CMO Series: Navigating Internal Politics
June 2, 2012, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Leadership, Marketing

An Important Crisis Communications Reminder: OWN It
December 9, 2011, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Crisis Communications

As a 20-year member of Houston’s Grace Presbyterian Church, I was saddened to receive the e-mail below:

Dear Grace Member,

This week Grace Presbyterian was served with a lawsuit alleging that in 1990 a 15 year old female was allegedly subject to improper sexual conduct while returning from a mission trip in West Virginia. The suit incorrectly asserts among other things that the alleged offender was a Grace Associate Pastor. Shortly after the trip, we understand that then Grace Senior Pastor, David McKechnie, met with the young woman and her father regarding the alleged incident.

Given that this situation occurred 21 years ago we currently have very few facts. We have retained legal counsel to investigate and respond appropriately to the suit.

We are stunned and saddened by this event. Our hearts and prayers go out to anyone who faces such circumstances. Grace Presbyterian Church takes the safety and security of our children and youth very seriously and we have robust practices and policies in place to protect our young people. Anyone who knows Grace, knows that the accusations alleged in the suit are completely counter to our beliefs and mission.

Scripture tells us that we are to be reflective in and to pray through all circumstances. We ask for your prayers for the alleged victim, her family, others involved in this case, and Grace.

Despite the grave nature of this communication, I’m glad I received it. As anyone with crisis communications and reputation management experience knows, it’s VITAL for companies, organizations and institutions to communicate as quickly as possible in the case of an incident. Why?

  1. Control: By communicating immediately after an incident, you can improve the chance of protecting your company’s reputation through effective messaging–before internal and external audiences learn of it and damaging rumors take on a life of their own.
  2. Peace of mind: Had I heard of an alleged sexual assault through the wrong parties, I may have been worried about my own children. Reading that this alleged incident is dated back to the year we joined the church, however, I am put at ease. While I am still disturbed by the subject matter and concerned for all parties involved, I do not intend to leave the church. In the case of a corporate incident, the sooner employees, communities and shareholders understand the facts, the sooner they can make educated decisions on their own behalf or step up to offer aid if appropriate.
  3. Respect: We respect friends or colleagues who communicate directly and honestly. And, while I know it was hard for our church leaders to send that e-mail, I admire them for being straightforward with the congregation. On the other hand, when companies hold off on offering facts or politicians take weeks to confirm allegations that end up being true, I ask myself why they didn’t come clean in the first place. In the end, I lose respect for any person or organization that tries to cover the truth.

I hope my church’s situation will be resolved in a manner that is fair and appropriate for all involved. In the meantime, I’m appreciative of the honest communication. By “owning” this crisis, Grace Presbyterian will continue to have my respect and dedication.

Find Your Inner Rock Star!
September 24, 2011, 7:06 pm
Filed under: Leadership

This is a real-time post, written as I listen to the fabulous Dayna Steele at Leadership Houston’s Class XXX Kick-off Retreat in Livingston, Texas. Dayna is a radio personality who is also a successful author, business coach, national speaker and entrepreneur.

Some of Dayna’s “rock star principles” are below, although not offered in as enthusiastic and compelling a manner as she presents it:

1) Passion: It’s not about you. It’s about the fans (or your colleagues, family and friends). Remember what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for us. Example: Do you think Steven Tyler wants to sing “Walk This Way” at every concert? He’s passionate about pleasing his fans!

2) Knowledge: Sammy Hagar was the best guest Dayna had on the radio, because he always did his homework on current affairs and topics of interest. Similarly, we should go into interviews or meetings fully prepared.

3) Networking: Relationships are EVERYTHING. The most important thing about networking is doing things for other people. She gives a great example about David Crosby–probably in her book “Finding Your Inner Rock Star.” Talk to everyone, and respect them. No one is below you.

4) Appreciation: Never stop saying thank you. Great Billy Idol story…can’t write it fast enough. Thank you notes are so important. The most powerful tool around is a hand-written thank you note. Send notes to clients, friends and colleagues. It makes a very strong impression. Appreciation is also about doing the right thing. When on tour in Houston, for example, Van Halen visited a young man, Kevin, who was sick with cystic fibrosis. They absolutely made his day. Kevin died two weeks later.

Leadership thoughts Dayna received this morning from her Twitter followers:

-Enlighten your people; let them know what your vision is so they can do their work
-Hire smart people and then get out of the way
-Engage: Great Lady GaGa example, about always, always trying to engage and please her “little monsters.”

Dayna is a compelling, gifted speaker and we’ll all be applying her principles in our daily work and lives!

Say It After Me: The Camera Is Always On!
July 7, 2011, 6:09 pm
Filed under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations

My computer, iPad and iPhone have taken on lives of their own since the Casey Anthony verdict. Buzzing with the fury of a million tweets and just as many Facebook status messages, nearly everyone I know is mortified that the young mother has been found “not guilty.”

Well, I’m not touching that one with a 100 foot pole, at least not in this post. I was personally annoyed by the ubiquitous coverage of the trial itself, all but boycotting CNN for its made-for-TV-movie segments that will surely garner them an Emmy. And quite frankly, Nancy Grace scares me. The bottom line is that I watched very little coverage and read even less about courtroom tactics and spectator shuffles–that is, until the verdict came in.

Then something caught my eye. Not long after the verdict was read and just moments after the formal press statement was delivered by Ms. Anthony’s lawyers, her defense team departed to a bar down the street and partied their hearts out. In one exceptionally fascinating moment, a key attorney literally jumped up and down five times while watching the playback of the sweet, sweet victory on an overhead monitor. There were hugs, kisses and champagne all around. You’d think they won the lottery…and I guess in some way, they had.

After training more than 1,000 people in what to say and do when communicating with the media, this image stopped me cold. If they truly believed her to be innocent, the defense team was relieved their client was found not guilty. This alone might warrant celebration, BUT at that time? That place? On the first floor near the windows, right where any reporter could record their jubilation?

One would think that nearly 30 years after the disastrous interview of Exxon’s Lawrence Raul by Kathleen Sullivan regarding the Valdez, savvy business people would know how to behave during unique and possibly damaging situations. Crisis situations. Media opportunities. Any time or place where you may be asked to defend your position or promote your company. Apparently, Casey Anthony’s lawyers were so lost in their unadulterated joy they did not stop to consider their client is one foot away from being pitchforked the minute she leaves the courthouse.

Their disregard for good taste may not hurt them personally now that their careers are skyrocketing to the top (must make a note of this in case I ever need a really good defense attorney) but the rest of us must play by the rules. If we don’t? Reputations are ruined. Customers don’t buy our products. License to operate is foiled. And if you’re an attorney, you hurt your client. Period.

Let’s brush up, then, on these media basics:

  • The camera is always on. Don’t let your guard down when you believe an interview is over. You can be videotaped walking to your car, in and out of the restroom…just about anywhere, any time.
  • The microphone is always on. Many people remember Ronald Reagan’s “nuke” joke in the early 80s, but he was just the first in a line celebrities, politicians and business people who failed to remember the microphone was on. Unless you are alone in a padded room, assume there are ears everywhere, let alone microphones.
  • The media have a job to do. Be professional but not too comfortable. Nothing is ever off the record.
  • Don’t be a Twitter twit. I made that up, but the point is clear. Anything you write via any type of digital media–e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc.–will stay with you for the rest of your life.
  • Do the right thing. If you don’t want your actions or words taken out of context, then watch your actions and your words. Be a person of integrity.
Regarding the last point, I don’t care if Casey Anthony’s lawyers worked hard for the verdict or if they believe with all their hearts that their client is innocent. What I saw was a group of self-centered, uncaring jerks who in their personal euphoria failed to remember that a child was still dead.
With friends like that, who needs Nancy Grace?

Guerrilla Marketing Strategies Hidden in Plain Sight
June 6, 2011, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Marketing, Media Relations, Public Relations

This guest post was written by Shar-day Campbell.

Too often, people think strategic marketing and implementation require big dollars. Think again, and consider this 3 Step Tactical Guerrilla Marketing Plan:

Step 1 | Gather Intel Through Surveillance

In order to properly execute any tactical marketing operation, one must survey the environment.

The surveillance should include:

  • Assessing the target audience by conducting surveys to determine their interests and purchasing habits. For example, Survey Monkey is a free online resource to gather feedback.
  • Monitoring your online presence and benchmarking competitors through free tools like Google Alerts and Social Mention that notify you when specified search queries (i.e., your company’s name, industry and competitors) appear online in articles, social media posts, blogs and videos

Step 2 | Assembling the Troops

Look at our Military. They are a keen example of how assembling a properly trained team will yield significant results.  To have successful marketing campaigns, business owners have to budget for the right team of employees, consultants and contractors.

Everyone on the team must play his/her role to ensure that the mission is completed. The representatives who answer your phone and interact with your customers are on the frontline and can kill opportunities.  Case in point, I recently read a testimonial titled “Who Is Answering Your Phone.” It briefly highlighted how an unpleasant store clerk abrasively asked a journalist to call back.  Needless to say, the journalist never did and the store owner missed out on a free publicity opportunity.

Step 3 | Operation Gain Visibility

Assess the audience, gather intel and assemble the troops–it’s time to execute.

Below are some guerrilla marketing, public relations and advertising tactics that are often overlooked.

Guerrilla Marketing Tips

  • Power Behind A Signature—An email signature that includes your name, title, company’s name, contact information, website, social media links, line about most notable award/recognition and a link to a recent promotional piece/media feature reminds others about your company’s current endeavors.
  • Business Card Links—Build an online community by including links to your social media profiles on your business cards.

Guerrilla Advertising Tips

  • Medium—After defining the target audience, select a print, television, online or radio medium that will have the greatest impact.
  • Messaging—Never underestimate the intel gained from your surveillance. Develop your messaging by considering what motivates your customers.
  • Timing—Effective advertising is all about timing. If your goal is to connect with a specified demographic, you should target that audience with ads around cultural holidays (ie: Black History Month, Women’s History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month, etc).
  • Incentives—Deals/coupons have an average redemption rate of 30-50 percent and are appealing during a recession.  Always consider your bottom line–Can you afford the deal?
  • Walking Advertisements—Branded t-shirts, hats, pens and other paraphernalia should be worn or used as much as possible.

Guerrilla Public Relations Tips

  • Social Responsibility—Most media outlets are seeking the next great human interest story and companies that give back to the community are featured in the media more than their competitors.
  • Building Your Contacts—Use the results from Google Alerts to reach out to journalists and bloggers who are featuring stories in the company’s industry.
  • Timing—The bulk of media features come from having events and product releases when the concepts are media worthy.
  • Gratitude— goes a long way! Say thank you and follow up with free give-a-ways to journalists/bloggers who feature your company.

Remember, the simplest solutions are always in plain sight.  Have you overlooked any of these marketing opportunities?

Shar-day Campbell is a marketing communications professional who has honed valuable skills that are proven to establish/maintain rapports, increase lead generation and build brand awareness.  Her work has been featured in national news outlets and recognized by the State of Texas and City of Houston. She is a proud member of the Houston American Marketing Association and is currently freelancing while seeking new career opportunities.  For timely marketing communications tips and more information about Shar-day Campbell, connect with her on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter

The Compelling Presentation: Don’t Use PowerPoint
May 16, 2011, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Marketing, Public Speaking

This post was written by Toby Brown, nationally prominent legal services marketing and social media speaker, and a contributor to the award-winning “Three Geeks and a Law Blog.”

I know … everyone loves to hate PowerPoint and much has been written about why it’s such a bad thing. Yet everyone still seems to use it. My use of PowerPoint has evolved over the years and I generally follow the Best Practices out there, avoiding too much text, keeping slides simple, using compelling graphics and basically using PowerPoint to emphasize my point – not to make it for me. So recently as a challenge to myself, I made two presentations without using PowerPoint. Both of these presentations were on cutting-edge topics, brand-new presentations for me. This meant they would be challenging to present in any event.

First off – instead of submitting a slide deck for the handouts, I actually produced two case studies / articles. This did require more effort on my part, but instead of telegraphing everything I was going to say in advance to my audience, I actually provided them with a valuable take-away.

When I gave the presentations, I used flip-charts and white-boards to illustrate any points I wanted to emphasize – mostly drawing graphs (one of my economist failings I suppose). I enjoyed this aspect of the challenge, as I was able to bring the ideas to life as I described them. I was also able to move more fluidly to different aspects of the presentation in response to questions, instead of saying “I have a slide later on that shows that.”

The Results:

On both occasions I received very positive feedback. Attendees made a point of coming up to me to thank me for not using PowerPoint. One person said it made them focus on what I was saying, instead of the screen. And instead of having a crutch to lean on, I became even more involved in my presentation. So the quality of my presentation went up for the audience and I had fun getting out of a rut.

The real epiphany came after the conference. Realizing I was the only one not to use PowerPoint made me truly stand-out. It was a definite differentiator, so much that one attendee offered me a job on the spot.

So if you are trying to make your presentations stand out in a crowd, you might try one or two sans the PowerPoint crutch. You will get noticed and you might actually enjoy it.

New Marketing, PR Tactics Make the Obvious Special Again
March 30, 2011, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Consulting, Marketing, Media Relations

As I sat at the recent Legal Marketing Association (LMA) luncheon in Houston, a wave of deja vu smacked me between the eyes. “Haven’t I been here before?”  And I’m talking content, not the lovely Four Seasons Hotel.

The LMA Houston luncheon planning team put together a group of stellar media people to share their insights on trends, topics and concerns: Greg Barr, Managing Editor, Houston Business Journal; Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, Senior Reporter, Texas Lawyer; L.M. “Wooty” Sixel, Workplace Columnist and Business Reporter, Houston Chronicle; and Gail Delaughter, Reporter, KUHF Houston Public Radio. The team was rounded out by the informative and interactive Laura Meherg from Wicker Park Group.

That having been said, much of what they covered, I heard from my supervisors during my very first media relations job in the early 80s:

  • Read the publications you’re pitching
  • Be responsive
  • Do not send a press release out and allow your primary executives or media contacts to be MIA when the phone rings
  • Understand media deadlines
  • Don’t pitch re-hashed feature or news stories

Along with these basics came the team’s very useful insights on how to position attorneys as media sources, the fact that they respect attorney-client privilege (helpful to know, since getting press-shy law firm leaders in front of a reporter can be harder than asking them to drag their feet upon fiery chunks of coal). One significant nugget all in-house PR people can ponder is one panel member’s request that media relations people “act as expediters, not gatekeepers.”

Although the program was excellent, I wondered why the panel felt it was necessary to remind a group of media relations and PR people of the obvious. What was up with that?

Rewind now to a chief marketing officer dinner I attended a few months back. The table topic was “Can social media enhance a company’s name awareness,” the response to which kept the 20-plus CMOs busy for two hours…commenting, disagreeing, pontificating and professing what they do and do not know about social media. At some point I made a statement that was as clear as the 21 noses on our 21 respective faces: “One size doesn’t fit all. Don’t we need to assess each company’s specific marketing goals and create an integrated mix, which may or may not include social media?” They looked at me like I had stumbled upon the Holy Grail.

I’ve got more stories in my pocket, but my point is this: Why is the new black really the old black? What’s happened to all of us who communicate for a living? The LMA media panel and certainly that roomful of CMOs–the marketing creme de la creme in their industries–know their stuff. And yet, here we are, reminding each other to answer the phone while getting into rip-roaring disagreements over how often to tweet.

I suggest simplicity. It goes something like this:

  • Remember that in all business communications activities, it’s about what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t forget the marketing and media relations 101 basics of determining your goal, strategies, tactics and metrics. The tactics may be different based on who you are trying to reach, but–and I hope my two cats will forgive me–we all know there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
  • Don’t be dazzled into blindness. We’re smack in the middle of the Information Age. Some day we may gum our dentures and tell our great grandchildren about how we used to use this thing called an iPhone, long before the supersonic BeamMeUp was created to zap them to Europe and back in nanoseconds. Even so, we can’t jump on every bandwagon just because it’s the hottest thing around. Integrated business communications is always about the right tactical mix for the right purpose, complete with metrics for measurement.
  • Remember the obvious. Yes, the original black before it became the new black. Answer phone calls on time. Pitch fresh news to reporters on a timely basis. Respect deadlines–your client’s, your company’s, the media’s and your own. Think about your goals and how to get there. Don’t follow the crowd because they have shiny toys. You are in your job for a reason, right? Remember that.

Although these pointers are indeed obvious, it’s amazing how often they’re forgotten. My focus is on providing outstanding business communications services to my clients–which means I need to cut through the clutter to achieve their goals.

I admit, though, that I can’t wait for the BeamMeUp phone to come out. That would be really cool.