Thursday, February 24, 2011

Second-largest St. Patrick's Parade in the Country

One of the best things about St. Patrick’s Day in Pittsburgh is that it usually follows a cold and dark winter and marks the first glimmer of warmer weather and the arrival of Spring. Around the middle of March, the grass in the region starts to turn from brown to green again and so do the streets as roughly 200,000 spectators line the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Always held on the Saturday immediately prior to or on St. Patrick’s Day, the Pittsburgh parade is considered the second-largest St. Patrick’s parade in the country. Over 23,000 participants travel the parade route along Grant Street and the Blvd. of the Allies to the review stand at Stanwix Street.

I help with the handling PR for the event, which is one of the highlights of my year. This year will be the second time in as many years that I have worked on the parade, and it seems to only get better with time.

We started a Facebook page last year, along with a Twitter feed. The Facebook page has about 10,100 followers, and the Twitter feed has over 500. These are helpful in keeping people informed leading up to the event, and it’s a great way to get the pre-parade buzz started. One of the things I like best about this event is its genuineness. For an event of this magnitude, sponsorships are extremely reasonable and nothing is contrived. The volunteers do it for their love of their Irish heritage, the City of Pittsburgh, and for the camaraderie of doing something with their old and new friends.

This year’s parade is Saturday, March 12th, rain or shine. Slainte!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Levi's Commercial Puts Marcellus into Some Perspective

Levi’s has an interesting ad campaign targeting its national audience of youth. I understand that the ads are designed to sell blue jeans, but one ad struck me at a level beyond marketing and perhaps what the producers intended.

The ads feature Braddock, Pennsylvania as a setting to create these striking mini-motion pictures that seem more like what you’d expect if watching a classic movie about the Great Depression.

Even a casual viewer gets the sense that this town was once a vibrant hub of steelmaking and has gone through years of neglect and abandonment. What the ads could not capture, however, was how the loss of this industry affected the steelworkers, their families and these communities for decades.

The point of this campaign is to show good people in Levi’s jeans working to bring this downtrodden community back through the general volunteer, clean-up, fix-up approach.

What the ads never hint about is that it takes much more than sweat equity to truly revitalize a community, a region. It takes the emergence of a major industry to drive an economy big enough to build new schools, churches, infrastructure and hospitals.

Not far from Braddock and all around it, natural gas producers are converging on the region to tap a tremendous deposit of natural gas known in energy circles as the Marcellus Shale. For the first time since the demise of steelmaking in this region, an industry has emerged here with that kind of economic potential.

Most residents welcome this because they know that we have a strong history of co-existing with heavy industry. We were able to do so because of strict pollution controls and diligent monitoring and enforcement of rigid environmental regulations.

This is not to dismiss the concerns of those who worry about the impact drilling could have on local communities. Concern is good, but blind opposition ignores this region’s strong track record of fostering thriving industry while protecting the environment.

While Levi’s may not have had the Marcellus in mind, its “Go Forth” ad campaign follows a theme that is more than fitting when considering the opportunity Marcellus presents.

A child runs down dark hallway, out a door into daylight, and metaphorically speaking into a brighter future. The voice of another child speaks softly over a building soundtrack of strings and percussion, “People think there aren’t frontiers any more,” the child says. “They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Tips for your Crisis Communications Plan

Imagine you just finished your crisis communications plan, complete with template news releases for every eventuality. In fact, the last news release you inserted in the plan takes into account the possibility of a flood shutting down one of your company’s production facilities.

Now it’s two weeks later, and a flood actually does shut down one of your company’s production facilities. Do you really think you’re going to use that template, or is it more likely you’ll start from scratch, making sure to include all of the relevant details specific to this situation that you never could have anticipated?

My vote is for the latter, so with that in mind, when you develop your crisis plan, my recommendation is to ditch the templates and focus more on your process for anticipating, evaluating and responding to various types of crises.

Here’s another tip. Don’t keep your plan in a binder or on a single computer, or for that matter in a single facility.

Remember that flood? Imagine if all of the people charged with mounting an effective response to the flood lost the plan because their computers and all of their book shelves are under water.

Best to have the plan accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection. This is attainable by having off-site company servers “host” the plan. If your firm is too small for such an arrangement, consider just backing up your plan onto an external hard drive that can be stored in multiple locations

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Age of the Social Media Guru

There is a new breed of communications pro emerging in response to increasing interest and confusion over how to factor social media into a communications strategy. Enter the “social media guru.”

You may know the type. They can text in their sleep and tweet messages on their smart phones faster than you can blink. You can usually spot them in crowd, looking down, undistracted by what’s going on all around them, thumbs twittering away.

The problem is that most social media gurus that I know are so infatuated with the technology and its potential, that they don’t appreciate the need to be a little more deliberate in communicating on behalf of their organizations. Or tied to this, they think nothing of asking busy executives and managers to allocate significant chunks of their time to social media without giving serious thought as to whether certain activities are worth the effort, possibly at the expense of another PR activity that may be more worthwhile.

I’ve seen a few organizations run into trouble on the advice of the gurus because they never took into account the need for research, planning, and sometimes the simple development of complete and coherent sentences in their communications.

One former client of a guru said it to me this way, “They’d rather get the response out messy now rather than wait to do it right.”

That kind of sums it up. Too many social media gurus are more focused on exploiting social media technologies and the many possibilities that they don’t always think in the true best interests of their clients.

I had the opportunity to talk to a recent college graduate who is leaning toward developing her social media skills into a career path. She asked if I had any advice.

I told her our employers and clients don’t pay us to just to play with the latest techno toys. They want us to help them use these technologies to advance their business and organizational objectives. Sometimes that means taking the time to establish systems and review processes that ensure we are using social media effectively and responsibly for our organizations.

That may sound a bit cumbersome for those who like the instant gratification of pushing buttons and generating instant digital dialogue, but it helps to avoid a lot of problems in the long run.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Green Bay and Pittsburgh can Teach Marketers About Relationships

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are set to face off this Sunday in the Super Bowl. I’ve always thought that would be a great match-up between two legendary franchises and two football towns that really know and appreciate the game.

Several years back, I did some work for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the off-season after the Chuck Noll era and before the start of the Bill Cowher era. The team was open to some ideas. In the course of preparing for the meetings and then through implementation, it was clear that from a PR standpoint, the Steelers have something that few organizations get from their major stakeholders – almost unconditional affection and support.

The amount of goodwill the franchise had built up over the years was so strong then, and continues to this day because of stability at the top and a keen understanding of how tenuous the relationship is between the business and its customers – the fans.

The Rooney family has never taken the fans for granted, and the fans know it. The management of both franchises understands the true nature of their special relationship with their fans and do everything possible to nurture it. Because of that kind of relationship, the front offices, the coaches and the players can best focus on putting a quality product on the field and in the stadium.

Not to make it all sound so easy. What these franchises do is hard. They are in small markets, and probably wouldn’t even qualify if the NFL were looking at these types of cities as potential expansion markets. Yet, both Green Bay and Pittsburgh demonstrate that a passion for a particular sports franchise can transcend demographic and other market research measures used to evaluate the business potential of a town.

The lessons for those of us in communications are basic. Know your audiences. Give them what they want. Treat them with respect. And never take the relationship for granted. Do everything with these things in mind.