An 8-year old girl had her birthday party at a Target. Social media wanted an invite.

As if we didn’t already love Target, a store in Georgia showed us why this company continues to get the little things right.

An 8-year old girl wanted to have her birthday party at a Target. Apparently she’s a huge fan of the retail chain. Sometimes you can’t try to understand what makes kids happy. If it’s spending a day with your friends parading around as Target employee, so be it. Kids are weird. If it was Walmart I’d be concerned, but Target makes sense. Great stores, clean, pleasant atmosphere and overall a very easy shopping experience.

The family got special permission from the manager to have the birthday party at the store in East Point, GA. The girl’s niece documented the festivities on Twitter, sharing photos of the birthday girl and her friends drinking Icees, ringing up gift cards in the check out line and living the dream as a Target employee.

EQ6ve4jXUAEnW3v
“We bought all the kids gift cards to spend on an item of their choice and my niece got to check them out! Seriously Manager Albert was the best!!! Thanks so much Target!” – @RikDrip/Twitter.

 

Target owes so much to the store manager, Albert, who went above and beyond for this girl and her friends and family. He made them name tags, helped with a scavenger hunt around the store and agreed to host the party in the first place. He could have easily said no, and this heartwarming story would have never seen the light of day.

It came from the kindness of his heart. He had no idea millions of people would see his efforts recognized on social media. It’s these moments where brands can capitalize on the power of a good story. If you create a memorable customer experience, show some compassion and go the extra mile, people will want to share these special moments online.

It was organic, unforced and the best PR money could never buy. For Target, it reinforces their reputation as a creative brand that continues to stay relevant in a congested online and brick and mortar retail sector.

I’ll cheers to that.

EQ6m3Y1XUAIhs57

 

 

Tone Deaf Hallmark and their Same Sex Marriage Ad Disaster

Brands are making a better effort to align their businesses with social and cultural movements. They have a platform and voice that isn’t used often enough, likely for fear of alienating consumers that control their bottom lines.

People support brands that share common values, beliefs and attitudes on important issues facing society. A great product or service will always be important, but customers today are more critical of companies and their political and social stances.

Greeting card and terrible holiday movie company Hallmark learned that the hard way this month. They weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.

Hallmark ran a same-sex marriage commercial for wedding-planning site Zola. Conservative house moms saw the ad and paused their Christmas movies to file online petitions voicing their discontent with LGBT ads airing on their favorite, primarily white and heterosexual television network. Hallmark responded immediately by pulling the wedding ads, then later reversed its decision to ban same-sex commercials because gay rights supporters were rightfully not happy about it. The flip flopping was a horrible look.

Hallmark’s first misstep was a complete lack of awareness toward their target audience, which is primarily conservative viewers with more traditional family values. They had the right intentions with the ad. Same sex marriage should be a basic human right. It’s 2019 and should be a non-issue. But in an attempt to be more progressive, they took a risk and ran these ads to support a cause that clearly conflicts with the values of their viewers.

Their second mistake was pulling the ad without issuing any kind of statement or reasoning for their decision. Social media can make or break a brand, and Hallmark clearly panicked under pressure and made a premature decision to remove the ads. The better option would’ve been to let them air and explain why they chose to air them in the first place. Stick to your guns. Hallmark squandered an opportunity to gain the respect of LGBT supporters while remaining a little sympathetic to their conservative viewership. The ads were always going to offend part of their viewer base, but pulling them just made matters worse.

In full damage control at this point, Hallmark backtracked on their decision to pull the gay wedding ads and fully reinstated them to remain more “inclusive” according to their CEO. How brave.

Hallmark ultimately hurt the very group they set out to support with this ad campaign. I remain confused by the company’s crisis communications approach, but I want to thank them for providing us with another classic case study on how not to react when the internet overreacts.

Elon Musk: Public Relations Wreck or Rockstar?

Companies thrive when effective leaders help guide them on a path to success. Employees look to these leaders for motivation, purpose and direction. Consumers need someone they can trust who has their best interests at heart when making decisions that affect an organization.

Leaders can be found at all levels of a business. At the top, a visible, engaged and connected CEO is important for establishing a long-term vision, fostering a shared mission and steadying the ship during a crisis. It’s necessary to have a leader who embodies all of these qualities. Lead executives should understand how important their role is in maintaining an authentic and open relationship with the public while being the leading voice and face of an organization.

Someone with a wealth of experience as a CEO is Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. He doesn’t need an introduction, but Musk is essentially the most successful tech entrepeneur on the planet. His business ventures are changing the world for the better, a goal that drives much of his decision making. There is no doubting his success, work ethic and ability to take his visions and bring them to fruition. He’s a visionary and arguably one of the most influential people of this generation.

Musk has also been criticized for mismanagement, Tesla Twitter drama with the SEC, weed smoking on Joe Rogan’s podcast and falsely accusing a British diver who helped with the Thai cave rescue of being a pedophile. He’s often characterized as wreckless and irresponsible, which are fair assesments given his recent missteps. This behavior is not a good look for any CEO. These actions raise concerns about his ability to lead by example and manage companies that are already under a lot of scrutiny.

As a PR case study, Musk is the perfect person to examine. He’s one of the most well-known CEOs in the world and loved and hated by many. While I truly believe he means well, sometimes his ego and strong personal views get him into hot water.

Despite his problems, Musk is a great example of a leader who understands the value of public relations. He’s active on social media and frequently posts company updates, accomplishments and information for his followers. He set Twitter off when he offered to host PewDiePie’s Meme Review. He did a great interview and factory tour with popular tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee and has been the subject of many articles and think pieces. Tesla model launches and SpaceX rockets and roadsters in orbit captivate audiences around the world and create buzz around Musk and his antics. He’s the quintessential “cool” CEO and is setting a new standard for leadership in the internet age.

A comment on the Brownlee video sums it up best. “Big companies hire high profile celebrities to endorse their product, but Tesla saves that money because Elon is THAT celebrity.” It’s not common to see a CEO in the unique position Musk is. He’s hugely popular, well-respected within the tech community and a business titan who also happens to be a quasi-celebrity.

For communicators, Musk can be your biggest asset or liability. It depends on the day. But to me the good outweighs the bad. For every errant tweet he makes, he manages to come back stronger to show why he’s the best person for the job. There’s nothing wrong with a CEO speaking his mind. People will appreciate the transparency over scripted corporate speak.

If more CEOs were like Elon Musk, it might create some headaches. It would also make our jobs a lot easier as PR professionals. Leaders like Musk can be the most effective tool we have in creating, maintaining, and protecting an organization’s reputation and enhancing its goodwill with the public.

Digital Skills of the Modern PR Professional

Gone are the days when public relations professionals could pump out a press release, gather news clippings and call it a day. The industry has expanded at a rapid rate, and this transformation pushed practitioners to expand their skill sets, embrace new technologies and adapt in the digital age. Traditional PR practices like press release writing, pitching and media interviews will always have a place in this profession, but we no longer have to rely on conventional tactics to tell our brand story.

Our toolbox has grown, it’s just a matter of knowing the right tools and when to use them. Here are a few you will need to make the most of your communications efforts.

PR Software

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, agency or in-house, it’s important to use software that makes our job easier. Cision and MuckRack are two widely used programs for targeting journalists, distributing press releases, monitoring media coverage across multiple social and traditional outlets and analyzing the performance of earned media efforts. These programs are fee-based, but Cison does have a University Program that allows students to learn and use the software for free if your school is registered. I took advantage of this opportunity during my undergrad and it was a great resource to have as a young PR pro. If you’ve graduated or don’t have access to this software, try and find online tutorials, webinars or classes offered through PRSA or another communication association.

Social Media

These are the most used tools in the box. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube should be in the mix of any communications campaign. We use these platforms in our daily lives, but as a PR pros we need to think strategically about these tools and how they’re leveraged to accomplish different tactics. Twitter is useful in your media relations efforts and building working relationships with journalists covering topics relevant to your brand. Facebook should be at the center of your social media outreach efforts. It has the most active users and continues to dominate the space. Snapchat and Instagram have important roles to play when trying to reach younger audiences with fun, creative content. YouTube dominates online video, but live video and stories on FB and IG continue to grow in popularity. Social apps are creating new features every day to enhance the visual experience for brands and their audiences. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of social media to position your company and brand with the technology and online trends that influence our lives.

Photography

Every communications professional should know the basics of photography. We use images in our campaigns and sometimes those photos need to come directly from you. Get your hands on a DSLR and learn about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. A DSLR camera can be intimidating to an amateur with its many buttons, dials and display options, but the hardware is the easy part! Elements like composition, light, story, space and subject are much harder to capture. Try and tell a story with your photos, one that coincides with your brand’s identity and image. I’ve been completing a photography course on Lynda, a great website that offers training and education resources for free if you have a library card. Of course, YouTube is also a wonderful place to learn anything about everything.

I can’t forget about smartphones. We have computers in our pockets and most of them have excellent cameras. They’re convenient, easy to use and great when you’re on the go and need images for social media or other press materials. The smartphone has transformed public relations in so many positive ways. Providing news, apps, photos, videos, audio, notes, search and more, it’s an indispensable tool for today’s PR professional.

Analytics and Monitoring

There are a lot of great paid and free options PR pros can use to evaluate the performance of communications efforts. Evaluation is important for demonstrating the value of your public relations efforts and identifying areas where improvements are needed for future campaigns. Analytics software can track outputs and outcomes and provide data and insights to see how your efforts had an impact on business goals and communications objectives.

On the paid side I really like the Cision Communications Cloud and Meltwater. You can track news coverage, monitor conversations about your brand on social media and gather data to present the impact of your campaign when it’s finished.

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web, and it’s easy to see why. Its high-level, dashboard-type data is compelling for even casual users, and the software offers in-depth data if you need it. It’s a great free tool to monitor how your website is performing, where visitors are coming from and the content and landing pages they’re gravitating to. For social monitoring I really like Hootsuite. It allows you to schedule posts, moderate discussions, scan relevant news and keep tabs on all of your social pages in one dashboard. Buzzsumo also deserves a mention. This software tracks what sort of topics are trending online and can help your brand locate influencers, analyze hot news topics and identify social platforms and users that are receiving the most engagement around a topic of interest. Piggybacking off trending news that’s relevant to your brand is a great way to stay relevant and visible in a congested digital landscape.

Graphic Design

The Adobe Creative Suite dominates this space. Their products are a little pricey, but if you have an opportunity to buy Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator for your personal computer or use them at work then do it! Your office may have a dedicated designer, but it doesn’t hurt to have experience with graphic design concepts and software. Creating logos, infographics, newsletters, website designs and other branded items will likely be one of your job duties if you’re working at an agency or in-house. Canva is also a neat graphic design tool for businesses on a budget. It’s a drag-and-drop program to add photos, fonts, designs and other graphics to customizable templates for social media, websites, blogs, print materials and more. The more design knowledge and skills you have, the more of an asset you will be to your agency or in-house PR team.

Blogging

Many brands have their own blog. My favorite platform is WordPress because it’s free and easy to use. Blogging is a great outlet to share updates about your company-client or fun content from events, holidays, award ceremonies and other company outings. With blogs, we have a platform to express ideas and information without the rigidness of a press release. The writing style can be more conversational and less formal. You know your company culture best. The culture should be expressed through your blogging efforts. Know your audience, craft content with that audience in mind and write with an authentic voice.

A steady stream of content is key. Before you start writing, identify people who can provide content as regular contributors. Everyone from CEOs and managers to entry-level associates and interns have their own unique perspectives and should be involved in the publishing process. The more people who contribute, the more diversified and complete your narrative will be. Develop an editorial calendar, brainstorm content ideas with your team and set goals and expectations for your blog.

SEO

Chances are your company or the brand you represent has a website. People find web content using search engines, almost always Google. With millions of web pages competing for views and visibility, it’s a challenge to organically bring more traffic to your website. That is where Search Engine Optimization can be useful. PR people should have a basic understanding of SEO and how it’s used to create a better user experience on websites. Here are some basics:

  • Identify keywords or phrases. Put them in your headlines and body text, but don’t overstuff your content.
  • Inbound links. Create compelling copy, content that people want to share and link to on their own websites, blogs or social media. Be a thought leader and a reliable and relevant source. Build your site’s credibility and create good content consistently so other websites will be encouraged to link to your content.
  • Research. Find out what people are searching and tailor your content to meet their needs. Good content marketing is about identifying why people need to read your content and what search terms they’re using to find it.

Shooting and Editing Video

Let’s borrow a play from the journalism playbook. Newsrooms are shrinking and journalists are expected to do more with less. That means becoming their own videographer and editor. PR folks should be shooting their own video, editing, packaging multimedia projects and rolling them out during communications campaigns. Budgets can be tight, and having experience with cameras and software is essential for today’s practitioner. For shooting video, I always refer to this list from the Berkley Advanced Media Institute. It’s simple and straightforward with important techniques for capturing quality video. You might have a great story to tell, but without applying proper techniques your videos won’t be polished or professional. For editing, Final Cut Pro is my first choice for software. Many editors also use Adobe Premiere. Both are extensive programs with a ton of tools and features. YouTube, Lynda and other sites have great training and tutorial videos on FCP. If you have access to the software through work or on your personal computer, spend some time learning how to organize your media, navigate the timeline, work with audio, learn tools/shortcuts and streamline your workflow from import to export.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start if you work in the exciting field of public relations. If you have any suggestions or input on the topics I’ve discussed, please leave a comment!

A Security Flaw Brought Down Google Plus. That’s Not What People Are Talking About.

Google Plus was destined to fail from the start. It was late to the game, other platforms had already established their dominance in the social space and it had no competitive edge since the day it launched in 2011. The hype around this new and exciting channel was palpable, but it didn’t take long for users to test the waters and jump ship before the boat even left the harbor.

But I’m not here to discuss the failures of Google Plus. It’s not surprising a tech giant like Google wanted a piece of the social media pie. It had the resources to make it happen, even Zuckerberg saw Google’s foray into social networking as a serious threat to his company, but ultimately the fittest survived.

What I’m interested in is the communications strategy Google and parent company Alphabet devised to let Google+ down easy while staying on good terms with their users and the general public. This week, Google posted on its blog about a security flaw that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users on Google+. They opted not to disclose the issue because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. At the time Google discovered and patched the bug, Facebook was having legal and image troubles of its own when Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased tens of millions of users’ FB profile information from a third-party app maker. Google didn’t want to get caught up in Facebook’s legal and PR problems at the time, so they waited.

From an ethical standpoint, Google and Alphabet should have told the public about the Google+ security flaw as soon as they knew about it. Honesty and transparency are the pillars of public relations. Instead, they wanted to stay in control of the narrative surrounding their social network and remain proactive throughout these events.

In the end, it worked in Google’s favor. They released news of the security flaw along with the decision to end Google+ for consumers. Instead of talking about the data breach, the public was eager to discuss the end of the social network and how it should’ve happened sooner. Google knew plus was a lost cause for years, and they used that dumpster fire as a distraction to lessen the blow over the very concerning security issues.

Some tech news outlets and other mainstream media have covered the story, but the buzz online is mainly focused on the death of Google+. When you control the message, you also have some control over public opinion.

People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Google made a lot of people feel relieved that Plus is gone for good.

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

Arby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive-thru, and the city’s police chief did not take kindly to the news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications. It’s clear their public relations team was not prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

The story has spread like wildfire on social media. The company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and they failed to issue a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to right their wrongs. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we trust Arby’s and their employees? It’s important to take responsibility, not ignore the problem and wait until it blows over.

The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are needed to educate and inform the public. Instead, they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new sliders instead of doing some much-needed damage control and building goodwill with their audience.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it. A crisis communications plan needs to be in place. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. An interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening a well-established brand, and their comms. team has essentially lost control of the situation.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public and police departments across the nation. It may have been an isolated incident, but the brand is still affected wherever it operates. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible direction.

Weiner’s Reputation is Worse Than His Chance to Become NYC Mayor

After months of ridicule spawning from leaked photos of Anthony Weiner exposing himself to multiple women via Twitter, he’s recently made the decision to continue his New York City mayoral campaign. The man’s got more balls than I do, but I can’t say mine have been on Twitter. His choice to stay in the race is unwise on many fronts. He has no business running for mayor with all of this negative publicity affecting his public image and personal life.

His situation is dire. At this point he should be more concerned about repairing his damaged reputation. That can’t be achieved when he’s also trying to win a mayoral race that has no business being in. His dilemma can be compared to a PR firm working with a client in a time of crisis. The client may think they know what’s best as far as goals, strategies and tactics to implement, but a forward-thinking client will take a PR consultant’s advice to eventually agree on a plan that is best for everyone involved.

In that plan, sometimes you need to accept responsibility and do things that aren’t always easy. His problems were happening well before his mayoral campaign even started. He was sexting women of all ages while in Congress, and these actions came back to haunt him when he decided to run for NYC mayor in 2013. He never stopped but still tried to salvage his political career.

Weiner acted like a client who is disillusioned, stubborn and petty. Dropping out of this race would be a blow to his pride and ego. He just couldn’t let it go and acted selfishly and embarrassed himself, his wife and family. He didn’t listen to his counsel and became blinded by his own arrogance.

If I worked on his PR team, I would strongly urge him to put the mayoral campaign on hold and focus on stabilizing areas of his life outside of politics. The countless hours he’s spent on the campaign trail could be better spent improving relations with his wife Huma or attending sessions with a therapist to address issues that really matter.

By staying in this race, he’s digging himself into a deeper hole by choosing short-term goals over long-term happiness. Weiner must take care of personal matters to show his family, friends, supporters and the voting public that he’s ready to be a faithful public servant again.