Live Conference Blog: 6 easy ways to break through the clutter of today’s crowded media environment

Couldn’t make it to Ragan’s PR and media relations conference in New York? Follow our live blog throughout the day for hot tips from a stellar line of communicators.


Please excuse typos. This is a live blog.

Aaron Perlut, @AaronPerlut, partner at Elasticity, shares his tips on breaking through the media clutter.

“70 percent of Americans get their news on a desktop or laptop computer,” Perlut quotes from recent Pew research. So how do you break through the clutter?

You shouldn’t:
-Use block and tackle PR tactics alone
-Have a 21-year-old intern pitch a script into a reporter’s voice mail
-Ignore emerging media that may matter someday soon

What you should do:
-Take time to build relationships. Get to know people. Understand what reporters want.
-Don’t be afraid to be creative. “Creativity can take a PR campaign to new places,’ says Perlut.
-Leverage cause/philanthropy that’s consistent with the business. Tom’s, the shoe company, donates money to charity every time someone purchases a pair of its shoes.
-Surround your brand with a creative narrative.

And just for fun, Perlut talks about The Stache Act . Yes, it’s about mustaches. H&R Block covered The Stache Act on its Facebook page and encouraged donations forMillions for One, a charity that provides clean drinking water to people in need.

And here’s how this broke through the clutter:
-It’s charitable
-It’s humorous
-And, as Perlut says, it improves good looks by 38 percent 😉

How it helped H&R Block
-It reached an audience that H&R Block may have had trouble reaching otherwise.
-Facebook and word-of-mouth marketing created significant buzz for H&R Block.

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Do you feel the social media pressure? Google+! Pinterest! Foursquare! And on, and on, and on. And your CEO wants you to be on all of them. Christopher Barger, SVP of Global Programs at Voce Connect – @cbarger , doesn’t think you should subscribe to this school of thought.

As he says, “if you don’t have your ducks lined up behind the scences and your organization isn’t aligned to work with whatever social media program comes up next, you’re going to mess it up.” It’s crucial to understand what platforms make sense for your company and which ones are just a waste of time and resources.

“You can count on three things in life death, taxes and the bandwagon,” says Barger. But the bandwagon can be costly for your company!

Here are his tips for creating a successful social media program:

1) You need someone high up to champion social media
-That champion will set the tone for the social media program and without them, it will be difficult to get buy-in from the rest of the company.

2) Have a clear line of authority
-Who’s calling the shots? Who decides what strategies to implement?
-Your social media program cannot be a silo. It’s important to include marketing, PR, comms etc and keep them involved. Show them that the social media program is helping other departments meet their objectives. And there should be some creative tension among departments.

3) Do you have a social media evangelist who serves as the face of the brand?
-You can’t hire someone solely because they’ve built up a great following on social media and assume they’ll bolster your brand.
-You need someone who is more than just a community manager. Someone who is equally focused on internal communications and business strategy.
-“Social media is not free. It requires time, people and money,”says Barger. So hire the right person!
-“You don’t want someone who’s giving themselves the same title as a bunch of cartoon turtles that love pizza,” says Barger. So skip the self-proclaimed ninjas and jedis.

3)Sensible metrics and measurement
-You need to make some sort of return. It doesn’t have to be financial, but you need it. Otherwise, social media becomes a waste of time and money.
-Barger doesn’t believe that ROI is self-evident. You have to define success and know what you want to see before you jump on social media. Don’t join a network because it’s cool.

4) Partner with legal
-Make the legal partner an ally, not an enemy. Don’t screw up now and ask for forgiveness later!
-“Recognize that ‘the right thing’ in social and the company’s best interest aren’t always directly parallel. Transparency is not a zero-sum game,” says Barger.

5) Create a social media policy to protect and empower employees
-If you haven’t told your employees what they’re allowed to do and what will get them in trouble, you could be setting your company up for disaster.
-Sync your social media policy with established business guidelines.
-Use case studies to bolster the need for a social media policy. Find an example of a company that’s landed in hot water because of social media. There are many to choose from!

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Fun fact: Every year Con Edison documents the changing skyline of New York City from a helicopter.

Pretty neat, right?

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

“It’s not about what your company is, it’s about who are you as a company,” says Ann Cameron, the director of creative services at Con Edison. With this in mind, Con Edison is able to create powerful videos that get results.

Con Edison uses video to:
-Get employees enthused about its brand
-Entertain its external audience

The videos are short, entertaining, direct and informative. For example, during Hurricane Irene, Con Edison blasted emails with videos sharing important information in an entertaining way.

How do they share videos?
Con Edison blast emails to its subscribers with videos and have found great success through this. The videos feature fun, yet informative, topics like employees sharing energy saving tips.

Alfonso Quiroz, manager of media relations at Con Edison shares his tips for video success:
During Hurricane Irene, Con Edison’s media relations department used a mix of media, from press releases to Twitter, to communicate information. Quiroz videotaped workers in manholes sharing hot tips for preparing for a heat wave and how customers should as well. As there were budget cuts at Con Edison at the time, the team used YouTube to essentially ‘pitch’ the media. After uploading the video to YouTube, the video was picked up by the press and featured on a local news channel.

Quiroz and his department like to think outside the box. When the media relations department was asked why they have a Facebook page, they responded with a video. They filmed the moderators of the Facebook page responding to the question. The fan who posed the question was so happy to receive a personalized response that he filmed another video praising Con Edison. Con Ed showed people that they know how to respond, and quickly!

Another example of Con Ed’s media relations department thinking outside of the box is when the team created a video with employees after they heard that the employees were able to foil a robbery attempt while on the job. The media relations department embedded the video in a press release and sent it out. NY 1 and The Times Ledgerfeatured the video on their websites.

So how can your company use video for branding efforts?
-Use your employees’ stories. Encourage employees to share their stories with your company. Then share the videos with your audience. It humanizes your brand and makes employees feel involved and appreciated.
-Tell your corporate story through video. Con Ed videotapes employees volunteering. Does your company volunteer? Share these videos to show your community that your company is committed to it.

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Have you ever wondered if a blender can take on an iPad? How about golf balls? George Wright, creator of the ‘Will it blend?’ campaign has. Blendtec’s wildly successful campaign shows off its powerful blenders in a creative, compelling and exciting way. Within the first week of launching the campaign, ‘Will it blend?’ scored one million views.

So how did they do it?

The campaign was originally created to foster pride for Blendtec’s blenders within employees. The videos, which feature various objects being blended in a ‘lab,’ were first shown to employees to get them excited about the product. Wright explains that many of Blendtec’s employees were well-aware of competitors and what they were doing, but Wright wondered how much they actually knew–and cared–about their own product. Employees shared the videos with their friends and family, and Blendtec shared it with existing customers, too. The world of ‘extreme blending’ quickly became an internet sensation.

The strategy:
-Wright made it fun. Tom Dickson, the person in charge of blending objects like 2x4s, gathered quite a crowd internally when he was ‘extreme blending.’
-Wright then put the videos on YouTube and the company’s homepage

Key components:
-The videos worth watching. They knew this because employees gathered to watch Tom ‘extreme blend’ and enjoyed it. Think about whether or not you’d watch the videos you produce. If the answer is ‘no,’ you might want to rethink your strategy.
-Have a business objective. Always ensure you have a goal in mind and stay focused on it.
-Find sponsors
-Make it real. As Wright says, “The didn’t try to make it [the blender] what it wasn’t, they made it what it was.” Stay true to your product.
-Make it fun and quirky. Wright and Dickson went to trade shows and showcased the art of ‘extreme blending’ and interacted with the audience.
-Keep your messaging objective-based and relevant. As Wright says, “You are successful when your tactic achieves the objective with your audience.”

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Brooks Thomas, Southwest’s communications specialist for emerging media —@brooksethomas , gives #raganmedrel attendees the inside scoop on Southwest and brand journalism.

The power of content sharing
-Southwest’s digital presence enables it to broadcast its story to millions
-Once a story is crafted and sent through corporate accounts, it’s shared by others – domino effect!

So how does the blog work?
All bloggers for Nuts about Southwest volunteer to blog. Southwest holds webinars and policy training for employees and provides additional resources like classes–Southwest has an actual school on site–and a social media handbook.

Where do they find all that great content?
Thomas believes that every single tweet and Facebook post is a story. You just have to evaluate it to make sure it’s a story you want to pursue! Look at what your customers are sharing and what your employees are talking about. Because employees are empowered and the company culture is so focused on unity and engagement, employees are eager to share their stories. “Internal stories that warrant external publicity,” as Thomas says

Southwest also re-purposes content. Thomas does a weekly video of the top five stories from the blog–the posts are determined by Google Analytics. He shares that this not only ensures that popular content is being shared to audiences who may not have seen it, but this strategy shows Southwest’s audience the face behind the blog and humanizes the brand even more.

How do they keep it all together?
Thomas has a shared editorial news calendar in Outlook along with a regular communications calendar. They have three people on their communication team that manage specific channels. Thomas also has “rainy day” content in his back pocket to ensure there is always something to post.

Want to have a little fun? Thomas started a game at our conference. He gave a dollar to a conference attendee and told him to pass it around. The goal is to see if it can make it to all conference attendees before the conference is over. Keep up with the ‘Ragan dollar’ on Twitter at #followtheragandollar

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Do you have a crisis comms plan in place? Jeremy Soffin, Director of Media Relations at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), shares how the MTA strategically communicated a shut-down during Hurricane Irene.

Rear Admiral Beck, Vice Chief of Information for the Navy Reserve Public Affairs, adds additional tips regarding how to effectively create a crisis communications plan. Here are their top tips:

1) Have a plan and stick to it
Certain parts of New York City had varied weather that might have made it possible to change the plans and allow the MTA to run. But Soffin and his team knew that in order to keep the plan consistent and clear, they needed to stick to it.

2) Communicate your plan
There were a lot of details surrounding transportation during Hurricane Irene and in order to make sure operations ran smoothly, the MTA’s comms team had to make sure everyone was on the same page

3) Manage expectations
Try to anticipate what your audience will say and do. “Don’t under promise and over deliver,” says Beck. “Look at situations through your audience’s eyes as often as possible,” he adds.

4) Repetition
If you don’t repeat your message, it can easily get lost in barrage of tweets,posts, updates etc. Use the various tools you have at your disposal. The MTA used Twitter, Flickr and other social media channels to repeat their message to make sure people knew what to expect.

5) Proactively communicate with your team
“Everybody’s involved. Your team is your success” says Beck. It’s crucial to remember this and keep everyone on the same page.

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It’s time to learn from the experts! Our power panel includes Lauren Indvik of Mashable – @laureni , Brooks Thomas of Southwest – @brooksethomas
and Steve Bromberg of Foxnews.com and Aol.com – @stevebromberg

6 quick and dirty tips on perfect pitching:

1) How to pitch: Thomas suggests ‘story pushing’ over ‘product pushing.’ Personalize your pitches, don’t just push your product.

2) Tools to use when pitching: Indvik says people at Mashable prefer to be pitched via email. She suggests following up with a tweet after the email. Fun fact: Lauren gets at least 300 press releases a day.

3) Build relationships: Mark Ragan says that to build–and maintain–a relationship, get to know people. “Know what keeps them up at night, what makes them laugh,” says Ragan. Thomas agrees and urges people to have a conversation with people before you pitch them. Send them a conversational tweet once a week, for example.

4) Exclusives are a good thing: Bromberg is all about exclusives, as long as they are relevant to his audience. If you don’t make it personal and relevant, your pitch is a waste of time.

5) Embargoes: Thomas advised that Southwest is fine with embargoes but stresses the necessity of having a contingency plan in case the embargo doesn’t go as planned

6) Let’s do lunch? Indvik and Bromberg both agreed that they’d rather not be asked out to lunch. Use the ‘let’s do lunch’ tactic with discretion!

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You can’t escape it. It’s everywhere. It’s on the tip of every social media pro’s tongue. It’s social media ROI!

And Paula Berg, @PaulaBerg, formerly of Southwest Airlines, now the digital media leader at Linhart Public Relations, knows all about it. With the help of a bottle of wine, she hit the books and learned everything and anything ROI.

So how can you apply her knowledge to your strategy, with or without wine?

1) Dazzle your audience
Are you sharing interesting, fun information? Dazzle your readers.
2) Look beyond the numbers
The numbers only tell part of the story. Know where people are coming from (Facebook? Google search?). Do research–survey your audience (you can use a tool like Survey Monkey) and ask them what they want from your company
3) What are you trying to prove?
4) What should you be doing differently? Have you thought about what you’re going to change to make your blog better?

So how do you keep this all together? Create a ‘measurement menu.’ Create a checklist for your strategy that includes what tools to use for each strategy and your expectations. Educate your team on social media tools to make their lives easier.

While at Southwest, Berg and her team measured on a daily basis, a weekly basis and a monthly/quarterly basis. Figure out how often you need to measure activity.
A great way to ensure that you’re able to track and measure your social media efforts is to source code every single thing you do on social media.

Before getting a social media tool, consider these three questions:

What do you want the tool for? Monitoring? To make reports?
What functionality do you need? Do you need to track specific things?
What’s your budget?

Paid tools: Sysmos, Alterian Vocus, Radian 6.

Free tools: Google reader, Google alerts, Tweetreach.

And some food for thought: Mark Ragan, Ragan’s CEO, asked if ROI always has to tie back to sales. Berg says you can tie it back to revenue in the big picture, but she doesn’t tie it back dollar-by-dollar. She says you can tie ROI back to how it improves efficiency and communication flow, for example. What do you think?

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How do you make an effective social media news release, or SMNR? @shelholtz , founder of Holtz Communications + Technology, shares his dos and donts for making SMNRs that get attention.

It’s always important to remember to create ‘content objects’ that people will want to share and talk about. As a communicator, it’s your job to push that content out there to your audience. It’s also crucial to remember that the SMNR doesn’t have to be–and shouldn’t be–a stand-alone effort. Make sure that the traditional news release is part of you SMNR.

More dos:

1)Have others tell your story through content marketing
2)Accommodate online capabilities
3)Let publishers cherry-pick bits and pieces – or as I like to call it, don’t be ‘precious’ about your content. Let them use what they want. As Holtz says, ‘it’s still your content’
4)Use tags – make it easy for the reporter or blogger to find you
5)Use links to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter etc to encourage sharing on your press release and expose more people to it through sharing

Myths about SMNR
1)SMNRs are a “meatball sunday,” or two things that shouldn’t go together. That phrase courtesy of Seth Godin. Busted: They do go together quite well. Social media is another form of communications
2)SMNRs don’t work because they’re not optimized for SEO. Busted: They can be easily optimized for search.
3)Producing SMNRs is too time-consuming. Busted: You have the time!
4)The format is too rigid and confining. Busted: You can make it look any way you want. There aren’t hard and fast rules you must follow
5)There’s no evidence that SMNRs produce any benefit. Busted: Holtz quotes a Cision/GWU study that talks about how social media can actually do very well as a venue for news releases. RealWire also found that the reach of a social media news release expands on the reach of a traditional release.

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Have you ever had that pit-in-your-stomach feeling that makes you a bit uncomfortable? @carlosdominguez, SVP at Cisco Systems, suggests that you shake things up.

Why? Because you can’t expect the world to stand still for you. You can either embrace change or be left behind. Cisco’s CEO shares some interesting stats on change:

  • “40 percent of Fortune 500 companies will no longer be here in 10 years.”
  • “More people return home for their cell phone than their wallet.”
  • “If you work in Web programming, online marketing, etc. Your roles didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

One of the values you can bring is understanding the challenges your CEOs are facing. “There has been a role reversal,” says Dominguez, “consumers are now driving the innovation circle.” Another important way to embrace change is understanding that it’s no longer about who you know, but what you know. Do you have great ideas? You have the ability to share it via social media. How powerful is that?

Dominguez shared a charming story about a 21-month old iPad user who is so used to using iPads that they tried to control the TV in a similar way. Break out the Windex! But what does this say about technology? How do you teach people to interact with these devices? Even children are unknowingly developing with the changes. Are you? Is your company?

We think most of our audience will agree when Dominguez says not allowing use of social media at work is “really, really dumb.” Why? Because it can do so much for your business. Dominguez shares that organizations are experiencing change and more complexity. “Today’s complexity is only expected to rise and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it,” says Dominguez. So how do you work with these changes and this rise in complexity? Creativity. Social media is a creative way to reach and understand your audience.

And a quote to keep in your back pocket from Gary Hamel: “Incumbents typically lose out to upstarts who are unencumbered by the past. They become laggards overnight.”

Try this exercise to see how your company is dealing with change:
What do you think the companies of tomorrow are going to have?
Does your company have these qualities?

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We kicked off our packed summit with Matthew Polevoy from CBS. Matt, @CBSMatt, the social media director for @CBSNews, shared top tips for pitching:

1) Email, don’t use Twitter DM (direct messages), to connect with media

It looks presumptuous and pushy to DM your pitches. Matt shares that he prefers email for this. He also emphasizes being on target with your email pitches. Don’t blind pitch! Matt mentioned that there’s an agency—and he withholds the name—that his company has actually blocked. You don’t want to be that company!

2) “The line between being a resource and being annoying can be razor thin”

Always remember this when pitching. Be insightful. Be interesting. Be relevant.

3) If you haven’t done your homework, don’t press send!

CBS will ignore it! Matt says he always remembers people who call him, for good and bad reasons. Make that human connection but be the good call.

4) Participate and interact

Once you listen and learn, then jump in. There are so many resources out there. Watch what’s being done on social media and then take the leap.
Matt emphasizes the importance of being an active member of the conversation constantly—not just when you have a sales pitch.

5) Don’t be a spammer!

Social media is a “spam petri dish.” Journalists are under a lot of pressure for time. He says he doesn’t want to see links unless it’s VERY relevant. Make it easy for them and don’t send four page press releases.

Hot tips: Matt suggests the following resources

  • MuckRack.com (directory)
  • News Outlet Twitter Lists (i.e. @CBSNews/lists)
  • WeFollow.com (News and Producers lists)
  • mediagazer.com

Topics: PR

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