Understanding the Timeline: When Will a Lawsuit Be Covered by the Media?  

In law school, the correct answer to in-class queries was frequently “it depends.” In law, often there is no black or white, right or wrong – it all depends on the facts and the analysis of the law. This dynamic also applies to media coverage of lawsuits.

Lawsuits are filed in every court in every state every day. No two lawsuits are created equal, and thus, media coverage won’t be equal – it depends on many factors and the lawsuits’ various stages.

In gauging your suit’s coverage potential, let’s explore a simplified run-down of the timeline and cycles of lawsuit coverage. For now, we’ll focus only on civil lawsuits (as opposed to criminal).

What Is Covered?

Before we get into triggers for lawsuit coverage, it’s important to understand which lawsuits attract media attention and why.

Both the parties to and the subject matter of lawsuits determine whether they will receive media coverage. Civil cases brought against large corporations, celebrities or billionaires generally get the most attention, simply because the case revolves around someone or something we know. Similarly, lawsuits coming from the U.S. Supreme Court attract extensive coverage, as the issues they address tend to be controversial and national in focus – or both.

Cases with strong business implications are often newsworthy – and if not within the context of a daily newspaper, these are often issues covered in industry-specific outlets. For example, a California-venued case involving an environmental emissions may not make it to the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, but it may be important to manufacturers of food products nationally – making it a hot one for a publication like Food Safety Magazine or Food Quality & Safety Magazine.

Generally speaking, the most “media-genic” lawsuits involve issues to which a preponderance of the population can relate – civil rights, employment, privacy, consumer protections, and the like. Class actions tend to command coverage when they threaten to strike a blow against large companies or well-recognized brands.

Geography – of both the court venue and the parties to the case – are often factors in which lawsuits are covered. For example, if a suit is filed in Los Angeles or targets a Los Angeles-based company, it might be covered more extensively in the Southern California area than it would in other cities.

Filing of the Complaint

A complaint sets out the facts and legal reasons a plaintiff believes are sufficient to support a claim against the defendant – essentially, it outlines the justification for the lawsuit. When a complaint – noteworthy for any of the aforementioned reasons – is filed, lawyers (and their clients) can expect media attention as these filings are public, and there are often astute reporters assigned to the courts who review such filings.

At this stage in the process, it’s all about the allegations. Take, for example, a lawsuit against a major food brand alleging false advertising claims on one of its products. Once the complaint is filed with the court, it will likely be covered nationally by daily newspapers, as well as in the legal and food industry trade publications. Depending on the brand and reach of the claims, broadcast coverage is also a possibility. This said, the same filing and allegations against a smaller or more regional company may only merit a passing mention in trade media – if at all.

Usually, interest in and the potential for coverage of complaints is short-lived — dying down in the days shortly after filing, unless it is a controversial or particularly timely topic. And unfortunately for many companies and brands, the interest in the outcome – say a quick dismissal on summary judgement – rarely sees the coverage the filing and initial allegations saw.

Pre-Trial Phase

Many activities are set in motion when a case is pending trial, but they aren’t all necessarily newsworthy. This does not mean that what happens in the pre-trial phase is any less important – in fact, the events might be the most critical in determining who wins the lawsuit – however, media coverage is triggered by big developments rather than the more nuanced legal wrangling that takes place during the pre-trial phase.

Discovery, motions and court hearings are important in uncovering the evidence that either side may use in trial or to support an array of motions. The majority of this information is limited in its availability to members of the media, and the only publications likely to cover any significant updates tend to be the legal trades – whose ranks are often filled with reporters and editors more educated on the ins-and-outs of trial practice. There is one motion, however, that you’ll often see in media coverage – a summary judgment motion.

A motion for summary judgment is filed by the defense counsel urging the court to find that the plaintiff has not established a material fact to continue the lawsuit. Essentially, the defense is asking the court to declare “the plaintiff has not established this case; therefore, the lawsuit is dismissed.” If the case is actually dismissed and has generated coverage upon filing, you can generally expect coverage of the summary judgement. This said, a seeming “technical” dismissal is not nearly as information rich as the filing of a complaint, so lawyers (and their clients) are often left unsatisfied by the disproportionate attention given to the “nasty allegations” and the limited reception to dismissal of said allegations.

Settlement

With 95 percent of lawsuits ending in settlements, media consumers rarely learn exactly how matters – even those much ballyhooed upon filing – end. The details of negotiated settlements are often confidential. And while news of a settlement may drop at any time during the case trajectory, the subject matter, parties and available details – especially settlement amount – determine whether or not this sort of resolution draws headlines.

Verdict

If a lawsuit makes it through the pre-trial phase without a settlement or summary judgment, then we’ve reached the stage with the most media potential – the verdict or judgment. How the jury or court decides in a certain case makes for great news, especially if it is precedent setting – either overriding a state law or conflicting with another recent decision on the same issue. As with the ongoing worker classification lawsuits in various states (known as AB5 in California), every decision is covered, and they occasionally conflict.

How long does media attention last? Well, that depends on how earth-shaking the decision is. Staying with the worker classification example, the issue has been topical for more than two years, and court decisions continue to be covered extensively. These high-impact issues tend to fuel reports until they’ve been resolved one way or another (like a U.S. Supreme Court decision…).

Appeals

If a lawsuit is appealed (a near-certainty in major matters) this development will get some degree of media attention – again, especially if it involves a major corporation or issue. Appellate proceedings can take several months before oral arguments, and, like pre-trial motion play – the trajectory for appeals is nuanced. As a result, only the biggest and broadest appellate decisions make waves in the media.

Altogether, factors like subject matter, companies involved, location and lawsuit stage play crucial roles in the media interest in a lawsuit. Just like in law, the answer of when a lawsuit will get media attention versus when it won’t is simple – it depends.

Michael Panelli

September 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Exploring “The New Rules of PR” for ProServe Communicators

It’s a given that business professionals need to evolve and shift their methods to stay on top of industry trends and succeed in their chosen fields, and for those of us in public relations – whether you’re in an agency setting or in-house, the need to adapt our thinking to maximize efforts (the old “do more with less”) and achieve optimum outcomes (a.k.a. “what have you done for me lately”) has accelerated in the current environment.

Ben Kaplan, the CEO of TOP, a global agency network,  recently presented on what he sees as “The New Rules of PR.” The webinar outlined five core rules for communications pros looking to drive gains in awareness for their firm and skillfully leverage breaking news.

Kaplan led off with a few comparison examples of “old way”/ “new way” PR questions that come up frequently in day-to-day operations. The first, and most relatable, was a question with which every campaign should start, “What upcoming company news do we have to announce?” It seems fairly direct and on-point, but it is also an “old way” question. How can one take it a step further? Kaplan suggests tweaking it to “How can we package the data to create a newsworthy trend?” Doing so ensures that the communicator’s mindset is already contemplating the approach to sharing this information. He notes that communicators have to start putting the audience first when pitching: It’s a two-way conversation, and because there is so much noise out there, what one person says isn’t the only thing that matters. Incorporating data into an approach from the outset can help break through the noise and grab a reporter’s attention.

Each of Kaplan’s “old way”/ “new way” examples hold five guiding rules for professional services communicators:

To get more coverage, package more data.

Data is an increasingly important part of the PR toolkit. Not only does it get a pitch noticed over competing messages, it helps tell a story that is valuable to others and can connect to a firm’s values/positioning at the same time – a win-win-win. Communicators are increasingly asked to be data packagers.

Great PR leads to great Google rankings

To excel in PR, one needs to know related fields, including Search Engine Optimization (SEO). PR and SEO go hand in hand as the marriage of the two can build inbound links at a much faster pace than traditional methods. For example, one may leverage a timely news peg by developing a data study to post on the firm website. This can then be pitched to media, and if there is a hit, media outlets may link to the full study, generating inbound traffic and boosting SEO.

PR is more scalable with pitch blueprints

There are a variety of pitch blueprints that can help scale stories faster. A “Geo Ranking” approach would compare different regions to each other to generate local news at a global scale. This may be done by running a flash survey on a trending topic, ranking the states based on the responses and pitching localized versions of the results to media in each ranked geography.

A “Predictor” style looks at how one can make logical predictions about what will happen at an upcoming event. For example, let’s say Apple is holding an event to discuss new features on their latest device. A PR pro can look at the data from prior periods and current trends to forecast what will happen. From there, they can pitch the prediction during the build-up before the event.

A “Battle” method explains the pitch in terms of a war-like battle that is filled with drama and intrigue. For a well-known example from the consumer realm, the “Cola Wars” between Pepsi and Coke even sounds like an intriguing story. Communicators may insert their firm or spokesperson into the story as a key player, important witness or armchair quarterback to the drama between the large companies.

Finally, a “Big Number” tactic involves summing up the individual benefits to create an impressive statistic based on cumulative impact. For example, one may be tasked with promoting a pro bono matter that, as a stand-alone, is of marginal interest, but when aggregated with the firmwide impact of such service and/or the implications of this matter on those similarly situated, the achievement – the “big number” — becomes much more impressive.

Work laterally, instead of sequentially

To compress time and get hits faster, PR professionals are advised to work laterally instead of sequentially, leveraging multiple communication channels at the same time to hit the largest relevant audience possible. By working serially, an approach espoused in the days when “scoops” were reporters’ and producers’ stock in trade, made more sense, but given the speed of news media today, it means communicators can bottleneck their own results – or worse, miss the news window all together. The best approach is to cast the widest possible net from the outset.

Competitor coverage is good for you

Professional service providers (especially lawyers) may see a great news piece highlighting a competitor and become irritated that they (or their firm) wasn’t in the story. PR pros can help turn this feedback around: instead of focusing on the negative, you may be able to leverage the competitor coverage. As the communicator, we now know who is covering the topic – so that part of the work is done. Now, you need to get creative in identifying a related topic.

If the competitor in question is a Goliath-type company, it is probably already getting widespread media coverage for virtually everything it does. PR pros can insert their spokespeople into each Goliath company’s trending conversation by offering timely insights, analysis and data that the journalist may not be able to find elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

My biggest takeaway from Kaplan’s presentation is that communicators remain extremely valuable. Earned media has the highest return on investment (ROI) of any marketing discipline – including the fact that many of these hits live on the internet forever. As long as communicators continually evolve their tools and execution, there continues to be a big upside to PR efforts in our crowded and competitive media landscape.

Joey Telucci

August 31, 2020 at 3:12 pm Leave a comment

Unspooling Twitter Threads

2020, what a year! Thanks to a raging global pandemic I’ve been spending more time at home, eating in more often and keeping tabs on the thoughts of prominent epidemiologists – just as I planned! My current crushes are Dr. Anthony Fauci (America’s heart throb), Dr. Ashish Jha of Harvard University and Dr. Thomas Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University (Maryland Strong!). From a communications standpoint, I’ve been reminded of Twitter’s ability to provide direct-from-the-source messaging, often in the form of threads – a tool frequently used by public health professionals and one that more professional services companies should consider.

A Thread?

Twitter is all about relatively short, direct messages. A poster has 280 characters to say what is on their mind. For issues that require a deep dive, threads are the way to say more through a series of connected tweets.

How to Thread

Creating a thread is easy. Start a new Tweet, when ready for the next item in the thread, press the plus button. Best practice is to note how many tweets will be in the thread, for example:

Each tweet in the thread will show up on your timeline, with a button that allows viewers to see the whole series:

The Thread Reader App Twitter bot can also make threads easier to read.

Why Write a Thread?

Here are three reasons to write a thread:

Limited Media Opportunities – Your organization may have what it feels is important news or insight it wants to get out, and the current news cycle is crowding it out.

Deep-dive Breakdowns – Threads offer the opportunity for a technical dive or detailed breakdown of developments. Such granularity may not work well on other outlets.

Complete Message Control – If a person or organization wants to comment or correct comments attributed to them, Twitter threads offer the opportunity to do so with no filter. One can even refer a reporter to a tweet or thread when they are seeking comment. This is particularly useful with crisis communication.

In addition, Twitter threads offering real-time analysis on breaking news can later form the basis of longer client alerts.

Use Twitter for messaging, media monitoring and business retention and development. (You do follow your clients on Twitter, right?). It’s a powerful communications platform, and a crucial element to any communications plan.

Michael Bond

August 3, 2020 at 6:04 pm Leave a comment

How A/E/C Firms Can Use Social Media to Keep Projects Visible During a Pandemic

Pre-pandemic, commuting workers and visiting travelers provided construction projects with built-in audiences to monitor and observe progress on a day-to-day basis. Now, with normal activity curbed because of COVID-19, facilities are being built without spectators, and architecture and construction marketers are left to find new ways of promoting projects and maintaining visibility.

In the absence of traditional marketing and business development avenues, social media has become a “go to” channel for expanding project messaging beyond “just the facts.” With studies showing that the pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place mandates have driven an uptick in social media usage, now is a good time to share project stories and communicate broader community value.

Some of the creative ways firms can promote projects include:

Virtual milestone celebrations – Milestones are still great for generating buzz around a project and celebrating these touchpoints in a project timeline can cut through the monotony and isolation of pandemic living. With careful planning and coordination, virtual celebrations are an opportunity to highlight the collaborative efforts of all project stakeholders – owners, donors, project teams and end users – in shaping facilities that help enhance the community. Video-friendly platforms,  like Zoom, can be used to seamlessly facilitate and captured socially distanced celebrations with multiple speakers. Recordings can be easily shared on company websites, social media channels and used for other marketing activities.

Bring followers behind the scenes – Just because people aren’t walking by your project every day doesn’t mean they can’t follow its progress. Remind followers how your firm is helping to create a brighter future by showing the thought and planning behind the project’s creation. Consider providing a sneak-peek glimpse of schematics or renderings from the planning stages or creating an interview series with project team members talking about different aspects of the project’s development. Showcase your firm’s experience in executing innovative techniques and applying creative solutions during a pandemic.

Call upon local artists – As businesses have boarded up windows and doors in many cities across the country, murals and other forms of artistry have emerged as symbols of support and hope. Blank exteriors, including jobsite coverings, can become literal canvases for artists to display works and bring attention to timely issues and causes. Some have seen these efforts garner national exposure – often boosted by sharing via social media channels  grow. Leveraging loyal artist followings can expand your project’s visibility to new viewers and audiences.

Social media marketing is a great way to bring the community in for a view from behind a design and/or builder lens, and a branded hashtag campaign can help viewers follow progress with real-time updates. With so much uncertainty about the future, messaging should incorporate how, once completed, the project will meet today’s needs and how will it continue to serve and provide value in the future. Are there flexible features that can be highlighted? Breakthrough sustainable materials? Inventive technologies or operational pivots being employed? While post pandemic fallouts remain to be seen, for now, the forward-looking nature of project progress can provide viewers with a sense of hope and a way to continue feeling connected to the surrounding environment.

Vicky Jay

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July 28, 2020 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

What Entertainment and Sports Can Teach Us About Staying Engaged With Your Audience During a Pandemic

As the country slowly starts to “reopen,” two key and highly visible industries remain largely stuck in limbo – sports and entertainment. Billions of dollars have been lost as all major sports have been paused and museums of all sizes have closed their doors. Considering the adage “out of sight, out of mind,” compounded by the universal mental stress and strain caused by shutdowns and mass layoffs, staying relevant to audiences and finding ways to grow one’s brand awareness is an urgent challenge – and one with lessons for professional services companies.

On May 28, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) livestreamed a panel discussion, “Connecting During COVID-19: How Entertainment & Sports Organizations and the Media Are Staying Engaged,” hosted by Shawn Warmstein, the Vice President of rbb Communications. The panelists included: Janet Smith, Vice President, Brand Communications, for the Atlanta Hawks; Kevin Iole, Combat Sports Columnist for Yahoo! Sports; Jewel Wicker, a Freelancer for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter; and Shauna Wilson, Director of Communications for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (HOF).

Each of the panelists outlined how they’ve pivoted their strategies – from Smith’s team setting up programs for feeding health care workers, to Iole and Wicker writing stories on the human-side of the athlete/artist, to Wilson opening up the HOF’s video vaults for fans. The common theme throughout: recognizing the uniqueness of this moment and adapting activities and offerings accordingly.

Similarly, professional services companies have also made on-the-fly efforts to keep clients and prospective clients engaged. Although their work was not “shutdown,” these past few months have not been business as usual.

The pandemic has created a scramble for business owners confused about finances, regulations, compliance and, more recently, how to navigate retaining staff. In light of these uncertainties, professional service firms have made a tremendous effort to develop COVID-19 resource centers populated with content addressing key questions and pain points. Not only have the resource centers been a way for firms to provide valuable insight, they’ve also enabled firms to promote their expertise in various and emerging areas of law, accounting, construction, etc. A key pivot seen is the level of proactivity: rapid-fire news summations and analysis have become the norm.

Some professional services firms have also taken it a step further and conducted short surveys to get a gauge on the top operational and recovery concerns of their clients and the industries in which they operate. Seeking more direct feedback from clients has allowed firms to understand today’s challenges, as well as anticipating those looming on the horizon. A client or industry survey isn’t a new idea, but the rapid rollout of one is – especially for traditionally slower-moving professional services firms.

The pandemic has reminded professional services providers of the importance of entrenching themselves in their clients’ businesses and industries. Maintaining client relationships – and, like sports and entertainment, staying visible – is paramount to retain and develop business, both now and in the future. Showing an understanding of what a client is going through and being able to provide the appropriate professional guidance can go a long way. Should we go through this again in the fall or winter, clients will remember the companies that adapted to find meaningful ways to engage with them during a challenging time.

Joey Telucci

June 15, 2020 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Making Legal Articles Accessible to More Than Just Lawyers

Writing is an art. It’s no simple task to just pick up the pen (or keyboard, rather) and start composing. But, once you get the juices flowing, it can be even harder to keep it going and have it make sense – especially when you’re used to writing a certain way.

As a lawyer, you may find it challenging to adjust your style and tone for a contributed article when you’re used to writing memos, motions and briefs. Writing for a non-legal, industry-specific audience, however, is not the same – and requires a different level of attention to detail.

The key is to remember this isn’t law review. Most editors aren’t looking for the legalese-heavy pieces (though certain exceptions apply, like writing for a legal journal – but that’s for a different post!), and they may come back and ask for revisions if the article is too technical. It’s in your best interest to come across as clearly and as simply as possible – for your goal is to convert readers into clients.

Leverage Your Knowledge, But Don’t Sound Precocious

Writing for a judge differs vastly from writing for an industry-specific audience that includes fellow counsel business executives and possibly members of the judiciary. If you write an article with terms like “heretofore” and “demurrer,” a judge would understand – but your business audience likely won’t. You don’t want to risk confusing the reader with unnecessary jargon. Depending on who your audience is, you should aim for a simpler piece, explaining yourself thoroughly and analyzing and concluding in a way a layperson can understand. If you feel the need to include a legal term, make sure you explain what it means and provide a clear example.

There’s a particular line from Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” that seems fitting: “Even though the sound of it, Is something quite atrocious, If you say it loud enough, You’ll always sound precocious.” Don’t overwhelm your readers with precocious language; rather, guide them with easy-to-explain words, concepts and examples.

Stick to Your Word Count

Most editors will give you a handful of editorial guidelines when you commit to writing for their publication. One is a word count, which may range as few as 500-600 words to as many as 1,500-2,000 words for certain trade publications. Editors can be strict with their word counts, so you’ll want to follow these guidelines as closely as possible.

It’s a bad look if you turn in 1,000+ words for a 500-word article. In such cases, consider the topic you’re discussing and see if you can cover it in fewer words. If you’re focusing on the top workplace considerations for employers, could you trim it from the Top 10 issues to the Top 5 or Top 3? Beyond this sort of winnowing, where are the easy places to cut?

If you find yourself short of the word count, review the article and see if there is an area that you can expand upon. Also, with each section, consider if a non-lawyer will understand what you are saying. If not, perhaps you can include a bit more detail, using that extra word count, to further break down examples or concepts.

Cut the Citations, Save the Words

I took a legal writing course in law school (at Pacific McGeorge, we called it “Global Lawyering Skills”), so believe me when I say I completely understand and appreciate the value of legal citations. A legal audience can decipher the citation, but you shouldn’t assume a general audience will be able to understand. By including these citations, you run the risk of confusing your readers with a Bluebook-compliant citation that – ultimately – isn’t necessary (and, given online publishing, is likely to be cut).

Legal citations can be lengthy, which ultimately adds to your word count. If you’re in a pinch for trimming words to get under a certain cutoff, take out the citations first. It’s the easiest step to trimming fat off an article without sacrificing content. Don’t leave it to the editor to figure out what’s critical in your piece.

There’s a time and place for citations, but, generally, this isn’t it.

A byline article in a trade publication can offer great exposure to a targeted audience, ripe with potential clients. To catch their attention – and hold it as they read your article – you’ll want to strike the right balance. An informative, detailed-but-straightforward article with real-life examples will go a long way toward helping the reader understand your message. Lastly, do not forget to include contact information like an email address – it’s a great way for the reader to follow up with you if they have questions, and, it’s a launching point to establishing a relationship.

Michael Panelli

April 23, 2020 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

Making Your Home Office the Center of Your Success

If you are still adjusting to unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, know that you are not alone. The shelter-in-place mandate has upended daily lives and caused many to realize that new routines and new forms of self-discipline are required as we adjust to our “new normal.” Beyond basic communications practices (see previous post by Joey Telucci on how to master these principles), setting up a workspace to maintain productivity and focus can be tricky, but is a critical way to set yourself up for success. A well-planned workspace and daily routine can make your communications more effective, help keep you on task and improve your personal wellness. Here are a few tried-and-true “hacks”  set you up for success.

Lighting

One of the best ways to maintain energy and alertness throughout the day is to ensure good lighting in your workspace. As many designers and architects can attest, lighting is an important feature when designing corporate office spaces. If possible, natural sunlight is the best option. However, if your home setup doesn’t allow you proximity to a window, or if you are juggling home schooling in addition to work tasks during the day and find yourself spending a lot of time working in the evenings, a desk lamp is a great option. It allows you to avoid the direct glare of overhead lighting. Not only can good lighting help keep your attention where it needs to be, it can reduce eye strain and headaches.

If you will be spending time on video conferences, good lighting can be especially important to having a quality experience. Avoid having a light such as a ceiling light placed right behind or above you, creating a glare or halo effect for the camera. Natural lighting is preferred to florescent, and the addition of a desk lamp or other fill lighting in front of your face will help you not appear as a darkened silhouette, When people can clearly see your facial expressions, it will be easier for them to connect with you emotionally.

Clock/Calendar

Without regular office routines, it can be easy to end up sitting for hours on end without feeling like anything has been accomplished. Time-organizing tools can be accessed on your phone or computer, but sometimes it can be helpful to have physical versions to help keep track of your schedule and to-do list. A calendar can help organize your daily personal activities, such as switching laundry or emptying the dishwasher, so that work breaks are regular and meaningful home tasks can be crossed off as you go about your day. A wall calendar can help you visualize big-picture milestones for weeks or months out. A visible clock (beyond your phone) will help remind you to take breaks though out the day. You can use the alarm features or calendar appointments with reminders to ensure you get up and stretch, eat regular meals and otherwise stick to routines that keep you healthy, both mentally and physically. Set reminders a few minutes before scheduled calls and meetings to give yourself time to switch gears, pull up relevant documents and prepare for the business at hand.

Give yourself a regular schedule for your business development activities, too.  Use your calendar or to-do lists to track client outreach, schedule media monitoring for industry trends or set aside time to develop new content. Whether the content is shared now or saved for a future date, you’ll be glad you have kept in practice and stockpiled some material to keep you visible during future busier days.

Décor

A decorative desk embellishment, such as a photo or plant, allows for a pleasant place for your eyes to momentarily rest and helps remove the feeling of needing to get up in search of distractions. Adding some character and personality to your work environment can affect your mood: create a space that makes you feel good!

Think about what surrounds you in your workspace. If you’ve taken over a corner of a room used by others, do you have the features you need to organize your work? Are reference books within easy reach? Invest in a small portable file box. Keep a caddy of frequently used desk items. Do your best to arrange an ergonomically appropriate space. A keyboard or monitor at the wrong height can cause neck and back pain.

What is behind your chair? If you will be doing any video conferencing, especially public interviews, consider what the viewer will see behind you. During this unusual time, no one will fault you if you don’t have a professional home studio. That said, do make sure there is nothing embarrassing or inappropriate in the frame. What is seen behind you becomes a part of your brand and could influence how people perceive you.

Water Bottle

Working from home can lead to not drinking as much water as usual, possibly because there is less of an urge to take a break when not in an office—no more water cooler chats with colleagues! A water bottle or insulated cup at your work area can remind you to drink water throughout the day and stay hydrated. Consider keeping a personal pitcher on your desk and add slices of fruit to give it a little flavor.

Background Sound

For some, working in silence can be as much of a distraction as loud background noise. The trick is to find the right balance. Music is proven to reduce negative feelings like stress and anxiety and elevate moods. Spotify, Google and Apple Music have created work-from-home themed playlists, in addition to offering white noise and nature sounds to help soothe away anxieties from the outside world. We produce better work when we are relaxed and comfortable.

Work-from-home is different for many of us and every set-up is unique. Look for easy ways to find a balance of tranquility and productivity. As for the noisy toddler, you are on your own.

Vicky Jay

April 16, 2020 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

Communicating Effectively During COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed any resemblance of normalcy in our professional lives, it is important to understand how we as communications professionals can push our organizations’ messages and our clients’ messages forward during these uncertain times. On April 1, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) livestreamed a webinar, “Effective Communications in a Long-Duration Crisis: Keeping Things Together During COVID-19,” hosted by Communications Strategist Doug Levy. Levy, who was Chief Communications Officer at Columbia University Medical Center during the 2014 Ebola crisis, shared his best practices for communications during an extended emergency.

Few communications plans anticipate irregular operations starting suddenly and lasting weeks or months. The times in which we are living are quite unprecedented, and Levy outlined the following approaches to help us navigate the volatile landscape.

Principles of Communication During COVID-19

Above all else, communications professionals must make sure that whatever message is sent makes sense for the person (audience) on the other end. Regardless of the type of post or topic, you must recognize that the impact of COVID-19 varies from person-to-person depending on their career, location and economic status. What used to be normal will never return, and whoever is reading the message could interpret it very differently from someone else.

Part of our role as communicators is that everything going out needs to be 100 percent accurate. Communication is not just what you say, it’s your actions, as well. For example, a CEO posting a video on social media saying “stay safe” is a perfectly appropriate message; however, if they are on a yacht or have their mansion in the background, it may feel hollow. Many people have lost their jobs and can’t afford to pay their rents/mortgages and may deem even the most positive message as negative given the context.

Balancing “Business as Usual” with Empathy and Flexibility

Tone is critically important. Now more than ever, double checking your reason for communicating a message is paramount. Knowing that folks are being bombarded with messaging around COVID-19, your target audience should be narrower than usual, and you should always confirm that you are the right source of information for what you are sending.

When providing an update on your company, Levy maintains that the first items that should be addressed to the public are any immediate physical and other risks to life, health or property. At the start of the crisis, you should first let people know that your staff is OK (employees should come first), wish the recipient well and provide a status update on the organization. You can then inform your audience of what happens next with the organization and how things are changing (e.g., notifications on event postponements).

Following the initial message, all previously planned “business as usual” marketing, social media posts or sales outreach must be reviewed to confirm if they should proceed or be postponed. In all cases, you must adapt the message to the current environment and be cognizant of your audience’s mindset and how people are feeling at this time.

According to Levy, the “Golden Rule” to follow is to only put out messages when you have something of value to say. Instead of “about you” messaging, acknowledge where the pain points are and do not present yourself (or organization) as the victim.

Joey Telucci

April 7, 2020 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

Professional Networking in a Time of Physical Distancing

Many professionals completed their 2020 Marketing and Business Development plans toward the end of 2019 or early in 2020. That seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, throughout our country, whether by government mandate or strong suggestion, businesses are sending workers home from all but “essential” services. So, you packed up your laptop and your open files and set up your home office. You’ve scrolled through hundreds of social media posts laughing about the strange behavior of your new furry co-workers (a la “My ‘co-worker’ just jumped on my desk and licked my face. I think I need to call HR.”).

For some, business continues to pump along at its usual pace, but for many, there is a strange silence. If you find yourself on the quieter side, now is a good time to dust off your contacts list and start connecting.

Who Do You Know or Want to Know?

Take this time to scroll through your contacts or, better yet, look in your emails for people who have not yet been added to your contact lists. Update their information in your systems. Who are your top clients and referral sources? Have you had any connection with them since this whole craziness started? If not, make a list and start connecting. Who have you been meaning to meet? Have you put a new membership organization or conference into your business development plan? If those events are cancelled, why not identify folks who you would have met in person and reach out virtually? While many are juggling the demands of their work and family obligations, there is no reason you can’t start to identify appropriate ways to broaden and deepen relationships within your network.

Social Media

Social media, and especially LinkedIn, is a great place to start. Spend a little time adding people to your networks. Consider if it’s appropriate to connect with clients and referral sources. It may be fine to add some of these folks to your Facebook and Instagram, but LinkedIn should be a safe space for almost anyone you know through work. Be sure to include a personal note reminding them how you know each other and wishing them well in an individual way. If they accept the invitation, follow up with a short note to suggest a phone call. Check out if they belong to any online groups that would be beneficial to join. Watch their posts and “like” or comment as appropriate to signal you are engaged and care what they have to say.

You can share your own stories and respond to other people’s posts, but the real magic is in the one-to-one conversations, even when in the public or semi-public sphere. As always, you should be authentic and thoughtful. Remember, just because you are still in your yoga pants, your posts should continue to be appropriate to your network, company and profession.

Unless you are an expert in something, don’t share information without fact-checking, even if posted by someone you respect. Avoid too many posts about how you are spending your days drinking and cursing your significant other. Do support those in your network who seem to be struggling. Find helpful resources and suggestions to add value and to raise the spirits of friends and colleagues.

To eliminate some email clutter, many companies are now setting up internal private groups in LinkedIn, Slack, Microsoft Teams and other platforms, so people can share photos and stay connected in a virtual breakroom through chats and discussion boards. Keeping the human connection is important to avoid the negative impacts of isolation. Be a contributor in those forums to deepen your connections with colleagues.

Video Conferencing

Taking networking technology one step further, groups of friends and colleagues are setting up virtual meetings and gatherings. Whether to collaborate on a work project or to toast each other during a virtual happy hour, these group meetups can be a fun way to break the monotony of working from home. Just remember to clean your background of anything embarrassing before turning on your camera. If that isn’t possible, many of the software platforms now offer features wherein you can blur your background or post a virtual background.

If you have not participated in a video conference before, there are plenty of tips you can read online. Spend a little time learning about the technology and practice with co-workers or family members before you invite your best client into a virtual meeting. It’s tempting to turn your camera off and hide behind the “black box” or static photo that people will see if you do, but try to avoid the temptation. Brush your hair and let people see your face. That is part of the power of connecting. It also helps with the conversation flow, since we humans take many of our conversation cues from nonverbal communication (i.e., body language). If you can see each other, it will be more obvious when someone wants to jump into the conversation or is nodding in agreement.

So how do you flip that into business development? Instead of waiting for someone else to invite you to such an event, why not put together your own? Are there people who would benefit from meeting each other? Consider setting up a three-way video conference to introduce them to each other, just as you would if you invited them to lunch. Are you a committee leader in an organization? Rather than postponing, host your next meeting as scheduled via video conference. If your committee’s business is on hold pending future events, you can still get the group together to stay connected. Most of us take on these volunteer roles in order to meet people (not because we love stuffing nametags). So, don’t let current events shut down your ability to build relationships. Ask attendees to talk about how the coronavirus is impacting their businesses. Encourage people to share what they are doing to stay productive. Think of creative ways your group can support the larger organization or a community cause during this time.

The Old-Fashioned Telephone

Maybe you’re still wearing your “office pajamas.” That’s okay, no one can see you on the phone. Send a quick text to let a contact know you are thinking about them. Assuming you have reasonable cell service or (gasp) a landline, you can avoid the choppy connections and transmission delays caused by all of your neighbors eating up your bandwidth. The good old-fashioned telephone call may still be one of the best ways to connect. Call clients and referral sources to check on them. Do they need anything (and not related to your services at all)? Take your time and really listen to them. Don’t feel that you have to “fix” their problems. Being a sympathetic ear is often enough.

Connection Isn’t the Technology

While you may want to wait to send a personal note until more information is available regarding viral transmission via paper, the important thing is to connect. Letting people know that you care about them and following through on offers to help are welcome activities in good times and bad. Being a positive contributor to the conversation helps to build trust and deepen relationships. So, make a personal, achievable goal to have meaningful connections with at least a couple of people every day. It will be good for their spirits and yours.

Lydia Bednerik Neal

March 24, 2020 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

Is Your Website Ready for a Refresh?

For many small companies it’s easy to forget about your company website. You hire a designer, put hours into getting it launched, and then you move on to other projects. It becomes a static electronic brochure, passively hanging your digital shingle.

That’s not terrible in-and-of-itself, but you do need to at least brush off the cobwebs from time to time to ensure search engine spiders know you are still there.

Time for minor renovations or a ground-up rebuild?

The decision regarding whether you can make some tweaks around the edges or need a total overhaul will depend on a number of factors. If you are having trouble being objective about how the outside world views your site, ask a trusted friend (better yet, a millennial or Gen Zer) to visit the site and let you know what they think could be improved. It’s even better if they don’t know much about your industry. They can provide perspective on how easy it is to find useful information on your site.

Does your website project the sophistication of the business that you want to project? Was your site built on a proprietary platform that has become obsolete or is no longer serviced by the original provider? If you aren’t getting regular software and security updates, your site might become “buggy” or start not to function as it should.

Most modern sites are now built as “Responsive Design.” This simply means that the site is smart enough to detect what sort of device (e.g., desktop, tablet, phone) that the visitor is using when they view your site, and it optimizes the display to look best on that device. Users have come to expect this level of ease, so it should be a high priority in your design.

Sometimes the sheer quantity of “small” changes you desire will make it easier to start over. But it’s not always necessary, especially if you’re starting with good bones. The age of your site will dictate some of that, but a site that is even just a couple of years old can often benefit from an annual audit of functionality and content.

The User Experience – are you meeting client expectations?

As mentioned above, many users are now accessing websites from their mobile devices, so you’ll want to make sure the site respects that user’s time and likely interests.

Different visitors have different preferences. Check your site to ensure that navigation is logical and that paths are easy to find, without running into a lot of dead ends. Search engines have trained us to type what we are looking for into a search box and to expect useful results. Be sure you are delivering results that are easy to decipher and quickly take the visitor to their desired destination.

Is your site up to date on the latest best practices around ADA compliance? Especially in California, this has become an important issue – one that could land you in a lawsuit if you choose to ignore it.

Bells and whistles: you don’t need to go crazy with bells and whistles, but a couple of elements that emphasize the right things on your site could go a long way toward differentiating you from the competition. Animations and transitions, videos, interactive elements, hover reveals, custom document assembly, download features, and onsite applications can get distracting if overused, but if used strategically can provide special focus or an element of sophistication to support your overall goals.

Content

When is the last time you added new articles or information to your website? The old saying “Content is King” still applies. Not only does fresh, timely content let your site visitors know that the site continues to be relevant, it also helps it perform well in its Google ranking.

For service areas, team bios and thought leadership (content), are the posts on your site accurately reflecting the type of work you currently do? If you are hoping to grow your business in a particular direction, be sure that you are posting content that emphasizes that work. Content should be frequent, relevant and optimized for specific keywords to support that desired growth area.

While you are at it, take a look at your copywriting for brand consistency. Is the tone of the writing consistent throughout the pages on your site? Do the imagery and language support your overall brand culture? Are articles and news items so old that it makes it seem your site has been abandoned? Posting links to other websites for articles, organizations or resources is great, but if those sites take down the linked page, then the link on your site becomes “broken.” Search engines devalue broken links and users will be frustrated if you waste their time by sending them somewhere that no longer exists on the internet.

Strategy

Of course, driving all of this, you need to address your overall web strategy. What is it you want your website to do for you? Different firms have different needs. Your business goals will dictate your strategic positioning. Your internal resources will influence many of the technical requirements. Your budget will influence how ambitious a project you can undertake. Whether you intend to employ an aggressive paid search campaign to generate leads, live chat features to connect with site visitors immediately upon arrival, or simply want to provide educational content that reinforces your thought leadership and expertise in targeted areas, you need a site that evolves with your company. If it has been a while since you paid much attention to your website, maybe it’s time to do a little digital sprucing up.

Lydia Bednerik Neal

February 21, 2020 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

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