by Joanna Huss, CEO & Founder of Huss Group
People think that public relations is all about working with media to get people publicity in newspapers and on TV. True, that’s a big part of the job. But the part that excites and fulfills me even more is creating lasting partnerships by connecting clients whose work I respect and admire. In this business, like so many others, collaboration can lead to important work on relevant issues.
An event today at Bakery Square illustrated how such partnerships can benefit a widening sphere of people. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai visited the company’s Pittsburgh offices to announce a $1 billion community initiative. Yes, a huge investment that comes on the heels of Huss Group’s work to connect our client, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, with Google’s nonprofit initiative to bridge the digital divide among students in underserved middle schools. With its Dynamic Learning Project, the multinational tech company is investing in teachers and youths in 50 schools, including three in Pittsburgh, to teach them about computers and Internet-related services and products, essentially showing them the opportunities that technical literacy can bring: jobs, entrepreneurship, economic empowerment.
As he talked about Google’s commitment to its communities, Pichai enumerated the remarkable things that we can accomplish through collaboration. We couldn’t agree more.
His rare public appearance here to announce a national initiative shined the spotlight on our city, and his powerful words sparked my reflection on the collaborative partnerships that led up to this investment. Although many partners contributed to this watershed moment, our client, Walnut Capital, first set the machinery in motion. With its vision for Bakery Square, re-activating a living and working community adjacent to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, Walnut Capital created a physical pipeline to carry innovation from academia to market. It’s a space where some of the most influential companies of a generation are taking root.
Drawing inspiration from Pittsburgh’s industrial past, this local company has led by example, staking our city’s claim in creating the technology sector that will shape our future. Walnut’s principals created a cool neighborhood and tech community that reaches beyond Bakery Square and activates partnerships to lift up others to new levels.
By Joanna Huss, CEO of Huss Group
How can we build a Pittsburgh community that helps institutions, nonprofit leaders, corporations and entrepreneurs ignite their organizations? Answer: bring great minds together over libations, good bites and problem-solving breakout sessions at a place synonymous with ‘next level’ – Bakery Square.
I have a problem. I run a boutique traditional + social PR firm. I’m a busy mom. But I also have amazing clients who rely on our firm’s expert advice. And I need to constantly look ahead at business development and revenue generation while staying on top of the latest communications trends. I can’t be stuck in the weeds of ‘how to do social media.’
So I committed to figuring out the best way to keep up with social media insights and trends so that I can maximize the value of our efforts because, well, it’s what we do. We’re communicators. We have to adapt to this Social Media Age. And if you’re like me, you refuse to be saddled with regrets and missed opportunities.
I’m 100% certain that most organizations have this same problem. Perhaps yours is one of them. Enter Social Media Day Pittsburgh, held June 30th on National Social Media Day.
There’s major talent right here in our region, representing every piece of the social media puzzle. Influencers such as Google’s Benjamin Weaver show nonprofits how they can leverage Google’s $10,000 free monthly AdWords. Writer Salena Zito‘s rapid rise from local political reporter to well known CNN commentator has mirrored her entrepreneurial ability to amass a social media following in the hundreds of thousands. Andi Perelman, the Pittsburgh Penguins manager of new media, has built a massive news media organization from scratch within the Pens’ social platforms.
I asked these people and others to come together, literally, with two weeks’ notice. Moving at Internet speed is not a luxury; it’s a necessity in our 24/7 world of information and innovation. This late-stage idea is a cause that I know will be worthwhile for everyone, from marketing specialists and start-up entrepreneurs to C-suite executives of established organizations.
But, as I tell my clients, let’s focus on substance, not fluff. At #SMDAYPGH, we’ll have “meaty” breakout sessions taught by proven marketers such as Felicia McKinney, who increased Point Park University’s Snapchat story views by 84% in three months and John Mahood, CEO of ImageBox, a firm that builds dynamic, SEO-driven websites for nonprofits. From the basic ‘how to’s’ and free templates for building an effective social media editorial calendar to #SocialPR – how to get reporters’ attention with a social strategy – you will walk away with knowledge that quite literally will ignite your organization. You simply have to be here.
Register by Friday at 12 noon for 25% off with discount code SMDAY25.
We can’t wait to see you!
By Andrew Blum and Robert E. Swadosh
Remember the Emotional Drivers
With the 2017 proxy season well underway, it’s important to remember that what you convey about corporate governance impacts far more than investors alone. It also has the potential to leverage the power of your corporate brand and enhance your corporate reputation. Just ask the scores of activist investors who increasingly focus on issues much broader than operating performance – and do so in real time.
Messaging is key at all times, not just at the Annual Meeting but also during proxy fights and in response to activist investors, such as the May 10 move by Whole Foods to revamp its board. Developing proper investor messages is not simply about responding to governance issues or updating the same old metrics. Ironically, perhaps the most effective way to create compelling investor messaging is to know what your client’s key audiences are thinking.
At the start, understand that up to 20% of non-algorithmic investment decision-making is affected by emotional, rather that rational, factors. So, in addition to providing strategic communications advice, you also are acting as a de facto psychologist. This is particularly relevant as you help a CEO and CFO better understand the underlying dynamics that move investors.
One way to ensure accuracy and consistency in company messaging is to use the PR quiver in your IR toolbox:
- Today that includes social media content as well as traditional media vehicles such as press releases and advisories for business and trade media relevant to all constituencies.
- And don’t think its passé to reach out to key reporters.
Approaching IR communications generally, it’s important to tell your client upfront that all companies face heightened uncertainty and increasing doubts about the best path forward – especially in an era of social media and humongous amounts of data (useful or not).
In fact, all of a company’s constituents – employees, customers, investors, and competitors alike – find themselves in the same web. Clients need to understand that now is the time to ensure they have a handle on their most important audiences – and continuing in real time.
We as IR/PR practitioners need to help clients evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their efforts by providing objective guidance that:
- Identifies the most promising directions for communications strategy
- Establishes priorities
- Sets reasonable expectations
- Implements positioning and messages that address multiples audiences and similar needs.
How To Make It Happen
We recommend using qualitative and quantitative techniques to develop a holistic view of the corporate brand – one that considers cultural as well as business and financial factors. This provides significant actionable insights into the attitudes, motivations and behavior of a company’s most important constituencies.
The first step is to establish a baseline, a rolling, qualitative research study that generates rapid-response strategic development feedback. It will quickly provide an understanding of how investors, business and trade media, a cross-section of C-suite influencers, and others assess the client’s issue or situation and its longer-term impacts.
The objectives of this study are:
- To gauge the attitudes and beliefs of key audiences about the client, and
- To identify sources of discontinuity between these perceptions and the messages the company is intending to convey.
- To determine the Company’s strengths and weaknesses and whether its messages are clear, credible, persuasive and differentiating.
How often? Quarterly at minimum, typically tied to earning reports, and then attendant to significant events, whether planned or responsive.
At minimum, this will help create opportunities. At worst, it may prevent one of those feared “jump off the cliff moments.” At best, it provides valuable insight into the psyche of your key influencers and decision makers.
*Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms
*Rob Swadosh is Senior Consultant – Crisis Communications and Predictive Media Training for Huss Group. He is a trusted corporate advisor who develops strategies to manage crises, enhance brand and reputation, heighten consumer awareness, support a company’s business model, and enrich valuation. He has held senior management roles at The Dilenschneider Group, Golin/Harris, MWW Group and Georgeson, and helped shape iconic brand transformations for clients including Allstate, Cutwater Asset Management, IBM Services, Johns
This story originally appeared in CommPro on May 16, 2017. https://www.commpro.biz/shaping-governance-messaging-that-builds-corporate-brand/
Author: Joanna Huss, Huss Group CEO + Founder
There’s something remarkable about this time of year. Al fresco dining. The smell and promise of freshly planted herbs. The color green. And for many, the return of the ubiquitous summer Rosé (or in my case, the Mojito, which really should be treated as season-agnostic). Over the course of four years we’ve sought to bring this optimistic summer energy to our clients in every season, unraveling their stories and working relentlessly to get their great work noticed.
Through word of mouth, we’ve grown. New York businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the nation have called upon us, seeking to work with a boutique agency that challenges the traditional ad agency model rooted in insensible retainers to justify even more insensible overhead costs.
I’m proud to tell you that the month of May has been our most successful yet. We moved our headquarters office to the tech epicenter of Pittsburgh – Bakery Square – and now call Google’s third-largest software development office in the world our neighbor. We hired a distinguished Wall Street guru, Charlie Crane, adding a bona fide investor relations practice.
And, most importantly, we got a lot of clients noticed. We’d like to share with you a few of our favorite placements and elaborate on some Huss Group news.
What will benefit you
Wine – Celebrate with the ultimate American wine
We’re working with Michael Hill Kennedy, one of the world’s top sommeliers and founder of Component Wine. Michael recently was named to Forbes 30 under 30 for his innovative approach: give wine lovers the option of experiencing purebred Napa Valley varietals before they are blended to make some of the world’s top cult wines. Check out this video and article in Barron’s by Richard Morais and acquire Component Wine today.
What you should know
Cracker Barrel – A case that will go down in history
We’re happy to work with one of the top class-action law firms in the nation, Carlson Lynch. They’ve worked on the Target data breach case and are lead counsel in the Home Depot data breach class action. Their recent work to hold Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores accountable for ineffective ADA parking accessibility has resulted in great news for people with disabilities after a federal judge ruled that the corporation must comply with ADA regulations. The Associated Press’ Joe Mandack picked up the story last week and it reached several hundred newspapers, including The New York Times.
What we’d like you to tell your friends
Wall Street – Bringing it to Huss Group
Charlie Crane began his career analyzing the world’s largest publicly traded advertising agencies, earning recognition as one of Wall Street’s best stock-pickers from Institutional Investor magazine. He now brings more than 30 years of experience as an investor and writer to Huss Group’s clients, developing effective communications strategies that build value for an organization’s stakeholders. Read about Charlie Crane here – and welcome him to the team!
Author: Joanna Huss, Huss Group Founder + CEO
An early-morning walk through any neighborhood tells the story: no bagged newspapers in driveways. People get their news online, choosing Facebook or other social feeds over traditional news outlets. Think about the 2016 presidential election: according to Pew Research Center, two-thirds of U.S. adults cited “digital sources” as their primary outlet for information.
And it’s happening in our headquarters town as it has elsewhere – long-standing, trusted media companies cutting back, consolidating, restructuring, or remaking themselves. Pew pegged 2015 as the worst year for newspapers since the recession: circulation fell by 7%, and advertising declined by 8%.
Pittsburgh was the latest major American city to change its status as a two-daily-newspaper town when the Tribune-Review stopped its print edition after nearly 25 years of publication. The newspaper became online-only, joining traditional papers in Cleveland, Detroit, Harrisburg and other national markets. Even Pittsburgh’s dominant news source, the Post-Gazette, announced plans to invest more into digital platforms to keep up with consumer choices and the 24/7 news cycle.
So what does all of this rapid change mean for you?
In Huss Group’s three-part series, “A New Media Landscape,” we’ll examine what this shift means for businesses and nonprofits seeking to get noticed, or to manage their reputations during unexpected crises. We’ll go behind-the-scenes talking with new media businesses in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and New York, bringing you essential information on how these new players operate and how you must adapt – or risk getting left behind.
In our last segment, we’ll define strategies that will help your organization land that quintessential, objective, earned-media story you deserve and suggest hyper-targeted marketing strategies that will get you noticed. And, as this rapidly changing media environment unfolds, we’ll keep the information coming to you, with the launch of my podcast, in collaboration with one of the top marketing minds, ImageBox’s CEO John Mahood.
For now, let’s set the foundation of this series by diving deeper into some of the “Whys” of this shift. It starts with money. After all, the news media are first and foremost businesses.
Quite simply, consumers don’t pay for news, advertisers do. As Americans’ fascination with TV and the Internet soared, suddenly newspapers no longer were the place to find ads from department stores, auto dealers, restaurants, even employers offering jobs or people selling things they no longer want. The traditional business model for print papers (relying on advertisers, subscribers and newsstand sales, with costly fleets of delivery trucks) began to buckle.
Younger people clearly aren’t interested in investing time to read a daily newspaper the way that their parents and grandparents did. Why bother when cyberspace offers a wealth of information and entertainment from around the world, around the clock, tailored to your exact interests?
Still, some traditional newspapers couldn’t accept that technology was changing their world and didn’t immediately invest in it. And many that did create digital publications couldn’t meet the challenge of making money online.
With the loss of their exclusive control over advertisers, newspapers began to consolidate and cut back during economic ups and downs of the 1970s and ‘80s. As they competed for readers, papers dramatically changed their design and content, largely replacing “watchdog” journalism with news that would appeal to the masses without offending too many people, such as sports, lifestyle features and hyper-local “news.” Some editors and reporters, beaten down by budget and staffing cuts, became lazy with content. All this, as the Internet exploded in the late ‘90s.
And here we are today, where Google rakes in more ad dollars than all U.S. print media combined.
In A New Media Landscape: Part 2 we’ll share first-hand insight from leaders of digital media companies on how you must adapt in today’s changing media landscape.
Tips to managing events that threaten your organization, even if they loom large
Any organization, no matter its size, can encounter a problem that requires crisis management. A crisis is something that threatens or hurts people and property, with potential to damage the organization’s reputation, disrupt operations and affect the bottom line.
In a crisis, it’s important to respond quickly yet properly. Sometimes, how people inside and outside your organization react to something that is said or done can determine whether a problem becomes a full-blown crisis.
Of course, some crises are obvious – accidents or bad products that cause injuries or fatalities, for example. A crisis might evolve from an oversight or irresponsible decision, making the organization appear inept or, worse, criminally negligent. Some crises result from something outside your control, such as a disgruntled employee who spreads falsehoods; a social media hack or rant; or a data breach.
You can’t change what happened, but you can take control to help shape the outcome.
Anticipate crises by identifying risks that are specific to your organization. Name team members who would respond in a crisis, and train them to gather and disseminate information properly.
Prepare an action plan to keep operations and communications from breaking down. This plan should include a social media policy that prohibits staff members from venting or arguing online.
Don’t react without adequate information. Identify who will speak for the organization, so that no one says the wrong thing.
It’s important to acknowledge a crisis. In some cases, an apology might be necessary.
Your legal team might not want you to shoulder blame, but you can still deal with a problem head-on and be accountable. This helps to minimize drama and resolve matters more quickly.
Your team’s crisis plan should include prepared statements that could apply to any situation for immediate response:
- “We have activated our Crisis Response Team, and we will share information as soon as it becomes available.”
- “We know that individuals and families are hurting, and our hearts and minds are with them at this difficult time.”
- “We understand the urgency of this situation and we ask for your patience. Right now the health and safety of our (employees/customers) is our top priority.”
- “We have nothing new to report at this time, but we are working to learn the facts and will supply information as soon as we can.”
Reach out to employees and other stakeholders, including the media.
Who needs to know what’s happening, internally and externally? The messages and how often your team conveys them may vary by audience. If the crisis involves an accident, you may need to identify places to gather families and the media, to keep them separate.
Technology can help track down executives and others who need information immediately, via automatic calling or texting, and allow them to confirm they received the message.
Problems don’t resolve themselves, and storms don’t pass quickly in today’s social media-oriented society. Misinformation can spread, compounding a crisis. Reach out to those affected – by phone call, text message, emails, or in person, as necessary. Let people know you care, even if you can’t tell them anything substantive immediately. Keep your cool online, on camera and in public. Be respectful – including with those who will share your story.
A debriefing after a crisis is as important as preparing for one.
- What did your organization learn from what happened?
- Do you need to change any organizational policies?
- Do your notification and monitoring systems need tweaking?
- Are there employees, clients, vendors, investors, donors or others who need longer-term reassurance as a result of what happened?
Be sure to thank your crisis response team for their hard work. Review with them what went right and what went wrong, including things beyond their control. This way, you can improve everyone’s crisis management skills.
How to look and sound your best during a TV or smartphone interview
A first-time interview with television camera rolling can be intimidating, with a harsh light warming your face and boom mic picking up every aside.
You might try to recall interviews you’ve seen, and wonder: Do I look at the interviewer, or the camera? Should I smile, or not? And why is the photographer moving around and fidgeting with equipment?
A good photographer will work to capture the more photogenic side of your face (yes, typically there is one) and tell you whether jewelry or a printed jacket might distract and confuse viewers. The reporter is likely to make small-talk to start – but be aware that anything you say might be on the record.
Here are some tips to becoming proficient at on-camera interviews.
An interview with a TV station can mean opportunity for prime-time “earned media,” but in today’s world, you’re more likely to encounter a spontaneous “interview” with a reporter, photographer, blogger or advocate-citizen with a smartphone. Video drives clicks online.
Get your message across clearly and succinctly, in as short amount of time as possible. TV news editors will look for good “ins” and “outs” in your comments to grab a short “soundbite.” Time constraints, editors and producers can decide what stays or gets cut. In broadcasting, 30 seconds on-air can be a long time; expect to get about half of that time.
You’re the expert in politics or business or nonprofit work with insights the news crew seeks. Stay on message, even if the interview becomes testy for any reason – especially if it’s an impromptu smartphone encounter. No one wants to see his/her angry words play over and over online, or on the nightly news.
If you know you might be interviewed, it’s important to “dress for success” with appropriate business attire. Avoid big necklaces and dangling earrings; avoid busy or loud prints, such as stripes, checks, polka dots and wavy lines that “flutter” on camera. Bright white reflects light and can wash out your face; stark black absorbs light and can diminish you. Navy blues, grays, purples, dark creams, browns, and neutral colored suits work well. Check your hair and makeup if there’s time.
Take advantage of the opportunity to get maximum exposure by calling reporters together.
When your company or organization has something newsworthy to announce, a news conference can give you the exposure you need with the ease of telling everyone at once. Such events draw reporters and photographers from newspapers, magazines, business journals, blogs, television and radio – giving you a chance to reach a wide audience.
A news event allows you to outline your message without interruption and emphasize important points before taking questions. As your publicist, we manage the crowd and gauge when to stop the Q&A, though you might conduct individual interviews after stepping down from the podium.
For journalists, a news conference reduces the chance of missing the story. And it means they can share in the questioning. But with “pack journalism” especially it’s important to stay on your toes. Reporters who cannot get an exclusive story will jockey for something “big” to break from an event meant to give you publicity.
Your event will be friendly and easygoing to start – you get to talk about something reporters want to hear and you might field some “softball” questions that you can hit on the mark. But reporters won’t just give you free advertising. Here are tips to handle awkward moments.
Expect edgy questions – at least one you don’t want to answer. It’s OK to say, “I can’t talk about that.” That’s a better response than “No comment,” which sounds like you have something to hide. It’s also OK to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll try to get you an answer.”
The ‘loaded question’
Good reporters pretend to know more than they really do when asking a question. The reporter may have some knowledge of a situation and will try to elicit confirmation indirectly by asking about details. If you get a trick question, smile and say, “I can’t talk about that, but nice try,” and call on someone else.
Two behaviors are treacherous when you talk with reporters: Lying and losing your temper. Deception robs you of credibility when it becomes evident you knew something that you denied knowing. If you have a short fuse, watch your tongue. Frustrated reporters might try to provoke you into reacting badly.
Stay on message
If the topic of your news conference wanders way off track, guide the conversation back to your message by repeating a talking point. Or, ask for another question. Be diplomatic but firm. If the reporters pile on, wrap up – that’s better than an ugly clash that ends up on the front page or TV news!
Invited to speak with an editorial board? Follow these rules of thumb to avoid pitfalls:
Many politicians, civic leaders, CEOs and others eagerly agree to meet with a newsroom editorial board and then wonder, “What have I walked into?”
Often it’s a room with editors and reporters clamoring for headline news. If their guest slips up in some way, all the better. There’s a delicate balance here, involving mutual respect. The interviewee wants to get across certain points and stay on message, but the paper’s goal is to elicit something exclusive.
Consider these real-life scenarios:
- A politician says he doesn’t need the political machine to get elected, and loses votes when those he insulted work against him.
- A corporate executive, upset with a newspaper’s editorial on his industry, demands an audience to try to cut the editors down a notch but instead gets bludgeoned with facts.
- A local elected official reveals prematurely that he plans to run for governor because he hesitates and laughs nervously when someone asks about the rumor.
An editorial board can be a cordial give-and-take, but handled badly, it can turn into a bashing. Don’t assume that your guest status tips the balance in your favor. Sure, someone will welcome you and the reporters will listen to your pitch – but their questions might wander from polite to aggressive out of hunger for a good story, or just for sport.
Here are some tips to help manage your editorial board visit:
Arrive on time and stay longer than scheduled, if asked. Make a good impression with a genuine smile and strong handshake. This meeting doesn’t have to be contentious. You’re all assembled here with a common goal of imparting information to people. Speak candidly.
Bring someone with you, to track what’s said or to do quick online research for you. Bring documents; reporters like fact sheets, statistics, schematics, or other “proof” supporting your words. Before you arrive, review any notes an aide prepared for you; practice what you want to say.
Stay calm, relax
Be cognizant of your expressions and body language; act confident. Holding a pen can occupy your hands if you’re nervous. Taking a drink of water allows you to pause and reflect on what to say. Remember, no one expects you to be perfect.
Feed the beast
The editors control the line of questioning; make sure you control the message. Emphasize your important points and anticipate questions. Know your stuff, so that you don’t appear vulnerable. Don’t let the pack get “hangry.” You’re the expert whose information feeds their need.