Observations of Campaign Techniques-It’s Who you Know

A lovely older woman I know asked me to attend an event to see a nationally renowned Congresswoman. She didn’t say why, just asked me to come and who I could bring. I know the ropes, it’s actually a pep rally to get a group of people excited about the upcoming election. But none of that was discussed. Reminded me of an Amway pitch-I once was suckered into doing that for a while too.

I went because I know this woman, because she asked. I also had in the back of my mind that two interns should go for an opportunity to meet this federal representative. So I shared the appointed time and location with students and gave up a Sunday to attend.

Room was filled with 150-200 people. There wasn’t enough coffee. The food didn’t recognize today’s standards to eating issues–most women my age have given up donuts and fattening muffins for breakfast. Did I mention there wasn’t enough coffee?
The location had the worst accoustics. If you want to plan an event for 200 people you certainly need parking and space. But you also need to be able to have sound. Someone set up the microphone in front of the speakers–assuring hideous feedback every time the Congresswoman moved. Had the speakers been placed closer to the audience so she could walk…er…pace…behind them, she could have stuck with the microphone. In the end she abandoned the microphone to bellow. She was able to reach most of the room, but not those of us in the back. It’s okay, it was a pep rally, I know the drill. She wrapped up and people started to head out. The political aids were all poised at the back to capture departing guests to sign up to volunteer.

What they lacked in setting logistics they made up for in understanding their purpose–get the enthused audience to volunteer. It’s the only reason for the event. I’m sure they succeeded in getting several. Except me and my interns. We have our own campaign. But that’s another post.

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Public Relations for small business made visual

Public Relations is all about building relationships with the company, whether you’re a sole proprietor or a Fortune 500 corporation. This graphic shows the basics for the small business owner. Public relations practices aren’t limited to these four. Not included are government relations, employee relations, donor/member relations, multicultural relations and any other “public” you can think of. Other work includes crisis communication and planning, speeches, events, etc. All require brand development, strategic planning and message development-no matter the company size.

Returned from Kyrgyzstan, Cultural exchange

Been a while. I had the extraordinary opportunity to serve as a Legislative Fellow to travel to Kyrgyzstan in an cultural exchange program. When asked “how was it”, my answer has been “interesting and intense, hardly fun.” The hospitality of the Kyrgyz people ranks phenomenal. We were hosted and wined and dined every night. Learned quickly that expectations are you eat what you are given, but with a small balance left so they don’t reload your plate or your glass. My six fellow Americans and I meet with a vast array of people from 8 or 9 am to 5pm daily. The intensity of understanding their country has only been independent for 30 years and that only two years ago they had a 2nd revolution provides perspective. They are struggling to build this fragile democracy while 80% of their people are unemployed; they have to change a culture of corruption from political forces to cops, from news media to education. Bribery is rampant because for the 20% employed it’s not at a livable wage. Without fixing corruption International governments or businesses won’t invest much needed currency to allow the growth to employ their countrymen. Where do you start?

Women are getting a voice (every third candidate on the ballot must be a woman), but they still aren’t allowed at the table for company-unless that company insists. Young girls and women can be kidnapped as brides, married-often with their family’s support, yet they have an 80% divorce rate.

Their infrastructure doesn’t exist–sidewalks are created as new owners upgrade a building-they’ll put in intricate concrete shaped as tiles. The rest deal with tar or maybe used marble blocks. As Americans we take so much for granted. And the whining about what we have or what is asked of us now magnified for its ridiculousness. As a country we are no different than the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Flew on a Friday at 7am to San Francisco, from there to London. A layover long enough to eat a full traditional English breakfast including rasher bacon and tomato with tea. Flew to Azerbaijan for refueling, then in to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan-at 4am on Sunday–long trip. Took a nap till noon. Then toured the area for the Sunday evening–and that’s the last easy-going part of the trip.

My six fellow Americans and I worked from 8am or 9am – 5pm meeting with Parliamentarians, city councils, NGOs (non-government organizations) working on everything from Election Structure to Internet and Privacy to Media law. We talked talked to journalists trying to get truth and accuracy in the media that’s predominately owned by politicians or influential business owners. We met members of two of the five leading political parties. We watched Parliament in action. We connected with students-60% of the population are 18-25 year olds. The hardest place to get into was the US Embassy-my first visit to an embassy in my limited travels.

At night we dined with hosts, many who have been Legislative Fellows from Kyrgyzstan who have traveled to the USA. The Kyrgyz people are extraordinary hosts. Learned quickly that food spreading the table upon arrival is merely course one-or what we’d call appetizers. Except it’s a full on meal. Must pace oneself! And manage not to put too much food on your plate-rude not to eat what you take. Then comes course two. No desserts-they provide lots of sugar for tea, sweetened breads or candies, dried fruit, fresh fruit for every meal.

Just the appetizers!

I’ve lots of thoughts about this experience, and intend to share throughout the summer. At least I have blog content.

10 Tips on Mentoring Young Professionals

For the industry to improve we need to mentor the next generation. For the last 20 years I’ve been pairing journalism students with public relations professionals in an award-winning mentorship program through the Public Relations Society of America Sierra Chapter and the Theodore Conover chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America. For pros who are willing but had never done this before, I crafted a list of ways to get started. Find a young professional (or 9) and help them grow.

1. Make time. Spend an hour a month with the student. If you can cover food, bonus. Remember when you were a college student.

2. When you meet, share your knowledge about the industry, your specialty, trends you see.

3. Provide insight into the best skills to develop while still in college-whether through course work or club participation or internships or hobbies.

4. Prepare students to handle challenges, confidence, negotiation for internships, jobs, salary.

5. Review resumes and cover letters and online platforms.

6. Suggest interviewing techniques. Describe what qualities you’d look for in an employee.

7. Allow the student to shadow you for a day or a half a day or even a couple of hours.

8. Take students to networking events either PRSA or a professional development group in your field. Help encourage them to meet new people.

9. Share interesting articles or leading edge information that you’re reading/watching/studying. Discuss the info and insights at the next opportunity.

10. Open doors if you can-to internships, to starting positions, to travel opportunities.

Enjoy. You’ll probably find you learn as much as you share. And you’ll have a life long friendship.

How to get $25,000 in free advertising or at least win a contest

Enter a contest to win $25,000. That’s what the local Reno Veterans’ Guest House did. And they asked the community to help. The Home Depot Foundation apparently runs a contest once a month and gives back to the winning charity $25k in gift cards. The votes come through Facebook and Twitter (links to the FB page). In order to vote you have to “Like” the Home Depot Foundation. A great way for HDF to capture followers.

But here’s why it worked for REno Veterans Guest House. They clearly had a plan. They utilized skills from some local public relations pros. Staff and publicists for Veterans Guest House posted on Facebook seeking vote.s They provided simple instructions in a post. They shared samples stories like starting because a vet’s wife and kids slept in their car while the vet was in hospital cause they couldn’t afford hotel fees. And they properly tagged links to the Home Dept Foundation page; links and comments on their friends pages, groups.Lesson-take advantage of your relationships and post in appropriate group discussions.

They also sent instructions via LinkedIn. They emailed a letter to every person on their personal lists and asked people to forward. I did. My audiences are not the same on FB and LinkedIn-some overlap. But different people use different tools. So their plan covered their bases.

They also pitched local media. So a news station covered the contest, as did a radio station.More than once. The newspaper printed the contest. And that’s just the media I was paying attention to.

And the contest started to get close. Several PR pros took up the challenge-many of us have reasons to love vets. I posted daily on my personal Facebook page, on my business page and on many groups I’m associated with. I tweeted the contest–Congressman Amodei even retweeted my post. We hardly see eye to eye on any political spectrum, but we do for vets. I gave extra credit in my public relations class assignment-and some students took me up on it. Can’t tell you how many friends appreciated my daily reminders on Facebook! The voting went back and forth. If I heard correctly, it’s the first time the contest has ever seen that kind of action. The other program was based in Atlanta-Home Depot’s hometown with close to 12 times the population of Reno Nevada. But it just took a few groups to dedicate themselves to the project-and a lot of social media.

If the Veterans Guest House had tried to buy the coverage of their services across all those platforms it would have easily cost $25000. I don’t recommend measuring with Advertising Value Equivalent, but clearly this program demonstrated to non-profits and small businesses unique ways to LEVERAGE a contest to build awareness, supporters and increase capacity.They carried the news story further with the win; getting back on the radio and television and further telling the story. Posting the news on their website.

The Veterans Guest House is now trying to capture who did what for them. My only criticism in their plan was the direct link to Home Depot rather than driving traffic to “Like” the Veterans Guest House page and find the link there. But hey, they are working towards connecting with their supporters. And maybe they thought of that and were concerned about barriers for participation. Won’t try to second guess them.

And now they’re in a contest for $250,000. Look for the social media posts on how to vote for them throughout March!

Five elements of newsworthy for business

How do you get into the news? You can’t just send a press release that looks like a sales sheet and get coverage.

As with everything we start with in public relations: look at the audience. Remember when dealing with the media you have TWO audiences–the media itself and their audience. Be sure you’ve targeted the media most likely to be the news platform your target audience is connecting too.

For the News factor, you need to know what is news. The majority of news today seems to be either conflict, celebrities or the bizarre. But to get news attention as your business try

  • Opportune: define what in your business is NO—expanding space and going green while you’re at it? New invention?
  • Planned timeliness: CPAs can always provide tax advice before April. Healing arts specialists can make suggestions in January when people are starting fitness resolutions or overdoing their resolutions.
  • Prevailing: describe the long term solutions what you offer provides.  Bringing new businesses to the area? Expanding Nevada products to overseas markets? Impacting the educational assessment tools to help school systems be more proficient?
  • Mutual: discuss the benefits large numbers of people would be interested. This one gets tricky–this isn’t a commercial and you can’t love your stuff so much that you can’t see when you are writing one. More likely provide info from a case study proving the community improvements your product makes. Another example, a contractor client uses a paint that helps reduce energy costs and could have been a preventative coating when fires raged through our community.
  • Personal: people do business with people they know, like and trust. Look for news opportunities to showcase either you or an employee. Not the time to be modest, it’s okay to apply for those “15 minutes of fame” type stories. Really can’t see yourself featured, perhaps you can pitch the story based on a client that you helped. Or do a company philanthropic effort that features your business giving back to the community.

There are two types of news: Things that go boom and everything else. Keep in mind your story may not make it if there is a community emergency, a natural disaster, business blight or, you get the idea. Be considerate of the news outlets’ deadlines. And be sure to use appropriate media release format. Remember too that you can always put your news article on your website, even if the “news” doesn’t pick it up. See you in the news!

The DMV and Customer Service

Who knew you could go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and get great customer service? With state budget cuts and eliminated services the experience at the DMV could have been a nightmare. But Nevada has done some extraordinary work.

First service oriented feature is on their website: at the top of the home page they provide a rough timeline of expected waiting periods for every town. This could help those with limited lunch hours for personal errands to plan accordingly. It’s not a perfect solution to the need for wait times, but geez I’d love to see a doctor’s office pull that off.

Once there I stood in line to get a number. Got my number and an idea of all the forms needed from the helpful staff. Waited the 40 minutes projected from the website. I was able to get caught up on social media and email while there. Brought a book, but never got to it. When I got to the counter, there was a problem with the VIN number–the insurance number didn’t match the dealer’s form. Past customer service problems would have required me to leave, go figure out my insurance and come back. Instead the staff were prepared to make my auto registration a success. The clerk gave me a fax number for me to give to the auto company. While I called them, she continued the paperwork. SHE was faster than the insurance company. We got my driver’s license renewal taken care of while waiting for the insurance. The document still hadn’t arrived but I didn’t lose my place or have to go back. The process allowed for me to sign an affidavit that I would have insurance. She gave me a form to verify that my insured status moved from pending to confirmed from the convenience of my own. Any one of these steps could have created a service nightmare, but service was actually the answer for the day.

Customer service isn’t just employing nice staff—it’s providing solutions BEFORE there’s a problem; it’s anticipating what will be convenient and mitigating what won’t. And it’s assuring staff are focused on customer needs, empowered to make decisions and have ownership in the results.