Archive for December, 2010

A Year of InSites: Lack of Reputation Management Behind LeBron James' Decision

December 2010

Anyone who follows sports knows that every year there are some mysterious forces in our universe that seem to draw multi-million dollar athletes toward momentous reputation management gaffes. And anyone that follows the NBA knows that LeBron James’ image and ego has never been slight.

Since high school, James has been thrust into the public spotlight, and for the most part he has done a good job with controlling his image. Even while wearing his New York Yankees cap to a 2007 MLB playoff game against Ohio’s own Cleveland Indians, James managed to silence the naysayers and remain Cleveland’s “golden boy.” How did he do this? He was a superstar, and most importantly, a mainstay in Ohio — born and raised in nearby Akron and playing for the NBA hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But upon his contract’s expiration this past summer, all of his panache, credibility, and popularity would plummet to subterranean depths, creating what can be considered an image management crisis.

LeBron James by Keith Allison, on Flickr

LeBron James by Keith Allison, on Flickr

When an athlete’s contract expires and they disclose their future plans, they typically announce them via their agent, talent management company, or in a local press conference. Never one to shy away from further boosting his fame, James opted for a first of its kind ESPN-televised special titled “The Decision,” where James told the world he would be leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat.

To say that James’ move was an “image management hiccup” would be an understatement. Not only did he decide to leave Cleveland, he did so in the most public fashion possible. Clevelanders quickly turned on James and considered his move a nationally-televised slap in the face to their city and its citizens. It will be classified as one of the quickest and grandest popularity swings for an athlete in sports history. According to The Q Scores Co., which conducts popularity polls, James is now viewed in a negative light by 39 percent of the general population.

With everyone from young children to Tony Soprano making a pitch to have James join their city’s home team, it seemed James’ ego catapulted into the stratosphere. Perhaps the buzz blinded him from seeing that “The Decision” would be a public relations nightmare. James and his inner circle thought that the time was right to parlay his brand to unparalleled heights in sports. Instead, “The Decision” had the reverse effect.

What should James have done prior to announcing his decision? Image management consulting. James clearly didn’t realize that sports fans would see “The Decision” as an exercise in self-aggrandizement more than anything else. He didn’t anticipate that sports fans would rally behind spurned Clevelanders and use “The Decision” as an opportunity to vilify him. A good public relations expert would have seen these potential flaws in “The Decision” from a mile away.

Public relations experts know that whether it is a celebrity, public company, or nonprofit, one’s reputation is a delicate managerial challenge. One wrong move can result in public criticism, and even the most popular of figures can swing into a negative light.

While there are times where we want our clients to book an appearance on Oprah or run on the front page of the New York Times, we as public relations professionals recognize that this is not always the most prudent and effective means to reach your intended audience. By sticking to the standard operating procedure for an athlete leaving their team, James’ image would most likely not have taken the same kind of devastating hit. “The Decision” reminded all of us that we must keep in mind how a move will be perceived by the harshest of all critics — the public.

A Year of InSites: Standing With Help

December 2010

Helen Mitternight Stands Up

Helen Mitternight

I was 30 feet in the air, at the top of a telephone pole, with only one step more to stand atop the small platform. And I was stuck. I was harnessed and perfectly safe, participating in a challenge at Miraval Spa & Resort. They don’t stay in business by letting guests plummet to certain death. But taking that final step to a platform as small as a personal pan pizza meant I had to let go. There was nothing to hold onto, only the strength of my own body to slowly straighten up. I simply didn’t have it in me, and the more my muscles trembled from the strain, the more the whole platform shook, high above the earth.

So I did the hardest thing of all. I asked the other challenge participants, safely on the ground far, far below… to help.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, with some difficulty. When you’re a senior executive at a communications firm, you’ve learned a lot of strategy and tactics over the years, and it’s tempting to just do it all yourself — –it’s faster than explaining, and you get exactly what you had in mind. But if you’re a senior employee, you need to develop the insight that clients deserve the benefit of a diverse set of communications experience. The arrogance of trying to do it all yourself deprives you and your client of a wealth of opinions and skills that comes from using your entire team. I’ve learned that asking for help is often the smartest way to get something done.

So, from the ground far below, my teammates began to shout encouragement. I let the shouts bolster me, took a deep, steadying breath… and stood.

A Year of InSites: Getting Hired as a Public Relations Professional

December 2010

This guest blog post is from Sarim Ngo, a Communications Assistant and one of Vanguard’s newest employees.

As a young professional still learning the ropes of the public relations industry, I was ecstatic to learn that public relations specialists landed on U.S. News’ 50 Best Careers of 2011 list.

To come up with this year’s list, U.S. News considered job-growth projections from the most recent data from the Labor Department and narrowed down professions that are expected to add jobs at an above-average rate over the next decade, as well as those that provide an above-average median salary. U.S. News also considered data on job satisfaction, turnover, and impending retirements.

The piece included advice from hiring managers and those currently working in the field for each profession highlighted. One thing made me raise my eyebrow when I read the summary for public relations specialists. According to the Labor Department, public relations specialist jobs are expected to increase by more than 66,000 jobs between 2008 and 2018. If you’re thinking of vying for one of those positions, I want to share some advice to fellow newbies, as well as career changers.

As a recent college graduate, I’ve learned that a jambalaya mix of eagerness, determination, passion, and persistence will eventually get you a job. Just like implementing an effective public relations campaign, job seekers must think strategically, especially when it seems there are five unemployed people for every available job. Anyone can fill out an application online and click on the submit button. However, only those willing to think outside of the box and go far and beyond will get notice. While it always helps to know someone who knows someone to cut through the red tape, I am a testament that you can still be successful at getting a job the old-school-hustler way.

First, before I began job searching, I wrote down the type of position, work, and company that I wanted to give up 40-plus hours to. With my growing passion for social justice and my belief in the power of meaningful communications, I knew I had to find a public relations job that was cause related. Once I figured out my goal, the “how” part seemed much easier.  My eagerness, determination, and persistence took over and executed the steps to me landing my first real job out of school.

Here are three additional steps that I took in pursuit of a position in this competitive field.

  1. Instead of e-mailing my resume to a general employment e-mail address, I walked my little self over to the office and kindly asked the young lady at the front desk for the name and e-mail address of the hiring manager. Even after she told me I could e-mail my resume, I told her I would be back in 20 minutes with a hard copy, and would also send an e-mail to be safe later that day. I’ll admit, I got a weird stare, but I was too eager and determined to let anything get in my way. Because I was able to address my cover letter to someone specific, it created a personal relationship off the bat and landed me an interview.
  2. When I was asked to complete a writing test, I finished it and submitted it a day in advance. While I was swamped interning full-time, I made my writing assignment my top priority, staying up late to make sure it was completed.  This showed that I was able to take initiative and get tasks done accurately, effectively, and most importantly, promptly.
  3. I sent thank you notes right after my interviews. I made sure to include personal highlights that I learned about my interviewer during the interview. It is always proper etiquette to send thank you notes after an interview, but by adding a special note, I was able to show that I was attentive and cared more than just getting the position. It showed my passion and my eagerness.

These tips can apply for a range of professions, but they are particularly relevant for public relations pros. After all, this industry is all about communications — the sooner you can demonstrate your skills, the better!

A Year of InSites: Communications Lessons from Sesame Street

December 2010

This guest blog post comes from Joe Kelly, Executive Vice President of Vanguard Communications.

Learning sometimes comes from unexpected places. Several months ago, I was reminded to never forget who your audience is – whether it is those who are intended to receive your message or those who are delivering it.

We recently managed a Hollywood event where “Sesame Street,” among other films and TV shows, was receiving an award. We thought it would be entertaining if we could get one of the “Sesame Street” characters to present the award since it was intended for the writers and producers of a particular episode. Much to the delight of our staff – and every extended family member under the age of 10 – the producers of “Sesame Street” volunteered Elmo as their spokesperson.

Elmo - TMX eXtra Special Edition. by MJTR (´・ω・), on Flickr

Because of his heavy travel schedule, however, Elmo was unable to be physically present, though he was happy to record a video message. We were asked if we would be able to provide talking points for Elmo. Why, of course! What could be better!?

We spent many hours on the talking points, making sure that they reflected every possible nuance of our behavioral health issue. We then proudly fired off an e-mail to Elmo.

Minutes later, we received a response from Elmo’s manager, asking whether we realized that Elmo was only two-and-a-half years old and had not yet gotten his graduate degree in public health. Politely thanking us for our input, they suggested that Elmo speak the messages in his own words. Of course, his words were heard far more clearly than those we tried to craft for him.

I learned one other thing, too. Elmo’s appeal is by no means limited to the under-10 set. Our audience of over 500 ranged from teenagers to senior citizens – and every one of those 500-plus faces smiled and laughed during Elmo’s presentation.

A Year of InSites: P.C. Language is Always P.F. (Person-First)

December 2010

In a technology-driven world where face-to-face interaction is often limited and more communication is taking place digitally, it’s easy to lose sight of the person on the receiving end of our messages. As good communicators, it’s our job to take a careful look at each audience we are trying to reach and develop messages that are tailored to that audience’s beliefs, behaviors, and traditions. This is very important, as we have all been taught that no two audiences are the same. Generally, that is true and should be used as a rule of thumb. However, there is one case where that line of thinking isn’t necessarily accurate.

At the fundamental level, before we are all separated into “audiences,” we are people first. And as people first, we define who were are. With that in mind, the language we use as communicators should be person-first as well. This is especially true when talking about people with disabilities and/or health-related challenges, but can and should be applied across the board.

Using person-first language, you would say:

  • a “person with a disability” rather than a “disabled person”;
  • a “person who is hearing impaired” rather than a “deaf person”;
  • a “person with schizophrenia” rather than a “schizophrenic”;
  • a “person who is homeless” rather than a “homeless person”; and
  • a “person with an alcohol addiction” rather than an “alcoholic.”

Person-first language places the focus on the person and not their disability or challenge. It shifts the focus away from the disability/challenge. It makes us think about the person as coping with a disability/challenge rather than being thought of only in terms of the disability/challenge. Ultimately, it enables each person to define who they are without being labeled and stigmatized.

A Year of InSites: Expectation Management is a Two-Way Street

December 2010

Good PR professionals know how important it is to manage expectations. Of course, everyone wants the best possible campaign, event, production, and so on. But the word “possible” is a vital consideration. If you are planning a small scale event with a limited budget, it is important to set expectations for what this type of event will look like. You may find yourself saying, “Of course Oprah would be an amazing host, but I think there are some other options you may find more appropriate for this particular occasion.”

What I learned this year is that sometimes it’s our own expectations that need to be managed. We want the deliver the best quality work and it is our job to challenge ourselves to deliver new and exciting strategies. But what we are envisioning may not always be what others have in mind. Sometimes, that has to be okay. An idea is only as good as its ability to be actualized. As communicators, we have to be extremely adaptable.

If your ideal plan gets shot down, you must not let your disappointment get in the way of moving forward to deliver an exceptional product. It doesn’t do any good to focus on what could have been, so move on and focus on what still can be.

Besides, it’s not as if those original plans are carelessly tossed aside. File them away under “awesome ideas” and save them for your next pitch meeting!

A Year of InSites: Twitter Is Ushering In an Era of Micro-News

December 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I took a day trip to New York City using one of those low-cost bus services. As the day wound down, I tried to check the bus company’s website for my departure time, but it wouldn’t load. I immediately searched the company name and “NYC” on my smart phone Twitter feed. I found out in seconds that the whole computer system was broken and that buses were running very late.

The information saved me and my family from waiting in the cold longer than necessary, but the experience also reminded me that live-coverage has truly evolved in the past 12 months. We no longer have to watch the local news wondering if they will cover the crash we just saw on the way home. Just type a few key words into Twitter, and within minutes, there are plenty of details about what’s happening.

The micro-news concept played out in a big way globally in 2011. Twitter awarded most powerful tweet of the year to Ann Curry of “The Today Show,” who asked the U.S. Air Force to allow Doctors Without Borders to land in Haiti after the disastrous 7.0 earthquake. Of course, Curry’s massive Twitter following was instrumental in making that happen, but she was also in an area devoid of other news organizations. How long would the victims have had to wait for help if they were counting on mainstream media to find them and report their dilemma?

A big challenge of news reporting has always been an inability to be everywhere at once. Now we’re all reporters–and someone somewhere wants us to tell them what’s going on. The real lesson from the Curry example is that it’s more important than ever to build up a following for your organization or issue. It’s also critical to use words or hashtags in your tweets that are most likely to be used in searches so that others can find your message.

As micro-news reporters, we have an opportunity to help in ways we’ve never dreamed. We have the power to save someone from a long wait in the cold or a long ride home. And as Curry showed, we also have the opportunity to save lives.

2010: A Year of InSites

December 2010

It is hard to believe that 2010 is already coming to a close.

This marked our first year of the InSites blog. We’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share some of our thoughts and expertise with all of you. We’ve also been thrilled to get your feedback in the comment fields and via e-mail. Thank you to all of our readers that have helped make this endeavor a success. We look forward to continuing to learn and grow with you as we head into 2011.

Through the end of the year, we will be sharing a series of posts under the title, “A Year of InSites.” Authored from a wide-range of Vanguard employees (in addition to some of our core bloggers), these posts will relate some of the communications, public relations and social marketing lessons we learned in 2010.

We also welcome your thoughts, lessons or observations from 2010 in the comment fields on this post or any others.

Thank you, as always, for reading, and we’ll see you in 2011!

Science Fiction Meets Multicultural Communications

December 2010

Part of the draw of the science fiction genre is the limitless realm of possibility. Time machines, transporters, hoverboards – who wouldn’t want these amazing toys?

Well, the world of communications just got its hoverboard. Check this out:

Amazed? Of course you are. Word Lens is a real-time translating app for the iPhone. I’m not the most tech-savvy individual, and I’m often the quiet one among my early-adopting friends when they’re discussing the newest app. But this is one the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Moving beyond its blatant awesome factor, this technology has the potential to be a major leap for global communications. As an American who has spent some time traveling in foreign nations, I have felt the all-too-common shame that comes along with the realization, “that four-year-old child speaks more languages than me!”

Well, no more. At least as long as you’re dealing with written text. And yes, right now it’s just English-to-Spanish or vice-versa, but if the technology exists, it surely can’t be long until this is developed for many languages.

This technology allows your mind to race with the communications possibilities.  What about glasses and contacts with the same capability? How long until an audio version of the same app is developed?

With language barriers breaking down, our global community will have a lot more to talk about. The field of multicultural communications will become all the more important because of it. Bridging the language gap will compel more communications campaigns to extend their reach to broader audiences.

In a future without language barriers, possibilities may grow, but so will the work to support them. Multicultural communications is so much more than language. It examines the social and cultural factors that influence an individual’s perspective. Careful audience research must remain a communicator’s first priority. Remember, just because your audience can understand the words on your billboard doesn’t mean they will relate to them.

Is Political Polling Dying Out or Evolving?

December 2010

With the 2010 midterm election behind us, we’re also past the peak of political polling.  But with 2012 presidential contenders lurking around the corner, we can be assured that a new round of polls are about to bombard us in the news media.

Around election time, news coverage is littered with poll results indicating how voters feel about candidates, specific propositions or ballot measures and key social issues discussed in campaigns. These findings help political analysts make predictions on how national and/or state politics will be impacted by these polling trends. In the months before elections, we frequently answer calls asking us to participate in one poll or another.

But how accurate are these poll results anymore?

New phone by AMagill, on Flickr

With more people using their cellular phones as their primary phone contact, how accurate can demographic information gleaned from these polling calls be, especially in state contests? Will it be harder to get people to participate in polls via their cell phones?

As a recent article in The Economist argued, “cellphone-only” users are less-likely to answer pollsters’ calls or participate in polls, even if they answer. Also, it’s difficult to pinpoint participants in a specific area or state since where they vote and their cell phone area codes may not match up. For example, once a long-time resident of Los Angeles, my primary phone is a cell phone with a Los Angeles-based area code, even though I’ve been living in the DC area since 2005. I’m not alone.

Including more “cellphone-onlys” in polling may also statistically throw off poll findings as well.

Perhaps the future of polling lies in social media. Along with the new profile design, Facebook also recently launched a new feature — Facebook Questions — where members can ask questions and provide answers. As pollsters explore this new feature, they may identify ways of using it and similar social media tools and networks for political polling.

While traditional phone polling may be dying out, it’s clear that new digital innovations may be giving this vital audience research tool new life.