danniewriter

A teachable moment

Actress/singer Erika Amato’s response to President Trump’s Independence Day gaffe is a big crowd pleaser. Read about Erika’s diverse career, reviews of her work and other highlights at www.erikaamato.com.

I would never wish a gaffe upon anyone as big as the mistake perpetrated by President Trump on Independence Day, but as someone who loves history, I found it just a tad gratifying. Sound strange? People often have that response when reading my posts, so please bear with me.

I imagined cellphones being pulled out across the nation as people asked themselves, “Exactly how many years off was he?” I pictured very small children asking why various beverages had just shot from their parents’ noses when the infamous remark was made.

The fact that people, especially young ones, are curious enough to ask questions about the past is a life preserver of optimism to which I cling mightily when I see “on the street” interviews where over 18ers opine that the presidential cabinet is a piece of furniture.

In recent years, the question of America’s history, especially in the South, has been a topic of heated debate as leaders, and entire communities, have opted to remove statues, plaques and names from public spaces and buildings. The country’s brutal past of slavery and racial discrimination is by no means a Southern phenomenon, but I think it’s fair to say that, in many corners of the region, there is a tendency to deliberately misunderstand the opposition of such symbols.

After all, in many areas of the South, it was commonplace to refer to the Civil War as “the recent unpleasantness,” into the 20th century.

We have an opportunity here, not to erase history by tearing down monuments and removing plaques, although in some cases I think that is entirely appropriate, and in just about all cases, I think a community is well within its right to make such a decision. Additionally, I am certainly not suggesting that we engage in group denial and giving into political correctness.

The opportunity is to get the story right … or at least as close to right as our faulty human nature will allow.

Ripping down statues is quick and easy. Putting history into context takes time and strength of will. And in some cases, it takes exploration. There are many important people who were so disenfranchised during their lifetimes, their stories are not yet fully known.

I ran across a profound piece of writing that illustrates beautifully the great need we have as a country for balance, context and “the whole story.” I hope you will take time to read Carly Berlin’s essay, Two Houses on the Eatonton-Milledgeville Road, recently posted on The Bitter Southerner.

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Crisis Capitalization

My new home state of Mississippi has really taken it on the chin this year. Parts of the Delta began flooding in February and still are underwater. To attempt to alleviate one catastrophic event, floodwaters from the Mississippi River have been released into the Gulf, creating another catastrophe. Dolphins and turtles have died, and the men and women who harvest oysters, shrimp and other delicacies from the deep have almost nothing to show for their labors because of the freshwater/floodwater contamination.

The continued release from the Bonnet Carré spillway has made the seasonal “dead zone” of oxygen-starved saltwater one for the record books, precipitating an algae bloom that now has closed many, but not all, beaches to swimming and water sports just in time for the Independence Day holidays.

There’s no sugar-coating the facts: the situation for farmers, fishers, plants and virtually all other forms of flora and fauna is decidedly bleak. Nevertheless, Mississippians on the Gulf have not thrown in the towel for the summer tourism season. In the process, they have provided an excellent lesson in “Don’t Panic PR.”

Milton Segarra, CEO of Coastal Mississippi, the regional tourism bureau, set just the right tone of concern and optimism along with a dash of “algae blooms happen all the time. We’ve got this.”

“We are a warm weather destination. We are in the Gulf of Mexico; this happens,” Segarra told WLOX-TV. His response wasn’t flippant, however. He emphasized that the closures were necessary to protect the public. The algae causes some nasty symptoms when people come in contact with it.

Now, no one wishes that the flooding, freshwater release and algae bloom had happened, but in a weird way, the challenge actually reinforced Coast Mississippi’s rebranding effort that began earlier this year.

The bureau’s previous name was Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Coast is the place where the water meets the land, but coastal encompasses the beaches, the water and the land beyond,” Segarra said in the rebranding announcement.

The fact is, there is a great deal of beauty and charm in the region. And even if I can’t wade in the Gulf, the joy and peace I get from a beach sunset such as the one above is gift enough.

I hope tourists will take Segarra’s advice, keep their vacation plans unchanged, and explore beyond the beach. I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.

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Pitch the rug: Manage PR crises with integrity

When you are in charge, and something bad happens, instinct can serve you well, but not always.

Instinct can equip you to put out fires, the literal and figurative blazes, quickly and efficiently. As a business owner, or head of a community organization, that instinct is like gold. It can prevent a spark from growing into a conflagration.

Where instinct can let you down, however, is in dealing with the aftermath of a crisis. Your gut tells you to circle the wagons, swear people to secrecy, and give a terse “no comment” to the press, the public, and even your stakeholders. Bad idea.

How you handle problems says more about you as a leader than how great you look riding the biggest wave of success.

Matt Valentine of Goalcast recaps four major public relations crises, and how corporate leadership responded with integrity and transparency. A few things that rise to the top:

  • They responded quickly.
  • They responded like human beings, not corporations.
  • They took a financial hit without flinching (at least publicly).
  • They answered their stakeholders’ questions sooner rather than later.

The Apple v. FBI example is unique, but there are lessons that can transfer seamlessly to your business or organization. The non-corporate tone of its response to customers is especially impressive. The document is straightforward and easy to understand, but it doesn’t bog the reader down with too much detail. It quickly goes to the heart of the issue, and states Apple’s position clearly.

If your business or organization is facing a tough time, there’s no need to tell the public everything about the crisis, but it is important that you tell them something that is truthful and makes sense. I have experience with crisis communications, and would be happy to help you with this, and other public relations issues. Contact me by email at danniewriter@gmail.com, or call (502) 432-8725.

 

 

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Tell your story with enthusiasm

No one “just” runs his own business or “just” leads a community non-profit organization.

Use the word “just,” and suddenly you are saying that who you are, and what you do is ordinary.

I’d be willing to bet it isn’t.

The story of your business/organization is unique. You’d probably be surprised to learn how interested your customers/supporters are to hear those stories.

Business/organizational leaders who wear multiple hats and direct small staffs don’t have much time for brainstorming, or what I sometimes refer to as “bellybutton gazing.” That’s why I really like Tami Brehse‘s approach to storytelling as marketing. Brehse, a former television news anchor, runs her own marketing and public relations consultancy in Florida.

A column she wrote about how to use storytelling to develop your company’s brand was distilled nicely into this infographic:

She also provides a free worksheet that will help you clarify your thoughts. From these simple tools you can develop the story of your company/organization that your audience is itching to hear.

If you need assistance in telling that story, don’t hesitate to contact me. The initial consultation is free.

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The challenge of simplicity

Late last year, freelance content creator Matt Mansfield distilled 151 articles projecting marketing trends for 2017 into a glorious infographic. (I love infographics!) The article even comes with instructions on how to use the infographic depending on your interests and needs.

I’m glad there are marketing experts out there such as Mansfield, making sense of everything from analytics and chatbots to “ephemeral content,” but I’ll never be a Matt Mansfield.

I started this blog for small businesses and non-profits operating on shoestring marketing budgets that focus on free and do-it-yourself communications.

In short: I’m a peanut butter and jelly marketer.

As “the” expert about your business or non-profit, and most likely the “chief marketing officer,” it’s easy to lose a straightforward message amongst your intimate knowledge of all things organizational. That is when it is necessary to take a step back, remove your CEO hat and try to think like a consumer of that message.

A piece from Flee app creator Didac Hormiga on LinkedIn really spoke to me. Yes, there are marketing lessons to be learned from fortune cookies:

  • Make your message applicable to everyone.
  • Combine a product with a message.
  • Make your message short and sweet.

Nolan Berg, head of his own marketing consultancy, penned an equally straightforward and practical column after attending a Garth Brooks concert. I appreciated his insights.

If you own a small business, or are working to sustain a vital non-profit in your community, I encourage you to get organized and develop a marketing/PR plan to communicate a positive and compelling message. I think you will be amazed to see how it takes your mission to the next level. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me. My rates are reasonable and the initial consultation is free.

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Keeping track of success

Cute dog puppy

Last week we explored the myth of “truthful hyperbole” and I made three distinctions about content that passes the smell test. As a review, it should be based on:

  • internal research of my business and non-profit
  • statistics, other facts and opinions of reputable, and cited, sources
  • fairness and contextualization (Am I comparing apples to apples or applies to garden hoses?)

Let’s look more closely at the first item, internal research.

Those in public relations and marketing, as well as grant writers, are internal customers of business owners, key employees, CEOs, boards of directors and others. Our ads, press releases, billboards, videos, grant proposals, and social media posts are only as good as the data we are provided by an organization’s leaders.

Keeping track of the cost of your advertising and other marketing activities and calculating your return on that investment is vital, but that is a blog post for another day. I’m asking that you instead focus on data that you use in those advertising and marketing endeavors.

Rather than looking at data collection for public relations and marketing as a task separate from other necessary bookkeeping and record-keeping, look at the data you keep track of in the natural course of your work or mission.

For non-profits, the information on your IRS Form 990 can be a great source of positive statistics, if those facts are in line with characteristics sought most often by discerning donors. What are those? This article from Charity Navigator shares several, such as: “What is the percentage of every dollar donated that is spent on fundraising,” and, “How much does the CEO make annually?”

For small businesses, the approach is a little different. Are you tracking customer satisfaction through surveys, follow-up emails and phone calls? If you have a high percentage of your customers expressing enthusiastic satisfaction with their experience at your business, that’s a statistic worth sharing often and to a great many people.

Is your small business a major employer in your community? Are you recommended by the Better Business Bureau? If so, for how many years? What about positive ratings or accolades from the local Chamber of Commerce? Do you hire a significant number of military veterans, or perhaps individuals with disabilities? What other positive contributions do you make to your community through philanthropy, partnerships, and other initiatives?

Maybe you’re so busy running your small business you aren’t sure exactly where you stand? Here are a couple of articles that might help you gain perspective:

How To Know When It’s Time to Expand Your Business, from Value One

But Am I Making Any Money? from The Balance

Sharing positive, specific, and credible facts about your organization or business is a must for an effective communications strategy. Think of these facts as credible, reliable evidence submitted to the court of public opinion.

If you are ready to explore this or other marketing and communications issues for your business or non-profit, give me a call. I’d love to help.

 

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‘Truthful hyperbole’ is why PR gets a bad rep

Side profile shocked man with long nose. Liar concept

On inauguration day, I listened to the remarks from the 45th president of the United States on the radio. The next day, I read and watched coverage of the millions of people around the world, overwhelmingly in the U.S., who marched in opposition to his election. Since then, my iPhone hasn’t stopped pinging with news alerts relative to executive orders, cabinet confirmations, opposition speeches and the like. The New York Times is churning out so many opinion pieces conveying outrage, I’m wondering if they are even in the reporting business any more.

And it’s only day three.

All in all, I feel like the inner circle of fictional Broadway star Margo Channing when she uttered the most famous line in “All About Eve.”

Chief among the outrage, at least for the last 36 hours, is the reference to “alternative facts” by the Trump White House when estimating the size of the inauguration crowd. This is in line with Trump’s modus operandi (outlined in one of his books) that his ghostwriter termed “truthful hyperbole.”

Now, “hyperbole” is defined as “obvious and intentional exaggeration” and “an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.” For example: “to wait an eternity.”

So, by definition, hyperbole is not truthful (factual).

Therefore, if an individual or group presents “alternative facts” using “truthful hyperbole” as an acceptable standard, chances are they are lying through their collective teeth.

Viewing the term in its strictest definition, “alternative facts” could mean facts provided by a reliable source that simply isn’t as well known as the source used most often and by the most people. For example: Consumer Reports historically has a great reputation for its reviews and reports, but does that mean articles from Reviewed.com are unreliable? Not necessarily. But make no mistake, “alternative facts” as easily debunked as those posited by the White House regarding the inauguration attendance are fabrication.

Public relations and marketing often get a bad rep, I think, because, quite frankly, there are dishonest practitioners out there. Trump, with his non-existent “truthful hyperbole” is an example. But some of the bad reputation is unfair because

  • putting the best foot forward
  • leading with the positive rather than the negative, and
  • taking time to work on messaging in advance

often are mischaracterized as outright fabrication. The term “spin doctor” is pretty much synonymous with “snake oil salesman,” unless the latter happens to refer to selling a product that keeps your reptiles soft and scale-free.

Although January is nearly through, maybe a resolution is in order for anyone out there promoting, selling, inspiring, informing, and otherwise communicating … which, by the way, is everyone, isn’t it? … to make sure our content passes the smell test. Is it based on

  • internal research of my business and non-profit
  • statistics, other facts and opinions of reputable, and cited, sources
  • fairness and contextualization (am I comparing apples to apples or applies to garden hoses?)

In coming weeks, I’ll explore these three points in more detail, especially on how to discern a reputable source from “fake news.”

Questions? Do you need assistance in your public relations or marketing endeavors? Give me a call. I’d love to hear from you. Initial consultations are free of charge.

 

 

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News to you, news to us

newspapers

Deep commitment to a business or cause often creates single-mindedness in a person. As a public relations professional, one of my most frustrating tasks is attempting to convince such people that the vast majority of the globe is unaware of the focus of their efforts, and most are perfectly content to remain so.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but a firm grasp on reality is needed to develop a marketing/public relations plan that doesn’t waste time, energy and money on efforts doomed to fall flat. One such effort repeatedly misused by businesses and non-profits is the “blanket” press release sent to local media.

Unless a large number of people are affected, a change important to you, your staff, customers, clients and donors most likely is not news for the local newspaper. Reporters and editors receive announcements regularly that are destined for the email trash bin because the interested audience is so extremely narrow, the information is essentially irrelevant.

This is why it is so important to develop a database of your stakeholders to communicate with them directly and purposefully about your goings on. Making announcements in a press release format is fine so long as your recipient list is targeted for your niche audience. Facebook ads and boost posts can be targeted to users by location, age, gender, and many other criteria. If you are a business and want to reach a specific geographic area, consider using ZIP codes and the postal service’s Every Door Direct Mail service. Distill the message down to a few seconds and record it as a video for YouTube and other social media forums. If it’s a new product you are offering, take an attractive photo and post to Instagram, Snapchat and/or Facebook.

Deciding what information to send to the local paper requires some thought, and most of all, getting to know the publication: what do they cover? how frequently? who are the reporters/editors? Consider:

Your board of directors has a new chairperson and/or members. The entire list of new personnel would be something of interest to your stakeholders, so use it on your website, in your newsletter, etc. Unless your non-profit has a big footprint in your community, chances are the local newspaper will only be interested in the story if local residents are involved. Share only the information of local interest. Make it brief, and be sure to send it to the business reporter directly. (Don’t forget the boilerplate.)

When does your information merit a release to the news desk? When it has the potential to affect a large number of people in your community. For example:

  • As a way to attract new customers, you’ve decided your hardware store will be a collection point to recycle paint and batteries. Unless you charge for the drop off, this is a public service. Depending on the size of your community and newspaper, this could be released, as a very brief item, to the news or business desks.
  • There’s a boil-water advisory in your county that has been in effect for several days. All the stores have run out of bottled water but you are assured a shipment is arriving at your store tomorrow. This is news. Email or call the news desk/editor.
  • A well-known musician has agreed to headline a concert for your non-profit. Email or call the news desk/editor.

Large metro area newspapers usually have sections in their print and/or online editions for neighborhoods and small communities. Find out what the deadlines are for your special section and who the reporter is so your news has the best chance of getting seen by someone who cares. Online submissions of news and news tips are very common today. Most will give you a word/character count limit to help you be concise. Be sure to devote some of those characters to your web address or phone number.

If your restaurant is expanding to another location or a larger more diverse menu, sure, send a press release to the business reporter, but for something that big, invest in advertising. Outside of your own assets, that’s about the only way to guarantee your news will be shared in its entirety.

If you are having problems figuring out which media is best for your message, give me a call. I’d love to help.

 

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Avoid the Boil Over

bubbles

There are those in leadership positions who embrace the philosophy, “If you aren’t making someone unhappy, you’re not doing your job right.” In some cases, this may be true. I maintain that good law enforcement and military, for example, should make criminals and terrorists unhappy.

How many of us, though, are in fields that produce, or even require, clear adversaries? Overwhelmingly, we need more friends than enemies, and more supporters than detractors.

Leaders who adopt the adversarial posture likely do so because they are too lazy to communicate the “whys” of their decisions to stakeholders such as employees, customers, donors, volunteers, and the like. An additional, and more troubling, explanation is that they believe their decisions are draped in gold and free of error and therefore should never be questioned.

Recently I had this lesson brought home, literally. Late Friday afternoon I saw this message taped to the lobby door of my condo community, (sans handwritten comments):

condo

Making preparations for the problem was a little difficult because, at this point, the hot water already had been turned off.

The management company and condo board had a few hundred people with many questions and no answers. The quote: “Some people in the world don’t even have water,” apparently came from a member of the condo board no doubt approached by a concerned resident.

Leadership Tip #1:  It is poor salesmanship to deflect your responsibility by attempting to make a stakeholder’s concern seem petty. In our community, hot water is a reasonable expectation. It is the responsibility of the management company and condo board to ensure this service.

An additional comment was penned: “Plumbers work weekends.” Excellent point.

Leadership Tip #2:  Anticipate questions; provide answers before asked. The absence of explanation on why repairs couldn’t be done Friday and Saturday creates an environment of speculation. Residents are invited to assume the worst. In this case:

  • The problem was so complex and/or discovered so late in the business day that the management company and/or plumber chose not to address it immediately because it posed a personal inconvenience.
  • Rather than taking the time to price a weekend project with the usual plumber, or locate another company for an estimate, the management company informed the condo board, or select members, that the cost was prohibitive or that finding an alternative company was “impossible.”
  • The condo board, or select members, were more concerned with maintaining a positive relationship with the management company than pressing the issue as advocates for their neighbors.

The lack of anything more than a brief note tacked up a few places in the building (residents were not given printed notices individually) communicates an absence of concern, even basic respect, for stakeholders.

Leadership Tip #3:  Always attempt face-to-face/voice-to-voice communications first. The condo board exists as liaison between residents and the management company. As the most basic of responsibilities, board members should be expected to contact residents on matters such as a sudden loss of utilities. In this case, a meeting in the common area of each building should have been scheduled immediately for anyone who happened to be home at the time. The meeting should have been communicated via door-to-door visits/notices.

Leadership Tip #4:  Make a compelling case for your actions and in the process you recruit your stakeholders to assist you in communicating the news. The absence of information and personal communication sends the message to stakeholders that the actions (or inaction) of leadership cannot stand up to scrutiny. Again, in this case, speculation of the specter of personal inconvenience raises its ugly head: The plumber didn’t want to work on the weekend; the management company didn’t want to find an alternate company; the board didn’t want to authorize the expense, inform residents, or jeopardize a positive relationship with the management company.

In this case, the management company and condo board hold nearly all the cards. Residents pay a monthly fee to cover shared services and cede a portion of their responsibilities as homeowners regarding said services. The condo board is a volunteer, and mostly thankless, position. Any resident, myself included, has an opportunity to run for election.

Residents do hold a few cards, though. The company and board loses credibility, respect, trust, and possibly, the cooperation of their primary stakeholder. In the long run, mishandling this incident makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs, and creates an adversary where one was not required.

Does your small business or non-profit need some help communicating with stakeholders? If so, please give me a call. I’d love to help.

 

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