Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Golden Rules to Live By

I'm starting to sound like an advertisement for Business 2.0, but I really enjoyed this month's issue and the compilation of Golden Rules from some of today's most fearless leaders in business.

I like this magazine quite a bit because it does more than just promote products and ideas. It tells you "what works", provides a different type of insight into today's leaders and innovators and paints a picture of the "cool" ways technology is being applied to non-traditional businesses.

Here are my top 10 favorite "Golden Rules" from the December issue.

Surround Yourself With People Smarter Than You
Chris Albrecht, CEO, Home Box Office

Reinvent Yourself. Repeat.
Alex Bogusky, executive creative director, Crispin Porter & Bogusky

There Can't Be Two Yous
Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

Don't Be Interesting -- Be Interested
Jim Collins, management consultant; author, Built to Last and Good to Great

Once a Day, Take Some "Beach Time"
Mireille Guiliano, CEO and president, Clicquot; author, French Women Don't Get Fat

You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
Phil Hellmuth, poker world champion

Business Can't Trump Happiness
Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

Learn to Trust Your Gut
Paul Pressler, CEO and president, Gap

Be the Person Who Steps Up
George Shaheen, CEO, Siebel Systems

Those Who Don't Know Their Own History Are Doomed to Repeat It
Ram Shriram, angel investor and Google board member

- AP

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Public Relations as a Way of Life in the Big Apple

While I do not think that any born and raised New Yorker would mistake me for one of their own, after living in Manhattan for two months I no longer look or feel like a tourist.

A drastic change from the laid back lifestyle of San Diego, I definitely have come to believe the saying that we are a product of our environment, or maybe a collection of the environments we have experienced. I found myself in my first frustrating situation with “tourists” the other day and have taken to riding public transportation like a pro, which is not to say that I don’t look at a map a lot still. So how do I think that the fast-paced environment of New York will change me personally and professionally?

This is what I can gather so far:

In New York instead of just watching the ‘Today Show’ on television I can walk by the studio at Rockefeller Center and instead of attempting to build a relationship with a member of the national media via phone or email I can meet them in person and create a real connection. This city offers an unbelievable amount of access for a ‘publicist,’ as they are referred to, here. The biggest challenge, professionally and personally, is getting people to slow down for a moment to listen. You have to be aggressive, intelligent and memorable if you want to get and hold the attention of anyone here, coyness will get you nowhere.

It is not what you know, but who you know. This is a saying that we are all familiar with, but no place has it been more evident to me than in New York City. Creating connections and increasing the weight of your social and professional rolodexes is a way of life. So, my public relations and communications skills have come in quite handy. With the majority of people taking public transportation and walking, it is easy to meet new people on a daily basis, and create new contacts – if you are brave enough to step into other people’s personal space. And, contrary to popular belief, most people I have encountered in New York are very friendly.

Through all of the doubt and uncertainty that I have felt since moving here, there are several things that have become very apparent to me; I strongly believe that living in Manhattan is going to push me to be more confident and assertive both professionally and personally; my public relations skills will be an asset to me on a daily basis, whether riding on the bus or meeting with an editor; and being a ‘publicist’ means being aggressive, knowing all the right people and most importantly taking advantage of the access in front of you.

Amid all of the chaos of the city, during the workday I look outside my window at the calming East River. It’s not quite the Pacific Ocean, but as most of my co-workers and clients will tell you, I have a pretty good imagination, and that is one thing I plan on not letting my environment change.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

And I Thought Fumbles Only Happened on the Football Field

Growing up in the Bay Area during the 1990’s, it was nearly impossible not to notice the dominance of the San Francisco 49ers. The team that donned the red and gold uniform was a perennial playoff contender and two time Super Bowl Champion. The on field success of the organization created a devoted fan base that recently had its loyalty challenged. Fans and Bay Area residents alike were shocked at the recent debacle from the 49ers, which has garnered national media interest. Ironically, what was probably the biggest fumble in the San Francisco 49ers organizational history didn’t take place on the field.

It was only a few months ago when San Francisco 49ers Director of Public Relations Kirk Reynolds was preparing his 2005-06 player media training video. Reynolds intentions were to show how damaging public relations can result from improperly handling media relations. Unfortunately for Reynolds and the 49ers, he accomplished his goal and then some.

The well documented video focused on Reynolds and his interactions in compromising situations included various slurs and derogatory comments. Once the video was leaked and made public, the organization wasted no time in removing Reynolds from his duties as Director of Public Relations. The humiliation brought on the 49ers organization as a result of this terrible mistake has been covered extensively by both sports and business media alike.

What may be surprising to many is that Reynolds had a long tenure as Director of P.R. for the franchise and was highly regarded amongst his peers in professional sports. The negative publicity that resulted from his lack of judgment serves as a healthy reminder to all public relations professionals that maintaining the image of an organization is a delicate situation that, when handled improperly, can be disastrous. It also reinforces one of the most important principles of handling public relations; there is no such thing as “off the record”.

Despite the teams on field struggles of the past two years, previous to this event fan support had remained strong. But after this PR disaster, the organization has much to do to begin reclaiming the respect of the local community.

The 49ers have taken the first steps to make amends with the community by issuing a formal apology and individually addressing specific groups who were portrayed in the video. The team has also held several diversity seminars to educate players and increase their acceptance of others.

Hopefully for the team, fans will see this media disaster as the result of the bad judgment of one individual and not the opinion of the entire organization. In the meantime winning a few football games might not be too bad of an idea. But regardless of what happens during the football season, this PR nightmare just goes to show that in sports public relations you don’t have to wear a jersey to drop the ball.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Is Apple Rotten at the Core?

If someone had told me in the late 90s that Apple was going to resurface and create an even stronger brand than they had created in the 80s/90s, I would have laughed them off. I was wrong.

With the introduction of the iPod in the early turn of the century, Steve Jobs again became a genius and the Apple brand is as in vogue as Jimmy Choo, Prada and Blackberry. The concept, design and upsell services are genius. iTunes is an addiction, and in my opinion, probably one of the best music catalogs in existence on the Web.

There is one problem: the iPod mini, though I have come to rely on it as my source of motivation to go out and run, is riddled with problems. So many, in fact, that Apple just announced this week that it would discontinue the mini to make way for the new Nano iPod.

First, let me tell you that I have owned my mini for about six months. In that time period, I have sent it out twice to Apple to fix for "diagnostic issues." This required me to reload the 700 songs I had stored on the device - because you know, I have a spare 4 hours every week to do that. I also had to pay $60 for a warranty. Did I mention that just two weeks after I bought my 4gig mini, they dropped the price $50 to introduce the 6gig?

Second, its a known fact that Apple has had MAJOR problems with the battery life and functionality of the mini. Even if I have charged my iPod for three days straight, there will be times I'll go out for a run, prepare to sit on a plane for six hours, etc - and the dreaded alert "low battery" will come up. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have charged your iPod battery only to learn that you'll have to listen to a screaming child in the seat next to you on the plane, instead of Gwen Stefani, for the next six hours.

Where am I going with this? The iPod, as much as I have bashed it, is a fantastic concept and a staple in my everyday life when its working. I've spent hundreds of dollars downloading nostalgic songs from the 80s, 90s and so on. Apple is making a mint. However, Apple hasn't bared any scars as a result of the dysfunctional iPod mini. Their answer: pretend it didn't happen and introduce something smaller and cooler, use a fun song in the commercial and people will love it. Apple is a branding genius. But, my gut tells me that if the "nano" starts to cause the same headaches that the mini did - the worm in the Apple may have been exposed.

As a disclaimer, NO technology behemoth is without its buggy products. When demand skyrockets like it did for the iPod, you make the choice to start moving product off the shelf and accommodate the demand from consumers. Its natural to focus less effort on engineering issues and more on manufacturing and shipping.

My conclusion: Branding, design and fads are one thing - but can Apple's iPod technology withstand the test of time and competition? We'll soon find out.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Asia or Bust

If you're in tech PR, you know very well that the line between PR and international PR is quickly disappearing. As US-based technology companies continue to grow -- some pursing new, emerging markets and technologies-- international outreach has become increasingly important. Over the past year, I've witnessed a significant increase in clients' concern with brand recognition and coverage in international press, specifically in Asia , where the majority of their customers, partners and primary competitors dominate.

So, what can companies do to bolster their international relations and coverage?

1. Central Point of Contact. If you're a big player in the tech space, you have probably hired a tech agency to help implement a strategic PR program. Every strong tech PR agency should have experience in dealing with international media, specifically in Asia. Your agency should have strong working relationships with partner agencies all over the world. The advantage here - one point of contact. Have your agency create and manage an Asia-focused PR program tailored to meet your specific needs. Instead of losing valuable time managing multiple agencies and all that it entails (from timezone hassles to billing and other logistical issues) utilize your agency as your "international liaison."

2. Resources! Resources! Resources! In following with the above -one central point of contact - leverage the multiple and trustworthy resources that your agency has at its fingertips , from translation services and recommended local press venues to cultural media relations suggestions and tips. All of these will help to streamline your public relations outreach and portray your company as knowledgeable, culturally - aware and media savvy.

3. If you're should be local. Although this sounds like an oxymoron, what makes a story newsworthy may not be a cool and exciting new technology, but rather what impact this technology or your company will have on the local community. In Asia, specifically, where the media may tend to favor Asia-based companies, it is critical to convey your impact on the local community. Emphasize your local offices and facilities, discuss your industry in the context of Asia - in what countries do you see future growth? Know how your market is perceived by the press in each given country. But it doesn't stop here. All communication, from a language-friendly W eb-site to on-site translators for press meetings, must be considered. For Asia media to take you seriously you must take them seriously.

In closing, although my colleagues sometimes tease that I am the "Asia Liaison" - I secretly enjoy it. I get great satisfaction out of seeing our clients establish great relationships with international press, and even more satisfaction when their messages are well received... and result in great coverage. I have also enjoyed all the interesting surprises and challenges along the way - after all, its not that often that you get to arrange a press conference in a Beijing tea room.


Friday, July 22, 2005

My First Year on the Job: Here’s What I’ve Learned about Client Relations

“Client” relations are not my priority. Shocked? Let me explain: I like to focus on what I call “people” relations- “people” relations that just happen to be with a client. The secret about what others call ‘client relations’, is that treating and relating to clients, as if they are the job, could be a recipe for unemployment.

The bottom line is this: clients are people too. And people respond best when they are treated that way, not like a task that has to be completed before 5 p.m. They know when working with them is just another item on the daily to-do list. So what implications does this have in the PR world?

Just like bosses know when an employee is bluffing, the client is also equipped with this talent. I’ve learned that if you don’t know the answer to a question from a client, or if you make a mistake in a meeting, OWN IT. This will earn the respect of your client, because are human and I’m willing to bet that at some point in their life, they have also not known the answer to a question. So, instead of mumbling something that you cross your fingers the client decides not to hear, admit that you have no idea, BUT that you will do what you can to obtain the answer. Yes, now you have shown that you respect them enough to be honest with them - and this builds credibility.

To illustrate ‘people’ relations, I’ll draw from my days as a swim instructor. I was trying to teach an adult (who from his fear of the water had presumably never been swimming before), the dynamics and technical aspects of swimming. I was hoping to prove to him that as long as he did certain things, he would be fine and at least float. In talking with any non-swimmer, don’t be surprised that this knowledge comes as absolutely no reassurance to them. My ‘client,’ though he had mastered the breathing and the technique during his first lesson, had to be reassured. In fact, no significant progress had been made beyond that first day. What was missing?

The problem was that even though he knew what his ability was in the water, he didn’t quite know whether to trust me in case something went wrong. He had every right to feel that way because I had yet to relate to him as a person. I realized I had spent one lesson too many on the statistics of swimming and needed to be investing my time in getting to know him to learn why he was afraid to let go of the edge.

We scratched the water time for the day and instead sat by the pool. Imagine my surprise when he shared with me that a negative experience in the water as a child: he had been so bothered by the water in his eyes and the irritation that followed because of the chlorine, that he never wanted to open his eyes underwater again. Now I understood - asking him to let go of the edge and put his eyes underwater, was like asking him to cross the street with his eyes closed. One pair of goggles later, he amazed me by swimming the length of the pool by himself.

It’s safe to say whenever I relate to a client, I approach it in such a way that I’m striving to earn their respect and show them that it matters to me that they’re a person, not a paycheck. I also learn to listen for when and for what they might need a ‘pair of goggles.’ Hopefully when they see that I’m relating to them as a person, they’ll let go of the wall and the real strokes can be made towards providing the solid pubic relations they deserve.

So the next time you pick up the phone to dial clients and find they have an extra minute in their day, try asking them how they’ve been before asking if the release you just sent is okay to go over the wire. You may be surprised – clients may just start relating back to you.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Main Event: PR Planning

Who DOESN’T love a great event? They’re what we mark our calendars with, look forward to and talk about amongst our friends and colleagues for months in advance. Over the last six months I’ve attended my fair share of events – I’ve been a guest at some elaborate wedding celebrations, I’ve attended several major technology tradeshows, I’ve even worked with a colleague to execute a press and analyst event for one of our clients.

In PR, events can be an incredibly strategic way to reach a company’s goals – whether its solidifying stronger relationships with customers, partners and investors, or establishing credibility and generating awareness among industry leaders, press and analysts.

When working with the press, planning an event is a whole different game. Reporters are constantly invited to company press conferences, dinners and special events that often times blur together as the ‘same old same old.’ Here are some tips for piquing interest and creating an event that is worthwhile to them, and at the same time rewarding in terms of your company’s goals.

Time it right. Make sure you do your homework in advance. Don’t plan a press event when most people will be busy (i.e. during the holidays). Instead – throw your event in tandem with a major industry conference or tradeshow, so that the press and analysts are already in one common location. Or – pick a weekday to invite the press as your special guests to come and visit your company headquarters for a special day devoted solely to them.

Stand out & make it memorable. If you’re going to request a hefty amount of time from reporters, you better make sure that what you have planned for them is interesting. Make it an event that reporters will talk about for weeks – something out of the ordinary that will inspire positive thoughts about your company down the road. A fancy dinner or cocktail reception often times won’t cut it – and they won’t set aside time in their busy schedules to ‘stop by.’

Be different. If you do have news to announce, don’t perform the standard press conference routine in a conference room with your executives behind a table and a screen up above. This summer my colleague and I secured a suite at a famous ballpark (Wrigley Field) for our client and released their news to a captive press audience right before the game started. Another time I represented a private jet company and we threw the press conference on a private jet (mid-flight), while serving the reporters champagne and strawberries!

Offer value. If you are going to announce news at your event, make sure it is in fact NEWSWORTHY. There is nothing worse than getting a group of reporters hooked in and excited about you’re announcement, and then letting them down with a lukewarm press release that has limited story potential. Not only will this damage the possibility of the reporter pursuing your company in the future, but they will also feel tricked. Additionally, make sure that your top executives are present and available to mingle at the event. Providing reporters with exclusive access to the top leaders at your company for an interview or casual mingling can do wonders for creating future opportunities!

Event planning doesn’t always fall into the category of Public Relations, but as an agency we have utilized this creative outlet to help our clients distinguish themselves on a whole new level. Pulling off a memorable, valuable and extraordinary event can sometimes generate that extra push needed to outshine competitors and solidify credibility in the eyes of the industry’s greatest critics – the press.