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The Best of SXSWi 2016: Top Ten Things We Experienced in Austin

Five days, hundreds of sessions, dozens of unique brand activations and a lot of delicious TexMex and BBQ – this year’s SXSWi has wrapped but we’re still reeling from all the great things we experienced on the ground in Austin.

If you weren’t on the ground (or couldn’t get to everything while you were there), here’s our rundown on the best SXSWi had to offer attendees this year.Full team picture


“Most Inspiring Reason to Create and Innovate”
– President Obama’s Keynote Address: “The reason I’m here is to recruit all of you,” President Obama remarked. He called on SXSW attendees to collaborate on solutions for the country’s biggest problems addressing everything from updating obsolete federal networks to the debate over security versus privacy most recently ignited by the disputes between Apple and the FBI. If you were a lucky SXSW attendee to score a ticket to his address, you probably left Austin wondering how we can move innovation forward to improve our country for the better.


“Best Brand Experience”
– IBM Cognitive Experience: A mix of educational, aspirational, innovation and fun content, IBM created an engaging experience (in partnership with George P. Johnson, a Project WorldWide agenIBM.jpgcy) centered around IBM’s Watson. Upon entering the space, attendees were prompted to input details about th
eir mood and taste preferences, then given a wrist band and sent on their way to experience different stations tied to IBM’s latest innovations and partnerships, including The Weather Company’s latest innovations and Under Armour’s new offering in IoT. SXSW attendees could even play ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ against an IBM robot who got smarter with every move. Or if you wanted to burn a few BBQ calories, you could try some virtual reality cycling. At the end of the experience, attendees were invited to enjoy a “cognitive drink” based on the data in your wristband. Robot bartenders are now a thing – this is the future!

“Best Place to Run into a Trekkie” – The Eyes of Robots and Murders Session: Legendary director/producer/screenwriter J.J. Abrams and his friend Andrew Jarecki, the writer/director of HBO’s The Jinx” spoke about how technology has changed filmmaking for the better and how it has democratized the creative process. Abrams was also quick to point out that technology should be invisible so that the consumer can have an experience that’s as effortless as possible. Ending with a bit of inspiration, Abrams and Jalecki asked that attendees leverage their talents and today’s technology to create: “There’s no excuse to not tell the story we want to tell.”

“Best Off the Track Event” – Brand Innovators Austin Summit: Brand Innovators brought a great mix of speakers and content to SXSW attendees. From Mark Cuban speaking about the future of sports and sharing his candid feelings about the U.S. elections, to leading marketers from Mondelez, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Visa and much more – the venue was packed as any room in the convention center. A particular favorite panel was one featuring Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer moderating a panel with recording artist Kevin Jonas, actor Adrian Grenier, Johnson & Johnson’s Amy Pascal, and social media stars Monica Church and Shonduras. The lively discussion centered on how brands can best leverage celebrities to promote their brands on social media while still maintaining authenticity with millennials and other consumers.

MEC Job Fair

 

“Best Place to Find a New Gig” – MEC Job Fair: Our client MEC took a new approach to attracting talent at this year’s SXSW. The media agency transported its New York office culture to the event through three virtual reality films which gave prospective talent an immersive glimpse into what it’s like to work there. Using Google Cardboard, the first film focused on the agency’s digital teams, highlighting social media operations and some creative work they’ve made. Another showed off the agency’s culture, and the third film highlighted the agency’s creative moments.

 

“Coolest Executive” – a tie between Soulcycle Cofounders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Soulcycle’s cofounders just oozed cool, but they definitely had a lot to offer to SXSW attendees. With Fast Company moderating their fireside chat, they addressed the characteristics that make up their brand DNA and how they were able to innovate in the fitness space – (surprise!) it wasn’t with technology but by creating a community for their consumers. Our friends at Fast Company also interviewed Under Armour’s CEO, where he provided one of festival’s best soundbites: “Data is the new oil. The companies that do well are the companies that use math.”

“Best Celebrity Panel” – New Rules of Social Stardom Session: Kerry Washington and InStyle Magazine hosted a discussion on the ever-evolving role that social media plays in the life of celebrities. Though she’s more of a private person, Washington talked about how she interacts with social herself versus when she taps a communications team, the types of content she likes to share (mainly fashion shots and causes she’s passionate about) and the value that lies in NOT reading the comment section: “It’s a tricky balance. For the most part, I stay away from comments, but Twitter is a conversation, so I do occasionally engage…but I’ve realized that comments are not about me. When someone comments, they are revealing something about themselves.”

“Best App Launch at Southby”Kodak – Kodak Moments: To launch its new visual storytelling app, Kodak Moments, Kodak Alaris (in partnership with Junior, a Project: WorldWide agency) created an activation that immersed attendees in their own memories – practically seeing, smelling and even hearing them – in a chamber it called the “Memory Observatory.” How did it work? Upon entering the chambers, participants saw whatever memory-specific image they chose to share projected on a grand scale within the activation, and the colors, smells and sounds corresponded to the emotion in something the brand called an “experience guide.” Robbie Whiting, co-founder of Junior, spoke with Adweek about why SXSW was the best place to launch the app: “SXSW is chaotic. We wanted to create a respite from the noise, a place for meaningful moments from the process of remembering a moment to the articulation of what makes that moment special to the communal experience of all our deconstructed memories, our own Kodak Moments.”

“Best Place to Go If You’re Craving San Fran Vibes” – Mashable House: From a Pied Piper Bar (shout out to fans of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) and fun meme-inspired temporary tattoos to mingling with CEO Pete Cashmore. Upon entering this space, you were transported to the Bay City. Mashable had several parties and events at the space as well which put a spotlight on different brands and influencers – definitely making this a go-to place during the days and nights during Southby.

“Best Party at SXSWi” – GSD&M: Touted as one of SXSW’s must-attend events each year, we were lucky enough to get an invite and so glad we did. From unique art and live music to delicious food trucks and specialty cocktails – our last night in Austin was well spent on our GSD&M client’s compound.

 

Trumping the Media

Regardless of your political beliefs, Donald Trump is unlike any “politician” in recent memory. He’s never been one to pull verbal punches, which is why I say “politician” in quotes, because he’s far from your stereotypical elected representative.  From his racist terms against certain demographic groups and objectifying phrases towards women, it’s no secret Trump doesn’t hold back. His most recent contretemps came when he had Univision reporter Jorge Ramos ejected from a press conference.

From a PR agency’s perspective, the Donald’s approach is a nightmare. While being “politically correct” is not Trump’s MO, it should be for the rest of normal human society, and Trump’s style and approach are definitely not the way a potential President should behave. To make matters even worse, many of his remarks are not supported by facts, which make them even more outlandish. His comments towards women are uncalled for, and he’s leaving a wide trail of very angry people – and media stations – in his wake.

donald time magazineThat said, his approach has led to a media craze, including the cover of Time this week. What was once a circus now has to be taken more seriously. It’s a unique stance that, from a purely objective angle, is refreshing, considering the election is more than twelve months away. It’s provided some buzz in the dog days of summer, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, the news media can’t get enough, and I’m sure the funny folks at Saturday Night Live hope Trump mania continues for their upcoming season. We’ll be following Trump over the next year to keep up with his words – and media buzz – and be sure to share our thoughts here on The Hit Board.

Bruce Jenner:  A Person and a Dialogue in Transition  

There’s much the corporate world could learn from Bruce Jenner about public relations and how to take control of a difficult and potentially embarrassing situation.

For months, media speculation on what was really going on with him since his break up with Kris Jenner, the grand doyenne of the Kardashian media/business/gossip dynasty, was on overload – most of it trivial.  “Bruce Jenner Gets French Manicure, Wears Diamond Earrings on Outing,” said one headline.  Another publication photo-shopped lipstick, curled hair and a silk scarf on a picture of him.  Bruce’s story was something deep-rooted and real – not just for him but for many others who identified with his struggles.  Yet, the media portrayed his changing appearance as little more than a simple gossip item…no different than any number of small, unimportant nuggets emanating from the family’s reality empire.

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Rather than remain silent, Jenner took control of his narrative and granted a two-hour interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that aired on national television and was seen by more than 20 million viewers.   He talked of his personal struggles with gender identity in genuine and raw terms and in so doing he shifted the dialogue away from the sophomoric gossip that filled the tabloids for months into an adult conversation.  The national discussion was now about transgender issues that the mainstream media covered with thoughtful pieces on Jenner’s personal journey and its broader implication for others facing similar challenges.  His family came out in support of him.  He quashed speculation of this being a publicity stunt.  Even the rest of the Kardashian clan – typically known for empty, brain-candy nonsense – came out looking sympathetic, progressive and supportive.  That’s no mean feat.

Through honest, direct dialogue, Jenner changed his media narrative in a single interview.  He did it by being honest and transparent and answering tough questions truthfully and sincerely.  The business world would do well to take heed and act accordingly.

THERE’S NO “I” IN PRESS RELEASE

Press releases are to public relations like TV commercials are to advertising.   In a time of customized messaging – of programmatic advertising and brand-to-consumer tweets – the traditional 30-second spot can come off a bit like a relic of a bygone media era.  Rather than tailored to the specific interests of an increasingly granular audience, a press release seems too “one-size-fits-all” to stand on its own and hook an audience.

The press release shares another point of similarity with traditional TV advertising:  a lot of smart people have been (wrongly) predicting its demise for some time.

The press release – like any other form of communication – has evolved over time.  Once a standalone document that could be blasted out en masse, it now needs to be part of a larger PR toolkit that includes social media outreach, individualized pitches, real-time tie-ins, etc. to generate impact.

For all its limitations, a press release offers a number of strong value propositions to its sender(s) as well as its receiver(s).  For the sender, the internal approval process is essential – insuring that whatever goes out to the press is cleared by executive leadership, legal representation, etc.  Any mistake – from a factual inaccuracy to a typo – lives on in infamy on the Internet.  The formal review process that is required of a press release is integral to protecting an organization from making an irrevocable error.

For the receiver – i.e., the media – the press release is a factual reference sheet.  Its headline places the main news value front and center.  The spokespeople are identified and quoted.  The key story elements – from background facts to company overviews, etc., – are all contained within.  The actual format of a press release may seem dated to some – but the notion of it – its purpose and content – is absolutely core to communicating a company’s news to the press.  If it were to be eliminated – it would have to be replaced by something very similar in substance, if not style.

It’s about evolution, not elimination.  TV advertising has evolved from an isolated channel to working in tandem with digital media; a TV spot is part of the overall cross-channel marketing mix rather than an island all its own.  Press releases are evolving as well—from a catch-all press document that stands on its own to a key part of the PR toolkit – most effective when part of a “team.”

There’s no “I” in press release.

DGC Roundtable: How to fix Uber

The DGC Roundtable is moderated by our Fall Intern, Jamie Kurke.

Uber has been a hot brand ever since its inception but as of late, they’ve been in the news for all of the wrong reasons. With that in mind, this week’s question was:

In light of recent bad press, what, if anything, should Uber do to clean up their brand image and regain trust from the public?New-Logo-Vertical-Dark

Maryliz Ghanem, Vice President:

Uber needs fixing and they need to show the public the measures they are willing to take to protect their customers. They need to put into action strict measures and guidelines, for example: third-party background checks, suspension and review of drivers with a spotty record, and dedicated customer services. They need to show their riders that they are serious about safety and put these protections in place.

Pat Wentling, Senior Account Executive:

Uber clearly is a hot brand with an in-demand product – it’s practically become ubiquitous for traveling in New York City. The recent bad press, not to mention a satirical look from the writers at South Park, proves that Uber needs to commit to keeping their consumers safe and comfortable. The Uber team needs to publically promote a rigorous training and background check on each and every driver they employ, as well as a clear algorithm behind their pricing methods. If that means having fewer drivers in the interim, it’s worth the price of regaining consumer trust.

Lexi Hewitt, Account Coordinator:

it is hard to ignore all of the negative attention Uber receives.  Uber needs to be more responsive to the bad press that they’re getting.   Ignoring it is not going to make it go away, and they need to be proactive in their public relation efforts by getting ahead of negative stories.  They should sympathize with their customers when they are unhappy and realize that what the media is saying about them does matter.  Their business may be doing fine now, but I think that the negativity will inevitably catch up to them.

Claire Eisenberg, Senior Account Director:

  • Be transparent – Many complaints from consumers are tied to being told that the ride would cost one amount and ultimately being charged astronomically more.
  • Be reachable – Riders can’t seem to get through to customer service when they have a problem. This typically leads to consumers airing their grievances in much more public forums.
  • Take Action – With the most recent claim that a rider was kidnapped, it’s shocking that the customer service tried to convince her otherwise. Are you kidding? Take this feedback seriously and take the appropriate legal actions.

For now, I’ll stick with cabs.

Jamie Kurke, Intern:

Uber has been in hot water, it seems, since their dawn of time. Unless they conduct a serious overhaul, one of these times will be the last straw for their customers. I already have friends deleting the app and complaining about bad service or being afraid—especially when using UberX. While they do have a great business model, my advice would be to stop the expansion for now and focus on their existing customer base. A heartfelt apology from a high up exec and the promise of some driver training and more extensive screening would probably be the best way to gain back rider trust. It would certainly put me more at ease about requesting a black car instead of hailing a Yellow Cab.

4A’s PR Forum: 8 Tips for Pitching Reporters

The 4A’s, the leading trade association for ad agencies, held its second 4A’s Public Relations Forum, this year at J. Walter Thompson’s beautiful NYC offices on May 14, and the event drew a packed house.

Dubbed “24/7 Always On Communications,” the event brought together business journalists and hundreds of communications professionals from PR agencies and ad agencies to discuss changes in news gathering and media relations practices.

Top reporters from outlets including Fast Company, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Ad Age, Adweek and USA Today, as well as PR practitioners from agencies including, CP+B, FCB and Mullen lent their expertise on topics concerning reputation management and crisis communications. Additionally, executives from Twitter and Facebook discussed how social media engagement and real-time communications continues to change the world of earned media.

Still, media relations is the bread and butter of the PR practice, and journalist speakers talked about how technology and emerging media channels continue to impact their profession.

Below are eight insights that PR practitioners should keep in mind when engaging with the media in this 24/7 “Always On” world.

  1. Technology works. Almost all reporter panelists said that if you sent an email, “we got your pitch, and there’s no need to follow up four or five times to check.”  That said, if you want to follow up once, Laura Petrecca  from USA Today suggests writing “FOLLOW UP” in your subject line to make your point clear.
  2. Relationships are key. Reporters are much more apt to take your call if they know you. The takeaway?  Build those connections now; they will pay off for years to come.
  3. Sometimes it’s just about luck: Ever wonder why the pitch you spent hours writing got no response but the one that took ten minutes got an immediate reply?  The truth is, there isn’t a real answer other than timing. As Fast Company’s Editor Bob Safian pointed out, “It’s like getting a parking spot in the mall at Christmas time – it could take one minute, it could take 20. It depends what’s happening on that specific day and time — don’t take it personally.”
  4. The “aha” moment. Reporters and editors are looking for something new and surprising for their readers. If your pitched doesn’t elicit an “a-ha” moment it will be deleted.
  5. Remember the “why.”  When pitching a story, it is essential to include the “why.” While this may seem like a given, the Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Vranica said it was surprising how many pitches she reads that bury the “why.” Remember to include the business challenge or impetus for your storyline.
  6. Social media is critical. Reporters use social media to inform their stories and gauge hot topics of the day, so PR professionals should align pitches with topics reporters seem to have on their radars. As Twitter’s Melissa Barnes reminded the audience, “Not only are stories being discussed on the platform, sometimes they are breaking on Twitter.” With social comes more competition than ever for reporters, so it’s imperative to stay close to the real-time conversation and how it’s informing journalism.
  7. Deadlines don’t exist. They have become almost irrelevant.  Everything is so real-time that reporters don’t always have time to respond to your pitch.
  8. Be concise. Suzanne Vranica says that actually, a one-sentence pitch via phone is more effective than a three-paragraph email. Take that to heart.

 

Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future

“Digital Denizens: Reporting from the Future” panel. From left to right: Michael Learmonth, Ad Age; Todd Wasserman of Mashable; Brian Braiker Digiday reporter; moderator is Jill Kelly, Chief Communications Officer of Digitas.

London Town in Review: From Advertising Week to Lessons in PR Best Practices

Having enjoyed everything from Big Ben to the Tower Bridge, it’s crazy to believe that my unforgettable trip to London has now come to a close. The week flew by in the blink of an eye and brought me plenty of insights along the way to share with the team at home.

In addition to attending Advertising Week Europe and learning how a leader’s body language can make or break a career, I had the chance to participate in engaging brainstorms and daily “paper” meetings (discussing daily news) with the Eulogy! team. I also learned the inside scoop on the agency’s approach to working with reporters and packaging case studies for its clients in a unique and visually appealing video format.

Check out this video to see what else I took away from this memorable week –

All in all, the week satisfied a life-long dream to briefly work abroad and immerse myself in another country’s culture. I look forward to seeing what next year’s DGCer will take away from the trip and hope that they will love it as much as I did.

Ten Seconds Or Less

SnapChat is like The Little Engine That Could. Its rivals pulled out all of the stops to buy it, duplicate it, replace it and eradicate it – yet the network is still popular.

What’s interesting about SnapChat is its perception, which, for lack of a better term, snaps back and forth in terms of good and bad press.  The early days of SnapChat led many to believe it’s purely an app for all kids to “sext.” And every few weeks, there’s some sort of SnapChat privacy story – various articles on how safe those snaps are (or aren’t,) an actual data breach, or how legal the content of snaps may be.  In a post-Snowden world, these types of privacy breaches would be a kiss of death. Yet the network continues to persevere for its users.

Last week, SnapChat’s founders were on the cover of Forbes’ 30 under 30 – among other things, sharing how Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg essentially bullied the founders to sell to him or face extinction through Facebook’s version of the app Poke. As we now know, Poke fizzled and SnapChat thrives.

Now the startup, like many other networks in the space, is looking to monetize through advertising.  Yet the network needs to find a genuine way to make these ads happen, with content that people actually want to see.  HBO, always one of the boundary pushers in new avenues for social advertising, launched a SnapChat account tied to its popular show “Girls.” The extension is perfect for the show, as one can easily imagine the characters attempting to decipher what their potential suitors are implying by snapping emojis of pandas and guns.

While many critics, professional and amateur, are quick to remind everyone that SnapChat’s founders each passed on more than $750 million in Zuckerberg’s buyout offer, the network’s popularity among users is as great as it’s even been.  It goes to show that a brand can overcome bad press and a potentially bad reputation by sticking to the company’s brand and messaging. Yet so far, SnapChat may need to work on its sincerity when accepting its flaws, and there have been more than a few instances recently.  One could chalk up this up to the brashness of Silicon Valley hotheads – call it growing pains. Finding your voice and credibility is not easily done in today’s hyper reactive world – particularly when there can be so much on the line – and minor stories can explode into “national scandals.” That’s not to say every brand can survive bad press; it requires buzz, a dedicated following and a little bit of luck – but it is indeed possible.

We’re looking forward to following SnapChat’s business evolution in the coming weeks and months.

Big Apple to Britain: A Jersey Girl’s Journey into London PR

After a dozen days in the UK, I’m back in NYC and trying to avoid jet lag by making up for lost time with a much missed Starbucks. Though I did enjoy my tea and biscuits while in London—so much so I brought some back for the DGC team—it’s good to be home and with an absurdly large cup of iced coffee in hand. My time in London was definitely well spent, a perfect mix of work and play (something we value here at DGC). The Eulogy! team did a great job of making sure I met everyone, especially those from various divisions: social media (aka Onlinefire), marketing services, professional services, in addition to the B2B and consumer PR teams.

The Eulogy! team was also careful to make sure I didn’t work TOO hard, so they sent me up on the London Eye (on a thankfully sunny night)…

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…and hosted a lovely pizza party on my last day. One thing that is consistent across countries and cultures is the effect that copious free pizza has on an office: it’s mayhem, wherever you are.

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Overall, it was an amazing trip and I’m so grateful to both DGC & Eulogy! for making it happen. I hope my first “real” trip to London isn’t my last.

As they say, Cheers! xx Meg

Talking the Talk: How to Speak PR in the UK

ImageEver chased a journalist? How many sell ins have you done this week? Chances are, the answers are yes and many, but that’s not how you would say it. A “sell in” is a pitch, and to “chase” means to follow up. While the general approaches and goals of PR are the same on both sides of the pond, the terminology is quite different. When scheduling a “sit down” (meeting) with someone, be sure to check your “diary” (calendar) first. What we call “hits” or “clips” are the more formal “pieces of coverage” in the Queen’s English, and a byline is known as a “comment piece.” A company’s revenue is referred to as “turnover” and where we’d call financials simply “numbers,” here they are “figures.” Though these phrases aren’t what I’m used to hearing, they’re all pretty logical terms (unlike when I learned that a “plaster” is actually a Band-Aid…) and it’s helpful to be able to talk to the talk across various countries—even other English speaking ones!

Beyond the vocab, there are a few other differences when it comes to PR and media relations in the UK and the US. England has a large variety of national papers (approximately 13) where the US of A has mainly regional papers, with a few national exceptions that are particularly competitive. It’s more of result of geography than anything else: compared to the UK, the United States is absolutely massive and there aren’t many national outlets, but there are loads of regional ones. To put it in perspective, the entire UK (including all of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is roughly the size of the state of Oregon. The number of outlets aside, there is also some variation in what the media is interested in. There aren’t as many talk shows in Britain as there are in the US, and they are less likely to cover something purely consumer-facing with no strong news angle. While a hard news hook helps with securing coverage no matter where you are, it’s even more important to get in with the UK media. For this reason, surveys and research are used regularly—with some clients as often as 2 or 3 times a week.

Of course, everyone at Eulogy! has been very helpful in explaining all this to me and has been kind enough to not laugh directly at me when I ask what a particular word means. For the record, “jelly” refers to jell-o, a “biscuit” is actually a cookie, “chips” in the UK are French fries, and I still can’t figure out why Band-Aids are “plasters.”

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