Thursday, March 28, 2013

The New Opportunity in Research

We are well into the “dialogue era” of public relations, where we can talk to our targets directly via  platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn,  Twitter and others.  Nevertheless, that does not mean that we no longer  believe in the importance of third-party endorsement — a foundational strategy in our business, where distinguished media or leading influencers carry positive messages about our client, thereby building client credibility and stature.  Both are important.

But what this construct does  is to create two different simultaneous systems for collecting feedback.  If a publication runs a story on our client, we may know the demographics of the readership, but we don't know precisely who is paying attention  and reading the publication at any given moment.  Obviously, a percentage of the audience is.  Whereas if you are engaged in a dialogue with a client target on one of the platforms, you are more likely to get sentiment on the spot that likely will be shared with others.  Sharing is a fundamental strategy of the social web.

Thus, there is traditional research, that is employed to get a specific constituency's opinions on a particular subject area related to a client campaign.  These opinions  have been shaped by third parties (e.g., magazines, newspapers, TV, websites) where we purposefully seek a cross-section, asking how they feel through surveys and focus groups. There is no guarantee they have seen the aforementioned pieces.   Most people are familiar with this research form based on studies reported almost daily. 

But many are less familiar with social analytics, research that addresses monitoring of ongoing dialogues on the various social platforms — what I like to call "voluntary research," because no request is made of those engaging in the dialogue and the constituencies are less likely to be tailored. 

For example, there are groups that talk about cars.  We can find out what aspects of cars they are voluntarily addressing (e.g., design, comfort, culture, ease of driving).  This chatter will likely influence car manufacturers.  We can also go deeper and look for dialogues on specific car brands.  While sometimes our client campaigns can trigger discussions, other influencers may do so too, and we can find out who those influencers are and dialogue with them. 

Social analytics enables one to release messages on the web and get an immediate reaction to them.  For example, it enables us to find out — immediately — how bad a crisis really is.

All of this has opened up the communications business and fine-tuned our responses on behalf of our clients.  

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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Origins of Applause

We rarely give it a second thought, but applause — clapping your hands to signify approval — is ancient, nearly universal and may actually be hardwired into human beings.  As evidenced in hundreds of YouTube videos, even babies do it!

According to “A Brief History of Applause, the Big Data of the Ancient World,” a fascinating article recently in The Atlantic, clapping was even memorialized in the Bible.  Psalm 47 includes the passage:  “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.”

As theater and politics merged — particularly during the rise of the Roman Empire — applause became a way for leaders to assess the mood of their constituencies.   "You can almost think of this as an ancient poll," says University of Wisconsin Professor Greg Aldrete.  “This is how you gauge the people.  This is how you poll their feelings."

Applause was further formalized in the theater.  According to Desmond Morris, "When we applaud a performer, we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance."

Many years later, and half a world away, we still “give a hand” to show our approval and build connections with the people whose work we admire.  That applies every bit as much in the digital landscape as it does in the “real world” … every time we upvote, retweet, link and share content with the people in our networks and our lives.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Building Your Reputation ... On The Spot

At least one aspect of reputation management is "in your hands."

There's no question that how you present yourself is fundamental:  your posture and grooming, your clothes, manner, tone of voice and what you say.  But what other elements contribute to the impression you leave behind?

How about your business card?  Have you given it a second look?  It's worth taking another look because you, plus your card, contribute to "the ten-second impact."  That's about the time you have to make a lasting impression when you meet someone; so you can't afford to neglect any opportunity to support your reputation.

Take the average business card.   Most are traditional and non-memorable.  Lots of dull type.  Sometimes there is a logo near the company name or a color on the flip side of the card.  Occasionally the card reads vertically; mostly horizontally.  

Then there's the "Makovsky" card.  At the risk of sounding immodest, I think it's crisp, colorful and clean. Its interesting shape -- with the rounded upper right corner -- lends impact to the design.  The front of the card features the Makovsky name in white, in a sea of the most powerful, striking blue I have ever seen.  All the critical information is on the back, in clean, crisp typography. 

A great presentation, reinforced with our card, delivers that "ten-second impact" we all strive for.  How do I know?  Because, today, when I hand them my card (with the Makovsky name on the upside), 80% of the people I meet say, "Wow!  What a great card.  Very cool!" And the conversation continues with all parties in an upbeat mood.  To my delight, I'm learning that others in the firm are having a similar experience.     

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Lousy Business Communications

Sometimes managements can really do a lousy job of communicating.  When that happens, I always wonder if they are just careless, unaware of what they should be doing, or are being intentionally abusive to staff and other stakeholders.  In most cases, they don’t know enough to seek communications advice – or they are getting bad advice.

You can decide for yourself, but here is a case in point.

The setting is an independently owned local radio station in a mid-size city.  The station, which had an all-sports format, had been having financial problems and was losing market share to other similar stations.  Ratings were not good.  Nevertheless, the station had round-the-clock scheduling with mostly local hosts on a variety of sports topics.  Computer service — on which its hosts were dependent — was often spotty.  The “new website” has been under construction for months, putting a damper on necessary information.   All the negative signs were there. 

Then one day, the station’s employees see a headline in the daily newspaper that the station is about to change its format from sports to girl-talk.  The management of the station has never said word one to its sports broadcasters:  no email, no letter, no in-person group or one-on-one meetings, no pre-press release, no voicemail, no social media – literally nothing. 

Except … there must have been a press release delivered to the media to make the story possible.  Once it was released, an announcement was issued that there would be a press conference the next day.  But no invitations were delivered to the broadcasters or staff. 

A week has passed since the conference and still nothing from the station management to its team now in place.  The station management is talking new lineup but fails to communicate with the old crew, who most likely will be out of work, but were never officially notified.   Will their contracts be respected?  Will there be any outplacement support? What are their cut-off dates, so hosts can inform listeners?

What are your thoughts?  My guess is that management is a bit careless and never sought communications advice, a major blunder in a small market where reputations are made or broken daily.  Not the smartest way to get a new business off the ground.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Smart-City; Smart PR Pros

How can cities become smarter?   About what?  Managing quality of life issues (like noise pollution), creating greater efficiencies when it comes to limited resources (like energy and water) and becoming better at managing issues of public health and safety, such as identifying apartment buildings where landlords are packing in more people than zoning permits – and reducing these risky conditions.

Communications planning is critical.

Data are collected, sifted and studied, and desired behaviors are determined.  But this takes more than gifted urban planners and social engineers.  This is the fodder for proper communications planning.  For all of these things to happen, we need strong public relations professionals communicating the story and motivating action.  But they also need to be able to read and interpret data to get the end result we all want.

According to a February 23rd New York Times article —  “Sim City for Real: Measuring an Untidy Metropolis” — “smart city technology,” properly communicated, can potentially cut water and electricity use by 30 to 50 percent.  The story adds that a “smart city movement” is spreading around the world.  But I would add, it is communications that makes movements. 

Communicating effectively with data requires skills beyond technology, the article stresses.  “People live in cities,” says Dr. Jurij R. Paraszcczak, director of smarter cities research at IBM, “so much of the equation is not just the data but how you encourage people to change their behavior.”

This is another demonstration of how the public relations business is morphing even more so into a science of behavior, technology and communications.  The article concludes that “ the social ingredients of motivation, habit and incentives will be part of the research agenda” at the NYU  Center for Urban Science and Progress.  “This has got to be science with a social dimension.”

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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Impact of the CEO

What the CEO does and says is — most likely — more impactful than the actions of possibly anyone else in a company, according to a recent global study by KRC Research.   At root, it's estimated that a significant 60% of a company's market value is attributed to its reputation, and the CEO plays a key role in shaping that reputation.

Note the following:

·  A full two-thirds (66%) of consumers say that their perceptions of CEOs affect their opinions of
company reputations.

· Executives attribute nearly one-half (49%) of a company's overall reputation to the CEO's reputation.

What a CEO says and does cascades through his or her company and beyond.  Well beyond ... in the digital era, when everyone is looking for content and a CEO's meltdown or foolish statement is valuable, shareable content.

Writing in the May 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, former Procter & Gamble Chairman A.G. Lafley says that the CEO's job boils down to wearing many hats:  "communicator, coach, problem solver. While others in your organization can also fill those roles, there's one critical job only a CEO can do: link the outside world (society, economy, technology, customers) with the inside world (your organization)."

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Relationship with Your Book

I used to love books.  When I was involved in a great story, sometimes even swept away into another time period or country, my book became my friend, and I hated to leave the house without it.  And it was certainly my buddy on a beach vacation. 

My wife bought a Kindle and loved it.  To me it was metal and glass and about as friendless as you could get.  Yet she loved it. 

"Why?"  I asked. 

"It is light, the type is clear, it is thin, and I can carry it anywhere. I don't miss the heavy books of times gone by," she said. 

“Times gone by,” I thought to myself, as I lugged my latest 1,000 page bio.

So I got an iPad and saw the iBook and Kindle apps.  I was on the verge of reading the 1,037 page Gone with the Wind, when I realized I could save at least 5 lbs. in my suitcase weight.  While I would lose a friend—in fact, one that grew closer and closer as the story developed—I would also lose weight!  That was it!  iPad to the rescue! 

Now look what I find.  The number of people cozying up to a good e-book is on the rise. According to the Pew Internet Research Center, during the past year the number of Americans age 16 and older, reading e-books,  has risen from 16 to 23 percent, while those who read printed books among the same age group fell from 72 percent to 67 percent. And e-book readership is increasing as ownership of e-book reading devices is growing (18% in 2011 to 33% by the end of '12).So I guess there is nothing unusual about my coming of age and learning to like different digital kinds of friends.  I’ve also learned that technology is not always hard and cold.  But every once in a while I miss “licking my finger to turn a stubborn paper page.”  Or I look up at our bookshelves with all the colorful books and jackets and wonder what will be there in 50 years’ time.  

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Monday, March 04, 2013

How to Be More Creative

According to research by Clayton Christenson, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gergersen — the co-authors of  The Innovator’s DNA — recent research has found that most creative skills are not a special gift conferred on us at birth by the Magical Gene Fairy.  They can be learned.  In fact, between 60 and 75 percent of our innovation skills are developed and fostered.   

The authors canvassed approximately 5,000 executives to understand the different skills that separate innovators from the average executive and identified five major skill sets (four behavioral and one cognitive) that can actually be taught and nourished.  They are …

·        ObservingInnovators spend a lot of time studying the market and technology ecosystem with a focus on customers, products and competitors.  Observations gleaned in one place often serve as new ideas in other places (like Apple’s use of breakthrough technology that was created by PARC, a division of Xerox).

·        AssociatingInnovative people are often able to combine different ideas and tools into something entirely new — a cognitive process known as “associating.”  Post-it notes were invented when Art Fry (of 3M) applied a weak adhesive developed by his colleague, Spencer Silver, to a small piece of paper to make a marker that stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the pages underneath it.

·        QuestioningInnovators are passionate, curious people who spend more time than the average person asking questions.  Like Albert Einstein, they tend to solve difficult problems by challenging conventional wisdom or key assumptions.  

·        ExperimentingInnovative people — like Thomas Edison — thrive on new experiences, experimentation and change. 

·        NetworkingInnovators understand the power of networks, so they tend to spend a lot of effort collaborating for inspiration, new ideas and resources.  (That’s one of the reasons why I feel it’s so important for us to go to social and digital conferences, which expose us to new ways of thinking.)

Integrating these five skills — observing, associating, questioning, experimenting and networking — into our firm, can help anyone to generate more, better and bigger ideas.  

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