Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Resolve for 2015 to Learn When to Shut Up

By Sarah Larson
No, I can't take your call right now. I'm covering the Memorial Day parade.

During my 20 years as a journalist, I dealt with innumerable public relations folks who did not know when to shut up. They didn’t know how to pitch me a story. Out-of-town agencies kept calling, long after the advent of caller ID allowed me to dodge their calls. They excitedly pitched me completely irrelevant “exclusives.” They couldn’t grasp the concept that a shooting or a bank robbery trumped their carefully orchestrated press conference. All in all, many of them seemed truly mystified at how to work with journalists.

After moving into public relations myself about two years ago, I have seen firsthand how understanding how journalists think and work is a huge benefit to my clients. It’s also a benefit to both sides of the PR equation – public relations folks and journalists – because it saves everyone time and frustration, and fosters better working relationships.

So, on behalf of journalists everywhere – pressed for time, paid in peanuts, and always being asked to do more and more with less and less – I offer this roundup of advice from journalists to public relations folks. Many good PR professionals know these things, but even those who do don’t practice them enough, or don’t do an effective job of helping clients set their expectations.

Here is what journalists today wish PR folks did – or didn’t do. A follow-up post will explore some of the things PR folks wish reporters would do or not do.

Understand first and foremost that nearly all news is local, whether “local” is a geographic region or a topic. If you want to pitch a national story or a national issue to a local or regional media outlet, you must find a local angle. Says one suburban Philadelphia journalist, “The only real problem I had is when one firm called me six times in one day (no lie) to pitch me a non-local story on pet insurance and related products.” Says another, "Don't pitch me stories that have nothing to do with my beat or my state."
Source: American Society of News Editors

Understand that everyone’s time is valuable and finite, and journalists are under incredible pressures to produce more. “Your pitch is not the center of everyone else’s world.” Newsroom staff nationwide has shrunk by 35 percent since 1990, according to annual surveys by the American Society of News Editors. That means fewer people to cover the news – and raises the threshold of importance in deciding what does and doesn’t get covered. It also means that those people still working in newsrooms have more to do; be respectful of their time and get straight to the point.

Do your homework – or do it better. Spend some time researching the reporters and the topics/beats they cover. Only pitch them on a story if you can find an appropriate angle for their audience. Says one Lehigh Valley-based reporter, “Don’t repeatedly send me press releases about events/stories that clearly aren’t related to the area that I cover. No need to send me information on an event in Philly when we don’t cover the city.” A sportswriter agreed. “The biggest thing that annoys me as a sportswriter is when I get releases that have nothing to do with me. Like stuff about traffic patterns or news stories. So basically, the best thing is to know who you are sending to instead of just the universal email database.”

Be organized and plan ahead. Says one business reporter, "If you're sending something that is on the daily news cycle, make sure your clients are available for comment. This has happened far too many times in the past, often with press releases on major management changes at local companies. If you have a new CEO, that person should be available for additional comment when you send out the release." If time is limited, scheduling a conference call between the client and a group of journalists can be helpful.

Think visually. Providing an interesting setting for interviews or an event is crucial if you are hoping for photographs or video coverage. From a television producer, “A bunch of talking heads at a podium or a conference room is the most boring television ever. Help us tell your story by showing us your story.”

Do not name drop. It’s annoying. “No need to tell me that State Rep. or Senator so-and-so is going to be there in an attempt to make it seem like a bigger deal than it is. Their presence, to me, means absolutely nothing.”

Find out how each newsroom that is important to you or a client operates. Learn what their deadlines are, when their shifts start, when their planning meetings are held, and take that into consideration when pitching stories or scheduling events. From a television producer, “Contact the local media and ask THEM what would be the best time to hold a press conference...my daysiders come in at 9:30 a.m., so if you schedule a presser for 9 a.m., you can pretty much forget about us showing up. Also, allow for travel time.”

Consider offering the story ahead of time on an embargoed basis. The more lead time journalists have to prepare coverage, the better. Working with reporters with whom you have developed trust and giving them the story in advance can help improve the odds of getting coverage. Says one reporter, "Breaking news aside - because the world still stops for breaking news - the more lead time I have on a story, the more likely it is that I can arrange my schedule to include it. I've found that more PR firms are offering stories on embargo. I appreciate that trust and the recognition that I'm not sitting by the phone waiting for news to happen."

Send calendar invites for events. Says one editor, "Attach an i-calendar item with an emailed press release that a reporter can just click on and add to their Outlook calendar with all the necessary information right there. Even if they haven't decided whether they will cover your event when you send the release, making it easy for them to add to their calendar gives you a better chance that it will be reconsidered in the days before."

Understand the types of stories that are good for TV/video or for text. A TV journalist says, “Don't bother sending us releases about events that already happened (unless it's like final numbers for fundraising totals). Tell us BEFORE so we have the option to cover your event.” Print and online journalists, however, often will welcome information about an event that has passed, especially if there are photographs to share or final numbers for attendance, funds raised, etc.

Never, ever take it personally. It’s not about you, or your client. “If your pitch doesn’t succeed one time, no bitching or whining about it next time. That will pretty much guarantee worse results. Move on, it’s not personal.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

What's in a Name?

By Rose Strong

It’s been a tough year for companies and organizations that use the name ISIS.

When I was a youngster, Isis was the name of a deity in Egyptian mythology, the goddess of health and wisdom. As I grew up, the name also referred to Isis, the female superhero in the TV show, Secrets of Isis.

Today, according to CNN, ISIS stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The splinter group of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda is also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and just as Islamic State, and gained notoriety after videos were posted online depicting the group’s barbaric and gruesome killings of western hostages.

Given this political backdrop, executives at companies that share a name or otherwise use the acronym ISIS have scrambled to find ways to distance themselves from the newest appropriation of the name. It is a difficult predicament for any business to be in, considering this name / acronym usage isn’t something easily controlled by the business itself.

A condo development in West Palm Beach, FL changed its name from ISIS Downtown to 3 Thirty Three Downtown.

A Belgian chocolate company changed its name from ISIS Chocolates to Libeert after their international customers were unable to carry the chocolates because of the negative connotation associated with the name.

Even the animated television series Archer had to rename an organization within the show as the producers didn't want to associate with the violence and horror of the terrorist group.

A few companies using the acronym of ISIS are making a conscious decision not to change their name. A feminist group affiliated with Fordham University has decided to keep the name ISIS which stands for In Strength I Stand. "People know who we are. Nobody thinks we are in any way an Islamic terror nationalist group. So I really don't see a need to change it because of that," Wallis Monday, the group's president told New York Magazine.

Rebranding is a huge undertaking. Oftentimes, a new mission statement must be developed to coincide with the core values, which may change from time to time as the business changes with the times and its demographics. When you consider having to redesign stationery, packaging, logos, websites, advertising and any other collateral a company uses for its brand identification, a rebranding project can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as a potential loss of customers.

Of course, there are times when rebranding is needed. As a company grows over time, it may evolve to offer new products or services, or may be making a push towards gaining a new client demographic, or may want to keep up with a change in trends and fashions. Other businesses rebrand because the business name doesn't fit or it is easily confused with something else or is unpronounceable or in the case of ISIS, to change the negative connotations consumers may have.

Have you ever rebranded your business? Would you change the name of your company if it had unwelcome negative associations with forces you couldn't control? Let us know in the comments below, what you think about this predicament and how you’d handle it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best – and Worst – of 2014

By Kim Tarasiewicz

Not a day goes by without one of our team mentioning something seen online; part of our business is to keep up with trends in the industry. As the year comes to a close, the Furia Rubel team decided to share The Best and The Worst of 2014 for advertising, social media and technology. So many to choose from, but here is our sampling…

Entertainers Shared on Social Media: Anything with “stars” seems to happen at awards show, perhaps because they are “live” (so what does that say about our actors?). Our blooper/failure awards are a tie between John Travolta butchering Idina Menzel’s name while introducing her at the Oscars and Brendan Fraser and his very strange clap. Our top award, though, goes to Ellen Degeneres for use of both social media and technology in her star-studded group selfie at the Oscars, which she then shared on Twitter, where it became the most-retweeted tweet ever.

Worst Print Advertising Campaign: This is one that our entire team agrees on…Urban Outfitters outrageous ads get our attention with the shock factor, but we find them tasteless.

Best Print Advertising Campaign: We love the Harley Davidson campaign from the Czech Republic, which many of you may not have seen (unless you’re secretly a world traveler). The photography is striking, as is the historical story about WWII riders hiding their bikes from the Nazis.

The Old Spice Mom commercial is strange, yet we need to keep watching to see how it ends, so we give it the Most Creepy, Yet Somehow Funny Commercial award.

Most Memorable Hack: We started the year with the announcement that the Neiman Marcus network had been breached undetected for three months in 2013 and we finished with the incredible Sony Pictures email hack from Thanksgiving week, the fallout from which appears as though it will continue into 2015.

Social media can raise awareness of a cause or need. The Best Social Media Campaign this year stands out in my mind, not for the negligible controversy, but for the positive impact the ice bucket challenge made on the ALS Association, raising more than $100 million in a few months.

Finding a Best LinkedIn post is tough since the website feeds you articles geared toward your interests or areas, but a recent corporate post is generating interest as they try to increase viewers with a contest to have Liam Neeson make a video on your profile page.

It’s tough to choose one Best Viral Video, as so many seem to pop up each day in our news and social media feeds, so we chose a few favorites. We can find many funny animal videos, but the Best Animal Video is the cat saving his boy from a dog attack. The young man who finds out he is getting a sister and is not too happy about it is Best Kids Video. And the Best Viral Song that spawned more viral videos and parodies goes to Pharrell and Happy.

Favorite New Buzzword: There are always new buzzwords, especially when it comes to business and marketing, so we chose a video that pokes a little fun at how we use buzzwords from the eccentric Weird Al.

So there is our list. Of course there are more, which I’m sure we will share at our annual holiday office party along with our family traditions and hopes for the New Year. For me, I know one buzzword from 2014 that I could do without – Polar Vortex.

From the team at Furia Rubel, here’s hoping your 2015 is happy, healthy and warm.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Is Kim Kardashian a PR Genius?

By Megan Quinn

Her latest publicity stunt has been one of the most buzzed-about subjects lately. I think you know who I’m talking about. Kim Kardashian shocked the Internet with a nude Paper Magazine cover and the photo has been plastered all over the web ever since - memes included.

But (ha), let me ask you something; do you know what Paper Magazine is now? Chances are, when you think of Kim K, you probably think of the magazine that showcased her risqué photographs. Her tactic did not succeed in “breaking the Internet,” but it did generate enough buzz to keep her pictures and Paper Magazine’s name floating around.

Just to be clear, as part of a marketing agency staffed by six women, I am aware of the ramifications of using lewd PR and sexploitation for promotional materials. While this approach may work for a certain kind of audience, for our professional services clients, we highly recommend NOT baring it all to pull off a successful PR campaign. This kind of publicity stunt is more likely to turn off a sophisticated, professional target audience rather than attract them.

How did Kim pull off a major PR move?

Still, the stunt seemed to accomplish its goal of raising awareness of both Kim and the magazine. How did she do it? It’s really quite simple. She shocked us and we just had to share the news – just like I’m doing right now – and celebrities did the same by tweeting their reactions.

Then, millions of Twitter followers of those celebrities shared the information with their followers, causing a ripple effect of epic proportions. Other celebrities, such as Alyssa Milano and Chelsea Handler, essentially endorsed Paper Magazine without, perhaps, even intending to by referencing Kim’s cover photos. Handler posted a picture of her own derrière next to Kim’s and challenged her Twitter followers to guess which one is real. Meanwhile, Milano publically questioned why her breastfeeding snapshot received backlash months ago, while Kim’s photo received a fair amount of praise. This, in turn, prompted discussion on attitudes toward breastfeeding once again.

The Numbers

Not only did Kim Kardashian promote her own brand, she helped a small magazine gain a larger profile in just days. Overall, Paper Magazine received 32,000 new Twitter followers (and counting) and surely Kim gained plenty more by marketing toward 18- to 35-year-olds. And believe it or not – Kim actually did those cover photos for free.

Adweek reported that Kim’s cover story generated close to 16 million page views and 11.4 million unique visitors to PaperMag.com, as of Nov. 14. To meet the increasing newsstand demand, Paper Magazine is printing an additional 35,000 copies of the clothed Kim Kardashian issue, but only 10,000 of the nude cover (which will not be sold on newsstands). Paper Magazine normally has a circulation of about 155,000.

PaperMag.com is slated to undergo a complete website redesign soon to accompany their recent print magazine revamping.