Public Relations

Digital marketing is a huge part of public relations

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Public relations is still an essential ingredient to any good marketing plan. That has not changed. But HOW public relations is practiced has changed a lot since the digital revolution began. Will it Blend screenshot

Two factors really play into this trend.

  1. It used to be that mass media outlets (TV, radio, magazines, newspapers) held all the power. They were the gatekeepers of information that was eventually shared with the public.
  2. People did not have options. Everyone watched the same channels. There was no internet, no NetFlix, no cable TV, no Sirius radio. We all had very similar media "intake" experiences.

Now, each of us have our own personal media intake system. We wake up to our Facebook and Twitter feeds and then move on to our favorite news outlet. There are now hundreds of options thanks to the specialty websites, cable outlets, YouTube and radio channels. 

Public relations professionals are faced with a dilemna. How do we help our clients get their news out to all the new channels? OR...how do we help clients get their OWN messages out? Many companies have figured out that its easier and much more effective to create their own content marketing, and use their website and social channels to get the information out to the public - skipping the media entirely.

How does this work in practical terms? My favorite example of digital content marketing is BlendTec. They've used digital marketing to promote a relatively unsexy product and made it fun, findable and viral. A relatively unknown company with a small marketing budget has turned a series of funny videos into marketing gold. Check out one of my favorites - blending a few iPhone 5s into mobile dust.

BlendTec learned that if you create valuable content on a regular basis - people will seek out the content over and over. That is PR flipped on its head. No reporter needed.

Yes, you'll still need old school public relations to get your message out. But in the meantime, start creating great content and attract your customers (like a magnet) straight to your website.

PR is like pork scraps and pickle juice

Claire Celsi is the director of public relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

When I was growing up, my grandma Celsi lived next door to us. My grandma and Mom took turns making a traditional Sunday pasta dinner. When it was Grandma’s turn to cook, all we had to do is keep the kitchen window open to hear her sweet little voice yell, “Reeeaaddddyyyy” toward our house. We’d drop the Sunday comics section and high-tail it over there.  Pickle juice

For some reason, Grandma’s pasta sauce was always slightly better than my mom’s. It was thicker, richer, meatier and just had that extra va-va-voom. Her meatballs were also better – more tender, flavorful and delicious. Try as she might, Mom could never quite replicate it, no matter how hard she tried.

Years after grandma died, Mom stumbled upon a grocery list my Dad had written for her. It was obviously the ingredients for her magic Sunday pasta sauce. There was one surprise on the list – pork scraps. Apparently, Grandma used to take pork scraps and fry them, then she browned the meatballs in the same pan before throwing them in the sauce. The resulting extra flavor was the missing ingredient. (Side note: Here's a fun little video of me and my mom rolling meatballs for a lasagne-like dish called pastachina (pronounced "pasta keen-uh")

Mom’s specialty is German potato salad. She carefully follows her great-grandmother’s recipe – which called for chopped baby gherkin pickles. And even though it was not in the recipe – I noticed that Mom always throws in a substantial splash of pickle juice. However, when I went to look up Mom’s potato salad recipe in the church cookbook - she had left out the splash of pickle juice. Apparently, she has learned a little trick from Grandma.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with PR.

Some companies just have a little pork scraps and pickle juice in their marketing mix. Using PR throughout the year is a smart way to keep ahead of the competition, yet it’s often not the first thing marketers think of when compiling their list of things to do for the year. Here are a few things to add to your marketing recipe:

  1. Know what makes your company different and special – this is your pickle juice and pork scraps. Every company has a special recipe.
  2. Make a list of newspapers, trade pubs or other media outlets your customers will likely be paying attention to. The list doesn’t have to be extensive. In fact, honing a short list of really interested media outlets is smart.
  3. Don’t forget digital journalists. There are many bloggers and thought leaders in the digital space. Many of them have “crossed over” from traditional journalism, so they have a foot in each world. They are real journalists too – so treat them exactly the way you would a “regular” reporter.
  4. Reach out to the media outlets every week or every month, depending on your resources. I call this “heartbeat” PR.  Like the steady thump of your heartbeat, news and tidbits of information should be shared with your media targets on a regular basis.
  5. Make an annual plan. Whether your PR is being handled in-house or you have an agency helping out, spend some time thinking about your initiatives, special projects, new product releases or anniversaries.
  6. Allocate resources. Figure out how much time or money you should allocate. If you’re having trouble finding the money to pay for PR, add up all the money you’ve spent on marketing in the last year, and spend a fourth of it on PR next year. I guarantee you that your audiences will pay more attention to positive media coverage than an ad.

PR is the pork scraps missing from your pasta sauce and the pickle juice missing from your potato salad. Add a little PR to your marketing mix for the extra bit of va-va-voom.

How to Manage a #BashTag PR crisis

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Hashtags are all the rage, especially on Twitter. Using a hashtag to categorize a tweet is a great way to help people search for and discover your content. But what happens when your hashtag gets hijacked? It's a very real concern, as McDonalds found out the hard way. It paid an agency to come up with the campaign #McDStories on Twitter. The only problem is, there were more bad stories than good. Hashtag fail

How do you know when using a hashtag is a good public relations move for your brand? Here are a few things to ponder before launching a #hashtag campaign.

  1. Make sure you have allies who are willing to support your position. In the case of McDonalds, it became clear very quickly that McDonalds had more detractors than supporters.
  2. Are you prepared to monitor and tweet 24 hours a day? Hashtag campaigns are like newborns - someone's gotta be watching and responding all day. If the person in charge stops tweeting at 4 p.m. on Friday, the detractors have all weekend to fill up the tweet stream with all kinds of shenanigans. I suggest pre-programming a full set of tweets to appear when you are not actively tweeting by using Hootsuite or a similar product.
  3. Are you prepared to own, manage and monitor the hashtag for YEARS? Once the campaign is created, a monster is born. Even if you eventually abandon the hashtag, your detractors may use it to bash you for an indefinite period of time.
  4. Make sure your "side" is bigger than their side. In the case of McDonalds or WalMart - the detractors seem to outnumber the supporters by a large margin. They are better organized and have more to say than the agency who created the hashtag.
  5. Do you own the domain name of your hashtag? It's a good idea to buy it and use it as a call to action. Don't launch the #hashtag campaign until the site is done because you'lll lose valuable interactions with both supporters and detractors. McDStories.com lays unclaimed, making it vulnerable to hijack by detractors.

Creating a hashtag is a bold move, but I've rarely seen it succeed in the intended way. Some of the most successful hashtag campaigns have been created around non-controversial issues. One great example is the #ThisSummer campaign, which allowed user to tweet their summer plans and have the tweet turned into a dramatic movie voiceover.

Be careful when creating hashtag campaigns - you may unleash unintended negative consequences for your brand.

Social customer service is free PR

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Recently, I had an unpleasant and rude experience with a couple of grocery store employees. I've shopped there hundreds of times and know what their normal service looks and feels like. So I'm an expert on how the wayward interactions should have gone. Social customer service

For a "social" customer like me, the next step is to complain. Not by writing a letter or calling, but by posting my thoughts on their corporate Facebook page. Which is exactly what I did.

Consumers are changing the ways they interact with companies. My dad would have sat down at his desk and written a letter to the store manager. My mom would have probably called. Some people would just tell everyone they know what happened, without telling the store manager at all. I chose to air my complaint with the store AND my friends.

This type of complaint can turn into a disaster or an opportunity for the company receiving the complaint.

What good can come out of social media complaints? How can a company embrace the fact that people use public social networks to air their grievances? Here are some steps the company can take to turn a sour experience into a PR win.

  1. Have someone monitoring your social channels during business hours - and checking in at least every 12 hours on weekends.
  2. Have a plan in place to react immediately. Here's a formula: 
  • Acknowledge the complaint and promise to investigate
  • Take the complaint "offline" if the person continues to complain loudly on the social network, but follow up publicly if possible.
  • Offer to remedy the complaint immediately if it is feasible to do so
  • Apologize if there has been a breach in normal service levels
  • Ask the person what would make it right
  • Follow up. Make it right.

When someone complains about your business online, you have a crisis on your hands. But you also have an opportunity. If you're not ready to answer social media questions and complaints, then you're not ready to be using social media. How can you prepare?

  • Monitor: Make sure you have all your social channels covered by staff.
  • Training: Teach your employees how to spot trouble and empower them to respond.
  • Have a plan and follow it.

It's a reality. People use public social networks to comment and complain about your business. Consider yourself lucky when they do it on YOUR social channels. They could use other means (like blogs or Yelp) and destroy your reputation. When they complain on Facebook and Twitter, at least you can learn about it and respond. Take my advice: do your best to respond. Deescalating the complaint and resolving it as soon as possible is your best bet. And THAT is good PR.

Facebook “research” marks a new low for the social giant

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Clive, Iowa.

I’ve been watching the rolling debate about Facebook’s latest flub. Some numbskull at Facebook decided it was OK to manipulate user’s feeds to prove that negatively spreads FB dislikefaster when people view negative posts. Guess what? It worked! Shouldn’t we all be grateful to have this bit of knowledge bestowed on us from our kind and benevolent Facebook overlords?

Stories like this make the social scientist in me very angry. It might be time to educate people on what “real” academic-type research looks like – and how much it differs from the head games Facebook is currently playing on its users.

Real research starts out with a hypothesis. It looks like Facebook at least got that right. They hypothesized that sadness and bad moods are contagious. Not a bad premise, actually. And it could be very useful information to have. But, unfortunately, Facebook went off the research reservation after the hypothesis was formed.

The next step is questioning the ethical boundaries of the proposed research. Anyone who’s ever majored in psychology will recognize these simple guidelines:

  1. Informed consent: Researchers must let the subjects know they are being observed or studied. Facebook hid behind their terms of service document (which absolutely no one reads) which apparently allows these kinds of shenanigans to occur.
  2. Professional fidelity and responsibility: Researchers have a duty to reconcile their “need to know” with their subjects’ “right to know” about the experiment. This goes to the very heart of a scientist’s job. They have to err on the side of caution.
  3. Upholding the dignity of the subjects being studied: The researchers simply assume that since their sample size was small and the experiment brief, that they didn’t cause any harm. That is dangerous and outrageous. No, we didn’t hear reports of people jumping out of windows – but the repercussions may never be known.

To make matters worse post study, the researchers gave a lame “apology” that felt more like excuses. “But, but but…we meant well. And we didn’t hurt anybody. And we’re Facebook. We care about people.” And, let’s get real. Facebook has had plenty to apologize for in recent years. They should be getting better at it, not worse. Sounds like they need a righteous PR pro at the table. I’m not available, but I heard Jenny McCarthy’s looking for a new gig. Oh wait, she’s not a professional. Nevermind.

Developing key messages for your business

Claire Celsi is the director of public relations at Spindustry Digital.

Key messages are essential to an effective communications strategy. Here’s the process I’ve used and recommended to my clients over the years. This is a shortened version, but it’s a good roadmap to writing key messages that can be used in news releases, web copy or sales materials. Key messages

The first key message you should develop is a master narrative. This is your "elevator speech," the three sentences that define your company and what it does. It is sometimes tough to boil this down into a short statement, but sometimes you only have a very short time to impart this important information. Every company should have one. If written out, this message should be short enough to fit on the back of a business card.

A reporter will often ask a very generic question, such as, "tell me about your company," to start off an interview. Sometimes, it's just as much for their own information as for the interview. The Master Narrative is a good answer to that question. One quick tip: You are who you say you are. You're the expert about your own business. Let your master narrative reflect that.

After the master narrative is solidified, the next step is developing three memorable key messages. These will be the cornerstone of media relations efforts as well as sales and marketing materials. The first key message should address the quality of the products or service offered. Here's an example:

"Acme Pencils are manufactured with the highest grade of wood and are quality-controlled to assure each pencil meets our strict standards."

The second key message should delve a little further into the workings of the company itself. What is the central passion that inspires or drives the company's owner or its employees? Here is an example:

"Acme Pencils is dedicated to preserving the environment by using only recycled packaging and a no-waste manufacturing process."

The third key message should be about your customers: "Acme Pencils are preferred by school districts in the United States, and our company has more repeat customers than our competition."

Of course, not all of these messages will apply in every situation. That is why you need to develop message categories based on likely interview subjects. There is a great technique for doing this. Sit down and think of the top five things that are likely to affect your business this year. Then write a key message that addresses each situation.

After you have your key messages written, go back and write at least three supporting points for each. For example:

Key Message: Acme Pencils are manufactured with the highest grade of wood and are quality-controlled to assure each pencil meets our strict standards.

Supporting Point # 1: Acme Pencils have a money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee.

Supporting Point # 2: Our associates average 15 years with the company and have a combined 150 years experience manufacturing pencils.

Supporting Point # 3: Acme Pencils win accolades year after year – we’re recognized by American Pencil Magazine as the industry leader.

One very important caveat about supporting points: Use numbers, use facts and use third-party endorsements.

After you've developed the master narrative and main key messages, you can even go a step further and define a tag line or write a boilerplate for your website or news releases.

The key messaging process is a collaborative effort. A facilitator (who ideally is familiar with the company, but has outside perspective) can help identify key message themes and write the messages. The process works best when all stakeholders are present for the initial work session. It’s important to get their perspective, and especially their endorsement.

Storytelling 101: The role of the sidekick

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

We've known it for centuries: Storytelling is an effective way to communicate information. A narrative with relatable characters engrosses us and makes us stick around to learn the ending. We become invested in the outcome of the story - and in the process - we're more likely to remember the moral of the story. Donkey-in-shrek-the-third_wallpaper

The sidekick - who typically has a lower station in life and has less power than the protagonist - often provides much needed logistical support, advice and even comedic relief. But don't let the sidekick's lowly status fool you. The storyteller can use the sidekick in meaningful ways to improve the storyline and highlight the main character (protagonist). Here are some ways the sidekick can help the story move along:

  1. Highlight the attributes of the main character: The main character in a story can have a cathartic change during the course of the story. Sometimes, using the sidekick as the "explainer" works as a way to highlight the internal struggles that the main character is facing. A perfect example of this is how Donkey humorously interpreted Shrek's ongoing struggle to regain control of his swamp.
  2. Provide the back story (history) of the main character: There are ways to show past events in visual stories and books - like the flashback - that can inform the reader or viewer of a past event that has shaped the main character. The sidekick can provide a convenient shortcut for the storyteller. Rafiki, the wise monkey in Lion King was often the one who reminded Simba the Lion of his lineage and responsibilities, influencing him to make the right decisons.
  3. Contribute complementary skill sets to those the main character lacks: In Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant intuition of Sherlock Holmes was complemented by Dr. Watson, who brought his brilliant analytical mind to the duo. Watson also becomes the person who makes sure Holmes' skills are recognized in the London press when a case is solved.

There is one very important thing to keep in mind when creating a sidekick character in a story. It may sound harsh, but the sidekick shouldn't have much of a life story of their own. The sidekick's role is to support the main character - not distract from the main storyline. If you develop the sidekick's life story too much, they lose that special "sidekick quality" and just become a co-equal actor in the story.

Sidekicks are readily seen in advertising, but also appear in PR and branding. (remember the lonely Maytag repairman and his apprentice?). Using a story with a sidekick in a PR pitch is smart, especially if trying to quickly build empathy for a cause. A good example is featuring the friend of a cancer survivor shaving their head to show support, while raising money for a good cause. Everyone can relate to the heartache that comes with being the friend of someone who is suffering.

Including a sidekick is a smart way to add dimension to a story and provide opportunities for extra insight into the main character. Elementary, my dear Watson.

In PR, timing is everything

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

The news cycle is a tireless beast. There are countless media outlets looking for stories and content - 24 hours a day. I always recommend that clients tell their own stories by starting a blog and using their website as a self-publishing tool. But, there are times when it's Images-1appropriate and even necessary to reach out to the media and entice them to help out by telling a compelling story on your behalf.

Interaction with the media is like a graceful dance routine. Timing is everything! Getting pushy and over-eager is like stepping on your partner's toes. Sitting around the edge of the dance floor doesn't work either. No one will notice you unless you take a chance and get our there and dance.

When sharing news with the media, it's important to remember that the timing of your outreach is crucial to success. Be sure to follow these recommendations to have a better chance of getting noticed:

  1. Give enough advance notice: When publicizing an event or something that has a shelf life - like an application deadline - don't send it to the media one day ahead of time. Unless it's breaking news, editors need a little time to fit it in the right spot in their newspaper or newscast.
  2. Seasonality: If launching a new product tied to the weather or time of year, make sure your pitch is delivered to the media when it makes sense to talk about it. For example, if you have a new line of kids backpacks, start talking about it in July when parents are shopping for back-to-school purchases.
  3. Pay attention to the reporter's schedule. Sending a news release on Sunday or the day before a holiday almost gurantees that no one will be there to read it. Even the time of day can make a big difference.
  4. Be cognizant of breaking news or other big stories. Trying to pitch a reporter during the Iowa State Fair is an uphill climb. The reporters are either at the fair or on vacation, so don't expect to get a response.
  5. Stories are cyclical, but if that reporter just wrote a piece about the same subject two weeks ago, don't expect them to write about your news. Wait a few months or come back with a fresh angle.

Having a great story to tell is very important. But it won't matter if you botch the timing.

The importance of public input in public projects

Court AvenueClaire Celsi is a public relations professional and social media strategist in West Des Moines, Iowa.

According to all the business rankings guides, Des Moines is where it's at. We have the best incomes, we're the best place to raise a family, best place to be a young professional, and one of the best places to get more value for your real estate dollar.

Still, the city of Des Moines has a lot to learn about public input on public initiatives. The most recent example is the Court Ave. project proposed by Knapp Properties and HyVee. Let me state loud and clear: I have no idea which project is best for the space proposed. But that is the point! Input from downtown residents is what counts - and what is missing from the debate.

Here is a quick checklist for organizations needing to gather public input for a project in which public funds will be spent. The main keys to success are TIME and TRANSPARENCY.

  1. Clearly communicate the timeline and the process for public input. The Court Ave. project does not meet this simple test, because the public comment period was not announced far enough ahead of time and the project is on a "fast track" to completion.
  2. Set public meetings in locations where downtown residents are likely to attend. Vary the times and days of the week the meetings are held to allow more residents to attend.
  3. Publicize the meetings ahead of time in the newspaper, websites, and using social media.
  4. Educate community leaders and use them to get the word out about public input opportunities. For example, member of the Downtown Chamber should be briefed by city leaders and prepared to answer questions from their associates.
  5. Gather input and comments into an easy-to-read document and disperse this information widely.

After public input is gathered and published, take the recommendations seriously. If downtown residents are the key to the success of the grocery store, then they are the people we should listen to. Public officials sometimes rush through this process - with disasterous results. Let's slow down this train and listen to public input.

-Claire Celsi

The brilliant CVS no smokes decision: Great PR for years to come

Claire Celsi is a public relations practitioner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Health advocates across the country are hailing CVS Pharmacy's decision to stop selling tobacco products. The company admits that it will lose millions of dollars in revenue over time, but is mostly citing the obvious: Smoking is detrimental. Selling cigarettes is antithetical to good health. Conclusion? A business focused on helping people become healthier should not be in the business of selling a product which has a deadly track record and is the number one cause of preventable death. Makes perfect sense from a PR standpoint.  No smoking

If you dig a little deeper, there is another very compelling reason for CVS to go this route. It's going to be more beneficial financially in the long run. Health and wellness is big business and the implementation of Obamacare has created renewed opportunities for healthcare companies to provide healthy options for customers and patients. CVS is making a strategic move to align itself more closely with the wellness moverment and consequently, the money that comes with it.

From a PR standpoint, this is a triple win for CVS and its reputation:

  1. They get the lasting publicity value of being the FIRST major pharmacy to announce this strategy. Being a trendsetter is a powerful thing. Trust me, CVS's name will show up in news coverage on this issue for years to come.
  2. CVS will experience a flood of support from potential customers, vendors, and most importantly health partners who want to align themselves with a leader.
  3. CVS will eventually make more money on health and wellness programs - which has much more potential than income from cigarette sales.

As someone who has worked in the fight against tobacco, I admire CVS's courage to step out and be different, seemingly flying in the face of logic. As a PR practitioner, I see the move for what it is - a smart business decision that will pay dividends into the future.

Move From Reactive to Proactive PR in 2014: Here's How

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn.

It seems that some companies just have good luck when it comes to getting attention in the Proactivemedia. You see a new article about them - sometimes every week. It can be frustrating to watch, especially if your company's story is just as compelling. Sometimes, you get lucky when a story falls on you, either through blind luck, or (unfortunately) a crisis occurs. Either way, you're stuck on the wrong side of the proactive PR equation.

What does it take to have a proactive PR program? Here are some basics to follow if your New Year's Resolution is to finally get ahead of the news.

1. Have a plan. This is basic PR 101. Companies who get a lot of publicity PLAN to get a lot of publicity. And they ususally don't sit around and wait for it to come to them. Your PR pro (on staff or agency) should be at the table for all your strategic planning sessions. Have that person listen for opportunities and incorporate those ideas into your plan. Ideally, even the smallest company should have something to offer at least once per month. So, that's 12 ideas.

2. Have something to say. Most companies have a lot going on, but are relatively reticient to talk about it publicly. Unless you are developing a new product that is going to rock your entire industry, or you're in the patent process, or in a silent period before a public stock offering - get out there and talk. Reporters like people who talk to them and tend to gravitate towards people who are willing to go on record with something new and different. If you're not willing to talk, reporters will move on to someone who is.

3. Don't spam reporters with stupid press releases. Your news releases should have a cogent idea and should be explained using very little jargon. Don't hide your lead in the fourth paragraph and make the reporter or editor fish for it. If an eighth grader cannot grasp your main idea after reading the news release, scrap it and start over.

4. Be transparent and proactive. This sounds like a really simple idea, but it's amazing how many companies (who should definitely know better), still decide it's a good idea to hide things for days and even weeks. If you don't tell your story - your way - first, then someone will most certainly tell it for you. And it will come out wrong. Ask Target. When the news came out about its recent Christmastime data breach, details from Target were scant so news outlets ran off the range with their own spin.

5. Be ready with additional information. After your news release is sent, be prepared to provide reporters with details. This might include photos, a quote, an annual report or other prepared information. If you're unprepared, you may not meet the reporter's deadline and cause her to move on to the next story.

6. Limit the fluff. Even lifestyle reporters will want to embelish the story in their own way. Don't add to much "opinion" and flowery, self-aggrandizing prose to your news release. That turns it from "news" to "National Enquirer" in a heartbeat. If you must sing your own praises to make a point, weave it into a quote.

7. Jump on spontaneous opportunities. Just because you're trying to be proacitve doesn't mean you shouldn't look for ways to break into the news cycle when appropriate. When a story breaks in the national media that has anything to do with your company's business, take the opportunity to reach out to national and local media to offer your opinion. Not only does this save time for a news outlet, but it helps to build relationships with reporters and producers who cover your industry.

A Failure to Market: Why the Hotel Pattee really closed

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Hotel Pattee is a gem on the Iowa prairie, located in Perry. The hotel is set to close (again). And it's sad, because it could have been avoided.

When a property such as the Hotel Pattee - which is 45 mins from downtown Des Moines - is left to market itself, failure is assured. The hotel's management failed to plan for and spend money on marketing of the hotel. Let me elaborate.

Hotel Pattee lobby

The Hotel Pattee would never be sustainable on its own. It's in a lovely small town, but there aren't enough business customers to keep it afloat during the week. On weekends, it's an attractive destination for couples, but without anything to do in Perry, it's attractiveness is very limited. The Hotel foolishly invested in a fancy salon last year. What it should have done is invested in the entertainment that was offered in the lobby and lounge. Also, it provided two measly little rent-a-bikes for hotel guests. It should have really taken advantage of the fabulous trail system and hosted bikers and rides at least once per month.

Another total wiff by the hotel's management: They didn't market to their own proven customer base. Despite being a customer on numerous occasions, I did not receive a postcard, email or text message letting me know of specials or room deals. I never received a note from the manager thanking me for my business or noticing that I hadn't been back in more than a year. They squelched the opportunity to use the rich data they already own.

Don't even get me started on the social media aspect. Whoever was operating their Facebook page didn't know how to spell. And they never figured out how to use Twitter, despite numerous customers who consistently tweeted their praise to the @HotelPattee handle. A day late and a dollar short, the social efforts never took off.

Each category of product has a different level of spending that should be planned for marketing and put right into the budget, just like expenses for staffing, cleaning and supplies. Without a consistent marketing effort, even the best hotel is doomed to fail. The Hotel Pattee had a number of mitigating factors such as its isolation, which in some ways made it even more important for marketing to be implemented from the beginning.

Another important note: Sales is NOT marketing. Sales professionals work their contacts to get people in the door and make relationships. But those efforts should always be backed up by a smart marketing plan. Unfortunately, the Hotel Pattee never hired an outside company to conduct serious marketing and public relations on its behalf. 

Here we are. Lots of broken hearts. One of Iowa's gems is once again closed. I hope the new owners invest in marketing and public relations from the first day it re-opens.

And I hope I get an email asking me to return.

Claire Celsi

All Media is Biased

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

During the recent George Zimmerman trial, I heard every conceivable angle on each minute detail coming out of the day’s proceedings…ad nauseum.

After the verdict, every person, radio commentator, every news program and talk show had a parade of experts on, touting their angle and their opinion. Like our country, the bias for one side or the other was on full display. Media bias

I cringe when I hear people decry the bias of their hometown newspaper or popular cable news network. They are under the assumption that we’re playing by the same journalistic rules that we were 50 years ago.

Back then, there were a few “major” newspapers, three networks, no cable news shows, no internet and no social media. We were all “fed” the same information and didn’t have news sources that catered specifically to our belief system or political persuasion. Of course, there were magazines and newspapers on the fringe of the discussion, but they didn’t have an influence on the culture as a whole.

Now, the situation is very different. Each of us are able to watch, listen, read or surf wherever we want, at the click of a button. It’s much easier to find “information” that caters to our underlying belief system. Unfortunately, that is also what’s behind the polarization of our politics and an increasing gap between fact and reality.

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in this information age is to learn how to sort out fact from fiction. Identify a few news sources that you can really trust, and then brush up on your old school investigative methods to sift out the spin.

Here are some of the resources I use to find the information I’m looking for to discern the day’s news.

  • The library. Public libraries are packed with reputable resources. Ask your friendly local librarian for a tour of the reference section. A lot of these databases are available from their online as well.
  • Transcripts: If you’re looking to prove a point, there’s nothing more powerful than an official transcript.
  • Scientific studies by independent sources. Credible sources don’t have a stake in the argument one way or another. One example that comes to mind is the Pew Research Center.
  • Snopes - If you get an email or see a Facebook post that seems a little hokey, especially if it's asking you to believe something you haven't seen in the news, check it on Snopes.com. This website independently verifies whether it's true, false, or somewhere in between.
  • Your own brain. Sometimes if something looks ridiculous, sounds ridiculous, and seems ridiculous, it’s RIDICULOUS. Use your head.

Bottom line, no one is right all of the time. Except my friend Brett Trout on Facebook.

 

 

"Media Relations" means relating to the media

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines.

TwitterBirdPressAbout five years ago, I was invited to speak at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting here in Des Moines, held in the old Des Moines Social Club. I was there to talk about how social media was forvever changing the face of journalism. 

The room was divided between two "camps." The first camp was a group of newspaper publishers, owners and editors who thought that they should "own" the digital lives of their reporters and every single thought they thought or word they wrote.

The other camp was the reporters themselves, some of whom were listening intently but not saying anything. But there were a few brave souls who stood right up and admitted (GASP!) that they were starting to use social media in their reporting! And sometimes (double GASP!) they had personal opinions about things that they didn't really try to hide. They also asserted ownership over their own personal thoughts and written content (THE SKY IS FALLING!).

This created a vigorous debate amongst the group. There was a true upheaval taking place in the industry. The "old-school" position was that reporters were neutral arbitors of the news, had no discernable personal leanings, and isolated themselves from the commoners to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Fast-forward five years. In my estimation, most journalists still conduct themselves with the utmost journalistic intergrity and very carefully stay within the lines. However, many of them have found ways to be "one of us" and have joined social networks. While a few disclose their personal political bias, most stay neutral, at least publicly. But, the good journalists I know all use social media to further their craft.

Journalists can still use help from their friends and the general public and maintain journalistic integrity. They have always been trusted with the job of rooting through contradictory information and severly divergent viewpoints. Social media just helps reporters do their jobs more efficiently. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that reporters get story ideas from conversations they witness on their social networks.

Journalists talk about themselves a little now. I can tell when someone is having a frustrating day. Or when they have an ailing parent. Or just need a hug. The thing I like the most is that I can really get to know them as a person before talking to them about a story. I can read their previous stories on Facebook and Twitter and know what beat they cover and what they are interested in.

Having this information makes me FAR more attuned to them as a person and as a professional. I really like having this new way to learn about reporters as people, not just paragraph stackers. 

So when you're looking around for someone to tell your story to, don't forget...Reporters are people, first and foremost. It's likely that you can find out a lot about them by following them on Twitter. 

-Claire Celsi

PR content can enhance search engine results for your website

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn

When meeting with clients, the state of their website inevitably comes up. Not surprisingly, Search engine spider the focus is on the design, not the content. Search engines like Google constantly "crawl the web" to find new and interesting content to deliver to users. Having a "static" website, tells the search engines, "Move on, there's nothing to see here." The result is a lower ranking for your site compared to sites that are updated more often.

Companies that create their own content have a big advantage over those who don't. "Content" is a general term and can mean written material such as news releases, articles, photographs or videos. After the content is used for its intended purpose, posting it to your website is a cheap way to flag down the search spiders and say, "Hey! Look over here! New content!" Search engines reward you by ranking your site higher.

Public relations activities naturally generate very positive content. News releases, product launches, awards, employee activities and newsletter articles should all be repurposed on your site. 

When meeting with your website developer, be sure to ask them if your site is working for you to attact new customers. Here are some other simple tips to make sure your site is optimized and attracting the attention it deserves from search engines:

  1. Do you have a site map? Websites with site maps are easier to index and provide structure. Here's a free site map generator that will create a site map for you.
  2. Create outbound links. It's not just "nice" to create links to give readers more information, it's also crucial for optimizing your site for search. 
  3. Repurpose content: Does your site have a newsroom or an "About" page where you can post public relations content? If not, create one.
  4. Make your content easy to find. When you add a new page or article, be sure to link to it so it's easily found.
  5. Use social channels to link to your site. Don't post on Facebook or Twitter without a link - you're wasting an opportunity to create a click on your site.

If you'd like to explore this topic some more, here are some free resources from Google.

-Claire Celsi

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When do sponsorships make sense?

Bike month MiddendorfSponsoring events can be a smart way to use your public relations budget, or they can be off-target. Companies are always getting asked to support events by becoming a sponsor. But it should be a two-way street, benefiting both the sponsor and the organization they are supporting. Before writing that big check, here are a few things to keep in mind. 

  1. Make sure the sponsorship matches your mission. Middendorf Insurance sponsors Bike Month because they are interested in wellness. Hubbell Homes sponsors Anawim because it's in keeping with their corporate mission of providing housing for people in our community.
  2. Employee Buy-in: Do your employees support the organization you’re sponsoring, or is it the boss’ pet project? I’ve been to a lot of fancy dinners where the tickets have been purchased by an executive, but the seats remain empty because not enough employees have buy-in on the project. Why sponsor something if your employees are not passionate about it? Instead, look for an organization that everyone can support.
  3. Does the sponsorship save you money over creating your own event? If it would cost you less to sponsor than to create your own event, then you’d be better off just writing a check than running a whole separate event. Events have all kinds of hidden costs, like insurance, security and publicity that can really break the bank.
  4. Loss of productivity: Is the sponsorship plug-and-play, or is it going to require a big staff time investment? Be sure to factor in these labor costs, and the cost of lost employee productivity.
  5. ROI: Will your sponsorship provide a return on investment for your company? ROI does not necessarily have to be increased sales. Sometimes the goal is just increased name recognition with your target audience. 

Taking all this into consideration, many companies do use sponsorships as an effective public relations tool. Once in a while, re-evaluate all the sponsorships you've signed on to, and only renew the ones that make total sense for your entire enterprise.

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

Incorporate 5 new trends into your PR plan

IA biz word cloudWhile it's imperative for any company to have a PR professional on staff or on call, it's equally important to know what trends are driving engagement across your entire enterprise. In layman's terms..."How does your customer consume their information?" Knowing where to place your message and how to do it is an essential piece of business intelligence.

Fear not. Some of the best trends are practical, and achievable for the average company.

1. Content marketing:

There is a lot of buzz about content marketing. First a definition. Content marketing is creating written content about your business or industry that will attract new customers or retain current customers. Creating your own content can be a tall task, but don't be tempted to use content from other sources. Create your own. Why? Several reasons. 

  • Thought leadership: Why would you highlight the expertise of others when you could showcase your own?
  • Share the spotlight: Give your employees a chance to shine.
  • Tell your story: Writing your own content gives you the ability to infuse it with your own style, humor and history.

2. Storytelling:

Storytelling goes hand-in-hand with content marketing. Stories can be about your customers, employees or the company itself. Every once in a while, let people see what goes on behind the scenes. Here is some more inspiration from companies that have used storytelling successfully.

3. Vanity metrics are OUT. Engagement metrics are IN.

Forget number of followers. Forget silly Facebook "get more followers" contests. Concentrate on the followers you have. Engage. This could be scary or it could be a game-changer for your business. Respond to customer requests on Facebook and Twitter just like you would if they called your customer service rep, or if they walked in your front door. Who cares if 5,000 unengaged and ignored people are following you?

4. Visual communication:

Whether it's a video or an infographic, telling your story in a visual format will help you expand your content offerings to a new audience. Pinterest, the new darling of social media, in based almost solely on images as opposed to text. And YouTube, owned by Internet giant Google, treats video content very favorably in its search engine results. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

5. Social and mobile dominance:

After all the hype over social media dies down, and we all have smart phones, then what? The smaller screens have implications as to how we deliver content to our audiences. While we used to do platform testing across different browsers on a PC, we should now be asking our audience what device they prefer instead. Also, we should critically examine the need for apps when a mobile site may be more user-friendly.

It's pretty amazing that the ancient art of storytelling is still playing such a prominent role in our modern communications, isn't it? I'd love to see some examples of how Central Iowa Companies are telling their stories. Please leave a comment.

 

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

How the media failed us, and Lance Armstrong

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 Tour de Gruene Individual Time Trial, 1 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The media is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate of government. That is how truly powerful it is. But sometimes the media meets its match in power, stature, intrigue, and hope. Let me tell you how the media failed us in the Lance Armstrong debacle. It's a cautionary tale that has happened before. Think WWII, Te'o, and a number of other stories. Sometimes the media WANTS to believe so badly that the story will have a good ending that it misses the obvious, skips fact checking and YES... even wantonly disregards the real story. Lance Armstrong's fall from grace was one of those epic stories.

First of all, Lance's story is great, if you believe all the hype. Cyclist recovers from near-fatal disease to win an epic 7 straight Tour De France titles. Then he starts a famous cancer foundation that raises of millions of dollars to help cancer patients. And all the while, Lance is fighting off constant attacks on his sterling reputation. Rare was the negative mainstream media article. The sports media fell over themselves (sometimes literally) to get time with him. The dark side and perhaps most insidious side of Armstong's personality was to demand 100% loyalty to the myth and legend of Lance. Any journalist who came around asking funny questions was immediately banned from ever talking to him again.

So the media - whose job depends on access to Lance - had a decision to make. Either cover him in a positive light, or lose the right to write about him in an authoritative manner. It was like choosing between a rock and a hard place.

Journalism works under the supposition of a thing called the Master Narrative. The narrative is built over time and is a premise somewhat based on what has happened in the past. Once the narrative is built and is repeated time after time, it's hard for anyone, even members of the media, to dislodge it from their subconscious thinking. The Lance Master Narrative was well-known and famous. Since no one with any more credibility than Lance was accusing him of wrongdoing for so long, Lance Armstrong had years to refute any statements that might arise against him. He even got the chance to paint the opposition with the brush of his choosing. In this case the brush was named "You have no proof."

It was only when mainstream journalists who had no connection with Armstrong (or his merry band of thug protectors)  - started writing about his coverup that people began to doubt Armstrong's story. It took a huge number of people speaking up against him to even nudge public opinion against him. Lance Armstrong's master narrative was so powerful that even the U.S. Justice Department barely put a dent in it.

Citizen journalism and the sworn testimony of his former teammates were the only things that finally did Lance in. The great and all powerful Oz had been exposed, once and for all.

Lance's master narrative included the belief that he was a super-being. A survivor. A determined athlete. A humanitarian. A good person. Anything that did not fit with that narrative was ignored by the media for a very long time. Even when it was reported on by the mainstream media, for the longest time the reporters went to great lengths to report Lance's sometimes implausible side of the story.

It was only when a critical amount of evidence and confessions piled up into an irrefutable  and well-documented tattle, that the media stopped using the Lance Armstong master narrative. It came unceremoniosly crashing to the ground.

The media does indeed play an important role in our society. When the media builds a master narrative built on "persona" of one charismatic individual,  that is where is becomes dangerous. The media allowed itself to become mesmerized with Lance Armstrong. That is why his fall was no long and hard. There was absolutely nothing big or strong enough to break his fall.

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Be prepared for the worst day of your professional life

What is a crisis? My definition: Any scenario where people or animals are injured or killed, or where a financial breach has occurred that needs an immediate response. That's it. 

As I watch the tragedy unfold in Newtown, Connecticut, I'm keenly observing the clues to what sort of crisis communications plan was in place for the unlikely scenario that ultimately occurred.

So far, I've been impressed by what I've observed. Parents were informed quickly by text message via the "campus alert system" to come to pick up their children. The Sandy Hook Elementary School website - though somewhat overloaded now - functioned to give quick bios of the teachers and principal when there wasn't much information available for reporters.

What exactly is a crisis communications plan? It's not a disaster evacuation plan or a physical escape scenario. Every business and organization should have a plan on how to evacuate a building due to a disaster, or how to hide from an intruder. A crisis communications plan is different. It's how you respond to the outside world after the disaster happens.

The media is a voracious creature after a disaster happens. It serves many functions: to inform others of a pending threat, to report on the unfolding scenario, and to summarize the facts of the case to the public. Communications professionals should lead the effort within their organization to write and implement a crisis communications plan. 

The Connecticut State Police have been disciplined in their messaging and have obviously been trained to mete out messages in a particular, legalistic order. For example, the shooter's name was not officially released until he had been methodically identified, even though some media outlets had already released his name hours earlier. For communicators in the private sector, saying "no comment" is not advisable.

The essence of crisis communciations planning is thinking of the worst disaster scenario ahead of time, and getting as many communications vehicles in place as possible. In this situation, it appears that parents were informed by emergency robo-calls, giving directions to what had happened and where to pick up their children.

Communicators should lead a team of professionals in your organization to create a very simple plan to follow in case of an emergency. The basics are as follows:

  1. Preparation: Create key messages, web pages, calling trees, etc. ahead of time, to be used after the emergency occurs.
  2. Control: It should be decided in advance who is the spokesperson to the victims and the media. It doesn't help anyone if unauthorized spokespeople without the latest information are allowed to speak to the media.
  3. Access to the plan: Create the plan and give everyone a copy so that it may be accessed remotely. Better yet, hold emergency drills to assure that everyone knows their role. Include passwords to all website content management systems and social media passwords. 
  4. Backup plans: Think in terms of Plan A and Plan B. If you are thwarted in trying to execute Plan A, you will be prepared. For example, if you cannot gain access to your computers at work to make website updates, make sure people know how to access the site remotely.

To create a crisis communications plan, gather your most senior staff members together and get started. It should take a least a few weeks to write and refine a plan. When it's done, use every communications channel available to get the plan out to everyone involved. It's especially important to let everyone know that it exists and to practice using it regularly. If you need help getting started, or don't have time to coordinate the plan, hire a public relations professional to get you started. 

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Lessing-Flynn in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

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