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Social Media Tips for PR Professionals
by Keya Balar

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Photo credit: Islam21C

Businesses are increasingly interested in using social media to promote their brands and connect with customers. Below are four tips for PR pros who are using social media for their clients.

1. Understand your client’s goals and current reputation
Before starting a social media program for your client, you both should be on the same page and know what the goals of the social media program will be. One of your clients may want to work on promoting their brand through social media, while another client may want to connect and interact with customers. One client may want to start fresh with an entirely new social media strategy, while another may want to perfect their current strategy. Along with knowing what your client’s goals are, you should also know your client’s current reputation on social media. Sometimes company employees can create a reputation for themselves on their personal accounts, while still maintaining an association with their employer. Employees should make sure their social media accounts are representative of their employer’s values, especially if the accounts are publicly viewable. Employees have been fired because they posted controversial or offensive content on their personal social media accounts. Earlier this year, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign office hired Ethan Czahor as their CTO. Reporters uncovered dozens of offensive tweets posted by Czahor in 2009, and he was forced to resign 36 hours later.

2. Engage with your audience
Social media platforms allow for some promotional language, but followers don’t want ads thrown at them. Businesses can enhance their brand and image by making thoughtful, newsworthy posts, and interacting with followers. Instead of treating social media like a one-way ad platform, PR pros can engage with their client’s followers in a meaningful way by starting or contributing to conversations. Firefox uses their twitter account to reply to every tweet that mentions them, and to respond to users’ tech problems with helpful solutions. By engaging with the audience, you can learn more about them, and understand what they like or don’t like about your client’s brand.

3. Don’t ignore critics
Companies are too often under the impression that they can wipe away negative comments from consumers on all of their social media pages without any backlash. Instead, suppressing negative comments just fuels the fire. A recent example of a poorly thought-out social media campaign is Sea World’s attempt to engage with critics. Sea World had been battling negative press after the 2013 documentary Blackfish condemned the company’s captivity of orcas. In March, SeaWorld launched a social media campaign on Twitter with the open hashtag #AskSeaWorld, and invited people to ask questions about the company’s treatment of animals. Critics predictably asked Sea World questions about their mistreatment of animals, but instead of responding with truthful answers, Sea World chose to call critics trolls. Aside from the fact that a company as controversial as Sea World would have been better off taking questions in a more controlled environment, the company should have actually answered the questions it was asked. By calling critics trolls and refusing to answer their questions, Sea World created a more negative image for themselves. Don’t ignore your client’s critics when you’ve offered to engage with them.

4. Be brief
People hate reading walls of texts. Although people won’t admit it, they’ll skip over social media posts that are too long to read. On social media, messages should get straight to the point. This can be done by avoiding formal language, and speaking to your audience in the same way you’d speak to a friend. However, long posts that are compelling can also draw people in. The Humans of New York Facebook page does a great job at engaging followers by posting long, compelling stories.

In the Aftermath of Controversy, Change the Narrative
by Danielle Giaccio

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Photo credit: US Magazine

When you are a person in the spotlight, whether it is a celebrity, a major CEO, politician, etc., there is always a chance that what you say can be perceived many different ways from many different people. If you say something that is considered to be questionable, you are going to be open to scrutiny in the public and media as well. Even if the comment was made in jest or as a joke, they can have an effect on your public image.

Being in the public eye, this kind of scrutiny is expected. As a PR professional representing those in the limelight, it is important to have a strategy as how to best acknowledge the comments and how to best change the narrative. In some cases, there is no need to address a careless statement made, but in most cases, there is a need to do so – and how you go about it is key to how the person will be perceived in the media and public eye.

Veteran E! News journalist Giuliana Rancic recently came under fire for her controversial remarks about Disney star Zendaya’s hair during a taping of E!’s “Fashion Police.” In the aftermath of those remarks, Giuliana was met with a lot of harsh criticism, and what followed was a lesson in PR that is often the case in these high-profile celebrity cases. Giuliana stayed silent on the matter. She did make a public apology to the Disney star but did not elaborate on it further. Despite the unraveling of “Fashion Police” since the incident, the public did not hear much from her about the matter.

That all changed when her new book Going Off Script was coming out. Giuliana has been making the media rounds to promote her new book and to give her side of the story. She now has her moment to defend herself and change the narrative or ‘spin’ the story to her advantage. And, she is doing just that.

She is expressing regret and also making people think twice about rushing to judgment by changing the narrative of the original story told. She made several references to the fact that she was not being racist, rather referencing a “bohemian chic” look. She also stated that the editing of the show made it look worse then what it actually was. It’s all about context and, in this case, she is showing that the remarks were made in context but shown a different way.

She is being very smart about this for a number of reasons. Number one, she is showing the public that she is remorseful, which is what people want to see. But, in the same sense, she is showing people that they may have rushed to judgment and is showing a different side of the story. Essentially, she is spinning the story to her advantage. Time will tell whether or not her career will survive this, but if it does, it will be a good lesson in PR. When controversy hits, own up to it, and when the time is right, clarify your point of view to change the narrative of the story to your advantage.

How the Inventor of Instant Replay Changed American Culture Forever
by J. Bonasia

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Photo credit: NHPR

The great television impresario Tony Verna passed away this month from leukemia at age 81 in Palm Desert, Calif., after producing many of the biggest televised events in American history.

Verna’s five decades in the TV business included directing five Super Bowls, two Olympic Games, 12 Kentucky Derbies, the famed Live Aid global concert in 1985, Pope John Paul’s TV special, and numerous NBA Championships and Stanley Cup Finals.

Despite these landmark achievements, history will remember Verna as the inventor of TV’s instant replay. By launching this rather innocuous advance, Tony Verna arguably helped change the face of American culture forever.

Verna was a young CBS sports producer assigned to cover the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Dec. 7, 1963. He had developed a new production trick that he wanted to try out on viewers during the big rivalry, which featured star quarterback Roger Staubach playing for Navy.

Verna’s breakthrough technology initially ran into technical problems. When he tried airing replays several times in the game’s first half, the designated tape would only show prior clips from “I Love Lucy” or soap commercials. Finally, Verna was able to make the tape loop work correctly, and our world has never been the same since.

Sadly, no video record of that special game exists today. Verna’s broadcast showed the world’s first instant replay of Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh crossing into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fans were shocked when they saw his teammates celebrating, only to watch Stichweh make the exact same play just moments later.

Phone lines quickly lit up at the local CBS stations. Confused viewers were trying to understand what had just happened. Announcer Lindsey Nelson had to explain that Army had not scored a second touchdown. Rather, home viewers had just witnessed a historic “immediate video replay” of the TD, as it was called.

“This is not live,” Nelson exclaimed. “Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”

Granted, sports fans should be forever grateful for the ability to analyze important plays in excruciating detail, watching the action loop over and over again in super slow-motion. But, in many ways, instant replays introduced an era of technical cynicism to our sports coverage, and to U.S. culture more broadly.

First, consider the meaning of the term itself: instant replay. “Instant” implies an urge for instant gratification, of knowing the precise outcome right away. “Replay” implies the ability to do things over, to witness events repeatedly and relive critical moments again and again.

As Verna’s invention started taking hold in society, America endured the Civil Rights Movement, several brutal political assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal which culminated in the only resignation of a U.S. president – by Richard Nixon, a diehard football fan no less. This was the dawn of the modern era when America arguably lost its innocence, and the instant replay was just one small thread woven into this much larger national tapestry.

Of course, the instant replay has greatly improved our sense of fair play by reversing bad referee calls, and exposing players who actually stepped out of bounds. On the other hand, the replay technology has prompted untold delays for sports fans while officials “go to the replay booth to check the tape.”

The replay has become so ingrained that we reflexively accept this slowdown of action, which in turn fuels doubts about every single call made on the field, depending on which team the fans are rooting for. Nobody believes in the umps or refs anymore, because all humans are fallible. In some very real sense, the instant replay has reinforced our faith in technology at the expense of human trust.

Now replay cameras crowd our baseball outfields to show when any hit lands foul, and they surround our basketball courts to show who got fouled. Over time, our expanding doubts and fears have introduced replay cameras into every stadium, along with every shopping center, office, bank, store, housing complex and street corner in the United States.

In the wake of recent violent police altercations, virtually everything we do now gets filmed for replay, even down to police officers carrying cameras on their helmets to capture footage of all public interactions. If we can’t trust our refs, how can we possibly trust our cops armed with guns? And so it goes.

In short, we have become an instant replay society so consumed by our capacity to double-check errors that we have forsaken the ability to quickly forgive mistakes and move on. It’s much more fun to fixate on the instant replays and scream at the on-screen blunders in high-definition over and over again. Come to think of it, that’s probably appropriate because it’s what Tony Verna would have wanted all along.

Making Your Voice Stand Out in a Technology-Mobile-Security First World
by JoAnn Yamani

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Photo credit: TaaraGo

“Is NOTHING sacred anymore?!?,” exalted a fellow shopper standing in an exorbitantly long line at a crowded mall less than a week before Christmas. With everyone’s personal lives on display through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, the answer to that simple (and, most likely, rhetorical question) is “No.” Yet, we still live in a reality of our own creation that we define our own privacy and have more than a modicum of control over our lives (be it digital, analog, or paper).

On Christmas Day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Security Agency was asked to provide additional details about its supposed snooping in regular peoples’ lives. To those of us not living under a rock, this came as no real surprise. To those of us in the public relations industry, it was par for the course.

The upside about all of this data about random people (and the tangential reality that nothing is sacred anymore) is that it’s hard to stand out. We find this equally true in the technology-ridden world of Silicon Valley where the latest and greatest technology is, quite often, muffled by the big voices of the Fortune 20.

Hear (pun intended) are some tips for making your smallish voice stand out above the din:

  1. Make friends with others

For every New York Times or Wall Street Journal, there is a great industry-focused publication that, like you, knows there are other players in the same field. Introduce yourself. Explain your market differentiation. These are important building blocks toward more business-focused pieces.


  1. Befriend a big kid

Reporters with the larger publications are smart, too. They know that more interesting stories can be told with an understanding of the overall industry landscape. Mine the fields and find them. Work around their schedule. Find your relevancy to their coverage and see if there is interest in a different perspective.


  1. Learn to take “No” (not this time) for an answer

Okay, so we’re all busy. Maybe some other company is getting funding from Khosla. Maybe Microsoft is next behind Sony in the hack-attack. But, establish an ongoing dialogue so your company remains top-of-mind.


  1. Know your point-of-view before the opportunity strikes

Having pre-planned responses to malware attacks, advertising maelstroms and whatever craziness happens is a strategic maneuver for you and your marketing team to block and tackle immediately, before the need to huddle even arises.

Holiday Shopping Goes Mobile: Lessons for Marketers and Companies amidst the Shift in Shopping Patterns
by Jen Kindred

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Photo credit: Sense Networks

Photo credit: Sense Networks

Ah, December… a time for reflections and predictions. Marketing and PR professionals are especially fond of this annual season of round-ups and forecasts. It gives us a chance to take a step back and think about what we’ve learned, to note patterns and emerging trends, to take a deep breath and prepare for the rush of work that will land on our laptops in January. Here in Silicon Valley, the holiday season has us thinking a lot about mobile technology, among other important topics. How has the rapid expansion of the smartphone universe impacted holiday shopping, consumer behavior and family traditions?

Recent news reports about the health of the holiday economy are less than clear; by some reports, retail spending fell 11% on Thanksgiving weekend. We’re still in the first half of December, so the comprehensive picture of retail results remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: mobile is a big game changer. According to MediaPost and IBM, online traffic from mobile devices on Thanksgiving Day was stronger than traditional PCs for the first time, accounting for 52% of all online traffic. Best Buy experienced such an unexpected surge of mobile traffic, their web site crashed.

Black Friday shopping—complete with crowds, bad weather, and parking lot hassles—has lost some of its luster now that similar discounts can be found online before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Some of us, after all, are old enough to remember when Turkey Day was more about family than the frenzied pursuit of doorbuster deals. Perhaps the convenience of shopping from our phones, tablets, and laptops in the comfort of our own homes is helping us reclaim some of the true spirit of the holidays. Indeed, teens and Millennials appear to be one of the most lucrative targets for in-store Black Friday sales; American Eagle, Old Navy, and Victoria’s Secret had a banner weekend.

As with any major paradigm shift, the remarkable changes we’ve seen in consumer behavior over the last few years have far-reaching implications, some of which we are only beginning to understand. When we step back from retail numbers to take in a bigger picture, we see that mobile devices are impacting much more than just shopping trends. In recent years, increasingly dire weather conditions have impacted the shopping season; many retailers started promotions earlier this year to hedge against this risk.

The ongoing debate about the disappearance of the middle class and the struggles of the working class appears to have also had a sobering effect on many Americans’ spending habits. While the overall economy shows promising signs of recovery—lower gas prices, improved jobs numbers, the best consumer sentiment stats in seven years—retailers may have been too optimistic about how this good news would hit their bottom line this season. After many years of economic struggle, many Americans are using the extra room in their household budget to pay down debt, save for retirement, and donate to charitable causes, knowing that tough times may still lie ahead. (For more on this, see IBD’s article about the Principal Financial Well-Being Index.)

According to Entrepreneur, the number of ads and promotions the average consumer sees during the holiday season is equivalent to standing in the middle of Times Square for 10 weeks. Yikes…how much of that can possibly be sinking in, especially in the middle of a dramatic news cycle? Obviously, in the face of advertising overload, the smarter and more personalized the marketing, the better chance it has of reaching its intended audience and converting to an actual purchase.

Mobile is the most obvious choice for delivering more intelligent, customized promotions to targeted consumers. It will be interesting to see how advertising, marketing and PR professionals use the data generated by this holiday season to analyze consumer trends and tailor their approach. And it will be even more fascinating to see how emerging technologies like wearables (Apple Watch), mobile payment systems, 3D printing, and smart, connected products (IoT) converge to transform our buying and consumption habits in ways we have yet to imagine—not to mention how these habits will be influenced by economic, political, and social developments. Looking back and looking ahead, one thing’s for sure: If you’re on the high-tech beat, 2015 will be a busy year!

What do you think? Is mobile changing the way we shop for and celebrate the holidays? Which retailers were able to break through the noise and make you pay attention this year?

Controlling the Media Message: The Angelina Effect
by Danielle Giaccio

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This past week, the world was shocked to find out that one of the entertainment world’s most popular and sexiest woman, Angelina Jolie, had undergone a double mastectomy. When people think of Angelina, they can’t help but think of her “killer body” but also, they think of a woman who has made it a point to do good in this world and use her celebrity status to do that. Angelina did something a lot of celebrities choose to do in a world where one tweet can lead to a full blown scandal if not perceived correctly by the general public – she got in front of the message.

Angelina JolieAngelina chose to write an op-ed in the New York Times, on “My Medical Choice” to own the story and control her message, rather than having the media control the message for her. Often times when a celebrity gets in front of something, such as a scandal or big public announcement, it is easier to control the message they want to get out there. Rather than having some hospital worker leak a story and have it on the front page of Star Magazine, she chose to bravely tell her story and get the message out there that she is strong, in better health, and is telling story directly, rather than have someone else speculate on the facts.

In PR, whether dealing with a person or a business, it is important for PR professionals to advise clients on the best way to control the media message. Angelina’s PR team clearly went the right route by putting Angelina “front and center” to own her decision and spin it in a way that’s positive and inspiring to others.

Angelina’s PR team also did the right thing by putting her in a light that made her seem like every other woman. They made her more relatable than she’s ever been.  The general public has a tendency to view celebrities as “superhuman,” so Angelina’s decision to publicize her story in a personal way made her struggle the same as any woman in Minnesota, or Alabama, or New York. She became a voice for all women struggling to make the same decision and she used her celebrity stature to not only control what the media would say, but to also use her voice to help others.

Angelina’s message was simple; this happened to me, I am strong, and I am going to use my voice to tell other woman in similar situations that there are other options. Her words struck a chord with many breast cancer survivors and victims and definitely brought a bigger conversation to light as women can see this is a viable option if you are someone who carries that gene.

At Gutenberg, we are proud to represent HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization aimed at supporting all women healing from breast cancer by providing post-surgical products and services regardless of financial status.

We have had the pleasure of working with women who are survivors of this disease and who work tirelessly to promote awareness and help women in need of treatment or care options. We all owe a great gratitude to Angelina for not only bringing the conversation to the forefront, but also for controlling the message and letting people know that her struggle is one of many and that it does get better.

The Rubio Effect
by Danielle Giaccio

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On a night when Marco Rubio was poised deliver the GOP rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union address, something happened that the PR team at Poland Spring must have (or should have) jumped on.  If you missed it, Rubio leaned over, mid-speech, and sipped a mini bottle of Poland Spring water.

The media has been relentless in mocking Rubio for his gaffe and an influx of “memes” has been created since then. As a PR professional, we must learn to not only monitor but jump ahead of the curve and create compelling and memorable campaigns around both planned and unplanned events. In my opinion, Poland Spring lost a huge opportunity by not jumping on the bandwagon and creating something memorable from it.

No one is thinking about what he said, rather the news has been linked to his refreshing gulp of Poland Spring than to his actual speech. Poland Spring first and foremost should have exploded on social media as soon as it happened. Their Twitter feed was silent during and after it happened, which was a mistake. They should have started trending something along the lines of #RubioThirstQuencher or #DryMouthRubio something along those lines. They then could have made an announcement offering Marco Rubio a lifetime supply of their mini water bottles so he will never get parched, mid-speech, again.

Instead of hiding his head in shame, Reclaim America, Rubio’s political action committee, began selling a reusable “Rubio” water bottle after his awkward moment of thirst. Anyone who donates $25 or more gets one and the PAC website reads “Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you… he hydrates you too.” This was great thinking on the part of the PR team. Rather than hiding from the moment, they are embracing it by not only capitalizing on the moment, but enticing people to donate to the Florida senator with a fun play on words to make up for the momentary thirst quench.

Poland Spring could learn a few things from Reclaim America. They were able to capitalize on something that was trending and made it work to their advantage. That is a large part of what PR people need to and should be doing when it concerns their clients. This is especially true in social media. Poland Spring’s PR team lost an opportunity to expand their already huge brand by poking fun at Rubio, whether it was via social media or a press release.  Whether or not Rubio plans on running for President in 2016 remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, he will live in infamy for his reach to that mini Poland Spring bottle.  And Poland Spring will be kicking themselves as this takes on a life of its own, without the help of their PR team.

So what should Poland Spring have done? For starters,  monitor relevant coverage in real time. They should have jumped on that as soon as Wolf Blitzer went “uh-oh” when he took a sip. They also need a heavy dose of social media training and should think more about how social media can amplify their message. If they were active on social media during and after this happened, they could have used it as an opportunity for clever brand exposure.  Social channels act in real time.  Its not worth tweeting about three days later. # yesterdaysnews

As PR people, we need to constantly think about how our placements or other media attention can start a new conversation in social media, and that conversation can (and does) take on a life of its own.  Think about how this one event could have impacted sales of the Poland Spring mini, if Poland Spring acted quickly.

End of an Occupation – End of a News Cycle?
by Liana Hawes

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Brookfield Properties owner and former New York City Planning Commission Chairman John E. Zuccotti has a public park named after him in the Financial District of lower Manhattan where Trinity Place, Cedar Street, Broadway and Liberty Street converge. The site itself was formerly known as Liberty Park Plaza, one block south east (or thereabouts) of the World Trade Center. If you’ve ever had a day job in the Financial District, you’ll know what an important respite this Plaza, with its trees and seats, was (is) to a weary workers on lunch break. 

Zuccotti’s real estate, and the area surrounding it, has a place in history as defending private commercial interests. While the plaza itself has been used frequently in the 20th century for public demonstrations and the staging of protests, back in the 17th century the ground was part of the Dutch Colonial settlement “New Amsterdam”, an extension of the Dutch Republic. The settlement was just outside of Fort Amsterdam (which protected the interest of the Dutch East India Company’s fur trade operations on the Hudson River) and strategically situated on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. This region, including the settlement and the Fort which was the Colony’s capital, eventually became known as New York City.  In recent history, as the Towers fell, Liberty Park Plaza was covered with debris and in the aftermath was used as a staging area for recovery efforts.

Over the past few weeks the park has again taken a place on center stage as it’s been a staging area for the OWS movement. On a recent visit to the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I was particularly struck at how impressively the OWS drum battery was staged in the Plaza. They sounded terrific and beat a call for all the tourists and onlookers who walked by in curiosity, disgust, wonder, ignorance and encouragement. 

After throngs of spectators trampled through the Park’s maze over this past weekend of assemblage, protests and camping, the Plaza was yet again strewn with debris – trash – which has since been cleared – along with the Protesters. It was empty and clean this morning and glam shots of pristine Zuccotti Park evoked the Liberty Park Plaza of yore, New York’s Financial District in all its glory where the Towers once stood strong and Liberty could be felt.  Although I’m not sure why this Park was ever dubbed “Liberty”, maybe for Liberty Street?   

Why did Mr. Zuccotti and his team at Brookfield Properties insist on a name change from Liberty Park Plaza and will he want to go down in history for his role as OWS’s landlord, tolerant of their presence yet pushing for their removal by enforcement? Will the name Zuccotti Park forever be tainted with images and stories about the health, legal, and safety threats the authorities said this particular OWS camp posed to the public at large?  This rather than the cause that actually inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement and other camps to subsequently form in cities across the U.S. in national protest?   

So far, the news media has focused on the logistics of the Camp, the occupation itself, the costs to taxpayers, law enforcement and the legal and removal strategies of the City authorities. Now that the occupation’s over, I’d like to see more stories about the core message in the protest and the rallying cry against the financial establishment, for it was strong and passionate enough to inspire similar “Occupy” protests throughout the nation. I’d like to see Mr. Zuccotti, for whom the Park is named, going head to head in a nightly news roundtable discussion with an OWS operations official. 

How did Mr. Zuccotti get private money to renovate the Park after 9/11?  What were the goals of the renovation and how was Zuccotti Park designed to function as public space? 

This was an $8M renovation by a prestigious firm which installed trees, granite sidewalks, tables and seating as well as in-ground lighting.  It seems like as good a place as any for an urban camp. While the granite is hard as a sleeping surface, it’s great for outdoor cooking and the tables are conducive to networking discussions, training, interviews, chess, dining and computing – all things that make for a successful protest.

The Occupiers will find it hard to be removed but they might be more comfortable if they can go home to a good night’s sleep and a meal and prepare properly for the days and nights of protesting ahead.  Or is the movement made stronger by the camp itself and the community it fostered among its inhabitants? Camps are powerful structures when it comes to group cohesion, defense, protection and taking a stand.

I’m following updates and Tweets on these developments from the New York Times City Room and WNYC news among others. These seem to indicate that the City and Brookfield say that while the Camp must go (and has) the protests may continue.  Now that camp’s over, perhaps the news media will no longer focus on camp logistics and we’ll get to the meat of the story with investigations now turning towards the reasons for the protest and what, if any, are the key messages behind Occupy Wall Street.

by Liana Hawes

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As the agency of record for the New York City’s 39th  Annual Village Halloween Parade, Gutenberg Communications was privy to work with organizers of one of the world’s most famous and longstanding public events that makes Greenwich Village a top international destination on  the scariest night of the year.  Billed as “the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event,” and “New York’s Mardi Gras,” the New York Village Halloween Parade, now in its 39th year, typically attracts approximately 2 million attendees – and that’s not counting Parade participants! Like no other public event in the world (well maybe Burning Man), the Parade constantly makes the “bucket list” of things to do before you kick.  So who actually shows ups and what sorts of public relations challenges does it present?  

About 50,000 participants including hundreds of giant puppets, artists with explosive imaginations, thousands of New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation, dancers of all styles and more than 50 bands show up to be in the Parade. Talk about photo opportunities! That’s not to mention the 450 “media” who registered online this year for a Press Pass so they could join in and cover the Parade en route from the inside.- A contingent of NYPD officers are on Parade duty that night as are big crews from NY 1 and WPIX which station their production trucks to capture a live broadcast of the Parade as it s makes its way through the Greenwich Village up Avenue of the Americans from Soho to Chelsea.

Pointing press to the event highlights can be incredibly difficult when your line-up includes: the Incredible Hulk, the Mad Hatter, Roving Eyeballs, decked out Mini-Coopers, Chubaka, flying snakes, giant dragons, the rock band KISS, Little Red Riding Hood, Spiderman, drag queens and kings, Pirate Bluebeard, Princess Diana, Jagermeister skeletons, the Abominable Snowman, WonderWoman, robots and thousands of witches, ghosts and ghouls – just to name of tiny few of those available for photo opportunities.  Bigfoot also showed up this year as did Obama, who appeared many times throughout the line-up violently wielding a budget ax.

Each year, in keeping with tradition, the Parade is headed by an ever-changing menagerie of Giant Puppets and special costumed performances. This entourage provides the kernel of inspiration that sparks the creative energies of the other 50,000 Parade participants. We try to engage media to attend one of the scheduled workshops and locations where the Parade’s giant puppets are built and created by master puppet artists.  Media can go to the workshops to engage in this wonderful process and meet with the artists.  Technicians responsible for these puppets work throughout the summer and fall in many locations around the Greater New York City area, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Boston, Cleveland and the North East. These workshops are busy designing and fabricating new creations to fulfill the changing themes of each new Parade. Some 600 volunteers from the local communities and from New York City assist in the various stages of building, assembling and operating the puppets and costumes. 

Communicating about enterprise software, venture capital and IT services can be downright scary at times but here’s a more daunting PR challenge:  Each year the Parade has an artistic theme set by master puppet and pageantry artists Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Superior Concept Monsters, the Parade’s official puppeteers. The chosen theme is based on oral history, socio-political concerns, myth and tradition. The overarching, grand-view messages behind their large-scale puppet creations are not exactly easy to convey in words to journalists who have become more accustomed to sound bites and simplified bullet points.  This year’s 2011 theme, “The i of the Beholder,” explores what makes the disembodied EYE so disturbing and familiar. Tradition associates the all-seeing eye with inescapable power and authority – coldly remote, yet as near to us as the back of a dollar bill. (sounds like a few clients we know:)  As Kahn and Michalles put it, “The technology of Facebook and Flickr offers us the possibility of seeing everything, we risk seeing nothing but ourselves, eyes wide shut, in a collective feast of Narcissism. Argus, for all his vigilance, is slain by Hermes (God of Communication), and for his sacrifice, is turned into a peacock.”  For this year’s Parade, video images of a close-up eye were projected onto a “Great Eyeball high in the Parade sky, in a succession of images at once intimate and anonymous.” This was beautifully executed visually at the front of the Parade. While hard to encapsulate into a sound bite or bullet point in our preliminary press, it was great to be able to point journalist to actual visuals – moving giant puppets processing up 6th Avenue and as they were coming to life at the puppet workshops.  

Over 450 “journalists” registered for media passes to the Parade this year.  Last year it was about 250. Anyone who registers at the Parade’s Online Press and Media Center as “press” must check-in on-site at the Press Table starting at the Parade starting point at 2pm on All Hallow’s Eve. We issue official NYC Parade press badge badges to anyone who took this action or. The majority of registrants are freelance photographers who have agreed to submit their photos to the Parade Photo Gallery at the Parade’s official website. This, in return for a pass to cover the Parade from an insider’s vantage point.  Many stragglers with cameras, who did not take the time to register, nor have any press credentials, still show up requesting a badge.  In addition, several credentialed media on assignment showed up and checked in. This year they hailed from outlets including Barron’s, the Associated Press, Reuters TV, the BBC, Agence France, The Daily News and others on a mission to capture and file photos and reports by deadline that night.  The credentialed are approved and their laminated NYC press badges are enough to ward off the NYPD who are empowered to promptly non-badged photographers from the lineup. But other bloggers, photographers who are neither credentialed nor took the time to register are sometimes left hanging.  It’s tough being a gatekeeper on this massive media event.

The Parade steps off at 7 p.m. on Halloween and media typically arrive to start their reporting at approximately 6:30 p.m. at which time they ask for spokesperson interviews. Now, there are three official spokespersons including the creatives, Kahn and Michalles and our key spokesperson, the Parade’s Producing Director and national Celebration Artists Ms. Jeanne Fleming, who has a legacy with the Parade, and is  one of the most electrifying clients and dynamic spokespeople a publicist could ever hope to work with.  At the bewitching hour when most journalists want their interviews, however, all three spokespeople are crazily busy dealing with any number of things that could go wrong (and never do). Puppet artists can speak eloquently about their creations but they are so busy rigging the giant puppets and organizing teams of handlers it’s hard to find them let alone nail them down for interviews.  Ms. Fleming is on a 2-way radio with the NYPD police chiefs, head marshals, drivers, bands, crowd control specialists, sponsors and VIPs so she’s a bit hard to nail down for interviews. This whole scenario has forever changed our view how to wrangle for interviews at an event.

“A spokesperson from Occupy Wall Street said a contingent of 500 Occupiers be showing up to march in the Parade. Can you confirm that?” a reporter with a major metropolitan daily asks.  “No, but anyone is welcome to join the Parade If they are in costume.”  The tradition of the Village Halloween Parade is to invite everyone in costume to join the parade — and typically 50,000 to 60,000 people take advantage of that invitation every year!  Most of these are costumed celebrants on foot. As the nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event and the greatest City in the world, anyone and everyone in COSTUME is welcome.  Safety and enjoyment come first. Parade organizers, therefore, ask all participants (including those from Occupy Wall Street) to keep the spirit and tradition of the Village Halloween Parade alive and abide by these simple rules. So the word went out: Get Your Costume Together! 

Once the Parade gets underway we lose our authority, power and control as PR gatekeepers, and follow our natural inclination to keep watch beside the broadcast production trucks of NY 1 and WPIX where crews are set up and directors calling the shots, keeping the parade moving despite the many photographers who hold up the procession as masqueraders pose for their cameras.  It’s hard to distinguish between the officials from those who are costumed like them.  It’s chaos at the very hour when the world of the living and the dead can supposedly see through to the other. As the Parade processes, we resume our role as ushers and facilitators in a massive public procession that has a mind and spirit of its own. We watch the procession move with the powers that be:  Frankenstein families, pirates, dead presidents, super heroes, monsters, ghouls, ghosts, witches, Tea Parties, Budget Axes and other creatures of the night. To stand and watch: now that’s a tall order when you’re a bunch of control-freakish PR people.  The next day’s results hit national and international outlets and the stories, blogs and photos all publish in a wicked PR Brew!

An Evening of Philanthropy, Tech and Celebrities
by Tracy Rodrigues

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This month Gutenberg had the pleasure of supporting the US launch of The Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the evening with remarks on his wife’s passionate support of women across the globe. His comments were followed by a panel moderated by ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour with Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Nikesh Arora, Senior Vice-President, Google and Aeneas Chuma, UNDP Resident Representative, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Kenya.

In addition to the dignitaries, press and potential donors, other noteworthy guests were in attendance. Mentees from emerging countries in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East came to the event and lest anyone forget, it was really their story to be told that evening.

The Foundation’s mentoring platform is powered by Google. Mentees use Gchat, Gmail and Google docs to connect with their mentors in other countries and gain practical business advice. Given the different geographic locations and time zones these partnerships span, Google’s tools are a valuable and conveniently free resource. The program is unique for its focus on emerging markets and women that have already established businesses in their communities. The Foundation is empowering women with the drive to succeed simply by giving them the resources to do so.

Also interesting is the mentors themselves. It may be the effects of attending a women’s college, but I couldn’t help notice how many of the mentors were men. This was brought up later in the panel discussion and the question was met with brutal honesty. Why men? Because they generally have more resources and are more successful. While the event highlighted the needs of other countries, the panel discussion brought home the challenges the UK and US now face.  How can we empower our own women to succeed in technology and business?

The event gained attention from CNN’s new show Erin Burnett Outfront, Entrepreneurship Magazine and Bloomberg, among others who were in attendance. Congratulations to Cherie, The Foundation and Google on a successful US program launch!

If you’re interested in learning more about The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women or becoming a mentor please visit:

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