It is Still “WIFM?”

May 10, 2017

by Roger Pynn

Kudos to McKay Advertising’s Christian Bayne for this post titled Brand Marketing is BS.

I’ve written before about my disdain for the term “branding.”  Branding is only a verb if you are a cow, and yet people are still hanging on like rodeo cowboys to the claim that what they do is branding.

Bayne writes “Today, people are not loyal to brands, they are loyal to their needs.”

That is absolutely true.  Companies (brands) trying to earn consumer loyalty need to stay attuned and true to customer needs.

The urge to put your brand on every message is understandable, but if you “brand” everything you’re missing the point.  Once you have the ear of your customers, focus on them, not yourself.  They want to know what’s in it for them.


Citizen Journalists Are Always Ready – Are You?

May 5, 2017

by Dan Ward

In the aftermath of the United Airlines “re-accommodating” incident, we’ve seen more headlines about airlines acting badly, usually accompanied by grainy cellphone video shot by concerned passengers.

There’s blood in the water, and “citizen journalists” at airports around the country are at the ready to report on any misstep.

What happens when they leave the airport and point their cameras at your company?

Many organizations “media train” their corporate spokespersons and C-Suite executives (we prefer to call it message training, because the process works beyond the traditional media interview).  But how many are training their front-line staff, the people who interact with customers on a daily basis, and whose comments and actions will be recorded by citizen journalists as soon as anything goes wrong?

Front-line staff need to know that they work in an environment in which every action they take may be recorded and reported.  They need to understand how to communicate the company’s key message with every customer they meet, in the knowledge that their interactions may be published on a blog or podcast.  They need to understand that their actions and comments could mean the difference between a happy customer and a viral video that will cost revenue and jobs.

Are your employees ready?


This is Not a PR Gaffe.

April 13, 2017

by Roger Pynn

I knew I’d see the headline sooner or later:

6 other PR Nightmares:  United fiasco among worst corporate gaffes

 The Bloomberg story in the Orlando Sentinel said:

“When it comes to bad public relations, it’s pretty tough to top the sight of a United Airlines passenger being dragged, bloodied and screaming, from a flight.”

It went on to say:

“But the fiasco is hardly the first self-inflicted corporate blunder. Munoz can take comfort that it’s happened to others, and in many cases the bosses didn’t lose their jobs, as our PR Tales From Hell illustrate.”

Here’s the problem.  This isn’t a PR problem.  It is a management problem that caused public relations problems.  And it is a classic example of management failing to empower smart decision-making on the front lines.  When the people who engage with the public have to make decisions because of what the operations manual says instead of being empowered to make common sense decisions in the face of trouble, disaster is around the corner.

There were so many options … if only the gate staff had been trained to think for themselves.  I’m sure the folks in United’s public relations organizations would tell you the same thing.


Should Fact Checks Have Expiration Dates?

April 6, 2017

by Dan Ward

I’ve written often about my concerns about the “fact check” genre.  When journalists review statements and assign grades such as “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios,” it’s hard to view their rulings as anything other than opinion.

Determining a level of truthfulness requires judgment, which is colored by a journalist’s own beliefs and biases.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s opinion journalism, and should be labeled as such.

Now comes the news that, in light of the latest chemical attack in Syria, PolitiFact has decided to pull a 2014 Fact Check in which it rated as “Mostly True” a claim by former Secretary of State John Kerry that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”

The rating was based largely on the reports of international “experts” with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the same experts who later reported that Syria used chemical munitions in 2014 and 2015, and which reported in 2016 that Syria had failed to live up to its promises on the removal of chemical weapons.

PolitiFact now states that “conclusive evidence was not available at the time of the original fact check. One of our principles is that we rate statements based on what is known at the time.”

I didn’t realize that fact checks came with an expiration date.  How can PolitiFact claim to offer an objective rating of a supposed statement of fact while also recognizing that information changes over time?  They should change their ratings to “Likely True” or “Likely False” and make it clear that their ratings represent the best subjective judgment of their reporters.

I don’t mean to be a media scold on this issue.  The reporters who work in the fact check realm are doing difficult work, and just like the writers for newspaper opinion pages, their judgments can provide very useful information.  My concern is that their readers, and the consumers of media who re-publish their rulings, view them as objective arbiters of truth, when instead they are offering their best opinion based on what they know at the time.


The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?


Conflict Abounds.

February 27, 2017

by Roger Pynn

If there’s one thing that’s certain, conflict is everywhere these days.  But it doesn’t stop at the borders of the District of Columbia.

My friend Elise Mitchell, APR, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and of Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network has a fascinating blog focused on leadership, and in her most recent post she addresses a leader’s role in conflict resolution.

Every day we are seeing people through the lens of the media, many running from conflict.  To the contrary, she suggests, it may be better to approach conflict the way a firefighter takes on flames … running into the danger.  She says, First, let’s clear up a common misconception: Having conflict on your team doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader. Conflict is just part of a leader’s journey, and you have to accept that, not run from it.”

Conflict is as predictable as the sunrise.  In our business, navigating conflict is essential.  God put us here to create relationships, and if we run from conflict we’re likely to be short-lived for the profession.

In her new book Leading Through the Turn (which metaphorically takes insight from what she’s learned as a motorcycle enthusiast), Elise suggests leaders ask themselves these questions:  1) Where do you want to go? 2) How do you plan to get there? and, 3) Are you enjoying the journey.  It was question #3 that made me wish I had met Elise a long time ago.


How to Be the Best Intern Ever

February 23, 2017

by Ashley Tinstman

As someone who was once a nervous, timid intern, I’ll admit—internships can be somewhat terrifying.  Your professors constantly stress the importance of getting multiple internships, but the process of seeking and obtaining those internships can sometimes feel overwhelming.

If you’ve ever felt this way, take a deep breath and relax.  Internships are a process of trial and error—they’re designed to help you learn what you like and don’t like, all while getting real-world experience.  And as employers, we’re here to help you grow, and that’s something we love to do.

Here at Curley & Pynn, interns are a valuable part of our team who get to work on all kinds of projects—drafting newsletters, doing research, building media lists and more.  Now, you might be thinking, “That sounds awesome, but what exactly do you look for in an intern?”  Luckily for you, I am here to answer that very question.  Here are five things that make a great C&P intern:

  • Write.  And then write some more.

But seriously … writing is a vital skill in our industry.  As an intern at C&P (and in your future jobs), you will be writing on a consistent basis. Whether it’s a news release, feature story or a media pitch, you must have strong writing skills and know how to tailor your writing to very specific audiences.  If writing isn’t exactly your strong suit, practice!  It’ll go a long way in helping you stand out during your interview.

  • Be a sponge.

Once you’ve landed the internship, be eager to learn all you can.  Observe what others do, take notes, ask to sit in on meetings and seek out advice. We are here to be a resource for you, so don’t be shy.  You can learn a great deal by observing and asking questions.

  • Be a problem solver.

In the PR industry, you will undoubtedly face challenges that require you to think critically.  You may have to do difficult research for a client or write about a topic with which you’re unfamiliar.  In those cases, be resourceful and attempt to work through the problem you’re facing.  But if you get stuck after trying, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  • View mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s an unavoidable reality.  You’ll make mistakes as an intern, and you’ll make mistakes as a seasoned industry pro.  But guess what … that’s OK.  Mistakes may not be pleasant in the moment, but they can be a valuable learning opportunity.  When your internship supervisor offers constructive criticism, view it as a positive.  We want to help you grow and succeed.

  • Take initiative.

One of the most valuable things you can do as an intern is take initiative. If there’s a project you want to get involved with, tell us.  If there’s something you want to learn more about, speak up.  If you don’t have enough work to do, ask for more.  We do our best to get our interns involved in a variety of projects, but we always like when our interns take the initiative to ask first.

If you’re interested in interning at an awesome agency with awesome people, you can find more information here.


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