Friday, November 16, 2012

PR lessons from 'Kate' and Tarrant Area Food Bank's hunger campaign

The billboard asks a compelling question: What does hunger feel like? 

It strikes me that putting a (cartoon) face to hunger with a compelling narrative is a creative way to generate curiosity and hopefully leads to awareness, donations, volunteers, etc. The video component is simple but effective:

I reached out to Andrea Helms, Director of Communications for the Tarrant Area Food Bank and a Ft. Worth PRSA member for some insight into the campaign. I'm so thankful that she was wiling to share since I believe there are some interesting lessons and processes from this effort for PR and communication professionals:

Why did TAFB implement the 'Kate' concept campaign? 
Akron Canton Regional Food Bank in Ohio shared the Kate video concept with the Feeding America network of regional food banks, to which Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB) belongs. TAFB decided to customize this video for the organization not only because of the impact of Kate’s message, but to also join in creating a sense of unity across the network.

What are some of the strategic objectives you hope to achieve?
AWARENESS. We would like Kate’s message to be shared all over our community, through our Partner Agencies, donors and volunteers, and the general public. As part of our annual awareness initiative, we hope the community learns that hunger and food insecurity exist right here in our own neighborhood and we, together, can do something about it.

Through various print ads, billboards, and social media, we seek to increase awareness about hunger and direct people to the Kate video. We hope the Kate video and her message goes viral. The more that people share the video with their networks, the bigger the awareness of hunger we can create within our community. The video not only educates the public about the face of hunger--for example, Kate could be your next door neighbor, a co-worker or friend--but it also educates them about Tarrant Area Food Bank’s role in fighting local hunger.

When did it start and how long will the campaign run? 
The campaign started mid-October and will run through December. We will do another flight of the campaign in the Spring of 2013. The Kate video will remain active on our website and on and through social media when the campaign is not active.

How would you say your version of the campaign differs from the original version?
We are the first Feeding America food bank to launch a traditional marketing campaign around the video. Up until now, the Kate video has been used as a tool in food banks for educating volunteers and donors and has been used through social media and word of mouth.

What communication channels are you using to share Kate? 
Facebook and Twitter posts, Facebook ads, billboards, print ads in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Business Press, the Just Ask Kate web page, the TAFB website, YouTube, e-blasts, email signatures, volunteer training and exclusive showings at TAFB related events.

We also have several collateral pieces our staff use for various audiences, such as children’s activities and giveaways, including Kate as a fan with suggestions on the backside for taking action to build awareness about hunger.  Our life-sized Kate cut-out is being used for photo opportunities with key people in our community for posting on social media.

How will you determine the success of this campaign?
Because this is an awareness campaign, we are most interested in how viral the campaign becomes. The more video views, shares and likes we get from the Kate video, the more we know the word is being spread around our community. We have been using Facebook and Google analytics to track where our viewers are coming from and what actions they are taking after they view the video, such as visiting our website or liking our Facebook page.
What do you think? Is this a compelling campaign to help generate awareness for the food bank's fight against local hunger? As always, the comments are yours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

'The Mom Next Door' and School PR

A recent study found that more moms make in-person recommendations (83%) than recommendations via social media (53%) which should cause school PR people to pause a moment and think about your school district's in-person contact with parents, especially moms.

The recently released study entitled The Mom Next Door: Why and How Moms Make Recommendations by 360PR and Mom It Forward provides interesting data on how moms make recommendations in-person and online. I can see it being useful for brands to dig into for thoughts on trustworthiness.

Among the Mom Next Door survey findings:
  • 71% of moms make recommendations about brands, products and services to other moms at least monthly; 
  • 50% of moms making recommendations about brands daily; 
  • 93% of moms are influenced to some extent by other moms’ recommendations.

The parts of the survey I found most relevant for school PR pros relate to trutworthiness and where moms meet-up. According to the survey, the majority of moms rate in-person recommendations as more trustworthy than recommendations via social media.
  • 59% of moms give in-person recommendations the highest possible rating for trustworthiness; and
  • only 14% of moms rated recommendations via social media as “most trustworthy.”
Moms interact with other moms most often at their child’s daycare or school (58%), at a friend’s house (54%) or another off-line get-together (48%) – meeting for coffee, shopping, working out, etc.

Why this is important for school PR
The data on in-person recommendations and locations of interactions with other moms at daycare or school should perk up the interest of school communicators. That 58% of moms interacting with other moms at their daycare or school is a useful data point because it points to an easily ignored truth when it comes to communication: moms come to the schools. 

We spend so much time thinking about how to leverage the digital communication channels through online outreach, social media tools, e-newsletters, etc. which is all well and good since we can be highly efficient with our efforts by using these channels. We should definitely keep using online tools to hopefully provide that 35% of moms meeting-up online with timely, honest, accurate, relevant information. But, we must be mindful of our in-person communication touch-points with moms (parents) so that the larger percentage get the information they need as well. Think of it this way with a few types of campus-parent interaction opportunities for communication success or failure: 
  • campus/district special events, activities, or sports; 
  • before/after school drop-off and pick-up;
  • anytime volunteers are on campus; 
  • PTA/PTO meetings;
How a campus appears, how its staff interacts with parents and the available messaging and signage locations are all three things never to be overlooked. I'd argue that many problems or misunderstandings could be mitigated with some consideration to communication. Sometimes we get caught up in the luster of the shiny objects and forget a simple explanatory handout would suffice. 

If we hope to be included among the (hopefully) positive in-person interactions and recommendations between moms, we'd better not forget when, where, and how we'll get those chances.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

5 Reasons to Make Your In-house Editorial Calendar

How does your communication department function? Is it stuck in an old mindset of spray and pray (as in spray the press releases out to the media and then pray for coverage) or do you treat the department like your organization's own newsroom where content creation and direct communication with your community are the objectives? I'm an advocate of the latter as part of the department's function for public relations in school districts and nonprofits. An internal editorial calendar is a smart way to help in-house PR departments meet leadership goals and strategic communication objectives all year long.

Keeping an editorial calendar for your communication department allows you to:

  1. Effectively plan around the monthly and yearly occurrences in the organization
  2. Position yourself and department as the go-to source for information
  3. Drop-in plans for special events and target dates
  4. Establish timing for press releases, newsletters, blog posts, video production, etc.
  5. Allows you to get back on track with messaging when things go wrong
That's great but how do you do it? 

Here's how to get started. I'm sure there are other possibly better or more creative ways to make an editorial calendar but here's what I did. I found a simple template in Google Docs (now Google Drive) for a blog Editorial Dashboard. Then I made the appropriate adjustments for a week-by-week calendar for the department to use all year long. 

First, drop in everything for which you have set dates on the calendar. You're looking for those things that happen every year. For a school district, we have many items to quickly drop in such as holidays, board meetings, first and last days of school, high school homecoming dates, graduations, etc. 

Next, add the target or scheduled dates for any special events like any facility ground-breaking events, building dedications, board elections, bond elections (referendums), etc. (Don't forget to include important weekend event dates.)

Once these items are in, it's time to work to include your planned schedule for your recurring communication channels: electronic and/or print newsletters (external and internal if applicable), regular video updates from leadership, blog post schedule, and planned Facebook page posts. This part is an ongoing exercise and and you never really feel finished because things inevitably get shifted and you'll have to make adjustments. The calendar just gives you a guide to bring things back in order. 

We've all had those days (weeks) when things are going wrong or we're in full-blown crisis communication mode and we know in the backs of our minds some things are getting lost in the shuffle. An editorial calendar can serve as your reference tool to get back on track. I've found ours to be a solid source for making sure our timing for important announcements doesn't interfere with something already planned. We've used the calendar to remind leadership of important issues and how they play among established plans, dates, and events.

What do you think? Have you created an editorial calendar for your communication department? Are there any other benefits or tips you can add? As always, the comments are yours.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tweet with a Sense of Humor

Repeat after me, it's smart to have a personality and a good sense of humor when using social media. 

During yesterday's Mansfield Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis accidentally tweeted the wrong name of my school district's superintendent during his state of district presentation.

It was a silly mistake, but what I found particularly awesome was how she handled it. Here's how it went down:

Bravo to Senator Davis. I'm glad she (or someone on her communication team) has a good sense of humor. The original tweet was funny all by itself, but the follow-up was clever, lighthearted and fun. The PR lesson: If you tweet a mistake, try to admit it and move on. 

Oh and if you can work in a reference to The Doors, do it!

Photo credit: steffireichert via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

JPS Health Network: A Changing Vision and Communication Lessons

The best way to tour a hospital and check out its fluorescent lighting is from a standing position, not while lying on your back. At least that's what we were told by JPS Health Network President and CEO, Robert Earley.

For the record, he's right.

Robert Earley, 
 JPS Health Network
President and CEO
Recently, the Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA took its monthly lunch program on the road and got an "unfiltered view tour" [his words] of Tarrant County's public hospital with Mr. Robert Earley. This tour was our chance to hear from this local leader who is using a strategic communication and community outreach campaign to help change hearts and minds about the Tarrant County Hospital District.

"We're in the life and death business," said Earley of the work JPS does for what last year was over 1 million people. "We hope it's more life." 

As the county's public hospital, JPS gets a bit of bad rap. There's a misconception that since it's funded by tax dollars, people tend to think the care would be sub-par and that there's no need to provide additional resources through private funding. To be clear, his pre-tour talk did not come across to me like a fundraising effort. Instead, he just pointed out parallels to other publicly funded institutions getting additional resources from benefactors to programs they support. (cough - college football coaches salaries - cough) Funding challenges are typical for public institutions and there were many of those challenges he inherited.

As for the care, he explains that he wants a cultural shift. They had previously been operating in a realm of mediocrity. "We're not there yet," he said. Earley recognized, "while the care was good, [they] weren't treating people right." So he made some changes and expected more.

He wants JPS to be a place where best-practices in healthcare are created and then followed by others. Earley expects more from his 4,500 employees: "When people walk in the front door, everybody gets respect."

When they hire, he says they take a "360° approach." They want people with the right skill-set and heart.

Robert Earley has Three Rules for the JPS Health Network staff:
  1. Own It. He wants staff to be proud of where they work. When they hear about the good, it's ok to share that they work for JPS. When there are challenges, it's still ok to share that they work for JPS.
  2. Seek Joy. He wants employees to smile. Ideally, he hopes they have reasons to smile throughout the day. Healthcare can make for a stressful environment, providing clear direction and positivity can go a long way.  
  3. Don't Be A Jerk! Earley is on a personal campaign to against "jerkdom." He cites examples in our society where we seem to raise up jerks and jerk-like behavior ahead of being simply good people.
"We are trying to be a transparent organization." Earley is using what I consider to be a smart community relations tactic with on-site tours. One example of this unfiltered view was that we were encouraged to ask any question along the way; anything was fair game. He's proud of JPS being the Level 1 Trauma Center for Tarrant County. We saw operating rooms, including two that stay staffed, stocked, and ready 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Honestly, it's highly impressive.

Here are some additional public relations take-aways from Robert Earley and the JPS tour:

  • The JPS team observe other healthcare systems going through challenges and then they look internally to see if they have the same issue(s).
  • They want to establish a network by which they can communicate directly with stakeholders and not be reliant on traditional media methods.
  • The quality and safety standards as an organization are constantly in need improvement.
  • Training is top-notch: A JPS nurse receive approximately $64,000 in training. (Trauma nurses get double that amount!) The problem they have is talent retention. Nurse get well-trained, work a while then split. Earley said they have about a 20% turnover rate, which is way too high. (I wouldn't be surprised if JPS starts an aggressive campaign to keep their talent.)
  • Earley instituted a chair policy in the hospital. A folding chair hangs behind the door of the hospital rooms and doctors are required to remove the chair and set it next to patients so that they can be at eye-level with them to talk.
  • There are so many electronic and networked aspects of healthcare in general and especially within the hospital, but not much in their communication. Yet.
During the Q&A period, someone asked how do they tell the JPS story. Earley responded with a smile, "we hired J.R. Labbe."

Jill "J.R." Labbe is the former editorial director for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. I think this is an intriguing move for JPS and for Labbe. I'm interested to see how she can bring her skills to the other side of the news for storytelling and work from within the organization. She expressed some parting words in the newspaper about her new role:
While my responsibilities as vice president of communications and community affairs at JPS will differ greatly from what I've been doing the past 20 years -- and the irony of going from inflicting pain on government employees to being a government employee is not lost -- my love for this community and the people who call it home will not.
Wise move, JPS.

Robert Earley concluded by letting attendees know that others are welcome. They'd appreciate more people coming to JPS and seeing first-hand what's happening and how things are changing for the better. There's work to be done and it's wonderful to see organizational communications and community relations take starring roles in the process for this organization.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back to #SchoolPR Tips: First Day Photos

Cute kid photos are like gold for school PR people. As a practice, we get to go around through the school year for events, programs, or any random opportunity to shoot photos in our campuses and school districts. We search for those elusive shots that capture the excitement, interest, and intrigue that can be found in education. A prime opportunity for these photos occurs during back to school.

But what happens when you can't be at all campuses at once? How can you get those first day photos with the bright smiles, carefully chosen threads, the occasional tears from the little ones and their parents, and other such images? Let the community submit these photos. Here's how:

User-Generated First Day Photos

I started our school district's first day photo concept back in 2008. The idea is simple: Put out the call for photo submissions via the communication channel(s) of  your choice website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We do with a website posting like this 'Photo Gallery Request - Send us your first day photos' along with the criteria. We ask that users email photos taken during the first few days of school. I use Google applications for a number of other district-related items like the school district's blog, website analytics, and more so naturally I let folks email their photos to the Gmail account for quick access and labeling.  To make things even easier, we only accept .jpg format images.

We also note that by submitting photos, users are agreeing to allow the district to display the images among other submitted photos on the district's online gallery site. Users also agree to allow the district to use the images for other district-related print or electronic publications. 

These photos then get uploaded to a First Day Photos gallery for that year. (See our galleries from 2009, 2010, or 2011 for more samples.) We try not to show names or other easily identifiable images. 


I've been very impressed with some of the quality of images sent in by families. When I started this, I figured we get mostly younger kids. Surprisingly there are typically plenty of middle and high school students submitting photos as well. 

We get all kinds of shots like photos as kids walk out the door in their homes, standing in the driveway, climbing on the bus, walking up the school sidewalks, in the hallways and classrooms. 

In four years, we've posted over 540 photos that were sent in for the annual first day photos galleries. From these photos I've been able to pull images for use on the district's blog and website and in some cases, in print when the quality and resolution have both been high enough. Plus, there's the added bonus of being to get photos from almost every campus if we've done our job of effectively communicating the submission opportunity.

Creating a way for your users to submit photos is such an easy way to engage your families, drive traffic to various communication channels through cross-pollination of content, and mine that school PR gold. 

What do you think? What are some ways you have used back to school time for school public relations? The comments are yours.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Work on the 'School Marketing Podcast'

I was recently asked by Randy Vaughn to join him as one his first guests on his School Marketing Podcast. His site has a primary audience of private, independent, or Christian school marketing. Prior to my current six years in a public school district, I worked five years at a private school in Ft. Worth as a communications director. There is a constant need for guidance in the areas of marketing communication and admissions for administrators of private schools. Private and public education both need capable and professional voices to help tell their stories, explain the challenges and sell their products - trust in education. 

(Thanks again, Randy for the opportunity to share with your audience.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

PR Tips: Two Media Interview Lessons

This morning on CNN's "Starting Point" program, Soledad O'Brien was interviewing Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) about the Supreme Court's then pending healthcare law ruling announcement. It piqued my interest because Senator Schumer used two smart media interview tactics:
  1. Avoid repeating the negative - At one point O'Brien was asking about what people should consider as the main reason for low support for the healthcare reform law. She asked Schumer if he'd consider it a "failure of message" to which the senator replied, "I wouldn't call it that. I would say..." This is a smart and simple approach to a leading negative comment by the interviewer. Don't repeat the negative and give the media that sound bite. Use the opportunity to bridge on to what you need to say for clarification of message.
  2. Avoid speculations - I bit later in the interview O'Brian was trying to get the senator to talk about what he thought would happen if the Supreme Court ruled against all or part of the law. Schumer initially wouldn't take the bait and opted not to speculate on live TV about next steps. This was probably a result of the Schumer being pretty adept as a politician conducting himself with media. (He later went ahead and talked in general terms about what steps might be taken politically.) It's still a good idea to avoid speculations for anyone being interviewed by the media if ask about an area or possible scenarios that you do not fully know or can share. For goodness' sake, don't guess
Related Links:

Monday, June 18, 2012

'From the Everyday to the Bad Day' with Kristie Aylett, APR

Have I mentioned how much I dig Storify? In addition to being super-easy to use (drag-n-drop), it's a great tool for capturing tweets, pics, posts, slide decks, videos, links and more on a topic, event, news item or anything really if you are creative. I recommend PR pros experimenting with Storify.

Enough with the unpaid praise for Storify. Here's my latest from the June 2012 Ft. Worth PRSA lunch program with Kristie Aylett, APR.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Valuing School PR and Summer Timing

Earlier this week the Dallas ISD received some summertime media attention with their incoming superintendent setting the salaries for four chiefs in his cabinet including $185K for a Chief of communications.

I have no interest in debating whether or not this individual should or should not be paid this as a base salary for a school PR job mainly because I don't know the ins and outs of the DISD budget. Nor am I interested in the arguing the newsworthiness of the Dallas Morning News article that raised eyebrows because that education reporter was simply following the template of others: share salary of public official + compare it/share it = shock and disbelief  x  readers. Textbook.

No, I'm focused on two intriguing aspects of this situation from a school PR perspective:

(1.) An increase in the value of school communication professionals by superintendents and (2.) the timing of summer information releases.

Top-level value of school public relations
The article mentions that the new superintendent, Mike Miles, is bringing the district's communication position into the executive fold. 
DISD’s top communications position has not been a chief-level job, but Miles said the change was needed because there will be an increased focus on communication.
Honestly, I was surprised to read that communications was not previously an executive or cabinet-level position in Dallas ISD. By including his communications person among his chiefs, the new superintendent has shown how much he values strategic communications for his district administration. I sincerely hope DISD has found someone to help bring things along (or turn things around depending on where you sit) for the school communities. School PR should take note of how expectations for internal and external communication can be of value and service to a school district.
“We’re going to do communications differently,” Miles said. “Most people in the community will agree that our communications have to be better.”
I do, however, take exception to part of the Dallas Observer's post on the salary from their "Edumication News" section. (Yikes!) and his premise that anyone can do communications because it's a sales job. Joe Tone writes,
There are plenty of areas of public education that require a really specific set of skills. But communications isn't one of them. It's sales, basically, only for almost every customer you have, yours is the only product they've ever heard of.
Wrongo. What Joe Tone doesn't realize (or care to understand) is that strategic communications and school public relations does require a specific skill set just like other administrative functions. But that's ok, he's in the media. He can write what he wants. I may need to save that list for a future post.
Summer Timing
The other tactical aspect of this news story should be of interest to school PR pros as well. While the administration of school districts continue all year long, some of the stories for education reporters dwindles in the summer. While this salary brouhaha will cause a bit of bruising in the short-term for DISD, it won't have lasting effects since people move on to other things in their heads pretty quickly. Especially in the summer. If there was going to be a time for an OMG-look-at-what-they-are-paying article to come out, the summer is really the best time for it. Controversial news has a better chance of being managed internally and externally when released over the summer. I recommend information-gathering and using online statements as well as direct communication with the community in addition to working with the media. It's true during the school year and during the summer.

Photo credit: grbenching via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting the best PR outcome from a student protest

Oh what a difference a year makes. One year ago my school district had a lively (and ultimately positive) PR issue at end to the school year: a high school student protest at the administration building.

From our official statement:
On Friday, June 3, approximately 100 students from Timberview High School held a peaceful demonstration at the Mansfield ISD administration building voicing their concerns over the decision to transfer a staff member from their campus to another school within the District.

The Timberview staff member received notice of an administrative transfer to a middle school in MISD as a teacher and coach starting in the 2011-12 school year. To date, this individual is one of 75 Mansfield ISD employees who received such administrative transfers in our continuing efforts to save jobs in the District. (While other districts were cutting staff and eliminating positions, the Mansfield ISD administration and board committed to avoid personnel and student program cuts during the state of Texas' education budget uncertainty.)

The important thing to note is that in this situation is we were not surprised by the demonstration. The students tipped their hand through word of mouth and social media. The rumor-mill revved up during the last week of school about the students being upset that one of the teachers was being moved/fired/replaced/sent away/etc. (You know, the way the rumor-mill works, they only had a portion of the truth.)

Thankfully, I got wind of it pretty early because we aggressively monitor traditional media and social media for mentions, problems, topics related to the District and campuses. It wasn't long before the students took to Twitter and Facebook to rally support and organize the demonstration. Using Twitter search and a Boolean search string with hastags, campus name, the teacher's name and the 'OR' operator, I had a pretty good handle (and free look) into the conversation on that channel. The students also set up a Facebook Page to save the coach and pretty much left it wide open for anyone to see. This was good because we could observe as well.

When the conversation moved to an actual organized protest for the last day of school, we were not taken by surprise and were able to anticipate their movements. Originally, they wanted to demonstrate at the high school, which was a bad idea because in addition to it being the last day of school it was also a finals day. Naturally, the concern here was a disruption in the academic process particularly for those students not involved or interested in this particular demonstration. But things changed.

What happened next? Since we were monitoring the conversation, we followed the news that the students decided against rallying at the high school and instead were going to gather and demonstrate at the District administration building. Great. Again, this was the last day of school but this was a better situation for us since we could contain things away from students taking finals.

As luck would have it, that same morning I was finishing up with an interview at another campus about a great story of teen from the district who had published her first novel when I got the first call from a local radio station about the high school student demonstration.

The radio station told me they had heard there were "300 students gathered at the stadium" to protest. Since we had anticipated the students' moves and had confirmation from District police, I was able to give her the actual numbers (approximately 50 kids at the time) and an updated location of our administrative complex. I told her to have the reporter meet me in the parking lot and we'd go from there.

And thus started the media relations side to this story.

As members of the local media began to arrive and get their b-roll of the students marching then coming over to get some interviews I took an opportunity to show a little strategic support for the students. I had our student nutrition department deliver cases of bottled water so we could distribute among the students during what was quickly becoming a hot Texas day. Ideally, I wanted the media footage to include us passing out the water. Yes, this was done on purpose from a strategic viewing benefit as well as simply being a case of us still being responsible for the students during a school day.

The media interviews went fine. Most of the articles and stories that aired were balanced and we were able to share the key messages that this was all a part of our District's job-saving measures during a time of state education budget cuts. In general, I still consider this a positive experience also because the students did a good job of staying focused and took the demonstration seriously instead of using it to act unruly, disrespectful, or cause problems for traffic or the general community. These were good kids, they didn't have a perspective beyond what they thought they knew. It was actually refreshing to observe an organized student protest for something they believe in even though we had to deal with the media fall-out from it and took a bit of a short-term bruising.

I've used this case study a few times over the past year, but figured it was time to put it down in a post so hopefully other school PR pros or administrators can benefit from some of the steps we took. Simply put, school districts must monitor the online conversations and when topics or issues arise, be ready to take action. Traditional media and social media monitoring are must-haves in a school PR pro's arsenal from an early-warning device to a part of the measurement practices.

I'll leave you with one of the local media stories on the protest:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thank you, Instagram for adding an Android app

Confession time, I've become a huge fan of Instagram. I wouldn't say I'm quite to the point of addiction or anything, but I'll admit the reinvented photo-sharing is the bees-knees. Yes, I know, I'm all sorts of late to the party on this tool in large part because Instagram was previously behind the wall of the iPhone.

But then, it happened. Instagram launched an Android app.  

Woohoo! went the chorus of Android smartphone users who had privately (or publicly) been longing for the day when we too could enjoy the fun of sharing photos on one of the hottest, growing networks. Now we could join in the fun of sharing images and use photo-altering filters to change the look a bit on a whim. Admittedly, I thought this was going to be a little silly based on the images that I had previously seen in my Twitter and Facebook streams from friends (with iPhones) sharing their Instagram photos. But that was before I got to give it a go on the playground.

I was sold! The photos, filters, network, tagging, commenting, likes, etc. are wicked fun. I now completely get why Arik Hanson was so impressed with Instagram based on some informative and fun posts and from seeing his photos myself.

It's been just over a month since news spread far and wide about Facebook's acquisition of Instagram for a staggering $1 billion. After the announcement, there was much gnashing of teeth and tearing of garments by people lamenting Instagram selling-out to Facebook and what it might do to the photo-sharing service. But then again $1 billion for a tool with no ad-revenue was and is still pretty impressive for the Instagram team.

So what does this have to do with public relations? I'm interested in some examples of ways professional communicators can use Instagram, but right now I'm in the experimenting phase. I'd  love to know what you think either personal or professional use of Instagram. As always, the comments are yours.

Photo credit: Me, via Instagram because I love UNT and the Mean Green.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Public Relations has Biblical roots

Did you know that an important PR role of being an official spokesperson has its roots in the Bible? I was pleasantly surprised to find it when looking at the story of Moses. In the story there is a clear example of a leader needing someone to speak for him.

First, let's set the stage in Exodus Chapter 3. God just appeared before Moses in the form of the burning bush and told him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He told Moses what to say and how to say it. He even provided signs for Moses to use (including the ability to turn his staff into a snake and the whole turning the water from the Nile River into blood) to help persuade them.

But Moses was not convinced that he'd be able to pull it off. So it is here that we pick up the story in Exodus Chapter 4 (NIV):
10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.” (emphasis added)
To be clear, I am in no way attempting to be blasphemous or make light of what I consider to be a remarkable story in the Bible. I think there are a couple of things compelling about this often overlooked detail in the story of Moses. He was at first, a reluctant leader who knew his limitations and realized he needed someone to help with the spoken word for his audience. Moses also accepted the assistance of his brother, Aaron as his spokesperson in order to accomplish the goals set before him.

There is much more to the story to read and explore. I just think that it was interesting to read about what could be the first recorded example of an official spokesperson. Plus, it's kind of cool to think that the brother of Moses had a PR role.
Check out the infographic from PRWeb that chronicles the Evolution of a PR Pro tracing elements of public relations back to Caesar.
Photo credit: wallyg via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What's #HAPPO-ning: Rock your summer PR internship

On Thursday, April 26, the latest installment of the HAPPO Twitter chats will take place to cover tips on how to rock your summer internship.Here's a primer on the chat from Deanna Ferrari (the moderator):
Everyone remembers his or her first internship – the first real foot in the door for landing a career. With college graduations right around the corner, summer internships will be starting up all over the U.S. in the next few weeks. That’s why us HAPPO Champs (you know, “Help a PR Pro Out,”) have decided the timing is just right to do our next live Twitter chat to get you ready for your summer internship.
Participate: Hop on to Twitter at 2 PM EST on Thursday, April 26 and follow the #HAPPO hashtag. Make sure you follow @helpaprproout and this chat's moderator, Pittsburgh HAPPO champ, Deanna Ferrari to see the chat questions. I suggest you ask questions and actively participate through replies and RTs in addition to sharing your tips and advice. (If you need a way to follow and participate in Twitter chats, try using Tweetchat. It's super-easy and keeps the flow manageable.)

Tips: I think tips for summer internships is a fantastic topic for HAPPO not just because of the timing but because there is a wealth of knowledge ready to be mined by students and shared by pros. I really like what Jason Mollica shared earlier this week in his video about the chat for prospective interns -- be a sponge and write as much as possible.

Share: If you are so inclined, pass this post along or perhaps copy/paste one of these below from Deanna,
Summer internships are around the corner. Join the next #HAPPO chat for tips on how to rock it! Thurs, 4/26 @ 2pm ET

We want up & coming pros to succeed - the first step is that summer internship! Next #HAPPO chat is Thurs 4/26 @ 2 ET
About HAPPO: Help a PR Pro Out is a nationwide movement that seeks to use social media to leverage relationships and help connect those seeking a job in the PR industry with employers. It’s lead by co-founders Arik Hanson and Valerie Simon. I serve as the HAPPO champion for Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Highlights from Simon Salt's "Conversing with Consumers"

Last week, Simon Salt (@incslinger) spoke at the Greater Ft. Worth Chapter of PRSA April luncheon with his presentation, "Conversing with Consumers." He covered the types of conversations that consumers are already having about your brand, plus how you can join in and more importantly, when it's appropriate. These are the highlights:

The social consumer has a much larger network from which to gather advice/guidance for purchases. The old sales paradigm was relatively simple: your brand has product(s)/service(s) and you exchange those for money. The new sales paradigm includes social capital. Simon explained that the social consumer expects more from the exchange. They want a way to accrue goodwill from a brand and be rewarded for leveraging their network.

You need to know where they are sharing
Salt reaffirmed the reality that social media is not the silver bullet or the center of the universe. Social consumers share IRL (in real life); face-to-face, over the phone, etc. Are they using social media tools? Yes, of course. But bear in mind the influence is still very much a relational activity. Using a grid of opportunity and engagement, Salt touched on mobile and brand property compared to face-to-face and social media for relevant reach.

He gave the stat that 70% of brands fail to respond to negative tweets and that if you'd do that small thing, you'd be outpacing much of the competition. He also is a proponent of leveraging Yelp with the caveat that customers don't know how to rate you. Rating are not the end of the conversation, just the beginning. (I think this could be an area for deep-dive for retailers, restaurants, and other service-industry types.)

You need to know why they share
"There are no wallflowers in social media," stated Salt on using social media to share all of the details of your day. "Your life isn't really that interesting." I think he's right since being an Internet celebrity often seems to be the name of the game for some especially those that go way overboard on the 'personal branding' kick. It goes back to having a motivation to improve social capital. He also said do not dismiss the fact that some people may be paid to bash your brand by other brands. (This concept seemed to shock some attendees.) Look for the sharer's deeper motivation.

On monitoring, Salt listed and touched on a few of his favorites like Google Alerts, Social Mention, Lithium, Viralheat, Radian6 and Visible Technologies. (Personally, I've been using BurrellesLuce Workflow with Engage121 for traditional media and social media monitoring and have kicked the tires on Meltwater.) Bottom-line for PR pros, you need to have ways to listen to the conversation, filter and respond appropriately.

At this point, Simon Salt shared a breakdown of the Conversation Triage likening it to emergency response color-coded tape for dealing with injuries:

RED - Critical; YELLOW - Urgent; GREEN - Non-Urgent; and BLACK - Non-responsive

I was particularly intrigued by this concept and asked him to explain it again after the meeting. Here's his response:

He gave some quick advice on what to do with typical interactions in social media. If you/your brand gets:
  • Praise - Say 'thank you'
  • Question - Route it to the appropriate person and respond as necessary
  • Complaint - Apologize
Simon gave a funny tongue-in-check response to the concept of viral: "The secret to getting something to go viral, piss people off."

--> Content strategy must be a part of the planning. <--

He shared some thoughts on working with influences and fans plus the idea of having brand advocates as defenders. They will defend your brand if you empower them.

Simon Salt closed with the three keys to giving your content greatest opportunity to spread:
  1. Make it Fun - Humor works. (Self-deprecating humor is best. Don't make fun of your customers.)
  2. Repeatable
  3. Shareable
His parting example was a Nike-inspired video. Trust me, it's awesome. You'll want to watch it. (The hashtag #makeitcount is also pretty neat. )
Attendees can get Simon Salt's slide deck here: after submitting a name/email for follow-up and e-newsletter sign-up.

Photo credit: fragmented via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, April 6, 2012

PR Roles explained through Baseball Positions

In honor of the start of the 2012 MLB season and excitement I have for my favorite team, Texas Rangers, I thought it was time to repost something from a few years back: a list of the roles and functions for public relations pros explained using baseball positions.
  1. Pitcher (P) - In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter who attempts to either make contact with it or draw a walk. In PR, the pitching role is one where the professional attempts to garner publicity or attention through effective media relations.
  2. Catcher (C) - Positioned behind home plate, the catcher can see the whole field; therefore, he is in the best position to direct and lead the other players in a defensive play. In PR, this is the role of strategy. Like a catcher, the PR professional sees the big picture where they understand that actions will lead to specific reactions.
  3. First baseman (1B) - A first baseman is the player on the team playing defense who fields the area nearest first base. In PR, this is the role of first response. The initial response to problems and/or crisis will make or break the situation.
  4. Second baseman (2B) - The second baseman often possesses quick hands and feet, the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and must be able to make the pivot on a double play. In PR, this role is of measured quickness. A public relations professional helps to protect reputation and vital relationships when an organization is under attack.
  5. Third baseman (3B) - Third base is known as the "hot corner", because the third baseman is relatively close to the batter and most right-handed hitters tend to hit the ball hard in this direction. In PR, this is the role of coordination and quick reactions that comes with experience from having to catch hard line drives or difficult internal communication challenges.
  6. Shortstop (SS) - Shortstop is often regarded as the most dynamic defensive position in baseball so naturally the PR role is one of adaptability. The one constant is that things change, it is up to the public relations professional to be aware and keep up with the broad and shifting landscape of the PR profession, media, and organizational industry.
  7. Left fielder (LF) - Outfielders must cover large distances, so speed, instincts, and quickness in reacting to the ball are key. They must be able to learn to judge whether to attempt a difficult catch and risk letting the ball get past them, or to instead allow the ball to fall in order to guarantee a swift play and prevent the advance of runners. In PR, this role can be equated to good judgment. Professionals need to understand when not doing or saying something will provide the best benefit to the organization.
  8. Center fielder (CF) - The center fielder has the greatest responsibility among the three outfielders for coordinating their play to prevent collisions when converging on a fly ball, and on plays where he does not make the catch, he must position himself behind the corner outfielder in case the ball gets past him. In PR, this role is made up of the credibility a professional must possess in order to be an effective communicator to both internal and external audiences. Just like a center fielder, the PR professional needs excellent situational awareness, vision and depth perception.
  9. Right fielder (RF) - Of all outfield positions, the right fielder often has the strongest arm, because they are the farthest from third base. However, oftentimes, as in lower-levels of baseball, right field is the least likely to see much action because most hitters are right-handed and tend to pull the ball to the left field and center. In PR, this is the role of monitoring and measurement. Unfortunately, many professionals are not as up to speed in this area (me included) as we should do whatever it takes to learn how to measure. Thankfully, there is a greater push in PR measurement these days, so I consider this is a bright spot for the future of our profession. It requires additional work and research, but it is one of reward, sales, leads and maybe even justification for jobs well done.
Additional Positions
  • Designated Hitter (DH) - The designated hitter is the official position in the American League to bat in place of the pitcher. In PR, this is the role that the professional understands the usefulness of social media for listening and engaging an organization's community. We are well past the time of whether or not a PR pro needs to know how to use social media tools. They are indispensable tools in the toolbelt. The PR professional needs to fully grasp various aspects and nuances of the social web to reach audiences including, at times, as a way to by-pass the mainstream media.
  • Manager - A manager controls matters of team strategy on the field and team leadership. In PR, it's the same thing; strategic coordination of play and tactical movements are integral for successful public relations.

Play Ball!

Photo credit: ESPNDallas

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lessons in pride and service from Mamá

I recently returned from a short-term music mission trip to Spain for my church. Among the many remarkable experiences, one struck me as being particularly relevant for me as a professional communicator.

We had the opportunity to dine at Casa Camara in San Sebastián for lunch one afternoon. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a woman whom we affectionately came to refer to as Mamá. The lunch crowd was rather large and we could not be immediately seated. In the U.S. this really is not a big deal and is typically just a sign that the restaurant is most likely a bit popular among restaurant goers. However, Mamá seemed really concerned that we could not sit down at one of their dining tables. She could only seat us at a much-too-small table for our 10 guests.

Sitting at the smallish table was going to be perfectly fine with us because we were pleased to be in and looking forward to the meal. Mamá seemed to serve as equal parts hostess, waitress, owner, sommelier, cleaner, and coat-checker. She made sure we had a clear understanding and appreciation of the menu.

As a few tables cleared, Mamá ushered us from the small table to a spacious dining table. I came to understand from our trip's host/translator that the first table was something of a staging table at which she was embarrassed for us to remain. That is why she jumped at the chance to move us to a more suitable table. He explained that she could not let us experience the meal improperly.

He was not joking.

This was not a stuffy restaurant where the maître d' looks down his nose at the guests. This felt comfortable. Mamá could teach any maître d' a few lessons in pride and service.

I was impressed with the way Mamá took care of us as she did at every table in the restaurant. From suggesting the appropriate appetizers to accompany our main course selections, to overseeing the meal's finishing touches. This woman beamed with pride in the way the entire service staff flowed around the tables. It's difficult to put into words the sense of care she took in everyone's experience while seeming to exert minimal effort as bright red sweater flitted about the restaurant.

Lessons from Mamá:

  • Removed the phrase, "that's not my job" from your vocabulary.
  • Guests deserve the best-possible experience.
  • Knowing your business inside and out makes you indispensable.
  • Taking pride in your work can be almost palpable when done correctly. 

Mamá seemed genuinely surprised and amused with us when after the meal, we asked if she'd allow us to take pictures with her. She even stated, in Spanish, "you don't want to take a picture of me, I'm not Julia Roberts." (Awesome.)

There was no doubt Mamá has a servant heart and takes extreme pride in her work and her restaurant. We can all take a lesson in service from her.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Short Pause for a Cause: Spain Bound

I'm taking a short pause in my blogging here for next 10 days or so while I travel abroad to Spain for a short-term music mission for my church. Instead of sharing some thoughts on strategic communication, PR ttopics or other typical professional fare for this blog, I'm opting to share a more personal side to my life. 

In addition to being a school public relations guy, I'm also a musician and serve on my church's worship team. Playing music is a passion for me and my favorite creative outlet. Add to that the chance to serve and this promises to be a remarkable experience. If you're interested, our team has a blog that you can follow along.

Until we return,


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Solid Crisis Response and Damage Control by TCU

The Brown-Lupton University Union at Texas Chr...
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It's been a week since news broke on the drug arrests of 17 TCU students shocking the university and local Ft. Worth community on Wednesday, February 15. Much has already been written in the wake of the arrests involving the Ft. Worth Police Department and TCU Campus Police and their six-month investigation that included some students.

I think TCU navigated this challenging situation quite well. I was particularly impressed with the openness and use of their digital communication channels very early before the story developed. There are some great tactical lessons here for PR pros who are paying attention. (Disclosure: I am familiar and acquainted with staff members of the communication and media relations team at TCU.)

At 9:24 AM, Wednesday, February 15, the university tweeted the following:
At 9:25 AM, they also posted to their Facebook page:

Both links went to the university's online statement and were shared right before the Chancellor's 9:30 AM press conference. TCU then tweeted a few updates during his statement.

The communication team also provided FAQs and one additional update related to drug testing through their 'Other News' section of Recent News online.

And that pretty much covered things for them since the Ft. Worth Police took things over and explained the investigation and arrests in addition to releasing documentation. By that point, TCU had sustained some bruises, particularly the football team because of some misinformation and corrections. The arrests, while an unfortunate and sad reality for those individuals involved, gave TCU something to point the attention toward to help deflect the media spotlight a bit.

A quick check on Google News search for stories shows the typical spike in news articles and posts  immediately following any major issue and then it tapered off as the recovery phase sets in and the news moved on to other things.
PR Gold
TCU must have learned some valuable transparency lessons and damage control from other high-profile crisis communication issues at other higher ed institutions. Fortunately for them they came forward very early with their information. They shared what I consider a quality statement and response to the investigation and arrests along with details about the process.

Through the university's communication, expectations for students were reinforced along with encouragement for the university community.

Others in public relations have approved of the way TCU initially navigated this issue including Helen Vollmer, president of Edelman Southwest. Vollmer wrote via email on TCU's response:
"...TCU has done a GREAT job in the last couple of days with the drug busts happening. We do a lot of work in education (not for TCU)—Notre Dame, Ohio State, U of H, Princeton, etc. and I laud them highly for their handling of this issue and their great use of social media to convey their 'no nonsense' approach."

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Social Media Issues and Best Practices #tspra12

This is my presentation for last week's Texas School Public Relations Association 2012 Conference. I told attendees I'd have the deck available on the blog. Thank you to all who came to the afternoon presentation and for the great questions. I hope you took away something(s) useful. 

And remember, don't be afraid to ask for help.
Special thanks to Craig Verley (Mission CISD) and Scott JuVette (Ft. Worth ISD) for letting me use you and your districts as good examples for the group.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Let Them Eat RPIE: Communication Planning

It's unclear who actually said the oft-quoted phrase, "Let them eat cake." This flippant phrase about consuming pastry is commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, the frivolous queen in the days leading up to the French Revolution. She allegedly spoke the words upon hearing how the peasantry had no bread to eat. However biographers and historians have found no evidence to support the attribution.

What does that have to do with communication? Not much, really. I just thought it was a neat little bit of knowledge worth sharing. Plus, it made me think of pie.

Hungry for RPIE
The communication planning process of RPIE (Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation) has been on my mind a lot lately. Listening to two local PR pros share their insights from their award-winning PR campaigns at the Ft. Worth PRSA luncheon this week, both speakers framed things using RPIE. At work, I have a number of plans for events and campaigns running right now, all using the RPIE template to keep us on track. And most recently, while preparing a presentation on social media issues and best practices for the 2012 TSPRA Conference next week, the RPIE process made yet another appearance.

So I figured it was again time to revisit RPIE and share some themes for the process. 

  • What do we know? 
  • What don’t we know? 
  • Who do we want to reach? What do we know about them? Where do we find them? What do we want them to do?
  • It starts with thinking about the people. 
  • School District Buyer Personas 
  • What do School Districts Sell?
  • Goals 
  • Measurable Objectives (who, what, by when, by how much) 
  • Strategies Tactics/Tools 
  • Notice the tactics/tools are the last thing before implementation
  • Execution of the plan or communicating 
  • Creative
  • Materials 
  • Budget 
  • Timeline 
  • Delivery
  • Actual messages sent through what channels? 
  • How many messages reached your targeted audiences? 
  • What monitoring tools will you use for execution?
  • Did you accomplish your objectives? Prove it. 
  • Identify ways to improve and recommendations for the future. 
  • Media hits are not measurement. 
  • Measure effectiveness of the program against objectives. 
  • Adjust the plan, materials, etc., before going forward. 
  • Can serve as research for the next phase or program. 
  • Were you able to get key messages out and heard?

Using the RPIE method (or similar methods) is a solid way to make sure your key messages have the greatest opportunities to reach your target audiences. It's also the foundation to determine what's working, what's not, and how to tell the difference.

Photo credit: mackenziedreadful via Flickr Creative Commons