Connect to your Customer

By Ethan Thomas, Communications Management Intern 

IKEA marketers hit the nail on the head with their most recent fundraising efforts. They turned children’s drawings into well-made soft animal toys. They combined several key marketing techniques into a very impactful worldwide campaign. They involved consumers, raised money for a good cause and showed the integration of the entire process.

IKEA only has a small market for selling plush animal toys. It makes sense. Drag your kids through the maze of home furnishings, then reward them with a cute and lovable toy! But this goes beyond that. The company has successfully involved a consumer that many would ignore in the furniture industry: children. IKEA uses children’s drawings as the inspiration for new plush toys and recognizes those kids for their drawing efforts. Fantastic. I may be generalizing, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s every child under 12’s dream to have a toy he or she personally made.

What really stands out, though, is how IKEA is using these toys to raise money for schools in need. Every year, the IKEA Foundation donates €1 for every soft toy sold in participating IKEA stores in November and December. The donation goes to Save the Children and UNICEF and is spent on children’s educational projects. It’s refreshing to see a company take up a cause that’s outside of its business interests. It exemplifies how IKEA wants to have a global reach with its fundraising efforts.

There are many ways to reach a consumer. What’s great about this campaign is the focus on the specific product and the organizations IKEA wants to support. Look through every single video produced by the company and you will not see one mention of their other furniture products. IKEA’s focus is solely on raising money for Save the Children and UNICEF. Kudos to you, IKEA. Many organizations would try to turn it into a campaign that might as well say, “Look at us donating money. Aren’t we awesome? Come on. That’s pretty awesome of us!” Through positive engagement and strategy, the company effectively removes that notion and creates a greater connection to its audience.

Honestly, we’re all kids at heart and I believe that’s why a campaign like this will resonate with so many. Here’s a quick tip though: Relate and connect to your consumer through an integrated, positive and emotion-triggering strategy, and you’re likely to do pretty well for yourself.

 

PR People Pet Peeves

When I worked in TV news, there were quite a few things PR folks did to annoy me. I am sure there were a lot of things I did to annoy them as well, but this is my blog and they can write their own if they’ve got something to say.

Apparently, I am not alone when it comes to PR People Pet Peeves. (Perhaps I will trademark this phrase. It is rather catchy.) I put the call out on my Facebook page to some of my friends who are still in the biz to help me make a list of behaviors to avoid. Once again, my very opinionated FB friends had a lot to say on the matter.

“Don’t call me at 4:45. I’m a little busy.” (Editor’s note: Don’t call the newsroom 15 minutes before any newscast. So, the best windows of time to call are 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.)

“Also, don’t schedule news conferences for Noon/5/6pm. I know they’d like us to cover it live, but that’s not going to happen. 9-11am and 1-3pm are the optimal times if they want coverage. And the morning ones are better because s#$! hasn’t hit the fan yet so we probably have a photog available.

“Setting up podiums in front of huge windows!!! Ugh.” (Editor’s note: You can’t backlight an interview subject. It looks terrible on TV. We know what you are going for is a nice backdrop, but the results of putting a speaker in front of a window are disastrous.)

“Trying to guilt trip you into talking to 5 different people for just a simple VOSOT.” (Editor’s note: VOSOT means Voice Over Sound on Tape, in case you didn’t know. Some newsies call it a VOB for Voice Over/Bite. I always thought they were weird. Anyway, it means an anchor will read over the video and then throw to a sound bite, ONE soundbite. So, it’s not necessary for the crew covering your event to interview more than one person. It’s a time-waster and if one of these extraneous interviewees is expecting to see themselves on TV later that night and doesn’t, feelings get hurt, especially if they told everyone on Facebook to watch. So, as a PR person, don’t promise every member of the board they can talk to the TV people. Pick one person, maybe a second for backup in the event Mr. or Ms. Telegenic can’t fulfill his or her duties, then tell everyone else, sorry, maybe next time.)

“Include visuals or at least a link to visuals if you can’t make the said affair! I hated having to call PR folks for visuals.” (Editor’s note: This former reporter left the business to work in PR at an amusement park where his promotions team ALWAYS provided visuals in advance. Bragger. If everyone did everything they were supposed to, no one would pay me to write blogs.)

The same former reporter also added the following:

“Even if they don’t have photogs or videographers on staff, I feel it’s so easy at this point for PR folks to shoot photos or videos with their mobile devices, that there really isn’t any reason they shouldn’t.”

He has a good point there. Sometimes I think PR people worry too much about having the perfect picture to send, but I argue perfect is overrated (and not just because I am currently finding my winter clothes a little snug.) Some marketing research shows the coveted Millennial demographic is more trusting of images that are less slick and more authentic (Think corporate video vs. YouTube.) So, keep it real, folks.

Finally, the same former reporter, let’s call him Ethan Spyder, left us with this tip:

“Also, have someone available to speak for the company on camera. I detest dump and run press releases.”

Doesn’t he sound a li’l angry about it still?

You will be happy to know that Ethan Spyder left both TV news and PR and is living happily ever after and way chilled out with his family farming some holler in the Shawnee National Forest. Ahh, the good life.

Until you have the courage to hatch and execute your escape plan, please keep some of these tips in mind. I will publish the rest of them in my next blog.

 

Yep, It’s Still All About Whom You Know

By Ethan Thomas, Communications Management Intern

In just six short months I will be graduating alongside, give or take, 1.6 million undergraduate students attending colleges and universities across the United States. That’s an overall 9 percent increase since 2005 and an incredibly terrifying number of Millennial 20-somethings… but The Institution of Education Sciences says that having some form of a degree in higher education does show a higher percentage of employment than those without. Well, that’s fantastic! The question is: Are all 1.6 million of us going to find one of those jobs? To answer that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that those with a college degree only have an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. That’s 10 points lower than those without a degree. OK, I’m starting to like the odds a little better now.

“So I am about to graduate with a degree. Still, with all of these other college grads, how the heck am I supposed to separate myself with a simple resume and cover letter?” Thanks for asking. While I am merely a college senior, I have to tell you, a big piece to this puzzle is networking.

First, we have to be honest with ourselves and ask a few questions. Have you been going to the career fairs at your school? Have you contacted your school about alumni in the field you’re interested in? Have you had any internships? All of these are opportunities to meet more professionals to expand your network and networking are an absolute game changer in terms of finding a job after graduation.

Let’s talk about what networking is not. Networking is not adding more friends or followers on your personal social media. Kudos to you if you get 300 plus likes on an Instagram photo, but that isn’t really helping your cause in finding a job.

Networking is not just handing out your resume or business card and hoping to hear back. You can do the same thing online and will probably have the same negative outcome.

Networking is not only meeting professionals so they can give you a job. Entrepreneur magazine says that networking is how you as an individual can add more value to more people in a shorter amount of time. If you’re trying to network for any other reason, you’re missing the point.

Networking is about building positive and influential relationships. Opportunities arise from these; that’s the real trick. The more impactful professional relationships you have, the more likely your name may come up for a job opportunity. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for.

So, get out there. Join the national society or organization of the industry you’re interested in, attend a career fair, find an internship, or just grab coffee with someone. Do everything you can to meet more professionals for the right reason. Show them that the relationship is a two-way street and you’re not just poaching them for a potential job. It may take some time, but the right opportunity will come your way.

 

When It’s More Than Like

By Ethan Thomas, Communications Management Intern 

Let Me Introduce You to Facebook’s Dislike Button

OK, so let’s get this straight. It’s not really a thumbs down, “Your post sucks,” dislike button. Also, it has yet to cross the pond and hit American soil. Facebook officially revealed it is testing several new alternatives to the “like” button in Ireland and Spain.

The new options are emoji-like responses that include “love,” “haha,” “yay,” “wow,” “sad” and “angry.” They are similar, but don’t resemble Facebook’s current “stickers” that can be posted in the comment section of a post. Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox released a video about the testing in the two European countries.

While adding a new delightful element to Facebook’s ever-expanding repertoire, this actually has interesting potential for any organization or business that has a Facebook page. As consumers, we are in an age where digital customer feedback can make or break a company. Now we have another way to give feedback to the companies we love or hate. We can give a little more emotion than just “liking” or ignoring social media content. Look for companies to start gathering this data and using it to influence future content.

So get ready, America, if the Spanish and Irish like and use this feature enough, we could be seeing it very soon.

Pitching Stories to the Media: Part Three

I know what I used to like and not like from my very long career in TV news when it came to story pitches, but I know my advice isn’t universal, so I asked via my Facebook page some of my newsie friends who are still in the biz to weigh in on what works for them. I heard from several reporters, producers, photographers and assignment editors in several markets.

“Do your research on whom you’re pitching to. Don’t pitch an investigative reporter a fluffy feature piece.”

“Make it timely. I’m more likely to respond to something if it coincides with breaking news or some current event, or the release of a new study (We love studies!) such as national car seat safety week OR following up on a recent child death in the news, a new study released on car seat safety.”

“Don’t make it a commercial for your product. I can’t do a story about how cool your product is.”

“Catchy slug! A clever headline gets ‘em every time.”

“Get my name and call letters correct. Don’t bug me by phone asking I received the email. It’s OK to call the day before or the morning of the event. Get to the point. Know it is not cool to call during the bomb runs, the 30 minutes before and anytime during a newscast. There. Whew.”

“Two words. Send food.”

“I like the what, where, when to be clear, so I don’t have to search for the date to file it under. Also, do not make me open an attachment to get the info, or I will hate you forever. And yes, send food.”

“I agree. If I am trying to get to an event, I don’t have to search through lengthy, rambling text to find the info I need.”

“From a TV/digital standpoint, you need to list elements that will make it easier to write/shoot/edit story. Right down to visuals, interviews/SOTs and even a suggested script.”

Resending, calling incessantly is just annoying. I’m like ‘Did you get a bounce back?’ Then yes, I got your 3 emails.”

“Tell me why this is going to be interesting or important to my viewers. And, how is it going to be visual? I agree with the comment about a good slug. ‘A local tech company develops an app that calculates you caloric intake’ sounds very different than ‘A local tech company creates an app to help you lose weight.’”

“As soon as I see something like, ‘I thought your readers might like this,’ I’m done. At least know whom you’re sending the release to and what they actually do.”

“KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule on releases to the Assignment Desk. Tell me the five W’s and keep it short. I would blow it out if it was verbose as I simply didn’t have time to mess with reading your three pages long email.”

“Don’t tell me where you want me to do the interviews. We’ll pick out own background, thank you very much!”

That last one was less about a story pitch and more of just a general pet peeve of any crew in the field. I agree with it wholeheartedly. The less pushy you are, the more you will be beloved by the media and that will be one of your greatest accomplishments because they can be a picky bunch.

World-renowned Crisis Expert at Hirons

The Hirons’ team was lucky enough to have a 90-minute session with the man who wrote the proverbial book on crisis communications. To be more accurate, Vincent Covello, Ph.D. has written or edited more than 25 books and published 75 articles on risk assessment, management and communication. He is the founder and director of the Center for Risk Communication, a job that takes him all over the world. Covello said last year he earned the third most frequent flier miles in the nation, an impressive 4 million. He still works part time at the World Health Organization (WHO) which sent him onto the front lines of disaster some 30 years ago when he was working there while on sabbatical from academia. Since then, Covello has managed crises such as Ebola, nuclear power plant meltdowns and the threat of pandemic influenza. He has a lot of advice on how to deliver the best messages during the worst circumstances.

During his early years in the field, Covello said crisis communications were merely based on conventional wisdom, but now neuroscience has allowed researchers to “open up the black boxes” of our minds. For instance, they’ve found that one negative equals three positives or what Covello and his team now call “1N=3P.” He explained that since our brains tend to focus more on negative information, it takes at least three positive messages to undo the harm of only one bad one. You need at least four to pull ahead. After that, the economic law of diminishing returns goes into effect and positive messages become less mitigating.

The research has also found that in most high-stress situations, around 95 percent of the questions affected people ask can be predicted in advance. Covello said there are 120 frequently-asked questions about Ebola and a whopping 420 when it comes to radiological disasters. Nuclear power plants can’t even be licensed anymore without having what’s called a “dark website” ready to go live in the event of a leak that will answer some of those questions. Covello said it just reinforces how important crisis communications have become in the modern world, even for problems as old as time. For example, there are 50 questions that have been identified to give peace of mind to the terminally ill. Once again, the rule of three applies here as Covello said the best way to answer the question of “How long do I have to live?” is by giving worst, average and best case scenarios.

The power of the number three is also evident in the “27/9/3 Rule” shown on the Periodic Table for High Concern Communication that Covello helped developed. He credits media mogul Ted Turner for making this rule back in the early years of CNN. Turner told researchers that TV news would only use a nine second soundbite from most officials, no matter what the topic. So researchers recommend to whittle down your message to 27 words you can say in nine seconds that contains three points. During the recent spread of the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus, for instance, WHO told the public to remove standing water around their homes to kill mosquito larvae, wear protective clothing to prevent bites and use insect repellent. Each point can be expounded upon with three sub points, if needed, in what’s called “Message Mapping.” At least 50 national agencies are training their spokespersons to use this method. Listen for it next time you’re watching a news conference to see who’s putting Covello’s expertise to good use.

Tips for Pitching Stories to the Media: Part Two

Here is the rest of my advice for how to play nice with the media and get them to pay attention to your event or announcement and maybe even cover it.

  1. Many times, the person who is writing the story back in the newsroom is not the person who covered your event. This is another reason why it’s helpful to put those names and titles of key players in writing. I advise you to write just enough on your media advisory that someone could write a short script about the event without being there. Sometimes the person who physically came to your event isn’t available to offer basic details or he or she has amnesia (Don’t even get me started on that.) This is also helpful when morning show producers are trying to preview the day’s news.
  2. Always include a PR person’s cell phone number so media folks can call if they need more information or clarification on something. It used to be if I got your desk phone and voice mail, I would just hang up. And then, depending on the story, just give up. I used to be that pressed for time or just that impatient.
  3. I used to wonder why PR people would waste their time adding quotes to news releases. As a TV reporter, I wanted to get my own. Pre-written quotes were only helpful if a story’s key player was unable (read: unwilling) to give a comment in person or by phone or email. But as time evolved and I started writing more web copy, I did start pulling some quotes from news releases. As a rule, most (good) reporters, TV or digital, should be getting their own quotes from sources and newsmakers. But sometimes time doesn’t allow, so include them but do so sparingly. To me, they still seem to be something PR people love but journalists can take or leave.
  4. Should you call the reporter or assignment editor to make sure they got your advisory or release? I really have mixed feelings about this one. All PR people call and say “I am just making sure you got the advisory.” So, for about an hour every morning, an assignment editor can get a steady stream of calls that all start the same way. It’s so monotonous. Chances are good your release got to the right place and news managers are deciding what to cover, as we speak, so I really can’t say if we’ll cover the event and even if I do say we’ll be there, due to the inherent nature of news, plans are likely to change between now and when your event happens… (deep breath)… so don’t expect promises from the news person on the other end of the phone or even a lot of enthusiasm. But, do call, I guess. It does happen from time to time that your release got misplaced. And sometimes if you’re a super nice PR person or entertaining to talk to, I would make sure someone came to cover your event to reward you for not being like the others. Just don’t think the more calls you make, the more likely you are to get coverage. It may backfire when you reach the level of Super Annoying PR Person.
  5. I think the optimal time for a news conference is 10:30am or 11am if it is really far away from a news station. This gives the crew just enough time to go the morning meeting and then get to your event. Then they still have the rest of the day to cover something else. Because news managers will definitely make them cover something else.

Bonus tip: Does it work to send an advisory with food or swag? Sometimes, yes. But this is dangerous from a PR angle, because you can end up spending a lot of money on feeding the entire newsroom and they still can’t cover your event due to staff shortages, breaking news or better stories. So, yes this gimmick does make your pitch stand out, but there are no guarantees of coverage and then clients will wonder why they doled out so much cash and got nothing in return. If money is no object, however, send food or swag when appropriate. Especially in smaller markets, many newsies can’t afford lunch or work so hard they don’t have time to take one so they will appreciate any food offerings.

Now that I work in PR, I almost always get lunch. Lunch is really great.

For fun, I asked some of my newsie friends what they think works and doesn’t when it comes to story pitching. Stay tuned for part three of this very special blog.

 

Tips for Pitching Stories to the Media: Part One

I was in TV news for a very long time. I don’t even want to say how long. In that unspeakable amount of time, trust me when I say I did pretty much every job in the newsroom, so I am well-versed on the challenges each position presents. I also know what it’s like to be completely overwhelmed by story pitches, how to tune out most of them and what used to make me stop and offer my coveted, albeit short-lived, attention.

  1. These days I work in PR, so I (kind of) now know the difference between media advisories and news releases. A media advisory is an invitation to an event and a news release is detailed information about an announcement. I guess I used to have a vague notion that these were different things, but they were kind of all the same to me. Plus, I didn’t care. So don’t sweat too much about what info should go where.
  2. Here is what I did care about: BREVITY. How much information can you pack into the fewest amount of sentences? Challenge yourself. I used to get hundreds of emails a day containing story pitches. I rarely read any of them in their entirety. I was just scanning for relevant bits.
  3. Because news people just glimpse most material, use bold to highlight the important parts. It works.
  4. My favorite media advisories put the relevant information in the following format somewhere on the page. It was usually the only information I was looking for, so I was pleased when I didn’t have to scavenge for it.

WHAT: An event.

WHERE: The address. (Even if you think everyone should know where something is, include an address or the nearest intersection. Many young photographers and reporters can’t go anywhere without a GPS. They’re usually not from here, so they really need a number and a street name. Not having those things gives them something else to argue with the assignment desk about. Those poor people already have it bad, so be their hero.)

WHEN: Date & time. (Chances are good at least one crew will be late, so plan to start 10-15 minutes later than whatever time is written here.)

  1. Beyond those elements, everything else is nonessential, but some extras are helpful. You can add what kind of visual elements can be expected at the event. The more eye candy, the better. Another nice touch is listing, in order, the names and titles of the speakers at your event.* That way, the reporter won’t have to ask for spellings or write them down. It also gives the crew an idea of how long they will be there. This is, again, where brevity is key. Many reporters and photographers (or the hybrid multi-media journalists, or MMJs) are turning several stories a day, so their time is really limited. Most rarely get lunch. In PR, I almost always get lunch. Lunch is really great.

I just realized I have so much to say on this topic that I can probably get to 10. But why give it all away now? (Plus, it reaffirms my point that no one will read anything if it’s too long.)

Stay tuned for more tips in my next blog.

*The editor of the blog, a veteran of the news business herself, would like to add the following: “OK, I know this is my thing, but how about a line asking that PR people fact check the spelling of the names and titles of the speakers? If so, many people are going to be relying on this information, it’s a real service that it is correct.”

Intern Spotlight: Ethan Thomas

INTERN SPOTLIGHT

Name: Ethan Thomas
Internship title: Communications Management Assistant

Why did you choose Hirons & Company for an internship?

My original intention of choosing Hirons lies in the Business Program at Butler University, where I am currently a senior studying Marketing and Strategic Communications. Go Dawgs! Butler’s College of Business requires each student to complete two internships during their junior or senior years to graduate. While an internship is required, I wanted to participate in one that would reflect an environment I would like to enter after I graduate, cater toward what I was studying and would push me to produce my best work. After doing a little research on Indianapolis companies that had a strong presence in advertising and public relations, it was a no-brainer that Hirons was the place I wanted to be.

What do you hope to accomplish during your internship?

I have several goals for my time at Hirons. First, I want to learn as much as I possibly can about advertising and public relations. At Hirons, you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by intelligent and influential members of both fields, and I want to take every opportunity I can get to learn more. Next, I want to walk away with tangible projects that I have had a direct impact on. This is something most internships don’t offer, and Hirons separates itself from its peers by offering this to its interns. Finally, I want to embody Hirons culture to be bold, and always outthink, outwork and outperform with everything I do.

What kind of work-related experience do you bring to us?

I have been lucky enough to have previously work at three different internships throughout my college career. From these opportunities, I have gained valuable knowledge, experience and exposure to marketing research, marketing analytics, event planning, digital marketing, organizational behavior and management, and strategic planning through execution based on client needs.

What kind of life experience do you bring to us?

College is not always about class. I am proud of the organizations I am a part of and I believe they help me bring something different to the table at Hirons. As a sophomore, I was the president of the Men’s Volleyball Club sports team. My junior year, I held the Social Chairman position for my fraternity and as a senior, I currently sit on the executive committee for my fraternity. These roles have all impacted me in ways that have helped me grow to become a better leader and follower.

What are your first impressions of Hirons?

Through the hiring process and after my first few days in the office, I have to say Hirons is one fantastic place. After spending a good amount of time in a cubicle, the open concept layout of the office is very refreshing. Everyone is also extremely friendly and willing to explain exactly what they’re working on. As a new intern, I strongly appreciate it. Hirons has that perfect balance of working hard and having a lot of fun. That’s a rare thing to find and I’m very happy and thankful to be a part of it.

Fun facts about yourself:

Standing at roughly 6’5”, many assume I was or am a basketball or football player. There have been a few strange instances where I have been downtown during the NFL Combine and was mistaken for a rookie. In reality, I was actually a volleyball player back at my high school in Oak Park, IL (Fun fact, it’s the same town Ernest Hemingway grew up in.) I almost decided to play volleyball in college. The biggest issue was that academics were not at the forefront of any of the schools I would have attended. Also, there isn’t the glitz and glamour of a potential professional career playing the sport in the states. Thankfully for the better judgment of my family and friends, I stuck to the student route and am much happier just talking about my volleyball glory days.

Jared Fogle and Subway: Thoughts on Crisis Communication

By Shannon Samson, Media Relations Director

Oh, the power of celebrity.

TMZ has breathlessly reported Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently took their children to eat at a Subway restaurant in Glendale, California, prompting website Business Insider, Inc. to report, “The fact that the socially-conscious and wealthy couple took their children there sends the message that Subway is a family-friendly choice. With the Jared Fogle scandal looming, the brand needs this kind of exposure.”

With Brangelina being as big as it gets in the eyes of the world, site commenters have already speculated Subway paid them to take the kids on this highly-public family outing. Even if that were the case, would it be enough to free the sandwich chain from its fractured public image? Is there any hope this good PR would rub off on Fogle himself?

“What is happening is not spelling good things for his future; that’s for sure, no matter what the outcome,” Hirons COO Jim Parham told WTHR, “We all know the equation, perception becomes reality. There’s a lot of perception going on about this case and that may affect people’s reality and that can hurt the brand.”

The images were damning. FBI agents raided Jared Fogle’s Zionsville home and left with computer equipment, leaving everyone to guess it must have been in connection to the child pornography investigation of former Jared Foundation employee Russell Charles Taylor, Jr. We watched as Fogle walked silently and solemnly in the rain to his attorney’s car to get away from reporters camped outside his home.

“The only person Mr. Fogle should be speaking with right now is his attorney in order to have the cloak of the client-attorney privilege,” Hirons President and CEO Tom Hirons told host Rafael Sanchez on an RTV6 newcast. (Video here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/e8PhfqyC44s) Hirons said the two keys of crisis public relations are not to get ahead of the news and to get it right. “Once you know the facts, you want to move very quickly because that window will only be open a very short period of time and you want to get as much accurate information out as quickly as possible to control the situation.”

Subway released a statement the day of the raid, saying it was monitoring the situation closely. Later, a spokesperson said the company was terminating its relationship with the long-time spokesman. Fogle released a statement in May when Taylor was initially arrested, saying he was shocked by the allegations and severing ties with him. Since then, Fogle has been silent.

Hirons said that’s smart. “At this point, there is a lot of insinuation, but it’s really premature for him to make any statement or for anyone to be out in front of this issue.”

Since the raid, a former journalist in Florida has told reporters Fogle once made a suspicious remark to her about middle school girls which prompted the FBI investigation. Fogle’s attorneys, on the other hand, keep reminding everyone their client has not been charged with a crime. TMZ is reporting they’re even saying the raid was a complete bust.

If it does turn out that Fogle did nothing wrong, it is possible for him to rehabilitate his image. Parham cited the comeback stories of Michael Vick and Martha Stewart as examples. In those cases, however, juries had actually convicted those celebrities of crimes.

No doubt Fogle is hoping his name is cleared quickly. He’s lost his lucrative gig with Subway, charities have distanced themselves from him and media around the world are lumping his name in with the likes of Bill Cosby and Hulk Hogan. I am sure he much prefers Brangelina.