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By Keri Barker

Ready to start your PR career?

Firmani + Associates, a progressive public relations and marketing firm located in Seattle, Washington, is offering a four-month, full-time paid internship beginning this November.

We’re looking for highly motivated and talented candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism or another communication field, excellent writing and editing skills, and the drive to succeed. Knowledge of social media concepts and experience with execution and implementation is preferred.

We serve a range of industries, with a focus on legal, technology, health care and professional services companies. Our dynamic team provides interns the opportunity to work alongside savvy public relations professionals spanning a range of ages and experience levels. We pride ourselves on offering a real-world learning experience and value someone who will step up and add to our team of creative minds. Our interns gain hands-on experience with account coordinator-level responsibilities such as writing press releases, researching market trends, pitching to media outlets and planning strategic social media campaigns.

We offer an internship stipend, transportation stipend, paid holidays, and a bevy of other perks.

To be considered for this position, please send a copy of your resume, three writing samples, and a cover letter describing yourself, your work history, GPA, and why you think you’d make a good fit to recruiter@firmani.com.

By Kelcie Goetsch

The Quest for Relevance: Does Talkability Trump Truth?

PR professionals work tirelessly to serve as trusted media informants to achieve client coverage from both traditional and digital news sources. While the ability to use these outlets to sway public influence and alter brand reputation often positions PR as a key player in brand management, industry professionals tend to find themselves fighting against the public stigma of serving as puppet masters, rather than storytellers.

Fake news, alternative facts, propaganda and click-bait are just a few common buzzwords used to refer to the media’s “spin” on stories; this amplified public distrust of the media has not only put the credibility of reporters into question, but also the trustworthiness of communications professionals. Although the 2016 election and the subsequent political landscape has brought issues of ethical reporting to the fore, PR professionals have long combatted a reputation of manipulating stories and staging events to gain falsified media attention for their clients.

Many say that the origins of the field (and its tarnished reputation) began pre-Civil War era with P.T. Barnum’s Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, an operation infamous for spreading lies and deception to the press to foster public intrigue. Barnum exploited the hot-button issue of slavery to sell tickets, publicizing an 80-year-old African American woman as the still-living 161-year-old enslaved nurse of George Washington — even going as far as to plant an anonymous letter in a Boston newspaper to stir up rumors around the act.

Thankfully, the majority of present-day PR professionals don’t pursue media coverage by means of deception; however, the value of brand trust is still hotly debated.

In a PR Week article published last summer, top agency executives stood divided when asked whether relevance or trust is more important for a brand. Matt Neale, co-CEO of Golin Agency, explains that brand relevance has an unfair advantage when compared to trustworthiness, because relevance is something marketers and communicators can directly impact. Neale argues relevance is the most critical metric for brand measurement: “It’s what attracts and keeps people paying attention, and what moves them to act,” Neale says. “And if a brand isn’t relevant, it’s being ignored.”

Neale’s hypothesis was put to the test in Golin Agency’s 2017 Global Relevance Review, the first ever study to reveal what drives relevance for brands in 13 markets across the globes – and [SPOILER], it’s not trustworthiness. While consumers around the world believe their ideal brand would be considered trustworthy, the findings reveal that zero percent of the most relevant brands studied actually met that desired standard of trust. “Our research indicates that despite people being continually let down by the perceived trustworthiness and truthfulness of brands, they continue to buy their products and services,” Neale says.

Before you shake your head and cue the groans, it’s important to note that not everyone agrees. While PR professionals understand the importance of hype and attention, the argument that brand relevance supersedes trust raises (at least) one issue: sustainability.

Anne Green, president and CEO of CooperKatz & Company, tells PR Week she credits the industry’s shift in focus to long-term sustainability for the change in perception that truth and transparency triumph all else. “The company everyone is talking about today can easily burn out tomorrow, and that burnout often ties back to trust… It creates a cognitive dissonance that festers over time.”

Green highlights Uber and United Airlines as examples of companies that have not necessarily seen profit loss in the wake of negative press, but are still creating distrustful customers who second-guess using their products and services — an effect that can have longer-term consequences. “They may be winning the relevance game. But the long game has a higher cost.”

We at F+A agree: We all know that relevance drives newsworthiness – but while deploying relevance tactics may garner media attention and talkability, obtaining five minutes of fame is not worth the trouble if it puts the reputation of your client, and your agency, in jeopardy. For this reason, PR professionals meticulously drum up communication strategies where truth and newsworthiness overlap, achieving the perfect combination of relevance and transparency for their clients.

When KIND Snacks rolled out its sugar-free Fruit Bites last August, the company cleverly used transparency as a vehicle to achieve relevance and make a statement. Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky knew that there was an opportunity to capitalize on the attention surrounding consumer distrust in fruit snack nutrition — especially with a recent IRI research study revealing that nine in 10 leading fruit snacks have added sugar as the first ingredient. KIND stacked 45,485 pounds of sugar in the middle of New York’s Times Square – the amount of sugar that U.S. children consume every five minutes – positioning the brand and its new offering as the solution to deceptively high-sugar alternatives.

“We have always been focused on bringing transparency to the industry and categories that we’ve been playing in,” Lubetzky tells Business Insider. “The stunt in Times Square is just a new way in which to do this.”

As PR professionals, it is our job to possess an unbeatable understanding of internal needs and external environments to tactfully position our clients as relevant and newsworthy without having to sacrifice brand trust. The success of KIND Snacks’ marketing tactic is a testament to just how sweet it is to nail that delicate balance — literally.

By Jed Bush

‘Crisis’ in Chinese: A Dangerous Opportunity for Jelly Doughnuts

When John F. Kennedy famously declared, “In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity,” a crisis communication credo was born. Kennedy, whose love of foreign expressions would later earn him an undeserved reputation of having an insatiable appetite for pastries and a more deserved one for habitually practicing translational malpractice, wasn’t the first to invoke the connection, but he did introduce the tidily packaged aphorism to the masses.

There’s just one problem: it’s not true.

The Chinese phrase for “crisis” is “Wēijī:” 危机. Wēi, 危, does in fact mean danger. However, Victor Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that, in this context, Ji (机), represents an “’incipient moment; [a] crucial point (when something begins or changes).’ Thus, a Wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry.”

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote that President Obama cannily dropped the Chinese character framing when linking crisis to opportunity in a weekly address; in doing so, he eschewed the august, bipartisan tradition continued by luminaries like Richard Nixon, Condoleezza Rice and Al Gore (who notoriously dropped the line in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize). Maybe he discarded it because his speechwriters felt the rhetorical device had drifted into cliché. Perhaps his fact-checkers stumbled upon a copy of a Chinese dictionary the night before. We may never know.

Still, the expression’s durability echoes our own philosophies at Firmani + Associates, beliefs drawn from a deep well of experience helping clients navigate crises. Stepping into a crisis with a clear plan will equip you with tools to steady your hand and, when appropriate, strike prudently and decisively as you steer through the storm. You might pick up a scar or two along the way, but, properly managed, a crisis will also bring the opportunity to reassure, to renew trust, to reinvent.

That said, resolving a crisis probably shouldn’t require butchering foreign languages along the way. Why not follow the lead of Homer Simpson instead?

“Lisa: Look on the bright side, Dad. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity”?

“Homer: Yes! Crisitunity!”

By F+A Staff

Mattel: Too Many Missteps?

It seems the last few months have been rife with crises, so we certainly had plenty to choose from this month.

One misstep that stands out is a recent kerfuffle with toy maker Mattel over a book called “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer.”

As part of Mattel’s strategy to position Barbie as a role model for young girls everywhere, they’ve given Barbie various professions, but this one that started with so much potential falls a bit short.

The story starts off promisingly when Barbie sets out to design a computer game. But things quickly go south when Barbie runs into trouble – and a computer virus – and has to run off to the IT guys to fix it for her.

Couldn’t Barbie, as a computer programmer, navigate this issue herself?

The Internet agreed and quickly took it upon itself to rewrite the story, which was originally published in 2010.

And while the Internet maelstrom took over, Mattel quietly pulled the book from Amazon and issued an apology over Facebook:

“The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

But does blaming the misstep on the year the book was published – 2010 – make up for the lapse in judgment? The idea of female computer engineers wasn’t too far-fetched even four years ago, making this story seem as an unfortunate slip in Mattel’s brand.

This case study reinforces the importance of monitoring blogs and other websites outside of the traditional news sphere. What started as a call-to-action by a disheartened blogger quickly spiraled into an online movement.

According to NPR, the blog that called for the re-writes has gotten more than 2,000 submissions.

We can only hope that Mattel had a robust online monitoring strategy to get wind of the problem before it spread too far. Blogs, Tweets and even online reviews have the power to mobilize an entire population.

By F+A Staff

Ride into your next media interview with the headlights blazing

Preparation is essential heading into a media interview, and the reporter isn’t the only one who should be armed with questions. Here’s what you need to know before beginning any interview:

  • what the interview is about;
  • what specific topics will be discussed;
  • from what perspective the story will be written;
  • who will be conducting the interview;
  • who else will be interviewed;
  • how long and in what format (e.g. phone, in-person, live or filmed) the interview requires; and
  • when the story will run or air.

Never consent to being interviewed on the spot, and remember that people who are interviewed before or after you will, or already have, shaped the reporter’s perspective on the story.

 

Ideally, when a reporter calls, whoever takes the call records the reporter’s information and then works with their public relations team to arrange the interview. Reporters are accustomed to working through PR executives, so while they may prefer to get directly to the source first, they will not be unduly disturbed. This allows time to determine the nature of the interview, discuss strategies in private before speaking directly with the media and determine the answers to the questions above.

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Ready to start your PR career?
The Quest for Relevance: Does Talkability Trump Truth?
‘Crisis’ in Chinese: A Dangerous Opportunity for Jelly Doughnuts
Mattel: Too Many Missteps?
Ride into your next media interview with the headlights blazing