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Will head to a two-and-a-half day professional development experience tomorrow with IPREX.

IPREX is an international partnership of 80+ independently owned PR (strategic communications) firms from N/S America, E/W Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia (mostly Pacific Rim countries).  Vehr Communications is the only member from our region (Cincinnati).

Anyway, we’ll hear from Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation regarding new models for community newspapers across the country.  I wonder of they have a tablet reader to share?

Our keynote on Saturday morning will be from Disney’s VP of Communications sharing information about “innovations in PR” as a hallmark of the Disney organization.

Of course, we’ll discuss other things of importance to PR firms.  Am really looking forward to time away (albeit very brief) with CEO colleagues. 

May have some insights to share.  I hope so.

Post by Nick Vehr (3.10.10)

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This is pretty self-indulgent, but I am very happy and proud to be celebrating Vehr Communications‘ 3rd anniversary today.  So, please bear with me and these few reflections or observations.

First: It’s all about our team.  Sounds cliche, but it’s true.  For the first year or so I plugged along by myself before beginning to add staff.  Since, it has been infinitely more fun, our work product on behalf of clients has improved, and I take pride in seeing colleagues grow and learn … the same folks who probably don’t realize how much I am actually learning from them.

We’re in the professional service business.  Our only product is the knowledge, experience and integrity of the people who work here.  Spend a minute on our Web site getting to know them.

Second: I am really proud of the clients we have been able to attract and retain.  I believe there is an open niche in this market and we are working hard to fill it.  It really feels to me like we are making progress.  From pure b2b clients to national b2c brands, from treasured community institutions to challenging community issues, our client list grows in size and diversity.  That’s what is so fun about the agency biz.

Third: Social media makes us better as professional communicators.  The options available to us to help clients manage their reputations, maintain and strengthen key relationships and deliver meaningful results are broader than ever.  That breadth, and the speed at which they change, keep all of us on our toes.  It is as scary as it is exciting, and we owe it to our current and future clients to be on top of this game. 

I am sure there is a fourth and fifth and sixth here.  But, I’ll stop … save them for another day.  I will add one thing, though, I really enjoying this blog but suffer high anxiety over my own frequency of blogging.  I try, but I am falling short of my goal (twice a week) because I am so focused on our growing business.  It’s harder than I first thought.  I am not apologizing.  I am not making excuses.  But, I will try to do better.

Post by Nick Vehr (March 4, 2010)

Get it? ... "Buzz" (Just trying to stay with the "cute and clever" theme.)

I have to admit that I thought some of these new social media buzzwords shared by Pete Blackshaw were clever and kind of cute.

We all know Pete in Cincinnati.  He’s also quite the social media expert with a column in AdAge.  Here’s the link to his blog post, and his recent article in AdAge, “Top 20 Labels, Buzzwords to Describe Our Curious Stampede to the Social-Media and Mobile Future.”

But, on to the fun stuff.  See if you can connect Pete’s buzzwords with their definitions that follow.  For the answers, go to Pete’s blog post:

  • Mobilenecking
  • Jack Ripper
  • Wiki Wart
  • Oedipost Complex
  • Apptosterone
  • Twitstop
  1. The curious neurosis that compels folks to sleep with their Blackberry or iPhone. The afflicted can’t stop checking — even in late hours — for responses to tweets or blog and Facebook posts.
  2. The alarming tendency to have our necks titled down or shifted sideways — ever glued to our mobile device. This anywhere, anyplace epidemic is increasingly common in cars, airplanes and crosswalks. Closely related to term “Eyevoidance,” where no one looks at anyone anymore.
  3. The device warriors who hog outlets anywhere they can find them — in the airport, via the USB port of a colleague’s computer, even a restaurant reservation desk. They get a charge from a charge.
  4. A bathroom detour from a meeting or conversation in order to check e-mail, Twitter or the latest and greatest via an app. (Swear on the Bible, I don’t do this … but I’m told lots of others do.)
  5. A bad piece of news or an embarrassing brand episode (e.g., an activist protest or a social-media campaign that backfired) that just won’t go away in a brand’s Wikipedia description. PR pros often give false hope to brands of removing the warts, but relentless Wikipedia editors put them right back.
  6. The mojo that fuels intense “mine’s bigger/better” conversation about mobile apps. “Dude, you got Bump, but I’ve got FourSquare.” Marketing techies are loaded with Apptosterone.

Of course, here’s the gimme … the one we all need from time-to-time!

  • Digital Detox: What we all need — at least in doses. As we’ve learned, total digital immersion has side effects. Let’s all pursue a roadmap for balance in 2010. 

Thanks, Pete.  Happy New Year.

Post by Nick Vehr – 1.14.10

I am very happy to paraphrase and pass on a great blog post regarding bad apples in PR. (Note: the headline is in quotes because I am sharing it directly from PR Squared.

Here’s the deal.  The author (Todd Defren) of this post re-shares his frustration (which we all feel as PR professionals) about having to justify/rationalize our existence. 

He laments the few, but way too many, PR bad apples as much as reputable and respectable lawyers disdain the ambulance-chasing, bottom-feeders that led Shakespeare to write, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

The author also has interesting things to say about ROI and its misapplication to our industry. 

My perspective here:  It’s not that we want to be unaccountable or that meeting business objectives is not central to what we do.  It’s more that it is difficult, if not impossible or appropriate, to attempt to place a monetary, bookable value on retained trust or reputation, the crisis that never disrupts the business, or the lead that expresses initial interest while the actual sale is closed by other trained professionals.

It is easy to place lost value on such things (e.g., the value of Tiger Woods lost endorsement deals or Domino’s Pizza sales drop immediately after the online video event, etc.).   

So, please read an enjoy some thoughtful and seasoned perspective.  Any insights you have to add here or with PR-Squared are appreciated.

Post by Nick Vehr – 1.12.10

In my experience, the true leaders are those who do not assume they have all the answers.  People may expect them to have them all, but they know better.

What does that mean for your business?  Well, it’s pretty straight forward.

A good boss will assume that his or her team have important and diverse insights and experiences that can enhance relationships with key stakeholders … customers, vendors, clients, etc.

That’s right – you have a team of good people working together, so see what they think.  Their different opinions will inform your decision, if you value and embrace them.

Face it, it’s been a while since the boss “owned” each and every customer relationship.  Chances are, someone else knows what’s really going on in that vendor’s head.  What “they’re” thinking may surprise you.

You pay your employees a lot of money to do what they do, so talk with them, listen to them, ask for their advice and help.  They’ll respond, especially if they trust you and know you trust them.

So many answers to business challenges can be solved by asking employees what they think and what they know.  Too few bosses bother to ask.

Post by Nick Vehr – 11.28.09

The front page of this morning’s Wall Street Journal (11.23.09) shares an article titled, “Volunteers Log Off As Wikipedia Ages.”

Is it, perhaps, really an article about the settling, or maturation, of new media? 

For cave dwellers, Wikipedia began as an, “online free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”  It began nine years ago and now has about 325 million monthly visitors, according to the article.  I use it regularly for this blog and as a general resource.

The focus of the article is the fact that Wikipedia, in the first three months of 2009, experienced a loss of 49,000 online volunteer editors.  During the same period the previous year, the comparable number was 4,900.

To me, the article represents what I and others think is occuring with new media in general … a settling or maturation.  Here’s what I mean.

We all know the pendulum for hot new products swings way wide before it settles back in.  So, too, for social media. We are witnessing it with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and countless others.  How long ago was it that MySpace was going to take over the world?  Who do you know that is actively using it now?

Does that mean social media – or Wikipedia – is dying?  Of course not.  I think it does mean that it is finding its place, it is settling in, it is maturing as most products and services always do.

There is little question that social media (new media, the internet, Web 2.0 – whatever you want to call it)  has forever changed the way many people communicate.  At some level, it may have even profoundly influenced the way many people manage their personal and professional relationships. 

There is little question that it has forever changed our professional – strategic communications or, what many call, public relations.

But, the pendulum is swinging back towards a point of equilibrium, or at least to a more measureable , natural and sustainable sway.

That’s what I thought when I read this a.m.’s article about Wikipedia?  What did you think?

Post by Nick Vehr – 11.23.09

"You can't handle the truth!"

How often have any of us as professional communicators had clients who are critically and, perhaps, maniacally focused on external audiences to the detriment of their own folks?

Even worse, what about those clients who worry that employees, “can’t handle the truth!”

The best businesses – whether B2C or B2B – understand that healthy, open and transparent long term relationships with clients are the key to sustained business growth and profitability. 

Most CEOs or CMOs do not “own” the relationship with each and every client.  The people who work for them do.  So, the bosses need to commit to maintaining healthy, open and transparent relationships with their employees.

The folks interacting with clients need to know what’s going on in and around the business so the clients know they are dealing with informed professionals working in a culture that values them. 

Importantly, employees deserve to know the good, the bad and the ugly, so long as sharing such information does not jeopardize the the company’s competitive positioning.  Some companies, especially privately held ones, share such information even if it does.

Employees (colleagues, associates, whatever you call them) are the most important asset of any company.  Invest in them.  Trust them.  Help them to be better professionals. 

Relationships – personal and professional – are based on trust.  It’s not rocket science!

If your team trusts you, the people with whom they are dealing will trust them. 

That’s the best way to retain and grow your business.

Post by Nick Vehr – 11.21.09

two earsSomeone once said that having 2 ears and 1 mouth was the right ratio – we all need to listen more and talk less.

This, of course, is the key to good community relations – a critical component of any integrated, strategic, public relations strategy.

This blog post from William de Worde sums it up well:

“Public relations and community relations really work hand in hand, without one the other becomes much harder.  If you take the time to develop good relationships with your community – whoever that is – you may be able to do better public relations than any standard ‘PR Plan’ can come up with.”

From political candidates to ballot issue campaigns, from land-use plan development to major infrastructure repairs and improvements, from new capital projects to business incentive awards – good community relations can build new relationships, strengthen existing ones or repair ones that have been damaged.

Of course, community relations is more about listening (2 ears) than talking (1 mouth), if you are sincere about it.  Your target community deserves to be heard and you should listen.

cutting edgeEvery professional communicator, whether on the agency or client side, is looking for that extra edge – the cutting edge – that enables their client to gain market share.

But, what does that mean? 

Without question, it can mean developing a creative idea, a breakthrough moment (e.g., product innovation, service technique, creative expression, etc.) that generates excitement, creates buzz, draws attention and, most important, draws customers.

This may happen once or twice in the lifetime of a consumer brand or a company providing much-needed services to individuals or other businesses.

More likely, businesses find and maintain their “edge” by marrying creativity with clarity of expression, consistency of application and disciplined implementation over time. 

tortoise and hareFor every “one hit wonder” there are hundreds of “slow and steady win the race” examples in business.

From a communications perspective, this means having an integrated marketing communications approach. 

This, in turn, means that your company is fully committed to implementing business processes to ensure that all contacts with your brand, whether a customer or prospect for your product, service or organization, are meaningiful and consistent.

Easier said than done.  From the company’s perspective, it requires all employees to be on the same page in terms of the company’s values – who it is, what it does for whom and why.

From a communicators perspective, it means learning and teaching ways to ensure that the client’s culture – it’s values – translates into every interaction with a customer or prospect.  And this means in all offline (traditional) and online (new media) communications activities. 

From media releases to social media, from direct contact to direct mail, from collateral materials to community presentations, from graphics to packaging, the key to an integrated approach is to deliver creative, clear and concise messages over time that reflect the true value the company brings to its customers.

Post by Nick Vehr – 8.31.09

UNDProfessional communicators know that, sometimes, proactive crisis communications results in no crisis at all, or at least no business disruption when the crisis hits.

I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!).  In the Summer 2009 edition of Notre Dame Magazine there was avery thoughtful article titled, “Weather Report: How ND is faring in the financial storm.” 

ND is a University with a very large endowment ($5.4 billion plus) and commitment to student financial aid ($83 million next year).  It relies heavily on investment income.

What struck me was how administrators not only averted lay-offs and drastic cutbacks when endowment revenue dropped, but their sincere commitment to open and honest dialogue with the University community every step of the way.

Yes, they managed their assets conservatively, diversified appropriately and in a timely way and had large reserves for difficult times.  That’s not the real story, at least to me.

ND higher-ups knew their faculty and staff were just as concerned about what impact the volatile economy might have on their ability to provide for their families, to make mortgage and car payments.

So, what did they do?  They thought ahead, treated people like adults, demonstrated understanding and compassion and communicated aggressively sharing real information, not just spin and good news.

“They embarked on a series of town-hall style departmental meetings in which they laid out the University’s fiscal strengths and vulnerabilities in full-disclosure mode … The goal was to calm fears. The risk was to heighten apprehensions,” the article shared.

The V.P. of Finance at ND, “… believes internal institutional communication is crucial in a time of crisis.”

ND’s executive VP added that, “We wanted everyone on campus to know what our plans and contingencies are.”

ND’s senior team demonstrated leadership, proactive decision-making and commitment to their work force at a very volatile, confusing and anxious time.  They worked to retain the trust and confidence of those who rely on them to make good decisions.

So far, it appears that fears have been calmed, trust retained, and apprehensions managed.  The corporate reputation is intact and, perhaps, enhanced.  Key relationships have been maintained, if not strengthened.

Sounds to me a lot like a very successful proactive crisis communications exercise.

Post by Nick Vehr (ND ’81) – 7.18.09