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.

We are into interviewing season, but much of our intelligence is gathered before we ask the first question.

Although we interview qualified candidates for our PR firm year-round, our email inboxes get especially full this time of year as another class of public relations students approach graduation time.

Just looking at the documents a candidate initially sends us completes much of our intelligence work on prospective teammates. When a résumé comes in by email, our fingers linger above the delete button, ready to press it should we find any of these items in the included documents:

  • Bad document name: If the résumé document itself is named “PR version,” then we know you aren’t focused on our industry, but instead are casting a wide net.
  • Signs of mass email distribution: If the email or letter is addressed to “Hiring Manager” or “HR Department” or “To Whom it May Concern,” then we know the candidate never researched our company before pressing “send.” So we press delete.
  • Verbosity: if a student in college can’t condense his or her brief history into one page, then we know they won’t meet our firm’s mission to develop “Clear Messages in a Cluttered World.”
  • Self-centeredness: If their introductory narrative is all about what a job at our firm can do for the applicant and his or her career, then we figure another firm can accommodate their needs.
  • No work history: you don’t have to have internships with other PR firms, but having no work history at all is a sign we’ll have to train you on a lot of basics. We once had to advise a young employee of the value of showering before coming to work!

So that’s just a list of what we can discern from looking at the résumés. You can imagine what we find when we type a candidate’s name into Google! We’ll save that for another posting.…read the full article here.

One of my favorite holidays: National Grammar Day

March 4th was National Grammar Day – did you not celebrate? The day serves as not only a celebration of language, but also as a day to raise awareness of what it means to write and speak well. At Schroder PR, we take an AP style quiz before our staff meetings twice a month, so I’ll use some feedback from those to begin.

Firstly, adverbs have to be one of the most wrongly used parts of speech. For example, bad versus badly is surprisingly confusing. Sometimes I want to use “badly” because I think I need an adverb in my sentences, when I should simply be using, “bad.” For example, “I feel badly about that.” That sentence could be interpreted as meaning your sense of touch is bad. So, remember: when you’re sick, you feel bad. When you’re remorseful, you feel bad about it.

Who and whom are another example of words that are habitually interchanged, but it’s actually a fairly easy rule to remember. “Who” refers to the subject of a sentence, and “whom” refers to the object of a sentence. If you can answer the question with him, use whom. If you can answer the questions with he, use who.

Let’s try it. (Who/Whom) will we listen to tonight? We will listen to him. In this example, “Whom” is appropriate. (Who/Whom) will accept the delivery? He will accept the delivery. In this example, “Who” is appropriate.

Another mistake that I didn’t realize was so common until I was asked about it last week – using apostrophes in inappropriate places. I’ve noticed that people love apostrophes. Have you ever seen this: “90’s?” Why would the ‘90s be possessive? You should either write it as “the 1990s,” or “the ‘90s.” Apostrophes indicate possession or are used in contractions, but they do not denote plurality.

Hope you all had a wonderful National Grammar Day! I can’t wait until next year! In the meantime, please share your list of annoying grammatical errors you see regularly…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.

A visit to Hawaii can teach a PR person a lot about the important practice of consistent storytelling

One of the most valuable tools modern public relations professionals employ is the ancient art of storytelling. At Schroder PR, we remind our new clients that if they bombard their prospects with numbers and facts, they will likely curtail their interest in working with them. Telling well-shaped stories, however, will attract clients and increase their desire to hire you.

I was reminded of the power of storytelling this past weekend, as we were hiking through the rain forests of Oahu in Hawaii. Driving to a remote location in the hills above Honolulu, our BikeHawaii guide, Jeremy, pointed to an “immersion school” nestled on the forested hillside. Within those walls, dozens of Hawaiian students take classes each day – all taught in the Hawaiian language. The only course in which the English language is spoken in these schools is English class.

A dozen years ago, only 0.1% of Hawaii residents spoke the native language, but a revival is now preserving the endangered language that only has five vowels and eight consonants – the smallest alphabet in the world.

Throughout our hike, our guide told stories about the land we were exploring and about the trees and bushes that were brought from foreign lands and were now choking out the native plants.Hula at Oahu's Polynesian Center

When we attended a luau at the Polynesian Center, the emcee told stories that were handed down through 75 generations of his ancestors, back to the islands’ first settlers 1,500 years ago.

“Hawaii never had a written language,” he said. “Our history and culture was preserved only through story telling.”

Hawaii’s stories were often delivered through dance and song. Today, visitors are treated to these stories through the hula dance. This important verbal vehicle not only preserved the islands’ cultural tradition through repetitive performance, it increased its imprint on the minds of the Polynesian settlers by incorporating accompanying visuals of hand gestures and hip movements – each of which had its own meaning.

Though marketing and PR professionals have many more vowels and consonants available in our languages and countless more vehicles through which to deliver the messages in ever-emerging technologies, we are aided in same tools the Hawaiians have used for generations.

Whether teaching our clients how to deliver a speech, to produce a video or to take advantage of the latest social media platform, we often stress the importance of repetition, music, body movement, hand gestures and story telling.

No matter where you are in the world, if someone drapes a lei over your shoulders or says “Aloha” or begins to dance the hula, you immediately think: Hawaii. In our business, that’s called excellent branding, developed on the most remote islands in the world and preserved through some of the best storytelling ever developed on our planet.

– Chris Schroder, Schroder PR

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!

Private Blunders and Public Apologies

We all make mistakes, and I’d like to think we all apologize when we’re in the wrong. Fortunately, not many people notice when I make a mistake – but when newsmakers such as Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, Anthony Weiner or a CEO of a major corporation make a blunder, the whole world pays attention.

The reputation of an organization or a celebrity is an intangible asset, but it’s an extremely important and valuable one. Many CEOs, actors and sports stars face a crisis situation with the potential to seriously damage their good reputations. When in this situation, a public apology is often the beginning of the road to redemption – whether through a statement, a press conference or an appearance on Oprah or Katie Couric’s television show.

This hoax was perfect for Internet comedians – this GIF was one of many out there.

I thought about writing this post when I read that the alleged “mastermind” of the “dead girlfriend hoax” of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o – Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was going to tell his side of the story this week. Te’o has already scheduled an interview with Katie Couric. In a sermon last Sunday, Tuiasosopo’s father, a pastor at Oasis Christian Church, told his congregation that he was learning to say “No comment” in 20 languages!

With my crisis training at Schroder PR, the first thing I thought was – that’s the last thing he should say! Maybe 20 years ago, “no comment” was the advisable go-to response for responding to hard-hitting questions, but not anymore. The world has changed. When the public reads that phrase now, it assumes the party is guilty and being evasive.

I do think it’s smart that the whole Tuiasosopo family is planning to meet to figure out when and how to tell Manti’s “side” of the hoax story. They should get the complete story gathered in an understandable narrative and then decide who is going to be the family spokesperson. Whoever is behind the hoax, “No comment” isn’t going to pass muster with the public and the media – both of which feel duped. Tuiasosopo isn’t well known, or even a little known, and he and his family are already under the media spotlight. It will be very interesting to see how they plan on responding – and hopefully apologizing.

Another recent fiasco in the news is Lance Armstrong speaking about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He sat down with Oprah (who else) and addressed the doping scandal, years of accusations of cheating and the drugs throughout his career.

Lance apologized on the show – and that’s worth something right? An apology to all those he inspired, competed against and beat probably came to welcome ears. Throughout the first night’s interview, Armstrong appeared “defiant, distant, difficult” and “arrogant, unaware, flippant.” He obviously had a coach – and the plan was to appear open and honest. If you saw the interview, you could tell it was rehearsed, until he apparently went off script on the second night.

On some level, Armstrong seemed to understand that he had to make a perfunctory admission – but that’s all he gave. In my opinion, a person who is genuinely sorry doesn’t say they looked up the definition of the word “cheat” and then declares he doesn’t think he meets that definition.

Another interesting part of the interview was Armstrong referring to himself in third person. He seemed to be trying to distance himself by calling himself “Lance Armstrong,” and trying to separate “that part of my life” from “this part of my life.” Given his celebrity, we all expected him to be media-trained, but I can imagine his PR team wasn’t thrilled with the way he appeared on camera. Even with the best team and the most media training – you can’t prevent someone who has no remorse from giving a fake apology and diminishing his or her brand.

There may not be just one way to publicly apologize, but we definitely have witnessed a lot of examples of what not to do. In giving an apology, choosing the appropriate venue or outlet is important. Armstrong could’ve conducted his first interview since being stripped of his titles with anyone – but he chose Oprah, assumedly because he thought it would be the best chance for an image revival.

CEOs have internal and external audiences – including investors, employees, customers, competitors and media – to worry about. Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers Jr. recently came under public scrutiny when he was accused of sexual harassment. He managed it remarkably well, telling his employees about the scandal before it broke in the media. In his apologies to the media, he spoke of the pain and embarrassment he’d caused his wife and family – showing sympathy for others, not himself. He accepted wrongdoing, although he denied any sexual misconduct.

Once a press conference, television appearance or other event is scheduled, it’s important to prepare an open and transparent apology. Showing respect for victims and accepting blame should be a perfectly human response, but demonstrating genuine action that corrects any wrongdoing would be divine.

Sarah Funderburk

As we were telling a potential new client yesterday, it’s all about what’s “between the commas!”

In the summer of 2005, I was struggling to find the right words when an important new client’s chief marketing officer proudly handed me a large three-ringed binder that contained the official branding statement for which his firm had obviously paid a handsome sum.

“This is our Branding Book,” he said. “It contains our Branding Statement.” My client had obviously paid thousands of dollars to engage his top executives in months-long process of introspection that resulted in the delivery of this heavy book that had since sat prominently on his bookshelf.

“What do you think of it?” he asked me.

I faced a big dilemma. Speak honesty and risk insulting his large investment and possibly lose a wonderful client. Or tell a white lie, praising the lofty branding statement and then from then on be saddled with infusing that into public relations documents.

“It’s a nice statement,” I said, after staring at the 10 words for what seemed like an eternity. “It conveys a soaring feeling, but it does not distinguish you from any of your competitors. You will never ever see that sentence ‘between the commas.’ ”

“What do you mean?” he said, looking at me with puzzlement. “What do you mean by ‘between the commas?’ ”

“It’s not a natural phrase that will end up being used in any story we place in newspapers or magazines. We’ll need to come up with something more accessible,” I said. And we did. The phrase we eventually sculpted for the firm not only appeared in many publications, a Google search today returns nearly a thousand references to those exact words – all associated with our client.

Just yesterday, we were meeting in our Peachtree Street office in Midtown with a potential new client. I was excited to see my associates begin to participate more in the interviewing process. At one point, our editorial director was answering a question about whether we could help this 10-year-old firm with branding.

She was telling the story of how branding is important, but needs to be accessible. She said, “it’s really important to develop what is …” She paused and looked at me and asked, “Did you make up ‘between the commas?’ ” I smiled and quickly said, “I think I may have,” before she continued explaining the concept to our guests.

I’m quite sure someone else said those words before me. Thanks to a Google search, I can see that other people have been quoted using those words, but they are dated after I first uttered them in my clients office eight years ago. I think some band has a song by that name now. And a bright young college student started a blog by that same name last year after crafting the phrase herself in a high school newspaper column.

No matter its origin, the concept is simple and very important. Today’s business professionals are often very good at what they do, but they stumble when telling people what that is, exactly. Skilled at their crafts, a professional must also communicate clearly what benefits their potential new clients will receive when hiring them.

It’s one of the most important gifts we give to our clients: the confidence to quickly express in a few actionable, expressive words what they do that distinguishes them from their competitors. If we are successful, the reporters who write about our clients will appreciate those words and place them in the first paragraph of their stories, right after the name of our client … between the commas.

If we’re effective, years from now, when our clients Google themselves, those words should be tucked in the first line or two of results – even if Google doesn’t present its concise results with punctuation marks.

– Chris Schroder