now. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to be in the office when they call.”

– Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now

4 Things Notre Dame Should Do about Manti Te’o’s Online Hoax

University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o certainly had a horrible end to 2012 and his New Year is shaping up to be no better.

First his online sweetheart Lennay Kekua succumbs to cancer on Sept. 12—the same day his grandmother dies. Then he finds out that neither the disease nor the girl was real and that he’d fallen in love with a figment of his imagination.

This situation wouldn’t have been so bad for Te’o if the story had remained among his immediate circle of friends. They’d tease him into infinity but he’d eventually get over it. Thanks to, the whole world knows Te’o loved empty words and another woman’s stolen photo, and they think he was involved in the lie.

In his interview with Katie Couric, taped Jan. 22, Te’o admitted that someone posing as Kekua called him on Dec. 6. Though he knew something wasn’t right, he continued the ruse anyway to save face.  We don’t know for sure if he was in on the hoax the whole time or not (the levels of he-said she-said here are amazing). But if he wasn’t, how does he deal with massive embarrassment while trying to be a normal college student and athlete?

Notre Dame is probably wondering what they should do in this predicament, too. After all, the media refers to this debacle as the “Notre Dame hoax.” Is this a PR nightmare? Maybe not.

As head of Notre Dame’s public information office, here are four things my staff would do to mitigate the situation:

  1. Ask Te’o if he’s okay and offer him our support. The statement the university issued on Jan 16 was fine, but this story is just a student’s personal dilemma. The fact that he spoke publicly about his “girlfriend” while wearing a school football uniform doesn’t make this a university-wide issue. All we have is his word that he was truly a victim. The university’s first responsibility is to the student. We’d meet with Te’o, find out how he’s holding up and support him however we can—especially when dealing with the media. Perhaps we’d help him devise a crisis strategy, choose what media outlets to speak to and provide him with media training. Maybe we’d even suggest he appear on MTV’s Catfish to solve the peculiar mystery. We’d also answer any media inquiries that come into our office—including through social media—supporting Te’o’s official statement.
  2. Provide him counseling resources and have a mental health professional contact the student. Te’o could tell us he’s okay with everything going on, but we never know for sure what’s going on in his mind. We’d give him the names and numbers of a handful of counselors—or a counselor at the university—just in case. We’d also have one of these counselors call him to open the communication line.
  3. Make sure the football coaches offer their support and address the issue to the team. Te’o’s coaches should make sure he knows they have an open door policy and are there if he needs them. The coaches and players should also talk about the situation briefly as a team.
  4. Organize an online dating discussion on campus and tell Te’o beforehand that this is happening. There are probably other students on campus experiencing similar situations. Help a campus organization organize a forum about online dating and invite experts to answer questions and encourage discussion.

Angie Jennings Sanders is chief content architect at aiellejai, a boutique content creation consultancy specializing in marketing communications project management, social media engagement, writing instruction/tutoring and book writing/publishing strategy. aiellejai is a subsidiary of esolutions360, a digital solutions agency that marries the creativity of content creation with the fundamentals of software engineering. Follow her on Twitter at @pronouncedALJ.

Tips to Use PR for Marketing for Your Nonprofit/Association

Public relations can be used effectively to market your association. By way of definition, both PR and marketing are external communications efforts but while PR is the art of managing information between an association and its targeted audiences; marketing focuses on activities tied directly to revenue. Specifically, association marketing refers to increasing membership, producing non-dues revenue, and attracting more participants to your events.

Here are some ways to use PR for marketing. 

Hold a telephone news briefing. With the smaller newsrooms today, reporters are covering more in the same amount of time. Gone are the days when reporters had the luxury of leaving their offices to attend a press conference. That’s why many press conferences are being replaced by telephone news briefings–a press conference held by phone. Telephone news briefings can be held before your annual meeting, when releasing a new report or survey, or in conjunction with your Capitol Hill Day. The benefit is that reporters can call in from anywhere and listen to the briefing and ask questions without leaving their desk. 
Get hometown press. Holding your Capitol Hill Day or announcing your awards recipients are activities that lend themselves to local press for your members. The media outreach for a Capitol Hill Day may be: “Susie Jones was in DC to talk to Sen. Brown about XYZ;” and for awards, “Jim Miller is the recipient of ABC National Award from 123 Association.” This is a very effective way of garnering press and clearly illustrating the value of membership. 
Promote passage/defeat of legislation. When your nonprofit works to pass or defeat a piece of legislation or regulation, make sure you promote your efforts. Let your members know how they can get involved along the way. When the passage or defeat occurs, send out a blast email immediately notifying your members. Consider sending a statement to reporters on your media lists to let them know that your organization had a part in the legislation. 
Draft articles for other related associations. Reach out to another related nonprofit and offer to write an article for one of their publications or their website or blog. You may already have an article or blog that you can dust off and recycle. When the article runs, be sure to let your members know. 
Create a Speakers’ Bureau. A Speakers’ Bureau can provide visibility for your association among its targeted audiences. A simple way to create a Speakers’ Bureau is to tap your current association leaders as experts and ask them for recommendations of good speakers on a variety of key topics. The Bureau members can serve as speakers for your association, presenters at related meetings, and media spokespersons.  
Draft messages/train spokespersons. Use your nonprofit’s mission statement to write key media messages that accurately represent your association. Once the messages have been drafted, identify association spokespersons–board members, association staff, other leaders and train them on how to effectively deliver your messages. This training ensures that all your spokespersons are on message, that your message and brand are consistent and that the spokespersons are representing your nonprofit effectively. 
Determine the digital media appropriate for you. To figure out what digital media tools are appropriate for your nonprofit, conduct a digital media audit. An audit looks at the digital media options available to your association such as a Facebook, your website, blogs, Twitter, etc. After conducting the audit, draft a report to make recommendations on what would work for you given your financial and human resources, and your association’s needs and goals. Use the report findings to author a digital media strategic plan that can be incorporated it into your overall communications strategy. 
Draft op-eds and letters to the editor. When appropriate, your association can respond to news articles by writing and placing op-eds–a 700-word opinion piece that comments on the news of the day; or a letter to the editor–a 200-word letter that comments on a specific article that appeared in a print or online publication. Don’t forget to comment on blogs related to your industry.
Track and monitor your efforts. Since PR is not an exact science and marketing professionals are often asked to track their successes, we recommend using an Excel spreadsheet to track media requests, and Google Alerts (a free media monitoring service through Google) to monitor your association’s mentions in the media. Promote your successes to your members. 

Following these tips will help you use PR tools to market your nonprofit to your target audiences.

Sheri L. Singer, President, Singer Communications
PRSA-NCC Board Liaison to the Nonprofit/Association Committee

I Just Graduated and I Want a Job in Social Media

Steve Radick is one of the leads for Booz Allen Hamilton’s social media practice where he supports clients from across the public sector on how to integrate social media into communications strategies and tactics. He blogs about social media and Government 2.0 at Social Media Strategery, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for the SmartBrief on Social Media and the Program Committee for the Government 2.0 Expo Showcase.

For the last few months, I’ve been talking with a lot of new college grads about their college experiences, jobs, and careers.  When I tell these eager young professionals that I’m a communications consultant who specializes in social media, I usually get one of two questions: 1) What does that mean? or 2) Seriously? How do I get to do that?

To address those of you who would have asked me the first question, I help my government clients develop and implement communications strategies and tactics so that they can better communicate with their employees, other government partners, the general public – essentially with any of their stakeholders. One way in which I do this is through the strategic use of social media tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

However, the second question has been much more popular and has led to the most interesting conversations.  So, for all you new college graduates out there looking to get a public relations or communications position that involves social media, here’s a little primer:

DO include links to your blog, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Twitter profile or any other social media site on your resume. Employers want to see things that you’ve written and how you use these sites.

DON’T forget to make use of the privacy settings on these sites.  Your future employer WILL Google you, not to try to find incriminating pictures, but to get a better idea of how you use social media. Using Facebook to organize your local PRSSA chapter is very different from using Facebook to invite your friends to a kegger. It’s all about balance – most people realize that you have a life outside of work.  That’s ok.  Just make sure that’s not all you’re about.

DO some research on your potential employer and discover what, if any, social media presence they have.  If you’re applying for a government position working with communications or social media, you better be able to tell me that you at least know what GovLoop is.

DON’T try too hard.  I don’t want to do a search on you to discover that you joined Twitter a week ago and you’re following every Booz Allen employee you could find or that you’ve just joined 26 different PR-related groups on LinkedIn in the last few days.  Just be you and be authentic.

DO be ready to walk me through the steps you might take if I told you that I the CEO of a company and I wanted to start a blog.  Hint: if you tell me that you don’t have any experience with doing that, you’re probably not going to be interviewing much longer 🙂

DON’T overvalue your social media skills.  Social media, while hot right now, isn’t always the answer.  Make sure that you have a solid understanding of communication principles because we can teach you how to use Twitter – it’s much more difficult to teach you how to successfully build a communications strategy.

And last, but certainly not least, please DO a Google search for your name.  What shows up?  What doesn’t?  Remember that this is the new first impression.  If you aren’t completely honest about your skills and experiences, it’s really easy to track your digital exhaust and find out the truth. So, what kind of first impression do you want to make?

Image Courtesy of Flickr User of theevilmightyf