PR Niblets

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Strategic Intersection of Business, PR and Marketing

By Henry Feintuch

Click here to listen to Henry’s appearance on Food for Thought: Lunchbreak with Steve Bookbinder.

A few months ago, my phone rang. On the other end was Steve Bookbinder, a long-time business friend and CEO/lead trainer at DM Training, a professional sales training and coaching business. Steve had recently started a podcast series, Food for Thought: Lunchbreak with Steve Bookbinder, as a vehicle to share his expertise and attract prospective clients.

Now, Steve is a salesman’s salesman. As a former actor, salesperson, entrepreneur, business owner and more, Steve has an uncanny ability to be able to sell any product, service or concept. And I mean that in the most flattering sense – he’s that good. Companies from around the world pay top dollar to fly Steve to meet with their sales teams to teach, motivate and expand their ability to grow and sell better in order to achieve their boldest sales objectives.

But back to the call. Steve was looking to broaden his podcast’s content by bringing in external subject matter experts. He wanted to know if PR had a direct impact on the sales process and – if so – could I join him for an episode to provide practical and actionable information for his listeners? I had no choice but to accept.

You see, his request hit me dead-on in my philosophical viewpoint regarding strategic public relations. Nearly every time I meet with a prospective client, after they express their want/desire/need for PR support, I ask, “why are you here?”

Now that’s not a glib question. I’m an entrepreneur and business owner, and my company’s income fluctuates based on the number and size of the PR programs I sell. But, as an ethical PR practitioner who really cares about his career and industry’s reputation, I always want to understand the motivation behind the need for PR – not just the perceived need. After all, how can my team design an actionable campaign to achieve each company’s business objectives unless we comprehend each organization’s needs and business challenges?
  • Is the prospective client losing business (or not growing as much) as a competitor?
  • Are there misperceptions about the company in the market?
  • Is there a business challenge in building distribution?
  • Are competitors quoted more frequently and prominently in the media?
  • Is there a long-term M&A or IPO strategy in the works and can PR help familiarize the market with a company?
…. Or any one of a hundred different underlying business reasons motivating the need for PR.
PR is far more than generating press releases and publicity; it’s about helping companies to build their thought leadership, generate more sales leads, improve their reputation, find more and better distribution channels, influence the thinking of their target audiences and more.
So, I recorded that podcast episode with Steve. The 15-minute segment turned into 34 minutes of airtime. I suspect I could have gone on all afternoon if Steve didn’t put an end to our “shop talk” segment. And you can listen to the episode here – perhaps during your lunch break.

Stop me sometime, whether you have 34 minutes or a couple of hours, to discuss strategic PR. It’s a critical part of this industry I love.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Developing Creative Social Media Content for “News Challenged” Organizations

By Doug Wright, Senior Account Director

Social media has come into its own as a widely accepted and sought-after PR tool. It’s hard to imagine that any business today that would go without LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as a baseline for promoting themselves and their products and services.
Once you set up your social media platforms of choice, what are you going to say? This may seem particularly challenging for organizations that offer highly technical or niche products or services. So, what do you post when your company hasn’t generated much news recently? 

With a little creativity, you’ll find there are many opportunities to take the conversation in relevant directions that will connect with your audiences. Here are several opportunities to widen your perspective to new ideas that will keep your company’s or client’s social media content fresh and interesting.

1)  Promote or look back on event
     Is your company sponsoring or attending any upcoming events, such as training sessions, presentations, company off-sites or simply visiting customers? Social media provides a great way to drive traffic to these events. Posting about events after they happen, preferably with photos, also makes for engaging content.

    2) Share executive expertise
     Who at your company is an industry expert? Have they been recognized by a professional organization? Or have they written an article or report that would be of interest to the company’s followers? Even a simple shout-out to an employee who has accomplished something helps put a human face on your organization. 

3)    Leverage case histories
     Here’s the opportunity to share a third-party endorsement of your company’s products or services. Where has your product or service been used to solve a problem in the markets you serve? Posting the story of how your offerings improved performance, efficiency and productivity can forge a powerful sales message.

4)    Post industry-relevant media coverage
     Obviously, positive news stories about your organization and company should be a mainstay of your social media messaging. But as contributors and consumers of media, you should also post stories that are relevant to your industry and product areas. Be sure to vet these stories carefully as you do not want to introduce any unnecessary controversy or share news that promotes a competitor. Reporters also appreciate when you showcase their work and may tend to watch your feed for story ideas. 

5)  Celebrate special occasions
     Is there an upcoming national holiday or a certain awareness day, week or month that is relevant to your market? Holidays and national celebrations provide excellent opportunities to wish your followers well and show a little more personality, perhaps with a GIF or photo. 

     6)    Get a little silly
     While giving your company a means to wisecrack may not be the reason you set up your corporate social media platforms, everyone can appreciate a good joke or meme—particularly if it is good natured and positive. You’ll get extra points for keeping the gags relevant to your industry, products and services. Steer away from controversial subject matter, such as religion, politics, inappropriate language and themes. 

7)    Contribute to conversation
     All too often social media platform administrators are focused on posting their own content, but not reacting to their followers’ content. Social media is a conversation rather than a soap box for broadcasting your company’s messages. By liking, sharing or commenting on others’ posts, you are engaging with others. Also, by doing this you will undoubtedly find additional topics that are of interest to your audiences in real time.

As you hone your profiles and posts, a distinct voice will develop that your followers will be able to identify – smart, arrogant, funny, mean, happy or cynical. These tips will help you veer away from coming off as dull, repetitive and insular. Making your company’s platforms varied, interesting and attractive to your key audiences is well worth the effort and will help to keep your audiences engaged with your company brand for the long term.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Workplace Gender Equality Has Come A Long Way, But Still Has Work to Do

by Elana Spivack, Assistant Account Executive

What does a story about a woman in Harvard’s physics department have to do with public relations?

A lot, it turns out.

Right now, more women can work – and are working – than ever before. Public relations happens to be a women-dominated field, one in which women occupy positions at all levels and run entire agencies. However, an estimated 80% of C-level executives in the industry are men. Many people who work in PR are women, but most leaders are men, meaning women perform a great deal of work and might go unrecognized.

Here’s where that story comes in. In 1962, Miriam Rykles was hired to work in Harvard’s physics department as an administrative assistant. But, the duties she performed far exceeded her job description, and she often did her male bosses’ work.

While there are far more women in the work place than there were in 1962, and they possess far more power, gender inequality remains an issue. Much like how Miriam and her fellow assistants did hard work without thanks in a man’s world, women outnumber men but more men still sit at the top.

[This story was originally published on the Jewish Women’s Archive Blog on October 17, 2019]

Miriam Rykles at the Harvard lab, 1967.
Photo courtesy Miriam Rykles.
“I’ll be frank with you: Harvard is a man’s institution. Women don’t get anywhere. But, [they] run the university.” 

This was the answer Miriam Rykles, now 94, received when she applied to work in Harvard University’s physics department in 1962. In the more than 30 years that followed, Rykles would work with Nobel Prize-winning physicists, help manage the lab’s Cambridge Electron Accelerator, and witness one of the first US-Russia relationships during the Cold War, all under the modest title of Administrative Assistant.

This story may sound familiar because it’s also the story of many other women who sought careers in the mid-twentieth century and were met with skepticism. While working conditions for women in America have improved significantly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that for decades, women have been performing the grunt work—and more—to help run institutions like Harvard.

Rykles doesn’t have more than a high school background in physics. In fact, her story begins a long way from Harvard. Originally from Wilno, Poland (present day Vilnius, Lithuania), Rykles was only sixteen when she was forced into the city’s ghetto in 1941. After the ghetto’s liquidation two years later, Rykles was sent to labor camps until Europe’s liberation in 1945 after the Nazis surrendered. This story, unfortunately, also resonates with many people. 

After the war, she made her way to Warsaw. Competent in Yiddish, Polish, English, German, and Russian, she found work there as a translator. That same year, a French cousin persuaded her to move to Paris. In the early 1950s, more relatives found Rykles through the Red Cross and invited her to live with them in America. In October 1952, at age 27, Rykles arrived in Massachusetts. She initially found work with an insurance company, but found it dull. Unwilling to settle for any old American job, she went to Harvard in search of more interesting work.

“At that time, women were looking for something interesting to do,” Rykles says. “For a woman to apply for an office job, it meant being a clerical worker, a secretary. You were answering the phone, typing, taking shorthand.” However, the duties a secretary performed often went beyond this job description. Rykles and her female colleagues were on the lowest rung, but performed work at levels comparable to their male superiors.

“I spent time talking to the other secretaries who were taking dictation, answering the phone, but at the same time, they were answering very important questions for their bosses,” Rykles says. She describes the “impossible task” of trying to show the other women that they were as capable and intelligent as the other men in the office. “I would talk to a secretary who was running the office and really answering questions of policy and all kinds of things. I would sit there and watch her work and catch her each time she’d say something about policy. I’d say, ‘Look, Carol, this is not secretarial work. This is your boss’s work. You just told him the policy.’ And she just couldn’t get it.”

Miriam Rykles, front and seated, in her office, 1968.
Photo courtesy Miriam Rykles.

Rykles describes women at Harvard as “shadows”—they were nearly invisible, but moved in lockstep with their male bosses, sometimes doing their work for them. Her boss, leading high-energy physicist Karl Strauch, noticed her curiosity and nurtured it. He trusted her with more responsibilities. In addition to teaching two classes at Harvard, Strauch was involved in cultivating America’s scientific relationship with Europe. 

“He had an office in Switzerland where he had an experiment going,” Rykles says. “There was always a relationship between CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) and Harvard…He had certain committees on that.” Some of Rykles’s work included preparing materials and changing contracts for such committees.

As Strauch was so involved with CERN, he was close to physicists from the USSR. Consequently, Rykles had access to all phases of the fledgling relationship between the US and the USSR, held together by the tenuous connection of physics. According to a 1990 paper by Roy Rubinstein, former director of particle physics and accelerator laboratory Fermilab, the two nations began collaborating on high-energy physics in 1966. Rykles helped to organize the 6th International High-Energy Accelerators Conference in Cambridge in 1967. She had access to one of the first amicable connections between these sparring nations.

Rykles’s language skills, which initially won her a translation job in Warsaw after the war, proved critical at Harvard. She used Russian for translating letters between the department director and Soviet physicists. Eventually, in the 80s, a personal telegraph was installed in her office so she could communicate directly with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her Russian was so good that when one of the department’s physicists began learning the language, she jokingly told him, “You will never catch up with me!”

Although Rykles and the other women working in the physics department were performing duties outside their job descriptions, they didn’t receive commensurate compensation. So, why did she stay?

“I liked the work,” she says. “I had access to everything.” Between her curiosity and Strauch’s support, she had the freedom to do what she wanted. She realized just how much power she wielded, all things considered, and how much knowledge her curiosity afforded her. “I...learned things that no women would probably dare learn; women were really supposed to ‘not know’ and so they didn’t.” 

Rykles’s influence was subtle but effective. Her efforts may have gone undetected, but they were of consequence. Her curiosity compelled her to pore over the documents in her possession, and often keep things because she found them interesting. At one point, this tendency led her to make a crucial discovery.

“Experimental physicists are known for not keeping their papers. When it’s done and served the purpose, they throw the papers out,” Rykles says. “I did not.” She describes one experiment done at Cornell University that included participants from Harvard. One of the participating scientists wrote a “tongue-in-cheek” paper on the experiment, ridiculing its proposal. “I read it and it was fascinating,” Rykles says. Even though she was instructed to throw out these papers, she kept them because they were “too interesting to throw out.”

Twenty-five years later, Rykles learned that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Sheldon Glashow was trying to commercially develop a particular experiment. He found investors and was going full force. Rykles got ahold of his project description and noticed it looked familiar. She went to her files and found that wry paper from years ago, and realized it was the same experiment that Glashow was developing. “Officially, he would have to invite the former director of that project into his cooperation,” Rykles says. After Rykles made this catch, Glashow appointed the former director of the experiment as a corporate member. However, the one who originally wrote that wry paper “knew all along that it wouldn’t work.” And it didn’t.

Rykles worked as an administrative assistant for 30 years, and continued working freelance after her retirement in 1991 to assist Strauch, who had Parkinson’s. While her path is unique, her story as a curious, tenacious woman at Harvard is part of a larger, shared history of accomplished but unrecognized women. There are certainly many others like Rykles: women and other marginalized people who worked (and still work) as administrative assistants, but performed higher level jobs without recognition. Men’s successes are built on the backs of these people, and while, yes, men did make strides in research, physics, and beyond, they didn’t complete this work unaided. One doesn’t have to look too closely to see an army of women pushing progress forward.

Monday, April 8, 2019

How to Make It in America by Patryk Slodzinski, NBS Communications

Patryk, an account executive at NBS Communications, in Warsaw, Poland, and a member of the first class of the participants in the PRWA Exchange programme, shares his thoughts on the programme and the time he spent at Feintuch Communications in New York City and Stanton Communications in Washington D.C. at the beginning of this year.

When I first learned about the PR World Alliance’s exchange programme I was instantly sold on the idea. Despite a pretty fair deal of time spent living abroad, I had pretty limited experience of exchanges, Erasmus student exchange being the most notable I ever participated probably, but I’ve always found such opportunities alluring.

At NBS, I am usually involved in projects with a strong Public Affairs component, and although I am very much engaged in those issues and find that part of the job really interesting, I was curious about broader PR practices. NBS is pretty open organization and I am often asking around to learn more about what else we are doing, however our strong IR pedigree makes it a specific place, not an archetype of the industry at large. I realized that the exchange could serve as a good occasion to look beyond all that limitations.

I submitted the eleventh-hour application and the next thing I knew I was crossing the Atlantic. I’ve picked the United States as I imagined that there couldn’t be a public relations market, in the PRWA network, more different to Polish one than the American. The public relations industry did not develop in Poland until the early nineties, with NBS dating back to 1990 considered as one of the founding fathers of the industry, whereas modern PR in the US has been present since the beginning of the century.

As for many before me, my first step on the American soil was New York City, where Henry Feintuch hosted me for a week at Feintuch Communications. Henry set me up at hip place at heart of Williamsburg so every day I had a proper NY millennial experience with a morning commute to Manhattan and constant nagging at the L-train delays, topped with a great deal of after-hours fun in ever-changing Brooklyn.

Work-wise, I’ve came just after the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an important event for technology-oriented Feintuch Communications. The aftermath turned out to be “an extremely quiet period”, per Henry’s estimation. However, that allowed me to have more time to talk and discuss with Henry and his team. We often exchanged information and opinions on how both our firms worked, identifying the areas of similarity and comparing differences between the market realities in Poland and the U.S.

The other advantage of that relative lack of pressure, was that it made room for more casual socializing with Henry and his staff and made a great combination with Henry’s hospitable attitude. Henry was an amazing host that eagerly carved some of his after-hours time to hang around Brooklyn, get an after-hours drink or see a Broadway show.

In terms of the programme’s objectives I’ve been regularly invited to client meetings and internal brain storming sessions, where I could contribute as well. Even if I didn’t know the client, or the industry that well it was genuinely interesting and informative as Henry and his staff were really forthcoming and frank in those exchanges. On my own I was able to do stuff I mostly don’t do at home which was really refreshing such as pitching journalist for the upcoming trade show in Amsterdam.

The next stop was D.C. where I’ve spent another week with Peter Stanton and his team. The general framework was kind of similar. I could get involved in practically anything that was in the pipeline, with my engagement ranging, from just observing, a kind of fly on the wall arrangement to full participation, according to my preference. 

Coming to Washington I had also bit of a different goal in mind, as I’ve imagined that D.C. could be a great place to observe some of the best practices from my particular turf – Public Affairs. And even if Stanton Communications did not have any on-going project in this field my conversations with Peter allowed me to get a fair deal of quality insight.

During my time across the pond, both Peter, Henry and their respective teams have been equally open, candid and willing to share their know-how and opinions with me while I was involved in many projects at various stages. Thanks to that sensibly loose structure I was able to have a broad perspective and see many aspects of the PR profession I am not exposed in my daily routine. On the other hand, the workload made it possible to stay in the loop with the developments back at NBS, and whenever I felt I need it catch up with some assignments there I was free to do so.

I highly recommend participating in the programme, I came back with a different, wider perspective and many fresh ideas I hope to implement at home.