Upping a price. Changing your privacy settings. A new design.
Any time you or your organization is making a change, breaking the news to those who will be affected can be challenging.
This is especially true when that change occurs to a consumer-facing service. In that scenario, you run the risk of potential backlash from the announcement. But don’t take it from me--just ask Snapchat. At the core of any reaction is this: how does this affect me, the audience? While there may be no ‘right’ way to make this kind of announcement (layoffs, for example, are rarely met with a pleasant response), there are steps one can take to minimizes the negativity.
Enter Digit, a financial app that automatically siphons off small amounts of money from your bank account to build up your savings. The algorithm takes amounts based on recent spending (think anywhere from $0.15 to $10), so you usually don’t even notice. Genius, right?
The app currently costs $2.99 a month—but as a long-time digit user, I remember a time when it was free. When that changed, a question was posed to me: did I want to remain a user? While the fee itself wasn’t a huge amount, the way Digit handled the announcement is what made me stick around. So I took a look at why that was, and how other organizations could learn from it:
Get to the point
Announce the topic at hand in a quick and concise manner. You’re presenting new information to those who will be affected by it. Don’t make them have to think (or search) too long or too hard to figure out how it’s going to affect them.
One of the most crucial ways to announce change is with complete and total clarity. What change are you making? What prompted it? And—most important—how will it affect me, the consumer?
Digit did all of these things right: They were upfront about the change being implemented; they were quick to point out why they needed to do so (to make money); and they were quick to point out why they were opting for a paid route instead.
Provide a forum for response
Give people an outlet to voice their concerns, questions or frustrations. It will enable you to control the message, and open up a forum where anyone with a strong reaction will feel heard. It will also give people a clear sense of where to get answers, should they be looking for them.
Bonus points: A Piece of Good News
Of course, dependent on the news, you won’t always have a piece of good news to offer. But if you can end the message on a high note, you should. People will always appreciate knowing something positive will come out of this.
And, at the very least, people always appreciate honesty. Giving a clear, concise explanation of why change is being implemented is always better than the cardinal sin of PR—not saying anything at all.
By Vanessa Pearce
When I first added “write a blog post” to my to-do list this week, I didn’t imagine I would write about Build-A-Bear.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m no stranger to its stores. With three young children, I’ve been a customer a time or two. Early this week, I saw news of the company’s “Pay Your Age Day” shared by other parents on social media, and I immediately thought, “That sounds like a horrible idea.” For me. (For the record, I’m not a Black Friday shopper, either. Because “time is money” and all that.)
It was obvious there would be crowds. There would certainly be more demand than supply. How would Build-A-Bear handle it? Naturally, I was curious to see how it would all play out.
Across the country, families lined up before stores even opened. Just after 7:30 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear posted its first update to social media, warning customers of the overwhelming response and long waits, and mentioned the possibility that lines might be limited due to safety concerns. Note that most stores didn’t even open until 10:00 a.m.!
Still, lines snaked through shopping malls and stretched outside. Just a few hours later, at 11:00 a.m. ET, Build-A-Bear published an urgent update to its social media pages and blasted it out to its email lists. Lines were officially closed. People were turned away, and some of those who were already in line had waited ALL DAY. Cue pandemonium.
“How could they not have anticipated this?” people asked. A firestorm of media coverage ensued, with headlines calling it a “botched promotion,” “hellish chaos,” and of course, “a PR nightmare.”
But was it really, though? In this case, I’d argue that this just might fall under the “There’s no such thing as bad PR” cliché. While it’s true that the situation is a crisis for Build-A-Bear, it’s one that could actually benefit them in the long run, depending on the response.
Sure, there are angry and disappointed customers, but Build-A-Bear was quick to come up with a solution. As people were being turned away from the lines, they were handed $15 off coupons—an amount roughly equivalent to the discount offered by “Pay Your Age”—to come back any time (and NOT have to wait in line for hours!). The coupons were offered to those standing in the lines, too, in case they would rather bail and come back. Then, Build-A-Bear went so far as to offer the coupon to all of its Bonus Club members, even if they had never ventured out for “Pay Your Age Day.” And to ensure this madness never happens again, the company brought an existing promotion—“Count Your Candles”—to the forefront, that offers the same discount (pay your age) during a child’s birthday month.
At the time of this draft, Build-A-Bear’s “failed” promotion is still all over the media. But you know what? So are its make-good solutions. I’m positive yesterday resulted in a harried public relations team and some serious regrets, but Build-A-Bear’s CEO was on The Today Show this morning delivering key messages that reinforce Build-A-Bear’s value proposition. How else would that have happened?
Only time will tell the true impact on Build-A-Bear’s business. While there may be customers so upset that they have sworn off the company forever, the coupons are likely to bring even more new and repeat customers back to the stores over the next few months. Plus, all of the traditional and social media hoopla has undoubtedly raised awareness of Build-A-Bear’s “Count Your Candles” birthday promotion, which could drive additional sales as well.
At the end of all of this, Build-A-Bear stands to gain more than it has lost. Some may argue that the sheer number of coupons out there could cut deeply into Build-A-Bear’s profits, but to that I say: You must not be familiar with the price of the accessories!
By Heather Kowalczyk
It was the late ‘90s at a conference in Boston’s Copley Square. A PR industry veteran pulled his chair close to mine, cocked his head, and leaned in. I was a fresh-faced 26-year-old whose blog-focused influencer campaign had been the talk of the meeting. This new approach from a Gen X kid was foreign and fascinating, if not a bit frightening, to a crowd that lived and died by traditional media relationships.
“You know, some people try their whole career to get a Silver Anvil,” he sneered, referring to the Oscars of the profession, which the campaign had just earned. “You’ve got nothing more to prove. So what will you do now?”
I blurted out the only thing that came to mind, “More of the same, I guess.”
Two decades and a few award-winning initiatives later, colleagues are still asking what “the same” is, imaging it to be a secret sauce of some kind. The truth is there’s little secret to capturing people’s imagination, influencing new attitudes, and guiding new behaviors. It comes down to four ingredients that apply to most every scenario, regardless of budget, geography, industry or other variables.
So when I was in Manhattan a few weeks ago for the 2018 Silver Anvils, I could only smile as an industry peer walked over to my dinner table and pointed to the gleaming statuette in front of me.
“Congratulations! People work for a long time to earn one of those. Is it your first?”
Giving her my thanks, I quietly admitted it was not, remaining out of earshot from others nearby when answering how many I’d won. Her jaw dropped, and she mouthed one word: “how?”
With a wink, I gave the only answer I knew. “Let’s chalk it up to more of the same.”
Mike has contributed to some of the communications industry’s most celebrated teams and programs, which have earned recognition from PRSA, PRWeek, The Holmes Report, PR News and others for innovation and results. The 2018 Silver Anvil in conjunction with CORE marks the 12th of his career.
In the race for social media engagement, compelling video and still images are quickly leaving other communication vehicles in the dust.
Don’t just take our word for it. According to Cisco Visual Networking Index, global consumer Internet video traffic will account for 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic by 2019. Taking the analysis a step further—think about this for a moment—Cisco finds for every second, a million minutes (17,000 hours) of video content will cross global IP networks by 2021.
If that isn’t astounding enough, let’s look solely at Facebook. When you see someone glued to their smartphone, chances are they’re watching a Facebook video. Over 500 million (or half a billion) people are watching Facebook videos every day. And Charlie Chaplin would love this: only 7 percent of Facebook video views are clicked to play sound. More than 93 percent are viewed on auto-play while scrolling through the news feed. Most views last under 10 seconds, so the first three seconds are crucial. But there are steps you can take to optimize viewing: great images peak viewer interest, and captions—another great attention grabber—can be automatically added on Facebook.
The question: How to create short, sharable videos to post on social media quickly and easily to generate maximum awareness and engagement? Here is a list of free, user-friendly video editing apps for your smartphone:
Overall, it’s never been easier to create short, compelling videos that will attract an audience, take your content marketing to the next level, and watch your social media engagement soar.
By Charla Kucko
I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for more than eight or nine years and it sits on a shelf over my desk. I’m working with the 2007 edition and I search its pages more than a few times a week. When I have a pressing style question and my copy isn’t within reach, I’ll go online and I usually find the guidance I need. The combination of resources works well, and it’s easier than memorizing all the rules. Especially when the rules change.
One rule – or guideline – that has stayed with me throughout my career is the use of “more than” vs. “over.” In my early working days, my manager explained the difference: “More than” is used with numbers; “over” is used with physical space.
It was a simple explanation and aligned with the AP Stylebook guidelines. In my 2007 copy, “more than” is described as the preferred choice with numerals, while “over” is described as generally referring to spatial relationships.
In 2014, the AP made a change and the updated guidelines to allow for the use of “over” when referring to numbers or quantity. That opened the doors so that it is acceptable to say that I’ve had my copy of the AP Stylebook for over 10 years. While I prefer to hold true to the pre-2014 guideline and use of “more than”, I didn’t cringe when I typed “over 10 years.”
Rules and guidelines change, and we adapt as best we can. That also means adapting guidelines for different audiences. During my time working in corporate employee communications, our internal usage guidelines didn’t always match up with the AP Stylebook. For example, we always capitalized an employee’s job title, even if the job title didn’t precede the employee’s name – as is the preferred AP style, at least in the 2007 edition. We used bold text for the employee’s name to make it stand out. We used internal acronyms on first reference. There were so many acronyms that we created a list of their definitions to help new employees learn our language.
The readers of our intranet and newsletters didn’t seem to mind – or maybe they didn’t notice or care – that our style was a hybrid that fit our needs. We didn’t always follow the AP Stylebook (or any other external style guide), but we when we landed on our own preferred style, we remained consistent.
Whatever style you follow as you write or edit, be consistent and don’t be afraid to adapt. I’m staying consistent and using “more than” with numbers. And if you choose to use “over” with numbers, or you decide to use the Oxford comma, that’s just fine, too.
Follow the AP Stylebook on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
By Will Memmott
As a college senior who has had various internship experiences, and as the current President of the Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA) at St. John Fisher College, a lot of what I do focuses on professional development and seeking out experiences that will benefit our chapter members—as well as myself.
Of course, being in a marketing and communications program, having internships under my belt before graduating and going out into the real world is highly recommended. When it comes to having a leg up on the competition, actual hands-on experience can make all the difference.
In job interviews, you’ll always be asked to talk about any experience you’ve had in the field you’re applying for—which can be challenging if you don’t actually have any. So here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when you’re hunting for internships:
Do apply early. If you’re looking to find an internship for the fall semester, start your search a few months ahead of time during the summer. Looking for opportunities early will mean that there are more options to choose from; it also minimizes chances of you getting stuck with something you’re not excited about, but had to take because you waited until the last minute.
Do ask for informational interviews. If you don’t know exactly what a position might entail or want to learn more about the kind of work you’d be doing, never be afraid to reach out to someone within the industry and/or position you want to get into. Professionals are always willing to talk about their career paths and help proactive students who show interest.
Do get organized and know your stuff. You may have applied for 10 internships, hoping to land one and gain some experience any way you can, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically “in.” Do your homework on each of the companies you’re applying to—it will come in handy in the event you get invited in for an interview! Showing up prepared and interested will demonstrate that you actually care about the opportunity and truly want to be part of the team.
Don’t be afraid to try different things. As a student, you’re still learning about the different types of work you can get into. In the marketing and communications field alone, there’s so much to choose from. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do when choosing an internship, but having different experiences is when you’ll learn what you do (and don’t) want to do.
Previous professional practice is a must-have, especially in the communications industry. Learning as much as you can, coming in each day with a positive attitude, and putting in the effort will make for a successful and worthwhile internship experience, and pay off when it comes time to look for a job in the real world.
By Allie Rudy
As I sit here staring at my vintage Underwood typewriter, my mind drifts back to a time revisited in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, The Post. Forgive me for being nostalgic, but with all that’s been happening in the world, a little fantasy time travel doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
The year is 1971. A little girl pounds her index fingers on the manual typewriter in an empty newsroom, feet dangling from the swivel chair. The silence is interrupted by the staccato sound of the keys making contact with the paper, with a carriage return flourish at the end of each line.
She grew up the daughter of an old-school, roll-up-your-sleeves broadcast journalist. A booming baritone with an Edward R. Murrow appearance and delivery, he was the quintessential newsman on the brink of a seismic shift. News, at the time, had to be objective. There was no room for opinion; that was saved for the occasional editorial. Any hint of bias was taboo. If a reporter tried to become part of the story (or worse, became the story itself), that was a cardinal sin.
It was before Watergate, but after the race riots, women’s movement, and Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations punctuated the turbulent 60s. And in Washington, trouble was brewing.
In June 1971, The Washington Post received copies of the classified Pentagon Papers from a reliable source. Post reporters frantically gathered at editor Ben Bradlee’s house where they combed through their contents, uncovering the then-shocking revelation that presidents since Harry Truman had been concealing truths about the conflict in Vietnam—and lied to the American public about it for years. The Justice Department tried to stop the Post and its rival, The New York Times, from publishing the story, citing a violation of the Espionage Act and a risk to national security. Post publisher Katharine Graham, the first female American newspaper publisher, made a brave decision—risking everything—to publish the story. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right to publish—a major victory for freedom of the press.
It was a pivotal decision—one whose echoes resound today. In the current climate of “opinion journalism” and “fake news,” it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Stories are polarized depending on which news outlet you choose. As a result, many organizations are opting to share their own stories, and they’re doing it across all platforms—websites, blogs, social media, e-newsletters, podcasts, and more. Here are some tips on how to be successful in creating owned content:
In memory of Chuck Stevens, father, grandfather, retired executive news editor, WPIX-TV Channel 11, New York City, and longtime anchor/reporter WHEC-TV and radio, Rochester, NY.
A colleague of mine is a huge Syracuse University basketball fan, so much so that she came into the office decked out in her orange gear when March Madness officially kicked off. She asked me if I was planning to watch the game that night, which I was, and followed up by asking how I thought the Orange would fare against TCU*. I was concise in my response, saying that I thought it would be tough, but “as long as ‘Cuse can handle the ball and defend against the other team, they have a solid chance of winning.”
“You don’t know anything about basketball, do you?” she asked.
A beat passed before I replied, but by then it was clear that I, in fact, know nothing about basketball.
I originally thought it was my pause that betrayed me, but really, I betrayed myself when I opened my mouth. While my response may have been concise, it was generic. It lacked insight. I couldn’t help but think how a lot of PR practitioners have surely felt the same way at some point or another in their career.
Picture this: You start working with a new client or hop onto an unfamiliar account and need to hit the ground running. The problem is that this client represents a niche or complex industry, one you have yet to learn much about. Never mind, you think, I’m a pro and can dive right in. So you draft up a pitch and start going after key trade publications. You’re firing off emails left and right, and you’re feeling productive. Cut to the offices of Respective Trade Publication Times, where Bob Woodward (not that one) is busy writing a detailed, highly technical article. Your email pops up in his inbox and, by some miracle, he reads it immediately. He then scoffs and deletes your email without any hesitation. It wasn’t poorly written, Bob thinks to himself, but this person clearly knows nothing about my industry.
Had you sat down and taken the time to familiarize yourself with this industry, this scenario could have been avoided. Instead, you dove in too quickly without doing the proper research, and now Bob Woodward thinks you’re an idiot.
PR practitioners need to be experts in every field they represent. There’s no room for any sort of pseudo-expertise, so make sure you’re taking the time to properly and thoroughly research your client and their industry. It’s easy to get caught up in the tactics, but we all need to see the forest for the trees and keep the overall strategy in mind.
That being said, I still can’t tell you about the intricacies of college basketball. But that’s on me.
By Nick Guadagnino
*The colleague in question would like to specify that SU did end up winning that game.
To be or not to be on social media?
Anyone living in 2018 knows the obvious: there’s no escaping social media. Facebook and Twitter are now household names, with platforms like Instagram and Snapchat following suit. And while it might feel like everyone—particularly millennials— considers themselves an expert, there is still a lot brands can learn on how and when to leverage social media for tangible results.
This feat isn’t helped by some of the questionable misconceptions you hear floating around meetings and offices, so here to set the record straight are a few of those social media myths, debunked:
You don’t really need social media
“Social media is great for e-commerce, but we’re selling services, not goods!”
This was recently said to me by someone who works in an attorney’s office. And I see where he’s coming from; it’s easier to see the value of social media when clicks can translate directly into concrete sales. That being said, having a solid social media presence is still useful, if only to reinforce your organization’s tone, mission, and values. It also gives companies a good way to showcase culture, which you might not get to convey through other channels, and can be great insight for potential employees.
Customers don’t appreciate social media
Think of it this way: If your website is your 24/7 store-front, the same can be said for social media profiles! While your business might not operate past 5 p.m., your customers are still trying to reach you, so why not give them a way to do so? In fact, a study by Sprout Social found that social media was the preferred way for clients to get customer service—ahead of even the website. So when it comes to choosing between you and a competitor, a good social media presence just might be the thing that tips the scale.
Metrics are hard and need a full-time position to really make a difference
Yes and no. Metrics are an essential aspect of good social media practices (why post something when it hasn’t performed well in the past?) and while they can be tricky, there are plenty of existing tools to help you find your way without having to opt for a specialist. For instance, analytics from the platform itself, such as Instagram or Facebook Insights, can help you determine what type of content performs best and when to post it based on your target audience’s preferences. This article also gives a great overview of the best times to post on each platform according to 20+ studies.
You need to be everywhere
On the flip side, too often do organizations and brands fall into the trap of thinking they need to ‘do it all.’ But while it’s easy to start an account, maintaining one with enough shareable, quality content is another thing altogether—especially since social media platforms that haven’t been touched in a while are more likely to paint a negative or confusing picture of your brand.
Do your homework. Determine which platforms your target audiences are spending time on and start there. Starting off strong with two to three accounts will always be better than haphazardly managing six different ones.
By Vanessa Pearce
Over the last few years, there has been a lot of discussion around Facebook’s impending death. Today’s teens supposedly view the platform as “old”, and don’t want to be where their parents and grandparents are. Meanwhile, others have been put off by the “fake news” epidemic that has seemingly run largely unchecked, at least until recently.
But is Facebook really on its way out? Nah.
Remember, this is the same internet responsible for (incorrectly) reporting that countless celebrities, from Will Smith to Betty White to Jeff Goldblum, have died. You can’t believe everything you read, and Facebook continues to live and breathe today.
According to a January 2018 report from Statista, Facebook remains the most popular social network in the U.S. by a pretty large margin, and its lead grows even bigger on a global scale. The platform continues to play a pivotal role in brands’ efforts to connect with their customers—and it should. Still, as public relations and social media professionals, we can’t help but wonder if—or rather, when—the world will crown a new king. Will it be something completely new? Or something we already have?
A recent New York Times article suggests that Facebook has been “testing” society with two of its platforms: Facebook and Instagram. (Let’s not forget that Facebook owns Instagram!) The differences between the two applications are obvious to anyone who uses them, but perhaps the most notable is the ability to share. While Facebook thrives off of shared content from anywhere and everywhere, Instagram’s sharing is more restricted. Users can only share content privately via direct message, or by utilizing clunky third-party repost applications. And there are only limited ways to share external links. As a result, Instagram essentially forces us to interact with the content in a much simpler way: you can like, or you can comment.
As a social media manager, it is easy to become frustrated by Instagram’s limitations. We can’t post a working link to our article in a post? Or to our product page? If users can’t broadly share our content, how will our audience grow? But what is often perceived as Instagram’s weaknesses are actually the platform’s strengths. The New York Times columnist goes so far as to say that Instagram is a “healthier” version of Facebook, and appeals to Mark Zuckerberg to use Instagram’s principles to help improve Facebook.
Now, I don’t think Facebook will be doing away with external links any time soon, or limiting text, or deactivating the share button. And the thing is, it doesn’t need to. We already have that platform and it is Instagram. What will be interesting to see over time is if people really do migrate to spending more of their time on this platform, and how Instagram adapts in response.
For us and for clients, Instagram presents some unique challenges, but also opportunities. When it comes to social media content generation, external links are a crutch. We have so much to say, and can’t do it all in a status update or tweet (even with the expanded 280-character limit!). We write enough to capture attention and paste a link for more information—which users may or may not click on. But not with Instagram.
Instagram pushes us to stretch our creativity, and prioritize the message. How can we communicate with our target audiences with just a photo and a caption? Not only is it possible, it is fun. Catchy graphics, beautiful photos, pithy captions. Lots of hashtags. Instagram Stories. It’s a different world, but brands should learn it, and love it.
Just in case.
By Heather Kowalczyk