Wednesday, December 16, 2015

We have moved!


The Connect2 Communications blog has moved! You can find all of our Blogger posts as well as new content on our new website.

Connect2 Communications Team

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Find the Story – PR Tip #18

One of the hardest jobs we have in PR is to find the story. Sometimes, the story is right there for everyone to see, other times it’s elusive. Sometimes we forget to look. We have all had times when we’re under deadline and a release has to get written and we just crank it out headline, subhead, quotes and boilerplate. But that’s not our job. Our job is to find the story.

Part of this is developing the story arc and helping readers easily navigate from beginning (the problem or trend addressed), the middle (the value proposition and how this announcement fits) and the end (how the market, customer and company benefits).  Most companies start looking for the story in the wrong place, though. They start with what they have made. Problem is, that’s like telling a story from the middle. The truth is, the story starts way before that and it starts with what the customer needs and the problem they are trying to solve. 

When looking for the story, start by finding what about the announcement appeals to you or--even better--to the person you hope will read it. Remember, people buy things (consumer goods, business technology, apps, etc.) because it has perceived value to them. It makes their life better, easier or more productive. If you can hone in on the “why this matters” to a specific person you will be way ahead of more press releases and other PR materials are written.

The story, or at least a compelling version of it, can be elusive. As mentioned above, we’ve had lots of clients that believed that the story started and stopped with the products they’ve made. They think that the world will know exactly why this technology matters and how it will change lives to their target customers. They are wrong. Often very, very wrong and then are baffled when a reporter isn’t as excited about their news as they are or the story comes out and it’s very vanilla.

We recently had a client announce a bit of new technology that was interesting from a purely technology perspective. We could have written the release and the pitch to focus solely on the technology and it would have been good. However, there was so much more that it could be and, as we peeled away the layers, we found a really interesting story about how retail stores were using the technology to help lure customers offline and back into the brick-and-mortar locations during the holiday shopping season by creating a better in-store shopping experience and helping to keep the retail store’s network secure. The technology was still a big part of the story, but now we’re focusing on the problem the customer needed to solve and how they are solving it.

Even if the story can’t be tied directly to a problem or challenge a customer faces, it can often be written to talk about how a new product or technology can change the market. It can be the first time customers can combine products to do something, or how it’s the first implementation of a new standard or even how it’s the first product to allow the market to better leverage a developing trend.  When telling a good story, a developing trend or market shift can be your best friend so take the time to understand what these trends are so you can tell a more compelling story. 

Remember, when telling a story, you can’t just say “innovative new technology will reshape the economics of blah blah blah.” You have to walk the reader through a compelling narrative that helps them understand why the story you are telling is important to them personally and professionally.  When writing your next press release, blog, contributed article or any other PR writing, you'll make it much easier for your client and the target reader to connect if you tell a good story. And if you find yourself, or your company in the wrong story, then get out of it. We've all been part of interviews that go sideways because the reporter has an agenda or your spokesperson says something they shouldn't. In this case, it's your job to try can get the story back on track or find a way out. This is my story and I’m sticking to it.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

3 Steps to Turn Holiday Downtime into Organized Success

Can you believe it is November already? Time flies when you’re having fun…or just really busy. Christmas music is starting to play (way too early in my opinion), families are on their way into town, office parties are being planned and everyone seems to slow down a little. It can be tempting to enjoy the distractions and slow your work mind down a little, too.

However, in the PR world, I’ve found using that little bit of extra down time to get organized can really pay off when the New Year rolls in and client expectations kick into high gear again. Organization is a key element to professionalism, responsibility and success. I’d estimate 90% of people at least try to organize some part of their life, even if it only happens once or twice year. Often, we get so busy at work throughout the year that all of those organization systems we developed back in January have been completely ignored by now.

If you’d like to develop some organization strategies that are easy to keep, now is the perfect time. Follow these three steps and you will be sure to have an organized and successful 2016:

Step 1. Purge & Clean
Start by getting rid of clutter. Throw out/recycle any papers laying around that you don’t need. Move items from your physical desktop that you don’t use daily to a desk drawer. Having a larger, clean working space can clear your mind, too.

Then move on to your digital workspace. File away e-mails you don’t need, and organize those folders that have been pushed to the corner of your screen for the last six months. You will decrease the time it takes you to find important items while freeing up memory so your processor runs faster. It’s a win-win for you and your computer.

If you want to go the extra mile, start thinking about what programs you’d like to kick off in January. Jot down any notes you may have, or start a new folder on your desktop to file away resources. That way, when you get back in the office, you are already two steps ahead of your clients and can present them with fresh ideas before they can say “Happy New Year.”

Step 2. Find Your Best Reminder System
I watch many young professionals try to manage the influx of new responsibilities and assignments they receive each day, and many of them forget about deliverables because they simply didn’t log it anywhere. Or, they noted it somewhere they never look.

Everyone is unique in how they like their reminders. For me, I couldn’t function without hand written lists. Lists keep me on track and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m able to cross things off of them. But, if you won’t look at your list each day, that technique will be worthless to you.

One of the most critical elements to staying organized is making your systems work with the habits you’ve already established. You wouldn’t keep your trash can in a corner of the office you never visit, right? I bet you keep it next to or under your desk. Take some time over the next few weeks to figure out what items you look at multiple times throughout the day. This could be your smartphone, Outlook calendar, notebook or even a whiteboard. Try adding assignments or reminders there. If you end up not seeing the list frequently enough, then try something else.

Once you find the right system to suit your habits, you’re going to be so much more efficient. You’ll probably also feel so much happier knowing you’re on top of all your deliverables.

Step 3. Set up Reminders for January 1st Now
Is it just me, or does Holiday break almost make us completely forget about what we were doing on December 23? It can be very easy to shut down your computer on that last day before the Holidays and forget all about the looming deadlines you have to meet on your first day back. Trust me, coming back to the office in January that way is a harsh reality check you want to avoid.

Instead of scrambling through a New Year’s Eve hangover, prepare for January 1st now. As you get closer to your Holiday break, use that reminder system you developed in Step 2 to create a Top 5 list of things you need to do (or remember) when you get back to the office. That way you already know the first items you need to accomplish when you return to the office and your first morning back will be a breeze.

Hopefully these three suggestions will help you get organized and create a strong foundation for success in 2016. But, don’t forget to have a little fun, too! Just make sure there are no photographers at your Holiday party.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Socializing 101--Navigating Social Media Never Never Land (Part 1)

It seems like every time I turn around, a new form of social media pops up. Whether it be Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Vine—oh my goodness the list could go on for days. It can easily become overwhelming to keep up with what’s going on where, how frequently to check what, and where to post your message. It’d be nice if a Social Media fairy was available to take whatever content you had and drop it off at the door of the most appropriate platform, with the right tone, at the right time. I wish! Unfortunately, none of us are any type of modern day Cinderella (bummer, I know) and there is no Social Media Fairy God Mother. So what’s a public relations professional to do?

Social media is constantly evolving. However, there are a few tips and tricks I have discovered that I believe could help any communications professional navigate through Social Media Never Never Land. Since there are so many different platforms, let’s start with the big 3 and if you’re lucky (you will be), we can cover a couple more less prevalent ones in another post.

  •  LinkedIn is a professional networking site. Here you will find people in all stages of their career from college students to CEOs looking to connect with other professionals. It’s a great place to post any company or client news that you may have. It’s also a good place to post articles related to your professional industry. LinkedIn has tons of groups that are dedicated to any and every industry/topic that you can think of. I would suggest that you find groups that relate to your profession and your client’s industries and join those. It’s a great place to find out industry news, contribute content, interact with like-minded professionals and get your client in front of the right people. LinkedIn also recently rolled out LinkedIn Pulse—a new professional blog element to the platform. Here you can post your own original content, follow other professionals in addition to Influencers (this would be the equivalent of being “verified” on Twitter.) When it comes to what and how you post on this networking site, err on the side of professional. Keep it career focused and not too casual. This is essentially the boardroom of social media platforms.

  •   Twitter is so multi-dimensional. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s coy, it’s playful, it’s mean. Twitter has Multiple Personality Disorder. There, I said it. Any and everybody is on Twitter, saying any and everything, which makes it difficult to navigate, while at the same time, difficult to really mess up. In my previous blog we covered how to interact with reporters on Twitter and make yourself stand out to get your client’s message received. Obviously, all of those things still reign true here. Twitter is very relaxed and conversational. It updates by the second so there really is no such thing as tweeting too much. Unless of course it’s all you ever do. In that case, back away from the blue bird. While Twitter does have an “anything goes” type of feel, it’s important to remain civil. I see so many reporters and other professionals ranting and posting inappropriate and snide things, and in the end, it can taint your professional persona. When it comes to tweeting, keep it casual, but keep it civilized. 

  •  Facebook is a tricky beast. Especially since your Grandma and first grade teacher are on there. While it originated as a networking site for college students, everyone can attest to the fact that it’s become an overcrowded party where no one is willing to leave early due to a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Unless your company is focused on B2C, looking to hire or needs some assistance from outside of the professional world, I’d suggest limiting the professional content you post on Facebook. Mainly because not only will you probably not see much result from your efforts, but also not many people would care…other than your Grandma, of course.

In theory, social media in the PR world should be as simple as being social. I mean, we are trained communicators after all! Unfortunately for us, even Cinderella’s Fairy God Mother couldn’t save her from losing that designer shoe. When it comes to PR knowing the who, what, when, where and why of social media just comes with jumping right in. And of course, a blog or two…

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

More Than a Clip

What have you done for me lately? Sometimes it feels like that phrase could be the motto of the public relations profession. We spend time and energy every day making sure we secure the best possible coverage for our clients. Once that clip hits, however, it’s onward and upward to the next story. You learn this pretty early in the business as it's just the nature of the beast. As is the case with many things in life, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to getting a good press hit.

A smart PR professional understands there are three key things that need to be in place to create quality editorial opportunities for their company or client. While each of these can certainly happen independently, they are most effective when working together.
  • Know Your Business – This may seem like a no brainer, but trust me it’s not as far fetched as it sounds. I’ve been in far too many meetings, conversations or email exchanges where it is apparent that the person tasked with pitching a story doesn’t fully understand the company’s business objectives. If you don’t really know what the company is trying to accomplish and communicate to the market, how can you convincingly pitch a story that a reporter will buy into?
  • Know The Story – No press release, blog or tweet should be a standalone item. Every word, sentence and message should help tell a piece of a broader story. Think of the opportunity lost when an executive is quoted as being “pleased”, “excited” or “happy”. Sure that sounds nice and might make someone feel good, but wouldn’t the reader rather hear about why a partnership will help both companies achieve shared objectives or how an award validates the work a company is doing? The nature of each communication vehicle dictates what kind of information to share, but ultimately, they should all layer on top of each other and work together to tell a complete story for the company.
  • Know The Reporter – As in every industry, there are some snarky reporters who revel in highlighting the bad and/or irrelevant pitches they receive. While we all make mistakes, they certainly have a point. How can you expect to get coverage if you are striking up a conversation with the wrong person? Doing research is only half the work. Taking the time to really get to know a reporter who is influential for your company is so important. We do weekly “Call Downs” with the sole purpose of learning more about a reporter or analyst. This can be a phone conversation, a twitter exchange, using time while waiting for other to join a conference call, whatever. The point is that we ask questions about things they are working on, topics they are interested in, or opinions they have on what is happening in the industry. These are simple connections that can strengthen the relationship and give you insights to be more effective in pitching stories.
So in the effort to continuously secure the most influential coverage possible, these three steps are key to making that happen. More and more these days PR is expected to “move the needle” to achieve corporate objectives, which means the right story in the right publication at the right time is more important than ever before. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

3 Scary-Easy Tips to Present Yourself as a Serious Leader

Halloween is right around the corner and while developing the theme for my next Connect2 blog post I thought, “what is the scariest thing that could happen to me professionally?” Losing my job is of course at the top of my list, but a close second is not being taken seriously. The thought of it makes my skin crawl! I know I work hard and put a lot of thought into (most) everything I do, so how could someone not see that I am a valuable resource to my team? Chills my bones.

In reality, I can probably count on one hand the number of times someone has made me feel underappreciated or insignificant to a team. I am lucky to work for a firm that always finds value in its employees. We also promote professional development with consistent constructive feedback to ensure our team members present themselves as confident PR leaders.

I’d like to share with you some of the constructive tips I was given in my career, as well as the most common feedback I give to young professionals. Following these tips will help ensure you present yourself as a mature team player from day one at your new job. Not following these tips could lead to some seriously scary consequences.

1. Unless zombies are chasing you, don’t use an exclamation point in that e-mail.  This form of punctuation was created to express excitement, surprise, astonishment or any other strong emotion. Are you strongly emotional about the fact that you attached an excel sheet to your e-mail? Are you surprised that you figured out how to attach it? If so, then feel free to type, “The excel sheet is attached!!!” But also realize we may have to talk about your qualifications for this job if you didn’t know how to do that yet.

I find that many college or grade school students (myself included) make this punctuation mistake because exclamation points are informally used to emphasize happiness, kindness, good moods, etc. In a professional environment, though, it emphasizes inexperience.

2    2. You might have to find your way out of the Haunted House alone. Many young professionals expect to learn a lot in their first few years starting a career. What many don’t expect is that they will often have to act as their own teacher.

Your superiors at work aren’t there to show you how to load the printer correctly or fix a faulty Outlook calendar. If something isn't going quite like you expected, not go to the CEO hoping she will tell you what to do next. Instead, problem solve. I bet some simple Googling would suggest what might be wrong and get you on your way to a solution. This may sound harsh, but I honestly don’t care that your Outlook calendar isn’t working. I just need you to send out that meeting invite.

The point is that there are many resources at your disposal to help you be self-sufficient. We want to see you use those tools and demonstrate you can think for yourself and think on your feet. Your superiors aren’t there to be your mama, your babysitter or your teacher. They are there to guide the best teams to deliver the best results for customers.When you gain independence, you'll also gain respect.

3    3. Blame the Werewolf, not the Moon. Learning to become accountable for your actions is one of the most crucial steps in demonstrating maturity and leadership. This is a lesson that many people struggle with because it is natural for humans to deflect blame. However, having an excuse every time you underperform is childish and not a behavior you want to practice at work.

If you’re at fault, own your mistake and point it out! (Yes, I got excited there so an exclamation mark is appropriate.) I have much more respect for team members that can point out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. That second element is key: when something goes wrong, demonstrate you understand the mistake, why it is an issue and what changes you can make moving forward.

As you move into a role where you are managing others, the ability to own your mistakes is critical in leading your teams. You will be responsible for their work, so you will be held accountable when something goes wrong. I doubt blaming Intern Jane for missing the team’s presentation deadline will go over well the next time you need Jane’s help on a project.

While leadership isn’t a scary concept, getting there can sometimes be intimidating. Luckily, there are many professionals out there willing to offer their insight on how to best navigate the road to success -- I know some good resources right here on the Connect2 blog (wink wink)!