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How Are You Telling Your Company’s Story?

One of my biggest jobs as a publicist is to help isolate and determine what a company’s story is and often how to tell that story. Perhaps this is a very pure way to look at a profession that at times has felt more like sales and action item tracking then a creative field in communications. And perhaps that’s why this publicist has not jived with the PR done at big agencies in the past. I don’t believe things are formulaic. I hate buzzwords. And when it comes to PR 2+2 does not always equal 4.

If I were to sit down with you today to chat about your company what would you tell me? Would you give me a very well-rehearsed elevator pitch? A statement that is usually put together for the context of time and clarity in the delivery to a potential investor. What would that statement convey to me about your company? What emotion would it evoke?

What I want to know is WHY you started your company. What makes you and your business interesting? And why I should care? I would say be authentic, but marketers have completely destroyed and dismantled the meaning of that word.

Be real. Be you. Inspire me!

Brevity is always something to consider, especially in a world where we all have eight-second attention spans, hate being advertised to and literally start texting in the middle of conversations. I think it’s a magical mix of captivating storytelling and time management.

Being able to tell a captivating and story about why you have dedicated your life to starting your business is important. Make me feel it. Engage me.

I think of it as not just as a way to mesmerize an audience but also as a way to re-inspire you every time you tell it. And you should tell it in a slightly different and organic way every time you deliver it. You should tell it in a way that will be relevant to the people who are listening to you.

I think one of the biggest mistakes I see CEOs and founders make is being too rehearsed and polished. I think we sometimes mistake preparation for confidence. We all want to be perfect and we all want to be on message, but being too on can be a turn-off for listeners. Have you connected with your audience? Have you looked them in the eye, asked them how they are (either IRL or digitally)? Interacted or acknowledged them in any way? My prime example of this would be a musician on stage during a tour making a simple verbal nod to the city he/she/they are in that night. “Let me hear it Portland, Oregon!” — subtle, but important. You have to connect with them. 

Quick tips for developing and telling your company’s story:

  • No one likes a one-way stream of communication – Don’t just talk AT your audience, whether it is one person or 1000 people. Find a way to engage.
  • People like people – Especially unique, passionate and or people that seem more like your next door neighbor than a suited exec. Be a human being, not a Cylon (shoutout to BSG).
  • Rediscover your excitement – Bottle up that feeling you had when you first had the idea for your company or knew you wanted to work for the company you are at. Find the origin of your passion and excitement and don’t be shy to share that.
  • Try stuff – Get weird. If you feel like your story is not shining through when you are talking to people, try something new. I really like to do some writing exercises with my clients that force them to be candid and off message. Try having a low stakes conversation with a friend about your company – see what resonates with them. See what they connect to – I promise you it won’t be words like “synergy,””seamless” or “world’s first.”

Still having trouble?

Feel free to reach out to me! Yes. I just pitched you. I know how cheesy, right? But I would not be telling my story if I was not helping you to tell yours 🙂

“Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” –Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights

Are You a Bad Client?

“My father used to say this is the greatest job in the world except for one thing: the clients.” – Roger Sterling, Mad Men

A good working relationship can make or break any project, big or small. I have been very lucky over the course of my career to have had a roster of excellent clients for long periods of time. I have also had the character building experience of working with people who made me crazy (and various other emotions).

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Working with an agency, contractor or consultant is in itself an important relationship. We need to be able to trust and respect each other. It can’t be a one sided relationship with the the client barking “Jump!” and the agency instantly replying “How high?

For me, if the client is easy to work with and we enjoy working together, that is the most important thing. When people ask me if I have a specialty when it comes to the kind of companies I work with, I always reply: Interesting and nice people doing interesting and cool things.

What this means is that I have done PR for everything from electric guitars to pinball machines, as well as for mobile technology giants and some amazing start ups. I have had the experience to work alongside some of the smartest, most creative, most driven people I have ever met.  The kind of people I like working all hours for and feel pushed to produce the best, most creative work possible.

Fairly recently I had an account from hell. I think this account is a perfect example of how the client themselves prohibited me and my team from doing good work. The company was actually pretty cool and right in my sweet spot of startup and entertainment tech. I have a ton of experience in this space including a former client that is now contracted by Samsung. The contact at what we will call Company X (this is the account from hell) was notoriously difficult to work with. In the course of my working relationship with them, I experienced:

  • Micromanagement – understanding of course that is just some people’s management style. I was patient and tried to give the client the benefit of the doubt – We are all here to do great work.
  • They never took my advice on strategy or campaigns.
  • They put out too many press releases about nothing at all times of the day and all days of the week – This was completely baffling to me and they were paying out the ass in Business Wire fees. Not to mention they expected to get coverage on every release. 
  • They could not decipher whether they were a B2B or B2C company.  Their strategy was all over the map and not focused and when I brought this up I was told that I did not understand the company or space (keep in mind this was the third or fourth company I have worked with in this exact space).
  • The contact was mean which as a result made my team hate her. I understand that in the world of business we are here to make money, and that PR is seen as a service industry. But, we are also in a working relationship together, so grace and common civility go a long way. So does healthy working boundaries. I took more calls from this client at 9:00 and 10:00 PM then I can count on both hands.

It’s one thing if you are nice and there is a lot of hard work. I will always be happy to take your call on a weekend or 6AM on a Wednesday. But laying into me and my team over ever single thing, questioning our recommendations, and essentially requiring more resources then you are paying for, just to turn around and tell me you are not getting the PR traction you want is bad clienting.

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I completely understand that you can’t be Mary Sunshine 24/7 to get what you need to done, but there is something to be said about mutual respect and common decency. Being civil to your co workers, contractors and those you do business with is part of your reputation as a professional and it influences your reputation as a company. Now that I am a one woman PR show, I won’t work with jerks. The money just isn’t worth my time. My talents and expertise are super valuable and I want to do good work that I am excited about.

I told this person right before the contract was terminated that I thought they were mismanaging me and my team and I had the analytics to back me up. I was dreading this conversation due to their Attila the Hun style of managing, but knew it needed to happen. The relationship was toxic and the work we were producing was toxic PR waste. I don’t believe in going through the motions with account work. Our work sucked and it was a direct result of of this contact micro managing us and not taking our recommendations and ideas. I came armed to the meeting with a new proposal, strategy and campaign examples we could move on. We were fired the next week. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. If I had a confetti cannon I would have let it off.

This client had essentially done everything wrong. They basically made it impossible for me to do my job and really work my magic. Whenever I am working with a client having a healthy partnership is so key. Collaboration is where it is at. I like to see myself as an extension of your team. Are you excited about the work you are doing?! Then I am too! Let’s work together to make something special and impactful. If the relationship is good, then the work will be fun. And I use the term “fun” in the PR masochistic sense of the word.

I believe that we all have a choice in how we put ourselves out in the world (that’s a little of my West Coast sensibilities shining through). There will always be times of chaos when you loose your shit – it happens to all of us – but think about the day to day management of your relationships.

Some traits to consider:

  • Are you a micromanager?  Chances are if you are the marketing or PR point for a company you have too much on your plate to be spending your time micro managing the PR team. Trust in your team and try and give concise directions with details, deadline or vision and let them do their thing. People like structure but most of the time hate being micromanaged.
  • Are you not open to outside ideas? Why even work with an agency or contractor if you are not going to be open to outside input? The whole point is to bring in outside energy and resources. Use them!
  • No boundaries? Calling, emailing and demanding time and attention outside the realm of pre discussed working hours is super annoying and not respecting your contractor’s time.
  • Unorganized? Are you scatterbrained and often miss meetings and loose emails? You need to be accountable to your team. They are only as good and organized as you are.

Full disclosure: I grew into what I would now call my Honey Mentality (as in you get more bees with honey). As a young manager I definitely put my staff through the ringer by being moody and overly dominaring. People hated me, and I hated that. Once I started being nice, offering guidance and support as well as coming to the table organized and prepared to lead, they followed.

The value of a good relationship is priceless and in marketing and PR relationships are everything.

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Traditional PR Campaigns Are Broken and Here’s Why

After spending almost a third of my life working at PR agencies I left feeling really unimpressed with the PR and marketing machine. I had essentially spent the bulk of my professional career surrounded by Pete Campbells–salesy individuals without a creative bone in their body. I myself am a Don Draper –minus the womanizing and boozing … I guess that actually makes me more of a Peggy. Let’s go with that. Regardless, I am a creative. I see storylines and potential in everything I touch. I get inspiration walking down the street. Doing things by the rules is boring to me and some of the most successful campaigns I have been apart of have been working with other creative souls. Being safe never did me any favors and my clients have all loved me for it.

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The PR industry is about dollars and cents and I’m not talking about making you (the client) money–Although a win-win is we are both wildly successful and make boatloads of cash. PR agencies are about getting as much money as possible from you, producing sub-standard work and trying to put you or your product in a box. Replicating past results is the name of the game.

Agency culture is all about being overworked and underappreciated. Your PR team is probably worked to the bone and basically executing every campaign on automatic just to get through the billing cycle. Campaign strategy is ultimately looked at more like a formulaic science versus a creative art. Unfortunately the formula on how to do things is old and outdated.

Just to give you a look behind the curtain, this is the standard PR campaign formula:

You have a product or company you want to launch. The date is set, press release is written and shared with select press under embargo. Your agency sets up pre briefings prior to the press release “going on the wire” and a release time is set so all of the news stories hit around the same time. Sometimes you will plan all of this around an event like CES, SXSW, Comic-Con or what have you.

Let’s take a second to dissect and digest this.

First – Why a press release? I feel like I have been making this argument on deaf ears for at least five years. Press releases are archaic. You’re a cutting edge start-up or about to change the world with your groundbreaking product or announcement? Why do the same old thing? Press releases are the equivalent to wearing khaki on casual Fridays. STOP it. Think outside of the box or pressure your PR rep / team to think of something new. Not to mention that putting out a press release is a huge waste of time and resources. You need them to show your investors you have news?  Wouldn’t your investors praise creativity and ingenuity over the dullness of the same old thing?

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Second – Let’s stop with the embargos. The press hate them and they cause nothing but unneeded stress. In the past I would use them as way to try to get as much press interest as possible prior to a launch date. What I was really doing was baiting and switching the press. I would be mindful not to mention how many other people I was talking to. Granted I would never burn anyone by saying they had an exclusive, but it did feel a bit like I was lying by omission. I hate lying or feeling like I am trying to trick someone. This was my ethical dilemma with PR for years. Also, this method may have worked five years ago, but times have changed. Journalists are way busier and just don’t have time for the traditional PR-press dance. Embargos mean jack to them because 7 out of 10 PR people who contact them are full of shit and bad at their jobs, so why should they honor an embargo? What about the idea of quality over quantity when it comes to media relations and outreach? It should be more about relationship management versus getting as much coverage as possible.

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Third – Let’s take a step back and just look at the way we communicate. It has changed drastically in the last 8 years. The smartphone has changed everything. People text, tweet, snap, post. Why has PR not evolved with this change? Why is the industry still insisting on doing the same tired thing? I have worked with HUGE companies and know that it is hard to move the rock in a new direction with them, but I think there is a lot of value in trying to move the needle with anyone you can at any opportunity. No PR campaign should come from a cookie cutter. Your product and company is a snowflake, it’s a one of a kind, shouldn’t your PR campaign reflect that?

This is a new era. PR campaigns should be creative, relevant and effective. You should not just make waves with your news, but in how you get the news out.

 

Social Media: Chances Are You’re Doing it Wrong

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Image credit: CaptainBagpuss on Flickr

I would never call myself a social media expert – in fact, I don’t think anyone can really claim they have expertise in something that has been around for less than a decade. By my count it was around 2008 when social media really burst into mainstream culture. The PR firm I was working for at the time started offering (more like experimenting) with implementing social media into our PR services. It never quite felt like we were doing it right. It always felt too prescribed and not authentic.

There are brands and companies out there with killer social media strategy and presence. But that does not mean that social media is right for your company or product, or at least not a generic campaign managed by an outside agency.

My two cents: no social media (or at least anything outside of LinkedIn) is better than bad or weak social media. What I’m talking about is engagment, followers, likes and yes, authenticity.

A typical social media campaign managed by a PR agency is generic:

  • Timed posts drafted by junior employees
  • No live engagement with your community
  • Analytics that say little to nothing that you are paying top dollar for

A PR firm is all about utilizing your retainer or account hours – filling the time with something. Often that means going through the motions of social media management. AND very often PR is the lowest priority for your account team. It’s an afterthought.

One of the biggest mistakes I have come across again and again is the client that wants to be on Facebook and Twitter but has a boring, too technical product for social media communities to glom onto. Very often the stories clients are telling are too complicated for an average person to understand (mistake #1 in product marketing). The theory of K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Stupid) is lost on the client and they are often too in love with their ideas, wording, or what have you. So of course Company X thinks they will and should be darlings of every social media channel they touch. Company X is in love with themselves and unfortunately PR companies are too prone to always saying YES and then having to execute a half dead corpse of a social media campaign. I don’t understand this culture of “the client is always right” – the client is not always right and it should be our jobs as PR professionals to tell them that. This is not a restaurant, this is business.

So what makes sense for you and your company or product?

  • Is what you are doing visual or is there a visual element? Perhaps Instagram or Pinterest would make sense.
  • Are you targeting millennials or young Gen Xers? Facebook all the way and maybe if it makes sense check out Snapchat.
  • Are you a B2B or enterprise company? Probably should just stick to LinkedIn, unless you have a lot of personality and then consider Twitter with some advising .
  • Have a CEO or company exec with a lot to say? Start a Medium page and for the love of god draft your own content. I cannot tell you how much C-level content out there is written by PR agencies and it shows! Stand apart and get your unique voice out there (your agency or PR rep would be a great editor in the process).

The fact of the matter is, social media should not be a certain amount of posts per week or month that are pre drafted and approved by your marketing department. If you go on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram your feed is a living entity. There is an exchange between poster and commenter. There is a conversation that should be taking place. It’s not just about pushing out as much content as possible. It’s about having something interesting to say and then staying in the conversation. It’s not about scheduling specific times during the day to check on your account(s) – social media is always on and your activity should reflect that.

So much of traditional PR is phoney: Drafting quotes for executives that never said them, ghost writing articles for CEOs, using press release distribution as way to get attention even when the announcement is irrelevant or boring – Social media is about being authentic, giving the public a line of access and communication to a person or a company. You can’t fake that or put a generic strategy around it.

The solution:

  1. Have a social media and or PR consultant that you trust. Someone that does not say “Yes” to everything thing you say or recommend. Someone who will push back. Someone who already understands your community better than you.
  2. Social media should be essentially monitored everyday, all day – this does not mean having to sit with screens open 24/7. There are tools out there to help you. But what this does mean is you should be willing to pay the extra money for the time a person or a team puts into keeping all hands on deck.
  3. If you’re not willing to have some personality with your company voice, you probably don’t belong on all the channels. People want to be entertained – they need a reason to click, to follow, to like – what’s special about what you’re saying? Why should any care?

You can’t fake good social media. It’s not just something you go through the motions of doing. It takes finesse, skill, talent and personality. But at the same time there are no hard and fast rules–it’s still the wild west out there. Try things. Be creative. Be genuine. Be apart of your community and find the authentic voice of your company.