Cracker Barrel’s Hard Lesson

By Emily Hayden, Account Manager

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is learning a hard lesson in social media best practices this week.

A month ago, an Indiana man named Brad left a simple post on the wall of the corporate Facebook page, “Why did you fire my wife?” There was nothing else. Initially, just a few responses to the original post added more details, including that Brad’s wife (now identified as Nanette) had been let go on his birthday after 11 years of service.

Once these details came out, the story went viral, and internet trolls have now taken over the corporate page. The campaign has spread across Twitter and Instagram, with the rallying cry of #JusticeForBradsWife.  Within 24 hours, there have been thousands of posts and comments, and national media are beginning to take notice.

The only action taken so far by Cracker Barrel has been to turn off the ability to comment directly on the wall of its page. Scroll through the comments section of anything that has been posted recently, and you can see how that doesn’t really slow down the wildfire once it has started.

While Cracker Barrel is attempting to figure out a response, we thought this was a good opportunity to point out the value of strong corporate social media management.

First, don’t take the decision to approach social media lightly. If you aren’t prepared to commit the resources needed to properly maintain and monitor your presence, it creates the potential for these PR nightmares. If you don’t have someone highly skilled on your team, hire professionals who can establish pages, create content, monitor and respond for you.

Next, a few safeguards should be put in place on all corporate pages to prevent this situation.

  1. Set pages so that wall posts must be approved by an administrator before going public.
  2. Have a team in place to continually monitor page activity.
  3. Keep an eye on comments to things you have posted. There is no way to filter these through a pre-approval process, but someone monitoring the page can hide inflammatory posts and comments and even ban abusive users from the page.

Last, and possibly most important as far as Cracker Barrel is concerned, respond quickly and accurately to any posts or messages. A simple statement from Cracker Barrel on the original post would have gone a long way in preventing this whole situation. While Facebook and other social streams seem larger than life, real people are on the other end of all interactions, and each has the potential to stir the general public to either hate or love your brand.

Cracker Barrel, we feel your pain and wish we had been there to help prevent it. The Hirons team is ready for any questions you have about social media or crisis public relations.

Three PR Lessons Learned from Boilermaker Football

Photo by Chris Costidakis

By Megan Auger, Communication Management Intern

To me, being a Boilermaker is the best thing in the world. But some students of Purdue University may not feel the same way each Saturday between the months of August and November.

With an abysmal 9-35 record since I arrived 4 years ago at Purdue, Boilermaker football has been struggling to come out with a winning season (According to SB Nation, the past 4 years have had the worst win percentage in Purdue’s football history). While ticket sales are struggling and many students are beginning to give up on supporting the team, there are some major communication and PR lessons that can be taken from this crisis that focus on simple ways to continue to support the team, or client.

  1. Never show discredit to the “team”

Even though the team has been struggling the past few seasons, the athletic department has never done anything to show any lack of support for the program. (If anything, they are supporting it more than ever, with a new football performance complex, renovation of the stadium and newly designed Drew Brees academic center) No matter what is going on within the organization, or how the organization is being viewed from the public, it is important to always support the team (or client) and continue to represent them in a positive light. Purdue football marketing efforts, events and promotions are still in full swing and have been each season.

If there is an organizational issue and an adjustment is made, it is imperative to support the decision of the organization and move forward with the change. For example, with head coach Darrell Hazell being asked to resign, Purdue Athletics has fully extended their support to the football team and new interim coach for the remainder of the season.

  1. Collaborating many parts of the “team”

To improve and get better results, collaborating with different parts of the team will ensure success in the future. For example, combining offense with special teams to get better field positioning, or joining the digital department with communications management to help a client improve their social media and online needs. By combining teams like this, it creates more strategic positioning for who you are representing in order to help them in the best and most effective way possible (Collaboration makes the world go round here at Hirons!).

  1. Pay attention to the stats

Statistics are arguably the most important factor in improving your team’s game. Results are essential to review how your game plan worked out, and these findings let you know what needs to be focused on more to ensure success next time. To improve in a football game, you must know your stats, and in an agency’s case, reviewing the “stats” on the campaign will give results as to what strategies worked best. For both a sports team and for everyday agency life, the stats are crucial to strategizing on what the best “game plan” is.

 

Building Client Relationships One Post at a Time

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By Emily Hayden, Account Manager 

As an account manager at Hirons, I spend quite a bit of time each week monitoring my clients’ social media pages. I act as the front line when it comes to observing and responding to online conversations involving the brands I represent. This takes certain levels of skill and tact in order to maintain the brand’s voice and please its customers.

When monitoring social media, I see it all – the good, the bad and the just plain weird. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of really trying to understand what the original poster wanted to say and the emotions behind it. While it might seem counter-intuitive, social media truly are about relationships. Most posters just want the company to hear what they have to say, whether it be critical or complimentary.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s really easy to see a negative comment online and give a canned response along the lines of “Thank you for your feedback, [NAME]. We will take it under advisement moving forward.” Here’s the thing, though: This doesn’t accomplish anything for anyone. As the account manager, it’s my job to get that feedback to the client in the hopes that its staff can make the necessary changes to improve that customer’s experience. Along with doing that, it’s crucial to provide the customer with a response that shows that the company really does care about fixing whatever might be broken.

On the other hand, as important as it is to respond to negative comments online, it’s equally important to acknowledge the positive ones. I try to never use the same “Thank you” response more than once. I like to authentically thank people for being loyal customers in any way I can. It just makes people feel good to be acknowledged, and it makes me feel good to reach out to people who love the brand as much as I do.

A great client recently gave me the most humbling compliment anyone could give to someone in my position. He thanked me for replying to customers on Facebook in the way that I do – adding that I respond as though I were an actual employee of the company. While that’s an amazing compliment, what he doesn’t realize is how seriously I take the responsibility of managing social media accounts.

As an account manager, I am able to see firsthand how passionately our clients care about their work, and that enthusiasm is contagious. The work we do through Facebook, Twitter and other social channels is our opportunity to help our clients share their passion with their customers and fans on a personal, real-time level. In many ways, social media are the most powerful tools we have for sharing the voice of our clients, and we waste them if we issue a canned, computer-generated response.

My advice: Be a fan of your fans. Share your passion, get more shares!

 

Uhhh … What’s PR and Advertising?

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By Taylor Morton, Amos Brown Intern

When I told my 7-year-old cousin that I am a summer intern at a public relations and advertising agency, her face immediately went blank. She replied, “Uhhh, what’s that?”

As first-graders, we all wanted to be a doctor, firefighter, singer or professional athlete because these were the established norm for that age group. I myself wanted to be a singer and background dancer for Christina Aguilera, but that was very short-lived after quickly finding out I could neither sing nor dance.

Frankly, how many 7-year-olds know anything about public relations? Or advertising? None that I know of.

At some point, we were all introduced to the PR and advertising industry, and some of us were influenced to pursue a career in it. But I’ll be honest: I am 21 years old and just now beginning to understand what public relations and advertising truly are.

As a telecommunications and journalism major, my main focus is gathering and presenting news to the general public. However, I’m learning that advertising and public relations consist more of telling a precise message to a precise audience. The message is then tailored to resonate with other audiences to generate an optimal reaction or behavior.

Though they have different approaches and goals, journalism, public relations and advertising are all merely forms of communications. At my university, Ball State, all fall under the College of Communication, Information and Media.

The industry of journalism, which aspires to impartiality, uses communication to simply inform the public and then allow individuals to create opinions based off the information shared. Advertising and public relations use communication to help share a client’s image, idea or program with targeted audiences.

As an intern, I’m still very new to the industry and still ask, “What’s PR and advertising?” But I’m learning more each day.

Few children learn about journalism, PR and advertising as possible careers. That’s too bad.

Take my cousin. Trying to think of the simplest words to describe my internship, I replied, “Well, it’s a way to communicate certain news and information to certain people.”

Her face began to glow with understanding. Then she said, “Oh, OK. I can do that!”

 

Mythbuster: “Spin” Doctors or Storytellers?

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By Brittany Kaelin, Account Coordinator

Oh, so you’re a “spin” doctor?

I swear I hear this question almost every time I tell someone I work in advertising and public relations. Allow me to bust that myth for you – we are not “spin” doctors. Some people think that PR has a negative connotation, but the goal of an agency is not to create a false image of a client’s brand that only portrays them as do-gooders. We want to create an image that accurately represents their company’s values and goals, and we want to help clients be successful with their audiences.

A valuable piece of information I learned during my time at Purdue University was to always admit your mistakes immediately so you can tell the public what happened first. The truth will always come out, and as PR professionals, it’s our job to get it right the first time.

Our aim is not to push nonspecific slander at the general public. We want to tell a story, not a lie. We use focus groups, interviews and analytics to find out who the audience is and what their wants and needs are so that we can meet them. Transparency is key in our profession because if you are transparent, you have nothing to hide which creates trust and effective communication with your publics.

One of the biggest reasons that I decided to work at Hirons was because of something I was told in my interview; “We are here to help tell someone’s story and do meaningful work.” That’s exactly what we do – we don’t “spin” facts to make a favorable impression instead, we research and think critically to create a message that will resonate with the public.

If you asked me today whether or not I’m a “spin” doctor, I would reply, “I’m not a DJ. I’m a storyteller.”

 

 

Some Thoughts and Advice, from Intern to Intern

By Ethan Thomas

To any potential, current or future interns, here are a few tips from a Hirons’ intern who has spent 9 months as one.

Prep: Prepare for every meeting, client and project. Indy 500 driver Bobby Unser once said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” Take that lesson from one of the best 500 drivers ever.

Knowledge: You won’t know everything. Nobody expects you to know everything right away. I’m still learning and bugging people to teach me the ins and outs of the company. (Maybe keep an AP Style Guide at your desk, too)

People: Meet them. Know their names. Learn what they do.

Volunteer: For Projects. For deliveries/drop-offs. For Meetings. Hirons like the go-getters who want to be involved in every aspect of the organization.

Questions: Ask them. Incredibly smart and talented individuals will be surrounding you every day. Use that to learn and grow.

Coffee: Drink it. Also, Kendall likes some “machiatto-mocha-frappucino” thing, just in case you need to get on her good side.

Be Bold: Relentlessly challenge your own abilities. You may surprise yourself in what you accomplish.

Have Fun: You have the opportunity to work and experience one of the most enjoyable and fun industries in the world. Have a great time with it.

Now, go forth and conquer. We believe in you.

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How to be a Media Buyer’s Best Friend…a Note for Sales Reps

It is important to note that the relationship between media buyers and sales representatives is both sacred and selfish. It’s sacred because we are constantly depending on each other. For me, it’s because it’s my job to build the best plan possible, to meet our goals and ultimately make the client happy; and for reps, because you’re responsible for bringing in the business and earning your company money. So being able to work well together day in and day out is essential! On the other hand, It’s selfish because we normally only communicate with each other when we need something, normally ASAP. So, if the advice below seems a little harsh, think of it this way—the easiest way for you to get what you want is to give me what I need.

  1. Please – for the love of all that is holy – read your emails!

You know that fancy schmancy RFP (Request for Proposal) I sent you? I didn’t send it just for fun. We work hard to put together Cost per Point or CPP goals, flight dates and directions on which ratings books to use based on the client’s needs. Therefore, before sending the next 15 emails with questions, stop & ask yourself– have these questions already been answered in the initial RFP? At the end of the day, something as simple as reading our emails carefully can save both of us hours of precious time. Which leads me to my next point…..

  1. The client’s business has to be earned

The CPP goals listed on the RFP aren’t numbers I made up for the heck of it. They were researched and they have a purpose and they really are a GOAL. I don’t know about you but I’m a fan of accomplishing goals that I set for myself and even more so when it’s a goal I set to benefit a client. So, if you submit rates that aren’t even close to the goals outlined and then don’t understand why you’re not included on the buy, this might have something to do with it (so please don’t throw any fits!!) I might go one round of negotiations with you if necessary, but would you see a reason to go back and forth on a submitted $500 CPP when my goal was $98? The answer is NO! There’s likely no way we’ll be able to meet in the middle, so if I can meet all my goals without it, then that’s what I’ll do. Plus, there’s always one station that really comes in strong—and as a result of its efforts and a little “CPP low-high” sorting function, it often gets rewarded simply by following directions.

Oh – and the era of multiple rounds of negotiation is over…. Hallelujah!  If we go more than one round, then I’m probably trying to add to your schedule; I just need a little help in doing so. Therefore, are you willing to sacrifice $10 to gain $1,000?

Side note – It’s never personal. It’s business. The client’s business has to be earned and their goals are my goals and I was hired to meet those goals. I’m simply doing my job. So, let’s not make it personal on your end either.

  1. A quick turnaround means I needed it yesterday!

I wish these requests didn’t happen as often as they do, but unfortunately that’s how the media business works. Sometimes the clients send us Friday afternoon requests to get spots on the air or ads posted by Monday. Media buyers have to depend on their vendors to make things happen. We can’t do it ourselves, so always keep track of your phone messages and emails because of these types of unexpected requests. This brings me to the next point…

  1. If you’re out of the office, please leave me with a backup person’s contact information

In the quick turnaround situations, I need to be able to get in touch with someone quickly and if you’re on vacation and don’t leave information for someone else to contact, it costs the client (and me) precious time. And most buyers would agree the following has happened at least once in his or her career—they get an out-of-office response, contact the backup listed and then get another out-of-office response. It’s like playing a game of schoolyard tag.

  1. No “Poaching”

Sales reps are always looking for more business. That’s common knowledge, but sending multiple emails a day/week/month about the client list on a company’s website won’t get you anywhere. Very, very rarely do we respond with “Why yes, let me shift the entire media plan around to include you simply because you asked.” Client media plans are put together based on research, client request, ratings, data, timelines and even gut feelings, so please rest assured that we will always reach out to you if there is a need or interest in your product. That being said, however, please also keep in mind we don’t always have unlimited funds & that not everything will be a perfect fit.

  1. “Latest and greatest” blah blah blah

In the past month, I can’t tell you how many meetings, emails and voicemails we get from people pitching the “latest and greatest.” Just because you saw that we handle advertising on our company website or did a search on LinkedIn, for anyone who handles media that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a relevant application. For example, a vendor has repeatedly reached out, but has failed to realize that the product being sold doesn’t even cover the state in which we handle most, if not all of our business. We urge you to do your research and truly find where and how you’d be a good fit & what your competitors are doing. I’ve heard the same pitch too many times to take you (and your company’s capabilities) seriously.

  1. Share

Don’t ask me what your share is because I’m not telling you.

  1. Client Budgets

Don’t ask me what the client budget is because I’m not telling you.

When one works with sales reps for long periods of time, you can become great friends and even better colleagues. Every media buyer and every sales rep works differently, so these tips don’t apply to everyone but they always help! Sales reps who take the time to learn how their buyers operate are wonderful to work with. I even had a rep who added a note on her calendar to send pre- and post-logs every single week so I never had to ask for them. It was so helpful! So, a huge shout-out and a big THANK YOU to sales reps for sticking with this sacred, yet selfish, relationship!

PR People Pet Peeves: Part Two

I put out a call on my personal Facebook page asking my friends who still work in TV news to tell me what PR people do to annoy them. Here are the rest of their responses.

“Don’t start a press conference 10 minutes late because one of the stations isn’t there yet. If they’re late, that’s on them. Don’t punish the people who are on time.”

“Don’t guide us to your most sterile conference room with walls of white board. I know offices are messy, but they’re visually interesting. The ‘mess’ actually shows you are working and gives me interesting cutaways.”

“When they send an email to you and to every station email address they have. I often get numerous copies of the same email since I’m on multiple lists. If there are five emails from one agency, all with the same subject, I typically don’t give it a good read.”

“Bad photos embedded in words docs. No website info. Not being available in the days following a release.”

“From the morning news groups, give me at least a couple of bullet points about why (the public) should care about this enough to write a :25 story about it. I second the notion of attaching some pics or video to that email…need visuals! And don’t put it in some crazy format that takes the entire IT department to figure out.”

“Sending embargoed material is rarely welcome. Also, letting another media outlet, most often a morning paper ‘preview’ the event to the extent that there is nothing new at the event beyond what has already been printed.”

“I find it really frustrating when I’m covering an event, especially as an MMJ (multi-media journalist), and the PR person gives you five different people to interview when you only need sound from one or two. Also, when they ask the best time to set up an interview and you tell them you have a 5pm newscast so the earlier the better. Then, they ask if 3:45pm will work.”

“When trying to personalize a news release, get my name AND station call letters right. Chances are if I see you’ve got one of those two things incorrect, I don’t read the full release. I also agree that you should send bullet points about why the public should care.”

“When they try to micromanage what I shoot. Oh! Get a shot of this! Oh! Get a shot of that! When I’m shooting a perfectly nice moment in front of them. Trying to guilt trip me into shooting something, especially a person you posed to mug for the camera, right in front of my camera, blocking the actual cute shot I was trying to get. And then taking a pic on your phone, saying, ‘Well, if they won’t take your picture, I will!’ That sort of thing only make me leaves faster.”

There you go… Out of the mouths of (news) babes.

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.

 

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.