Monthly Archives: February 2012

Behind the Scenes

"B2B communications are often done behind the scenes..."

When you really think about it, business is just one big production. There are a variety of players and personalities to consider before putting on the big show; you have the C-Suites, the Marketers, the PR folks, the Writers, the Entrepreneurs, and yada, yada, yada.

Depending on the campaign at hand, different roles must become the star of the production. Except the prop guy of course. You know, the people who run around backstage wearing all black? Or what about the costume designer who slaves away over each hem, but is never seen on stage.

Before I ramble on with this ridiculous metaphor, let me clarify; I’m talking about Business-to-Business relations (aka B2B). This sector of Public Relations often flies under the radar, but it is just as important as investor or community relations. Okay, back to the theater.

So why do the costume designers, the stagehands, and the sound guy agree to work on a play, even though they don’t always get the spotlight? These people are your partners, but not exclusively yours. Perhaps working on your show will give them exposure or help them land a job at the next show. Some people just like the satisfaction of seeing there name on the playbill. Just like B2B communications, the relationship must be “mutually beneficial to both parties.”

It’s difficult to find specific examples of this in popular media because these communications are often done behind the scenes (har, har puns). Our increasing use of social media is making it easier to track these interactions. According to an article posted on Media Bistro, 91% of B2B Marketers use Twitter to communicate. It appears LinkedIn comes in a close second for making actual connections with other businesses. In my opinion, the most important factor in B2B communications is ease of access. It’s called BUSIness for a reason; their busy! Neither entity has the desire nor the time to track down their partners for information. That is where social media and private interfaces become prevalent.

Living Social, Groupon, Deal Chicken, etc. are a slightly unorthodox example of this relationship, but for the sake of explaining, they will do. In case you have been living under a rock, these companies work with a variety of businesses, ranging from Mom and Pop Shops to corporations like Amazon. They provide limited time deals and discounts, some for individual use and others for groups. Back in January of last year, Living Social received a large investment ($175 million) from Amazon to manage gift card deals on their behalf. You can read more about the deal and others like it in the Adage article, Living Social Establishes Itself as a Serious Groupon Rival. Both Living Social and Amazon are meant to turn a profit from this relationship.

BAM! We have ourselves a B2B partnership. Amazon provides Living Social with a nice discount to offer to Living Social members, and in turn, Living Social works their butts off to ensure the deal sells. Throughout the duration of the deal, the businesses are in constant communication, exchanging status and data reports, as well as forwarding customer information.

They each have a service the other one needs, hence “the mutually beneficial” relationship. I’m sure Living Social has a very personable PR team that knows how to market their deals to not only the public, but other business owners as well. I’ve learned from my current internship, that the best company websites are divided into sections based on a specific audiences; such as clients, customers, or business owners. This makes the site easier to navigate and helps separate related information into categories.

Without the support and partnerships of other businesses, Living Social could not survive. As I said, this is a somewhat unique situation. There are some businesses out there that don’t need others for survival. But really, can you imagine a good production without sets, costumes, or lights? Business, like all productions takes an entire network of people and partners to thrive.

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Who pulls the strings?

"Public relations is the string that connects the puppets (businesses) to the masters (consumers)..."

All too often I read how businesses dictate what consumers want, but in my opinion, it’s the other way around. If the consumer doesn’t like something it goes kaput. Public relations is the string that connects the puppets (businesses) to the masters (consumers) and ensures there is no miscommunication.

Some businesses overestimate their power and act on their own accord, but the consumer is always there to put them back in their rightful place. Even corporate giants like the Coca-Cola Company are subject to such scrutiny. This past winter, they learned their lesson when they introduced a special “arctic home” can to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund.

You’re probably wondering what kind of heartless fiends don’t care for polar bears. It wasn’t the cause that bummed customers out–it was the cans that were the problem.

Consumers felt the specialty cans were too similar to Diet Coke can’s in their appearance. They took to social media to voice their confusion and frustration. Some people even complained that the new packaging affected the flavor of the coke.

ABC’s Consumer Report covered the debacle and even listed a few other instances where brands had to backtrack after consumer criticism. The Coca-Cola company finally conceded to consumer outrage and agreed to put red cans back on the shelves once the white cans were out of stock. If I recall from my toddler days back in ’93, Pepsi made a similar mistake with “Crystal Pepsi,” a colorless Pepsi product. Now I think the Coke critics were bring a bit nit-picky, but colorless Pepsi? That’s just unnatural!

What do you think, are the consumers or the businesses in control? And how does public relations fit into this whole mix?

I can only speculate how Coca Cola could have handled things differently… Perhaps a few more focus groups would have given them the insight to axe the polar cans from the start.

Sorry Coke, but you might want to get a hanky–this one’s a real tear-jerker.

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We Are Fam-ilyy

"...communities are a lot like families. There are communities you are born into whether you like it or not and ones you choose to join."

This week we’re talking about Public Relations and community! No not that NBC show with Chevy Chase (although you should check that out too).

Community is when a  bunch of people untie over shared interests and common goals. Sometimes communities lives together, other times they are driven by a similar upbringing–or as Guth and Marsh prefer to call them, “geographic communities” and “psychographic communities,” respectively. Come to think of it, communities are a lot like families. There are communities you are born into whether you like it or not and ones you choose to join. Regardless of the circumstance, the concept of “community” effects how individuals behave–and that’s important to communications professionals like me!

One thing that struck me about this chapter in Issues in Public Relations, was its description of the virtual community as “a fairly recent creation.” I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, this is not the most recent guide to communications studies, however, it does show how rapidly things change in this business. Rather than focus on past instances of community relations, I’m going to look at the not-so-recent development of the virtual community.

Facebook is a community. Twitter, also a community. LinkedIn, Pintrest, Tumblr, blogger–need I say more? And within each of these major online communities, are millions of even more targeted segments. Virtual communities are an advertisers dream come true because they bring specific demographics together and make them accessible.

The best brands don’t just tap into existing communities, they create their own. In doing so, they control what and how messages are delivered to community members. I saw this concept in action at one of my past internships with a mid-sized marketing firm. For legal reasons, I’ll just call the firm MKT.

MKT created a Brand Ambassador program on behalf of a client to establish a virtual community. The MKT team updated a blog and Facebook page daily to maintain and strengthen the community. The posts ranged from random comments about the brand, to poll questions, videos, and even exclusive competitions/challenges. Unlike many other brands, MKT remains transparent throughout their communications. In a meeting, an MKT team member talked about how all the Ambassador’s knew him and even called when they had questions.

The MKT Brand Ambassador Program is the perfect example of how to utilize communities in Public Relations practices. The community gives its members positive feelings toward the brand, and as a result, the ambassadors spread the love.

Yet, I ponder…

Where should a brand draw the line of intimacy between the customer and the organization? And what are the ethical implications of Brand and Ambassadors? What can brands do to prevent overstepping their boundaries?

OR ARE THERE NO BOUNDARIES LEFT?!

   Just kidding. Of course there are. Brands have a right to mediate their messages and virtual communities–or any communities really–are fair game. With that said, brands should be careful not to overstay their welcome or else they may not be invited to the next family reunion.

 

 

 

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You’re the PB to my J <3

"You are my best friend, the ying to my yang, the PB to my J--and I love you...NOW RUN MY STORY."

Dear members of the media,

You are my best friend, the ying to my yang, the PB to my J–and I love you…NOW RUN MY STORY.

I have no problem admitting; Public Relations professionals are nothing without the support of the media. If investors are the sugar daddy, then members of the media are our best friends. Before I go any further, let me clarify who exactly classifies as “media.” I’m talking about print journalists, TV news reporters, bloggers (sometimes), and publicists.

They are there in good times and in bad, whether we like it or not.  PR professionals and the media often work together, but like all friendships, it is important to have an equal sharing of support.

In Adventures in Public Relations, my boys Guth and Marsh say it best, “although reporters are not the only target public important to your organizations, they sometimes are the most important.” The best PR practitioners understand this fact and do not abuse their relationships with members of the media. One of the biggest mistakes a PR professional can make is bombarding reporters with useless information. It’s about the quality and not quantity of the pitch.

Female  activist, Martha Burk, learned this the hard way when she tried to protest the Augusta National Golf Club back in 2002. The club prohibits female membership and Martha did not like that one bit. Her campaign to news media and advertisers was moderately successful until she started grasping at straws with this little statement, “It’s appalling when women who are willing to lay down their lives for democratic ideals should be shut out of this club.” Members of the news media, and public alike, felt this argument was a distasteful ploy to gain publicity. The American Journalism Review printed a great article about the debacle and whether it deserved all of the media coverage it garnered. I know it’s long, but it offers insight from the journalists’ perspectives!

Media Relations is closely knit in the world of PR. With that in mind, the Harvard Business Journal recently printed an article, “Your PR Efforts May Be Hurting You,” warning practitioners to be careful of how they conduct their media relations. The author, former journalist Alex Goldfayn, says that PR professionals are sending out bulk emails and letting true relationships fall to the wayside. Similarly, he says (in nicer terms)  press releases today suck. Goldfayn suggests that a lack of understanding and communication within organizations can lead to poor representation of a company’s image.

**This is the part where I shamelessly plug my previous journal entry about employee relations.**

What are the best ways to ensure your message is heard through all the chatter? And how much is too much in a world buzzing with twats who tweet about the latest trends? Should the PRSA provide some kind of “newsworthy” checklist for professionals?

Let’s face it, we live in a society where relationships are nurtured through our laptops and iPads. PR professionals should never underestimate the power of a good phone call or cup of coffee among friends. When was the last time you called your media BFF and said, “OMG, you’re never going to believe what happened!”

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