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Be True to Your Brand

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

Dr. Seuss

The same goes for your company and your competitors’ companies. While you may serve similar customer needs, there can be vast differences in brand attributes. Take Ryanair and Emirates. Ryanair is Europe’s “ultra low cost carrier”; it has embraced a “no-frills, low-cost, get-you-from-A-to-B model” that makes air travel “accessible to the masses.” The airline guarantees that it has the lowest fares on flights to all of its destinations. Emirates, on the other hand, is one of the most luxurious travel brands on the planet. From its sparkling fleet of new planes, to high-quality cuisine, the latest in cabin design, and a wide range of entertainment options, Emirates strives to make the “Emirates experience” world class in every class.

The takeaway here is that you can’t be all things to all people, but once you know what you can do better than your competitors, you can polish your brand in ways that appeal to the type of employees you want to hire, customers you want to serve, and partners/investors you want to attract. (more…)

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5 Steps to Taming the Media List Beast

media list

Public relations is a fast-paced industry where deadlines can be fluid and windows of opportunity within news cycles are incredibly easy to miss. You might have a compelling angle and an experienced spokesperson at the ready, but that won’t get you very far if your media list doesn’t have the right contact info for the right reporters at the right media outlets.

Making sure that you’re talking with the right journalists is vital. Sounds easy, but if there is anything that changes faster than PR, it’s the media landscape. Reporters change beats, outlets, and their preferred contact channels at a dizzying pace, and that’s not likely to slow down anytime soon.

So, what’s the best way to keep your media lists accurate? First, update them as often as possible. By dividing your upkeep tasks into faster, more frequent sprints, you will avoid time sinks and research escapades that could take hours, and you’ll be ready to jump on breaking news. Track industry happenings as part of each work day and, when you find a relevant article, make sure that the reporter is on your media list. If you notice that one of your media contacts has changed publications or coverage beats, immediately update your media list. And, when a new media outlet catches your attention… Update. Your. Media. List.

Everyone knows that maintaining media lists can be a beast. Well, I’m here to tell you that the beast can be tamed. Here are five steps to optimizing your media lists so you can generate great results: (more…)

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Is It Ever OK to Break a Press Embargo?

This is the second half of a two-part article on press embargoes.

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Photo credit: Alex Blarth via Flickr

Reporters know that if you’ve set a press embargo, you’re probably pitching the story to many journalists. If your embargo and the wire time for the press release are the same, the reporter who’s bothering to review your news in advance will be in competition with the wire service to be first with the news — and reporters like to break news, especially in the 24-hour news cycle. (Search for “CNN retracts story” to see the results of the fierce competition to be the first with breaking news.)

Ask yourself — Could I give my “friendlies” who are cooperating with me and possibly doing interviews, a leg up on the post time? Can I let them “break” the embargo that I’ve set? The answer is No if you’re working with a public company, and Yes if it’s a private company. (more…)

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The Press Embargo: Dead or Alive?

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes via Flickr

Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes via Flickr

In 2008, TechCrunch published Michael Arrington’s manifesto calling for the death of the news embargo: “From this point on we will break every embargo we agree to.” Media relations professionals pulled hair, gnashed teeth and whined on social media. Seven years later, the press embargo —a gentleman’s agreement between a reporter and a source to hold a specific piece of news confidential until a pre-determined date and time— is alive and kicking in Silicon Valley. (more…)


What Journalists Really Want from PR Professionals

While Mel Gibson’s 2000 romantic comedy “What Women Want” was a mostly forgettable film, the ability to telepathically hear what women are thinking instantly became the envy of every man in the world, myself included. As a PR professional, however, much more valuable would be to know what’s going on inside the mind of a reporter. (more…)

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Today’s “Not-So-Social” Networks


At the heart of every technological innovation is the desire to strengthen relationships between people and the hope that we can improve quality of life. However, lately I feel we have created “not-so-social” networks. The mechanics of connecting with others has changed dramatically over time, primarily due to visionary inventors, accomplished technologists, and the growing pressure to continuously do more in less time. (more…)


Why Sterling is on Instagram


“A picture is worth a thousand words.” We all know the figure of speech. But in the world in which we now live, where precious, expensive film is replaced by digital memory and cloud storage, it is easy to wonder if pictures are still that valuable.

Well, at Sterling we believe that a picture is now worth far more than just a thousand words. After all, that’s why marketing and public relations agencies have adopted video and photography to optimize reach to target audiences. Social media marketing once disrupted our text-heavy PR world with limiting messages to 140 characters on Twitter. Now, people want to receive marketing messages from a single glance at a photo.

Instagram is one such social media channel that has forever changed the way we market businesses. In fact, the picture and video sharing service has now surpassed Twitter in number of users. (more…)

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What I Learned from the Hendo Hoverboard: Sometimes, it’s OK to say “No, Thanks”


People working in PR agencies will tell you that one of the greatest things about this line of work is that you get to learn something new pretty much every day. When Sterling took on Arx Pax as a new client in early October, I did a lot of learning. Specifically, I learned how to master the delicate balancing act of sifting through dozens of media inquiries to find the right outlets for our clients’ limited media time. Media interest in a client is always exciting and PR people are programmed to act as conduits between their clients and the media. That said, I have learned that as there is a time for media engagement, there is also a time for keeping quiet and passing on opportunities (cue The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”). Knowing when to tell the difference – aye, there’s the rub.

Managing the tsunami of media interest we generated when we launched Arx Pax’s Hendo hoverboard taught me that this decision-making process demands risk-taking, knowing my client’s big picture goals and putting their objectives first. (more…)

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This is a Mad Men’s World: 6 Lessons from Don Draper for Agency Life

My “Mad Men” avatar, courtesy AMC

I am obsessed with the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I even dressed up as an SCDP secretary for a Halloween party (and won third prize). In preparation for the fifth season of “Mad Men” beginning this Sunday night on AMC, I’ve watched the episodes again and despite the lack of surprise, I’ve enjoyed them even more than on my initial viewing. Without a need to focus on the storylines, I can spend more time admiring the exquisite production values, the labyrinthine script, and the subtle acting.

With my head in the 1960s, I’ve repeatedly drawn comparisons between life at the SCDP ad agency with my life at the Sterling Communications public relations agency, to the point where I decided to summarize my top lessons from Don Draper and his colleagues. No, I’m not talking about the boozing, harassment or eavesdropping —and no one has ever driven a lawn mower in one of our offices— but the lessons on client and employee relationships. Some things don’t change.

As a “spoiler alert,” I’ve ordered the lessons by season, and am paraphrasing the dialogue.


Lesson 1: I was reviewing messaging of solar companies recently and noticed that one company describes their “waterproof solar mounting systems.” Aren’t they all waterproof? They go on your roof. Then I realized that it was an example of the messaging meeting Don had with Lucky Strike in the pilot episode:

“Lucky Strike. It’s toasted.”

“But all tobacco is toasted. Every one does it.”

“No, everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike’s is toasted. So you can own that message.”

How many times have I heard a similar conversation in messaging and positioning meetings? That conversation was spot on — and I was hooked on the show.

Lesson 2: After Peggy Olson was assigned to the Rejuvenator account, she dithered over asking for a salary raise until Don barked at her, “Don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you deserve.” That’s a good piece of advice, and as applicable in budget negotiations with clients as it is in salary discussions.


Lesson 3: When Sterling Cooper lost its bid for American Airlines’ business because their contact had been fired, Don, surprisingly, took it in stride. Rather than bemoaning the lost effort, he consoled Duck Phillips by reminding him that their participation in the agency review had catapulted Sterling Cooper into a new league. Other companies would no longer regard them as a bit player. The entire episode rang true to anyone who’s worked in an agency, as we’ve all experienced opportunities that have evaporated due to a contact’s departure. You regret the lost opportunity, and then move on. On the positive side, you’re left with some good new collateral developed for the proposal.

Lesson 4: When Sterling Cooper merged with Putnam, Powell & Lowell, Duck talked about his vision for the new company. At the end of the speech, old Bert Cooper commented, “Not once in that speech did I hear mention of the client.” I was reminded of this when reading Greg Smith’s letter outlining his reasons for leaving Goldman Sachs, a letter strikingly similar in tone to Don Draper’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” op-ed in Season 4. Smith was discouraged by Goldman’s laser focus on profits, sometimes at the expense of the client’s best interest. Whether it’s banking or advertising or public relations, if you’re in a service business, the client’s good should figure into every decision.


Lesson 5: When discussing her objection to the client’s wish for a shot-for-shot copy of the opening sequence of “Bye Bye Birdie” for a “Patio” drink ad, Peggy said, “Sometimes clients don’t know what they want. You need to tell them.” The attitude of her male counterpart was:  Whatever the client wants is fine. They’re paying. While that’s true, it’s the account person’s responsibility to present options and recommendations, not to be a yes-man or –woman. The client is paying for strategic counsel, and you should offer guidance.


Lesson 6: The executive team of Fillmore Auto Parts couldn’t agree on their strategy:  Did they wish to appeal to professional mechanics, or to the DIY Everyman?  Don impatiently told them to come to a decision while he left the room on personal business. As he exited, one of the clients could be heard to ask, “Why do we have to please him?” I could understand the frustration felt on both sides. They did need to agree and were wasting the account team’s time, but Don treated them in a condescending way that was not respectful. They were the clients and were paying for Don’s time, not the other way around.

What about you?  What’s your favorite life lesson or work tip from Don, Peggy, Pete and the rest of the gang?

If you want to celebrate the return of “Mad Men,” the San Jose Mercury News published some tips for hosting the ultimate 1960s-era cocktail party. I’ll have an Old Fashioned and a bowl of Chex Mix, please. Don’t forget to “Mad Men Yourself” on the AMC website — see my avatar above!

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.