Wait! What? 9/18: Facebook Finally Gives Us The Thumbs Up To Give A Thumbs-Down

“It’s Friday.” That is arguably one of the sweetest phrases in the world. From finally being able to ‘dislike’ your crazy uncle’s political views to giving tweens yet another way to take photos of themselves (hands free, anyone?), we’ve got the rundown on the top tech and industry stories of the week:

Credit: Thinkstock
Credit: Thinkstock
  • To like or not to like – that is the question. This week Facebook announced a ‘dislike’ button is in the works, empowering grumpy users everywhere to share their distaste.
  • Are you kidding me right meow?! Apparently a Cisco employee accidentally sent an email to the entire staffing list of over 30,000 employees, and pictures of cats and memes were circulated to everyone for hours. Obviously, madness ensued.
  • Taking your selfies to new heights … forget having to carry around a stick or deal with that pesky arm of yours in the photo: Dronies can follow you around, taking in-action photos of you and your friends on command. Kind of like drones flying around at concerts and NFL games taking photos of everyone, except now it’s just you, doing your thing, looking cool. Right?
  • Social media has that wonderful ability to take a giant event (the Super Bowl, GOP Debates…) and pick out one tiny aspect and run with it. The second GOP Debate was on Wednesday night, and amongst the pressing issues discussed, we discovered the variety of faces Donald Trump can make and who the #HotDebateGuy really is. Thanks, Twitter.
  • Definitely swiping right. Oscar Meyer recently rolled out a dating app for bacon lovers called Sizzl. It even provides a variety of safe first date questions, including:
    • “How do you like your bacon cooked?”
    • “What kind of bacon do you like?”
    • “If there’s one strip of bacon left, you…?”

Those were our favorite stories of the week, share yours with us on Twitter @BlancAndOtus!

Wait! What? 9/11: It’s Christmas for Techies and Fashionistas, Love and PR are One and the Same

week in review 911
Credit: Thinkstock

Happy Friday everyone! Though there was only one national holiday this week, the Apple event is well on its way to becoming a bank holiday itself! From channeling your inner child to channeling your inner serial dater, here’s a round up of some of the top industry stories from this week:

  • This week was all about the big Apple reveal! The Tech Elite flocked to Bill Graham Auditorium this Wednesday as the world was introduced to the new iPhone, Apple TV and…Apple Pencil? The Next Web’s roundup of the event can help you keep track of all the updates and innovations.
  • Another exclusive event for a different kind of elite crowd kicked off this week: New York Fashion Week. Once reserved for the rich and famous, technology has worked its way into the tents at Bryant Park, offering us plebs a piece of the action through live-streaming.
  • You may not be a kid anymore, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t treat September like a new beginning. Fast Company gives advice on how to recapture that “back to school” feeling and refresh your career.
  • Is finding love really about selling yourself? Comedian Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance looks at dating in the digital age, but it actually gives some pretty sound marketing advice as well! Whoever said that PR wasn’t romantic?
  • In more somber news, today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. WIRED takes a look at how the creators of the 9/11 museum took on the gargantuan task of creating a monument that would honor the memory of those who lost their lives and educate visitors about the tragic event.

That’s all folks! Tweet us your favorite stories of the week @BlancAndOtus.

PR Can Be Stressful – Here are 5 Ways B&O Is Reducing the Strain….

Did you know that public relations executives have the 6th most stressful job in America? Under constant pressure and tight deadlines, it’s no secret that PR professionals feel overwhelmed from time to time (insert that collective SIGH here). So how can we learn to manage stress, avoid mental fatigue, and be happier overall at work?

Credit: AndreyPopov, Thinkstock
Credit: AndreyPopov, Thinkstock

You might think a viable solution to preventing all this stress would be to plan ahead and predict our daily schedules more effectively. But PR is a spur-of-the-moment industry, and the need to manage a constantly evolving news cycle often prevents said planning from happening in an organized fashion. Hence, it’s critical that PR workplaces continually seek out creative ways to help combat stress.

Stopping mental fatigue – a phenomenon caused “by an inability of the fatigued subject to allocate attention efficiently” (ERP study) – and stress in their tracks is where PR professionals need to focus their energy. “It’s preventative medicine,” said Jane Buckingham, CEO of trend forecasting and media firm Trendera in a recent Adweek article. “Studies show that meditation and living healthy lives make people more productive. They’re less frazzled by heavy workloads; they’re less likely to be overwhelmed…” And they’re therefore more likely to jump on tasks faster and with more energy and eagerness than before.

So let’s get down to it: What stress-reducing measures has B&O implemented in the workplace that work for us? Here are a few:

  1. Bouncy exercise balls and standing desks: Along with reducing stress, bouncy balls and standing desks can give you a break from the evil desk chair, which can literally kill you. The Washington Post released a troubling article last year detailing the excess of health problems desk chairs cause including heart disease, over productive pancreas, colon cancer, muscle degeneration, poor circulation in legs, soft bones…to name just a few. Bouncy balls reduce mental fatigue by forcing muscles to balance and thus pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain, reducing brain fog. Fast Company’s recent scientific research on standing desks indicates they have resulted in some clear physiological health benefits, including increased energy expenditure and an average heart rate increase of 8 beats per minute. Not to mention, they are simply fun and often the source of other workplace hijinks – including bouncy ball basketball.
  2. Encouraging stress-reducing moments in daily PR life: Yes, we are all super busy, but taking a few minutes to regenerate can pay off when it comes to boosting productivity and creativity. And that’s exactly why we have massage days every couple of months. To say they are popular would be an understatement. Not to mention, we are huge fans of an afternoon run for coffee, iced tea, whatever your pleasure. But really it’s less about the drinks than the stroll out in the fresh air and the conversation with colleagues that rejuvenates you and gets you ready for that next task ahead. Lastly, it is not uncommon to see that all office email go around with a hilarious cat or goat video. After all, nothing lightens the mood or brings a laugh like goats dubbed into Taylor Swift videos.
  3. Plan fun activities employees can look forward to: Good, clean happy hours … a definite key to reducing stress. While Inc. goes so far as to say beer can make you smarter, the #1 reason to plan these events is so employees have something fun to look forward to when moments of stress kick in during the workday. Aside from happy hours, B&O is known for its legendary events – from Valentingo to St. Patty’s Day Olympics.
  4. WFH Fridays: Ah, it’s just before the weekend, so what better reward after a long week than to stay home and complete your work from the comfort of your own place? Working from home eliminates the commute, traffic, and provides employees with that work/home balance they crave … not to mention the option of staying in your pajamas until noon and working alongside your pet is always a priceless benefit.
  5. Monthly Fitness Reimbursement: It’s no secret that gym memberships can prove expensive, and while the benefits of reimbursing employees for monthly gym fees are clear, employers benefit as well: when employees exercise and eat better, morale improves, productivity increases, and healthcare costs go down.

These are just a few of the great perks that accompany B&O’s fantastic wellness and healthcare benefits. And one thing is for certain: the implementation of these initiatives is crucial to our success in this constantly changing, fast-paced world of PR that, for better or worse, we love.

B&O Street Insights: Andre Lauren Benjamin

Credit: Gage Skidmore
Credit: Gage Skidmore

The next installment of the B&O Street Insights comes by way of Mr. Andre Lauren Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000 from the hip-hop duo Outkast. In 1996, Benjamin recited text for the chantey, “Elevators,” where he discussed the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with the media.

And I replied that I had been going through the same things that he had
True, I’ve got more fans than the average man,
but not enough loot to last me to the end of the week
I live by the beat, like you live check-to-check
If you don’t move your feet then I don’t eat, so we like neck-to-neck
– Andre 3000

Benjamin emphasizes that for pre-IPO companies, fame is not always equivalent to prosperity (ok, I made quite a jump here, but stay with me). While the start-up lifestyle filled with expensive furniture, fancy office décor, a Keurig and a fully stocked kitchen may seem lavish, that is far from the reality.

Although it is true that putting out a successful product and/or service has gained him numerous media and analyst advocates and made him richer than the common man, he’s far from being set for life (one can only assume that the company is currently running on seed money). Benjamin has no other job so his entire well-being depends on the media coverage he and his company achieves across business and trade press. Therefore, despite the fact that his popularity is much higher than the average beat reporter, their responsibilities and work ethic are actually quite similar.

Insights:

  • Good rapport with reporters is essential to positive media coverage
  • Never neglect one’s brand advocates – particularly those with ties to the VC community
  • Reporters are people too (sometimes)
  • Members of the media aren’t normally good dancers

Bill Rundle also contributed to this post.

Innovation: Beyond Buzzwords

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Out here in Silicon Valley, “innovation” is center square on buzzword bingo. Everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to be associated with it. Everybody claims to do it. But not all innovation is created equal. As we strive to become innovators in our industries, I’d like to offer a few practical tips for how to think about innovation in a way that breaks through the noise and delivers impact.

Necessity is the mother of invention
Step 1: Find a purpose.

Innovation is most useful when it’s in response to a clearly understood need. The more grounded we are in a precise, differentiated purpose, the more effective our ideas will be. Just last week, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared with a group of LinkedIn B2B Connect attendees that having a clear differentiated purpose is in fact the single most important determining factor in the success of any new LinkedIn feature or service.

For a professional services organization like Blanc & Otus, there are three primary needs to consider: helping our own people, helping our clients, and helping our profitability. And while all three are connected, helping our people is the most important. After all, we are our own product.

Whether we’re looking to improve our efficiency and automate tasks we’re already doing, or looking to improve our effectiveness with new services we’re not doing yet, or looking to improve our impact with data services that show the value of what we’re doing…helping unleash the full potential of our amazing tribe of consultants is, I believe, the best possible purpose behind any of our innovations.

Engage in a little creative destruction
Step 2: Blow some stuff up.

Not literally, of course, but conceptually. When imagining and engineering new ways to work, it’s extremely helpful to blow up old assumptions and outdated models to clear a path for fresh thinking. When Facebook first launched, it was a stated assumption of all Internet-driven businesses that it was bad to have “white space” on your web site. MySpace had set the standard, and it looked a teenager’s bedroom wall that had been over-run with fan posters. But Facebook challenged that assumption and believed that a social network was less about pushing media and more about pulling people together. And when it launched, it had the most minimalistic webpage anybody had ever seen. It defied convention. And it worked.

So, once you’re grounded in purpose, ask yourself what old assumptions you’re carrying around with you. Dump them. Create some conceptual white space in which to work. And have some fun while you’re doing it!

Innovation isn’t just about technology
Step 3: Be human.

Innovation is about way more than the latest shiny new gadget or app. Technology is but one of many forms of innovation. People, process and technology all have to work in tandem for a new idea to work. And of the three, people are usually the slowest moving component of any change. After all, a new technology doesn’t resist change when you upgrade it.

That’s why cultural innovation and changing the human operating system are as important, if not more important, than the technology operating systems we work with. Process innovation, and shifting the protocols by which we work together, is also a great way to reduce complexity and increase speed and scale. Even environmental innovation, and changing the space in which we work, can have a profound impact on our overall creativity and productivity. So, ask yourselves, how can we innovate the non-technical aspects of innovation and make a real impact?

Ingenuity is as valuable as innovation
Step 4: Use what you’ve got.

Innovation is the creation of something brand new, like a wheel. Ingenuity is the creative recombination of existing components to produce something useful, like when somebody took two wheels, ran a stick through the center of them, and put a box on top to make a cart. Ingenuity is particularly helpful in professional services firms where people are already resourceful and tenacious.

Looking again at Facebook as an example, ingenuity is what the company was all about. Mark Zuckerburg didn’t invent anything. He used existing technologies in a new and disruptive way. Same with LinkedIn. Same with Uber and Lyft. So, the question is, how can those of us in the professional services industry become models of ingenuity?

Co-Create Something Amazing
Step 5: Crowd-source your solution

Once you’ve found your purpose, blown up old assumptions, thought through the human implications of your innovation, and used your existing resources to full effect, now you’re ready to create something brand new. And in this final step, nothing is more important than tapping into the wisdom of the amazing tribe of people around you. And it’s important to reach beyond your immediate circle of employees and colleagues. Involve your customers and clients, partners, influencers and most especially your critics in your creative process. Collaborative co-creation yields so much more innovation because it brings together such a rich combination of complementary perspectives. And collaborative co-creation allows for more people to have a personal stake in the success of the innovation initiative you’re pursuing.

At B&O, we’re fortunate to have a tribe of digital natives who are in touch with the latest digital tools and techniques, and who are on the front lines of delivering value to our clients. Our Facebook, Instragram and LinkedIn programs were all started by our youngest employees. We recently aired one of our marketing summits on Periscope at the recommendation of our staff. By being open to experimentation and involving a broader group of people in the creative process, we’ve been able to embrace change in a way that brings us closer together as a team. 

What are your own pointers for embracing innovation? We’d love to co-create some professional service innovation with you, so join the conversation!

Great People Are at the Heart of Our Business, and No One Has Been More so than Peggy Clark

Stay classy, Pegs. We'll miss you.
Stay classy, Pegs. We’ll miss you.

Here on our blog, you see us write a lot about the trends in the industry, the latest happenings and tips and tricks of the trade. Perhaps not often enough do we take a step back and look at the reason we even have a business in the first place… our people.

The thing that makes Blanc & Otus great is that we have an amazing tribe of different, talented and passionate people who are committed – not only to delivering on our mantra of 5-star client service, but also in their support of each other.

In my 16 years at the firm, I have never seen anyone showcase this commitment more eloquently than our beloved office coordinator, Peggy Clark.

For 15 years Peggy has been part admin, part therapist, part caterer, part den mother and ALL HEART. Looking back, I am not sure we have all appreciated enough the tireless effort and commitment she has delivered. At the times when we were so crazy we thought we might lose our minds, it was Peggy that brought the pizza and beer. When a new client or candidate walked through the door, it was Peggy that gave them a warm and lasting positive first impression of Blanc & Otus.

Something ordered, booking travel, rearranging conference rooms, scheduling Ubers, flowers on anniversaries, ensuring cheese sticks stocked at all times, a shoulder to vent on…Peggy Clark.

By themselves, these may seem like small tasks. But in reality, these are huge things that have ensured the agency has run smoothly and made our jobs, and lives, easier and better.

Seeing her bright smile (and impeccable, matching jewelry) is one of the things I value most when I come into the office each day. And it’s one of the things I will miss the most as we prepare to send her off on her much deserved retirement.

In a service business like ours, having great people is essential. We were lucky to have been blessed with Peggy all these years. Her commitment to delivering a 5-star service to the Blanc & Otus team has made a lasting and invaluable mark on our company and each of us individually. We send her with all our thanks, our love and our best wishes in her retirement adventures.

In the words of the great Frank Sinatra …“thanks for the memory”.

Life and Career Lessons from … March Madness?!

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

North Carolina State stunning Houston in the 1983 championship game (and beating future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the process). Villanova downing defending champions Georgetown in the 1985 championship game (denying another future Hall of Famer, Patrick Ewing, of a second title). Connecticut, just last year, ascending from a #7 seed and subsequent long odds to upend Kentucky and win it all. Anywhere you look, the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament – more commonly known as March Madness – produces amazing upsets like few other sporting competitions across the world.

As PR professionals, we can learn a lot from March Madness and the crazy twists and turns it takes each year – lessons that we can apply to both our careers and our lives outside of the office. Such as:

  • Prepare for the Unexpected: We mentioned just three of the upsets that have taken place in the NCAA Tournament throughout its history, but there have been so many more (my busted brackets accumulated over the years can confirm that). And we’re guessing that as a PR professional, you’ve run out of fingers and toes counting the surprises you’ve encountered during your career – be it a New York Times editor suddenly calling you out of the blue to discuss a pitch you didn’t think they had the time to read, or an industry-changing piece of news turning your week upside-down. While you can’t know what’s around the corner, simply knowing that anything can happen is all the preparation you need.
  • Take a Break to Enjoy Yourself: It’s such an old and tired cliché, but it applies here – “PR isn’t ER,” and any job that doesn’t involve saving lives should probably not be treated with a constant, manic level of urgency. It’s not only okay to take a breath to get away and immerse yourself in something completely unrelated to work, but it might be good for your health and your level of focus.
  • Live in the Moment: The NCAA Tournament produces a wealth of memorable moments each year; heck, there was a song written about the tournament called “One Shining Moment.” Countless athletes and coaches who have won the national title talk about how they “lived in the moment”: essentially, intensely focusing on what is needed to be accomplished while also taking the time to enjoy the experience. Your job should ultimately be enjoyable and rewarding, so make sure to savor those moments when you land a huge media hit or the event you ran turned out to be a huge success.

As a huge sports fan I’m biased on this topic, but I truly believe that there’s a lot to learn from sports outside of the final score of a game or how Team X matches up against Team Y. And I guarantee you that all you need to do is watch some of these March Madness games to understand what the tournament – and your career and your life – should be: enjoyable.

B&O Street Insights: Malik Isaac Taylor

Karppinen / Wikimedia Commons
Karppinen / Wikimedia Commons

2015 is well under way and through this blog, we have picked up right where we left off last year: continuing to provide you with our unique commentary on the key trends making headlines in the communications industry. However, one burning question has remained constant among the readers of Above the Fold – what happened to the B&O Street Insights?

As many of you may recall, my colleague Bill Rundle and I launched B&O Street Insights last year to pay homage to old-school rap – but also to uncover the hidden PR messages often buried beneath the rhymes, fat gold chains and Kangol hats. Although the knowledge from the streets has been on hiatus, I’m pleased to announce the re-launch of B&O Street Insights taking place in the first half of this year. Bill and I appreciate everyone’s continued support during our time away, as we hunkered down in the lab for weeks and months, gathering a refreshing set of lyrical PR magic.

For a preview of the 2015 edition of B&O Street Insights, we turn to one Malik Isaac Taylor, more commonly known as “Phife Dawg” from the acclaimed hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. In the 1991 arrangement entitled “Check the Rhime,” Mr. Taylor provides his recommendations on launching a new venture and the importance of a strong executive bench:

Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am 
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram 
I’m like an Energizer cause, you see, I last long 
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong

– Malik Isaac Taylor

We all know the saying, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” While a company launch can be an exciting time, Mr. Taylor reminds PR practitioners that the birth of a new company should be communicated with confidence and vigor and validated with strong leadership.

As Taylor so eloquently suggests, a business’s coming out party should start with a dynamic and personable CEO and be backed by a strong executive team which sets the company’s foundation for a long and fruitful existence. The presence of a strong C-Suite should then be communicated to all of the relevant media audiences including one’s parents, legal guardian or caregiver.

Insights

  • Introducing a new company must be accompanied with a bit of confidence and moxy from the CEO
  • The staying power of a new company or venture should be communicated to one and all
  • Be sure to highlight the existence of a strong executive team that is in it for the long haul
  • Since the telegram has obviously been replaced by more real-time communication avenues, Mr. Taylor should be applauded for his dry wit

Bill Rundle also contributed to this post.

Things that Go Boom: Kicking Off 2015 with Some Creative Destruction

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Every December, my brothers and I gather with our parents on our farm in Missouri to ring in the New Year with some serious fireworks. There’s something cleansing about blowing things up — a reminder that in the wake of creative destruction, a blank canvas emerges, paving the way for new possibilities.

As storytellers, B&O deals in the currency of words. We use them to change attitudes, impact markets and create understanding. But we know that some words carry more value than others. Through overusage, many lose their power. Others have hazy meanings to begin with. Some are just nonsense. The technology industry, with its acronyms and “insider” language is no doubt an offender. Tech PR is also an offender, relying on the familiar crutch of jargon or buzzwords to tell their stories.

So, as a start to the New Year, we asked B&O team members what words and concepts they would like to blow up in 2015.

I’m kicking things off by blowing up the word “innovation.” It’s the most overused word in tech PR, one that through extensive usage has lost its meaning. Hear what else I have to say about this word in my video:

And stay tuned to our Twitter feed (@BlancandOtus) over the next week to see what other terms members of the B&O team want to blow up. Because there’s nothing like a little #creativedestruction to set the stage for a great 2015!

B&O Street Insights: Christopher George Latore Wallace

Credit: Bad Boy Records
Credit: Bad Boy Records

Continuing the Blanc & Otus tradition of looking to the streets and old school rap innovators for PR insights, this month’s B&O Street Insight comes from Christopher George Latore Wallace – also known as Biggie Smalls/The Notorious B.I.G.

The larger-than-life Wallace often peppered his work with advice for enhancing brand perception and media relations, and he was a staunch advocate for street-based educational programs. A great example of this is found in one of his popular works titled Juicy:

Living life without fear
Putting 5 karats in my baby girl’s ears
Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ‘cause I dropped out of high school

Mr. Wallace recommends that brands ignore their position in the market, the limitations of their product and realistic evaluations of their financial position and engage in fearless communication programs that tell consumers “it’s all good.” He uses the example of adorning an infant with five-carat diamond earrings (which must be worth at least $50,000) to give the perception of affluence, enhancing brand equity.

Once brand perceptions are in the “Baller” quadrant, organizations need to maintain the illusion of grandeur by organizing long boozy lunches with top tier media, analysts and influencers. Never one to forget his humble roots, Wallace also recommends keeping tier two influencers in the loop with less formal brunches to save on budget. From this point on, all media interviews must be conducted by a pool – preferably an infinity pool to add to the mystique.

There’s a fine line between the “Baller” and “Vomit-Inducing Wealth” quadrants, so after “Baller” status has been achieved, organizations should begin rolling out Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to win the love and respect of their less-affluent brand advocates. In Wallace’s case, he became a vocal crusader for street-based education programs and would often speak at events, sharing his own experiences with alternative tutoring.

Insights:

  • Don’t let realism hold you down, reach for the stars
  • Consider the environment for all media/influencer engagements. What’s your swimming pool strategy?
  • Deliver a one-two punch: Create the illusion of affluence and follow up with the illusion of caring about others

If you don’t know, now you know…

Neil Torres also contributed to this post.