Category Archives: Corporate Communication

How to start building your brand ambassador community – iMediaConnection.com

“A very cool post on building brand ambassadors and the importance of cultivating bloggers to extend your company’s message.”
Blogger communities can help promote — or doom — companies, products, and services that fall into their areas of interest. Find out how you can harness their power for the good of your brand.

Outlook Bright for Communications Profession

Looking ahead to 2011, the outlook for the communications profession remains bright, according to a panel of thought leaders speaking Nov. 22 at the final IABC Atlanta monthly member meeting of the year.

Photo caption (photo back L to R Ken Boughrum, TUNE Communications; Debbie Curtis-Magley, UPS; front L to R: Sara Pilling, PGi and Lauren Jarrell, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The packed meeting included a large contingent of students from the IABC student chapter at University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Ken Boughrum, a 25-year communications strategist who runs TUNE Communications and spent most of the past decade at PR agency, Ketchum, noted that the communications profession is finally making a metamorphosis, moving away from being an “information distribution business to being in the business of influencing the business. That really happens by establishing a relationship with all of an organization’s stakeholders whether it’s through social media tools or using tried-and-true methods,” he said.

All the panelists stressed the impact on social media on the way they communicate externally and internally to key groups.  “The cool thing about being in the communications function is we get to shape that dialogue,” Boughrum said.

More Intimate Dialogue

 

Lauren Jarrell, director of communications for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that the hospitality industry has always relied on deep connections with partners and customers. Social media (check out Twitter feed) “gives a louder voice to the message shaping we’ve been working on for years.” Jarrell added that the ability to communicate so quickly and so often is also exciting because it allows her team to leverage people who are influencers and who are most passionate about her organization’s “product” — Atlanta as a destination — to serve as voices to key audiences.

Sara Pilling, marketing director for PGi, a global application software and services company that enables real-time, virtual meetings, says social media has allowed has given her PR team new ways to tell her company’s story well. “A lot of casual tone and the approachability of influencers now give us a great opportunity to have a much closer dialogue.”

Storytelling Still King

While digital technology’s influence is evident everywhere, audiences still need strong storytelling. Boughrum agrees: “A good story, well told, trumps technology any day. Yes, there are so many channels to tell you story, but at the core it’s still about the story.”

As communicators get better at demonstrating the impact of digital and new media tools, you can gain executive buy-in and ultimately more followers.

Measurement is a big part of Debbie Curtis-Magley’s job at UPS. As corporate public relations manager, she works closely with colleagues in Customer Communications, HR and Employee Communications on several social media efforts, including content for the UPS blog, upside. Curtis-Magley describes her role as part communicator and part “data nerd.”

“The data has been helpful for us in building the business case about the importance of our participation in these channels,” she said.

Several high-profile events affected UPS’s brand in the last year, from a plane crash to the discovery of suspicious packages originating in Yemen found on UPS and FedEx planes.  Curtis-Magley also recalled following the Haiti earthquake, a rumor circulating on social media sites mentioned that UPS would ship packages under 50 pounds for free to Haiti. “People didn’t check our website to see that we had suspended service to the country in the wake of the earthquake,” she said.

Curtis-Magley analyzes online chatter, enabling UPS to connect data to the stories and better understand which stories caught the interest of a wider audience, and which stories had shorter or longer life cycles. UPS’s PR team also generates quarterly reports on key business topics, to see the impact of the company’s messaging and to better understand the sentiment around conversations around the brand.

“It’s allowed us to show some progress in the areas of customer service and environment,” she said. “We’ve been able to provide a lot of numbers to whatever situation we encounter and it’s enabled us to provide business intelligence. Whatever group has an interest, we are able to provide some data that they now connect to the business reality (of the situation being measured).”

Trust Rising, According to Edelman

All the panelists agreed that trust in organizations is important – Boughrum noted that trust and transparency in companies are “as important as quality and service.”

Panel moderator Marilyn Mobley, senior vice president and strategic counsel for Edelman, shared results of the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer. This annual opinion leaders study found an 18 percent uptick in trust globally in business.

Employees as Brand Ambassadors

Employee engagement in telling an organization’s story will continue to grow in prominance among forward-thinking companies. Great examples of this approach are IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign, which offers a succinct global message that resonates with audiences, unifies IBM staff and celebrates the employee, noted Boughrum. He also cited Cisco’s Human Network and Intel’s Rock Star Sponsors of Tomorrow TV commercial, featuring Intel ‘s co-inventor of the USB being treated as a rock star by colleagues.

Curtis-Magley said that with more than 400,000 employees, UPS has a rich source of compelling stories from drivers who make deliveries to other staff, who have stories to tell that people are “interested in hearing.” “It humanizes the brand and shows we’re a company made up of people just like you,” she added.

Influencers, Blogs to Follow

Concluding the discussion, panelists offered the following resources for communicators who want to stay ahead of trends in social media and communications in 2011:

Blogs/Influencers:

 

Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang  Since 1996, this blog has delivered insight on disruptive technologies and their impact on how companies communicate with their customers.

Forrestor blog, Groundswell  — This blog targets readers interested in social applications and technology empowerment inside and outside companies. Its written by two Forrestor analysts –Josh Bernoff, co-author of the BusinessWeek bestseller Groundswell, who serves as senior vice president, idea development, at Forrester Research, and Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst in Forrester’s IT Research Group.

Sarah Evans, owner of Sevans Strategy, a public relations and new media consultancy, who initiated and moderates #journchat, the weekly—and first-ever—industry live chat between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers on Twitter.

James Andrews, social media strategist, founding partner of EVERYWHERE, blogger, author, speaker, DJ, occasional CNN social media expert.

Website — Harvard Business Review – Working Knowledge – an early look at faculty research to help communicators stay ahead of the curve of what’s coming in academic research.

Book Drive by Daniel H. Pink — addresses the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—namely, the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Independence has its Rewards

My article in the current IABC Atlanta member magazine, empart, talks about the challenges and rewards of being an independent communicator. If you’ve ever thought about striking out on your own, the time couldn’t be better. Find out below what it takes to succeed as an independent communication pro in today’s ever-changing business landscape.

Striking Out On Your Own: Self-employed Communicators Speak Out
Reprinted from empart magazine, Summer/fall 2010
 
One in six IABC professional members worldwide is self-employed, and I proudly count myself as one of them. My editorial and PR consulting firm was launched more than 11 years ago after signing up my first client, a wireless communications firm, and I haven’t looked back.

Going independent, for many of us, represents a chance to pursue clients and work that most interests us, with the opportunity to work on our own terms – in our pajamas if we like. Of course, the deadlines and expectations to deliver great results are just the same and maybe even tougher than in the full-time employee world, depending on the client load that’s carried.

The jump from full-time staffer to consultant isn’t as huge as it used to be, with cutbacks in full-time marketing and PR departments and in full-service PR agencies compelling many professionals to go at it alone. Eight of the 10 largest O’Dwyer-ranked independent PR firms were in the minus column for 2009. Also reporting negative years were 15 of the top 25 and 32 of the top 50.

For Audraine Jackson, it was one too many downsizings from area PR firms that finally prompted her to go independent 12 years ago.
 

“Despite delivering great work for agencies servicing clients like Kroger, MARTA, Orange Crush and Hardee’s, I was always targeted for layoffs when an account was lost or didn’t pay on time. As a VP/ account supervisor, my position was the first to be cut for less experienced, lower-compensated hires,” recalls Jackson, who knew something about the entrepreneurial mindset since her father always ran his own businesses while Jackson was growing up.

“Being independent is better now than when I started. Companies are more willing to contract out for services they used to have in-house,” says Jackson. A consultant brings value by getting the work done without the organization having to expand annual payroll, which is important to publicly-traded companies as well as smaller businesses that are scrutinizing bottom-line results, Jackson notes.

Her company, Jackson Communications, serves clientele in construction/real estate development, restaurant, government, healthcare and sports marketing. Jackson also is a highly-followed blogger whose ATLFalconFan rants and raves regularly appear at USA Today.com.

Attitude is Everything

For veteran communicators who have been downsized, and may be considering contract work for the first time, “Don’t be discouraged,” Jackson says. “Some layoffs should be viewed as an opportunity for new growth instead of mourning it as a loss,” she says, noting that Oprah Winfrey once said that there had been no failures in her life — just opportunities for lessons to be learned. To be successful, according to Jackson, independents need to balance time each week on new business development, account service and operational functions. “It is a lot of work but they are all necessary to building and sustaining a livelihood.” She offers this helpful advice for communicators thinking about moving into the entrepreneurial ranks:

• Develop a solid business plan and know how to budget money and time.
• Close a few accounts before going out on your own full-time
• Assess your skill level and determine your hourly rate and identify clients who can afford to pay those fees.

“The smaller you are, the smaller your accounts may be sometimes since businesses can’t afford to expend money for failed results,” says Jackson.

 

Jeremy Porter, a consultant specializing in tech PR and marketing for start-ups and founder of Journalistics, an expert search engine and marketing platform, says his decision to go independent a decade ago was out of a realization that he was “never good with following rules.”

 

“I also saw an opportunity to help clients do more with less, track results closer to real dollar values, all while making more money than I would in a full-time gig,” he says.

‘Best Time’ for Independents

Porter thinks now is the best time for communicators to go out on their own. “When I first ventured out on my own it was in the midst of the dotcom bust. Despite what you might think, it was the best time to start out. We’re in a similar place right now – companies are looking for smarter, more cost-effective resources to help them with their marketing programs. Independents are more attractive options than ever. In Atlanta specifically, there seems to be the most opportunity with entertainment, alternative energy, life sciences and the tech sectors though everything looks to be rebounding right now.”

How to keep momentum in your business going? Porter advises to stay visible. “Volunteer on boards, speak at events, get quoted in articles, share interesting information with your contacts and don’t let two months go by without at least checking in with your top contacts.”

Jackson reads biographies of successful leaders and has found IABC a huge asset to her consulting career. “The local seminars and workshops always give me new ways to solve recurring business challenges,” she says, adding that entering and winning her first Golden Flames Award in the integrated marketing category last year was a “real confidence booster.” She also has done reciprocal award judging, which has helped her understand how others are facing similar challenges in other parts of the world – and gives her a “bird’s eye view at how they are able to tackle communications issues and overcome them.”

She advises anyone who becomes an entrepreneur to stay positive and understand that business trends in cycles. “You must have vision, forecasting skills and sources of motivation to keep your attitude and approach right.”

Local Resources for Independents

PRSA/GA President Timothy Hussey says PRSA’s Independent Counselors Special Interest Group (SIG) (https://www.prsageorgia.org/sigs/Independent-Counselors/) meets monthly and is one of the largest SIGs in the Atlanta chapter.

IABC/Atlanta recently formed a new Independent Communicators Roundtable SIG, which holds meetings every other month. Organizer Debra Jacob, owner of Jacob Market Research, a web analytics and e-marketing firm in midtown Atlanta, relocated to Atlanta in November 2009 from San Francisco, where she coordinated a similar IABC independent communicators’ roundtable, while working as a marketing communications consultant.

“The premise is to pull together independent business owners so they have a forum in which to discuss critical issues to their business – that means anything from how to bill and how to use new media, to sharing tips among each other so they can learn from positive and negative experiences,” Jacob says, who tries to inspire a “collaborative spirit” to the group.

While outside speakers present at the roundtable, she keeps the group small (the target is 15 people) to ensure rich dialogue. “We want to hit those key target areas – what do I charge? Can I go on vacation and still run a business? How do I subcontract?’ These are all critical issues,” Jacob says.

A key success factor in the roundtable format is that it’s collaborative and non- competitive: “We’re not all individuals here; we can help one another out. If I am approached with business I don’t particularly do, I can pass leads on. Especially in this economy it’s important that we be resources for each other. It’s not every man or woman for him or herself.”

D.C. Area: Steady Growth in Independents, Larger Contracts

Heathere Keenan, founder of the Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA), a 60-member group of independents in the greater Washington, D.C. area, reports seeing continued steady growth in the number of independents but not a major uptick as a result of the economy.

“What we are seeing is larger contracts being awarded to independents, which I think speaks to the whole concept of the virtual model and the benefits it brings to clients, especially in this economy where budgets for integrated communications are being monitored and analyzed,” Keenan says. “I think the (independent practice) model offers serious benefits to clients looking for value, senior level talent and a flexible kind of team.”

Keenan, who is an 11-year independent practitioner through her company, Keenan PR, says that successful people in this industry have an entrepreneurial drive, believe and value this work model, and share a strong spirit of partnership. Winning new business “is often the result of a few independents partnering together,” Keenan concludes.

Turner Experts Share Video-over-Web Tips

Turner Broadcasting’s team of new media production, photography and communications experts provided ample advice at the IABC Atlanta’s Technology Special Interest Group meeting this week.  Walking the talk, the Turner folks not only provided different examples of videography equipment for us to see and handle, but also they streamed the meeting live — capturing the presentation and Q&A from attendees using handheld flip cameras, while encouraging those of us present to the do the same.
It was an information-packed few hours on Turner’s campus as we learned the best techniques and tools for doing web-based video storytelling. I was the first one to ask about lighting– a key concern of mine as I have been accustomed to the painstaking lighting set ups from professional shoots in my years in corporate communications.
Dennis Bassarab
“The web is more impactful with tighter shots,” noted Dennis Bassarab, Emmy-award-winning videographer and director of photography for Turner Studios. Bassarab advised us to remember that a person’s eyes can capture an image much better than the sensor in any camera.
 

Lighting Key

“There are some simple lighting paradigms – your foreground should be brighter than your background; you try to get lighting that is pleasant and fills the face out. Not harsh lighting – you don’t want to see shadows in the background.”

 
If you have a flip camera, the first thing you look for is where the light is coming from. If there is a window, you open the blinds and let the natural light hit your subject. “Nature is your light. Use that. If you have overhead fluorescents – they’re not great, but you can use a white tablecloth over a chair or some kind of reflecting material to bounce light in. Use your desk lamps – those are great because they’re low,” Bassarab advised. 
David Broyles

David Broyles, manager of Technical Operations, whose role includes overseeing Turner’s Digital Media Group and the DVD Authoring Group, reiterated that editing and encoding video depends on what you have to work with – namely, “good lighting and good audio.”

To Stream or Not to Stream?

David Kennerly, manager of New Media Production & Development, said one of the big things you need to decide is how do you want to capture video – by streaming it live (which requires compression) so people can watch it on demand, or to capture and encode it at your computer later? How you answer will dictate what technology you use. Encoding for streaming is ideally at 750 kpbs, although 500 kpbs is also good. Kennerly recommends dual bit rate streaming where you have two streams (one at 500 kpbs and one at 200 kpbs).

David Kennerly
Turner is moving to the Flash format for all their video compression (in fact, 30 percent of all video files are Flash). The H.264/MPEG-4 standard for video compression is where the industry is headed, the Turner officials said. Not surprisingly, Windows Media Player is among the most prevalent players used on the market today.
 
Quick Time Pro got high marks for supporting MPG-4 formats and affordability. Others referenced included Premiere, Final Cut, Media Composer and Sony’s Vegas Pro.

What You Need to Get Started

 
To get started with your own video storytelling over the web, here’s a basic list of what you need:
• Video camera
• Lighting kit (there are some inexpensive options and a house lamp or two can do wonders)
• Microphones (lavaliere wireless mics are great)
• Editing platform ( For Mac, consider FinalCutpro, Premiere, Media Composer, iMovie, etc.; for PC, consider Premiere, Media Composer, Vegas)
• Encoder
  FinalCut, Premiere, Media Composer, Vegas and other editing platforms can encode. Dedicated encoders include QuickTimePro, Sorensen Squeeze, Adobe Media Encoder, TMPEG Encoder.

If you want to do inexpensive live video on the web, Kennerly advised that you buy a DV camera with a FireWire output and a laptop with a FireWire input. You also need to open an account with Livestream or Ustream (Livestream offers an option to stream to iPhones).

Kennerly said there are also ways to create more professional video streams. On the low end, you can transmit video using a digital DV signal over FireWire directly into a laptop. He described this approach as “a clean, easy way to capture live video for streaming to sites like Ustream or Livestream.” Another option is to use an analog signal over RCA (red/white/yellow) through an external “Break Out Box” like a Pinnacle FireWire or USB capture device. This method is effective to get live video out of most vcameras, including older ones, into almost any computer with a USB 2.0 port. It also comes with software for editing and creating titles.

“Don’t forget webcams and internal cams in laptops for ‘talking head’ type scenarios – if you light well and get a decent microphone, this is an increasingly acceptable, inexpensive way to go,” he said.

In the mid range, you can use a capture card installed in a PCI slot inside your PC, like an Osprey 230 or 300. Kennerly noted that this option is a good way to capture higher-quality video, and the card comes with some cool software that gives you options for overlaying logos on your video. Alternatively, you can invest in a higher-end external FireWire device such as the Canopus ADVC-110.

For high-end video efforts, consider an SD capture card installed in a PCI-X slot inside you PC, like an Osprey 540 or 560, or an HD capture card installed in a PCI-X slot inside your PC, like a Blackmagic Decklink or an Osprey 700. AJA also makes good cards for Macs and PCs.

Encoding Software
At this point you will be ready to encode software for live streaming. Kennerly pointed out that sites such as Ustream, Livestream, and Justin TV “offer their own proprietary encoders that are good for small, homemade shows, and they offer some flexible options.” He said you can stream for free if you can tolerate the advertising. “These sites also act as your video server and CDN (content delivery network) – they are very good options for getting live video on the web quickly.”

You have a number of media encoder options beyond those proprietary options. For instance, Windows Media Encoder 9 is a free download from Microsoft. A positive of that encoder is viewers can watch a stream simply by clicking on a link, and WME offers lots of production tool, while a negative aspect is that some Mac users have trouble viewing WMV streams.

Flash Media Encoder 3.1 is a free download from Adobe. Kennerly said a plus for Flash is that it is easy to view for Windows and Mac users, and is now viewable on Android devices. On the negative side, Flash files are difficult to edit (offering very limited production tools). In addition, viewers have to watch Flash in a player embedded on a web page, or in a player like VLC. 

Video Servers – Windows and Flash Good Options

Running your own video server, continued Kennerly, can be difficult unless you are very tech savvy, but Windows and Flash both offer good media servers.  A plus — running your own server is good for small viewing audiences. A negative — viewers will be reaching in and “touching” your server, so you can’t reach large audiences without crashes. Getting an account with a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is the best solution for serving live video to large audiences. SimpleCDN is an inexpensive CDN, while bigger CDNs like Akamai, Limelight, and Highwinds offer many packages and services. Peer-to-peer streaming services such as Octoshape are an increasingly relevant way to deliver live video.

Embedding Video on the Web — HTML Skills a Must

To embed a video player in a web page, Kennerly advises that you either learn HTML or hire someone who knows it. Windows Media Players, which play live MMS streams, are easy to embed. Flash Media Players, which play live RTMP streams, are harder to embed. Open source players such as Flowplayer and JW player are available, but they require serious coding skills.

Online Sites for Bargain Hunting, Knowledge Building

The Turner speakers also recommended the following online resources to learn more and to get tips on video shooting for the web:

 
CreativeCow.com —  a great place for novices and experienced video creative people
B&H.com – for excellent deals on cameras and other products
Cinematography Mailing List, or CML— a free exchange of ideas with 16,000 members strong where you can gain access to some 20 different lists by specialty area

Increase Press Release Pick Up with Video, Tweeting

Whether it is photos, video links or tweeting, PR writers will be well served to take another look at these tools and techniques to get their client’s or organization’s news noticed online.

“Some 30 billion views of video are happening every month. When you attach a video to a press release, you get two and half times the pick up,” notes Jeff Karnes, new media executive and product advisor to MEDIAmobz, BusinessWire’s new video production service. Karnes was part of a panel focused on convergence, citizen and social journalism, sponsored by Business Wire Atlanta on March 25.

The average length of the videos is under two minutes and can be produced significantly cheaper than in past years, thanks to the growth in online video production houses that include a network of writers, producers and video staff.

So, how much are Atlanta-area news outlets relying on video (as well as social networking sites like Twitter) to tell their stories to an increasingly digital readership?

Phil Bolton, the founder of Global Atlanta, a three-person news service that covers international business from a local perspective, is a true believer, regularly posting short video clips on stories Global Atlanta covers to YouTube. Bolton, who also is a big user of Skype, says “every reporter in the future will not only have a pencil and pad, but also a digital camcorder.”

AJC: Selective with Video

Shawn Mcintosh, public editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), pointed out, “we do have video and the payoff is huge when you pick the right topic.” She cited as an example, coverage of natural disasters such as the 500-year flood that occurred in Atlanta last September. She doesn’t advocate widespread video use for every business story a company wants to place. She also says it’s important for PR people to “deliver the message in the most effective way.” Attachments won’t get past the spam filter.

Facing a tough business climate, and the migration of readership to the Internet, the AJC has experienced significant staffing and coverage changes, but it remains focused on the metro area, and on investigative journalism.

She believes the hardest period of change is past the AJC, with the adjustment to being a smaller publication in terms of staffing. Today, the paper has the largest investigative team in its history, Mcintosh says, noting that the AJC is focused on providing “comprehensive local news” – something she says is difficult to get anywhere else. The paper has bolstered staff in key beats such as business – including adding beat bloggers.

Connecting with the Media: Twittering ‘More Intimate’

The panel also discussed the growing use of Twitter and social networking to connect with readers (and for PR pros to connect with the media).

Every beat reporter at AJC uses Twitter for reporting and distributing information, notes Mcintosh. She described the paper’s Twitter breaking news feed as highly engaging and the cleverly worded tweets by AJC reporters show a “fun” side to up-to-the-minute reporting. She adds that even with the increasing focus on digital, the paper remains committed to producing a high-quality print product as well.

Mark Meltzer, executive editor of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, says his news organization is much more focused on digital – and even with a smaller staff trimmed from the difficult economy, each staff writer devotes time daily to the paper’s blogs.
 
Meltzer tweets about key news stories, calling the vehicle very important for driving traffic to the paper. He says it’s also used for research, where staff can send queries out and get questions answered. “It’s a great way to promote the Chronicle and I think since it’s free publicity, anyone who is not using it that way is making a huge mistake.”
 

Meltzer adds, “I have closer relationships to some of the people in the PR community who follow me on Twitter. If I get an e-mail from somebody on Twitter, I will probably return it. There’s something a little bit more intimate about that.”

 
Meltzer isn’t the only journalist embracing Twitter – Mark Senak, JD, a lawyer and health industry PR executive at Fleishman-Hillard, talks about the growing number of tweet-reporters on his Twitter site focused on pharmaceutical industry communications and planning, Eye on FDA. He even maintains a list of reporters on Twitter.

If you are a PR pro or journalist, are you increasing your use of video and Twitter? Share your experiences here.

 

Communications Vital in Mobilizing Haiti’s Humanitarian Relief

 

 

For the first week of being on the ground in Haiti after the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled much of the country, staff with the NGO CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, relied on only one functioning means of communication — text messaging — to coordinate relief efforts.

 
“Texting has just been revolutionary in terms of how we’re communicating,” Rick Perera, press officer for CARE, told a group of Atlanta-area professional communicators a day before his return to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Within a short time, CARE’s IT team had set up adequate IT infrastructure on the ground to enable volunteers and home staff to coordinate logistics easily over mobile phones and high-speed Internet.
 
The relief work of CARE, working with corporate partners, has touched nearly 200,000 Haitians as of mid February. The need is immense, especially for shelter, clean water and o ther basic necessities. The toll from the quake has left more than 210,000 dead and 1.2 million people displaced.
 
Joining Perera at the IABC Atlanta February luncheon was Delta Air Lines’ Frank Wrenn, who manages external affairs and communications for the world’s largest airline. Both shared their organizations’ role in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake, and how vital communications is in mobilizing and funding relief efforts.
 
Delta, which has one Haitian employee who lost everything in the disaster, has flown five missions to the Caribbean island state, three under the US military and two to transport supplies, the news media and personnel from key NGOs such as CARE. 
 
Worldwide, Delta’s employees have raised funds to help Haitians, including supporting a new NGO, Yéle Haiti, a foundation started by Grammy-Award winning musician, producer and social entrepreneur Wyclef Jean. Employees raised $10,000 by buying t-shirts for the NGO.  Groups of employees working overtime in a reservation center donated their overtime hours, which totaled $40,000, to the relief effort.
 
“A lot of what we’re doing isn’t just financial, it’s about employee volunteerism, too,” says Wrenn. Delta’s corporate responsibility program, “Force for Doing Good,” allows employees to get involved in initiatives that support the company’s community outreach in four key areas –advancing global diversity, global wellness, improving the environment and performing arts and culture.
 
A key priority at CARE is reaching the estimated 37,000 pregnant women in the earthquake zone by providing “safe-delivery kits” to midwives and o ther women in the community.  It’s a tough challenge in a country that has one of the highest maternity mortality rates — 670 women die out of every 100,000 who give birth under normal circumstances.
 
Building Connections One Girl Scout, Mo ther at a Time
 

 Awareness of the work of CARE among the general public in the U.S. remains low, notes Perera, who estimates that “unaided awareness” has gone from 3 percent up to 10 or 12 percent in recent years.  CARE is trying to change that through storytelling and connecting with women in the United States.  The organization has formed media partnerships with Meredith, publisher of women’s magazines such as Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal.

 
“In our communications, we are looking to help the American public understand at a very personal level what the lives are like for the people in Haiti,” Perera says. “By appealing to women in the  United States, we’re working very hard to create those connections.”
 

CARE has begun to share stories of local Boy and Girl Scouts throughout the country who are helping CARE with relief efforts as a means to make sense of the tragedy and do something positive for their country.  One Haitian Girl Scout, Joanie Ystin, barely escaped her home before it crumbled. She lives in Leogane, a city an hour from the capital that was at the epicenter of the earthquake. Her fa ther died in the rubble. She later found her Girl Scout uniform and joined in the volunteer efforts (her story is chronicled on CNN.com). According to Perera, 90 percent of the buildings in Leogane were destroyed.

 

 
Doing Good? Storytelling has an Important Role
 
Wrenn described how challenging it was in the beginning to balance the desire of Delta employees to know what was being done in Haiti, with the desire of executive management not to “blow our own horn.” 
 
It’s a common corporate dilemma that many PR and communications staff must address – but in times of humanitarian need on the scale that we are seeing in Haiti, companies that are making a difference shouldn’t be reticent about sharing their efforts and lessons learned — not necessarily through a press release, but through o ther communications mechanisms (face to face, video, web, social networking). Personalizing these efforts through the eyes of real people – whe ther it be a Delta pilot who flew into Port au Prince or the volunteer spirit of a Girl Scout in Haiti — tell a powerful story that can influence and inspire, as well as enhance brand reputation and create broad-scale support. Communications and engagement should be the overwhelming priority. 


Edelman Trust Barometer:  Trust in NGOs on the Rise
Not surprising, NGOs are  the most trustworthy organizations, according to results of  the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer.  In its 10th year, Edelman’s annual international study of opinion leaders aged 25 to 62 found that trust in  U.S. business rose 18 percent while trust in  the government remained stable. Technology remains  the most trusted sector, while trust in  the media continued its three-year decline, now ranking lowest of  the four institutions studied.

 
“Although trust in business is up,  the rise is tenuous. Globally, nearly 70 percent of informed publics expect business and financial businesses will ‘revert to business as usual’ after  the recession. – Executive Summary, Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer 
Read  the full summary.

 

What Media Need: Quote-worthy, Credible Experts

On Ragan.com today, Lindsey Miller reports that PR pros now have a third service to use to get their clients in front of the media. Newly launched Reporter Connection joins Help Out A Reporter (HARO) and Profnet as the newest online resource providing a deadline-intensive window into the world of breaking news. All three connect reporters to PR people, who want to position their experts for stories. Knowing about these leads is only part of the battle; you have to come up with thoughtful, well written and persuasive pitches that stand out. Only then can you convince the journalist that your source has a unique take on the trend and is quote-worthy.

I have used both Profnet (as a paid subscriber through PR Newswire) and HARO, a free service run since 2008 by Peter Shankman). A nice attribute Profnet offers is being able to post a short bio on your expert that subscribers can access anytime. Both HARO and Profnet organize leads by category and push out digests of these new leads to their subscriber base daily (sometimes more often).  I love the breadth and scope of HARO’s base of journalists and the fact that it is a free service. Anytime you can position a client as a resource to the media and help them make their story better is a win-win for you as a PR professional and for the reporter.

The journalist-PR pro exchange is always a delicate (and sometimes tense) dance of give and take, where the reporter needs sources, but he or she doesn’t always have time to make nice with PR folks, especially if in return they will find their inbox flooded with press releases. On the other hand, public relations professionals are paid to raise their clients’ profile, but they need to do it with the long-term picture in mind. It’s unreasonable to expect a steady stream of in-depth profiles. Clients need to know that they must invest their time and their knowledge without the immediate expectation that they will be the article’s main attraction. More likely, they may get a well-placed quote in the context of a larger trend story. When working with journalists, it’s critical to find out what their hot buttons are and educate clients on how the news cycle works.  Put simply, it’s not about us.

“What I like about Profnet and HARO is they do give you a chance to see a story in progress and decide if you have an expert who can help with that story, which as a good PR person, you want your clients to be resources for stories,” says Mitch Leff, owner of Atlanta-based Mitch’s Media Match.com, the local Atlanta equivalent of these national services.

Mitch started his service a few years ago after local media told him they wanted local sources for stories. His service has 150 experts, representing a diverse range of industries, including education, economics, real estate, sports and healthcare.”One interesting thing I found after I launched the service is there are a lot of media requests for a general reaction, so I created a separate category of ‘man-on-the-street’ type queries. The AJC does a lot of stories about jobs and employment and they like to quote real people who have recently lost or got a job, for example.”

Building a relationship with reporters is key.  “If you want to be a part of a story, you want to pitch how your expert can be part of that story.  Not every story is going to be about your company,” Mitch says.

Clearly, as newspaper pages (and the number of papers) continue to shrink, it’s becoming more and more important to build a relationship with reporters, Mitch says.

Some PR pros I spoke with disagree, noting that the relationship building, while nice, may be challenging given that there are fewer journalists to reach, and those who are on a news desk today could be reassigned or riffed tomorrow. In addition, these media workers have less time to build rapport than ever before, given that many are writing for multiple beats and are expected to produce content for both print and online channels. Your story angle and the quality of your source are king.

“It’s nice to build relationships, but you have to come to a reporter with something real; they don’t have time to just relationship build,” notes Dan Marcus, president of Marcus Associates LLC., a 10-year communications and marketing consulting firm based in Connecticut. Dan ran PR for PanAmSat prior to starting his own company. Before that, he was a journalist.”I’ve worked a lot with financial columnists and I always approach them in the context of what they’re writing about.”

Everyone agrees that a great starting point is to know what the reporters want to talk about. Check out the resources above and tell me what you think.

Trends & Insights from Writing & PR Pros that will Shape 2010

 
Think Online:
With four in 10 Americans with at least one social networking profile, companies will increasingly be looking to social networking sites to engage employees and customers. This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon: in Europe, internal communication and social networks are on  the rise. According to The Global Intranet Trends for 2010 report, just out, one-fourth to one-third of organizations with some form of social media have experienced three general benefits: increased employee engagement, more effective knowledge sharing and better informed employees. Writers who know to write for interactive media will be in demand.
 
Prove ROI, Provide Strategic Counsel: 

The majority of communication departments will face some budget cuts in 2010. Survival and success increasingly will be tied to showing tangible returns on investment.  A bright spot, however, was articulated by Sandy Lish, founding partner of The Castle Group, who stated in PR Week’s Dec. 10 issue, “There are more PR consulting opportunities related to strategy, perhaps the result of corporations retaining more junior staff, yet recognizing they need senior counsel.”
 
Stand Out in Crowded Writing Market:

The demise of significant numbers of print papers will bring more freelancers into the market, so expect to see more competition for writing jobs. Set yourself apart from the masses by showcasing specialized industry expertise and specific writing niches. On the other side of communications, PR pros trying to place stories among thinning newsrooms will find themselves starting over and exercising patience with increasingly junior reporters who have a significant knowledge gap.

Communicate Sustainability:

2010, being the international year of biodiversity, will find more organizations focusing on increasing their sustainability efforts. According to Melbourne, Australia, change management guru Jennifer Frahm:  “It’s a fearsome change communication effort, changing long ingrained mindsets, habits and culture. Despite 2009 being the Year of the Generalist, if you can communicate science you will be a very hot property.” Frahm was describing one of five big change communication trends for next year.   She advises that core skills will be crafting narratives of change, storytelling, and translation.
Embrace Good Writing — it’s still the gold standard: Helen Vollmer, writing in th e Dec. 15 PR Insider blog, urged communicators to not lose sight of the core writing fundamentals as we navigate the fast-paced and increasingly digital world. Vollmer, who leads the Southwest’s largest independent PR firm, cautioned: “Writing shouldn’t be the lost art of our profession. In fact, it should be elevated and revered. And whe ther writing a CEO’s speech, Web content, a Twitter post or a blog, such as this, we should all make a New Year’s resolution to love language. Let’s commit to finding the right words in our work, not just the jargon that’s so easily bandied about. And let’s demand from our colleagues and ourselves to engage in using words that move us to insight and action.”   Well put.

Natural Communicators

As someone who writes scripts on a regular basis, it’s always refreshing when I uncover presenters who are natural communicators. These folks know their subject intimately, and speak to it from a place of authenticity. They get their point across well, engaging their audience with their own experiences, relevant statistics and, above all, a call to action.

Earlier this week, I attended a breast cancer golfing event in Atlanta called Agile on the Green. The event has raised more than $130,000 in its six years of bringing Atlanta’s IT community together to make a difference in breast cancer outcomes. The event’s founder, Tricia Dempsey, started her IT staffing company and the fundraising event six years ago while recovering from Stage 3 breast cancer. Both she and Kelly Dolan, executive director of Komen Atlanta, spoke passionately about the need for more awareness and support for affordable mammograms in a state where one in three Georgians has gone without health insurance over the past two years.

Everyone’s ears perked up when Tricia shared a comment from her recent oncologist check-up. When she asked, “How is the cancer business going?” her doctor replied, “The cancer business is terrible.” That was her segue into an alarming trend of job losses leading to lost health insurance, which in turn, has led to fewer clinical exams and later cancer diagnoses. Kelly stood up and urged everyone in the room to break the 1,000 mark of company participation next year, and provided undeniable stats on the pervasiveness of breast cancer (one in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in her lifetime). What I found most memorable was Kelly’s personal tribute to Tricia, saying, “To have started the tournament the way Tricia did out of the adversity of breast cancer is a great testament to Tricia’s strength and commitment to this cause, and that is what motivates this entire cause.”

These ladies are inspiring role models who have mastered how to speak well to get their message across memorably.