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Comedy and Communication – Using Humor to Your PR Advantage

Appropriate humor used effectively can bolster any business’s communication plan. That’s the assertion of David C. Winfield, professional stand-up comedian and CEO/Founder of Commonwealth Commercial Comedic Communications. David offers his services to myriad businesses, helping craft jokes that complement their communications plans. On behalf of the Richmond PRSA on Wednesday 6/28, David gave a keynote speech on how the hard-learned lessons of comedy he internalized after years on the stand-up circuit can be related to public relations.

David made it clear from the beginning that humor can be used in almost any professional setting because it exists on a spectrum. The key to implementing comedy into a communications plan is to determine what type of humor is appropriate given your business or client. Jokes don’t have to be offensive or vulgar, although offensive jokes shouldn’t be discounted outright. “Appropriate” does not always equal “clean.” Know your audience, know your brand, and then determine if people will respond well to more vulgar jokes, or sillier jokes, industry-specific jokes, etc. Humor is not inherently unprofessional, as some may believe. In fact, David believes employees perceived as funny by their peers are also viewed as more competent and confident.

So, which situations are optimized for humor? David points to three categories:

  1. Announcements, especially those that contain lists
  2. Speeches, pitches, and presentations
  3. Social media

Utilizing comedy helps to both gain and maintain an audience’s attention. That’s why David recommends using humor when giving a speech, or even in pitches to the media. Never allow your jokes to overshadow your core messaging, but punching up your pitch to that New York Times reporter may just set you apart from countless other pitches they receive each day. Jokes are the “sizzle” to your messaging’s “steak.”

The greatest opportunity for a business to optimize humor is on social media, because it is relatively new and, thus, less bound by tradition. For example, Wendy’s Twitter account has been lauded for its brutal responses to online critics, with Business Insider calling the tweets “hilarious.”

So now that we know it is possible to inject humor into public relations and communications, the question becomes, “How can I be funny?” In his speech, David pointed to three core elements of humor: Truth, Surprise, and Hostility.

Laughter is often a response to relating to a shared experience. That’s why many jokes are rooted in truth and then embellished with hyperbolic details. We’ve all waited in line at a bank or been on hold with customer service. Know the shared experiences of your target audience, and then introduce the second element of humor, the element of surprise. Start your joke with relatability, and then pull the rug out with an unexpected twist. For example, this great Steven Wright joke: “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time,’ so I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” Also, “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.” The surprise of the joke then informs the joke’s hostility, which David defines as a “disturbance of the norm.” Nothing’s ever funny when everything happens exactly as expected.

My biggest takeaway from David’s speech was that, in the world of PR, we shouldn’t feel restrained by tradition or convention. Jokes and comedy are symbolic of a break from many of PR’s long held beliefs. However, breaking from convention should not be done without reason, without planning, or without an expert understanding of your messaging and your audience.

Trust your business, your team, and yourself to implement comedy effectively into your communications plan. And if at first your jokes don’t land, persevere. After all, dying’s easy. But comedy? Comedy is hard.

Book Report | Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

Since burgeoning in the mid-2000s, social media have presented a conundrum for businesses and organizations hoping to maximize their brand’s value. On one hand, social media, when skillfully used, offer organizations the ability to reach, interact with, and utilize their consumer base in previously impossible ways. On the other hand, social technologies have a great democratizing power that shifts influence away from traditional marketing departments into the hands of consumers.

This is the problem explored in Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Forrester Research’s Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. Originally published in 2008 and revised in 2011, Li and Bernoff define the ‘groundswell’ as, “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” (Li and Bernoff 9).

But how, exactly, is the groundswell useful to companies? According to Li and Bernoff, the answer lies in each company’s objectives. Generally, the authors group these objectives into five categories, which form the backbone of the book itself: Listening, talking, energizing, supporting, and embracing.

Listening to the groundswell helps companies perform customer and market research, while talking allows companies to market themselves. Energizing the groundswell means identifying super-customers who will “supercharge the power of their word of mouth.” Supporting the groundswell means providing the tools and platforms for customer-to-customer help systems, while embracing the groundswell goes several steps further and involves incorporating customers into how a company functions and designs products.

Clearly, there are several layers of complexity to the groundswell that must be accounted for before any interactions with it can take place. But Li and Bernoff do a fantastic job of making the concept accessible. They translate the abstract landscape of social media into real business sense without losing the humanity behind the groundswell. Several real-world case studies punctuate their points, and prove the potency of the concept.

Social technologies have been so ingrained in our daily lives that, for an organization of any size, acting to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential negatives of the groundswell is no longer optional. To do so, the authors recommend beginning with a four-step planning process, “POST:”

  1. People: How will your customers engage with your organization?
  2. Objectives: What are your goals? Do you want to talk to the groundswell for research, energize sales, etc.?
  3. Strategy: How will your relationship with your customers change, and how will customers carry your message?
  4. Technology: Which social technologies will you use and what applications will you build to reach your customers?

The book is a masterclass in navigating the new (at the time) digital landscape of social media. However, Groundswell was last revised in 2011 in large part to explore the growing influence of a social media site exploding in popularity: Twitter. But, a lot has changed in the past 6 years. As noted in the book, Ashton Kutcher had 6 million followers on Twitter when Groundswell was published. He now has 18.1 million. McDonalds had a “big Twitter following” of around 75,000 people in 2011 (197). Today? 3.45 million. Experts are no longer discussing the viability of Twitter as a new social media/micro-blogging platform, but have instead started to wonder how long it can survive.

So, the question of whether Groundswell is relevant today is a valid one. Effusively, I believe it remains relevant because, while the digital landscape may change, mastering the groundswell, according to Li and Bernoff, relies on one tenet: Concentrate on relationships, not technologies. No matter which technologies are invented, evolve, transform, and die in the future, relationships will remain a constant.

The groundswell is our present and our future. Now that the world has been connected by social technologies, it is unlikely to ever be meaningfully disconnected. Li and Bernoff have a very interesting vision of the future groundswell, one that is “ubiquitous,” with complete – and nearly constant – connection. In the book’s final chapter, the authors make predictions on how the groundswell will evolve. Many of their predictions have proved true, like an increased reliance on mobile technology, and news feeds and alerts that are uniquely crafted based on the sites you have visited and the articles you have read. The technologies that already existed when this book was published in 2008, say the authors, will be markedly bolstered by increased participation in the future.

Wireside whole-heartedly recommends Groundswell to anyone working in marketing or PR. Though the book is aged, it has aged well, and will continue to inform our understanding of customer desires, input, interactions, and more as social and digital technologies continue to transform the world.

In Case You Missed the Memo on the Importance of Social Media in PR- Read This.

PRSA Richmond’s April luncheon speaker, Dr. Donald K. Wright, wanted to make one point very clear: Digital media is absolutely vital to modern public relations departments. Dr. Wright is the Harold Burson professor and chair in public relations at Boston University’s College of Communication. Every statistic, metric, and case study from his research, a 12-Year Longitudinal Analysis Tracking Social and Digital Media Use in Public Relations Practice, points to the simple fact that PR professionals must take new media very seriously, or else suffer the (often very public) consequences.

The Death of Traditional News

Dr. Wright began his talk by discussing the downfall of the newspaper industry, especially at the local level. Newspaper Death Watch keeps a comprehensive list of those papers that have closed in the past few years, but even once-daily papers that have managed to stay afloat have in many cases switched to a three-day-a-week model to save money.

While traditional news consumption has fallen off a cliff, though, digital media use by consumers is rapidly expanding. This trend, according to Dr. Wright, means PR agencies have been forced to adapt to the new media climate, or watch their clients’ visibility and outreach suffer. His research shows that the time PR practitioners spend working with emerging media like blogs, social media, etc. has increased each year since 2015. In 2015, 29% of his respondents spent more than 25% of their working hours with social and digital media. That percentage increased to 36% in 2017 (Wright and Hinson 21). 75% of 2017 respondents think that PR or Communications should have the responsibility of monitoring and managing emerging media communication (Wright and Hinson 22). Still not convinced that digital media is inescapable in the field of PR? According to Dr. Wright, only 1% of the PR practitioners surveyed don’t spend any of their working time with digital media (Wright and Hinson 21).

These trends matter, because digital media empowers customers, subscribers, audiences, etc. Consumers are now one tweet, Facebook post, or Yelp review away from causing viral backlash against an organization. But even absent a crisis, maintaining public relations through print and broadcast are no longer tenable in this era of real-time status updates. To improve sales, maintain a positive public reputation, and quickly disseminate news and information, PR departments must dedicate substantial resources to digital media. To highlight this point, Dr. Wright used a series of good, bad, and ugly case studies:

The Good

In 2015, McDonalds’ sales were reaching record lows. But, together with communications firm Golin, McDonalds was able to use new media to boost their sales by identifying the service a huge part of their consumer following craved: All day breakfast. During his talk, Dr. Wright said that Golin found more than 300,000 people had mentioned all-day breakfast on Twitter between 2007-2015. When they announced the debut of all day breakfast, it trended on Twitter and Facebook for more than five hours, and received more than 340 tweets per minute (Wright and Hinson 32)!

Dr. Wright’s statistics are clear: The announcement generated 245 media placements, 1,100 influencer brand engagements and 48 mentions in earned media stories. McDonald’s stock rose 25% in one quarter, and store sales recorded their strongest quarter in four years (Wright and Hinson 33)!

The Bad

For every all day breakfast, however, there is a viral video that severely damages consumer trust in a brand. Dominos experienced exactly this in 2009 when a video surfaced of two employees, among several more disgusting things, spitting on food before serving it to customers.

However, Dominos was able to combat the viralness of this video with a video of its own. President Patrick Doyle filmed his own YouTube video apologizing to his customers. Through directness, sincerity, and quickness, Dominos was able to avert a major hit.

The Ugly

And for every gross Dominos video, there is, well, are, several United Airlines fiascos. Back in 2008, digital media was used to strike at United when a passenger, Dave Carroll, had his guitar broken by the airline. He promptly posted a song on YouTube called “United Breaks Guitars.” Rather than replacing the $3,500 guitar, United watched as the video went viral, and they lost millions in reputation and business.

More recently, United suffered social media heat when they refused to allow two teenage passengers, who were using a United benefit that allows employees and their dependents to fly for free on a standby basis, to wear leggings on board. And somehow even more recently, United became a top global news story when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of their airplanes because United had overbooked the flight.

What United shows perhaps better than any other company is that new media makes organizations’ reputations instantly vulnerable. While Dominos was able to get in front of its problem with speed and sincerity, United failed to adequately communicate with its consumers. And when United CEO Oscar Munoz did communicate, he showed a noticeable lack of empathy.

What we at Wireside took away from Dr. Wright’s speech is that, ultimately, technology has consequences. As we exist in a time that is shifting away from traditional newspapers to the new media of Twitter, Facebook, and beyond, it is important to stay on top of the tools and systems that allow PR professionals to best share an organization’s message. As McDonald’s and United show, new media giveth, but new media also taketh away.

It’s PR, not ER. How to Triage a Crisis

PRSA Richmond’s Crisis Planning and Communications professional development session began – how else? – with a crisis. The session’s scheduled presenter, Padilla Owner Brian Ellis, was called away to help handle an unexpected client development, so in stepped Mike Mulvihill, Padilla’s executive VP, to help us explore the unpredictable world of crisis communications.

The New Media Landscape

We began by discussing the evolution of media and consumption. The past 20 years have been marked by a distinct shift towards a digital news landscape. Today, more news is being consumed online, and is often first reported by non-journalist citizens. On Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites heavily featuring user-generated content, anyone with a phone (and, by extension, a camera) can provide a first-hand account of breaking news. Citizen journalism is the new norm, and it is altering how organizations react in a crisis.

Now more than ever, speed is vital when a crisis arises. Mike described the media as a constantly eating beast and, with social media and new live technologies, an organization may be in the beast’s mouth before all the members of that organization are aware a crisis has occurred. An effective response is built on preparedness. Mike and Padilla recommend doing the following before a crisis breaks out:

Anticipate threats: Murphy’s Law dictates, roughly, that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. While your organization does not need to be as pessimistic as Murphy, highlighting your key vulnerabilities puts you in front of future crises. The owner of a pipeline needs to be prepared for that pipeline to leak. Chemical companies need to prepare for spills. Data storage providers should be prepared for their sensitive information to be hacked. Hopefully your organization will never need to utilize these plans, but when a crisis arises, you will surely be glad to have formulated – and practiced – your response.

Define your role: All the major players in an organization should have clearly defined roles in the event of a crisis. Who will be handling internal communications? What about external communications? Who is the designated spokesperson for the media? What about investors? While the list of roles goes on, assigning them before a crisis ensures an organization’s response can begin immediately after the crisis breaks.

Prepare your first three steps: After roles have been assigned, each individual should have a list of the first three things they will do in crisis-mode. Speed is vital in the first hour of the crisis, and having a checklist for each role will allow an organization to move quickly without getting muddled in extended deliberations. While working together as one unit is vital, a ‘first-three-steps’ plan of action for each person’s role allows for a cohesive autonomy and a speedy response.

Develop core messaging: Organizations needs to speak with one voice in crisis communications. Developing the core messages before a crisis occurs will keep everyone in any organization on the same page, and will help it to be proactive in combatting the confusion, lies, and misinformation that run rampant when a breaking news story first starts trending online.

A Heist at the Children’s Museum

Imagine you work on the executive board at the Ellisville Children’s Museum, which is consistently ranked as one of the “Top 10” in the nation with support from major corporations like Apple, Toyota, and Northrup Grumman. Your phone rings at 5:00 AM, you pick up, and a local reporter unleashes a barrage of questions. “We’ve received reports that the museum’s CEO and CFO have embezzled millions of dollars and have skipped town – can you confirm?” “Who’s in charge?” “Has the FBI been notified?”

This is the scenario my team was given during the workshop-portion of the development session, and we had one major obstacle: We weren’t given time to formulate an action plan before the crisis broke out. So, our first efforts were focused on discovery and containment. We decided to appoint one teammate, Paige, our lead spokesperson. By 10:00 AM, we had contacted the FBI and issued a statement to the press, on our website, and via social media. We did not offer much comment on the issue, citing the FBI’s ongoing investigation, but asked the media to contact Paige with inquiries.

Our team recalled the vitalness of internal communications during a crisis and, after deciding to maintain normal operating hours, convened our employees to inform them of the situation. In-person and via email, we asked them not to comment, and not speculate, to reporters.

As the ‘day’ wore on, the FBI confirmed that the money had been embezzled, and that the CEO and CFO not only worked to steal the money, but had been hiding a relationship as well. It became the “Crime of the Century” in the Ellisville Tribune. To reduce speculation, we decided to provide the press with hourly updates, confirming the money was stolen while reasserting the Children Museum’s commitment to community enrichment. We bolstered our credibility by hiring a third-party auditor to determine how the money was embezzled.

While our team responded well to the heist, we could have improved our performance by more clearly defining our roles. For example, Paige became our general spokesperson, but we should have appointed two— one to lead external communications and one to lead internal communications with our investors and employees. We also should have appointed someone to regularly canvas social media to gain perspective on the community’s reaction. More than anything, this exercise reinforced the importance of planning. A pre-planned response will always be more effective than one put together mid- crisis.

Crisis IQ

If you’re interested in improving your company’s own crisis preparedness, start by taking Padilla’s Crisis IQ quiz. According to Mike, 71% of those who take the quiz are not adequately prepared in the event of a crisis. Around 55% don’t have a crisis management plan, 66% do not practice their plan often enough (Padilla recommends once per year), and 85% ignore social media when drafting a plan.

It is, admittedly, highly unlikely that your CEO and CFO, after hiding a secret romance, will abscond with $10 million embezzled from your company. But your organization’s fortunes can falter at the drop of a hat. Having an organized, well-practiced crisis communications plan will ensure damage control begins before that hat hits the floor.

The Truth About Diversity and Inclusion in Public Relations

On February 22, the Richmond PRSA hosted Stephen Macias for a discussion on diversity and inclusion in communications. Macias founded his own PR firm, Macias Media Group LLC (MMG), in 2012 to connect clients to LGBT consumers. Since MMG was acquired by MWWPR in 2014, he has worked as the senior vice-president of MWWPR’s multi-cultural & LGBT national practice.

Drawing on firsthand client experiences, Macias asserts that companies no longer must choose between doing what is right and doing what is profitable. Intersectionality has become inextricably linked to crafting messaging that appeal to consumers and, to prove his point, Macias drew on a few good and bad examples of companies attempting to create diverse and inclusive messaging.

Defining Intersectionality

‘Intersectionality’ is an often-misunderstood word, says Macias. He showed us a video from Teaching Tolerance, an organization founded to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations, and support equitable school experiences for children of the United States. The video defines intersectionality as, “the reality that we all have multiple identities that intersect to make us who we are.” Today, PR firms must be conscious of intersectionality to adequately appeal to the human-ness of consumers. “By adopting an intersectional lens,” both Macias and Teaching Tolerance assert, “we have a better opportunity to understand the institutions that help and harm us based on who we are.”

Loving

In 2015 and 2016, Macias and MWWPR worked with their client, Focus Features, to help promote the Golden Globe nominated film Loving. By being aware of intersectionality, Macias and his team were able to connect the historical lessons of Loving with relevant issues of today, including LGBT marriage equality and current racial tensions. MWWPR secured an interview between Loving’s stars, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and Raymond Braun, noted LGBT advocate and the former lead of YouTube’s social campaigns, programs, and LGBT marketing. Loving exemplified diversity and inclusion on screen, and by connecting the historical fight of the Lovings to LGBT and racial tensions still felt today, MWWPR helped foster a national discussion on the intersection of several marginalized identities.

Hilton and Frito-Lay

Macias’ assertion that companies no longer have to choose between ‘right’ and ‘profitable’ has been shown in two MWWPR campaigns. In 2014, Macias worked directly with Hilton Hotels on an LGBT-minded campaign centered around a Hilton-sponsored wedding for Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two of the plaintiffs in the court case that struck down Prop 8’s ban on same-sex marriage in California.

In 2015, Frito-Lay partnered with the It Gets Better Project to support the fight against LGBT bullying. Along with MWWPR, Frito-Lay created rainbow-colored Doritos that could be purchased off of the It Gets Better Project website for a $10 donation. Macias said that, while Frito-Lay produced an initial supply expected to last two months, the rainbow Doritos sold out in 24 hours. Amazingly, the campaign garnered over 1.8 billion media impressions.

Macias firmly believes that, in PR, messaging must speak to the human experience and, today, the reality of human existence is one of intersectionality. Rather than hurting profits or marketability, Hilton and Frito-Lay’s experiences show that this type of communication works. It speaks not only to marginalized audiences, but to their allies as well. Embracing diversity and inclusion is profitable, and is the right thing to do.

Poor attempts at diverse messaging, such as Groupon’s offensive Super Bowl commercial that tried to capitalize on the social and economic struggles of Tibet, still occur. Professional sports, according to Macias, have been one of the last industries to champion diversity. However, for every demeaning Groupon commercial there is a positive Airbnb or Wells Fargo commercial. The NBA decided to move their 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in response to North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill.” The move towards diverse, inclusive messaging continues to grow stronger. Clients and the audience desire it, and young talent expects it from potential employers, says Macias. Utilizing diversity and inclusion with clients and their consumer base is an absolute necessity in the modern world of public relations.

Working with Wireside: Campaign ROI, Spotlight on SDN

I’d like to highlight the launch of the SDN Consortium, which Wireside fully managed for the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL). This campaign, like many, began with a conversation with the executive leadership, where Wireside, having assessed the IOL’s assets and work in the SDN arena as well as industry trends, proactively made the recommendation to pursue a campaign on SDN that was not originally on the radar.

Appropriately assessing the value of the news, we recommended and pursued the media strategy to hold a virtual, domestic press conference for top tier tech trades and major industry analysts.  The goal was create industry awareness to support SDN Consortium Membership sales at $20,000 USD a piece.  This was not the industry’s first or the only SDN testing consortium so we played up the “best” angle.

Assets Wireside developed from scratch that required little to no edits by the client, included: campaign plan and timeline; press and analyst lists; key messages; press release; PitchEngine microsite; press conference save-the-date and official invitation; press conference script, run of show, and seed questions for QA; social media; and follow up correspondence with the media. We hosted a dry run and, afterwards, provided guidance for improvements in the verbal presentation and deck.

Media outreach via traditional and social means secured 20 RSVPs and 13 final attendees (we find 2:1 RSVP to attendee ratio is normal), along with an additional 8 journalists/analysts that requested materials.  Managing an embargo, we garnered 35 highly favorable feature stories, one mention and a very positive analyst report from a firm that is not on retainer with the client.  As of 8/18 the coverage garnered more than 8 million online impressions according to Cision; the Pitch Engine page garnered 7,576 impressions according to Pitch Engine; and the press release has been viewed 6,894 times according to Business Wire, who also reports a potential social media audience of nearly 350K from tweets, shares and retweets in the first week of press release publication.  Please see our clients in the news section, or just Google “SDN Consortium” and take your pick of the coverage secured by the Wireside team.

Wireside completed this campaign from start to finish in 10 weeks.  As a result of the Wireside launch, the client sold a membership straight away, a $20,000 value, and is currently in talks with others.  Taking into consideration the immediate membership sale, the advertising equivalency of the 35 feature stories, and the amount an analyst firm typically charges to author a report, the ROI on this campaign was very high.  In the words of the client contact, “We are all really excited about the extensive amount of coverage! Thanks to all the help from the Wireside team! This was a great success!”

The high degree of media and tech industry know how, customer service, attention to detail, nimbleness and flexibility, results and ROI described above are typical of Wireside.  If we can help you, please contact us!

 

 

Clay Risen Shares Candid Insights into NYT Op-Ed

Last week, the Richmond PRSA hosted a Q&A with Clay Risen, senior staff editor of The New York Times op-ed page. For over an hour, Risen walked us through the ins and outs of the op-ed department at The New York Times, which included his daily responsibilities and what it takes to successfully get an op-ed pitch in front of the staff.

clayrisen

If your client has ambitions of getting an op-ed featured in The New York Times, here a few tips to consider from the senior staff editor:

The generic New York Times op-ed email inbox isn’t the best place to land your pitch

According to Risen, the New York Times op-ed email inbox receives about 500 emails daily, all of which are reviewed by a clerk. Half of those emails are spam, while the other half are actually aimed at a specific person. Between the emails that inundate the generic op-ed inbox and the ones that reach Risen directly, he only reads about 40 pitches a day. Thus, it’s important to bypass the generic op-ed inbox and reach out to the editors directly.

Worn out opinions and misused historical references aren’t going to cut it

With Risen only reviewing 40 pitches a day, most of which are rejected, it’s imperative that your pitch stand out. As with any publication, you have to know what the editor is looking for. Risen stated that he’s looking for interesting ideas and perspectives, timeliness and diverse points of view from a variety of regions. More specifically, he explained that he would like to see op-eds that explore issues in one region that are relatable to everyone, no matter where they are located. On the other hand, you can guarantee that a pitch clothed in worn out opinions about the latest happenings in politics won’t get you very far.

Simply passing an idea along for an op-ed can be best

When it comes whether or not you should send an initial draft of an op-ed or just an idea, most of the time doing the latter can work in your favor. Considering that Risen is regularly swamped with emails, he stated that sending along a shorter pitch or passing along an idea is a great start when you don’t have a complete op-ed. You’ll be happy to know that Risen makes it a point to respond to all of the pitches that he carefully reviews by the end of the day. According to Risen, you can feel free to follow up once via email if you don’t hear back.

Making the editor’s job easier will always get you the win

Our very own, Andrea Maclean, submitted a question to Risen that he answered during the email/ audience portion of the Q&A. The question was about Risen’s likes and dislikes when it comes to working with PR professionals. Risen stated that he appreciates when a publicist clearly communicates what they have to offer from a client, which makes his job easier when it comes to finding the appropriate source for an op-ed. Furthermore, toward the top of his list of dislikes were generic pitches along with cliché phrases and casual language used in professional writing.

Overall, Risen’s responses to the Q&A provided everyone with a candid look into his world as the senior staff editor of the New York Times op-ed page. Certainly, you can apply these tips when pitching your next op-ed to this world class media outlet.

Traveling to Tokyo? Pre-planning will make all the difference!

The Wireside Communications team travelled to Tokyo, Japan last fall to meet one of our largest clients and as the Operations Manager, I wanted to plan a stress free trip for them.  Fortunately, I found a great deal of information and advice online during my research to aid me in planning.  So, if you happen to stumble across this post, I hope it will make your trip to Tokyo easier to plan and more enjoyable. tk

Planning: Where do I start?  Travel magazines, websites and blogs hold a plethora of information that you can use to plan a successful trip.  You can find information ranging from flight tips, airport layouts, hotel reviews, sights to see, and the customs of the country you are visiting.  For example, do you want to know if you should tip in Japan and how much?  The answer is right there at your fingertips!

Airports: Where should I land?  Tokyo is accessible by two airports, The Tokyo International Airport (a.k.a. Haneda), and The Narita International Airport.  Both have their advantages.  Haneda is closer to Tokyo, which significantly reduces travel time into the city, but offers fewer flight options.  Narita is the main hub for international flights, which means you have many more options to choose from and that could save you quite a bit of money, but bear in mind your commute to the city will be longer.  Two of my co-workers flew into Haneda and one into Narita; all three of them made it to the hotel easily.

Transportation to hotel: How do I get to the city?  Japan is a country crisscrossed by trains, subways and buses.  If you’re planning a visit to Japan, we recommend several websites we found useful while planning our own company’s trip to Japan, including The Access Wayfinding for Haneda and The Route Navigator for Narita.  One tip that can make getting to your hotel easier is to use the Airport Limousine Bus.  This bus runs a route from both airports to the most popular hotels in Tokyo making it an easier option than taking the subway after an overnight flight.  The downside is the bus has a limited timetable.  Researching your travel options ahead of time will give you the information needed to navigate the Tokyo transit system and get you to your hotel in no time.

General Transportation: How do I navigate Tokyo?  Once you are in the city there are several transportation sites and apps to help you get around.  One of the easiest sites to use is HyperDia and you can find general information about transportation options at japan-guide.com.  Locals are very friendly and everyone my colleagues asked went out of their way to show them to their destination. Depending on your travel plans while in Japan, you might want to consider purchasing the Japanese Rail Pass (JR Pass).  This must be purchased ahead of time.  You will be mailed a voucher to exchange for the rail pass at the airport.  This rail pass is only for “Temporary Visitors” and you must get your passport stamped to indicate your visitor status. The Japan Rail Pass desk attendants speak English and the bigger subway stations have Information desks staffed by English speakers to help you out.

Accommodations: Where should I stay?  There are infinite options to choose from.  Most business travelers stay at a traditional business hotel recommended by colleagues or friends who have previously traveled to Japan.  I found the travel websites such as Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity to be very informative.   My colleagues chose to stay at the Dai-Ichi Hotel Tokyo, which was recommended by our clients.  This turned out to be a great decision since the hotel caters to the international business traveler and offered the usual amenities.  It also had the added benefit of being within walking distance to the office building where the team meetings were being held.  If you have a local contact, reach out for their advice; you will find their input invaluable during this phase of planning.

Power: Can I use my electronics?  The power grid in Japan is very similar to what we use in the US.  The voltage is slightly lower in Japan, which means it might take longer to charge your electronics, but in most cases you will be able to plug in without a problem.  However, you will need an adapter for any device that has three prongs, as Japan uses a two-prong outlet system.  International adapters are easy to find at any airport; I purchased a small one at Best Buy.

Communication: Will my phone work?  Make sure you check with your cell phone provider and add a global plan if it is available.  Verizon’s global data and calling plan costs $80.00, but can be prorated based on length of stay.  For travelers who do not have this option do not fret!  One of my colleagues lives in Spain and her provider, Telefónica, did not offer a global plan option, so she purchased a no-calls, data-only 3G SIM card for about $60.  There are several Japanese companies such as Rentaphone or Softbank  that offer cell phones, SIM cards and pocket Wi-Fi devices to rent while in country.  You have the option to order online prior to your trip and have the devices delivered to your hotel or you can walk up to one the kiosks in the airport and take care of it when you land.  Most airports in Japan have vending machines where you can purchase SIM cards, mobile devices and other accessories.  The team relied on Wi-Fi when at the hotel and Skype to communicate with friends and family back home.

Finances: Can I use my credit card and the ATMs in Japan?  The easy, but not so helpful answer is sometimes.  The first step is to inform your bank of your upcoming trip, otherwise your purchases may get flagged as fraudulent.  You can usually use your credit card, but you definitely want to have cash on hand!  The majority of my colleagues’ purchases were made with cash while out and about in the city.  Not all ATMs in Japan will accept debit cards issued outside of the country so make sure you take advantage of the ATMs located in the airport.  The ATMs found in the post offices, 7-Eleven stores (of which there are many), the international ATMs at the major department stores and inside the Shinsei Bank branches will usually accept foreign debit cards for cash withdrawals.

Insurance: Should I purchase trip insurance?  We chose to purchase trip insurance through World Nomads for a nominal amount.  We felt this was a good bet given the overall cost of the trip.  There are other companies who sell travel insurance, but I found this plan to be the most reasonable.

Sightseeing:  What should I see?  There are so many fascinating sites to see in Tokyo that you will want to spend some time looking at travel blogs to see what inspires you.  If you are a confident traveler and like to strike out on your own, have at it.  For those travelers who like a readymade itinerary check out The Best of Tokyo in 3 or 5 days or see the highlights in 36 hrs by following the steps in the article 36 Hours in Tokyo, or if you’re busy working you could always opt for a fun and quickie bus tour, as my colleagues did.

Apps: Which ones should I download? If you get one and only one, get the iTranslate app, which is very handy for translating quick questions and text from English to Japanese.  Japan is a very tech savvy country and my co-workers had quite a few conversations using their iPhones. Do learn how to say at least please – onegaishimasu – and thank you – arigatō. The locals will appreciate it!

Traveling for business can be fun, and with advance planning you can take stress out of the equation.  By researching and learning about where you are headed you will be able to relax, sit back and enjoy your adventure!

 

 

 

 

PRSA’s Media Training Bible with Brad Phillips

Recently, President of Phillips Media Relations and author of The Media Training Bible, Brad Phillips, joined the Richmond PRSA to instruct PR pros on preparing themselves and their spokespeople for media interviews.  Below I’ve outlined highlights from the class.

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Three is the magic number

Brad recommends that speakers develop three main messages when going into an interview or preparing for a speech. Speakers should either focus on one main theme supported by three ideas, or three main concepts supported by interesting data and examples. There is no perfect answer as to why this is the best strategy, but our brains seem to like organizing information into bits of 3.  For example: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; red, yellow, and green); and small, medium, and large. When an audience is given too many points, they tend to lose interest.  On the flipside, too few points or messages can lead to redundancy.

The three-legged stool of messaging

Keeping the number 3 in mind, when constructing a solid message, a helpful visual is the three-legged support stool.  Imagine a three-legged stool, with each leg representing support for your message: stories, statistics and sound bites.  To put this into action, first, envision your message.  You want to put it into context, so you tell a story.  To support your story, you then cite statistics.  It’s important to keep in mind that numbers tend to not stick with an audience unless they are unexpected or shocking.  Lastly there are sound bites: what key piece of information do you want your audience to take away? Think of superlatives or extremes to give your audience to drive your point home. For example, “This is the biggest technology advancement in 50 years” – using an impressive superlative will keep your audience’s attention and hopefully stick with them after you’re done speaking.

Body Language do’s and don’ts

When giving a speech or being interviewed, it might be easy to focus only on the words you are saying and forget about your motions/actions..  As body language can make or break an interview or speech, Brad provided a few tips for proper body language.  First off, the use of gestures is a good thing.  Some people say the contrary, but as we are naturally expressive to some degree when we speak, we shouldn’t fight it when the spotlight is on us.  Fidgeting and quick movements are distracting, however, and should be avoided. Additionally, gestures actually improve listener comprehension, which many people don’t know.  If sitting while speaking, lean slightly forward to show engagement. This also makes it easier to gesture and be expressive while speaking.  Last, think about hand placement.  It can be easy to fidget and not know where to place your hands when you are nervous.  Get used to either resting your hands in your lap when sitting, or clasped in front of you if standing, or even keeping them by your sides when standing.

The power of tone

Maintaining a proper tone in speech is vital when all eyes are on you.  Though this may be obvious,  it can easily be forgotten when under pressure.  When speaking, think about a topic you are passionate about and speak as if you’re discussing that.  If asked a tough question, never sound defensive.  Instead, say something like, “Thank you for asking that question,” and move on with your point. Maintain an upbeat attitude even when being put on the spot or stumped.  It may be beneficial to practice having someone ask you tough questions and see how you react.

Brad’s tips on preparation for speeches and interviews, in conjunction with his website, http://www.mrmediatraining.com/, provide PR professionals with an arsenal to prepare themselves and their spokespeople for media success.

Wireside Recap: 2015 PRSA International Conference

I recently attended my first PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The event, which was packed with educational sessions and networking opportunities, drew about 2,000 PR professionals from across the country.  Although each session brought something unique to the table, I want to highlight one of my favorite speakers from the conference, and key takeaways from his session.krr

Being part of a high-tech PR firm, I was eager to attend one session in particular.  David McCulloch, Sr. Director, Corporate Communications, Cisco, spoke on the session, “The ‘Internet of Things’: Are You Ready for the Opportunities and Risks?”  He provided some interesting examples to demonstrate the IoT in action.

  • The Henn Na Hotel (which translates to “Weird Hotel” in Japan) will be the world’s first hotel fully staffed by robots. These robots come in different forms; some made to look and have mannerisms like humans; others, like animals or cartoons. These robots speak several different languages: English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. The robots perform duties such as checking guests in, carrying luggage, and cleaning rooms.
  • Physical sensor technology company Sensum uses sensors to detect the physiological changes of audience members during presentations. These sensors enable a company to determine whether audiences are surprised, excited, or bored. This diminishes the need for traditional pencil and paper surveys, providing the speaker with feedback with little to no effort from his or her audience. Additionally, this allows the speaker to garner genuine feedback that is not affected by hastily – or dishonestly – completed surveys. This also solves the common problem of surveys not being completed, period.
  • This past September, the Food and Drug Administration accepted an application to evaluate a new drug-sensor-app system that tracks when a pill has been taken. The drug under discussion is Abilify, an antipsychotic. The actual sensor will only be the size of a pencil tip. The app will come connected to a Band Aid-like sensor, worn on the body, which will know when a tiny chip hidden inside a pill is swallowed.  This way, if patients aren’t taking their pills, doctors will be alerted.
  • Target made headlines back in 2012, when the store found out about a high school girl’s pregnancy before her father did. The store was able to trace the teen’s buying patterns, and based on her recent purchases, began sending her coupons for baby products in the mail. Her disgruntled father, unaware of the pregnancy, stormed into Target and had it out with the manager. He later found out his daughter was, in fact, pregnant, and apologized to the manager.

McCulloch’s examples of the IoT in full-effect not only engaged his audience, but left some of us shocked – and possibly uneasy – about the evolution of technology and the ways businesses can utilize it to uncover personal details about consumers.

My first PRSA International Conference was an unforgettable experience. Not only was I provided with an opportunity to network with others in the field, I was also able to get a crash course in the do’s and don’ts of PR from some of the most prominent names in public relations.