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The New Face of Influence is as Sweet as Pie

Over the past few years, the definition of influencer has undertaken a significant transformation.  Gone are the days where our daily dose of news is obtained during the 6 o’clock broadcast, delivered by legendary anchors behind a desk.  For the most part, we no longer read the headlines of yesterday in the form of a newspaper with a morning cup of coffee in hand (unless you’re my 75-year-old father, that is). pie

Media and analysts will continue to be a valued source of information but as PR professionals, we must continue to recognize that the face of those with the ability to influence our clients’ stakeholders is changing.  Through social media, we’ve seen the emergence of a new form of influencer.

Average people, who may or may not be experts in their own right, are taking to various social platforms to share their opinions and inadvertently inspiring others to take action.  In some cases, these social media stars are even benefiting financially.  For example, YouTube star PewDiePie earned $7.4 million from his YouTube channel last year.

A prime example of the power of social influence is the recent surge in sales for Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie, thanks to a James Wright Channel YouTube tribute to the tasty treat.  To date, the video has received 4.1 million views.  Viewers watch as the LA-based singer digs into the pie and channels the legendary soul singer, belting out tunes like “On My Own” and “Isn’t it a Shame.”

In response to the viral video, pie sales soared, selling at a rate of one pie per second for 72-straight hours the weekend before Thanksgiving.  As the exclusive retailer for the Patti LaBelle pastry, Wal-Mart’s across the country sold out of the pie – including our own local store where I captured the image to the right.

While building trusted relationships with traditional media and analysts is still, and will always be, an important step in establishing our clients’ brands, we must keep an eye out for those with the power to drive others into action – even as unconventional as it may seem at times.  Whether in B2B or B2C marketing, the need to identify and connect with influencers applies across the board as they may just be the direct line of communication to your clients’ target audience.

The Rules of Engagement: Impacting the Bottom Line from the Inside

We recently attended a PRSA seminar and though the agenda covered a variety of topics, one theme echoed across the board: employee engagement.  Surveys from a range of sources place the national employee engagement level around 30 percent, meaning that 70 percent of employees – regardless of industry – are non-engaged in the work place.  The number is staggering and the implications are even worse: if employees are not reaching their full potential then the companies they work for can never achieve maximum output.  Unengaged employees have a direct impact on the bottom line, with Gallup estimating that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 to $550 billion each year.  office7

Over the past few years, driven a great deal by the latest and largest generation in the workforce – the millennials – there has been a shift in the structure of company benefits and incentives.  While pay is still an important factor, its relevance has been toppled by a deeper connection to a company and respect and recognition within an organization.  Employees, especially those among a generation that’s shaking and shaping the workforce, want to know that the company they are working for is making a difference and in turn, that they are doing the same, and that their hard work is being recognized and rewarded.  By definition, employee engagement is the willingness and ability to contribute to a company’s success.  In order to foster this type of connection between a company and its team members, an employee-centric culture must exist within the work environment.

Company perks, such as flexibility in work hours and casual Friday, play a key role in employee satisfaction, but are only one component to achieving complete engagement.  Building a team that has an inherent interest in the work they are doing and the guiding principles of the business is the best way to fuel a company’s productivity and improve overall well-being.  Based on extensive research, Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” report, companies should consider the following to optimize employee engagement and positively influence the bottom line:

  • Hire the right people. Seminar speakers Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of Phoenix-based HMA Public Relations, and Tom Hoog, former president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton, emphasized that organizations should hire for fit, not skills.  We should assume that potential employees have the specific skills required to do the job.  What we can’t assume though, is that they are a natural fit for our organization based on the impressive background summarized in their resume.  Take time to get to know candidates during the interview process and ask questions that can help you determine if their goals and aspirations are in line with those of the company.  Especially at the managerial level, seek those that will support, mentor and effectively lead their teams.
  • Recognize team members’ strengths and empower them to build upon those strengths. Research shows that employees who use their strengths on the job everyday are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.  While some strengths emerge naturally, others may not be as obvious and as a result, may remain dormant and not effectively utilized.  One resource used by many organizations as a means to tap into talent is StrengthsFinder.  Companies will see great benefit from recognizing the strengths of its employees and empowering them to nurture and expand those skills to achieve full potential.
  • Focus on the well-being of employees. Gallup research showed that employees who are engaged in their jobs are generally in better health and have healthier habits than employees who are not engaged or are actively disengaged.  Supporting the well-being of employees helps companies keep their health costs lower and output higher.  Initiate programs aimed at improving the health of employees and hold team members accountable by setting realistic goals.

It’s up to each agency to cultivate their own culture from within and create a work environment that fosters employee engagement.  Here at Wireside, we fully recognize that our team is our most important asset and take steps to let them know how much they’re valued.  The workplace culture is reflective of the collaborative spirit of the agency.  While the work is fast-paced and challenging, the agency ethos is to be supportive and transparent.  As a small agency, we have the flexibility to design work perks around the things that matter most to our employees.  For example, we often send our team to fun, off-site learning seminars and extend business trips to accommodate time for personal travel/exploration.  This year, some of our team members went on a once in a lifetime adventure in Kyoto, Japan as an opportunity to get to know each other better and share a truly special experience.

What methods, practices or principles has your organization implemented to enhance employee engagement?

 

The Race through Richmond

There’s a feeling in this city, before even the smallest of snowstorms hit, when the masses stock up on necessities and determine their fight or flight approach.  As 100,000 of the world’s best cyclists from more than 70 countries and 450,000 spectators transcend upon Richmond for the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships, that feeling is once again in the air.  With road closures and an intentional influx of people at a level never previously seen in this area, locals are faced with the options of staying put to experience one of the greatest global sporting spectacles or heading out of town for the nine-day event (many of the latter are cashing in on social commerce opportunities like AirBnB). Richmond2015

From September 19-27, men and women will compete in 12 World Championship races through the capital city of the Commonwealth.  A sampling of these races include: Elite Men and Women, Under 23 Men, and Junior Men and Women.  This will be the first time the annual event has been held in the United States since 1986.  Recent locations include Ponferrada, Spain; Florence, Italy; Valkenburg, Netherlands; and Copenhagen, Denmark.  The location is chosen by the UCI through a competitive bidding process similar to the Olympic Games.

Eyes from across the globe will be fixated on our beautiful River City; the event will be covered by more than 500 media outlets and broadcast to a worldwide audience of more than 300 million people.  Live digital streaming of all races will be available via a new, state-of-the-art Richmond 2015 mobile app for iOS and Android devices.  International exposure is not the only benefit for the host city; the Road World Championships are expected to have an economic impact of $158 million on the state of Virginia.

One of our Superior Production Exchange neighbors, Tijo Media, was recently named the official video partner of Richmond 2015, the organizer of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships.  We even offered a “helping hand” for one of the promo video spots, but sadly, Christine’s champagne toast was edited out!  Check out the video here:  http://richmond2015.com/2015/09/02/richmond-2015-partners-with-tijo-media/.

Wireside’s HQ is located directly on one of the racing routes and we are certainly gearing up for the all of the excitement to come!

Taking a Lesson from the NFL Playbook

The free agency chatter is but a temporary cure for the feelings of football withdrawal that I, like many others, am currently experiencing.  Taking full advantage of the spare time I have during the offseason, I’ve evaluated some of the values and lessons we can learn from a few teams across the league: football1

The Baltimore Ravens teach us to do the right thing.  There will be times in our careers when we have to make difficult choices for our agencies or clients and our ultimate decision might not always be the most popular.  When faced with a challenging situation, take time to gather all the facts and make an informed decision based on the information at-hand.

The Indianapolis Colts teach us to be smart.  With Andrew Luck at the helm, this is one calculated team.  As you develop in your career, never stop seeking opportunities to learn, grow and stretch your (brain) muscles.

The Kansas City Chiefs teach us to be cheerleaders.  Last season this team broke the world record for loudest fans.  As PR pros, we’ve got to be our own biggest fans.  Never miss a chance to champion your work to the client; it’ll keep them coming back for more!

The New Orleans Saints teach us to have fun.  We work in one of the most stressful industries out there.  While we work hard to deliver the results our teams and clients expect, we must make sure that these efforts are balanced with some time doing the things we enjoy – otherwise, burnout is sure to follow.

The Philadelphia Eagles teach us to learn from adversity.  A product of their environment, this is a tough group.  But just like this team, with the right leadership, PR agencies can learn how to tap their inner talent and overcome any challenges that come their way.

The Seattle Seahawks teach us to invest in talent.  While others had their minds set on the likes of Andrew Luck and RGIII in 2012, the Seahawks had their eye on another quarterback; one that would ultimately lead them to back-to-back championship games and the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.  Talent should be the focal point of every firm.  Seek out the talent you need to strengthen your team and do what it takes to keep them there.

The San Diego Chargers teach us to keep our cool.  Let’s face it; things won’t always go our way.  So when they don’t, take a lesson from this carefree team and know that you’ll always bounce back.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers teach us that the big guy doesn’t always win.  Even with a small budget and unknown client, you can break through the chatter and outdo the big brands.  Just as the Bucs stunned the nation walloping the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, out-of-box thinking and determination can help you land the premier coverage your client is seeking.

Is there a takeaway from your favorite NFL team that PR pros should keep in mind?

Cinderella Story

When filling out a NCAA bracket, many of us have a tendency to lean toward the assumption that the big names in basketball (think: Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan) will make their way through the big dance onto the Final Four and ultimately, one of them will claim the crown.  These are the teams with a strong brand behind them –their coaches and star players are often featured on the sports networks and it’s not uncommon to hear their names referenced during conversations throughout the regular season.  However, schools like George Mason and Richmond’s own VCU have taught us that taking a chance on the unfamiliar may prove to offer a far more favorable risk-reward opportunity.  When selecting a PR agency partner, companies should take this mentality into consideration.  From our perspective, here are a few advantages of a boutique PR agency to keep in mind when setting a bracket strategy for agency selection:

basketball_Salvatore Vuono

From tip-off to the final buzzer, seasoned professionals are on the court

You can count on the fact that the team that pitches the business will be the force behind your account.  You’ll have direct access to senior team members, including the CEO/president of the firm.  Even when working with junior team members, you can rest-assured that they are closely collaborating with and learning from their superiors who have many years of experience.

Hands-on Coaching Approach

Boutique agencies work with a limited number of clients and therefore, each account, no matter the budget, is of utmost importance.  The firm may not have the time or resources to pitch a new account, so they will do what it takes to keep their current clients satisfied.  Since the staff is dedicated to fewer accounts, they’re able to allocate more time and attention to helping you achieve your goals.

Fine-tuned Skills

Large firms have large staff and therefore, are capable of taking on a diverse portfolio of clients.  Due to limited team resources, boutique agencies must often be more selective in the type of clients they take on.  Quite often, these firms are built upon a particular niche.  This allows the team members to be fully immersed and specialized in the industry they represent; demonstrating extensive knowledge in one area versus general knowledge in a variety of areas.

While there is no debating big name agencies provide talented teams and creative in-game strategies, the offerings of a boutique PR firm may just be the key to a slamdunk for your communications’ objectives.

Ingredients for Success: Applying PR Strategy to Holiday Meal Preparation

Take the experience you’ve gained as a strategic communicator to the kitchen when preparing a holiday meal for a house full of guests.

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At the start of any PR campaign, it’s important to have a strong sense of what’s out there and what’s been done before. When planning your menu for the evening, there are a number of things to consider such as: What have others served at previous dinners? Were those dishes a big hit, or did they remain untouched? In some cases, it’s okay to try something that has been used before by one of your competitors (like the Bree Van de Kamp of your neighborhood), as long as you put your own unique spin to it.

Set your goals & objectivesKnow your audience
In public relations, it is vital to define who you want to reach and identify the most effective methods of reaching them. The same rule applies when planning a meal for your guests. For instance, you can make the juiciest, most mouth-watering turkey ever, but if you serve it to a table full of vegetarians, you’ll be eating it alone.

What is it that you want to accomplish with this meal? Maybe your goal is to be perceived as the neighborhood’s best chef. In that case, your objective for the evening should be for everyone to leave with a full stomach and a smile on their face. Sadly, when I cook, the main objective is making sure that no one gets sick.

Develop your implementation strategy
At this point, you’ve done your research and have come up with a delicious meal that everyone is sure to enjoy. The next step is to outline your plan of execution to meet the objectives. In this stage, strategy is key. Make a shopping list. Set a timeline – know which items need to go in the oven and when to ensure all items are prepared by the time the guests arrive. Setting a budget is also an important part of planning a PR campaign and it should be taken into close consideration when planning your meal. Keep in mind that spending more money on name brand ingredients doesn’t always mean that things will be better in the end. Just like in our field, working with a big name agency that comes with a high price tag does not always guarantee superior results.

Execute
Now it’s time to put your well-researched, strategic plan into action when preparing the meal and serving it to your guests.

Evaluate
Examination of results is critical, as it will set the stage for future strategies. Now that everyone has indulged in the meal, take a look across the table. Do your guests have genuine smiles on their faces, or are their faces turning green? Did they go back for seconds? Pay attention to the dishes that are empty, as well as the dishes that were barely touched. This will give you an idea for what to make (and what NOT to make) next time around.

If the meal was well received, your guests will keep coming back for more. If you did not receive the reaction you were hoping for, elicit feedback and make adjustments for improvement.

Reporting in the Social Era: Takeaways from Leading Biz Journalists

I recently attended a PRSA – National Capital Chapter Professional Development session at the new National Public Radio (NPR) headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Five leading journalists from top-tier national and D.C.-based publications offered their perspectives on how PR professionals can support reporters in a changing editorial landscape that accommodates our around the clock, on-the-go, social society.  Here are a few of the takeaways:

UrgentiPhone-DGWe’re Not in Kansas Anymore

The editorial world is not what it once was.  Readers are accessing content on their small mobile devices as they’re on the run from one place to another.  With so little time to capture an audience’s attention, rarely will a text-heavy piece suffice.  Reporters are seeking to perfect the art of storytelling through incorporation of all things visual: images, graphics and video.

While strong narrative will always be imperative, multimedia can be the missing component in the creation of a compelling story.  Reporters are now stepping away from the keyboard to learn new tools and tactics, such as shooting high quality photographs on an iPhone or producing a video.  Greg Otto, assistant editor for the Washington Business Journal, said, “It’s important to hone our skills and find the best way to tell our story.”

Moving on Up

Deadlines are shifting; no longer can a reporter sit on a story for an entire day, analyzing the various ways they could approach the news before filing at 5:00 p.m.  Now, it’s all about reporting as it happens.  The 24×7 newscycle creates a constant struggle for reporters to always be the first to report because if they don’t, someone else will.  And that someone could simply be a bystander on the street that breaks the news via Twitter.  The focus is now less about providing in-depth commentary, and more about getting content up early, often and during peak web traffic.

The Communicator + Reporter Dating Game

The value of a strong, trusted relationship could not be stressed enough among the panelists.  They urged PR professionals to proactively connect with reporters, when they are not trying to pitch them, to spark a collaborative partnership.  Let them know about your clients’ areas of expertise early on so that when they need a knowledgeable source right away, they know exactly who to call upon.

When describing the initiation of relationships between PR professionals and journalists, Scott Hensley, digital health correspondent and editor for NPR.org, joked there may be a need for a PR Match.com.  “I may be open to new relationships, though I already have a lot of steady ones,” he added.

 

 

4 Costumes PR Pros Should Avoid

HalloweenPhotoBy now, you’re probably well along in your quest to debut an original, imaginative costume on All Hallows’ Eve.  As PR professionals, we’re immersed in the headlines and latest trends, giving us a competitive advantage when it comes to inventing a costume that is not only timely, but creative enough to stand out among the rest.

While dressing up is top-of-mind for all of us during this time of year, unfortunately in this profession, practitioners can often make the mistake of wearing a costume to the office year-round.

Here are a few you may have unintentionally tried on for size:

  • The Jack-O-Lantern – We all have bright ideas inside of us, but sometimes we let insecurity get in the way and prevent them from shining through.  Sitting in a meeting and keeping all your thoughts on unconventional approaches to launching a new product or energizing your clients’ social base to yourself is not good for your agency or your career.  Embrace your creativity and never be afraid to express it; that little flicker of an idea could be enough to spark the next big thing.
  • The Ghost – Being a wispy presence during the planning and tactical stages of a campaign is not an option in PR.  Don’t be the person who hides from criticism, or, worse yet, appears out of the mist when it’s time for the accolades.  Take an active approach to making your presence known early and often, lending an eager hand and attitude every step of the way.
  • The Monster – Taking a lesson from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” we know that a combination of knowledge and alienation can have grotesque results.  Likewise, piecing together old ideas and strategies and re-applying them to new campaigns can keep even the most weathered PR veterans stiff and stuck in their ways.  We can have the best intentions, but if we don’t make ourselves agile, flexible and open to new approaches, we’re not doing ourselves, our peers or our clients the justice we all deserve.
  • The Mummy – Last but certainly not least, with the 24×7 news cycle and on-demand society in which we operate, it’s easy to get too wrapped up in work.  Maintaining a professional-life balance is essential to success both inside and outside of the office.  At the end of each day, take some time to unwind, relax and reflect upon all you’ve accomplished.

Are there any similar “costumes” you or your colleagues have worn to work?

Wireside Wrap-Up: INTEROP

What a week it was for Wireside in New York City!

Our agency was a gold sponsor of Light Reading’s Ethernet & SDN Expo, a premier event co-located with INTEROP New York.  INTEROP is an independently organized conference and exhibition designed to empower information technology professionals to make smart business decisions.

For our first night on the town, Joya and I attended Light Reading’s Leading Lights Awards 2013, held at THE OUT NYC.  The evening kicked off with a happy hour, followed by dinner and an awards ceremony to honor the best work in telecom excellence.  Wireside client, NTT Communications, was selected as finalist in the category of Most Innovative Carrier Cloud Service. Manhattan-20131001-00149 JoyaCC

The night concluded with some wild entertainment including Cirque New York performers that danced, hula hooped and turned into a human slinky!  Check out Light Reading’s pictures from the Soiree: http://www.lightreading.com/ethernet-and-sdn-expo/leading-lights-soiree-snaps/d/d-id/705936.

JoyaInteropBooth

From October 2-3, we staffed Wireside’s booth on the show floor of the Jacob K. Javits Center.  Exhibiting at the conference provided us with a great opportunity to network with IT leaders from across the globe and discuss their PR needs.

We thoroughly enjoyed the food, entertainment and networking opportunities NYC had to offer and look forward to our next adventure in the Big Apple!

UNH-IOL Celebrates 25 Years of Education & Innovation

IOLNext week Joya and I will head to Durham, New Hampshire to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL).  Since 2010, we’ve served as the agency of record for this premier independent provider of conformance and interoperability testing services for the networking industry.

Founded in 1988, the UNH-IOL has worked with some of the world’s leading technology companies to introduce new, innovative products and services to market, while preparing the next generation of engineers.  With a unique model of blending industry expertise with an educational mission, the lab employs more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students that gain hands-on experience with developing technologies such as Automotive Ethernet, Home Networking (think “Connected Home”) and the next generation Internet protocol, IPv6.

On Monday, September 16 from 2:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET, Wireside will join industry and community leaders from across New Hampshire, distinguished UNH-IOL alumni, and current staff and students to commemorate the lab’s significant milestone.  The event will feature interactive demonstrations of the latest technical advancements, tours of the UNH-IOL’s 32,000 square-foot facility, and remarks from special guests such senior vice president of engineering for Enterasys Networks, Dave Kjendal; UNH president, Mark Huddleston; and CEO and founder of QA Café, Joe McEachern.  Erica Johnson, director of the UNH-IOL, and Amy Davies, UNH computer science student and UNH-IOL employee, will also address the audience.

If you’re a member of the press or analyst communities and are interested in attending the event to connect with the IT leaders of today and tomorrow, and learn about the UNH-IOL’s involvement with testing various cutting edge technologies, please let us know!