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Ahead of the Curve

Wow … a recent post on PR Daily News Feed proclaims that there are ‘5 office trends and technologies that will disappear soon’, according to a LinkedIn survey. Listed are the quaint rolodex, the dinosaur fax machine, the desk phone that ties you in place, tape recorders (anyone remember these?) and standard work hours. According to the post, these office trends and technologies will disappear in five years.

As I read the post, I came to the realization that we are well ahead of the curve – maybe something of a trend-setter. When I started EnSpire Communication, none of these common office standards made it into the mix as the business plan was formulated. When someone asks me to fax something, it is scanned and emailed or simply uploaded to the cloud ready to be plucked. And, I’ve taken careful measures to not get wrapped up in the traditional office phone cord, relying on mobile technology. The last time I used a recorder was 10 years ago to record an especially hateful, abusive boss’s tirade. Certainly don’t plan to have that need ever again.

The nice infographic includes dream office tools and upgrades, many of which I believe are counter-productive to accomplishing anything. But I do kind of like the idea of a clone.

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Kevin O’Keefe over at Real Lawyers Have Blogs recently brought up a very important point about the shift to content creation in today’s marketing playing field. While traditional methods like print and TV news media are still effective routes to reach target audiences, there’s no doubt that this arena is shrinking and in its place, content hungry social media sites continue to grow by leaps and bounds.

Shifting to the role of content creator in your marketing efforts requires a substantial time investment. Blogs need to be well thought out, accurate and frequent. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are great tools to reach the masses but require an extensive amount of legwork to establish feeds that captivate and engage online audiences. Today, trade publications are much more apt to publish guest articles or guest blog posts but if the business professionals – let’s use attorneys as in O’Keefe’s scenario – find themselves stretched thin by their responsibilities to the practice of law, how can the firm expect to create a regular stream of technical wisdom to help promote itself?

O’Keefe weighs the idea of using a third-party content creator to outsource content but I’d like to suggest a stronger alternative. Public relations professionals have been creating content for busy executives since long before the marketing shift toward content creation and we’ve been sharpening our skills accordingly for many years. While using a third-party for content means starting at the ground floor each time a complex writing assignment arises, a true PR pro works to gain an innate understanding of his or her client with the added bonus of playing a crucial role in guiding the marketing strategy of a particular brand.

Having worked in PR for six+ years, my job role has always included an emphasis on content creation. Whether the topic covers semiconductor chips, pharmaceuticals or medical devices, I regularly work with complex subjects and the brilliant minds who deal in these subjects to develop valuable content. Susan Ennis, founder of EnSpire Communication, has been at the content game for more much longer with special expertise in legal matters, among others.

Not trying to brag, but using PR professionals for your content marketing yield a few extra bonuses:

  • We think in the big picture. Content is only created if it is advantageous and productive to the brand we are marketing.
  • Comprehensive is our favorite word. We repurpose content to create cohesive communications outreach while being efficient.
  •  We understand audiences. Whether we are fine tuning complex messages for a B2B audience or repackaging complicated concepts for the general public, it will be on target.
  • We are researches at heart. All PR programs begin with research, crucial skills to support the content needs of our clients.
  • We can work social media. Even the most brilliant blog post won’t reach target audiences if a viable social media following is not cultivated by using the right channels.

In the end, O’Keefe isn’t sold on third-party content creators – I wonder if I can sell him on PR instead?

Where is your company today? Where do you foresee it being in the next year or in five years? One thing is for sure, organizations must constantly embrace change in order to survive and thrive in a fiercely competitive environment. And, the other thing we know for sure is that change is never easy. In fact, Fast Company magazine has devoted a number of articles to the mechanics of change saying, “significant organizational change is one of the most difficult strategies to implement.”

Here, we will focus on one critical piece of the mix, whether an organization is restructuring, merging or just shaking up the org chart – employee communications must be a priority. The one truth that should never be overlooked is that employees are an organization’s most critical audience and their reaction to change can make for smooth sailing or place the company’s very survival in jeopardy.  Employees not only keep operations running, they are brand ambassadors – representing the face of the organization to customers, vendors, the community and the media. Ensuring that employees understand and embrace the change and are prepared to deliver key messages to external audiences is an essential element of the process.

Internal communications during a time of change takes careful planning, regardless of the size of the organization. One mistake we see far too often is that senior management waits until there is a backlash and the gossip vine is running rampant before bringing in a communications professional. It’s smart to include a professional communications strategist at the very beginning of discussions, making him or her a part of the strategic team.

So, what value will a professional communications strategist bring to the transition process? Expect a series of steps that will include initial research, the development of a plan that outlines specific objectives, and careful implementation that allows for continuous feedback. The following steps can serve as a guideline for establishing an internal communications plan.

1.    Do the Research

The first, and arguably most important step is research. A strategist will need to know how internal communications are currently structured or if a communications program will need to be built from scratch. Are management and employees engaged in a two-way conversation? Will focus groups need to be convened? How will the planned changes impact employees, the community, and the longevity of the organization?

Internal audiences will need to be clearly defined, especially in large, complex organizations. Each group of employees may require different channels of communication (emails, small group meetings, etc.), and the changes may impact different groups in different ways.  Demographics must be considered. For example, people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds may not fully understand the use of bankruptcy as a corporate strategy and become fearful that the organization is liquidating.

Managers’ communications skills will need to be evaluated and training provided as needed. Those on the front lines must be empathetic to employee fears and prepared to relieve anxieties.

Even senior management should be evaluated, as they will set the tone and provide inspiration for success. The strategist will want to consider every eventuality.

2.    Identify objectives, develop a plan and communicate often

Together with the strategy team, the communications professional will identify key objectives such as maintaining morale and productivity, retaining high-performing individuals, getting buy-in for the vision and establishing the credibility of new management.  Once objectives are agreed upon, the strategist will develop a plan and a timetable for implementation.

Employees deserve timely, frequent updates. They must be given the opportunity to express their concerns and know they are being heard. Knowing what to expect, even if it’s negative outcomes, will help relive anxiety and avoid wild speculation. Throughout the process, top executives will need to be visible and accessible.  Employees will respect management for providing explanations as soon as possible. Allowing employees to hear of the merger by radio on the ride home will cause distrust and anger. If things are not yet certain, tell them – they will appreciate the frankness.

Executives will need to be prepared to tell employees how the change will impact jobs and what the future holds. Tell a story – link business objectives and goals with strategies and values. Engage the employees and allow them to become a vital part of the process, to experience the changes and see the benefits. Communications strategies must engage, motivate and inspire management and employees.

Part of the planning process will include the selection of communications channels. Face-to-face meetings tend to be the most effective during times of change. These may include manager briefings, one-on-one meetings with with key personnel or in the case of multiple locations, a town hall style meeting with senior management appearing by video in all locations. Today’s technology allows these types of meetings to actively engage the audience and immediately capture employee reactions.

Ensure that employees have ample opportunity to make suggestions, ask questions and express concerns. Surveys, focus groups, employee hot-lines, suggestion boxes and open-door policies are just a few simple ways to encourage employees to engage in two-way conversation.  The key is to communicate often, let employees know how the merger is progressing and how their roles may change. Make employees feel as though they are part of the family, that the success of the business strategy is important to them.

When layoffs are unavoidable, let employees know as soon as possible. Use tact and be empathetic in the messaging. Treating employees with dignity will engender respect. Smoothing the transition by providing resources to employees who are leaving, including payouts and retraining, will create good will with those who remain. Avoid making promises as change is risky and circumstances can change.

Finally, be sure to thank employees for everything they are doing to ensure the success of the merger, restructure or management change.

3.    Evaluate consistently, listen to external conversations, and make adjustments as needed

Every communications program should include several measures so that the success or failure of tactics can be evaluated frequently as the plan progresses. Two-way conversations are an important tool for understanding if employees understand the business strategy and their roles.

As with most communication plans, the strategies and tactics for internal and external audiences will dovetail with one another. Monitoring external conversations is critical to tracking all the factors that shape employee perceptions. Social media can allow a rumor to go viral in a short period of time. Launching an internal social media platform in the communications mix might be a good way to encourage employee feedback and gauge reactions.  But don’t overlook the buzz on the outside – your employees are certainly hearing it. Mainstream media will need to be tracked so inaccuracies can be corrected and rumors dispelled. Community leaders will need to be engaged, as they will have concerns regarding the impact of large layoffs or the closing of local facilities, and their reactions will have an impact on employees.

Ultimately, organizations must communicate early and often, with total honesty during periods of change or risk severe damage to the credibility of the management team. Bringing in a communications strategist early in the game is good business strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the phrase “cutting through the noise” in reference to advertising, and unless you live under a rock, it’s impossible to avoid the daily barrage from advertisers. EnSpired Thought recently looked at the large number of FTC cases involving deceptive advertising and the potentially dangerous outcomes. If there is a complete lack of trust from consumers, are the advertiser’s messages being completely shut out?

But playing it straight with consumers isn’t enough to move the needle. It’s merely the bare minimum. The Rep Man blog recently reported findings from an interesting study: a survey of 7,000 consumers revealed that only 23 percent felt they had a relationship with a brand. That means that after we gain consumer trust, we still have a long way to go in terms of making a lasting impression with target audiences.

Here are a few questions to ask about your brand to build a strong foundation and move toward stronger relationships with consumers.

  1. Does your brand have a clearly defined message and objectives? Does it align with the organization’s overall goals?
  2. Have you done the research to clearly identify a target audience? Who are you currently reaching? Is it ultimately the right group of people for your brand?
  3. Do you know how your target audience has responded to your brand and current outreach? Do consumers perceive the brand the way you intended?
  4. Are you consistent with brand messaging? Could a consumer quickly recognize your brand identity?
  5. What have you done to encourage brand ambassadors? Do you currently have consumers that are willing to represent your brand in a positive way?

If the questions above identified a few holes, it’s time to get back to the basics. Plan for a brand refresh and make sure essentials like messaging, audiences and consistency are solid before branching out to the more ambitious (and fun) aspects of branding.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been kept busy recently with a bevy of high-profile cases concerning false and deceptive advertising. While we have the FTC to police these types of issues, deceptive behavior toward consumers erodes trust and ultimately harms not only the advertiser but also the advertising, and by extension, public relations industries as a whole.

While many feel that a reasonable person should be able to understand that tennis shoes will not give you a fit body or that a hazelnut spread is a delicious but in no way nutritious addition to your child’s breakfast, these types of outlandish claims foster consumer skepticism and weaken the level of trust and belief consumers have in the advertisements they are exposed to every day.

Furthermore, not all of these cases are so overtly deceptive. In 2010, the FTC cracked down on statements from Kellogg Company about two different cereals. According to an FTC press release, the company claimed that Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%” and Rice Krispies cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” with “25 percent daily value of antioxidants and nutrients – vitamins A, B, C, and E.” The cereal packaging also claimed that “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.”

Phrases like “clinically proven” alongside quantifiable statistics masquerading as scientific data make it difficult for the savviest of customers to discern fact from fiction.

If businesses, its advertisers and public relations teams do not take it upon themselves to increase the level of honesty and transparency in all communications, we risk falling into the treacherous category of the snake oil salesman.

In addition to ethical considerations, consumers are inundated with advertisements on a daily basis. Cutting through the noise and getting noticed is hard enough – let’s not add “accepted as truthful” to the obstacles.

 

We recently blogged about Pinterest copyright issues and the careful measures businesses must take when creating a company Pinterest account. In a nutshell, everything pinned must have either been generated by the owner of the Pinterest account or is content that the user has explicit rights to or written permission to post.

What if you’re just an average Pinterest user looking for ideas to redecorate your house, DIY tips, or you want to visually browse locales for your next vacation?

My advice – though in no way legally sound – is to use your discretion. You’re an individual using the site for recreation, not a business trying to make a profit, a big sticking point for copyright suits. For example, websites like MarthaStewart.com have a button that lets you easily pin the site’s vast database of craft, cooking and home and garden ideas. According to TechDirt, it’s the top social referrer for MarthaStewart.com with more traffic than Twitter and Facebook combined. Martha Stewart wants you to pin away!

But there are still many unknowns when it comes to how Pinterest copyright violations will be dealt with. Will there be a YouTube-like approach with illegal videos being pulled and accounts closed when necessary, or will this be another Napster situation where 12-year-old girls find themselves in the middle of a hefty lawsuit?  We’ll keep close tabs on the situation; in the meantime, take a look at your existing pins to avoid any trouble.

Thinking about what you are pinning and how you create the pin will help you stay in the clear.

  • Websites have the option to prevent its content from being pinned, don’t try to find a way around this.
  • Give proper credit to the original source. Make sure that the creator is mentioned in your pin and that it links back to the original webpage.
  • Don’t include the recipe or instructions in the body copy of the pin, make sure your followers will have to click on the link to the original post for more details after being enticed by the photograph.
  • Avoid pinning material that equates to someone’s livelihood. In other words, shots from professional photographers, artwork, choreography and other original designs that could be for sale are strictly off-limits.
  • Think about the content you want to pin. A clothing company should be receptive to a user pinning one of its outfits if you take the time to link back to the site where you can purchase the apparel. A landscape photographer probably won’t appreciate you pinning his or her stunning waterfall shot.

Most will enjoy the benefits that pinning can bring. Remember, the site is just for imagery so if you want to know the instructions or background behind the post, a proper pin will lead you to the website or blog that originally posted the idea, creating increased traffic for the content creator.

So just use common sense. Before pinning think about the content and if its creator would want it shared with the world.