Brands and the Big Scary Dislike Button


Recently, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the long requested “dislike” option for Facebook posts and comments was in the works. Despite Zuckerberg’s caveat that the button would convey empathy, rather than negativity, the announcement has caused rumblings among individual users and organizations, alike.

Since the launch of social media, users have expressed displeasure, disgust and even anger with ideas, photos, and articles that other users post on newsfeeds and public pages. Many brands have learned, sink or swim style, the sheer power that social media has given consumers.

Dealing with such harsh criticism has resulted in the rise of two schools of thought regarding brand response to negative sentiment. The first, which is widely being phased out, is the idea that negative content and sentiment should be removed from pages immediately.

The problem with this approach is that it often leaves customers feeling ignored, as if their concerns or displeasure don’t matter to the company. Frustration can build, and loyalty lost.

The second school of thought is that brands should address negative posts head-on and engage the dissatisfied customer to fix the issue of contention.

While many argue that the Facebook dislike button is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to bullying, my brand-specific recommendation is as follows:

  • Talk it out: While the dislike button will express a sentiment, brands need to learn the root of the displeasure so that they can address it head-on.
  • Make it count: We’re all guilty of view the number of “likes” as simply that— a number. Brands need to make sure not to step on the same landmine by instead taking a quality over quantity approach to responses.
  • Remember that sentiment can spread: Because dislikes are more a more anonymous option than comments, consumers may feel more compelled to express displeasure through the feature – especially if they see the number of dislikes growing on a post.

Happy, engaged customers are loyal customers. Social media has provided brands with tools to be transparent and engage with their audiences. Facebook’s new dislike button is not evil in and of itself – rather it is a tool that your target audience may soon use to express their displeasure.

Shrink not away in fear; rather, use the negative sanction as you would with any other expression of displeasure as a point of negotiation. Address the matter with clarity, transparency and work with consumers to find a common ground resolution that upholds the brand’s vision, mission and values.

How Being In Good Company Can Trigger Media Interest


As communication professionals, we’re constantly scouring the press and social media for trends and storylines in which to insert our clients. We are the frontlines between the public and the perceptions of the brands that we work with everyday. We are also tirelessly acting as newsrooms for clients by crafting curated content and media releases to announce significant milestones for the brands.

So, what happens at times when the news is slow from our clients or perhaps the very opposite, when there has been a negative saturation of these brands in the media yet we still feel the need to deliver results? This is where, as professionals, we should start thinking outside-the-box and focus on the company our clients keep.

Learning that an “In Good Company” piece has the power to help achieve either of those goals when original news is sparse, the little extra legwork on your part is definitely worth it. Every press outlet loves a positive story; one that makes everyone just feel good talking about it. This is about thinking beyond a typical client newsroom and finding ways to solidify them as a player on the scene when news can be slow. Ask yourself the following questions to mine news about your client: Are there local art walks, events or innovative site activations that the brand or other local third parties are doing that would garner some press attention? Are there any interesting sustainable initiatives taking place in the area? Are there local events that neighbors are attending where you can help in promoting the client to the press? Does your client do any educational outreach; can you do a profile on it? How about neighboring restaurants, stores and shopping districts; are they making any impacts and can your clients somehow get involved in crafting a larger area story?

“In Good Company” pieces are a great way to build alliances and to help cement your client as a leader to their neighbors, local politicians, customers, charity organizations and press. From a communication professional’s perspective, any small inroads you can make in building the brand’s reputation through strengthening its ties to its locale, are great steps to a job well done.

The dilemma of budgeting for PR


How much should small to mid-sized companies budget for PR? Unlike the advertising discipline, which used to have an answer of between 2 and 5 percent of gross revenue, there have been no real guidelines for PR spending, and for good reason.

PR has traditionally offered no real guidelines for how much organizations should spend. The truth is that there is no standard, just as there is no standard PR program. In an ideal world, there might be a standard for a category of activity—let’s say writing and distributing news announcements—but even that depends on the size of distribution, the targets, the follow-up within the plan, etc. Is there a price for just social media? Maybe, but social media as a stand-alone PR activity would not carry the bite of a program paired with digital communications, or when it’s a cog in the big wheel of a PR campaign.

I know, not much help here. Is there a standard percentage that companies should consider when weighing the PR cost versus gross revenues? Not really. Costs must be considered against goals and anticipated ROI.

The price of PR depends on the scope of work. Clearly, costs vary between in-house departments versus outsourced agencies, but not one or the other will prove to be more cost effective. So cost analysis matters when budgeting. In-house departments, for example, have to consider the size of staff, the internal costs per professional and the real estate needed. Outside firms have to consider their overheads and mix of senior professionals and junior staffers, among many other line items.

They will however differ as to their PR effectiveness. Can a small to mid-sized organization trust an outsourced agency to be on par with a potential in-house team to understand its niche industry? What is the learning curve for an outside firm, and what costs would be incurred? How does your in-house department’s market intelligence of current trends and cutting edge platforms compare to an outside firm? There are other considerations: Must an in-house staff be reduced during company down times? What are the lasting results to a company’s reputation? All are costs, if hidden at first glance.

Yet organizations are still asking about how much to spend. It often depends on where PR budgets fall. Are they within an overall marketing budget or as a separate PR budget?

In a recent article, Michael A. Monahan cited certain marketing research firms that could help guide the budget dilemma for marketers:

  1. SiriusDecisions stated that smaller companies usually spend more on marketing as a percent of revenue than do larger companies. Also, non-software companies with revenues of less than $100 million spent between 3 and 10 percent of revenues on marketing, while larger non-software companies, with revenues of more than $5 billion, spent between 0.5 percent and 5 percent of revenues on marketing.
  2. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in its Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices Study (GAP, 2014), found that PR most often falls within marketing (26 percent), that is, except for companies where public relations reports to the president/CEO.
  3. Research firm Gartner says companies spent 10.2 percent of their revenue on marketing in 2014; digital marketing accounted for 25 percent of the total marketing budget.
  4. Digital high-end estimates from The Holmes Report suggest that North American marketers spend 6.5 percent of their budget on public relations.
  5. The Content Marketing Institute reports that marketers spend 28 percent of their marketing budget on content.
  6. IDC, provider of market intelligence, notes that companies spent 3.8 percent of their marketing budget on public relations, 5.7 percent on branding and content, 1.9 percent on social marketing and 1.1 percent on analyst relations, all typically handled by a public relations agency.
  7. A 2014 report from Forrester says marketing consumed an average of 4 percent of company revenue and that marketers spend 12 percent of their budgets on content and 5 percent or less of their marketing budget on PR.

What is obvious, is that the function of PR has become an expense on par of accounting, legal, operations, sales, etc., and cannot be put aside by even the smallest of companies. What else is obvious, is that in this landscape constant interconnection, no company can afford to be left out of the industry and social conversations.

And it is PR, whether in its full scope or not, that is the engine that can make this happen.

Therefore it is critical, to any sized-company, to budget for it accordingly.

Noemi Pollack is CEO and Founder of The Pollack PR Marketing Group.



Warning: Google May Be Hazardous To Your Public Relations Success


Critical thinking Blog Photo

In the house where I grew up, a replica of Rodin’s well-known sculpture, The Thinker, made its home between an array of classic and modern novels, antiques and family photos on a living room bookshelf. The iconic depiction of a man rendered incapacitated by thought, served as an inspirational reminder of the boundless gravity of thought, as we headed out the front door each morning.

But, in today’s world, where every solution or answer is just a few finger taps away, it makes you wonder if The Thinker has effectively been replaced by a new icon more appropriate for the times: The Googler?

There is no doubt that having the solution to nearly any problem or the answer to almost any question at your fingertips is powerful, but are we devaluing critical thinking and problem-solving skills by habitually repurposing and presenting someone else’s spoon-fed solutions as our own?

Ask any group of Millennials (or younger) to find a solution to a specific problem and more than likely you will see a race to be the first one to Google the answer. Why not? With that kind of power in the palm of your hand, it would be borderline careless to not use it.

The alternative would require a group discussion that, after a few hours, results in an answer based on logic and deductive reasoning. No thanks, I’ll just Google it, say the masses. Why reinvent the wheel, if you can just use someone else’s wheel? — even if it may be the wrong-sized wheel.

In some ways, the sense of satisfaction that comes from thinking through a problem has been marginalized by the satisfaction and accolades that come as a result of finding and sharing someone else’s content.

The creators of Twitter recognized this desire to circumventing thinking when they created a platform that allowed people to “rent-a-thought.”

Twitter users often receive more social affirmation from sharing another user’s original thought, than they do from sharing their own original thought. And, a recycled Twitter thought that goes unacknowledged is a much easier hit to the self-esteem than an original thought that is snubbed by 300 million fellow Twitter users.

The rapid-fire approach of recycling thoughts unquestionably leaves little time to engage in the process of thought.

Lack of time is the enemy of critical thinking, and the less time we have, the less we are able to initiate the process of thinking.

We see it every day as the 24-hour news cycle forces media outlets to rush a story to the public, without time to critically think about the credibility and validity of the story. But, in today’s fast-paced media landscape, the risk of being second to the table with information far outweighs the risk of coming to the table with the wrong information.

But, for those in the public relations field, short-circuiting the thought process can have some very serious brand and legal ramifications.

Companies depend on PR professionals to apply their expert critical thinking and problem-solving skills to stay ahead of trends and to deliver accurate brand messages that resonate with information overloaded public.

Some of the most successful public relations campaigns are outcomes of a critical thinking process rooted in a foundation of skepticism.

Clients hire PR experts to chart a long-lasting defendable strategic path around the dynamic barriers and obstacles in their marketplace, and in doing so, deliver brand messages to the various audiences along the way.

The Googler is capable of finding the obstacles and barriers, but The Thinker will always chart the path.

The value of public relations rests in the industry’s ability to identify where the information seeking ends, and the critical thinking begins.

As savvy brands increasingly look to PR firms to better position their brand for the future, it is The Thinker that will always be the most desired asset.

Don’t believe me? Google it.



How To Earn A Five Star Review From Your Summer Interns


The upside to hiring summer interns, young people with a desire to learn the PR trade and gain the necessary experience in order to find full-time employment, has been well documented. But there seems to be a significant disparity in resources available for employers with tips and advice in how best to manage said interns, regardless of whether it is a promising high school student with an aptitude for video editing or an entire office full of college seniors with nothing but a pipe dream.

A simple Google search reveals millions of excellent online resources and tips for prospective employees to help make the most of their time (“How to be a rock star at your internship this summer!”) but those that are aimed at employers are decidedly less upbeat and more stale (“Three tips for effectively managing interns”).

While these types of articles are utilitarian and straightforward, they tend to leave out the human element—which is to say that these are human relationships, which are inherently complex and no two are the same. It is simply not enough, nor is it effective, to stick a bunch of humans in one room and assign them to menial tasks of no value.

A summer internship has the potential to be equally beneficial for both parties. As an example at our own agency, this is a wonderful way to allow younger staff to grow into becoming better managers and supervisors.

With a little more less than two months left in the summer, this may be an excellent time to (re)-evaluate the working relationship you currently have with your interns, and consider these five ways to ensure you and your intern have a mutually beneficial, educational and productive experience:

Set clear expectations for the duration of their employment.

Nearly all companies conduct an introductory orientation meeting for new hires to get them acquainted with workplace policies. This is the perfect opportunity for both employer and employee to ask questions and leave with a clear understanding of expectations during business hours. Interns should not be exempt from this step. By accepting an internship, he or she enters into a mutually binding agreement with non-ambiguous conditions of employment.

Does this sound overly serious? Well, shouldn’t the intern get used to life in the real world?

Empower them to work independently and exercise good judgment.

There is a difference between overseeing an intern and micromanaging. Supervisors must carefully consider the types of assignments they assign, as well as the quality of work they’re looking for. Does the intern possess a “can do” attitude and volunteer for projects? Can you assign them to research a certain topic, and then take the next step and write a press release as well? Are they extremely proficient at Photoshop and therefore able to make a significant contribution to an important project? Empowering an employee to take control of a project, whatever the size, is a powerful indicator of trust and higher expectations.

Assign a variety of tasks and responsibilities.

You can be certain that your intern, particularly one still attending school, is probably already highly proficient at using Snapchat and Instagram. Consider finding opportunities to assign them different tasks outside of their comfort zone. Challenge them to find the discipline to do things you know they won’t enjoy doing. But most importantly, aim to assign tasks that will prove to be valuable in the long run and can be included in their resume or online portfolio.

Encourage them to think and act like PR professionals after work hours.

Try as we might, it is virtually impossible for those of us in this profession to go home and shut off our smartphones, turn off our TVs and block out the constant stream of news that we consume through so many different channels. The reality of the business dictates a 24-7 (maybe 18-7 to allow for some sleep?) news monitoring lifestyle. Engage your intern in daily discussions about current events and pop culture, and encourage them to get their news from as many different news sources as possible.

Aim for excellence over respectability

Interns will ultimately “grade” employers on the quality of their experience, from the perks and amenities to the rigor of their workload, which is no different than how our clients evaluate our work on a daily basis. Building a reputation for an internship program and experience is hard work because, frankly, it is work. It requires communication and managing expectations and counseling them on effective PR strategy…. Sound familiar? So why offer anything less than a five star experience when your daily philosophy is to under-promise and over-deliver to your clients?