Visiting PR clients in person should be an easy task, but sometimes it takes that old Southern charm

Common sense would tell you that clients who hire you as their PR consultant would want to meet with you face-to-face on a regular basis, but we’ve learned that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you just have to knock on their doors – several times – and take food.

We have had clients who were just too busy to meet. One hired us to launch several campaigns and paid us for months before they were able to meet with us. We were handcuffed, not able get started until they provided us needed information, in person.

“Food,” I told my PR team in the huddle. “We must take them food.”

So we got up early the next morning and went by our neighborhood Einstein’s Bagels and ordered a dozen bagels, cream cheese and coffee and charmed our way into the office of the marketing contact who had proven especially elusive.

For other clients who were equally reluctant to meet, we offered an upgraded version of that same strategy. These two clients were always too busy to meet, continually refusing our requests to go out for coffee or to join us at a weekend Falcons football.

We ordered lunch and blackberry cobbler for several dozen employees who were working away inside my clients’ offices. We gave the clients one day’s warning and showed up early, filling their buildings with irresistible aromas. Finally, the handful of executives whom we had specifically targeted drifted in and sat down with us for nearly 45 minutes, talking about how we could get things back on track.

Nevertheless, at one of the clients, the president never did actually sit down with us or eat our lunch, though he did stand nearby and chatted amiably with us until he was called away for a phone call. As the rest of us enjoyed our blackberry cobbler, I told the marketing executive I’d prepare a plate for the president and take it to his office, but she warned me not to bother.

“He doesn’t eat,” she said. “He just works.”

And on that day, at least, he also met – with us…read the full article here.

Social media gaining on search engines

How did you find this blog?

An analytics report for this site will show you were most likely brought here by Google, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

A recent post by Buzz Feed titled “Where did all the search traffic go?” explores changes in website traffic. BuzzFeed tracked traffic referrals to more than 200 publishers in their network that include more than 300 million people globally. They found that traffic from Google dropped more than 30 percent from August 2012 through March 2013 and search engines in general dropped by 20 percent in the same period.BuzzFeed's graph illustrating traffic sources

While search-engine-directed traffic decreased, site traffic did not. Traffic from all social media channels combined grew by 25 percent for the site. In March 2013, BuzzFeed found that Facebook sent 1.5 times more traffic than Google – the largest increase they have ever seen.

Increased social traffic proves the influence social platforms can have on users and implies that users’ online experience can be directed from friends and connections on social media as much as it can from highly intelligent Google robots.

As BuzzFeed put it, “We aren’t hunting for content as much as we are foraging from what’s right in front of us.” Whereas people may have once been led to food blogs by searching for a recipe and ingredients online, they are now led by their friend’s Facebook post, Pinterest board, or tweet. Similarly, you were most likely directed to this blog from Facebook, Twitter, or an email than from typing in “public relations blog” as a Google search term.

That’s not to say you wouldn’t have found this blog if you typed that in – but in the world of social, people may be taking less time to type in search terms and decide to read what’s sent to their inbox or included in their newsfeed.…read the full article here.

Social media proves it not only connects but also can be a matter of life and death

If you’ve watched TV news in the past week, you saw the constant coverage of the devastating Boston bombings as well as the tireless pursuit of the bombing suspects. If you were on social media this past week, you saw the same thing – but at a faster pace. Following the bombing, more than 500,000 tweets with the hashtag #BostonMarathon were collected by a research group from Syracuse University.

This saturated, unfiltered coverage eventually led to as much, if not more harm than good. Social media users made false accusations after examining photos and made up false headlines to try to take the lead in reporting. Suddenly, the medium that served as a watchdog, alerting the country of tragedy, became an unpredictably wild dog in the overall story.

The impact of social media isn’t new or surprising to PR practitioners. So it is still somewhat surprising – although very welcomed – when clients ask us why it’s important to be on social media.

In future social media presentations, I’ll remember to refer to this past week to demonstrate the impact social media channels can have. It was an example of not only how powerfully social media can engage others but also how quickly the unfiltered medium can take a turn for the worse. As we tell our clients, social media needs to be managed and we are able to train our clients on the importance of a successful crisis plan.

While many are still skeptical of the importance of social media in our lives, it is irrefutable that social media played a major part in our nation’s coverage of last week’s terrorist attack. That proves to me that the same channel of communication that drives traffic to business blogs such as this one, is also giving people vital information that could be a matter of life and death.…read the full article here.

In PR, we are always looking for the next big thing. After the past few weeks, I’m convinced you’re looking at it.

Public Relations professionals are ever diligent about placing their clients in forums that best present their offering to a potential customer audience. We especially appreciate a platform that allows us to control our clients’ message. While social media gets a lot of the attention these days, the best PR work is usually seen in a longer form such as blogs, essays, white papers, columns, op-eds and now Thought Leadership.

Though Leadership is sponsored content columns presented on the right side of SaportaReport’s Weekly Update and on each page of its website. It’s a relatively new concept that positions brands and clients alongside entries from respected journalists.

Last week, I received a call from a prospective client who had been considering hiring a PR firm for years, but had never made the move. When he opened up the SaportaReport Weekly Update and read the journalism columns, his eyes wandered over to our PR column. He clicked through, read through several past weekly entries, picked up his phone and called me to invite me in to talk later that same afternoon. We had a very productive meeting and he’s now considering a proposal to engage us on an annual basis. All because of our Thought Leadership column.

If you are a PR firm and seek to ensure your clients are taking advantage of new opportunities, I strongly recommend you to present this new emerging platform. Not only do your clients get to share an audience of 14,000+ recipients of the Weekly Update and 50,000 unique visitors to the SaportaReport website – they can “own” a topic exclusively.

As SaportaReport grows in stature and influence, your clients’ opportunities will as well. So take the lead and explore this new medium for your clients. Secure their topic before a competitor does. I believe you’ll agree, it’s the next big thing….read the full article here.

Trending: I hear people say they don’t read eNewsletters any more, but this past week has proved just the opposite

I’ve been so busy this past year that when Schroder PR Account Manager Sarah Funderburk would ask me every few months how the firm was going to celebrate its 10th anniversary, I’d just shrug my shoulders, shake my head and gaze back into my computer. Lucky for me, I’m not in charge of anniversaries.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I was wondering why Sarah kept asking me questions about an upcoming presentation as I was trying to get out the office door. Suddenly, my wife and our firm’s editorial director Jan Schroder walked in while the other teammates grabbed champagne and cupcakes. “We just couldn’t let you go any longer without celebrating our 10th anniversary,” Sarah said. I grabbed a camera and snapped a group photo in our Rhodes Hall office.

Last week, just before we pressed “send” on the latest issue of Clear Messages, our PR firm’s company eNewsletter that included our champagne and cupcake team photo, I suggested we change the subject line to reflect our milestone. “Clear Messages:” it read. “Schroder PR celebrates 10th anniversary.”

A few minutes after we sent that email to exactly 2,195 folks – many of whom I threw in at the last minute out of my address book and from whom I hadn’t heard anything in years – my own email inbox began to fill up. Before the week was out, I had received 157 emails with personal congratulatory notes.  I received emails from high school classmates, college roommates, clients, competitors, former bosses from my 1980s days at The Greenville News – even one from Wendy Binns, the current owner of Atlanta INtown, whom I hired out of college years ago.

Today, with eNewsletters, we can monitor and report specific numerical data in real time. For example, this edition of Clear Messages was opened by 590 recipients, for an open rate of 31%, which is 16% above the industry average, our electronic reporting tells us. We also know 93 of our recipients clicked through to read more at our firm’s website.

In 2013, PR professionals are blessed with an ever-growing array of communication platforms through which to promote our clients and our causes. In the coming years, we’ll be helping clients use communication vehicles that are not even invented yet. No matter what we end up doing, one element in our campaign will be the eNewsletter and it will still warm our hearts when you press reply and let us know in a few words – or characters – that you still care.…read the full article here.

Maker’s Mark gets a lesson in brand identity

Every southerner knows that messing with bourbon is a surefire way to not get invited back to a party.  Except Maker’s Mark. Beam Inc., the parent company of the Kentucky bourbon, announced last week that due to the company’s success and the time it takes to age a batch of whiskey (six years), they could not keep up with demand. As a result, Beam announced they would be reducing the alcohol content from 90 to 84, diluting the alcohol to make more batches.

Maker’s Mark fans took to social media and voiced their opinion that they rather have no Maker’s Mark than pseudo-Maker’s Mark. Beam listened. Less than a week later, they reversed their decision.

Loyal consumers can be hard to come by and when you find them, you should hold on tight.  For those true fans of the bourbon that have been making purchase decisions based on this brand for some time, Maker’s Mark decision to compromise quality and keep the brand, affected the integrity of the brand.

Fortunately, Maker’s Mark heeded their customers’ outcries and kept their public relations blunder to just the one brand identity flop. By listening to their customers, they avoided diluting both their product and their brand.  Hopefully other brands will take note as well: When your message is getting through loud and clear, don’t tone it down!…read the full article here.

Working in the Great Divide: PR and Journalism

When I was a reporter working for several daily newspapers in the 1980s, we instinctively fell silent when a company salesperson would walk by our desks. In those days, journalists were purists: newspaper salespeople wore nicer clothes, drove fancier cars and made lots more money, but we were more comfortable in our glow of righteousness.

Occasionally, that same cloud would enter our very own ranks. We were happy when a fellow reporter got a promotion to editor or if they took a job at a bigger newspaper. But every once in a while, a reporter would walk into the boss’ office and announce they were becoming a spokesperson for a politician or a company – or worse, that they were going to work for a PR firm. When that occurred, a pall would drift over our team for days. Usually, the departing reporter – his or her personal belongings packed quickly in a box – was awkwardly escorted out of the building shortly after announcing they were going over “to the dark side.”

I once worked for an editor who would take such an occasion to warn the remaining reporters that if they ever took a job in PR, they’d never work for a newspaper again. It was a hollow threat. That same editor a few years later welcomed back a writer who found he didn’t have the mettle for billable hours and client service.

I was reminded of this Great Divide this week when I read a Facebook post by a digital editor of the Fulton County Daily Report, a fine paper for which I used to work. Grayson Daughters wrote:

“I’d re-post articles from the SaportaReport here, such as the one by Saba Tesfanesh Long, on the domino effect of the now-open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, but as I never know WHO the author of a Saporta Report article is working for/consulting for/receiving a paycheck from to write said articles, interesting as they might be, I’ve decided not to do that any longer. Sorry, kiddies.”

None of the writers at SaportaReport are able to afford to work full-time for this experiment in new journalism, even though – given the chance – we might prefer to. But Maria Saporta, whom I consider Atlanta’s most trusted journalist, holds our feet to the fire to make sure we disclose any potential conflicts to our readers, so they can make their decisions as to whether we are providing worthwhile commentary on issues of importance to metro Atlanta.

The ironic truth is when I worked for the Fulton County Daily Report in the 1990s, I had two jobs there: In the mornings, I would sit upstairs in front of an IBM laptop and manage the advertising staff. After lunch, I’d drift downstairs to my Apple computer and help edit news stories, scan photos, write headlines and design page layouts for the next day’s front news section. I didn’t even have to bathe in between gigs!

I love journalism and newsrooms. My heart aches when I pick up the morning papers in my driveway and see them barely breathing from a lack of advertising. Journalism was a noble profession. It still is. It’s just a challenged one.

Not only does social media offer an informational platform to anyone who can write or post a photo, my Wall Street Journal features a weekly editorial column by a former presidential aide who raised hundreds of millions of dollars this past year to unseat Democratic candidates. When I watch my Sunday morning television news panels, I listen as journalists debate lobbyists and PR professionals.

The lines are so blurred these days, it’s difficult for regular readers to know the difference, except for the occasional italicized disclosure at the bottom of articles, stating that the writer works here, represents someone there or authored a book on a subject that possibly sounds impressive.

And that, I guess, is the point: We’re all human. Each one of us is a bundle of beliefs, biases and contradictions. When newspapers were founded in 18th century America, they were started by someone with a particular voice who pushed an entertaining – and hopefully profitable – point of view. Readers bought several papers, but they tended to believe the ones that aligned with their own political leanings.

Somewhere along the way, journalists began to proffer a higher calling: objectivity. News stories could not express an opinion; they had to be balanced. Only editorials could opine. But that was just too high and mighty of a brand to promote. Reporters and editors are humans. They make decisions about which quote to feature first and how to end an article. According to the dictionary, those are not objective decisions, they are “dependent on the human mind for existence” and, thus, subjective.

I really enjoy public relations. We assist organizations in shaping messages that help customers understand what services and benefits the firms offer. Our profession even provides a decent enough income that some of us can afford the time to work part-time in our first love, journalism.

Judging by recent analysis, our website is attracting thousands more readers this month than we did in any month last year. We think we are building momentum – and trust. We are proud of our efforts. We do have families and other jobs and hobbies and groups to which we belong. We provide paragraphs at the ends of our articles reporting what other endeavors in which our writers are involved. It is not a complete description of our personalities or beliefs. It is merely a glimpse into our souls.

Thank you for reading our columns. We appreciate your feedback. If you choose to share our columns with your social media friends or co-workers, thank you for doing so. If you choose not to, well, that’s also fine. You have exercised your own judgment – and here at SaportaReport that is a right we respect very much.

– Chris Schroder Schroder PR and SaportaReport!

Announcement by The Associated Press to include Samsung-sponsored Tweets is part of an evolving platform

The Associated Press announced it will begin having sponsored tweets on its Twitter feed and Samsung will be the first company to take part in it.

Twitter has had advertising for some time in the form of Promoted Tweets – tweets purchased by advertisers that appear in targeted users’ Twitter feeds. The Promoted Tweets are denoted with the sponsor’s name or a little orange box and white arrow so they can be clearly identified on users’ feeds.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Twitter updated its terms of service in 2010 to ensure that advertisers only promoted their tweets in this Promoted Tweet format rather than infusing spam-like promotions through individual users’ accounts. AP’s Samsung announcement seems to fall somewhere in the middle.

Samsung will provide sponsored tweets through AP’s primary Twitter account during the upcoming 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Leveraging Samsung as a sponsor for this high-profile tech event might help expand advertising beyond an individual Twitter feed and make sense to the public.

AP stated in a release: “The effort builds on AP’s expansion into new advertising for mobile and social media.”

In the past, new advertising platforms for mobile and social media has developed traction with the media and and sometimes backlash from the public. Do you remember the Instagram debacle of 2012? Perhaps ‘debacle’ is an exaggeration, but Instagram’s moment in the spotlight certainly caused a stir among my social media community.

Infographic and GIF describes Instagram’s impact. –––>

When Instagram announced new terms of service in December 2012, users took to their social media accounts to complain. The new terms of service implied that Instagram would be able to take users’ photos and use them in promotions. The social media community panicked. My own social media feeds were flooded with pleas from others to delete my account to protest the insanity.

Instagram quickly retracted the new terms and released an apology and clarified what it had intended. Titled, “Thank you, and we’re listening,” the blog post stated that legal documents were easily misunderstood and that it would clarify its meaning in a less elusive, and more concrete manner. Instagram experienced the downside to presenting the public with a big idea rather than exact details – especially when it comes to people’s privacy and their understanding of advertising.

As Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has seen in the past, people become uncomfortable with social media and advertising worlds colliding. In Instagram’s blog post apology, it made a simple, yet – I believe –necessary statement: “From the start, Instagram was created to become a business.”

Because we have incorporated our personal lives so much into social media, it is often forgotten that social media exists as a business commodity first and foremost – perhaps because ways to monetize the new media platforms often come months and years after their launch. Unfortunately, the medium has grown so quickly, it may take a while for perceptions to catch up. The Associated Press and Instagram are not the first to discuss their advertising tactics with social media and they will not be the last.

As the WSJ article eloquently states in its coverage of AP’s announcement, “plenty of media companies have very popular Twitter feeds and commercial departments keen to find new revenue sources.”

As social media’s audience and influence grows, we cannot expect money to stay out of the conversation. If we want our media to continue meeting our needs, we cannot always seem so astonished and offended when they announce they need money in order to do so.

  – Bailee Bowman

Many things have changed since Schroder PR begin 10 years ago; many have not

Ten years ago this week, Schroder PR opened its doors to provide writing and media relations services to a few select clients. Since then, a lot has changed in the business of public relations, but a few enduring principles remain more important than ever.

When we opened our doors to the public in 2003, we were already serving a few commercial real estate developers and soon were hired by one of the two largest law firms in town.

At that time, the primary request of our clients was that we carefully craft well-written press releases and provide them media counsel. Since then, the media world has exploded to an immediate online delivery of news from many news sources – including posts by many writers who have had no professional news training and are not professionally edited.

A decade ago, clients were still trying to understand the potential of the “world wide web” and we were often asked to help re-write their websites with new copy that would attract a prominent listing in developing platforms called “search engines.” Google was still a small private company that was a couple of years from going public.

The word blog was less than five years old in 2003 (it was coined in 1999 from its original term of weblog). Managing partners of large firms were trying to understand how to follow and regulate their use by leading-edge partners in the firms. It wasn’t long before our clients were asking us to assist them to host blogs on their own websites.

Networking and business development is a vital part of any business, particularly a new firm such as ours. Back then, the primary tool of business development was the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Book of Lists. A few days after we opened our doors, a new web-based platform was launched that changed everything. It was called LinkedIn. Today, LinkedIn is a primary business development tool, though we still usually begin our new year making lots of notes in the printed Book of Lists, which is also available in electronic form.

Email and instant messaging had long replaced the idle chatter and gossip around the proverbial water cooler. Then in 2004, we all re-learned an entirely new way to peer into the lives and thoughts of others with the launch of Facebook. Although office productivity initially took a big hit with its growth, we now spend many hours a week updating business pages on Facebook for our clients.

In 2003, we began helping clients produce videos to explain their service offerings. New computer editing tools brought down the cost of this formerly cost-prohibitive medium. Ten years ago, we were still advising clients to trim their videos to five to eight minutes in length. Then in 2005, YouTube launched and video exploded. Today, based on Pew and Poynter research, we caution clients to edit their videos to no longer than 60 seconds and we help manage their YouTube channels.

While Schroder PR has always been an advocate for concise use of the English language, we all learned to edit even tighter in 2006 when Twitter reduced our world of communication not to 140 words, but 140 characters!

As Schroder PR moved offices several times around Midtown Atlanta, we were careful to always provide a cork bulletin board above the desks of our teammates so they could post personal photos and important lists. Now we primarily use the cork boards to soften the sound in more efficient working conditions while our team is busily posting photos and lists for our clients on Pinterest, which launched in 2010.

While many things have changed in 10 years, many principles still endure. Yes, our team spends much of our time monitoring social media for our clients, but we still spend a surprising amount of time editing press releases that we can post online. Yet, we rarely send press releases to reporters. Today we boil story pitches down to one-page backgrounders full of bullet points or send short emails or Twitter pitches.

Though we have so many new tools with which to communicate, we’ve found there is an increasing need to have regular face-to-face meetings with our clients. Client service remains the most important facet of our business and in this new year, we hope to spend more time in person with our clients than ever before. That’s where the magic in this business really happens.

The proper use of the English language is still paramount. Each of of our teammates has an AP Stylebook on their desks. We did try the electronic version for a while, but the book is still our bible.

When we start working with a new client, we still spend the first few weeks and months helping to sharpen their “message” and “position.” When we launched our own website in December 2002, we introduced our company’s slogan and mission, which endures – perhaps with even more significance – to this day: “Clear Messages in a Cluttered World.”

– Chris Schroder

Attack of the Meme

Oh, the Internet meme. How we love them, until, you know, they’re absolutely everywhere and lose their cleverness. But don’t worry. The next big meme is already out there! How did memes get started? I searched the Internet and I’ve come up with: the Dancing Baby. You may recall the crude, 3D baby dancing the cha cha. The baby graphic spread through email and websites, which is a pretty good example of how people lived in the dark ages of the Internet: BYT (Before YouTube.) The baby went viral, even making an appearance on the show Ally McBeal. I remember another early meme that became a big deal while I was still in elementary school. The Hamster Dance is a testament to the ridiculous. It features hamsters and rabbits dancing to a sped up song. That’s all. It was everywhere. Memes have evolved. While early memes spread by duplication, contemporary memes spread by imitation. “[Stuff] Girls Say”(“Stuff” is substituting a four-letter word here) began as a single video and then exploded as others took the idea and applied it to Indian parentsNew Yorkers, and finally“Stuff” No One Says.  YouTube was drenched with these memes, and just when you couldn’t stand it … they were on Facebook. “What People Think I Do/What I Actually Do” were plastered over news feeds. Some were pretty hilarious. I found a University of Texas meme, which led me to a UT meme Facebook page. Turns out a lot of colleges have meme sites now. Have I stumbled upon the next big thing? We’ll see. So, are memes a trend or here for the long haul? I’m inclined to argue for the latter. Memes allow for creativity and mutate so quickly into something new. Specific memes are trendy; the meme genre is probably here to stay.