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Public Relations

Reverse Mentoring For Professional Growth

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Reverse Mentoring For Professional Growth

We have a lot to learn from each other.  “Another year older, another year wiser,” can often be found on the inside of a birthday cards, but in reality we have the most to learn from those who are younger than us – especially in the creative economy. 

New tools emerge daily to help companies enhance their brand. Some stick around longer than others but knowing which tool can really help companies target their core market. 

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

The community benefits when everyone is engaged. From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any high profile project. 

Developing strategic relationships “early-on” helps minimize risk and helps anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion. Effective communications is vital to the public’s understanding of the project and the governments involved in helping the project move forward. Therefore, the company or consortium leading the project should be in control of the process and be proactive with their messaging and outreach.

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

I have worked with developers and commercial real estate firms on high profile projects. In working with them, and their team of consultants, I saw how important it is to engage key stakeholders early in the process of any mix-use development and project that has the potential to impact a community. I have also experienced this as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary for the Mayor of Detroit. 

From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any project. In addition, developing strategic relationships helps to minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.  

Here are three simple tips every developer needs to know before announcing any high profile project:

  1. Get to know the key stakeholders who will support and oppose your project. This includes government leaders and community groups. Develop relationships with them long before you announce your project, to build trust, understand their concerns and find support later on – should you need it. 
     
  2. Meet with their leadership in advance to understand their concerns and be ready to respond to them if necessary. This will also help bolster your position during the public process in securing approvals for permits and variances. 
     
  3. Identify a reporter that would be interested in your project to share information and background with so that when you are ready to announce, it will be covered extensively. 

More specifically, here a three action items you should implement now and before you publicly announce your project:

  1. Create a website to gauge and solicit stakeholder input and encourage conversations from project stakeholders. This could help in generating ideas, set priorities and avoid risk to external issues later. It will also help bolster your position before city council in seeking necessary approvals.
     
  2. Directly engaging community groups to develop strategic relationships and support for projects early on in the process. This includes engaging members of city council directly on your vision and the merits of your plans well before you announce anything.
     
  3. Work with the media in educating others about the project.  This includes developing relationships with specific trade publications covering the development and construction industry to share information about the projects you are working on or recently completed.  By building up a portfolio, people will begin to trust you and the work you do in the communities you serve. 

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

 

In siting a project, such as a large scale mixed-use development or a high profile project such as a wind farm, pipeline or even WalMart, it is vital that the developer and construction team seek and obtain input from the community early on in the process and aggressively work to educate the media and other key stakeholders on their plans.

In representing such "public" projects, reaching out to the public must become a vital part of the process, otherwise, the project may be at jeopardy from the start. The community should feel like their voices are being heard and listened to. This will improve the chances of the developer realizing their vision and help strengthen their position to seek financing or investors.

In the example of windfarms, I was retained to represent an 1800 MW off shore wind proposal in Southwestern Ontario in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. In one day, I led 7 public engagement meetings and the public was anything but supportive. They could have been if they were involved early in the process, rather than reading about in the newspaper.  Because they read about it they were more emotional about the project than in understanding the big picture and how the developer leading the project was interested in working with the community and their plans for working with the community -- but that message was never heard. So while we listened and responded to their concerns, the project was never implemented. It was not implemented due to regulatory changes in the province, not because of public opinion.

I also represented a deep injection well, several years after the project was in operation and already cited for environmental violations by a previous owner. The new owner retained me to help improve relationships with the community to better understand the deep injection process and impact or lack thereof, this project would have.  So I invited the community into their facility to see the cite first hand, to appreciate the technology and see the depth of safeguards and systems they had in place to avoid future problems. 

Whether directed by law or not, stakeholder engagement is a necessary part of the process, particularly with renewable energy projects.  In these type of projects it is important that the community have any necessary information to the project and have an outlet to ask questions, whether it is through a website, twitter feed or in person meetings. In fact, before a project ever begins it is a good idea to engage key stakeholders in a thoughtful dialogue so you know what you are getting into and can anticipate issues and responses. While we knew we would not get the community's support, we wanted to let them know the new owner was aware of their concerns and willing to work with them. 

There are other examples, from large scale mixed-use developments set to transform a city to environmental justice issues such as the storage of petroleum coke along a major H20 Highway in the Great Lakes, but they all need a strategic strategy to educate a community, listen to their concerns and engage them rather than avoid them. The public needs to be a part of the process. By engaging the community, a developer will have an easier time going to the Mayor for support or getting the city council to agree on their proposal, long before they ultimately need their support. 

Developers are quick to announce projects and share renderings of new buildings.  Often however, they build up hope and good media, only to get sidelined by government that stands in the way of implementing a vision. To make the vision a reality, developers should go to the community first, find the community groups they need for support or at least become aware of their concerns and plan accordingly. This will also improve the developers position to seek financing or investors as it helps tell the project's story.

In other words, for a project to be successful, creating a strategy that engages the pubic early, with sufficient information will help build trust, enhance your reputation and improve understanding of the project to help reach desired outcomes. Successful local engagement, will help improve or overcome any legal and regulatory challenges standing in the way so the next time someone announces a project, it won't be because the public's opinion is not on their side. 

 

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A lawyer should also become Business Advisor

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A lawyer should also become Business Advisor

In today’s economy, lawyers need to provide their clients with more than just legal services.  They can position clients to avoid litigation, minimize risk and protect their reputation, by blending law, policy, politics and strategic communications to provide clients an integrated approach to resolving or avoiding legal problems.

Equipping attorneys with the wherewithal to communicate with the public will provide law firms with new channels to cross-sell services and maintain core clients by expanding into new areas to complement a variety of practice groups.  Crisis and media management represents not just an ancillary service that lawyers can provide their clients but also represents a critical component of a successful legal strategy.

In addition, companies today face increased challenges from regulatory and legislative authorities.  And attorneys need to become more aware of how they can use the legislative and regulatory process to improve their client’s position.

But many lawyers are uncomfortable offering their clients counsel in approaching the media or talking with legislators.  But when the damage is done publicly the legal outcome becomes irrelevant.

If lawyers are uncomfortable in stepping out of the box and expand their practice then they need to develop the relationships to wrap a team around their clients to proactively work together in the best interests of their clients.

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First, define your organizations needs

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First, define your organizations needs

 

Before you can begin to communicate effectively with others you need to know what you want to achieve and how that fits into your organizations strategic goals.

Too often companies and associations jump right in and want their story published in The New York Times, on the local news or told by others.   However, the first step is figuring out why an executive wants to be in The New York Times or on the local news. An experienced public relations professional can help your leadership team identify and prioritize your marketing goals and then will use those goals to wrap a strategic communications plan around it.

To better define your organizations marketing needs, it is helpful to look at:

  • The history of the organization
  • Its’ Mission and values
  • Key stakeholders or audience you want to reach and why you want to reach them
  • issues that you can talk about with credibility and authority
  • Current and past PR efforts, what worked and what didn't
  • Available research and data to support your efforts
  • Budget parameters
  • Priorities

Any experience with prior PR or marketing firms should not stand in the way of engaging new perspectives on your marketing needs that also match your marketing budget. However, your organizational priorities should dictate where you invest your marketing efforts and you should let you marketing team, including outside consultants step in to create and implement the strategy.

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5 lessons in PR from the ice bucket challenge

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5 lessons in PR from the ice bucket challenge

It all started with one challenge and one name and now Facebook is inundated with videos of people accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge. Luckily for ALS, so too are their on-line donations. From celebrities, singers and athletes such as Ben Affleck, Taylor Swift and LeBron James, to politicians, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and business icons such as Bill Gates, we are all accepting and having fun with the ice bucket challenge and raising awareness for a very good cause. 

But the #icebucketchallenge was not meant to go global, but social media has made it viral.  As a result, this reinforces the following lessons in public relations, particularly for nonprofits:

  1. Social media matters but know your audience. For social media to matter, there needs to be a purpose and it needs to find the right audience. A lot of nonprofits want to be on social media but for many they just can't find their way.  Before committing to a social media strategy organizations need to first understand who they are trying to reach and where they can find them.  If they are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest than create campaigns around the social media they use the most. Concentrate and focus your resources on where you can make an impact. Don't dilute your budget just because you think you need to be more active on Facebook. 
  2. Video integrated with social media is important. We are visual people. In fact, we would much rather look at a picture or watch a brief (3 mins or less) video than read this blog let alone anything else. 
  3. Content matters. We are all having fun with the Ice Bucket Challenge and watching our friends  join us to raise awareness and money for ALS. But how many of us know what ALS is or how many people it affects.  Perhaps it doesn't matter as long as those two objectives are met. However, the campaign would have more meaning and more support if we knew more about the disease and the lives it impacts. 
  4. Gimmicks still work, because we remember them. 
  5. Make it personal. Social media is about relationships and finding a connection. Through this challenge we have each made connections and watched our friends accept it. A good campaign makes that connection and finds the emotional appeal that causes another to act. 

So, now I challenge you. Take #theicebucketchallenge and start your own campaign to create awareness of your own cause. 

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Know WHAT to say, WHEN to say it and WHO to say it to!

Don't create a plan -- build a playbook, complete with ...

  • Key messages; 
  • Media List;
  • List of influencers/social state and federal; and,
  • Key events.

You marketing playbook should be a living document, where the pages get ripped because you are flipping though with regularity. Each day, each week, month, quarter and year you should have something to do, or today - a Tweet. 

In communicating with others it is important to define the audience and establish objectives in creating a communications plan. That way you communicate with purpose and achieve the results you are expecting. 

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The Public Relations Audit

Before you start implementing a strategy you should take an inventor of your marketing assets. This public relations audit evaluates current practices and matches them up with best practices. It will then suggest areas, based on your business objective, as to where to improve.

From this audit, a plan will develop, complete with brand values, an elevator speech, key words and key messages.

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DISCUSSION ON EARLY WARNING BEGINS

The Michigan Legislature recently considered legislation concerning "distressed schools" and creating a process to establish an "early warning system," to avoid state intervention due to financial stress.

Currently there are  48 distressed schools or districts at risk of financial disstress in Michigan. Some districts have a short-term hiccup, while others face long-term issues, such as continued declining enrollments and increased labor costs.  According to Gongwer, the multi-bill package proscribes measures for financially distressed school districts—with advocates noting—doubles the maximum amount the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board is authorized to lend troubled districts, revises the loan’s eligibility criteria, eliminates restrictions on the Board’s ability to restructure existing loan repayment programs and removes limitations on the amount of surplus funds that can be loaned to municipalities and school districts over the next six fiscal years.

A number of school officials are opposed to the legislation, arguing that some of the measures’ reporting requirements and criteria are burdensome and possibly redundant, and would actually add to the district’s financial woes.  However, those same school officials should work with a facilitator to engage stakeholders in defining the problem and working in advance of the state stepping in to identify and implement realistic solutions.

By being proactive and engaging your community early on, you can avoid difficult situations down the road. However, acknowledging the problem and engaging others in the solution is a difficult process, one that can be helped by brining in a neutral to guide the discussion and help extract solutions.  

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Building Capital in Developing Relationships

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Building Capital in Developing Relationships

Attending trade shows and conferences can be a tedious process. For many people, it takes us away from our families, sometimes for a week or more. While our children may think we are traveling to exotic locations, these events translate into long hours walking and talking. While some use it to sell a product or service, these events should be more about developing strategic relationships.

In attending conferences:

  • Know who you want to talk to
  • Know what you want to say
  • Be flexible and don't worry if you don't meet those that you had on your list.
  • Follow up -- Write a personal note to every business card your receive, follow up with a phone call, recall your conversation and suggesting next steps
  • Now make the hard sale
  • Close the deal

Conferences provide an opportunity to expand your network face-to-face and before you start to sell something, it is important to have or to make a connection so then you can develop the trust and later the business.

After all, we all know why we attend these events, to learn about best practices, to spy on the competition and to get in front of the buyers. However, I personally get turned off from those trying to make the "hard sale." I get it you have something you think I can use or need but you should first take the time to see if it is even relevant to what I do or to whom I represent. But first take the time to know me and I will take the time to know you. If I can't use your product or service perhaps I know someone who does, but if you go straight to the sale. Let's be friends first and build the capital in developing relationships that are mutually beneficial. 

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Are we listening to Democrats?

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Are we listening to Democrats?

Not with the messages handed-out by Democrats in Michigan. With so much going on in this state, from crumbling infrastructure under a harsh winter to a new vibe in Detroit and tremendous growth in Grand Rapids, you would think there is a rare opportunity for Democrats to share with voters what they stand for instead of whom they stand against. 

Unfortunately, I received two emails last week from Democrats that told me they want to play politics as usual. 

Each message was a solicitation:

Subject:  Dems $6 for 6 seats

I know we have asked for a lot lately, but only because the stakes are so very high for our state. Please chip in $6 for 6 seats in November. The deadline is tonight at Midnight and 231 donors have given so far, so your $6 donation could be the one that puts us over the top to our goal of 250 donors. Tim - Sent from my iPhone.

Then minutes later, I received a similar message:

“This will be the last update you get from us for a while because our deadline is tonight at Midnight. We know that you have not given yet, but we are just 28 donations from our goal so your donation could make the difference. Please chip in $6 or whatever you can to help us hit our goal by the Midnight deadline. Thanks, Sam”

With each message, the Democrats missed a rare opportunity to engage a prospective donor and voter in why they should support them. Each time they failed to create an emotional connection and failed to educate them on what issues they stand for or stand for advancing.

With the above messages, as someone who may make a contribution, I want to know:

  • Why are those six seats important?
  • Where are those six seats?
  • Who is running? 

I need something more before making that investment, even for $6. I also don’t like the negative messaging. The timing of these messages did not fit the news cycle, just a political calendar. At the time, the Legislature was voting on spending bills that focused on infrastructure, the U.S. District Court (Eastern District) was preparing to hear a landmark case on equal and civil rights dealing with the rights of same-sex couples and the UAW was just recovering from difficult challenges in the South – Issues, that Democrats do have a leg to stand on. Issues that they could engage me better on as to what they plan on doing about it and why I should care.

Yet, this week the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee announced a major tax proposal while the state is also considering major changes to state tax laws. The President also released his Budget with funding to help those living in poverty, to help restore and protect the Great Lakes and to help enhance our aging roads and bridges. Yet, this week, the Democrats were silent and I did not receive a solicitation.

I recall a time that I sat in the Lansing office of a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and asked if I can help create a vision for Michigan Democrats and a strategic plan for each caucus to take back to their district that would work to create a movement or engage others in why they should support Democrats. At the time, the Chairman pointed out his window, towards the state capitol with the House and Senate controlled by Republicans, and said, “You see that building, our message is against, whatever they are for.”

If Democrats are to make gains in 2014, they need a vision.  Their message needs to be strategic, coordinated and engaging.  Today, there is no such thing as politics as usual. People are no longer voting based on a D or an R behind ones name. To help those running for office, Democrats and Republicans alike, need to figure out, what they stand for and then arm their caucus with the tools and resources to broadcast and share that message in a way that will resonate with the voter.  It is time to end the politics and focus on the policy as a way to engage voters. 

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What's your kid on?

As a marketing professional I am always trying to stay on top of new technologies or systems for clients to take advantage of. One great test market are teens and tweens. Today kids text more than they tweet, and they talk more than they post. However, parents are giving their children smart phones and tablets at a younger age each year and it is become harder and harder to stay on top of how quickly they adapt to new technologies. 

So what are your kids on?

According to AdWeek (February 3, 2014), our kids are on their phones or tablets sending messages to their friends, using a variety of resources.  This month. this includes: 

  • Texting
    • WhatsApp
    • Kik, Line, WeChat 
  • Social Sharing
    • Jelly 
    • Whisper
  • Photo
    • Snapchat
  • Voice & Video
    • Tango
  • Gaming
    • QuizUp

With so many new technologies emerging and so many ways for our children to access them, it is important as parents to monitor our children's mobile, social and web activity. It is important for parents to talk with their children and set expectations for their use -- no matter their age, from 1-21. As parents we should have access to their apps and be able to monitor them on a regular, if not real time basis. 

As a marketer, it is important to stay on top of these new technologies to advise companies on how to best manage their marketing budget. Just as people are starting to get comfortable with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, new sites and apps are popping up. For companies, it is important to know where your customers are and what they are reading and visiting so you know where to invest your marketing budget. 

As parents and professionals it is important to stay on top of new and emerging trends, technologies and platforms to help broadcast our messages and protect our children.

 

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Protecting Your Client's Reputation

Should lawyers represent their client’s outside the courtroom, they have to become comfortable in talking freely about their client’s case without jeopardizing legal outcomes. Lawyers in general are trained to be reticent, answer only the questions asked and to give no more information than is necessary. In the face of the media and those who rely on it, however, expansive information and open communication can serve the client better than creating an appearance that the client has something to hide and, worse is hiding behind a lawyer. Public relations counsel can employ strategies to build, preserve, and protect client reputation, while reinforcing their client’s legal strategy. In the public eye, we may be presumed guilty if we respond to a reporter’s question with “no comment.” To avoid this presumption of guilt, it is important to develop a message and answer questions, or appear to, while staying on that message. In today’s economy, lawyers need to provide their clients with more than just legal services. By learning how the media operates, lawyers can best serve their clients, by blending law, policy, politics and strategic communications to provide an integrated approach to addressing or better yet resolving legal problems.

For more information, please contact, Daniel Cherrin at dcherrin@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0865.

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Do you want to tell a good story?

Then get back to the basics: Once upon a time there was a  ________.

Every day, _____________.

One day, ___________.

Because of that, ____________.

Because of that, ____________.

Until finally, ______.

In a good story, reality is introduced. Conflict arrives. There is a struggle. The conflict is resolved and a new reality emerges.

What's your story?

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Commit to These Simple Marketing Tips

Commit to These Simple Marketing Tips •    3 Tweets per day

•    2 re-Tweets

•    3 Meaningful Facebook posts per day

•    4-5 Pinterest pics a week

•    One tip sheet per month

•    Blog a "How To"

•    Create your own "Top Ten" list

•    Solve problems on line

•    Share quotes

•    numbers

•    Write an e-book

And remember, news must entertain, inspire, start a conversation, teach how to do something or provide relevant information.

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Don't Dress Like a Mortician

That was the advice a memo from someone at Clifford Chance told the woman lawyers at the multi-national law firm in an effort to help them give better presentations. The advice was directed at the Clifford Chance women attorneys who make up a fraction of the 3,700 of their legal advisors.  The memo urges female lawyers to “practice hard words,” stop saying “like” and to button up, explaining “No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage” and “Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.” Other tips on the memo include:

  • “Like” You’ve got to Lose “Um” and “Uh,” “You know,” “OK,” and “Like”
  • Don’t raise your pitch at the end of a statement if it’s not a question.
  • Lower the pitch — say “uh-huh” and match that pitch to how low you can go
  • Don’t qualify: “Kind of, sort of, just…”

Some of it is good advice that we need to be reminded every now and then but the rest -- Well I think there is better advice to give anyone giving a presentation. My advice,

  • Be yourself but professional.
  • Be natural but have fun.
  • Enjoy the moment, it's yours.

If you want other good presentation tips, Ragan.com posted 8 Things Never To Say During Your Presentation.

Following the release of the memo on the blog, Above the Law, a Clifford Chance representative said, “The original presentation and associated tips represented a personal perspective, shared with a group of colleagues, some just starting out in their careers.”  (See the rest of the memo here.)

If that is the case, then Clifford Chance should respond they way the memo was leaked and use social media to address the issue directly.  They should follow up with a blog post of their own and post it on their blog or website. I would not recommend they respond to concerns on Twitter or Facebook. If they do they will continue to contribute to the debate and if I were advising Clifford Chance, I would have them post a blog or statement and find opportunities to reinvest in the people of their firm to restore trust and their image, particularly women.

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