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Lessons I Learned from the Real World of PR

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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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The “SuperFan Strategy” and Why More Brands Should Use It

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A fascinating Fortune article reached me recently. It was a feature on how brands like Sephora and LEGO are relying more and more on “superfans” to regulate their online communities.

What’s a superfan? As the author of this article, Kurt Wagner, puts it, these are the most engaged users within an online community of a brand. These are the people who comment, like, and share every Facebook Page post they see for the brand they love.

The feature points out that these fans get paid nothing to essentially patrol online conversations and discussion boards, answering questions and providing product advice. You can see why they have caught the attention of major brands.

I would take it one step further. You see, I have gotten to interact with and observe superfans within my own company’s brand. I won’t say much, except that I have always found them to be among our brand’s biggest assets, and I think we should develop a deeper strategy to capitalize on these engaged users.

The “SuperFan Strategy,” as I call it, is a focused attempt at empowering the most engaged users of an online community, similar to how Huffington Post gives more responsibility to its most influential users. Conversely, superfans of a given brand, let’s say LEGO because they are currently on the cusp of this, could be used as gatekeepers and testers for new products.

This would ensure that LEGO’s latest products are consistently creating new fans and, hopefully, superfans. I know most people would jump at the chance to be a more official advocate for a brand they love, giving them more incentives to stay loyal and active.

This type of strategy also positions the brand as a two-way communicator, constantly listening to their fan-base and being responsive.

Are there significant drawbacks to a strategy such as this? I’m not sure, though the only one that comes to mind is that a superfan can lose some credibility among the rest of a brand’s fan-base if they become a pseudo-employee, so that must be handled with care.

Otherwise, the “SuperFan Strategy” is one I expect more brands to try, as it really is a no-brainer amid the advent of social marketing strategies.

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, a list of headlines essential for any new professional, updated daily at 8am.

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 Get Better at Thinking on Your Feet

Thinking On Your Feet

In the world of public relations and online community building, your weapon of choice is strategy. You take time to think through your given strategy by setting out clear objectives, goals, and tactics. Time is your friend, and most of us in this profession revel in staying up late to perfect a campaign we’re about to present.

Unfortunately for me and others like me, I’m very decisive. When I like an idea or course of action, I tend to decide on it quickly without thoroughly examining alternative options or the consequences of that idea.

Sure, this comes in handy when I’m on a date and the girl can’t decide what movie we should see, but when you’re too decisive on formulating a campaign for a client or your supervisor, trouble can ensue. That is, when you take a narrow-minded approach to creating your lifeline, expect the boat to sink.

This is because even the “best” idea in the world to you can be shot down in the quickest moment. We can try to defend our decision and approach all we want, but all it takes is that one, seemingly insignificant variable to make your strategy completely dismissive. When that variable is thrown at you by the people you are trying to win over, you’re going to have to take a different, albeit scary approach.

You’re going to have to think on your feet.

In a lot of cases, this is your one chance. No time for do-overs. No time for re-convening. The spotlight is on you, and you’re going to have to deliver. Weirdly, I love these sink-or-swim moments.

To be honest, I’ve always had a knack for this. I was the student in school who made up speeches on the spot. When running for student body president of my high school, I took my pre-approved script, crumpled it up onstage and proceeded without any idea of what I should say (and I won).

This isn’t something I’ve always just known how to do, to be honest. It’s something I learned and practiced. Being put on the spot on tends to get your mind moving at double its speed, and when you’re used to it, you can actually have a fair time assembling what you need to say smoothly and coherently. Eventually, you get to the point where it’s actually a thrill.

One of the secrets to this being good at presenting in general. Specifically, you need to be able to sell an idea. Prove that you think it is the greatest idea in the world (by showing it in your confidence), present the evidence and reasoning behind why you think it is the greatest idea in the world, and get people excited about it.

That’s not to say, however, that you’re just pulling information out of thin air. Good listening skills and the ability to read an audience also plays a huge part in assembling an off-the-cuff response or presentation.

A year ago, I was at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Assembly as a delegate for Liberty University. We had regular seminars covering various ethos in the profession, and I attended one that provided insights on ethics.

For this seminar, we were divided up into groups of 10-15 students each and were given the opportunity to prepare an ethical response on a fabricated crisis assigned to us.

Nonsense ensued. My group was in chaos and disagreement over how to address the problem at hand. Three of the students were bickering incessantly, and the rest of the group seemed to have give up on sharing their opinion.

Sitting on the sidelines, I had been taking notes on what everyone was saying and listened very carefully to everything discussed. Before we knew it, our time was up and we hadn’t even decided on who was going to present our response on behalf of the group.

When called upon, I volunteered and gave one of the most frightening speeches I’ve ever given. I’m in a room full of the country’s best PR students, as well industry professionals and opinion leaders. And I had nothing concrete prepared, just a list of points.

Of course, no one in the group even knew who I was and were probably embarrassed for me, but I went ahead anyway. Then something fantastic happened.

Glancing at my notes, I presented the issue by summarizing the opinions and thoughts shared by our group. I didn’t leave anyone out. Using this information, I came up with a solution on the spot that seemed to satisfy everyone.

Apparently the planets aligned because our response was the best in the seminar, and our group was highly praised. I made a lot of friends (and got a lot of business cards) from the group that day, and some of the older professionals in the room congratulated me personally.

The point isn’t that I’m something special. Honestly, I was pretty lucky, and I relied pretty heavily on the hard work of my group.

Really, my point here is that you need to be resourceful when thinking on your feet. Don’t be too proud to call upon the help of others, as long as you give them their due credit. While this isn’t something you can necessarily learn overnight, it is at least a very accessible option for over-decisive troublemakers like myself.

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) 

1 Skill You Must Have

Image Courtesy of The Guardian

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) 

Create Something

Image Courtesy of Discovery.com

You’ll never be satisfied with your work if it constantly reflects the properties of others. Relying on the content of others is not bad at all until it becomes your model.

Create something. If you have a good idea, write it down and share it with people you trust. It’s not as valuable if you didn’t put yourself into it.

Writers. Don’t just do reviews of other things. Reviews are great and helpful for your audience, but try making something worth reviewing.

Professionals. Be ambitious and create something of value for your company. Do what you have to in order to create ideas and plans that will get you ahead.

Social media lovers. Don’t just spread quotes and photos you didn’t come up with. Create your own content alongside the things you find interesting, and show why you are an opinion-leader.

New professionals. Have fun with your work! The nature of your profession is that you are constantly learning and growing. Use that to your advantage and build something!

You won’t always get stellar results, but your goal should be to have pride in something. Something that is your own.

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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