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Lessons I Learned from the Real World of PR

pr

What can you really expect from the living the life of a public relations professional?

I gave a speech a few weeks ago to a room full of college students who happen to be PR hopefuls. A lot of the speech covered what I want to talk about here, but the main takeaway for me was how surprised I was by the comments afterward.

Go on…Lessons I Learned from the Real World of PR

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How “Amy’s Baking Company” Has The Worst PR Strategy I’ve Ever Seen

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1 week ago, I watched the most entertaining episode of Kitchen Nightmares yet, as Gordon Ramsey actually walked out on a restaurant for the first time in the show’s history.

Short version: Amy’s Baking Company shot itself in the foot this week and destroyed their reputation via social media and their behavior on the show.

For more insight on what happened, here is the most comprehensive article I’ve read on the subject, but right now I’m just going to discuss the aftermath and what to make of their upcoming PR efforts.

Here are the facts: the internet hates this restaurant. Their biggest challenge is that they are trapped in a black hole of negative publicity. Can they really be saved at this point?

I get that they hired a PR firm, but even I have more Twitter followers than those guys. Yes, they have an impressive client list, but everything about Jason Rose, his firm and their website screams old-school, and this brand is facing problems because of the owners’ inability to grasp the new school. Social media, that is.

I mean, did they really expect people to believe they were hacked? For days? Especially when the content matches up with how they were portrayed in the show?

What convinces me the most that these hacking claims are a lie is the follow-up. Your statements amid a PR crisis speak volumes, and I don’t believe this PR firm they’ve hired understand how shallow their strategy has been so far, so let’s analyze.

Their first follow-up statement:

“Obviously our Facebook, YELP, Twitter and Website have been hacked. We are working with the local authorities as well as the FBI computer crimes unit to ensure this does not happen again. We did not post those horrible things. Thank You Amy &Samy”

First of all, this isn’t “obvious” to anyone that witnessed the couple in action via the show. Their disrespect towards their customers, their employees, and Gordon Ramsey was caught on film. And yes, it portrayed them as crazy. That’s not spin, that’s being caught red-handed.

Yet, they still claim to be the victims in all this and expect people to believe them.

Next Facebook post:

“Other Side of Amy’s Baking Company Controversy in Scottsdale To Soon Be Told

SCOTTSDALE, AZ. MAY 15, 2013 — Amy’s Baking Company will host a Grand Re-Opening on Tuesday night, May 21, following unflattering portrayals on national television.

Customers will be able to decide who is correct: a famous celebrity chef or the marketplace that has supported the small, locally-owned business for six years. 

When re-opened, a portion of proceeds will benefit a charity organized to bring awareness to cyber bullying. 

Seating is limited. Reservations may be made by emailing sjones@rosemoserallynpr.com. 

Diners will also have the opportunity to meet, and judge for themselves the character of owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, who have devoted their lives to and earn their living from their small restaurant. The Bouzaglos have been married for 10 years, after Sammy emigrated from Israel. 

The owners will likely be holding a press conference before the Grand Re-Opening and answer falsehoods depicted on a reality television show, including assertions that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers. 

In fact, wait staff is paid $8-$14 per hour, two and half to nearly five times the standard hourly wage for servers. 

Questions will also be answered about what happened to their Facebook page. 

Amy’s Baking Company was recently featured on the hit PBS show “Check Please” and has received A+ reports from CBS 5 for kitchen preparedness. 

“We are very upset by what has taken place, apologize about the acrimony that has ensued but now must fight back to save our business. We hope and believe much good can result from what has transpired. We ask the public to keep an open mind as we begin to tell our side of the story,” Samy Bouzaglo said. 

For more details, please contact Michael Saucier. 

-30-“

I kept the boilerplate at the end because it shows you how “press release” this is.

Okay, let’s begin with “Other Side of Amy’s Baking Company Controversy in Scottsdale To Soon Be Told”

Other side? How can there be another side when we’ve caught you in the act? Shifting the blame is a classic PR move that doesn’t really work anymore now that information is so easily shared. ABC has been picking fights with bloggers and critics for years. No one is convinced that there is another side. 

It’s also evident here that this was written by their PR handler due to the language. We need statements from the owners, not their advisors.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ. MAY 15, 2013 — Amy’s Baking Company will host a Grand Re-Opening on Tuesday night, May 21, following unflattering portrayals on national television.

“Unflattering portrayal” is interesting language, because it seems to imply that the depiction of them is not accurate, even though the word “portrayal” literally means to describe. Nice try. The Grand Re-Opening seems like a smart move, since it keeps their publicity going and will no doubt draw interest, but to me, it just makes the restaurant look more guilty. If they really didn’t say all of those terrible things, why did they have to close down? Acting guilty can be just as worse as being guilty.

Customers will be able to decide who is correct: a famous celebrity chef or the marketplace that has supported the small, locally-owned business for six years. 

Asking us to pick between Gordon Ramsey and them is quite possibly the dumbest decision I’ve ever seen a modern PR firm make. He’s famous for a reason. He’s well-loved. The public is absolutely going to pick a professional, well-loved chef, over a restaurant that’s been harassing customers and employees for years. If the market has been so kind to them, then why did they need Gordon Ramsey’s help in the first place? If the problem was always cyber-bullying, wouldn’t that be a reason to hire a PR firm over a “famous celebrity chef?” 

When re-opened, a portion of proceeds will benefit a charity organized to bring awareness to cyber bullying. 

More shifting the blame. They are still trying to perpetuate the myth that they are victims, even though we saw firsthand on the show why they are getting all of this hate. They’ve been shown that they bully everyone else, but they claim that they’re the ones being bullied. Giving to a charity is good in theory, but choosing one that satisfies your complaints comes off as self-serving. If they really wanted to appear authentic, they should have chosen a charity to help the hungry. Since, you know, they’re a restaurant.  

Seating is limited. Reservations may be made by emailing sjones@rosemoserallynpr.com. 

Who is “sjones?” I don’t really care, but what’s odd is the email. Why are reservations being made with the PR firm? This makes no sense. 

Diners will also have the opportunity to meet, and judge for themselves the character of owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, who have devoted their lives to and earn their living from their small restaurant. The Bouzaglos have been married for 10 years, after Sammy emigrated from Israel. 

We can judge pretty easily from the tape. No one is asking to meet these people in person unless they just want to observe the train-wreck firsthand. Rebuilding a reputation is pointless when there is no apology. Also, this whole “small local restaurant” thing is easy to figure out. They want us to feel like they’re just a small business trying to make it, but oh no! They’re being bullied by the “big guys” like famous, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. Are you kidding me? First, anyone who has seen the extravagant decor within the restaurant can tell that they’re not “the little guy.” The rest is obvious. They’re the bullies, and constantly saying the opposite doesn’t make it true. Also, being married for 10 years and emigrating from Israel doesn’t say anything about your character…

The owners will likely be holding a press conference before the Grand Re-Opening and answer falsehoods depicted on a reality television show, including assertions that the restaurant confiscates tips from servers. 

The owner and many employees have already confessed that tips are being confiscated. Denying it is pointless.

In fact, wait staff is paid $8-$14 per hour, two and half to nearly five times the standard hourly wage for servers. 

Yes, because servers keep their tips, hence they don’t need a high hourly wage. Gordon Ramsey rightfully pointed out on the show that the customers would not have given any tip if they knew that the owners were taking them. If the owners are paying them this wage, then they should have a policy in place where the servers can’t accept tips, which is not the case. 

Questions will also be answered about what happened to their Facebook page. 

Can’t wait to see this excuse in action, especially since posts like the ones from the other day weren’t the first. Hate language has been seen on their site long before this fiasco.

Amy’s Baking Company was recently featured on the hit PBS show “Check Please” and has received A+ reports from CBS 5 for kitchen preparedness. 

We already know that Gordon was impressed with the cleanliness. That doesn’t make the food or customer service better. In PR, we call this “bolstering” which is an attempt to highlight unrelated positive aspects of a company in order to decrease attention to negative aspects. This doesn’t work well when the negative has been so greatly highlighted, and no apology or remorse is evident. 

“We are very upset by what has taken place, apologize about the acrimony that has ensued but now must fight back to save our business. We hope and believe much good can result from what has transpired. We ask the public to keep an open mind as we begin to tell our side of the story,” Samy Bouzaglo said. 

Oh look! A statement from the owner! What?? An apology? Why didn’t they start with this? Because at this point, it doesn’t even seem remotely genuine. If they were so sorry, they wouldn’t bury this at the bottom. Also, more tricky language. They apologize for the acrimony that has ensued. Okay, well that doesn’t say you apologize for your acrimonious behavior, just what’s “happened.” Wow, just when I thought they couldn’t shift the blame one more time.

For more details, please contact Michael Saucier. 

Who?

So much of this nonsense could have been avoided if they simply said this:

Sorry. We’ll change. 

Because that’s all people want. We don’t want to be accused of being closed-minded. We don’t want fancy PR strategies or a big press event. We want to see responsibility and admission of guilt. But according to them, we “the customers” aren’t always right, but they are.

May 21st can’t get here fast enough.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking the “follow” button in the top-left corner.

Don’t forget to check out New Professional News every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me)  

The Power of Being Infamous

Power of Being Infamous

Defined, being “infamous” is not a good thing at first glance. Being infamous means that you have an extremely bad reputation, making it a goal for many people to not be infamous.

Well, I don’t like to think that way. More to the point, I choose not to make my goals dependent on words described by vague words like “bad” or “good.”

There is power in being infamous, because there is power in perception. There is power in extremes. When someone boldly categorizes you in an extreme, there is overt power in that.

Power that gives you control (or at least the opportunity to control).

Of course, you don’t want a bad reputation for certain things. JetBlue doesn’t want to be infamous for stranding its customers on the tarmac, Tylenol definitely doesn’t want to be infamous for poisoning its customers with cyanide, and you don’t want to be infamous for basically being bad at what you want to be good at.

The power of perception, even supposedly negative perception, allows you to do several things:

  • Have a widespread conversation
  • Initiate the conversation
  • Control the conversation

This falls back on the notion that we can almost always use something bad for good. Even better, using your biggest weakness as your biggest strength as Sun Tzu would say.

I’m not speaking to striving for becoming “infamous” or some kind of antagonistic troll. What I am challenging you to do is to rethink perception when reacting to the onset of an infamous persona being thrust upon you. More plainly, when we are obsessed with trying to avoid becoming “infamous,” we may miss an opportunity while still becoming infamous in the end.

Take a note from some famous brands that have used their biggest weaknesses and turned them into opportunities:

  • Avis – “We Try Harder” campaign is famous for positioning Avis being “second best” as a good thing.
  • Barnes and Noble – The “Nook” was Barnes and Noble’s way of controlling the conversation surrounding the rise of e-books.
  • AT&T – “It Can Wait” campaign showed this phone brand’s response to cell phones being infamous for “texting while driving” fatalities that are on the rise.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking the “follow” button in the top-left corner.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 

How to Respond to Hateful People

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The Internet can be a rough place. People are ready to bombard you with strong (if not flimsy) opinions about emotionally charged topics, and anonymity plays a huge role in the cause of this.

Go on…How to Respond to Hateful People

1 Skill You Must Have

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Most skills we develop past college have to do with very tangible, observational traits. You get better at writing more effectively and transcribing large concepts into simpler concepts. Sharp criticism and experience enable you to have a more creative eye. Just being in a workplace and dealing with people 40 hours a week grooms you for management.

These skills are great, and you’ll find that they develop nicely over time. That said, there is also a skill that is a little trickier to cultivate.

Broad thinking.

In my industry, being able to identify every possible outcome of a situation is something I constantly call upon. It’s not just intuition, it’s knowledge and cohesive thinking. The ideal is that you are able to  constantly stay 10 steps ahead of everyone else, meaning you can solve almost any problem.

This skill is probably the most important asset you have if you want to reach the highest echelons of your industry. Why? For one thing, it prevents you from making needless mistakes. Also, being able to predict trends makes you desirable to your superiors.

How do you develop broad thinking? There are a lot of different ways depending on what you do for a living. For me, reading is your best friend. I digest a large amount of news each day. The benefit is that you gain a large perspective of the world and are able to think much more broadly than someone who is out of the loop.

Gaining insights is another great way to bolster your wisdom on any given subject. While you may not be able to memorize all of the information you’re bringing in, chances are higher that the stories and anecdotes you are appreciating will benefit you in the long-run.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking the “follow” button in the top-left corner.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 

5 Reasons Why Social Media Won’t Kill PR

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I’ve often heard it said that social media and public relations are merging and becoming synonymous. “The New PR” if you will.  I typically hear this either from college students or professionals speaking out of context.

Indeed, social media has become integral to public relations, and for the better, improved it. One-way-communication by means of the press release and press conference is no longer the norm. We’ve found it easier to create and sustain relationships with our constituents by means of effective control over social media outlets.

That’s the danger, though, isn’t it? Classic PR seems to be fading into irrelevancy these days, at least in the eyes of those who operate outside of the profession, especially those in advertising in marketing. Peers of mine have often regarded PR as a shell of what it used to be, and public relations professionals becoming social media managers rather than directors.

Sure, I’m a social media manager, so I get that point to a degree, but the concept of public relations being overwhelmed by social media is nonsense, and here are 5 reasons why.

5. Social Media Managers are not Publicists

Facilitating online communities is completely different from so many other aspects of PR, especially publicizing  Yes, publicists get a bad rep, but that doesn’t change how good they can be at their jobs. They are just as essential as agents, and you can’t maintain the image of a prominent businessman, politician, or celebrity without a publicist.

4. Social Media only Addresses Consumers (for the most part)

There are some exceptions to the above statement, but for the most part, social media is focused on the interests of consumers and the general public. Social media does little to foster the relationships an entity may have with  the government, investors, employees, and especially the press. For many PR pros, this is a “duh” moment, for they constantly fixate on more than just social communication.

3. Social Media can be Difficult to Measure

In many cases, social media is not as easy to prove effective to the powers that be. When it comes to ROI and actually driving sales, social media can be difficult to build a foundation on because it is reactionary communication. It functions in the same way that word-of-mouth does for advertisers. We create the message and pick the channels, but we can’t always see the fruits.

There are ways around this, and I’m not saying that social media is not beneficial (quite the opposite actually). I’m saying that we are not yet at a place where social media can be dissected comprehensibly on a chart, and most PR pros don’t want to take the risk of building their ROI around social media impressions alone.

2. The World is Bigger than Social Media (Right Now)

So many of us live in cities and towns, so we forget that it’s a big world out there. Even within the states, we have to constantly remind ourselves that not everyone flocks to the internet as their source of reference. People still read newspapers and respond better to billboards than sponsored stories. It’s how the world works.

In time, millennials like myself will rely on “outdated” concepts such as (who knows?) cell phones and commercials. Social Media won’t kill PR because not everyone in your audience is using social media. Simple right?

1. Good Social Media Needs Good PR

Ideally, social media is about transparency, effective communication, and relationship-building. For PR pros, that sounds pretty familiar to what is essential about PR. Social Media is more than just a tool of PR, it is a product of it. The idea of instant, transparent communication being out there for the whole world to see is working for many people because many people rely on good PR.

It’s not just about the product. It’s the image and how the image is presented. Without the fundamentals and structure of high quality public relations, social media is just another bulletin board at your local coffee shop. With the right tools, however, it can affect more than just a handful of coffee drinkers.

The two subjects need each other. Be sure to watch how social media evolves in the coming years, and we’ll see just how the profession of PR changes with it. I am confident that both have a bright future.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 

What Public Relations Should Boil Down To

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This is a crazy, roller-coaster of a profession. Though I’ve only just begun my career in the last year, I’ve delved into corporate communications, agency work, freelance, the world of publicity, and now nonprofit PR.

The job of public relations is definitely fascinating, and continues to grow as more and more people are choosing it for their career path. College students all over the world are seeing the benefits of choosing this profession, though some are honestly in it just to jump on the social media bandwagon, but let’s be real. PR is about so much more than just social media.

What is Public Relations? This is a question I hear often, though I’m confident most people who ask me already know. We are in the business of creating and maintaining good relationships with the publics of whatever organization we are working for. It’s advocacy but with a clear focus.

Yes, people confuse it with advertising and marketing all of the time, though the three are actually more integrated than you might realize. Still, there is one thing that definitely separates the profession from so many others, including it’s “cousins” of advertising and marketing. It’s the one thing that PR should always boil down to.

Love.

PR is about showing love and reacting to how it is reciprocated. We craft relationships and images out of love for our constituents: the government, investors, our own employees, and of course, the consumers of our brand.

“But Jon,” my internal conscious says as I write this, “PR really boils down to making your company look good no matter what. It’s about saving a company money and creating good press, not love!”

This is my internal reaction to the idea that PR should boil down to love. Being in the business for a short while, I’ve seen the bad side of how PR is used just as much as I’ve seen the good. That said, I’ve seen the success of PR versus the failure of PR and that leads me to the conclusion that PR needs to boil down to love.

I believe this not based on how the profession has been judged and seen by others in the past. I believe this not based on what I want out of the profession.

I believe that PR is about love based on everything I have experienced up to this point in my career. 

Yes, we write press releases, measure ROI, pester journalists and do whatever we can to increase the bottom-line for our organization. That’s the reality of our lives in PR. Everything we do, whether we do it in love or not, has to be sustainable.

All of these things, however, are just goals. They’re what’s necessary to achieve the vision of whatever organization we are a part of.

To truly find success in PR, the message has to be sent in love. It has to respond to the needs of whomever is affected. Sure, a PR professional can’t please everyone. What may be good for consumers is not necessarily good for stockholders. Not every consumer is going to like a new policy change or maybe something as simple as a new logo.

It’s the PR pro’s job to maintain balance between these opinions and concerns, constantly using two-way communication, that yes, social media has allowed us to foster better than ever before.

Is there dishonesty in the profession? Absolutely, but that’s because there are dishonest people. The good PR pros know that shortcuts and coverups are the most impractical options for how to deal with crises. This is why you will often see companies owning up to their mistakes and making them right. You know that a good PR team is behind those decisions.

PR goes by a set of rules very similar to how we operate as people. You have to show love. To your customers, to your employees, and to your partners. When an organization operates by this creed, they will find success in PR.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person.

Don’t forget to check out THE JON REPORT every day, updated at 8am for a list of today’s main headlines as selected by my editorial team (me) 

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