Politicians and PR: Crisis Communications

Image credit: Urbeguayana.com via Flickr.

Republican Richard Mourdock faced a potentially crippling charge back in October, based on what he said concerning the subject of rape during a debate. In the world of politics, this is a serious misstep that could potentially have a lasting effect on the politician’s reputation and career. PR professionals would regard such a situation as a crisis and political spokespersons need to be prepared for crises like Mourdock’s at all times.

Mourdock, upon being asked about his opinion regarding abortion, said this: “…I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” You can find the whole quote here, along with the widespread responses of his remark. Naturally, his comment was construed in a profoundly negative light by Democrats and some independents. Mourdock’s statement almost sounds as if he is making light of rape and dismissing it as God’s will. He was putting the election in favor of Romney’s campaign in jeopardy, which reflects on Romney’s and many Republicans’ public images. Romney smartly said that his views were not to be associated with Mourdock’s.

In such a crisis, there are numerous factors to be considered. Firstly, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the blunder made in the situation. Whether or not a comment is meant literally, it should be acknowledged that a mistake was made by not phrasing the sentence correctly. If he had not taken responsibility for his actions, it would have been implied that he was too ignorant or stubborn to admit his fault. At any time, being factual and genuine is a must.

After acknowledging the scope of the situation, additional clarifying information should be included.  Since Mourdock’s statement was taken out of context, he worked to remedy his predicament. He clarified himself later and reworded what he said, which was that God intends for life to happen and not rape. “If there was any interpretation other than what I intended, I really regret that,” Mourdock  said. “Anyone who goes to the video tape and views that understands fully what I meant.” Immediacy of the clarification is paramount to any PR crisis; Mourdock explained what he meant as soon as word spread of his statement.

Concerning any potential dilemmas in the future, it is important to evaluate other crises in PR and how those crises were handled. What did Lance Armstrong’s spokesperson say when the press discovered that he was doping? What did BP say when their oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico? These do not have to necessarily be used as direct examples of crisis management, but evaluating the success of their crisis management can be the deciding factor on what should or should not be done. Richard Mourdock’s comment remains controversial to this day, but his approach was relatively effective considering the damage that had already been done.

QVC and Breast Cancer Awareness

 

Image credit: enciktat via Shutterstock.

 

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, several organizations have campaigned for breast cancer awareness and research. One organization has made a massive positive impact on the effort: QVC.

QVC (intialized for Quality, Value, Convenience) is a global shopping community with most of its merchandise sold via television. However, it also has a website and other forms of media to market its products (Twitter and Facebook among them).  You can find more information about QVC’s history and products by visiting their website.

On October 24, QVC paired up with the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY) on its 19th year to host a show that spanned 3 hours in which the company marketed shoes at half the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Net proceeds from the show benefit the support of breast cancer education and research. Several name brand shoe companies participated by donating their designer shoes, and over 50 vendors overall participated in the program. The campaign is successful every year; almost every pair of shoes is sold out within minutes after airing. QVC also airs a special shoe of the day once a day during every weekday in October.

QVC raised awareness for the event by using commercials, its website, and social media. Its Twitter page was decorated with a pink background in honor of breast cancer victims. The feed was bustling with activity, many consumers talking about their anticipation for FFANY Shoes on Sale. QVC’s website had more information regarding the topic, including links entitled “Desiree’s Story” and “Robin’s Story”, inspiring and touching stories about two brave breast cancer survivors. The website also offered statistics on breast cancer and another promotional video featuring Nicole Richie.

FFANY Shoes on Sale is a strategic and clever idea for business. It’s not only a bargain on shoes for consumers, but it also benefits research for breast cancer. Consumers are more willing to buy something if they know that their purchase will contribute to a good cause, in addition to purchasing reasonably-priced, limited-time designer items. This year’s sale is over, but I expect another successful campaign will air next year on its 20th anniversary.

By RebeccaD

Writing an Appealing Press Release

Image credit:Andrey Prokhorov via iStockphoto

Press releases serve to promote business in a factual, original way and earn recognition with the media and the public. Not knowing how to properly format or write a press release would unquestionably be detrimental for business. Let’s take a closer look at what press releases are and what they need to include.

What is a press release?

A press release is an officially written announcement issued by a company that aims to distribute newsworthy information to the public.

Newsworthiness

Press releases need to be issued only when there is valuable information to disclose. Write about a unique service, a recently added product, new management, an upcoming event, a milestone for the company, or notification of any major changes. Do not write a press release solely to promote your name. Press releases sent out frequently without any substantial content tend to be regarded as annoying and self-serving. The press release needs to have a specific purpose in mind.

Format

General guidelines for press release format include a catchy headline, an introduction, body, company information, and contact information. Contact information would include any social media the organization uses, email addresses, phone numbers, and a website URL. Release date instructions may also be inserted at the top. Here is a standard press release template.

Content

It would be a good idea to include the most important information first, followed by additional details and quotes, saving the least important information for last. This style of organization is called Inverted Pyramid style. When a story is released to the media, journalists will go through your content and possibly condense your message in the interest of length, which is why key details of your message should be mentioned first. Keep your story clear and concise, and do your best to leave out unnecessary information such as a biography of the company. A press release has a specific message to send, so history, if included at all, should be last.

Inverted Pyramid diagram. Image credit: Tangient LLC via civics.wikispaces.com

Quality of the grammar and sentence structure in a press release will not be overlooked either. Spell words correctly, avoid jargon, and use punctuation in the correct places. Also, keep the tone of the press release formal and in third person. Avoid using a “sales pitch” tone.

You can also insert images, or, if your press release is online, links and videos for additional relevant information. Images and videos add to the intrigue and appeal of any story, and will therefore make your press release more likely to be read.

Frequency

Be consistent with sending out press releases. The general rule to follow is about once a month. Any more than that and the media may think of the press releases as nuisances. Ideally, you should have something interesting or new to report once a month. If nothing new has happened recently, write an interesting story from a fresh angle. Do not send in a press release with the same information twice; if the media did not take particular notice, try a different angle for the next one.

 

Press releases vary from organization to organization, but they remain a vital tool for business success, regardless of the company. PRWeb contains more useful tips on press releases.

 

 

Getting Your Name Out There

 

Image credit: Gabriella Fabbri via Stock.XCHNG

For any organization to be successful, people need to be aware of your products or services. In order for the public to know about what you have to offer, those services need to be marketed. What precisely makes up a successful campaign, then? What is involved in the process?

A lot of preparation goes into an effective marketing strategy. It is important that the campaign have some sort of specific objective and create messages to the public that will meet the objective. Before advertising yourself, you also need to implement research and find out what your targeted publics are interested in. You can then tailor your campaign’s goals and messages to suit their interests.

With the rise of the Internet, PR campaigns are more convenient and quick to execute than ever before. For example, KFC used Twitter for their scholarship giveaway and Healthy Choice included a progressive coupon on their Facebook page. Starting the campaign off with benefits for your public will draw positive attention to your organization. Imagine telling your publics that if they “like” your page on Facebook, they will recieve a coupon for a discount on one of your products.  Your customers get a good deal from visiting your page, which will make them more likely to seek your services again. In addition, they could spread the word about your company to their family, friends, and acquaintances about your discount, giving the company even more of a clientele. As a result, you gain a reputation as a reasonable company in addition to gaining more business.

The most effective method is to get coverage in the news media. Knowing when to release your information, what to convey, and how to convey it will make all the difference in your campaign. This video demonstrates some key tips for marketing in the media. Conducting events is also a valid option. Charity drives and fundraisers are practical activities that promote your objectives and serve to provide valuable resources. Having representatives work and interact with the publics at these events reinforces a personal, face-to-face image for the business.

Too many approaches exist to mention, but here are some successful PR campaigns that you can follow as a guideline as well. Keep in mind your audience, goals, and messages, and your business will flourish in no time!

Research: Why It Matters

Stephan King via Flickr.

At some point in your life, you will find yourself needing to do some type of research. People in general tend not to believe information unless it’s been researched thoroughly. We research our Presidential candidates, what the best price is for a used car, and which movies are worth going to see. It’s no different in PR.  The practice of PR revolves around finding information and applying it to suit the customer’s and company’s needs. You need to ask yourself two key questions: What do I want to know? How will I find the information?

Research begins even before you start your career. Before deciding what organization you wish to work for, you should research their mission statement, Code of Ethics, and any policies that might conflict with your personal values. It would be a daily struggle to work for an organization whose values didn’t coincide with your own.

Research provides an edge for your organization. If you don’t know who your clients are or what your stakeholder’s interests are, it will be harder to meet your goals and objectives. For example, if you as a PR professional are trying to sell a particular brand or service to a certain public, it is your responsibility to find out everything you can about your publics. Imagine trying to appeal to a public without knowing anything about them. Some publics might find it offensive if an organization just assumes something about them that may not be true.

Research extends beyond the present; it needs to be conducted at every stage. It’s important to find information before your interactions, during, and after so that you can evaluate your effectiveness. The information you communicate as an organization needs to be backed up with facts that you can then share with your publics. Organizations should also research the effects that their services are having on customers so that they can improve and build upon those reactions.

Research adds value to your messages and information, in addition to making your organization more credible. It is a continuous and important process for strategic planning that should be used to its fullest capabilities. No one in the PR business wants to associate with someone who doesn’t know the fundamentals of every situation. Put simply, research is the foundation for making the most out of your company’s goals. Knowing its importance and how to use it will yield substantial benefits for as long as you decide to use it.

One-on-One with Leon Rademeyer

Leon Rademeyer, courtesy of LinkedIn

Leon Rademeyer

Manager: Media Affairs

Medihelp Medical Scheme

lrademeyer@medihelp.co.za

On Friday, September 21, I had the privilege of interviewing Leon Rademeyer, Professional Manager at Medihelp Medical Scheme, via Skype. I had previously connected with Leon on LinkedIn. He has had an extensive education and has been in Public Relations for over 20 years. He studied journalism for three years right after school. In addition, he worked as a journalist and photographer for an air force magazine. “My dream had always been to work at a big daily newspaper,” he said. He graduated from the University of South Africa with a BA degree in African politics and philosophy. He also achieved an honors degree in international politics at the University of Pretoria. He will be completing his Master’s Degree in October. Leon is a member of some forums such as the Press Club of South Africa and the Public Relations Institute of South Africa.

During his time in journalism, Leon mostly worked in crime and general reporting during a “turbulent and violent time” when there were many stories for a journalist. He interviewed a variety of people, including Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and Desmond Tutu, South African activist. He described journalism as a “fast-paced and racy type of environment” and that a typical day is very busy and complicated. Leon explains that there is pressure in getting extra information that your competition wouldn’t have, because merely knowing someone’s age could give you an edge over a competitor.

After working in journalism for five years, he decided to broaden his scope and study Public Relations. Since Leon had experience in reading, writing, and communication, he felt that “being on the other side of the spectrum could be very interesting.” He soon applied for a position at the University of Pretoria as a spokesperson. Public Relations, he said, is a world full of opportunities, and you can make a much better living out of PR than you could with journalism.

Even being in South Africa, Leon’s organization is easily connected to the rest of the world. “Because of the electronic age of globalism,” Leon said, “the world has shrunk and has become a very small place.” Technology has unlocked several possibilities for global organizations through the use of social media and other means.  Most companies in South Africa know fluent English, which provides even more effective communication with different publics. The company still communicates in both languages because some of the other older companies have an Afrikaans clientele.

Leon said that social media has been a positive factor for his company. It has been one of the chief advantages in keeping current with the PR industry. The idea of social media is fairly recent to the 107-year-old business. The medical aid organization started their involvement with social media approximately one year ago, starting with some of the largest platforms. It currently has Facebook and Twitter accounts, in addition to a blog of which Leon himself is the author. Leon said that the organization has been very successful since their debut in social media. After about another year, he said, they may decide to reconsider and add some other platforms.

Leon makes it a point to meet with journalists, target publics, and target markets face-to-face. He said that personal communication is highly important to the industry. “I make it my business to know what’s going on to a certain extent in the personal lives of my top 10 or 20 contacts,” he said. The most effective thing you can do in an organization is to target your publics’ needs, which you can then adjust to, Leon said. His advice for working in Public Relations is to be both proactive and reactive as well as speedy. He said that there will inevitably be problems, but it is how you handle those situations that distinguishes you. In PR, when you communicate to the public about your organization, you are the first person people will come to when there is an issue. It is especially important that you portray your company in an honest yet positive manner. Your first concern is to protect your company, or demonstrating, as Leon called it, transparent integrity. He said you must have the basics in place, a media policy, and some type of crisis communication plan.

One of the most intense and arduous experiences in PR for Leon involved a vaccine for a cure for HIV/AIDS. The scientists in the faculty of medicine for the organization developed the vaccine without telling the University’s management or the PR department. Later, one of the academics leaked out the information about the cure because some of them had connections with journalists. Leon was the spokesperson concerning this matter, and he received calls from the New York Times, BBC, and BBC radio. The best thing to do in that situation, Leon said, was to be honest. The company let the three scientists go and Leon apologized and explained that it was not their fault. There was some debate, then, as to who the spokesperson should be. They wondered whether they should have the Vice Chancellor speak, but they were worried that he would be contaminated. Since Leon was the regular spokesperson, they took the risk and left the chancellor out of it. In the end, he remained uncontaminated and the problem was resolved.

With PR, Leon said, everything depends on you as the Public Relations professional to get the best deal. Before entering the field, Leon said he was overconfident at first. He soon realized that if you don’t know your internal audience and if you’re not on the same page as the management team in the organization, problems can develop. He said that it’s important to make a connection with the management in the organization. You must see eye-to-eye with them because you work for them. They tell you what to do, how to do it, and when. To work in PR, Leon said, you must be able to stand on your own two feet, be positive, and form a balance. There will be times when you must take the fall for your company, and as you build trust with the company, they will ask you to do more.

The field has changed significantly since Leon began working in PR. At the stage he started, PR was slower and used a lot of print media. The interactions were more focused and one-on-one. He said that you would have three or four major contacts in the media and maybe one corporate social investment. He said the field was pretty basic; even now, though, the main principles have stayed the same. Current PR has become much quicker, and there is no gatekeeper position.

Leon says that having a career in PR is truly an exciting and fulfilling experience. Every day can be rewarding. He says that if you like an adrenaline rush with each new day, then PR is the job for you. He left me with some advice: In PR, once you have the basics in place and internal staff and management under your wing, you can go out there, be creative, and take calculated risks. You must be able to think on your feet and yet still be sensitive for your company’s internal needs.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with a legitimate Public Relations professional. He was very patient and understanding as well as extremely helpful. I learned quite a bit just from listening to his story. After this interview, I feel more likely to pursue a career in PR because it sounds interesting and engaging.

How to Get Followers on Twitter

In my last post, I discussed some of the aspects of social media and what sort of impact it’s been making on Public Relations. To narrow this topic down, let’s focus on one of the most prevalent forms of social media: Twitter. Twitter is a social medium that many professionals have flocked to in order to spread information about their work, values, and interests. However, part of having a strong presence on Twitter is to have a significant amount of followers. Having a large amount of followers increases the chances that your tweets will be retweeted (hence earning even more of a reputation) and it also increases the professional connections you have. But the question is, then, how do you gain more followers?

 

Consistency

Personally, I will admit that the process has been fairly slow-going. You can’t make people be interested in something that they’re not; you just have to attract the kind of followers who are interested in the same things as you. The first thing to consider is consistency. How often do you tweet? It’s crucial to tweet at a constant rate and keep your feed active with current tweets. Of course, the other extreme of tweeting too often can be a problem because you will lose credibility. You might inadvertently be sending a message that you don’t put any thought into what you tweet and you are merely tweeting for the sake of doing so. Eventually the tweets will lose novelty and as a result they may be ignored altogether. Find the right balance, preferably a few per day or week.

 

Grammar and Punctuation

I know plenty of competent, intelligent people for whom grammar is not their forté. However, in any profession you plan to enter, it is important to communicate using clear and accurate grammar. A professional with whom you want to connect or any employer may deem grammatical errors as lazy and ignorant on the tweeter’s part. There’s also the character limit to consider, but several people such as myself have a pet peeve when it comes to shorthand.

 

Relevance and Length

Make sure that your tweets are relevant to your target audience. Share interesting news and information, retweet valuable quotes, and show your personality through individual tweets. Scott Kleinberg from the Chicago Tribune says to follow the rule of thirds: “One third of the time, post about you and/or your brand. Include related links. One third of the time, talk about things related to you and your work, but make sure the material is from another source. And one third of the time, be you.” People are interested in unusual and current trends, so it’s important to remember that when you tweet. You want to ensure that your tweets will be something others will want to retweet. To make your tweets more searchable, be sure to include hash tags for each of them. Also make sure each tweet is short and concise; it’s fairly easy to run out of room with only 140 characters to work with. Also be sure to shorten the links you use to post something so that you have more room to include other information. There is a site I use called TinyURL that’s easy to use, but apparently bit.ly is more retweetable.

 

Picture and Biography

The last thing a professional cares to see is the indiscriminate, generic little egg that shows up as the default. Not having a personalized photo conveys the idea that you are, once again, too lazy to bother. It’s far too easy for a professional to skim over your profile simply because you didn’t set yourself apart from everyone else. Of course, if you wish to attract industry professionals, it’s imperative that you exclude any questionable pictures (like the one from that crazy Friday night). Another key attention-grabber is your biography. Again, you have limited space to convey to the public exactly who you are. Mention your field of study and then whatever passions you might have. Some people get creative and quirky with it, but on my Twitter I just include my interests in writing and Journalism.

 

This *must* be what you look like…right?
Photo credit: Justin Van Leeuwen via Flickr

 

The best way to familiarize yourself with people and get followers is to experiment with your tweets. See which ones get retweeted more and then follow the same pattern. There are also certain behaviors you should avoid: here’s what not to do on social media sites. It may take some time before you see any change in followers, but these tips will give you an advantage that you didn’t have before.

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can find my page here. Good luck, and happy tweeting!

 

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