Happy New Year

Denver is home to a lot of talent. PR pros, social media gurus, marketing wizards, video and graphic artists… you name it. One of the best things about having a virtual agency l is that I get to team up with all kinds of talented people: contractors, partners, colleagues and other specialists who are good at things I’m not. Those are the people I turn to for ideas and inspiration. And that is what allows me to swiftly tailor (sorry, I couldn’t resist) the team to the needs of each client.

The biggest benefit for me -- and for my clients too-- is that this sort of collaboration tends to stimulate innovation, which is essential to a successful strategic communications program.  It is what motivates us to do what we do. It energizes us, gets our adrenalin going, makes us look forward to going to work each day. It fires us up and if we are lucky, it has the same creative effect on our clients.

So as we close out 2010, I’d like to take this opportunity to officially thank all the people I’ve been innovating and collaborating with this year. Let’s do it again in 2011. Here’s looking at you, kids:

Jeri Pushkin, Dan Christopherson, Melissa Hernandez, Rachel Brand,Erika Gonzalez, Sara Goodwin, Margie McCarthy, Veronica Figoli, Liz Ullman, Ian Atchison, Pete Codella, Jennifer Heinly, Elizabeth Suarez, Heather Evans-Keenan, Jim Hooley, Robin Bond, Zack Littlefield, Steve Gray, Marv Rockford, Steven Shapiro, Laura Love-Aden, Ramona Tooley, Stacey Sepp, Lisa Cutter, Jane Dvorak, Warren Smith, Sydney Ayers, Gina Seamans, Brian Colucci, Roberta Cedillo, Janine Tafoya Manning, Steve Koenigsberg, Robyn Lydick, Brad Friedman, Saul Rosenthal, Wendy Aiello, Jeremy Story, Steve Olsen
Palmer Pekarek, Doug Hock, David Milstead, Caitlin Jenny, Tonya Ewers, Sarah Spaulding, Sarah Ellis.

I hope 2011 is happy, healthy and prosperous for you all.  

Bookmark and Share


I’m proud of our client.

Suzanne Bragg-Gamble is the executive director of CoverColorado. When we first started talking to Suzanne about developing a communications program for GettingUSCovered, the new health plan for the uninsured that Suzanne administers, she was hesitant. She was uncertain what PR was, how it worked, or even if she needed it.
Despite her skepticism, she decided to trust our judgment. Since then, she’s participated in a press conference with the Governor, conducted multiple media interviews, published a guest opinion column, done presentations at hospitals, agreed to a marketing communications campaign and hosted a webinar for over 100 insurance brokers. She even let us set up a GettingUSCovered Facebook page. You might say that Suzanne is now a PR maven.

Do you have the courage to try something new? To take a leap of faith on something that makes you nervous? To overcome your fear and trust that you’ll be OK if you just dive in?

Regardless of our situation at work or at home, we ought to resolve to enter this New Year determined to try something different. To do something we never attempted, or look at something from another’s perspective. To get out of our comfort zone and accept a new challenge. To throw down the gauntlet to ourselves and boldly go where we never thought we would go before.

Now, that does not mean we need to be reckless or dumb about it. Let’s not make this too complicated or difficult. I’m not saying we should all start jumping out of airplanes. It could be as simple as signing up for some personal training sessions, starting guitar lessons or learning how to dance. For your business, it could be redesigning your website, updating your brand or starting a blog. Maybe you can get serious about reaching out to more diverse communities or allow your staff to handle more of the responsibilities you typically do yourself.

Looking what makes you nervous in the eye is a good test for any business leader. Learning to trust your gut, your team or your PR firm will help you let go of your fear and anxiety. It will help you move forward, not look backward.

I am proud of Suzanne for taking that big leap this year. We should all have such courage in the year ahead.     

Bookmark and Share

Year in review

Wow. It’s the end of another year. A lot has happened so let’s recap.

The Chilean miners. Amazing story. The BP oil spill. That was depressing. The Mets. Don’t get me started.

Here at Pushkin PR, we’ve had some ups and downs as well. I lost my Mom. I also lost a few clients. On the positive side, I saw thundering herds of wild horses, launched a new website and Facebook page, began new relationships with some clients, and enjoyed my first year in my downtown office.

As each year ends we pause to take stock of what we accomplished and examine where we fell short. We set goals for the year ahead and begin preparing for how to reach them.  At least that’s what we do if we are not too paralyzed with fear to move forward.

For far too long, fear of losing a job, losing a home, going hungry or getting sick has been all too real for all too many Americans. But a lot of people are frozen by fear that is manufactured. Fear of immigrants, fear of airports, fear of deficits, fear of health reform, fear of anyone who looks or sounds or thinks differently than us. It’s emotional, it’s irrational, and it’s driven by cable TV and talk radio.  

It may be comforting to blame our troubles on someone else, but nobody gets anywhere if we are too paralyzed to move. We just get stuck. We stop innovating, we stop creating, we stop making things happen. America used to be a country that could do anything. Instead we are a country that can’t do anything except freak out. 

As we look ahead to 2011, it might be wise to think about what we can do to get unstuck. Personally or professionally, what will it take to let us look forward to a challenge again? To make us risk a leap of faith?  Can we secure an investment, grow our business, take a vacation or take on new employees? Can we initiate that long overdue project, contribute to a worthy cause, or volunteer our time to make a difference in our community?

Some fears are valid and some are phony. It is up to us to distinguish which ones are real. Will we face 2011 with hope or trepidation?  The answer to that question might determine how we feel about things a year from now.

Bookmark and Share

Personality plus

Just like people, every brand has a personality. Brands can be smart, funny, clever, witty, upbeat, laid back, accessible, intimidating, loud, quiet, outgoing, shy, pleasant or unpleasant. This is something that I talk about a lot with clients. Pushkin PR uses a branding session process to help clients understand their brand personality and learn how to communicate it.

I recently went through this process myself when I worked with my web designer, Insyntrix, to help them understand what I was looking for in a redesigned Pushkin PR website. If you haven’t taken the time to think about your brand lately, I highly recommend it.

We began by thinking about the attributes and qualities that I hope Pushkin PR represents. Not only our core values and what we stand for, but also what sort of words would I use to describe our personality? You can do this with a brainstorming session, over a few beers, or like I did, just by sitting down and putting those words on paper.

The first thing that was obvious to me was that Pushkin PR is acoustic, not electric. No gadgets or special effects, no amplifiers or synthesizers, no bells and whistles. Wooden, not synthetic. Authentic, not phony. Just a nice vintage acoustic guitar with a new set of strings. 

I also wanted to communicate that Pushkin PR is more than just me. It is a talented team of independent contractors and strategic partners who bring a high level of customized expertise to each and every client. We are thoughtful, direct, and focused on results. Just like Larimer Square is essential to the character of downtown Denver, we want people to think of us when they think about Denver PR.

Finally, I wanted to express that we don’t waste a client’s time or budget with a lot of bull. We practice Cowboy PR. That means we get straight to the heart of the problem and determine how to solve it. 

When Insyntrix began designing the new site they used this information to guide their choice of layout, colors, graphics and photos. It helped them make sure the website communicates Pushkin PR’s brand personality clearly and effectively.

Exploring your brand personality is a worthwhile process for any organization. Does it really express who you are or does it need updating? Is it clear or confusing? Is it creating the perception you want to convey? If not, you have some work to do. The sooner you get started the better. 


Bookmark and Share

Shields up

When Klingons or other enemies threatened the Enterprise, Captain Kirk had a good solution. He gave the “shields up” order and Enterprise and her crew were protected. If only life were like Star Trek.

If an enemy emerged that was bent on disrupting your event, embarrassing your executives, or otherwise damaging your reputation, what would you do? Panic? React defensively? Wet your pants?

From a strategic public relations perspective, it would be wise to engage them in a reasonable conversation and ask them to consider your point of view. You could agree to respectfully disagree and propose to civilly air out your differences.

Unfortunately, that approach is futile if the opposition is bent on creating a media opportunity to make their point. A determined group of true believers does not really care about facts or discussion or respect. They just want a big splash and they get excited seeing it all on YouTube. They don’t care about understanding, they need noise and chaos to survive.

So what can you do if confronted by such a group? How can you manage the situation and minimize the damage to your reputation? These five steps should help.

Love is all you need.
Sometimes a smile goes a long way. It can diffuse an angry situation and make it harder for the opponent to hate you. Of course, it is hard to smile at someone who is spitting in your face but it is always good to treat people with respect even if they are obnoxious.

Tell it like it is.
The opposition already has its mind made up, but people seeing the news reports or videos may not. Make sure that your side of the story is getting through.  Use traditional media, social media and blogs to deliver positive messages about the important work you do. Give people the opportunity to give you the benefit of the doubt.

See me. Touch me.
Be transparent. People become suspicious of your motives when they think you have something to hide. Be open about your organization, your mission, your work and your positions. You don’t have to give away trade secrets, but you should be open and honest and authentic in your communication.

Carry on.
Don’t get sucked into someone else’s agenda. Your audience is on your side, not your enemy’s. Get their support. Steve Goodman was a great solo performer. I once saw him stop an obnoxious member of in the audience by improvising the lyrics to the song he was singing to ask the person to please shut up or leave. The audience went wild because that was exactly what they were thinking. He didn’t miss a beat and an uncomfortable situation was resolved.

Know when to fold them.
If the situation threatens the physical safety of you or your staff or the people attending your event, it is time to call in the cavalry. Don’t be afraid to ask the police or security to step in if the situation calls for it. That’s what they are trained for.

Nobody likes confrontations except for groups that thrive on confrontation. We don’t have a force field to protect us but if we keep our wits about us we can protect our ship and our crew. We can enter a hostile or alien situation and cause no harm. And as Captain Kirk would remind us, that’s our prime directive. 

Bookmark and Share

You don’t have to move the mountain

Rural Colorado nonprofits are suffering. Always challenged by the need to raise funds, the economy is forcing donors and volunteers to make tough choices about where to spend their money or time. Resources are down and the competition is stiff.

I recently met with a group of nonprofit directors in Steamboat Springs, nestled in the beautiful Yampa Valley in Routt County. You would think with all the million dollar vacation homes and seasonal money flowing into Steamboat during ski season that nonprofits there would be golden. Not so fast.

Most of these directors are one-person or small shops, running an organization while also responsible for fundraising and marketing. Each of them is concerned about competition for donations from larger, better branded nonprofits that attract the well-healed seasonal crowd. They worry about being well-kept secrets. The idea of begging their friends for help keeps them up at night. They are not sure how to connect with potential volunteers.

We discussed a lot of ideas, starting with understanding what their brand promise is and how to communicate it in the right way to the right audience. Our discussion was focused on basic PR strategy. What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What is the best way to reach them?

Based on that very energizing conversation, here are five steps small nonprofits can take to raise brand awareness:

Crystallize your brand. Take some time and go through a branding exercise with your board. If you don’t know how to do that, enlist a PR pro to conduct a branding session. Get at the heart of who you are and what you do. Create a brand foundation, or elevator statement. Try on a few ideas for a tagline or positioning statement to help people understand why they should connect with you.

Develop a plan. Start with some goals and objectives. Then outline a few strategies and tactics to help you achieve them. Take a look at where you are now and where you want to be a year from now, and then use your plan to take you there.

Paint a picture of your audience. What do they look like? Where do they live? How do they like to get their information? What motivates them to contribute to their community? What is important to them?  If you don’t know the answers, ask them. Find a few people who represent your audience, take them out for coffee and get some feedback. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.

If they won’t come to you, go to them. If your events are not well attended, try meeting your audience where they hang out. Get them information at their church, community center, library, school or workplace. Deliver information to their desktop electronically. Use social media to build your network and spread the news by word of mouth. 

Find an intern. Lose the burden of shouldering the load all by yourself all the time. Enlist an intern to help you develop a social media program, distribute flyers, send press releases, coordinate events, respond to emails and come up with great ideas you never even thought of. Take advantage of their energy and talent. In return, teach and mentor them.

As the gospel song says, “you don’t have to move the mountain, just show me the way around it.” The challenge is formidable but you have the ability to meet it. You are the answer to your prayers.

Bookmark and Share

Smart went crazy

Jews all over the world recently celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  OK, maybe celebrated is not the right word, because instead of getting wild and crazy we fast.  Mostly it is a time of reflection about where we are and where we would like to be.

As our rabbi pointed out in his sermon, most of us are so busy that we have no time for reflection. We let apps and tweets distract us. We literally run into walls (or cars, or each other) because we are too busy texting to notice what’s right in front of us. Ironic that our smart phones make us so dumb. 

In our virtual world, our lives whiz by so fast that we miss the chance to connect with the people who actually make our lives meaningful. If we don’t remove our headphones and put down our iPhones once in awhile, we run the risk of confusing our virtual reality with actual reality.

Everyone can relate to the need to slow down our personal lives, but what about our business lives? Do we also need to unplug long enough to make some human contact with our co-workers, colleagues, staff and clients? Can we slow down enough to think? Can we allow ourselves to accept that someone might have a different opinion? Can we quiet down enough to listen? Because without silence there is only noise, and without different opinions there is no diversity, and without thought there is no wisdom, and without wisdom it is impossible to lead. And without leadership we are just not getting very far.

We owe it to ourselves and to the people we do business with to pay attention to what is  really important. The business of public relations is about relationships, and real authentic relationships depend on real authentic connections.

For example, what if we could: 

·      Make one day a week reality day. No emails, no Facebook, no Twitter. All contact must be by phone or better yet, face to face.

·      Hold regular informal staff meetings with no agenda except to get to know each other.

·      Personally meet with each client every month. Take them out for coffee, lunch or a beer. If that’s not possible, call them. Find out what’s going on in their lives and what keeps them up at night.

·      Invite your Facebook fans to an open house.  Get to know them outside of cyberspace.

These steps can help us put some soul back in our lives and our businesses. They can help us find our inner human. Disconnect so we can reconnect. Now, step away from the iPhone and no one gets hurt. 

Bookmark and Share

5 Reasons to get Accredited in Public Relations

I recently met with a young Denver public relations professional who is considering going through the process to become Accredited in Public Relations, or APR. Most people hear APR and think of credit cards. But to PR pros, especially those of us who are active in PRSA, the credential represents something significant. It's a big step.

As with most things worth attaining, getting your APR has pros and cons. The APR brand is often misunderstood, and not just by people outside our profession. It means committing the time to study and prepare for a difficult oral and written exam. And many PR people don't really get why it is important or how it can benefit them.  

I am not saying an APR is essential to be a good PR pro. There are plenty of talented PR people who decided they don't need it. Some would rather pursue a graduate degree or learn from a respected mentor.  But like any other professional credential, APR represents to people inside and outside the profession that you possess a certain body of knowledge. It says that you have achieved a level of competence and success that entitles you to call yourself a professional.

If you are wondering if APR is right for you, consider these five reasons to get your APR:

It will distinguish you from your competitors.  
Maybe it won't instantly translate into a better salary or bigger retainer, but there are employers and clients that look for the APR credential to help them decide which candidate or consultant to hire. It gives you an edge.

You won’t have to feel like you are faking it.
Let's face it, half the people in this profession, including me, got our training through trial and error. Wouldn't it be nice to not have to panic when your boss asks for a strategic PR plan?  Instead of frantically emailing friends and looking online for a template, wouldn't it be nice to feel like you've mastered the fundamentals of your profession?   

It will help you be more confident.
You will be part of a network of colleagues that takes their job seriously. You will know that you have the experience and knowledge to handle anything thrown your way.

It will make you a better professional.
If you have any pride at all in what you do for a living, you want to be good at it. It's not the army, but if you want to be the best PR pro you can be, this credential is for you.

It will give you a sense of accomplishment.
You'll be proud that you took the initiative and that you succeeded.  Maybe that's the best reward of all.

Whether you agree or disagree, please leave a comment and let me know. If you have other reasons to get an APR besides the ones I listed here, I'd love to hear them.  

Bookmark and Share

Cowboy PR

Sunday I had breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The waitress suggested the breakfast buffet. I asked what was in the breakfast buffet. She said "Well, we’ve got ham, bacon, sausage…" "Hmm, I don't eat those," I said suspiciously.  She said, "Well, we have fruit, cereal, eggs…" So I ordered the breakfast buffet.

The truth is, we all have to make adjustments sometimes. When things don't go your way, when a client doesn't agree with everything you recommend, and especially when people look at you like you must be from Mars because you don't eat bacon, ham or sausage. That ability to adjust your saddle or even change horses in midstream when you need to find some common ground is a lost art these days. That's one thing that really impressed me about the people who run Cheyenne Frontier Days.

The Cowboy Way is no bull. These people really practice the art of Cowboy PR. They are straight shootin' communicators who say what they think and mean what they say. Their core values include honor, respect and courtesy. It might sound old fashioned, but that culture is fundamentally what PR is all about. You may not agree with them, but at least they will respect you enough to let you voice your opinion, as long as you do it in a respectful way. If you chose to be ornery about it, they'll just get up and leave until you calm down. In Cowboy PR, there is no time for showboating. They are too busy rounding up the truth.

For too long, Cheyenne Frontier Days has been letting other people tell the story of how animals are treated at rodeos.  Often that story has been negative. It's been told by people who truly believe that their perspective is the only one that matters. They make a lot of noise and they fire a lot of cheap shots. So this year, CFD asked Pushkin PR to help it tell its own story in its own words and let whoever wants to decide which story they like best.

Now CFD has 20,000 fans on Facebook, dozens of their own videos on YouTube and hundreds of people following them on Twitter. They had a front-page feature story in the Sunday Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle focusing on their commitment to keeping rodeo livestock healthy and safe.  Most of all, the 2,500 volunteers who run the organization feel better because they are finally being listened to instead of just hollered at.

Honor. Respect. Courtesy. That's straight shootin' communications. That's Cowboy PR.

Bookmark and Share

Wild horses

Yesterday I saw wild horses running wild. Huge herds of them, running loud and fast through half-mile long clouds of dust, just like in those old Westerns.  I was on a ranch in southern Colorado where real cowboys let me see how they live and work. They were gathering up hundreds of horses for Cheyenne Frontier Days (a Pushkin PR client) and other rodeo events and I got to tag along. For someone who grew up wanting to be a cowboy, it was a once in a lifetime experience. 

Before you ask, the only injuries I saw were to humans and vehicles. The horses were fine and not a single one was mistreated or harmed in any way. After a long morning in the truck and the saddle, we all went back to the ranch house for a fantastic lunch. It was a typical day on the ranch, much like it's been for generations. Hard work, honest pay, good food and everyone is treated with respect, whether you have two legs or four.   

Well pardner, it got me to thinkin'.  The people I met, the people who do this for a living, are just not the sort of people who would intentionally harm any animal. They brave blizzards to bring feed to remote pastures, they carry colts and calves through deep snow to safety and nurse them back to health, and they raise these animals like they are members of their own family. Some are bred to buck, some are bred to ride, and some are just born to be wild.

Yet the people who run and participate in and attend rodeos are consistently attacked in a very personal and often crude way by people they've never met for a lifestyle and culture that has been passed down to them by their parents and grandparents and great grandparents. It's an Old West tradition they are proud of and they take their responsibility to uphold it very seriously. They have a code of honor that is based on respect and honesty and trust. Your word is your bond and a handshake is good enough.

We live in a time when it's OK to judge and taunt and insult and ridicule and lie about anyone who is not just like us. We are way past the point of having reasonable dialogue. If you are from a different political party or race or religion or state or country or cause or Facebook group, it's OK to say whatever I want about you regardless of whether it is true or even makes sense. There is no room for common ground. Mutual respect?  Fugetaboutit. 

In PR, we counsel our clients to engage in respectful dialogue and debate. Sometimes that is just not possible. If your mind is made up already, it doesn't matter what I say, I won't convince you to consider my point of view. The well is poisoned. Better not let the horses drink.

So as I headed off down that hot old dusty road, I was struck by how people who I'd never met welcomed a stranger into their home and showed me a way of life I'd only seen on TV. And I was sorry that some people are so intolerant that they can never see something from another's point of view.

That, buckaroos, is definitely not The Cowboy Way. 

Bookmark and Share

Trust your inner voice

In Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella hears a voice. "If you build it, he will come."  He has no idea what it means. Maybe he's going nuts. Most entrepreneurs probably know the feeling.

Although skeptical, when Terrance Mann sees the ghostly baseball players, he gets it. Something inspirational is happening, something that will draw people to it just because it is sincere and true. Ray thinks he's crazy for bringing his family to the edge of financial ruin but Mann says, "People will come Ray, people most definitely will come."  

How can you be sure you can trust your inner voice? 

In some intrinsic way, people respond to the truth.  Politicians and cynics may believe that the bigger the lie, the easier it is to get people to fall for it, but the truth is that in the business world, lying or cutting ethical corners is expensive. It leads to damaged reputations, lost customers and law suits.  

Ethical companies attract loyal customers and employees. Unethical companies attract skeptics. Public relations firms exist to help companies tell the truth, yet there is a common perception that PR pros are spin doctors.  Perhaps this is because the profession was founded by someone who perfected the art of manipulating public opinion. 

Last night a group of Denver PR leaders listened to author Larry Tye talk about his book The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR. 

Bernays is considered the "Father of Public Relations." He opened the first PR firm in 1919. He coined the term public relations counsel and wrote several books, including Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928). Bernays figured out that the best way to sell a product was to turn it into a social cause, so he helped the American Tobacco Company make it acceptable for women to smoke by calling cigarettes Torches of Freedom.  In 1929, he originated the concept of the global media event by getting power companies to go dark at exactly the same time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the light bulb. He pulled this off on behalf of his client, General Electric.

Bernays had a dim view of the public. He was convinced he could manipulate public opinion to suit whatever objective his clients wanted. Influence the opinion leaders and you capture the people who follow them.  The problem is if the public finds out you were lying it will take much more than opinion leaders to get them back on your side.

The Father of Public Relations was wrong.  Public relations is more than propaganda or publicity gimmicks.  It is a strategic approach to how businesses communicate. Public relations helps entrepreneurs listen to their inner voice by asking essential questions like What do we stand for? and Why are we here? If you can't answer these you need to do some soul searching. People need to understand why you are in business and what makes your business special.

PR helps create companies that people feel good about by building ethical corporate cultures that inspire long term brand loyalty. And doing so from the start is much easier than repairing a corrupt culture after it becomes infected with deceit.

A few years ago I met a delegation of government ministry public information officers from Azerbaijan. In their language, the word for public relations is propaganda. They were fascinated to learn that American PR firms did more than just parrot the party line. They were also surprised to learn that PRSA members adhere to a professional code of ethics that allows us to practice honest persuasion but prevents members from counseling clients or employers to engage in any sort of dishonest manipulation. 

Public relations can help you build a transparent corporate culture based on honesty, to evangelize your brand by communicating your passion to your employees, and to establish a reputation that attracts loyal staff, customers, clients, patients, investors, donors, or partners.

If you build this kind of company, people will come. They most definitely will come.        

Bookmark and Share

Beyond Pathetic

It's hard for any public relations pro not to see the BP oil spill as a case study in crisis communications. Which is sad, because this is a disaster of monumental, historic proportions that will severely damage the environment and the ecosystem of a good portion of the United States for years to come, and will have a very negative impact on the livelihood of millions of people. An entire way of life may be wiped out.

Everyone feels bad and everyone involved, from BP to federal, state and local officials is determined to work as hard as they can to limit the scope of this disaster. Unfortunately, if you live anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico, that determination is not enough to sooth your oil-soaked feathers.

In a crisis, the first step is to show compassion. BP did that well. Company executives sounded sincere when they accepted responsibility and promised to do whatever it takes to stop the leak, clean up the mess and compensate the people and communities that have been affected. Step two is action. Again, BP did a good job of explaining the steps they would take to solve the problem, from robotic subs to plugging the leak by pumping it full of mud and cement.

It was in step three that BP came up short. That's where you put things in perspective. As the CEO of a multinational company in an industry that rakes in billions in profits each year and is used to getting anything it wants rubber stamped by the government, it is easy to understand how Tony Heyward might be dismissive of people who question his decisions. And he is certainly under an enormous amount of pressure. Even so, when your company’s slogan is "Beyond Petroleum" and when you've just caused the biggest oil spill in history, it is not a good idea to explain that in the big scheme of things, this spill is relatively "tiny". Or as Heyward explained to the media, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean,"  Not good Tony, not good at all.

So here we are over a month after the rig blew and BP is just now getting around to trying a few things that may or may not work. Each day as more photos of brown beaches and oil coated pelicans hit the Internet, people are demanding to know just what the hell is going on at BP. Even the anti-government crowd wants the government to step in.

If I were advising BP right now, my advice would be to just shut up and plug the leak before it gets any worse. You've said enough already Tony. The Congressional hearing was bad. Please stop listening to your lawyers. Don't let your people dance around questions about what exactly you mean by a "legitimate expense." Just plug the leak, clean up the oil and then worry about how much this is going to cost you. Do it now or whether you like it or not, BP's new slogan will be Beyond Pathetic.

Bookmark and Share

Service with a smile

Denver is a friendly town. Visitors are impressed with how nice people seem and how clean the city looks. And that's good for Denver public relations. Service with a smile is the best PR we could ask for.

Good customer service is so fundamental that it makes you wonder why some businesses don't seem to get it. It creates a lasting, positive impression that builds word of mouth and increases the value of their brand. Bad customer service annoys you, frustrates you and makes you swear you will never do business with them again. From a PR perspective, that is not very smart and yet it happens every day.

Who do you think of when you think about bad customer service? The cable company, the phone company and the airlines come to mind. Long hold times stuck in a nightmare of voice activated hell. Customer service reps that don't seem to care about solving your problem. They don't even seem worried that you are getting more and more upset.  You could get the same response talking to a brick wall.

So let's look at three companies that get it.

This small, independent Denver auto repair shop sets the bar. Even if you just need an oil change, they treat you like their most important customer. They shuttle you to work and they phone you with regular updates. After your first visit you get a personal call from the owner asking if everything was OK, then they follow up with discounts on your next service. They are friendly, they explain everything up front, and they talk to you like you are not an idiot. They want you to be a lifelong customer and you find yourself liking that idea.  

Imagine a positive car buying experience. This auto broker takes the hassle out of buying a vehicle. Just tell them what you want and they find it for you. Then they take care of every detail, from the sale to the trade-in to the registration. You never feel pressured or worry about getting swindled. They speak your language.

No other brand understands brand loyalty like Apple. The Genius Bar is a stroke of genius. The stores are fun, like a playground for grownups. Let’s say you want to switch from a PC to a Mac but you are not sure about how difficult the learning curve is. You make an appointment with someone who will answer your questions, soothe your fears and find you exactly what you want. Then they make learning how to use it enjoyable. They never make you feel like a stupid PC moron. 

So the next time some underpaid customer service rep at the rental car company tells you they don’t actually have the car you reserved last month or you are standing in a 10-deep line while one bank teller takes 10 minutes on each customer, remember that good customer service is like playing an instrument. Anyone can do it, it just takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Bookmark and Share

Seven keys for solo PR pros

The other day I ran into a journalist I used to pitch. These days newspapers and TV stations are shedding reporters like my dog sheds fur in the spring, so it was no surprise she decided to get out of the media business and get into PR. It is also no surprise that in Denver and around the country, many former journalists find out that landing a gig at a public relations firm is not so easy. 

In many cases, they decide to set themselves up as independent practitioners, which is the case with the woman I ran into.  She knew that I opened Pushkin Public Relations years ago (this year is the firm’s 13th anniversary), and she wanted to know the secret to staying in business over the long haul. That got me thinking about what advice I might offer to someone just starting out as an entrepreneur. What advice did people give me when I started out? 

So here are seven keys for solo PR pros:

1.  Your brand is your reputation. Don't screw it up. Don't let the pressure of paying the bills tempt you to do something unethical. The damage to your reputation will cost you much more than the loss of the contract. Maintain your integrity. Say what you mean and back up what you say. It's better to walk away than to work a client you have doubts about.

2. Don't panic. Business is cyclical. You will have good months and bad ones. The trick is to enjoy the down time and try not to stress out when things get really busy.  That is easier said than done but it is something you should constantly remember.

3. Find a mentor. Someone you trust that you can turn to with questions or concerns. When I started out, someone told me that I should spend one-third of my time serving my clients, one-third on administration, and one-third of my time developing new business. That was great advice for someone who knew nothing about running a business.

4. Network your butt off. I know, everyone says this but not everyone is comfortable doing it. The Denver public relations community is close and collaborative. Our business depends on referrals so network with others in your field as well as clients in the industries you want to build relationships with. Join PRSA or another professional association. Join social media clubs or leads groups. Participate in online communities through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

5. Stay hungry my friends. Put yourself out there in a metaphysical sense. Be open to landing new business. Be ready for the next opportunity that comes along. Stay positive and focused.

6. Build collaborations and virtual partnerships. This is a great way to compete for business, expand your expertise, learn from other professionals and get out of your box.

7. Get a closed sign for your door. Repeat after me: "I am not a freelancer I am a business owner." Don’t let the freedom of a home office become a trap that keeps you on the job around the clock. Close up shop when you are done for the day and don't open up after hours unless it is a critical emergency.     
What tips do you have for new solo practitioners? What questions do you have if you are just starting out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Bookmark and Share

Balancing act

Sorry I am late. Really late. I've been neglecting my blog for weeks now. I've been busy taking care of clients, pitching new clients, doing interviews, having meetings, writing plans, worrying about health care, taking care of my family, trying to have a personal life, watching too much sports, playing a little music and just being generally distracted by the return of baseball season and springtime.

Wow, that is a lot of excuses. While we may counsel our clients to avoid this sort of trap, Denver public relations pros are not immune to the "getting wrapped up in trying to do too many things at the same time" disease. Before you know it you are unfocused, unhappy and unmotivated. Diffused, dazed and disconnected. Stuck in a rut.

A recent survey of social media practitioners on CloudSpark.com found that for an average brand, it takes 65 hours per week to maintain four social media channels at any given time. That's one full time job for 1.5 people.

I find this hard to believe. If you are like most serious PR pros I know, you are doing much more than just social media. You are doing strategic planning, media relations, crisis communications, community relations, writing articles, media training clients, business development, networking, mentoring and presentations. Oh, I almost forgot, and trying to have a personal life.

Social media is a very important strategy, but it should be just one pillar in what is hopefully a well-balanced, strategic, integrated communications program. The key word here is balance. Focus too much on one pillar and the others will certainly weaken. Eventually, things will start to fall apart. That is true for your business or your personal life.

A smart brand knows that success is not just based on sales or revenue or how many people follow you on Twitter. It is based on your reputation, which depends on how you conduct yourself and how you treat others. Do you behave ethically? Do you have a sense of balance in your life? Do you allow the people who work for you to have a sense of balance in theirs?

Today I will stop to smell the coffee and write this blog. I can get back to the rat race tomorrow.

Bookmark and Share

Mike the Headless Chicken

Have you ever worked with a client that is constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off? I have.

Last year, Pushkin PR helped the world famous Mike the Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita, Colorado garner local and national media attention for this annual celebration of an actual headless chicken who became an international celebrity after he lost his head. It seems his farmer cut off Mike's head to prepare him for dinner. When he saw Mike shake it off like nothing happened, he kept Mike alive for years by feeding him through a straw and Mike toured the country as a famous sideshow. True story.

The truth is that economic pressure can often make any client feel urgency to see instant results. They feel pressured, so they try so many things all at once that nothing ends up working. Like a chicken without a head, they end up just running into walls.

Our job as communicators is to get them to calm down. There is a tendency for us to try so hard to please our clients that we allow them to dictate tactics over strategy and to decide too soon if a particular tactic is working or not. Our job is not to make them happy. It is to make them successful. And the way to do that is to be patient and strategic in our approach.

This strategic approach generally includes four steps:

Identify the problem and what you want to accomplish. A communications review can provide a picture of where you are today and where you would like to be in 12 months. What problem do you need to solve? What is working and what isn't?

Develop a communications plan that starts with your objectives, then determine what strategies you will use to meet your objectives and the tactics you will use to support your strategies.

Stick to the plan. Give it enough time to tell if it is working or if you need to make adjustments. Try not to get sidetracked. Make sure not to lose your head and end up bouncing around from wall to wall.

Give your plan enough time. Only then can you evaluate whether you met or exceeded your objectives, and if not, what you could do better next time.

Our clients depend on us to steer them in the right direction, not to let ourselves be steered off course by their fears and anxiety. Our job is to not lose our own heads when we see our clients running around without theirs. Like Mike the Headless Chicken, just feed them through a straw and send them back on their way.

Bookmark and Share

Sitting Shiva

My mother passed away on February 20. I got to spend the last two days of her life with her. She was not afraid, she was ready, and she died peacefully without pain.

Jewish tradition requires us to observe a seven-day mourning period called Shiva. When we "sit Shiva" we don't leave the house, so people from the synagogue bring us food and take care of menial tasks. They bring the services to us and say the daily prayers in our home, including Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Once Shiva is over, I will continue to say Kaddish for my mother during daily prayers and on Shabbat for 11 months to honor her life and her memory.

Shiva gives you a lot of time to think, and I spent the past week thinking a lot about the lessons I learned from my mother. Sandra Pushkin was a proud Jewish woman. She was born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents who arrived in America with nothing. They taught her to be frugal and work hard, which she did her entire life. The only thing she loved more than the Jewish community and Israel was her family.

My mother was devoted to her husband, her children, her family and her friends. She taught me to waste nothing and appreciate everything. Responsibility was big with my mother. Not just being responsible for yourself and your family, but the responsibility we all have to help others, to practice kindness and charity, to stand up for what is right and to speak up for those who have no voice.

So as I sat there reflecting on my own life, I took heart from the lessons my mother taught me.

Be responsible. That means providing for my family, being accountable to my clients, behaving ethically at home and at work, contributing to my community, my people, my country and my planet.

Be grateful. Appreciate where you came from and everything you have. Treat others with kindness.

Be happy. Even though my mother was a big worrier, a trait I inherited, she always had a smile for everyone. She enjoyed taking care of people. She wanted to make sure everyone always had enough to eat. She ended every one of our phone conversations with "I love you, up to the sky and into space."

Be present. Understand what is important and what isn't. Don't sweat the small stuff. Always treat family, friends, clients, employees, colleagues and strangers with kindness, respect, dignity and love.

There are a lot of people who teach us important lessons in life. Sometimes we are too busy or too arrogant to remember to appreciate those lessons. Sometimes we need to sit Shiva to finally understand what it was that they were trying to tell us. If we are lucky, we will keep those memories with us when we stand up and move on.

Bookmark and Share

Spring Training

It's hard to believe but baseball Spring Training starts this week. Pitchers and catchers report in a few days. Although Spring Training is a time for renewal and looking ahead, not back, here's a blog that I posted last year at this time. I think is still relevant.

For baseball fans, there is nothing like Spring Training. It is a time to forget about last year and look forward to a fresh start. It is a chance to shake off your blues and have a little fun in the sun. It's like a break but not a vacation. Teams establish their goals for the coming season, and every player works hard or they don't make the team.

Hope springs in Spring Training. Whether they are rookies or veterans, All Stars or Minor Leaguers, Hall of Famers or guys who only had a cup of coffee in the show, everyone has a positive outlook. There are no egos in Spring Training. Everyone mingles with the fans and signs autographs. Every fan has a chance to sit in the front row.

We could all use some spring training to help us escape from the daily dose of gloomy economic news that makes us dread getting out of bed in the morning, and refocus on what we need to do to improve personally and professionally. From a PR perspective, spring training would be a chance to examine our brand, polish our key messages and adjust our communications strategies. It would be a time for every player and coach to get on the same page and realize that only by playing as a team can we give ourselves a real shot at winning the title.

To paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham, "Baseball is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains."

If we think about our own businesses and our own lives that way, we can boil it down and keep things simple. We can avoid getting hung up on the negative and focus on the positive. We can allow ourselves an opportunity to let go of our mistakes and start fresh.

In Spring Training, every team starts out in first place. The teams that win in October are the ones that maintain that perspective through all the ups and downs they encounter over the course of the long season.

Bookmark and Share

Ship of fools

A Denver funeral home puts the wrong body in a casket. Then they have to dig up the right body. Then they tried to bury the problem by refusing to comment.

The University of Colorado dental school lets unlicensed residents prescribe drugs using the credentials of off-site faculty members who never saw the patients and in at least one case, did not have an active state license to practice. Whoops. I guess someone forgot to attend the regulatory compliance class.

Toyota spends months ignoring or denying a serious safety problem until the company's reputation for quality and integrity is badly damaged. Now Toyota is spending millions on full-page "open letters" (don't you love that term?) in major daily papers and facing hundreds of millions in repair costs and lost sales, not to mention the long, painful process of repairing its brand. Oh what a feeling.

A crisis can happen to any organization, big or small, at any time. It is not surprising that all these crises popped up in the same week. What is surprising is how they were handled. The funeral home obviously did not have a crisis plan at all. CU and Toyota apparently knew about their situation but ignored or failed to address it for a long period of time. What the heck were they thinking?

Crisis management is not just about how you respond when you have a crisis. Putting the fire out is a lot harder than preventing the fire in the first place. Repairing a reputation is a lot harder than building it. Every organization should consistently be anticipating potential problems, determining how those problems can be prevented, and developing a fluid plan to address those problems if, in fact, they do happen.

This plan should include:

A designated crisis team and team leader. The leader sends out the "Bat Signal," and calls the team into action when action is required.

A system of communication: Who contacts which stakeholders? Who is the spokesperson designated to speak for the organization?

A messaging platform that allows the spokesperson to show compassion, define how the organization expects to fix the problem, and puts the situation into perspective in a way that positively reflects the values of the organization.

A careful post-crisis review process to help the team identify what worked well and how the crisis plan could be improved.

The midst of a crisis is not the time to wonder where the fire extinguisher is and when was the last time you checked to see if it works. Taking some time to plan ahead will provide you the best shot of minimizing the damage and reducing the recovery time. In business, your reputation is all you have. Don't screw it up by being stupid, shortsighted or arrogant. No one wants a ticket on a ship of fools.

Bookmark and Share

Solid Gold

In public relations we talk a lot about messaging. Staying on message is, as Banya would say on Seinfeld, golden. It's the gold standard. But before an organization can stay on message, it needs to first figure out what the message is, whom the message is for, and the best way to deliver it. That's not as simple as it sounds.

Organizations that try and do too much for too many, or worse, to be all things to all people, end up with messages that can be confusing and dull. Some organizations dilute their messages because they want to please everyone. Many are just too busy to develop a clear understanding of what they want to say. And that's a problem that can be very frustrating for each internal and external audience the organization is trying to reach.

Organ donation organizations are a good example of delivering a clear message in a consistent way. Many of them use Donate Life as a primary message. It communicates the organization's mission and a call to action, all in two words. From there, they can expand the message. "Organ donors save lives." "One donor can save the lives of eight people." "Give the gift of life."

Townsend (a Pushkin PR client) is an intellectual property law firm. They wanted to communicate that no one is better at protecting the ideas and innovations that inventors and entrepreneurs create. When the firm went through a recent rebranding process, it settled on a way to communicate that message in one word: Townsend. The message is simple, clear and direct. You came to the right place. Enough said. Rather that coming up with long, complicated sentences that tried to explain the firm's long history, every practice group and every industry it serves, it settled on something beautifully simple: Townsend, period.

When an organization struggles to explain who it is or what it does it is an indication that something is wrong. That's when you hear people saying that someone is "off message." They ramble, they stumble, they get themselves in a whole lot of trouble. It’s like taking to someone at a party that's had a few too many drinks. Pretty soon you start explaining to them that you are due back on planet Earth.

If this problem sounds familiar, take a step back and ask a few important questions:

Who are we?

What do we stand for? What is our brand promising?

What do we do?

What are the three most important things we want people to know about us?

Answering those questions will help you define the core qualities that define your organization. After that, the trick is to communicate them in a clear and consistent way. Once you master that skill, you'll be in like Flynn. Solid gold.

Bookmark and Share
Copyright © 2011 Denver Public Relations: Pushkin PR All rights reserved.
Wp Theme by Templatesnext . Blogger Template by Anshul