PRConsultants Group Selects Step In Communication as Texas Partner

PRCG Adds Step In Communication to its Nationwide Client & Agency Network

Step In Communication and Fran Stephenson, APR, has been appointed the San Antonio partner of the PRConsultants Group (PRCG), a nationwide network of leading public relations professionals.

“Step In Communication has proven its expertise in strategic communication, social media management and crisis preparation,” said PRCG President John Deveney. “We are excited that Stephenson is joining our nationwide network, and bringing her firm’s unique capabilities to PRCG’s expanse of clients.”

“I am excited to join the PRCG network, and such an elite group of PR professionals,” said Stephenson, APR and principal of the firm. “The team at Step In Communication looks forward to providing our skills to the network, as well as our ability to now offer boots on the ground to our clients in every major market in America.”

Clients of PRConsultants Group members enjoy boutique agency service alongside premier access to senior public relations professionals in every top US DMA. PRCG members have executed successful projects for national and international brands such as 7-Eleven, Cold Stone Creamery, Labatt USA, Mardel Christian & Education, Make-A-Wish America, MADD, Home Run Inn Pizza, and Wal-Mart.

About PRCG: PRConsultants Group (PRCG) delivers results through an exclusive nationwide network of nearly 50 public relations consultants. PRCG provides brands with a unique ability to leverage local market knowledge and connections along with the expertise of senior level PR pros in every major market in the U.S.  PRCG is recognized nationally for “National Strength. Local Power™”, the ability to engage audiences at the local level and deliver high-impact results in markets nationwide. Focusing on strategic planning and creative execution of media relations, social media, promotions, and news events, PRCG also offer crisis management services and event site selection via local market experts. PRCG members have successfully executed projects for national and international brands. More information is available at prconsultantsgroup.com.

About Step In Communication: Step In Communication is an award-winning San Antonio-based agency, specializing in strategic communications plans and is noted for its influencer outreach programs, social media strategy, channel management and measurement for clients in hospitality, tourism and health care.

How to Tame that Arrogant Spokesperson

A Sign Of ConflictThere’s nothing more challenging for a crisis management team than an inflexible spokesperson. You can picture it in your mind instantly. This person knows everything, will not take direction, cannot take constructive criticism.

In a crisis, the person who becomes the face of your organization should ooze humility. He or she should represent, with extreme grace and style, your organizational point of view and cultural footprint.

Yesterday the students of Travel and Tourism College, an annual event coordinated by the Texas Travel Industry Association, voiced this challenge in our sessions on crisis management. It seems that many organizations have been faced with an arrogant spokesperson and they were looking for strategies.

How do you tame that arrogance into something workable before your next crisis? This is a tricky problem because if one person is your stumbling block, chances are your team dynamics already has some issues. But there are a few workarounds which might help smooth out the kinks. Here are 6 ideas for crisis managers to try.

Do Group Media Training

Raise the quality of everyone’s interview potential with a group media training session.

Use Mock Interviews to Improve Performance

After that media training session, put your newfound skills to the test and have each member of the group do a mock interview. Record them and do group critiques. It’s the best way to highlight good interviewees and those who need improvement.

Cultivate Multiple Spokespersons

Should the same person ALWAYS represent your organization? That’s a hefty burden and a liability in many cases. By cultivating multiple spokespersons, you spread the burden – and the liability – and eliminate the power structure of a single mouthpiece.

Use Three Key Messages

Maybe you are asking too much of your spokesperson and they have information overload. Limit what they need to transmit to a handful of key messages – no more than three – to keep the interview sharp.

Critique Every Interview

Every interview can be improved. Every spokesperson can learn new things. Critique every interview starting with what went well followed by what could be improved.

Partner Up

Sometimes partnering the arrogant spokesperson with a kinder, gentler person in a two-person interview can help deliver the message. This is a strategy which Kellye Crane of SoloPRPro has used successfully with clients who need softening around the edges.

If you’re having trouble with a spokesperson who is inflexible and can’t take direction, try one of these 6 ideas and see if it makes a difference.

Television Interviews STILL Require Preparation

I'm on Television! Sure, I took time off during the holiday season.  Entertained friends, enjoyed time with family, read a little and yes, I watched TV.

Around the holidays, television viewers are treated to the full force of the personalities who, with great professionalism and familiarity, anchor our news shows – national and local. But something also happens around the holidays. Those same news shows have significant time to fill in slots with lower ratings and so the content – and how it’s delivered – changes significantly.

The fumbles and stumbles always make me smile because I know how hard it is to get everything right for live television. Those minor flubs remind us that it’s live television and that robots are not delivering the 6 p.m. news- yet.

What really makes me wince about this time of year is the seeming lack of preparation by some of the interview subjects.  Where is their PR professional, helping them to prepare? Did you not run through the anticipated questions? Did you not discuss what the little light blinking above the studio camera means and where you should look when it does?  Did you not discuss taming your hair, what shirt to wear, the need for shaving?

Even though our continuous onslaught of incoming media makes it feel spontaneous, there’s still a great deal of preparation which can and should be part of getting ready for every TV interview.

Here’s a couple of observations from my week of holiday television watching.

1. Finish your sentences.

I listened to a very long (6 minute) interview in which the man being interviewed about a new program for job hunters did not finish one sentence without stopping mid-sentence and starting another. About 2 minutes in, I left the room because I couldn’t connect the dots

2.  Have a game plan.

Did you chat with the person who was going to interview you prior to the live portion of the interview?  Of course you did.  So instead of wasting time talking about the weather or a football game, use the time to get an idea of where he or she will start the interview. That way you have time to craft a semi-coherent answer to the first few questions, which will make you look so much smarter than that “deer in the headlights” look I saw the other morning.  (PSST: those papers that the news anchor has in her hand – they are her QUESTIONS!).

3. Use Normal People Words

Sure, you’re familiar with the definition of ‘obsequious’ and can handle using the word ‘presumptuous’ in a sentence, but on television, it comes off as arrogant and disconnects you from your audience. Next time, use superior and arrogant instead.

4. Get Help!

This is what a public relations professional can do for you. It’s one of our finest skills. We can walk you through what the set looks like, who you will be speaking to, why you shouldn’t wear white and prepare you for how blindingly fast a three minute interview really is. We have strategies to keep you from being on the next blooper reel.

Relationships that Sing!

the cello section of the symphony orchestra gathered around a cello.

The cello section during the Christmas at Belmont taping

Three weeks ago, we were treated to an amazing opportunity to see –and hear — the Christmas at Belmont television taping which will air nationally on pbs stations throughout the country this week and next week.  The event was held at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville and has been part of a partnership with Nashville public television for more than a decade.

If you’ve never been to a live television taping, they are great fun in many ways. There are many stops and starts to the flow of the performance for adjusting microphones and lights and the production team takes great pains to make sure every shot is just right.  Even though it is “live,” numerous elements happen afterwards in what is called the “post” — the post production or editing phase of the final product.

The real reason we were there was to enjoy the contributions of our son, who is a music student at Belmont University, and was part of the event.  But I got to thinking during one of the breaks about the powerful relationship between these two organizations —  Nashville Public Television and Belmont University – and how rare it is to keep a program going and thrive in today’s business environment.

It’s unexpected for two organizations to come together for mutual benefit and create a product time and time again.  It takes a lot of money.  One hour television specials are not cheap.  It takes a lot of passion.  700 music students, dozens of faculty, instruments, music and time to be performance-ready.  But more than anything else, it takes really solid relationships.

This is the rare commodity in businesses today.  It is easier to cast aside and find a new player or partner than it is to stick with and nurture the relationships you have.  As PR professionals, we need to value and celebrate those relationships in our own organizations.

At this time of year, when we express our thanks to clients, partners and colleagues with cards and event gifts, it is equally important to take a moment and reflect on those relationships which advance our organization.  The ones worth sticking around for ten years or more.

If you’ve stuck with me this long in the post, then you won’t mind some shameless self promotion in this call to action.  Check your local PBS station to see when the latest production of Christmas at Belmont airs next week for the holiday season.  Of course, I’d be happy to point out my son, but take a moment and think about what it took to put the production together.  Then think about what you’ll do to advance your relationships in the coming year.

Merry Christmas.

Click here to see the You Tube Promo for Christmas at Belmont.

Break the Measurement Logjam

In September, I spoke to the Public Information Officers who work for the Veterans Administration.  These professionals are challenged in several ways with systems and methods for which they have little control.  Yet, they are deeply committed to demonstrating success to their leadership.

While we talked about trends in measurement and industry best practices, it occurred to me that many organizations have similar challenges. If you have little time, control or any budget for measurement, where should you start?  Here are two ideas to break the measurement log jam in your organization.

Do a Benchmark Comparison

Every organization has competition.  By benchmarking against your competition at regular intervals, you get an indication of a trend up or down.  Here’s an example I used to benchmark a destination against its similar size competitors on Facebook.

Twitter benchmark pic for blogWhat You Will Learn:

  1. You will learn if your output is higher or lower than your competitors.
  2. You will learn if you are growing or shrinking against your competitors.

 What You Won’t Learn:

  1. You cannot measure quality of output.
  2. You cannot measure engagement.

 Why You Should Try This:

  1. It is often valued by leadership because they are measuring the competition in other ways.
  2. It might give you the opportunity to measure other things.

 Impact of Key Messages

 

Message Measurement chart picture

This is a simple chart to identify if your key messages are being used in your distribution points. This is especially useful if you are trying to determine if “the word is getting out” in your public relations campaign.

 What You Will Learn:

  1.  You will learn if your plan is working.
  2. You will learn which outlets/ distribution points are picking up your information.

 What You Won’t  Learn:

You will NOT learn if the consumer has actually embraced the message.

 Why You Should Try This:

  1. It will help you assess success.
  2. It will help you to make quick changes or adjustments to your plan.

While these two ideas are far from comprehensive, they are accessible to practitioners in organizations with limited funds and both methods use publicly accessible information.  If you try one of these ideas, share it here or send me an email with your success story at franstep09@gmail.com.

3 Things to Do Before You Start a Blogger Outreach Program

Colleen Pence, Debi Pfitzenmaier and Fran Stephenson at PRSA Luncheon

Colleen Pence (from left), Debi Pfitzenmaier and Fran Stephenson at PRSA San Antonio.

If you think that reaching out to bloggers might be important for your brand, then you are joining hundreds of companies who consider bloggers a vital component of their marketing plan.

But before you get started, here are three things to consider to make the engagement worth your while.

The first consideration is to make sure your efforts are integrated into your overall marketing plan.  It may sound boring, but if you can’t answer the question “Why are we doing this?” with a sound answer that reflects sound business objectives, it’s quite easy to miss the mark.

Just last week, I sat on a panel with two of the smartest local bloggers in San Antonio which addressed this topic to the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Colleen Pence of SA Mom Blogs and Debi Pfitzenmaier of SA Busy Kids have built strong regional blogs and each has their niche, even though both address elements of family life. Within hours of our presentation, one of them got a pitch that was so far off the mark from what they would consider appropriate for their blogs, it reinforces my second point.

The second thing to do before you start a blogger outreach program is to research your targets. This key element is often forgotten or ignored by many brands when dealing with bloggers.  You need to find out who they are, what they are interested in and make sure they are a ‘love match’ with your brand.

The third thing an organization should do before incorporating bloggers into their marketing plan is PLAN.  Bloggers are different from reporters in that sometimes they do it for love and sometimes they do it for money. But they almost always have built their blog presence in addition to something else they do.  A cursory phone call to the blogger a day or two before the event is not considered advance planning. Spending time on their blog, reading their posts and finding out what interests them is more relevant research.

Integration, research and planning. If you do these three things before you begin a blogger outreach program, your program is destined to be successful.

Three Biggest Style Mistakes in PR Writing

I’ve written and edited hundreds of press releases, blog posts and other media materials throughout my career. And I’ve coached writing students on the basics of newswriting. There are three errors in applying Associated Press style that I see the most in writing.

Using Commas in a Series

If the series is simple, then lose the comma before the last element. More complex series which include phrases have a whole different approach. My favorite example to illustrate this point:

The flag is red, white and blue.

Titles

Titles can get tricky, especially when you must describe military, courtesy and legislative titles. That’s when you keep the Associated Press Stylebook on your desk. But, for the simple act of identifying someone for a piece of journalistic writing, it’s clear. A Title used BEFORE a name in a sentence is capitalized. AFTER a name, lowercase.  Here’s the simplest example ever.

President Obama signed the bill into law.

Barack Obama, president of the United States, signed the bill into law.

Months of the Year

Little months are always written out in press material. If there are 5 or less letters in its name, the month is never abbreviated. It helps that it’s most of the spring and summer months.

This means: March, April, May, June and July are written out, while the remainder of the months are presented this way:  Jan., Feb., Aug., and etc.

Next time you are working on a piece for a client, take a moment to proofread one more time with these three mistakes in mind. Bet you’ll find at least one!

Read More About Style Here

What Style Are You Using in Your Public Relations Writing?

Picture of writing stylebooks

For public relations practitioners, writing style can be boring and dry. But style is important in good writing. It sets standards and formats that give uniformity to writing. Surprisingly, many in the profession are unaware of style types and how they can bolster your writing efforts.

Applying a style to your writing puts an end to questions like “when should I capitalize that?’ and “where does this comma go?” and enables individual pieces of writing to look like they belong together.   For large projects, like web site rewrites, press kits or backgrounders, style can unify the voice of many writers.

But not all style guides are the same.

First, let’s eliminate the style types you will NOT use in public relations writing. These are the academic styles of writing you used in school.  Chances are you used one of these in college:

APA –American Psychological Association, the nations’ largest scientific and professional organization representing the field of psychology. Their style has been adopted by numerous professions.

MLA- Modern Language Association Members are comprised mainly of English and foreign language teachers. The style they’ve adopted is usually the first one you learn in high school and is often used in language and literature writing.

Chicago-This style method, developed by the University of Chicago Press is among the oldest and began to be used in the early 1900s.  Today it’s largely used in historical and legal writing.

Forget them! What you really need is a style which encompasses the types of writing you do every day.  If you are writing press releases, blog posts, brochures, web copy or any other type of writing that doesn’t need the academic touch, then you need to look to two types of stylebooks: traditional and digital.

Traditional Stylebooks Still Rock

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual

This is my go-to guide. It was developed to create unity in early newspaper reporting and is updated annually. It is always on my desk (or on the floor next to my desk) but I recently fell in love with their iPhone app. It’s easier to carry around and it’s updated frequently. This stylebook focuses on elements of writing, but has important sections on style specifics for sports, financial and web writing.

Washington Post Deskbook on Style

The post developed their own stylebook over the years, but recently added online digital publishing guidelines which cover issues like citing sources, social media and use of third party information – all important issues to public relations pros.

The New York Times

I do not use their Style and Use Guide. But, I have recently discovered a NY Times Blog called After Deadline which is run by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards—the guy in charge of The Times’s style manual. What I like about this blog is that Corbett uses real examples from the paper.  It’s reassuring to know that even journalists are responsible for the occasional dangling modifier.

Digital Stylebooks: A New Genre

A handful of digital stylebooks have appeared in recent years, with a broader focus than the examples above. These style guides are embracing topics like information architecture, usability guidelines and page design.  While many PR Pros may not THINK they need a guide like this, they are easy to access and use online and force you to think about how the information you are presenting will LOOK in its finished state. Here are several  I’ve recently discovered:

Yahoo

I bought the printed version of the Yahoo Style Guide a few years ago and used it occasionally. Now that it is indexed and searchable online, I use it far more often. I especially like its section on presenting numbers.

Web Style Guide

I came across this site by accident. I particularly like their section on usability and designing for usability.  As communicators, we need to make sure that we are thinking universally about how people will use what we write. The credentials of its authors are pretty impressive.

Media-Specific Guidelines

Many news organizations are developing their own guidelines and standards.  Two which are of interest are the BBC News Guidelines http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/ and CNN’s iReport Toolkit.

These resources should help you and your organization adopt a style based on your particular writing needs. You might even be inspired to develop your own house style. I am sure there are many more. Do you have favorite style resources?

You can browse all these resources by going to my writing style resources list on Diigo.

Coping in a Crisis: What to do the First Hour

How you respond in a crisis largely depends on what you do in the first hour after you become aware that something bad has happened in your organization.

The suggestions given here are to supplement the crisis communication plan you are already using and should help with work flow in the first hour.

Clear Your Desk

Figuratively and literally.  Get rid of anything that is not germane to this one problem.  You can pick up on the rest when things return to normal.

Be the Hunter and Gatherer

Before you can start to communicate FOR your organization, you need people to communicate TO you from within the organization. Have your phone list and alternate contacts list on your desk.  Work the list, gather the team and their collective knowledge.

Stay on Top of Customer Contact

Some companies go off the rails during a crisis because they miss the little things.  Get anyone who can help answer phones, watch for news coverage, monitor social channels, and otherwise see what’s happening on the “outside” and arm them with a run sheet to keep track of the calls.  At the end of this post, there’s a sample which you can download and adapt for your organization. While this sounds old school, the most routine crises involve power outages from weather incidents, so you may not have access to your monitoring service and desktop computer.

When I was in corporate communications, every person on the team had 10 of these blank forms in their Crisis folder. We also made sure that the receptionist and call center team had them too. When the crisis was unfolding, they pulled them out of their desk and were ready to go. They are also a powerful way to take the pulse in a crisis.

Use Time Codes

As you receive information from the field or your crisis team, write down the time you received it.  I remember a crisis where a directive from the fire department which was given at a specific time changed the outcome of our response significantly.  Writing these “on the board” can be helpful later on.

Use a Bridging Response

While you are simultaneously gathering information, checking your customer contact sheets, you can also start drafting a bridging response which will get you through the first hour.

Set the right tone during the first hour of your crisis.  It is a good investment.

Here is a template to create your own Crisis Communication Run Sheet. Feel free to adapt for your organization:
Step in Crisis Template

 

Roundabout Responses in a Crisis

It’s hitting the fan. Your organization is in crisis and you have 30 minutes to get your act together and prepare the first response.  The challenge for any organization in crisis is that you are still gathering facts to figure out what happened yet the “always-on” media and persistent public demand a response.

It is at this moment during a crisis that most organizations falter – by trying to deliver a statement that is the definitive answer to multiple stakeholders.  In the current media environment, that concept is frustrating and false. Frustrating because you can’t know everything about the crisis yet and false because by the time you get the statement is approved internally, the information will change.

What should you do avoid losing your momentum and satisfy those who are watching you?

Craft a quick bridging response.

A bridging response is simple, straightforward, yet slightly vague.  It acknowledges to all your stakeholders that you are AWARE of what is happening, that you are RESPONSIVE to what’s happening, yet buys time until you actually have real information. Verified information.

Many organizations are routinely affected by weather conditions. We know that there is a hurricane season annually and other parts of the country are routine plagued by tornadoes. While each storm system is different, there are often commonalities. So using an example of a weather crisis for an example, let’s see how this approach could play out.

An extreme storm hits your town, causing power outages and damage.  How much damage? Is anyone hurt? When will you be up and running again? What should we do in the meantime?  You probably can’t answer all these questions in the space of 30-45 minutes, but here’s what you CAN say.

We have been affected by [storm name or condition or event] and are in the process of assessing the effects to [people, place].  Right now, our teams are [share what they are doing: touring the facility, driving the area, etc] and as soon as we know more, we will keep you updated.

Bridging responses help establish that you are in control and working the problem, which makes media-watchers much more forgiving than the organization that waits until their statement is just “perfect.” But, it’s up to you and your organization to keep your stakeholders updated periodically as new, and verified, information becomes available.