by Kristina Keeling
My fellow Innovative PR specialist, Nikki McClaran, shared a rather humorous email with me from a small company called Carved, known for making unique cellphone cases. In the email, Carved asked what it could do or say to get Nikki to purchase an item she had left in her cart. It included a picture of the Carved team and told her that if she didn’t like the item, the company would fully refund it.
The email was great. It showed that the company cares about its customers. Who doesn’t love that? Nikki did go with another brand, but the email had her strongly considering purchasing the item.
This email made me explore Carved’s website, Twitter and Instagram accounts and, let me just say, I really liked what I saw. The “Our Story” section has a video that tells how the company began and includes its mission statement. This video gives its customers insight into the culture and shows that it is more than just a small start-up. It showcases the company’s personality; serious, funny and relatable.
How it does it
Carved isn’t the only company using a personal approach with its customers. Incorporating personality into customer relations is taking off. There are many ways a company can use this approach.
This Bar Saves Lives is a start-up with a nonprofit partner. With each bar it sells, it sends a package of food wherever it is needed most in the world. This Bar Saves Lives’ website features a blog with recipes, what is going on in the company and how it “saves lives.” Other start-ups can learn from This Bar Saves Lives’ example, showing customers how it operates and gives insights into its culture.
Another way start-ups can showcase their personalities is through social media. When companies jumped on the social media bandwagon, fans would “like” or “follow,” but there was little interaction. With a better understanding of social media’s uses, companies (start-ups especially) are improving their communication with fans.
Carved and This Bar Saves Lives both boast active social media accounts, retweeting and replying with followers. It is always exciting when we, as fans, see our tweets being retweeted by a company. We feel like they are actually listening to us and want to know our opinions.
The “personable” experience
Carved is dedicated to providing “ridiculously great customer service” and it accomplishes this by being personable to its customers. You can read through hundreds of personal testimonials on its website.
Skimming through the testimonials, I noticed a customer voicing satisfaction after Carved wrote them a personal “thank you” note that had all the team members’ signatures on the inside of the case they purchased. Another customer voiced displeasure with the case they received, contacted Carved and was able to get new one at no extra cost. Going that extra step turns good customer service into a personable experience.
It isn’t just start-ups. Big companies understand that customers want great experiences. That is why customer service is so important. I believe it should be more than just a simple “thank you” after purchasing an item.
by Chelsey Webber
The concept of brand journalism is quickly becoming a trend in the world of public relations and marketing. Some professionals even venture to say that brand journalists will soon be in high demand. With traditional forms of journalism in decline, media and PR professionals could soon find themselves recruited by companies in search of brand journalists. But the question remains: what’s brand journalism?
Brand journalism stems from the idea that companies wish to be seen as more than just sellers of products and ideas. They want to be champions of sustainable efforts, environmentally friendly causes and resources, humanitarian efforts and more. AdAge characterizes brand journalism as a “Modern Marketing Imperative” that focuses on developing a brand’s story by producing creative, customized content. This extends beyond writing news releases and conversing on social media. Brand journalists write relevant and newsworthy stories to help develop a company’s brand beyond its products and services.
Coca-Cola: Brand Journalism Experts
Coca-Cola illustrates the concept of brand journalism brilliantly. Its website is filled with articles that, strangely enough, have very little to do with Coke products. You can find information regarding programs that range from restoring local parks and playgrounds to providing clean water for villages in Africa.
The content found on its website is telling the story of Coca-Cola’s brand. It positions the company as more than just a distributor of soft drinks by humanizing it. Coca-Cola’s brand has established it as not only an industry leader of soft drinks, but also as a champion of community outreach and humanitarian relief. Coke isn’t simply a soft drink; it’s a soft drink with integrity.
My Two Cents (You’re welcome).
My research on brand journalism leads me to believe that, as a whole, the concept is quite simple. As a brand journalist, you are not speaking to the company’s interests. Rather, you are speaking to the interests of the consumers.
In this wonderfully cohesive marriage of journalism, storytelling and brand management, you will find timely, relevant and newsworthy stories, written by brand journalists on behalf of a company. The important thing to recognize about brand journalism is that you are not writing marketing or advertising copy. These are stories that consumers can relate to without feeling bombarded by the never-ending stream of traditional marketing and advertising.
by Ambria Paul
As public relations practitioners, our duties include keeping target audiences in mind—external and internal, but far too often, the importance of internal communication goes unacknowledged. A concept we need to embrace is that good internal communication is the driving force for organizational success externally. What is grounded within the organization defines the quality of what is communicated outward. PRWeek’s Julie Skidmore states, “Internal communications can be seen as the oil that keeps an organization working smoothly.” With the proper system of communication and participation, and climate, an organization thrives.
Two Factors That Negatively Affect Internal Relations
-Dented Upward and Downward Networks
Generally, within every organization there is a hierarchy. For example, in the workplace there are “technicians” and “managers.” According to Alan Jay Zaremba’s Organizational Communication, “communication within an organization is disseminated through an upward and downward network.” Upward relates to communication from technicians to management, and conversely for downward. If the technicians feel as though their ideas, opinions, or concerns are not valued by management, they will more likely feel unappreciated and might grow resentment toward the “top dogs.”
At the same time, if management does not personally engage with the technicians a wall will be created that separates the two. Building and maintaining healthy, interactive upward and downward networks within an organization is essential to productivity and equality. Company newsletters, surveys, opinion polls, and frequent emailing can provide a healthier system of communication within.
Jay Zaremba’s explains, “the climate is the atmosphere in the organization that either encourages or discourages communication.” A cold climate can resemble workers who are tired, cranky, nonchalant, or angry due to excess duties, hunger, feeling unappreciated by fellow employees or management, and confusion.
Creating a warm climate in an organization does not have to be hard. Aside from maintaining a healthy system of communication between employees, an environment less “frigid” can stem from the simple things. Providing snacks for employees and keeping the room’s temperature at a comfortable degree can cure physical distractions of productivity. Having monthly meetings for strictly concerns the employees may have, sending encouraging emails, and having “Employee of the Month” encourages productivity and gives employees a sense of value.
These tactics can have a huge impact on the climate of the organization, further creating more successful internal communication and relations. A good example of a company creating warm climate for employees can be seen with Killer Infographics, a leading visual communications agency. Employees are provided with a climbing wall and two kegerators with locally brewed beer to release stress in the workplace. Sounds like fun to me!
An organization can have every goal of serving the external public, but if it does not start first behind its walls, there will be no outward success. Internal communication is a must!
by Jonathan Haile
Creating a logo is an important, dare I say, sacred part of the branding process. A logo should be recognizable, but should encompass a brand’s identity, values and in many cases, its history. As Major League Soccer prepares for its 20th season, the newly unveiled logo is a different take on what we’ve come to know.
Pictured below, you’ll notice that the new logo in the bottom right. It has an interesting story to tell. The perimeter represents the field of play, the slash represents the speed and energy of the game, and the three stars represent what MLS calls its pillars of the brand: For Club, For Country, For Community.
Evolving over time, MLS maintained the image of a cleat and a soccer ball in its logo, so the update is a definite departure that league is happy to explain:
“The new brand’s design is intended to say ‘soccer’ without the literal ball and cleat. In the end, we decided that the inclusion of a ball and cleat is unnecessary as it dates us very quickly (due to the fast pace of innovation in our game) while many other ways exist to signal we are a soccer league. Our new brand will build meaning over time so that our new crest signifies soccer in North America and has a unique place in global sports.”
Sharing the sacredness with its teams
What’s most interesting to me is the story the logo doesn’t necessarily tell you. Each individual club gets its own MLS logo, featuring the colors of each individual brand. It suggests, to me, a dynamic that you don’t get from the NFL, NBA, or MLB. One could argue that those leagues have hierarchies that place league offices and officials above their teams. This MLS logo suggests that the league cannot function without them. It eliminates the disconnect.
Of course, the logo also a celebration. MLS Next is the new positioning platform that highlights the new clubs, new sponsorships, new stadiums and the excitement ahead, so why not let each club share that excitement?
At first glance the logo seems simple, but when you understand it, it makes a lot of sense. The league’s approach should serve as an example for all aspiring branding experts. There are awesome stories you can help your clients tell. You can take them into account to make something fresh and recognizable.
Image via MLSSoccer.com
by Ana Guzman
Chipotle, the popular Mexican restaurant chain, recently implemented a new campaign called the “Cultivating Thought Author Series.” It features short stories on Chipotle’s bags and cups, written by 10 popular authors. The idea is to give customers something fun to read as they eat their Chipotle burritos or salads.
Safran Foer’s concept
The concept was created by Jonathan Safran Foer, a New York best-selling author who, when one day was eating a Chipotle burrito, realized he did not have anything to read. In an article on Vanityfair.com, Safran Foer explained how he had met with Chipotle’s CEO Steve Ells a few years earlier and decided to send him an email explaining his idea.
Ells was interested and Safran Foer started to put together a group of writers. “Chipotle refrained from meddling in the editorial process for the duration of the initiative, which the burrito chain has branded Cultivating Thought,” Safran Foer explained in Vanity Fair. “I selected the writers, and insofar as there was any editing, I did it.” The cups and bags from Chipotle have always been creative and out-of-the-ordinary with the sharing of thoughts, ideas or by incorporating humor. Therefore, presenting the stories of comedians, authors and thought leaders would not stray too far from an already established piece of Chipotle’s identity.
The featured authors
Safran Foer explained how he wanted authors with different writing styles, such as comedy, fiction, essayistic writing and how he wanted to bring in authors who could provide thought-provoking content. Some of the authors featured in the campaign are Safran Foer, himself, Toni Morrison, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, film director and producer Judd Apatow, and Sarah Silverman, a comedienne, author and actor. The other six writers also represent a diversity of experiences and provide the variety of writing styles.
The short stories
The stories are short and each one includes “Two Minute” in its title. According to Chipotle, that is the amount of time it will take the customer to read the text. Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought website explains that the purpose of the stories are for the customers to engage in content that makes them laugh, inspires them and provokes thought.
The newly designed cups and bags were first distributed on May 15. I think it will be interesting to see the public reactions to the new packaging. As a regular Chipotle customer, I wonder how often these stories will change and how likely it will be for a person to receive the same story as someone else.
This campaign also provides the restaurant chain with unique and shareable content. The hashtag #CultivatingThought seems to be in frequent use on Twitter and although it is not trending, it allows Chipotle to engage more customers. Oddly enough, it hasn’t made a huge splash on Instagram, but that may come in time. To see the reactions, just search the hashtag.
by Jonathan Haile
In today’s world, we’re bombarded with so many media messages and advertisements that it has become difficult for brands to stand out. Think about it. When commercials come on, we change the channel. If a commercial comes on Hulu, we open a new tab in our browser.
Brands have to be able to stand out; to break through the clutter and reach the people that matter most. These are things that a brand can do to get my attention. While these are my opinions, I’m willing to bet others share these with me.
1. Your brand addresses a problem with a unique solution
Take Boston’s fast-growing men’s clothing company, Ministry of Supply, as an example. Men get up every morning, put on their nicest dress clothes, but by the time they arrive to work, they’re drenched in sweat and left uncomfortable for the rest of the day. The guys at Ministry are addressing this age-old problem by manufacturing shirts that absorb the heat that makes you sweat. The company’s signature Apollo Dress shirt is also wrinkle free.
You don’t see bigger clothing companies doing this and I really wonder why they haven’t caught on. Ministry of Supply is a little clothing company that, I imagine, other companies are going to start paying attention to.
2. Your brand is minimal
Minimalism can take many different meanings for many people, but in this case, I’m talking about the aesthetics. Apple is the perfect example. From the iPhone to the Mac Pro, the designs are simple. They look like something from the future and while more and more people buy these products, each one looks like it was crafted with a great deal of care.
The genius behind Apple’s minimal aesthetic is Jony Ive. You can see how after Apple shifted to this style, other brands followed suit. After all, Apple sued Samsung because their designs were similar.
3. You care about the customer
We’ve discussed, in previous, how Twitter is a growing customer service tool. In some cases, social media can get companies into customer service trouble, but in many cases, it’s nice to see brands interacting with the people that keep them afloat.
4. You have fun, and it shows
Workplaces are, first and foremost, places of business, but companies and brands don’t want employees to hate coming to work. Social media allows brands to show how much fun it can be to be included. We see goofy photos of employees, teams celebrating awards after months of hard, company picnics and celebrations of key customers.
5. Your focus goes beyond selling a product
Corporate social responsibility can have large influence on purchase decisions. Take TOMS, for example. You want to buy new shoes. You can buy from Brand X, who rakes in the cash and manufactures more shoes, or you can buy from TOMS, who will, in turn, donate shoes to needy children.
TOMS’ following continues to grow because it makes the statement that it’s going to make the world a better place when it sells a pair of shoes, or glasses or coffee. It isn’t the only example. Brands partner with Product (RED) to raise money for AIDS research and treatment. Seventh Generation, a natural household products, is committed to bringing sustainable options to consumers. Even Walmart is reducing its carbon footprint by continuing to install solar panels on more and more stores.
6. Your brand DOESN’T use social media
What…? Really…? Yep. Seems like a contradiction to what I said before, but brands that don’t use social media become more impressive to me each day. The lack of a social presence could be seen as being out of touch, but I think it’s bold. Apple only uses Youtube, but simply as a tool to share commercials rather than interact with customers. Trader Joe’s doesn’t use social media (or traditional advertising). It relies on a loyal customer base, a clever website, and a good reputation to keep moving forward.
by Megan Maher
You’ve heard the phrase “Jack-of-all-trades”, but do you know exactly what it means and how it relates to public relations? Obviously it’s an awesome title to hold, but as you’ll see, obtaining it doesn’t come easy.
Jack-of-all-trades is precisely what it sounds like. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person who is adept at many different kinds of work.” The famous figure of speech dates back to the 17th century and has been used ever since.
Correlation to our industry
As PR students we are taught a lot of different skills, from writing press releases and building media kits in (name that class!) to holding press conferences in Strategic Planning and learning how to navigate our way around inDesign in Design and Layout. We are even “fortunate” enough to sit through a law class that provides us with knowledge of what you can and can’t do with digital media. This array of classes prepares us for what’s to come post graduation and sets us up for success as we transition from students to PR professionals.
In the “real world” no two days are the same––which you already know and is probably one of the characteristics that attracts you to this ever changing career. Working in the fast-paced environment means you have to stay on your toes and be able to wear many different hats to complete the tasks at hand. It’s important to be continuously learn as many skill sets as you can to standout in this highly competitive field.
Take advantage of the resources you have to familiarize yourself with programs that you’ve never used and polish the skills you already have. We’ve compiled a list of the top ten know-hows that as a PR professional you’ll want to know:
1. Writing (grammar, grammar, grammar)
2. Photography and photoshop
5. Web Design/HTML
7. Social Media
8. Event Planning
9. Public Speaking
10. Search Engine Optimization
Become proficient in many skill sets
Becoming proficient at these and remaining multifaceted will also help you better communicate with other teams and allow you to understand their jargon-filled dialect. You will never walk away from a conversation wondering what just happened again, no, no, no. Do you need to talk to the marketing team about promotional material? No problem, you know the ins and outs of design concepts. Did you just walk into a meeting to find out that you’re leading it? Don’t sweat it! Not only do you know what you’re talking about like the back of your hand, you’re also an all star public speaker. Did someone just come to you with content they need edited yesterday? It’s a good thing you’re a skilled editor. Mistakes don’t stand a chance against you.
Alas, you are the Jack-of-all-Trades. You, my friend, have mastered it all, well maybe not all, but with the skills you have you’re well on your way.
As you wear the many hats of your newly acquired skills you must never put on the hat of the “know-it-all”. Being a Jack-of-all-Trades comes with humble pride and the understanding that there is always more to learn. It takes extreme dedication and is not for the faint at heart. So take your knowledge and use it for good. Help others and watch your hard work pay off. Now go forth, conquer the day, and continue to be awesome.
by Jonathan Haile
Unless you live under a rock, you know that last month Warner Brothers and DC Comics re-energized Superman on the silver screen with the release of Man Of Steel. So far the film has garnered over $500 million worldwide, and in a summer of mega box office failures, Superman is still flying pretty high against the competition.
The film cost $225 million to produce, and in today’s world, movie studios might need a bit of product placement to fuel their big budgets. That’s why Man Of Steel earned over $160 million before it was released. Companies and brands like IHOP, Sears, Burger King and Gillette are all reaping the benefits from the world’s greatest hero, whether they’re featured onscreen or not. Check out the clip from the movie and you’ll see what I mean. The 7-Eleven wasn’t placed there on accident.
Sometimes filmmakers get criticized for blatant product placement. On top of harsh criticisms of his films, Transformers director Michael Bay gets a lot of flack for product placement. People argue that they don’t want to watch a two hour commercial. They go to movies for the escapism. Man Of Steel is no different here. According to Bloomberg, there are over 100 promotional partners for the film. I’m not sure if that includes the Kansas City Royals, but it was nice to see some love for my hometown team.
Product placement, as UCM Public Relations students learn in Integrated Marketing Communication, is a valuable part of the marketing mix. If being visible was the goal, the companies that supported Man Of Steel are clearly benefiting, but at the end of the day, the bottom line is to make money.
So does Man Of Steel’s product placement turn you away from products or services, or does it make you more likely to buy or try them? Either way, Man Of Steel is a solid film (no pun intended).
Image via IGN.com