Four Simple Words

March 30, 2009

by Kim Taylor

Have you ever received a piece of advice that was so sage, yet so simple, you knew you should’ve been following it all along?

I had one of those “I should’ve had a V-8” moments recently and I plan to move forward every day keeping it in mind.

In a conversation with a few friends—both managers, but in vastly different industries than mine—we began to discuss how difficult it is to manage in a recession. I remarked that one of the biggest challenges I’ve had is keeping a positive attitude. That’s when one of them said four simple words: You set the tone.

You can read all of the strategy books you want; listen to management gurus offer tactics for surviving in “these times,” but nothing is more palpable than your attitude.

If you manage one person or a hundred, remember, you set the tone. They are looking to you for comfort, wisdom and positivity. Why not give it to them?

Keep Them Rolling

March 30, 2009

by Roger Pynn

CBS “Sunday Morning’s” segment “Stop the Presses!” reminded me how important it is that we keep talking about the value of news … the kind old folks like me know comes from the heritage of daily newspapers.

It was another great piece on the looming threat of a world without newspapers.

And it revealed once again what appears to be a dominant thought among folks in the news world that the most important role of journalists is to uncover the wrongdoings of scoundrels … saying “And it was the newspaper whose proudest moments came when it held the powerful to account – even bringing down “All The President’s Men.”

I don’t argue the importance of the watchdog role. And, no, I’m not a Pollyanna who sees the world through rose-colored glasses and thinks there are no Bernie Maddoffs lurking around the country club, no Haldeman’s in the halls thinking up ways to “get away with it.”

But I worry most about a world where we won’t see stories like the Orlando Sentinel’s poignant piece on the beautiful life of Ed Soistman, a man I’ve admired since my college years.

Not that they won’t be “published” at online newspaper sites as this one was. But you’d have had to scroll through three levels of “local news” headlines. The one that said “He forsook corporate life to minister to the needy” would take you to the story and photo illustration that by contrast in print commanded attention as you opened the local news section … Ed’s engaging smile drawing you to the story.

Will we ever turn pages that way?

Somewhere in a garage … likely in San Jose’s Silicon Valley … there’s a techrepreneur working on a solution that would give us a delivery system or device that one day makes the digital newspaper a decent replacement.

Let’s just hope the folks who “program” the daily paper of the future remember it is about so much more that makes our daily lives newsworthy.

Power on Your Desktop

March 27, 2009

by Roger Pynn

At my age, I go back and forth with contemporaries all the time about Social Networking. Many of them question my sanity when I confess to having a Facebook account … although most are relieved to know I have yet to truly embrace the whole Twitter thing.

Yes. Way too many of my Facebook “friends” post thoughts it would never occur to me to discuss with the online world. However, I’m increasingly being exposed to causes, companies and organizations very effectively using this massive network (even on a very local basis) to create reputation and relationships.

For instance, Lisa Stock Warren, development and communications manager, got my attention for an event to support the Adult Literacy League here in Orlando. Although I couldn’t go, I forwarded the information to a wine enthusiast friend.

Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida Director of Media Relations Amy Pempel is building a real following for her brands by sharing insightful sports thinking from the serious to the not-so serious. Sports. It’s her business.

Then comes this article from chock full of proof of the power of Facebook… and interestingly, while Facebook isn’t profiting from the advertising on its site, users are.

And right in line with what Lisa and Amy are doing, eMarketer CEO Geoff Ramsey said “If you’re going to build a community, don’t center it around your product, but rather on something deeply relevant to a particular consumer group.”

Interesting. Social networking is just like real life. If you want to make friends in conversation at a party, talk to them about what matters to them, not just you.

In The Crosshairs

March 25, 2009

by Dan Ward

Many of the top earners at AIG have now announced that they will decline bonuses that have put the company in the crosshairs of nearly every politician and every news outlet in the country for the past two weeks.

It seems like everyone has weighed in at this point about whether the bonuses were legal, whether they should be taxed, who knew what and when … so let’s not re-hash that discussion. Instead, let’s consider the lesson here for public relations practitioners.

An important part of our job is to look over the horizon and anticipate public reaction to actions our companies and clients might take. Given the increasing populism in our country, and vocal calls for reform on executive compensation, it should have come as no surprise that there would be public backlash about bonuses of more than $165 million. But it seems as though corporate leaders were unprepared for the ferocity of that backlash.

I’m not suggesting there were many options … keep the bonuses, decline them or renegotiate them, but regardless of which path is chosen, anticipate that there will be a public reaction and have a plan in place for how to communicate the decision.

Had executives chosen to renegotiate employment contracts as part of the bailout talks, public perception would likely be far different today. But even if leaders had decided from the beginning to keep the bonuses, they should have been better prepared to deal with the backlash … proactively educating investors, legislators and others about the company’s employment agreements, sharing how and when the bonuses were earned, etc.

Instead, we see a CEO with a salary of one dollar being vilified as the embodiment of corporate greed, and employees declining huge sums that are contractually owed to them who will continue to be targets of scorn instead of praise.

As public relations practitioners, we need to constantly gauge public perception not only of our companies and clients, but also of issues and trends that may impact them. Anticipating how our actions might be perceived and preparing a plan of action is more important now than ever.

What a Time to Be a Top Grad

March 25, 2009

by Roger Pynn

It is intern time again … and companies in every field are entertaining fresh-faced college kids (many about to graduate into a scary world) who want one last shot to learn real-world skills as interns.

Some may be wishing they could put their thumb in the commencement exercise dike.

But the smartest will say “let me mop the floors so I can show you I’m the hottest thing since sliced bread.”

Smart businesses will snap them up and turn their internships into boot camp experiences … risking a few bucks perhaps on more than one intern to have the pick of the crop because they will be your best staff a year from now as things are turning around. They won’t cost as much up front and they’ll know more than most of the folks you employ today.

Learn more about our Internship Program here.

Is it Time to Trade the Focus Group for Social Media?

March 23, 2009

by Kim Taylor

At Curley & Pynn, we recommend research as part of many, if not all, client programs. And each time that research begins by asking four questions: 1.Who do we want to communicate with? 2. What do they know about us? 3. What do we want them to know? 4. What do we want them to do?

Answering these questions provides a framework for reaching a client’s target audience.

In addition to those four questions, we have also recommended the use of focus groups—and continue to.

So, when I read Catherine Taylor’s recent post over at the Social Media Insider, I wondered what she was thinking when she declared the death of the focus group. Although, she did point to several recent examples that would send shivers down any marketer’s spine, including the staggering $35 million spent on the failed Tropicana re-brand and online outbursts by moms in response to an online ad Motrin was running.

In all of Taylor’s examples, focus groups seem to be the culprit. She even goes so far as to call the Groups “contrived.”

Taylor compares the focus group’s value—or lack thereof—with the “real conversations” taking place in the social media world.

While I don’t argue the value of social media, I believe that using a single research method … focus groups, phone surveys, social media, etc. … is where the problem lies.

Properly organized focus groups should be representative of a cross-section of the core audience and usually involve not one but many sessions to allow the researchers to gather anecdotal data. Turning to social media for that data is very much like relying on the opinions expressed by those who respond to newspaper or television calls to “log on and tell us what you think.” Those who respond have not been filtered to determine that they are within the core.

I laughed. And then I cried.

March 23, 2009

by Roger Pynn

Orlando Sentinel Cartoon

My old colleague, incredibly talented Orlando Sentinel Editorial Cartoonist Dana Summers’ front page cartoon told such a sad story. It reminded me of one of my old posts (Ode to the Paper Boy) in which I worried about the day I’d wander out to the curb before dawn and wait for my paper to arrive on my cell phone.

Then my favorite Miami Herald Columnist Leonard Pitts took off on a variety of culprits he seems to blame for the impending death of his industry and I cried some more … but for a different reason.

Pitts was commenting on statistics in the latest Pew Report on the State of the Media in which the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalsim found more than 60 percent of those it polled said they wouldn’t miss their local papers if they folded.

“It is the insult that compounds the injury, by which I mean the growing sense that we are working on the last major story of our lives, and it is an obituary. Ours,” wrote Pitts. And although he at least let the newspaper industry share some of the blame “because we failed to anticipate and strategize,” what has to be discussed is whether the responsibility goes beyond having missed the mark on transition to the Internet.

People haven’t turned away from newspapers because of the Internet. They are turning away from newspapers because papers aren’t meeting their needs. Pitts says “…only the local paper performs the critical function of holding accountable the mayor, the governor, the local magnates and potentates for how they spend your money, run your institutions, validate or violate your trust. If newspapers go, no other entity will have the wherewithal to do that.”

He’s right. But papers used to do so much more. It isn’t just about investigative journalism. It isn’t just about being a watchdog.

People want to read insightful articles about what is happening in the world around them. They want to be alerted to things that can enrich their lives. Sure, they want to know about scoundrels … but a steady diet of what’s wrong gets old just like beans and franks for dinner.

The question has to be asked whether the industry has invested way too little in basic news coverage and way too much in things that drive readers elsewhere.

Pitts said, “Sixty-three percent of all Americans think they won’t miss the daily paper? I think 63 percent of all Americans are wrong.”

I think 63 percent of all Americans already miss their daily paper.

The Power of Words [in Real Estate Advertising?!]

March 13, 2009

by Kerry Gregovich

Everyone understands the weight that certain words can carry. Think of all the incendiary, derisive and offensive slurs that you can, and just try to keep your cool while repeating “sticks and stones may break my bones …”

With that in mind, I’m thankful that there are some laws in place to forbid terms of discrimination and protect our rights and civil liberties.

One such well-intentioned law was the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that prohibits discrimination in the sale and rental of residences based on race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, familial status and disability. But recently enforcers of this law have produced violators from unlikely places: adjectives in real estate listings.

I found this story in the New York Post—‘Dirty’ Words in Ads—that talks about the extremes that Real Estate brokerages are taking to avoid discrimination, and more accurately, the lawsuits that would follow. New York-based The Corcoran Group recently issued a memo prohibiting more than 200 potentially “offensive” words from appearing in real estate listings, including:

• Exclusive
• Quiet
• Private
• Bachelor
• Kids
• Walking
• Playroom

With a case against each seemingly innocuous phrase (the term “exclusive” may be interpreted as meaning racially exclusive; terms such as “bachelor pad,” may discriminate against couples; and the terms “couples” and “family-friendly,” may offend singles), it’s hard to believe any word is safe anymore.

Can you say family room? Or what about TV room?—that might discriminate against people who can’t afford to buy a TV …

Since when did we become afraid of the power of our words and how people react to them? Think of the biting, critical language on the editorial page—but parts of speech in the Property section generate investigations from the ACLU? How have people become so sensitive to our language that they’re deriving meaning and opinions out of simple words in real estate advertisements?

Leave a comment.

But please… keep it clean.

All A-Twitter

March 10, 2009

by Dan Ward

Our blog has been all a-twitter lately, and who can blame us. Jon Stewart, Leonard Pitts, Helen A.S. Popkin and dozens of others have spent time over the last week bashing and mocking Twitter, the “micro-blogging” site that limits posts to 140 characters or less.

Having just joined Twitter myself in the last month, I can understand their anger and mockery, even as I disagree with it. Many people, unfortunately including many of our elected representatives, tend to use Twitter simply to answer the question, “What are you doing?” – often at inappropriate times.

If that were all that the million-plus Tweeple out there were doing, I’d agree with Pitts, Popkin, et al. … what a monumental waste of time! But the people I’ve been following have been using Twitter to do much more than that.

On one typical day last week, I heard from a reporter asking for advice to share with a college class, learned about the drop in sales at a local theme park, read an announcement about new businesses locating in Orlando, capitalized on a query from a reporter on behalf of a tourism client, got the latest bad news on jobless rates in the U.S. and Florida, and posted a story about, of all things, Twitter.

Sure, I also got the latest headlines from “The Onion” and tweeted my “Seinfeld Quote of the Day.” (“I’m out there Jerry, and I’m lovin’ it!” seemed appropriately themed.) As Jerry might say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The truth is that Twitter can be a very effective communications tool, both for work and for play. It’s not just about what you’re doing, but what your clients are doing, what those in industries you follow are doing, and what those you are trying to educate and influence may be doing.

Oh, Leonard!

March 5, 2009

by Roger Pynn

Although our views are often different, Leonard Pitts Jr. has always impressed me as one of the most open-minded op-ed writers in America. That is, until I read his recent column “I won’t twitter my life away” – in which he may have driven a wedge so thick between himself and the future – that he may never be “followed” by a generation that could really use his insight, attitude and knowledge. He is, after all, a prized possession at The Miami Herald a multiculture that thrives on the tweeting generation.

“I’m darned if I can see the fascination. I mean, I’m not surprised that technology allows this. But I am surprised that people – by the thousands – buy in to it,” wrote Pitts.

But what tweeters are saying in response explains it quite well. Perhaps he might also want to note that many of his colleagues in the newspaper business are regularly using twitter to snag scoops in their respective specialties and public relations people are following journalists to stay on top of what they are covering.

Oh, Leonard … this is very real and so is the need for people to reach out for some personal communication in an age where what technology has given us is cool and glitzy and wondrous but often very impersonal.

This may just make the Personal Computer personal again.


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