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Eric Mower + Associates is proud to be announcing today that Centscere is the 2014 winner of the Market Ready Award. Centscere is the start-up company that lets social media users turn tweets and likes in to donations to causes they care about.

CentScere LogoLike our first Market Ready winner, Rosie, Centscere is just the kind of company we had in mind two years ago when we created the Market Ready Award as part of StartUp Labs Syracuse. It’s a breakthrough idea that’s far along in development. It’s been created by people who are open to innovative marketing ideas. How can we not be excited?

There are three big things I like about Centscere:

Centscere breaks the mold for charitable giving. It’s an entirely different way of making a donation – a digital version of collecting small change outside of a retail store. But instead of charities chasing down donors with their hands out, caring people can select the causes they care about. And then every time the donor does something he or she enjoys – engaging in social connections – they make a micro donation.

Centscere makes it easy for non-profits to connect with donors in new ways. For most charities, implementing digital fund-raising channels is either daunting or impossible. They don’t have the knowledge, technical expertise or experience to build it themselves. And many platforms that enable digital transactions can have high base fees. Centscere eliminates those barriers. As the platform launches, there is no cost for charities to become Centscere partners. And for signing on, they get access to a fully built, tested and secure platform for online giving. Centscere gets a small share of the money donated. And, of course, non-profits need to do their own work of promoting the Centscere channel, but that’s a requirement in any fundraising model. It couldn’t be easier.

Greg Loh and Centscere Team Market Ready Award

Celebrating the 2014 Market Ready Award with the Centscere team. From left: Frank Taylor, me, Ian Dickerson and Mike Smith

And most important, Centscere turns social in to something good. People of all ages spend hours of every day on social media and most of that time can feel like it is wasted. But not when every post triggers a small donation to a good cause. Centscere lines up perfectly with purpose-driven Millennials who passionately want their activities to contribute to a better world. So instead of being made to feel guilty about engaging in social media, now users can feel good about tweets and comments. And given how much social is woven through every aspect of our lives today – news, entertainment, shopping, and even friendships – why not make it a part of the way in which we give?

The small individual contributions that Centscere creates won’t meet the full fundraising requirements of non-profits today. As the platform grows in scale, however, don’t underestimate its potential to generate significant dollars. And for charitable organizations trying to engage with the next generation of donors they will rely on in the future, Centscere is an appropriate and natural way to build relationships and start a habit of giving that will create even bigger returns in the future. That’s good for Centscere. And the whole world, too.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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Among top advertising and marketing luminaries on the opening day of the 4As Transformation conference in Los Angeles, I think the chief operating officer of a drug store chain best summarized the key challenges most marketers face with digital technologies.

Transformation 2014

Ken Martindale leads Rite Aid, the 4,600 store pharmacy chain.  According to Martindale, “the change that is occurring in our channel is unprecedented.” Gone are the days of “just putting pills in a bottle,” Rite Aid now lives its brand position of “stay healthy” by providing immunizations, offering health care coaches and partnering with physicians practices. Changing customer expectations and competitive pressures are forcing Rite Aid to reinvent its business. So even if you don’t run a drug store, you’ve got something in common with Ken Martindale.

That means his perspectives on how technology is affecting marketing should also be of interest to you. Martindale cited two major challenges facing his marketing operation thanks to digital. The first is data.  According to Martindale, Rite Aid has amassed more than 2 billion customer transactions via its loyalty card, Wellness +. How does Rite Aid use that data to create more personal relationships with customers and improve business results?  Not easy to do. An earlier presenter, Marc De Swaan Aarons of EffectiveBrands had it right when he said “big data” is like sex in high school. “Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s doing it right.”

Martindale said the second major technology challenge for marketing is measurement. Rite Aid can now quickly assess whether a program is working. If it works, Martindale says marketers need to be able to “put the gas down.”  If it’s not, it’s time to stop and reassess. The right diagnostics enable real time course correction to ensure programs deliver maximum results.

Virtually every client Eric Mower + Associates is working with is grappling with the new opportunities and challenges that technology present. Martindale’s diagnosis on Rite Aid’s marketing situation helps keep my focus on two of the most important issues – data and measurement.

In a previous post, I posited that two-way communications define the new normal. But it bears repeating: today, consumers and stakeholders expect and often demand that companies and organizations interact by talking with, not talking at each other.

So who’s going to do all this interacting? 

Rule #2: If you want your employees to be company or brand ambassadors, you must give them plenty of content to work with… and permission to use it.

There’s a growing body of research evidence indicating that employees – not executives nor designated “official” spokesmen nor celebrity endorsers – make the most credible and influential advocates for any organization.

Word-of-mouth interchanges taking place everywhere online create a natural arena for ordinary employees to participate in discussions about the organizations they work for. And why shouldn’t they? Who knows better how their products are madeDPPR Employee Comms 3? Why they’re made the way they are? Why they’re better? If the organization is doing important work that benefits society? If the company really is environmentally responsible? And by the way, what it’s really like to work there? Are the company’s future prospects bright?

Against this backdrop, any enterprise still trying to enforce sweeping policies prohibiting employees’ talking with the outside world is hopelessly out of sync with reality. Not only are such gag orders destined to fail, they can backfire should the organization be suspected of manipulating or worse, covering up the truth.

It is a far better situation to have fully informed employees who appreciate the trust placed in them empowered to talk proudly about their organization every chance they get. Thoughtful employees easily recognize that it’s in their own best interest to advance and protect their company’s reputation, along with winning fans and new customers by cross-selling products or services.

All they need are the facts, along with guidance on how to share them if they choose to.

Today, the best operating model for employee communications is that of a true news source that supplies a constant stream of information about the trends, developments, decisions, activities and impacts occurring in every corner of the enterprise.

The more diverse, multi-dimensional and far-flung the company, the more expansive this internal news coverage must be. Employees are just as unschooled in areas or functions outside their own as anyone.

Universal e-mail news digests or internal network home pages appearing at every logon make the job easy.

Nobody wants to work for an organization with a poor reputation. Right-minded employees want to be sincerely proud of their jobs, basking in company success and their role in it. It’s wholly counterproductive to deny any employee knowledge of what their organization is doing, along with the when, where, how and why.

Equally important, they should be given permission to share this news, with guidance on how, when and where to use this information as part of every news item.

Organizations following this strategy greatly multiply their influence by equipping and deploying a veritable army of committed, passionate ambassadors.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

In my previous post, I promised to provide some guidelines to rethink the way internal communications work into today’s world.

The “Mushroom Strategy” – “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.” no longer applies in today’s interactive environment. Instead, I believe there are enormous business benefits and opportunities just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

Rule #1: Today, all employee communications are public statements.

Don’t kid yourself. A single mouse click on the “Forward” button is all it takes for one employee to spread any internal message to the outside world.

This is not a new phenomenon. Nearly ten years ago, while assisting a company manage sensitive issues surrounding the closing of a manufacturing plant, we cautioned the CEO about sharing his plans via e-mail with his frontline management team. “I trust them completely,” he said.DPPR Employee Comms 2

The announcement was scheduled for the next afternoon. Nevertheless, at 6:00 a.m., the company’s hometown paper hit the newsstands containing the full story, making an embarrassed management look foolish as it scrambled to apologize and explain to local and state government officials why they hadn’t called them first… and their own stunned workforce who learned they lost their jobs from the news instead of their own management.

The only difference between ten years ago and today is that the leaked email would instantly be all over Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn and in blogs, search results and news alerts everywhere.

When employees are told something different from what you’re saying to the outside world, a dismayed, demotivated (and possibly angry) workforce resentful of the contradiction may result. Similarly, if (more likely when) the news media and public learn of the apparent disconnect, it could very well trigger a full-blown crisis if it appears to be deliberate obfuscation.

If you’re not telling them clearly misunderstandings can cause similar trouble. That’s a big risk, because too many organizations today still regard internal communications as a low-priority activity. If “That’s HR’s job!” summarizes how your company manages internal communications, it’s time for a re-think.

And if you’re not telling your own people first, you’re squandering whatever trust your workforce (your most important productive asset) places in their leadership and its credibility. This loss affects the very core of their motivation, loyalty and productivity.

How’s that Mushroom Strategy working for you now?

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the second half of the 20th century, the “Mushroom Strategy” characterized employee communications in most of Corporate America: “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.”

Back when the Mad Men personified the advertising business, the concept of mass communications embedded itself into many business practices. With the advent of mass media – network television in the mid-1950s – companies could succeed simply by buying large amounts of airtime and shouting over the din. Business followed the mantra: “We talk. You listen. You buy.”

People – consumers, stockholders and employees alike – were talked at… not talked with. And it worked.

But starting in the mid-1990s (the Stone Age in internet time) with e-mail and chat rooms, the rise and mass adoption of web-based interactive communications technologies fundamentally changed the dynamics, to the point of consigning one-way communication methods to an increasingly unwelcome role.

Two-way communications define the new normal. People blogging and posting comments, stories, advice, opinions, images and homemade video via all forms of social media in breathtaking numbers expect and often demand companies and organizations to interact the same way.

Nearly all your employees live in this world every day, which explains why the Mushroom Strategy no longer works.

I still see too many companies and organizations that regard employee communications as the proverbial ugly stepchild or crazy cousin. Instead, I argue, there are enormous business opportunities and advantages just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some new approaches and new strategies intended to encourage you to reevaluate the way you create, manage and deploy internal communications.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

Recovery reports from Superstorm Sandy are heartbreaking. On Friday, as neighbors cleared properties that were battered by flooding on Staten Island, the bodies of two more storm victims were recovered in a home nearby. Like most who were spared the ravages of Sandy, my thoughts and prayers continue to be drawn to the thousands of people still suffering along the Atlantic Coast.

The recovery is revealing important learnings about emergency communications in the digital age. Major shifts in how people are accessing news and information means crisis plans need to be rethought.

Most public safety agencies and emergency planners have long advised citizens to tune to radio and television for the most current advisories before, during and after the storm. As with so many other things in the digital age, fewer and fewer people are turning there for news and information. An Adweek Data Points last month showed that while television is still the leading source of news for Americans, 39% of the people who were asked, “Where did you get the news yesterday?,” responded  desktop and mobile devices versus 33% for radio.

At Eric Mower + Associates, preparations for Sandy gave us the opportunity to test our new emergency communications system. During the past year, the agency completed a comprehensive update of the our emergency plan, including the creation of a new employee notification system called EMAlert.  We could no longer accept the risk that an emergency situation that cripples our information technology system could also cut off communications to our staff. We worked with a world-leading provider of interactive and mass notification systems to ensure that the agency can now quickly and easily reach EMA people wherever they are with email, text and traditional phone messages. With a secure, offsite technology partner, we have greater assurance that we can help ensure the safety of our people and continue business operations in almost any type of emergency. EMAlert worked exactly as intended in our tests on the day Sandy arrived in the Northeast.

As the recovery from Sandy continues, I see three major lessons for communications professionals who have responsibility for emergency planning:

  1. Update crisis plans to address the reliance on mobile communications. Based on the size and scope of your organization, establish the right approaches (with built-in redundancies) to get messages to key stakeholders on mobile devices. For EMA, it’s a third-party mass notification system.  For your organization, it may be a simple “text-tree” supported by Twitter and Facebook messages.
  2. Maintain procedures that rely on traditional media outlets as a hedge against disruptions to mobile communications. Difficulties in restoring power and cell phone service quickly in hard hit areas can’t be ignored. A Saturday New York Times story, “Fractured Recovery Divides the Region,” carries a poignant reminder of that fact from a desperate Long Islander whose home was flooded. “I just keep waiting for someone with a megaphone and a car to just tell us what to do…I’m lost.”
  3. Closely monitor social media to debunk rumors and false information. Sandy brought many despicable examples of bad actors carelessly or deliberately sharing falsehoods during and after the storm. As exemplified by the good work of BuzzFeed’s Jack Steuf, though, it does appear that the social world can successfully “out” falsehoods and their perpetrators fairly quickly.

Superstorm Sandy shows us emergency plans that advise having battery operated radios and extra batteries on hand aren’t ready for the digital age. And with the near certainty that virtually every business will someday face a major disruption, now is the time to upgrade your preparedness.

WARNING: This blog post includes vulgar language. Somebody else’s. Not mine. Avert your eyes from the image below if you are easily offended.

Slip ups in social media that create embarrassing – and sometimes damaging – consequences are all too common. Another one occurred last Friday affecting StubHub, eBay’s online marketplace for tickets to sporting events, concerts and shows. I read about it in Adweek, thanks to my colleague, Chuck Beeler, one of the leaders of EMA’s Social Media Advisory Group.

I’ll summarize the story, although it’s a bit like watching a rerun of one of your favorite old TV shows. You know how its going to end, but you love seeing it anyway.

At the conclusion of what must have been a very long week, a StubHub employee with clearance to manage the company’s Twitter feed, posted an exultant — but offensive — TGIF message:

“Thank fu_ _ it’s Friday! Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.”

Of course, this employee intended the declaration for a personal handle, but mistakenly released it on the official @StubHub Twitter feed reaching its 19,000 or so followers. Oops.

In his timely story the morning after, Adweek reporter Tim Nudd rightly noted that brand social managers must carefully switch between their personal and professional feeds: “Let’s all say it together: If you have access to a brand’s Twitter account, make sure you log out before posting an offensive personal tweet.”

Tim’s advice is sound, but I think it misses the bigger mistake that was made. What made the StubHub Tweeter think for one second that this disparaging post was a good idea even from a personal social media profile?

The critical message for public relations counselors is this: nothing is personal in social media.

This is especially true for front line social media managers, but I believe this reality goes well beyond that. If you have a career you care about or a company you are accountable to, forget any notion that what you do in social can be personal.

Accept this truth, and you’ll never need to worry if you picked the right profile in your HootSuite account when you upload a post. And you’ll surely avoid throwing a social hand grenade that bounces back at your company and you.

P.S. If you’re wondering how StubHub extracted itself from this social fiasco, they deleted the Tweet and acknowledged it in a follow up Tweet shown below. Good recovery. More posts like the first one, though, and StubHub might be able to start selling tickets to follow them on Twitter.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

Ian Schafer’s column in Advertising Age’s “Digital Issue” never uses the words public relations, but he’s got a lot to say that’s relevant to Digitally Powered PR.

In, “Why it’s time your brand invested in a creative newsroom,” Schafer, who is CEO of interactive agency, Deep Focus, writes about the need for brands to create timely, relevant content that people want to share.

Click to link to Ad Age Digital Issue

“If there is one thing that we should have learned in this era of social media,” Schafer says, “it’s that people are being drawn to content not through publishers and pages but through people and feeds. The best content is not what surfaces most through search results but what travels most between people.”

Schafer’s perspective supports my view that public relations is moving ever more quickly in to the Post Publicity Era. Publicity isn’t dead, not by any means. It plays a very important role in delivering messages and engaging with target audiences. Need an example: I found Schafer’s column while reading the print version of the Ad Age Digital issue, so even he knows he needs media relations.  Of course, now I’m sharing his excellent content with you.

Schafer’s message, issued as a wakeup call to digital creatives, can also be seen as a red alert to public relations. Evolve or be left behind.

“…the modern digital agency is equipped to lead the next era by thinking as much like a modern newsroom as it does a creative department…The traditional creative process generally includes briefs, brainstorms, boardrooms and 70 rounds of revisions. While this process can lead to rich brand experience, it does not deliver consistent content that is immediately relevant at a given moment time.”

I doubt most digital agencies even see public relations as relevant to this evolution  Oh sure, PR’s great for schmoozing reporters and organizing events, but creating compelling and entertaining content that people want to share? That’s digital, dude.

One of the central roles of public relations has been its position as the timely voice of organizations. Most public relations practitioners have seen that “newsroom” role through the perspectives of “media relations,” “corporate communications” and “investor relations,” noble functions that are vital to business and commerce. Now, we need to lead our organizations in “customer engagement” by developing relevant and creative content that our target publics want to interact with and share.

If digital agencies need to act more like a newsroom, then PR firms need to think more like the digital shops.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

When I blogged on July 18 about questions regarding the future of the printed newspaper, I hoped that my daily paper would have a print edition around long enough to carry my obituary. Well, it looks like I better die on the right day of the week.

The Syracuse Post Standard, an Advance Publications newspaper, announced yesterday that it would limit home delivery of the printed paper to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. While it will continue a slimmed down print version the other days of the week, Advance said that edition will be reviewed before the end of 2013. The future for those days of the week looks bleak.

Advance’s decision regarding the Post Standard and a sister publication in Pennsylvania, which announced a similar plan on the same day, is not a surprise. Advance implemented similar models in Louisiana, Alabama and Michigan. As Lorraine Branham, dean of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, put it in the Post’s coverage of its own news: “This is going to accelerate. They’re ahead of the game, and in some ways it’s really smart on their part.”

For public relations professionals who see the Post Standard as a vehicle for publicity, you can be sure that placements in the print edition will be particularly prized – especially in the Sunday edition, which is bound to maintain the greatest readership.  I believe the Opinion page on these dates will wield even greater authority and influence.

Advance Newspapers’ approach is another indicator, though, of what I called the Post-Publicity Era in my July 26 post. Media relations will continue to be important, but it will no longer be the defining capability of the effective public relations professional.  Communicators need to build the four corners of effective digitally powered public relations:

Community – Cultivate a network of connections with the broadest collection of people and institutions that represent your stakeholders. Databases and social media are critical digital tools.

Content – Build a system to generate news and information yourself in all formats – text, pictures, video and graphics. Your content must be honest and meaningful — not self-promotional fluff.

Channels – Maintain multiple distribution vehicles so you can self-publish and self-broadcast to your community. Use your channels first to talk to your community.

Metrics – Develop measurement standards and tools that align with your objectives and goals. Clips represent only one dimension of digitally powered PR.

Whenever any landscape changes, new growth emerges. No one can predict what’s in the future for the printed newspaper, but I am hopeful that Advance’s print-digital hybrid is a model that works. Print has an important role, even if it only gets delivered three days a week. And society needs the robust news gathering organizations that newspapers represent.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

PRWeek’s August issue tells the story of the PR agency industry’s near shutout at the 2012 Cannes Lions. Only two PR agencies won PR Lions. The rest of the honors went to advertising agencies.

There’s been some hand wringing about what it means for the future of agency public relations. I think it is simply more evidence of how the emergence of digital is blurring the lines between public relations and the rest of marketing. PR powered by digital makes it easier for organizations to capture attention, create engagement and influence opinions.

Another important factor in the outcome at the awards is the fact that Cannes is about “creativity.” In that regard, there is no doubt that advertising agencies have an inherent advantage. PR agencies are best at creating healthy relationships between institutions and their publics; advertising agencies win the day in creative ideas.

Which is why I feel so lucky to have spent last 25 years practicing public relations in an integrated agency. Eric Mower established a public relations division at the agency almost four decades ago. At Eric Mower + Associates, public relations people work side by side with the best creative talents in the industry. Because our agency’s roots have grown in integrated soil, we’ve also learned that big ideas can come from anywhere. Creativity is an intersection.

Earlier this year, EMA put this experience in writing when we introduced the Declaration of Inter-Dependence, a  500-word manifesto signed by all of EMA’s creative directors. Under the banner of, “You’re creative, damn it,” the Declaration invited all EMAers to join the creative process:

“Our industry is changing. Our lives are changing.

We’re influenced less and less by what we see and hear…and more and more by what we feel and experience. This isn’t news to anyone. This isn’t a revelation. It’s just the new reality.

Unfortunately, the old reality is this: Much of our industry is still clinging to a creative model that was born before the FIRST screen was created, let alone the second or third.

In this outdated model, copywriters and art directors are charged with coming up with the Big Ideas, and everyone else is charged with sharing them with the world.

Well, it’s time to shake things up. It’s time to take EMA’s core value of collaboration to the next level — beyond simply playing nicely together and working as a team.”

Creative development efforts at EMA are more open than they’ve ever been before. Teams solve problems together and generate more compelling and impactful solutions.

I have no doubt that the Declaration of Inter-Dependence at EMA will mean better results for our clients. And with shared ownership of creativity, maybe a Cannes PR Lion is in our future.

Why not? We’re creative, damn it.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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