Thursday, October 27, 2011

Twitter: Your Customer Service Renaissance

Outstanding customer service recruits and retains business.  There’s nothing like walking into a convenience store and an associate greeting you by name; your regular purchases already at the counter waiting for you.  In the interpersonal disconnect that exists in the world of emails and text messages, a sterling level of customer service may be difficult to come by as opposed to years past.  Thankfully, the realm of social media – specifically the Twittersphere – has allowed for one-on-one interaction, creating a channel where companies can reach their clients and customers instantly and efficiently, ushering in a new era of corporate-consumer relations.

In her new book, Thumbonomics, PR/PR client Heather Lutze describes the evolution of Comcast Cable’s customer service, which was perennially viewed as one of the worst in the business before it implemented a social media component.  ‘Comcast Bill,’ as he is colloquially known, maintains Comcast’s Twitter account: @comcastcares, and interacts with customers and addresses cable problems in real-time.  Utilizing a social media vehicle for client relations has allowed users to put a face to a name, and ensure customers that their issues are being handled by a real person, not some autonomous robot on a phone system.  Comcast, previously a customer service pariah, has now garnered over 50,000 followers on Twitter, all eager to join in on the conversation.

Blogger and social media extraordinaire, former PR/PR client Peter Shankman was the recipient of one of the best examples of sparkling customer service derived from Twitter, as he jokingly tweeted at Morton’s Steakhouse that he would like a porterhouse waiting for him upon arrival at the Newark airport.  Much to his surprise, a server from Morton’s was waiting for him at the arrivals gate, porterhouse in hand.  The move provided a boost of publicity for the steak restaurant, as Peter dedicated an entire blog post to their inventive use of social media to make someone’s day.  Experiences like Peter’s build life-long customers, and the opportunities for these experiences have increased exponentially since companies jumped online. 

Twitter is a powerful tool when used correctly, and can be a sinister one when used against you.  Separate yourself from your contemporaries by engaging in person-to-person conversations; assist your clients in rectifying their problems and answering their questions.  The Halcyon days of superior customer service have not gone the way of the buffalo; they are alive and well with one click of a button. 

-Carter Breazeale

PR/PR Public Relations

Friday, October 21, 2011

Find Your Audience and Stick to It

As a self-proclaimed product of the ‘MTV-generation’ I vividly remember Everclear’s album So Much for the Afterglow dominating the airwaves in the mid-nineties.  The band’s infectious take on radio-friendly alternative rock music was inescapable; you simply heard it everywhere.  The smash lead-single Everything to Everyone propelled the group to superstardom, and provided a musical commentary on people-pleasing and spreading yourself too thin.  With the song’s nostalgic melody echoing in my memory this morning, I realized how appropriate and applicable the lyrical content is to the world of public relations.

It’s basic human nature to strive for acceptance and widespread approval.  From childhood achievements placed on refrigerators to a boss’ handshake after securing a high-profile client, the desire for recognition is ingrained in every one of us.  It’s one of the motivating factors that acts as a propellant to success, but acting overzealously can cause a loss of focus and prove to be an obstacle professionally.

With PR/PR’s extremely diverse client base there are many precise markets that are targeted. Izzy Kalman, for example, is making immense inroads in the management and prevention of bullying, and Jen Fitzpatrick, an author and expert in the field of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Each of these clients has enjoyed tremendous success by aligning their brand and message with their specific audience and avoiding extraneous niches which would not provide tangible results.

While widespread exposure is always the name of the game, the key is to hone in on the market that will be most beneficial to you and your business.  There will always be detractors from what you do; those who do not appreciate your take on a particular topic or stance on an issue.  Adjusting your brand in a feeble attempt to recruit those from the ‘other side of the fence’ is a foolhardy venture, and will surely muddle your message and set you back (not to mention act as an albatross on your resources.)  Some people simply cannot be swayed, regardless of content, intent, or integrity.  Accept this fact, move forward, and shake hands with the correct crowd.

It’s often astounding how the subconscious mind works, and how simply humming a 90’s tune became an issue of relevance in the field of PR, and the subject of this week’s blog post.  It’s often difficult to ‘censor’ yourself, so to speak, but you should fortify your efforts around feasible opportunities, not simply grasp at the wind in hopes of a lead or break.  With pinpointed PR and name-branding that highlights your message and business, you will be heard and recognized by the right people. 

-Carter Breazeale

PR/PR Public Relations

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#Occupy Orlando: My Take

There were clear skies, a gentle breeze, and thankfully, a lack of humidity as I left my apartment on Saturday morning.  Throughout the United States and elsewhere across the globe, however, the political barometer was approaching critical mass.  With coordinated efforts in various cities over the weekend, the Occupy Movement gained momentum, and protesters led their first march into our hometown of Orlando, Florida.

I made the short trek from my downtown apartment to City Hall, equipped with copies of PR/PR client John Strelecky’s book, The Why CafĂ©, to distribute to the masses; a quick read that echoes the idealism and forward-thinking sentiments at the heart of the Occupy Movement.  There were varying estimates as to the number who would be attending the Orlando protest, and all conservative approximations were proved inaccurate when I turned on Magnolia Avenue and observed the immense congregation.  A deluge of decorated signs with proclamations of dissent against government and big-business, masses toting megaphones giving impromptu speeches, and even a guy dressed as Robocop meandering through the crowd.  The scene was overwhelming: in a good way. 

The common theme purported amongst the media is the disheveled and disorganized nature of #Occupy; the scourges of society ‘uniting’ underneath the black flag of anarchistic ideals with no focus or plan for moving forward.  They were merely occupiers, and in the worst sense of the word.
What I observed were individuals from all walks of life joining to voice their opinions on perceived corruption and misappropriation of tax dollars and misuse of political power.  Elderly marched arm in arm with America’s youth to finally stand up to the corporate machine and say, ‘enough is enough.’ 

Regardless of your political stripes, the Occupy Movement is a refreshing departure from the culture of somnambulist acceptance that has dominated our nation.  This country was founded by a likeminded few who realized their best interests were not being satisfied; that they were playing second fiddle to a monarchy an ocean away.  The roots of rebellion snake their way beneath our land; from coast to coast, from border to border, and these protests are another extension of our nation’s rich history.

With all of my literature distributed and my backpack empty, I walked home with a newfound appreciation for the possibilities afforded to us in America.  I had seen the newscasts and heard each side of the argument, but I had witnessed something special first-hand: the rebranding of ‘The American Dream.’  Not the folksy passages about amber waves of grain and shining seas; but empowered citizens holding lawmakers accountable.  Reminding them they are beholden to the peoples’ interests, not special interests, and the tradition of tolerance to greed will be tolerated no longer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

#Occupy Wall Street: A Case Study in Grassroots PR

The brushstrokes of revolution are interwoven throughout the mosaic of our country’s history.  From the dumping of tea crates into the Boston Harbor to Abbie Hoffman’s rousing rhetoric on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, social activism has embodied the American spirit and molded the American story; the wellspring of which evolved at a grassroots level.  The Occupy Wall Street protests have captivated the nation, and fostered a movement focused on rejecting the status-quo and demanding true revolutionary change.  Beneath the signage, soapboxes and megaphones, there is an undercurrent of public relations strategy flowing through this mission to achieve a more perfect union.

The architecture of having your message heard is an evolving one, to say the least.  Relentless focus and effort is required to promote -and most importantly- sustain your thoughts and ideas.  As was the case with the Occupy Wall Street protests, Twitter hash tags and Internet organization were instrumental in rallying the troops, but unyielding dedication spurned its growth and notoriety nationally.  On September 17th, the first day of protests, scant attention was paid to the events in Zuccotti Park by the media or public.  On October 5th, Keith Olbermann read the participants’ mission statement on his evening news program.  The publicity process is an organic groundswell that begins from the bottom up, and does not occur overnight.

The desired result is a snowball-effect, gradually gaining momentum as your brand and name grace the pages of daily newspapers and magazines throughout the country.  Occupy Wall Street was born of a simple email blast in mid-2011.  By October the world was watching the fruits of their efforts unfold on the national level. 

“I’m incredibly humbled by the college students, the young people, who have built a movement from an interpersonal and social media foundation and forced the nation to pay attention,” says Sandy Dumont, author and The Image Architect, who attended an Occupy protest in Norfolk, Virginia.  “I immediately thought of the ‘American Autumn’ and how I wanted to be a part of something special.”  Sandy was informed of the happenings on television; weeks after the original seeds were sewn and the operation was still in its infancy. 

Regardless of which side of the political fence you find yourself, whether you agree or disagree with the movement that is now sweeping through many major cities in our country, you cannot deny that the nation’s collective ears have perked up, and steadfast commitment to the cause is the reason.  Organization on the ground floor, cross-posting of articles on various social media clients rendering them viral, articles placed in news publications that were initially resistant: it’s paying dividends.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is a statement of solidarity, an uprising against perceived injustice, and a cleverly run PR campaign at its core; devote yourself wholeheartedly to your own personal crusade, and people will begin to listen.

-Carter Breazeale

PR/PR Public Relations

Friday, October 7, 2011

PR Landmines: Can They Blow Up In Your Face?

Millions and millions of dollars are funneled into accounts funding presidential campaigns.  Literally an incomprehensible amount of dough; I’m talking “Scrooge McDuck diving into a swimming pool full of gold” level of cash.  In spite of this monolithic monetary investment, seemingly every four years a fringe element or associate of a candidate comes to light and threatens to derail the entire operation.  This week we learned of Rick Perry and his errant (and frankly, abhorrent) judgment regarding namesakes of his personal property;  in 2008 the upheaval surrounding Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers jeopardized Barack Obama’s historic campaign.  When investing multiple lifesavings in such a massive undertaking as public office, why wouldn’t you properly vet your constituents?  The same principles apply in publicity, and they can make or break your career.

The old adage, ‘guilty by association’ is the most succinct and accurate way to convey this point.  The people around you can sink you just as quickly as they can lift you up, and the media’s magnifying glass intended to promote you can easily turn you into a mere sidewalk ant on a sweltering summer day.  Before you embark on a public relations campaign and place your name (and finances) under the microscope for the masses to scrutinize, ensure you have your proverbial ducks in a row, including those you align yourself with.

In our instant-update, smartphone-dominated society, one casual misstep or verbal gaffe can send a burgeoning career into a tailspin within minutes.  The funds allotted to promote your image become your financial lifeboat designed to defend it.  Suffice to say, it’s not an enviable position to find yourself in. 

When Howard Dean went on his infamous vocal rant in 2004 describing his Sherman-esque scorched-earth march to the White House, he only had to stare into the mirror to view the arbiter of his political unraveling.  After adorning a Kevlar helmet and resembling a mystified child playing tank gunner in 1988, Michael Dukakis’ first step should’ve been to eliminate every handler who felt this harebrained photo-op was a good idea.  Although juxtaposing instances, they share a common thread: ultimately, at the end of the day: you possess the final word in the decision making process, and if faulty, you will be the one who takes the loss.

To avoid potential public relations landmines, meticulously evaluate every nuance of your campaign - from the semantics of a prepared statement to rogue former alliances - which may contribute to your downfall.  Communicate the importance of brand and name stability to your inner circle, and keep a tight lead on any extraneous variables that may denigrate your marketability: your career and bank account depend on it.

 Carter Breazeale

 PR/PR Public Relations