Apr 05 2021
Last month, I wrote a guest blog for video producer extraordinaire Amy DeLouise about leading with your values. The gist of the blog was to remind organizational leaders that consumers are looking for values-aligned companies. More and more, savvy marketers understand that consumers are choosing products and services that meet more than a functional need. Consumers are choosing companies whose values align with theirs. So, if you’re responsible for your organization’s messaging, you may want to ask yourself: what is your company willing to stand up for? What beliefs are you willing to shout from the rooftops for the whole world to hear? Who wouldn’t you accept a check from? (You can read the whole blog here.)
In addition to publicizing your organizational values, it’s great to work with values-aligned partners. When my clients need add-on services, I seek partners like Amy DeLouise, DG Creative Branding, Fuller Digital Media, Generate Impact, and others who provide high-quality results while maintaining the utmost integrity. I know without a doubt that my vendors are honest, forthright, and fair, so I can recommend them without reservation. And as I demonstrated in that blog for Amy, doing the right thing not only feels good, it can lead to a very healthy bottom line.
Nov 20 2020
I was recently evaluating competitor websites for a client. The client provides technology solutions for organizations that help people and safeguard our world–clothing the hungry, feeding the poor, supporting the natural environment.
I went online at looked at tech websites and in short order, I felt my mind begin to numb from the onslaught of generic images of people in modern-looking offices fake-smiling at each other, promises about turbo-boosting my productivity sprinkled with computer terms I didn’t fully understand, and pop-ups featuring small pictures of photogenic customer service representatives between the ages of 25 and 35 offering to chat with me.
And then I hit a site that grabbed my attention like none of the rest. It said things like, “WE CRACK CODES LIKE DAD JOKES. ONLY NO ONE BEGS US TO STOP CODING.” I could picture a bunch of corny, personable nerds I could relate to. They obviously didn’t take themselves too seriously, yet they worked with some impressive “fancy brands” as they called them.
Clearly, this company was made of real, authentic humans, people who wouldn’t look down their nose at me if I didn’t understand a technology term or if I didn’t represent a particularly “fancy” brand. Had I been looking for a company to hire or partner with, I would have paid double to work with these guys.
When it comes to communication, it is important to provide some technical details in certain situations, but when we focus on how we want people to feel, it helps us craft communication that uses the most powerful and persuasive force on the planet: human emotion. Rather than trying to impress potential clients, show them how you can help them and treat them with respect. If you can do that and make them laugh, they will love you (and hire you) for it.
Oct 15 2020
COVID-19 has not only been a public health crisis. For many, it has been a public relations crisis. The pandemic has highlighted just how difficult it is to communicate effectively when we are thrust into unfamiliar roles and forced to use unfamiliar tools.
When schools had to pivot on a dime in the spring of 2020, most parents and community members recognized and appreciated teachers’ heroic efforts to educate via an online platform. However, in the fall when schools struggled to provide seamless distance learning, people were a lot less forgiving. Also, as economic concerns began to overtake health concerns in some regions and among certain demographics, relationships soured.
Yet, if you look around, some school districts fared better than others. Even in communities where tensions were high, the schools were not the ones getting lambasted. Why? Generally speaking, it’s because these districts were following the basic tenants of good crisis communication—including having laid the groundwork before this crisis hit.
Almost every organization must deal with a public relations crisis at some point, so it makes sense to plan for it. As many of you have no doubt discovered, preparing for a crisis in the middle of said crisis is no fun.
Crises typically affect the safety, reputation, and financial position of people and organizations. You can minimize these negative effects not only on your district or agency, but on the students, staff, and communities you serve by planning for the crises you’re most likely to face. In education, those include natural disasters, societal disasters, tragedies involving staff or students, and inappropriate behavior involving staff or students.
Types of Disasters
In broad terms, disasters fall into two categories: those centered outside of your school or agency (like natural disasters and community/social disasters) and those centered within your school or agency (such as threats or tragedies that involve students or staff and inappropriate behavior by students or staff).
For natural disasters, your region will influence the types of crises you’ll face. Those in the West must contend with wildfires and earthquakes. In the Rocky Mountains, it’s wildfires and severe storms. In the Midwest, we add tornadoes to the mix. In the South, you’ve got hurricanes, flooding, and heat waves, and in the East, it’s freezing nor’easters.
Next, we have societal or community disasters. These can include everything from civil unrest to terrorist threats, or they can include events that cause mass casualties like an industrial accident or collapse of infrastructure. So think about your community; what are the most likely scenarios there? Is there racial tension? Is there manufacturing plant with poor safety standards? An old bridge in need of repair?
Then there are disasters that hit closer to home. The first of these is threats or tragedies involving staff or students, situations such as intentional violence (as in the case of a school shooter), transportation accidents, suicides, or potentially disastrous health diagnoses. The second involves inappropriate behavior involving a student or staff member, such as financial or operational mismanagement, sexual misconduct, and other legal or ethical violations.
There is one more type of disaster—a public relations disaster born of misinformation. Although the disaster itself may never have occurred, people’s response to the misinformation can cause real and lasting damage.
Before you dig into the details of specific disaster responses, you should first determine what your common responses would be no matter the crisis.
Lead with your values.
Regardless of the type of crisis you face, your organization must step out with a statement that frames the situation. Let people know what lens you’re looking through and help them see through that lens, too. If, for example, people are angry because of how a crisis is affecting them personally, you can shift the conversation by sharing your organization’s concern about a broader group. People may not agree with your position but understanding it may quiet some of their criticism.
In my work with schools, districts, and county offices of education, we have framed every crisis with the primary goal of protecting the physical and emotional safety of students. Everything else takes a back seat. This has been the case in crises as diverse as a cockroach infestation, a potential school shooter, a teacher accused of sexually inappropriate relations with a student, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Examples of additional values include safeguarding staff, making decisions based on a thorough examination of facts, collaborating with recognized experts in the field (the field varies depending on the crisis), and a commitment to reducing discrimination and its harmful impacts, often through identifying and removing systemic barriers to equity for underrepresented groups.
Provide a Coherent Narrative
Regardless of the type of crisis, people want to make sense of the situation. If you provide a coherent narrative, they will usually use that. In a void, they will fill in the details with whatever makes the most sense to them, even if their imagined truth has little connection to the facts. It is in your best interest to get information out as quickly as possible and to let all interested parties know when and where to find additional information as it becomes available. In short, follow these steps:
- Name a single spokesperson
- Determine the best pathways to engage all of your key audiences (with two-way communication)
- Engage others in sharing accurate information
Naming a single spokesperson helps ensure a consistent message, and consistency is key to building trust. During a crisis, if people believe you are telling the truth, even if they don’t like that truth, they are more likely to keep listening.
Use a Variety of Communication Pathways
By establishing a variety of communication pathways, you can reach multiple audiences, including traditionally underrepresented and/or vulnerable populations. During a crisis, you’re often in a race against misinformation and, to quote Mark Twain (or whoever said this), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still pulling its boots on.”
For truth to win, you’ve got to think carefully about your audiences and to reach out where they are most likely to pay attention. Who uses social media? Who uses traditional media—broadcast, print? What languages do people speak? Who checks their computer regularly for emails? Who doesn’t have a computer but will read texts on their cell phone? Regardless of official titles, who are the trusted opinion leaders in each community because they tend to share a lot of information very quickly?
Consider non-traditional means of spreading information if it means safeguarding or helping people. For example, when I was working with an organization that wanted to distribute Covid-19 Relief Funds to those struggling to afford rent and food, including people who are undocumented, we posted flyers in English and Spanish in local Laundromats and called local property management companies so they could let people who paid late know assistance was available. Do not let traditional pathways inhibit creative pathways. Each crisis is unique, and your communication pathways should reflect that.
Another creative pathway includes amplifying your message by reaching out to your allies. Identify the people and organizations who serve the same causes you do, who care about the same populations. Who wins if you win? Empower those people and organizations with information. Start with internal audiences because members of the public and the media will go to them for the inside scoop. You don’t want employees, union representatives, or board members saying, “Gee, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m in the dark, too.” You want them sharing your talking points.
Then think about external allies. Make politicians look good; let them be the heroes with accurate information. Reach out to the gossipy parents and share the details with them so they can share accurate information with their personal networks. Consider who people turn to and will trust to have good information, and provide those people with talking points: leaders in the faith community, the medical community, elected leadership positions, and so on.
Crisis Communication Checklist
In a nutshell, to weather a crisis, you’ll need to do the following:
- Gather your team and name your spokesperson.
- Verify the facts of the crisis using reliable sources.
- Identify your stakeholders.
- Identify potential partners.
- Release holding statements while developing key message points.
- Use key message points and to create content for all stakeholders (e.g., press release, social media posts, employee scripts, website FAQs). Lead with your values and remember, not everyone speaks English or uses a computer to get their news.
- Create a timeline to publish information so internal audiences can help spread accurate information.
- Respond to inquiries quickly and accurately.
- Keep communicating until the crisis is over.
- Review your performance.
One last word of advice: work with your legal team and your communications team to find a balance. Your legal team’s job is to help you adhere to the law and to limit your liability. The legal piece is often fairly straightforward, but the best way to limit liability can be harder to discern. Admitting culpability can be a dicey strategy, but a heartfelt apology can be a powerful statement that brings closure to a difficult situation.
Apr 27 2020
Since the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders went into effect, organizations have been forced to respond quickly to stress-inducing and constantly changing information. Some are succeeding brilliantly; others are failing miserably. Here are some tips to keep your audiences engaged and informed during this unusual time.
Meet People Where They Are
During a pandemic, people are emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed. If your messages ignore this and you proceed with business as usual, you will miss an opportunity to build connection—and you’ll likely fail in getting your message across.
Keep Messages Short and On Point
When people are stressed, scared, or distracted, it is essential to communicate clearly and concisely. In written communication, this means crafting messages that resonate and then breaking them into bite-sized chunks so people can absorb them. As you sit down to write, do your best to read the room, as they say. Imagine you are trying to grab and keep the attention of an employee who has a toddler in need of a diaper change. Start your message with a recognition of their challenges, a note of appreciation, and then expectations.
Also, keep things brief. It’s best to simplify complex information so people are compelled to comply with instructions or recommendations but not overwhelmed by all the details.
Even when there’s nothing new to say, keep updates coming. Their frequency depends on your audience, of course, but ideally, you want to communicate often enough that people don’t start speculating on their own. Consider sending brief messages every few days or once a week to employees, and maybe every couple of weeks to other stakeholders.
Consider sending brief messages every few days or once a week to employees, and maybe every couple of weeks to other stakeholders.
Reinforce talking points (e.g., we’re complying with government orders to remain shuttered, but here’s how we’re supporting our employees/clients/community, or here’s what we expect for the weeks and months ahead.). You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do need to address people’s most urgent questions–even if that simply means saying something like, “We don’t know when we’ll reopen, but we have applied for the Payroll Protection Program to secure funding for those who are working from home.”
Because people are distracted and sometimes disorganized, it’s important to create a central location where people can find your most recent updates–a webpage, Facebook page, or emails with a consistent subject line such as “Covid-19 Update.” Make it easy to stay informed.
Remain Positive, Yet Honest
Possibly the most important role of communication during a crisis like this is to build trust. No one knows exactly how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect our world going forward. All we can do is to plan for the most likely scenarios with the best information we have at any given time.
And it is best to share updates with your key audiences along the way. Although it would be ill-advised to share details about every decision, it is wise to bring people along so they do not get a nasty surprise at the end. Clearly, this requires a nuanced approach, but keep in mind that the idea of protecting people by withholding information often backfires.
If you need help communicating with your key audiences right now, let us know!
Sep 26 2019
This is an excerpt from a guest lecture I gave to budding filmmakers and storytellers in Kirk Fuller’s Introduction to Video Production class at Mendocino College on September 21, 2019.
When we are born, we are all fitted with an invisible pair of glasses. As babies, there is no glass in the frames, but almost immediately, life starts putting in different lenses. We get the lenses of our family’s values, the lenses of the various experiences of our upbringing, the lenses of social norms, the lenses of pivotal moments in our lives, personal and those shared by our whole generation. By the time we reach adolescence, we are all walking around with Coke-bottle lenses that distort the world in a very particular way.
So it’s no wonder that we sometimes have trouble communicating with one another. While we try to describe the world right in front of us—the same world in front of our audience—we see it very differently.
Walking Next to Someone Isn’t the Same as Walking in Their Shoes
I was recently listening to City Arts and Lectures story on National Public Radio featuring James Forman, Jr., who worked as a public defender with many clients from terribly traumatic backgrounds full of violence and poverty, often young men raised by parents who were abusive, addicted to drugs, and intermittently incarcerated. Forman told a story of how he came up with ideas while walking to work and recommended the same practice to a client. The client responded, in essence, “When I’m walking along in my neighborhood, I’m just trying not to get jumped.” These men could have been walking down the very same street. Forman made the point that while he was walking alongside his clients, he was not in their world. He wasn’t looking through their lenses.
The Lens We Use to See the World is Skewed by Our Generation
While an innumerable number of variables makes up each person’s lens, there are commonalities by generation and by circumstance that bring us together. Generational lenses are powerful because people share both their current stage of life as well as common social influences, having grown up during the same era. Circumstantial lenses are powerful because, regardless of age and stage, people who are faced with a similar dilemma or opportunity can find common ground. For example, parents have a similar desire to do what’s best for their children, and cancer patients have a similar challenge in navigating a broken healthcare system.
Probably one of the most important things to remember as we think about knowing our audience is that our audience is human, and humans make decisions based on emotion. It’s fine to provide facts, but recognize that we use those facts to fabricate the stories we tell ourselves, and it is our emotional investment in those stories that cause us to act (or not).
Any time I begin working with a new client, I ask two questions: who do you want to reach and what do you want them to do as a result? These two questions inform every subsequent decision.
We All Have Blinders On — the Trick is Learning to Get Past Them
As we contemplate the who-do-you-want-to-reach question, it can be challenging to answer fully, because when we look through our own lenses, there are audiences we don’t see. It is incumbent upon us all to look for people at the edges of our lenses and then to enlist their help to reach people at the edges of their lenses, and so on until we’ve truly and fully defined whom we want to reach.
During the U.S. Presidential campaign in 2012, Hillary Clinton supporters wore pink pussy hats to protest then-candidate Donald Trump’s treatment of women. Those who designed the hats left out large numbers of allies when then made the hats pink. Caucasian women have pink skin. People of color do not. That was a major missed opportunity. Instead of coming together as women, which would have been a larger and more powerful alliance, they came together as white women.
Not only do we need to look at the edge of our lenses and seek out audiences who do not share our backgrounds, if we are to be effective storytellers, we must also understand the values of people at the edges of our familiar zone and beyond. This is definitely an area where generational differences are often in play.
The values of each generation are rarely mutually exclusive, but they are different. The Baby Boomers (born 1946-’64) generally believe the following: anything is possible; equal rights and equal opportunities matter; Boomers are extremely loyal to their children; they are optimistic and involved; they value personal gratification and personal growth; they question everything; and their financial motto is, “Spend now, worry later.”
Generation X (born 1965-’80) sings a different tune. They believe in thinking globally and acting locally. They value diversity. They are self-reliant (having been latch-key kids), entrepreneurial, and pragmatic. They seek a work-life balance, and as a group, they are highly educated. They and the generations before them value duty, family, and integrity above social justice and authenticity.
Millennials (born 1981-1995) are a huge generation–about 95 million strong–and the first to be technologically fluent, having grown up in the era of personal computing. They value authenticity, happiness, diversity, sharing, and discovery. They want corporations and other organizations to put their money where their mouth is and are loyal to brands that align with their values.
Generation Z (born 1996-2019) includes the up-and-comers. These folks are young and idealistic, but also put their ideals into action. One trend that differentiates Gen Zers from Millennials is how they define gender and beauty – both are more fluid. Gen Z is also more comfortable talking about mental health and they are all about instant gratification, which often comes in the form of convenience. Gen Z is values-based and action-oriented. Be aware that they have short attention spans, so if you want their attention, you have to make it worth their while quickly or they’ll move on.
So, as we try to answer the questions of who do you want to reach and what do you want them to do as a result, consider using a values-based approach. Tell a story that matters. If I am your audience, show me how you can help me align my actions with my values by joining with you and I will be yours forever. Regardless of who you’re talking to, remember we are all connected by universal human truths. We all want to belong, to be accepted, to feel safe and to feel an affinity for those aligned with our values.
Jul 30 2019
Years ago, there was an advertising campaign by the brokerage firm E.F. Hutton. It went like this. Two guys were discussing their stock portfolios. One would say, “My broker says this is a good buy.” And the other would say, “Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and E.F. Hutton says…” At this point, the camera would pan out to show that everyone in the room/on the airplane/in the restaurant/on the golf course had stopped what they were doing to hear what E.F. Hutton had to say. It was corny and repetitive, but also entertaining and effective.
Clearly, the ads imply that E.F. Hutton gave great advice. The question is, how did he earn his reputation? Asked another way? How did he build trust and respect? Here are a few ways to become like E.F. Hutton.
Get it right. Do your homework. Verify information. Proofread your writing. Give yourself enough time to ruminate on ideas so you can make the strongest possible arguments. Have others check your work.
Be consistent. Nothing builds trust as well as consistency. Let people know what they can expect from you and deliver it every time, rain or shine. Think about people you know well. What quality or trait defines them? What would you like your company to be known for? Pick a few qualities or traits for your business and make sure everyone in the organization knows they are non-negotiable.
Don’t over-promise. Most folks have heard the old adage, “It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver.” And yet, people over-promise all the time. If you promise to deliver something by Friday and it doesn’t arrive until Monday, you’ve proven you aren’t trustworthy. If you promise the delivery by Monday and deliver on Friday, you will be the first one called next time they need timely service. Set expectations; then jump out of your shoes to surpass them.
Admit and fix mistakes. As a public relations consultant, I often get push-back on this one, especially when lawyers are involved. But I have to say, it’s a rare situation where a heartfelt apology and making amends didn’t work wonders.
So, if you want to be like E.F. Hutton and have people listen, you’ll need to do what it takes to get things right, be consistent, deliver on your promises and fix your mistakes. (It also helps to have a fabulous advertising company.)
Oct 30 2018
It would be great if we could personally meet with each and every prospective client and share all the reasons they should choose our product or service, but unless you have really limited ambitions (e.g., your entire target audience consists of your three best friends), that’s not too practical. So, you need a way to communicate with people through other means. These days, if you’re in business, prospective clients expect you to have a website.
Your website should be the foundation for all your communication, public relations, and marketing endeavors, so while the goal is to have plenty of site traffic, the process of creating a great website is incredibly useful before a single person sees the site.
If you’re a new company, working through all the pieces of a good website will force you to get clear about who you are, who you’re trying to reach, and what you offer. If you’re a company that’s been around for a while, updating your website can serve as a much-needed strategic planning or visioning session. If you don’t create communication plans, strategies and content for a living, this can feel a little overwhelming, which is why companies like mine exist to help you.
Here are the most important things to consider.
The first step is branding. Branding is more than a logo, a color palette, and a tagline. My friend, branding designer extraordinaire Karen Adair at DG Creative Branding, describes it better than I ever could. I recommend reading her short but entertaining blog on branding when you get the chance. Basically, the process of branding defines who you are and incorporates that into everything you do–especially into your interactions with employees, clients, board members, and even critics.
What are your organizational values? Should your tone be friendly or formal? What colors evoke the right emotions? What image represents your organization’s unique personality? To be successful, you’ve got to be clear and consistent about who you are as a business and how you meet your clients’ needs. Relationships are based on trust, and a consistent approach builds trust.
Once you’ve gone through a comprehensive branding process, it’s far easier to define (or refine) your messages. One word of caution: the biggest mistake many of my clients make is that they come from their own perspective rather than that of their clients or stakeholders. Instead of focusing on what you do, focus on how you help others do what they want to do. The most effective messages resonate because they help clients solve a problem or reach a goal. For example, you may sell socks, but if you donate part of your proceeds to clothing the homeless, a certain segment of sock buyers will choose to buy from you rather than your competitor. They’re buying socks either way, but since you helped them align their buying habits with their values, you win their business and hopefully, their loyalty.
Think about what separates you from your competitors and how that influences your clients, and build your messaging around that.
You may think that now that you’ve established your branding and messaging, your website will build itself.
First, you must create a site architecture–figure out what goes where. The same mistake that many organizations make with messaging gets repeated in website design. I recently worked with a company that insisted a top menu item should be Departments. When I asked why, they explained that a list of departments would make it clear how visitors could find the information they wanted. The truth is, their visitors have no idea which programs and services are aligned with which departments. The proper menu title was Programs and Services.
When you create a menu structure, it’s important to think about the problem you’re solving for your client and how your client would refer to the product or service they need. Be sure to avoid industry jargon that makes perfect sense to you and very little to your clients. For example, I’m working with a school district to reorganize their website. They want to share information about everything from school events and accolades to budget and bond measure updates. In California, the budgeting process is ruled by something called the LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan). Anyone in education knows this, but the families whose children attend schools in the district rarely do. “LCAP” should never be a menu item. Rather, they should use “Budget” or “Funding our Schools” or some other common term that doesn’t require insider knowledge.
Once the site architecture is determined, make sure the site is designed so that regardless of where visitors land on your site, they can easily navigate to wherever they want to go next. If you continually think as though you’re one of your clients/site visitors, you’re far more likely to be successful. Then, test your design. Ask clients or those in your target demographic to browse around and see if they can find what they’re looking for. If there is information you want visitors to see, ask your beta testers if they saw it.
If you get rave reviews about your website, chances are you’ve nailed the branding, messaging and web design. Now you have all the building blocks for a successful communication, public relations, and marketing strategy.
If you’d like help creating or renovating your website, contact us. We’d be happy to help.
Aug 09 2018
I recently hired a full-time project manager, Kendyl, and it’s been interesting to see the reaction of her friends as she tells them she works for a small public relations firm. Some nod noncommittally, not really sure what a PR firm does. Others recoil a bit, as though Kendyl has just contracted a mildly contagious illness.
I get it. PR firms can use their power for good or evil, as it were, and in this do-not-trust-the-media environment, PR firms can be viewed as spin doctors. However, those of us in the communications business with scruples can do tremendous good in the world, building community and reinforcing positive change.
I focus on the “relations” part of public relations. I help my clients build relationships with the public, with their clients, and with their employees, shareholders and board members. I even help them improve their relationships with their detractors–by publishing factual information, at least people can form opinions based on the truth rather than rumor. While marketing depends on paid advertising to enhance credibility and popularity, public relations focuses on unpaid sources, or “earned media.” In my mind, this is a huge distinction. If you pay for an ad, it’ll get published. It’s a whole different deal when you send a press release to an objective member of the media and they decide the information is newsworthy enough to share with their readers.
I focus on the “relations” part of public relations.
And the media isn’t the only one source of news. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful way to spread information. These days, with social media, word of mouth can spread to thousands or even millions of people almost instantly. As a consumer, the trick is to be a savvy, discriminating reader.
Because there is so much information out there, it can be hard for organizations to get much attention. This is where I come in. When people make the world a better place, I share their stories, so they can get the support and credit they deserve. I do my best to build confidence in our fellow man by reminding people they are surrounded by those who heal, who educate children, and who put themselves at risk to safeguard others.
Locally, did you know that Ross Liberty of Factory Pipe donated the land at the old Masonite site for the Mendocino Complex Fire staging area, instead of charging the state the thousands of dollars (a day) that they’d have been willing to pay? Did you know that Ukiah Unified School District bus drivers and mechanics volunteered to help evacuate the Lake County Jail inmates during the fires? Did you know that over the years, Mendocino College has worked with local businesses to create programs like the Nursing Program and the Sustainable Construction Program, so we have the workforce we need to care for people and build homes in our valley? These are the stories a PR professional shares.
Every company has a set of values. As a PR professional, I choose to work with people who contribute positively to society. You don’t have to eradicate hunger or single-handedly reverse climate change, but you can’t be in the business of hurting others or ruining the environment in exchange for the almighty dollar. I work with educators, healthcare organizations, local governments, and community-minded businesspeople. I help my clients increase their profits, so they can do more good work. Most of us in the PR world, either out of ethics or self-preservation, won’t help a client misrepresent themselves. I certainly won’t.
If you decide to work with a PR professional, you should expect to be lead through a process that helps you define your key audiences and messages (aligned with your strategic goals, of course). The PR professional should help you set realistic goals based on your budget, timeline and ultimate endgame. He or she will use the tool of the trade, including writing press releases, speeches, and blogs; developing speaking engagements and fostering strategic alliances; and making pitches to the media and influential opinion leaders. Working behind the scenes, the PR professional can help you earn prominent coverage where it matters most.
Jun 04 2018
I live in a small, rural town in Northern California that’s been waiting for Costco to come for about ten years, and now it’s finally happening! Costco opens July 19, 2018. Some people have waited for Costco with barely contained excitement at the prospect of new jobs and enhance shopping possibilities, while others have anticipated Costco’s opening with deep concerns about the future of some local businesses. As a communications professional, it’s been interesting to see how Costco approaches the community in which it is about to open, including how its employees handle the fact that not everyone is thrilled about their arrival.
The new store will be located south of town on Airport Boulevard and will include the warehouse products it is famous for, as well as groceries, gas, glasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, photo printing, a pharmacy, a bakery, a deli, and more. Like many big businesses, Costco does its homework. It studies an area to determine whether the population base will support its economic success. Clearly, Ukiah made the cut.
When I first heard we might get a Costco, I felt mixed. I’d love to have more shopping choices in town. We don’t even have a Target. Local businesses who want to stay afloat cannot afford to bring in highly specialized items or large quantities of goods at discounted prices, so I have to go online or travel at least an hour away for those. On the other hand, I value the business owners in my community and I know the ones who are forced to compete with Costco are likely to lose.
So how did Costco win me over?
To be fair, I was never on the corner protesting against warehouse stores, so Costco didn’t have to turn a “no” to a “yes,” but rather a “maybe” into a “yes.” My personal shopping philosophy has always been to shop at locally owned businesses first, and even pay a small premium there, but not to be a slave to the shop-local dogma.
The first thing that began to win me over was Costco’s reputation for paying fair wages and providing good working conditions.
The first thing that began to win me over was Costco’s reputation for paying fair wages and providing good working conditions. On its website, Costco includes information about its sustainability commitment that includes things like “take care of our employees” and “support the communities where our employees and members work” and “operate efficiently and in an environmentally responsible manner.” I dig this stuff.
Then, a month ago, they reached out to me as a local blogger and asked if I’d like to write about them. Their only requirement was to share the news that they’re opening and to let folks know they were offering special deals for people who purchased memberships early As someone in public relations, I know they are supposed to sound fired up about their prospective opening, but it felt like they were truly excited about it.
A couple weeks later, I was sitting in my office downtown when a team of three polite and enthusiastic people with Costco shirts asked if I might be interested in becoming a Costco member. They did not know I was writing a blog on the subject. They’d been to every business on the block and planned to continue their canvassing until they’d covered the bulk of the business district. The team consisted of two Ukiah store managers, and a membership/outreach guy. One manager was from Eureka and another was transferring from Rohnert Park, though she was originally from Sacramento. Knowing they were from Northern California somehow made me feel like they might better understand how to support the Ukiah community.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I liked them as much as I did, except to say that they weren’t the least bit pushy, they genuinely seemed to like working for Costco, and they clearly believed a Costco membership was a great thing. I asked the guy from Eureka whether they’d met much resistance, given our small-town suspicion of warehouse stores. Instead of getting defensive, he said, “I’m from Eureka. I get it.” Then he went on to tell me in great detail why he liked Costco and all about the Costco Membership options. The other guy occasionally chimed in about various things he’d ordered for his mom for Christmas through the years, and I began to wonder if there is anything Costco doesn’t sell. (Check out their grocery offerings here. I challenge you to come up with a grocery item they don’t have.)
I opted for the Executive Membership for $120, as opposed to the regular $60 membership, because if you purchase the Executive Membership, you get 2 percent back on qualified (Kirkland) purchases and, if you sign up before the store opens July 19, Costco will give you $60 worth of Kirkland merchandise and a $20 gift card that can be used on anything in the store. Basically, there’s no downside to purchasing the more expensive membership if you do it before July 19. If the 2 percent rebate doesn’t cover the cost of the Executive Membership, you can just downgrade to the regular membership next year. Click here or visit the folks in the pop up tent in front of the store to purchase your membership before July 19.
I know change (even positive change) can be hard, and Costco’s arrival will be a big change. I hope having a Costco in town will help a lot more people than it hurts, that Costco will bring needed jobs, increased tax revenues, and a wider variety of goods and services to our area. I believe it will.
May 29 2018
When someone asks you what makes you unique, do you suddenly feel like the least interesting person in the world, like there’s absolutely nothing that differentiates you from hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of others? If so, you’re not alone. While we can often see what makes our friends, co-workers, and even competitors unique, it can be really hard to identify what makes us stand out from the crowd.
If you work for yourself, it’s important to identify the things that set you apart. This is central to defining your brand.
I recently presented a seminar to a group of real estate agents. While the focus was on helping Realtors promote themselves, the issues pertain to anyone defining their own brand and marketing their own business. Here are some highlights of the day’s talk.
Four Keys to Marketing Success
I love it (not really) when people ask me if I can “do an ad” or “make a website” before they’ve figured out what they have to offer or what they want to accomplish. First things first. Before you jump into marketing your business, consider these four things.
- Brand Promise – Be clear and consistent about who you are as a business person and how you meet your clients’ needs. Remember, relationships are based on TRUST and a consistent approach builds trust.
- Targeted Message – Define your target market(s) specifically and create your marketing messages accordingly. “Specializing in residential properties” is not specific enough.
- Long-Term Goals – Set big-picture goals about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it: this year, next year and during the next five years.
- Measurable Results – Use your long-term goals to make to set short-term targets that are clear, measurable, and attainable. How much money do you want to make by when? How many hours do you want to work? What skill or knowledge do you want to obtain? What can you achieve in the next 30 days, 90 days, 180 days?
Defining Your Brand by Writing a Bio
In developing your brand, you’ve got to figure out what differentiates you from your competitors.
A great exercise to help nail down your branding is to write a biography, one that shares your best attributes while explaining how you’ll address your clients’ needs.
In the seminar, I asked the Realtors to write down words that described them. Many wrote things like “friendly, helpful, and hard-working.” These are fine, but they don’t set a Realtor apart. So as an example, we started to dig into what it means to be helpful. It was amazing how many different definitions people came up with. The more concrete they were in describing the ways they help clients, the more their individual personalities came through. One experienced Realtor said, “I really listen, so clients get exactly what they want.” Another said, “I’m super organized, so I save my clients a lot of time.” Still another said, “I’m all about getting things right the first time–I’m careful and methodical.”
The more concrete they were in describing the ways they help clients, the more their individual personalities came through.
The sooner you realize that you’re not going to be the perfect fit for everyone, the sooner you can start thinking about who you’re best suited to work with. If you love technology but your prospective client has a flip phone and a Gateway computer, this may not be a match made in heaven. If, on the other hand, you can geek out on the pros and cons of the iPhoneX versus the Samsung Galaxy S9, this could be the start of a fun and rewarding relationship. The point is, you will be more successful if your services, your personality, and your work style mesh well.
If you’ve never given much thought to your brand or the attributes that make you unique, you might enjoy taking the Myers-Briggs assessment (16personalities.com) or working with a coach like my friend Marc Carson (marccarsoncoaching.com). It’s amazing what a little insight can do for you, both about your own strengths and weaknesses, and those of others.
Once you’ve got a good overview of your personality type, it’s time to get specific.
- Write down at least a dozen words that describe you; then choose your favorites—the ones that describe you best or that make you stand out. For example, I’d say I’m professional, positive, energetic and genuine.
- Then dig into each word and see if you can get even more specific. Be as specific and concrete as possible as you come up with words or phrases that describe you. The goal here is to really define who you are as a business person. For me, “professional” means getting projects done on time and on budget. It means only offering services I know I can deliver in a way that exceeds expectations. For “positive,” I really mean that I see clients’ challenges as interesting puzzles to solve. I am incurably optimistic and believe that with enough perseverance and focus, we can do almost anything. As for “energetic,” that’s it. I have more energy than the average hummingbird, so I can take on a huge load and have a great time doing it. And “genuine” means helping clients I believe in. I can’t promote something or someone I don’t believe in. I want to make the world a better place. I love working with clients in education, healthcare, and community building. I like to work for employers who take care of their employees, pay a fair wage and honor their work. So these are my business principles, and I find clients who fit with me.
- See if you can narrow your list to your core traits. Select the descriptions that are most accurate and most important in attracting the business you want.
- Then ask friends, colleagues and others you trust for their feedback. Sometimes we have blind spots, and it’s important to hear from people who will give you the praise and/or criticism you need.
If you’d like help defining your brand, get in touch. This is one of the things we do best.