WordWrite Storytelling Blog

How to tell your nonprofit's story to the media

Posted by Robin Rectenwald

WordWrite Communications serves a variety of clients, but we also have a passion for helping local nonprofits tell their great, untold stories.  

In September, I was asked to speak to West Virginia University’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. While I shared information about the type of work we do for our clients, I focused on how we come up with compelling story ideas for our nonprofit clients. We thought we’d share those tips for other students interested in this topic or any nonprofits looking for ways to share their stories. 

Who is the hero of the story?

Too often, nonprofits rely on telling their stories by touting all of the great work they do for the community. While it’s important to communicate your organization’s impact, it does not always need to be the focus. When thinking of ways to tell your story to the media, think of who you’re helping.

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What is their story and how are you providing support to help them achieve their goals? The media is always looking for human interest stories, especially local ones.

Who is using your services?

Similarly, nonprofits should consider getting to know the people utilizing their services or visiting their space. Who is depending on the services and how are they using them? For example, we recently pitched a story to WPXI-TV about a local teenager utilizing the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s teen space and resources to publish a literacy journal to promote the outstanding poetry, fiction and nonfiction writing of teens in Allegheny County. Check out the news story here. 

In other words, if you have people coming to your space to utilize the facilities, such as a kitchen, computer room, donation room, etc., learning more about these people and how they are using these services is another way to tell your story to the media.

What makes the program unique?

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S, many of which offer similar services. For this reason, nonprofits must keep in mind how its program is unique, or how it differentiates from other nonprofits.  

Take the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh for example. Every summer, the nonprofit organization invites children to Camp Soles, a traditional summer camp similar to other camps found across the nation. So, how were we able to coordinate a story with an NBC affiliate in Johnstown?  We pitched, “Camp America,” a unique program that invites third culture kids, or American children growing up in foreign countries, to experience an American tradition. With this interesting angle, we were able to catch the attention of a reporter, who did a great story!  You can view it here.

Where is the nonprofit located?

Many nonprofit organizations serve specific communities and are looking for support from that community. For this reason, pitching to community newspapers is a great way to share its story with its target audience. Take a look at this story about the Ward Home, a nonprofit that serves at-risk foster teens. Because the nonprofit is based in Scott Township, we pitched The Almanac, a weekly community newspaper serving the South Hills.

Who are the subject matter experts?

Even if a nonprofit does serve a particular community, there are still ways to get your nonprofit quoted in national publications. How? By pitching your subject matter experts as thought leaders. For instance, we recently helped Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh get quoted in a Reader’s Digest article on parenting tips.

Erin Zambataro, an early learning librarian, works with families and children on a daily basis to ensure that every child in Pittsburgh who enters Kindergarten is ready to read and succeed in school. By sharing her knowledge and expertise with a national publication, she was quoted in this article: 50 Tiny (but Powerful!) Ways You Can Encourage Your Kids Every Day.

These are just a few ways to brainstorm unique story ideas to grab the attention of the media and ultimately tell memorable stories that will attract new donors and volunteers to your organization.

Interested in learning more about how WordWrite can help your business tell it’s story, let us know by emailing Paul Furiga at paul.furiga@wordwritepr.com

Robin Rectenwald is senior account executive for WordWrite Communicatons. You can reach her at robin.rectenwald@wordwritepr.com

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Topics: media relations, story, public relations, non-profit

Smart Start to B2B Social

Posted by Louis Spanos

A Smart Start for your B2B’s Social Presence

Like any other Millennial, I’m obsessed with social media. I scroll through Facebook to see who’s engaged or expecting, Instagram to see who’s been to that new fusion restaurant and LinkedIn to keep tabs on my classmates’ professional ventures. While we’ve all been busy swiping and double tapping our way through life, someone realized they could make a ton of cash using these platforms for marketing. I mean a lot. Today, all companies list social media as an integral (if not the most important part) of their marketing and public relations operations.

Some companies have used social media to come back from the brink of obscurity (hello, Denny’s) while others have had bad situations go from bad to worse play out on social media (RIP, Fyre Festival). It’s tempting to experiment with a social media strategy that sees your account slinging out sassy comebacks like Wendy’s, but it’s not in the cards for everyone. Especially if you’re a business-facing company, or B2B. No one wants their accountant serving out sick burns, they just want their taxes done on time.

Why Use Social as a B2B?

So, we already know that a lot of companies use social media as a marketing tool. Is it a worthy investment for a B2B though? Survey says yes. According to HubSpot, 90 percent of marketers report that their social media efforts generated more exposure for their company and increased sales. By spending as little as six hours a week, 66 percent of those surveyed saw lead generation benefits from their social media activity and revenue increases nearing 25 percent.

Being a B2B on social media does not mean you can’t have fun and engage with your audience. If your company only posts sales pitch after sales pitch, you’ll alienate existing customers and push away potential leads. Whether your company already has a Facebook account or you’re just dipping your toes into the water, now is the time for you to invest in your social media efforts and tell your company’s story.

Consistency is Key

If you’re worried about your current social media presence, take a breath. Establishing a company’s social media account is quick and easy. The most important thing to social media is consistency in posting. If you’re planning a social media strategy where your company begins by posting on a frequent basis, you need to be prepared to maintain that frequency.

There’s been a million different studies for what day or time posts on a specific platform perform best, but the best advice I can give you is to create a schedule that you can stick to. What does this mean? If you want to launch an Instagram for your office furniture company, it’s better to start by posting less content consistently than it is to post more content inconsistently.

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If you plan to start by posting several photos a day on Instagram, you need to be able to keep that momentum for the long-term future. Not just a week, or even a month—you should be planning for at least a year.

Every social media platform values consistency in their algorithm, and it’s in your best interest to keep this top of mind when developing your company’s social media strategy.

Which Channel is the Best Fit?

So now that we’ve got a posting strategy out of the way, the next step is to decide what channel or channels your company should be on. A good rule of thumb is to start with Facebook and add channels from there. Pew Research Center states that 79 percent of all adults use Facebook, and that number is only rising. That’s a lot of scrolling.

Is your company a professional services company with clients that tend to be other businesses? You should most likely have a LinkedIn account since a lot of your customers are already there. According to HubSpot, LinkedIn is the only platform with a user base that trends older rather than younger. These older users tend to be decision makers.

Similarly, if your company is more visual and generally public-facing, say hello to Instagram. In March 2017, over 120 million Instagram users interacted with a business based on viewing an Instagram ad, and more than 60 percent of users first learned about a product or service through Instagram.

Since there is so much competition, your company should consider launching only on channels that are vital to reaching your target audience. Instagram is a great platform, but only if you’re ready to invest the time into growing your account. If so, read on to learn how you can tell your company’s best story on Instagram.

To make a long story short, social media is a big deal today. It’s not just for Nike, Wendy’s or your mom’s Etsy store. Your B2B business needs to join the partyit’s easy to play catch up. Social media is a matter of finding your audience and determining how much time you can invest. Use your 140 characters wisely.

Want to learn more? Download our whitepaper.

Louis Spanos is an account coordinator at WordWrite Communications.
Photo credit: Pixabay.com

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Topics: media relations, social media, public relations, B2B, LinkedIn, facebook, instagram, Twitter

How to effectively “newsjack” your media coverage

Posted by Erin O'Connor

Timeliness has long been a key component of any PR professional’s media relations toolbox. In fact, to a journalist, timeliness is one of the main qualifications in determining whether a pitch is newsworthy. But all too often we find that companies miss the mark in understanding the appropriate way to introduce their brand into the conversation, and the message either gets lost or sounds disingenuous.

In 2011, marketing-industry guru David Meerman Scott pioneered the idea of “newsjacking,” or the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. His concept was fairly simple – when news breaks, journalists have a small window of time to search for relevant, credible sources to give them the who/what/where/when/why behind a story. According to Scott, the who/what/where/when are the easy questions, but the why is what reporters are really looking for. The meat of the story – why is this important to the reader? It’s the why that makes a story resonate.

Newsjacking is a great tool for brands – it helps establish thought leadership, credibility and let’s your audiences know that you’re at the forefront of emerging trends. But how do you know what types of stories are the right fit for your brand?

To help you navigate the wide world of newsjacking, here are a few tips to keep you ahead of the game:

Understand who you’re talking to

What’s the first rule in developing any marketing strategy, you say? Know your audience … exactly. Newsjacking is all about finding and reaching the right people, with the right message at the right time, but if you don’t know exactly who it is you’re trying to reach, it’s difficult to know what sort of stories or mediums you should be targeting. Before launching any media relations effort, take time to research your audience to better understand what types of content they’re looking for. Where do they go for information? What topics are they searching for?

Pay attention

It sounds so simple, but when you have a thousand deadlines and projects to work through on a daily basis, finding time to leisurely read the newspaper sounds more like a punishment than proactivity. Luckily, we live in a wonderful world where news can be accessed in an instant. Send push alerts to your phone, have the news on in the background while you work, check Twitter every 20-30 minutes – find a method that works for you and stick to it.iStock-469154673.jpg

Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em

Did you know there was a total eclipse last week? You didn’t? That’s weird because it was covered by approximately 9 trillion different news outlets. Major events like this dominate the news cycle for weeks, creating a huge newsjacking opportunity for companies – but should you go for it? Sometimes, the most important rule in newsjacking is knowing when you should stay out of the spotlight.

Take for example, Spaghettios. On the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the social media team handling the Spaghettios Twitter account tried to capitalize on the occasion by posting a memorial Tweet that read: “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” Under the message was the company’s mascot, smiling and holding the American Flag … yeah, I know. This is a prime example of newsjacking gone horribly wrong, and teaches us that just because something is timely, doesn’t mean you need to be part of the conversation.

(P.S. – If you’re looking for more tips on acknowledging big events on social media, check out my colleague Hollie Geitner’s blog post here)

Newsjacking doesn’t always involve traditional mediums

Just as the internet has changed the way we receive our news, it’s also provided brands with a host of new platforms to help tell their story. When a story breaks, and you’re determining the best approach to capitalize on the news, consider how you think your audience might want to consume that news from you. Go back to the why we talked about earlier. If your pitch falls flat with a journalist, consider blogging about the topic instead. If you don’t feel you’re qualified to speak with authority on a certain topic, try devising a unique social media post that will resonate with your core audiences (avoiding Spaghettio-level fails, of course). Remember, the goal is to establish yourself as a thought leader, but that doesn’t always involve traditional media outlets. Use what you’ve got and share away!

Want to chat further about newsjacking? Send me your deets! erin.oconnor@wordwritepr.com

Erin O’Connor is an account supervisor at WordWrite Communications.

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Topics: media relations, social media, public relations, newsjacking

Is Facebook Live a precursor to Facebook TV?

Posted by Noah Fleming

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Facebook’s Q2 earnings report indicates video is one of the mediums it is looking to maximize. The social media behemoth is moving rapidly down a path toward stealing major revenue from traditional television advertising budgets. According to Advertising Age, “Facebook essentially wants to be television on the internet.”

AB apology.pngFacebook Live videos are acting as the cash cow placeholder until the company shifts to a more television-like approach. Currently, users can’t get enough of it. Influencers, celebrities and even professional athletes are capitalizing on the trend and getting paid top dollar to use it and promote it.

It even garnered national attention in Pittsburgh after Antonio Brown, the Steelers star wide receiver, livestreamed from the locker room during a post-game win last season. He was paid a hefty sum to create content for Facebook live. That’s fortunate for Brown, because filming in the locker room is illegal under NFL policy and comes with a hefty fine.

While Brown took significant flack for his actions, eventually he and Facebook benefited from the situation. Facebook received mentions across national news outlets while more advertisers continued to spend money using the tool. And despite his misstep, Brown received a contract extension making him the highest paid receiver in the league.

Unfortunately, casual users and fans now know that Facebook is paying professional athletes and other influencers to create content. Brown received $244,000 to endorse Facebook Live, as reported by FoxBusiness.com. The endorsement was probably not meant to become public as Facebook wants fans to believe that Brown and other endorsers are posting videos because it’s the “hip and cool” thing to do. Therefore, you should use the video tool too.

Sadly, Facebook Live videos have a darker side. It has become an outlet for users to broadcast horrifying crimes. Murders, suicides, tortures and kidnappings, among other gruesome activities, have been broadcasted for the world to see. Just a few weeks ago, a sexual assault was broadcast on Facebook Live and hit major news outlets.

Businesses, organizations, ad agencies and others are spending more and more of their budget on video and now use it as an integrated marketing tool to connect with consumers. It also means all users have access to it, for better or worse.

According to CNET and in light of the recent criticism, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is trying to clean up the image of the brand and the video tool, which is currently unregulated. He’s even been on the campaign trail visiting people outside the Silicon Valley bubble in Michigan, Wisconsin and New Orleans to help these efforts.

Still, Facebook continues to rake in the cash and has more than 1 billion people active on the platform. Video now appears to be the priority for Facebook in its quest for social media dominance.

Do you use video on social media to tell your story? Share with us in the comments below! Want to know more about how to leverage social media? Download our guide below!

Download your social media tune-up guide

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Noah Fleming is the Digital and Inbound Marketing Specialist for WordWrite Communicatons. You can reach him at noah.fleming@wordwritepr.com

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Topics: social media, facebook

Five PR reminders from a Post-Gazette reporter

Posted by Robin Rectenwald

At WordWrite, we make our relationships with journalists a top priority. As public relations professionals, we know that finding the right journalist for the right story is key to getting results for our clients.

The other week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Joyce Gannon, business reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I’m sharing tips from her in this post in the interest of improving results for you and your organization, and for the journalists you hope to reach

Two talkingThe conversation with Joyce started with a news release I had sent her with a quick note asking how she has been and thanking her for offering to include the information in an upcoming story. To my surprise, she asked to meet over coffee to discuss how PR can support journalists in the digital age.

When we met, I was very appreciative of her time, so I made sure to use it wisely to gain better insights into what she covers and how I can help.

During our conversation, she brought up important media relations reminders that are valuable to anyone working in PR. Here’s a quick roundup of tips directly from a business reporter.

1. Read, read, read

Joyce stressed the importance of reading the paper or your targeted outlets every day. The foundation of marketing is knowing your target audience. In PR, one of our target audiences is the media (and by extension, their readers). The best way to learn about this audience is to follow what they are reporting and who they are covering. Also keeping track of their most popular articles is a great way to know what resonates most with their audience. Reporters will appreciate that you’re trying to help them.

2. Know who to pitch

As you become more familiar with your target publications, it will be easier to determine which journalists cover which topics. And if you don’t know, Joyce warned against sending the same pitch to numerous reporters in the same newsroom because it’s counterproductive and inconvenient.

On social media, Joyce and I agreed that it’s easy to find out what reporters are writing about and what interests them. If you’re lucky enough to meet a reporter, be sure to ask them what sorts of topics they are looking to cover. And by sharing the type of projects you’re working on, the reporter might offer names of some of her colleagues who would be interested in those stories. In addition, check out whether the reporter has an active Twitter or LinkedIn and be sure to follow and engage with the reporter on those news and professional based platforms.

3. Know when to pitch

My goal for the meeting was to get to know Joyce better, so one of the questions I asked is the best time to send pitches. While she prefers to review pitches in the morning, we talked about the staff scheduling at the Post-Gazette. Some reporters come in early and leave early while others come in later and leave later. For this reason, make sure that you’re pitching the reporter when and how they want to be pitched. How do you find out? Ask! Introduce yourself and show the reporter that you want to be as helpful as possible.

4. It’s okay to follow up, if you do it right

Reporters are under pressure these days to write breaking news stories for both print and online platforms. For this reason, Joyce mentioned that she sees emails coming in, but sometimes she needs to put them off when she’s on deadline. With new stories and pitches popping up by the second, she confirmed that it is okay to send a brief follow up note. However, be sure to not overdo it. She recommended following up once after 24-48 hours or so.

5. Add a personalized note

Joyce was very appreciative that I didn’t just send over a blanket press release, but instead, I added a personalized note. Just as we grow our relationships with friends, family and colleagues, don’t be afraid to get to know the human on the other end of your email, even if you’ve never met. At WordWrite, we work with reporters across the country, so we include detailed notes in our files to ensure we’re strengthening our relationships, not starting over every time we pitch.

My meeting with Joyce confirmed that the relations in public relations is still crucial when it comes to working with journalists, even in the digital age. We not only talked about business, but we also chatted about our families, past travel trips to Europe and our career paths and goals. If your role consists of reaching out to the media, spend time every day getting to know this audience. Over time, your relationships with reporters will strengthen, keeping you and your clients top of mind for their stories.

Do you have a media relations pet peeve or suggestion that PR professionals should follow? Share your story in the comments below!

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Topics: media relations, public relations, journalism, traditional PR

Why Ich bin ein Berliner has meaning for you and for WordWrite

Posted by Paul Furiga

You don’t need an exotic address to understand that all communications are global today. Whether you’re in Pittsburgh or Paris, the local becomes global at the speed of fingers pounding across a smartphone keyboard. 

But if you want an exotic location, how about Berlin? That’s where I spent several days recently representing WordWrite at the annual meeting of PR Boutiques International, our international agency network.

Berlin is many things – a world capital, a historical marker in the East-West divide of the Cold War, and today, a hotbed of innovation that draws talented young IMG_2769.jpgprofessionals from around the world to create art, invent the future in hot new startups or experiment with fine dining in ways that are truly remarkable.

I came to Berlin not as the late President John F. Kennedy did in 1963 (those are his words above, taunting the Soviets about dividing Berlin with a wall a year earlier by saying that he too was a Berliner).

No, I came to Berlin to learn from colleagues and world leaders in communications so our WordWrite team could provide greater value and new ideas in our daily work for our clients. Last year, the PRBI annual meeting was in San Francisco and included a private Facebook tour and a talk by the head of content marketing at LinkedIn. So that was hard to top. But Berlin did.

WordWrite’s been a member of PRBI since 2010. Today our agency network has 38 members from China to India, with agencies in the major cities of North America and Europe.

As the past president of PRBI, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the network grow and deliver value to clients and to member agencies.

In Berlin, we spent the better part of the day with the smart people at Axel Springer, one of the top publishers in Germany (and yes, the world). In the United States, the concept of digital success in publishing might have us thinking about the New York Times or maybe the Wall Street Journal.

PRBI_2017_Berlin_ Axel_Springer_Julia_Labaton_Lee_Weinstein_WordWrite.jpgWe probably wouldn’t think of Axel Springer and its flagship daily paper, die Welt (The World). But that’s probably because most Americans are unaware that from its Berlin home, Axel Springer has built a global empire that includes the popular, respected Business Insider site, the must-read news site Politico and an entire suite of music publications, including the German edition of Rolling Stone.

What’s so great about Axel Springer? Well, the history’s not bad – founded immediately after World War II by the real Axel Springer, the foundation for the company’s landmark skyscraper was laid next to Berlin’s historic version of Fleet Street, where before World War II, 147 daily papers were printed, many of them by Jewish-owned publishing houses.

Unfortunately for Springer, his decision to honor those publishers with his new building site put the skyscraper right where the Berlin Wall went up, meaning his building sat unfinished for decades. Today, its top-floor dining room is also a museum, with signed pieces of the Berlin Wall (George H.W. Bush’s signature next to Mikhail Gorbachev next to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl), priceless books and art, and photos documenting historic interviews – most recently President Barack Obama, who visited here on his last foreign trip as president.

As great as its history might be, it’s the future of Axel Springer that’s most remarkable. Today, 70 percent of all revenue comes from its digital platforms – website, social, apps, etc. And 81 percent of all advertising revenue comes from digital platforms. This is a world-leading achievement for journalism as we know it and a level of success far beyond what most American media companies can claim.

At the heart of Axel Springer’s success is its strategic decision to focus the company in three core areas for futurePRBI_2017_Berlin_die_Welt_The_Eye_WordWrite.jpg growth: Digital publishing, new platforms, and venture investing 

The nerve center of the digital publishing arena is die Welt, where award-winning editor Ulf Poschardt has reshaped the newsroom to put broadcast, print and online editors and reporters in one environment surrounding a main desk called The Eye. Together, the teams have achieved an unprecedented synergy, in part because of their newsroom set-up. While its print edition is not the leading German paper, on the day we visited, Poschardt pointed to a fine collection of empty champagne bottles and explained that the day before, there was a celebration because the die Welt website had become the top digital destination in Germany.

Axel Springer’s gone beyond its traditional journalistic comfort zone with its second innovation, the creation of UPDAY, an integrated news platform built into every new Samsung smartphone.

The company made several bold decisions with this experiment: It partnered exclusively with one smartphone maker; it passed on the opportunity to build an app for other smartphone platforms; and it agreed to partner with a technology company whose interests might not always align with a news organization. For example, Axel Springer got Samsung to agree that news stories in the UPDAY platform would not be edited or censored by Samsung, something that became important when Samsung Galaxy phones become news subjects because of batteries that caused fires.

PRBI_2017_Berlin_UPDAY_WordWrite.jpgAxel Springer’s third focus area is its Plug and Play Accelerator, a funky startup incubator with graffiti on the walls, beer in the fridge and copious quantities of snacks. The startup vibe is global: This Springer subsidiary conducts all its business in English and it plans to incubate no more than 50 companies. The companies at Plug and Play are selected because of the expected synergy between what Axel Springer has learned in its businesses and what the company believes the start-ups can bring to the table. 

Nearly 55 years after President Kennedy expressed his solidarity with a divided Berlin, it’s a global Berlin that’s ready to express its unity with the world through its communications leadership 

Thanks to WordWrite’s PRBI membership, we’ll be sharing that leadership in the weeks and months ahead through everything we do for our clients, partners and friends.

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What I learned from crisis media training

Posted by Catherine Clements

There are two main aspects to every crisis situation that receive media attention: the initial event and then how it’s handled. As seen in the news lately, it can be easy for a crisis to spin out of control. United Airlines is a prime example.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a crisis media training session for a client. During the training, I learned some key techniques communicators can use to help companies focus on their key messages, give them control of the situation and to avoid pitfalls during interviews.

Put your main message first

Time is of the essence in responding to almost any crisis. When crafting messaging, make sure the most important information is highlighted. Clearly and concisely lay out 

the one thing you want everyone to remember. It’s crucial to start with your key message.

When answering questions, always keep your messaging in mind. You can always come back to it with one of these techniques:  

  1. Bridging: The use of transitional phrases to pivot during an interview, or using the message to shift discussion to facts that answer the question.
  1. Flagging: Alerting the interviewer that you’re about to say something important. For example, “Let me put that into perspective…”
  1. Hooking: Using an aspect of the reporter’s question to lead the reporter back to your key messages. For example, “I’m so glad you asked because...”

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When creating your messaging, keep in mind your audience, which is not the journalist or an industry expert. Use common, accessible language. When interviewing for TV, look directly into the camera. Show that you’re human! Demonstrate empathy for the situation and be sincere.    

Maintain control

Whether you’re being interviewed on camera or hosting a press conference, it’s important to remember that you are in control of the situation.

If a journalist or reporter reaches out to you for a story, it’s okay to ask what the interview will be about. Just think, you wouldn’t go to a job interview without knowing what the position is for –the same applies to interviews with the media. Find out when the reporter’s deadline is so you know how much time you have to prepare.

During the interview, avoid using filler words or repeating yourself. There’s no need to answer in complete sentences; this separates your message further from the question. Plus, you don’t want to forget your answer due to nerves or getting caught up in the question. It’s important to not repeat the question when it is negative. Instead, give short and concise responses. 

Remember that any video can be edited, taken out of context, or used by another journalist. Avoid saying things like, “As I already said to ‘the reporter’s name.’” Whether your interview is for print, TV or radio, play it safe by assuming everything is on record and that microphones are on.

Your press conference should have both a time frame and a purpose. Remember that you invited the media to come talk with you in the first place, not the other way around. This is your opportunity to communicate your story. Don’t get forced into choosing between an A or B situation.

Be prepared

Take the time now to plan your communication flow and designate a spokesperson, in the event of a crisis. You and your team can prepare by brainstorming possible situations and identifying the appropriate messages to share. Having a crisis communications response plan prepared and in hand will benefit everyone involved.

Knowing you are in control of a situation during a crisis can give you the reassurance you need to be a more effective crisis communicator. Download our free crisis communications guide!

I want my crisis and media training guide! 

 

Catherine is an account associate at WordWrite Communications. She can be reached at catherine.clements@wordwritepr.com 

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Topics: public relations, crisis communications

Fewer Words, More Laughs: How Humor Can Improve Your Business Communications Strategy

Posted by Hollie Geitner

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you're probably watching the wrong channel.” 

Groucho Marx

A good laugh is cathartic. I find I’m in a much better mood when I’ve had a chance to laugh. Often times it’s my husband who is responsible for this. Out of nowhere he will come up with these hysterical one-liners—often directed at himself—and it’s hard not to laugh. You see, he’s an engineer—not known for his communication skills. I would even say he’s a man of few words—not because he isn’t social—he is, but because he doesn’t need many words to get his point across. He uses humor. He’s self-deprecating, honest and real. He doesn’t take things too seriously, unless he has to. Those who work for him find him likeable, approachable and one of the most effective leaders they’ve ever had. The point here is not to stroke his ego—although I’m sure he is loving this boost! The real takeaway is that you don’t need an expansive vocabulary to be a great communicator. When you get people to respond the way you’ve intended, you’ve succeeded. Comedy is a great way to achieve this.

I think we can all admit that corporate communications has always been a bit, shall we say, “dull”?  Your typical corporate piece—whether a memo, email or article—is dry and either excessively wordy or lacks any real context to help the reader understand what it is they are supposed to do once they’ve read it. Ultimately, it is quickly forgotten, or worse, not even read because no one has the time, energy or desire to read something that takes so much effort.

You’ve all watched Jon Stewart’s, The Daily Show, right? Jon was damn funny—whether you agree with the direction he leaned or not. His stories were, as Chris Bliss outlined in a TED Talk, “grounded in a commitment to facts.” Not only were they funny, they were effective. In fact, a Fairleigh Dickenson market research study showed that Daily Show viewers were more informed than other cable news show viewers. Those who watched the Daily Show were about as informed and knowledgeable as those who listen to NPR. 

In Chris’ TED Talk, he explained the brain science behind this and it makes a lot of sense. When adrenaline is released in our brain, it signals a “fight or flight” response. We all know that feeling. On the other hand, when we experience “mental delight”—such as when we attend a comedy show—our brain releases endorphins which bring down our defenses so we can take in the moment more. We can even retain what we just read or heard better. How many times have you shared some of the jokes you’ve heard at a show because you laughed so hard you couldn’t wait to tell others? Chris explained that comedy is “inherently viral” and only more so now that we have social media and a 24/7 news cycle.

So, as a communicator, how can you effectively use humor as part of your strategy? I will admit, humor timed poorly or that appears to be too edgy can be risky—especially in a corporate setting. Finding a good balance is key and the safest place to start is usually by poking fun at yourself—not in a manner that erodes your credibility—but in a way that shows you are genuine and just as vulnerable as everyone else. This kind of humor can be incorporated into speeches, in collateral materials, shared via town hall meetings, in emails and other forms of communication. It’s worth noting that it can be more challenging to convey humor in words than when shared verbally because it’s easy to misinterpret something in writing. The appropriate tone is more difficult to capture so it requires more finessing than perhaps when delivered in person. One way to do this is to adopt a more conversational tone in your writing. Less corporate speak, more real language. Write as if you talking to your audience.

Timeliness is the most important thing to consider when infusing humor. We’ve seen too many examples of attempts at being funny falling flat because the timing was off—as was the case with shoe designer Kenneth Cole who sent out an insensitive tweet linking his new shoe line to what was happening in Cairo, Egypt. A successful example at humor is Oreos perfectly timed ad tweeted during last year’s Super Bowl blackout: “You can still dunk in the dark.” As some have said, they “won social media” that night. That, they did.

Speaking of timeliness, check out the Wall Street Journal's 2017 report on What Research Says About Humor in the Workplace

Top marketing professionals know that business works better with a level of entertainment. Learn how to use humor in your business communications at Pittsburgh's first humor writing conference, Communicating with Comedy. The evening's featured speakers include local blogger/podcaster/comedian John Chamberlin, Philadelphia humor writer and founder of HumorOutcasts.com Donna Cavanagh and local author, psychologist and award-winning humorist Nancy Berk. It's no secret that businesses today often succeed or fail based on their ability to connect with their audience through content, social media and viral marketing. Join us for an evening of laughter, learning and a networking Happy Hour at Communicating with Comedy on Thursday, May 11 from 4-7 p.m. 

Register Now

How do you use humor as part of your communications strategy? Share with us in the comments below.

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Hollie Geitner is vice president, client services for WordWrite Communications.You can find her on Twitter @JustHollieGHollie Geitner

 

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Topics: public relations

No border wall can stop a crisis – and what that means for your crisis PR

Posted by Paul Furiga

In the 21st century political world, there’s a debate over borders and building walls to protect them. 

In the communications world, if recent crises have taught us anything, it’s that no border and no wall can stop a crisis from spreading.

The historical barriers of language, time zone, newspaper printing schedules and television satellite availability are no longer speed bumps slowing the speed of global damage to an organization’s reputation in the 21st century. Our always-on, internet-connected world has made every regional crisis a potential international crisis.

How do I know this? Because in recent weeks, I’ve been asked to comment on the United Airlines crisis by media outlets as far-flung as South Korea and the United Kingdom.

In any given year, WordWrite manages crisis PR for about a dozen major crises, 10 of which are never public and a couple of which dominate the news. Because passengers-519008_1920.jpgof our team’s background in journalism and crisis communication, we’re often asked to comment on crises in the news.

I was surprised that two of my recent United interviews would be with the Alex Johnson morning show on TBA eFM, the top-rated English-language radio station in South Korea and the weekly magazine The Drum, which started in Glasgow, Scotland.

What’s most interesting about the interviews is the similar thread in both: How does United’s poor handling of the “re-accommodation” of Dr. David Dao affect its international standing?

When Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight for refusing to give up his seat to United crew traveling to another destination, the event was captured by other passengers and posted to social media almost immediately, driving the global news cycle. United’s clumsy and tone-deaf initial responses only fed the global media beast.

Overseas, Dr. Dao’s Asian heritage became the focal point of coverage. Alex Johnson wanted to know how United’s handling of the former Vietnamese refugee would affect United’s desire to grow its business in China, where Weibo, the larger-than-Twitter Chinese variation of the social media platform was consumed for days with the crisis.

At The Drum, Ronan Shields focused on the social media spread of the crisis, using the great statistics that social media provides to show just how damaging the crisis was far beyond the domestic airport gate in Chicago where the incident happened.

In his article, Shields quoted me as saying that, in the 21st century, every passenger is a potential publisher and that as a result, airlines need to revamp their social media policies and be more proactive when something goes wrong.

Air travel is among the most public of industries. It’s hard to hide a jetliner or what happens on it. But really – regardless of the industry that you’re in or what your organization does to provide value, the same rule applies:

In the 21st century, every customer, employee, neighbor, supplier or other stakeholder is a potential publisher. How is your organization factoring this into your crisis communication planning?

If you’re not, it’s time to start. You may never fly the friendly skies of United. And you may hope to never experience the unfriendly crisis that the Dr. Dao incident created. But what’s your plan? How will your organization make sure that a seemingly small problem doesn’t become an international crisis that demands a full-court press from your crisis communication team?

A good place to start is to make sure your team is prepared to answer media questions in the midst of an evolving crisis. Click below to learn more on our approach to this challenge.

I want my crisis and media training guide!

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Topics: public relations, crisis communications

Law firms without a PR agency place their clients at risk

Posted by Jeremy Church

In any given year, our WordWrite team handles more than a dozen crises. Most never see the light of day. A few are the kind that dominate the headlines.

This work has earned our firm a quiet reputation for mitigating the public aspect of serious corporate crises. Clients, potential clients and (increasingly) their lawyers, frequently seek our counsel on crisis issues.

Much of this is a byproduct of our heritage in journalism and crisis communications. Our agency’s senior leaders have nearly 70 years combined experience handling crisis issues, both large and small.frankfort-105591_1920.jpg

In a crisis, our goal is to turn potential bad news into the best headline you never read. We often joke that it’s tough to win industry awards for quietly solving problems that are never in the headlines. The nature, sensitivity and privilege of confidentiality we enjoy with our clients prohibits us from discussing much of what we’ve done.

In Pennsylvania, however, the degree to which correspondence between agencies and their clients is protected has recently come under legal scrutiny that jeopardizes the ability of a PR firm to offer strategic guidance without potentially having that advice become public record.

In March of 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that attorney-client privilege does not apply to a company's email correspondence with its PR consultants. Throughout a lengthy court battle and subsequent appeal, Excela Westmoreland Hospital claimed a document shared with its media relations firm was protected because the PR consultants were part of the legal team offering advice to the hospital. The court found that the PR agency had been hired only to handle a media event and not to aid in any consultation with attorneys on strategy – legal or otherwise.

To improve the likelihood that courts will recognize exchanges between clients and their PR agency as “protected,” leading law firms recommend that a company’s outside counsel hire a public relations consultant with deep crisis communications experience.  It doesn’t matter if the client has an immediate need for PR support or an existing contract with a PR agency.

In fact, global law leader Reed Smith suggested in an article written for Corporate Counsel magazine that it might actually be preferable for clients to use a different crisis PR consultant from the one they are already using, especially if the client’s existing PR firm lacks crisis experience.

“(C)onsider a public relations firm specializing in crisis management to improve the odds that the company and its counsel will get the media advice needed, with the proper level of attention given to confidentiality and the legal purpose behind the retention,” the authors wrote.


Some law firms might argue their clients are better off following a strict “no comment” policy with the media. If that’s the case, why bother having a PR agency in the fold?newspapers-53323_1920.jpg

Former accounting giant Arthur Andersen is a prime example of how this strategy can backfire. In 2002, it was convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents related to its audit of Enron, which led to the subsequent high-profile scandal that destroyed the energy trading company.

Andersen’s attorneys always believed the firm would be vindicated. They focused on having their day in court and avoided use of the media to carry their message, which eliminated the possibility of potentially winning the hearts and minds of the people.

Andersen did win the legal battle but lost the PR reputation war.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction three years later, the damage was done. Under taint of scandal and without an effective defense in the eyes of the global community, clients and employees abandoned the Andersen ship. Today, Arthur Andersen exists in name only after once employing more than 85,000 people worldwide.

During more than 15 years of handling crisis communications for dozens of organizations, we’ve been fortunate to work with many professional service clients, including several law firms.

That’s how we know law firms and PR agencies with a background in crisis communications can effectively collaborate.

Organizations grappling with a crisis need help preserving their reputation during the legal battles that play out in front of a media audience increasingly conditioned to follow the scandal du jour. Individual circumstances of a crisis dictate the degree to which counsel can share or comment on information related to an ongoing legal matter.

However, as we often advise our own clients, you can be responsive to the media (and other stakeholders) and protect your legal standing without using the words “no comment.”

Otherwise, like Arthur Andersen, your clients could be tried and convicted in the court of public opinion long before they have their day in actual court.

Image Credit: pixabay

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Jeremy Church is a partner and the vice president of media and content strategies at WordWrite Communications. He can be reached at jeremy.church@wordwritepr.com.

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Topics: crisis communications

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