Tag Archives: public relations

Most PR flacks are terrible at their jobs

spam-email

Look at the email inbox of any reporter and you’re likely to see a graveyard of bad pitches from public relations specialists, the detritus that comes as a result of a low barrier to entry and a fundamental misunderstanding of the very people they’re pitching. Having spoken to other journalists about this phenomena, I know I’m not the only one who, upon opening such pitches, feels a small sliver of pity for these robotrons and their overpaying clients before I send their neutered, lifeless copy to the trash bin.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I feel like there are few industries other than PR where there’s such a concentration at the bottom, a nine to one ratio of bad to good. Most of this poor quality, I think, comes from outright laziness, an unwillingness to put in the actual research to understand the journalists these flacks are pitching before they hit the send button.

Many don’t even take a moment to check to see what you actually cover. Instead, most of them subscribe to massive databases that collect reporter contact information and sort them by broad categories like tech, energy, or finance. Though I often write about tech, an even cursory look at my article output would reveal that I don’t ever write about new product launches, and yet I receive dozens of pitches each week from flacks representing products I would never cover.

The very worst flacks decide to place you on mailing list you never asked to be subscribed to and blast out every press release they produce. Over the past 10 days I’ve received three emails from the same marketer trying to get me to write about a device that cracks coconuts. Coconuts!

Of course for most journalists, these pitches are little more than a minor annoyance (though god forbid your phone number gets circulated on these PR databases. Then you start getting phone calls asking if you received their press releases). The real victims are the clients. Unlike most other industries that create concrete deliverables — an advertising agency, for instance, actually produces a finished ad and places it — the only deliverables in PR are when they secure media placements. This makes it extremely difficult for potential clients to vet the firm prior to hiring them, meaning these clients must rely on the firm’s claims as to what relationships and success it’s had in pitching stories.

And hiring a PR firm is expensive. For any account you’re hiring at least one senior executive and a low-level minion who will do the brunt of the work.  For a small firm you need to pay a minimum of $10,000 to even make it worth their time, and for a larger firm they won’t even pick up the phone for less than $30,000.

Even when they do get placements it’s not a terribly efficient use of a client’s money. Oftentimes, a media placement means that a company executive gets interviewed and quoted for a sentence or two in the middle of an article. Sure, it strokes the client’s ego to be quoted, but how much brand penetration are you getting when you contribute 10 words to a 1,000-word article, and were those 10 words worth $10,000?

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This is why we’ve seen a growing shift toward content marketing. Rather than clamoring for journalists to cover you, you can actually compete with those journalists as an informational resource. Instead of getting a brief mention in a long article, you’ve authored the entire piece of content yourself and it’ll appear alongside your branding. There are much more concrete deliverables and measurements associated with content marketing. You not only have a completed piece of content, but it’s much easier to measure its impact in terms of traffic driven and lead conversion.

Meanwhile, the state of PR pitching only continues to get worse. It used to be that, at the very least, the product being pitched to you actually existed. But now with the rise of crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo our inboxes are flooded with pitches for half-baked ideas and products that aren’t on the market and may never be. Whatever abuse my email inbox has received in recent years, the worst is still to come.

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How to Handle a Brand Crisis on Twitter

bp global pr

Let’s say you’re a major retailer and your head of IT comes to you and tells you the company has had a major data breach and millions of credit card numbers have been compromised. Or you’re the CEO of an organic baby food company and you realize you’re going to have to issue a recall on some of your products. Almost immediately, you and your team must put a plan in action for how you’re going to announce these issues to the public. A decade ago you probably just met with your legal and PR teams to determine how you’ll word the press release and craft messaging for your call centers. But these days a third team needs to be added to the mix: social media. Not only will this team have to monitor what’s being said online during the crisis, but it’ll need its own messaging in order to respond to angry consumers in real time.

Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at Levick, a PR firm that specializes in crisis management. I interviewed him about how to counter activists who are targeting you on Twitter and why brands shouldn’t overreact if they receive negative feedback on the microblogging platform.

What are the kinds of company crises that will have the largest ramifications on Twitter — the kind where the company needs to devote a lot of resources to monitoring and responding to what’s happening on Twitter?

The answer is twofold. It’s usually correlated with the size of the crisis itself. With BP, at the time when its oil spill occurred, Twitter was fairly nascent, but it showed what could happen if you don’t tackle the issue on Twitter. There are those crises that actually start on Twitter. There’s the famous Chrysler tweet, for instance.

So there are crises that begin on Twitter itself, and then there are other crises that occur offline, but you know, because of the size of the company, it’s going to boil over onto Twitter.

Yeah, because Twitter, like most social media channels, it’s just a form of communication. It’s a means through which people are going to express their opinion. Companies have the option to express their position or clarify statements or refute claims in the media. Most companies are not organized enough to have their own army of supporters, all they have is their own brand. So that means they’ve got their Facebook page, their Twitter account, and maybe a few other channels if they’re a big enough company, but for the most part it’s just one or two handles. That’s their singular megaphone. Whereas if Joe Public turns on you, that’s thousands if not tens of thousands of users attacking your brand online.

If you’re a company that has activists who are trying to rile up anger against you, where are most of their efforts going to be focused? On Twitter? On Facebook?

peter-lamotte

Peter LaMotte

Because of the open nature of Twitter, a lot of people are using Twitter. But it’s almost never used successfully as a singular path. It’s usually part of an organized campaign that might originate at a microsite or a Change.org petition. Or it might be through a more traditional campaign like a TV ad with Twitter hashtags. But when it comes to dealing with the crisis, let’s take it from two perspectives. You have the perspective of someone who’s dealing with the crisis, and then you have the general public. And then you have perhaps a third perspective, the activists. The mistake many corporations will make is they’re just reactionary. Twitter is a communication tool, so it should fit into a larger strategy. Any company that is not prepared and does not have its own crisis plan will have a difficult time reacting fast enough in a way that doesn’t just look reactionary. When you look at these brands that are constantly pushing out good news and building up their brands in a positive way, when a crisis happens, they tend to have a more lenient response, because people have seen the more positive things they’re doing. But when a company is caught with their pants down, Twitter is a good way to quickly address issues and answer questions because it’s relatively real-time and can be monitored. From a communications standpoint, with the way that other platforms are closed and locked down, a lot of people don’t realize how important Twitter is for monitoring sentiment. If Twitter loses its popularity and falls off, there aren’t a lot of tools that can dig into Facebook or some of these other platforms to monitor sentiment.

The public at large is trained to search Twitter for hashtags and keywords, and an activist won’t be able to easily organize a campaign on Facebook the way he can on Twitter.

Exactly. Brands rely heavily on Twitter to get that sentiment. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than putting together a focus group. So, they rely on that and should be monitoring it at all times, including pre-crisis, before you even think you have a crisis. Most companies know where their risks are, so they should be monitoring around those risks, whether it’s a manufacturer around some kind of consumer device or anything that might be subject to litigation. So if they’re prepared, then when the crisis happens, they should have an automatic plan to put in place. In that plan, they should know who is going to say what, what the approval process is, and make sure it doesn’t need multiple layers of approval. And sometimes the industry holds you back from that. When it comes to the pharmaceutical and medical industries, a lot of times lawyers get very sensitive to what can be said, so make sure in a crisis they’ve already signed off on your messaging. If you go into these situations unprepared you’re basically walking into a firehose of people saying negative things about you. From the opposite side, it’s much easier to organize hundreds, if not thousands, of voices. They did that with the BP oil spill. If you remember, a fake BP Twitter handle was created, and people really bought into that. They thought, for just a brief moment, this was actually a BP account, and the result was brutal. That Twitter account gave BP’s haters content that they could share and retweet, which then picked up news traffic, which is why we remember this many years later that account in particular. Any PR nightmare is typically going to reverberate across Twitter, so activists are going to organize, using all the tools that brands do, to get their message out there. From a consumer standpoint, it makes it very easy to track, it makes it very easy to keep abreast of what’s going on.

Are there situations where brands have the luxury of preparing a Twitter response beforehand? A situation where you know the news is going to drop. When you do have that luxury, what’s your Twitter strategy?

It probably happens more often than you would expect, because every manufacturer, for instance, knows where the risks are in their plant. Like there could be a fire, there could be a death due to faulty equipment, there could be an explosion. It’s not to say they’re pre-writing these tweets, but they’ve come up with response templates and that would be within a crisis plan. Twitter is just an element of amplifying your messaging. So if there’s a plant explosion, even if you don’t know how or when it will happen, you can determine what will be your messaging one hour after it’s happened, when you’re likely not to have a lot of information about what caused it. What’s your messaging a day after it’s happened once you have more information? The messaging that’s given by someone at a podium, that messaging isn’t just going to be distributed at the podium, but also on Facebook and Twitter.

So is it a matter of trying to predict every kind of message that will be tweeted out by users and here’s a list of responses to all those possible reactions?

It’s not a specific as line by line responses, but at least there should be generic messaging. Let’s say there’s a major retail outlet, they’re going to have a response for if there’s a shooting. It won’t be an exact tweet, but it’ll be a general response like “We’re looking into it.” They will draft a tweet in the moment based on that more general messaging. They’ll also have a checklist about which parties need to sign off on a tweet. And so really the key here is that your Twitter strategy should never conflict with your overall messaging within a crisis. And it should never give conflicting information from what you would give to the press. What it does allow you to do from a more acute, focused level, is respond to very similar claims. If there’s a shooting at a retail store and suddenly people on the news are saying “…and there was an explosion,” you as the head of messaging who knows there was only a shooting, you can say “Rumors of any explosion are not true.” It can put down any escalation of misinformation.

What about the monitoring perspective? I’m guessing that’s a large part in developing a crisis strategy. Are you assigning someone 24/7 to monitor Twitter in real time?

I imagine it correlates to the size of the crisis. If you’re a small retail chain in a city,  you probably don’t need 24-hour monitoring. If you’re a large oil company, you’ll have 24/7 monitoring and also escalation plans in place. The good news for corporations, a few years ago if you really wanted strong monitoring you had to hire Radian6 and you had to pay an arm and a leg. Now, services are fairly affordable. The best things, like Radian6, are still expensive, but there are tiers below that, like Brandwatch, that are much more affordable but still do a good job. Sentiment analysis, I’d say, is mediocre at best.

So don’t put too much weight on claims from these tools about sentiment?

Well, if you’re going through a recall, for example, yes there will be a lot of negative sentiment, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall perception of your brand. A lot of people are pissed at you for one day or one week, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your brand is mud, it just means people found this to be a sexy story. But the point is that there’s much more affordable tools out there, all the way down to free. Twitter has search functionality built into it, so if you’re someone with very limited funds, you can get a very general idea of what’s being said. Startups do it all the time. They’re just monitoring whether anybody is talking about me or talking to me. But then you want to make sure to have a search tab opened about your industry or your competitors.

That was my next question: What should you be actually searching for during these crises outside of mentions of your brand?

Everything I learned about how to use Twitter was done while I was running a startup. What we looked at was our industry, our handle, but also variations of our handle. We looked at individuals, our CEO, the president of the firm. We looked at our competitors. What we’d typically get out of that is more for marketing purposes. Was anyone reaching out to our competitors and saying “Hey, can you guys help?” You’re looking for journalists who are covering your industry to get in front of them.

So you should put Twitter lists together?

Absolutely. You do what makes sense to your business. When you’re a small business and dealing with a crisis, typically you don’t have to have a team monitoring every mention of your business, because typically you’re up 24/7 dealing with it. Or if you’re not your team is in some form or fashion. Really it’s the monitoring when you don’t have a crisis, that’s the difficult part, because crises can emerge without you at first realizing it. Something you said in an ad, something you said in an interview. I think the real difficulty, and this is something we try to tackle here, is can you predict a crisis using social media? Especially from an activist perspective? Can you see the vague threats out there? Are these activists trying to organize a new campaign? And in doing so you need to determine how influential they are, how many people follow them, what’s the real impact they’re having?

Is there an analysis going on where you see people trying to stir up shit on Twitter, and there’s a debate over whether you should respond or if responding will just stir the pot and give them momentum?

In most cases you don’t want to respond at all, unless there’s a financial threat. Most activists out there, that’s their goal, which is to start the fight. They’re never going to lose, because they have no intention of ending it. So what you want to do is if they’re starting to say you’re a bad person, then maybe you should starting thinking about corporate social responsibility initiatives to provide a sort of counterweight to those claims. Then you can use Twitter to amplify and drown out the bad things people are saying about you. One thing you must realize is that people who hate you are going to continue to hate you.

Would you ever buy advertising against a hashtag they’re using?

I would first go to Google and buy those search results. Place a Google ad for any of those key terms. A lot of people who even see a hashtag might look it up on Google first to see what it’s about. And that’s why to this day BP still runs ads if you do any search for gulf oil spill, the first response is an ad for BP that shows what great things they’re doing to repair the gulf.

We know the Twitter demographics, that there is very limited penetration, at least compared to Facebook. Is there a tendency from a client to overreact based on something said on Twitter even if it’s not representative of what the public at large thinks?

If companies lose Twitter, they’re going to be hard-pressed to really get a good sense of what people think outside of expensive focus groups. And I think that’s a mistake companies make, is they see one tweet, or one tweet that’s retweeted 10 times and they think it’s a movement. The fact is it’s an open platform. It could be an ex-employee. It could be someone who has no say in the market whatsoever. If you’re a consumer packaged good, they probably don’t buy your product anyways, and unless they really get traction, they’re not going to have any impact on your bottom line. So you have to have a really good sense and err on the side of caution, because the nature of Twitter is binary. One tweet has the same value as any other tweet. Now the individuals tweeting have their own value in terms of how many followers they have, but followers don’t always measure influence. You see that when these platforms make a purge of spam accounts, sometimes you see users with thousands of followers lose 15 percent of their following because they had all these fake lists. That’s where a lot of these software applications try to measure true influence, and any of them that make this assessment just based on number of followers are not making an accurate assessment. Twitter has influence, but it’s not more impactful than if major media outlets pick up the news. There have been times where something trending on Twitter will jump over into the media, but if it’s something that’s trending on Twitter, you already know about it and you already hopefully have a crisis plan set up for that.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

Twitter marketing cover 2

Why journalists make the best content and social media marketers

simon hire me

It’s commonly accepted at this point that every company and organization should have an official blog, and that every working professional should be engaging in thought leadership in the form of blogging and social media engagement. The problem is that many of these blogs aren’t updated regularly and they’re not high in quality. That’s not the fault of the employees who work there; they have their own busy work schedules and have very limited experience creating web content that their customers and target demographics will want to read. At the same time, there’s wide recognition that these organizations should be on social media, but often there’s little strategy applied to social platforms other than occasionally posting content to a Facebook or Twitter page.

As a longtime journalist who’s written for national publications ranging from US News & World Report to The Atlantic to Scientific American to New York Magazine, I’ve spent my entire career creating and marketing content so millions of people would want to read and share it. As an assistant managing editor at US News & World Report, I built up the magazine’s social media presence, resulting in a 146% increase in Twitter followers and 590% increase in Facebook fans (Facebook traffic for the News division increased by 286% and Twitter traffic increased by 326%.). Our Tumblr followership increased by 53,000 followers during my tenure and our Google+ following by nearly 300,000. I’ve also worked with Fortune 500 brands to develop their digital content and social media strategies, as well as conducting PR campaigns that resulted in mentions at the world’s largest blogs and news outlets.

I can use these journalism and social media marketing skills to develop content for you and your brand and ensure it reaches the influencers and customers within your industry. Please review my offered services below and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Blog Management/Content Marketing/Thought Leadership

As a journalist and marketer, I’ve helped develop engaging content ranging from static infographics to 5,000 word articles. I can leverage these skills to:

  • Manage company blogs: I will conduct a detailed audit and research into your industry to find what kind of content it finds most engaging and then produce that kind of content for your blog. This might involve writing the content myself or recruiting and managing already-established niche bloggers or journalists. I will also work closely with your website’s developers to optimize the blog to maximize the shareability of content via design. Very slight tweaks in how your content is presented can increase the number of shares or the chances that someone will subscribe to one of your social channels.
  • Thought leadership: It’s now necessary for many professional executives to regularly engage in online thought leadership, whether it’s writing regular columns for major outlets like Forbes or blog posts for LinkedIn and the company website. Many of these executives, however, are too busy and inexperienced in writing content for a public audience. I can work closely with these executives to glean their professional insights and convert them into ghost-written articles they can publish under their own bylines.

Social Media and Email Marketing

Creating compelling content is only half the battle. You also have to find ways to deliver that content to the social media streams of your customers and industry leaders, i.e. the people you want to influence. My services can include:

  • Social media intelligence: Sometimes you can handle the management of social media accounts internally, you just need someone to identify where your target demographics are online and the best practices for reaching them. I can perform a detailed audit, examining your marketing goals and determining which communities you should focus on and the best methods for engaging their users. This will involve identifying the key influencers within your industry (which in some cases might be your competitors) and leveraging search tools to analyze their followers and topic focus. I can then create a detailed plan for how to reach these users and place your brand in the conversation.
  • Social media management: This is a more hands-on approach where I play a role in managing your day-to-day social media presence and incorporating it into your larger content strategy.
  • Social media advertising: Though it’s possible to grow organically on social media, it’s often a slow process, so spending some money toward targeted social media advertising can boost your reach and influence much more efficiently than standard display or print advertising.

Public Speaking/In-Person Staff Training

Perhaps you want your entire staff trained on social media management and best practices. Or you’re organizing an event where you need someone to speak on marketing, content, or digital media. I can prepare a presentation and talk in advance that’s tailored to your needs.

Public Relations

I have relationships with and have successfully pitched journalists and bloggers at many of the largest media outlets in the world. I can work with you to develop a media relations strategy and create news and content that journalists will want to cover. I can also perform advanced targeting to identify the journalists most likely to be interested in your story, rather than simply relying on PR software that merely categorizes journalists by broad subject matter beats.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more.