The Changing Landscape of Media Relations

Rob explores the changing nature of our work in the media.

News or Content?

At the risk of sounding far older than I am…

Back in my day when I was getting started working in media relations, things were much different. Of course, with the exponential growth in digital communications from day to day, this same statement would also be true if I were far younger as well.

It is a very true statement, nonetheless. While email was widely used for article pitches and press release distribution (I’m not that old), there was still the odd media contact who listed their contact preference as mail or even fax. When’s the last time you saw a fax machine?

The media relations landscape is in constant evolution. The two most significant contributing factors I can identify are the internet boom in the late 90s that moved many print outlets online, and the dawn of social media that drastically altered the news cycle. Previously, it might’ve been customary to get caught up on the local news of the day by watching the 5 o’clock news- or read about all the developments happening in your industry in this month’s issue of [Enter your industry here] Monthly. Nowadays, the news cycle is 24/7. Coverage is nearly simultaneous, and it lasts as long as it takes to be buried by other ‘breaking’ news headlines. In addition to this, media outlets are operating with smaller and smaller staffs, who are increasingly inundated with pitches and press releases. Getting your message to the right reporter through all of this noise can be a real challenge.

The following tips will help you navigate today’s media relations landscape.

Stay on Top of Things

The timeliness of a pitch has always been a positive, but nowadays it is almost essential. Be sure to keep up-to-date on all the latest news related to the topics you’d like to comment on. Use resources like Google News Alerts and HARO to help keep an eye on the field. Figure out who is talking about what, and what they are saying. Ask your customers where they get their information and target these and similar outlets.

Build Your Relationships and Credibility

After you’ve determined who the influencers are in your targeted space, get on their radar. Follow them on social media and share the stories they post. Share your knowledge on a well maintained and regularly updated company blog, and refer any reporters looking for more information to your blog. Respond to any reporters’ questions quickly and professionally, and always meet any deadline they give you. If you are a reliable, credible source for them, they will remember you the next time they’re looking for help.

Cut the BS

Earning media is a reciprocal relationship. Reporters are always on deadline, so if you can help them quickly and easily fill a gap, they’ll be obliged to work with you and run your news. However, the key word here is “news.” Be sure your content is written in a professional, objective news style (AP is preferred) so reporters can copy and paste it. The more your material reads like the news you see in their outlet, the better the chance you have of getting it placed. There is a place for marketing jargon, self-promotional speak, and buzzwords, but it isn’t here.

By following these tips, you can get the attention you need and finally see your company in the headlines.

Want to know more? Drop us a line!

Three Parallels Between Parenting and Public Relations

Easily the single most momentous event that changed my life was becoming a parent. The whole focal point of my existence suddenly changed from looking out for numero uno to being a full-time caretaker for a tiny, loud and messy little stranger.

Easily the single most momentous event that changed my life was becoming a parent. The whole focal point of my existence suddenly changed from looking out for numero uno to being a full-time caretaker for a tiny, loud and messy little stranger. Long gone were the days of spontaneous nights out, using the facilities at my convenience or eating meals like a non-inmate. However, adaptation and growth usually follow change- and my matriculation to parenthood was no exception.

I’m now the father of two young children. And as I look back over the lessons I’ve learned introducing those two miniature people to the world, there are many parallels I can draw to the world of Public Relations. Maybe because of my love for alliteration, they all begin with the letter P. So I’m calling them the 3Ps of Parenting and PR.


My kids are currently 4 and 1 (almost 2). This means we’re just now entering into the exciting and fun world of constant wars being waged on one another. My usual role as the mediator has taught me that the message conveyed isn’t always the message received. The receiving party will usually view the message through their own lens of “how this affects me,” which could potentially have some negative outcomes if there are any loopholes.

When crafting communications for a client, it’s always important to look at the message from all angles. How might your message be received by people with different viewpoints or attitudes? Be sure to remove any opportunities for the audience to interpret your message in any other way than its intended meaning. Spending a few minutes thinking this through before releasing your message could avoid the next big conflict.


Children are little crazy people. There, I said it. They have a hard time understanding (or caring) that there are other people with other needs, or that things don’t magically clean themselves every night after they go to bed. Most of the time, this is a non-issue. Kids are cute, and it’s easy to overlook their behavior. At least in the light of day. However, after a long day of work, and an even longer night of parenting that slowly stretches later and later into the wee morning hours, it becomes increasingly difficult to react with patience.

In the PR world, it’s a challenge to keep all the balls in the air- even when everything is hunky dory. However, when a crisis emerges, or when a sudden deadline materializes out of thin air, it becomes exponentially more difficult not to react out of emotion and frustration- which often leads to work that falls short of achieving the desired outcome.

Like good parents, PR practitioners must remain calm in the face of short deadlines and unexpected crises. Keeping a cool head when things get rocky will allow you to operate under pressure, producing well calculated and appropriate work that accomplishes your client’s goals. It’s always a good idea to take a step back and a deep breath before you react.


Becoming a parent is one of the most efficient ways I can think of to eliminate every second of free time from your day (and night). I used to enjoy reading books, walking trails through the park, and the occasional Netflix weekend binge fest. While it’s a far cry from pre-fatherhood days, it is still possible to spend some time here and there doing what I enjoy. The secret is thinking ahead to what needs to be done, then planning and prioritizing tasks to accomplish those said things, so once the kids are in bed, there’s time left to decompress.

The parallel to client work is clear. A diligent account manager will have multiple projects in the works for their clients. Maintaining an organized view of these projects and their deadlines, and prioritizing your time to meet each deadline, is essential- and might even help you create a little bit of downtime at the end of a busy day.

Today’s Snowstorms Could Launch Tomorrow’s Best Marketers

My little part of the country recently received our second major snowfall of the winter season. Not so little, actually. Millions of people were impacted by the storm that raced across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England portions of the United States in mid- and late January. Thousands were left without power and stranded on snow-swept roads. And more is undoubtedly on its way.

As I peered out my living room window to admire the beauty of that snowfall and to take inventory of any challenges it might present to my neighbors and me as we prepared to start our days, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from that picturesque scene…. My buddies and me, maybe 12, 13 or 14, marching valiantly through the freshly fallen snow, shovels in hand, ready to save the days of those stranded in their driveways or on the roads.

Where were those hardy young entrepreneurs, layered in their winter gear with determination in their steps and dollar signs in their eyes?

Yep! I was lost in a moment of nostalgia. The sad truth is that the scene I longed to see is nothing more than a fond memory. I’ll wager a guess that, instead of knocking on doors or racing to their phones to call their friends and organize their crew of winter snow removal warriors, the kids on the particular Sunday morning I have in mind raced to their tablets and game consoles to wage war in pixelated worlds free from the frigid air and wet roads of that day’s reality.

“What a shame,” I thought to myself. Yes, I was mourning the loss of youthful drive and work ethic that seems to have been a 20th-century phenomenon. However, more so, I found myself shaking my head as a marketer. In that same moment, it dawned on me just how much opportunity today’s kids were missing to make some honest bucks. Because in today’s world, they wouldn’t have to patrol their neighborhoods looking for cars to dig out and sidewalks to clear. From their same tablets and smartphones, they and their parents could put the word out via their social media channels, email lists, text groups and instant messengers that they were available for hire. Man, the money my buddies and I could have made during those January blizzards if only we had had Facebook Live, Snapchat or Nextdoor!

Nextdoor bills itself as “the world’s largest and fastest growing social network for neighborhoods.” (I could have said that about the evening-long sessions of Red Light, Green Light my friends and I played up and down our street growing up.) However, times have changed. According to its website, Nextdoor is now active in nine countries, four of which (France, Italy, Spain and Australia) joined its ranks just in 2018.

I’ve been a member of Nextdoor for more than five years. I didn’t use the app very often in my previous neighborhood, primarily because I already knew many of my neighbors and knew where and how to reach the local services I needed. However, when my wife and I moved to our current neighborhood two and a half years ago, I was the new kid on the block and had to start from scratch. Our first full summer, I needed help in ridding our lawn of moles. I went to Nextdoor for help. I posted my need, and within minutes received recommendations. I hired a service based in my general area, and he delivered. By delivered, I mean he caught six moles on my property in three months and advised me on how to keep them away. Moments ago, I went to Nextdoor again to search on snow removal for my neighborhood and found about a half-dozen options, mostly private citizens simply offering up their shovels and snow blowers, either free of charge or to make some walking around money (for when the snow is removed). Of course, my page also filled immediately with roughly a dozen ads for landscaping and snow removal companies.

For safe measure, I visited Facebook and searched on “snow removal services near me.” I received more results than I had time to review, some as recent as just hours earlier and some as old as 2012. Those listings also included videos showing snow removal capabilities.

I even tried Craigslist for my geographic location. I was more amazed by what I found here than on Nextdoor. I saw 10 listings for snow removal of some kind posted within just three days of our impending storm, many of which appeared to be no more sophisticated than individuals offering their services and plows. A few featured photos of a tractor or cleared parking lots.

I’ll take this moment to revisit my childhood. Before I accepted my first “real” job as a teenager, I spent a summer walking my neighborhood asking if I could mow lawns for any of my neighbors. Within a couple of weeks, I had a half dozen or more clients…enough to the point that I had to buy an appointment book to track my customers and my billings. I was in business. I should add that by this time, I was now living in Florida, where the lawn-mowing business lasted nearly all year. I made enough money to keep me in movies, fast food, gas, and car washes.

My point is that if I had had today’s technology, I would have saved time knocking on doors, and instead would have had customers coming to me, especially when they compared my “neighborhood teen with his dad’s lawnmower” rates to those of established landscaping companies.

One last thing: every day, we see or hear stories about young kids who are making millions on YouTube playing with toys or video games because they’re viewed by millions of other kids their age and younger who then know what “stuff” they want their parents to buy them. These child “influencers” are reaping the rewards of the technology the rest of us take for granted. I’m not recommending that each of us launch a YouTube channel or Instagram page for our children so they can start paying for their college and our retirement before they’re out of training wheels. I’m merely suggesting that we leverage the technology they already love to help them learn the value of hard work…also, targeted marketing.

We should do what we can to instill in our kids the notion that using technology can put real dollars in their piggy banks, rather than racking up Fortnite V-Bucks or World of Warcraft tokens. And the bonus for parents might be shoveled driveways…without a visit to the chiropractor.

Mac and Me

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently…While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones, who do.” 
–Apple commercial 1987 

The Art Department at the small agency I had founded in 1984 was known as the Zoo. Cork covered walls were adorned with Farah Faucet posters, marker comps, logo development drafts, and job traffic control spreadsheets. We were required to wear a coat and tie just in case a client came to visit, but that did little to camouflage our deviant minds.

We made blowguns with rolled paper tubes and push pins and challenged every norm. “Change” was our watchword, the status quo our target. Clients visiting the agency ALWAYS came to the Zoo to stand in the doorway to gaze in awe at a bunch of irreverent, creative misfits in action. Our T-squares and drafting tables are, for the most part, now obsolete, and the way we produce our work is much different.

I touched my first computer that same year. My toolbox was filled with triangles, T-squares, rapidographs, rubylith, kneaded erasers, and wax pencils. This box of wires with a glass face sitting on my desk looked like some kind of alien. Its name was ‘Mac’, and at first, our relationship was challenging.

As I sat at a large drawing board with white masking tape and X-Acto knives, building mechanicals and creating marker comps, Mac stared silently at my every move as if in judgment. We couldn’t communicate. I had to learn to speak Mac.

Like an invasion, Macs began to proliferate throughout the company. They got bigger, and faster and smarter and soon covered my trusty drafting table. I could access everything from a single movement of my hand on the strange box. When I made a mistake, my pal Mac allowed me to simply go back, without having to start the project over. Mac and his ilk changed everything.

But through the years one thing didn’t change: the people. The creatives, the technicians, the artists, the account execs, the media buyers, the designers, the thinkers, the writers and the wordsmiths. People who can breathe life into an idea through words or create an image that touches the heart without saying a word.

So, I got to thinking – although everything changed, nothing really has. Our tools may change and evolve, but we are still in the “idea business.” The misfits who provide the creative spark that makes content connect still fit round pegs into square holes every day.

How Being a Step-Mother Has Made Me a Better Public Relations Professional (and Vice-Versa)

Looking back, I stumbled into the world of public relations much like I did the world of step-motherhood. If I’m honest, neither were my first choice and had I known ahead of time the hours, frustration and exhaustion each would bring, I’m not sure I would have dove into both quite as fervently as I did. With that said, after time, effort, and a little wine, I know I am exactly where I belong.


When you’re a step-mom, you enter a no-mans-land of parenting. I say no-mans-land because no man (or woman) ever grows up to say they want to be in that land. You have many of the same responsibilities as bio-parents (packing lunches, taxiing around town, sitting through various sports practices and cleaning up vomit) without many of the perks (breakfast-in-bed on Mother’s Day, input in daily decisions and the uninhibited love of the child). You learn early on that the relationship between you and your spouse, you and your step-children and you and the rest of the world is a dance. It’s a constant give and takes and one must be able to navigate and adjust expectations on a dime. Things don’t always go as planned. Many times the only thing you can expect on is the unplanned. These little humans are complex, and so are the many relationships that go along with them. Bobbing and weaving is a daily occurrence, and one must be able to recover quickly or be knocked out of the ring.

Similarly, if you want to succeed in the world of public relations, you must learn to be flexible. We’re talking full-on splits flexible. Clients, media, and even your agency team is ever changing. Agility and the ability to think on your feet are a must. If your client calls you an hour before they’re to appear on a live morning show to tell you they have an aggressive case of pink eye, what do you do? If you pitch your heart out about your client’s new product, and your media friends are excited to tell the story, but at the last minute the product is canned, what do you do? Flexibility is critical, and a level head is a necessity. My stepdaughters’ have given me many opportunities to strengthen my flexibility muscles, and I’m thankful they have, especially since the examples above are real-life pages from my career book.

Gentle Persistence

Secondly, as a step-parent, you quickly learn the art of gentle persistence. No one likes to be hounded. Having someone constantly looking over your shoulder and asking if you cleaned your room, fed your turtle, or used shampoo to wash your hair, is not pleasant. I have learned that my girls hear me ask the first time, but for various reasons (My Little Pony Friendship Adventure is on, they’re making paper bag puppets, or an intense game of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is about to go down) they are “unable” to accommodate my request. While I refuse to give up on my original ask, I step into their world, see the importance of what’s happening to them at that particular moment, and take a step back. Later, when the time is right, I gently remind them of my original request or direction.  While this is by no means fool-proof, and there are times that they give me the proverbial take-a-hike look, most of the time they respond favorably.

Likewise, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our media friends. Many are stretched thin and working against razor-thin deadlines. When you’re feeling that kind of pressure, the last thing you need or will respond to is a PR person asking for the third time if you received their pitch. Conversely, as a PR professional, we still have the responsibility to our client to leave no stone unturned when telling their news. After all, if we’re not gently persistent in sharing their story and telling folks why it’s important, who will?


The next thing my girls have taught me is that creativity is king. Like adults, their brains are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day. From school to friends, to PBS Kids, they’re being served up lights, sounds, and ideas that make my faux-momma mind tired. If I want to cut through the clutter and make memories with my girls, I need to be memorable. I need to think of new ways that will engage them and give them something to think about after the day or the event is over.

Equally, as PR professionals, we must be able to think differently.  Every day we are tasked to be creative, whether we’re approaching an old story in a new way or taking a story and making sure we tell it in a way that it receives the attention it deserves. This skill is necessary for both roles, and I am grateful my girls have pushed me to develop this ability, even on my off days.

Thick Skin

Let’s be real for a minute. I love my girls. They are a part of my life that I never thought I had room for, but I do. They have expanded my heart and made my life fuller (and more chaotic). With that said, I’m not their bio-mom. I never will be their mom. Remember what I said above, as a step-mom you do many of the same dirty deeds that their birth mother does, but often you don’t reap the same rewards. I’ve learned not to take this personally (most of the time).

PR professionals need to apply the same roll-off-your-back mentality to avoid burn out. There are many time times that we hear no thanks (or just NO) from a reporter, journalist or client. We can’t take this personally; it’s the world we work in.

As for my girls, many sweet moments happen, too. The way they snuggle in for a story at night or to watch funny animal videos on YouTube, the good night hug, and even when they tell me that my Ranch dressing is better than their mom’s (I’m #1 at something!). I relish these special moments the way I relish when a reporter does an amazing piece for my client. You take the good with the bad, and you choose to remember the good when the laundry is piling up, and emails and phone calls to your media friends go unanswered.

Focus on the Relationship

Lastly, my girls have helped me hone my relational skills. Just because I married their Dad, doesn’t mean that instantly we felt like a family or that they trusted me. Quite the opposite. I sat on the sidelines for longer than I’d like to admit before I realized that if I wanted to be embraced, I needed to embrace. I needed to dig in and show up for them. I needed to read books with them, play Calico Critters, watch Larva (if you don’t know what this is, you should). I needed to get to know them and what makes them tick before I could put any expectations on them. The same goes for our clients and media friends. We need to do our research and make sure we’re bringing them stories that are right for them. Everyone prefers to spend time with people who have taken the time to invest in them. My girls have taught me to put the time in before expecting the reward.

When I started my career in marketing, I had no idea that I would one day be a part of the PR tribe. In the same vein, when I started dating my husband, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would enter into the position of bonus-mom. Both were unexpected and at the time, challenging. Now that I have *ahem* a few years under my belt, I can say both are exactly what I want for my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My girls have shown me how to be a better bonus-momma at home and a better PR professional at the office.

The Fifth Marketing Wave

Will the Art of Creative Marketing Become a Science?

Robert Keith wrote an article “The Marketing Revolution” first published in the Journal of Marketing in 1960. Keith examined the marketing practices of the Pillsbury Corporation between 1869 and 1960, almost a century of evolution. From his research, he identified four different eras of marketing that correspond to the evolution of both technology and the marketplace.

Keith called the years up to the 1930s the production era. The era was characterized by an abundance of raw materials and new technologies and mechanical processes which fueled investment in mass production. Many companies concentrated on mass producing one single item. Marketing efforts generally consisted of informational brochures and catalogs.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, companies began to get more aggressive in their search for a competitive edge. What emerged was the sales era. Sales campaigns were devised to persuade customers on the advantages of a specific product over others. The customer’s wants’ and needs became important. Evolving technology and infrastructure sparked development of distribution networks.

Brand marketing emerged during the marketing era spanning the 1950s to the 1960s which corresponded with the development of broadcast technology. Advertising began its golden age. Companies created marketing departments, and what became the art of modern marketing and advertising methodology. The brand manager emerged as the individual responsible for all marketing activities associated with a brand, and competition increased as marketers concentrated on persuasion to influence consumer purchasing.

The period from 1960 until recent years has involved an increased focus on the customer, such as identifying needs, wants and buying behaviors. Market research emerged in the form of consumer surveys and focus groups. In the 1980s, what is known as “relationship marketing” became a common marketing practice, still, very much an art form as reliable measurement tools didn’t exist.

Today, a fifth era has emerged: the era of customer data and analytical insights. Technology and data capture has enabled the science of consumer insights. A 1960’s CPG brand manager made decisions to change the packaging design based on a focus group of a dozen individuals and his or her instincts. Today, marketers have access to the collective data from millions of consumers in real time distilled into actionable insights. Marketing, once exclusively an art, has made a giant step towards evolving into a science.

Will there still be a place for creative marketing in the future or will science, and data alone drive marketing? My answer is yes. The science can tell us definitively what works and what doesn’t. That’s a potent tool. But content and messaging will always play a vital role in the marketing equation so long as people, not machines, make buying decisions.


The Communications Olympics

The Problem of Distracted Audiences

It all started in 2010, a new competition in the Winter Olympics. That was the year Google, Microsoft and Yahoo each unveiled separate renditions on search, blogs and mobile for fans to follow the 2010 games in Vancouver.  Flash forward to the 2018 Winter games in Pyeong Chang and the competition is still fierce among these three competitors. But another competition is being fought behind the scenes. It is the marketers battle to place their content and gain the attention of the viewing audience. And the winners are…we’re not sure.

The web and social media has brought Olympics fans closer to the action at home, the office or on the go. People have access to news, event schedules, stats and pictures, and can watch competitions live on any of their devices. How the world has changed in a few short years. Not only are athletes’ event performance viewed with a microscope by tens of millions, so too is their performance when not actually competing.

Audiences seem to be as interested in who placed in which event as they are in a female skater’s wardrobe malfunction, or a French athlete being sent home for lack of team spirit, to an analyst’s inappropriate comments on domestic violence. A new element has been introduced marketers need to factor into the equation: audience distraction.

As marketers we are vigilant in seeking out new platforms from which we can communicate to specific audiences. Social media has transformed our ability to communicate meaningful content to segmented audiences most likely to respond. Instead of simply seeking a wider audience, we are able to drill down with analytic tools to reach specific audiences. What are the ramifications when a chosen channel with a specific audience becomes fractured by a distraction. Will the tracking, monitoring and analytics software measurements we use to evaluate campaigns hold up?

Distracted audiences aren’t a new phenomenon, but for the first time, marketers are gaining the ability to measure the impact on their campaign. This is going to be interesting.

How about those North Korean robo-cheerleaders?

Want help connecting with your distracted audience? Let’s work together!

Why Media Training Matters

If you work in the PR industry, booking an interview for a client is only half the battle. What happens when you send that person into the interview without any media training? Often times, it can resemble an on-air or in-print implosion if they haven’t been adequately prepared for what to expect. Media training is a necessary asset in our trade, but one thing many don’t talk about is how media training can go terribly wrong.

Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte recently lost four massive endorsement deals after his scandal in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Many might look back unsurprised, but how many people would have been able to predict this before it happened…and during his pre-scandal press interviews, no less? Well, seasoned PR professionals could have smelled something fishy, and it wasn’t new doting-dad, Olympic fish Michael Phelps.

As I watched interview after interview with Ryan Lochte before the scandal took place, there was a sneaking suspicion I just couldn’t shake. His responses seemed entirely canned; they were so utterly repetitive that it became very clear to me that he was media trained in the same way that a parent forces memorization on a child with flash cards in the 4th grade. Broken record responses such as, “I felt like a big fish in a small pond,” and “I guess I just matured” swirled about when he was asked how he emerged from his scandalous party-boy reputation from Olympic eras past. I wasn’t buying it.

I get it; even the finest PR professionals in the world can only do so much when it comes to media training someone who’s not grasping it. However, here are just a couple quick tips that come to my mind when working with someone like Lochte.

  • Spin your talking points throughout various interviews; it offers the audiences of different media outlets new glimpses into who you are, and builds more credibility. You don’t want to risk being perceived as a talking head. (Unless you’re David Byrne, that is.)
  • If you make a claim, do everything in your absolute power to back it up. Lochte lost all credibility by painting one picture in his media interviews, and behaving the exact opposite less than a week later.
  • Believe what you’re saying. If your PR person tells you to say something that you don’t feel accurately represents you, find a way to massage that statement into something that is at least 2/3 accurate. We don’t recommend lying, but saying you’ve matured when you’re still a platinum-blonde-bleached party boy in Rio is the worst kind of oxymoron.
  • Realize that once you’ve said it on the record, there’s no going back. Although, here’s one silver lining in the news world: you (and Lochte) can take comfort in an interesting quote from Jack Warner of Warner Bros. fame: “Today’s headlines – tomorrow’s toilet paper.”

I recently watched Florence Foster Jenkins. Working in PR, one scene particularly amused me. Spoiler Alert: a New York Post critic decimated affluent, yet terrible operatic singer Florence after her volunteer performance at the Carnegie Hall. Her (somewhat) dedicated husband bought every New York Post paper within a mile radius the following day to prevent her from reading it. That was 1944. This is 2016. We live in a highly digitalized world where negative media is transmitted like the common cold. So just remember, next time you have a date with the media, consult a good PR expert for some effective media training first.

Can Old Ideas Become New Again?

Recently, O’Keeffe relocated to newer, shared office space in Over-the-Rhine. In a word, our new space is way cool. That’s two words, but you get it. The space is an open-floorplan renovation of a turn of the century weigh station serving the canal freight traffic that once sailed what is now Central Parkway. The giant scales are still here. Like I said, way cool.

The first week in new space shared with another creative group, we all gathered for lunch in the central meeting area to introduce ourselves, and get to know each other. The other folks are a creative group comprised entirely of very talented and successful Millenials. I’m thrilled to be among so much energy.

While I am not a shy person, I found myself conversing with professionals young enough to be my grandchildren, as we all shared our backgrounds, schools attended, degrees, and experiences. Yes, it’s still Cincinnati, and high schools were mentioned before universities.

Needless to say, my curriculum vitae is significantly longer than theirs simply because I have been doing this 40 years longer than they have. I was quite surprised that, to a person, they all showed a great deal of interest in my agency experience, and asked very interesting and probing questions. As lunch came to a close, a young lady said, “Wow. I wish you had been here when we first started the company. We were all fresh out of college, and didn’t know how to do anything or how the business world works.”

What an amazing statement. Consider its implications. What is the balance between the way things were done in the good old days, versus today’s digitally connected world? Are the principles of marketing communications somehow different today than yesteryear? Is the late David Olgilvy, hailed as the Father of Advertising, and his seminal work that became the textbook on the fundamentals of good communication still valid today?

The short answer, yes, now more than ever. The only difference is that we have more channels available than ever before to communicate with our audience. As content marketers, we can learn a lot from the legendary Mr. Ogilvy, whom I had the pleasure to meet in person in 1972. Here are a few of his guiding principles:

He was one of the pioneers of information-rich, what he called “soft sell” that didn’t insult the intelligence of the prospect.

Ogilvy believed cleverness doesn’t sell products and services. Original thinking in marketing is great, but not just for the sake of being witty or clever. If you aren’t thinking about connecting with your audience, building trust and selling your products or services when you sit down to create content, you need to reexamine your motivations. Don’t just create content to get credit for being clever — create content that will be helpful, insightful, interesting and connects with your target audience.

Learn the language of your audience, and write in their vernacular.
It is vitally important to research and understand how your audience thinks, speaks, and searches, so that we can use that language in our headlines, blog posts, sales letters, and e-books. The better we understand how our readers think, the better we’ll be able to connect with them.

Anyone who is a fan of the TV series, Mad Men, can conjure a mental picture of what the ad business looked like in the late 60’s and 70’s. I’m here to tell you Mad Men is accurate in their depiction of the social interactions of that era.

The principles of modern marketing communications were also created during that time, and remain the same today. Great marketing is a direct communication between your brand, and your customer. You will learn what your customer is looking for in your product or service, what makes an emotional connection and what doesn’t, and the language that will resonate with that customer if you take the time to listen. We simply distribute these messages through exciting, new digital channels.

Why Things Catch On

At O’Keeffe, we have a propensity for working hard and playing hard, and sometimes doing both at the same time. Just take a look at the Ping-Pong table in our new office and you will get the picture (although, we have been working too hard to actually play a game yet, as of late). One way to do both is to pick up an inspiring book regarding your professional industry, and hone your business skills while soaking up the rays at the beach, flying to your next summer vacation (or business trip destination), or while curled up under a tree at your favorite park.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of Growth at Snapchat via one of our clients a few months back, and he passionately referred a book to me called Contagious (by Harvard Marketing Professor Jonah Berger). As eloquently spelled out in the book, word of mouth can move mountains, and when it comes to picking up a new book, there’s no better call to action than an adamant reference from a friend or colleague.

I’ve been burning through the pages (yes, I still prefer flipping pages over a Kindle – I’m old fashioned in some ways) and even taking notes. (Yikes! Nerd alert!) The purpose of the book is to shed light on the underlying psychological and sociological processes behind the science of “social transmission.” I was hooked at the start. What makes you choose to pass along that particular YouTube video? Why do you tell five friends about a specific news story? What products do you think are “sexy,” and do you even know why?

Some people would think you have lost your mind if you told them you could convince them to pay $100 for a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, where cheesesteaks are a dime a dozen. Well, according to this book, Howard Wein, of W Hotels fame, did just that. He did so by using ingredients that created a buzz: a fresh, house-made brioche roll brushed with homemade mustard, added thinly sliced Kobe beef, marbleized to perfection; then he included caramelized onions, shaved heirloom tomatoes, and triple cream Taleggio cheese – all was topped off with shaved hand-harvested black truffles and butter-poached Maine lobster tail. To make it more outrageous, he served it with a chilled split of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

I don’t even eat red meat and my mouth appears to be watering.

In a nutshell, Contagious explains through compelling case studies how six principles of contagiousness (including social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories) are behind why things catch on in our society. Thought I was going to share more? You’ll have to do the work if you want to capitalize on Berger’s trade secrets.

What books have you buzzing? I also polled some of my colleagues to see what books have them working-while-playing with intriguing business books this summer…

Annie Beard: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. I like it because in PR, our job is to make ideas and our clients’ stories stick. This book offers a ton of success stories, such as the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; and the elementary-school teacher whose simulation prevented racial prejudice. It’s all about how to successfully communicate your ideas.

Nancy Parrott: Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi. I liked it because it’s comprehensive and includes case studies. My big takeaway is having a framework for writing and presenting a content marketing plan that is easy for clients and those outside of the communications field to understand. I can explain how a content strategy can help them achieve their business goals, without using a lot of marketing buzz words that mean nothing to them.

Dale Justice: Reputation Rules by Kellogg School of Management professor Dr. Daniel Diermeier. Diermeier does an excellent job of explaining how to use reputation as a key strategic element with real-life business scenarios – from Mercedes, BP, Toyota and others, and the consequences that occur when companies place quarterly earnings over company values.

Dan O’Keeffe: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. It is a favorite among members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which counts more than 10,000 members globally, and was founded by the book’s author, Verne Harnish. So, this is a book written by a business leader who can talk the talk, and walk the walk. Additionally, the book is well written, and is supported by ample graphs and charts to explain Harnish’s principles.