Tag Archives: social media

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.

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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.

“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.

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.

Keep College President Searches Quiet

Social media has forced upon us two things:  transparency and immediacy.

This is not always good.  Especially in the area of college/university presidential searches.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve seen a couple presidential searches over the past few years.  One  was accepted as president at a larger university.  We all knew it before he returned to campus.

Another president went through the final interview process and we knew about it as the interview took place.

This is not fair to anyone.  Trying to better one’s self is a natural flow in the career world.  If the campus knows your president is interviewing somewhere, it compromises him or her in a lot of ways.

Some would argue that at public institutions, total transparency is needed for taxpayers.

I disagree.   There are no hard figures but I have a feeling a lot of presidents do not apply for other jobs  because of this justified fear of being outed.  That’s not fair to the current institution where the fit may not be right or fair to the interviewing institution where the match might be perfect.

If it’s a public institution it’s not fair to the taxpayer — the parent — who may not be getting a president who is best for the university and its unique needs.

I don’t think this is as big a problem for provosts, deans and even development professionals.  They’re expected to search for positions at larger institution or a college presidency.

It is a problem for a sitting president searching elsewhere.  It says, for whatever reason, the president is not happy with his or her position at your university.  Morale goes down among students, faculty, staff and alumni.  Fairly or not, the president, who has been a cheerleader/fundraiser/parent/leader figure, is instantly deflated to lame duck status.

Higher education has a lot of creaky spots in its body.  This is one area that could be brought into the 21st century.  Let searches for college presidents be discrete.  Students, faculty, staff and alumni can and should be represented.

But a presidential search can be done quietly, discretely and with some class.

Public searches have no place in our instant message age.

Everyone loses.

University President: I’m Leaving Part 2

Social media was maturing six years ago when our previous president was a finalist at another college. Before he made the three-hour trip back to Mansfield after his final interview, we all knew about it.
Unfamiliar with social media, he was shocked that his private matter was very public.
When our current president, Maravene Loeschke was a finalist at a college in the south, a reporter called me at 4 p.m. to ask some questions. Her interview was being blogged in real time.
There are very few secrets anymore. And lag time has shrunk from maybe a week to a few minutes.  If you vocalize a thought, the world hears it.
That a few people at Towson and Mansfield University were able to keep President Loeschke’s candidacy a secret is admirable.  The synchronization of a   joint announcement was professional and swift.
Four local reporters asked to interview Loeschke about her time here, and then it was over.
There was a time when there were a lot of reporters. No more. The few left are  happy to use the official announcement.  Then they’re on to the next story.
A president leaves, a president is named.
Next story please.
I love Maravene Loeschke. A former actress and acting prof,  she’s  great in front of a camera, in the TV studio, excellent at improvising.  But she is a president and they come in and move on.
I and my assistant were dealing with other matters as well: an anonymous accusation that the dorms being constructed; an annual festival that is  important to the university and community; other things that are important to admissions, retention, public relations and community relations.

Within eight hours, the president story was shoved downward by other news.

Today, stories are local and universal.  Sometimes both.  There is very little in between.

But they do have one thing in common:  they flare fast, burn hot and cool quickly.

In the wired age, life goes on, just a lot faster.

***

Language peeve:  The only outlet that got Steve Jobs’ death correct was Apple, saying “Steve Jobs has died.”  Why do we persist in saying “Joe Blow dies?”  The process of dying may be long or brief, but when act is over, it’s past tense,  and so are you.  The language should reflect that.