Posts filed under ‘Public Relatons Adventures at K Hovnanian’

Secret to a successful CSR event: Believe!

Every now and again, I get to brag about my clients. It’s been a good month for doing community relations work that demonstrates that organizations with which I work have a conscience and like doing something for the community.

My big client, of course, is K. Hovnanian Homes. The company also is my employer. It has been working to strike the balance between pushing ahead with a popular community it’s building in Woodland Park, N.J., and protecting and preserving an important piece of history there. The company has entered an agreement with the New Jersey State Museum to identify and preserve dinosaur tracks and other items of geologic interest. You can read out it here: http://bit.ly/inhousepr1027101

Meanwhile, a few days after announcing the relationship with the museum and showing off the rock with the dinosaur track, the company sponsored the third Ride for a Child’s Hope in New Windsor, N.Y., to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, N.Y.

My favorite client – Jockey Hollow Dentistry (a.k.a. my wife’s dental practice) is also doing something good for the community.  She is taking part in Operation Gratitude, and buying back children’s Halloween candy. She’ll then take the candy, along with any donated candy and some dental supplies, pack it all up and send it to Operation Gratitude, which will then send it to our troops serving overseas. Read about it here: http://bit.ly/jhd-candy

And last, but far from least, are my brothers and sisters at the Flanders Fire Company and Rescue Squad. After some false starts, we finally got to show off our pink T-shirts and our membership in the Guardians of the Ribbon. (http://bit.ly/dCgHws )  Firehouses are pretty macho places, and getting guys to wear pink is supposed to be difficult. But our firefighters jumped to join this group. As part of the Guardian of the Ribbon program, the whole fire company has agreed to do what it can to show its support for local women with cancer. The night we took the photo that went the release, we were helping some Boy Scouts earn their fire safety merit badge. Lt. Melissa Widzemok talked to the boys, explaining our pink shirts. Later, one of the boys took Melissa aside and told her about a close relative who was suffering from cancer and had just been told that there was nothing else doctors could do. Money was an issue and the boy asked us for help.

 It doesn’t get any more real than that.

We talk a lot about corporate social responsibility and all the studies that show that given the choice, people would rather do business with an organization that supports causes they like. Many companies adopt a cause and make it a corporate mission and that works for them. But I’ve found that the best results come when the executive in charge of the project genuinely has a passion for the cause. That passion usually becomes contagious. Everybody buys into it and that results in more enthusiasm and better support. And from my vantage, it becomes a lot more fun to work on these projects.

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October 28, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Fed rules make free summer internships too expensive

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program because, apparently, one is no longer allowed to offer unpaid summer internships. God forbid, the government has said, that you might gain something from the work of a student. 

New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse had a very interesting story this week on the topic with some good links to the six federal criteria for running an internship program.

 I can think of few things stupider to do to our students when they are having a hard time finding jobs. While we don’t want to create slave labor summer camps, I would think there could be some balance that would help students gain some real experience and, dare I say, some of us with cut-to-the-bone departments (or agencies) get a little help while teaching. I guess I dare not say.

 Some of this ridiculousness we – the employers – have probably brought on ourselves. If we hire interns as interns, we have an obligation to teach them something other than how to run the photocopier. We all do some scut work, but they’re here to learn and it should be a privilege to teach them. I always told my interns that they will get some crappy jobs, but that they also would write at least one advertorial, one release for distribution, handle one special event and accompany me to meetings. I also asked them if there was something special they wanted to do. In short, they were treated as junior staff.

Apparently, however, allowing them to write that advertorial and release and handle that special event is bad, according to the feds. Somebody is going to have to tell me how I can teach an intern to write a release without having them do one.

 Mr. Greenhouse’s article was not news to me. K. Hovnanian Public Relations had, if I say so myself, an excellent internship program for quite a while. Our interns went on to some really exciting jobs. At least one learned that he didn’t want to do public relations, which I think is a terrific use of an internship.  

 When the real estate market headed south, it took my internship budget with it. I got away with the unpaid thing for a while, but then human resources waved the guidelines under my nose.

I’d love to know how other firms and small departments are dealing with unpaid internships. What are you doing?  Or have you just given up? Use the comment  key below to share your thoughts.

I’m thinking of creating a summer shadow program. It wouldn’t be for the whole summer, but I’m going to see if I can make it worth some credit. I’m sure the intern – I mean, shadow — will get underfoot, so that’ll meet one of the federal criteria. But, for at least a short time, they can see what a corporate public relations operation is. And maybe they can get away with writing a press release or helping with an event. Would that be worthwhile? Or perhaps I should ask if it would provide me with too much benefit.

Anyway, I’ll let you know what happens.

April 6, 2010 at 11:40 pm 2 comments

Everybody’s Gotta Get the Message

One of my clients called me in the other day to help deal with a potential problem. It’s one of those every-day, but-just-in-case situations and the goal is to keep things under wraps while we fix the problem. One of the tactics he wants from me is a script so every single person on that job can handle questions about the issue that might come their way. My client is very wise.

In my experience, you can organize and execute the best plans for handling anything from a crisis response to simply keeping one’s reputation polished, but if the message doesn’t get from top to bottom, those plans will fall apart.

I was thinking about this as I visited the Manhattan Club in New York City. Here we are, being wooed by this organization so they can take a sizeable chunk of money from us. Yet from the time we were booked until we were well into the process, their polished plans were tarnished by workers who just didn’t understand the message and their role in protecting the company’s reputation.

We were told to arrive at a hotel for a morning meeting, followed by an overnight stay. Those who booked us told us when and where to arrive and park. We parked as directed, but we had been given the wrong directions. That almost cost us an extra $20. Then the registration clerk arrogantly told us that rooms wouldn’t be ready until much later in the afternoon. Yes, we could leave our bags…for tidy sum. Things were not going well.

Next, we stood in the lobby of this customer-service focused club while two bellmen argued over who was supposed to be inside and who was supposed to be outside and who was working harder. Finally one grabbed our bags, slapped a ticket in my wife’s hand, and continued with his argument, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.

We arrived at the sales desk. Clerks greeted us with terse instructions, followed by what I took to be sarcasm. OK, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably saw the steam coming out of my ears and the blood pressure alarm over my head. They were probably trying to calm me down. Listening to me might have helped. Empathizing and trying to do something about the issues  might have helped. Making jokes just made it worse.

A sales person arrived and introduced herself.  She continued trying to calm me down, first by making light of the situation, and then by trying to tell me not to worry about it. Wrong. She started into her sales presentation, perhaps a little more nervous than usual. Much of her presentation seemed to be pleading with us to “keep an open mind.”  On top of everything else, being told to keep an open mind certainly made me wonder what we had gotten into.

Eventually, our sales person settled into her well-rehearsed routine and things started going more as one would expect in a high-end hospitality organization. And a little while later, a polished sales manager came over. He listened. He repeated back the questions, concerns and problems to assure us that he understood them. And then he started apologizing about the problems and fixing things. He addressed concerns. And he had hard, cold numbers, facts and data to present to us as he took us through the sales presentation again and, yes, closed the deal.

Once he got involved, the people who we worked with clearly understood how the Manhattan Club wanted to be perceived by its guests. It was impressive, but these people were arriving late in the game.

It’s interesting to think how much more impressive the experience would have been — and how much easier the sale might have been — if the messages of customer service had been understood by the people who booked our trip, greeted us at the door and took our luggage. Those were the first people we saw, and they almost drove us away.  And no matter how well everyone else did, our first contacts are the ones I’m still thinking about.

My client is right to make sure that everyone,  starting with those handling basic maintenance or meeting people at the door,  has the messages we want people to get. Those are the people our homeowners and their guests see everyday. They’re the ones who will make the most lasting impressions. It’s a point to keep in mind in every communications plan.

February 23, 2010 at 1:26 am 1 comment

Study says blogging not as popular. Oh well.

First, we were told that if we don’t blog, the world will pass us by. So I learned to blog. Now, I’ve read an article that says that people between 12 and 29 years old don’t like long-form blogging because (a) they don’t like to read and (b) they prefer Facebook and Twitter.

Communications gets more and more interesting, but I kinda wonder what it says about our future leaders that they don’t like to read. Oh well: My parents figured I’d ruin the world because I listened to rock-and-roll, didn’t cut my hair and didn’t focus on my studies.

As a public relations counselor and a communicator, it presents a challenge, but nothing insurmountable and nothing to get alarmed about. It’s just another day on this rapid express we live in. Newspapers, we’re told,  are losing their purpose. Now blogging is losing its purpose. Twitter has purpose, but mostly because experts keep telling us it does. And Facebook is the king (queen?) of communicating. This week. 

Seems to me that all this comes back to the basics of communications: What do you want to say, who do you want to say it to and what’s the best way to say it?  If I primarily wanted to talk with very young people, I’d use all of the media that they might read, and focus on Facebook and, maybe, YouTube. I don’t. I want to talk to people who are a little older and want to buy a home and I want to talk with reporters and opinion leaders. Seems to me Facebook and Twitter have a role in that, but so does a blog. And, by the way, so does the local daily newspaper those people read and, antiquated though it  may seem, so do magazines and maybe even post cards.

There are so many ways to communicate these days, that it feels like every communications effort requires a multiple choice pick list.  Chatting now requires a drop-down menu. If I want to talk about the movie I saw Tuesday night (I did that on Twitter and got lots of responses), I can choose one group of media that friends (real friends) will see. If want to talk about some  aspect of business, like how impressed I was with the homes at Four Seasons at Harbor Bay, same pick-list, different choices.

The challenge is knowing your audience well enough to know what to pick and then how to communicate through those media. That hasn’t changed and it never will.

February 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

AntiSocial Media

Interesting conversation with my bosses today. They are perplexed because competitors are coming  up higher in organic search engine results than we are. And I’m supposed to be able to magically fix that.

We talked about optimization, the number of items we’re putting on the Web and other factors.  I, for one, am still trying to figure out the best way to get my news releases and other items to the best writers, be they reporters, bloggers or whatever, as well as picked up by search engines. It’s so frustrating.

I’m trying PitchEngine. Check this out: http://pitch.pe/40400  Let me know what you think. And, no, they didn’t pay me to say this. They didn’t even return my phone calls and there’s very little in the way of help on the site, although it’s pretty straightforward. So, we’ll see about this… Not an answer, but maybe a stepping stone.

Without violating state secrets, how are you dealing with the realities of SEO releases?

The biggest problem, of course, is budgets and resources. I have no agency working for me and can’t afford to keep using wire services to distribute. I’ve read lots of articles and attended lots of seminars, but this is reality. Anybody have any ideas? Let’s share them!

January 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm 3 comments

A Placement I’m Proud Of

Earned this placement in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: http://bit.ly/37DrD8

Yeah, I know: Placements are supposed to be old hat. And there’s nothing all that crazy about this one. But we pitched in June after some debate about ad bucks and the value of those expenditures. The PG doesn’t do advertorials. I suggested, however, that a well-placed article would bring as good or better return than an ad. Well, we’ll see about the return, but the article looks good.

The PG hadn’t covered this topic before and we covered all the basics in our preparation and pitch. It’s PR-101, really, but guess what: I like it!

Thanks to editor Kevin and reporter Janice for a good job and to colleague Greg for helping me keep my facts right and staying on message during the interview.

As for me, once again, I’m re-teaching the value of good relationships with the media and a good public relations program. I often wonder when we get to stop teaching that to our internal clients, but I guess the answer is never, especially during times of budget cuts and staff changes. Perhaps this is a lesson they’ll more readily appreciate than discussions of ethics and reputation.  It’s harder to make them understand that these stories don’t happen unless I, as the representative, and my company as my client have a good reputation and do business ethically.

October 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

Kevork Hovnanian – A Public Relations Hero

Kevork Hovnanian, the founder of the company for which I work, passed away last night. (http://tinyurl.com/yarcxa4 ) He was 86. “Mister,” as we called him, was an old-style businessman. He came to this country in the 1950s and founded what became Hovnanian Enterprises in 1959. He did things the old-fashioned way: tough, but fair and honest. The first time I met him was while I was waiting to see someone else in the executive suite. He asked me how our relationship with the media was. I assured him it was fine. He warned me to never forget the importance of the local newspapers and to make sure we maintained those relationships. And he thought he was a builder, not a PR guy…

He was a philanthropist, giving back to the community in a variety of ways and encouraging the company bearing his name and its associates to do the same. He and his company associates were active in the community, his industry and the politics of both.

A few years ago, I was among a group of associates he addresssed, something he hasn’t done very often in the last few years. He urged us to to treat  each other and our customers with respect and fairness. He reminded us whose name was on the door, and told us he was proud of that. He asked us to always act in a way that would allow him to continue to be proud to have his name there.

We talk these days so much about ethical behavior, customer satisfaction and customer retention. Seems to me that Mister pegged it: respect, fairness and keeping the name on the door something those of us representing that name can be proud of.

Since Mister started the company 50 years ago, it’s grown to be a Fortune 1000 publicly traded company. Like any person working for any big company, there are days that leave me frustrated and angry. But you know what? For a PR Guy, it’s good to work at a place where associates remember that the founder urged respect, fairness and pride in the company name. Seems like a good formula for success.

I, for one, will continue to represent the company to its constituents with those traits in mind.

September 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm

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