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Missing the Mark with a New Mark
by Max Liberty-Point

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According to my court appointed therapist, struggling with self-image can lead to a slew of psychological health problems.  So get the straight jackets ready for J.C. Penney and Gap, two retail clothing companies that haven’t always been happy with what they see in the mirror.  In the last few years, both companies have blatantly failed at reinventing their brand, and in the process, their logos.

While rebranding and logo redesign can be an effective way to cleanse a company’s image and deploy new business strategies, it leads to negative outcomes when executed poorly.  And although a logo is only part of the rebranding process, it’s an important part.  Often times it’s the first interaction customers have with a company and should be aimed to introduce the objectives of the brand.  The real risk comes when rebranding an established company.  If an established company changes a logo they have used for more than 20 years, it better be perfection.

Gap, Inc. showed adverse behavior in 2010 when they launched a trendy new logo to accompany their newly renovated retail stores.  The plain black Helvetica type accented by a small blue gradient square looked more like an acquisition by American Apparel than a makeover for the Gap brand.  Within a week, the company came to its senses and returned to the iconic navy blue logo that had identified them since 1986.  In this case, Gap, Inc. made a swift recovery by backpedaling, but it was a good move.  And thanks to rapid action they were able to shift their efforts back to where it was needed—the impossible task of making khakis cool.

J.C. Penney’s behavior has been more detrimental than Gap’s.  In 2011, they redesigned their logo to the 3 lowercase letters “jcp” inside of a red square and said they would offer exclusive new clothing lines.  Nothing about the color or the lowercase logotype supported their desired image of exclusivity and sales went down.  Rebranding again in 2012, they shoved “jcp” into a blue square and crammed that into the top left of a red box.  The company explained that the faint allusion toward the U.S. flag was to fortify their image as an all-American brand, but it seems more like a cover up of their overseas manufacturers.  And the square does reiterate their new “fair and square” core value, but the “jcp” in the corner throws the balance of the logo off and makes the letters quite small in comparison.  jcp hopes their radical new business plan will solve their incessant shortcomings, but only time will tell.

Rebranding is not to be taken lightly, especially by established companies.  And logo design deserves just as much attention as new business plans and marketing schemes. In the case of Gap, their quest to outdo an already iconic logo fell very short and the public let them know quickly.  And jcp’s annual makeover has only lead to confusion and lower earnings.  When undergoing a company rebrand, make sure all your materials are aligned properly and a consistent message is perceptible across all of your content.

When Public Scrutiny Requires Crisis Communications
by Andria Barrera

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It’s a type of public relations that any public relations professional can come across. Some firms focus specifically on this tough topic. Other firms have specialists. Some hate it and others love the challenge. Regularly referred to as Crisis Communications, enterprises, small businesses, celebrities and consumer brands can all be affected by a crisis and are smart to prepare a plan in case of an emergency.

Crisis communications is defined as a sub-specialty of public relations.  It is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization that’s facing public challenge to its reputation. Some recognizable crisis communications at its finest include: Richard Branson’s Virgin, Chick-fil-A, Bill Clinton, Chris Brown after his altercation with Rihanna, and even motorcycle guru Jesse James after his affair while married to Sandra Bullock.

After the online release of a couple offensive ads for the Ford Figo hatchback, Ford Motors has become the latest victim of scrutiny, media backlash, and in immediate need for crisis communications. The advertisements showed former Italian Prime Minister flashing a peace sign in the front of the vehicle with three women bound and gagged in the rear. Another ad portrayed characters of the Kardashian sisters bound and tied up in the back of the car, while a Paris Hilton look-a-like drove the car with the tagline: “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot.”

Ford FigoAlthough, the advertisers who created these ads have been relieved of their jobs, the damage has been done. The public has voiced its opinion and Ford is hearing comments such as: “I will never buy a Ford” and “I will try to never sit in a Ford again.” After all the hard work the automotive industry in the United States has done to keep strong during the recession, from a PR perspective the goal would be to quickly repair Ford’s image and prevent this from setting the company back. Immediately, a carefully drafted public apology on the matter was released by Ford on Monday – the first step of a crisis communication plan. The advertising agency responsible for the ads released an explanation, saying the “distasteful” posters were never intended for paid publication and were not requested by Ford. Regardless if they were requested or not, it did force Ford to speak up and ensure they are taking this seriously and will make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Issues with public images can occur anytime, whether a crisis is predicted and prepared for, or comes out of the blue – such as with Ford Motors. In either case, an effective crisis communications plan is critical for your public relations team to prepare. You never know when it might need to be applied.

During challenging times, you need a communications team that thinks on its feet and offers viable solutions. The key is to move quickly and get underneath the issues, develop scenarios and contingency plans, and undertake actions to mitigate the fallout from crises.  Do you have a plan in place?

Media’s Shifting Gaze
by Stefanie Cannon

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The lines between editorial and advertorial are becoming increasingly blurry with Fortune’s recent announcement of its “Trusted Original Content” model. As Media Bistro reports, “[The project] will involve the magazine’s editorial teams creating Fortune-branded articles and video/other media content for marketers and PR pros to distribute on their own channels. So these pieces will bear the Fortune name and be written by real journalists, but they won’t qualify as native advertising…”

It’s evident that media outlets are looking for unique ways to make up for lost ad revenue, but at what cost to objectivity and quality content? According to the recently released State of the Media Annual Report by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, nearly one-third of consumers have abandoned a news outlet because it no longer gave them what they had counted on, either with fewer or less complete stories.

Interestingly, the report notes that CNN, the cable channel that has branded itself around deep reporting, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012. Across the three cable channels, coverage of live events during the day, which often require a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012 while interview segments, which tend to take fewer resources and can be scheduled in advance, were up 31%.

More recently, CNN faced criticism from other journalists for its cover skewed coverage of the Steubenville verdict.

The Pew Research report noted that the news industry as whole is more “undermanned” and “unprepared” to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.

Media is bound to have an occasional hiccup when it comes to news coverage. However, when outlets are implementing unique business models to drive ad revenue and words like “trust” are added to emphasize legitimacy, it might begin to make the consumer question the quality of content.

Without consumer trust in the way stories are reported, what will media outlets have left?


Pin It: How to Effectively Use Pinterest for PR
by Veronica Olah

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Social media is everywhere these days, whether we see a company’s social media advertising on billboards, magazines or websites, we can’t seem to miss the logos for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest on the bottom . It’s become the norm to be asked to subscribe to blogs, become fans, friends, follow, share, and connect in a limitless number of ways.

While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are obvious social networking sites for your company to connect with the media, customers, users, etc. — you should also consider Pinterest, which has become one of the hottest trends in social media.

So, what is Pinterest? Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets you organize and share all things you find on the web, whether it be business related or for personal use. People use pinboards to plan, discover, find and inspire. Users can simply create a board and start ‘pinning’, ‘repin’, and ‘like’ from your followers.

More and more businesses are beginning to use Pinterest as a marketing tool to connect with users and spread the word. Here are a few suggestions on how you can use Pinterest as a PR tool:

Think Visual and Engage with Customers

With Pinterest you must think visual – focus on pinning items that will help you create exposure for the stories you are trying to communicate. While you’re pinning items to your boards, engage with your customers to share interesting items and have them repin from your boards to increase exposure.

Pin What’s Happening In Your Industry

Try and find some interesting visual elements that can illustrate trends in your industry. A great example of his would be pinning infographics from your company and/or industry related graphics. If the company is attending any trade shows or conferences, be sure to document it by taking pictures/videos and pinning them during and after the event. For example, one of your boards can be called “SXSW” and you can pin images and videos about you and your company, as well as include others you interact with at the show.

Pinterest Is Not Just For Pictures

Surprisingly enough, you can pin videos as well as pictures. This is a great way to convey your company’s story, address industry related issues, share tips and tricks, interviews with the media, conferences the company is attending, etc. These videos (as well as pictures) can link back to your company’s website to drive traffic.

Those are just a few tips that I’ve found from my personal interactions with Pinterest. Is your company on Pinterest?



Why Twitter Is Your Best Shot with Reporters
by Kasey Backherms

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Screened phone calls and unanswered emails are a commonality for us PR pros representing less renowned companies. The good news is that there is much more effective way to reach reporters nowadays. Twitter might not be sexy, but it can be a loyal friend when it comes to making connections with reporters.

More often than not you see many writers, editors and even industry analysts as daily contributors to their personal twitter handles. Regularly you see them pushing their posted stories out via tweets and patting each other on the back for solid reporting. This is an avenue for you as a PR pro to strike while the iron is hot. Take the time to comment on their story, or recommend related content for them to check out. You don’t necessarily need to pitch them your client right off the bat, but engage with that person personally, and see what happens. A good start is to take the initiative to tweet their posted stories to your followers and facilitate spreading the words that they wrote. Don’t be surprised if you get a retweet, or an @mention saying thanks. Now they have a face and a personality to go along with the drag of going through countless pitches. When you pitch them again, mention the twitter interaction as the road to initiate a conversation. After getting some interaction going, send them an informal tweet inviting them to talk or to take a look at client news.

In my experience, there is surprising response and often a very different tone coming from the other end. Many times it has been the spark that was needed to stir up a conversation that ended up becoming a successful working relationship. This can be just another addition to the PR toolkit, that in conjuction with creative email pitches and selective telephone follow up, can be the difference between getting that coverage for your client or not.

Seven Steps to a Better Public Relations Career
by John Kreuzer

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Building relationships with the media is the essence of great public relations professionals. Positive coverage can help put your clients on the map and it is our job to make this happen.

But before you dive into the ever-changing world of media relations, you need to understand that producing positive client coverage isn’t about blasting press releases, impersonal emails or untargeted pitches to every journalist you can find. There must be a “method to your madness” in order to be successful in your PR career.

Most journalists will tell you that there is nothing more frustrating than PR professionals flooding their inboxes with irrelevant pitches.  To avoid this, make sure that you aren’t repeatedly spamming them with information they can’t use. Instead, become a reference that they can come to for help with a story whenever they need it.

Here are a few suggestions for working with journalists that I have learned over the years that can help you to succeed with the media moving forward and become a better PR pro:

Understand the Publication

Nothing can be more irritating to a journalist than receiving off-base pitches while they are under the pressure of meeting a deadline. Take the extra time needed to become familiar with the outlets and stories that the journalist covers to ensure that your client is relevant. Fully understanding who and what they cover will go a long way towards building a lasting relationship.

Always Personalize Your Pitches

No one enjoys impersonal communication. Read up on what the journalist has recently covered and incorporate this into your pitch or general follow up. Keeping a pitch personal will let the journalist know that you understand their coverage area. Also, every interaction doesn’t have to be a pitch. Sometimes checking in with a journalist every couple of weeks to let them know that they recently wrote an interesting article can be very beneficial to building a long-term relationship.

Keep Pitches (and Subject Lines) Short

Not only do you need to personalize each of your pitches, you should also be sure to keep them short and to the point. This starts with your subject line. You have the body of the email to secure their interest, but you need a good subject line to grab their attention. For example, you can put a sample headline in bold at the top of the email (or in the subject line) and put all of the important details in bullet format up front. You’ll save the journalist time by putting the boring stuff later on, or skipping it entirely. If they’re interested, they will get down to the nuts and bolts in their follow up with you.

Simple is Good

When sending a pitch via email, try to use standard, basic fonts (such as Arial or Calibri) in all of your emails. Always keep the font sizes consistent, using sizes 10 or 11, and keep the text in black. Journalists don’t want to receive pitches in fluorescent colors that takes up the entire page because you bolded, enlarged or highlighted all of the content. Keep it simple. Journalists will appreciate it!

Never Bait and Switch

When pitching the media, always be sure you can deliver on what you promise. Nothing can ruin a relationship with a journalist faster than failing to meet their expectations by promising an interview with the CEO and then not having them available. The same goes for story pitching. If a journalist goes into an interview expecting to talk about the future of mobile technology, and you decide to talk about the best restaurants in the Bay Area, chances are the journalist won’t respond to your next email, or pick up the phone next time you call.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Whenever possible, be sure to include photos and/or video in follow up. This will help to paint a picture so the reporter can see the story more quickly. Try not to send high resolution photos unless requested, as they will clog up the inbox of the journalist. Sending a follow up email with pictures or video might be the added content you need to get your client covered.

Always Say Thank You

Saying thank you can go a long way in building a strong relationship with a journalist. But keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a rambling letter. It could just be a sentence or two that lets the journalist know that you appreciate the time and effort they put into the article. This simple act of gratitude can be the difference between securing continued coverage or not.

Those are just a few recommendations that I have from my personal interactions with the media. What tips work for you?

Don’t Let Hackers ‘Onionize’ Your Messages: Know How to Control your Social Accounts
by Tim Polakowski

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In the event you have missed it, some very large brands have had their corporate messages re-interpreted by an always aware and always vigilant source – Hackers.

At first this appeared to be a headline from “The Onion” –  “Burger King Just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped.”  This was followed quickly by “Just Empty Every Pocket sold to Cadillac” within a day. While we all know that many brands are using Twitter to make major announcements – and we even advise our clients to sometimes use this methodology – these two headlines tend to raise an eyebrow.

In reality, what we have here is hackers flexing their muscles and reminding us just how important passwords are, and all of the policies companies establish to govern the use of social media.  While we could look at this as an opportunity to say thank you for the free publicity and create some clever #lines and capitalize on their humor, my suggestion is that we closely examine our social media accounts and who has access to them, as we increasingly stake our corporate reputation on them.

The ever clever and never to do saying KISS or Keep it Simple, Stupid in the case of passwords on empowers those who seek to influence the our messages, gain free publicity at our expense and always watch for ways to inflict the KISS of cyber death on as many as possible.

With the annual RSA conference upon us, we as Public Relations, Media Relations, and Social Media representatives of brands large and small need to take action and ensure we understand, acknowledge and respect the responsibility we have to ensure that the access to our clients social media channels remains secure.  Otherwise, we risk facing the reality that hackers will out do the infamous “Onion” with headlines and messages on our behalf.

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.

How Big Bird Became the Snuffleupagas In the (Debate) Room
by Hugh Burnham

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While as a PR firm, we remain bi-partisan and impartial to parties and candidates, there are some real media lessons to take away from Wednesday’s Presidential Debate.

Both candidates have made their fair share of blunders in the campaign, but this week brought some new fodder for the American media.

Mitt Romney told the audience (and it was a sizeable audience) that he would cut funding for PBS and in particular, he called out Big Bird, or, as Snuffleupagas, his imaginary friend calls him, just: Bird.)

Romney’s pledge to cut a government subsidy to PBS, the public television network that has aired Sesame Street since 1970, combined with a throwaway reference to the show’s beloved Big Bird, inadvertently produced a top-trending hashtag, dozens of fake Twitter accounts, and the internet’s new favorite meme.

Here’s what Romney actually said:

“I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. [...] I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you [moderator and PBS employee Jim Lehrer] too. But I’m not going to [...] keep on spending money on things, to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

Within minutes of his remarks, #BigBird was one of the fastest rising trends on Twitter. According to the Associated Press, at one point the site registered 17,000 tweets per minute mentioning our fine feathered friend.

The lesson is: In today’s hyper digital environment, it’s critical to consider how your remarks will play out on the broader stage.  What you say will be interpreted by more than just the people in the room, or by the traditional media covering it.  Sound bites, ideas, images take on a life of their own when tweeted, re-tweeted, posted to Facebook, blogged about, and so on.

One thing is clear – if you want to keep something from going viral, go easy on Big Bird.


Why A Consonant Matters
by Hugh Burnham

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Many outlets covering the passing of astronaut Neil Armstrong have noted that he was actually misquoted in his first words from the lunar landing: “That’s one small step for ‘man’, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong himself maintained that he actually said …one small step for ‘a man’, rather than just ‘man.’  But why does it matter? And what does it have to do with public relations?

The ‘a’ changes everything, in that it denotes a step for a man, rather than ‘man’, which would be the same as mankind.   We probably never really thought of it that way, but it’s a big difference.

We always counsel our spokespeople to communicate in pithy, quotable phrases, that are both succinct and memorable.   Oftentimes, we anticipate interview questions and how to answer them. Neil Armstrong was a great American. In the end, the fact that his ‘a’ was inaudible on the tapes never hurt his legacy, because the message he delivered was powerful, memorable and quotable, and will survive in the history books forever.

Had Armstrong told people, “Oh, that’s not what I expected,” as he took his first steps, or “Wow, this is strange,” he likely would not be as enduring a figure as he is now.    At least I doubt that the President would be ordering flags to be flown at half staff for his funeral.  So remember, if you want to make an impression, choose a phrase that captures the moment with some flair and drama. Neil Armstrong sure did.




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