Category Archives: communication

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.

“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.

Mansfield U Zombie Byte Goes International

Recap: I interviewed World War Z author Max Brooks when he visited Mansfield University  in November 2012.  Down-to-earth, direct and  honest, Brooks is an interviewer’s dream.

I had read the book in preparation and knew from hints in the pop culture press,  that the movie would generate international buzz.

I’ve described in the first two posts how we did two half hour TV shows, then pulled a five minute clip in which Brooks talked about how much the movie has in common with his book (none).

We posted the two full interviews.  In May, the Vanity Fair cover story on Brad Pitt and the movie World War Z hit the stands.   That was the opening shot of the international publicity and promotion for the movie.

That’s when we released the five minute clip.  Numerous bloggers and sites, including Fandango, linked our video and posted blogs based on their interpretation of the interview.

I talked in the last post about the mistake I made which probably cost me several thousand views.

Now for the bit of luck I had which gained us several thousand views.  That  came in June, when Brooks declined to talk with mainstream media.

That left them no choice but to reference the Mansfield University video interview for information.

Two of the biggest media outlets –the Associated Press and Yahoo News —  did articles on the movie and the book, using the Mansfield University interview as a source of information.
Both of these articles appeared on the same day, boosting the views of our video  by over 1,000 in 12 hours.

Higher Ed communications guru Dick Jones explained the implications of this.

“The fact that the Max Brooks interview at Mansfield University was referenced by Yahoo and The Associated Press resulted in worldwide media attention for the school,” Dick said.  “That’s because Yahoo and AP are important third-party indicators of quality to media outlets and individual news consumers everywhere.  If AP and Yahoo run with a story, then editors and news directors at all media outlets will view it in a much more favorable light and are much more likely to run it.  And so it proved with this story.  Once given that seal of approval by AP and Yahoo, there was no stopping this one.”

He added that there are a handful of traditionally credible news sources.  “The AP is right at the top.  Yahoo, while much newer, has great clout also due to its platform as the default news provider for millions of individuals.”

Dick concluded by saying, “One take-away from this project has been the affirmation that for AP and Yahoo—and by inference for many other media outlets—YouTube interviews are a credible on-the-record source for journalists today—given equal value with original reporting.”

The other take away is that while the media has changed, the core values of good reporting, honest interviews and solid facts, remain of utmost importance.

Zombie March Leads Viewers to Mansfield University

I hadn’t planned a second post on this but it’s been an adventure and a learning process.
As of today, seven weeks after posting the Max Brooks five minute interview in which he talks about his novel World War Z and the Brad Pitt movie, it has earned  about 36,200 views, 18 comments, 216 likes and 8 dislikes.
We’re grabbing  about 600 views a day.
I had mentioned in the first post that numerous genre bloggers had posted links to the video and did their own commentary which helped enormously.
The international promotion machine designed to guarantee that the movie was a success, only helped our videos.
The  full length Conversations One and Two  interviews have also had steady growth in views, staying almost dead even with each other at around 3,200 views, telling me that viewers seek out the shows following the short version.

Here, I confess a big mistake, or at least a large oversight that no doubt cost us in the publicity game.
A viewer commented on the short video that she wished I had included the last two minutes of Conversations 2.  I had no idea what she was talking about so I reviewed the show’s last two minutes.  Brooks is talking again about how he wants people to know that the movie is nothing like the book.  He says the publishers insisted on doing a movie tie-in edition.  “I don’t want Brad Pitt on the cover of my book,” he says quite forcefully.  “I don’t want people thinking Brad Pitt is in my book.”

I had totally forgotten this segment.  So had my two cameramen and the editor.  It was the perfect sound byte and a line that dozens of bloggers and media outlets would have picked up on.

We decided that doing an “expanded” or “director’s cut” version including the two minutes would just confuse people and to leave well enough alone.  I don’t know if it was the right decision or not.

What I had done was to go to the show and fast forward until I hit the section I remembered and told the editor to pull that five minutes, give it a new intro and we’d post it.  Lesson: I should have reviewed the entire show.

We’re all trying to do several things at once, meet numerous deadlines and rushing to keep up.  In this case, it hurt us.

To survive  in this business, you acknowledge your mistakes or oversights, make a mental note, and move on.  But for a time, I will have visions of headlines in the Huffington Post, Slate, National Enquirer and blogs: “Author says, ‘I Don’t Want Brad Pitt on the Cover of my Book!'”

How often does that chance come along?

Oh yeah, about once in a lifetime.

***

Next: A bit of luck that gave a major boost to our views and a small, important revelation from communications guru Dick Jones.

A Tip for Applebee’s

The recent Applebee’s fracas included God, waitresses, sadly under-prepared management and the Ever-Shifting Mob.
It’s a great case study in crisis PR but not an easy one from which to pull clear lessons.
Recap: Pastor Alois Bell crossed off the default 18% tip and wrote: “I give God 10% . Why do you get 18?” This sets up the pastor as one of the cheapest Christians who ever displayed her parsimony to the masses.
Another waitress saw the receipt and posted it.
The embarrassed Pastor Bell doubled down on her arrogance and demanded that the waitress be fired. (Hell hath no fury like a woman pastor scorned).
Applebee’s did.
It all kicked into viral gear.
That’s when the Ever Shifting Mob moved in. They demanded the waitress get her job back.
Applebee’s reaction to the firestorm? Initially, none. We in the PR business know that’s an invitation for the mob to fill the void with more anger, more demands, sarcasm, vitriol and of course the boycott threat.
R.L. Stollar lays it out in excellent detail.
The Applebee’s social media folks came in too late and did more damage than good. Once they moved past the company line their posts were amateurish, defensive and mildly condescending.
So this is where I enter and tell you what they should have done.
Nope. This, like many crises, has no black and white. First, the pastor was way out of line, both as a person and as woman of the cloth. (Celestial Voice: “Well, done, sister. Ten percent, by God!”)
Second, the waitress who posted the receipt was out of line, breaking the privacy agreement she must have known about.
Third, management had broken its own policy previously by posting positive customer notes.
Fourth, the management reacted very badly, publishing contrite explanations, then dumb explanations, then started deleting incoming posts, then deleted the status update and the 20,000+ responses. Then they lied.
Fifth, Applebee’s let the mob swell too large. When the mob reaches a certain size it continues to grow on its own accord, fed by its own outrage. Most people who post are well-meaning folks trying to find justice. Others are just angry bastards who want to spread their negativity.
When the mob is large, no answer is good enough. No explanation is thoughtful enough. You, the target, will always lose, falling under a barrage of individual postings that congeal into the cyber equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
In a nice family drama, it would have ended this way. The offending pastor would sincerely apologize for her childish behavior and make good with the other 8% tip. The waitress would apologize for breaking privacy rules despite her sense of outrage on behalf of her colleague. Applebee’s benevolently would nod and say possibly they overreacted and would re-examine the case. It would consider reinstating the waitress with a probation period.
And it all would go away.
There is no privacy. The actions of thoughtless people will occasionally be exposed, not in a local newspaper but on the only remaining stage – the international one.
Businesses, companies, corporations, are by default the bad guys and will get the blame. A crisis plan needs to be in place because when you hit the hot seat you need to instantly jump into action or your butt’s going to burn.
The biggest lesson: The Ever Shifting Mob is always in the wings, ready to wave the cyber pitchforks and torches, screaming for whatever they think at the moment is justice.
As my colleague/media master, Dick Jones says: “You can do the right thing 99 times; screw up once and it can bite you big time. And the unfortunate thing is, all institutions screw up occasionally.”
Be prepared, institutions. You could easily have a pastor and a waitress. And no matter what your official policy is, your response better thoughtful, humane and fast.
The Ever Shifting Mob will rant, then slowly scatter, looking for the next thing to protest.

Why My Book Was Banned

I’m posting this because it was a PR/Library project that was wildly successful.  Some people told me that promotions like this sometimes backfire.  No one said life is safe.

Librarians keep track of books, answer questions and help people in their quest for knowledge.
I never thought of them as courageous.
But something happened this week that gave me a profound respect for several librarians in particular and the profession in general. In a discussion about Banned Book Week recently, one librarian said that in her high school Lord of the Flies was banned because it depicted a group of boys taking power too far.
“Then you should ban mine, “ I said, referring to One Woman’s Vengeance. “It’s about a female protagonist who takes the law into her own hands and kills people. It’s violent. It has graphic sex and a lot of adult language.”
A few days later Amanda Sanko texted  and asked if they could talk with me. So we met. “People in general are complacent,” Nichole Book said. “They don’t understand how dangerous censorship is. We want to find a way to wake people up.” Jamie Harris agreed. Scott DiMarco, library director, agreed.
They asked if they could ban my book.
These are four librarians passionate about their beliefs that everyone should have open access to all knowledge.
“You’ll take criticism,” I said. They nodded. They understood.
Scott stopped in my office later. “We’re doing this for a good reason – to remind people of the importance of having access to information,” he told me, knowing what they were getting into. “I hope we’re redeemed in the end. We have never banned a book in this library, and we never will again.”
They made a simple announcement on Facebook that One Woman’s Vengeance was removed from the shelves due to a parent complaint.” I shared it on my wall. The reaction was immediate. Within 15 minutes a reporter called. Alumni wrote in. My Facebook friends posted their outrage.
The criticism was intense and widespread.
Someone created a Facebook page protesting the band. Messages came in from around the country.

Librarians are the guardians of open access to knowledge and everyday a librarian somewhere is tested. All it takes is one person with a passionate belief to pressure a principal or a school board or a board of a community library to remove a book from the shelf, taking it away from the community.
It’s a symbolic form of book burning. For centuries, kings, churches and despots have understood the power of the printed word. They have known, and still do, if they control what knowledge you receive, they control your thoughts and actions.
This control is widespread in many parts of the world. It is shameful that in this “land of the free” that even one book can be banned.
Why? Because once one book is banned, all books are targets.
This extends to TV, radio and the Internet.
I thank everyone involved in the banning of One Woman’s Vengeance, from the librarians who courageously created the project and saw it through, to students, alumni and fans who expressed their thoughts and feelings.
I hope that people were inspired to think about– and be aware of– censorship not just one week a year but every day. One of our most important rights is the freedom to read, watch and listen to anything we want without fear of reprisal or censorship.
Understand that I don’t see any financial gains from this. All proceeds from my two books go to a scholarship fund for future MU English majors. My goal is $10,000 to endow it and benefit students for generations.
The aim of the Vengeance Project was to emphasize the importance of freedom of information to everyone, everywhere, forever.
Thank you for making this a lively, thoughtful and passionate conversation.

Here’s the video finale.