In the “Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” Gregory Peck’s character is essentially told that having a “clean shirt” is the most necessary asset for working in PR. (Sorry the clip has been taken down from YouTube.) Contrary to the opinion espoused in this great film, Public Relations is more than just a clean shirt and bathing regularly (though it helps). Public relations is a profession that ethically identifies, develops and creates strategies to communicate the key messages of the client.
If you’re in business or have an organization that depends on engagement with others, then you have a message; whether it’s about a product, service, organization or cause. You also have thousands of potential avenues to deliver that message: television channels, radio stations, blogs, micro-blogs, podcasts and publications.
A Public Relations professional should have the strategic and tactical experience to tailor your message and identify the right channel for the best possible impact–ethically and tastefully.
We’re curious about your impressions of Public Relations–as a profession or its practitioners. We’re under no illusions that you have a 100% positive impression of Public Relations. Frankly, we’ve seen plenty of people who have no business being in PR. That’s why we work hard to earn your respect and demonstrate the positive aspects of Public Relations. To be candid, we in the Public Relations profession need to be better at spreading our own message…at telling our own story.
We think a conversation between people outside the profession and those of us working to make it better is a good start.
So, leave us your comments–let us know what you think about “PR”: the good, the bad and the ugly.
This is a gem from our archives. Originally posted April 1, 2012. –Alex
Have you used a Groupon lately? For anything from oil changes to restaurants to pole dancing classes, Groupon and its ilk have set a new paradigm in couponing. The breakthrough marketing tactic has also raised some thorny customer service and business relations issues.
My family uses Groupons occasionally–mostly for restaurants. The results and satisfaction have been mixed. On one occasion, we purchased a Groupon to an upscale restaurant and were treated to a magnificent meal, quality service and a desire to return (though we were dismayed that another customer was allowed to flout the dress code by wearing sweat pants, it didn’t ruin the overall meal).
However, on most occasions as soon as we whip out that piece of computer-printed paper, the waiter sniffs imperceptibly and says “Oh, you’re a Groupon..”
“Well, actually, no, we’re human beings and paying customers,” is the reply I wish I had the nerve to utter. Instead I nod, almost embarrassed.
I realized in that moment I had just been shown the door to…the Groupon Ghetto.
Case in point, last night: Groupon in hand, my wife and I had a date night reservation at a local restaurant that features an adventurous menu of French cuisine. Our Groupon entitled us to an hors d’oeurve, two entrees and two glasses of wine–price maximums for each item were listed. I think it was roughly a two for one deal cost-wise. I was very interested in several things on the menu (which were well within the price range set by the Groupon deal) and was prepared to order when I saw a notice at the bottom of the menu (paraphrasing):
“Groupon users may order items from the right side of the menu only.”
I was crestfallen. Was I a second-class citizen because I used a Groupon?
I’m almost certain that wasn’t the restaurant’s intent–likely the items on the left side of the page were more expensive to prepare and to have the ingredients on hand for potentially hundreds of diners at any one time could devastate profitability. Yet, I still felt that rather than being enticed into becoming a new customer I was instead being asked to take my coupon-cutting ways and enjoy them in second class. I know the restaurant doesn’t want people to feel that way, but perception is reality–and that notice on the menu was an instant bummer. That is a public relations problem.
After accepting Groupon coupons for nearly six months, Clara Moore, the general manager and chef at Local Harvest Café & Catering, had almost forgotten about the 3,500 customers who’d jumped on the deal.
Until the last few weeks, that is, when hundreds of those people came rushing in.
After running the staff ragged, pissing off the regulars, cleaning the restaurant out of all but four items on the menu and posting several negative Yelp reviews about their experiences, the Groupon masses left Local Harvest stunned and exhausted. Moore could only say, or rather Tweet, one thing: “Sorry, we won’t be doing Groupon again, guaranteed!”
There’s even a hashtag and website for people who have had bad experiences: #GrouponHell.
On the flip side, I’ve read tales of Groupon users who don’t quite get that just because their meal may be half-off the price, they still need to tip waiters and waitresses for the full price of the meal. That kind of thing certainly puts restaurant staff in a less receptive mood for Groupon users. There’s also the issue of users waiting until the last week of the deal before redeeming it–something that can absolutely throw a restaurant into a tailspin when hundreds–even thousands–of Groupon customers show up practically all at once.
This may be a purely academic discussion, as some posit the Groupon business model will ultimately fail:
While Groupon has seen incredible growth since its infant days in 2008, it is highly unlikely to keep pace in the years to come. The primary reason for this is competition. When current CEO Andrew Mason thought of the idea for Groupon, there was little to no business entities in the arena. Now, there are more than 500 sites worldwide, with over 100 in the United States. Yes, Groupon has penetrated markets in South America, Europe, and the Middle East, but what have they done to distinguish themselves? What is unique about the service they provide? What do they offer that no other company can? The answer is – nothing.
[UPDATED FROM ORIGINAL POST: Groupon's fourth quarter earnings may bear this out.]
Anyway, back to the question. Do Groupon users get stuck in a ghetto of second class service? Perhaps at some places they do. Our service last night was excellent, and indeed it usually is when we use a Groupon. But too often it feels a little like we’re being ghettoized–as if we’re really not wanted. I would consider that it’s all in my head except for that notice in the menu last night directing me to the Groupon Ghetto.
How about you? What kind of experiences–good or bad–have you had with Groupon or similar services? Are you a businessperson who has used a coupon deal? We want to hear from you, too. The comments section awaits–no Groupon required!
Winding up our series of tips on creating and publishing your eBook (get previous entries by scrolling through the last three days of blog entries):
10. Market Your Book. Promoting eBooks online is the most cost-effective method to market your work. We recommend that any author comfortable using the internet set up a Facebook page, a Goodreads author page and an author website. There are numerous methods to market and promote your work–too in-depth to cover here, but we have extensive experience in helping authors promote their books.
11. Reviews, Tips & Tricks. One fantastic aspect of eBooks is the potential for longterm profitability. (They are clearly a marathon, not a sprint.) Properly promoting your book, obtaining reviews and generating word of mouth can achieve this.
Continuing our series of tips on creating and publishing your eBook (get steps 1-3 in part 1 here):
4. Formatting. Next, you’ll need to transform your manuscript Word document into a format that suits eBooks. Kindle uses the .mobi format, Barnes & Noble, Apple and others use Epub. Many writers find it too tedious to convert their manuscripts into proper format for acceptance by the Kindle Store, etc., and prefer to pay a modest amount for a formatting service. (We can help with that.)
5. Get an ISBN. In order for people (and your local bookstore) to find your books, you’ll need an ISBN number. ISBNs are used worldwide as a unique identifier for books that simplifies distribution and purchase of books throughout the world. These may be purchased from Bowker identifier services, or you can get one free using such services as Smashwords. (However, Smashwords strongly encourages authors to use their Smashwords-issued ISBN only on Smashwords.)
Tune in for more tomorrow: pricing, sampling and more!
You may have read a recent blog post about Caroline Street Press, our new e-publishing division here at AlexG PR. We started the division for two reasons:
1. As writers, we love ebooks (and Print On Demand books) as well as working with creative people.
2. We keep getting calls and email from aspiring indie writers asking us to coffee to “pick our brain” about ebooks and print-on-demand publishing.
So, as much as we like a free cup of coffee (and a picked brain), we figured it would be better for everyone involved if we offered a professional service package rather than just caffeine-fueled, off-the-cuff advice.
That in mind, we’re offering a few free (though you can mail us coffee or a Starbucks card if you care to) tips on what it takes to publish a quality ebook right here on the blog every day for the next few days. Bear in mind, this is merely the tip(s) of the proverbial iceberg, so if you’re interested in a one-on-one consultation about getting your book from your computer to Amazon.com (or Barnes & Noble, etc.) then please contact us. We’re here to help!
eBooks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the publishing industry–and the vast majority of eBooks are independently produced. Where once mighty publishing houses controlled virtually every aspect of editing, production and marketing of a book, today authors can go it alone–often with spectacular results. This post (and the next few after it) covers the basic tasks required to publish a quality eBook.
1. Write a Good Book. Though this may seemingly be understood, many writers–intoxicated by the relative ease of getting their book from their computer to market–don’t put enough time and effort into writing a quality book. We suggest writing a first draft, putting it aside for a few weeks, then revisiting the manuscript for a rewrite. After the rewrite, share it with a few “beta readers.” Ideally, these are people who will “give it to you straight” about parts of the books that need work. They shouldn’t take the place of an editor, but they can be immensely helpful if they will read your work and give you an honest critique.
2. Hire an Editor. This is some of the best money you will ever invest (trust us, we know from firsthand experience). After you make any necessary changes, ship your manuscript off to an experienced editor. They will find things you and your beta readers missed such as typos, inconsistencies, rough sentence structure, etc. Once the editor returns the marked draft, it’s up to the author (you) to accept the recommended changes. After any changes are made and a final polish of the manuscript is complete, then you’re ready to go to the next step.
3. Get A Good Cover. How many wonderful books are ignored because of a below average cover? You need a cover that screams credibility–and one that will attract attention even when it’s a tiny thumbnail on a computer screen.
Tune in for more tomorrow: formatting, ISBNs and more!
A rising demand for help in getting independently-authored books and ebooks to market led Kansas City PR firm AlexanderG Public Relations to offer independent book publishing consultation.
“Since word has spread about my own books, I’ve have had many inquiries from independent writers asking for advice on ebooks, print-on-demand (POD) and independent publishing in general,” said AlexanderG Public Relations owner Alex Greenwood.
Writing as J. Alexander Greenwood, he is an independent novelist with several ebook and print-on-demand titles. An early adopter and advocate of ebooks, he was recently keynote presenter at a Kansas City Public Library event about his writing and indie publishing.
“In response to the interest from writers, we created Caroline Street Press, LLC. Caroline Street is a publisher of independent fiction, nonfiction and multimedia works,” he said. “Caroline Street works with AlexanderG PR as consultants helping independent writers get their books to market.”
“Our primary focus is consulting on the editing, production and packaging of ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks,” he added. “Though Caroline Street is a publishing imprint, we do not pay advances or provide printing services. Instead, we guide writers through the independent book publishing process and help them market their work. Whatever they need–editing to cover art, formatting to distribution, marketing to public relations–we can help.”
“At Caroline Street, our aim is to use my experience and network of artists, editors, book formatters and distributors to help independent authors publish the best possible work,” Greenwood said.
The demand is palpable.
“According to the Association of American Publishers, E-books grew a dramatic +164.8 percent in December 2010 vs the previous year ($49.5 Million vs $18.7M),” he said. “E-book sales represented 8.32 percent of the trade book market in 2010 vs 3.20 percent the previous year. A huge chunk of those are independent, non-traditionally published titles–called ‘indies’ by many. There are a sizable number of new and even established writers who need help navigating the steps to get their books out there.
Consulting services are project fee-based.
“We don’t take a percentage of sales like a traditional publisher,” Greenwood said. “We help authors prepare their books ready for publication, get them launched and if the authors wish, create and enact a marketing and promotion campaign. We offer three pricing plans.”
Greenwood added that in his 20-year career in public relations, he has a proven track record of successful promotion and marketing of books, music and entertainers. He also has experience as a reporter, newspaper editor, columnist, blogger and magazine editor.
Caroline Street Press is publisher of two indie novels, Pilate’s Cross and Pilate’s Key (and the forthcoming Pilate’s Ghost) by Greenwood. Caroline Street also publishes short stories, including the award-winning short-story Obsidian. The company is currently working on two business books and is consulting with several aspiring authors.
For more information, email Caroline Street Press here.
Founded in 2010. AlexanderG Public Relations has one of the most diverse portfolios of experience and success in the Kansas City area. We’ve spent our careers building a knowledge base that spans several industries and disciplines including healthcare marketing and management, higher education marketing and public relations, broadcasting, publishing, non-profit communications, news media and more.
As a member of PRConsultants Group, we also have associates in every major media market in the United States. Work with us and you get “big agency” service with the affordability of a boutique firm.
Our past and present clients include local, regional and national retailers, organizations, associations, universities and individuals including Tide, Duracell, The Limited, Blockbuster Video, the University of Kansas School of Business, Front Porch Alliance of Kansas City, Community Christian Church of Kansas City, I.O. Metro Furniture Stores, EcoHab and many more.
Customer service failures can easily become public relations problems when consumers are angry enough to tell the world about it–and it can be doubly worse when your customers are sleep-deprived new parents.
Case in point, infant toy and accessory giant Graco. When the motor on new parents Kristin and Ryan’s new “Lovin’ Hug Plug-In Swing” failed shortly after they received it, they contacted Graco customer service.
“We were told March 7 that we would have a replacement in five to seven days,” Kristin said. “It didn’t come.”
The couple waited a little longer–by day thirteen the missing motor was a no-show. Kristin called Graco back. The customer service rep responded that they never sent the motor because it’s on backorder and they expect to have them by the end of April. That’s two months without a motor.
“Kristin was never told it wouldn’t arrive until after she called them a second time asking where it was,” Ryan said. “Only then did Graco let us know that they do have the same exact motor unit in another color and will send that. We should get it in two to three days. Even so, that will still be 15 or 16 days total. Why couldn’t they have suggested that right away?”
“It may not sound like a big deal unless you consider that we have to hold our baby while he naps. He won’t nap any other way,” Kristin said. “I’d like a nap now and then since we get only about five hours at night. Unfortunately, since we don’t have a functioning swing and were under the impression a new motor was on the way, we didn’t go buy another swing. Graco’s poor communication and lack of concern for us as customers has cost the entire family untold hours of sleep.”
Lest you think this swing isn’t the panacea the family sought, check out how Graco bills the swing in their online ad:
Cuddle and comfort your baby with the innovative plug-in swing that “hugs” him like you do. The ergonomic design of Lovin’ Hug™ swing’s hammock-style seat mimics the curve of your arms, helping baby feel secure. At the same time, the plush mobile, complete with 10 classical songs and 5 nature sounds, keeps him soothed and amused. 6 swing speeds and 4 recline positions allow you to adjust to suit baby’s mood. In addition, it’s loaded with convenience features like a one hand flip open tray and a plug in option for hours of uninterrupted swinging.
If you were a sleep-deprived new parent looking for any way to help your newborn sleep, wouldn’t you be taken in by this description and fully expect it to work upon delivery? Moreover, if it did not, wouldn’t you expect the company to proactively make every effort to mitigate the situation?
“At the end of the call (with customer service) I told them the company’s policy should be to send an entirely new swing at no charge immediately when the motor is going to take nearly two months to come in,” Kristin said.
A quick check of the Graco product page for the swing reveals that Kristin and Ryan aren’t the first to run into problems:
This swing is nice looking and worked the first day I got it then started having problems with it shutting off. I then put batteries in and it stopped working.
There’s no response from Graco on the page–one can only hope that customer got a replacement or refund.
Confusingly, there is also a review featuring a similar problem as Kristin and Ryan’s–only this time there was a positive outcome from Graco customer service:
This swing has been great for our family! A great investment! My son loves sitting in this swing during the day. He is in it EVERY day! […] The music and sound effects are great too. When he was a newborn, he liked the “beating heart” and “ocean” sound effects and then started to like the music. Sadly, the sounds all stopped working on it (which is why I gave it a 4 star rating). However, I called Graco Customer Service and they were very nice and courteous about getting it fixed. They asked me some simple routine questions about the product such as model number and manufacture date and then asked when I bought the product. They took down my info and then sent me a replacement motor for the unit so that the music would work again. I didn’t have to beg or hassle with a million questions with them and I really appreciated that they just took care of it so quickly and politely. I will recommend Graco and their products to my family and friends. I do have other Graco products and it’s a comfort now to know that if anything else goes wrong that Customer Service will be polite and take care of it, instead of hassling me about it like some other companies do when you say something stopped working. […]
Unfortunately for Kristin and Ryan (and their baby) they didn’t get this level of service. Whether they experienced an anomaly or Graco’s customer service is haphazard isn’t the only question. The other issue is that when a company is insensitive to their customer base, people–even tired new parents–won’t take it sitting down.
“We will be talking about this on Facebook, Twitter, parent forums–wherever we can,” Kristin said. “It’s inexcusable to be so careless with customers.”