Interesting

dreamstime_xs_49756552I am a student of human behavior. I people watch wherever I am – in meetings, at coffee shops, in airports, on the ferry, in waiting rooms and in reception areas. I am always interested in how people act in public, when they think no one is watching. It is always interesting to see who is considerate and who isn’t. And I’m not talking about being a doormat here. Polite, considerate and courteous people can – and do – communicate when they are unhappy with something or are upset with someone’s actions. We just do it in a way that helps to manage the process in a more positive manner.

Being polite, considerate and courteous is second nature to me. I was taught to say please and thank you and to take other peoples’ feelings into consideration. My parents were sticklers for this. And it has served me well in both my personal and professional lives. It helps to build positive relationships with clients, partners, journalists and, of course, my fabulous AHA colleagues. I know that I have been given opportunities, had introductions made for me, and had doors opened because of these interpersonal skills.

I recently had two very different experiences that highlight the power of this. The first one was with a former client who asked for a proposal for a proactive marketing communications campaign from us. We sent over the proposal and he e-mailed back thanking me for it and saying he had a couple of urgent matters on his plate and would get back to me in a few days. A few days went by and he e-mailed again saying: “I haven’t forgotten about you; it’s just a bit hairy here right now. I promise I will get back to you by the end of the week about your proposal.” He was considerate and made the effort to reach out and acknowledge that we had a proposal in with him and that he hadn’t had a chance to review it yet. This is the type of client we want to work for – someone who sees us as partners and treats us with respect.

The other experience was completely the opposite. I was asked to sit on the board of a high-profile, national organization as co-communications director. This is a volunteer board and the organization wants to completely rebrand itself in 2016. That meant a huge amount of work on my part. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to manage the amount of time and effort that it would take and asked a few questions about it. I had to follow up several times and, eventually, a phone call was set up with three other board members. We spoke for about an hour. I thanked them for their time and told them I would get back to them within 48 hours about whether I felt I could fulfil the demands of this role. Within 24 hours, I knew that, as much as it would have been an interesting experience, it was too much to take on with everything that we have going on here at AHA. I sent out an e-mail thanking the chair and the board members for considering me, but that I had to decline because I didn’t feel that I could make the type of time commitment that was necessary. I wished them well but heard nothing back from anyone – no response at all. Thinking that perhaps my e-mail had gone into their junk folders, I resent. That was three months ago and I still haven’t received a response.

Interestingly enough, I had a colleague ask me if I could recommend someone for a pretty lucrative contract that was right up the alley of one of the board members I had e-mailed. Given that client service and communication was a key element of this project and I had seen firsthand that he wasn’t great at that – he couldn’t even be bothered to respond to my e-mail – I didn’t feel comfortable recommending him for the job. It’s funny how that works.

Please, thank you, if you have time, I really appreciate this… There are so many phrases that make life easier. It sounds so small, but basic courtesy is a valuable skill. I know that being polite, considerate and courteous has positively affected my career and my personal life. And it’s really not hard to do. Take the time today to be considerate and courteous to the people you work with and to the people you share your life with. I promise you, it’s worth the effort.

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ThinkingToday’s blog post is short and sweet – and I hope there is a takeaway in here for you.

Don’t believe everything you are told or read. Use critical thinking to go through what is being presented, shared, told or provided to you – and verify that information. There is always more than one side to a story. Fact checking is not always done with mainstream media articles or for pieces uploaded to the web and – even if you are hearing it from someone in person – they could have an agenda.

We are working with a client that has an issue. He works in a highly competitive industry – and one that seems to think it is a good business strategy to level accusations at competitors. One of the challenges that he is facing is that there is information online about his business dealings. It is inaccurate and, in some cases, completely wrong. Potential clients, investors, contractors, employees, media and other stakeholders Google him, see this negative information, and some of them believe it is true. It is incredibly frustrating for this client. He wants to set the record straight, but preconceived opinions hamper that effort.

Over time, his actions will speak louder than words. But for the moment, as he takes his business to the next level, this is an issue that we have to deal with. There are several options for us to shift perception of him and we are doing that, but it takes time and effort. We will be writing a case study on this client and how we helped to re-establish a good reputation once we have gone through the process and achieved our goals.

In the meantime – don’t believe everything you are told or read. It’s important to verify facts and to use critical thinking to ensure you aren’t being manipulated as a part of someone else’s misunderstanding, miscommunication, errors or agenda.

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Question mark imageThe world of media relations is getting trickier and trickier. I was listening to a news radio station this morning and they had a counsellor/therapist on to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how the shorter days can influence our moods. There wasn’t any real news value attached to the interview, except that we are heading into shorter days. There was no news to report, no survey results, or a big breakthrough in helping to treat people; the interview rehashed the same stuff we always hear.

Interestingly enough, the counsellor/therapist is from a company that regularly advertises on this station. I recognized the company name and about five minutes after the interview, their ad came on. Hmmm….

It’s a fact of life that by being an advertiser, you are on the station’s radar should they need to do an interview about something you know about. But more and more today we are seeing the lines blur, and what would have been called advertising or advertorial is frequently being passed off as editorial. That is a frightening thing to me. We – as a society – count on journalists to be that unbiased source of information. If someone is getting media coverage because they are paying for it – how can they be unbiased?

We all know media companies are having financial issues, and this may be one of the ways they are able to keep their heads above water. But if the way to get good media coverage is to bundle it in with your advertising purchase, then it’s not unbiased media coverage and it shouldn’t be dressed up like it is.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-american-spy-wearing-black-suit-holding-cup-image35529905Over the last few days, there has been some noise on social media about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) joining Twitter and Facebook. Their first tweet was: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”  It seems that they have a sense of humour.

Their objective – according to a statement by CIA Director John Brennan – is to “more directly engage the public and provide information on the CIA’s mission, history, and other developments.” In the statement, he also said: “We have important insights to share, and we want to make sure that unclassified information about the agency is more accessible to the American public that we serve, consistent with our national security mission.”

There were certainly some laugh-out-loud responses to the CIA’s first tweet and, in a day and age where we expect transparency from our government agencies, it seems to make sense that they would use social media. And I am sure the CIA has a budget to support this social media outreach – which is important, especially for a high profile, controversial organization such as this. At this point, their Twitter account has more than half a million followers, with Facebook at just about 40,000.

I am interested to see how this plays out. The director stated that they want to “more directly engage the public” – that is a pretty big objective for a spy organization. I think that in theory, it’s great that they are embracing social media. In reality, I think they will spend a great deal of time dealing with critics and controversy and defending their actions and their organization. I wonder what that will achieve for them in the short and longer term.

If they are going to use social media to push out information that can be found in news releases or other public statements, then I think it will be ineffective. Social media is about conversation, dialogue and discussion between people – it shouldn’t be used as a distribution channel that is one way. With half a million Twitter followers – that is a large number of people who will be paying attention to what they communicate.

At AHA, we have several high profile organizations as clients (not the CIA), and we have developed strategic communications plans that include social media. The research and strategy that goes into these plans includes understanding how and when social media could be an asset and when it might be a liability for the organization.

I think it is important to identify the risks of engaging and not engaging – and they both have risks. I spend a great deal of my professional life explaining why organizations should engage – but there are still times when the risk of engaging is higher than not engaging. If, after you have identified the risks of engaging, you find that it’s a long list – and you still believe you need to reach out – it is crucial to be properly resourced. And you need to have an issues communication plan in place. There is no doubt that the CIA will face issues online – their agency is too high profile and too controversial to avoid it. It may be that they use those issues to authentically engage and keep the American public (and the rest of the world) informed. We’ll see. As much as the online world has been around for a long time (heck, AHA has been involved in it for close to 15 years!) – it is still uncharted territory in many ways. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

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Candy CrushCandy Crush Saga is a popular online game played on Facebook and mobile devices (iPad, iPhone and Android). Players try to match three or more candies in order to gain points, remove obstacles and meet goals. Currently, the game developers state that the Facebook version has 485 levels and the smartphone version has 425, with new levels being regularly released. Players need to unlock levels as they play. To do so, they can ask friends to help, they can pay for more “turns,” or purchase assistance in the form of “boosters.”

As much fun as this game is (and it is fun), Candy Crush also provides some valuable PR lessons if you look past the little animated intros, flashy candy explosions, and the feeling of victory when you move up a level. Below are the top five PR lessons learned from Candy Crush.

You Need a Strategy Specific to Your Goal

In order to move up levels in Candy Crush, you have to develop a strategy that is specific to the level you are on. The obstacles and goals change at every level, and the strategy that worked on the last level might not work on the next one. Without a defined strategy, you’re just moving little pieces of animated candy around, hoping for a Candy Crush miracle. And don’t just try to do what you did successfully last time; a cookie cutter strategy doesn’t work in PR or on Candy Crush. In PR, it is crucial to identify and understand the specifics of your initiative, project, organization and culture – as well as the timing and external events that may impact it. You need to identify your goals relevant to those influences before defining a strategy. One size does not fit all.

Community is Crucial

In Candy Crush, you can ask friends for help – for additional lives, moves or to help you get to the next level. You can also respond to the requests from friends or you can help out of the blue and randomly send them lives and moves. In fact, Candy Crush makes it easy to be a part of a community. It asks you who you want to help. Now, if your approach is always to ask for help and never give it, eventually your Candy Crush pals are going to get tired of you and stop responding. Sound familiar in PR? Great PR is a two-way street – with your community, your stakeholders, media and bloggers, on social media networking sites, at events and tradeshows, with your colleagues… everywhere. If the only reason you connect is to ask for something, you will wear out your welcome pretty quickly. People will stop responding. No candy for you!

Money Talks, but it’s Not Always Authentic

On Candy Crush, it’s easy to purchase more lives, more moves and “booster” help (and it’s encouraged, since that’s how the game developer makes money). Sometimes, spending the money works; but if your only success comes from paying for it, at some point it loses its authenticity – in PR and on Candy Crush – and no amount of messaging or positioning makes it any different. I did a poll and no one I spoke with admits to spending money on Candy Crush.  In the world of public relations, we use a range of communications vehicles, including those we pay for such as advertorials, ads (including Facebook ads), promotional PR, brand journalism pieces, and partnerships/sponsorships – and they work. However, media relations, blogger relations, social networking conversations and discussions are key to authentically connecting with stakeholders – and heaven help you if you try to pay for that. The reason this type of coverage is successful is because it is earned, not bought. PR has evolved and today it definitely includes more elements that are created and paid for (which can be a great thing), but no matter what – great communication has to be authentic, transparent, engaging and informative if you want stakeholders to care. A blend is good, but don’t buy your way into everything; sometimes you just have to do the work necessary to earn it.

Don’t Share Too Much About How Great You Are

Lots of people who play Candy Crush allow the game to share their score on Facebook – if they achieve a high score, which friends they have just surpassed with their score, etc. It gets really annoying after a while. It’s too much. In public relations, if all you do is tell people how great you are and what a success you are, and your only communication is to show them how you think you have “passed” them in any given area, you lose any meaningful connection. Think before you brag about how great you are. Sharing a genuine success is one thing; populating your social media feeds with shameless (and usually empty) self-promotion doesn’t achieve anything. In fact, it could make people wonder who you are trying convince about how great you are.

It’s a Process

In Candy Crush, you get past one level and do a little happy dance and bam, the next level is right there to conquer. Did I mention there are more than 400 of those levels? That’s how we live our lives as PR professionals – and we love it. We celebrate the successes, review the lessons learned, and then turn our focus to the next challenge. It’s an ongoing process that we accept and embrace. It’s a never-ending need to move forward, to improve, to meet our goals and set higher ones, and to take our organization or clients to the next level. That’s what makes us leap out of bed in the morning ready to crush it!

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