On trucks, social media, and exciting days in PR
Monday, May 6, 2013
Nisa Drozdowski - Communications Associate
I recently had a doctor appointment where I was initially seen by a resident. In taking my history, the young doctor-in-training asked what I did for a living, and I answered "PR and communications." The resident's eyes lit up and she exclaimed "how exciting!"
While not every workday is "exciting!" I have fantastic opportunities to help facilitate and participate in some very exciting events for our clients, like this one:
That seven minutes of excitement was preceded by weeks of planning, organizing, scheduling, emails, phone calls, conference calls, meetings, writing press releases, and pitching stories. Exciting? You bet. Gratifying? You bet!
In the days since there has been a lot of coverage in print and online newspapers, television across western Canada, and radio. There has been a flurry of tweets, Instagram shots, Facebook status updates, blogs and YouTube videos posted as well. What has interested and impressed me most while working on this project is the value of that social media coverage.
Traditional media is a source of information for most people, but social media is where their thoughts and opinions are expressed, real dialogue occurs, and their decisions are impacted. This example of social media in action has been invaluable, and THAT'S exciting!
(Thanks to Paul Letourneau of www.imaguy.com for capturing our Edmonton Motorshow media event.)
Callin' it like I see it
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Megan Dart - Communications Consultant
Edmontonians are different. They are by-the-boot-straps get ‘er done self-starters. They are grassroots movers and shakers. They achieve amazing results. Ours is a city in which we build, create, and get things done; a city where, every day, Edmontonians make something.
Last month marked the birth of the Make Something Edmonton movement. A grassroots initiative designed to celebrate the beautiful, honest, gritty, even ridiculous projects business people, artists, social entrepreneurs, and builders of all kinds are making, Make Something Edmonton engages Edmontonians in a growing discussion, invites them to stake their claim, and begs the question: What are you making?
Make Something Edmonton is a platform for celebrating Edmonton’s success, a way to tell Edmonton’s story.
Make Something Edmonton, according to its champions, is not, however, a communications campaign.
I’m still considered a bit of youngun’ in the grand scheme of this whole communications game – I don’t quite yet have a decade’s worth of experience under my belt, and I still have buckets to learn before I can call myself a true expert (if that day ever comes), but I have worked on my fair share of successful national, provincial and local campaigns.
If there is one lesson I’ve learned along the way, whether it’s working with a small startup entrepreneurialship, a not for profit arts organization, or a large government body, it’s this: communications is all about telling the story.
Not just a story, but the story.
What makes this business unique? What is this organization making? Why do people need to know about this?
Communications is about getting at the guts of what people do, and how they do it: it’s about unearthing the beautiful, honest, gritty, ridiculous details; it’s about celebrating the how and the what of people’s passions.
The drive behind Make Something Edmonton reminds me of a question the Chair of my Communications program posed in a second year strategic writing course: Why are you telling me this now?
That simple question is one I keep in mind when I sit down to write anything, be it a proposal, a strategic communications plan, web copy, or my new play. Why do I need to tell you about this right now?
I believe in Make Something Edmonton. In fact, I’ve even posted my own project.
I think it’s high time Edmonton stopped being humble and started bragging about the projects, businesses, movements and creations that make our city not just worth living in, but worth celebrating.
And while Make Something Edmonton may not have an obvious communications plan, strategic tactics or measurable outcomes, it is, for all intents and purposes a communications campaign.
And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay.
Communications campaigns help map the road for you, help you know how you’re going to get there, and even help you know when you’ve arrived
Just callin’ it like I see it.
And I see a great and bright future for Edmonton, full of beautiful, honest, gritty, even ridiculous projects.
The Customer is Always Right, Right?
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Laurie Pettigrew - Communications Consultant
In a previous blog, you heard me wax lyrical about the challenge of transitioning from the public service to the private sector, and the brain shift required to go from bureaucrat to private sector entrepreneur.
Today's point to ponder is the role change from being a client to being a supplier. In my previous employment, I played a duel role as communications officer - providing communications services to internal customers - and as client to private sector suppliers, hired to provide goods and services to fulfill the needs of my internal customers.
I had some leeway in terms of the demands placed on me and my capacity to deliver.
When it came to the private sector suppliers, however, my attitude was very different. Because the supplier was being paid (well, better than me) and because they weren't governed by the same restrictions as I, there seemed to be no limit to the expectations I put on them.
Most of the time, I was just the messenger and my internal customer would be making the demands that I had to extend to my private sector supplier. So I was as understanding and accommodating as I could be under the circumstances.
And more often than not, they delivered. If they didn't or if they complained or delivered the service with less than a smile, I just wouldn't use them again.
But I never really understood what life was like on the other end until I got there myself (isn't that always the way....?)
Perhaps it's instant karma – but I now know how it feels to be considered a working, delivering machine. We are a company of people – and although we all have our own projects, the client still hired the company. They are paying for quality service and they don't care if everyone is down with the flu, if our secondary suppliers are all on vacation or that we (I use the Royal We, here) might not want to work through the weekend.
And why should they care? We live in a free market society and if we don't deliver, someone else will. Am I complaining? Not really. I understand what it's like.
But I now have more compassion for the individuals that make up those private sector businesses and for the sacrifices they make to serve the needs of their customers. And my aging brain is busily shifting from one paradigm to the next – and lovin' it!
A funny thing happened on the way to PR
Monday, November 19, 2012
Nisa Drozdowski - Communications Associate
Here at Focus Communications, they believe in throwing new staff right into the thick of things. This includes assigning the greenest Communications Associate to write the next blog post for the website.
The last two weeks (my first two with Focus) have been full of firsts. Scary, challenging, headache-inducing firsts. And I've loved every single one of them!
If you follow me on Twitter, or have ever met me in person, you've heard me gush about the job that brought me to Edmonton. I worked for a great employer in a small retail business that sold beautiful fashions to a clientele that felt like family. It was exciting to get to know my clients' style and needs, pass on knowledge of seasonal and industry trends, and then guide them as they made informed decisions to choose a product that would bring them satisfaction and, yes, even happiness. It was so much more than selling clothes. Or designing custom floral creations. Or teaching grade nine students how to solve a polynomial equation.
And that's why I'm now here at Focus Communications. The art and science of public relations and communications encompass what I've most loved about every other career path I've wandered down: cultivating and managing relationships, sharing knowledge, and influencing decision making.
I know there's a lot more to this industry than that, but let me bask in the headachy newness of it all for awhile.
Baumgartner’s Stratos jump proves the power of PR
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Shelley Bindon - Director of Communications
Although Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s five minutes of extreme fame is past, I want to talk about the beauty of the Red Bull Stratos public relations campaign and how it so perfectly echoed the brand perception that Red Bull “Gives you wings.”
Just for the record, although the news media called it an advertising stunt, it wasn’t advertising that fuelled Felix’s ascent into the stratosphere (both literally and figuratively), it was the slow burn of PR – story after story, tweet after tweet, building up to his leap from the capsule. Brilliant.
For the 12 or so million people across the globe who were able to access the mostly digital channels that the Stratos jump played out on, Felix is now part of our collective consciousness. More than that, though, his space jump was an important first lesson for this budding PR professional, and it’s been formative for me in my new role.
After 15 or so years of being on the other side of the desk receiving pitches, I’m now on the flip side, figuring out how to propose an angle to get the attention of my overworked former colleagues. It’s not easy.
As newspapers attempt to do more with less, there are fewer opportunities to get stories set in ink. What to do, what to do? If the story has the right pop, there’s still radio. If it has the right face, there’s always TV. But what about the stories that don’t quite fit? If newspapers are leaving a void as they restructure, that means there’s an opportunity for someone to fill that void. Is it bloggers (most are retired or laid-off news people, so they’re still highly critical and weary of the PR pitch)? Is it YouTube videos? Is it an alluring corporate website that tells the client’s story all by itself? Is it a Twitter campaign?
I suspect that all these options can and should be in play for most clients. It means a lot more work for the PR firm, having to light a dozen little fires on a number of platforms, but I do think it makes for a bigger, hotter, longer burning bon fire of public awareness.
My own experience of Red Bull supports this theory, too. I remember when the energy drink first launched in North America. I was working in queer media in the U.S., and Red Bull was sponsoring gay events because, well, gays party hard, right? I read the brochures, collected my free samples, and then … simply gave them away to my sleep-deprived friends who were nurturing toddlers.
For years since, I’ve been watching the cat-scratch animated cartoons of the brand, as its chubby characters take flight on the wings of their caffeine drink. Never once in all those years did I crack open a can -- not even on my busiest party-a-rific weekend. The concept didn’t appeal, and the advertising certainly wasn’t speaking to me.
Strangely, after experiencing the months-long buildup of the Stratos jumps, the nail-biting abort of the original date, and then the (finally) final leap that one fateful Sunday, I wanted a Red Bull.
I deliberately went out and bought one on the way to the gym. It was expensive for such a small can of mostly water, the mostly water was sickly sweet and strangely herby, and the jolt was indeed palpable. Would I have one again? No. But I am amazed (and slightly gratified) that PR (my new profession) got me to buy one after years of advertising handing me free ones that I simply gave away.
Go PR. Maybe it’s us who will fill the hole left by a shrinking print media.
A tale of two sectors – public and private
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Laurie Pettigrew - Communications Manager
Recently, on a lonely Friday afternoon at Focus, a call came in from a young guy in his first month of PR at Grant MacEwan. He needed to interview a seasoned communicator about the profession and I reluctantly took the assignment but had no idea what pearls of wisdom I could impart.
I didn't think I was the best person to interview because, of the 27 years I have spent in Communications, 25 ½ of them were in the public sector at the City of Edmonton and I wasn’t sure he would get a well rounded view.
As I started to answer his probing questions, a theme emerged – a comparison between communications in the public and private sectors, and my new view of the differences .
I had a lot of public sector anecdotes dating back to the 80's and descriptions of how things were done in the “old days.” I had also accumulated a few learning experiences from the past 18 months in the private sector that may or may not have been useful to him, but they illustrated the differences between the two sectors to me.
First of all, it was drilled into me from day one at the City how important it was to be conscious of how the taxpayers' money was being spent. We always endeavoured to use the cheapest suppliers, materials and fought for the lowest cost on advertising and promotion. We did as much for free as possible. I was always talking clients out of doing things in order to save money for the corporation.
I carried this mindset with me into the private sector, chafing at extra spending on the part of the client when I realized, the more they spend, the more income for the company. Do we talk clients out of doing things here? No – not unless it is ill advised. But mostly, we gladly give the client what they ask for – a new paradigm for someone steeped in public sector restrictions.
Media relations is another thing. It was amazing and refreshing to see that you could write a news release in a private company without agonizing over every word and send it out on behalf of your client without needing a million approvals.
In the public sector, you take for granted the fact that the media will almost always respond to your release or show up at your event, with reporters assigned specifically to the local government beat. In the private sector however, it's much more difficult to catch media attention, especially for commercial clients. Developing strong personal relationships with reporters is very important in the private sector but ill advised in the public, where the communicator is always on his or her guard with media forever looking for a leak or slip-up.
The differences between the two sectors are often subtle but profound. As the weeks go by, I am shedding old habits developed over long years in a strict government environment. But Focus does a lot of work with the City and I have to admit that it's nice to really understand the concerns of those clients, yet now be able to provide them what they need without fear of reprisals.
Did the young guy get a good interview in the end? I hope so. He expressed an interest in working for government and I hope I was able to give him a balanced view of the differences!
Will we ever stop being us and them?
Friday, May 20, 2011
I work in public relations, and have done so for 30 years. When I started my career, I tapped noisily on my IBM Selectric™ typewriter, dabbed errors with WiteOut™, photocopied and then mailed out news releases to newspapers, TV and radio. If it was urgent, we couriered...or sometimes even hand delivered. (I know!)
Strict deadlines were met. Never hold a news conference past 2pm or TV won’t be able to make it. Always return a radio reporter’s call immediately, but not at the top of the hour when he/she would be reading the news. Never let a phone message sit for more than 24 hours. (Yikes)
Reporters were the enemy. They were the people around whom we had to be especially guarded. “Loose lips sink ships” and other sage words of advice kept us from blurting out some detail that was not quite ready to hit the front page. “There’s no such thing as off the record” we were told. Anything you say can and will be used in the court of public opinion, aka local newscasts. (Ok, that part is still true.)
A lot has changed since then, most likely evidenced by the fact that there’s a good chance, dear reader, you’ve never seen an IBM Selectric™ typewriter. In today’s online world, where citizen journalists report the news faster than most media outlets can (reporters have that pesky fact-checking thing to do, after all) both sides are coming together.
PR people and reporters are each discovering that the other is NOT the enemy. They are also discovering that each is a human being, capable of making mistakes and also capable of forgiving them, too. We’re also discovering that partnerships between PR and reporters can result in some of the best stuff. Let’s face – we need each other.
In this hyper-connected world, I think we need each other more than ever. Reporters need instant access to credible, reliable information. PR people need to provide reporters with innovative story pitches and digital assets to meet the needs of multiple formats. Most importantly, the news cycle is now a minute-to-minute thing, and that places a lot of pressure on everyone.
Will we ever stop being “us” and “them”? Probably not, but the “dark side” (whichever that is for you) isn’t quite as dark as it used to be. Your thoughts? Click on “comments” at the top of this post.