Dance Like A Fool

She looked awesome in that early ‘90s lavender gown that barely revealed the polish on her yellow pumps – yet more than enough of an opening to fuel the imagination of her pimply-faced date.  Her bangs were teased just high enough to nearly incite a jealousy-fueled riot in the Aqua Net aisle at Wal-Mart a few hours later. The corsage squeezed her tiny wrist, practically launching her onto the dance floor in a blurry wisp of stale red and white carnations.  And man could she move.

But for a few brief moments, before she shredded the “Running Man” and before the ill-fitting tiara proclaiming her queen of the freshman dance wrapped around her head in an awkward embrace of rhinestone angst, she represented rejection. Shrill, Vanilla Ice-voice inducing pain aimed at the gut.

Why did she embody such torture to be compared to the worst in White Boy rap? Because, at the last moment, after her date had clipped on the hand-me-down tie and tucked it underneath the previously-worn beige vest that rested underneath the oversized jacket of his Goodwill suit, she called to say she would not be arriving at the dance in his arms. The corsage fell from his hand. He was crushed.

But he would have redemption among his peers. Her bony hand in his sweaty palm at midnight felt like jewels that might slip away with the slightest tug – for he was king of the freshman dance.

The same awkward ritual plays out in modern-day PR offices around the world. Flacks spend hours crafting the perfect pitch with the hopes of luring that sequined journalist to the dance floor, only to be flirted with – sometimes outright rejected, inducing epic mascara runs  – and left wondering if their date will show. But when he does, he gleams like Deney Terrio (look him up kids) and spins their PR dreams to all corners of the media world, their client gladly clapping in the background while clasping a stogie.

It’s a tumultuous relationship. Fifteen years spent in the bowels of a newspaper – the last nine in the newsroom of a major metro – saw the dance played out on every stage imaginable.  From the journalist’s perspective, it begins with annoyance, because, like that skinny rail of a freshman weighed down with Coke-bottle glasses, the PR pro might as well not even exist. The truth hurts like a bad 90s ballad.

PR pros would do best to not take it personally. They wail in pain, “Why won’t this (expletive) reporter respond to my emails? Why is this (expletive) ignoring me? This. Is. A. Great. (Expletive). Story!” The beating of breast commences. The truth? Your story sucks worse than White Lion’s “When the Children Cry.” And like that crappy ballad, your pitch took up four minutes of valuable time and singed ears.

The news hole has shrunk. Air time has been squeezed. As a PR pro, you have to realize that reporters get exponentially more emails than requests you receive to brainstorm ways to publicize your clients.

Think outside the dance floor. Remember that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty McFly’s image is slowly fading from the photo? That’s traditional journalism. Be the smacker that George McFly plants on Lorraine at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance to resurrect Marty’s “Johnny B. Goode” electricity by offering digital/social media avenues, like video easily attached to a website. The news cycle has evolved, so capitalize on the social media-driven world of people checking smart phones before the early morning bathroom break. The best part of waking up is your client’s news alert.

Like the king who overcame rejection, do not take a reporter’s distaste of you personally.

At the end of the night, with his second-hand suit crumpled in a heap near his Sega Genesis game console, the freshman king of the dance stared at his bedroom ceiling. Vanilla Ice was a distant memory. He could still feel the queen’s soft lips on his cheek, the pat of classmates’ hands on his back.

Rejection can be so sweet.

Want a New Car? Work in PR? You’ve Got the Tools to Save

A couple of weeks ago I was driving north on Keystone Ave. in Indianapolis when suddenly… rrrrrrRRRRRwwww . The sound came out of nowhere, and it wasn’t too loud. Then—and here’s the worst part—I put my foot down on the pedal to accelerate and the tachometer shot up to over 3,000 RPMs! Before I could react, my car launched into gear and sped up like rocket. Instinctively I put on my hazard lights and pulled over to the side of the road.

After I mentally patted myself on the back for handling a car mechanical issue like Tony Kanaan, reality set in: my car was toast; I needed a new set of wheels.

For me, sitting in a car dealer’s office is about as fun as visiting the dentist. Nevertheless, I found that some important public relations skills translate over to buying a new car. The first is research.

You should determine which vehicle fits your needs and narrow down the targets for further analysis. In this way researching to buy a car is equivalent to the research PR professionals do when they create media lists.  Rather than using Cision to find reporters, dealerships are your search engine to find a vehicle.  Public relations professionals are naturals at the research part of the car buying process.

It’s also important to know the market and determine the best and worst time to buy a car. For example, you’re more likely to save money by buying a car at the end of month when dealers are more desperate to reach their quota than at the beginning of the month. When to buy a car is like pitching a story: there’s a limited window of time to make the most impact. As public relations professionals we know not to pitch to reporters on deadline. Car buyer should also know not to buy a car soon after the new car models are for sale.

While taking a car for a test drive, be sure to inspect the brake pads, tire wear, condition of the engine and note any scratches and dings if you’re looking at a used car. Just like car hunters should research the car, PR professionals should read recent articles from the reporter they intend to pitch.

Public relations is all about effective communication. Pitching is a give-and-take: when the PR professional provides a journalist information, they receive coverage in return.  Moreover, as PR professionals we’re naturally careful with words.

An effective communication tactic is—wait for it— silence. Let the dealer do the talking, after all, they’re the people actively selling you a car. If you wait long enough you may receive a price reduction or an added feature.

The SWAT approach is effective for negotiating a car deal. For example, say you’re looking to spend around $25,000 for a car.

Start: $22,000
Want: $25,000
Accept: $26,000
Terminate negotiation: Anything over $26,000

You can initially offer a price far lower than the Kelly Blue Book value of the car and wait for the counter offer. The moment the dealer feels like the sale is slipping away is when you’re most likely to get the best deal. In a sense, sticking to the prices you have in mind is like staying on message in public relations. Consistency builds recognition and improves understanding, both for a brand and an offer on a car.

Just like PR professionals must research, communicate and negotiate in order to gain coverage for a client, a car buyer researches, communicates and (most importantly) negotiates before buying a purchase. The purchase of a new car is one of the biggest decisions a person can make. But for a client, leaving the company’s brand in the hands of PR professional is just as important.

Crisis Communication – How Important is it?

WOW! With everything that’s been going on lately; the Gulf Coast oil spill, the SeaWorld Orlando incident, etc.,  I have really been thinking about crisis communications and the importance of having a crisis communications plan in place for your company and/or clients.  Now, I know we never want to assume that something horrible is going to happen, but don’t they always say “expect the best, but prepare for the worst?”

So, how could you and your company prepare and plan for this? And what steps should you have in place?  Here is a quick and easy checklist of items that could help should the need ever arise:

Prior to the crisis:

·    Identify all areas in which your ‘crisis’ could be; financial loss, product issue, reputation loss, etc.

·    Designate a company spokesperson who will be the one to address the media during any crisis situation.

·   Have pre-drafted messages and company statements available for use if needed.  Also, have your company spokesperson aware and fluent on these messages.

·    Be aware of your communication channels and how you can effectively communicate your message to your employees, investors and the public.

During a crisis:

·    When communicating during a crisis,  always be quick , accurate, and consistent with your response.

·    Always communicate with your employees so they are aware of the actions you are taking and what the message is.

·    Never say ‘no comment’, as it implies you are hiding something.

·    Be prepared to do some reputation repair following a crisis.

This doesn’t cover it all, but it’s a start.  The bottom line is that during a crisis, or even before a crisis ever happens, you need to be prepared and you need to communicate.  This could be what sets you or your clients apart from the competition.