Marketing and Public Relations – Enduringly Relevant

There will always be a need for Marketing.

There will always be a need for Public Relations.

The fundamental principles and basic tools remain relevant and crucial. It’s all about adapting them and understanding how to make them work for you.

Organizations will need to continue, as they have since the establishment of commerce, to educate and inform their customers about the product, what it is, what is does, how it works, and, most importantly how it meets the users needs.

Yes, social platforms, social media and the World Wide Web have radically changed how we seek and consume information.

Power has shifted to the purchaser/user.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the pendulum of power has swung in the favour of the people purchasing and using the products. Their role is more active than ever, as they seek and take control of their needs for information: when they want it; how they want it, when they want it.

Long gone are the days where customers passively sat on the couch in front of the TV or with a magazine being served the information Brand Advertisers wanted them to see. Information based on psychographics, demographics identifying the target users so the reach was appropriate, but little attention was paid to tailoring the message.

This makes the challenge of reaching customers both much more complex and that much easier. It has resulted in a communication strategy shift from hard sell to meaningful, compelling story-telling with the target group at the heart of the story, a crucial participant.

It means getting the information to them via the most appropriate channel, when it is most relevant and communicated in a manner that is meaningful/helpful/useful.

What is unchanged is the basic need for information.

It is more important than ever to consider the opportunities for sharing information.

There are many vehicles, and each has advantages and constraints. To be effective, marketers/communicators must use multiple channels, with a basic, consistent message subtly tailored for each different audience.

One of the vehicles, frequently overlooked but as useful as ever, continues to be the press release.

The news release is the fundamental information created and vetted by the disseminating organization and remains the official and formal means of fair disclosure.

Research* indicates news releases remain the most credible source of news for reporters and journalists. The information they contain has been crafted and vetted for accuracy by the owner of the news.

So, while as Sarah Marshall The Wall Street Journal’s social media editor for Europe, Middle East and Africa says, “Social media has become intertwined with the processes of how we gather and distribute stories.”

It doesn’t eliminate the need for traditional marketing and communication tools like press releases. Press releases contain the basic message.  A great starting point.

*Source: The State of Journalism in 2011 Oriella PR Network Digital Journalism Study

It’s Time We Replaced the Word “Consumer”

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photo credit: via photopin (license)

Marketing has changed dramatically.

It’s 2015. The world has changed dramatically, and change is escalating. Technology and Social Media have severely disrupted the status quo, especially with respect to Marketing.

Marketing, an always complicated and ephemeral discipline, has become further fragmented and even more intricate with many more tools and options, vehicles and opportunities to connect.

While, once again I’ll get on my soapbox and restate that every effort must align with the strategy, the fact is that many of these effective new options involve Social Media. And that’s a good thing.

One of the most significant shifts in the paradigm is the transfer of power from Brand Managers and the Marketing team to product users in terms of Brand ownership. The people who use, buy, consume the product (or service) exert a great deal of influence over the Brand, it’s characteristics and communication.

As Marketers, we have always needed to have a profound understanding of the product and the people who consume it. This, in order to determine appropriate strategy, communication vehicles and messages.

But with the product users being more and more implicated and responsible for the Brand, the role of Marketing has shifted from primary owner of the brand identify and reputation to a more of a partnership role shared with the actual humans who comprise the brand franchise.

We need to find a different term for consumer.

Due to this, the marketing community needs to replace the word consumer with something better. A word that does not create a “third-person”, arms-length distance that allows us to objectify the members. Or that leads to define the group of product users with severe or limiting constraints.  We need a term that doesn’t imply a large, homogenous, characterless group with more in common than not.

Why do we need a different word for consumer?

I believe if we had a term that acknowledged the new Brand partnership and more adequately reflected the new brand relationship between the corporate owners and those that take the product home, it would help us, as marketers, do a better job:

  • To establish and foster better relationships.
  • To create meaningful dialogue.
  • To build mutual trust and respect.
  • To do what’s right for the brand and the people it’s conceived for.

And what is the new word for consumers?

I have a few suggestions, but I don’t have a definitive answer. This is something that we need to talk about, discuss and deeply consider. It’s too important to leave to one person, group or organization.  We need the weight of the masses behind it.

To own it!

The new word for consumer needs to better reflect the multiple characterises of the group it will designate:

It needs to have aspects of “fan”.

It needs to connote “audience”, but in a specific and targeted manner.

It should acknowledge the humanity and yes, even the personality of the group.

The word should be accepted by the people in the group (come on, have you ever identified yourself as a “consumer”?)

It must be both comprehensive and inclusive to accommodate the diverse mosaic of the group.

So far, the Thesaurus proposes one synonym that I prefer; it is “enjoyer”.

What do you say? Do you agree we need a new term for consumer? What would that term be?

PR Crisis – How to Handle Mistakes

photo credit: Seth Lemmons via photopin cc

photo credit: Seth Lemmons via photopin cc

mis·take  noun

1. an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.

2. a misunderstanding or misconception.

Mistakes are: minor, easily repairable  “We screwed up on your delivery, we’ll be a week late.”  “I’m sorry, but whoever took your cake order heard “Happy Birthday Harry”  instead of “Happy Birthday Mary” “.  Mistakes are misspelling a word, debiting the wrong account, charging the before-sale price, forgetting a deadline, using whole milk instead of skim in your latte.

MISTAKES are serious lapses in judgment, human error, or a complete disregard for others that cause, or have the potential to cause, serious consequences, injury or even death.  Like the Costa Concordia running aground.  Or, like someone in the cockpit of a British Airways jet who pushed the button for the automated “We are going to crash” announcement.

The most important thing about mistakes (little or BIG) is to ensure they don’t happen again.  That is a complete given.

The next most important thing is how you handle them.  For mistakes, an apology and an explanation is often enough.  All of us have been in the situation where we’ve made a mistake, for whatever reason.  It’s tolerated.

First, take responsibility.  Own up to the mistake.  You did something “wrong”. Admit it.

Be genuine in your dealings.   You messed up.  You should feel badly about it, imagine a similar situation that has happened to you.

Be honest.  There are things you will be able to say, and information that you may not be free to share.  Whatever you do say should be a candid and honest statement.

Apologize.  Say you’re sorry. Explain why you’re sorry and relate it back to the customer.  “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.  I realize that because we are late delivering your furniture you’ll have to make new arrangements for someone to be home.”

But MISTAKES must be handled differently.  MISTAKES must be handled on two levels.  They must be handled in the public domain and they must be handled with the individual(s) impacted by the MISTAKE.

Public

There should be an immediate public admission of a problem or error.  No need for details initially, but  include a reassurance that the matter will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken with those found to be accountable.

Provide timely updates.  Communicate regularly and/or whenever there is important new information.

Monitor Social Media.  Follow up any issue that surfaces so that you can comment on the critical ones. See previous point.

Come to a conclusion.  Issue a statement when the dust has settled, the investigation is complete, and you can talk about the measures that have been put in place for the future.  Don’t just fade away so that people ask “Whatever happened to…”

Individuals

The most important part of dealing with a MISTAKE is how you deal with the individuals involved.  Each one of the people who have been impacted need to feel that everything possible was done to help them, comfort them, accommodate them, make it up to them, yes, compensate them.  That the “best” has been made out of a horrible situation.

Each of these individuals is a customer, a spokesperson, an advocate.  They entered a covenant of trust that X (product, service) would be provided in return for the $.  How they are treated will not only affect their attitude toward you in now and in the future, but will help colour public opinion for years to come.

Lessons Learned

BP is a brilliant example of what not to do in a crisis situation. BP’s image may never recover from the disastrous oil spill in the gulf of Mexico.

First, BP only  accepted partial responsibly for what happened, blaming two other companies working with them.

Secondly BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s regrettable “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do.  I’d like my life back.”  statement may have been a bit too genuine and it showed a definite lack of prioritizing in his sympathies and in his responsibilities.

But fundamentally, there were, and are, so many people affected;  the environmental impact so broad and far-reaching – not just geographically but into the future as the ecosystem evolves and compensates; that it may be impossible to make restitution to everyone impacted by the catastrophe.  But BP should keep trying.

For generations, BP will be a bad word in the mouths of many of the residents of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and neighbouring states.

Despite the short shelf life of news in the Social Media environment, people who have experienced a disaster, as well as their families and friends, have long memories.

Originally posted on January 25, 2012 on mononews.

 

Dancing on the Sharp Edge of the Knife

Marketing/Communications people are the Brand Champions in the organization.

Working in Marketing and Communications means that you are serving two masters (actually there are a few more than two, but we’ll ignore them for now, even if that may not be so easy to do).

One master is your client/Brand.

The other master is the consumer, your end-user.

And you are walking the tightrope between them.

Yes, your salary gets paid, directly or indirectly, by your Brand/client, but unless you understand and adequately meet the needs of the ultimate client – the person who actually uses and pays for the product or service you represent – there won’t be any money to pay anyone.

A responsible Communications pro/Marketer understands that there are two opposing yet complementary sides to the coin.  Without the brand there is nothing for the consumer, if the people suing/consuming are not happy/satisfied, there is not brand. the And they actively search for ways to keep both sides satisfied.

When interests are common, this is easy, when they are not, it is a challenging balancing act.

The Brand Champion represents both the Brand, and the ultimate user/consumer.

While acting as the Brand/client ambassador, you represent the Brand, your client to the internal organization, external suppliers, the public, the media, the consumers themselves and are responsible for the messages, communications, image and identity.

As the main spokesperson for the Brand/client within the organization, you are accountable for representing the wants and needs of the customer, and for delivering against the promise of the brand or service.  Everything you do must be for the good of the ultimate consumer.  Everything you do must also support the goals and objectives of your company/Brand.

So if there is a problem or a mistake, you are responsible for creating the action plan and brokering the solution that fixes the issue and ensures transparency with the consumer so they don’t feel you’re trying to put one over on them.  The how you do it serves the interests of your company/Brand to maintain your status and performance in the marketplace.

Not an easy task, but one that provides a great sense of accomplishment when you get it right.

Know your user/purchaser/client.

Keep faith with the ultimate user, make sure you have their best interests at heart.  The more you know about, and can identify with them, the easier it is to understand how to communicate with them.  Represent your consumer franchise well and make sure you educate all of the stakeholders at your company so they are very knowledgeable about the end customer.  It helps to ensure the agendas dovetail (and makes your job easier).

It’s in your best interest.

Originally posted September 21, 2011  on mononews.

Communicating Mindfully

 

photo credit: gosheshe via photopin cc

photo credit: gosheshe via photopin cc

What is the most important thing about communication?

Seriously, I’m asking!

Have you ever thought about it, seriously though about it, before you talked with someone, went to a meeting, made a presentation, sent a tweet, issued a press release, attended a conference, had dinner with a friend?

Is it getting your message across?

Is it having your opinion heard?

Is it establishing a connection?

It is knowing more about your audience so you can tailor your message?

Is it access to other points of view?

Is it accessing or receiving information?

Is reaching a wide audience? Or reaching the right audience?

It’s a little different for each situation, right?

Your objective changes depending on the situation.

If you’re meeting a client to make a pitch versus meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, you will have different communication priorities.

If you are talking to one person rather than a whole group you would take a different approach.

If you are attending a presentation versus giving a presentation you will have a completely different orientation.

If you’re tweeting versus sending a press release, those are two very dissimilar situations.

It’s important to know what you want to achieve.

It’s important to consider what your objective is in communication and to determine the right strategy to achieve it, whether you’re asking the board to allocate $ 100K for new equipment or talking to someone about their new car.

“Oh, come on, Robin!” I hear you say. “Don’t be ridiculous. I know the difference between personal/social and business/professional communication. The rules are different, you don’t have to be so conscious about the objectives and strategies and all that stuff. You can be more relaxed.”

Really? If people know the difference between what’s personal and what’s not, — if that’s true then how could they be sharing photos of their bank cards on Twitter? Or showing the cash they are counting on Facebook? And if you’re dismissing those examples because these are young people let’s talk about the Anthony Weiner “Sexting Scandal” — there’s a brilliant instance of thoughtless communication!  Or what about Cee Lo Green’s misguided comments about rape?

Let’s make sure conversations are meaningful. 

It’s important to ensure even casual “conversations” are meaningful, because, frankly, if we were all better communicators, the world would be a better place. At minimum, there would be a hell of a lot fewer misunderstandings.

Have a clear purpose. Effective communication should be purposeful. What is your desired outcome of meeting with this person? What do you expect to get out of attending the conference? Thinking about this ahead of time allows you to set things up to help meet your expectations, and allow you to take action to course-correct or adjust your mindset during the situation to get there, if necessary. Having a purpose helps you be a more efficient and effective communicator.

Otherwise, it can be like running into the store because you know you need a few things, but you don’t have a specific list. Maybe you are more disciplined than I, but I end up spending too much time to buy more than I need, spend more than I want and, sometimes, take home something that is absolutely non-essential.

Be mindful and consider the communication opportunity, keeping in mind the environment, the audience and the timing. Be conscious of who you are talking to, where you are talking to them (location), how you are talking to them (vehicle) and when. How effective your communications can be influenced by environmental factors.

Do you remember wanting to do something really, really badly and needing your parent’s permission to do it? Did you, like me, agonize over when Dad would be in the best mood to say yes? We should be equally mindful of each conversation we have to try to achieve the best outcome. For both parties.

Be aware of your frame. Everyone has a frame of reference. You “frames” are the experience, predisposition, background and bias which “colour” the way you see the world, interpret and process information. It’s important to work to avoid automatically attributing the same frames of reference to the other participants in your communication situation. While you need to know what’s motivating you to perceive the information in a particular way, you cannot assume that other parties are similarly motivated.

Understand that the other participants have agendas too. Like you, the every other person implicated in the communication occasion are looking for particular results. While it would be wonderful if the expectations were shared, or could be adjusted for mutual benefit, this will not always be the case. Go into communication with an openness that will allow for compromise.
Listen. Make sure your focus on the expected outcome is not so single-minded that it does not impede your ability to participate in the conversation and to hear what is going on. Actively listening and processing, while being open to the possibility that others may not be on the same wavelength as you, can help to nip misunderstanding in the bud, or help prevent the conversation from going wildly off track.

Communication is fundamental, but…

Communication is a fundamental need of most species. Our high level ability to verbally communicate may be the principal difference between man and animal. It is the basis of relationships. It has been the cause of wars. It is also a personal and professional responsibility.
What is most important about communication is that it cannot be avoided completely.

Since it is so necessary, let’s communicate consciously, so we communicate well.

Originally published July 17, 2012 on mononews.

Can an Introvert Be a PR Pro?


Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

You would typically expect the successful PR person to be a charming extrovert, right? Someone who exudes self-confidence, doesn’t exhibit an ounce of reservation and who does not have a shy bone in his/her body. A person who is outgoing, gregarious, unfailingly “on” and is never at a loss for words.

Well that is not, and never has been, me. I’m may not be shy, but I am reserved. I am personable, but it takes me a while to warm up to people. I am open and genuine, but careful about what I do, and do not, reveal. I am talkative, but find “small talk” a chore.

Social outings, cocktail parties and events are more “work” than “pleasure” although I do enjoy myself once I am there. While meeting new people doesn’t makes me anxious per se, it does not top my list of “favourite things to do”. No matter how well I know my audience and how familiar I am with my material, presentations always make my pulse speed up, my heart move up into my throat from my chest and sets the butterflies fluttering in my middle.

I am an introvert.

And from my perspective, I will argue that introverts make not only good, but great, public relations professionals, even on the front line.

There have been many articles about introverts in the news lately. Evidence seems to point to the current environment favouring extroversion over introversion, evidenced by the predominance of “team” culture, brainstorming, cubicle farms. But human beings are adaptable and extroversion and introversion comprise either end of a sliding scale, so that most people fall somewhere in between the extremes that characterize an introvert versus an extrovert.

I first took a Myers-Briggs test in the 80’s. It was only then I understood that introversion was the term which described my somewhat reticent personality.

I have never been hesitant to speak out, however I rarely do so impulsively. I consider my words, their import and carefully watch the body language of my audience.

To put myself out there, I must always first deal with the fear of doing so, which involves weighting the possible consequences of what I have to say, and making myself say it anyway. I believe that the regular practice of forcing oneself to overcome reticence or fear allows you to learn to not let it restrict you.

As the person responsible for the PR of large health and beauty aids company for more than 15 years, I also acted as principal contact and spokesperson. The company considered our efforts in PR and communication very successful.

Don’t get me wrong, we worked with a great PR agency, so I do not and cannot take sole or full credit. Along with significant attribution to my colleagues there, some of that credit also belongs to the great products, strong strategy and Marketing efforts, as well as the fabulously loyal consumer base that used our products. I do believe, however, that I certainly helped contribute to the overall success of our efforts. Which is one of the reasons I’m arguing that it is possible for an introvert to be a good at Public Relations.

Introverts Make Good PR People Because:

Introverts try harder. Introverts tend to be self-aware because they are less externally focused.

This help might explain why they tend to be their own harshest critics. If there is something that they want to do, they want to be good at it. It’s like a personal challenge. So they will concentrate, strive, practice and improve so that they master whatever they try.

They know their shortcomings. Being self-aware also lets you have a good appreciation of most of your little character flaws. Someone once told me they felt I wasn’t giving them my full attention when they were talking to me. Since then, I have always made it a point to turn away from my electronic devices or anything that might distract me, so I can be sure to give whomever I am talking to my full attention. So, if I thought I wasn’t good at socializing, I would make an effort to ensure I did I whatever I thought was needed in order to improve my social skills, for instance: read books, watch videos, observe others and get out there and do it.

They are mindful of the objectives, the situation and the strategy. Introverts tend to consider the bigger picture, they are oriented to context and background. When they do things, they tend to understand the “why” of what is required and how it fits into the overall plan, rather just performing a task.

Introverts listen. Or, at least they listen more than they talk. This allowed me to observe and note details to remember that helped me build relationships. I would remember and often note down, after conversations, birthdays, favourite colour, children’s names, likes/dislikes and/or significant events.

Introverts engage. Introverts listen, which helps enable two-way reciprocal dialogue – an exchange of information – some of it tailored. Extroverts may spend more time transmitting information than receiving it. There is no question they get the message across, but are they maximizing the opportunity?

Introverts face fear on a regular basis. Maybe fear is too strong a word, but introverts often find themselves in social, public or work-related situations where they have to perform/conform despite their discomfort with group work, presentations, meetings, introductions and other necessary interaction. Whereas an extrovert would anticipate each television or radio interview with excitement, as company spokesperson, I saw it as a necessary evil, and would be reviewing my notes and talking points, right up to the time I walked on the set.

They want to learn, understand and excel. Introverts have a learning bent. They get much of their stimulation and satisfaction through the acquisition of knowledge, it’s important to them to “know their stuff”. Because when it’s time to contribute, they want their contribution to be meaningful.

So while it may seem counter-intuitive to believe that an introvert can excel in an environment seemingly created for extroverts, I would argue that it’s not just possible for an introvert to be a good PR person, it’s probable that they will make a great one.

Originally published October 17, 2012 on mononews12s0080 .

Communication Is Two-Way

photo credit: bengrey via photopin cc

photo credit: bengrey via photopin cc

Communicating is more than just “telling”.                

Sometimes I get discouraged because I believe that people tend to think that their responsibility for communication is solely in the dissemination or, “telling” part of the communication.

I am discouraged because there are so many more vehicles than ever to use for delivering information; as a result the problem becomes exponential in size.
This is probably reinforced by having a communications industry that is closely linked to media, which helps make “broadcast” the most logical synonym for “communication” in the public mind.

You are 100% responsible for communication.
I recall a time when management at the company where I worked was fond of telling us that “each of us was 100% responsible for communication”.  I had a sense of confusion and frustration thinking that if I had 100 %, therefore total, responsibility for communicating, then what responsibility did the other party or parties have?  Zero?  It just didn’t make sense to me.
(I admit that yes, maybe I think too much, but words and concepts are important to me.  Besides, if I didn’t have this predilection, what would I write about?)
After many years of pondering, lots more business experience, working in Marketing where it is an important requirement to identify with the consumer and champion their needs within the organization, and working in Public Relations where you work to be heard, here is my 100% rule.

Your responsibility: 50% telling and 50% making sure you are heard.
You have 100% responsibility for communication.  50% of that responsibility is  for telling, and 50% of that for ensuring that it is heard.

The telling part is pretty easy.  Just fire off the e-mail, communiqué, press release, blog post, tweet, make your presentation or say your piece.  There’s 50% of your responsibility discharged!

But how can you be responsible for ensuring that what you have to tell is heard?   This is the challenging part of the 50%.  Challenging, but very do-able.

You need to present the information in a way that helps make sure the audience wants/needs to hear it.

Know your audience.  Understand who you are addressing with your communication.  The better you can answer this question, the higher the success rate in ensuring they hear your message.

Make it relevant.  By knowing who you are talking to, you can tailor the information so that it meets their informational needs. Use a tone that resonates with them.  Make sure the words you use are in their vocabulary.

Make it interesting – entertaining even.  I have noticed a lot of articles recently about “story-telling” and “storyfying”.  The point is to provide information as a story or within a story; to use a traditional beginning, middle and end format along with “conflict” to add interest.  Telling a story about your product/service, or using your product/service in a story helps convey news in an appealing manner.

Make it valuable.  People appreciate learning something, receiving new information or getting information that specifically relates to them or to their own particular needs.  When you know your audience, your consumer or consumer, you understand what will be helpful to them or how to convey information in a helpful manner.

Engage.  Communication should be engaging.  It should get people interested, curious, motivate them to reply, to share, to act.  Engineer your communication so that it is oriented to doing something.  Ask a question, highlight an issue, suggest an action.

Suggested guidelines:

– Take the information or news that you want to convey.  Ask yourself the following questions:

– Who are my customers/consumers/clients?

– What about this information is most important/relevant to my customers/consumers/clients?

– Why would my customers/consumers/clients find this important?

– How can I make this information most interesting/relevant to my customers/consumers/clients?

– Put yourself in the role of the recipient of the communication.  What would you want to hear?

– Why?  How could the information be conveyed to best engage ?

– What questions might this information provoke? What are the answers?

– What environment might be most conducive to ensuring my message is heard/appreciated?

By doing this, you are assuming the 50% responsibility for guaranteeing your message gets heard.
Now having 100% responsibility for communication makes sense to me.

 

Originally published August 8, 2012 on mononews.