Posts tagged ‘public relations’

Communicating the Right Way Helps You Stand Apart From the Competition

I recently spoke with about 50 real estate agents at Worden and Green, a Century 21 brokerage in Hillsborough, about making oneself stand out. It’s the problem we all have: How do we make ourselves different from the zillions of others in the same business we’re in.

The presentation and discussion led up to five points I suggested they take home:

  • Self-reflection and self-direction are necessary: Creating your brand and differentiating yourself from your competition isn’t something that just happens.  If someone asks why they should do business with you instead of a competitor, you can’t just say, “I’m better.” In fact, what you stand for – your brand – has to be something you decide after a lot of thought about who you are, why you do what you do, what you’re best at, who impacts your success, and what you want people to know about you and think about you. Once you know all that, the actions you must take to build and defend that reputation become more obvious.

 

  • Know thy customer: I can always tell when somebody has thought their communications and marketing plans through because they can tell me in great detail who their customer is. Too many Realtors tell me, “People buying or selling homes,” and too many builders tell me, “People buying a new home.” You have to narrow your target and know as much about your customer as possible. You need to know basic demographics. How do they get information?  Whose advice do they follow?  The more you know, the better you can communicate with them.  Your own credibility as an expert improves because you communicate with stakeholders — be they customers, regulators, other Realtors or anyone else who can help you succeed —  in a form and channel that is readily understood and accepted.

 

  • Consider your message very carefully. When I counsel organizations or individual businesspeople, we spend a lot of time on the message. That includes the wording and the delivery. After all, you can have the most exciting ad around, the best quote in a news article, the pithiest blog entry or the greatest elevator speech, but if it’s not delivered in a way that’s meaningful to your customer, it won’t be heard. And if the message isn’t delivered in words and tone that resonate, your message won’t be heard. And, finally, if you haven’t thought about your message and you say something that misses the mark, you’ve blow your opportunity because your message won’t be heard. So consider what you want to say to your customers very carefully.

 

  • Communicate the way your customers want to communicate and make sure you know if you’ve been heard. If I get you a great placement in a central Pennsylvania newspaper, but your customers are in New Jersey, it really doesn’t matter, does it?  This is part of knowing your customer: How do they like to get information? That’s how you need to deliver it. You may love to do Facebook and, of course, it’s very cool to be on social media. But if you’re dealing with a group that doesn’t use it, you’re not going to be successful. Equally important is to make sure you’re heard, no matter what medium you use.  If nobody is responding to your call to action, you’re not being heard.  You have to figure out why and change it. Is your medium? Is it your message? Once you figure it out, you’ll get better results.

 

  • Engage, engage, engage. Social media is about engagement, not just blasting one-way messages out to the Internet. You need to ask questions and get people to reply to your messaging. For instance, I’d like to know what you think of this blog entry. What do you do to know your customer and to make sure you’re being heard. Even if you’re using traditional media, whether it’s a news release or speaking to a group, there are ways to generate a response.

In today’s world, though, you need more than a simple response. You need to be creating conversations. No matter how you communicate, it needs to be an ongoing thing. And you need to listen and respond and adjust your communications and marketing activities. That’s engaging your audience.  It’s having a conversation. That builds relationships and trust.

And that generates sales.

See the original PowerPoint deck here.

 

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October 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Using a Gavel To Hammer Citizens’ Groups Can Cost More Than Legal Fees

Lawsuits, especially over opinions of a citizens’ group, can cost a lot more than dollars.

Should a developer facing a boisterous and vocal community group sue the members of that group to muzzle them? Tempting, isn’t it?

On the Jersey Shore, a homebuilder has done just that. That company received permission to build and sell 76 homes to the general market instead of to active adults, as originally approved. A group of residents, however, doesn’t agree with the change, and has expressed its opposition in a variety of ways. The builder has filed suit, according to the local newspaper, complaining that one of the members of the group has “issued defamatory statements and information constituting libel and slander.”

I don’t know any more than what’s been written in that one article, so I’m not going to comment on this particular case. But it got me thinking: Is it a good idea to fight back against citizen groups by using the courts?

Here are some of my random thoughts. What do you think?

  • Lawsuits are part of the development process in New Jersey. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Usually, suit is filed over interpretation of points of law, not over points of opinion. The arguments are usually esoteric, and tied directly to some law or regulation related to the project.
  • Companies that protect their reputation enjoy better sales, higher customer satisfaction rates and happier employees. They also can usually withstand the unsubstantiated verbal barrages of a citizen’s group. It is, of course, a different story if the citizen’s group is telling the truth and the corporation is isn’t being completely honest.
  •  Court is the appropriate place to prove a point of law, but is it the appropriate place to stop or hobble a conversation? Even if the gavel drops eventually in favor of a developer who complains in court that people are saying bad things about the company or a community, does anyone really believe they’ve gagged the opposition?
  • There are more expenses to a lawsuit than financial ones. One must weigh the reputational and good-will costs and compare them to walking away from a project or just gritting one’s teeth and bearing the insults. A lawsuit will be seen as heavy artillery wielded by a corporation against residents exercising their First Amendment rights. People – including those who will be giving you approvals and buying your homes – may wonder why the company was so heavy-handed.
  • There are other steps to try before filing a highly visible lawsuit (all lawsuits are highly visible). A developer can meet with the opponents to listen to concerns and, if possible, address them. Use public meetings; op-ed pieces; interviews with news outlets; alliances in the community; direct mail pieces; special Web sites, blogs, Facebook pages or other forms of interaction to communicate. A developer who wanted to build in my neighborhood went door-to-door. Does it work every time? No. Will you win over every opponent? No. Can you proceed and honestly say you’ve listened and tried to address concerns. Yes. Have communities been built and been very successful despite community activism? Yes.

A lawsuit is almost always a last resort. If used to stop someone from saying angry things against a corporation, it must be carefully considered, including how much it will fan flames and what it does to a developer’s attempts to build bridges in the community.

If, however, you find yourself filing such a suit, be ready to defend it in the court of public opinion as well as a court of law.

  • Make sure you can clearly explain in a few compelling words why you’ve filed the suit. You have about one sentence to make your case, whether it’s to the media, the mayor or the minions in your company and the community.
  • Make sure your allies and community officials know it’s coming, even if the warning is just a few minutes.
  • Decide with your public relations person whether the filing should be announced or if you should wait for questions.
  • Always respond to the media. Refusing to talk with the media allows your opponents to tell your story for you. Even if you’ve strategically decided not to comment, not returning a reporter’s call is rude. Returning the call keeps the lines of communication open. And remember: Never say “no comment.” You can explain that you can’t comment on pending litigation, or you can decline to speak about specifics, but talk generalities. Your PR person and your attorney must work together to counsel you on your response once a lawsuit is filed.
  • Remember to have your key messages ready and make any interview — media, community appearance or small meeting — yours.

Your development team should include an experienced public relations professional to protect and build your reputation by helping you deal with the media, the community and the government (shameless plug: like In-House Public Relations). Your public relations team is your diplomatic corps. A lawsuit is a big military weapon. You need both to navigate the crazy populist regulatory paths in New Jersey. And your PR team may keep you out of a lawsuit.

The method of dealing with issues that I’m suggesting may take more time and the outcome isn’t assured — you may still wind up in court. But then, a legal verdict is not a sure thing either. The longer method enables you to look everyone in the eye and honestly say you tried to be a good neighbor.

July 25, 2012 at 10:46 am

Spring Brings Optimism To Business, Spring Cleaning Should Include Your How You Communicate

The real estate and homebuilding business is like a neighborhood after a bad storm: Everyone’s happy it’s over and happy to have survived. And while they’re still watching the sky, they’re optimistic enough to smile, start cleaning up and make plans for the future.

Whether you’re a builder, a seller of new or existing homes, or a supplier of the goods and services that keep the industry going, the feeling of rebirth is in the air. I’m hearing a lot people making plans for new business. Those optimistically planning new opportunities would do well to consider one more item that probably needs some spring fixing up: their communications program.

Notice I didn’t say your advertising program. I didn’t say your social media program, your Facebook page, logo, brochures or publicity program. I said your communications program, which includes all those things…and more. If you’ve never considered talking with a public relations professional, maybe this is the time to do it. And if you have, well, work with him or her to take a fresh look.

Some ad agencies have PR departments, but most don’t. PR people look at the world differently than advertising people. We see communications program in terms of measurable goals, consistent messages and strategies that can build and reinforce your most powerful business tool: your reputation. We use all available channels to tell your story to customers, employees, vendors, investors, regulators and the general public. PR is about two-way communications, so we also want to make sure you know what people are thinking of you and your company.

If you’re telling people about your business the same way you did two years ago, you probably need to rethink it. You communications could be as relevant as 2006 home pricing.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • You’ve survived. How are you different than you were?
  • How did you survive? Is it an interesting or inspiring story?
  • How are you reassuring and helping your customers succeed in this new market?
  • What are you doing to support your community. Keep in mind that “community” can have a lot of different meanings.
  • Who is important to the success of your business and how are you communicating with them? Are they listening?
  • How are you measuring success?

These are the kind of questions you need to think about to develop a communications plan for today’s market. Think about hiring a public relations practitioner to discuss these questions. They know how to draw out the answers and they will see things and ask you questions you might not think of. In addition, they will make you flesh out your answers. With the information you and the PR team gather, they’ll develop a plan to develop and deliver messages and gather feedback from the different groups that impact your success.

By telling your story the right way to the right people, you can share your excitement and optimism about the improving market and claim your spot as an industry leader. It’s as important as everything else you’re doing to move ahead for new success.

Let me know some of the new things you’re doing and how you’re explaining them to customers, suppliers and others. And let me know if I can be of assistance.

May 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

So Who Made You An Expert?

Back when I was a reporter, covering the U.S. District Court for the Tulsa Tribune, the late Judge Allen Barrow used to shake his head whenever an attorney introduced an “expert” witness. After listening to all the qualifications, Judge Barrow would sigh theatrically and ask the witness where they were from. “Well,” he’d say after hearing the answer, “I guess that’s about 25 miles. Did you bring a brief case?” The witness, of course, would say yes, and Barrow would say, “Well you came more than 20 miles and brought a brief case. I guess that makes you an expert.”

Experts were important, however. During one trial, the expert witness turned the court into an economics classroom for two weeks and swayed the jury. The result of that trial is that you can run to the ATM if you’re short on cash. (If you really want to read about the case, click here.)

In today’s frenetic, media-hyped marketplace, your expertise should be a major part of your reputation and business strategy.  Demonstrating your expertise can lead to a jury verdict in your favor. In the marketplace, that’s a sale.

Establishing your reputation and expertise is something advertising can’t do, but it’s a key part of the public relations toolbox. Your PR counselor can work with you to establish your expertise.   Do you have academic credentials or years of experience? Have you ever published an article in a trade journal or been quoted in a newspaper story? Do you teach about your area of expertise? You, too, may be an expert.

Sharing your expertise with the right people in the right way improves your reputation and credibility. It’s a way to establish a relationship and trust. Those who accept your expertise will be more likely to do business with you. How you present your expertise will have a lot to do with the decision they make.

If nobody knows what an expert you are, it’s time to tell them. You’ll need to do it in a credible, entertaining way. The good news is that you don’t have to travel 20 miles and carry a briefcase.

Talk to your public relations counselor about establishing your expertise. Or call me. You can ask me what make me an expert when we talk. I’m definitely going to ask you that question.

September 23, 2011 at 12:22 pm

3 PR Lessons For All Businesses Observed While Spending Hurricane Irene In A Paramedic Truck

Natural disasters are strange times for me. I am a homeowner who is concerned for his home and family, a paramedic and a firefighter who is concerned for his brothers and sisters and wants to do what he can to help the victims of the event, and I’m a PR guy ready to help his clients prepare for the disaster and recovery from it. I always enjoy watching what others are doing and saying during the storm.

So having spent all of the storm weekend on a paramedic truck or a fire truck (up to about noon Monday) here are some observations:

  • Kudos to the public officials who got people out of harm’s way, knowing full well they were going to be criticized no matter what they did. They stayed on message with laser-like focus. While that message may have seemed obvious, everyone from governors to local officials transmitted the same message, the presentation was well orchestrated and consistent and it was presented across a variety of media. As a result, lives were saved. Even away from the most devastated areas, people were better prepared for flooding and power outages because of the focus on the message. And to those now complaining the dangers were oversold, well, I’ll be polite: Go find something better to do with your time…like help those without power and with basements full of water bail out. Or help those whose homes and businesses were destroyed rebuild. If nothing else, just stop and pay your respects to those who lost loved ones.   Are there messages here for how you run your business? Definitely: A simple message consistently and forcefully delivered at all levels of an organization will yield results. But someone will still bitch about it.
  •  If anyone still doubts still doubts that social media is main stream, look at the wide use it enjoyed during the storm. Many governmental entities, including the county and township in which I live, used a combination of Web sites, Twitter and Facebook to keep constituents up to date on information from road closings to dam bursts and evacuations to dealing with tainted food. News organizations gathered and used audience pix and videos. And the hospital where I’m a medic used text messaging, emails and Web sites to assure the staff was up to date and keep all of its EMS vehicles staffed and on the road. If all these organizations know they must use social media, don’t you think you should make sure you’re using the same channels to engage your audience?
  •  How did your crisis plan work? Did your employees know what your company was doing in preparation for and in recovery from the storm? Did your customers know? Did you have a crisis plan? Every organization should have a plan of what to do when it is threatened, whether by a competitor, a person’s deliberate or accidental action or a natural disaster that threatens its ability to provide whatever service it provides. If your crisis plan didn’t address the preparation and outcome of this hurricane, or if you winged it, maybe you should contact a public relations practitioner to help you better prepare for the next literal or figurative storm.

 Hurricane Irene gave us all stories to tell our friends and relatives. But it also should serve as a teaching moment. None of us want to see another Irene. But we will. And before we see a hurricane identified by the National Weather Service, we’ll likely see our businesses rocked by a figurative storm. Here are three lessons that can be applied.

Good luck.

August 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm 1 comment

Whole Foods Serves Some Crisis Management Lessons

If you think you’re immune to a crisis just because you’re not the biggest player around and you try to do things right, take a look at the controversy Whole Foods is dealing with. 

The store is well-known for having ethnic and special foods (disclosure: I shop there because it has products that meet some personal dietary needs). On its shelves are halal products, which are foods that meet Islamic dietary laws. When the company decided to promote those products to people who celebrate Ramadan, a period during which Muslims engage in rituals, including dietary practices, designed to encourage patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God (Muslim friends – jump in here if my description is inaccurate), an employee apparently wrote an email to his bosses questioning the idea.

I’m not sure how those goals can be bad, but apparently the employee was afraid that right-wing activists might have a problem with promoting something associated with Islam. His email somehow made it into the Houston Press  and on to Twitter, where it was taken as an official statement that the company was backing away from the promotion and – boom – Whole Foods found itself in crisis mode. 

Libba Letton, a spokeswoman for Whole Foods, Tuesday told me the company became aware of the issue because it monitors its online presence and because of the tweets.

“Folks brought it to our attention and we immediately sat down and figured out what happened,” she said. They quickly tweeted that the promotion was still on and reached out to those who had tweeted to tell them the promotion was not being cancelled. Libba and her colleagues also started calling newspapers where the story appeared. As the word spread, they began fielding calls from the media.

The fast reaction quelled the crisis before it got legs. It was still a story, but the company’s response circulated so quickly that the story was the Whole Foods’ plans to continue the promotion despite the rumor. The company’s blog continues to include lots of information about preparing for the holiday. The rapid response kept the issue from hurting Whole Foods, but Libba thinks it’ll be kept alive for a while by those who only listened to the initial, erroneous reports.

“It’s inconvenient,” she said. “We’ll have to continue to educate people about it on individual levels.”  

A crisis is anything that threatens an organizations reputation and its viability as a business. This certainly threatened Whole Foods’ reputation, but because of the company’s quick response, the damage was minimal.  There are lessons here for the rest of us:

  1. You will have a crisis.
  2. You need to be ready. Libba adds that you must act immediately. “Social media is so much faster than anything else,” she says.
  3. Assume that anything in writing – email, memos, correspondence – will wind up public, even (maybe especially) if marked “confidential.” Keep that in mind before you send counsel or opinions by email or paper memo.
  4. Social media is a two-edged sword. You must stay on top of what others are saying about your business. Your public relations team, whether internal or external, will have tools to help with that. Your PR team also can make sure that you’re ready when a crisis does hit.
  5. (Maybe 4A) There’s nothing wrong with asking colleagues and members of your network to let you know if they see or hear anything about your company. Part of Whole Foods’ early warning system was tweets and calls from people who saw the original postings.

Public relations practitioners are experts in social media and its role in creating and quelling crises. If you and your PR counselor haven’t discussed situations like the one that hit Whole Foods lately, use this column as a conversation starter. And if you need some crisis prevention and management advice, feel free to contact me.

Finally, to our Muslim friends: “Ramadan Mubarak.”

August 11, 2011 at 11:39 am 1 comment

Some “Truths” About Public Relations

I often find myself talking about ethics and transparency with young practitioners and with potential clients. Some people, I think, regard such discussions as quaint or even a joke. To me, these are things that set public relations practitioners apart and are necessary to our task of looking out for the long-term reputation of an organization.

Jeff Domansky, APR, publishes a blog called the PR Coach. His column, called “10 PR Truths: How Do You Measure Up”” is aimed at practitioners. But whoever is communicating on behalf of his or her organization should look at these points.

Jeff’s blog post can be seen in its original format at http://www.theprcoach.com/ten-pr-truths-how-do-you-measure-up/ or you can read it below:

Glenn Ferrell wrote a really thoughtful post about the PR profession- Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR. It got me thinking about truth and truths in PR or any business.

Here’s the reality of public relations. Our profession is constantly under pressure for results. We get slammed by critics from the media, activists and interest groups not to mention consumers and the general public for spinning or even worse, not always telling the truth.

We operate in real time whether it’s crafting a strategy, launching a product, managing a crisis, pitching the media, communicating to employees or responding to customers. When you add social media into the mix, you can go from hero to zero in moments unless you operate with clear fundamentals.

The most successful public relations pros I know get results with integrity and grace despite this challenging environment. I thought about what makes them so successful and came up with 10 PR truths they embrace:

  1. Truth – telling the truth is the foundation for their reputation. Everywhere.
  2. Transparency – disclosure is not an option. It’s a standard.
  3. Trust – they create trust with many, as well as trust others to do their best.
  4. Tell it like it is – the fact is, they deal in facts.
  5. Timeliness – operate with a sense of urgency.
  6. Take action – they lead, they act and they make things happen.
  7. Tell stories – they tell stories that mean something, that resonate and stand out from the crowd.
  8. Take responsibility – they usually share success and take ownership of problems.
  9. Tend to the details – sweating the small stuff is a habit.
  10. Trust your instincts – this is the art of PR. Great instincts come from good experience.

Here are a few favorite quotes about truth worth remembering:

It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
Mark Twain

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.
Buddha

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Winston Churchill

Half a truth is often a great lie.
Benjamin Franklin

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Oscar Wilde

Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.
Elvis Presley

Not one of the successful leaders and mentors I know lack any of these 10 important fundamentals. Think about your own PR practices. How do you measure up? The truth is, if you follow these PR truths, you can’t fail! And they would go a long way towards restoring positive perceptions of our profession.

It’s not just the truth, it’s the truths that make the difference.

# # #

What do you think of Jeff’s column? Is it fair to expect your communications representatives to meet these standards?

August 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

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