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A word about press releases December 12, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Although it’s a common misconception, PR does not stand for “press release.”

I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but as PR professionals know, there is a significant number of people who question the value of hiring an agency (or in-house PR practitioner) because “I can write a press release myself.” I can almost hear the PR people out there nodding their heads in agreement.

PR is, in fact, public relations — a component of which is media relations, but it’s not by any means synonymous. If an activity has anything to do with actively relating with your audience, the public, investors, customers or anyone else: It’s PR. Customer service? Part of it is definitely PR. Social media? PR. Working with analysts? PR. I could go on.

But for the purpose of this article, let’s actually go there and talk about press releases… because even those who know a bit more about marketing and PR — enough to be dangerous, one could say — often believe that all news should be heralded by press release. And these same people will be disappointed when each release is not met with widespread coverage and a splashy above-the-fold article in the WSJ.

This is what I tell my clients: Press releases, while a perfectly useful PR tactic, are not always the best way to disseminate news. They don’t guarantee coverage and are not the perfect tool for every situation.

The absolute best public relations strategy is to determine the most effective strategy to reach people. Right? Most often, this means integrated campaigns as part of an ongoing communications process that includes social media, blogs, email, speaking engagements, webinars and podcasts, websites, conference activity, whitepaper placement, personal outreach and pitching to media, bylined articles — and yes, occasional press releases.

I use several criteria when considering issuing a press release to the media:

  • How newsworthy do we believe this announcement is? Do we believe it stands a fighting chance of being the one release — out of the hundred a journalist or analyst will receive any given day — of being spared the recycling bin?
  • What other announcements have we recently made or are planning to do in the near future? Less is more; releasing too-frequent announcements over a short period can detract from our PR program’s overall impact, even erode credibility.
  • Is a release appropriate for the kind of announcement we are making? What are we trying to accomplish with a release that can’t be accomplished another way?
  • Do the journalists/bloggers/analysts we are targeting for this story respond to press releases? There are also cultural norms that pertain to PR that vary around the world that we must take into account when releasing different news stories.
  • Is a media pickup critical for this kind of news? Can we reach our audience more directly and more effectively another way?

The bottom line is that each organization has its share of important and exciting developments to announce, and each deserves its own considered plan based on available resources. Each announcement you make should be optimized for maximum reach. And if that plan includes a release, then great. But don’t feel too bad if your latest piece of news doesn’t make it into a release. It only means that there are better ways to get it out to the public.

It is, after all, called public relations!


Infographic: Why organizations should use social media to reach journalists December 6, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Why should PR practitioners use social media? It’s not just for direct B2B or B2C communications; many journalists use social media and use it to enhance their own research and reach.

To follow is my first self-generated infographic; clearly I’m no designer, but imagine how this would look if I had some graphic assistance! 😉

The great enemy of clear language… (or, why your PR should use narrative and lose the technobabble) December 5, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Today I came across a release on the wire. Here’s its lede:

“The new AXM-75 is a multi-function I/O extension module that adds A/D, D/A, and digital I/O signal processing functions to a FPGA processor board. Acromag’s extension I/O modules plug directly onto their PMC and XMC reconfigurable FPGA cards equipped with an AXM mezzanine connector…” 


Here in the Bay Area with its preponderance of tech companies, I see releases such as this frequently enough: They’re ostensibly written in English but not really in what we might call language. The argument organizations use when they put out such news is that their core audiences will know what this technobabble means. But they forget that if they’re sending out over the wire  they’re hoping it will get picked up by journalists and bloggers — not engineers. Journalists, whatever their medium, are looking for a story to tell so they can engage their readers. Has this release, and others like it, helped them do it? Will it speak to them? Did it speak to you?

Even tech PR can be written in plain, understandable English. Better, it can tell you right away what the takeaway is; what the news means to customers and the industry. And best, it can be told in a way that helps people understand the ideas and value that often get hidden behind the jargon. Think about it: If your product or service underscores your company’s creativity or problem solving abilities, wouldn’t you put your news into that context, making it engaging, likable and actionable?

In PR — whether it’s press releases, web copy, social media posts or video — whoever tells it best can cut through the clutter of people’s lives and really reach them. This doesn’t mean manipulation, or hard sell, or making things up. It means knowing what your value is and being able to convey it in a manner that people (and not only engineers) will be receptive to. And this means narratives, told in accessible language, accompanied by or made up with relevant and interesting images.

This is common sense, but there’s a deeper reason for it.

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” — Donald Calne, neurologist

As much as we’d like to think that we make decisions rationally and logically, it’s really our unconscious mind that drives most purchase decisions, and our unconscious responds to — and remembers — narratives. Those of us also in advertising pretty much know this already, but PR has been slower to adopt this attitude.

In the end it’s easy and even mindless to put out a release that mirrors exactly what your engineers think you should say. But we as PR professionals need to generate content that puts news into context and encourages emotion that allows our audiences to relate to our company, product or service. But: Only if you really want to reach humans!

Tiger Woods: More Stagecraft Than Sincerity February 19, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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A few thoughts after watching today’s Tiger Woods “press conference”:

There’s no point in holding a press conference on marital infidelity to reveal no new information, refuse to take questions, or to call attention to his wife being nowhere in attendance.

All in all, a PR stunt gone wrong. And it’s not like anyone couldn’t see it coming. Who is the publicist who OK’d this unnecessary, public self-flagellation? All it accomplished was to:

  • Annoy reporters who, inexplicably, like to ask questions
  • Open the door for two of his former mistresses to have their own press conferences
  • Put Woods in the spotlight again for his personal life, which was probably not a good idea. Already the twitterscape is rife with new Tiger jokes.

What it did not do:

  • Improve his professional reputation
  • Give his supporters and sponsors any idea of when he would be back playing the game of golf
  • Convince anyone that he was sorry for anything more than just being caught.

Personally, I would have advised him not to have made a statement at all — after all, really no new information was introduced, other than his insistence that wife Elin did not, in fact, work him over with his own golf clubs, and that he made a mistake (read: conscious decision). Woods really didn’t need to cater to the public’s salacious need to see him further humbled over what is really a private matter.

Get a new publicist, Tiger. Then close your mouth, apologize to your family again, and get back in the game.

PR At The Speed of Twitter February 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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How long does it take for your business to go from zero to crisis mode? The answer is: As long as it takes an unhappy someone with a significant social media presence to whip out his or her Blackberry.

What so many companies don’t seem to realize in this age of instant communications is that they need to react — immediately — when negative communications begin swirling around the blogosphere. As I noted last week, in the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis communications response is measured in hours, if not minutes.

To demonstrate exactly what impact social media can have: On Saturday, Director Kevin Smith tweeted his 1.6 million followers within minutes of being thrown off a Southwest Airlines plane in Oakland, Calif., allegedly for being too overweight to fit comfortably in the seats. Whether his ejection was justified or not (Smith says it wasn’t), the incident was retweeted, blogged and then noted in mainstream media almost immediately, ultimately prompting Southwest to tweet and blog its own expressions of regret the next day.

In addition to how quickly companies must react to protect corporate reputation, what this story illustrates so well is that you can never know exactly when or how a threat to your company’s reputation will crop up. In this case, a customer relations gaffe — for certainly, whether Smith’s girth was against airline policy or not, his ejection from the plane wasn’t handled as well as it probably could have been — caused Southwest an unpleasant media uproar culminating with Smith relentlessly and quite publicly declaring to his millions of followers that he will never again fly Southwest. And it also nicely illustrates that it’s not enough to have a social media web presence; companies must effectively manage their social identity by sustaining a solid online reputation and addressing potential PR crises immediately.

When companies craft their crisis communications plans, they need to fully realize they have literally minutes to react to any threat to their carefully crafted brands. Be prepared!

A Cautionary PR Tale February 8, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, took decades to build its platinum reputation. It took just two weeks to topple it, in what will go down in the history books as one of the biggest corporate PR debacles ever.

Clearly, Toyota’s handling and response to its sudden-acceleration and breaking-system woes should be a cautionary tale to crisis communicators everywhere.

The slow and inexorable drip, drip, drip of news, recalls and possible solutions has dried up business at Toyota car dealerships, created shortages for rental car agencies, worried and inconvenienced its customers and made the company the global butt of jokes even as its market value has severely plummeted. You know things have gone very wrong for Toyota when suddenly Detroit automakers are looking really good to consumers.

Companies need to realize that crisis is nearly inevitable and be prepared. Design fails, recalls happen, bad press will follow. But Toyota took the Tiger Woods route: Initially ignoring the growing scandal, avoiding public statements as the crisis grew, finally admitting parts of the problem but only after others had made their damning accusations, then — eventually — putting a recall and repair plan into place, albeit with mixed messages and too many unanswered questions.

Toyota is now throwing itself on its sword in mea culpa ads, and company executives are offering themselves up as whipping boys on national TV news magazines. But had the company addressed the problem head-on weeks ago, it would not have needed to atone so spectacularly.

A solid crisis communications plan, carried out competently and courageously — and most of all, immediately — could have saved Toyota. Think Tylenol or David Letterman. In the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis execution is measured in hours, if not minutes. That it took weeks for Toyota to formulate a plan speaks to its internal problems and lack of accountability. Its deplorable response will almost certainly translate into heightened paranoia about its end product by consumers.

Toyota finally seems to be finding its course and communicating with the public, although the recalls continue. The question now becomes whether the company will be able to repair its tattered reputation enough to find its way back near the top of the heap; and if so, how long it will take.

All for the lack of a crisis communications plan.

Mad Skills February 3, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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In marketing, is it better to have agency experience or corporate experience?

I was forced to examine this today when I received feedback from a corporate hiring manager who had concerns about my agency-only experience. Frankly, the feedback took me aback somewhat; the conventional wisdom is that agency marketers can transition with relative ease into corporate marketing, but it doesn’t always translate well the other way around.

After reading a few blogs and soliciting feedback from other marketers, I have to conclude that the conventional logic still holds water: An agency background is usually valuable to both sides of the fence.

In an agency, marketing and PR professionals quickly learn the essential skills of their trade: versatility, fast and succinct writing, breaking complex concepts down into digestible bites, strategy, good pitching, team management, and expertise in a variety of technologies and techniques as they scramble to address various clients’ needs. Because agencies are the industry workhorses who for the most part labor behind the scenes of a company, they are held liable for any missteps but work to make their client marketers shine. The work is hard, deadline-driven and often done with limited access to the real client-side decision makers.

Agencies will rarely consider those with corporate-only experience for this reason. Some — though certainly not all! — are simply glorified liaisons between the executive team and their agencies. The best corporate marketers partner heavily with their agencies. And almost all rely heavily on their agencies to strategize, message and implement their programs. Call a corporate marketer and they’re likely to be in a meeting, albeit an important meeting. Call an agency marketer? They’re scrambling to hit a deadline to produce something — a marketing plan, a budget, a set of messaging, a piece of collateral, a media hit — the corporate marketer will present in that meeting.

This may be a bit harsh, but at every agency in which I’ve worked, corporate candidates have been almost uniformly passed over in favor of those with agency experience; and when they haven’t, they have had difficulty within the fast-paced, results-oriented agency setting.

I’d take it a step further and say that every public relations and marketing professional should include some agency experience in his or her career. There’s nowhere else where you can work with a variety of companies and industries, learn so quickly the skills needed to do the job… and get such unmatched experience.

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