Disconnect to Connect

I was at a conference recently and after finding the room of the workshop I sat down at one of the round tables and immediately engaged with my smartphone. I was aware of people sitting down at the table with me but I was focused on my screen.

And then it hit me…

2 people texting on their phones

Are you focused on your smartphone and not the human beside you? (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I’m at a conference, and I should be networking. Instead I’ve missed the human interaction because I’m too busy on my device.

I put my mobile down and introduced myself to each person. I then shared my epiphany. They all agreed they had done the same thing. We each committed to introducing ourselves at the remainder of the workshops we would attend.

Our mobiles are wonderful devices, but they are taking over. Consider the following:

95% of people use the phone for something just before going to bed at night

90% of smartphone users age 18-29 sleep with a cell phone

The average user checks their phone 110 times a day – that three hours and sixteen minutes a day

These facts are courtesy of David Fletcher’s presentation at the PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C. He is the founder and executive director of The Mechanism.

Further proof that mobile is controlling the world:

I think it’s now the joint project of all of us to make mobile to answer to pretty much everything.

Eric Schmidt, Google

I love mobile. In many ways it has simplified my life. I am seldom lost anymore. I always have an alarm clock. I can reach a friend in many ways through my device – Skype, phone, email, text, Facebook messenger.

Sometimes, though, there is something to be said for being human. A greeting, a smile, a handshake.

Did you miss the human for your device?

How to Tell Your Brand’s Story Through the Lens of a Journalist

Plenty of jobs exist for journalists, says Brian Ellis, executive vice president for PadillaCRT.

The catch is that they are not with newspapers, but rather PR firms and companies that need storytellers.

It’s part of the strategy to use brand journalism to become your own news engine. It involves replacing the traditional approach to media relations. “It’s a mindset around what is news and what is appealing to consumers,” Ellis said.

The term is first credited to McDonald’s. Larry Light, chief marketing officer at McDonald’s, said in 2004 that mass marketing, which focused on brand positioning, no longer worked and that “no single ad tells the whole story.”

McDonald’s, he said, had adopted a new marketing technique: “brand journalism,” which involves multiple channels and journalism-style writing.

Here’s a comparison of traditional marketing and brand journalism that Ellis shared:

  • :30 commercial v YouTube video
  • Press release v unbiased feature stories and blog posts
  • Research presentations v infographics
  • Community events v Facebook conversations and Twitter promotions

Brand journalism should be tied to your business strategic plan. It’s important to evaluate the skills of those you hire as they need to be strong writers, preferably with a journalism background. They also need to be quick thinkers and naturally curious.

Brand journalism also involves breaking down silos. It’s critical to integrate marketing, public relations and the digital functions. The infrastructure needs to be built to support web and social media. Finally, it’s important to measure and track the actions of readers and viewers.

Ellis offers a word of caution: “Once you start down this path, it’s not easy to go back.”

An editorial calendar is essential for success as it allows you to track all of your platforms and how your content is shared. “You need to understand how to repurpose content,” he said. “You want to get everything you can out of a story.”

This means identifying the visuals that will accompany the story, as well as writing it simply so the story can be understood. Data points from the story can become graphic points.

Brandjournalists.com offers these tips:

  • Focus on the audience
  • Find a voice
  • Be credible
  • Keep it simple
  • Think visual
  • Unbrand your content

Smart Solutions to Common Pitching Challenges

News gathering and the distribution of it has changed. Beat structures have been demolished; and citizen journalists are everywhere. Real-time news has led to a decrease in (and some would say lack of) fact checking. Despite this dreary news, if your job is to pitch the media, you can still successfully get your story pitched.

Michael Smart provides solutions to common pitching problems. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Michael Smart provides solutions to common pitching problems. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR, shared solutions to the most common challenges.

Have you ever developed a reporter source only to go to pitch them and learn that they had left the station? (Or worse, been laid off?) Or what if you are pitching a topic that no longer has mainstream reporters covering it?

Smart says not to panic about the media fragmenting because in many ways it is providing more opportunities. Online publications often have circulations that rival – and exceed – traditional media.

The solution is to find new outlets that are already reaching your audiences.

With newsroom cutbacks, journalists and bloggers often are too busy to take calls, let alone meet with you. So how do you get their attention? Smart says you need to consume their content and then let them know you did. You can tweet about a story or comment online. You can send them an email about the story. Smart cautions, though, that this is not the time to pitch the reporter. He says you just want them to open the email so next time when you do pitch, they’ll be familiar with your name.

The solution is to read and react.

Smart also recommends scheduling 10 minutes a day to read and react to reporters’ stories.

Other solutions to help pitch reporters, include:

  1. Reframe pitches into the way journalists present their stories
  2. Create content for influencers to share
  3. Customization must be specific and sincere

Disruptive Ideas Through the Centuries

I don’t know about you, but I keep hearing the words “disrupt” or “disruption.” Most of the people using it act as if it is something new.

At the recent PRSA International conference in Washington, D.C., the talk centered on how the media industry is being totally disrupted. I don’t think any of us would disagree with that.

innovators-9781476708690But disruption is nothing new. Just ask Walter Isaacson, president and CEO Of the Aspen Institute and a noted author. He’s the guy who wrote “Steve Jobs.” His latest book is “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.”

In the book, he writes of Ida Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s, and then explores the fascinating personalities that created the current digital revolution.

Isaacson shared some of the lessons from his book during his talk.

The best uses of technology are when we bring people together. “The great thing about humans,” Isaacson said, “is that we always keep up morally with our technology.”

He added, “If we bind our humanity with technology, our technology will always be as good as we are.”

Creativity is a collaborative effort. Seldom is there a light bulb moment when an idea appears. “Real innovation happens together – on a team,” he says. “Innovation is a team sport.”

Vision without execution is hallucination. He added that it’s important to pair a visionary with a team that can execute it. The flip side, also is true, Isaacson said, which means that “without a visionary, you lose some of the spark.”

Keep it simple. Use simple sentences, he said, “if you want to explain exactly what it is you are going to do.”

Understanding Source of Stress Helps in Handling of Crisis

When you are in the midst of a crisis (the car breaks down, your child is sick and you need to pick him up from day care but you have a big presentation to give), how do you react?

Now think about a crisis at work that you have to manage as a PR practitioner. When the crisis strikes, what are the executives worrying about?

“The more we understand some of their stress, the better we are able to help them cope,” said Joan Gladstone, APR, president and CEO of Gladstone International.

The two key areas that executives think about in a crisis are financial impacts and reputation impacts, she shared during a PRSA webinar.

If the crisis is sudden, executives often display heightened reactions, which can lead to slow decisions, hasty decisions or emotional decisions.

As the PR person you play a critical role in a crisis. “You have an extraordinarily important role,” Gladstone said. The role is more than helping with the media, though.

“You must take a lead role in guiding the immediate crisis response strategies that could impact your organization’s reputation for many years to come,” Gladstone said.

Your role is to stay calm and listen. You don’t want to jump to solutions, and you should ask questions to understand the facts and evaluate ideas. It’s also important to introduce news and social media results into the discussion. This also is not the time to be timid – offer your recommendations.

When you ask the right questions, you will gain a better understanding of what is really important about the current situation. You should also be sure you are messaging to your key audiences.

Finally, recognize that the media won’t necessarily call for a comment. Gladstone said reporters will visit the website looking for a posted statement. If one isn’t there, the reporter is likely to note that. That means you need to get your statement ready and posted quickly.

Finally, Gladstone said it’s okay to offer an apology. “It shows you have a heart,” she said. “You are not admitting fault.”