PRSA theme of the day: PR pros are storytellers at heart

By Sandra Fine, APR of rbb Public Relations and PRSA Miami Board Member

If Monday’s message at the PRSA conference was all about speaking to the customer, Tuesday honed in on the art of telling your story to that customer. In one of the most inspirational talks of the conference, Joe Rohde, senior vice president and creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, discussed the importance of theme in telling your story to convey an authentic and memorable experience. Well, certainly Disney has that concept down pat.

As an aside, I guess those rumors about Disney’s harsh rules banning its cast members from having facial hair or wearing jewelry have been dispelled. Joe not only sports a scruffy face, but also one heavy (and painful looking) earring, comprised of a collection of souvenirs picked up on his exotic travels. Joe is the lead designer at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the new Aulani resort in Hawaii.

Unlike many creative types, Joe was able to channel his artistic passion into practical applications that PR professionals can apply to our campaign thinking. Here are a few of his gems:

1. The art of storytelling starts with landing on your theme, which sets the roadmap for “what this is going to be about.” From that point on, all decisions on how to do it are driven by the theme. In Animal Kingdom’s case, the theme was the “intrinsic value of nature,” and everything stayed true to that concept.

2. Of course, there are metrics that need to be built in to projects, but according to Joe these will come naturally as long as you follow the theme. For example, when Disney told him that Animal Kingdom needed a thrill ride, Joe traveled to the Himalayas to explore how to incorporate that ride into his theme. As it turns out, the native people believe that the Yeti is the protector of the mountains (fitting into the intrinsic value of nature theme), and from there Expedition Everest was created. Joe said that theme expands opportunity and allows us to diverge from metrics.

3. When telling your story, audiences don’t have time for what they think they already know, so it’s important to combine natural storytelling patterns with interruptions and tweaks to keep their attention.

4. When asked how to spark creativity, Joe said it comes from distraction and not falling into predictable feedback loops. In closing, he told us that success is a willingness to always continue to learn.

With education in mind, I headed off to the next sessions of the day, which also seemed to follow the theme of storytelling. In a seminar about reputation management, John Doorley of New York University talked about the importance of brands realizing their “intrinsic identity.” He also dispelled the common saying “perception is reality.”

In John’s opinion, “perception” doesn’t give practitioners the opportunity to do much about it. Instead, he quoted Abraham Lincoln: “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it while the tree is the real thing.” John’s point: A tree can be changed to affect its shadow.

Now, normally I avoid the social media workshops while we wait for the pundits to stop telling us things we know (remember we don’t have time!) and start showing us those results. But PRSA tweeps were saying great things about Mark Evan’s “Your Social Brand,” so I wandered in. As it turns out, although we may think we already know all the social media best practices, Mark says 71 percent of customer complaint tweets get no response at all. Why?  1. Fear  2. Resources.

A few more interesting points:

1. With an almost uncomfortable number of references to Justin Bieber and his social media influence, Mark reminded us to party where the party is happening. In other words, listen and monitor where people are talking about you.

2. Sometimes it’s best to pause and let someone else in the online community respond to a negative comment.

3. You must be doing one of the three E’s: Engaging, Educating or Entertaining. If not, what are you doing there?

4. Mark doesn’t put too much emphasis on social media ROI and quoted KFC’s manager of public affairs, who said “We don’t get a lot of pressure to justify ROI. Social media is a very important customer service element and that’s enough for us.”

5. Mark equated social media to going to the gym. You have to be consistent and committed to see results.

That sums up my recap of the best from the 2011 PRSA International Conference in Orlando. I’m pretty excited to head back and start weaving my stories with my theme and keeping my customer always in mind.

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Top takeaways from the PRSA 2011 International Conference

By Sandra Fine, APR of rbb Public Relations and PRSA Miami Board Member

I’m at the PRSA International Conference in Orlando this week, and I’m providing you with the inside info from here on the ground. The clear message from the presenters is the need to evolve all communications to appeal to what your customer wants – whether that customer is the media, the people who buy your products and services, your boss or your employees.

The tone at PRSA validates what we’ve been telling clients for some time now. The on-demand, digital age has opened new opportunities for communications channels beyond traditional media, but that also means end users have infinite options. As if we weren’t already self-centered enough as Americans, now more than ever before we want to know what’s in it for us.

And let me tell you: If the answer isn’t in plain black and white, we’re moving on.

This sentiment really isn’t all that new, but big brands today are still sending out one-way messaging on social media and centering their press materials around their news and their announcement, rather than the benefits to the customer.

So, in the spirit of writing from the perspective of my readers, I’m going to break down the most compelling learnings from the conference. I’ll keep it brief too, because as my reader I know you only have time for the key information that’s going to help you do your job better.

1. Information is free, but attention is expensive. Ann Wiley’s seminar on thinking like a reader discussed the audience’s instinct to look for the information with more gain and less pain. There are only two rewards for readers: living life better and being entertained. If you aren’t providing one of the two rewards, you are doing it wrong.

Want to get your copy read more often? Learn to write with the “what’s in it for me” mentality, and restructure your prose to lead with the benefit to the readers and substantiate it with features. Ann summed it up best with a tale about her Grandpa Wiley, who back in the day was the best fisherman in town. Why?  Because he thought like a fish – he used the bait they liked, not the bait he did.

2. The folks at MGH and Maryland’s Department of Tourism really get the whole customer-centric theme. In fact, they let their customers do the heavy lifting in promoting the destination of Ocean City. Recognizing the importance of peer-to-peer recommendations, they assembled a 20-person ambassador program to take advantage of social media and online forums, while still retaining some control of the messaging.

Not only did the ambassadors post on external social media sites, but they also fielded questions from potential tourists right on the city’s website, reducing the work for the internal department.

A few more key points:

  • Disclaimers are a MUST. Providing ambassadors a disclaimer to use, along with a link back to your site’s website, not only encourages transparency but also traffic.
  • Use incentives to motivate ambassadors, and don’t be afraid to “fire” them when they aren’t performing.
  • Give them inside access – make them feel special and part of the team.
  • For this program, small groups of ambassadors worked better, as they felt more connected to the job and didn’t count on anyone else to handle the bulk of the work.
  • Never tell them what to say.

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Why I Fell in Love with the Public Relations Profession Again: A PRSA International Conference Overview

By: Nathalie Santa Maria of Fusion Communications and PRSA Miami Board Member

Passion is the one adjective that best describes the theme of the 2011 PRSA International Conference. From the guest speakers during general session to the professionals from all over the world who surrounded me for three days, we all radiated passion about creativity, inspiration and imagination.

There is an intrinsic lure to the possibilities that passion brings to the field of public relations. Be it the future of our profession by awarding a Gold Anvil to Cheryl I. Procter Rogers, APR, Fellow PRSA; the enthusiasm of Shonali Burke, ABC, while discussing new methods to measure success; or revisiting writing techniques that allow us to think like a reader with Ann Wylie; attendees’ showcased a passion and eagerness to learn so that we could bring back the most valuable information to our local chapters, colleagues, clients and/or company.

During Soledad O’Brien’s opening remarks, she spoke about how passion guided her to the first internship she landed and how it paved the way for her journalistic career. While growing up in the late 1960s in Maryland with a Cuban, black mother and Australian, Irish father, blending “in” was not an easy feat. But, I think her family’s inability to blend in during a tumultuous era of racial divide paved the way for her ability to tell the story via the characters in her documentaries that exhibit passion and have a story to tell.

Not to mention, passion is what drives the thousands of employees who promote the Walt Disney World brand every day. Conference attendees sat during Joe Rohde’s general session presentation sporting Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse ears. We all connected with that warm and fuzzy feeling we love when we think of Disney World. Rohde and his team’s exemplary vision in creating the theme that is fundamental to what Animal Kingdom is today, is something that we, as clients, practitioners, students, and new professionals, can bring to every project we take on.

Passion doesn’t only speak one language. It speaks louder than any non-verbal cue and defies every language barrier. What stands out and shines above the crowd is what catches our interest the most, and when we exhibit passion, we all find a unique story to tell.

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