Four accepted pieces of PR wisdom that aren’t very wise

Whether it’s counting chickens before they’re hatched or having a cake and eating it too, we’re regularly bombarded by (often clichéd) little pieces of life advice. PR is no different. The industry is full of accepted wisdom that everyone understands to be true. Problem is, the industry is evolving at lightning speed. What made sense years ago may not today. And frankly, some pieces of advice have never been all that great to begin with.

Here are four things commonly heard in the business of communications, but which need a serious rethink.

1. It’s all about the relationships

Media and influencer relationships are important, no doubt. Problem is, we put way too much stock into them. I was recently part of an agency selection process where the client probed very deep into our personal relationships with journalists. We literally had to list who we knew personally and how we knew them. Clearly, they believed that was the secret sauce. And I fear that’s the result of years of PR professionals thumping their chests over who they know the best, and using that as a key measure of their worth.

A relationship with a journalist or anyone who commands an audience online is valuable in three ways: it keeps you up to date on what topics they are interested in, it ensures you’ll get a fair hearing and good feedback wen you call them, and it can provide a great source of industry intel. What it’s not is a free pass to coverage or great publicity. Even the best relationship can’t overcome a terrible story idea or awful product. And I’ve seen complete strangers call media cold and sell a story.

Bottom line: If you’re not interesting, you’ll lose every time, relationships or not.

2. You gotta work the phones!

I’m old enough to remember when newsrooms were bustling places, and every industry had its own dedicated beat reporter. Back then, there were also simply more outlets to consider. And even if reporter A passed, you could always try one or two of their colleagues with at least somewhat similar interests. 

Today, you’re likely dealing with a very busy and time-pressed individual who is doing it all. And I guarantee you that constantly calling them over and over in the belief that only the most aggressive and persistent voice will win them over won't do you or the client you represent any favours. And shame on you if you’re demanding that your team’s junior members, with little experience, do this for you! If no one is biting, start by looking at what you’re selling, not how loudly you’re shouting about it. Spend time to really nail your story, and if you know in your heart that it’s a longshot, think carefully before reaching out. Sometimes it’s best to live to fight another day.

3. It pays to stay on message

Again, there is some truth here. The whole point of even doing this job, whether it’s through blog content, partnering with influencers or placing a byline article, is to get a message out to a specific audience. But there’s conveying a message, and staying on message. The first is critical, the second is a problem. That’s because staying on message can be understood as repeating yourself over and over in an interview,  or producing content that reads like an instruction manual simply because “that’s how we say it.”

Take message guidance for what it is. Guidance.

4. Top-tier/second-tier outlets

I recently read a  post from another PR pro on tips for how to get more coverage. Among the tips was the advice that when things aren’t happening, you should stop trying to focus so much on “top tier” outlets and look instead at more “second tier” niche publications. That kind of thinking should have no place in modern-day PR. 

The only tier that matters is the audience you’re trying to reach. I’m not saying I don’t get the thinking here, or that I’ve never been guilty of this. Of course, we all strive for the big headline in the biggest outlet because that’s what gets noticed, and what organizations love. The problem is when clients who don’t have a product or service that warrants that kind of attention start demanding it, or when PR pros promise it. 

Before you set your sights on the Wall Street Journal, ask yourself: is this where my audience is, or am I trying to get coverage in the Journal as a vanity move for my client or leadership team? Great coverage is great coverage, and part of how that greatness is defined is by the audience it reaches.

Agree? Disagree? Have any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to eradicate? Share them below.

Ten things you can do this Summer to re-energize your PR machine

If there’s one thing all PR pros know, it’s the futility of “planning your day.” All it takes is one phone call or email to shatter your lovingly prepared to-do lists into a million pieces.

The good news (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) is the arrival of Summer – a perfect time to tackle the things we’ve all been meaning to do, but for which there hasn’t always been time.

Now I know Summer does not necessarily mean things slow down. In fact, vacationing team members have a way of increasing workloads for those still stuck in the office. And for some industries, Summer is what Christmas is for retailers.

But for many of us, things gear down in July and August, which usually means September will bring with it a rude awakening. That’s exactly why you should use the next eight weeks to do a tune-up on your PR machine so that you’re ready for when the busy season returns. Here’s how:

1. Schedule those face-to-faces

Maybe it’s the reporter you haven’t met, or someone who has been identified as a potential influencer. Or, maybe it’s that elusive executive. Regardless, even with vacations, Summer is a great time to actually meet and talk with someone. Do it now before family, work and business travel obligations once again wall them off from you.

2. Clean up your contact list

People move around, and things can get out of date fast. We’ve all been there: you turn to your trusted contact list, only to find out it’s no longer accurate. No more excuses; now’s the time to whip it back into shape.

3. Get some blog posts under your belt

Even people who love writing under pressure know it’s no fun squeezing out a post an hour before deadline while juggling five other things. Create a few “timeless topic” pieces and store them so that you can publish them when they’re needed the most.

4. Conduct a competitive analysis

We’re all drowning in data, so you should know quite well how you and your team are performing on metrics, whether it’s articles, CTRs, engagement or message pull-through. But many are less sure how their competitors are doing. Now’s the time to take a cold, hard look in the mirror and compare yourself – do an audit, talk to colleagues in sales and marketing and see how they view the world. Bottom line: learn not just where you stand, but also how you stack up against the rest of your industry.

5. Revisit that crisis plan

You know that crisis playbook that’s laying around somewhere, right? The one overseen by your long-departed predecessor, with the outdated contact information and messages? Yeah, that one. Now’s the time to update it – before the next crisis hits.

6. Take a vacation from your routine

With non-stop busy-ness comes a “just get it done mentality”. That usually means no one, least of all you, is in the mood for experimenting with new tactics, or digging deep to find new sources of stories or content. Summer is a great time to stretch your legs a little. Read up on best practices, talk to your peers, learn what people like you in other industries are doing. Or connect with colleagues in the organization you never normally see – mine them for ideas, and ideally, experiment with something new before Summer is over.

7. Review your vendor list

PR pros get their fair share of cold emails from people looking to offer their services, everything from monitoring technology to photographers. If you use vendors, take an honest inventory of where you’re weak or where there are gaps, and then go back into your inbox and follow up with some of them. There’s no shortage of talent out there, and you shouldn’t settle for second-best in anything.

8. Test-drive an agency

If you're a startup you’re lucky enough to work in a business that doesn’t require 30-page RFPs and a mountain of procurement rules, and you’re strapped this Summer, then why not acquaint yourself with a new agency? I’ll happily be self-serving here and say that smaller agencies are far more likely and able to accommodate a small project on short notice, especially in Summer. Doing so will help you get a sense of what’s available to you when bigger projects comes down the pipe later in the year.

9. Award submissions

Winning awards? Yay! Filling out submissions? Nope! Summer is not award season by any means, but you may have sense by now of what project or campaign you’re considering submitting later. So, go find a patio somewhere and do the heavy lifting now, and then circulate copy for early approval. You will thank yourself in a big way months from now.

10. Take a break

Finally, don’t be that person who accumulates loads of vacation time. This job can be tough. Use that time. Believe me, your colleagues, clients, friends, family and dog will all thank you.

Any other ideas for things to tackle this Summer? Let’s hear them!

What Saturday Night Live can teach you about managing a PR crisis

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A Forbes contributor recently published a list of the biggest PR crises of 2017. Among the no-brainer inclusions was the Pepsi ad, which is interesting, because there’s a video out there that should be mandatory viewing for every PR professional.

That would be the SNL parody of that same Pepsi ad.

It’s a must-see not just because it’s hilarious, but because, like all good comedy, it hides important truths within the laughs.

Quick synopsis: The skit imagines the ad’s director about to start shooting on what, in his mind, is the biggest and best day of his career. Excited, he hops on a call with his sister and shares the details of the commercial. We can’t hear her response, but his face says it all. She’s reacting the way most of us would  - and ultimately did. He goes into a panic as he looks around and suddenly sees what’s really happening: imminent disaster.

Simply put, she burst his bubble.

You’re in a bubble, like it or not

Most corporate or “in-house” PR professionals work in a bubble. It’s almost unavoidable. They spend every day inside a rah-rah culture (that they often help create). Their organizations are full of people with competing roles, priorities, agendas, viewpoints and personalities. What binds them together is a shared desire for the organization to do well, but also to keep their jobs secure and career plans on track.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s just life. But once inside a bubble, it’s hard to be objective about things. It’s also harder to speak up in a way that could single you out.

Then along comes a troublesome issue, and it passes through the bubble with grave consequences. Or a full-blown crisis hits, demanding a speedy response, firm and bold decisions, and very often a need to speak uncomfortable truths or admit wrongs. But the problem with being in a bubble limits your ability to think objectively and can lead you to overlook the obvious.

As SNL notes, bubble thinking played a role in the Pepsi ad. But have a look at the other PR blunders on the Forbes list. From the outside looking in, their solutions seem too obvious – just apologize, fix, delete, admit. These are sophisticated organizations, home to endless pools of talent, but I’m convinced they were too deep in the bubble to do what needed to be done.

What you need to do

The lesson is clear. You need to inoculate yourself against bubble thinking so that when issues or crises hit, they can be addressed properly, objectively and with speed. Here’s how:

  • Forget the words “it’s just…”. I can’t tell you how many times in my career someone called me to flag a potential issue, but worked extra hard to downplay it. “It’s just someone venting on Facebook” or “It’s just an isolated incident” or some such thing. One sure sign of bubble thinking: overestimating anything good, downplaying anything bad. Give every issue close attention, no matter how small it may seem.
  • Go outside. Talk to your agency, if you have one. Or contact one if you don’t. If an agency is not a viable option, call a friend or colleague you trust. No matter how you do it, get an independent temperature check. People with nothing at stake will give you the real goods.

 

  • Trust your gut. You have your job for reason – you know this stuff. Listen to what your inner voice is telling you, even when everyone else feels otherwise, and speak up! It could make you a hero.

Do you have a bubble story to share? Or your own tips for dealing with bubble thinking? Share them below!

Is your startup looking for PR? Here’s what you really need to know

I attended a fantastic session at The Accelerator Centre in Waterloo this week. The panel, made up of Sarah Efron, Jessica Galang, Terry Pender, and Nadia Matos, provided startups with the basics of dealing with media and what it takes to pique their interest.

What struck me as I listened is that the panel could have easily convened at a gathering of Fortune 500 CEOs, and their advice would have been just as appropriate.

That’s because, like fitness, accounting or car repair, PR is a discipline that works when done properly, fails when it’s done poorly. Simple as that. PR trades in stories, and the size of the company telling that story is often irrelevant. There are plenty of solo entrepreneurs getting press, and just as many big corporations trying in vain to get noticed.

Why? Because one has an interesting story and tells it the right way while the other doesn’t.

Where startups differ from their bigger counterparts is that the latter usually have their stories figured out and, of course, time and people to focus on it.

Not to worry, though – you can get there too, and it will be time well spent. Here are some questions any company,  especially a startup, should be asking themselves before reaching out to media or before looking for outside PR support.

Is this the right time?

Everyone has a dream. I want to finish an Ironman. My neighbour wants to try stand-up comedy. And I’m guessing you want to launch a killer product and make tons of money for investors. Problem is, so does every single company reaching out to media.

At Provident, we often tell startups, you get one chance to launch. If your product is not totally 100% ready, if you don’t have alignment on your senior team on how to position and market it, and if it’s not actually available right now, then wait. You’re not ready. Note this is different than investor relations, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Do I know my story inside and out?

A story can be many things, but I can almost guarantee it’s not your product or service in isolation. The story is what has created the need for the product or service in the first place, and why you are positioned to make a tangible change in the face of that need. The more people affected by your product, and the more unique it is, the better. Focus on those two things. If you have competitors, study how they talk. Then make sure you’re different.

Remember, your elevator pitch is as important to media as it is to a potential investor or customer.

Can I prove it?

Your story is nothing more than a claim without data to back it up. Beef up your pitch with facts and figures – sales numbers, industry studies, related survey results – anything that shows you’re not just talk.

Is it boring?

As a former reporter, I can confirm that people in the media are human too. They listen to pitches all day long, and they’re looking for something that is interesting. Interesting translates into a good story, and a good story gets clicks. Droning on, talking jargon, or trying to impress with your Steve Jobs-like cockiness isn’t going to do it. Worse, you’ve now marked yourself as someone to avoid in the future.

Practice making your story an actual narrative. Every narrative at its heart has a compelling hero/underdog facing a challenge and putting it right. It elicits empathy and excitement. Yes, sometimes it can be about the founder(s), but tread carefully – he or she must have a unique personal story or a long list of achievements to make that an option.  

Am I the right person to tell it?

It’s true, media tend to gravitate to the founder or the CEO. But if they’re the kind of person who can’t hold an engaging conversation, or wants to avoid media interviews, then it’s ok to tap someone else. Anyone who is senior will do – just make sure they exude confidence, know the story and can think on their feet.

PR is one of the most cost-effective and potentially life-changing strategies a company can utilize. But before diving in, remember there’s no rush. Do some research, ask a lot of questions, and talk to people in the industry. That way you’ll minimize hiccups and maximize ROI. And that’s music to any startup’s ears.

 

 

PR pros: here are 4 types of difficult spokespeople, and how to make them better

I wish I could just do this interview myself.”

Be honest: how many times have you uttered those words as a spokesperson does pretty much everything *except* what they’re supposed to?

Some executives are the LeBron James of media interviews (sorry, Raptors fans!). They were born to do it, and they work hard to train. They know the task at hand, do the prep, effortlessly handle tough questions, then smile when it’s done and ask for feedback. Nothing but net.

Others, not so much. Here are four types of spokespeople who can be challenging to manage (and do damage as a result) as well as a few tips on how to get them into game shape and get the sort of media coverage you’re after.

The Cowboy or Cowgirl

You certainly can’t accuse the Cowboy/Cowgirl of being checked out. They’re the ones eager for the next media interview, and challenging you about why they can’t get the kind of coverage Ms. Competitor is getting. When they do get an interview, they’re ready to go. Like, right now. Prep? It’s for suckers. Media are easy.  They’ve *GOT* this. Sometimes, they do. But just as often, their interviews go into the weeds or worse, into risky and inaccurate territory.

It can be hard to tamp down that kind of overconfidence. One way to help moderate some of the exuberance is to give positive critique: take the best of what they did before, remind them of it, and urge them to go for a repeat win. Alternatively, you can point to someone else (a competitor, someone they look up to), highlight what they did or didn’t do well, and then show them how to replicate the success or avoid the disaster. It’s all about showing what they’re good at already, and how to make it great. Gently stressing the importance of prep and training is also very helpful here.

The Avoider

On paper, Avoiders are just fine with media interviews. Until an opportunity for one comes up, that is. Suddenly a mix of travel, sales calls, vacation, dying phone batteries and natural disasters comes up, and they just can’t make this one work. But maybe next time? They always know someone else who is better suited to do it in their place, or worse, they may decide that postponing is a better strategy because, well, it just is.

Simply put, they don’t like doing interviews but won’t admit it.

Dealing with them is all about advance prep work. Identify well in advance (and ideally in the presence of their boss) the key media, audiences and topics that they – and only they – will speak to, because they’re the only ones qualified to do it. Show where other interviews can be parceled off to others, and where they can’t. Warn them when a media interview could be impending – it’s difficult to outright decline a hypothetical. Then, work with someone else to confirm their calendar and book it. Just don’t position anything a question along the way!

The Technician

A Technician can be an Avoider or a Cowgirl, but what sets them apart is that they can never go deep enough into the weeds. Technicians  complain that the reporter they spoke to doesn’t “get it,” or that he or she had to do too much explaining. They feast on jargon. They may diligently prep, show enthusiasm for the opportunity, and profess an understanding for what must be done. But as soon as the interview starts, they throw it all away and bury the reporter in overwrought, lengthy answers riddled with arcane language and acronyms.

To win here, play to their ego. Explain at the outset that the reporter needs their help and guidance, and work on those snappy quotes or talking points that get it done quickly. Or, consider setting up an on background interview when they and your spokesperson have time. Get the inevitable technical sermon out of their system ahead of time, so that they when the reporter is on deadline, things go much more smoothly.

The Panicker

When the Panicker gets an interview request, they usually start with 50 or so questions, after which they book several prep meetings and request multi-volume briefing binders. They’re the ones who often try to memorize messages like a movie script and curse themselves for missing even a single word. And no matter how they performed, they *know* they did a bad job answering that one question. They will also hate the resulting article, even when everyone else is happy.

Let’s face it. You never want a Panicker facing a tough interview. So, in the same way someone scared of flying might conquer their fear by getting on a short flight, start them easy. Again, look for an information interview or meet-and-greet to start, or an opportunity that’s more transactional. And although it requires a commitment, using prep time to run mock interviews can also help a great deal. Panickers often possess expert-level knowledge and have a deep concern for accuracy. That makes them excellent spokespeople, provided you can get them past their initial fears.

Are there other types I’ve missed? Have any advice of your own for how to handle the non-gifted spokesperson? Let’s hear them!

 

Four signs you’re drinking too much of your company’s Kool Aid, and how to stop

Stop me if this sounds familiar. A product lead takes you through a very optimistic presentation or an executive goes off on a rant about how no one outside the company walls gets it. All you can think to yourself is “wow, they’re really drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Kool-Aid drinkers are people who have lost perspective. They’re hype-believers who fail to see what is so glaringly obvious to you: that the product or service they want to promote isn’t all that different from the competition, falls short of customer expectations, or only matters to a very small group of people.

There are two types of drinkers, in my experience. The first type starts chugging the minute they walk in the door. They’re excited and they can’t help it. It’s embedded in their DNA. The second type is more gradual – afflicting people who once carried a healthy skepticism, but have worked too long in an environment where incremental change is revolutionary, and “me too” feels ground-breaking.  

Like bad driving, a loss of perspective is a trait we tend to easily spot in others, but rarely in ourselves. And that’s dangerous, because as we know, the best communicators are the ones who view things objectively – sometimes skeptically – and speak truth to power.

I’ve sipped from time to time, I’ll admit. And I bet you have too. In fact, you may be drinking the Kool Aid right now without even realizing it. Here are warning signs to watch for, what to do about them.

1.      Everyone around me is doing it wrong!

You’re a PR leader inside a big company. Pitches keep falling flat. Blog posts aren’t resonating. And your first reaction is that the team isn’t positioning/pitching/understanding it properly. Now failure *could* mean that there actually is a disconnect. But if you’re pointing the finger at your people too much, and asking why they didn’t cover all the minute details, or didn’t put every last fact in the media pitch, then it’s time to check your expectations. A cold hard look at what you’re promoting is a good idea here, because you may be drinking Kool Aid. Consider changing course.

2.      All I get is pushback!

Hey, it could be that you have an agency that’s not being bold or creative with their thinking, or a team member that always has a reason to not do something. Or, maybe all the resistance, reluctance and rolling eyes should be telling you something else. That they’re right, and you’re not. Consider getting someone from outside your team or department to take a look at the challenge you’re facing. A trusted second opinion can save you work, and even embarrassment!

3.      But I’m in total agreement with my marketing and product teams!

Going to work each day is so much easier when everyone can simply high-five each other. Being on the same page is wonderful. And hey, it can happen. But I’d wager that any communications professional who nods their heads in agreement with every idea or opinion born elsewhere in the company is either not doing their job correctly, or drinking away. If all you’re getting is violent agreement with your viewpoint, it may be time for an outside perspective. Or learn to say no. Too many nodding heads likely played some role in bringing Pepsi’s infamous Jenner ad to life. Note that in the SNL parody, the director bails… after getting a second opinion.

4.      I love all these other ideas, but let’s focus on this instead

I live in the world. I know sometimes you have to roll a big boulder up a steep hill because it just must be done. But if you’re annoyed because all the people around you keep wanting to go in different directions, and never focus on that thing you keep coming back to, then ask yourself if you really have to be doing that thing. It may be that your idea is tone-deaf, and your team is concerned you’re not open to the feedback. This actually could be hinting at a broader culture problem. It might be time to sit down with the group, and have a frank and direct discussion about how you exchange ideas with each other.

And finally...

Remember, always trust your instincts. That little voice saying “uh-oh” when you’re being briefed on something shouldn’t be ignored. When something sounds irrelevant, unoriginal or boring when you’re being told to promote it, it probably is! Speak up.

You may not always get your way, but losing the odd battle is better than always pouring yourself another glass of Kool Aid. It can sometimes be tough to recover a healthy perspective once you’ve lost it, so it’s worth fighting for it!

 

 

 

 

 

The one question you can’t forget to ask when searching for a PR agency

Sometimes you read something and all you can think is “couldn’t have said it better myself.” That’s how I felt reading  Roy Osing’s fantastic column  yesterday in the Globe and Mail on the need for leaders to get way deeper into the trenches with their teams, and to never delegate truly strategic work.

Osing writes: “Strategic actions require the fingerprints of a leader who is a master at do-it-yourself.”

It wasn’t about the PR industry, but it easily could’ve been.

Sound familiar?

One question clients always ask their prospective PR agencies (and behind closed doors, agencies ask of themselves) is who the “lead” will be on the team. It can be difficult to answer.

Do they mean the “day to day” lead? That’s the person best defined as the throat to choke. They put in the hours, they are on speed dial, and on the “to” line of every email.

Or, do they mean the other kind of lead? Call them what you will, be it strategic oversight, senior counsel, senior lead. It’s the person who a) is the most experienced and who b) will typically be seen most often during the initial sale and onboarding, or at major milestones. Otherwise, they’re the name on the "cc" line.

It works... in theory

On the surface, it may seem like clients and agencies like this arrangement, mostly due to budget. Clients worry that too much senior leader time will run up billables (although let me be clear: if your agency sends you surprise bills, you should switch your agency). For agencies, spreading senior talent across as many clients as possible is ideal.

The result is that senior leaders can’t dive into execution, and the barriers to changing that are put in place early by both sides. Over time, the risk is that everyone comes to believe the leader shouldn’t execute, and that more junior people will carry the load. And that’s where breakdowns can begin.

There are lot of good reasons to senior leaders to stay above the fray. Juniors learn from mistakes. No one wants to work for a micro-manager. And how do you build capacity when a handful of people are doing all the problem solving? But there can be too much of good thing.

That’s why small agencies see their own size not as a disadvantage, but as a winning edge. Senior people see things through from start to finish. And when they can’t handle it all, they seek out fellow experts to get it done. It’s fast, it’s efficient. And it’s what I’ve come to embrace.

The takeaway

So, as part of your agency search ask yourself this question: how important are senior counsel and real industry knowledge to the successful execution of your mandate? If it the answer is “very,” then be prepared to ask some tough but necessary follow-up questions.

 

 

Leaders: when others go bland, go bold!

Years ago, I heard a piece of acting advice that has stuck with me ever since: the rule of thumb when performing for TV – where the shots are wider screens smaller – is to exaggerate the emotions. Big facial features. Loud laughing or sobbing. Basically, anything that would look absurd at a dinner party. The idea is that anything less pointed will simply get missed by the viewer.

It’s why non-actors who appear on screen can seem so wooden: they’re just acting normal in an environment that’s unforgiving of normal behaviour.

Now, I’m not an actor, so I can’t speak to whether it’s sound advice or not. But it occasionally does come to mind in my work as a communications expert.

We’ve all been there: we come up with a fantastic quote, a talk track or message that resonates with the brand AND that speaks to an issue that actually matters to people. It’s a chance to step up, stand out and be heard. We pull together the first draft. It’s proud, bold and ready for the stage.

That’s about when the slow process of watering down begins. A comment here, a strikeout there, a meeting with nervous looks and comments, and more adjustments. Next thing you know, you’re left with something that’s a masterpiece of committee thinking. It’s nice. Informative, even. And a far cry from the bold, original thinking that that originally gave birth to it.

It’s what sports coaches call trying really hard not to lose, as opposed to trying to win.

I get that companies and executives can only go so far. No one wants to risk offense, or to over-promise.  After all, it can go sideways, fast. I’ll also admit that I’ve done my share of watering down in my day. But just look at which CEOs Fortune 500 leaders look up to. Many say things that raise eyebrows, or speak very directly, or sound unlike what we envision a corporate executive to be. No damage done, apparently!

Watering down, on the other hand, can harm your brand – especially in a crisis. One of the big errors of the whole United Airlines debacle was a misplaced attempt to use watered down language when something much more authentic, emotive and direct was called for. Sometimes you just have to be bold and direct to make an impact, and to live up to the situation or issue you’re facing.

It’s not about being provocative just to get attention, or ratcheting up the intensity to 10. Just make a commitment to be a bit more forthright, to speak a bit more clearly, to be bolder wherever and however you can. If you feel that nagging voice saying “this is boring” then, likely, is.

So instead, try taking it up, not down, a notch. You may make the kind of impression you’re aiming for.

 

Michael MacMillan joins Provident as Executive Vice President

Last summer, we launched Provident with a simple idea: to build a new kind of agency, run and staffed by true experts who love getting their hands dirty, understand the changing world of corporate communications and know how closely brand and reputation are tied to business success.

Ten months later, we have taken a major step closer to bringing that vision to life.

Today, we’re excited to announce that Michael MacMillan has joined Provident as Executive Vice President and key principal. Michael is an award-winning communications expert with almost 15 years of experience. He has held senior leadership roles at some of Canada’s largest agencies, most recently serving as Senior Vice President and Partner at High Road Communications, a full-service public relations firm with offices in Canada and the U.S.

During his career, Michael has led campaigns for many of the world’s biggest brands, including Nike, Target, Microsoft, Salesforce and American Express, plus a host of startups. A former technology journalist and editor, Michael has deep experience working with tech brands, and with translating technical concepts into messages that resonate with business and consumer audiences. He will add to Provident's existing bench strength in crisis communications, executive thought leadership, and message and content development.

Growth is good. However, what’s truly exciting is that we’re now able to double-down on our commitment to our existing clients, as well as to those we would love to work with (you’ll be hearing from us soon!).

That commitment is clear: that from the minute you call us, we will be alongside you every step of the way, from the first meeting, to strategy and execution. Our love for the work and for getting outstanding client results is what drives us. That means there is no project too big or too small for us to take on. We will never fall into the trap of “it worked before, it’ll work again” thinking. Instead, we will use our experience sitting at both sides of the agency-client table to provide tailored, creative solutions that will drive significant value for your business.

Whether it’s developing a corporate communications or PR strategy, kickstarting your executive visibility program, or heading off a potential crisis, we’re here for you.

Call us. Email us. Let's get started.

Top 4 PR mistakes for leaders to avoid

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When it comes to effective public relations, there is a lot for a leader to take in. He or she has to be knowledgeable, clear, concise and confident. In addition, different rules of engagement apply depending on whether you're announcing good news, sharing your expertise or defending your brand for a crisis.

At Provident, we have used our expertise to coach companies, CEOs and other C-level leaders on how to connect with the media effectively. It isn't something mastered in a single sitting, and takes constant practice. With that in mind, we wanted to share some of the most common errors we see, and how to sidestep them.

Inaccessibility: It's easy for leaders who don't have a ton of experience in this area to think that their organization's media relations department should handle most interactions with journalists. We've seen leaders eager for profile in the media, but not willing to be the face of their company in a story. If you're interested in protecting and enhancing the brand and reputation of your company, that walled-off approach can actually hurt instead of helping.

For instance, when a reporter approaches you with interest in your recently launched product, the biggest mistake you can make is to respond with a simple statement or some press release links. The reporter will likely think you to be opaque, and you will miss an excellent opportunity to shape the public narrative about your company. And in crisis, especially when a company's core values and consumer promises are under attack, leaders have to be visible. Resorting solely to using spokespeople and statements can erode credibility and be perceived as minimizing the issue. In short, it can exacerbate damage to your brand.

Like it or not, if you lead an organization, you have to have to speak with the media, and it's important that you be good at it.

Lack of preparation: Congratulations, you've made the decision to engage with reporters! With that out of the way, it’s key that you begin preparing and practising, so that you’re ready for when the opportunity (or crisis!) arrives.

In good-news stories, a lack of preparation can be as wasteful as deciding not to talk to the media at all. For example, we've seen instances when a leader is convinced that they know their business backwards and forwards, and that media prep isn't a productive use of time. The leader does the media interview, only to be surprised when they receive minimal coverage in the resulting article. Often, jargon and technical language are to blame. Framing your story in plain language is a key objective of preparation, and should never be ignored. Your brand will thank you for it! For more on how untrained spokespeople can ruin even the best laid PR plans, check out this post.

In a crisis, a lack of prep can be lethal for your reputation. Aside from having a crisis management process which lets you round up key facts and decision makers inside your company quickly, you have to prepare for the questions you will likely face from the media and other stakeholders. Your answers have to be straightforward, factual and rooted firmly in fact. Avoid "freestyling" and speculative answers, unless you're looking to extend the negative news cycle and pour gasoline on the reputation fire. And if you've never faced a crisis before, here's what to do when your media line starts ringing.

Key messages only: You've practiced. You've got your key messages down pat. Now all that stands in the way of success is making sure that journalists report them. Surely, the best way to do that is by repeating them during the interview, over and over again, and regardless of what you're being asked. Right? Well, not exactly.

Because religiously sticking to key messages is sometimes seen as a security blanket for less-than-confident spokespeople, the "key messages only" or "block and bridge" approach is still alive and well today. At Provident, we counsel our clients that if you're looking for a quick way to damage your media relationships and hurt your credibility, this is the single best way to go. Check out this post for more on this subject.

If, on the other hand, you want to elevate your brand and establish yourself and your company as industry thought leaders, you need to think in storylines and narratives, rather than rigid key messages. And in a crisis, empathy and factual clarity almost always works much better than stonewalling the media with your "lines."

Not understanding the media: Last but not least, executive PR failures can often be traced back to a basic misunderstanding of the media and their audiences. If you want to see PR success, you need to think like a reporter, not an advertiser. That means you shouldn't give the reporter your blog copy, ads and fact sheet and expect a glowing front-page story about how amazing you are.

Instead, provide the reporter with something truly new, differentiated and innovative, and which gives their audience value. Invest a little time in researching the reporters with whom you plan to speak, and ensure they have at least a passing interest in your company or your industry. With a little bit of good timing, you will get interest, coverage and the licence to start establishing you and your company as experts in your field.

Engaging with the media is a crucial role for the leadership of any organization. To work well, it requires strategic planning, narrative preparation and strong execution. If you're interested in an unbiased expert opinion about your story, just drop us a line at wojtek@providentcomms.com!