PR Niblets

Friday, February 14, 2014

Student Job Applicants: Grammar, Spelling, Content and Style Matter!

It's that time of year -- the mad race to secure a job for would-be college graduates.  (Side note: I'm familiar; my son Alex, who posted recently and who has been interning with our firm, has been threatening to graduate for some time now. Maybe this year!)

Graduating students are preparing their game plan for May and beyond when their degree is in hand and their future lives await them. I respect the ones who have started emailing their resumes and applications as early as this fall in order to secure an informational interview and determine the possibility of employment.

But, and it's a big "but...," many are more focused on getting something out the door more than they are in paying attention to the quality of their submissions. In public relations, that's a critical mistake.

Yesterday's e-mail brought a note from an Indiana University student
who is a candidate for a Bachelor of Art Degree in Journalism.  Her home address is in "F.L." and her school address is in Bloomington, "I.N."  In her job experience, we note other creative state abbreviations in non-address block areas: Welcome to the states of "C.T." and "M.A."

Followers of AP style will recoil in horror knowing that AP dictates dictionary abbreviations for state names in copy; two letter abbreviations for addresses on envelopes or in a full address context are fine -- but they are two letter combos as illustrated in the adjacent image.

Another graduating senior, this one from SUNY Binghamton, compliments us in her cover letter as one of the most highly regarded PR companies within the PR industry.  Appreciate the kind words but it feels a bit "boiler-plated." She goes on to tell us she is pursuing "duel" degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Law and History.  I hope she survives her undergraduate work.

A May 2014 would-be graduate from Indiana University who majors in Arts in Communication and Culture (maybe a friend of the above student), tells us she made the "Deans" list (bye-bye apostrophe) and was a writing assistant to a financial services firm in "Shorthills" NJ.  Residents of that hamlet know their town name is comprised of two words, not one. Cue Governor Christie to shut down the mall there.

A SUNY Stony Brook graduate with a degree in sociology and a minor in anthropology explains why her credentials are relevant to a career in PR: 
"As a former Assistant Manager of The Animal Center of Queens, NY, as well as current volunteer of The Heavenly Angels Animal Rescue Inc, NY, I have experience attending to people’s needs on a daily basis. At The Animal Center of Queens, I: cared for the animals daily, performed secretarial duties as needed, managed the front desk where customers came up to, managed and trained volunteers to improve efficiency of the center, and advertised to the public about animal adoptions. As fast-paced as the environment was, I was able to perform all my duties promptly."
Still trying to make sense of it all; we decided to pass on an interview.

Not writing this to be cruel; rather I'm hoping to send a sobering message to job aspirants everywhere: we need and want you. But you must show you have basic skills and care enough about being considered a professional to ensure you read and proof your copy. If you can't do that when you're on your best behavior trying to land employment, how do you think we feel about entrusting you with the reputation of our clients? Proofread!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eight Tips to Co-exist in the Workplace While Working (and Living) with a Parent

While completing the six-credit balance of my bachelor’s degree in public relations, I am interning with my father and the team at Feintuch Communications. Below are some first-week musings of the delicate balance that is working and living under the same roof as my dad.
Be sure to check back next week for Henry’s tips on working and living with his offspring.

 1. Wake up before your boss. Nothing says “I’m ready for work” quite like being dressed and ready to go before mom or dad has made his or her way out of bed. Check to see if your parent/boss is awake before jumping in the shower. If they’re still snoozing, take a deep breath and relax under the hot water for an extra few minutes. If mom or dad is up and about, you’re probably playing catch up… so catch up, and fast!

A view from Chappaqua train station
2. Home is not the office and the office is not home. Leave the baggage on the train or you’ll be in for a long day (and a short-lived employment). The moment you allow household fights to migrate into the office is the moment your co-workers become uneasy. No matter how angry you are that your father had the nerve to ask you to clean the basement the night before, your co-workers don’t want to hear about it; it’s just uncomfortable. Debrief BEFORE you get home. Reviewing the events of the day and hearing an executive perspective of them can reveal a lot of valuable insight into how to think more strategically and broad. Not only can you learn a ton from picking your boss brain after hours but it can save you from arguing about the happenings of the day later on. 

3. Remove yourself from conversations about “the boss.” No matter how much you want to be “one of the guys,” you’re not. You may be a member of the team but you’re still the boss’ kid. 

Alex's ankle circa 2012
4. Don’t force the boss’ hand. Would your father understand that you should really get that swollen ankle checked out ASAP? Absolutely. Would your boss? Maybe not. Don’t make mom or dad pick between wearing the boss hat or the parent hat. Sympathy for your health may very well win out, but is it worth projecting to the entire office that your priority is not getting work done and being an equal member of the team? Doubtful. 

5. No complaining to your non-boss parent about the boss! That’s between the two of you and dragging other family members in the middle benefits no one. Balancing the relationship is difficult enough without another family member weighing in.

6. Be honest and realistic about how things are going. No job in the world is worth poisoning the relationship with your mom or dad. If either one of you has concerns, hash it out as quickly as possible (in private). Don’t sweep the issues under the rug because they’re not going anywhere. If the business relationship is truly not working out then drop it before the damage bleeds into the personal relationship. 

7. Keep an open mind. *This applies to all employee/boss relations* While you may not care for your parents’ opinion on what color slacks to put on in the morning, there’s likely good reason why your mother or father has made it to where they are. Take advantage of the resource and learn as much as you possibly can. 

Pictured: Henry (dad) and Alex (author and son)
8. Lastly, embrace it. If your mother or father has provided the opportunity for you to accelerate your career then you've got a real leg up. Be gracious and thankful for the opportunity and do everything you possibly can to prove to everyone that you deserve the position regardless of your last name. 

What tips would you give to your son or daughter if they came to work for you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Public Affairs v. B2B PR: The Differences

As someone with a strong interest in both B2B and government PR, and who has experience interning in both fields, I find it interesting to compare the two. For as much as they are both “public relations” and have many similarities, they also have their differences. After looking at the similarities in my first blog post, let’s now take a look at the differences between PR in public affairs and B2B PR:

Jay Carney, press secretary
for President Barack Obama

1.    Creating Strategy v. Managing Crises – In B2B PR, there is much more of a strategic mindset. The team can create a short term or long term strategy and then try to adhere to it. Crises may arise, but the framework of an agreed upon plan is often largely kept in place.

 In public affairs, there is often no long term plan at all. Rather than being proactive with strategy, the job is often reactive. Though there may be end goals (reelection, certain policies being passed, etc.), a press secretary will often be handling media inquiries or specific, sporadic projects that have a less defined timeline. Whereas in B2B PR we may lay out a strategically beneficial schedule of press releases, media interviews, and other helpful actions, in public affairs there is often no plan for these until the situation arises suddenly.

As a kicker, the situation may disappear just as quickly. A press conference could be scheduled as soon as a Senator decides to introduce a new bill, and then just a few hours before it would take place, the Senator may find an issue with the language of the bill and cancel the whole thing. A Congressional hearing may end up bringing a Representative into the spotlight, and suddenly there are requests for television interviews from MSNBC, CNN and Fox -- all for the next day. A gaffe could lead to the need to prepare a statement for all media that call looking for a comment. This is not to say that these situations never arise in a B2B setting, but rather that general PR has a strong emphasis on proactive strategy rather than being forced to constantly be handling unforeseen situations.

2.    Meeting Different End Goals – In B2B PR, the strategy always consists of, at a basic level,  helping the client as best as possible in order for that client to become a more successful company by achieving their business objectives.

The goals for a politician can often be more diverse. Two frequent goals that may even come in contention with each other are reelection and legislating. This might mean making a politician develop a strong media presence when dealing with certain issues that many constituents back - all in an effort to be reelected. At the same time, however, it could mean shying away from media exposure in an attempt to legislate something that may be unpopular to the constituents.

There is a constant balancing act between legislating and getting reelected, and between trying to get media exposure and trying to stay behind the scenes. Other possible goals include better committee assignments, or positioning for a more powerful position further down the road, just to name a few. In B2B PR, there is less contention. Though there are times that a client may not want a lot of exposure and other times when a client will want lots of it, the goal is always the success of the company within its market.

3.    Being More Than, or Only, PR – One of the first things I learned at Feintuch Communications was that it is important not to just think of ourselves as a PR firm. We handle all sorts of tasks for our clients, from press relations to investor relations, to analyst relations, to complete marketing strategies. This is very different from my experience in Congress, in which a Press Secretary or Communications Director really just handles the media. There are no investor relations projects because there are no investors. There is no need for a big, intricate marketing strategy because as I alluded to earlier, it would all fall off the rails quite quickly. The job ends up consisting mostly of press and media relations, with social media sometimes thrown in depending on the level of the staffer and on the politician being represented. The nature of the job forces its simplicity and precision - there is no market share, there are no investors, there are no analysts, and as I mentioned earlier there is less of a proactive strategy. This all makes public affairs PR a much less comprehensive offering, at least in comparison to the PR discipline and orientation I have been experiencing while interning with Feintuch Communications. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is it Pop? Or is it Soda? …Or is it Coke?

Image courtesy of ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
The differences across the country in how we speak, act, dress and live day-to-day life have always fascinated me. Just last week, I was in Minnesota visiting friends when one said the word “bagel” but instead of pronouncing it “BAY-gull,” she (and others around her) pronounced it “BAG-gull.” Furthermore, my friends from Pittsburgh often use terms like “jagger bush” instead of “thorn bush.” And don’t get me started on the never-ending battle of pop vs. soda… (despite the mass popularity of pop, it’s soda!) .

Although these are subtle differences that most people understand when spoken in context, such differences across a language and linguistics can create a challenge for PR/communications professionals who are always striving to effectively communicate a brand’s message to an audience. In many cases, PR professionals can refer to the AP Stylebook for the proper grammar and use of a word. But, some differences, particularly regional dialects, just aren’t covered.

In 1999, the Harvard Dialect Survey, collected data on terms/sounds that were used differently across North America. Last month, this study went viral after Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student, used the data to inform a series of maps illustrating the variances in speech across the U.S. (Side note: a great proof point for the power of using visuals to make a story come to life!).

In my mind, this all begs the question: Do these variances directly impact how a brand is perceived? If a company decides to be a “soda company” vs. a “pop company” – will that turn off a particular audience?

While the answer to that particular (exaggerated) example leans toward “unlikely,” the topic of dialect variances as a roadblock to effectively communicating a brand story remains.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where dialect got in the way of communicating? What are other cultural factors that influence the way we communicate a brand’s story?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Buckle Your Seatbelts.... Tray Tables Up...and Please DON'T Turn Off Your Devices.....

Finally, the F.A.A. has caught up with air passenger reality.

You know that silly edict about "please turn off all electronic devices that have a switch" that made the entire flying public either closet criminals, plain bored or impotent and docile sheep reconciled to putting our short-term health and well-being...and independence... into the hands of our flight stewards.

It's been a sort of an open joke among road warriors and flight crews that Kindles, noise cancelling headseats, tablets and even active games of Word with Friends (yes that game, Alec Baldwin) have never been implicated in a flying emergency (let alone something more dreaded).  In truth, it helped the cabin crew to establish "control" over its passengers and perhaps saved a few bumps on the head due to flying electronics if an aircraft hit turbulence. Nothing more.

Most of us complied, begrudgingly, even as we played a cat and mouse game of using our devices for a few extra seconds before the flight steward came by and either softly....or not so gingerly...requested compliance.  And how many of us have sat near someone who chose to simply ignore the protocol and do their electronic thing regardless.  Or ever been on a flight where someone, who may not know how to shut off their phone, had their phone ring during ascent?  Ooops....

But that all changed last Friday when the FAA said the rules -- they are a changing.

That's when Marketplace Reporter Dan Gorenstein interviewed our client Jonathan Spira, editorial director of Frequent Business Traveler, to help interpret the new ruling. After their interview, Jonathan (in a PR turnabout), suggested that Dan interview his "agency" head since he too was a fellow frequent traveler who he knew broke out into hives at the mere suggestion of unplugging.

Dan's story ran on NPR late that afternoon.  Grab a read/listen:

The new policy will go into effect later this year after an FAA advisory group weighs in and the policy is formally changed. What won't change? No cell voice calls on planes -- at least during this round.

Probably a good thing for most passengers who prefer whatever privacy/quality/quiet time remains during flying to cutting the cord. 

What's your experience? Ever break the rules during take-off and landing  to read an e-book, don your headset or play a game? Should voice calls remain off-limits (even MetroNorth now has a quiet car each train ride in or out of New York City where you can't even THINK of answering or placing a cell call)?

I'll chill on the point..and celebrate a small victory for productivity and individual rights.  Now to start lobbying for the return of that little bag of peanuts on board!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Public Affairs v. B2B PR: The Similarities

Michael Mallon, Intern
I’ve had lots of different internship experiences in my three post-high school years. I interned for the morning show at 103.5 KTU here in New York; I handled marketing strategies at a startup that made financial mobile apps; and I worked for Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) 
down in Washington, DC.

Now I’m in PR.

Although most people might link the marketing experience with my current PR internship at Feintuch Communications, my internship with Congresswoman Maloney was actually the most similar to what I’m doing now. From the view of an intern who had many press and writing-related tasks on the Hill, and who is now working at a full-fledged communications and PR firm, there are many similarities in both tasks and mindsets between doing political press and working in private sector press relations.

There are certainly differences as well, but I will save those for a later date. From what I’ve learned so far, here are the top similarities between government press operations and a PR firm’s operations:
Congresswoman Maloney

  1. Master Media Relations – The absolute basis of professional press relations does not change. You still need to put out press releases, you still need to coordinate with journalists, and you still need to serve the client’s (or politician’s) interests.
  2. Manage Crises Efficiently – There are times, both in government and PR firms, when crises must be handled with great poise. Whether the politician made a comment that is making headlines as a gaffe, or a corporation’s product must be recalled, there’s a need for communications professionals to attempt to counteract the sudden ‘bad press’ that arises. Writing a story that is favorable toward the client, stirring up positive news articles in important publications, reestablishing your client’s credibility, and other techniques are necessary in either field when crises inevitably arise.
  3. Develop Clear and Concise Messaging – PR firms and political press experts must both communicate the message of their client in a coherent and compelling manner. This may be through any number of means, but whether you are working for a politician or a corporation, you must make sure that the message and image that they each are trying to convey to the media and to the public are being conveyed effectively.  That could mean a politician who wants to be seen as one of the leaders of the immigration reform efforts in Congress, or it could mean a client who wants to be positioned as having the best customer service in their industry.
  4. Manage Your Databases – It’s important in either field to make sure that your databases are up to date and filled with the most relevant contacts. Journalists move from publication to publication or from one focus to another with increasing frequency, making it necessary to constantly update your databases. That way, when news breaks or it’s time to send out a release, it will go out to the proper people.
  5. Handle Difficult Clients – Some clients can be difficult to work with in both fields. Whether it’s a Senator who does not want to do interview and media training but consistently fumbles on television, or a company that is a bit too capricious with its marketing plans, it is a PR professional’s job to advise as best as possible. This means that you are constantly walking a thin line between pushing hard for something because you believe it is strongly in the client’s best interest, and serving the client based on what they want.
  6. See the Big Picture – In political press and more general PR, you always need to understand the client’s “big picture.” The more you understand a client and their overall vision, the more you can effectively cater to it and provide the right services to achieve the client’s objectives. In politics, that may mean publicizing something that a Senator did even though it may be unpopular with constituents in order to show that the politician is a team-player within the party – the end goal being a specific committee assignment (which is determined by the party apparatus). In PR, you may have a great plan to get publicity in some well-respected publications which would certainly boost the company’s product sales, but if those publications don’t cater to the marketing plan that the client has, then it does not fall in line with the company’s big picture.

Michael Mallon is the 2013 Summer Intern for Feintuch Communications. He attends Cornell University, class of 2014.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

PR, Social Media and Economic Growth in Brazil by Pedro Cadina

Note:  Pedro Cadina is founder and CEO of VIANEWS Communication, São Paulo, Brazil. VIANEWS is of three new firms to join as partners in FC's international network -- the PR World Alliance. This guest blog covers the Brazilian business, PR and social media environment.

Despite a smaller growth forecasted for this year, Brazil ends the second semester showing significant recovery and continues to be the focus of several companies that see enormous potential in the “B” of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies.  In many cases, PR agencies represent the first door for companies willing to participate in Brazilian market.

The global brands in PR are present in Brazil but it’s the local Brazilian agencies that are the ones showing higher revenues and faster hiring.  Estimates show that there are around 1.200 public relations agencies in Brazil, the majority of them located in the Southeast region of the country where most of them are small and independent agencies. For the current year, the sector should invoice 2 billion reais (around $1 billion USD), representing 15.5% growth over 2011.  Steady growth over the last three years suggests that 2013 agency revenue will be 3 billion reais ($1.5 billion USD).

Support for the government market is the fast growing sector of PR in Brazil.  Revenues of Brazilian agencies are strongly generated by media relations (30%), followed by internal communications (30%) and corporate events. Social media (11%) and investors relations are both growing significantly.

A few weeks ago in São Paulo, VIANEWS brought together 40 communication specialists in order to discuss Public Relations and Digital Journalism.  The event provided insight on how public relations, media relations and social media should be addressed by the global companies coming to Brazil.  These are some of the highlights of the discussion:

·       Internet and data traffic show impressive figures in the country. Mobile data traffic should increase 19 times in Brazil by 2016, representing a volume equivalent to 717 million text messages per second. The mobile device sector is just beginning and should benefit from the assembling of Apple products in the country.
·       Brazilians love Internet and social networks and this is an important leverage for brand communications. With more than 80 million users connected, Brazil is already ranked amongst the seventh largest audiences, the fifth in  engagement and is the blogs leader (with Score). Following the US, Brazil has the largest number of accounts in Facebook and Twitter. Brazil has the fourth largest Google+ community.
·       Despite recent crisis in Europe and growth difficulties both in Japan and the US, Brazil should grow around 2% this year and recover its 4% growth rate by 2013. Brazilians haven’t been so optimistic for decades
·       This optimism was reflected this year Digital Journalism Study (Oriella). Almost 52% of interviewed Brazilian journalists pointed out that there will be an audience increase for their publications and 25% bet on a publicity increase.
·       Another important discovery in this study was that approximately 83% of journalists rely on public relations agencies to obtain and double check information.  For 18% of journalists, agencies are the first source they use to search for news.
·       It is impressive to observe the growth in the usage of video formats already available in the Brazilian media.  In 2010 and 2011 only 20% said they made use of video formats in their publications. This year, this number jumped to 44%.

At the end of the event, one of the participants asked me “What else do you think we should tell CEOs and directors of global companies that are willing to come to Brazil?”  My reply was, “Well, in addition to a strong industry and an increasing consumer market we also have beautiful beaches, sun and football all year round!!”