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Not All Spokespeople are Created Equal

Establishing an organizational spokesperson is one of the first steps in creating an effective PR strategy.  The right representative can positively shape an organization’s image and reputation by providing a face to the company, humanizing the brand and demonstrating the depth and strength of leadership. But despite being a somewhat obvious need, the decision should not be taken lightly. For most brands, there is not a “one size fits all” model and choosing the ideal spokesperson(s) means first taking a thorough examination of your organization’s needs.

How often is your organization seeking media opportunities or addressing the press? If often, choose one or a few individuals whose schedule permits a short interview turnaround.

What is your media strategy? An organization’s public relations plan can have multiple objectives. Are you seeking to build a reputation as a thought leader? Could your brand benefit from seeming more approachable or in touch with its target audience? Is your primary goal to address controversial topics or tie into spot news? Is your outreach focused on a particular region of your footprint?

Each of these examples involves very different media conversations. Since the content and tone differs with each message, an organization balancing multiple media strategies might benefit the most from having several spokespeople that are ultimately coordinated and chosen by a central communications manager.

Are your spokespeople adequately prepared? Regardless of media goals or the number of spokespeople utilized, the most important step is ensuring these representatives are properly trained on how to deliver key messages. Even when pressed by the media, a spokesperson must remain calm with anticipated responses to controversial questions. While successful spokespeople are more conversational and do not sound rehearsed, they also outline and organize their points beforehand to ensure they incorporate their key messages.

Excellent spokespeople also use techniques like bridging and flagging to help order and highlight points in the conversation. When a reporter asks an unexpected question or one that does not allow the spokesperson to seamlessly integrate messaging, bridging allows the representative to address the question and then move to what he or she wants to discuss. For example, “That’s an interesting question; let me remind you, though…” Flagging allows the spokesperson to emphasize a particularly important point and grab the reporter’s attention. One such lead in for flagging is, “The three most important things you need to take away from this are…”

Despite the length of an interview, most sources are only given one to four sentences in an article, so a topnotch spokesperson is trained to answer in sound bites that are crisply worded, grammatically correct and can stand on their own.

Learning from a big brand’s media relations is another way to sharpen a media spokesperson’s skills. Despite issues with NBA Commissioner David Stern over the years, perhaps no single owner – other than George Steinbrenner – has attracted more attention to his organization than Mark Cuban. During his reign as owner of the Dallas Mavericks, he has lifted a once dreadful NBA franchise into a perennial winner, ultimately attracting greater talents and fans by being outspoken and “real.”

Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, is another example of a proactive organizational spokesperson. As founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna certainly understands how the media works, but also recognizes the unique niche her publication occupies. By being accessible, vocal, approachable and outspoken on a variety of topics, she reflects her brand’s strongest qualities.

But not every company makes the perfect spokesperson choice the first time around. While Facebook may have been attempting to replicate the success of the single spokesperson like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg has continuously struggled with likeability and reputation management, especially after the 2010 movie “The Social Network” that chronicled the founding of Facebook. Although Zuckerberg still largely handles new product announcements, others in the organization, like COO Sheryl Sandberg, have upped their media presence, perhaps to balance personalities and expand the identity of Facebook’s leadership.

Former British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward is another example of a spokesperson that missed the mark in his company’s time of crisis. As mentioned in an earlier PeRceptions post, “Roughing the Passer, How Leaders Should Handle the Hard Questions,” Hayward gained an infamous reputation after his unsympathetic responses following the company’s oil spill in the Gulf Coast. While company mistakes can be particularly stressful, a damaging response can quickly go viral and detrimentally hurt the brand and spokesperson’s reputation.

Bottom line: as quickly as a good spokesperson can positively improve brand image, an ill-prepared, ill-chosen spokesperson can detrimentally impact your reputation overnight.

Photo credit: Bartlomiej Stroinski


This entry was originally published on


Taking Advantage of Facebook’s New Rules for Promotions

Contests have long been one of the most effective ways to garner attention and affinity on social media, and some big news from Facebook means the rules for contests have changed—even if you didn’t know about them in the first place.

Facebook unveiled a new promotions policy last week, making it easier for businesses to host contests on their Facebook pages. Previously, if you wanted to run any sort of contest that included giveaways or prizes on your organization’s page, you were required to host them using an app on a separate tab. The Ready, Pet… Caption contest currently running on one of our client’s pages is a good example.

The new policy significantly loosens the previous restrictions, now allowing businesses to collect entries for contests by having users like or comment on posts. Organizations can also utilize likes on specific posts as a voting mechanism. The one restriction is you’re not allowed to have users tag themselves in photos in which they don’t actually appear.

Exactly why Facebook has updated the policy is unclear, although many experts agree it will increase the use of promoted posts and, in turn, revenue for the social media giant. Plus, the old rules were broken on a regular basis by small businesses that simply didn’t know any better and large businesses that bet on the fact that Mark Zuckerberg’s team couldn’t enforce the policy with any regularity.

Regardless, this new policy opens up a whole range of marketing possibilities for social media-savvy organizations. Want to give away a prize to the 1,000th person to like your page? Do it. Got a fun “caption this” idea for a timely subject like twerking? Post it immediately and increase your entries by promoting it and offering a prize for the best comment.

Of course, hosting contests on customizable apps is still a viable option. Moving forward, businesses will have to decide how to run Facebook promos based on the strengths of each type of contest. To help you decide, here’s a quick breakdown of the advantages offers by in-page versus app-hosted Facebook contests:

Contests On Your Page:

  • No Barriers: The biggest advantage to hosting a contest directly on your page is removing the barriers to entry. If you can just like a post to win a prize, that’s a half-second decision. With apps, you’re asking users to click on a link and, in many cases, give the app permission to access parts of their profiles before they can enter. Research shows that 67 percent of users may opt out of participating once they see that permissions screen.  Without those barriers, you should see more participation and a greater chance to go viral.
  • Speed: Another benefit is the speed with which you can create a contest. All you’ve got to do is write a post and you’re ready to go. There’s no need to design a landing page or set up a back-end database. Take advantage of this by trying ideas for timely subjects.
  • Analytics: An underrated aspect of this new option is the ability to analyze your success using Facebook Insights, the analytics platform. Once your contest is finished, you’ll be able to measure your results and customize future ideas based on what is working the best.
  • Cost: And, of course, contests on your page are free to set up, whereas most businesses without significant technical resources have to pay for vendors like Offerpop and Wildfire to design and host their apps. Small detail.

Contests On An App:

  • Freedom: While they may be more costly and harder to access, app-based contests are restricted only by your imagination. Without being limited to likes and comments, you can do anything your mind and technical budget will allow, which can lead to some pretty creative stuff. Really fun promotions are a key way to build brand affinity.
  • Gathering Data: For many organizations, there is other data that is more valuable than likes and comments. Customized contests allow you to collect additional info like email addresses and demographic data that can be used for future promotions. It all depends on what your goals are.
  • Customized Sharing: Most simple apps give you the option to have users share a customized message once they enter a contest. This allows you to control the message and potentially increase the use of a particular hashtag to grow your reach.
  • Likes For Your Page: “Like gates,” which require users to like your page in order to enter a contest, are only available on apps and can be an effective technique for growing your page’s reach over time.

Photo credit: Thos Ballantyne

Create A Priceless Reputation with Strategic Public Relations

As Warren Buffet quipped, “it can take 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it.”

Of course, everyone wants a good reputation. But how do you get one – and more importantly, keep it? Companies often enlist the help of a public relations firm for a crisis plan or issue management. Others know they need to be ready for a “problem,” but don’t believe it’s “that much of a concern right now.” When companies talk about building their brands, they usually mean “good news marketing,” launching products/programs and supporting sales.

But equally important is galvanizing your brand against disaster before a crisis hits home. It’s easy to get complacent. No one wakes up saying, “today will be the day that the stuff hits the fan.” When that day arrives, however, the strength of a company’s reputation is its best protection.

The closest thing to reputation protection that appears on a balance sheet is termed goodwill. Having a reservoir of goodwill can make all the difference and sustain a company through bad times.

Investopedia defines Goodwill as an intangible asset on the balance sheet that typically reflects the value of a strong brand name, good customer relations, good employee relations and any patents or proprietary technology.

While the term intangible asset sounds nebulous, public relations is used every day to tell concrete stories that provide credibility and entitle a positive reputation. Step by step, reputation is built on goodwill that emanates from reliable products, excellent service and sound business practices across the board – not from fluff.

Public relations strategies and tactics should be major elements in any plan to build positive relationships with the stakeholders who determine your organization’s success. While there are multiple key audiences including stockholders, boards of directors, regulators, legislators and other influencers, it’s worth mentioning several ideas for fostering quality reputations among three all-important groups.

(1) Employees: Employees can be your biggest fans or your loudest detractors. If they don’t believe the talk, they won’t do the walk. Too often, internal communications are tagged on as an afterthought. Put employees front and center, involve them in your communications plans and company initiatives and make them your best ambassadors.

(2) Media: It’s amazing how many company leaders have never met the reporters in person who write about their companies. Knowing the media is the best way to build credibility in the good times and get a fair shake when things go wrong. It’s easy to do. Have a proactive media outreach program. Tell your good news stories; be an industry thought leader. Don’t have your first interaction with a reporter be in the middle of a crisis.

(3) Clients: Organizations need to fall in love with their clients; it’s that simple. Talk to them; listen to them; give them little presents; keep your promises; be good to them. And they will love you back. That translates into everything from easy-to-understand product information and engaging social media programs to cordial customer service and valuable website tools.

Coke survived a potentially large scale ban on Coca-Cola drinks in Europe in 1999 because it had longstanding trust with loyal consumers and stockholders alike and was able to trade on its goodwill.

Toyota worked diligently to regain its reputation following the “gas pedal” crisis; Chances for recovery were strong based on its long-term excellent reputation. Arguably, BP had a steeper road that it’s still climbing – without the same stockpile of goodwill upon which to draw.

Top leadership needs to pay attention – and provide resources – to inculcate the values, culture and programs for an organization to build and nurture its reputation. Indeed, it may be a CEO’s most important contribution.

Pro Bono Spotlight: Murphy-Harpst

Child abuse is not a pleasant topic. When we hear about the sexual, physical or emotional abuse of a child it’s easy to shake our heads, count our blessings and move on to a new thought, TV channel or conversation. But did you know that the state of Georgia receives 207 reports of child abuse and neglect each day or that thirty-three percent of these victims are age three and younger? These statistics are staggering, aren’t they?

What’s worse, many abused children have been so frequently exposed to violent and unhealthy environments they have a difficult time grasping concepts like love, hope and opportunity. Abused children are plagued with severe anxiety, depression, emotional instability, behavioral problems and hopelessness.

When compared with the general population, reports children that have been abused are 59 percent more likely to be incarcerated as a child and 28 percent more likely to be incarcerated as an adult. They also are 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime and have a much higher likelihood of abusing their own children later in life.

For the past three years, Cookerly Public Relations has provided public relations and financial support to Murphy-Harpst, a wonderful non-profit organization delivering care to Georgia’s most severely abused and neglected children.

Professionals at Murphy-Harpst provide around-the-clock-care, education and specialized therapy to break the cycle of abuse. Children at Murphy-Harpst are treated with dignity and respect by specialized psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and advisors that refuse to give in or give up. And the best part: Murphy-Harpst produces proven results.


Roughly 82 percent of Murphy-Harpst graduates will go on to lead normal lives. There are countless success stories that are all attributed to the continuum of therapeutic programs and care. And while there is no question that personalized therapy and 24-hour care is costly, it is the only proven method of ensuring abused and neglected children develop a sense of self-worth. At Cookerly, we see this as a small price to pay for the strength, hope and success these children are able to gain.

Our president, Carol Cookerly, serves on the Murphy-Harpst board of directors and her enthusiasm for this organization has caught fire. We are committed to spreading the word about Murphy-Harpst to garner greater recognition and financial support. If this blog post has inspired you to help the abused and neglected kids of Georgia, please consider donating by clicking here.

Find out more about Murphy-Harpst here:

“Like” Murphy-Harpst’s Facebook page here:

Or just spread the word. Thanks!

Are Community Support Efforts Your Best Kept Secret?

Building, and then growing a company is not easy. It takes energetic and effective managers and employees, a detailed plan, strong fiscal management and usually, a little luck. Additionally, you want your company viewed in the best possible light by your customers (current and potential) and the community at large (both in town and on the World Wide Web). More and more companies are embracing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as not only the right thing to do, but a necessary part of business.

In the simplest terms, CSR means not only holding your company up against the highest standards, but also regularly engaging in actions or events- usually at a cost to your bottom line- that furthers social good or a cause. Participating in a fundraising drive for a local charity, allowing employees to volunteer (on company time), providing services free of charge, and straight monetary donations are all examples of CSR activities.

But what is the return on investment for these kinds of activities? After all, you’re presumably in the business to make money. There are numerous benefits that come from volunteer and pro-bono work: it gets your name out into the community; you’ll get to network with folks that you may not otherwise meet; it allows you to explore new work and perhaps, take a new, creative approach towards tackling a task; and last but not least, it will make you feel good about yourself and your company.

So, how do you leverage these efforts to make them a good return on your investments? While we strongly advocate doing volunteer or pro-bono work for “the right” reasons (i.e. helping out your neighbors and/or those in need), we are firm believers that not only is it okay to benefit from this work, it makes good business sense to do so. Just make sure you broadcast your efforts tastefully.

Social Media

  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. allows us to disseminate information efficiently, effectively and interchangeably with a growing online audience. This ease of access makes social media outlets a great way to share pictures, videos and stories about the pro-bono and charity work your business is involved with. Social media enables your customers, clients and the community at large to become part of a conversation about your company’s activities beyond business.
  • Clients, stockholders and community members appreciate hearing from C-level executives of a company. Create a blog written by a C-level executive and establish a schedule in which he or she will contribute details about your company’s charity work or pro-bono efforts.
  • Keep in mind, however, social media channels are where company reputations are enhanced or torn apart. Be sure to monitor the activity in these channels and respond accordingly.

Community Reports

  • Create a citizenship report that includes the names of organizations the company has supported, the hours spent on each initiative, the goals met and share a story of how someone’s life or business benefited from the company’s efforts. In the report, be sure to include information about how your customers/clients/shareholders might contribute to the organization.
  • Be sure to distribute this report far and wide and post it in an obvious spot on your website for maximum exposure.

Your Own Employees

Make sure your own employees are well aware (and versed) in the CSR efforts of your organization. Many companies have employee-driven committees that determine the direction of the community support efforts of the year. Having engaged employees is crucial to a successful CSR campaign as they act as ambassadors for your company while they are out in the community.

Finding ways to promote your business’s charitable work requires a bit of effort. However, it will benefit you tremendously. Participating in CSR activities will position you as a valued and respected member of the community; one that strives to improve the livelihood and well-being of its residents. This will undoubtedly benefit you, your employees and ultimately, your business.


Burying a Bad Online Reputation

When it comes to search engine rankings, most companies pay big bucks to boost the online visibility of their business or product. Made first page of Google? That’s great…as long as the news or reviews are positive.

But what happens if the first mention of your business is a scathing review from the local newspaper? Or negative customer comments posted via blogs or online complaint forums?

According to a Cornell University study, 56 percent of Google users click on the first result shown after a search. Only 13 percent visit the second result shown and it decreases from there. Unsatisfactory reviews can quickly take a bite out of business, so it’s important the top online listings highlight your company in a positive light. Fortunately, there are strategies to push down negative results. Consider it the reverse SEO method.

Here are some tips to improve and manage your online reputation.

Get social: One of the best ways to sink negative content is to blast out the positive. Start a blog on your company’s website and update it regularly to increase search ranking. Blogging can help control the message and put a favorable spin on negative news. At the same time, create an active and engaging Facebook page and Twitter feed and share positive news to increase audience reach. Respond quickly and pleasantly to anyone who comments on the various social channels. That could ultimately help you win over critics and build a rapport with your audience.

Think video: Videos often surface higher in the search engine results, so develop a series of positive clips that can be posted on your website, blog, YouTube and social channels.

Don’t be so negative: If you find your business being disparaged, the best approach is to respond publicly and in an accommodating manner. Don’t lash out against the criticism; use the opportunity to minimize problems and resolve issues. By showing accountability and attempting to solve the problem, you’re giving potential (and existing) customers more reason to trust you.

Write optimized releases: Draft and distribute press releases highlighting your business or products, as well as any upcoming event or promotion. “Optimize” the content with relevant keywords and submit to press release sites. With proper optimization, it’ll be easier for the target audience to find your news through search engine results and separate it from the online clutter.

Hire a pro: Just like companies pay professionals to handle search engine optimization for promotional purposes, you can also hire experts well-versed in reverse SEO strategies to make sure negative pages don’t impact your business. They can also identify potentially illegal links and work to remove them. In a worst case scenario, you can always request removal of the content through legal action. Make sure your demand is valid, as there could be repercussions if you file an unjustified claim against a content owner. Seek the advice of a qualified attorney before taking such action.

The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that buyers and sellers interact in the marketplace. Reviews – both good and bad – spread faster and reach more people than ever before. Whatever your business is, a good reputation is crucial so it’s important to find ways to reduce any online damage.

Swift, decisive responses avert PR crises for Royal Caribbean and Papa John’s

While there are numerous examples of companies handling issues and crises poorly (read some of our blog posts about them here, here and here), we also like to recognize those companies that respond swiftly and appropriately to a potential PR catastrophe. Recently there have been two such instances, one involving Royal Caribbean and the other Papa John’s.

Early on Memorial Day, a fire broke out on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas as it sailed near the Bahamas. Although the fire did not cause extensive damage or disable the ship, the incident could have been another in a growing list of bad press events for the cruise industry. Instead, a passenger email to the AP shortly after the fire had nothing but praise for the ship’s crew.

Mark Ormesher, on what was his first cruise, described the Grandeur of the Seas crew as keeping passengers calm and well-informed, distributing water bottles and even holding infants so their parents could use the restroom. But the company’s response went beyond managing the initial emergency situation competently. Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein flew to Freeport in the Bahamas, where the ship was diverted, and personally apologized to passengers. The company also arranged charter flights for passengers back to Baltimore, where the voyage originated, and arranged alternate transportation for those who did not wish to fly.  Updates were constant on the cruise line’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Closer to home, Papa John’s was also recently the subject of a potential PR scandal, for a racially-charged voicemail one of its delivery drivers inadvertently left for an African American customer to whom he had just delivered a pizza. Speaking to a coworker, the driver ridiculed the size of the tip the customer gave him (although it was more than 20 percent) while using the n-word several times.

Papa John’s response was swift and decisive: the driver and his coworker were both fired, and the company acknowledged and apologized for the incident on its Facebook page and Twitter. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter also called the customer personally to apologize.

There are perhaps two lessons to be learned from these incidents and how they were handled. The first is that a swift and confident response goes a long way toward mitigating any potential fallout from a bad situation. It’s equally important to note that in both cases the company CEO was personally involved in the response – demonstrating that each company’s commitment to customer service extends all the way to the top.

Second, and perhaps more important, these incidents illustrate what we – and every competent PR practitioner – tell our clients all the time: it is not a matter of if you’ll be faced with a crisis, but when.

Both of these cases show that a crisis can occur any time, without warning, during the course of normal every day operations. Both could have turned into PR nightmares, doing lasting damage to the respective brands. Certainly, Royal Caribbean and Papa John’s may both take a black eye, but a black eye heals. Their swift response also helps ensure that competitors – who are always looking for an opening – will have a harder time exploiting these crises to gain a competitive advantage.

Now the question for you is, will you be ready when your company is faced with a crisis? And will your response help minimize the damage – or will it result in something much worse than a black eye?



Three Ways Businesses Can Engage Fans on Pinterest

I admit it: I am one of those girls with a Pinterest wedding board – and I am not engaged. I love Pinterest, and I am not alone.

Pinterest has, on average, thirty million monthly visitors. According to Nielsen’s 2012 social media report, Pinterest’s number of monthly PC users grew by 1,047 percent between 2011 and 2012. The number of monthly mobile app and mobile web users add an additional five and 14 million, respectively, and the virtual collage website is showing no signs of slowing down.

The concept of Pinterest is simple: see something you like and pin it to one of your boards. Through these “boards,” Pinterest gives people the chance to show their personality, interests and who they aspire to be. For example, I am a terrible cook, but if you looked at my Pinterest board, you might think I am a gourmet chef.

As my colleague Mamie discussed in her blog post last fall on the growing importance of graphics, businesses are also jumping on the taffeta-draped and bedazzled bandwagon. According to, more than 250 brands are now on Pinterest, and the number continues to grow. Restaurants, hotels, beauty brands and retailers are finding a perfect fit in the aspiration-based social network, but even the unlikeliest of organizations are benefiting. For brands whose fans are already on Pinterest, the website has now made it easier to target – and inspire – potential consumers.

With the release of Analytics for Pinterest earlier this year, brands can now easily and accurately view traffic data and discover how many visitors are viewing their website by way of Pinterest. The free, web-based tool allows brands to track the number of pinners and pins sharing material from their website, as well as the number of repinners and repins those pins received. Businesses can also track total impressions, reach and referral traffic.

Armed with this data, businesses are better equipped to use Pinterest. While it is important for brands on the site to build boards with their products in the hope that people will pin them and click through to their website, there are better ways to catch a pinner’s eye and engage the Pinterest community:

Sell the Whole Package.

Paint maker Benjamin Moore (more than 23,000 followers) has 58 pin boards. Only nine of these boards consist of their paint products. The other 49 are what inspires them to make the paint colors.

Benjamin Moore’s pins include painted or stained objects, such as doors and furniture or entire colorful rooms in all areas of the home. There is a board dedicated to interior designer Candace Olsen that features video tutorials, Olsen’s designs and her favorite colors.

When people choose to pin their photos, they dive a little deeper into Benjamin Moore’s brand and personality. The paint maker is subtly showing potential customers their brand, without shoving it in their faces, while also helping consumers to envision the brand in their lives.

By using Pinterest as a marketing tool, Benjamin Moore is helping potential customers envision the brand’s colors in their homes or office. Imperial Yellow in the can is just yellow, but in a photo of a child’s bedroom, it suddenly promises a future filled with soft baby blankets and wind-up toys.

Make Your Brand Approachable

Humor can give a brand an endearing trait and show people that the organization doesn’t take itself too seriously. Because one funny board usually leads to another, humorous boards can drive users to the brand’s Pinterest page.

For example, Major League Baseball’s Pinterest board has reached more than 29,000 followers by focusing on some of the fun, quirky aspects of the game. With boards themed “Out of Left Field,” “Mascots are People too” and “Majestic Mustaches,” the league pins less than serious photos of crazy fans, mascots doing silly things and players’ ridiculous mustaches.

Far from a “typical” pinner, Major League Baseball strikes a chord with its Pinterest followers. The boards give fans an exclusive look into the elite world of baseball, to find that those involved are not much different from themselves.

Challenge Your Followers

Everyone wins with Pinterest contests. The pinner gets the chance to beef up their followers, create new themed boards and perhaps even win a prize, and the business drives more of their target audience to their Pinterest page and – ultimately – website, which increases SEO. And best of all? It’s free. Win. Win.

One successful campaign was the Ann Taylor Dream Wedding Wardrobe contest. The call to action was simple: create a dream wedding board. The boards were then judged on creativity and the use of Ann Taylor imagery, and the winner won a wedding dress and two bridesmaid dresses. The contest was such a success that Ann Taylor ran a second contest this past Valentine’s Day.

From paint makers to sports franchises, brand owners on Pinterest are discovering new and exciting ways to reach target audiences. It is important to remember: Pinterest is not a one-size-fits-all social media tool. Every organization will have to gauge their audience’s Pinterest use and see what attracts them to certain boards, but by taking advantage of analytics tools, intuition and great imagery, businesses can engage fans and convert aspirational pinners to customers.

Image credit: Flickr member Si1very

Faux Familiarity and Real Media Connections

A version of this article originally appeared on PR Breakfast Club on August 15, 2012.

Digital marketing expert Mitch Joel wrote an interesting blog post last year called “The Art of Fake Familiarity.” In it, Joel criticized a public relations pitch he recently received that used information from his blog and Twitter feed in an attempt to garner a feeling of familiarity and get his attention. Instead, the pitch came off as creepy and dishonest, finally ending with this cringe-inducing line: “I also saw on Twitter that you were at the Google offices in Mountain View recently. I have never been, but I hope to get the chance to go at some point.”

This faux-familiarity, in which a PR pro references specific details about the targeted reporter or blogger, is increasingly common. I actually attended a PR webinar recently that recommended a similar albeit more balanced approach.

This sort of pitch is a reaction against the impersonal, generic emails that get blasted to huge lists of journalists who desperately struggle to keep them at bay and in their spam boxes. I’ve actually got an old email address from my days as a freelance editor that is now nothing more than a barren inbox of crappy press releases (currently sitting at 15,000 unread messages). It got so overwhelming that the only way to escape was to open up a new email account and update the dozen or so PR people I trusted with my new contact info.

So what’s wrong with trying to bring a little familiarity to your pitch? Nothing, if you’re actually familiar with the reporter. That gets to the heart of the problem with the fake familiar pitch: it’s a way to cheat the important process of actually getting to know the people you’re pitching and the type of stories they’re looking for.

You can’t take short cuts when it comes to media outreach. Here are a few of the techniques my agency consistently emphasizes to deliver excellent media placements:

  • Research: You’ve got to know who you’re sending your pitches to and what they write about, so research, from past articles to Twitter feeds, is important. We don’t do generic press releases that hit every media member in the state. We find the reporters who cover our topic and send them personalized, appropriate pitches. And by personalized, I mean we focus on angles relevant to their markets, not what they said on Twitter last week.
  • Professionalism: Obviously, trying not to come off as creepy is important, but being professional goes beyond that. We’re trying to get journalists to see the value of the story we’re pitching, and to do that we’ve got to craft that story as close as possible to the way they would do it. That means solid headlines, attention-grabbing leads, inverted pyramid structure and AP Style. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to transition from a pitch or press release to a story.
  • Pick up the phone: Email is effective and important, but there’s nothing better to breed real familiarity with a reporter than speaking on the phone, even if it’s just for a minute. It makes you stand out, it helps you connect with them and understand what they’re looking for. Which leads to…
  • Developing relationships: The best way to avoid fake familiarity is to develop real familiarity. This is a time-consuming process that is developed through the techniques above. Once you’ve got it, though, it’s invaluable for delivering your message. I’m still Facebook friends with some of the PR people I used to work with as a journalist. In fact, one of my ex-co-workers ended up marrying one of her PR contacts. How’s that for making a connection?

Image credit: Flickr member iriskh

Issues Continue to Plague Compounding Pharmacies

The past several months have been trying for the $2 billion-a-year compounding pharmacy industry. First, it was a multi-state meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center (NECC). The outbreak, due to unsanitary conditions at NECC, has sickened 730 people, killing more than 50 – and six months later, people continue to fall ill. Investigators examined foreign materials from unopened vials and found fungal matter, which caused the meningitis.

More recently, several additional compounding pharmacies have announced product recalls for a wide range of medications due to similar contamination issues. While the number of people sickened by the tainted medications is still being determined, federal regulators and state pharmacy boards are scrambling for stricter compounding pharmacy rules.

Last year, Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to strengthen compounding pharmacy guidelines, and plans to reintroduce the bill this congressional session. U.S. senators also have announced plans for tougher regulations, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested increased oversight to protect patients. Many individual states are proposing their own new laws to prevent similar outbreaks.

For decades the industry has largely evaded the kind of stringent oversight established drug makers face, according to the Boston Globe. The report also stated, “Federal regulators have long been flummoxed by the growth of the compounding pharmacy industry, which is made up of thousands of small outfits that specially mix medicines for patients, along with an expanding class of industrial-scale manufacturers that ship products to health care providers nationally.”

With the industry staring down the barrel of sweeping regulatory changes, compounders are at a crossroads and facing a daunting public relations challenge. Many pharmacies might face guilt by association, and public pressure is being magnified by surprise inspections, increased media scrutiny and more. All the while, compounding pharmacies are receiving a crash course in crisis and issues management.

The bottom line is: if compounding pharmacies have not formulated a crisis communications plan to handle product recalls or immediate problems, they had better “get after it.” Developing and regularly updating a comprehensive crisis plan is imperative – no matter the industry.

Additionally, issues involving increased oversight and scrutiny should serve as a wake-up call for carefully reviewing company guidelines for a product recall. While there are too many examples of poorly managed product recalls to recount here, a story by Peter Vanden Bos of about how to survive a product recall is worth the read.

Compounders should also take this opportunity to develop strategic external communication pieces, such as fact sheets, presentations, videos, etc., to differentiate themselves from the companies in question. Collateral/marketing pieces should be tailored to specific target audiences (investors, customers, lawmakers and more) and highlight best practices, use of technology and safety measures. Also, leveraging these materials during individual meetings with legislators, regulators and other opinion leaders is critical, as they are being bombarded with negative press about the industry.

In closing, the near-term PR outlook for the compounders remains dire, but there are several strategies and tactics these companies can implement to avoid becoming another NECC. The overall industry faces an uphill battle for many years; however, if compounders can play a role in crafting beneficial and meaningful regulations that protect patients, it would go a long way in repairing its image.

Image credit: Flickr user Lidor

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