Huge Shift in PR Speed, Responsibility & Accountability

In the previous post, I outlined our strategy for the president’s announcement about possible changes on campus.

Shortly after our announcement, a faculty member friend expressed concern about announcing the news on social media, feeling that the news was detrimental to the university.  She appreciated the administration’s transparency but felt we should be more cautious in what we “share with the outside world.”

Her concern is  legitimate.  In the mad rush of last minute rewrites to hit a 10 a.m. deadline we inadvertently posted the president’s letter to the campus community on our News site  instead of  the news release.  But the release exactly reflected the letter.  The information was the same.  But there was, to some,  the perception of sharing inside information.

I told my colleague  that in today’s  social media driven world, as soon as someone says something, whether it’s true or false,  it becomes public. People share and comment on it, spreading it whether it’s true or false.

As a PR department, we do have a need to be truthful, accountable and swift.

So it’s crucial to get the the institutional announcement out as quickly as possible.  In doing this, we own the news on this matter; we are the originators.

This was reinforced  when a reporter with a local daily tweeted our news with a link to our announcement.   The reporter had to do no work at all.  This is an ongoing, major  shift in journalism.

Gone is the the buffer of “according to PR spokesperson. . . .”  The reporter simply links our story — the source.

We are no longer PR Departments .  We are multimedia production agencies, creating news stories and distributing them to the understaffed journalism profession quickly and truthfully.

This is a huge responsibility.

More on this in the next post.

If you missed my previous post, check it out to see how we successfully minimized the sting of our announcement about possible campus changes.

Using Social Media to Ease Bad News

Last week our university released some not-so-positive news.

We didn’t have to.  We took a pro-active stance and put it out there.  Thankfully, we have a president who believes in being out front with everything possible.

My news director, campus technologies/social media person and I work very closely together, as these offices should on every campus.  Before we posted the news, I called the social media person.  “Do we have an upbeat story we can post right after our initial news?”

“Sure.”

He pulled a five-minute video of our new suite-style residence halls that we had produced for a TV show. He posted the first story on Facebook, which, like it or not, is one of our primary news channels.  A few minutes later he posted the res hall story which sat above the “bad news” story.

The initial news story was seen by 3,838 people, had five likes, one share and no comments.

The res hall story was seen by 8,620 people, earned 142 likes, 30 shares and 22 comments, all wildly positive.  They ranged from a proud mother who was sending her son here and couldn’t wait for him to live in the new dorm, to many nostalgic posts from alumni remembering their days in the old dorms.

Lessons:

1.  When you have news that’s not sugar sweet, be quick, proactive and assure the public know you’re an honest news organization.

2.  Have something else ready to soften the blow and post it in concert with the other news.

PS:  I did get a question from a faculty member on why we posted the initial story, essentially sharing it with everyone on Facebook and Twitter.  I’ll share her concern and my answer in the next post.

The Successful Message: Sincere & Relevant

Our president, Fran Hendricks, is a retired Air Force brigadier general and a 1979 graduate of our university .
A sincere Veterans Day message from him seemed like it would be appreciated by veterans and non-veterans alike. We wrote a script and he edited it. We shot it with a single camera in his office with the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags behind him. These were not props. They’re part of his office.
He speaks straight into the camera. We cut to B-roll of photos of MU graduates and area veterans from all branches.
It ends with him saying: “Veterans, thank you,” and a salute. We fade to an image of  raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
The music carrying it is “America the Beautiful.”
I had put a lot of thought behind this before we even started. We did not want him in uniform. He is a university president. But after serving the country for 33-years, Fran Hendricks is very much a soldier, and always will be. It’s a source of pride to him, faculty, students, staff, alumni and area residents.
Hendricks is a humble man and I knew that a “message from the president” would not pass muster. He’s a service-oriented person and the university is the greater body that he now serves. The message would be from Mansfield University.
Most importantly, there was no sales pitch. I repeat for all of you PR folks who need reinforcement for your superiors: no sales pitch. No website at the end telling veterans or potential students to check us out. It is a message, pure and simple, of appreciation to veterans and current service people.
The results were heartwarming, inspiring and revealing. We posted it on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Our ultra-savvy web person, John Maslar, targeted veterans and bases in a five-state circumference, as well as alumni and students
His stats show show that in a five day period, the video:
-was seen by 125,000 Facebook/Twitter users;
-was shared on Facebook 75 times;
-earned more than 700 likes;
-was retweeted 8 times
-Between likes/views/shares/retweets/clicks, we had about 2,500 interactions.
As John points out: “that’s 18 cents per person who took the time to read and interact with the message.”
The video worked for several reasons:
-It is succinct (1:12);
-Hendricks is straightforward and sincere;
-the message is simple and direct;
-There is no “extra message.”
It gained us appreciation from students, alumni, staff, faculty, constituents and introduced us to new audiences.
Yes, you can count on one hand the number of colleges who have a retired general as a president, but every college has a special person who can convey a relevant message on an appropriate occasion.
Just be clear, concise and don’t pollute it. A clean message has its own halo effect that lasts for years.

In other words, make the salute sincere.

“Pillow: American Made” is Poetry of Moments, Love & Anger

Note: I’m going off topic to give some space to an artist I’ve been following for many years.  This is his best work yet.  I know there are a lot of music lovers among my readers, so check out the review and the album, and share with friends. 

Nick Ippoliti is an independent-minded, songwriter/singer who delivers, in “Pillow: American Made,” a  mix of personal reflections, good stories and social outrage. It is unfairly confining to pin him into a category but I will place him in Americana’s vast world of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
He speaks for the everyday person and looks at the government, big business and manufactured pop culture with a fearless ability to rip away the veneer with driving music and well-crafted words.
“American Blow Back Baby” confronts the paranoia in a post 9/11 world where:
I heard our leaders yell/’We can’t see our enemy/We don’t know who to fear/So keep one eye on your back /And one eye on the trigger.’ In other words, don’t trust anyone, not even your friends. Thank you, Wall Street, Washington and corporate media.
In “No Matter The Consequence,” he contrasts new age consciousness of universal love with the grittiness of revolution, reminding us that the “our truth doesn’t flourish from left or right.” He goes on to say: “Set aflame our voice of anger/Incite our right to choose/Occupy this land we harvest/If we don’t, we’re bound to lose.”
He turns more reflective in songs like “Another Country Roadside” with Kali Rea, a slow, happy waltz in which the couple escape the bickering, angry world to recharge their unchanging love in the peace of nature. The lyrics are poetry: “Suntip those dirty toes/Up on the fire/Scream like a hawk/As the wind snakes your hair.
The bouncy “Moon Scar Angel” is a tale of the writer’s life who does a dash of love and returns to the pursuit of the art, which is life fully lived, disappointments and all:
“Sunset, lift off/ Went for wine; she never came back/ The one that got away, Moon Scar Angel/If I had to do it again/ From the dirt rise up and grow/I wouldn’t change a thing/ Not an ounce of broken heart.”
The meditative “Evening Song” describes the life of an artist who records everything, knowing that it’s reflective spec of a divine matrix. Like William Blake, he knows that in the trivial is the profound:
“Some songs tell tales/ Of what I’ve lost/ Some songs sing/ Of what I’ve got/ But all melodies/ Like a breath drawn in/ Then released into the dusk/ Reminds me I’m alive.”
The arrangements are powerful but not overwhelming. Produced at The Spot Studios in Lakewood, CO, the emphasis is on the lyrics, pushed by a no-nonsense voice that is intent on ensuring you feel his sense fun, darkness, irony, happiness and anger.
In many respects, Ippolitti reminds me of Henry Miller, an under-appreciated visionary, anarchist writer who condemned governments, capitalism and the superficiality of 20th century life. At the same time he documented his loves and losses, friends and foes, joys and sufferings and went on his merry way, pursuing the next glorious, eternal moment.
Ippoliti — Mule Dixon – does the same thing in “Pillow: American Made.”
He writes and delivers with heart, brains and balls.

Listen to the songs here.

You can also find Mule Dixon on Facebook and the CD Baby Store

“Disrupted” Author Gives Advice on iGen Marketing

My last post was a review of Disrupted, which I  like a lot. So does my president. He told his cabinet members to read it. At a recent conference of college presidents, he recommended it to his colleagues.

I’ve recommended to everyone in the business.
I sought out author Stefan Pollack to do a Huffington Post piece about it. You can check out the full article there or just cut to our question/answer session below. Stefan kindly indulged me last week while he was on vacation.

Five questions about his findings and the future of marketing/advertising.
1. Why have you labeled people born after 1994 the “iGen generation?
Until now, most circles have labeled this generation Z, but based upon my observations there is enough of a generation gap between Y and this generation, that they needed a proper title. iGen describes quite a bit in just a few letters: they are inherently mobile, they value individuality, they are unique compared to the working generations of Y, Z and Boomers. The name also implicitly nods to Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which, among other forces, helped instigate the great communications disruption of the last decade, empowering this generation to lead brands into a consumer-controlled environment.
2. How large is the disruption created by this new consumer generation?
To be clear, while iGen has certainly created a disruption in the marketing world, the reality is they are natives of a post-disrupted environment. They don’t know a world apart from this intuitively mobile and consumer-driven one in which we currently live. iGen grew up knowing they have the entirety of human knowledge on small devices in their pockets. The consequences are staggering. Never before could a generation completely and totally omit a brand from their consumer decision-making process—they can find out anything and everything without consuming one iota of traditional media or brand-controlled messaging. This is probably the largest disruption our industry has ever witnessed.
3. What do companies and colleges need to do to communicate with these consumers?
The most important thing brands can do is listen. Identify the target audience and listen to them, learn their behaviors, their wants and needs, and deduce how a brand or message can coexist or nurture that lifestyle—then a brand or message will be relevant to iGen. Additionally, companies can identify influencers that iGen already listens to and capture their attention with a message, however they will concede control of the message once the influencer becomes an advocate.
4. What do we need to keep them?
Simple: be transparent, authentic, and honest. iGen and digital natives are the bloodhounds of consumers—they can spot disingenuous marketing long before it reaches them. However, once a brand or idea is embraced by iGen, they become fearless advocates and behave as influencers in their vast networks.
5. What will advertising and marketing look like in five years?
At the velocity of current trends, advertising and marketing will need to adapt to correct for the massive ad-avoidance rates. Now that people are mobile, their attention is moving from TV and print to their devices. Mobile marketing will continue to be a leading force in the industry, but it will need to be targeted—both demographically and geographically. Specific niches, such as video and music streaming, augmented reality, and location-based promotions, have tremendous potential for success. iGen is not adverse to marketing or advertising as long as it is relevant and authentic. The days of sandblasting a controlled message and hoping that enough of it sticks are over. Marketers must be accurate with their analysis of target audiences and use only tools that appeal to them.

Fox Interview Will Flourish in the Classroom

Lauren Green’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth will live forever in college courses in both a positive and negative way.
The negative, of course, is how to begin an agenda-laden interview and then awkwardly and totally lose control.
I’ve been a PR director in higher education for 35 years. I’ve known professors of every type. Some of my best friends are scholars. Most of them have Ph.Ds. Some are cool and some are social misfits.
I’ve also dealt with journalists of all ages, types and backgrounds. And I started my career as a journalist.
So let’s begin with the fact that Green’s question about why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus is a fair one. “Why” is always a first question. On a recent Fresh Air episode Terry Gross asked the same question but she allowed Aslan to answer. He explained that he grew up a Muslim, turned to Christianity, then returned to the Muslim faith. Gross’ question and Aslan’s answer set the tone for a substantive interview that enabled Aslan to talk about Roman history, politics, insurrection and the man responsible for creating the revolution.
Green didn’t allow that and it became clear that there was an agenda. She continued to ask how he, a Muslim, could presume to write about Jesus.
Aslan explained that he has a Ph.D in religious studies and has studied and taught it for 20 years. It was a clear, cool explanation that could have been addressed to a confused high school student. It was clear that with each stumbling question, Green was becoming frustrated and angry, not a good thing when you’re a journalist.
When Green pointed out that many scholars disagreed with Aslan’s premise about Jesus, Aslan almost gleefully answered that this was what scholarly debate is all about. He is, of course, correct. I’ve seen scholars debate. Yes, they can get heated, sometimes about seemingly small things, but debate is at the core of all scholarship and always has been.
Green’s most embarrassing moment as a journalist should have been when she accused Aslan of hiding the fact that he is a Muslim. Aslan calmly zeroed in with a clear, concise attack (and yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing), when he pointed out that he states his religion on page two of Zealot and that he has made it clear in every interview he’s ever done, challenging her to find one in which he has not stated it.
That effectively ended the interview, making it painfully clear that this professional journalist had not even opened the book and that her staff/producers had done no preparatory research.

The Green/Aslan interview will be taught in college courses for years to come. Journalism professors will use Green as an example of what not to do in an interview, especially when you lose control of it. PR professors will point to Aslan as a prime example of the importance of staying composed and professional while under fire and the importance of reiterating key points (“I have a PhD. . . . I am a scholar . . . I write about all religions”).
In the end, the goal of attacking a scholar on the basis of his faith and staying with an agenda at the expense of a true conversation did five things on an international scale:
-it damaged the interviewer’s credibility;
-it made a scholar a celebrity;
-it instantly drove Zealot to number one on the bestseller lists;
-it created a renewed discussion about religion and scholarship;
-it made a lasting contribution to the teaching of journalism and public relations.

“Disrupted” Should Shake You, Wake You

For years, as a PR professional, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get to high school and college students. I imagined them surrounded by a bubble I couldn’t pierce.
Stefan Pollack explains this generation’s communications world in Disrupted. It’s clear, direct and commendably presents his findings without offering “easy”  answers.
The iGen generation, as he labels it, has created the biggest shakeup in communications in generations. The iGens are those born after 1994 who have never known a world without computers,  parents without mobile devices, and who want their information now and know how to get it instantly.
If it takes more than an instant, it’s too long.
They don’t need to memorize old facts because they curate.
Pollack credits Apple for changing the way we communicate through the introduction of the iPod, which revolutionized the way we buy music and ushered the downfall of record stores, iPhone, and the iPad which signaled the downfall of desktops and laptops. He doesn’t give enough credit to the almost simultaneous appearance of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix, which share in the apocalyptic shift in the way we buy, read, listen, communicate and overthrow countries.
This is a minor complaint. Pollack is right. The revolution has happened.
iGen was born into the technology and with unwitting naturalness changed all the rules overnight.
Radio ruled for decades, dictating music we should listen to, infested by commercials. TV fed us nightly shows interrupted by commercials. Newspapers and magazines created cover and inside stories dotted by ads. The book industry told us what we should read. Period.
All are now in death gasps.
The traditional media, gatekeepers of news and scripting what’s important, are gone. iGens, now their own gatekeepers, allow in what’s relevant to them. If they accept it, they share it with their friends, the “infinite touch points.”
If they find you relevant and approve, you may succeed.

If they find you irrelevant, or worse, dishonest, they can injure or even destroy you by simply and instantly spreading the word.
Blasting ads at this generation is a waste of time and money. Relevance and interactivity is the only way to communicate.
And they want humor.
Over the past couple months I’ve found myself recommending Disrupted to members of various boards that I’m on, to my university president, to colleagues. All of us in the marketing world know traditional media is dead to those under 50. Disrupted presents its findings and explains how iGen is  communicating and if you don’t get on board – not just with the social media but understanding the way they’re  thinking, seeing the world and acting in it – you are a historical footnote.
At lunch recently, I ran these ideas past a 17-year-old female songwriter who’s going to college to major in philosophy. She nodded in agreement and added: “I Google things I’m interested in so I’ll get Google and Facebook ads about them.”
Read that sentence until it sinks in. They don’t complain about advertising. They invite brands that interest them.
And Brand, once you’re in, you’d better be real, relevant, transparent, have a sense of humor and a social conscience.
Disrupted passed the iGen test.  It’s the Bible for today’s marketing.