Ad Age, Paid Media, PR and Earned Media

Kudos to the Council of Public Relations Firms for using paid media to promote a profession that has until recently been based on earning media for organizations.

As I tell many clients, advertising can be a very effective pr tactic.  Especially if you are trying to guarantee that your message is delivered as intended.  Crisis situations, leadership building through op-ed ads, etc.

One of the challenges that our profession faces is getting reporters to write pleasant things about the true nature of public relations.  Most times, the “s” or “f” or ”p” word is used to describe the public relations profession.  Thankfully, today we also have more direct channels via social networks to help us communicate our value beyond media relations.

But, what I really like about the Council’s approach in the October 26 paid supplement in Advertising Age is the tone of the articles.  No pleading, no convincing, no dreary academic language that obscures the point:  Brand development, marketing and public relations are blending.

Thanks for advocating for our profession by taking the road less traveled — traditional advertising.  I’m pretty certain that you’ll see a return on this investment.  The only criticism here is that I cannot link to the actual article — or in this case the ad — since Ad Age doesn’t show it on their home page.  The next best thing for the Council to do would be to have a link on its site.   It’s not too late.

Telling a story beyond the product

Sometimes it’s just a company’s inherent brand philosophy that leads to telling great stories and connecting people with the brand.  The fact is brands struggle to find their niche, their voice and more importantly, a way to be relevant and truly connect with people that goes beyond the product or service they offer.  That connection can, and does happen, in lots of different ways, ranging from corporate philanthropy to social responsibility.

One brand that’s a good example of this is Chipotle. Yep, you read it right- Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain. I’ve always been a fan of theirs and whenever I find myself in one I can’t resist a delicious taco filled with that spicy, hot barbacoa. Yum! Back to the point. Chipotle is a great example of  a brand that’s built on more than just great food. They’ve built their business around the philosophy of “Food Integrity“, which basically centers around the idea that they only use organic, natural, fresh ingredients. They use unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed vegetables as well as natural, farm-raised, hormone-free meats. You get the idea. They’ve built their brand on a philosophy of social responsibly that doesn’t offer their guests processed, chemically-ridden garbage food.

However, as we go beyond the menu, Chipotle is connecting with people in a whole new way and is reaching out to those who are environmentally conscious and, at the same time, is reminding those of us who aren’t that we should be.  Case and point- the chain is installing solar panels on 75 of its store locations. How cool is that? Talk about leading by example. According to the Denver Business Journal article, Chipotle is seeking to reduce its energy consumption during peak hours, which is generally from 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Not only will this be good for Chipotle’s energy bills and their bottom line, but it also is a great example of a brand that’s doing good for their community and the environment as a whole.

As a PR professional, I love brand like this. They have a great story to tell and the marketing, branding, public relations, social media, you-name-it possibilities are endless.  But more importantly, as a person, I’ll keep them on my list of places I like to eat, not only because the food is good, but because they’ve got their act together.  Now I only wish they had one closer to the Hartford / New Haven area…

What do you tell “PR101” students today?

As I look over my past presentation as I prepare to talk with a local college class today, I have to make some major revisions.  It’s kind of nice to see predictions come true.  Amazing what a year or two will do.

While the Cutlip definition of public relations still holds up, and what is under the public relations umbrella is still relevant, a focus on brand and brand development rises to the top of the list.

A public relations professional’s job today is to help an organization first realize what is true and authentic to its brand, and second, ensure that the organization is aligned internally and externally to deliver the proper brand experience, and third, communicate or deliver the brand message using the best channels.

Which brings me to my final point:  what is the best channel today?  More and more, it is not through earned media.  While media relations will continue to be a valuable tactic for public relations pros to spread company news, it’s not the best channel to reach an organization’s diverse stakeholder base especially if your goal is to communicate organizational values and long-term goals.

Of course, the best solution is an integrated approach that blends direct communication with paid and earned media.  And, at the heart of direct communication is social networking and the opportunities it offers for us to listen, learn and interact as we “establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between our client organizations and the publics on whom our/their success and failure depends.”

For Small Companies, Successful Social Media Strategies Start Internally

In large companies it is necessary to have a very complete social media policy in order to avoid as many issues as possible. In large companies the brand will be represented by one person or a small team, so you need to have set guidelines in place for your other employees, informing them on what they can (or can’t) say in their free time. In small companies, however, when you are setting up a social media strategy you should include everyone, from the ground up.

As your company develops its voice online, it needs to take into account a few specific things. You need to identify who you are targeting, what your message is, and most importantly, what your ultimate goal is. Some companies get involved in order to sell products or get new customers. Others, such as Best Buy use social media as a creative answer to customer service. When you know what your goal is, you can develop your strategy, and assign tasks to your co-workers.

I am a firm believer that you should hire someone specifically for social media. I think that it is an important part of your marketing strategy, and it deserves full time attention. I do realize however, that some companies cannot afford to take on new staff, and would rather not put their online brand in the hands of an intern (which I agree with). If this is the case it is a good idea to make the entire team accountable so that everyone has something to say, and everyone will be cautious about the material they put online.

One great tool to get your company familiar with social media from a professional perspective is Yammer. Yammer allows companies to have an “internal Twitter” stream. Someone can administer who is invited, and should urge people to stay involved. Yammer will keep your employees aware of what they are saying because they will know that their coworkers and bosses are reading it. This message should be translated into the real world. Keep in mind, the people that read your content online could very well be a coworker. Another great use of Yammer is to discuss industry trends, and share ideas on blog topics.

The most important part of developing a successful social media plan for a small company is to create (and follow) a schedule. This schedule can have anything on it from someone finding 10 industry blogs that can be commented on, to someone twittering at 10:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:45 PM in order to keep consistency. Following a set schedule that people are held accountable for will make the tasks routine, and if you are switching each person’s role it will identify who is good at what tasks!

These are a few ways to put the strategy into action. Using these tools and bringing energy and excitement to the office will motivate your team to get involved and take part in your initiative. Social media should not be looked at as another task to your already busy employees. Instead, it should be an exciting new project that your office does as a team!

3 Steps to Managing Your Company’s Social Media Policy

With online conversation now a way of life, it is very important to monitor the information that is being said about your company. You cannot always control the external voices online, but you can (and should) control the voices coming from your organization.

The best way to control your company’s brand online is not necessarily to block Facebook and Twitter, instead it is to set guidelines that your employees need to follow as a part of their contract. I want to cover some basic steps to creating and implementing a company-wide social media policy.

1) Don’t Do It Alone

Your company brings consultants in for many different reasons, whether it is for leadership training or teamwork exercises. With social media now playing a major role in the way that companies connect with their employees and customers, it is very clear that you should be bringing in a consultant to work with you on your policy, and to work directly with the employees so that they have an understanding of what the company is trying to achieve.

2) Limits Are Good, But Encourage Conversation

Some companies think that in order to control social media they can block social networking sites at work… WRONG! For starters every one of your employees goes home to a computer and then needs to get all of their Facebook and Twitter hours out during the night. During this time they very well may be complaining about how they can’t use these sites at work, and their company is left out of real time news because of it. The solution to this is to allow your employees to use social media, but bring someone in to tell them the correct way to use it, emphasizing the limits they have to follow in terms of talking about work (whether they are there or not).

3) Align Your Social Media Marketing Plan With Employee Usage

As with most things, this is a give and take situation. If you give your employees the opportunity to stay connected while at work, make sure that they are benefiting the company while they spend time online. This can be approached in many ways, whether it is through the set up and coordination of a blog team, admin rights to a Facebook page, or access to the company Twitter account. A short training session will prepare your employees to handle these responsibilities, and will give them the opportunity to contribute to the company as a whole, giving them the credit they deserve.

These are just a few ways that your company can handle the social media situation that is now present in companies all over. Some people think that this is still a risk, and they would rather avoid it completely. Those companies will not be considered forward thinking organizations by the outside world, and their position on social media will eventually hurt their brand.

It is an ideal time to get your company involved online, if you aren’t already. If you are, it is an ideal time to make sure you are doing it right. Take advantage of this opportunity and don’t stray from it, or you will be left behind.

Old Man Winter Is Knockin’

I am a true New “Englander” at heart and enjoy the four seasons Connecticut has to offer. We really get the best of it here. Personally, autumn is my favorite time of year. The humidity is gone, the trees radiate beautiful, bright leaves and there’s nothing like the cool, crisp smell in the air.

As the leaves start to change, I am reminded that Old Man Winter is not far behind and that means it’s time to bundle up not only with sweaters and warmer jackets, but also ensuring that my home is ready as well.

Below is a clip from the Fox 61 Morning News where a client of ours, The United Illuminating Company, was featured. The segment offers viewers some simple “do-it-yourself” tips and methods on how to properly weatherize your home for the upcoming winter months. There’s also some great energy efficiency tips in here too – changing your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs and ensuring your refrigerator is the proper temperature.

Enjoy the segment and stay warm this winter!

Press Release: Dan Healy Joins Mason Onofrio as New Media Manager

Former BrazenCareerist social media guru joins Mason Onofrio offering Connecticut businesses a sophisticated instate resource

NEW HAVEN, Conn., (Oct. 9, 2009) – From Twitter to Facebook, blogging and beyond, social media is taking the world by storm. From a business perspective, social media is connecting brands directly with their followers and global communities by combining text, picture, audio and video content to foster interaction and loyalty.

“Social media is about creating conversations, connecting brands directly with their audiences, but more importantly, allowing the public to shape consumer discussion about brands,” said Dan Healy, manager, new media, Mason, Inc. and Mason Onofrio Public Relations. “People are talking and will continue to talk about your brand, and social media allows you to participate in those conversations.”

Before coming to Mason Onofrio, Healy was instrumental behind the launch of BrazeenCareerist.com as Client Services and Community Manager, and he has spoken at industry conferences about social media as a marketing and recruiting tool.

At Mason, Healy will work with clients to first conduct a social media analysis by identifying where conversations in their industries are occurring, who the influencers of those conversations are and how visible any competitors may be. As Healy completes the social media analysis for companies, an underlying recommendation will be that it is necessary to have a “complete” brand and marketing strategy with social media as an extension.

“I believe in the power of social media, I believe in conversation, and I believe in the benefits of having an online presence,” said Healy. “However, organizations cannot put together a few profiles and cross their fingers. Instead, they need a vision and strategy that combines a social media program with traditional brand advertising and public relations to best reach their audiences.”

“As a full-service agency, we want to provide a closed-loop program and take integration to the next level,” said Francis Onofrio, APR, president, Mason Onofrio Public Relations. “With Dan’s skill and expertise in social media, we’ll help our clients build better relationships with their stakeholders and help make it easy for them to participate in conversations where they previously did not have a voice.”