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Keeping It Real on Social Media

Did you see the story recently about coffee shops shutting down Wi-Fi to force people to interact? What about the memes of people glued to their mobiles in front of great works of art? Have you heard high-school dances are going extinct because teens would rather just Snapchat each other?

Everyone bemoans what mobile technology has done to personal interactions. But who would really give up their devices? Our pocket computers provide many advantages – including deepening our connections with loved ones – and someone without a digital connection would miss out on too much of the modern world.

The desire for connection creates challenges and opportunities for brands. When brands try to reach an audience, they must compete with millions of other companies, celebrities, friends and loved ones, cute animals, mainstream news sources and verbose politicians.

To break through, successful organizations need to find ways to make emotional connections with the audience, rather than just providing information.

One great way to make sure content – especially on social media – feels authentic is to imagine speaking to a real person. When I worked in internal communications, a conference speaker reminded people not to write for a generic group such as “fellow employees.” She suggested picturing someone specific, like Carol in accounting, or John from IT. Writing as if I were sending an email to a coworker helped me keep things simple and clear.

Brands must also remember what the audience wants. People who have already taken the time to like a Twitter account or follow on Facebook have demonstrated an interest in a product or service. They want information about upcoming events and new offerings. But to build trust and loyalty, users must sense a real person on the other side of the screen with real emotions – and perhaps a sense of humor. Nobody wants to read dry, corporate copy; so don’t write it.

Listening truly sets people apart on social media. Traditional media relied on “we say, they listen” communication; the technology required it. Too many organizations act as if things still work that way. They Tweet or post on Facebook without a plan for the next step. Anything interesting online draws shares, likes, comments and reviews. We recommend group organizations designate a person, process and culture for responding quickly and consistently. It’s the key to being seen as more than self-promotional.

Candor doesn’t believe any of this is easy. Making every follower feel as if they’re the center of attention may be the greatest communication challenge we have. But when organizations set authentic connections as the goal, they take a huge leap toward generating a loyal, passionate audience.

How Candor Won a PR Daily Award

Christmas came early for Candor. In early December, PR Daily named our makeOKbetter campaign the best interactive storytelling campaign in the nation for 2016. I know what you’re thinking: “But what does ‘interactive storytelling’ even mean?” Honestly, it’s the new way to look at PR. With the rise of digital media, our services and capabilities as PR professionals keep growing. The makeOKbetter campaign wasn’t confined to just one medium. Instead, we dabbled in: social media advertising; email marketing; web design & management; infographics; high-quality, scripted video; and even live video shot directly from our phones. We coupled all of this with some tried-and-true PR methods, such as media pitching, press conferences and strategic op-ed pieces.

Here’s some background on our campaign, why it was necessary and what it took to win a PR Daily Content Marketing Award.

The History

During the 2016 legislative session, the Oklahoma Hospital Association faced a proposed 25 percent cut to Medicaid provider rates, which would have devastated hospitals across the state.

It was a complicated issue in the middle of a statewide budget crisis, but the OHA called Candor to create a strategy that would save hospitals and save lives.

Together, we launched the makeOKbetter campaign to ensure Oklahomans were aware of what was at stake, especially for 42 rural hospitals at risk of closing. We hoped to get rid of the 25 percent cut by urging hard-working Oklahomans to ask the Legislature to “take back” federal dollars to adequately fund health care.

We needed to pack a punch to make a difference, so we outlined three phases to highlight the campaign and tell our story across Oklahoma.

Phase One – “Educate & Inform”

These budget cuts were going to impact jobs, communities and families, so we needed the title to focus on a solution. We created the logo in-house using recognizable healthcare colors. On February 24, 2016, we publicly launched the campaign with an interactive landing page urging advocates to “join the movement.” We collected e-mail opt-ins and explained the issues and key messages. We stressed the idea of “a better future” for Oklahomans. The site received media coverage around the state and let stakeholders and elected officials know there would be an organized effort to make health care funding a top priority.

The landing page housed our first video, an animation explaining the proposed budget cut and its potential impact. We made it easy for hospitals to share the video, and also gave them posters, payroll stuffers, FAQs and social media posts they could share.

After optimizing the makeOKbetter social channels, we turned the animation video into paid ads and targeted an interested audience. We used Facebook and Twitter to display hard-hitting infographics explaining the budget crisis. The infographics cut to the core of our messaging:

• “Don’t let this happen to Oklahoma Hospitals”
• “Join the movement and take back our federal funds.”

By educating and informing our audience, we were ready to kick off ‘Phase Two.’

Phase Two – “Emotional Appeal”

On March 21, it was time to put numbers behind battle cries. We used video to tell the story of
the rural community of Sayre and what it meant to lose its hospital. It was fresh on the mind of its community members, so our video crew took to the streets, cafes and salons to hear how they had been affected.

That was just one town. One hospital. One community. Our audience was starting to understand the dire situation.

By the end of our campaign, the Sayre video totaled 237,105 views, reached 352,535 people and received 9,272 reactions, comments and shares.

We followed the video with opinion editorials, posting earned media hits to our social media channels and sharing media clips with key influencers. And then we were hit with a few wrinkles.

Phase Three – “Call to Action”

As the month went on, it became clear the Legislature was not going to take back federal health care funds, forcing advocates to devise a new strategy. Under the direction of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, makeOKbetter endorsed the Medicaid Rebalancing Act and a proposed cigarette tax.

Through new data and a compelling infographic, we grabbed media’s attention. We stressed the need for action, stating the proposed Medicaid cuts would mean as many as four out of every five Oklahoma hospitals would not deliver babies, nine out of 10 nursing homes would be forced to shut down and more than a dozen hospitals would close within the year. Polling found 74% of Oklahomans supported a cigarette tax increase to fix health care.

We launched a new video, stating “Oklahoma is on life support” and “health care is in crisis” to create a sense of urgency and desperation. We unveiled the video at a press conference alongside the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers. Multiple media outlets and health care professionals attended. We asked our audience: “What are you going to do to save Oklahoma health care?”

We supported the message with infographics, door hangers for Capitol offices and a coordinated op-ed campaign from hospital CEOs.

Some legislators said our campaign was crying wolf, so we asked health care administrators to stand up and say exactly what would happen to their hospitals, services and communities if the Legislature did not act. We edited highlights from each speaker and turned them into short videos to promote on Facebook. We targeted legislative districts with our new information through detailed social media ads, and we purchased ads in newspapers.

Finally, it was time to vote. In an unlikely turn of events, the Republicans supported the cigarette tax, while the Democrats were still holding out for an agreement to accept federal funds. The Legislature left the vote open until midnight, but ultimately, the cigarette tax turned to ash.

However, within days the Legislature removed the proposed Medicaid cuts and miraculously found money to avoid the health care crisis. The makeOKbetter campaign accomplished its original goal to preserve health care funding, and developed a foundation to continue to educate lawmakers next session.

Why I Didn’t Have to Sell My Soul to Leave News

When I decided to leave the world of news – again – for public relations, I knew what I’d hear from friends and colleagues: “Going to the dark side, eh?”

I was right. Though I think people who say that have the wrong idea.

Working as the managing editor of The Journal Record for two years put me on the front row of business and politics in Oklahoma City. I saw great drama: Entrepreneurs with big ideas and the drive to turn them into reality. Figurative and literal earth-shaking events in the energy industry. Political careers peaking and crumbling. Changes in practice and perception across the statewide economy.

And when the opportunity to join Candor came along, I saw it as a chance to participate more directly in those activities.

Some think PR agencies push fluff without regard for truth. But I’ve never seen it that way. Professional communicators take great pride in helping people get their messages to the masses, and we know it’s never worth it to risk our reputations by being dishonest. You may not always agree with our clients, but when you see something in public discourse that fits your view, a professional communicator probably helped get it out there.

We’re not trying to steal money that used to go to mass-media advertising. We help people and organizations find the best, most efficient ways to share their stories with their audiences.
Sometimes that means a high-impact event or a buzzworthy social media post. It often means keeping websites stocked with information that gives a realistic view of an issue or a company.

At Candor, it also means sometimes telling a client that he or she needs to rethink a concept or move in a new direction. Sometimes it even means declining to take on work if we don’t think we see eye-to-eye with a prospect about how to ethically and responsibly act.

A public relations and business consulting firm doesn’t have the same watchdog responsibility as a journalistic operation. But we do hold ourselves to high standards. The focus of my work shifted, but I won’t have to give up any of my dignity or ideals.

Some have said I left the forces of good. I see a chance to shine a spotlight on the businesses and causes that make our community better.

The Power of the Founding Story

Ever wondered where you came from? I recently joined over 50 family members for a heritage tour throughout NW Oklahoma to see where my great-great grandfather and other ancestors homesteaded in the late 1880s. We visited gravesites, old homes, museums, churches and more. We shared stories passed down through the generations and common themes emerged such as a pioneering spirit and commitment to public service.

Just as family history defines my personal brand, the same is true for organizations. Looking back into a brand’s history often best explains its mission, culture and values. Here are four reasons organizations should share their founding story.

It Humanizes a Brand 

Throughout the heritage tour, I heard stories about my great-great grandpa, who brought my family to Oklahoma and was the first elected sheriff in Kingfisher County. The stories truly came alive when I saw his picture, held his old handcuffs and heard a tape recording describing his arrest of famous bank robbers. Sharing a brand’s past makes it more personable. For example, use pictures from when a company’s founder still had to get their hands dirty to get the job done. Reflecting on an organization’s roots with photos or video will help the audience to form a more personal connection with your brand.

 

It Provides Context, Which Helps Paint a More Complete Picture of Your Organization

Our heritage tour focused on where our ancestors homesteaded in Oklahoma. While my great-great grandparents’ home is no longer standing, the local museum had paintings of them! This painting shows the dugout where they lived during the first four winters in Oklahoma and describes the hauling of the wood and brick to build the larger home, which finally had concrete added in 1910. The painting helped me picture what life was like back in the early 1890s and the challenges my ancestors faced. When sharing an organization’s founding story, be sure to explain the time period to provide context. Did your company create opportunities during the Great Depression or the oil boom? How has your organization adapted through the years? Understanding where an organization came from provides an indication of where it is headed and what consumers can expect.

 

Founding Stories Establish Values 

Culture and values are critical to building a business, hiring and retaining employees and reaching target audiences.

My great grandfather, Lloyd Long, always shared a poem which still hangs in every family member’s home. I was raised reading and hearing what we dubbed “The Long Philosophy.” It describes my ancestors’ optimism and servant-oriented hearts. The Long Philosophy became part of my core value system and after gaining context from my family’s founding story, these words took on new meaning.

How do you communicate about your organization’s values? While posting a list of values around a workplace or on a website can be a good reminder, a Booz Allen Hamilton/Aspen Institute survey on corporate values found 77 percent of respondents said explicit CEO support is one of the “most effective” practices for reinforcing the company’s values. Ask leadership to explain the story behind the organization’s values to provide context. Reinforce the values during hiring, training and performance reviews. Ensuring these values are ingrained into an organization’s culture helps differentiate its brand.

 

Sharing Your Founding Story Creates Loyalty 

Recent research from Harvard Business Review shows brand loyalty is built on shared values. Now over 50 of my family members know the story of our ancestors who homesteaded in Oklahoma… and we’re passing it along! I live tweeted the heritage tour and other family members posted pictures and memories on Facebook. You could say we’ve become brand advocates.  Help your audience understand your value system in a new way that will make them feel a part of your brand and build a lasting connection by sharing your founding story.

 

Five Tips from the News Media: How to Increase Trust

Americans have definite views about news and who we rely on to deliver it. As a broadcast journalist who anchored news and sports programs for forty years, I know how important it is to act with integrity and show respect for viewers and listeners. They are quite particular about whom they invite into their homes each day through television or radio, and wise journalists take that relationship seriously if they want to last in the news business.

During my career, including 25 years reporting and delivering news on Oklahoma’s statewide public television network, I knew I was being judged by how I conducted myself every day and whether viewers trusted the news and information we presented. Trust takes much effort to build and can quickly be lost.

A recent study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, bears this out. It shows news consumers – the people who watch news on TV, listen to it on the radio or read it in newspapers or online – pay more attention to news from organizations they trust.

The report focuses on traditional media journalism, but contains lessons each of us can learn to become more trusted – and more valued – communicators. The study shows dedication to these five principles will increase trustworthiness:

  • Eighty-five percent of adults say accuracy is a critical reason they trust a news source. Getting the story right is the most important factor in gaining trust, regardless of the topic. Providing in-depth information and reliable data increases perceptions of accuracy.

  • Consumers want their news fast…and complete. Seventy-six percent said having the latest details is critical. Organizations that are quick to answer key questions and deliver important details are seen as more trustworthy.

  • Familiarity and openness in reporting methods increases communicator’s trust scores. News consumers are more likely to trust reporters and news outlets they know. Explaining how information was gathered and reported boosts confidence in reporters and builds trust.

  • News consumers appreciate diverse viewpoints presented fairly. They also want to see stories about people like themselves. Finding the right balance of delivering content they can relate to while exposing them to other ideas shows the communicator respects them and appreciates fair play. Most people like that.

  • Overall, the research shows presentation ranks lower than other key trust factors, but Americans definitely want information that is easily understood. Seventy-two percent said it is very important news be concise and to the point while 67 percent say in-depth coverage is extremely or very important. Entertainment and convenience also improve the level of trust in presentation. Increasingly, ease of navigation on a website or app matters to digital users who want to be able to multi-task while they take in news content.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being a journalist is hearing from people who appreciate what you do and how you have made a difference in their lives. Think how powerful that kind of testimonial would be for your business or organization.

Just as news consumers are loyal to journalists they trust, clients and customers typically prefer to work with people they know, respect and trust. So, as you develop your own communications plans, remember, focusing on trust will help your business rise above the crowd and lead to rewarding long-term relationships. Make building trust a top priority in your personal and professional strategy and you will see positive results.

8 Proven Tips to Working with the Media: Political Edition

While everyone may recall the catchy tune from Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill,” most people are not intimately familiar with the legislative process. Storytelling is different in the political arena. Whether advocating for federal, state or local policy – there are some time-proven tips and tricks to working with the media.

  1. Focus on the big picture. Lobbyists and policy wonks are too close to policy changes to summarize a 287 page bill into a headline. Take a step back to evaluate the impact of the policy from the outside looking in. A PR practitioner can help you determine why the media and average citizen at home should care.

  2. Use real people to humanize policy. If you’re advocating against education cuts, an economist talking about budget deficits is likely to fall on deaf ears. A child willing to talk to a reporter about losing their art class will generate more interest. Plus, your lobbying team can take these spokespersons to the Capitol to drive the message home with legislators.

  3. Include visuals. Infographics help the general public and reporters digest complicated statistics and sell key messages. It is important to tie these numbers back to who is impacted by the policy change. The elderly? Babies? Veterans? A picture of constituencies will tug on heartstrings, garner attention and build support.

  4. Educate reporters. Parliamentary procedure and legislative rules are not easily understood. While a reporter might know there’s an upcoming vote, explain the significance of each stage in the process and where your bill is headed next.

  5. Find third-party advocates. After the first several rounds of media stories, reporters will tire of the same spokesperson and messaging. Work to provide fresh angles and new voices. For example, if you’re advocating for a health care policy, limit use of hospital administrators and activate patient advocacy groups. See tip #2!

  6. Know your audience. Messages are often targeted to the general public to contact all of their legislators, but other times the message is focused on changing one representative’s mind.

  7. Pro-actively comment. Toward the end of a legislative session or during a political campaign season, reporters struggle to cover it all. Providing a quote and context immediately after a vote makes the story easier to write and might bump your news up on a reporter’s priority list.

  8. Leverage earned media coverage. Share stories found on TV and in the newspaper on social media. Print copies to take to the Capitol or share with influencers and advocates. Keep a running list of news coverage on the organization’s website. These media stories can be repurposed throughout the campaign, especially compelling quotes and headlines.

How to Make the Perfect Media Pitch

Check out this video to learn what makes the perfect media pitch

With four former journalists at Candor, we have decades of experience receiving PR pitches in our newsrooms.