Friday, July 6, 2018

How to Negotiate Anything — From People Who Have Done It

1. How did you negotiate?

I didn’t — at least in the conventional sense. Instead, I named my fee, and when the prospect balked, I explained the value of the experience and expertise that I’d bring to the project. I wasn’t defensive or curt, but respectfully firm that this is the market rate for specialized work.

(It turns out his reluctance wasn’t a negotiating ploy; he didn’t understand the scope of the services I was offering, and so after a few emails, I ended up getting my full fee.)

2. What tips do you have for those who want to mimic the same success?

The key is not to present an ultimatum (even though that’s exactly what you’re doing); it’s to couch your language in a way that communicates firmness but respect. At the same time, resist the temptation to get chatty. Succinctness here is a virtue; often it’s best just to bottom line it and say, “This is my rate.” A caveat: If you go down this road, you can’t turn around; you must be willing to drive over the bridge.

Monday, July 2, 2018

PR Wins and Blunders of 2018

Starbucks faced a truly terrible situation of its own making. Yet, ultimately, the company handled the crisis with transparency, leadership, and bold action. Closing every single U.S. store for several hours to better train your staff means losing real money for the sake of a principle. That kind of bold, executive action signifies a greater commitment and greater sincerity than a mere apology or donation.

By contrast, IHOP seems to have followed the Trump playbook for PR: It doesn’t matter what people are saying about you — as long as they’re saying something. Of course, this is a stunt. To be sure, stunts demand guts and creativity, but ultimately this one just confused people and dented a brand that was once singularly, gloriously associated with pancakes. “IHOB” sparked our attention, but left us with empty stomachs.

Addendum (7/2/2018): Success!

Addendum (7/8/2018): Success!

Friday, February 2, 2018

How Do You Get Your Employees to Use Your Intranet?

Do you have any tips on driving employees to the intranet? I have a couple sources but would like to have another. Anything mobile related? Or any other wisdom on the topic would be welcome.

People in the workplace tend to gravitate toward what’s easiest, and intranets are notorious for being the opposite. Ask anyone about SharePoint, and he’ll no doubt complain that it’s sluggish and cumbersome.

To rectify this, employers have two broad options.

On one hand, you can employ brute force (or, in bureaucratese, “incentives”). Want to drive employees to your intranet? Make your intranet the one place where they can submit expense reports. Or time sheets or PTO requests.

On the other hand, you can put yourself in their shoes. In tech parlance, “You can eat your own dog food.” For example, most intranets were designed without any real attention to the user experience, or UX. As a result, they use an overly technical aesthetic, which creates a steep learning curve.

By contrast, look at that same company’s website. No doubt, it was the product of expensive developers and designers; it wasn’t an off-the-rack template. In other words: Just as you wouldn’t think about building your public website without a UX specialist, so you shouldn’t build your private site without one.

Addendum (4/2/2018): Success!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lulu Flunks Out of the CIA’s K9 Bomb-Squad School

When most people of think of the CIA, we think of spies and torture. Homeland helped to humanize the agency, but now that the show is over, that critical task has fallen to the Twitter team. And, now, at least for the short term, whenever the CIA is mentioned, everyone’s first reaction will be, “Isn’t that the place that retired Lulu the bomb-sniffing dog”?

This is branding at its best. Putting a face (or a tail) on a deadly serious organization humanizes the agency, which by default operates in the shadows. This is especially important for government agencies, which the public too often associates with giant faceless bureaucracies.

Indeed, a little levity, done strategically, brings a lot of benefits. It can help recruit young people, improve goodwill on Capitol Hill, and enlarge the agency’s digital microphone.

Finally, this isn’t the first time the CIA has employed humor to rave reviews. Their very first tweet, three years ago, set the tone for what is now one of the government’s best Twitter accounts. No wonder they have more than two million followers!

Addendum (10/20/2017): Success!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Should Google Have Fired the Engineer Who Said Women Aren’t Interested in High-Stress Jobs?

I’m writing a quick follow-up about the Google engineer who was fired for writing a memo that questioned the company’s diversity initiatives. While many on Twitter are celebrating the firing, others are saying Google proved the memo writer’s point — that it can’t tolerate dissent. Should questioning corporate diversity policy be a firing offense? Is the reputational damage of a Twitter firestorm so great that employees should be shown the door for an internal email that leaks?

In a normal company, Damore’s letter would no doubt be a fireable offense. But Google is no ordinary company — not by a long short. To the contrary, Google prides itself on an unshakable willingness to challenge conventional wisdom — whether that means leaving China on principle, doing its IPO via auction, or bankrolling seemingly crazy R&D projects.

Indeed, Google’s founders are contrarian to their core. They often embrace ideas many of their competitors would sprint from. (Their original “founders’ letter” begins thus: “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.”)

I understand why Google did what it did. After all, it’s currently being investigated by the Labor Department for paying women less than it pays men.

But firing a troublemaker is the easy thing to do. Using this controversy as a teachable moment — convening a forum on diversity; writing op-eds; leading the charge on transparency in HR — would have been the right thing to do. It also would have been in keeping with the best traditions of being Google-y.

Addendum (8/9/2017): Success!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

PR Lessons From Bob Dylan

In honor of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature (!), I’m looking for PR and communications lessons from his lyrics, life, personal brand or whatever.

1. Unbeknownst to many, Dylan is a master of rebranding. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, he began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan” during his Dinkytown days. The new name was not only perfect (his expressive lyrics were influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas); it was also permanent. (If only George “T-Bone” Costanza were as successful as choosing his nickname.)

What’s more, when he tried to change his tune/brand, via the Bob Dylan Gospel Tour in 1979-1980, his exposure paled in comparison to that from his original persona

2. Dylan was a perfectionist — but not in the humblebrag way that most PR pros today claim they are. For example, he famously went through 40 pages in rewriting the song “Dignity,” which he ended up cutting from his album, Oh Mercy. (Note to junior account execs: how many drafts did you go through in writing your last press release?)

Addendum: Success!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Damage to Brand After Reporter’s Deceit

Got a reaction to this firing of a reporter for allegedly fabricating quotes? Did the Intercept stem the damage to the brand by acting quickly?

An editor’s note and investigation is one thing. But, ultimately, deeds matter more than words. Specifically, what’s the punishment? Has been Thompson been fired? Suspended? Put on probation? For “great lengths to deceive his editors,” coupled with noncooperation, the appropriate remedy would seem to be the former. That’s thorough and decisive.

In any event, people like you and me—the press and insiders—care more about scandals like this than do regular readers and advertisers. BuzzFeed is thriving despite Benny Johnson’s plagiarism. So is the Washington Post despite Lisa Rein’s and Wired despite Jonah Lerer’s. Plagiarism damages the plagiarist more than his publication. Exhibit A: Serial fabulist Stephen Glass still can’t get a job.

Addendum (2/4/2016): Success!

Friday, January 15, 2016

One-App Wonders

One of the stories I’m doing next week has the working title of “WTF Is Peach?” and I’m going to explore how brands can benefit from it (or how they can’t).

I haven’t used Peach, and fully expect it’ll flame out, a la Ello, Yo, Path, Secret, Meerkat, and dozens of other one-day wonders.

In this sense, if a brand wants to capitalize on these shiny new gidgets, it’s best to jump on the bandwagon at the very beginning — to strike while the app is on everyone’s five-second-long radar. That way, it’ll earn kudos for, and draw the visibility that comes from, being a first mover.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anti-New Year's Resolutions

There is always buzz circulating about New Year's Resolutions, but what about the anti-resolution?

Send more emails. Email is a two-edged sword: it’s easy to send, but it’s just as easy to ignore. Indeed, even the Secretary of State needs to follow-up with her staff. So, in 2016, resolve to reply to more emails. The smallest acknowledgement — “thanks”; “confirmed”; “we’ll let you know” — will go a long way toward axing ambiguity and saving senders from crafting that dreaded “touching base”/“checking-in”/“circling back” missive.

Watch more cat videos. Everyone agency staffer has heard the phrase “viral video.” Whether a client wants one or you promise one, virality is near impossible. And yet, there’s one type of videos that consistently draws massive amounts of eyeballs. (Hint: they feature fluff and fur and... felines.) So, strive to watch more of these irresistibly funny animals in 2016. Study what makes them so fascinating, and then apply the same techniques to your own work.

Addendum (1/4/2016): Success!

Check out our first media mention of 2016!

Posted by The Jonathan Rick Group on Monday, January 4, 2016

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Google+

Google has been phasing out of Google+ for a while now and now, they’ve finally removed its links and reviews from search results pages. If you’ve got a second this morning, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

One thing you have to admire about Google is its restlessness, especially for such a huge company. It’s always testing—introducing and ending products as if it were a startup.

Google put tremendous resources behind Google+—even going so far as to tie employees’ bonus to its success. But lately, Google+ seems like the uncle who you have to invite to Thanksgiving, even as you gently suggest he might be more comfortable elsewhere.

We can see evidence of these nudges in the decoupling from Plus of Hangouts, Photos, and even a Google account. And, now, Google just dropped the big axe, booting Plus from Mountain View’s claim to fame, its search results.

In this case, I suspect antitrust concerns, combined with the disappointing and decreasing use of Google+, made this a relatively easy decision.

Addendum: Success!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Emojis

Starting Wednesday, you’ll be able to order pizza by tweeting the pizza slice emoji at Domino’s, and then other brands like Foot Locker and Burger King have their own straight up keyboards. Would love to hear your thoughts on the growth of brands using emojis.

This seems like a classic case of shiny new object syndrome, of putting the cart before the horse, of tilting at a strategy with a tactic. Emoji are popular right now, brands are thinking; we must join the bandwagon!

But, as Steve Jobs often said, sometimes saying “no” to new features is as important as adding them. Chasing new trends, especially frivolous ones, may engender buzz in the short term, but it’s not sustainable in the long term.

Addendum (5/15/2015): Success!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Press Release Grader

Any thoughts about this new press release grader?

Someday, algorithms may replace writers. But we’re not there yet. There’s just too much to good writing—creating a narrative, developing a flow, delighting readers with surprises—which machines can’t replicate. Yet.

Even the most seemingly straightforward or banal content contains nuance. Such wisdom is part of what differentiates us from HAL.

As a PR pro, I welcome services like this. Rather than jeopardizing my job, they unintentionally underscore how difficult it is.

Addendum (5/11/2015): Success!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Super Weird Campaign

I am working on something small and fun about what is possibly the weirdest campaign I’ve written about for since starting at ClickZ. Romanian KFC launched a website yesterday that translates to “Don’t panic, man” that automatically scans Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc., and if any of the sites crash… the site changes to have a big button that will send a digital coupon for a free KFC meal to your phone. The idea behind it is that lack of online communication is a huge deal to their target demo and this is softening the blow? I guess?

This is clearly a stunt, the first goal of which is publicity. From that perspective, it’s succeeding—after all, ClickZ is writing about it!

But I’m not sure it’s wise to build your brand on the basis of schadenfreude. Surely, there are ways to offer free food that don’t entail riding roughshod over and antagonizing the biggest Internet companies in the world.

On the other hand, this is a unique case study in real-time, mobile marketing. It’ll be interesting to see how the campaign shakes out.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, March 9, 2015

#WeaselPecker

I’m writing a piece on the #WeaselPecker meme on Twitter (the weasel riding on a woodpecker). Adobe initially fanned the flames (“Photoshop had nothing to do with this... yet. Let’s see what you badasses can do”), and British Airways posted a weasel riding one of their jets. The Today Show and others have joined in.

Why would a brand jump in on something like this? Is this still successful? Is everybody trying to redo the Oreo tweet?


This is a terrific example of two tried-and-true practices—newsjacking and humor—being fused together.

Will a hashtagged tweet boost sales? No. But it will heighten brand loyalty, which is social media’s sweet spot.

Too often, when brands on Twitbook reach for humor or newsjacking, they end up as an epic fail. But when they nail it—whether with #WeaselPecker or #TheDress—the result is funny and memorable, which is exactly what every advertiser is aiming for.

Addendum (3/10/2015): Success!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A-Rod’s Apology

I thought you might have some thoughts on Alex Rodriguez's handwritten apology, released today. I'm trying to write a piece dissecting the letter. Do you have any thoughts on the unusual decision to release a handwritten copy? Do you have any thoughts on the language itself?

Overall
It’s an apology with no explanation. At this point, I’m not sure how effective it’ll be, since most of us formed our opinions of A-Rod a long time ago. The delay is a big red flag: why say sorry now? Why the sudden and complete change of heart?

Substance
The good: He “takes full responsibility,” says “sorry,” and expresses remorse. The language is straightforward and the sentences are simple. He writes with nouns without relying on adjectives to drive home his points. He acknowledges his lack of credibility, and, in a nice touch, declares that he doesn’t want to further tarnish the pinstripes by apologizing on the field.

The bad: It’s not credible; there’s no emotion, no depth. What’s more, he spends 20% of his letter being defensive (the third graf), noting the length of his suspension and the “let’s-move-on” sentiments from others. Caveats are the mark of a bad apology; a good apology is unconditional.

Medium
To cut through the overwhelming noise that constitutes much of today’s media landscape, one must be creative. This is not only smart; it’s also necessary. With his handwritten letter, Alex Rodriguez is following the path of other superstars like Michael Phelps, who tweeted an apology for his recent DUI.

Addendum (2/19/2015): Success!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Twitter Ads

I’m writing about Twitter today, how they’re selling ads against Tweets embedded on other websites as a way to reach non-Twitter users. If you’ve got a few minutes today, I would love to hear what you think!

Twitter has it backwards. Instead of focusing first on monetization, it ought to focus on delighting customers. This is how Facebook and Google grew: by following the “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” playbook. By contrast, Twitter seems to be following the “if-we-build-it-they-must-be-monetized” playbook. Making money is the easy part; attracting a billion users is the hard part.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with Twitter’s idea per se. It’s the way Twitter is proceeding that’s troubling: without clarity, without partners, without vision.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snapcash

Snapchat just announced a partnership with Square for “Snapcash,” a new way for people to send money to their friends. So now Snapchat is involved in payments and Square is involved with social, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what that can mean for the two companies.

I understand the urge to seize the momentum while you’re the hot new startup, but there’s a difference between innovating and trying to do everything—between perfecting that which you excel at and grasping for solutions in search of problems.

What’s more, Snapcash introduces a branding problem. The service is predicated on transience and frivolity. Traditionally, these are not values we associate with our bank account.

Addendum (11/18/2014): Success!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Alex From Target

1. Yesterday, Target tweeted: “We heart Alex too!” Do you think there’s more that can be done with the meme, or is Target’s acknowledgement enough?

2. It’s hard for brands to know how much to engage with memes and other inside jokes online. Can you think of some brands that have done really well on social with these sort of temporary cultural moments? Any that have backfired?

3. How can brands maintain a sense of humor on social media without becoming too silly? Is Target maintaining a good balance?

Brands are smart to join light-hearted bandwagons every once now and then. And social media is the perfect vehicle to express this levity.

Deploying humor online can be tricky, but when done right—as Target did yesterday—it can draw genuine laughs, build reservoirs of good will, and sharpen brand equity.

@GoldmanSachs did it right when @GSElevator’s book deal collapsed, snarking, “Guess elevators go up and down.” @CIA did it right when it joined Twitter, announcing, “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” Even @WhiteHouse got in on the game, Rickrolling one concerned citizen who tweeted about the dry subject of fiscal policy.

On the other hand, miss the mark even by a little, and the joke can backfire. This happened to @WashingtonPost, which embraced an Upworthy-style headline in a tweet about child molestation, and @CNNBrk, which followed suit when reporting the stabbing of an 11-year-old girl.

The bottom line: “Alex From Target” has fueled feel-good, free press about the company, which should be happy to be in the news for something other than being hacked.

Addendum: Success!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Email in Internal Communications

Like most Washington institutions, one of my clients compiles and distributes various daily “clips” reports. These emails summarize the previous day’s news coverage, link to articles that quote a staffer, highlight our social media hits, and so on. Indeed, these internal emails are so valued that the organization distributes several of them, which sometimes overlap.

And yet, no one was tracking any of this; we assumed that because Very Important People were receiving these emails, the emails were Very Important. In one case, when we attempted to introduce a tracking mechanism, so we could see, at a minimum, the open and click-through rates, we encountered pushback. The current system worked, we were told; and it took a lot of time to get it where it was. Moreover, the email was a source of pride and turf, and making even small changes required layers of approval.

In another case, we shifted a daily report from a simple distribution list to an email marketing service, MailChimp. This allowed us to see exactly who was—and who wasn’t—opening the emails, and the results were eye-opening: people claimed to value the reports, but few were actually reading them, let alone clicking on their links. These insights fueled the argument to ultimately shut down this particular report.

Addendum (7/29/2013): Success!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The NSA and Silicon Valley

I’m working on a round-up today of the money spent by tech firms during the past year on privacy lobbying efforts. Do you happen to have any thoughts on the trend of companies spending more to influence lawmakers, and on them focusing a lot of their attention in recent quarters on NSA surveillance reform issues?

For any company that Americans entrust with the most personal details of our lives, the NSA revelations are cataclysmic. Reports that the government can spy on virtually anything we do electronically threaten to undercut the almost-total trust we place in tech companies.

We trust Facebook with our friendships, Google with our secrets, Twitter with our stream of consciousness. Trust is the foundation of their success, and they need to be perceived as working overtime to preserve and protect this sacrosanct relationship.

So it makes perfect sense for Silicon Valley to press its case in every forum: that of public opinion; in meetings with President Obama; by lobbying lawmakers and regulators.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013: The Year the Viral Headline Went Mainstream

I'm looking to do an end-of-the-year story on the top tech improvements/gadgets for communicators for 2013. I'd love to get a quote or at least your opinion. What do you think was the coolest or most useful tech platform/gadget or improvement this past year?

2013 was the year virality went mainstream, and it did so by way of viral headlines. If we takeaway one tech lesson this year, it's that a good headline can be a silver bullet.

As websites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy have demonstrated with truly remarkable success, if you want your content to go viral, you need to spend as much time packaging it with a click-baitish headline as you do writing the post.

This isn't easy. As even the smartest experts have discovered, when it comes to predicting which headline will do the best, your gut is gullible. Instead, you need to need to test, test, and test some more. Done right, a good headline can spur a police investigation or help raise $300K for cancer research.

Addendum (12/18/2013): Success!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Endless Tweets

Greenhouse Management magazine found my article about endless tweets, and cited it in the December 2013 issue. Here’s a screen shot:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Instagram Video

Any initial thoughts about this Instagram video announcement and what it’ll mean for PR/comms?

This is big news. For years, YouTube has utterly dominated the online space for videos. Indeed,  in the same way that “Kleenex” means “tissues,” YouTube has come to mean “videos.” Today’s announcement means there’s a new kid in town—and he’s backed-up by Facebook’s billion-plus users and billions in the bank. Accordingly, communicators now have greater choice in choosing where to direct our resources.

Indeed, Instagram videos threaten not only Google (YouTube) but also Twitter (Vine). This is especially true in light of Instagram’s mobile-first architecture, and because the mobile video market is ripe for the taking.

How do you think this will affect Vine, by the way? Can Vine and Instagram Video co-exist?

Absolutely—there’s more than enough room for many fish in the intertubes. For example, LinkedIn and Facebook happily co-exist, just with different niches.

It’ll be interesting to see which niches Vine and Instagram video capture. Just as LinkedIn is the social network from 9-5 and Facebook is where we go during lunch and for happy hours, so Vine may become a news-oriented platform, whereas Instagram videos take over the cute-kitten market.

A prediction: Because Instagram videos are 15-seconds (compared to Vine’s 3), Vine may feel compelled to expand its timeframe. Which, again, means greater choice for users.

Videos are a famously difficult medium to master, yet with Facebook’s resources, Instagram is well-poised to meet this challenge and capitalize on an enormous market.

Addendum (6/21/2013): Success!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Does Social Media Spur Sales?

I need your help for a story about what the results of this survey really mean.

Long before social media, there has always been tension between salespeople and marketers. Not for nothing does the C suite like to add “and Business Development” to the title of the VP of Marketing: executives—especially at publicly traded companies—are judged by the bottom line every quarter. When your shareholders are concerned about their portfolios, you don’t want to hear about the great things your social media team is doing to build your brand on Facebook.

So, no, in my experience and in general, executives would disagree that sales is a fourth-place priority. It may not be number one, but it needs to be in the top three. Someone’s gotta keep the lights on.

Indeed, this is perhaps the biggest challenge that social media marketers face today. Getting buy-in from skeptical executives requires demonstrating how Twitter will bring in a new client or inspire an existing to re-up. Arguing that this will happen “over time” can be a tough sell.

Of course, this is the crux of the issue: social media success doesn’t happen overnight, but demands an investment for the long-term. As with anything, success takes time and talent. It’s hard. Very hard. Anyone can cobble together a blog post or put up a white paper, but to do it in a way that spurs sales requires patience and stamina.

Addendum: Success!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cyberbullying at Work

What would you suggest companies do to make sure employees aren’t bullying each other on social media without seeming to harshly restrict something that’s a personal activity as well as a business activity?

This is a dicey issue. Google erases the distinction between your personal and professional brand, so today’s professional is never really off the clock. That is, what you do in your off-hours—on, say, your personal Facebook page—ultimately reflects on your employer.

Solutions:

1. Involve HR early and continously. To underscore the importance of the issue, appoint someone in that department as the POC for cyberbulling. Let employees know from the get-go that they can report incidents to HR anonymously, on any subject, about anyone.

2. Hold an annual webinar or workshop on cyberbulling, just as some companies do for their 401(k)s. If you’re serious about the issue, make attendence mandatory.

3. Create a policy that lays out explicit dos and donts—with examples. Having something in writing is important for corrective action.

4. Cyberbullying underscores the importance of hiring the right people. As Netflix superbly demonstrates with its HR slide deck, a company’s most important asset is it people—so make sure to screen out anyone you think might be a bully.

Addendum: Success!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Legal and Lobbying Effects of Facebook's Search Graph

Do you see anything about what Facebook is doing that could form the basis of either class actions or probes by regulators?

People love to sue. And with a billion-plus members, Facebook is a big target—not only from unhappy users and the plaintiff’s bar, but also from regulators operating under a mandate to scrutinize Facebook for the next two decades. What’s more, Facebook also faces competitors who can’t compete in the marketplace and so prevail upon governors and members of Congress to assert their influence.

In short: anytime Facebook implements a significant change, people will scrutinize it for any actionable weaknesses.

What should other companies take away from what Facebook is doing?

The takeaway for Silicon Valley is the importance of continuous lobbying. Engage regulators beforehand, so that when you make a big announcement, no one with the power to sanction you is surprised.

Addendum: Success!