Monday, September 21, 2015

PR, Pure & Simple Has a New Home!

Please visit and bookmark this site, the new online home for O'Brien Communications' blog - PR, Pure & Simple.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's an Explainer Video?

One of the newer and more commonly used terms when the subject of video production comes up is the “explainer video.”  Many in the communications field feel that the term alone is, well, self-explanatory.

Essentially, all communication is designed to explain something so as to educate, persuade or entertain.  So with that in mind, I thought I’d not assume the term is self-explanatory and take a stab at providing an overview of what is specifically meant by, but perhaps more importantly, what can be accomplished by a good explainer video.

The holidays are coming up, so let’s think ahead to when you will be in a conversation with your cousin who always asks you, “So what do you do for a living?”  It seems that the last time you answered this question the response didn’t take, so here you are answering the question again.  “This is who I am, this is what I do…”

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just have a video on your smart phone so that every time someone asks you that question, you have a perfectly produced response so that with the touch of a finger you can let the video do the talking, and provide the most concise and memorable explanation?  A video calling card, if you will.

That’s the purpose of an explainer video, and it’s growing in popularity. People are no longer need to wait to sit in front of a computer in the quiet of an office or home just to learn about your organization.

More often, they’re accessing information on their mobile phones, and if they’re really interested, they may dig a little deeper using other mobile pad devices or laptops.  Given the time and places people use these channels, reading may be too inconvenient.  So that 500-word written descriptor on your home page just may not always work for the location of your audience.

Enter the explainer video.

Explainer videos are typically one- to three minutes in length; they provide a solid overview of what your organization does, how it operates, where it operates, who it serves; and they are most commonly accessed via the Internet on home pages/landing pages and social media.  Gone are the days when the primary purpose of a video is to be kept on a shelf until it is inserted into a player.

Explainer videos can be developed on a full range of topics, so if your organization has five affiliates, two offices and serves four different constituencies, there’s no reason not to consider explainer videos for each.

One thing to remember, because the medium is video not paper, don’t be too reliant on just the words.  Video offers many ways to use visuals – real and animated, moving and still, graphics and other tools and techniques – to tell your story.

In terms of tone, explainer videos are usually upbeat, fast-moving, oftentimes feature animation or graphics.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

5 Things You Should Do Before Any Media Interview

Let’s say you have a media interview tomorrow, or in the next hour, it doesn’t matter.  Regardless of the window of time, these are the five things you should do to the best extent possible before any media interview.

#1 – Read or watch the journalist’s previous reporting.  Make sure you know the way this particular reporter likes to approach stories, ask questions and follow through.

#2 – Prepare a list of questions you may be asked.  And add a few questions you may not want to be asked.  Prepare for how you will respond to each.

#3 – Develop a short list of the key messages you should deliver.  These aren’t just things you want to say, but things you should say to make the best case for your organization on the topic at hand.

#4 – Think about who the audience is that will read and/or watch the final report.  You need to prepare your responses with them in mind.

#5 – Choose a location for the interview that reinforces your message.  If you’re talking about roads, do the interview with the type of road you are discussing in the background.

Those are five quick tips on things you should do before any interview.  Of course, there are many other measures you can take, but even if you only have an hour to prepare, you can cover these steps.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Three PR Lessons from Taylor Swift

As a Baby Boomer guy with no daughters, here’s everything I know about Taylor Swift.  She’s incredibly famous and successful as a pop entertainer/singer who used to be country.  She dated a Kennedy.  She was dissed on some major awards show by Kanye West, and on Saturday she was in Pittsburgh to perform to a sellout crowd at Heinz Field. 

Don’t ask me about her music or anything else. When I see her photo on a magazine cover, article or Internet post, I try to skip past it as fast as I do when I see a Kardashian’s photo.

The main reasons I know she was in Pittsburgh was that it was impossible to avoid on the local news, and I drove by Heinz Field the day before her concert while the crew was unloading the staging equipment from the trucks.  A lot of trucks.

What amazed me was she sheer number of 18-wheelers in her entourage, each with a billboard-sized, four-color image of Taylor in a pair of sunglasses touting the “1989 World Tour.”  As I drove by all the trucks, I started to count, then I lost count.  What I can say is from outside the stadium, it appears to take more people and resources to get Taylor Swift on stage than it does to produce an NFL football game.

A part of me wondered if show managers add a bunch of empty trucks in the entourage just to make the production look bigger than it is, but I doubt it.  If there’s one thing Taylor Swift doesn’t need is more publicity, particularly that which is centered on how many trucks are required to put on a show.

So, given the fact I know so little about Taylor Swift, the PR lessons I have gleaned from her are superficial at best, but they are no less telling: 

#1 – Go big or go home.  I’m sure she would have packed Heinz Field with a smaller production, but audiences expect more than a performance. They want an event.  When we create PR events, we need to make sure that once we’ve committed to an event, that’s exactly what it is – a memorable event – not just a forum for communicating information. 

#2 – Make the most of it while you can. Since I don’t know Taylor Swift, I have no idea how she views her success.  But I’d be willing to bet that a few of her more seasoned managers and advisors have been around the block enough times to know this kind of success doesn’t happen often or last long, so when you have the opportunity, make the most of it.  That means that once you’ve achieved your initial goals, think of “stretch goals” that make the project even better for everyone.  Of course, there is always the possibility of an over-reach and that can backfire.  In PR terms, the best approach may be simply to take nothing for granted and know that once you’ve achieved our initial goals, think of ways to maximize those results.  Don’t assume you will easily repeat this same kind of success. 

#3 – Don’t let your initial brand identity limit you. Even though I like country music, I really can’t tell you which country songs are hers.  I know that even within the country genre, I was never her targeted market.  And I know that once she achieved unprecedented success as a country artist, she was presented with an opportunity to redefine herself to a broader audience.  This is true for brands as well.  While initial brand focus and identity is often critical to initial success, brands can outgrow that initial identity and may be in need of tweaking or redefinition. Don’t be afraid of this.  It can lead to bigger and better things for any brand.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Remembering America's Fallen

The following post originally appeared on this blog on May 25, 2012: 

One of the strongest brands we have in America is the flag.  Red and white stripes.  Fifty white stars against a blue field.  Like so many in our country, I never get tired of seeing it.

Of course, it means different things to different people, but in many respects, it represents the same things to most people.  Freedom is probably the one idea that most readily comes to mind.

Can you imagine what that flag looks like to the families awaiting the safe return of military men and women coming home from overseas?  Or what a World War II veteran thinks about when he stands for the National Anthem and faces the stars and stripes at a baseball game?

I read an article recently about a group of freshly naturalized U.S. citizens and in the accompanying photo, each with a smile on his or her face, proudly held a small red, white and blue flag.  I wondered what that flag meant to them.

A few years ago, I wrote a family history and not surprisingly, I learned that my ancestors were drawn to America for the freedom to live a life less restrictive than in the countries they left.  America was and still is viewed as a land of opportunity, but that would not be possible without the freedoms we enjoy and that are guaranteed by our democratic system.

These thoughts are all abstract unless you or someone you know put something on the line to protect our system of freedoms and democracy.

Before I was born, my father and his brothers enlisted in the U.S. Army and Navy.  They were deployed in locations around the world to face enemies in the Pacific and Europe.

One uncle told me the story of how he was left for dead in what was later called the Battle of the Bulge.  For three days he laid in the cold, hoping someone would help him.  He wasn’t much for detail when he told his story, but it gave me the impression he went through quite a bit that winter.  The flag meant something to him.

During Viet Nam, I was too young to serve, but I remember the older boys in the neighborhood would often come back on leave, wearing their sharp Marine, Navy or Army uniforms.  At that point, they were proud of who they were and what they represented.  At first you’d see larger groups of them together at the corner store in their uniforms, laughing and joking and catching up.  But after a while, the groups got smaller.  I remember a more muted tone here and there when we’d find out that one of our neighborhood boys wasn’t coming home.

As an altar boy, I served several funerals of vets and was always transfixed with the precise and ritualistic manner with which the flag was so reverently handled and presented to surviving family members.

More recently, we all have had the opportunity to know and see our family members, friends and neighbors go off to places like Afghanistan and Iraq.  And whether our experience is personal or if we just learn about it through old and new media, the sacrifices they make for our freedoms are all too real and all too current.

Memorial Day is commonly thought of as the first three-day weekend of summer and its unofficial kick-off. We celebrate with picnics and parades, usually.  Another Memorial Day tradition for many is to visit a cemetery where a loved one is memorialized with fresh flowers, and if the loved one is a vet, a bright new U.S. flag.

That’s a tradition I picked up just a few years ago when my own Army veteran father died.  Yesterday, I visited his final resting place and that of so many other vets.  A neatly trimmed field of red, white and blue flags.  Not a sorrowful place on a weekend like this.  A place of honor and respect where the flag  reminds us of so many who served and who risked their lives to protect our American way of life.

The flag is an iconic brand not because of what it looks like but because of what it represents to those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it.  The act of remembering is why we call it Memorial Day.  Can there be anything more powerful than that? 

Note about the photo.  My uncle was Staff Sgt. Lawrence O'Brien (back row, second from right), who flew numerous missions over Europe in World War II.  He earned the Army's Distinguished Flying Cross.  He never came home.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Communicating Technical or Complex Information: Make it relatable

One of the most common challenges a professional communicator faces is how to educate or inform targeted audiences of complex or highly technical information.  A new medical treatment.  An electronic component that enables the equipment that enable your smart phone to work.  A chemical coating that protects the paint on your car from sun damage.

None of this sounds all that interesting, does it?

And that’s the challenge for the communications writer.  How do I clearly, thoroughly and accurately present information of a highly technical or complex nature and not lose my reader or audience?

The simple answer is, tell a story.  Tell an interesting story.  Make it about people not data, or components or acronyms.

If you don’t know where to start, then begin with the people behind the new development or advancements. Who are they? Why did they see a problem?  What made their journey to a solution so innovative or interesting?  Put it all down in your notes and early drafts.

Find out more about the people to be impacted by the innovation or new technology. Who are they?  Why will they benefit?  How will they benefit? Will this change their lives in any way?

The answers to these questions help turn technical information into knowledge with which people can relate. The challenge then for the writer is to put it all into an order that gives all of this a cohesive narrative, one that takes the story from its beginning to its end, and in the process, opens the readers’ eyes to the possibilities.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: Glass Jaw - A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal

It may be only May, but if you’re starting to compile a summer reading list for the beach, and you’re one of those rare people who read about PR while on vacation, here’s one to consider.  It’s called Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal, by Eric Dezenhall.  The book was published in late 2014.  For background, Dezenhall is the founder of Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., which was formed in 1987, and has handled a large number of high-profile crises.

His book, Glass Jaw focuses on crisis communications in the digital age.  He uses several recent communications crises to illustrate what he calls a “fiasco vortex,” where smaller problems escalate quickly thanks to the viral nature of the Internet.

The book explores another major characteristic of the current crisis communications climate, a twist on the old “man bites dog” scenario.  Glass Jaw focuses on how many recent crises today center on large, powerful organizations that were bullied and taken down by traditionally weaker or more powerless but tech savvy groups that know how to leverage digital media channels.

Or as Dezenhall points out, “the meek are predators and the strong are prey.”

The author explains that traditional crisis management tactics and strategies may not effectively counter some of these new types of attacks, and it can be folly to try to trade punches on social media.  He says that when some organizations find themselves the target of such campaigns, they often respond too quickly, apologize ineffectively, and generally over-react.

More to the point, he believes that both the cause and the solution to the controversy reside away from the public eye.  He likens controversies to icebergs, where the small top above the water is all that the world sees, but “Most of what’s really happening is happening in a place that few people see.”

So, while the public may see the media coverage, the statements, the apologies and the product recalls, Dezenhall says that behind the scenes are operational and strategic decisions, regulatory moves, and conflict avoidance.

Says Dezenhall, “Most crises that are successfully resolved are resolve due to business and operational considerations, which occur beneath the surface of the controversy iceberg.  Because these actions are often mundane and invisible, they go unheralded.  Above-the-surface communications strategies are over-hyped as damage control solutions, which may play a supporting role, but shouldn’t divert attention away from the big decisions that will ultimately determine the health of the principal.” 

In a sense, Glass Jaw is an anatomy of much current day news coverage and how some groups effectively leverage the power of digital media, both narrowly and as part of a broader strategy.