Posts tagged ‘Public Relations’

Are You Taking Advantage of “Special Offer” Media Opportunities, Or Are They Taking Advantage of You?

The pandemic impacts hit the U.S. business markets in mid-March 2020. Conferences and events, and the fertile business development grounds they provided, were cancelled, postponed or pivoted to online formats that were unfamiliar (at least way back in 2020) to most professionals.

“I generally speak at the Name-That-Conference for industry professionals and get a few solid new business leads out of that engagement each year…,” was the start of many a pipeline-focused conversation. But that pipeline ran dry with a highly transmissible virus attending all the same gigs.

Smart professionals and their firms turned their attention to content – and in most cases, this was what we PR-types refer to as “owned” content (the firm controls and distributes it without going through any gatekeepers, a.k.a. editors/reporters/producers). Webinars, newsletters, resource centers, blogs and even forays into the broadcast realm – in the form of podcasts and video series – proliferated.

This desire to educate, share and engage with potential clients in new ways was music to many in-house professional services marketers’ ears – and in the absence of third-party engagements, focusing on firm-produced media channels seemed the perfect pivot. But there is a dark side.

With the launch of these owned media channels, particularly podcasts and “online magazines,” there’s an emerging new category of “media” out there, and it appears to be confusing even the best and the brightest – somewhat intentionally.

Using recently encountered real-world examples, allow me to describe three different wrinkles on this media trend that should raise questions for communicators, marketers and business developers:

  • Example A: An A/E/C industry-focused “online magazine” with a well-targeted title and corresponding URL is “honoring” firms with various self-selected awards (think “top interior designer” or “best plumbing contractor.”)
  • Example B: A podcast has emerged in the IT space with a flattering name, online presentation and a cool-enough concept: the episodes profile the cream of the IT crop and discuss issues of interest to the top players in the space.
  • Example C: A family of podcasts in the legal industry, managed by a single producer, targets lawyers, identifies the podcasts within the family of managed productions that align with the lawyers’ expertise, and lines them up to participate.

Here’s the “owned” media catch: there is another brand behind each of these media channels.

  • In Example A, an A/E/C software developer produces the online magazine – and pushes pop-ups and other company promotion to viewers. (We had to dig in a bit to get to this as it is not overtly disclosed.)
  • In the case of Example B, the IT podcast is obviously and proudly branded by a service provider. We’ll discuss why this can be a red flag below.
  • In the legal podcasts described in Example C, while not obviously branded as law firm or legal tech productions, each is sponsored by and aligned with a specific legal brand.    

Companies create these owned channels for fairly transparent reasons:

  • Access to potential clients (whether their ultimate target is your firm or your firm’s clients).
  • Desirable audience overlap between their brand and the goodwill brought by your firm/professionals (and keep in mind these channels include “subscribe” and “follow” buttons – as well as active chatbots in some cases).
  • A halo effect that your firm brand can bring – providing them credentialing implied by your participation (and, therefore, approval) of their channel.
  • “Shared” media cross promotion on social channels as you help to amplify your participation.
  • Real estate on your website when you post your participation on your domain of authority.
  • SEO fodder.

And that leads us straight to the questions these “opportunities” should raise. Before you jump in wholeheartedly, ask yourself:

  • Is it wise to align our firm brand with this brand? Do we know the sponsoring outfit and its reputation with our own audiences – including clients, prospects, referral sources and the industry generally?
  • Do we want to provide our “implied approval” of this vendor and/or their product(s)?
  • Might our involvement or participation signal an “allegiance” – however tangential – that could be misconstrued by others in the space?
  • Is the sponsoring brand’s audience desirable to our business development goals?
  • Is the production value reflective of our firm’s standards?
  • Is the “sales” approach acceptable to us and our connections? (For example, will the channel spam our clients if they follow or register?)

Beyond these questions, as you evaluate these opportunities compared to traditional media outlets, consider that:

  • There are no audited circulation or subscriber numbers, so the audience noted may or may not be as advertised. Even if the numbers are there, they may or may not represent a large extended family of the producer, rather than solid targets for your business development efforts.
  • The traditional ethical canons associated with the fourth estate, don’t apply. There is no semblance of editorial independence here – so the rules of balanced reporting, separation of editorial and paid content, and protocols for handling correction requests may not be applied.

Now please don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously impressive owned media channels out there. It has long been a goal to land a client in the Costco Connection or to have the cult-like following of a channel like the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer. My only caution is to do the work to identify the sponsor of the media channel before replying to the come-on, granting interviews, posting accolades on the firm website or sharing the content with your entire LinkedIn network. Otherwise, you could very well end up doing someone else’s marketing while undoing your own.

Traci Stuart

September 20, 2021 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Pandemic Roiling Your Media, BD Plans? “Embrace the Suck”

We’re past Labor Day weekend and the “Hot Vax” summer has seamlessly transitioned into “Back to School/Back to the Office” life. We’re almost back to those 2019 school buses, cubicles and bridge-and-tunnel vibes!

Actually, no.

We are, instead somewhere in our fourth (or fifth?) COVID wave, with lots of office opening delays and ample school anxiety. And, while we may have been able to compartmentalize work and home in the before times, it just isn’t possible now. For us as individuals and as professional services providers, we are just going to have to “Embrace the Suck” as the military mantra goes.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Bernstein recently authored the piece, “How to Deal With Stress in Your Life: Embrace It,” where she broke down the expression:

My Uncle Sidney, a retired U.S. Navy physician and Vietnam veteran, has a military phrase he uses as advice for what to do when life is lousy: Embrace the Suck.

He’s dispensed this colorful guidance to me in several stressful situations—when I’ve been anxious on deadline, dealing with a difficult family member, and, most recently, struggling through the pandemic.

“The point is, when you’re stuck, surrounded or suffering, you need to assess where you are, learn to live with it, and try to advance,’’ Uncle Sidney says.

From a media relations standpoint, nearly every story is seen through COVID-tinted glasses. To break through, it’s crucial that thought leaders avoid trying to act as though a total “reset” button has been pressed. This massive elephant remains firmly in the room, despite our best efforts to move it along, and is spawning media-rich developments like vaccine mandates, health care surcharges and employee testing.

Individually, or as a firm, you may not want to talk about the pandemic; but, you really can’t not.

Collectively, we remain in a lousy situation. However, as the pandemic grinds on, there are emerging “winners” and maybe not “losers,” but definitely folks who missed their media rocket rides.

What are the consistent elements of success?

  1. Availability and willingness to express uncertainty.
  2. Being a quick study.
  3. Understanding that today’s media topic du jour can be displaced in minutes, with stories scrapped as new information becomes available.

COVID’s waves have had media topic counterparts: bankruptcy, tax, labor and employment, health care, more tax, more labor and employment, traditional labor, etc… As we continue to wind our way (hopefully soon!) toward the exit, opportunities will remain abundant.

Professional services thought leaders and practice and industry group heads also need to guard against the karmic drag of the pandemic sapping their creative spirit and entrepreneurial focus.

Later in the article Bernstein quotes Dr. Robyn D. Walser, an assistant clinical professor in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, on the importance of staying focused, “‘Just because there are these super-wicked problems in the world does not mean you give up on what matters to you.”

What matters personally is paramount, but, what matters for your firm and your practice is also crucial. Business development plans inked in 2019, early 2020 or even last September need to be revised. New goals need to be set. And a willingness to ride the wave of a news cycle where you can’t always give definitive answers needs to be embraced to help for you and your brand to stand out – and, ultimately, advance.

Michael Bond

September 10, 2021 at 6:15 pm Leave a comment

Ellen Blattel Talks Women in Business

The following is excerpted from a chat on the couch with Blattel Communications Founder and CEO Ellen Blattel. We looked at the issues facing women in business, and Ellen reveals her path into the public relations and professional services communications world, details some of her early struggles and offers advice for today’s young professionals. Natalie Cuadros (NC) reports.

NC: What challenges did you face in breaking out on your own? Has it become easier for people in marketing and communications to launch businesses in the time since Blattel Communications first opened in 1990?

EB: When I started Blattel Communications, I made the conscious decision not to approach any clients from my previous company. This meant starting off with a clean slate, without any established client base. I had to motivate myself to cold-call firms and tell them what my company could offer. At the time, few communications professionals and agencies were catering to professional services organizations. Large public relations agencies focused more on large companies and their products, with a heavy emphasis on the business-to-consumer market. A pattern emerged, particularly with respect to the professional services sector – midsized firms felt neglected by large PR agencies. This made B2B-focused marketing and communications agencies like Blattel Communications a logical and attractive alternative, offering a more individualized approach.

NC: As the founder and leader of Blattel Communications, how does talk of assertive women being labeled as “bossy” sit with you?

EB: I think the way people act professionally later in life is directly related to their upbringing. This is true with raising assertive women. When I was growing up, it was never expected that I would ever pursue a professional career. The lessons I learned were not related to assertiveness. It took a conscious effort, and even a class on “being assertive,” for me to be able to break out of my shell, build confidence and see myself as a leader. In terms of the “Ban Bossy” campaign, I agree with it, in that I believe that it is important to foster an attitude of assertiveness by girls at an early age. Assertiveness – which, of course, differs greatly from aggressiveness – should be rewarded, as it can lead to a much higher instance of women CEOs and entrepreneurs.

NC: What tips do you have for professionals, and especially young women, starting out in the communications and marketing fields?

It’s all about relationships and rapport, regardless of your age. People want to do business with people that they know, like and trust. Those qualities can only develop when you have personal, one-on-one relationships.

Some advice:

Set goals, even if they’re small. When I started the company I was cold-calling. I set a goal of how many people I had to call each day. Also, I set goals for when I was attending networking events:I had to give out a certain number of business cards each time.

Listen. Take the time to hear what others are saying, digest and give thoughtful responses. Don’t talk over anyone: really listen to what they’re saying.

Be self-motivated and operate with a clear sense of direction.

Public relations, communications and marketing are not paint-by-numbers fields.Each day will present a new set of challenges. Stay motivated and focused on providing value. Success will follow.

May 5, 2014 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

A Holiday Reminder: Unlike Fruitcake, “News” has a Short Shelf Life

Listen up, litigators (and dealmakers)!  We are aware of the amazing high you get when the jury delivers that winning verdict after a hard-fought trial for which years of your life were spent in preparation – or when those transactional documents are signed, sealed and delivered after many days and nights of intense negotiations in an enclosed room with recirculated air. Ah, sweet VICTORY!!!

But wait, you want to share the news, right? You want the world (or at least your friends and foes) to know it was you and your amazing team that got the job done. Well, remember to call in your communications team before you send out an all-firm email celebrating your success. After all, news – unlike the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake or the recently departed Twinkie – has a shelf life. Reporters like it when it is fresh.

The news cycle is never-ending. News breaks 24/7. Citizens (and reporters) are tweeting from the courtroom, so results are circulated within minutes of being read. The recent Apple-Samsung verdict – which had many components – was live tweeted. Investors are speculating and corporate PR machines humming along and poised for immediate disclosure. There are no “presses” to stop for breaking news. Reporters need the “news” of your victory within minutes because the deadlines for the web are relentless. Good news is like milk on your countertop – wait too long and no one wants to touch it.

We’ve been “breaking” legal news for more than two decades, and we used to have the luxury of “picking” our timing. A verdict read late on a Friday – traditionally undesirable news timing because you don’t want to be in that skinny, overlooked Saturday edition – might be held for release on Monday morning, after the celebratory hangovers have subsided, talking points have been vetted and client approvals confirmed twice. Well, just like sending press releases via U.S. Postal Service, this is a communications practice of the past.

If you’d like news coverage of your case or deal, it needs to be communicated as soon as possible after the big verdict is read or deal closure secured. Better yet, let’s chat in advance and get it all ready to go – “just in case.” Consider creating a mini-communications “strike force” – prepared with sources, talking points and materials for all possible outcomes. Bear in mind that confidentiality agreements exist for a reason and we are disciplined when it comes to safeguarding your information.

Competition is stiff. If you’re not sharing the news, but the other side is beating its chest and screaming about an appeal, you may see some coverage, but it will likely quote the attorney who was sitting on the other side of the courtroom or across the table.

We PR-types don’t mean to be buzzkills, but please don’t wait to move on big news. We exist in symbiotic relationships with you, our clients – and we enjoy popping a few bottles ourselves upon getting the right message out at the right time and into the right vehicles.

When it comes to news, think fresh.

Traci Stuart

December 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm Leave a comment

The Importance of Being Able to Find Quality Content

If I was going to get a tattoo that reflects one of my professional beliefs, it could very well be this:

Content is king.

For professional services companies, it is paramount to produce quality content that demonstrates knowledge of a subject and that also adds value to client relationships while making you attractive to prospective clients.

Having the ability to publish materials via the web can be both a blessing and a curse. The Internet exponentially lowers the cost of producing collateral material. No more expensive brochures or days spent in the mail room sending out client alerts. However, a very real temptation exists to favor quantity over quality. This is compounded by the fact that when an important decision occurs or a new regulation comes into effect, a feeding-frenzy occurs and a flood of alerts are cranked out.

Still, time and again, I have heard general counsel say that well-timed, well-written emails, client alerts and third-party produced byline articles go a long way towards maintaining or helping start relationships.

However, your content – be it byline articles, client alerts or third-party media mentions – needs to be leveraged effectively to make an impact.

There is my next tattoo:

Leverage.

Look at these comments from the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Joint Committees’ CLE Seminar “In-House Counsel Panel: The Substantive and Practical Challenges Faced by Today’s In-House Counsel” this past January:

“I sometimes find papers written by law firms, but I start with Google and then end up linking to the law firm site. I never start with the law firm site when looking for information on a legal issue.” – General Counsel

“I use the Internet 100 percent of the time for my research and communication needs. Google and Yahoo are usually my first stops.” – General Counsel

How does content get traction on Google? Several ways:

  1. Keyword-rich landing pages on a company website.
  2. Links and narrative referencing on the pages of the bios of those who authored the content.
  3. Promotion via social media – Tweets via corporate Twitter account and personal LinkedIn status updates.

Another critical credentialing tool that drives search results is tacit third-party endorsement via byline article writing and quotes in trade and general media publications. Of course, reprints of these mentions should be utilized on firm sites.

From the same ABA CLE program, it is also telling what general counsel did not like when evaluating law firm websites:

“Candidly, a bad law firm website would be like showing up to a meeting with me in a crumpled suit.” – Chief Counsel, Intellectual Property

“They all look like they took their marketing materials and handed it to web guys and put it online. I could do a better job writing the content for a law firm website.” – General Counsel

The presentation noted:

Most participants indicated that they would be interested in being able to access more substantive tools and knowledge on law firm sites.

Read differently: General counsel want quality content that is readily accessible!

There is real value in being pro-active and strategic with your communications plan. Executed correctly, it builds the brand and helps generate business for both the professional and the organization.

Now I just need the number for a good tattoo parlor.

Michael Bond

October 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

For Press Releases: Stick to the Facts

Writing good press releases is not as simple as it would seem. The right words in the right place can make an enormous difference, as can a good message-focused quote versus a stock, throwaway one.

Continue Reading July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

Timeline = Time for Social Media Audit, Plan

Auditing what you and your company are revealing is critical to protecting privacy and minimizing potential PR issues.

Continue Reading December 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm 3 comments

It’s Tough to Beat a PR Message Delivered by Cannonball

It’s that time of year. The publications, trade and consumer, online and traditional, are proclaiming their best and worst of 2011. I’ll just give you one recent and personal chart-topper.

The Discovery Channel show, “MythBusters,” while filming at a Bay Area sheriff’s department bomb range, accidentally launched a cannonball into a home and a minivan. The news and the program’s often odd-ball hosts were named in major news outlets around the country.

The Discovery Channel’s and “MythBusters’” response was thoughtful and complete on day one. Resulting coverage assured the public that

  1. no one was hurt;
  2. Discovery Channel took responsibility;
  3. all appropriate and proper safety protocols were followed (in fact, a sheriff’s department safety expert was on the scene when the “bounce” happened);
  4. the incident was bizarre and unprecedented in show’s history (with details on the cannonball’s trajectory); and
  5. the incident would not air.

Then, on day two, when many a successful crisis communicator might have been content to rest on the mountain of not-terribly-damaging coverage clippings, the show’s two hosts went out to publicly survey the damage, express their “embarrassment” (look at that, raw emotion!) and personally apologize to those impacted – even going so far as to decline to smile in fan photos since it wasn’t “a smiling time.”

Nicely done, Discovery Channel and “MythBusters.”  There’s definitely something to be said for a human response to a PR crisis!

–          Traci Stuart

December 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

Go Ahead Switch to Decaf, There’s Better Ways to Refill Your Energy Tank

Having worked in-house at law firms for four years, I am acutely aware of the strains that are generally put on legal marketers. Wearing many different hats and being able to effectively manage numerous channels of information and projects is – even to the very best at doing it – an extremely difficult and energy intensive thing to do. This is why I found a recent New York Times article so interesting.

Near the beginning of the article, an extremely spot-on exchange is relayed:

Tony, it’s unsustainable,” he said, almost as if he was making a confession.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I have 1,000 unread e-mails in my inbox,” he told me. “I can’t imagine I’m ever going to get through all of them.”

“Are any of them important?” I asked.

“How would I know?” he said ruefully.

How many busy professionals, if being entirely honest, would say the same thing? But, listen to this:

During the day, we oscillate every 90 minutes from higher to lower alertness. In effect, our bodies are asking us for a break every 90 minutes. But we override the signals with coffee, sugar and our stress hormones.

For professionals, one of the answers to this avalanche of emails and endless coffee (of which I am an offender) – and one that deviates from suggestions in the article such as integrating nap pods – is to be smarter by managing the flow of information and tasks into and out of our virtual “In Box.” By employing third-party service providers – such as public relations firms – companies can do more in a shorter time period. Branding agencies and PR firms can off-load pivotal tasks so strained departments can focus on the other 800 emails coming. Forming partnerships can virtually grow a firm’s marketing department and reduce stress for marketers.

Speaking from personal experience, the other key advantage of forming partnerships with content specialists is the outside perspective they bring in. Any organization will miss opportunities and fall into the dreaded group-think if they do not seek answers outside their walls. Remember, someone at GM must have thought the Pontiac Aztek was a pretty good looking car.

Michael Bond

July 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm 1 comment

Lack of Ethics Leads to Black Eye for PR Industry

As a public relations agency, we adhere to the ethics guidelines set forth and agreed upon by our industry.  Not only do we owe this to the PR trade but to our clients and journalists, who are bound by their own respective industry ethics.  The key word here is ethics, a concept central to effectively representing clients and building relationships with journalists.

So it is unfortunate that Burson-Marsteller ignored its commitment to PR ethics. The mega-agency created a whisper campaign to get top-tier media outlets, including USA Today, to run news stories and editorials berating Google’s privacy.  Former CNBC news anchor Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio, both recent Burson-Marsteller hires, were active in the media pitching – until they were asked which client they represented.  The radio signal then went silent.

Burson-Marsteller even approached an influential blogger, Chris Soghoian, offering to assist in writing a Google-bashing op-ed and promising to place it in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico and The Huffington Post.  Again, when asked about the client involved, the radio signal went silent.  So Soghoian denied the request and posted the entire email exchange.

After the email exchange went public and USA Today reported that many claims in Burson-Marsteller’s pitch were false, The Daily Beast’s Dan Lyons became suspicious and eventually outed Facebook as the anonymous client.  Describing the scenario, Lyons wrote:

Here were two guys from one of the biggest PR agencies in the world, blustering aroundSilicon Valleylike a pair of Keystone Kops.

Here are two former journalists, working for one of the world’s largest PR firms, making false claims and refusing transparency.  Only after Facebook admitted its role, did Burson-Marsteller release the following statement:

Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

 The client requested that its name be withheld on the grounds that it was merely asking to bring publicly available information to light and such information could then be independently and easily replicated by any media. Any information brought to media attention raised fair questions, was in the public domain, and was in any event for the media to verify through independent sources.

Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined. When talking to the media, we need to adhere to strict standards of transparency about clients, and this incident underscores the absolute importance of that principle.

Too little, too late.  As Media Bistro points out, Burson-Marsteller should have refused the campaign:

For publicists, one of the many lessons of this story is that, as a PR professional, sometimes you have to discuss alternatives or decline a client’s request when the work is improper.

One the six core tenets of the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code is “honesty.”  PR firms are expected to “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented” and “avoid deceptive practices.”

If Burson-Marsteller had followed this tenet, been upfront about its client and used solid facts when pitching, the story would have ended quite differently (avoiding the black eye the PR industry wears today).   As PRSA points out on its blog, “the ironic thing is that Burson-Marsteller got exactly what it wanted: a big article in USA Today talking about privacy concerns with Google’s services.”

–          Chuck Brown

May 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm Leave a comment

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