Tips For Marketing Your Cause

In October 1985, the American Cancer Society in partnership with a pharmaceutical company founded the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which would happen in October annually. The goal was to increase awareness of the disease and raise money for research into finding a cure, better treatment, early detection and more. From that early beginning, thousands of charities and for-profits have since contributed to making the month of October a global support of breast cancer awareness, with the iconic pink ribbon recognizable the world over as a symbol for the cause.

It is truly admirable to support and be passionate about a good cause, whether your business is a non-profit or a for-profit. However, simply being passionate about your cause is not always enough to get the support you need. It is essential that as a business, you learn how to market your cause effectively. Here are some key steps that can help you achieve this.

1. Have a plan – It is always important to have a detailed marketing plan before executing any marketing strategy and marketing a cause is no different. You must outline your goal, audience, objectives, strategy and tactics, budget, timeline and more. A well constructed and clearly outlined plan serves as a roadmap for successfully marketing your cause.

2. Keep Your Message Simple & Direct – Having a muddled and confused message that tries to include too many things at once increases the risk of no one understanding what it is you are trying to achieve and not being interested. Having an excellent marketing plan to start will help in this regard. Your plan should have a specific goal and knowing exactly what your goal is will be a strong asset in helping you define your message in a simple and direct manner.

3. Be Authentic & Credible – This should go without saying but it is extremely important that people believe you are honest and sincere in your efforts; otherwise it is unlikely they will support the cause. The quickest way for a cause to fall apart is for individuals to think you are untrustworthy. This also refers to facts and figures. Don’t exaggerate statistics or the issue to gain support.

4. Leverage Social Media (The Right Way) – It’s virtually impossible to avoid social media today and the fact is if utilized in the right way it can be a very effective marketing tool at a fairly low cost. The key, of course, is to use it in the right way. Like most marketing channels, each social media channel has its own pros and cons, demographics, etc. Understanding these differences will help you to better utilize each in the right way to achieve your ultimate goal.

5. Don’t Ignore Traditional Media – We’ve probably all heard the refrain that print is dead. With the advent of the Internet and proliferation of smartphones today, that certainly seems to be the case to some. However, that belief is a fallacy. Traditional media is still a very effective marketing tool, especially depending on the type of audience you are trying to reach. Press releases, radio and television media interviews, for example, are all still very effective methods of getting the word out about your cause.

6. Have a Great Website – This is an absolute must. While social media is great, it is not enough. A well designed and thorough website is a great hub for posting all the information anyone will need to know about your cause and organization. It is a great resource for posting press and media related materials, news, call to action, organization background, blog articles, photos, videos and so much more.

7. Align With a Compatible Organization – Partnering with a more recognizable and profitable organization can increase the credibility and brand recognition of your cause, as well as increase your audience sometimes exponentially. The key here is that the partnership is a right fit.
8. Brand Your Cause – While increasing awareness is often a major factor for most causes, ultimately the end goal is to receive donations and funding. In other words, like any organization, you want to make money. Therefore it is important to treat your cause like an organization and like an organization, you need successful branding. Yes, breast cancer awareness by itself is a very important cause. However, we cannot deny that it is today a brand, particularly with the co-opting of the color pink and especially the pink ribbon. When anyone sees that pink ribbon symbol, they instantly know what it means and what it is for. That kind of top of the mind awareness is invaluable.

9. Create Engaging & Shareable Worthy Content – You cannot have a great social media presence, without great content. You cannot have a great website without great content and you cannot have a strong traditional media presence, without great content. Simply put, you cannot successfully market your cause, without great content. The point is to get people’s attention, get them to care and want to help and the way to do that is through engaging and effective content. This includes everything from videos, photos, infographics, case studies, testimonials, press releases, etc.

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How To Develop Ideas For Blog Posts

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One of the most common writing tips, especially for individuals just starting out, is to “write what you know”. So here is what I knew this week – I was completely stumped coming up with a topic for my latest blog post. I had a few ideas floating around but they all just felt incredibly dull and uninspired to me. And that led me to think about other people who are likely in the same current predicament, which led to my realizing a good blog post topic is probably tips on coming up with awesome blog post topics and ideas. And so, here we are.

  1. Read…a lot – Seems obvious but you would be surprised how many people are not avid readers. And it is especially shocking in the communications field. I still meet people who tell me they haven’t read one book in months. As a book-lover my whole life, this is just baffling to me. Because it really cannot be overstated, that to be a good writer, you have to be an avid reader. And reading (which by the way, I include everything from research studies, books, magazines, white papers, newspaper articles, blog posts, etc.) will open your world up to new and different ideas, which will provide a wealth of topics for your next blog post.

 

  1. Keep Up With Current Events – One of the most important elements of a successful blog is to be timely and current with your articles. The best way to do this is to know what is going on in the world. Everything from politics, industry news, social issues, and human interest stories, pop culture, etc. are all important to be aware of and current about, as they can all provide for interesting and compelling blog posts.

 

  1. Keep An Idea File – Whether or not you were a Harry Potter fan, you’ve probably heard or read the story of J.K. Rowling writing her first ideas for the series on a napkin, as inspiration struck her on a train. The reality is, inspiration can strike at any time and it helps to document ideas as they come. It’s possible you may never use some of them but it can definitely come in handy when inspiration is low and the ideas are not coming easily. An idea file also helps decrease the possibility of your blog becoming inactive, due to a lack of fresh ideas.

 

  1. Research The Competition – It never hurts to see what is out there and what other bloggers are writing about. You should never copy or try to mimic others but you may find something that is missing, a hole in the blogosphere that you can fill or see a topic in a new way that gives you a unique idea of how to approach it. Basically, researching your competition cannot hurt.

 

  1. Do A Keyword Search – An easy way to get ideas for a blog post, especially if you already have a topic in mind, is to do a basic keyword search. There are a number of search tools that can quickly generate hundreds of topics and ideas for possible blog posts.

 

  1. Think Outside The Box – Sometimes, the most daunting aspect of writing a blog post is not so much coming up with an idea but well, having to write it. However, blog posts do not always have to be 1000 plus word articles. It is more than acceptable to make a post featuring pictures, videos, infographics, etc. People often respond positively to visual elements and it is no different for a blog post.

 

  1. Talk To Others – It’s always a good idea to pick other people’s brains when mulling over an issue, topic, idea, etc. Talking to family, friends, co-workers, etc. might give you an idea for a topic you otherwise may have never considered. Or it may make you see a topic in a new light that will give you an idea for a new blog post on a topic you’ve previously written about.

 

  1. Consider Your Hobbies – As I stated above, one of the easiest ways to start writing is to simply write what you know. So if you’re stumped for ideas, it can be very helpful to consider the things you are interested in. For example, I love tennis and a simple communications blog post on that topic that is current and relevant, is the suspension of Maria Sharapova and how I believe that may tarnish her brand, which is worth millions in endorsements (and yes I am well aware that I have yet to actually write said post and really should).

 

  1. Know Your Industry – Whatever your focus, be it public relations like this blog or sports, fashion, entertainment, politics, etc. one way to consistently develop blog post ideas and topics, is to know the industry very, very well. Follow popular industry blogs, organizations, read the latest research findings, e-books, and white papers, watch the latest TED Talks, participate in seminars, webinars, etc. Being consistently up to date and aware of what is going in the industry one is writing about is one of the most important parts of maintaining a successful blog.

 

  1. Re-Purpose Your Content – If all else fails, revisit articles and posts you’ve previously written. Building on previous writing and content is one of the most common elements in academic research. Individuals are constantly doing studies that answer a question a previous study did not or fill in a gap that was left unfinished in a previous study. And your blog posts are no different. Perhaps there is a topic you wrote about that has since had new developments, renewed interest or maybe there is something you previously wrote but have since changed your mind about. Any of these are great reasons to revisit your previous posts.

Most Common Misconceptions About Social Media

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There is no question that we are completely entrenched in the digital age. As such, there is certainly no shortage of organizations online and particularly, in the social media sphere. At this point, it is the very rare company that does not have at least a Facebook account. However, despite the pervasiveness of social media, there are still many misconceptions that a lot of individuals, as well as organizations, have, in regard to it.

  1. It Is Easy – Hard as it may be to believe, the truth is there are many who still believe social media promotion and marketing is easy. When I explain what I do as a content marketer to individuals who don’t understand it, I get many comments along the lines of, “you get paid just to post on Facebook? Anybody can do that.” Yes, many are still under the impression that social media posting in a professional capacity, involves simply making random comments, updates, etc. And to say that is untrue would be a gross understatement. As is the case with any type of promotion and communication activity by an organization, there is a strategy involved with having a successful social media presence. It includes having a clear and concise plan detailing the organization’s goal, objectives, tactics, etc. Without that road map, an organization’s social media efforts will likely fail and be completely ineffective.

 

  1. You Should be on Every Channel – Another very common and at times costly misconception is that an organization should be on as many popular social media channels as possible. This is simply not true and in many cases, doing so results in a number of poorly developed channels. I am firm believer in that it is always best to start slow and build over time. Therefore, establishing two or three channels that are regularly updated with fresh and engaging content is best and if need be, over time add more. It is also important to remember that every social media channel has its own pros and cons, audience, benefits, etc. And thus, your organization and its brand may not really fit with a particular social media channel.

 

  1. It is Free – As the old adage goes, “nothing in life is free” and the same holds for social media. Yes, most channels merely require a valid email address to create an account but the fact is most organizations are likely going to engage in some type of sponsored posts/ads to reach a number of people they really want to on social media. Facebook and Twitter, for example, offer targeted ads that can help your organization reach its desired target audience. And using these tools is certainly not free. Also, effective social media management requires experienced manpower and whether or not an organization chooses to find that in the form of outsourcing or hiring a social media team, the fact is it will come at a cost.

 

  1. We Only Need Social Media – We’ve all seen and heard the expression, “print is dead.” There are many who believe that traditional advertising is very much a thing of the past and only digital media counts. However, the reality is completely different. Traditional advertising, including print, television and yes radio, is still very much alive and thriving, not to mention very effective if utilized correctly. Another misconception in relation to this factor is that some organizations believe social media is all that matters in regard to their digital marketing efforts. And that is most definitely not the case, as social media is just one aspect of the digital world, which includes email marketing, display advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), etc. Thinking that all a business needs to be successful online is a few social media channels is a complete fallacy that is likely to negatively impact an organization’s bottom line.

 

  1. Target Audience is Not on Social Media – Many organizations whose target audience tend to skew a little older, believe that there is no point in using social media because it is for “young people” and therefore not an avenue in which they would reach said audience. That is false. First, research indicates that many older individuals are in fact active on social media. A 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that social media usage among individuals 65 and older has more than tripled since 2010. Once again, the key for many organizations to remember is that it is not necessary to be on every social media channel and so it is important to just find the one where your audience is most likely to be present and simply incorporate that channel into other promotional efforts.

 

  1. Any Channel Will Do – Once again, this is absolutely false and in fact, can be a very costly mistake for some organizations. As previously stated, all social media channels have their pros and cons, as well as specific target audiences. Therefore, every channel is not going to be perfect for every business and for every objective. And this is just one more reason it is essential organizations plan and create a concise social media strategy before fully utilizing it. This would help establish what goals and objectives the organization want to accomplish and knowing that will help better identify what channels will work best.

 

  1. It is Time-Consuming – There are many organizations, particularly small businesses that believe they simply do not have the time or the manpower necessary to maintaining a well-developed and successful social media presence. While it is true that creating and maintaining a solid social media presence is not easy, it becomes far less time consuming if one has a well-defined plan, including an editorial calendar of when to post what and where. Having that clear roadmap makes a world of difference.

 

  1. It Can’t be Measured – This is probably one of the most common misconceptions and one that is in fact perpetuated by many in the industry. It is true that there is no unanimously agreed upon industry measurement for social media. And it is also true that because it moves so quickly, with new channels popping up every two years or so, it makes it harder to create one standard for measurement. However, to say that social media efforts simply cannot be measured is grossly inaccurate. There are many measurement tools for measuring the success or failure of an organization’s social media efforts, including, but not limited to, shares, likes, comments, click-thru-rate, bounce rate, etc. All of these and much more help to measure the level of engagement, reach, and conversion, achieved via the company’s social media efforts.

It’s Time To Think Content…Marketing

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The last five years or so have seen an exponential growth in content, as the world has gotten more mobile and digital. As a result, content marketing has become a core part of the strategic communication’s world lexicon. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of marketers are doing some form of content marketing, whether they are aware of it or not.  It is one of the top growing fields, with an increasing number of marketers relying on it for success. And a recent study estimates that by 2019, content marketing will be a $300 billion industry. So what then exactly is content marketing?

The industry accepted definition appropriately comes from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, who states that content marketing is “the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Thus, in layman’s terms, content marketing involves the creation of any type of content (video, social media posts, blog posts, e-books, infographics, white paper, podcasts, print publications, etc.), which is used to reach, engage and keep your target audience or public. The ultimate goal is, of course, to make a profit through the use of said content.

The truth is content has always existed – from the first print advertisements in the 1700’s to radio and later television commercials, etc. companies and brands have always been using content to engage and retain their target audience. It just wasn’t called content marketing until recently. However, whether it’s called content marketing or something else, the nature of what it is, is imperative for organizations their success.

Benefits

The benefits of content marketing for organizations are numerous. A good, solid and consistent content marketing strategy can help an organization gain more referral traffic, more social traffic, increase potential conversion, improve their brand reputation, generate more leads, increase customer/consumer engagement, increase awareness of their brand and by that token recognition of their brand and of course increase sales. Most content marketing tools are also fairly cheap to produce which is very beneficial for an organization in terms of keeping production costs down. Finally, producing interesting and high-quality content can also help increase the credibility of an organization and help them be seen as a thought leader in their industry.

That said, the key, as stated above, is to produce “good, solid and consistent” content. Let’s face it, anyone can create a post on social media and anyone can write a blog or make a video and post it on YouTube or another video sharing site. However, creating content that not only captures a target audience’s attention but keeps them engaged and makes them want to know more and stay involved requires time and commitment and most importantly, a clear and detailed strategy.

No matter the size or budget of an organization, whether it is a B2C or B2B, for their content marketing efforts to be truly successful, there must be a clearly defined strategy in place. This typically requires a few significant steps.

  1. Conduct an Audit – As stated above, whether it is called content marketing or not, more than likely an organization is already engaging in some manner of it. Therefore, the first step is to conduct a thorough audit of said efforts and make an analysis of what is and isn’t working, what received the greatest responses, reactions and simultaneously what didn’t and decide how to improve on these things or change them appropriately
  2. Establish a Goal – Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” That is very true. An organization simply cannot succeed with any strategy without having a clearly defined and stated goal. Otherwise, the organization is likely to just make decisions blindly with no direction and that is never a good thing.
  3. Define Audience and Personas – Understanding and knowing your target audience is simply a given. However, it is more than just simply identifying a broad target audience, such as women ages 18-35. For an organization to completely reach and connect with its audience, they must truly understand who that audience is. This is when and how personas are created. Who is your audience really – what are their needs, where do they communicate, what is their engagement like, what are their key responsibilities, what truly drives them to purchase, etc.
  4. Establish Objectives, Strategies & Tactics – Goals are useless without relevant objectives and simultaneously suitable strategies and tactics to go along with it. As always, objectives should follow the SMART model or something akin to it (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely).
  5. Create Editorial Calendar – Once the organization has established a specific goal (or goals) for its content marketing strategy and created suitable and relevant objectives, strategies, and tactics, the next step is to create a well-detailed editorial calendar. The editorial calendar is essentially the road map for the continuous content marketing process. At a minimum, a good editorial calendar should include what topics will be written about, what medium will be used, deadline, the status of the content, who is responsible for which piece of content, goal of the content (e.g. to increase awareness, generate leads), etc.
  6. Define Measurement Tools – And naturally, as with all strategic efforts, the organization must identify the methods and tools that will be used to measure the success and/or failure of its efforts.

Content Marketing & P.R.

Because this is a public relations blog and it is after all the world in which I come from, I always like to tie everything back to it. So what is the relationship between content marketing and public relations and more importantly, how does it fit into the P.R. world? Well basically, the two are very intertwined. A lot of what it takes to create good content are the same skills and expertise good public relations practitioners possess.

For example, good content aims to be engaging, interesting and relevant, which is exactly what public relations practitioners, who are storytellers at their core, seek to do with the work they create. The goals of content marketing and public relations are essentially the same, i.e. increase brand awareness, increase customer loyalty, increase consumer and customer engagement and of course increase sales. Basically, content is exactly what public relations practitioners create every day. The two are not mutually exclusive.

So should your organization be thinking about engaging in a content marketing strategy? Well, I think the answer to that is obvious. If it helps, though, you likely already are. You’re just not calling it content marketing.

Common P.R. Grammar Mistakes

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This past December, PR News asked its many followers on twitter what they thought were the most common mistakes in writing, spelling and punctuation that we, as public relations practitioners and communicators, need to be careful of. The organization was quickly flooded with responses, including many common mistakes, such as confusing your and you’re. I even got in on the fun, tweeting my biggest grammar pet peeve – confusing affect and effect.

The tweet inspired me to of course think about the other common grammar mistakes many of us, including myself, are guilty of. After all, no one is perfect. However, in an industry where excellent communication and by that token excellent language skills is the lifeblood, being guilty of grammatical errors can be disastrous. The following are some common grammatical errors that many individuals make every day.

  1. Your v. You’re – Ah the old your versus you’re mistake. It is amazing how much confusion one strategically placed apostrophe can cause. Basically, the word your refers to possession. For example, “Your apple” or “Your shirt”. Meanwhile, you’re is the abbreviated form of the expression “you are”. For example, instead of saying “You are smart”, you can write, “You’re smart”.
  1. Its v. It’s – Another confusion caused by one strategically placed apostrophe. Like the previous example, the word its means possession, specifically something belonging to an object that is not masculine or feminine. For example, “This pillow is too big for its case”. However, it’s is the abbreviated form of it is. For example, “It is raining” may be written as “It’s raining”.
  1. Their v. They’re – Like the previous two examples, this is a case of one word meaning possession and the other referring to the shortened form of an expression. The other cause of this common error is that the words are homonyms, meaning they sound alike but mean different things. The fact that they sound alike often increases the chances of someone confusing the two. Their of course refers to possession, such as, “Their parents” or “Their house”, while they’re is the abbreviated form for they are. For example, “They are coming” can be rewritten as “They’re coming”.
  1. To v. Too – This is another common homonym error. The two words sound exactly alike and the only difference in spelling is an extra letter o. However, that one extra o completely changes the definition. The word to is used both with the infinitive form of a verb, as in, “To dance”, as well as moving towards something, such as, “To the edge”. The word too means also or as well. For example, “I love apples too” or “I love Paris too”.
  1. Then v. Than – This is another confusion between words which sound very similar. Then is often used in providing step by step instructions and to indicate something following something else in time. For example, “We’ll go for coffee and then go to the movies”. The word than is used for comparisons. For example, “I am better than her at swimming”.
  1. Affect v. Effect – Ah my personal pet peeve. This one is very confusing for a lot of people, probably because they can often be used together. However, the key factor to remember is that affect is a verb and effect is a noun. More specifically, affect refers to the impact or influence something has on an object, while effect refers to the change itself. For example, “The house was affected by the storm” versus “The medicine had a strong effect on me”.
  1. Who v. Whom – These two words are actually very difficult to differentiate for many individuals, including professional communicators. The key to distinguishing between the two is to always remember that who refers to the subject of the sentence, while whom refers to the object in a sentence. For example, “Who is at the door?” versus, “Whom should I call about this?”.
  1. i.e. v. e.g. – Two of the most commonly used abbreviations, they are sometimes confused with each other. Basically, i.e. is a shortened form of saying “that is” or “in other words”. For example, “She hates sports – i.e. she will not be attending the game”. On the other hand, the abbreviation e.g. basically means “for example” and can be used in the following manner, “She likes all types of music, e.g. pop, rap, rock and country”.
  1. A lot v. Allot – Both words are used in reference to some type of quantity. However, a lot refers to having plenty of something, while allot refers to the setting aside of a certain amount towards something. For example, “She had a lot of apples on the table” versus, “She allotted $10 for buying apples”. It would also be remiss of me to not mention one of the most common grammar errors, as it relates to the word a lot. That is, the use of alot to mean a lot. To put it plainly, this is completely incorrect and should never be used because alot is not a word.
  1. Fewer v. Less – This is a really tricky one to be honest, that I’ve also been guilty of many times. Essentially, the main factor to remember is that fewer refers to quantifiable objects. For example, “There are fewer apples now” or “We have fewer dogs than we did last year”. The word less however, refers to objects that are difficult to quantify individually. For example, “We did less traveling this year” or “This beach is less sandy than the other one”.
  1. Assure v. Insure v. Ensure – A triple-threat error, these three words confuse many because not only are they close in meanings but they also sound closely alike. However, they all do have specific definitions and must not be used interchangeably. Assure refers to a promise or stating something with confidence. For example, “I assure you I will get you acquitted”. Insure refers to protection against some type of risk. For example, “The organization is insured for $10 million”. And finally, ensure means to make certain of something. For example, “Ensure that you will be available tomorrow at 10″.
  1. Subject Verb Agreement – Proper subject-verb agreement is the lifeblood of most sentences and thus at the core of good grammar. It is a topic that could be its own blog post. For now, I will just address some common rules related to it. Such as, a singular subject has a singular verb. For example, “The man is going to deliver the speech”. Two, for sentences with more than one subject connected by the word and, the verb is plural. For example, “The mother and her daughter are dancing”. Three, when a sentence has more than one subject but they are connected by the word or, the verb is singular. For example, “The boy or the girl is going to win a scholarship”. However, with regard to the latter rule, if the one of the subjects is plural, the verb must agree with the subject closest to it. For example, “The man or his children go to the grocery store”. You can find a lot more information on subject-verb agreement here.
  1. Passive Voice – This is another common one that I have been guilty of in the past. I cannot tell you the number of, “passive voice” errors I got on some of my English papers while in secondary school. To put it in the simplest terms, using a passive voice in writing means making the object of a sentence, the subject. For example, “I edited the press release” is an example of an active voice sentence because I is the subject who is taking the action and the press release is the object. That same sentence, if rewritten in the passive voice, would read as, “The press release was edited by me”. At this point the press release which is the object, becomes the subject of the sentence.
  1. Use of Commas – Like subject-verb agreement, discussing the proper use of commas is an extensive topic that can be its own blog entry. However, for the sake of brevity, I will focus on the three most common uses. One, commas should be used to separate elements in a series. For example, “I brought a pen, a notepad, and a recorder to the interview”. The second common use of the comma is to separate independent clauses joined by and, but, or, for, nor, so or yet, in a sentence. For example, “The cake is delicious, but I am on a diet”. Finally, commas should be used to separate a phrase or introductory phrase, which is often at the beginning of a sentence. For example, “Earlier this year, the firm saw a 30 percent increase in profits”. For more information on the proper use of commas, follow this
  1. Semicolons – Semicolons are generally used to connect two independent clauses that are closely related. Many times the two clauses could each be their own sentence but stylistically, they work better as one sentence. For example, “Email me tomorrow; I will have a document prepared for you by then”.

Of course this post just barely scratches the surface of the rules of grammar which is a very extensive topic. And as noted above, many of us, including myself, have likely been guilty of at least one of these. And that’s okay, because no one’s perfect. But that is why revising and editing is essential in writing. You write and say it correctly enough, eventually it becomes second nature.

Oscars Controversy

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The Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks ago and as was the case last year, it came with some controversy, as once again all the nominees in the acting categories were white. However, unlike last year, the backlash has been loud enough and significant enough to create widespread media attention and a very vocal reaction from the entertainment industry, including many high profile actors.

I am not going to say what my personal opinions are about the issue (and trust me, I have a few) but rather would like to focus on the response by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the body that governs and votes for The Academy Awards, to the controversy. After all, this is a public relations blog and this is without question a P.R. crisis for The Academy.

If I were to award a grade in terms of how well I think the organization has handled and responded to the controversy and the issue in general, I’d say they are at a solid B. There are many things that they have done right when it comes to the rules of successfully weathering an organizational crisis.

  1. Respond in a Timely Manner – One of the first rules of good crisis communication is to never hide and simply hope that the crisis goes away on its own. While it is important to take some time to construct an intelligent, well thought out and relevant response, because you certainly don’t want to make a situation worse by rushing and saying the wrong thing, it is important that the organization delivers some kind of response as quickly as possible. It helps the public know where the organization stands on the issue and helps in trying to gain control of the story, as well as the narrative. The Academy did this, with President Cheryl Boone Isaacs releasing an official statement about the controversy four days after the nominations were announced.
  1. Avoid Being Defensive – It is never a good idea for an organization to respond to a crisis by being angry, defensive or belligerent towards the media and the public. The best approach is to simply acknowledge the issue, accept and acknowledge the organization’s failure and/or culpability, whatever that may be, and be sympathetic and understanding to the public. And The Academy did that, with President Isaacs expressing sadness and disappointment at the lack of diversity among the year’s nominees and admitting that things do need to change.
  1. Be Clear and Concise – While it is good to acknowledge an organization’s mistake or mistakes and to make promises to do better, providing a clear and concise statement on how the organization plans to make these changes and fix things is also very essential. Doing so adds credibility to the organization’s response and makes the public less skeptical, as it shows that the former has given real thought to the issue and to creating real and tangible solutions. The Academy did exactly this, when on the heels of President Isaacs’ official statement, the Board of Governors took a vote a few days later that resulted in a number of specific and detailed changes to The Academy’s membership and voting polices. The six specific changes were made public in a statement.

As positively as The Academy has handled the current controversy, the reason I gave them a B grade is because of the fact that this even happened at all. As noted above, it was just one year ago that the organization faced heavy backlash on social media when all the acting nominees and majority of nominees were white. Many were particularly upset about actor David Oyelowo not receiving a Best Actor nomination for the film Selma, as well as its director Ava DuVernay not receiving a Best Director nomination, although the film did receive a Best Picture nomination.

At the time, Academy President Isaacs made a statement insisting that the Academy was “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion”. And yet, a year later, virtually nothing had changed within the organization and its voting body. Therefore, I consider it a public relations failure on The Academy’s part that despite being aware of the public’s response, reaction and discontent, they chose to simply ride out the controversy and continue with business as usual, only to have this become an issue again. It is hardly surprising that this time the backlash and outcry was a lot worse.

The key lesson here is that as an organization, you must listen to your public and take the necessary steps to minimize a crisis as much as possible. Trying to ignore it and hope it just goes away is never the answer, as it is likely to only grow into something bigger and much more complicated.

The Year In P.R.

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As 2015 comes to a close, it seems more than fitting to take a quick look back at the year and what may come in 2016. After all, as the classic saying goes, “we can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been.”  So with that mind, here is my summation of the 2015 year in public relations.

Most Notable Crises

Crisis management continued to be a cornerstone of the industry, as 2015 saw its fair share of major crises. There are way too many to list, so I have chosen to focus on the ones I felt dominated much of the year or had a very significant impact on an organization and/or individual.

Subway/Jared Fogle – In probably one of the most shocking and upsetting crisis no one saw coming at the start of the year, Subway’s once very popular spokesman Jared Fogle was indicted and subsequently prosecuted on child pornography charges. Subway quickly distanced itself from Fogle and cut all professional ties. Some have debated the fast food chain’s response to the crisis, including me, in this post. However, Subway’s response aside, perhaps the greatest lesson drawn from this crisis was the reminder of the inherent risk involved in tying a company brand so closely to an individual spokesperson.

Bill Cosby – Celebrity scandals, sadly, are rarely ever unexpected. Still, it was shocking for many to witness the dramatic downfall of a once beloved television icon. Much of the first half of the year saw woman after woman come forward with accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby. Cosby has and continues to deny the allegations and as the year comes to a close, he has filed a defamation suit against seven of his accusers. Whatever side of the issue you stand on – whether you believe Cosby is guilty or innocent, the damage is done. It seems highly unlikely that Cosby, who built his career and success on the image of being the warm, lovable pseudo-dad, loving uncle type, can recover from this. The lingering questions and doubts and suspicions will always remain.

Volkswagen Recall – Car manufacturer crises are nothing new. Recalls, accusations and allegations of companies circumventing responsibility to cut corners and save money are constant. And this year was more of the same, when U.S. regulators accused Volkswagen of cheating on emission tests. While the German manufacturer company responded quickly with a public statement admitting wrongdoing and later followed that by then-CEO Martin Winterkorn publicly apologizing to the public at a press conference, things still fell apart for the company. Their stocks and sales tumbled, Winterkorn later resigned and at year’s end, the company’s stocks and sales, as well as its public image are all still on a downswing.

Brian Williams – Despite all the talk in recent years of traditional news media dying and being replaced by online news sources and social media, there is still an appreciation and respect for the traditional news source. And by that token, there is still a certain standard of quality and credibility expected of journalists; a fact NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams learned this year, after reports surfaced that he had fabricated and exaggerated parts of his experience in a military helicopter during the Iraq War. What followed were awkward, fumbling apologies from Williams and a six-month suspension without pay, after NBC officials did their own investigation of the allegations. Williams has since been transferred to MSNBC and was officially replaced by Lester Holt as NBC News Nightly anchor.

Chipotle – It has been a rough year for fast-casual restaurant giant, Chipotle. First, there was a salmonella outbreak in Minnesota, found to be tied to the tomatoes being used at the locations. Then there was a foodborne virus called Norovirus, which affected a total of 100 customers and employees combined, at a Ventura County restaurant. But the restaurant chain’s biggest crisis came when more than 30 cases of E. Coli in Washington and Oregon caused them to temporarily shut down 43 restaurants across the two states. While many have praised Chipotle’s handling of the crisis – including, timely and consistent updates to the public, taking full responsibility, cooperating fully with government officials and agencies – these incidents still remain a significant blow to the popular restaurant chain. As I began writing this, news of five new cases of E. Coli from other locations of the restaurant, broke. You do have to start wondering how many more crises of this nature Chipotle can survive, before customers begin walking away for good.

Ashley Madison – How does a company that is largely built on the privacy of its customers survive a major hack that threatened that very privacy? In the case of Ashley Madison, the website for married individuals looking to cheat on their spouse, I’m not sure it can. I commented on the scandal back in August when it happened and questioned then whether or not the company could recover. As of October, some members of the site were still reporting getting emails from hackers trying to extort money from them in exchange for silence about their being a member of the site and very recently, some members claimed to have blackmail letters sent directly to their homes. The company also still faces numerous lawsuits from its members.

Race – It’s been over fifty years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s seminal “I Have A Dream” speech and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Supposedly we now live in a post-racial world and yet, as 2015 comes to a close, that notion seems highly unlikely. Race, discrimination and treatment of minorities took center stage for much of this year.  From the University of Alabama’s fraternity scandal back in March that saw members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter chanting a racially offensive song to the University of Missouri, which saw walkouts and protests from faculty, students and the football team in response to the university’s poor handling of a series of racial incidents. The situation culminated in the resignation of the university’s president and later chancellor. However, the most notable issue of racial tension throughout the year included the multiple allegations of police misconduct in connection with the arrests and deaths of African Americans. The situation escalated to a series of protest and riots around the US and spawned the #blacklivesmatter movement. Many city and state officials opened investigations into the conduct of the police force but with a very tense presidential year coming up, it remains to be seen if things will get better or worse.

Key Industry Trends

Use of Video – Being visual is always an excellent tool to grab and maintain your audience’s attention and to increase the chances of their remembering your message well after it’s over. Visual elements, such as infographics, charts and videos and more, have always been a big appeal to individuals. And this year saw more of this, especially with the emergence of live video streaming. Video streaming became a big part of the industry’s conversation with the introduction of the apps Meerkat and Periscope, the latter which has quickly amassed a significant number of followers. I broke down the pros and cons of live video streaming in this post and it remains to be seen how truly dominant it will become in the industry. However, the use of video is definitely not only going to stay but also continue to expand and evolve.

Rise of Instagram – Social media continued to be a focal point of the industry, as is likely to be the case for years to come. What was particularly interesting this year with regard to social media, was the growing influence and importance of Instagram. According to statista.com, as of November 2015, the photo and video sharing network had a total of 400 million active users, ranking it seventh on the global chart of most popular social networks and just above Twitter. According to the social network itself, there were 14 million active UK users, while research conducted by Ipsos in August 2015, showed that 19% of internet users in Ireland used Instagram. eMarketer.com reported 11% of internet users in Japan and 55% in Canada were using Instagram and Adweek reported 22% of the population in the Middle East/Africa region are on Instagram. Organizations and brands started paying attention, and if your organization’s audience is teens and young adults, then you really needed to be paying attention as the platform has surged far ahead in popularity within that demographic.

Mobile Marketing – As the pervasiveness of smartphones continued this year and by that token, mobile usage, mobile marketing continued to be a key trend in the industry. Research showed young and adult alike used their smartphones and other mobile devices for everything from shopping, surfing the internet, paying bills, etc. Naturally, brands and organizations paid attention and made continuous efforts to reach their current and new audiences through the medium.

Integrated Campaigns – With the worlds of public relations, advertising and marketing continuing to intertwine and overlap, integrated campaigns employing elements of each continued to be prevalent throughout the year and is likely to continue into the next year.

Emergence of African Markets – On the global level, 2015 saw the continued emergence of African markets in the public relations industry, which began a few years earlier. Global strategic communications firm Hill + Knowlton announced its launch of new operation in Nigeria back in March, making it the eighth African location in the firm’s operations, which already has locations in Tanzania, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

Looking Ahead – Trends To Expect In 2016

Mobile – As noted, the use of mobile devices continued to dominate this year and it is unlikely that this will be changing any time soon. Thus, the industry is tasked with keeping up with this change and aligning its strategies accordingly. I noted the focus on mobile marketing above and while that is sure to continue in 2016, firms and brands are going to have to evolve and adapt even more to take full advantage of the medium. That includes having specific strategic plans focused solely on mobile, understanding the firm’s specific needs and goals with regard to the mobile world, establishing expertise in that specific area, etc. Mobile essentially needs to be treated in the manner that social media eventually has. It’s not enough to throw it in as a small part of a larger plan – it needs to be regarded at its own specific focus and medium.

Good Content Matters – You’ve probably all heard about the traditional press release being dead and with mobile and social media, everyone is always rushing off to the next thing and essentially has little time to read or care about anything longer than a paragraph or two. That may be (not sure I entirely agree), but even in the digital world, good content still matters which yes, means good writing still matters. In fact, in a way it matters even more. Because if you have a very little window of time to grab and hold a person’s attention, delivering poorly worded and badly written content is not going to accomplish that. New or traditional media, public relations is still a storytelling function and the best way to tell that story is still through well crafted, well written, clear and concise content.

PR & Marketing – The worlds of public relations and marketing will continue to merge and blur into each other in 2016. While the two industries are different in many key ways, they do share many similar elements, which often makes the intertwining so seamless and natural. Firms and brands now understand the importance of incorporating elements of public relations, marketing, advertising and new media into creating a successful large scale campaign and how all these industries essentially need each other.

Real Time Feedback – With the world going mobile and essentially having so much of their lives at their fingertips, firms are now able to get more immediate and timely feedback from consumers and the public. While in-depth research and measurement reports are still important, immediate reactions to a new product, an announcement, etc. can be very valuable and more firms are recognizing and embracing this.

Thought Leadership – One of the more recent growing focus in the industry, has been the role and importance of thought leaders and thought leadership, which I wrote about a few months ago. This focus continued to increase this year and is likely to continue in 2016, as many more firms and organizations continue to recognize its significance.