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POWERBALL: PR Nightmare Waiting to Happen

By Felicia K. Knight, President The Knight Canney Group

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! Three winners, actually. Yes, the Powerball has been won. To all you winners, your dreams have come true. But you are about to be thrust headlong into a public relations nightmare—unless you take steps to save yourselves.

None of you live in Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, or South Carolina, which means, by law, you must be identified as a winner. And that’s when the ticket hits the fan.

Once you’re photographed holding that big check, you will be amazed at the number of relatives, friends, business associates, classmates, co-workers, and pen pals who will descend on you with their mouths running and their hands open.

Not only will you be subject to the wants of others you’ll be engulfed in your own impulses to indulge freely and even to do good.

Here’s some sound advice: Turn off your phone, lock the door, and check those impulses. Now get:

  1. A lawyer.
  2. A financial advisor.
  3. A public relations professional.

It should be obvious why you need a lawyer and a financial advisor. It may not be so clear why you need a PR professional. After all, you’re still you, right? You’re not going to let hundreds of millions of dollars turn you into the Jolie-Pitts, are you?

In truth, you’re no longer you. You are multi, multi-millionaires.

Ever since the first lottery was issued to build the Great Wall of China, people of modest means have sought instant riches. When they get them, their lives change. Not always in a good way. Go ahead, Google “Lottery winner nightmares” and see what you get.

Once you’re identified as the winner of the largest lottery in world history, you are a target and you need a gatekeeper. And unless your brother-in-law is a PR professional, this is not a job for a well-meaning relative. A PR professional will look out for your best interests and have the expertise and resources to deal with the media storm.

Every media outlet in your town, your state, and many from across the country and the world will want to talk to you. Now. There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of requests. Ever seen a satellite truck farm? You will.

Statistically, millionaires don’t buy lottery tickets. CEOs who are used to media scrutiny don’t buy lottery tickets. Regular work-a-day Joes and Janes buy lottery tickets. In fact, investigations of lotteries are underway to determine if the poor are disproportionately targeted by lotteries.

The people who win lotteries are not used to publicity. This won’t be like winning a flat screen in the Rotary raffle that gets your photo in the local weekly. This kind of publicity will knock your world off its axis. Are you ready for your close-up on Good Morning America? Will you be comfortable having your entire life picked apart in cyberspace? In print? On television? By anyone with a Twitter handle?

We’ve all fantasized about unlimited wealth, about being famous, about being so rich we could give money to all our friends and favorite charities. But very few of us are prepared for the demands and immediate attention that something like this can drop on our heads.

The odds of winning were high. The odds of you living happily ever after don’t have to be as high. Be smart. A PR professional will help you.

You can take that to the bank.


What Chipotle can teach us about crisis communications


Food safety problems can be a recipe for disaster in the restaurant industry. Just ask Chipotle Mexican Grill.

In the span of two months beginning in October, the company has dealt with an outbreak of E. coli infections that sickened 52 people in nine states and forced the company to temporarily close some locations along with reports earlier this month that up to 140 people fell ill from norovirus linked to a Chipotle restaurant in Boston.

The situation was summed up best by US News & World Report: “For a company founded on fresh ingredients and locally sourced food, it was a nightmare that seemed to have no end.” Indeed. The company’s stock prices fell 24 percent. Then, in a conference call with investors, Chipotle co-CEO Monty Moran blamed the crisis on the media for over-reporting the illnesses.

But, 24 hours later, something remarkable happened. Chipotle Founder Steve Ells went on the TODAY show and delivered a textbook example of the right way to communicate during a crisis. It was a momentous first step toward changing the media narrative and restoring the company’s reputation.

How did he do it? By demonstrating concern and articulating the company’s extensive efforts to find and fix the problem.

First, he began the interview with an apology. It was honest, and it was heartfelt. “First, I have to say I’m sorry for the people that got sick. They’re having a tough time. I feel terrible about that, and we’re doing a lot to rectify this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Second, he took control of the interview by concentrating on one key message and working to make it the focus of each question he answered. “The procedures we’re putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat.”

When questioned about the financial toll the crisis was taking on his company, Ells deftly pivoted back to the key message: “That’s not what we’re thinking about now. We’re thinking about the safety and quality of our ingredients to put in place practices that will not enable this to happen again.”

The day after Ells’ interview, Chipotle’s stock jumped 5 percent.

You can be certain this did not occur by chance. Somewhere out there is a talented team of PR professionals who worked hard to prepare Ells for this interview. Job well done, team. Job well done.

Carolyn Reis, APR, is a veteran public relations consultant nationally trained in crisis communications. Her firm, Orlando-based Reis Corporate Public Relations, focuses on serving the strategic marketing communications needs of business-to-business clients in Florida and national companies with a Florida presence. You can reach her at or on Twitter @carolynreisapr.


The evolution of public relations and brand journalism is the new imperative for marketing


I cringe every time campaign season rolls around. The volume of ads, the pre and post hype that surround each debate. I get knots in my stomach not only because of what was said but inevitably I will hear someone say it’s all hype, spin, distortion and PR. For many on the outside of our industry and for some inside the newsrooms the impression of PR is that it lives in a journalistic underworld, a dark place where ethics and the pursuit of truth are nowhere to be found.

Having spent five years as a television journalist, the majority of my career has been in the PR profession alongside nonprofits, agency and corporate marketing communication teams. I can unequivocally say the PR profession is far from the dark side as it is filled with tremendous light and transparency. Those of us who have elected to be in the PR profession are trusted with an enormous responsibility that calls us to be passionate storytellers of an organizations mission and to tangibly help the brand voice and personality come alive. Our role often involves taking complex subject matters and translating it into meaningful and relatable messages for the media and the public. There is a growing convergence of true integrated collaboration with all the disciplines; communication, marketing, advertising and public relations and it’s exciting times to be in the PR profession

As trust in big corporations continues to fall, the appeal of telling stories that humanize a company has increased. People seek meaning in their lives and are looking for brands that can help fulfill that need. Visionary organizations market something that is much more than compelling that what they have to sell; products or services, features, pricing or benefits. They position a vision for something more meaningful that we can all can get behind. Visionary brands make a switch from selling the product or service to selling something more optimistic that will benefit us all and at the same time drives business success.

Sophisticated consumers have emerged—both young and old and the demand for content is 24/7. To engage audiences, organizations are realizing they need to create a culture of storytelling that curates rich editorial content that can be spread across paid, earned and owned media. Stories need to be timely, relevant and authentic in this new era. In a heartbeat, traditional and social media opens wide the opportunity to knock back any corporate spin, falsehood or lie. It starts with a clear intention of what success really means and a simple question, ‘how is the world a better place if the organization or brand succeeds?’ Is the vision compelling enough that others will get behind the idea or that those inside could stand together with pride and tell the world what they stand for?

Since I started my career in the broadcast news world I’m a bit biased when it comes to the impact of a well done video. It’s been said that facts tell, but stories sell and video seems to be one of the most effective tactics when it comes to storytelling.

It seems the entire digital ecosystem (paid, earned and owned media) is competing to deliver high quality video and the play button seems to be taking center stage as the most compelling call to action. There’s no shortage of evidence that video is the most engaging and is more widely shared as the consistent metric that increases click through rates and digital conversions. Simply put video storytelling is a driver of high engagement.

Storytelling and audience persuasion have always been core strengths of PR, and our role and the work we are doing has grown considerably in scope and the field is fast becoming an all encompassing practice. As technology makes integrated communication seamless and more powerful, the role of the skilled PR counselor will be even more critical to develop content strategies in conjunction with laser sharp execution on tactics that optimize timing, audiences, tools and channels.

It’s a privilege to steward a story and I’m humbled by the opportunities that have evolved over the last 20 years in the PR profession and am even more passionate about what the future holds. The progression of brand journalism is here to stay and is the new marketing imperative. The PR profession is aligned beautifully to bring a holistic view to the table and to lead strategy, development and execution on robust content marketing and asset creation. PR excels in finding the best ways to get those authentic brand stories out to your audiences and turn your story into a lasting narrative.

Laura Archbold is the owner of Encore Public Relations and co-owner at Red Couch Stories in Rochester, MN. You can reach her via Twitter@laarchbold or


The Role of Public Relations in Brand and Reputation Management


I have a story I tell college students when I am trying to illustrate the point of how far technology has come, just over the course of my own career, in helping public relations practitioners do their jobs.

I share with them that when I first started working in public relations in the mid-1990s, I would often stand in front of a fax machine for hours at a time, sending news releases to media outlets around the state.

At this point in the story, their eyes glaze over because most of them have never seen a fax machine.

Then, I tell them how our practices changed when we got email and started communicating with reporters that way. This often generates a raised eyebrow, because they can’t imagine a time when people didn’t have email.

Finally, I talk about social media and how it has changed not only the way that public relations professionals communicate with journalists, but also in the way that online communications opened the doors to enable us to take our messages directly to consumers and constituents. While we continue to work with traditional media outlets, and greatly value those relationships, we also have new vehicles, avenues and devices through which to speak directly to our intended audiences.

At this point in the story, the students often perk up a little bit, because now I am speaking their language.

As a profession, public relations has evolved significantly over the course of my 20-year career – most substantially in just the past five years. While media relations remains an important component of our work, it is but one tool in a very broad toolbox of communications strategies and tactics that we use to develop effective programs and campaigns for the organizations that we represent.

It is important to note that it’s not only the tools themselves that have changed. Indeed, we live in a fast-paced and “always-on” world in which a photo, a video or a story can be seen by thousands of people in a matter of seconds. While that may be a positive step when one is proactively promoting a brand or organization, it also creates challenge and anxiety when an organization is thrown into a negative spotlight.

It is incumbent upon public relations professionals to manage brands, issues and reputations using a wide variety of strategies and tactics. Whether online or offline, brand communicators must constantly monitor conversations and issues, and evaluate all of the ways that their marketing messages could be construed. As the traditional gatekeepers of organizational reputation, public relations practitioners must be deeply involved in the development of brand and message strategy as well as ongoing, day-to-day reputation management both online and off.

One doesn’t have to look far to find very recent examples of brands that have been thrust into the spotlight either through their own actions or the actions of others. With their reputations on the line, the manner in which they responded to these crises, and whether or not the response considered and incorporated all facets of their communications and marketing, will ultimately determine whether or not the brand’s image will recover.

It is not unusual for clients – and even communications professionals themselves – to view public relations as a “traditional” and “offline” discipline. However, public relations must be viewed and practiced as a fully integrated brand and reputation management function. This begins with strategic planning that underpins the brand’s core identity and messaging, followed by continuous brand monitoring and management across multiple marketing disciplines using a variety of online tools.

Companies must anticipate, plan and rehearse every imaginable scenario that could cause damage or undue attention, and they must ensure that multi-disciplinary teams are represented when communications plans and tools are developed. Public relations practitioners are key players at the table when those decisions are made.

Even if they still rely on the good old fax machine.


‘Tis the Season to start your media pitches (if you haven’t already!)


If you’re in the media relations business, you’re probably not waiting until trick-or-treaters finish collecting their sugary sweets to start pitching your holiday stories – at least you shouldn’t! It’s never too early to be thinking about how to position your brand, products, people, and programs for the holiday season. In fact, you need to act fast due to long-lead time for several media outlets.

So, grab some Halloween candy, set aside the turkey recipe and use some of these tips to help you get coverage during the holidays:

  • If you’ve missed the long-lead deadlines of holiday-themed magazines, consider the shorter turnaround times of newspapers, blogs, radio and TV and pitch them your creative holiday stories now.
  • Rather than pitching a self-serving promotional story of your brand or product for holiday gift giving guides, consider contributing information and expertise that brings value to readers, such as consumer tips shared by your company spokesperson or topical trends in an infographic.
  • Tap into the Spirit of the Season – whether your company is conducting a holiday food drive, adopting a family or spreading holiday cheer in other ways, make sure to share your feel-good cause-related marketing stories with your local media.
  • Remember to integrate your message throughout all platforms. Traditional media pitching may find you emailing a reporter, but send a reporter a Tweet, post a picture on Instagram, and ensure your stories can also be found on your own internal communications tools: website, Facebook and more.
  • Finally, remember to be creative, communicate clearly, follow-up and be responsive – most importantly, remember it’s the holidays. Be respectful of vacation days and travel schedule, which may have a significant impact on the timing of your story.

Good luck pitching your next story to the media and Happy Holidays – whether it’s Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve …!


Where do you see the future of PR heading?


Our future is coming together.

As a profession, public relations will redefine itself by casting off the label of “public relations.” Our future is in earning the mantle of strategic counselor and providing leaders with creative solutions to their problems. Clients don’t care what the marketing mix is—and neither should we.

The lines between digital, social media, advertising and public relations are more blurred (and unnecessary) than ever before. Most strategic communication efforts will not require every channel or discipline, but if we fail to consider each one, we run the risk of missed opportunities.

Coming together in this way creates a more desirable market overall. Actually, employment in the PR industry is expected to grow 12 percent by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two heads are better than one.

When we collaborate among each other and across disciplines, ideas improve. My background and experience are firmly rooted in public relations, but I learn through collaboration with my colleagues who are experts in design, copywriting, social media and content management.

So, which discipline owns visual storytelling? Better question: who cares?

Embrace the changes in our dynamic profession, explore less familiar territory and chart your best path to success.


How The Parking Lot Can Enhance a Marketing Program

By Amy Kossoff Smith, President Write Ideas, Inc.

I recently published an article on my firm’s site about how a “Parking Lot” approach to marketing discussions can be an incredible tool for adding calm and focus to a meeting.  We’ve used this tactic with great success at our PRConsultants Group conference. When you get 40+ PR professionals in a room, can you imagine how many ideas and topics are on the table?  The excitement for collaboration is measurable, and the topics to discuss on our agenda far exceed our few days together. We’ve used the Parking Lot there to keep the pace moving along and to log important topics for future discussion.

I’ve found myself gravitating toward this many times with clients in recent months, as a way to not only manage a marketing conversation, but in essence, to build a toolbox of tactics for future campaigns as well.  Basically, it’s a place to log, inventory, and save great ideas for later. It gives everyone comfort, because the idea isn’t dead due to a lack of resources or time. It’s simply “on deck.” Sounds promising, right? I love the parking lot for several reasons, but mostly, it’s a great way to get consensus about priorities in an organized and trackable way. What business doesn’t have a wish list of ideas?

It’s particularly useful when you’re publishing a newsletter.  We like to put together 10 ideas when there are room for 5 for a few reasons.  First, it lets the client choose, which is something we all like to do.  Also, it gives you a library of topics for the next round.  It’s the ultimate win-win.

Creative minds have a rapid-fire stream of ideas, and it’s not until you layer strategy on top of that explosiveness, that PR magic can take flight. A theme that has come up repeatedly in our campaigns is the importance of focus. When you’re busy launching a new concept or campaign, it’s easy to get carried away with ideas that are all over the map. Whether the idea is related to marketing, advertising, PR, social, etc., it’s often hard to let go once that idea is on the table.

For more on this topic, and some related articles on the topic, visit my post.

Author Bio:  Amy Kossoff Smith, Founder/Editor of PRCG Powerlines and Founder/President of Write Ideas, Inc., has 20+ years’ experience in retail PR & promotions.  She also publishes an online parenting magazine, The MomTini Lounge.  Featured on The Today Show and all local TV networks, in addition to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, she also publishes a national wire column.