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.


Why Nonprofits need a PR plan

All nonprofits are created equal, right?  Not when it comes to marketing and public relations (PR).

Marketing and PR is perhaps the only business function where one size doesn’t fit all.  Accountants do accounting.  Managers manage.  Employees do their jobs.  But when it comes to marketing, it is the ultimate tailored function.  No marketing plan from one nonprofit or for-profit corp. can be automatically transferred to another with ease.  Each must be tailored to the specific organization, their goals and objectives, capacities, audiences, budgets and so forth.

Hence all marketing/PR campaigns must be tailored to the organization.  Having a fresh perspective is often helpful as long as the fresh perspective doesn’t ignore history and challenges the organization faces.  If these are not recognized and understood, then a fresh perspective will result in facing the same challenges.

There are numerous template marketing plans on the web.  A quick Google search and you’ll find hundreds of “fill in the blanks” plans.  It won’t take long to realize they are all pretty much the same.  There are basic marketing tasks, strategies and techniques that need to be done.  But what you won’t find on the web is a plan that speaks to your specific organization’s goals and objectives, audiences you are trying to reach, budget you have available, staffing issues, history and on and on.

I don’t want to make it sound as though creating a marketing PR plan is rocket science.  Much is common sense.  But common sense will not give you the experience of having gone through the process dozens of times, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, the research that has been done in your market segment, goals that are achievable and goals that are out of reach.  All that, and more, comes with experience.

Professional marketing and PR is an investment.  No doubt.  And, if you don’t keep a close eye on what is happening, budgets can get out of hand.  Worse, marketing can go in the wrong direction.

Our guidance for every nonprofit seeking a fresh marketing perspective is to look closely at your past with an open eye on the future.  The beauty of marketing is that it is dynamic.  What works today, may not work next year.  Organizations that do the same marketing tasks year after year will usually find support starting to decline as there are only so many times you can say the same things to the same people.

On the other hand, marketing is fun.  It is creative and can show quick results.

It also is among the best investments a nonprofit or a for-profit organization can make.




The PR of “Walking Back”

When issuing publicity and marketing statements, not that long ago people “corrected” statements.  Today the PR term is “walking back.”

What does “walking back” mean?  It falls in line with the term “narrative” instead of “story.”  Or “optics” instead of “appearances.”

Our lexicon changes and when it does it catches like wildfire.  It is used over and over in the media and then finds its way into interviews, social media and in daily conversations.

This week President Trump did a major “walk back.”  When meeting with Russia’s Vladamir Putin, he said publicity that he doesn’t know why Russia “would” hack the U.S. elections.  When the firestorm hit, about four seconds later, Trump was forced to correct himself and say he misspoke.  He meant to say “wouldn’t” which became the official clarification.

The issue is can someone in the media make a correction and have it believed?  Can the President of the United States in the highest-profile meeting imaginable make a silly mistake?  If so, can we forgive him, or is it more ammunition for his adversaries?

Mistakes do happen, but as we have noted so many times in this blog, when something enters the internet, it is impossible to change it.  When a mistake is made and heard around the world, it is virtually impossible to “walk it back.”

That’s why we see heads of state speak slowly and with deliberation.  They know that every word, every nuance, is recorded and disseminated worldwide.  It is fodder for those who want to pick words apart so it is best that the president think about every word before uttering them.

The same holds true in the business world.  When giving a speech, doing an interview or writing an article, every word counts.  Words can come back to haunt you.  Not everybody has the pressure that a head of state has, but when you are conveying a message about your organization, every word counts.

Make sure your remarks are written down and that you are familiar with your message enough that you can speak naturally and not read off a piece of paper.  People know, even when hearing you on radio, when you are reading and speaking freely.  It is always better to speak freely than read.  But that takes practice and is an art.  It is also much more effective.

There is an old adage that take back spoken words is like replaced feathers in a pillow that are stewed all over the street.  It can’t be done.  Some people are natural speakers, but most are not.  It takes practice and focus.  Conveying your company’s message is the most effective PR vehicle you can convey and the key is preparation.

How LA Times Move Will Impact PR

How will the sale of the LA Times impact local PR and marketing opportunities?

As is well known, last week, the Los Angeles Times announced it has a new owner. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, part LA Lakers owner and pharmaceutical billionaire purchased the paper for a reported $500 million. Along with the purchase, he moved the paper from its historic and iconic building downtown to El Segundo.  El Segundo is a quiet city adjacent to LA airport.  He made the move for two good reasons.  First, the prior LA Times owners sold the historic building that is right across from City Hall.  It has been there well over a hundred years and a landmark.  When they sold the building, they made the paper renters, so not a good financial move.   Second, Soon-Shiong owns a significant amount of property in El Segundo including a major office tower that is now The Times’ home.  It is rather strange that the LA Times is headquartered in a sleepy suburb and not where the action is downtown.

How does this affect PR people?  There is no impact for pitching stories.  The paper still covers the same geography.  However, when the purchase was made, the new owner noted that the paper in recent years shrunk from an editorial staff of 1200 to 400.  That is an issue.

As someone who has worked with The Times for decades, there always was stability.  Times reporters and editors worked there for decades, covering the same beats.  We knew them by name, who to pitch and what stories would interest them.  Now, so many writers have left and those who are left have switched beats, cover multiple beats and some have been dropped altogether.

We all know that news and media is moving online.  There is more advertising revenue to be made online than in print.  That is a simple fact.  But advertising online is not the same as print.  There is something about holding a newspaper or magazine in hand that makes it different.  Online, stories change repeatedly throughout the day.  As news changes, so do news sites.  What is the top news story in the morning will likely be moved to the bottom of the past by the end of the day.

The challenge for us in the PR and marketing business is we have to be fast, know what’s happening every minute and be prepared to pitch on moment’s notice.  When a story breaks, we jump in and offer a client for their perspective.  The media look for that and want that. They want experts who can shed light on breaking news.  That’s why our staff are online all day, if not writing text for a client, we require that everybody have a screen open to keep an eye on breaking news.  Often we switch gears on a moment’s notice.

The fast pace of publicity, PR and marketing makes the PR business more and more challenging.  It also keeps us on our toes.  We need to know who the media are, their political bents, what reporters/editors will be civil to our clients and who will be hostile.  We need to know what to pitch and to whom.  We will never put a client in front of a hostile reporter just to get them PR.  We don’t subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as bad PR.  In today’s Twitter world, there is such a thing as bad PR.  Just as Roseanne Barr.

The big question is how long will the LA Times continue to print a paper before it goes entirely online?  The new owner vowed to be committed to a print version, but let’s be realistic.  He is a businessperson and a good one.  Tragically there may come a time when all media will conclude that it no longer makes sense to run the presses.  By the time a newspaper or magazine rolls off the press, it is reporting old news.

In the meantime, we continue to work hard to get exposure for our clients, whether in print or online.  Online is great in that we can easily send links and keep our clients’ story alive.  Print is always good because people like to see their stories in print.  There is something about being in print that an online link can’t match.




Tweet at your own risk — a marketing and PR lesson

Our job is to help organizations market and PR themselves.  To do so, it is critical that everything a nonprofit or for-profit organization does is done carefully.

That’s why we always say “tweet with caution.”  Once you let your feelings loose on the internet, you will either benefit or regret you ever made the post.

Over and over people both in the public and private eye have regretted the day they ever opened a Twitter account.  The latest to feel the wrath of Twitter is Roseanne Barr who one day was flying high with her new hit TV show and with one Tweet, threw it all away.

For some reason, people who run to Twitter to express their views or make “jokes” have a comfort level with the medium as if they are having a private conversation with a friend over dinner.  Too many people write impulsively, don’t think about their words, who they will hurt or how they may regret what they post.

With Barr’s middle of the night Tweet about Valerie Jarrett — being insulting, mean and certainly not funny — she branded herself a racist.  I don’t know if Roseanne Barr is a racist or not, but it doesn’t matter.  She has self-labeled herself with one idiotic Tweet that she will regret the rest of her life.  And she hasn’t stopped.  Despite saying she is done with Twitter, she is addicted and can’t stay off the medium.  Her one Tweet cost her the show, millions of dollars, the livelihoods of hundreds who worked on the show and more.

Yet she continues to Tweet.

The consequences of impulsive social media posting is not limited to stars who lose TV shows.  It impacts everybody.  Even the college graduate who is seeking a first job, they need to remember his/her posts can come back to haunt them when a potential employer looks at their Facebook or Twitter history.  They might not lose a TV show, but they also might not get that first job they so want.

What goes online stays online and too many people have become too comfortable with the internet.  Once online it can’t be erased, even Snapchat where posts supposedly disappear, they can be saved.  People need to think before they post and certainly if someone has a couple of drinks in them, they need to stay away from driving and certainly stay away from their cellphone.

Roseann Barr will be fine.  She probably has plenty of money to support herself and her lifestyle.  But while she may be defiant, there is no doubt she has and will regret that evening when she was casually Tweeting at 2 am and woke up to find her career in shambles.

When is a crisis a crisis?

Every organization needs to protect its reputation.  And when something occurs to jeopardize that reputation, the crisis communications experts go into action.

But how do you know when a crisis is a real crisis?  How do you know that trying to alleviate a crisis won’t just make matters worse by calling attention to it?

These are good questions.  When you know something is about to happen, like a lawsuit, consumer complaint, or viral video, the immediate reaction is to stop it in its tracks.  That is often a good strategy, but not necessarily the right one.

There are several issues to consider.  First, the crisis you think will happen often never materializes.  We tend to project the worst, but sometimes our fears get the better of us.

Second, we sometimes react prematurely.  The first step when addressing a crisis communications situation is to be certain of the facts.  One of the worst things you can do is respond to the unknown.  But it can be tricky.  If the media are all over you, then you want to appear to care and assure everybody that you are handling the situation.  But how can you handle a situation you are uncertain of?

While the first step is to address the crisis, the step before that is to assemble your crisis communications team.  The team should consist of the head of the organization, PR counsel, legal counsel and person(s) closest to the issue.  It is important that this team have a mechanism in place to contact one another quickly and easily.  When a serious crisis occurs, every minute counts.  You don’t want to have to scramble to find each other.

Then, make sure of the facts.  Who is impacted, who is responsible, what happened, how are you fixing it and so forth.  These are basic questions that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

The worst thing you can do is wait if the media are on top of it.  Staying silent gives the impression of not caring and hiding.  You don’t want to initiate contact with the media if they are not on the story, but if they are, then you need to respond with sensitivity, professionalism and solutions.

Remember what a wise person once said.  “It takes decades to build a positive reputation and seconds to destroy it.”  In this world of instant communication, where information travels the globe in seconds, speed is important.  If others are talking about your organization negatively, and you are not in the conversation, something is terribly wrong.

That’s why having professional crisis communications experts — people who have been through crises many times — is so critical.  Every crisis is different, but having someone who knows how to navigate the media and provide expert advice can mean the different between successfully handling a crisis, or paying dearly.