Public Relations Tips Archive

Praecere President Babak Zafarnia Interviewed on CNN’s Situation Room

April 14th, 2011

Watch Babak Zafarnia‘s interview on CNN’s Situation Room, where he discusses crisis public relations per GE’s getting hit by a fake press release.

The Power of Handwritten Notes

April 12th, 2011

So your business is doing well with PR techniques.  Your PR director, in no particular order, has:

• Followed tweets carefully and responded to inquiries.

• Cultivated and engaged Facebook users to raise brand awareness.

• Built good, trusted relationships with key reporters and bloggers covering your industry.

• Found publicity opportunities outside your industry, broadening your business profile.

• Created a witty newsletter format, distributed on a regular schedule to keep your core business base updated on latest news.

• Used other cool online tactics to keep precious positive buzz going.

Now ask yourself, what do these actions have in common?  They all involve digital communications, either via tweets, status updates, emails, phone calls (digital these days), and apps.  Definitely the right way to go, but here’s a revolutionary idea missing from the mix:

The handwritten note.

Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to go analog in PR, and actually take pen to paper to achieve your goals.  As nice as it is for a client or customer to receive informative and interesting electronic updates, the time your business spends in writing a personal note will also go a long way in generating positive PR.  Word-of-mouth is still an essential tactic in the PR playbook, regardless of what new digital platform happens to be the next bit thing.

Don’t believe us?  Ask yourself this: if you ever received a handwritten “thank you for your business, Jill/John,” you probably remembered it for a long time afterward, and remarked positively about it to friends and relatives.  Publicists toil hard for that kind of client and customer support, so never doubt the power of handwritten notes in your grand digital/global/influencer/stakeholder/let’s-conquer-the-world PR strategy.

Guest Blogging Today at

April 5th, 2011

Babak Zafarnia is featured as a guest blogger today at

The article discusses branding for start-ups, and why it’s every bit as important as securing that first loan.  Very honored to be invited by Lendio to blog, and hope you enjoy the article!

Five Types of PR Agencies to Avoid

March 3rd, 2011

The Blog Aesthetic will always stand up for public relations and the communications profession.  Everyone has the right to be heard, and every day great PR professionals make that happen with eloquence and honesty.  That’s why we won’t hesitate to call out those who savage our industry irrationally just to make themselves feel better.

Fairness also requires us to criticize unscrupulous PR practitioners.  Just like any complex industry, ours produces its share of bad actors who should be avoided at all costs.  If you’re looking to hire a great PR firm, run far away from these jokers:

“You, my client, are ALWAYS right, and I ALWAYS agree with everything you say.” This is the absolute worst thing a PR pro can ever tell a client, period.  The most derelict publicists are the ones who refuse to speak their minds and apply their actual experience to client needs.  More often than not, the PR relationship is about managing expectations (as discussed in the next bullet), and just like any other professional service, those expectations can at times be unrealistic.  As the client, if your PR agency never questions your objectives or subjects them to rigorous examination, then you’re getting suckered out of your PR budget.

“Of course I can get your op-ed in the New York Times.” We can’t all get ice cream for every meal.  As exciting as your viewpoint might be to you, it’s a tall order to get your op-ed in the Times.  Sometimes not even this guy makes the cut.  So beware the publicist who guarantees 100% they’ll score you that fancy media placement.  No decent PR pro would ever make such a foolish promise.

“Our logistical paradigm is to incentivize positive optics for your verticals.” At some ugly point in the history of PR, a bunch of fools started spitting ridiculous, nonsensical mumbo jumbo to inflate their egos and intimidate clients.  If you ever hear a PR business pitch that includes words you wouldn’t speak in casual conversation, tell the agency thanks-but-no-thanks.  Steer clear from these jerks, they literally don’t speak your language.

“We no te powr oaf grate PEE r.” Amazing that in the era of spell check and search engine auto-complete, some PR firms still blast press releases with typos and narrative nightmares.  Even worse are PR firms whose counsel and creative materials are littered with errors.  If the agency can’t take care to ensure quality presentation on their own behalf, how do you think they treat clients?

“Good news – I told that reporter to go #^&* himself.” PR pros are supposed to respond artfully to media inquiries, and never lose their temper – doing so bites the very hand that may offer the client positive publicity.  Just as bad is arguing about a reporter’s legitimate characterizations of a news story.  If the PR firm insists on becoming the story, stop paying them.

Taco No-No: Taco Bell’s Crash & Burn Litigation PR Strategy

January 25th, 2011

Many of us continue to crack jokes about mystery meat from childhood memories.  Others keep the dream alive as adults, and sue alleged offenders – to them goes the glory!

If you haven’t heard yet, Taco Bell Corp. has been sued for false advertising, with claims that its products are not “seasoned beef” as advertised.  The point of contention is that Taco Bell uses “meat filling” to flesh out its tasty delights, which does not consist of approved USDA standards for food labeling.

Litigation PR counsels that a business have a holding statement in place should lawsuits arise in likely scenarios.  We can’t really say whether Taco Bell saw this one coming though, as they issued quite an angry statement in response to the lawsuit.  Here are some quick reasons why Taco Bell needs better litigation public relations counsel:

Man, that statement is evasive! Taco Bell’s rant essentially states that it does serve 100% USDA beef.  That’s fine and all, except that the statement does nothing to address the core of the complaint.  Take a look at the filings, which argue that Taco Bell products contain additional filler ingredients besides beef.

Never let them see you sweat.  A holding statement is not the time or place to attack opposing counsel.  Stick to the issue at hand, and use the statement to buy time for your PR pushback.

Speak, and speak consistently.  If your company issues a holding statement, get it across all your platforms at the same time.  Taco Bell’s Facebook and Twitter pages ignore the situation completely, leaving a big gap in communications.

Given these mistakes, Taco Bell needs to revise its crisis management and litigation PR strategy quickly, if it plans to avoid a big corporate black-eye as lawsuit discovery charts its inevitable course.

Yes, Virginia, Polls Do Matter!

January 25th, 2011

President Obama is rebounding post-November shellacking.  He has 53 percent job approval rating, and 40 percent of Americans see him as a moderate.  Still, the number that likely makes Obama cringe is unemployment, which remains stubbornly high at 9.4%.  So it should be no surprise that 4 in 10 Americans say jobs should be the top concern for the new Congress.  Thus, the first policy issue that Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans bring to the new session of Congress is … repealing health care?

The Republicans certainly know Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate will not go along with this symbolic repeal.  So what is Boehner’s goal PR goal?  And equally important, what messages are the Republicans sending strategically and tactically?

Regardless of one’s opinion on this issue, one thing that is painfully clear: the conversation has come and gone.  Only 18 percent of Americans believe health care reform should be repealed.  And, repeating the mantra that health care reform “kills” jobs doesn’t mean that the new legislation actually does.

Whether it’s politics or a product, PR messaging must account for market forces and public attitudes.  Health care probably isn’t the best way for Republicans to continue leveraging voter discontent to their favor, and in this instance the issue likely won’t advance their cause(s) politically.

We’ll explore this theme of misguided PR tactics further in our next post, which will criticize the White House’s new PR attack on “dumb” laws and regulations.

Grade: C+.  Points go for aggressive tactics, but the substance should focus more on what polls show as top policy and PR priorities.

We’re Crossing Our Fingers, Lance…

January 20th, 2011

Lance Armstrong‘s beating cancer to become a cycling great is the stuff of legend, there certainly is no quarrel with that.  Still, the ongoing whispers and allegations about doping continue to take their toll, and have suddenly become that much more real.

As crisis PR experts, all we have to say at this point is that it’s wise for the LIVESTRONG to run a crisis management playbook.  That means preparing holding statements, talking points, prepping leadership on media Q&A, and media training for the cameras and mics.  LIVESTRONG can’t say that Lance Armstrong isn’t part of the organization, and hence that his private concerns do not matter to the organization — both the man and the organization are brands, and they are one and the same in the public eye.

If the authorities do pursue the criminal investigation into Armstrong, it’s best for LIVESTRONG to not get caught flat-footed when the US Attorney’s shoe drops.  Good luck, Lance

Tumbling, Stumbling, Bumbling PR

December 6th, 2010

Alas, poor Tumblr… Let’s get right to the point: If your company’s entire presence is online, i.e., your website is the heart and nervous system of your business, then at some point your business will disappear — at least temporarily.  Your site will have an outage or downtime.  It’s a matter of when, not if.  This has happened to Facebook, foursquare, Gmail, Amazon… the list is lengthy.  There’s even a site dedicated to tracking outages!

Consumers and site users, though they get frustrated, will understand if your site has a simple, regular-speak statement that explains the problem.  Sites like Twitter (assuming it’s not down as well!) allow you to update your core base and interested media tracking the outage.  So, as the C-suite of your online titan, you really have no excuse to skip crisis PR basics on the situation.

As of this time, Tumblr has been down for 15 hours.  Here’s what they have to say about it:

Anyone know what a “database cluster” is, assuming you’re not an IT guru?  We certainly don’t, and a good bet is that the massive universe of Tumblr stakeholders also have no clue.  Their Twitter account isn’t much help either, other than to tell you how “painful” the downtime is.

Tumblr, dearest Tumblr… how about telling us what a database cluster is?  Even in playful or tongue-in-cheek language, it would go a long way.  Maybe a quick explanation that also discusses how long such problems last, and how they’re resolved?  And when the outage ends, how about some good crisis management that explains what steps you’ll take in the future to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again?

Without taking these steps, each second of Tumblr‘s outage only encourages competitors to poach the user base.

Broken Escalators Show that DC Metro PR Has Run out of Steps

November 8th, 2010

We’ve commented before on the anemic media and PR strategy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a.k.a. WMATA or Metro, and how awfully tone deaf the agency is to public outcry.  That same press apathy is on full display again as Metro wrestles with two very embarrassing matters: yet another episode of total subway system overload, and ongoing subway escalator failures.

A disclaimer: as a DC PR firm, we ride Metro almost every day, so the Blog Aesthetic is definitely fired up on this issue!  To be fair to WMATA and Metro, the recent Comedy Central rally that set record subway ridership was not totally Metro’s fault.  Metro relies on large rally planners to provide anticipated crowd estimates, and the planners grossly underestimated attendance.  But what about the escalator failures, this time so bad that the machines actually sped up when people were on them?

Now, the good news is that Metro Deputy Chief of Rail Safety Robert Maniuszko at least speaks to the press regarding the recent escalator problems.  This is a vast improvement over Metro’s past insistence on not speaking to reporters.  But if you had to look past sporadic press quotes for what’s the latest with Metro, you’d be hard pressed to learn anything.

First, the WMATA site is, to put it kindly, a mess.  Here’s a screenshot of recent press releases, see how long it takes you to find the one about escalator repair status:

Further compounding this erratic messaging is the fact commuters really have nowhere else to get more information.  This is the only WMATA Facebook page we could find… and it’s got nothing.  Also, there are two different Twitter feeds, making people solve a riddle for which one is the actual authority for the most reliable WMATA information.

When an organization’s PR strategy is as disjointed and poorly prioritized as this, the best bet is to start from scratch – new messaging, new tactics, and new attitude.  If Metro doesn’t clean house soon, broken escalators will be the least of its PR problems.

5 Tips to Keep Your Public Affairs Issues Up-Front

November 1st, 2010

The last days before the mid-term Election Day have given us a media flood on terrorist attacks, gripes about government spending, the rise of third parties, massive rallies, not so massive rallies, poor job growth … enough to make your head feel spun like a bad political attack ad.

No matter how the election goes, you can bet the greater media narrative until swearing-in day will be either (1) “wow, the Republicans won many seats!” or (2) “wow, the Democrats held off an electoral tidal wave!”  Never doubt the seductive lure of binary decisions.

That said, for those in charge of their organization’s public affairs department, the concern is how to keep your issues and policy positions relevant when the media would rather breathlessly report on such cerebral matters as one-night stands and bad political manners.  Here are five simple tips to enhance your public affairs presence:

Every issue has its time and place.  Even the most important issues (remember the two wars we’ve got going on?) can and will lose political favor and currency.  As a public affairs pro, no doubt your policy issues are vital to your organization and stakeholders.  Still, no one gets the spotlight 365 days in a row.  Follow political cycles to help develop that sixth sense to tell when you’re no longer the new kid on the block.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.  When your public affairs issue isn’t front and center, use the downtime to review your messaging, talking points, PR strategy, new ideas, off-the-record briefings, social media, and so forth.  Remember that policy cravings are cyclical – your policy issues may not be the lead headline today, but tomorrow they could be all the rage.  Don’t waste your primetime having to refine your publicity tactics.

Turn an opponent’s lemons into lemonade.  Sometimes policy debates are little more than a street fight over political turf, so your interaction with opponents will always define some of the media narrative.  No one ever gets to control a policy debate simply by being nice.  When the opposition stumbles, turn the tables and leverage that weakness into promoting your own policy position’s strengths.

It ain’t all about you.  No organization’s pet policy issues live in a vacuum.  If you focus on environment, then technology is always a relevant side issue.  Technology taps into immigration issues.  Immigration taps into national security issues.  National security taps into civil rights issues.  Identify potential partners on policy issues so you can share resources and promote your platform on a greater level.

It ain’t all about them either.  Congressional leadership and committee chairs will rotate if either chamber flips party control.  If that’s the case, has your organization analyzed the public affairs impact from the powers-that-may-be?  Legislative agendas are built and destroyed on political control, so understand how each party or new powerbroker will react to your policy priorities.

By keeping these five basic considerations in mind, your organization stands a better chance of grabbing the public affairs center stage in the coming weeks and months.  Just don’t forget to rinse and repeat around November 2012!

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