Words PR people should never say

Those of us in the marketing/public relations business are well aware that the foundation of communication is good writing. If you can’t write, then don’t think of a career in PR.

That being said, there are a number of overused words, phrases and grammatical symbols that we need to retire. They don’t have to be put away permanently, just used when necessary.

And I just used one.

“That being said…” is so overused and meaningless that, well, we need to stop. We say it after we make a statement that is to be followed by another statement that contradicts it. If we make a statement, why do we need to state that we made a statement?

Here are some other words that need to go:

“Space.” “Our firm works in the digital space.” Hua? In other words, your company is an expert in online work. When did “space” define work?

“Transparency.” This word is used only about a billion times a day, most often by news personnel and politicians. Everybody wants “transparency” which simply means full disclosure. Issues can’t be transparent. Glass can.

“Could care less.” This is a simple grammatical mistake. When people say they “could care less” they are saying they do care. They mean they don’t care and in that case, it should be “couldn’t care less.”

“Best.” How many emails do you get that end with the word “best.” What the writer means is “all the best” which has been shortened to best. Either way it is meaningless. If you’re writing to someone who is not an enemy, what else would you say, “worst?”

“In all honesty.” Again, an email useless term to begin a thought. When you want to make a statement that you feel is serious, some lead with “in all honesty” which is meant to warn the reader that the writer is about to contradict them or offer a different opinion. “I want to say this to you, but in all honesty, I need to say that.” A waste of time writing and reading those words.

I could go on and on and will in future posts. If we took all our emails and removed the unnecessary words and phrases, we’d all have a lot more time on our hands.


Loughlin and Litigation PR

Word is spreading that Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying bribes to get their daughter into USC, now are shopping for a crisis litigation PR expert to resurrect her image.

We are not among the firms contacted, and Loughlin’s publicist denies the report.  However, two crisis PR firms, who chose to remain anonymous, told CNN they were called to discuss public relations strategies because Loughlin is quite upset that all the news about her is about the scandal and not her career.

Whether this is real or fake news, both firms said they turned down working for Loughlin.  And for good reason.  When someone is faced with criminal charged – charges that could result in jail time – a career should take second place to beating the case.  It won’t do much good to have a great image while in prison.

The example that is commonly cited for a celebrity image resurrection is Martha Stewart.  Stewart was convicted of a stock fraud scheme and served time in prison.  She did her time, her company continued without her, and when she was released she picked up where she left off.  Today, few remember or care that she is a convicted felon.

Since Loughlin pleaded not guilty, rather than guilty as the others did, the government added charges of money laundering and hence potentially more time in prison if convicted.  This could be legal maneuvering or maybe denial, but in any event, it doesn’t look good for Loughlin and Giannulli.

So let’s take a look into the future.  Suppose she does prison time (unlikely as it is) and after a year or so gets released.  Can she pick up the pieces of her acting career?  Already since the indictment she has lost her Hallmark contract and other acting jobs.  She is essentially “Hollywood toxic” as of now.  Her daughter, Olivia Jade lost most if not all of her sponsors for her YouTube channel.  But she is young and Loughlin claims she didn’t know of the scam.  Time will tell.

If Loughlin goes to prison, her first task will be to write a book.  It will be a tell all book about “doing the right thing” and how to succeed after a major setback.  This, if she admits wrongdoing, and that’s a big question.  Then, the release of her book will be timed with her release from prison so she can make the talk circuit rounds.  She’ll do The View, Colbert, 60 Minutes.  The usual round.  She will talk about what she has learned and how it made her a stronger person.

For those of us in the crisis PR business, there is a template for re-creating an image.  There are limits, such as heinous crimes that can’t be forgiven, but most celebrities are the white collar sort of criminals.  People forgive and forget, especially if they were not hurt personally.

There is no doubt Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman will land on their feet, sooner or later.  Fortunately for them they have the financial means to stick it out, buy the best lawyers and pay the bills.  The lasting mark will be on the internet, on their Wikipedia pages that will note their transgressions but it is more likely than not that if they do time, they will resume their lives with the help of professional crisis PR experts.

Key to PR is media attention. But how to get it?

Everybody wants PR. Publicity and marketing for nonprofits can make a huge difference in fundraising and growth. And when in litigation, PR can help win or lose a case.

But today’s media world is dominated by politics. The left vs the right. Investigations and interrogations. It appears the air is being sucked out of storytelling, which makes it more challenging for nonprofit organizations to convey their message to target audiences.

And with all the talk of political legalities coming out of Washington and Sacramento, civil litigation cases need to be much more intense, interesting, unusual and important than just a couple of years ago. More important, they need to be positioned as such, which is where professional PR people come in.

Today, communicators need to be smarter than yesterday. Social media is fast overtaking traditional media and always beats them out in speed. Many people get their news from Twitter and by the time the LA Times posts the story, it is already around the globe on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

While all of the above is the reality, it also is the reality that communications today is as, if not more, important than ever. With all the avenues of communication, come opportunities for more outlets. Yes, stories get out quicker and often not by professional journalists. Everybody carries a camera in their pocket and within seconds it is online. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for journalistic professionalism. Yes, a video may be posted, but the explanation or what happened can only come from journalists.

This is all to say that if a nonprofit or corporation wants its share of publicity, it has to be smart, fast and nimble. It work with professionals who spend all day focused on the media so when opportunities arise, they can jump in. This is especially true when a crisis occurs. In crisis communications the biggest challenge is time. You need to get your message out immediately because the media demand so. Giving it thought and strategizing is important, but then action must be taken.

These challenges will only exacerbate. The world will function faster not slower. As information travels at the speed of light, so much communicators.

And that’s what we do.

Who won the Amazon/NY PR war?

For about two years, Amazon, the company all of us wished we had thought of and started, went on a massive nation-wide search for a second headquarters. Some said it was genuine while others called it a publicity and PR stunt. In either event, they eventually settled on Long Island, NY for their planned expansion that included 25,000 jobs and generous tax revenue — eventually.

About 360 cities competed for the venture, wanting the political credit for bringing their communities jobs and a partnership with the fourth largest company, and fastest-growing company in America if not the world. NY Gov. Cuomo and NY City Mayor De Blasio worked hard to make the deal happen and celebrating when it did.

Until it didn’t.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Amazon pulled the plug. Why? According to their own statements, the push back from local politicians and community activists foresaw a rocky road ahead. Who needs constant problems and roadblocks when you’re just trying to get packages shipped? So local NY politicians, who sing the praises of socialism, won and Amazon basically said, “who needs this.”

Those in NY who worked hard on the deal were not happy, but everybody went into spin mode, blaming Amazon for not being a good partner and unnecessarily killing a deal they worked so hard to make happen. They didn’t mention that the local politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others wouldn’t even meet with them. She Tweeted the richest man in the world should not ask for a hand out from working people. That may be so, but tell that to those who were looking forward to a good job with good benefits and who now are left out in the cold.

Do people love Amazon more than socialism or the other way around? If you want a frying pan sent to your house by tomorrow, try calling someone in Venezuela.

Like most controversies, there are two sides to the story. But one thing is for certain. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, knows how to run and build a company. Not sure the same can be said for most Washington politicians.

Amazon has a large presence in NY already and an even larger one in Virginia, not to mention probably every state in the country. It is hard to tell who the winner is and who the loser is in this PR battle.

I don’t think it is New Yorkers who were looking forward to a better career.

The Marketing and PR Plan for Nonprofits

When we launch a marketing and PR campaign for a nonprofit, clients often ask us, “where do we start?” Unless the client is brand new, they already have done marketing. They usually have social media, issued some news releases, maybe put on a special event or two. and more. Usually with minimal success.

What we virtually always recommend is basic. Create a marketing and PR plan. Anybody in business finds this obvious. How can you build a building without blueprints? How can you get from point A to point B without a map or GPS?

So the first thing we do is the plan. And the plan starts with us getting to know the client. If we are to be an nonprofit’s PR strategist, we need to know everything about them. We need to know their strengths and weaknesses. What they have done and what they plan to do.

After we become oriented, we conduct interviews with key personnel to get internal perspectives on their vision for the organization. One would be surprised to learn how people who work at the same entity can have different views of how they are perceived by customers and those they serve.

We put all our research together, give it some thought, conduct additional outside research and create a plan. Often this plan contains an Action Item list of activities and in many instances it also included a crisis communication plan.

Why don’t organizations, nonprofits, create their own plan? Many do. But it often takes an outsider, someone with fresh eyes, to come in and see what they take for granted or assume everybody already knows.

If your nonprofit organization doesn’t have a current marketing and PR plan, or if your plan needs updating, consider creating one or at least a fresh approach. The world changes rapidly, donors come and go, opportunities arise unannounced. Remember, if you are not keeping ahead, or at least keeping up, you are falling behind.

Marketing yourself by being yourself

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to market herself for the 2020 presidential race has started with an Instagram Live session.  In it, Warren first pops open a been, hugs her husband and talks to people while casually leaning over her kitchen counter.

She no doubt is channeling some of the younger members of Congress who were raised on social media and use it naturally.  But Warren is of a different generation and trying to act natural in a medium they really don’t understand only leads to disaster – and lots of social media ridicule.

That’s what happened with Warren’s attempt to look “cool.”  Instead of appearing relatable to the average person by drinking beer instead of champagne, she looked like she didn’t know who she was, who she wanted to appeal to, and very awkward.

The first rule of marketing and PR positioning is to know your product.  It can be a car, soap, cereal or a person.  You’re not going to sell a Chevy by pretending that it’s a Bentley.  And a 69 year old politician is not going to fool anybody by doing Instagram Live, even if she learns what iPhone buttons to push.

Sen. Warren wants to be Native-American.  Now she wants to be young and hip.  She obviously is successful having been elected to the U.S. Senate, but she is not a 20-something millennial and nobody is buying it.

Whatever messaging she did to get elected is what will carry her further, if that is her destiny.  Trying to redefine a personality is a tough task, especially in the eyes of your marketing audience.

And that’s all that matters.



Marketing nonprofits in the age of the soundbite

One of the most frustrating aspects of marketing is not getting the space or time needed to fully tell your story.  Not all products, services or organizations can be explained in six words.  Yet, today’s media demand that you find a way to do that.

It is called the soundbite, but we are all familiar with it.  The media move at lightening speed.  Guests on TV are given only seconds to explain their organization before the host shoots a follow up question.  The thinking is audiences today have the attention span of a two year old.  And they probably do.  With switcher in hand, TV watchers are all to eager to hit the button and turn to a another show if they find themselves just slightly bored.

There is nothing PR and marketing people can do about this.  It is the way of the world.   All we can do is deal with it and prepare our clients.

That’s why when we prep clients for TV appearances, we teach them to talk in soundbites.  They need to get the essence of their messages across immediately. If they don’t, their comments will either be chopped up or deleted entirely.  Host and reporters have it easy.   They have pre-prepared questions they fire off in one liners.  Those on the receiving end are not so lucky.  They need to be prepared for any question, and be prepared to shoot back an answers as short and meaningful as possible.

Some call it the “elevator speech.”  But we are not talking about a speech here to explain your organization to a group.  It is much different being in front of a camera, lights shining in your eyes, microphone in your face.  The nerves can set in.  Words don’t always come out as you intended.  And if it is live TV there are no second chances.  Making a difficult situation worse, it lives on via YouTube.

The only way to handle these situations is simple: practice, practice and more practice.  If you believe in what you are saying — and that is step one, then practice saying it in succinct language.  Practice answering different questions, and the same question asked differently.  The more you practice, like playing an instrument, the more proficient you will become at conveying your organization’s marketing and PR message.

Difference between marketing and public relations (PR)

A number of years I was in a meeting and the client said, “what we need is more PR.”  Well, I said, that’s what we do.  He then went on to talk about how a billboard at a certain intersection would be great.

“But I thought you said PR,” I said. “Yea, he responded. PR.  Getting the word out.”

Our firm does billboards, advertising, social media, direct mail and PR.  But to us, PR means public relations and to most PR firms PR means publicity — getting articles in newspapers, on the internet and on TV.  That’s the typical way PR is thought of.  But to him PR meant anything to get exposure, even if they paid for it.

Words matter, as they say, and they certainly matter in the business world.  That’s why it is so important to be clear what you are asking for.  Everybody wants positive publicity, but as the world changes, that is harder to come by.  So we look to other means like paid marketing.

Paid marketing could be display ads in media, internet marketing, and yes, billboards.

So ever since that meeting long ago, we make sure that we and our clients are on the same page when we talk about their needs.  We can — and do — handle it all, but we don’t want to try to pitch stories when the client really wants a street banner.

Marketing and PR is all about communication.  And clear communication starts in a strategy meeting with the client.

Marketing 101 — working with vendors

If you’re in the marketing/PR business, or want to be, you will work with a number of vendors.  No way go get around it.  You will need graphic designers, printers, web programmers, photographers, event planners and more.  So how do you find the right vendors who give you what you need when you need it for a price you want to pay?

Oddly, finding a good vendor is a lot like finding a good doctor, CPA or plumber.  You ask your friends who they use.  Sometimes referrals work out, sometimes they don’t.  It can be a bit awkward if a close associate recommends a certain person or company they love, and it turns out that you don’t.  But you need to make your clients or boss happy.

First bit of advice I would give is to decide whether you want a large, medium or small company.  Or a company at all.  In today’s wired world, an abundance of talent can be found in people who work in their pajamas in their bedrooms.  They usually have solid professional experience, but want to be independent.  If someone is a sole practioneer, don’t discount them.  They could not only be brilliant, but they might provide you with better service and pricing than a large firm.

Second, make sure you have similar work styles.  If you prefer working informally, meaning you can call the vendor at odd hours and weekends, then you need to find someone who shares that style.  The larger the firm, the more formal they are, usually.  They tend to keep normal hours and if you exceed their normal time structure, you might get charged.

Third, and this is obvious, hire people you can afford.

Fourth, and this is personal preference, if you find someone good, stick with them.  The more you work with one person/company, the better they will come to know what you need and want.  People reward loyalty, so if you keep the same people, when crunch time comes on a project they will be there for you.

Putting together a reliable, talented team can make all the difference in the world for your marketing campaigns.  Take your time finding the right people, then stick with them.


Why nonprofits find PR so difficult

While all nonprofits are different, they all share common attributes and challenges.  Most of those challenges are in marketing, PR and having their voices heard.

Every nonprofit wants the world to know about the great work they are doing.  And most deserve to be heard.  They want people to know how they are making the world a better place.  Some of this desire is self-interest.  They want to attract funding, volunteers and Board members.  Some is truly altruistic.  Wanting the world to know how their services can help.

So why is it so difficult for the average nonprofit to stand out?

First, there are so many nonprofits.  Tens of thousands in the country, and thousands in each major city.  Competition.

Second, there is overlap.  Too many nonprofits do the same thing.  They have the same mission.  So when the media cover one organization, they won’t cover a similar one that isn’t that much different.

Third, many nonprofits simply don’t understand the media and how to structure a story pitch.  They do social media, but social media only hits their circle.  The media want certain stories, presented to them in a certain way.  This is a PR skill that most nonprofits don’t have.

Fourth, there are many avenues to tell your story.  TV, newspapers, internet and social media aren’t the only avenues to attract attention.  What are others?  That’s where experienced PR and marketing counselors come in.

Last, nonprofits are great at doing their work, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily at telling their stories.  Most of our clients lack basic understand, skills and contacts to convey their message.  Not their fault.  PR and marketing is a skill that takes training, practice and understanding.

The larger nonprofits can afford to hire PR and marketing consulting firms.  Smaller nonprofits often can’t.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t work with a firm.  Some PR and marketing firms will take on small projects for reasonable fees.  Having a PR firm doesn’t mean all or nothing.

The moral of the story is PR and marketing is a skill like running a nonprofit is a skill.  Everybody can’t do everything.  Let the PR experts do the marketing while the nonprofits change the world.