I recently began a book blog, BOOKS NOW! (www.dinaross.com.au) because even though I had blogged for clients, created PR campaigns on Facebook and produced corporate podcasts, I had very little personal experience of social media. (I’m also passionate about books, so I thought I’d jump into the conversation).

And I’ve learned a huge amount. I’ve discovered that my professional experience can influence and assist my personal one – and vice-versa.  Here’s just a few things I’ve found out on my blogging journey:

1. You wouldn’t launch a PR campaign without a plan, so don’t blog without one.

My first few blog posts were reviews and musings chosen at random because I was anxious to dip my toe into blogging waters. The result?  I started to panic I wouldn’t have enough content to fill forthcoming  weeks. I realised very quickly that I needed to plan my schedules month by month so I could read ahead, organise interviews and contact publishers, so I would have a regular drip feed of material. My plan encompassed my rationale for blogging, the style I’d adopt, the audience I wanted to reach and how I would reach them. I gave myself a timeline for achieving my objectives, to help keep me focused.don’t blog without a plan

2. PR campaigns need an individual voice and so do blogs

PR campaigns succeed when they have something interesting and original to say and do so compellingly. There has to be an underlying story to every campaign, it’s not just spin.  Flog a dead horse, you’ll still be left with a dead horse. Blogs too, need that ‘numero uno’ quality. There are some really wonderful blogs out there and some absolutely terrible ones. The best offer a fresh take on a subject, and the blogger has an individuality that makes the reader take notice.

3. Less is more

Some of the best PR campaigns I’ve ever been involved with were really simple: a News poll survey and accompanying media release yielded hundreds of clippings for a grateful client; another client’s interview in just one highly-respected magazine snowballed into requests for media appearances all over the world. Similarly, blog posts can be snappy and still pack a punch. And today’s shorter attention spans also need to be taken into account.

4. Pictures are worth a thousand words and a clear-lay out wins friends

In PR, they always say that a photo in a newspaper or a TV clip is better value than column inches. I’m learning to incorporate more visuals into my blog. Huge slabs of text aren’t reader-friendly and I turn away from blogs that are tightly packed  and written in small font that makes my eyes glaze. You want your consumers or readers to switch on, not switch off!

5. Feel what they feel – build the empathy

Now that I’m blogging myself, I can understand how anxious clients get when they look over material I’ve written: it’s their baby down on that page, in that flyer, in that campaign, something they’ve taken years to develop and nurture and grow. I’m my blog’s sole client now, so I choose my words carefully – I don’t want to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I also want my words to reach out to my audience and to build a sense of community.I also want my words to reach out to my audience and to build a sense of community

6. Keep researching

I always tell PR clients that our campaigns will be regularly evaluated and re-evaluated to ensure we’re on track. Campaigns need to be flexible, along the way messages may be refined or re-tested, new information may come to light necessitating a strategy rethink. With blogs too, research is your best friend. What are other similar blogs doing well, what can you learn from them so you can make yours even better?

7. Give it time

PR campaigns don’t yield results overnight. Good PR is an investment, in time as well as money. It can be months before the first indications of success come through, whether you’re measuring column inches, consumer behaviour patterns, reputation management or audience reach. Building a blog community happens by word of mouth. My readership is still small, but it’s growing week by week and more and more people are following me. My blog is a salutary exercise in patience, but it also makes me realise how stressed my clients get waiting for results. Just as I’ve learned to share every success with them immediately, so I pat myself on the back every time someone likes a new post, or subscribes to the blog. Every post is another step closer to achieving the goals I have set out for Books Now!

Top image: Credit

Online communication is all very well, but when it comes to face-to-face meetings, it’s the little things that can make all the difference.when it comes to face-to-face meetings, it’s the little things that can make all the difference

In these days of instant communication, when messages bounce off screens and mobile phones at the speed of light and so many transactions and connections happen online, it’s sometimes easy to forget that personal relationships are still a vital part of business life.

That first face-to-face meeting with a new client or business prospect can often be the clincher to our future dealings with them. How did we come across to them? And how did we feel about their response to what we had to say?

I recently visited a lawyer in a large legal practice in the Melbourne CBD. I had come with a copyright-based enquiry, related to my ‘second life’ as a playwright. When he opened his office door to meet me, he clearly looked bored. We had hardly begun our meeting when his phone rang. He immediately took the call –another client – and kept me waiting for 15 minutes while he dispensed advice via his Blackberry. When the call ended, I outlined the reason for my visit. He never once looked at me but kept his eyes glued to his Blackberry, responding to emails while I talked.

I ended the meeting, angered by his arrogant assumption that this is how business is conducted in the 21st century and that I should just put up with it.

Ok – dismiss me as some old fuddy duddy with outdated ideas, but I still believe in the value of making a client feel special. I don’t view myself as a file or case number with an allocated number of dollars attached. I’m a person, with an individual request and if I seek professional advice, I want to feel I’m the most important person in the room for the duration of a consultation.

There’s no difference between a salesgirl busy gossiping with her colleagues while customers wait for service, or a lawyer with bigger clients on his mind: lack of client focus is a huge problem for organisations. Yet, putting the client at the centre of your commercial universe is one of the first precepts of marketing and the first step in doing this is the way you introduce yourself.

5 customer service tips for face-to-face meetings

1. When you first meet a client – smile: it may sound obvious, but a smile is a wonderful ice breaker. It shows you’re considerate and approachable. And when you smile, your client will smile back.

2. Shake the client’s hand firmly: A wishy-washy or half-hearted handshake is a real turn-off. A strong, firm handshake shows you are professional and ready to do business.

3. Look interested: again, a no brainer, but your clients will soon sense if you look as if you’d rather be somewhere else and are bored by what they have to say.

4. Taking calls and playing with your Blackberry? I don’t think so: of course it’s rude and nothing is more off-putting than a blatant disregard for the person in front of you.

5. At the end of the meeting, thank clients for their time: your clients have chosen YOU but they could have gone to thousands of other organisations, retail outlets or consulting firms, each one probably offering a similar range of merchandise, qualifications and experience. Your clients pay your salary, so treat them with respect. They deserve it.

Dina Ross

Dina Ross is Public Relations Director at Evergreen Advertising & Marketing in Melbourne, Australia, specialists in communicating to the 50+ market. A PR and crisis communications expert, she has held senior editorial positions at BBC UK and The Age , headed her own award-winning PR consultancy and is the author of “Surviving the Media Jungle”, a guide to PR. Melbourne, Australia.

Featured image: thetaxhaven

research suggests that many organisations do not have an up-to-date plan in place that deals with crises from both an operational and communications perspectiveStrikes, product contamination threats, natural disasters, factory process faults, computer melt-downs, share market jitters, even the death or severe illness of a CEO – crises can strike any organisation, anywhere, anytime. The last few months have seen a proliferation of crisis situations, from the floods in Queensland to the ill-advised comments of NSW media hosts. Even if the crisis is not your fault, the hard work done to build up the reputation of an organisation and consumer confidence can evaporate almost instantly when bad times hit.

As one crisis guru said, “All companies have problems, but when the media gets hold of them, they can become overwhelming crises”. And as we all know, the media likes to play judge and censor, adding fuel to the crisis fire if it smells a good story.

Tips on crisis management

So how do you avoid a crisis? There is no silver bullet strategy to crisis avoidance, however, experience suggests that you can minimise the potential for crisis situations by deploying the following strategies:

1. Conduct a communications and crisis audit of your organisation

You will only understand the threats your business faces if you look at every department, every process and examine what could go wrong. Are you understaffed, have you taken short cuts in safety measures, is your product or service about to become obsolete due to the introduction of new technology? Look at every contingency in-depth.

2. Write a crisis plan

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, research suggests that many organisations do not have an up-to-date plan in place that deals with crises from both an operational and communications perspective. The crisis plan should carefully examine the risk areas identified by the crisis audit, nominate a crisis team and be as detailed as possible on the handling of these crisis scenarios from a technical and operational perspective. Similarly, the communications plan should cover both traditional and social media, clearly communicating information and how this will be translated into all media platforms.

3. Remember all your audiences

If a crisis hits, you will need to inform a great many people in a variety of ways. The way you address government may be very different to the way you communicate with the media or your customers. During your planning phase, make sure you know who those people are, what messages they need to hear and the right medium for communicating to them. Don’t forget to keep your staff informed: you don’t want them to find out about the crisis from a third party such as a tabloid journalist.

4. Be ruthless when selecting a spokesperson

Preparing for a crisis means selecting a spokesperson who will best represent your company’s interests. Your spokesperson must feel comfortable handling questions from the media, potentially angry or aggrieved customers, the enquiries of government or other special interest groups, and come across as empathetic and informed. Although it is often the CEO of an organisation who takes this role, make sure he/she is ready to do so, with adequate media and presentation training under their belt. Any CEO who panics or comes across as flippant or arrogant must be immediately replaced by someone who can convey the calm, concerned face of the organization.Your spokesperson must feel comfortable handling questions from stakeholders, and come across as empathetic and informed

5. Invest in crisis simulation training

The more prepared you are to face a crisis, the easier you will survive it. Professional PR or training companies who run crisis simulation programmes are worth investigating. You will be put through the wringer in a day of unmitigated disaster (literally!), but you will emerge the stronger for it. These programmes, which are usually tailor-made for your organization, are like an insurance policy against disaster and immensely beneficial.

Have you been involved in crisis management in your business? What issues did you encounter? What are your crisis management techniques? Share you story…

Dina Ross

Dina Ross is Public Relations Director at Evergreen Advertising & Marketing in Melbourne, Australia, specialists in communicating to the 50+ market. A PR and crisis communications expert, she has held senior editorial postions at BBC UK and The Age , headed her own award-winning PR consultancy and is the author of “Surviving the Media Jungle”, a guide to PR. Melbourne, Australia.

Top image: looking4poetry

In Australia today, adults aged 50+ are unchallenged in terms of their discretionary income, spending and net worth. They comprise 58.8% of Australian households but, more importantly, they control 78% of the wealth versus their younger counterparts at 22%.[1]

Boomers are not only living longer, they feel and act younger than previous generations. They listened to Bob Dylan, marched against the war in Vietnam and campaigned for social change. They don’t identify with stereotypes of little old ladies knitting in rocking chairs and white haired granddads snoozing in the afternoon. Many of them are still in the workforce and even if they’re retired, are active, outspoken and engaged in their communities. In fact, they’re gearing up, not winding down!

Nor are they keeping their money to themselves – the over 50s are as likely as Generations X and Y to buy a plasma or LCD TV and more likely than Gen. X and Y to buy an e-reader or Kindle[2]. They’re travelling, and have the cash to splurge on luxury holidays –  according to Roy Morgan Research, they are 21 % more likely than the population to stay at a four star hotel or resort.

Yet when it comes to media representation, Boomers and Seniors feel unrepresented and neglected. Advertising traditionally targets the younger consumer. But as everyone knows, the population is getting older.  The latest figures show that in June 2011 just over 3 million Australians were aged 65 years and over, representing 17.4% of the total population. This will rise to up to 23% by 2040. [3]

A radical shake-up is needed in advertising and marketing to take account of these changing demographics.

Here are a few tips to make sure that your campaigns are both ageless and age-friendly:

  • Always include a PR strategy with your campaign, as word of mouth is a campaign accelerator. Boomers have strong opinions, but rely heavily on intuition and third party endorsement from people they respect such as friends and favourite  journalists (across all channels – print and digital).
  • If you are going to rent photos of people from image libraries, consider that your competition is likely to use the same source. Invest in your own photography and make sure you use real models who look great for their age, but are not models who are 15 years younger. Authenticity has greater traction with 50+audiences.
  • Don’t use labels like  ‘old’ , ‘aged’ or ‘elderly’ and minimise terminology such as ‘Boomer’ or ‘Senior’ in direct to consumer advertising. The over 50s do not like to be grouped and consider themselves individuals – usually younger than their chronological age.
  • A digital strategy is paramount. However, wealth and education impact on the 50 + engagement with the internet. The wealthier and more educated they are, the more likely they are to go online and use social media.
  • Audit your customer journey. Look at every touch point the customer has with your company across communications, online, retail and after sales service. Often small things like providing chairs or brighter lighting in store can increase profits.
  • Ensure your websites are ageless. The amount of light entering the eye  diminishes as you age. Font sizes that are too small to read,  colours that lack strong contrast and websites that are too complex to  navigate will put off older consumers.

Companies embracing the need to target the older consumer will be those reaping the greatest financial rewards.

Dina Ross is Public Relations Director at Evergreen Advertising & Marketing in Melbourne, specialists in communicating to the 50+ market. A PR and crisis communications expert, she has held senior editorial positions at BBC UK and The Age, headed her own award-winning PR consultancy and is the author of “Surviving the Media Jungle”, a guide to PR.

[1] ABS Household Expenditure Survey, released 2011

[2] Roy Morgan Research, October 2012

[3] An Ageing Australia factsheet, Aged and Community Services Australia, July 2011

Top image: StevenM_61

A recent opinion piece in Mumbrella, the marketing industry’s online newsletter, alleged that media training for clients was a complete waste of time. Such training rarely worked because clients were so over-prepared they came across as stilted and unnatural in interviews, full of fluff and ‘spin’. The article went on to say media training usually concentrated on covering potential crisis and ‘worst case scenarios’, so clients were unprepared to answer feel-good questions.  Finally, all media trainers trained the same way and the uniformity of approach was dispiriting.

It’s disquieting that such criticisms arise because media training clients for me is a PR must. Nobody wants clients to face the media without feeling absolutely confident about their ability to handle the interview and get their message across.

Media trainers obviously vary, but here are some tips on how to spot trainers who know their stuff:

  • Media training must be customised, one size never fits all. The best media trainers analyse, research and devise scenarios which meet and understand client needs, covering media possibilities ranging from the positive to negative.
  • Even the most seasoned media spokesperson gets nervous when faced with a beady-eyed journalist. Nerves usually stop an interview from coming across as forced, slick and over-rehearsed. But when you’re nervous, training goes a long way to settling butterflies and promoting confidence. In my experience, it’s rare to hear stilted responses to media questions (we can leave that to politicians!) The best interviews showcase interviewees who are passionate about what they’re saying and who persuade and convince both the journalist and the public of their position
  • ‘Spin’ never works because the media can see through it. Audiences are also increasingly sophisticated and are unmoved by blatant promotion. Similarly, lies will eventually be uncovered and can ruin an organisation’s reputation. Good media trainers understand this.
  • Just because someone wants to be a spokesperson and asks for media training doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best person for the job. Some CEOs come across as arrogant or out-of-touch and should be kept out of the media spotlight. It takes a brave media trainer to say so, but the best will ensure the right spokesperson puts across the company point of view.
  • If you are in the midst of a crisis and face the media without adequate training, do so at your peril. Facing the media is daunting but without proper preparation can leave you red-faced and empty-handed. Remember the former CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, who made gaffe after gaffe after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010? Consultation and training before going live might have prevented a PR disaster.
  • Media training is also about establishing protocols for all staff within an organisation. If nurses and reception staff had been prepared and media-trained at London’s King Edward VII Hospital, they would not have succumbed to last week’s Summer 30 show media hoax. Protocol would have diverted all calls directed to the Duchess of Cambridge to a central press office and the ensuing tragedy may well have been averted.

Top image : credit

Seasoned media trainers understand both PR and media imperatives. And they also understand that each trainee is an individual. If you’re not sure about training content or a trainer’s pedigree – ask. It pays to do your research because the dangers of facing the media without comprehensive training definitely outweighs potential disadvantages.