It’s a small world?

Last week, CBRpr tweeted how a Ukrainian government adviser used Facebook to communicate about the plane tragedy. It got me thinking about how pundits predicted that social media would unite the world. That it would bring people together. That it would bring peace.

As a member of IPREX, an international consortium of top PR firms, we’ve seen firsthand how regular contact with our fellow worldwide members can bring understanding, empathy, compassion – and synergy! — to serve our clients. Back in 2001, a US Navy crew and plane were detained for 11 days on mainland China. I reached out to our IPREX partner in Beijing via email. He responded in kind. We were new acquaintances suddenly put on opposite sides of a fence we thought had diminished.

That September, IPREX partners reached out via email to our Manhattan-based partner to offer support, housing, blood, whatever we could provide to alleviate the pain of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Fast forward to 2013, when government officials in Syria shut down social media during their recent crisis – virtually controlling external communications.

In 2014, the Malaysian government used Twitter to notify families of the missing passengers. That struck me as callous and distant.

A few months later, a Ukrainian official used a Facebook post to communicate about the shot-down aircraft.

Today, the scared little girl who obediently knelt and covered her head in the school hallway during the Cold War bombing drills, wonders why social media has not brought the peace and understanding we thought for sure it would. The grownup in me still believes in that important one word: “…yet.”

Lori C. Booker, APR, is founder and CEO of CBR Strategic Communications and is a respected news media commentator.

Navajo Windtalkers- the end of an era

“The end of an era.” How many times have we heard that and shrugged? What could that possibly mean to me? An article in today’s Orlando Sentinel caught my attention for both business and personal reasons. Many of you know that I am the (too) proud mom of teenage twins, adopted at birth, both (of course) with a very strong Native American heritage.

Today’s announcement that the last of the 29 Navajo Code Talkers has died (and the story written by reporter Joseph Kolb) hit several chords.  As a linguist I am fascinated by secret and dying languages.  As a mother of twins, I’ve seen firsthand the magical language they developed as mere babies, communicating in a tongue no one else was privy to.  I once tried to mimic what they called one another when they stopped and stared at me with a look that said in volumes, “Did we give you permission to talk in our language? We don’t think so.”  I never did it again.  But I did grab the video camera to capture it before they inevitably switched to my native tongue.

Back during World War II, Navajo Nation members were recruited to communicate in their native language to outsmart the enemy.  Despite their best efforts, the Japanese were unable to crack the “code”.  They are credited with saving thousands of lives and even shortening the war.  One language, understood by only 30 people in the world, saved thousands of lives.

Now try and tell me that knowing a dying language isn’t important.

With this blog, CBR salutes the “Windtalkers” who were also awarded Congressional Medals of Honor.  For your bravery, skills, responsiveness and results, we, too, salute you.  You were called “communications specialists” by the military.

How ironic on this very same day, CBR is shuffling through resumes to hire for a position we naively call “communication specialist”, not knowing the originations of that important position in our history of freedom fighters.  These young people will communicate in yet a newer language, social media-speak.

The world of languages and communication continues to fascinate us at CBR.  And today – especially so.  Thank you, Windtalkers.

Lori C. Booker, APR, is founder and CEO of CBR Strategic Communications and is a respected news media commentator.

AP Style, The Mother Tongue of Journalism

A couple of recent experiences here at CBR reminded us about the importance that journalism training plays – or should play – in public relations careers.

The first was a post on Ragan.com noting changes in the 2013 Associated Press Stylebook. That brought back a vivid memory for me from my days as a freshman journalism major.

On day one, our wizened journalism department dean gave us one assignment — memorize the AP stylebook. He was the first of many instructors and editors to refer to the stylebook as the journalist’s bible. Of course, that would be bible with a lower-case “b”. The word Bible is capitalized only when making reference to Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament — it says so right there on page 31 of  the AP Stylebook (2011 edition).

The newest stylebook edition, published May 29, 2013, tells us, among other things, that it’s now okay to use numerals for all references to distance and dimension, e.g. a 3-mile stretch of road, a 9-pound hammer.

So why should the public relations industry care about such minutiae?

The answer is as simple and fundamental as anything we do. In order to communicate our clients’ key messages effectively, we must connect with our target audience. Just as we must learn the ins and outs of effective social media communications, we also must learn to speak the native language of the newsroom, and that’s AP style.

Reporters and editors often look for any excuse to spike (trash) a news release, and finding a glaring AP style mistake provides an easy one.

The second thing that got us thinking about the symbiotic relationship between journalism and public relations was our realization that some college public relations programs do not require a journalism course as part of their core curricula.

We’re back to basics on this one, too. Despite the ever-changing media landscape, there is a set of standards and ethics at the core of the journalism profession that defines news and drives day-to-day operations at every television news station and newspaper. Public relations professionals must have a working knowledge of those core standards and ethics.

As Florida’s premier media relations firm, we understand that public relations professionals — new and old — benefit from knowing as much as possible about the journalism side of the equation. Providing newsrooms with what they are looking for — timely, newsworthy, relevant, quirky items — written in their language improves our chances of getting our clients’ stories told.

It’s an integral part of our job here at CBR and one we do well.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Al Jazeera America: Media Friend or Foe?

Today (Aug. 20) marks the beginning of a bold experiment in American journalism and American cultural tolerance. The experiment in journalism is actually more like a return to the not-so-distant past while the experiment in cultural tolerance is the nation’s reaction to something it may not easily welcome.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m speaking of the launch of the Al Jazeera America news network. Well-financed and vowing to offer viewers national news without slant, Al Jazeera America is the most controversial network to hit the airways since . . . well, there’s really no comparison.

Parent company Al Jazeera, which has operated in the Arab world since 1996, is best known on our shores as the news organization that brought us messages allegedly from Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the months and years after the 9/11 bombings. What are we to think of a news organization with the dangerous-sounding name that somehow gained a foothold for news in the camp of the enemy, bringing the voice and venom of a jihadist organization into our collective living rooms?

Now, it is setting up shop in New York City saying it will raise the caliber of national news coverage. Its leadership, both foreign-born and domestic, claims it will provide balanced and unbiased national news coverage in the tradition of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. In other words, it is trying to set itself apart from the partisan coverage provided by the likes of FOX and MSNBC or the increasingly celebrity-centric CNN.

Al Jazeera America, which will be beamed into 48 million American homes, gained a foothold on American airways by buying the Current TV network (think Al Gore) in January for $500 million. Financed in part by the oil-rich government of Qatar, Al Jazeera America has hired a team of nearly 900 journalists and staff and plans to open a dozen news bureaus in cities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

Some of the journalists on the Al Jazeera team are familiar faces. They include former NBC news anchor John Seigenthaler, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, CBS’ Joie Chen and Good Morning America’s Antonio Mora.

The American news landscape will provide a fascinating laboratory to run the Al Jazeera America experiment over the coming months and years. Can a wary American public be lured in by a straight, no-spin news product — assuming that Al Jazeera America successfully delivers it? Or will natural fear and distrust of a foreign-run news agency operating in our heartland be too much to overcome?

Only time will tell.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Skip the Skype Hype: Zimmerman trial fiasco offers lesson in adopting new technology

Ah, the downsides of technology. Just ask Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson. She was not amused when popups multiplied on the Skype screen in her courtroom, interrupting serious testimony in Central Florida’s summer blockbuster, the George Zimmerman trial.

Technology in the courtroom has long been a contentious issue. The judicial system historically has been slow to adopt any new technology that might be potentially intrusive. That reasoning is sound. Anything that can affect the outcome of a trial —  and therefore a defendant’s constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial — must be thoroughly vetted before being allowed into the courtroom.

Unfortunately, the rapid advent of communications technology in the 21st century coupled with the appeal of celebrity trials has accelerated acceptance of new and ever-more-intrusive technology into the courtroom.

That potential  bugaboo reared its ugly head last week when an attempt to have a witness testify via Skype turned the stately decorum Nelson’s courtroom into an unexpected and comical onscreen circus, in direct conflict with the tenor of the moment.

For anyone who missed it, just as prosecutors began questioning the witness, a pop up window from an outside caller filled part of the screen. No sooner had the witness cut off the call and clear the screen when another popped up. Soon the screen had two callers, then three, then four. Suffice it to say, the witness’ testimony and how it was viewed by jurors must have been impacted by the technology. 

Public relations professionals often are early adapters of new communications tools. We constantly are looking for new and creative ways to get our clients’ messages across to our target audiences. But we should take a lesson from the state’s Skype disaster in the Zimmerman trial. Before we get worked up about the next new Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, let’s vet the technology, counsel our clients on the potential down sides and think it through from every possible angle.

 Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

Headlines speak volumes

Headlines speak volumes — and none so loudly as the nomenclature of the ongoing trial of George Zimmerman taking place near our Seminole County, Florida office.  At first the news media characterized it as a self-defense trial of Mr. Zimmerman.  Soon others worked to re-characterize the trial to focus on the deceased participant in the encounter, Trayvon Martin.  As a result, the headlines quickly changed to “the Trayvon Martin trial.”  Zimmerman’s defense has not appeared to have commented on this continual shift in the wording.  If nothing else, the shifting in headlines could reflect bias on behalf of the headline writers.  Surely naming a trial after the alleged victim could serve as a subliminal influence of a verdict.  Now the headlines are shifting again, back to the accused.  Welcome to the George Zimmerman nee Trayvon Martin nee George Zimmerman trial.  Such are the life and times in Central Florida this summer of ’13.  It’s a fascinating place in which to run a media relations firm.

June 21st – Summer Solstice – is a big day in the hallowed halls of CBR.  It’s our 29th anniversary as Florida’s leading independent strategic communications firm.  Happy Anniversary to the world’s greatest media strategists from your humble founder and CEO.

Lori Booker, APR

Optimize LinkedIn accounts to enhance SEO and networking potential

Every second, two new people join the more than 161 million LinkedIn users in the world’s largest online professional network, reports LinkedIn. Communicating and networking are imperative for a successful career, and LinkedIn’s options for personal and business profiles, not to mention millions of potential partners, clients and even new employers, provide numerous opportunities to develop valuable and profitable connections.

How to best use this convenient and powerful tool? Some of it is common sense: Be specific, concise, honest and professional. These rules apply to job descriptions, personal characteristics and experiences, profile photos and status updates. But there are several lesser-known strategies that can enhance a profile’s or business page’s SEO and optimize online networking capabilities.

Here are several tips to boost your LinkedIn profile’s effectiveness:

Optimize profile keywords. What specific skill or service do you want to market to potential employers or clients? Whether it’s “media relations” or “family law attorney,” use keywords at every relevant opportunity on your page. Doing so can dramatically increase a page’s SEO, while helping to focus a profile on specific practice specializations. The city or state of your business also can help potential clients and partners find your page more easily.

Develop your presence. Just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a social-media site that offers the opportunity to post content and commentary. Update your status often to expand your reach and create discussions. Let others know what your company is doing, ask questions and post links to insightful articles that show you are aware of trends and issues relevant to your industry. Commenting on others’ posts also is an easy way to show that you’re engaged and eager to build connections.

Link your other sites to your company profile. Do you have a website, blog or Twitter account? Link them to your personal LinkedIn profile to enhance your content. For instance, set up your LinkedIn account to automatically post alerts and links to new blog posts (a LinkedIn app such as Blog Link may be necessary), instantly sharing relevant content with your connections and giving your profile greater reach and more substance. While these features are no longer available as auto feeds on company pages, blog posts can be shared through the status update feature of LinkedIn, and Twitter and Facebook profiles can be shared in the company overview.

Ask for recommendations. This is a sensitive topic and must be handled professionally, but it’s definitely worth it. Most people are aware they can get a personal recommendation, but businesses can ask clients for testimonials, as well. A good recommendation is among the top ways to showcase that you or your business is best for the job. Everything else on your page is self-generated; recommendations show others that you’re really as great as you say you are and add credibility.

Take advantage of LinkedIn Groups.  Joining groups helps develop new connections. However, be strategic to avoid over-committing or missing opportunities. Try to join a variety of groups, some focused on your industry and others loosely related but still viable to create a more diverse network for your page. Once you’ve joined a group, stay involved. Post, comment, promote and share content with others to generate interest in your skills and your business. Take this a step further by creating and managing a new LinkedIn group for your business to engage potential and current clients through stimulating discussions.

Make your company profile detailed and focused.  Remember, LinkedIn is a networking site – most people want something more than a boilerplate description or web address for your company. To optimize LinkedIn, use this profile to post open positions, announce management-level or other key hires and provide insight into the products or services your business offers. Highlighting employees, events and awards also gives connections a deeper look into your company culture. This information can be easily organized by using the tabs feature on the profile.

Optimizing LinkedIn accounts – personal or business – not only increases SEO, drives website traffic and enhances your online presence, but it provides endless opportunities for networking and ­new business. Take the time to build and maintain a profile – the connections you make will be well worth it.

Note: In June, LinkedIn acknowledged that passwords had been compromised in a major security breach. If you haven’t done so, change your account password immediately and, for continued security, change it about every six months.

Sources: LinkedIn, iStrategy Blog and Careerealism.

Evily Giannopoulos is an intern at CBR and a public relations major at the University of Florida.

Additional Sources