Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't put a scarf on that cat just yet!! Consider your objectives and intention before tactics.

(Image credit: The Oatmeal)

In a comic entitled “How to get more likes on Facebook”, The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman pokes fun at the increasing  inundation of requests for “likes”, “follows”, and provides a simple solution:

“Put your energy into making things that are LIKEABLE…create things that are hilarious, sad, beautiful, interesting, inspiring, or simply awesome.”

Ok, Oatmeal.  That sounds simple enough, but how do you know what’s likeable?  Some people love posting pictures of their babies and cats and every meal they ever eat, while others find these so redundant that they’re comical.  Some people even develop apps to filter out the things that other people love because they find these same "likeable" things to be tiresome and irritating.  While I agree with The Oatmeal, what he’s suggesting is a tactic, and it won’t be very successful without the back-work: Doing research, defining objectives, determining your audience, and developing key messages.

Perhaps I think that the best way to win the love of the whole internet is to post a picture of my cat in a jaunty Christmas scarf, and he will be widely adored and spread goodwill among all. Okay, Anastasia, slow down there, you’re jumping to tactics already, and you have no plan.  Let’s do some research – who is the whole internet?  No, who will I actually reach?  Is it just my friend pool on Facebook, and what do I know about their personal preferences around Christmas, cats, and scarves?  Or should I use another social media platform?  Wait a minute – what is my objective?  What do I want to accomplish here?  Do I want to spread laughter and goodwill? Send a heartfelt message to friends and build community?  Raise awareness of cats that aren’t as lucky as mine, and perhaps promote a local shelter? 
And let’s be serious here – I’m not going to reach the whole internet, so who are my audiences?  At what time of year are they most likely to be thinking about Christmas, cats, and scarves?  Is my cat even the best spokescat for this message, and is the scarf really necessary?  What values are held by my audience, what will resonate best with them?  Alright, I’ve read about the whole internet and the subsection that I want to reach, and I know what I want to tell them, I have a few key messages here, and an objective for raising awareness for the local shelter.  Maybe I should run this by a focus group of trusted friends.  In the end, what I say (with my cat picture and accompanying text) will need to be informed by this preliminary work if it’s going to be successful.  Determining your objective is like setting intent, and communication without intention is unlikely to result in any desired effect.

When I’m not busy contemplating cats and knitting them scarves, I work in a teen clinic at a local high school.  Recently, an education campaign aimed at youth called “Heads up?!” rolled through our clinic and many others.  It included videos, posters, and free condoms at teen clinics.  Last year, along with the condoms, they were also giving away free t-shirts, and I recall that the t-shirts were a big hit with the students. The slogan also seemed to resonate with the students, so from what I've seen, that aspect of the campaign was a result of successful background work and planning.  However, this year, they planned a draw offering a pair of tickets to the Twilight premiere.  I can't speak to its effectiveness as a whole, but this was widely met at my teen clinic with dismissal and derision.  After the first day of watching students snickering at this paltry offering, I asked some of my other colleagues who work with teens what they thought.  They generally agreed that the campaign missed the mark, demographically, and that the Twilight movie would appeal to a much younger group of students than those who were coming to the teen clinics.  I also wondered if there might be a difference in the interests of the 13-19 year olddemographic as a whole, and the subset of that demographic who are accessing teen clinics and becoming sexually active. Regardless, from where I'm standing, it does look like the tactic of offering Twilight tickets as a prize that would appeal to the youth missed the mark of their intended demographic, and as a result, the campaign lost some credibility as being fun, relevant, and relatable. 

While overall, Twilight may be likeable, it’s not likeable for all, and the same goes for Christmas cats in scarves.  Although content may be king (or queen), it still needs to be relevant, and that can’t be known without prior research, knowledge of the audience, and clear objectives and intention. Without the back-work, how will you know if your message is really, truly, likeable?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tactics for Target to hit the bullseye

There has been a lot of anticipation building around the opening of Target stores in Canada, as well as some skepticism following less-than-stellar showings by other newly introduced American stores (such as Marshall’s).  One of Target’s spokespeople – Amy O’Reilly – delivered a concise message to reassure potential shoppers, stating that “Our Canadian customers can expect the same exclusive products, the same designer partnerships and the same environmental and community outreach that their American neighbors enjoy" (from walletpop.ca).  This statement clearly and concisely captures 3 essential elements of their PR campaign:
1)      Exclusive products at discount prices (encapsulated in their tagline, “Expect more. Pay less”)
2)      Accessible and fashionable items with designer credibility
3)      Corporate social responsibility, and investing in their new communities.
Building on the stance they’ve established so far, there are a few tactical ideas that Target could consider.  All off these proposed promotional ideas should be accompanied by a detailed media relations strategy, such as press releases and press kits, PSAs (for the educational tactics), and promoted posts on social media.

Target has had great success in the past with pop-up stores coinciding with special events (such as a recent pop-up in Toronto, and another in New York to celebrate Zac Posen’s new line) but this tactic could cease to be buzz-worthy if it’s overused, so it would need to be considered carefully.  A pop-up store – or stores – that coincide with a popular time for Canadians to cross the border for American deals, such as Black Friday, would be a great way to leverage the support of Canadians who already frequent Target (10% of Canadians, apparently).  This would also reinforce the promise that Canadian Target stores will have the same quality, selection, and low prices as American stores, while staying closer to home.

Designer partnerships (such as the most recent Neiman Marcus line) have been extremely important in Target’s advertising and promotion, which has a direct appeal to “every fashionista-on-a-budget north of the border” (walletpop.ca).  An online contest on a visually driven and fashion-friendly social network, such as Pinterest, would offer exclusive sneak peeks of upcoming collections, and build anticipation for the actual arrival of these collections.  Target could invite fans to build their own personalized pinboard of favorite looks from an upcoming collection, which would enter them to win a shopping spree for when the store opens.  Not only would this help to promote the designers and brands, but it would also build anticipation among fashion and social media influencers and their followers.
Target has also already begun building their reputation for corporate social responsibility through a Facebook campaign to donate $1 Million to Canadiancharities.  They could develop this reputation and reinforce their community commitment further with smaller initiatives, based specifically in the communities that they are moving into.  They place a lot of emphasis on education, so it would be logical to partner with local museums to plan a free or subsidized admission day in advance of the store opening.  In collaboration with the school and museums, they could plan a scavenger hunt (or a similar, age-appropriate educational activity) in the museum, with Target providing age-appropriate prizes linked to the Target brand – for example, gift cards for older students, or plush animals for younger students).  While Targetstates that 70% of Canadians are already familiar with their brand, this would – quite literally – bring their brand awareness home.
Of course, regardless of the tactics that they use to build awareness and buzz around the opening, the proof will be in the pudding, and their success will depend on how the Target stores and shopping experience measure up to their promises.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Research: The Act of Listening before Speaking

           I’ve always held an admiration for people who have mastered the art of speaking knowingly, convincingly, and eloquently on any subject at the drop of a hat.   I used to wonder, what is this magic skill that allows some people to have super-secret direct line to words and ideas, neatly lined up in a row?  And so I watched and listened, and I observed that those who speak well also listen well.  They also read a lot, and they converse – they don’t talk “at” others, they talk “with” others.  And when it seems that they’re talking “at” a group, they are also keenly aware of the group they are talking to.  They are aware of the group’s values, level of comprehension, prior knowledge, and the ways that what they are saying will resonate with - or enrage - those being spoken to.  In a nutshell, perhaps it’s part magic, but it’s also part PR.
            With these thoughts of words and magic floating around, it may seem like PR is all fun and games – but then I hear that the first step to a good PR plan is research.  My initial reaction to this was, unsurprisingly, a big yawn.  But then research was reframed in our textbook as listening, and it started to make sense.   All of the attributes I observed among my pool of revered, eloquent, public speakers, involved research - or in other words, listening before speaking.  And though one element of research is the act of being aware, being acutely curious, and taking in reams of information from multiple sources, it seems that there is also quite a bit of more focused research that goes into building a successful PR plan.
            Seeing as research, in itself, is a methodical approach, it doesn’t surprise me that it can be grouped into categories.  Primary research defines types of inquiries that generate new information, while secondary research reviews information that already exists.  Secondary research can include Internet and database searches, poring over your organization’s archives, and reviewing previous PR and marketing plans.  You may also look at customers or clients of your organization, to determine which demographics are most likely to be your target audience.  Secondary research is kind of like an environmental scan – it involves looking at what is already out there, and what the context that we’re working in while developing this PR plan.  Primary research is less directed at pulling context from information that already exists, rather, it seeks to reveal the unknowns, and gather specific information about the environment.  For example, primary research would include asking questions of the public, or other stakeholders, in a formalized conversation, such as an interview, a focus group or a phone survey.
            The information collected through research can also be categorized either as qualitative (“hard” data) or quantitative (“soft” data).  I found the best way to remember the difference between the two is to think that hard data leaves a clear mark, while soft data leaves an impression.  For example, perhaps you are considering using Instagram as part of your campaign, but you’re not sure if it will really take off.  You could collect some soft data through a focus group, and invite some of your customers in to talk about how they use social media.  This would give you a general idea of the behaviors of your target audience, and you could learn some interesting things.  However, these facts might not hold true across a larger audience.  So then you might look at some hard data, and conduct a survey where you learn that – in hard numbers – Instagram has far fewer users than Facebook, however, those users interact with it more often.  If you’re looking to reach a broad audience, research might lead you to decide to forego using Instagram.  But perhaps those few who are on Instagram are the key influencers that you’re trying to reach, and besides, your secondary research found many tech blogs that championed it as an up-and-coming platform that’s enjoyable, and easy to adopt.  If you didn’t do the research, then you’re making decisions on a hunch and a gamble.  And if you were still unsure, then you would do more research!
            In short, good research is about knowing your environment, defining your audience, and determining the best way to communicate with them. Without this foundational knowledge, your PR plan would be all talk and no listening. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Passion for the Arts, and the art of PR, with Teri Stevens

I met with Teri Stevens, Publicist and Online Media Coordinator for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, over lunch at the Free Press café.  Teri has been with MTC for a year and 5 months now, and previously worked with Arts& Cultural Industries Manitoba  and Sarasvati Productions.  She entered the Creative Communications program at Red River after completing a B.A. at the University of Manitoba, and initially thought she might go into journalism, but fell in love with PR instead.

Teri did a practicum with the Government of Manitoba, where she learned, among many other things, that she would rather write about theatre than wheat.   Teri reaffirmed for me the importance of following your passion, and also being realistic about what that will bring.   She said, “When you follow you passion into the arts, it’s not going to make you rich, right?  So you have to be there for another reason.”  Enjoying and loving her job is more important than salary, and this came through clearly in her stories and the advice that she kindly shared with me.  I’m sure that if her passion was wheat, and not theatre, she would be an excellent wheat publicist too (although wheat does make it into the arts every now and then).

But I digress.  I did know enough, when I was asked to interview a PR professional, that wheat is also not a passion of mine.  I know that I want to build my PR skills so that I can contribute to work being done in the social/cultural sphere of life, in community development and in the arts, where (unfortunately), many organizations are doing great work with too small of a budget to include PR, or the majority of their focus is directed towards direct service or programming.  So I stared at my computer screen and thought, “what local non-profit is established and large enough to have a PR or marketing department?”  I had an “aha” moment when I thought of MTC, and a second “aha” moment when I looked Teri up on LinkedIn.  I thought, “It looks like she is in a place that I’d like to be.  Also, I think this could be fun!”  And it was.

Fun – or enjoyment, at least – can be found in seemingly tedious work when it aligns with your interests.  In order to write a blurb (a short one-paragraph description of a play), Teri needs to read the entire screenplay.  After reading it, her challenge is to find that one thing that will interest the MTC audiences, and inspire them to come to the theatre.  She also reads through a huge stack of paper to collect the news clippings, reads over and edits pieces written by her colleagues, reads other PR blogs, reads PR Daily…let’s just say she reads a lot.  She writes and compiles pieces for MTC’s program, writes press releases, and writes actor’s bios.

Teri also needs to keep current with work happening internally in other departments of MTC , in order to update the website, and keep current with external organizations whose regulations affect how MTC does their promotion.  For example, the actor’s union has certain rules about publicity: If a photo has 3 or more actors in it, they don’t need to be named independently, but if there are 3 or less, their names need to be listed in full.  If her promo image features 3 actors with long names , well, that could be an entire tweet, with no room left for any other description.  It’s plain to see that to be an effective publicist, you need to be able to balance a micro and a macro view of the area you’re working in, and be acutely aware of every other group you are interconnected with.

Of course, this interconnection also keeps the work interesting, as well as fulfilling.  Teri said that she gets a lot of pride and satisfaction from seeing the effects and the results of her work, in seeing a successful pitch, and in surviving the busiest part of the season.  She started with MTC just 10 days before she had to put on a large media conference for the Fringe Festival, which is always an incredibly busy time for MTC staff.  However, Teri found that through past experience with ACI and her schooling, she was ready for the challenge.  She spends a lot of her time working with the media, keeping her media list updated, and also meets regularly with old classmates and instructors to share experiences and stay current.

Near the end of our conversation, I asked Teri for 3 tips for someone starting out in PR, and I’ll share them with you here: 
  1.  Never stop learning.
  2. Seek things out.  Go to networking events (CPRS, IABC), where you can meet people and pick up new skills.
  3. Maintaining work-life balance is important.  You could do PR 24 hours a day, but you’d burn out, you wouldn’t be very happy, and you wouldn’t be very good at your job either.  Sometimes you need to accept that you can’t do it all.
Thanks, Teri, for sharing your time and experience with me.  This conversation truly helped to illuminate the road ahead.  I’m excited to delve further into the multifaceted and exciting world of PR in the arts and nonprofit sectors, with a few tips and tricks in my traveler’s bag, and the knowledge that though it will surely be trying at times, there is joy and fulfillment in following your passion.

Image credit: fromoldbooks.org

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Conversations in the Blogosphere

Comment #1: Posted on the article, "When greeting others, ditch the 'unpleasant pleasantries"

This article creates a lot of food for thought!  It’s true that you can ask for, and expect, an authentic response from “How are you?”, but if the expectation isn’t reciprocal, it can be awkward, or seen as over-sharing.  “How are you?” doesn’t always offer up an interesting conversation topic either.  I’m more inspired by tsavadogo’s suggestion of “What are you reading?” because it is specific, it is personal, you get a chance to build a connection, and also learn from other people.

An unusual repartee – as Beth suggested – can also be amusing and put people at ease.  Whenever someone asks my father how he’s doing, he enthusiastically responds with “I’m living the dream!”  Though it doesn’t offer much for follow-up conversation, it almost always inspires a laugh or a smile.

Comment #2: Posted on the article, "Why you can no longer separate your personal life from your professional life online"

This blog post is helping me out with an internal struggle I've been having recently.  My struggle runs parallel to your common question, as my worry has been less about how to separate personal and professional identities, but how to integrate them.

To give you a bit if background, I've been working in the non-profit sector, in a feminist community health centre, for the last 8 years.  I recently began studying public relations with a hope to improve outreach and communication, and to help support work being done in non-profits.  However, as a PR student, I've also been exposed to a lot of directives and advice on what it means to be a "professional", many of which seem to conflict with my personal values, and the values of the organization I work for.  A lot of the important work that we is focused on speaking about taboo subjects, and on breaking down the superficial barriers that divide, stereotype, and dehumanize people.  A lot of what I've read elsewhere about being keeping your personal image "professional", however, seems to be more about appearances than authenticity, and about keeping distance between your lived experience and your professional image.  Ironically enough, to be authentic to my own values, and to the values of my organization, would in many cases seem unprofessional.  Quite the dilemma, isn't it?

I much prefer your suggestion - that personal and professional, online and off, can't be separated.  I agree that online integrity is a much better paradigm than online privacy, because it does create the need to think, and reflect, about who you are and want to be (both personally and professionally) and be sure that what you're saying and doing is truly from YOU, and is aligned with your values, even if it includes random cute cat postings.  In a framework of integrity and accountability, there's much less of a chance of being fake and of exposing fakery, because as you stated, you are being who you really are.

To answer your question, I believe that to date, I have tried to have somewhat of a separation between personal and professional, and that stemmed from being unsure of who I was - or what my goals were - in each realm.  But as they're coming together, I'm striving for more integration, and more integrity.

Thank you for sharing your insight!

Comment #3: Posted on the article: "10 easy ways to network in the real world'

This post is so helpful and insightful, and I think you’ve really captured some useful tips for introverts and extroverts alike!   I agree that it’s important to maintain personal connections, and that in our age of counting friends and followers, these important steps in building and sustaining connections are often overlooked.
I was at an event a little while ago, and I arrived early – before anyone I knew was there yet.   I consider myself a highly social person, but small talk and “polite”, neutral conversation (about, say, the weather) have never been things that came easily or naturally to me.  In this instance, I made the decision to simply approach someone and start a conversation.  I asked questions, and listened, and before long I discovered that I held some common interests with the people I met.  I also found, later on, that it was far easier to recall their names and the things that were important to them, because I was actively – and genuinely - listening and conversing, and not just going through a mental checklist of the ground I would need to cover in order to make a superficial connection.  The second part of following up is something that I don’t think I’ve valued as much as I should, but I will definitely be bookmarking and reviewing your tips for the next time(s) I feel that I may be at a loss.  Thank you!

Comment #4: Posted on the article: "How to control an audience with your eyes".

I’ve noticed a lot of these techniques used in live performance, in theatre quite obviously, but also with live music.  If a guitar player is about to launch into a solo, oftentimes the lead singer will look over at them, or turn their whole body towards them.  This does have the effect (in addition to the audio cues of the solo) of directing the audience’s attention to another area of the stage.  Of course, even with the added benefit of instruments and a wider range of expression than a formal presentation, these gestures of direction and connection can go awry.  For example, I’ve noticed a lot of bass players who simply turn their back to the audience for a portion of the song, and I ask, why?  Some singers will also close their eyes – which seems to convey a different level of intensity, or other-worldliness – but I will definitely take this in through a different lens (pardon the pun) after considering the power of eyes.

Although I’ve considered a lot of these techniques in terms of creative performance, I’ve never put the two together in terms of considering parallel techniques for public speaking!  I’ve always heard that maintaining eye contact is key, so it’s really interesting to consider how redirecting your gaze can affect the audience’s gaze.  Thank you for this post!