Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keeping public relations in the mix

Graphic of mobile phone in a woman's hand.

The prevalence of social media and online marketing has overshadowed the traditional practice of public relations. Today, we often use "public relations" interchangeably with "crisis communications," and while that is a very important component, there is more to PR than addressing questions that you never imagined in your worst professional nightmares.

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as "a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics," which is a fancy way of saying "formal communication between your brand and various audiences." While print and television media are the first publics to come to mind, there are also consumers, professional groups, and community organizations included under that umbrella.

The relationship you build between your brand and your audiences positions you as an expert and a resource. Like any relationship, the public relations one is a marathon, and not a sprint. While "spin" will probably always exist to some extent, by communicating openly and honestly through public relations, you will build trust more effectively than sharing a meme on Facebook.

Some key points of public relations:
  • Message: Your message is a very important part of your brand's public relations. It's very much like a mission, and may very well be interchangeable in many cases. Your public relations message is like an office policy on steroids - it sets boundaries and expectations and provides a focal point. It can be easy, especially once you've developed relationships with media representatives, to drift off-message. By staying focused on it, you convey your message and avoid getting dragged into the fray of any controversy.
  • Media/Audience Relations: Online marketing is advertising, and social media is a conversation (albeit a largely reactive one - you post something and respond to any questions or comments), but media relations requires the ability to think on your feet. Questions in an interview, at a Q & A for a speaking engagement, or as follow-up to a news release have an immediacy to them that other channels don't - you have to answer the question when it's asked without Google or clearing your response with a supervisor. This is when staying on message and believing in your brand come in especially handy. You should be able to answer anything an interviewer throws at you honestly and easily by sticking with your message. If your brand itself or your industry is embroiled in some level of controversy, public relations can again prepare you with a...
  • Communications (aka Crisis) Strategy: Part of your public relations plan should be planning for the worst. If a brand is closely associated with a spokesperson or another organization, the brand manager(s) should have a plan in place should a scandal erupt. A good communications strategy and plan of action will help minimize any collateral damage to your brand, so you must try to imagine the worst and have a plan in place at all times. In other words, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Recently, Subway quickly and efficiently terminated its relationship with a spokesperson and really wasn't tainted by the media storm surrounding said spokesperson. The chances that the powers that be at Subway came up with that plan after they turned on the morning news is slim - you can bet that they had their "just-in-case" plan ready for years.
Square graphic with a teal background with a white crown and "Keep Calm, You Are In Public Relations."
Good advice.

Must-Have, Non-Negotiable Skills:
  • Writing: News releases and statements are the most common public relations writings, but you may also be called upon to write position pieces. If you're not a writer, hire someone for the task. These communications are both more formal and more substantial than social media posts, and you must be able to present your material in a manner reflecting that.
  • Public Speaking: If you're a PR manager, you're going to have to speak in public or on camera at some point. It's important for the audience to see you as confident, so if you're uncomfortable with this aspect, get involved with a group such as Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie. When you are in front of a group, as far as they're concerned you are the brand, so this is ultimately an investment in the brand itself. Speaking in public isn't easy, and not everyone can do it, even with training, so keep the option of hiring a spokesperson open.
  • Creativity and Good Judgement: What could be seen as a PR stunt in some hands could be completely brilliant when executed properly. Be open to new ideas and inspiration, but make sure they don't betray the brand you've spent such time and energy building.
  • Grace Under Pressure: Public relations can be frustrating at times and you're human, so there will be times that your nerves are frayed and you will want nothing more than to cut loose on someone. As long as you never, ever act on that urge you'll be fine. If someone goading you sets off your temper (in person, over the phone, on social media or in email), it may be best to look into hiring a spokesperson or PR manager, as losing your cool just once could damage your brand. Remember, the Internet never forgets anything, and a momentary lapse could haunt you for a very long time.

Meme of John Travolta kissing Scarlett Johanssen.
The Internet never forgets.
Just ask John Travolta.
Public relations is a big job. If you want to put a plan in place, or let an agency handle the duties, contact Brockett Creative Group by calling 315-797-5088 or emailing us here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Password Is: Ch@nge_1t!

Passwords can be a real pain…if you’re doing them right. The easy ones that are effortless to key in are the ones that leave you – and your information – most vulnerable.

Hackers get into accounts for many reasons: identity or information theft, financial gain, to learn confidential information, or just because they can. Your password can make this a cakewalk for hackers, or it can make it more trouble for them than it’s worth. There’s even an online calculator that figures out how long it would take a hacker to break your password (because of course there is). My go-to password could be hacked in 1 month, 25 days max.

Photo of Steve Carell as Brick in Anchorman with the text, "I changed my password to "incorrect". So whenever I forget what it is the computer will say "Your password is incorrect."
Not funny, Brick.
Okay, maybe it's a little funny.

We at Brockett Creative Group advise the following to keep your passwords secure:
  • Choose a website host that is equipped to withstand hacker attacks. BCG's subsidiary tSpark was the victim of a hacker assault earlier this year, but was able to handily withstand it, leaving our clients unaffected. 
  • Change passwords if a personal or professional relationship ends. Maybe the individual who was terminated didn't get passwords, but maybe he or she did. You don't want to find out that they did by suddenly finding your personal or work life in complete chaos.
  • Mix it up: don't simply change the number at the end of your existing password from a "1" to a "2." Think of something you'll remember, and play with it by removing letters so it's not a complete word, using numbers or symbols in place of certain letters, adding random capital letters, or playing with syntax (high five, anagram fans, for this is your time to shine).
  • The longer the password, the better. It will take longer for the hackers' programs to break your password, making it likelier that they'll move on to another victim. It takes more time to key in, but it's worth the extra seconds.
  • Use different a different password for each of your online accounts. This is my least favorite because a) I can't argue with it even though I want to, since it makes complete sense, and b) because thinking up new passwords for every login costs me valuable Netflix time. Unfortunately, like filing taxes, you could face consequences if you don't do it. There is a silver lining, as you can use a password manager to store all of the strong, unique passwords that you've abandoned Netflix to craft. You will only need to remember the master password, and the manager will provide the individual password to its matching website login. BOOM - your binge watching plans are back on!
  • If you have access to highly sensitive information - such as others' social security numbers or bank account information - you may be required to change your password often. Some IT departments have automatic and mandatory password resets quarterly. While this used to be the standard in password security, the current thinking is that it isn't effective, as hackers will not lurk and observe for weeks or months before they strike. It's also not that easy to come up with several strong, unique passwords multiple times in a year, so as time passes your passwords get weaker and easier to crack. This method would be most effective in a case where the person (probably known to you) who got ahold of your password is snooping and surreptitiously viewing your personal information and communications.
  • Change passwords as soon as you become aware of a potential compromise. Security compromises happen in many ways: a breach at a financial institution (remember the Target debacle?), an encryption flaw such as 2014's Heartbleed, or an email or phishing scam. Even if initial reports are that there may have been a breach, don't take any chances - change your passwords. If it turns out that there was no breach, no harm was done and if there was, you've gotten a little ahead of the game.
If you'd like to learn more about tSpark hosting and its security measures, email us, or call the office at 315-797-5088.

A photo of a boxer dog laying on a couch, with the caption, "Someone figured out my password, now I have to rename my dog."
Not funny, doggie.
Okay, maybe it's a little funny.