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Snark Free Day is less than a Month Away! October 21st!


A Gaming Convention Comes to Town

By Stacia Kirby, president of Kirby Communications

When a big convention rolls into town, many of the locals brace themselves for a takeover as their downtown becomes crowded, hotels and restaurants full. Combine that with a lack of understanding as to who is exactly coming to town, and you have a classic case of a PR challenge.

Back in 2003, Gen Con “The Best Four Days in Gaming!” moved its annual convention to Indianapolis from Milwaukee. It is fair to say that the residents of Indianapolis were a bit dubious as to what Gen Con would be like when it took place. Gen Con is not your average convention/trade show. It is the largest annual consumer fantasy, electronic, sci-fi and adventure game convention in North America. Each year over 180,000 gaming enthusiasts converge to share their enthusiasm for all things gaming; whether its tournaments, celebrity appearances, exhibit hall booths, workshops, seminars, anime, art shows, auctions or countless other activities.

At first many of the residents were unsure of all these gamers’ coming to town because at Gen Con attendees don’t just come to see, they come to play. In 2014, we hosted over 14,000 gaming events.

We have worked with the local media to educate them on all aspects of Gen Con, to help them see past reporting it as just a ‘Geek Fest’ to a family friendly, all around worthy event for anyone who likes to game. This effort has helped increase local attendance. Gen Con attracts attendees from all 50 states and 34 countries. The key to working with  the local press is that we’ve allowed the media to experience what the attendees are doing and to see what good business Gen Con brings to Indianapolis.

In 2014, Gen Con brought in over $49 million making it one of the top conventions. We also have increased partnering with local companies to draw them into the mix. This past year a local brewery made a special Gen Con Beer ‘Froth of Kahn’ and local restaurants create special menus. We have brought in local talent to perform and local vendors. The essence of Gen Con is to include everyone and to have fun because that is what gaming is all about. The personality of Gen Con has revealed itself through a concerted effort to be inclusive, to educate the media about the event and allow them to observe for themselves what it means to the attendees and to the city. In 2014, Gen Con hosted its largest show yet!



If you want a good PR person, hire a soccer player

By Margaret Nathan, Partner at Strategic Communication, Inc.

In a recent article in The New York Times, the great David Brooks wrote and article about the difference between baseball and soccer. He posed the question:

Is life more like baseball, or is it more like soccer?

He then went on to quote, “as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, soccer is a game about occupying and controlling space. If you get the ball and your teammates have run the right formations, and structured the space around you, you’ll have three or four options on where to distribute it. If the defenders have structured their formations to control the space, then you will have no options. The man who is touching it does not primarily define even the act of touching the ball; it is defined by the context created by all the other players.”

It got me to thinking about my profession and the best PR people are always the one’s who know the playing field cold, the one’s who know where all the bodies are buried and who can feel the space and timing of a great opportunity or a good story, who knows the best people in the company from which to get information and how not to hide, but to explain.

“As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” A good PR person or public relations firm operation is the same.

I get asked frequently from clients why isn’t my acquisition, my product, my company front-page news. Well now I can explain it. If you have the “product” and your company runs the “right formations to control the space” and your competitors are in awe, you probably have a great story.

Good PR people should be able to help your company run the “right formations,” and structure the right timing and space around the company and then always be able to provide three to four options for the company to run with. While baseball is also a team sport, it is primarily driven by individual achievement. “The team who performs the most individual tasks well will probably win the game,” according to Brooks. But the question is can they win it for the long haul.

“Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning,” said Brooks.

So I would encourage everyone who is hiring a Public Relations firm to ask yourselves are these guys’ soccer players or a baseball team.   If the PR firm or the PR person is not constantly revaluating your business, introducing you to new ideas and people to drive your business then go find someone who will. Go find a soccer player.

Link to the original David Brooks piece


Landing National Media Without Being the Center of Attention

By Solveig Raftery, The Firm Public Relations and Marketing


When it comes to national media, it doesn’t always have to be about you, you, you to make a lasting impression. So long as you are part of a compelling story, the message will stick.

The Firm Public Relations and Marketing’s client, Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada (CCCN), was approached by a mother, Elizabeth, and her five-year-old daughter Abby, who wanted to distribute care packages to chemotherapy and cancer patients at CCCN offices throughout the Las Vegas valley.

This delivery though, was part of a larger initiative by Elizabeth and young Abby, who was inspired by her grandmother who had battled (and won!) breast cancer. Abby decided to help other cancer patients through “Abby’s Purple Bag Project”. The goal was to distribute 1,000 purple bags full of items that would be useful for cancer patients while at their appointments or during chemotherapy treatments (items including water, socks, game books, lip balm, candy, etc.).

But the plan wasn’t for solely Abby to deliver the 1,000 bags. To help spread the word the family created a Facebook page – “Abby’s Purple Bag Project” – and through the course of a few months the page had racked up 600 followers. Each time they received a message or post on Facebook that a purple bag delivery was made in a specific state, Abby would color that state on a large map of the U.S.

Earlier this year, CCCN mentioned Abby and her story to the team at The Firm, noting that Abby was planning another purple bag delivery to a CCCN clinic. Following the meeting, Jasen Woehrle, The Firm’s Senior Vice President said that his internal “this would be great national media” alarm went off. This story was prime for a national audience – a feel good story with nothing but a positive message.

National media is something that many want, but is sometimes difficult to garner – unless you are or represent a celebrity or well-known entity, brand or product. Editors and producers at national media outlets get hit with thousands of pitches daily. To rise above the clutter you have to have something that would be appealing to that media outlet’s audience.

The Firm pitched a producer at the Today Show that we had communicated with in the past (without much success, but we still communicated with her!). Our email subject line was simple: “Five year old girl brings joy and comfort to cancer patients”

Within 10 minutes we had a response that the pitch had been forwarded on to senior producers. Great! But we receive similar responses regularly from local producers usually meaning, “we’ll call you if we want you.”

Within the next 20 minutes we were contacted by another producer who wanted more information and to discuss the pitch on the phone. Within the next two weeks, the story was confirmed and the producer/camera was coming to Las Vegas to interview Abby, Elizabeth, a CCCN oncologist and patients visiting CCCN who were the beneficiaries of Abby’s sweet gifts and warm heart. Our client knew the focus of the story would not be about them, but about this little girl in our own neighborhood giving to people in our community.

A few weeks following the taping, the segment aired nationally on the Today Show as part of its “Hope To It” series – inspiring thousands across the country to help Abby reach her goal, but also to consider doing their own giving – whether a version of the purple bag initiative, or helping out their own community.

Following the airing of the segment, “Abby’s Purple Bag Project” Facebook page skyrocketed in “likes” and now stands at more than 5,100. She also quickly reached her goal and each state of her U.S. map was colored in purple.

But the giving continued.

According to the Facebook page, more than 2,400 purple bags have been delivered – some by Abby’s own hands, but more so by the majority of viewers throughout the country touched by seeing Abby’s story while drinking their morning coffee.


Choose the “Right” Charitable Nonprofit

By Tom Garrity, President of  The Garrity Group

Previously, we’ve discussed what nonprofits can do to increase their relevance before their target audiences. Today, we’ll tackle some thoughts on things that corporate leaders should consider when identifying ways to contribute time and resources for a nonprofit or community issue:

  • Look at existing resources – How much time and personnel do you “really” have to set aside? Answer that question before you start creating your target list.
  • What do you really want to accomplish? – If you are reading this, then chances are you want to make meaningful change. It is always good to “test” your intent so you aren’t just checking a box.
  • Consider your current voice – Does your organization’s mission/vision/value align with the charity you’ve identified? For example, if your organization wants to impact the local community, consider a charity that keeps its money and service locally.
  • What is the intended and unintended “ROI” of your involvement – Yup, that’s right, “Return on Investment.” I am not talking about the hard return, like cash or media attention (choose another outlet if that is what you want to accomplish). Do you want your employees to learn more about the community? Support a client or community that has helped you to be successful?
  • Assess your target audience – How is your target audience involved or what do they like? Answering this question will increase the “halo” effect among key demographic groups.
  • Do the right thing – Be genuine and humble in your service.

What does The Garrity Group do? We keep it simple. The company volunteers its time and expertise to cook meals for a local family shelter and to produce their annual report. Each of the company’s employees are also encouraged to be involved in a nonprofit of their choosing.

My personal project is called “One Medal.” It is an affinity running program to encourage endurance athletes to run for someone who has experienced a life changing event (illness, natural disaster, accident, etc.). The participants are encouraged to provide their race medal as an encouragement and to share their story on a website.

So you see, getting your organization involved and engaged in meaningful charitable work doesn’t take a lot of effort. All it takes is some thoughtful consideration of how you want to change the world by starting in your community.

Author BioTom Garrity is the president of The Garrity Group, a public relations firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is a member of several community nonprofit boards of directors. In May, 2014, Tom completed his fourth marathon for a friend persevering through an illness.


Learnable Lessons for NYT Leaked Digital Report

By of Hastings & Pleadwell

An internal New York Times report on its digital prowess is an unzipped view of the struggles traditional media faces in the new age.

The report is lengthy, but the NiemanLab has issued a (long) summary that is worth the time of all public relations and outreach professionals, and arguably for any kind of company.

The NYT is repeatedly beat on its own stories in the digital world.  It had the early break on Michael Sams, yet when the story went viral, it wasn’t emanating from the Times.

I’m not going to summarize the summary, as each of us will take away different messages.  One that caught me was how much a savvy communication agency could provide great content for the digital pubs.  If the NYT isn’t able to replicate its own excellent products (see Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek), our industry should be able to offer news outlets in smaller markets (and larger) some of the pieces.

Another take-away: tagging.  Not only does tagging advance the legs of your message, but they serve an incredibly efficient function for research and creating dynamic libraries.

At Hastings & Pleadwell, our millennial staffers often treat me a little like a dinosaur; I don’t know how to do all the tech stuff they do, but I am certainly not too old to recognize the value of it.  Newsrooms in venerable organizations like the Times need to open to better innovation.


Why “Duh” Research Helps Public Relations


To quote Nuke Laloosh, the dim and trim rookie baseball pitcher played by Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, “winning is like, you know, better than losing.”  Well duh.

The same reaction applies to “duh” research – those kind of studies that confirm the obvious like rain makes things wet.  While such a grasp of reality is hardly remarkable, the human behavior behind the methodology is pretty revealing.  Apparently we need to be repeatedly hit on the head with umpteen trials, multiple studies and lab experiments to even begin to think about influencing or changing our behavior, much less someone else’s.

When sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler repeatedly concluded after three decades of studies that too little sleep causes doctors to make mistakes, no radical changes were even considered until 2008.  Only then did the Institute of Medicine issue guidelines calling for limiting interns’ and residents’ shifts. Same thing with the dangers of smoking. Multiple studies over many years, combined with a change of regulations, legal cases and public education, now quantifiable show that today’s rate of smoking in less than half of what it was in 1965 – that’s how long it took for “duh” research to serve a meaningful purpose.

The point? It takes a lot, and I mean A LOT of factors, to affect change or influence human behavior, which is after all, the ultimate goal of any professional public relations practitioner. Whether the goal is to increase retail traffic, sell more widgets, gain more customers or expand operations, the bottom line question remains: Do you have the necessary research and due diligence behind the goal – which has to involve human behavior – to develop an effective public relations strategy that contributes to reaching that goal?  ”Duh” research proves that people must be hit on the head over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over to have the slightest chance of prompting change of habit or mindset. Such research also validates the reality that public relations takes time. It’s not about a one-time media story or an uptick in social media followers; it’s about a well-thought-out public relations strategy that begins with research.

Well duh.