Tailgates and touchdowns. Hot chicken and moonshine. Singing and dancing. Escape rooms and milkshakes.
While not part of an average workday in public relations, these are a few of the memories our team took away from our recent company retreat in Nashville, Tenn. Once a year, we choose a destination and step back from our to-do lists and deadlines to focus on our team, our firm, our clients, and our future. Three days later, we return to the office sleep deprived, yet rejuvenated.
In my more than five years—and six retreats!—with McDougall Communications, I have come to appreciate the retreat for several reasons. First and foremost, it is an unmatched opportunity for team building. We work together every day, of course, but there are always a ton of distractions and other priorities in the hustle and bustle of our jobs and personal lives. Take us away from all of that, and we have an extended and largely uninterrupted period of time to talk, laugh, and experience new things together. After all, it’s nearly impossible to take a tour through a haunted, historic prison, cheer for our hometown football team in “enemy” territory (GO BILLS!), or tackle a rousing duet on a karaoke stage without forming a closer bond.
Between all of the fun, we also schedule time to focus on our work. Not the day-to-day, but bigger picture. Every one of us, regardless of seniority or title, has a voice. I think that goes a long way toward the health of our firm—and feeling like we are truly a part of it.
If you have the means to invest in a retreat of your own, here is the recipe to making it worthwhile:
1. Choose a Fun Destination (If Budget Allows). Go somewhere that people want to go! It’s much more exciting to board a plane with your coworkers at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday when you’re heading to a city like Miami or New Orleans.
2. Airbnb > Hotel Rooms. New this year, we found an Airbnb rental that could accommodate our group instead of booking hotel rooms. Rather than being scattered in rooms around a big hotel, we were together. We also enjoyed more comforts of home, including a kitchen and living spaces that were more conducive to our meetings than drab conference rooms or trying to crowd around tiny café tables.
3. Top of the Agenda: Exploration and Fun. The key to getting a positive return on investment with your retreat is to energize your team. Show them you appreciate them by treating them to some free time together. We like booking food tours in the cities we visit, since they provide a chance to try local flavors and learn local history. Look for other unique fun to be had. We have done everything from the aforementioned ghost tour, NFL football game, and escape room to an Indy 500 tour, plantation tour, live music, many restaurants, and more.
4. Structured Business Planning. Our collaborative planning sessions are most effective when we have a solid agenda and discussion questions in place. Reflect. Examine. Look ahead.
Reflect on what has been happening, how different areas of the business are performing, where you have been successful, and what needs changing.
Examine the successes and challenges. Why have they been successful, and how can those strategies be applied in other areas? What is at the root of the challenges, and how can they be overcome? If there are particular areas of focus for improvement, look into training programs or workshops that you can implement during your retreat.
Look ahead to the future. What does the business look like? Where do you want to focus efforts? What would make you more successful in the year ahead (small and larger scale)?
When your team returns to the office following your retreat, you want them to come back with knowledge, inspiration, and actions to take to help meet your collective goals.
And those new inside jokes from those fun, shared experiences? They’ll never stop being funny.
By Heather Kowalcyzk
Ask any CPA or CFA and they'll tell you, pursuing advanced designation in one's field is a real challenge. It requires discipline, dedication and hard work, along with time, money and effort. For communicators, professional designation is Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
Why earn an APR after 30 years in communications? Here are five reasons why I’ve decided to go for it.
--by Charla Kucko
A few weeks ago, I was walking down Second Street in San Francisco, when some window signage caught my eye. In a bold font, it declared that the company inside was made of storytellers. Data nerds. Content kings. Digital divas.
It’s plausible they were. It was also clear they were trying a bit too hard to describe their business. In reality, they were marketers and communicators who got a bit too ambitious in playing out their own creative brief.
Now there’s nothing wrong with highlighting your strengths. True differentiation is hard to come by in shops. Self-applied labels can be advantageous, signaling specialties to potential clients while keeping a firm focused. But there’s one label that has given me pause for at least a decade: the “digital” agency.
In reality, having digital expertise is a basic component of any well-regarded firm nowadays. Some may excel in certain aspects, such as social and digital media capabilities, while others may have other pinpointed offerings like SEO/SEM or marketing automation.
Yet leading with the “digital” tag frequently signals an underlying weakness in the firm being able to look at the broader challenge faced by an organization, then develop the right approach. Placing digital first assumes that bits and bytes can cure all ills, solve all problems, and win all battles. It’s a tactic-first approach in a world crying out for smarter, more strategic thinking.
And often, as we’ve seen, the digital-only is quick to fade when put to the test. Digital is part of the equation—usually a big part—but it’s no substitute for the balanced, multi-faceted plans that are at the core of the most successful initiatives.
The next time you’re pitched by a “digital” shop or invite one to consider a project, dig deeper. Are you buying substance or effervescence? The choice is yours.
By Mike McDougall
Journalists, freelancers and bloggers’ inboxes are constantly inundated with media pitches. If you want to grab their attention and get your pitch noticed, consider the following tips:
Play to the Right Audience
Before you can start shooting off emails to that same old list of contacts, be fully aware of who exactly you are pitching. Sounds obvious enough, right? Do a little bit of homework before pitching to the media to get a better idea of who these people are and topics they tend to cover. If it’s not topical or relevant to the recipient, they won’t bother reading.
Don't Copy and Paste Your Pitch
I once was told to write exactly how you would talk. It sounds more natural, conversational and quite frankly, it’s more enjoyable to read. This rule is no different for story pitches. Writers can smell a copy-and-paste pitch from a mile away. You must use your unique voice when drafting a pitch to avoid sounding generic or automated.
Highlight the Value You Are Providing
If your pitch still leaves the recipient with additional questions, chances are you won’t get a response. Before you get started, ask yourself questions like, why would people find this story interesting? Or, how can this story help me reach my target audience? Then, point out the value in your pitch. If you see value in what you’re writing, it shouldn’t be hard for someone else to see it, too.
Get to the Point!
Ever heard the tired cliché, ‘less is more’? Well, it’s true! Make your pitch clear and concise. Be upfront and honest in what you’re asking for right off the bat rather than dancing around the topic for too long. Think about all of the pitches sitting in the inboxes of journalists all over the country—and the world—right now. If you want to stand a chance at being heard over all of the background noise, get to the point!
Here's one way to look at it—if you wouldn’t respond, then writers probably won’t either. So if you want to get ahead of the game the next time you have to pitch to the media, consider these four helpful tips.
By Maggie Munley
Building the foundation for any public relations campaign begins with research. It also helps agencies and organizations plan for the future.
As a public relations professional, I’m a big fan of the work conducted by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism’s Center for Public Relations (CPR). Each year, the CPR conducts research on the topics and trends that will influence the Public Relations industry in the years to come. This year’s global communications report provided great insights into the use of technology.
Take a moment and just think about your daily lives and how technology influences it. We know who is at our front door through our doorbell, we can control our thermostats at home from thousands of miles away, and Alexa does more for me than my teenagers do these days – just kidding kids!
Technology will continue to drive how brands communicate with their audiences. It allows you to reach your targeted audience through platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and, perhaps most importantly, measure the return on investment for your public relations campaign.
With technology advances comes our need to educate ourselves on its applications and develop new skills to deploy it effectively. The study showed that 48 percent of agencies rate their company’s current ability to use the latest technology to enhance the effectiveness of its communications as good compared to 35 percent of in-house communicators and 44 percent of CEO’s. These are numbers that show the opportunity for continuous improvement – me included.
Finally, the report includes a six-page glossary of companies cited in this year’s Global Communications Survey. As I look forward to the 2020 report and beyond, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re going to need a few more pages.
By Christopher Knospe
The best time to prepare for a crisis is not while one is happening. When it comes to crisis communication, proactive advance planning is a must.
Here are 10 essential elements of crisis communication planning:
When a crisis occurs, the first instinct may be to remain silent, but failure to communicate only heightens concern and allows misperceptions to flourish. Open and transparent communication is the most effective way to defuse a crisis and build trust. The key is to proactively communicate with your primary audiences not just when a crisis occurs, but always.
By Charla Kucko
Spokespeople are the face and voice of a company, and they help build the brand. Media training company spokespeople is critical to making sure they feel comfortable and confident in their deliveries and can position themselves and the company in the best light while engaging with reporters. When you deliver a media training, make sure you provide the executives with the following tips:
By Jamie Palmeroni-Lavis
In this ever-changing world that is social media, one of the latest buzzwords is “influencer.” While it may look like anyone who has a smartphone, an Instagram account and a blog ticks all of the boxes to become an influencer, there is so much more that goes into this industry.
Consumers trust the judgment of influencers because they are real people producing authentic content. They are a quick, personable source that offers product reviews and opinions. But, the biggest takeaway here is that consumers are looking to these influencers when making purchase decisions.
These thought leaders, bloggers and social media mavens come from all corners of the world, promoting all different sorts of products and services. They hold the ability to leverage their followers to sell thousands of dollars’ worth of products—all through their social feeds.
In a way, influencer marketing is really just a modern-day version of word-of-mouth marketing. Talk about re-inventing the wheel!
In 2018, the phrase “influencer marketing,” rose to 61,000 searches compared to its 21,000 searches in 2017. In the past three years, the term has seen an astounding 1,500% increase in searches. Today, it is predicted that social media advertising will account for 20% of all internet advertising in 2019 (according to Media Marketing)—and this trend is only likely to continue in the future. By 2020, influencer marketing is on pace to become a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Advertising your products and services through influencers allows your brand to promote itself to a niche community that watches, engages and trusts on a daily basis. So, if you’re afraid of coming off as too “salesy,” with an influx of paid digital advertisements, consider the benefits of influencer marketing.
By Maggie Munley
Racism is unacceptable, period. But, before we collectively judge the character of the college students involved in recently resurrected racially offensive 70s and 80s college yearbook photos, let’s pause and ask ourselves an important question: Did I ever do anything stupid in college and if so, does that define who I am today?
I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, but I never posed for a racially offensive photo smiling in blackface or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, holding a noose.” If you thought that, you’re in the majority.
A February 20 USA Today article, “Blackface, KKK Hoods, Mock Lynchings: Blatant Racism in 900 College Yearbooks,” features results of a recent nationwide survey of college yearbooks during the 70s and 80s. A front-page story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle leads with a provocative headline that reads more like a blanket statement, “Racism Common in Old Yearbooks.” Let’s do the math: 200 examples of racially inappropriate photos found among 900 college yearbooks, each about 150 pages in length—or the equivalent of 1/1000th—hardly constitutes something “common.”
Are the yearbook photos acceptable? Not at all. The question is: Where was the oversight? How did the faculty yearbook advisors allow the photos to be published in the first place? The students involved are certainly accountable, but what about the adults? Where were they in the process?
The deeper issue offers an opportunity for dialogue about race and cultural norms across generations. What may have been perceived as “acceptable” forty years ago is considered morally reprehensible today. If we know that to be true, why is this still happening in popular culture? Late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, and comic Sarah Silverman, are among several celebrities being called out for their use of blackface, and rightly so. It was unacceptable then, and it still is today.
If we’ve learned anything from this latest controversy, it’s that people and brands should consider a thorough audit of their documented pasts, understanding that what happened decades ago may become a crisis today. That includes public-facing organizations and media outlets. If they shine a spotlight on others, they should prepare to face the same scrutiny.
By Charla Kucko
What was originally designed for Twitter, hashtags have exploded across multiple social media platforms, completely changing the landscape for reaching new audiences and sparking new conversations.
Social users search for specific hashtags to see what other people are saying about a topic that they’re interested in. Hashtags have created millions of niche little “communities,” if you will, for people to insert themselves into a conversation.
But, before you go crazy using hashtags all across your social pages—you should keep these three tips in mind...
Stay True to Your Brand
Creating new hashtags—and even using existing ones—leaves a lot of room for creativity. But, it is important to make sure you’re not steering off-brand. Before using a certain hashtag, do your research.
Type your hashtag into the search bar to see what people are saying, what topics are trending, and what the existing conversation already looks like. This will give you a better idea as to whether or not using this hashtag makes sense for your brand.
You’ll want to avoid hashtags that may have double meaning. Or, maybe another brand is already using the hashtag you had in mind to promote an entirely different campaign.
There are websites that can help make monitoring hashtags much easier, like ritetag.com, for example. They offer a “hashtag dictionary," which allows you to check the meaning of hashtags before you use them, which will save you from attracting the wrong audiences.
Know Your Audience
Think about your audience for a moment. Who are they? How old are they? What are their interests?
This will help when deciding the overall message you’re trying to convey. The more targeted your message is, the more engagement your posts will receive.
Don’t Go Overboard
The rule for the number of hashtags varies from platform to platform. On Facebook and Twitter, it's most effective to use only one to two relevant hashtags at most, according to Social Media Today. Whenever you use more than the recommended one or two hashtags on these platforms, you run the risk of making your posts look "spammy." Research shows that posts with one or two will see more engagement than posts that don't use any at all.
On the flip side, Instagram is a platform that encourages (borderline excessive) hashtag use—up to at least 30 per post! But, for optimal engagement, studies reveal that between 5 and 10 hashtags is best practice for this particular platform.
With all of this in mind, however, we recognize that the use of hashtags is constantly changing as the world of social media continues to evolve. This is a prime example of why it is important to stay on top of the latest tips and trends in social media—especially within your industry.
By Maggie Munley
Insights, from us to you.