Field notes from a marketing and communications conference (25 takeaways)

field notes

Here are my top 25 content marketing, social media, video, issues management and crisis comms takeaways from the 2nd annual Marketing & Communications for Post-Secondary Conference held May 7 – 9 in Toronto. The conference was produced by Summers Direct and Swansea Communications and presented by Academica Group.

Highly recommend this conference for anyone working in marketing or communications with colleges or universities and looking for some inspiration. You too will leave with a book full of notes and ideas.

1.     With content marketing, the sweet spot is the intersection of what your audience wants, what your organization is an expert in and where there’s untapped potential for marrying the two. – Graeme Owens, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

2.     The most engaging and shareable content is helpful, inspiring and entertaining. – Graeme Owens

3.     On social media, visuals are the new headlines. Don’t use stock photos. Shoot your own. Enlist the help of amateur photographers in your organization. – Graeme Owens

4.     68 per cent of Canadians are now on social media. We either use it a lot or not at all. Very few of us are still using social media passively. – Jane Antoniak, King’s University College and Dr. Alex Sevigny, Master of Communication Management Program, McMaster University

5.     Instagram is the fastest growing platform. Seniors are the fastest growing demographic. – Jane Antoniak and Alex Sevigny

6.     Facebook is our 21st century commons. Young people aren’t excited to be there but they’re not leaving in droves. – Jane Antoniak and Alex Sevigny

7.     In managing an issue, borrow from the Arthur W. Page Society playbook. Tell the truth and be patient. Show contrition through your actions. Listen to your stakeholders. Manage for tomorrow. Remain calm, patient and good-humoured. Conduct PR as if the fate of your organization depends on it. – Christine Szustaczek, Sheridan College

8.     Unions are doing a better job than your organization in communicating with your employees. And they’re going to get even better at it as they invest in new technology, including smartphone apps. – Priya Bates, Inner Strength Communications

9.     If what you’re communicating isn’t relevant to the day-to-day realities of your audience, you’re training them to ignore you. – Priya Bates

10. Communicate with the key influencers in your organization. These frontline, on-the-ground, respected and connected influencers are not your formal leaders. – Priya Bates

11. How do you know if employees are engaged? They SAY great things. They STAY with you. And they STRIVE to go above and beyond in their jobs. – Priya Bates

12. If others in your organization can do a better job of telling your story, let me. Harness the power of testimonials from real people. – Michelle Blackwell, UBC Library

13. Content marketing is about creating real value for your audience. Provide a solution. Stop selling and start helping. – Lauren Lord, EDge Interactive

14. Provide your audience with the answers they’re looking for and then supply the information you want to give. – Lauren Lord

15. Online content that will draw an audience to your organization includes how-to tutorials, human interest stories, lists, controversial posts where your organization takes a principled stand, guest articles and videos. – Lauren Lord

16. If content is king, distribution is queen. To get your content out to your audience, know who you’re trying to reach and then use a mix of paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO). Paid social is the best way to generate reliable traffic, to launch a new campaign, boost high-performing content and target specific groups for specific outcomes. – Lauren Lord

17. Instagram Stories is the new television for teens. – Dr. Philip Glennie, Academica Group and Kayla Lewis, Seneca College

18. Consider Takeover Tuesdays and Throwback Thursdays on your social media accounts. Seneca College hands over its Instagram account to students and even incoming students (with supervision from the comms team). The college also posts archival photos from the its 50-year history. – Dr. Philip Glennie and Kayla Lewis

19. Before you can tell your organization’s story, you need to get your audience’s attention. Video is the best way to do that. – Warren Weeks, Weeks Media

20. The most watchable and shareable videos are 30 seconds to 2 ½ minutes, tightly edited and tell a story with an emotional core. – Warren Weeks

21. If your organization has a teleprompter, throw it out or sell it on eBay. Use the money to invest in a light and a mic so your videos don’t have the look and feel of a hostage video. – Warren Weeks

22. In a crisis, it’s not what you want to say. It’s what we need to hear. Anchor your communications in shared, foundational values. Listening is key. – John Larsen, Edelman PR

23. You can’t communicate your way out of a problem. To regain our trust and restore your reputation, you need to take action and fix the problem. Tell us what you’re doing to make things right. This can include telling us you have a longer-term plan with a commitment to report back. – John Larsen

24. Don’t be afraid to pause. Be careful and deliberate. Figure out what’s known and unknown. Validate information. Mistakes can be made by moving too fast. – John Larsen

25. Have clear roles for spokespeople in a crisis. Your PR person POSITIONS the story and provides context. Your subject matter expert PERSUADES (for example, your Chief Information Officer explains what’s being done in the aftermath of a data breach). Your executive presents the PERSONALITY of your organization (this is what we fundamentally believe and stand for). – John Larsen

Review: Eric Dezenhall’s Glass Jaw – A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal

glass jawThis review was first published in the Nov. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal

By Eric Dezenhall

Hachette Book Group

$30

David doesn’t needs a slingshot to take down Goliath in 2014.

He only needs a Twitter account.

Thanks to social media, David and Goliath have traded places.

“Technology has made us more self-important, empowered and promiscuous in our ability to injure targets,” warns Eric Dezenhall, founder of one of America’s leading crisis management firms and author of Glass Jaw.

“Individuals and organizations that were once thought to be indestructible are, in fact, uniquely fragile in the face of reputational attacks from conventionally weaker adversaries,”

Attacks by social media’s bathrobe brigade can trigger coverage in mainstream media where scandal is Grade A clickbait guaranteed to deliver an audience.  Chasing the story is a new generation of journalists steeped in what Dezenhall calls “the traditions of celebrity-fueled career advancement.”

Prolonging the media coverage are pundits with their  play-by-play analysis on how the crisis is being mismanaged. “All parties involved gain from the perpetuation of hostilities, and consumers of news are not innocent bystanders.”

What we end up with is a reputation-shredding Fiasco Vortex. “The Fiasco Vortex is one part crisis and three parts farce, the farce encircling the crisis and whipping it into an exponentially destructive beast beyond mitigation,” says Dezenhall.

So what’s an individual or organization to do? Dezenhall cautions against public relations firms peddling crisis management cure-alls  that can prolong the pain and even inflict irreparable harm. “I believe the cookie cutter counsel about crisis management is what’s wrong with the whole enterprise. The development of cures begins with getting the diagnosis right rather than promoting superficial salves and palliatives.”

Dezenhall calls foul on eight crisis management clichés.  Getting ahead of the story comes in at number one. Believing that your act of full disclosure “will be greeted with prim appreciation as opposed to being used as a weapon against the principal” is a dangerous and naive assumption. “The next time you hear someone recommend getting ahead of the story, ask them how and play out each scenario associated with that recommendation with respect to human nature and the Fiasco Vortex.”

Dezenhall also questions the perceived wisdom of responding immediately to a crisis, telling your side of the story, educating stakeholders and changing the conversation.  While Twitter may have gotten you into a crisis, don’t bank on it getting you out. “When it comes to crisis management, social media is of marginal value and often a disaster.”

Unfortunately, there’s no proven gameplan for escaping the Fiasco Vortex. “The new crisis management road map is that there is no road map because there is no road, at least not yet. The road is being built, destroyed and rebuilt every minute.”  What worked for one organization may not work for yours. What worked 25 years ago won’t work today thanks to a technology-driven change in the conductivity of controversy. “Crisis management is an improvisational art, not laboratory science. And sometimes the improvisation works; other times it doesn’t.”

From experience, Dezenhall says organizations that stand the best shot at surviving a crisis have a battle-hardened leadership team at the helm who’ve weathered controversy before, are committed to resolving the crisis at hand, possess a clear-eyed view of their organization’s shortcomings  and have a credible counter-narrative. An unfettered budget also helps.”The realistic objective of crisis management is to endure controversy, not escape it.”

Think of a crisis as an iceberg, says Dezenhall. What you see above the waterline are the much-hyped PR and communications tactics of crisis management, the majority of which are of no value whatsoever. “What remains unseen is often more important than what is seen, and the best damage control efforts are often resolved discreetly. Most crises that are successfully resolved are resolved due to business and operational considerations.”  Smart organizations keep these considerations quiet. You won’t find their tactics laid out in case studies and showcased at conferences.

This isn’t your book if you’re looking for how to manage a crisis in 10 easy steps or need reassurance that a crisis is an opportunity.  But if you want to survive your darkest days and emerge with your battered reputation still intact, Dezenhall’s brutally honest facts of life memoir is required reading.