Category: The Blog


B2B vs. Superman: PR Storytelling Tips from the Pages of Your Favorite Hero Stories

Some 130,000 fans converged on San Diego this weekend for Comic-Con, a once thinly attended affair reserved for uber geeks talking about funny books that has evolved into a mecca for anyone with a place in their heart for a good hero story.

What makes the tales of Superman, Batman, Spider-man, and now Ant-man, successful is that they incite a passion among followers. These stories then transform these followers into loyalists who become ambassadors. Too often, whether it’s B2C or B2B marketing and communications pros, we tap the wrong sources of information from our clients to use to connect with audiences. One solution – we all should look to the pages of comic books for inspiration.

How do we do that? Let’s count the ways based on the popular story tropes from some of the most famous crusaders.

Lego Hulk

Bruce Banner, alter ego of The Hulk, goes from being the smartest guy in the room to being the biggest, strongest and greenest. Among many other things, his stories teach us that we often should rely on the scientific approach, rather than the emotional, to address the problem. This is particularly apt when talking money.

How did he become Spider-man? A relatable origins story always sells. When you’re launching the brand, get to the heart of the matter by focusing on the people who are responsible for its existence. What makes them special? Is it their decades of experience? Is it their unique vision for a better world? What obstacles existed that they overcame to get to this place? Spidey fans love the web head because many of them were conflicted, but smart, high school kids just like him.

Daredevil used blindness to develop other super senses. There’s strength in understanding a business’s weakness. Identify what value it brings to an audience and understand how recognizing a vulnerability, either in the business or in the marketplace, can lead to innovation. No brand started out great, just like Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, wasn’t born a blind hero of Hell’s Kitchen who also happened to be a lawyer.

Even Superman can’t be everywhere. Know you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, nor should you try. Keep the story focused on the business mission, which shouldn’t be all things to all people. The most successful brands satisfy a need in a specific community. In the best cases, businesses create a need that didn’t exist in the first place. Such innovation isn’t limited to saving distressed female reporters as they fall from skyscrapers.

The mask will work for Batman, but not you. We also can take away from these stories a lesson on what not to do. Disguises, in the business world, don’t work because people trust only who they know. Transparency and honesty is the law: there can be no cape or cowl.

Without the Joker, there is no Batman. You and the problem your company is solving are not so dissimilar from Batman and The Crown Prince of Crime – the problem is separating you and your customers from a desired outcome. Just like in Gotham, a mix of instability or uncertainty can complicate the market. Use this to help create a demand and amplify the client’s importance in the real world.

Now, suit up.


Barclays’ Latest “Kwandry”

Humanizing your Brand is Good Business, Plain and Simple

The Kwan email sent a messageIf recent news reports are accurate, Justin Kwan, the former Barclays analyst who choreographed his own 15 minutes of fame with a tongue-in-cheek email to an incoming crop of summer interns, has departed the firm.

I assume his exit was anything but voluntary. And, if there’s truth to The Carlyle Group canning Kwan before he was slated to start this summer, thanks to “Emailgate,” the poor guy’s a two-time loser in a race few people ever get to run.

While Kwan’s email was an ill-conceived blend of wit and silliness, he clearly meant no harm.

Perhaps that’s why he’ll likely never ascend to the legendary heights of Greg Smith. Smith, you may recall, is the former Goldman Sachs executive director who famously quit his 12-year stint at the storied firm via a vitriolic New York Times op-ed. Some folks, it seems, swing for the fences while the rest of us settle for a life of singles and the occasional double.

Back to Kwan. So, Barclays allegedly showed him the door just days after his email checked all of the boxes on the laws of unintended consequences, going viral faster than news of the stork’s impending visit to the Kardashian-West household. Maybe his departure was performance related, but the timing from the click of the send button to the slam of Barclays’ front door are just a little too close to make this coincidental.

So what can we learn from this unfortunate turn of events? Think twice before hitting “send.” That’d be a good one. Keep your powder dry; that’d be another. How about engage brain before acting? There’s wisdom in that, too. But that’s not the lesson to which I’m referring.

Businesses Like Barclay's Should Show Their Human Side

Businesses should show their human side

Simply put, we’ve forgotten how to laugh at ourselves.

Wake up, Corporate America, when did you start taking yourself so seriously? Did you forget how to laugh at yourself? No one else has, and this sure isn’t going to help. What about making lemonade out of lemons, or turning a frown upside down, or making a mole hill out of a mountain?

My advice to Barclays, if they hadn’t already pulled the trigger, would be this: Your brand is under enough assault in the U.S. to revive The Full Employment Act for your communications teams (opinion, not advice, I’ll give you that).

Instead of heavy-handing your response, take whatever fallout may have come from the email and fashion it into a positive. Publicly celebrate the youthful (if not slightly misguided) intelligencia of your analysts. Leverage it to humanize your brand; imbuing it with a chromosome or two of personality can go a long way.

Why not welcome the summer interns with a public response that heeding Kwan’s advice (#1 on his list), senior leadership has pledged to wear bowties to work on the first day of the internship – men and women, alike?

Let the world know the next generation of Barclays’ up-and-comers, as well as current leadership, has humor and personality, as well as smarts. Laugh at yourself just a little and the account will instantly be relegated to the annals of history. Maybe people will even feel good about your brand and the sporting way in which you handled this episode.

Unfortunately, acting as you did has only served to breathe enough life into the story to sustain it on and off for weeks to come, one embarrassing jab at a time.

And guess what? Kwan’s name will be forgotten by week’s end. Barclays, on the other hand, will be remembered not for its artful handling of an innocent gaffe, but as just another corporate behemoth who bobbed when it should’ve weaved.


15 for ’15: Our Best Career Advice for this Year’s Graduating Class

The first commencement on record was probably in the 17th Century, which means by now we’ve given and/or received the best life advice from the smartest and dumbest people alike. This is why you might say, “Why bother with such a blog post when someone, somewhere, sometime has already said it best?”

Water & Wall Group Best Career Advice for this Year’s Graduating ClassThere’s much truth to that; however, each and every one of us will have a different experience. This is why we at the Water & Wall Group offer our absolute, unequivocal, non-billable, total best and purest (not to mention strategic) professional guidance for this year’s graduating class. Expect a PR slant throughout.

1. If you want to pursue your dream, recognize that there is no such thing as a “comfort zone.” You’ve heard variations of this over the years. Among them is, “anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy.” This is mostly true.

2. Someone can tell you to make mistakes early, and they’re right, but don’t expect to feel good about your mistakes, even though they’re essential to success. Without mistakes, there is no learning and if you make them later in your career, and you will, there’s much more at stake.

3. Style and class is knowing what to wear and when to wear it. Whether you’re in a business casual or jeans-if-you-want-to work environment, always think less Met Gala, where the fashion theme was “mostly naked” for some this year, and more White House Correspondents Dinner. You’ll work with at least one person who ignores this counsel.

4. There is nothing more important in this world than who you know. There is, actually, but this advice deserves a home near the top of the list. Recognize that getting to know people is more than attending black-tie affairs and trade shows. Also, practice doing this face to face. We mean no offense, Twitterati. Got it? Now read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

5. Write well enough to communicate constructively one-to-one with your peers, and especially your boss. Emoji are the best and worst thing to happen to written communication in the last few years. People are forgetting how to convey sentiment on paper without using J or L. Keep “The Elements of Style” within reach. I also like “Who’s Whose.”

6. If you have puppies, put them on the front page. Or cats. The Internet has retaught us this age-old journalistic maxim and you should be prepared to apply this rule where appropriate to make whatever you create in this life interesting to someone else. Warning: We’re not responsible if you take this too literally and actually insert an image of a small animal on a formal business presentation and expect positive feedback.

7. Expect surprises. If you’re passionate about your career, it will be the reason you’re able to weather the storm. We hope you never have to endure a Great Recession, but if you do, we hope you’re among the lucky folks who does what he or she loves for a living. This will help you emerge unscathed. There are more caveats to list here than most would be willing to read, so just take our word for it.

8. There’s strength in knowing what you don’t know.

9. For goodness sake, for your own sake, show up, and not just in person. Yes, be punctual. But also bring enthusiasm. Bring positive energy. If it’s 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., you and the people stuck in that conference room with you will be better for it. This is when caffeine becomes friend and foe. Get to know the difference.

10. Ask questions no matter how simple or trivial they may sound. A question unasked is a wasted opportunity to learn. Bring five good questions to every meeting. Even if you don’t get a chance to ask them. “Good” in this case is defined by doing homework first and then writing down the questions. It helps you develop an opinion, which you should have. Just don’t be opinionated.

11. Be a student of your clients, their industry, and the media that covers them. Be curious. You’ll learn more in less time this way. It can help you be the right business partner and counselor.

12. Status quo leads to mediocrity, which is certain death in any business. You get bored when things get stale, like “How I Met Your Mother” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” Read our recent blog post about keeping things fresh with a client. Then you can challenge clients where it makes sense for their business.

13. Embrace the team concept. This is a collaborative business in which lone wolves seldom succeed. Whether you join a start-up or an international behemoth, know that working with people is 100 percent of the job. You might not like them, but they might also be the people who teach you the most.

14. Be humble and take nothing for granted. This is almost impossible. Be prepared to remind yourself time and again to appreciate what you have.

15. Finally, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)


A Thank You Letter from The Dark Side

“The relationships we have with people are extremely important to success on and off the job”
-Zig Ziglar/ Author and motivational speaker

I recently received a thank you note from a reporter who will remain anonymous. It read, “Thanks for all you do, Frank. Know that you make a difference.”

If you need a moment to let this sink in, I’ll understand.

PR Pros and Editors Share Love/ Hate Relationship

PR Pros and Editors Share Love/ Hate Relationship

Generally, there’s always been a love/ hate relationship between reporters and communications professionals, despite the fact we’re dependent on each other. Reporters need credible sources and story ideas, while PR pros need the media to help them share information about our clients.

The Road to ‘Making a Difference’

Last year I recommended my client submit answers to a reporter’s inquiry which focused on “top investing tips for 2015.” The reporter appreciated our attention to his deadline, thoughtful answers, and our astute understanding of his audience. Over time I developed the relationship to a point where he would contact me directly for help providing commentary about investing topics. Recently, the same reporter found himself in a bind and a panic. He reached out to me desperate for a source for a feature story. My client quickly submitted answers, already with the knowledge of the audience and the reporter’s style. The reporter couldn’t have been more appreciative and felt compelled to send me the personalized 12-word thank you note.

His actions were certainly unexpected but it was a reflection of good, sound media relations.

Why They Don’t Call After a First Date?

What can we, as pr pros, do to ensure we remain valuable to journalists? For starters, think of your relationship with journalists as a long-term investment. It’s like dating and learning to trust each other and be trustworthy. If the date goes well, odds are there’ll be a second and a third. And, that’s good for you.

At Water and Wall Group, we encourage our team to engage face time with reporters. It’s the simple principle of connecting on a more personal level to strengthen that relationship. The more a reporter gets to know you, chances are they will call for help with stories. They’ll also be more inclined to trust you with story ideas.

You must also understand the journalist’s story requirements. Do they love data? Do they look for in-depth quotes as opposed to pithy? Are they a fan of quick calls or insightful, deep-in-the-weeds interviews? Knowing a journalist’s style will help you better match them to a source.

Let me break it down. When pitching a reporter, you should already know the following:

• Deadline
• Story angle
• Audience and distribution
• Publication schedule — does the reporter write for a daily, weekly or a monthly publication?
• The best time to contact –there is no faster way to a kill a story than calling a reporter on deadline

Bottom line, conduct your due diligence. Reporters will see that you did your homework and that will pay dividends down the road.

Another recommendation to building strong media relationships is providing valuable content on a regular basis. It’s not just about sending out a press release. We have to become proactive strategists and identify a trend or lesson that can be of value to your targeted audience – then contact a journalist with that same target audience.

For example, news of a pending market correction has been a hot topic – not if, but when. Think about positioning a client to comment on how to protect investor portfolios from a market correction. This will be far more valuable to a journalist than another product release – even if the product helps hedge a pending correction. Remember, reporters are in the business of telling good, timely stories, not promoting our clients.

Journalists today are besieged with pitches from PR pros. And in a crowded, competitive industry, it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out. To be a trustworthy connector, we must be creative with solid, proactive content. The more you know about the journalist, the better.

They may even thank you for it.


How to Handle Social Media When You Have a Million Other Things to Do

You're not the only one struggling to find time for social media -- we're all busy bees.

You’re not the only one struggling to find time for social — we’re all busy bees.

In an ideal world you have oodles of time to find or craft the perfect social content, spend only minimal amounts of money to promote it, and then once you post it a rainbow of new followers bursts into your notifications.

But that’s not the world we live in. If you’re like many companies, one day your company decided that it needed social media, and as the youngest/most tech-savvy/least objectionable person, you were chosen for this mission.

Finding or drafting great content is most of the battle, especially if you don’t have dedicated copywriters and designers. Here are a few ways to gather content with haste:

Assess what you have At Water & Wall, like many other companies, we email each other dozens of industry articles a day about media, marketing and finance. Ok, and maybe puppies too.

If your coworkers are chirping about an article, it’s likely worth sharing. Think it’s too fun/unprofessional in nature? Every brand is different, but remember, those who follow you on social are people too, and people love a good laugh. So long as it’s appropriate, this can actually enhance your social profile and help you further engage with your target audiences.

Crowdsource You may be the one in charge of social media, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. If you’re at a company that requires its employees to do any type of research or learning (read: every company), it’s likely that your colleagues are coming across good, sharable content already – they just might not be sending it to you.

Social media is a group effort,

You don’t have to work alone.

Think of yourself as a cheerleader for sharing. Ask your coworkers to send you an email when they come across something interesting during their client or prospect research, even if it’s just the link. Assessing gives you content specific to your industry, but crowdsourcing gives you content specific to your clients. This combination is perfect for social.

It will take time for everyone to get in the habit, and you will need to remind people often. In your reminders, highlight what makes great content, and show them that what they look for to share with clients is the exact same thing you’re looking for. If anything, this could improve their own relationships with clients. Soon, when a coworker comes across a great piece of content, the first thing that pops into their mind should be “I should send this to our social media manager.”

Tag It It may have happened once or twice that a rock star colleague emailed me a good piece of content, but I’m unable to read or make sense of it at that time. Maybe more than a few times. I have a “Social Media Fodder” tag in my email menu, and whenever I get one of those emails, the first thing I do is tag it.

For me, I also include which client. This way, when you do have a minute, you can easily search for emails tagged “Client A” and “Social Media.” For in-house professionals, it might be good to tag the nature of the article (think “evergreen” or “immediate”). Having some starter content always help me lunge forward into discovering and sharing even more.

Not that into email tagging? There are more tech-savvy ways to do this. Buffer allows you to schedule a post to several platforms right from the article itself – and there’s even an overlay for mobile.

You can reuse links on social media

Don’t throw away perfectly reusable content!

Reuse I know it’s hard to hear, but the odds that even one of your Twitter followers have seen every tweet is extremely slim. After all, some people have lives outside of social media (or so we hear). Because of this, it’s ok to reuse the same article, with a caveat.

No one wants to keep reading the same tweet – in fact, Twitter will delete a tweet if you repeat it. Mix up the content and timing for the posting of the same article, but highlight two different parts of the article and post a few days apart at different times of day.

Use Lists Still coming up short on content? Set aside one afternoon to create a Twitter list of the biggest voices in your space. These people likely tweet multiple times a day, so when you’re stuck, you can read a feed of these influencers for ideas on content and engagement.

Don’t Stress Like everything else in life, stressing about a project can often take up more energy than the project itself. Miss a few days of posting? Life will go on. Pick up where you left off. The more fun you have with social media, the more fun your followers will have. And that creates brand loyalty.


Keeping the Relationship in the “Honeymoon Phase”

New York is a miserable place during the winter. This year, we rarely saw days warmer than 20 degrees and don’t even get me started on the snow and my daily commutes in from Brooklyn. As such, many have found a solution to this problem: Miami! Last weekend, my boyfriend and I jetted to the land of beaches and palm trees for some fun in the sun.

Switching up the usual routine in Miami

Switching up the usual routine in Miami

We aim to take one vacation a year, mainly to switch up our routine. Instead of watching Law & Order SVU all day, we laid by the pool or beach and treated ourselves to dinners at fancy restaurants we wouldn’t do on a typical Friday night. Client relationships, similar to personal ones, work best when both parties are contributing. They can grow stale just like personal relationships for similar reasons — time away from each other, too much time with each other, lack of excitement, etc.

And since you can’t exactly shame your client into couple’s therapy, here are a few ways to stay on top of relationships in life and love:

FaceTime. Skype dates aren’t nearly as fun as candle-lit dinners and hand-shakes are substantially better than faxes, but between distance and busy schedules, quality FT can be hard to find. As such it’s important to prioritize this. In-person meetings are easily the best way to keep a relationship fresh. By bringing together both sides of the team in-person, everyone is able to feed off one another’s energy better, as well as read their facial expressions. This leads to better results – whether it’s coming up with creative ideas for next quarter’s marketing plan, or keeping the spark alive after 5 years of marriage.

New Experiences. In relationships, trying something new allows you to connect on a different level. For instance, going bowling on a Saturday night instead of staying in and watching a movie. If the client relationship seems to be getting stale, switch it up! For our clients this might mean that instead of riding the news, we’ll brainstorm proactive story lines or recommend a byline topic for an influential trade publication. While you shouldn’t constantly be in refresh mode (all good programs should have a solid strategic foundation), these new experiences take planning, so make idea creation an integral part of your work (or relationship) flow. A story in a new publication, or an angle previously not explored can reinvigorate a media program.

Skip the email. While a simple email is often the most convenient form of communication, it takes away much of the connectivity and leaves room for ambiguity, like misreading the tone of an email. Phone conversations, while slightly old school, demonstrate tone accurately and can be a great way to deliver news or acquire information. In certain circumstances, a phone call can last two minutes, as opposed to 15 emails back and forth, which wastes not only your time but your client’s as well. Of course, bothering clients with constant phone calls is the easiest way to get back into a stale relationship, so proceed with caution and mix things up as needed. For instance, delivering news of a problematic article is best discussed over a phone call than email.

Relationship maintenance is never easy, but staying in front of the client with new ideas, either physically or digitally, will keep things moving forward. Remember that clients are people too and effort on both sides is needed to keep everyone pleased, ultimately giving way for a successful and long lasting relationship.


In Vino Veritas

Retail Investment Vehicles Seeking Millennials Need to Follow another Booming Industry’s Example

Water & Wall Group Mark LaVoie Gainey Vineyard Santa Barbara

My friend Sofia and I visiting Gainey Vineyard outside Santa Barbara

This month, I went on my second wine tour in a year. As was the case for my first trip, the majority of those on my outing were below the age of 35. Wine is booming, with the U.S. overtaking France as the largest wine market for the first time ever, thanks in part to millennials’ obsession. Even the phrase, “in vino veritas,” is making a comeback after more than a century of vernacular obscurity.

I’ve spoken with a few of my friends about why they love wine. In my very scientific poll, I was told the following:

1) Wine is healthy
2) Wine is sophisticated, yet accessible
3) Wine is transparent – you know what you’re getting

How is this connected to the realm of finance and communications? Let’s start with the misguided assumption that millennials are short-term thinkers.

On the surface, this might seem true. After all, many millennials are unemployed or living paycheck to paycheck. But consider Goldman Sachs’ recent study concluding that millennials are increasingly active, eating smarter and smoking less. Is that evidence of a short-term mentality?


Enjoying wine inside Gainey Vineyard’s tasting room

Although they’re in debt and have less disposable income, millennials are mindful of their future. A 2014 Wells Fargo study is even more specific, concluding that a third of millennials believe they won’t be able to rely on Social Security for their future. Not only that, but 53% of millennials think about their financial future daily, 13% more than their boomer counterparts.

So what can retail investing vehicles borrow from the wine industry to bolster marketing efforts?

Tout the benefits of investing early and regularly – If a millennial is avidly watching their waist line, he or she should be just as concerned about the bottom line of their 401k and other investments. The benefits of a glass of red wine a day may not be realized until retirement. The same goes for that saved $50 a month. Continue to push this long-term financial health message, but over the channels that millennials are using — Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Demonstrate the need to invest without lecturing, showing why your product is the healthiest choice. With this messaging, millennials may enter your ‘wine club’ for life.

Offer accessible sophistication – Nothing is worse at a dinner party than someone bringing over a bottle of Chateau Diana from Walgreens. It’s barely wine and tastes awful; too focused on image rather than quality. For both wine and investing, marketers need to show a savvy, quality product, and a price tag that’s reasonable. Some millennials may want the sophisticated firm that’s been around for hundreds of years and others may want the innovative firm that’s been producing some great risk returns. Either way, earn their admiration by showing true value, not a list or game designed as momentary clickbait.

Explain where the money is going – If the internet and social media has prioritized anything, it’s been transparency. What’s nice about a bottle of wine is that it tells you where it comes from, what year it’s from, and what’s inside. Right off the bat, you can make an educated decision about whether this is a wine worth buying. Investments should work the same way. Despite a fancy title, vehicles like the “Prosperity Fund” are not exactly telling of what an investor is getting into (and the SEC has taken notice – “SEC Adopts Rule Prohibiting Misleading Mutual Fund Names.”) The title should be descriptive and a fund summary should explain the types of investments happening inside. Millennials want to know where their money is going. Just like they don’t want to put garbage in their bodies, they don’t want to invest in it either.


“You Can’t Shake Hands with a Fax”

file0001524506440Many years ago, I represented Marriott Hotels & Resorts, during which time I got to interact a little with Richard Marriott, CEO of the global chain and its “chief brand ambassador.” It was 1993, right around the time of the first World Trade Center bombing. One of the residual effects of that event was that Americans stopped traveling beyond the confines of home and work. Long anticipated vacations were canceled, business trips gave way to conference calls, and hotels, resorts and airlines who relied on Americans’ travel dollars rang with empty echoes.

It was with Dick, during this dark time for his business, that I learned a crucial lesson that’s remained with me for the past two-plus decades.

As a travel industry leader, Dick took to the road, meeting with travel agency leaders, airline and hotel CEOs, and others whose companies’ survival relied on the reemergence of a healthy travel industry. His objective: show would-be business and pleasure travelers that it was perfectly safe to continue with their travel plans.

When asked why he was taking so much time on the road meeting with travel industry leaders, Dick answered, “Because you can’t shake hands with a fax machine.” His point was that in-person meetings have a value well beyond any message that could be conveyed via fax, phone, or in writing. (In that era, the fax machine was pretty much at the top of the communications food chain.)

file0001899888709Today it’s practically effortless to stay in contact using communications advances that have made us more efficient, more responsive and part of what Mark Anderson, chief of the Strategic News Service, termed “AORTA,” — Always On Real Time Access.

This hyper-connectivity notwithstanding, the law of unintended consequences has raised its ugly head, with people less frequently taking action on Dick Marriott’s sage advice.

Communications professionals have a responsibility to keep open the lines of communication with clients, prospects, journalists and employees in other offices. In our personal lives, we have the same responsibility to family and friends, but it’s incumbent upon us to do so, in as much as it’s possible, in person.

    • Make “House Calls” – Plan to see your clients in-person monthly, quarterly at the very least. Out of sight may not necessarily be out of mind, but it’s a quick trip to a bad place if your face-to-face meetings are relegated to keeping the business from slipping through your fingers


    • Schmooze or Lose – Not every conversation requires business-speak. Maintaining relationships requires the gift of the gab, so fill your repertoire with interesting facts, funny anecdotes, and news of the day.


    • Cross Boundaries, Carefully – Clients are people, too. Without crossing boundaries, try and get to know them as individuals separate from the brands they represent. Show interest in their families, their kids’ accomplishments, or where they’re vacationing. Importantly, use your “spidey sense” to make sure your clients are okay with this approach; not all of them will be. If you feel they’re uncomfortable, pull back.


  • Don’t Hate on Ma Bell and Snail Mail – Email exchanges are little more than what used to be phone conversations broken up into a series of electronic submissions. Clearly, email has upped the efficiency quotient for most of us, but it’s also driven the personal element out of communications. Every now and then, use the phone to supplement your emailing. And, if you really want to get something noticed, use the post office to send it. Email has become so ubiquitous that receiving something worthwhile in the mail will make a strong impression.

What to Know about Social if You’re in Finance

Social Media Week has us even more pumped than usual to talk to you about social, content, and digital advertising. In the social media spirit of keeping it short, here is what you need to know about social if you’re in the financial sphere:

Don't let social media be the elephant in the room

You can’t keep ignoring the elephant in the room.

    1. Social won’t come to you. It’s here.

Financial brands, including B2B, are leveraging social in meaningful ways. For finance, LinkedIn and Twitter continue to dominate, but now we’re seeing brands push into Instagram and even Snapchat for talent recruitment.

    1. Listening tools are your friends.

It’s time to tune in. One of the best things to do before starting and while maintaining a social media channel is listen to your customers and competition.
There are a host of tools to help answer your burning questions – Is the competition paying for social media ads? Are people already talking about your brand? Are they already talking about when interest rates are going to rise? There’s a tool for all.

    1. Stop shouting for people to love you.

Have you been on social media lately? Even in a personal capacity, it can be truly overwhelming. So many brands are competing for consumers with waning attention spans and that trend doesn’t seem to be reversing.

What does this mean? You can’t just produce content, you need to produce good content. High quality media, like photos and videos, is more important than ever, and what you dispatch can’t be just about you (*ahem* those tweeting only when you get news coverage).

Think of it like dating: if you want to make a good impression, you wouldn’t go on a first date, talk only about yourself, then text that person 10 times in 24 hours asking them if they like you. Same rules apply for social media.

LOOOOVVVEEE MEEEEE! (Don't be this guy)

LOOOOVVVEEE MEEEEE! (Don’t be this guy)

    1. You have to pay.

Organic reach isn’t dead, but it certainly isn’t what it used to be. Brands need to understand that social media platforms are charging more and more to reach audiences – even when users have already opted in.

This isn’t all bad news. With the emphasis on paid reach, social platforms are stepping up their analytics capabilities. So, while it might be hard to reach someone organically on Facebook, there are now over 100 search parameters about your target individual. And with the testing capabilities, you can quickly build a campaign better than ever before.

Brands are using these avenues to push users into funnels that are more controlled – like email marketing – and seeing big ROI.

    1. It’s not just a number.

We know it’s tempting to put a number on the exact value of social media. How many click-throughs? How many likes? How much engagement? These are all valid questions, but thinking of social in only this way is missing the mark. It’s the same as the ad-revenue matching that traditional PR has tried in the past (a hit in WSJ = $x because an ad in that same place would cost that much). Sure, now you’ve got a number to report to your boss, but it’s missing an important part of the story.

The brands that do social best know that there’s no catch-all way to determine the value. They’re tracking engagement, looking long-term, and testing. Especially for financial brands, which traditionally have long sales cycles, metrics should focus on engagement and branding more than an exact figure.

    1. Good campaigns take planning.

That viral post everyone seems to be talking about? The infographic that just appeared on your feed? They both probably took weeks, if not months, of careful planning. While there are in-the-moment posts they garner lots of attention, what you see is just the tail of a carefully planned message. Analytics. Listening. Messaging. Reach. Audience. The most effective brands are thinking about all of these things when it comes to social, and you should be, too.

Excited? Overwhelmed? Confused? All of the above? We should talk and explore your opportunities together.


PR vs. Social Media: #EnoughAlready

It drives me nuts when I hear people argue about PR vs. Social Media. It’s officially replaced the, “Is the Press Release Dead?” debate in my book, which in its own time was so mind-numbingly annoying that my body practically shook (and still does) when I encountered it.

Traditional PR people dismiss the new breed of digital pros as the hipsters of the marketing world. These communications vets ask themselves, “how can these kids who couldn’t even order a drink during the financial crisis possibly think they know more about the financial services field than I do?” And they’re right. What the next gen of marketers have in tech-savviness they lack in experience. It’s not a knock. We were all young once, but it’s impossible to deny.

fish-388346And the digital crew dismisses their older colleagues as out-of-touch traditionalists clinging to the old ways and not adapting with the times. They ask themselves, “how can these senior level marketing people be so out of touch? Don’t they see the world changing before their eyes? Don’t they want to evolve with the times to ensure they’re connecting with their customers in the best way possible and, hopefully in the process, raise more assets and strengthen their reputation?” Guess what, they’re right too.

But wait…. they can’t both be right, can they? The whole “One Side vs. Another,” headline loses its punch when both sides put down their light sabers and make peace, right?

It may be an anti-climactic ending but guess what… it’s the right one, and it’s one that smart financial companies have known for some time now. Just as brands in the past didn’t completely abandon TV advertising when the internet came around, brands today aren’t completely abandoning media relations to put all of their eggs into the digital basket. Instead, they use a balanced, multi-layered approach that combines the strengths of each platform. You don’t have to choose between the two. You can have them both.

As my colleague opined in a recent post, media brands, both traditional and digital, are doing fascinating things today to analyze the performance data of their editorial content to make informed decisions about what and where to publish. This use of data is allowing them to offer more tailored and timely content to their readers, who in turn are reading more than ever.

This is the financial communications space I love working in. The one where two heads are better than one, where people never stop learning new things, where companies finally stop hiding behind the regulatory and compliance curtain (because trust me, you’re losing money over it), and where brands openly take advantage of all the tools at their disposal.

Today’s landscape is new and challenging as hell (and guess what, within 12 months this post will likely be worthless!), but there’s never been a better time to be a financial comms/marketing pro.


The Influence of a Number in Storytelling: A Takeaway from Social Media Week

If you were in the audience with me at Social Media Week in NYC, then you’re relieved like me to learn that smart editors are still in control of editorial content. The numbers – clicks, views, hits, shares, likes, favorites – may guide the editorial decision makers, but don’t drive their decisions…for the most part. And while it might not always be this way, it should be.

This may come as a surprise to some of us. It stands to reason that if a popular story, or video or any other visual is a rousing success, then a media company would want to do what it can to repeat it. Well, it does, just not in the way you might think.

I was a journalist at about the time web traffic figures really started to invade the planning process (early 2000s). It predates modern social media of course. We designed story packages for web portals such as Yahoo! much like a media outlet today might for Facebook. But it didn’t change the fact that we were reporting the story. It simply influenced the packaging and delivery of that story.

Representatives from Business Insider, Medium, FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Vocativ and BuzzFeed comprised the panel, “Is Data the Future of Journalism?” at SMW on Feb. 26. They all weighed in on the importance of a number in the newsroom when it comes to what’s published and where it’s published.


Said BuzzFeed’s Data Science Lead Jane Kelly: “It’s hard to build something that’s smarter than a 200-person newsroom.” She spoke in reference to using data as a predictive and/or a prescriptive tool to help make editorial calls. “They (editorial staffers) are crafting the story in a way that’s hard to do programmatically.” The same can be said of a smart PR team tasked with developing content for a client.

Said FiveThirtyEight Senior Editor Chadwick Matlin: “I don’t think it (data) is the future of journalism because data is just evidence and any good journalism before was evidence based. It’s going to be now and it’s going to be in the future as well.” Well put. And data in journalism is no more important than it is in PR. Client data helps us tell and support a story and in some form or another it always has. It always will.

Then what’s the measure of good editorial content? Well, it’s perhaps best addressed in the anecdote shared by Business Insider’s President and COO, Julie Hansen.

Hansen said that one day Business Insider founder Henry Blodgett posted an in-depth story on the site about Yahoo! It was well received. Hours later and completely unrelated, he posted a picture of a whale crushing a boat. The Yahoo! story took several hours to produce, while the whale photo, which he sourced from elsewhere, took minutes. Both drew an outstanding audience. But it doesn’t mean the site will focus on sea mammals forthwith. It just means it and other sites are best served when they give readers a choices.

Ultimately, that’s what numbers empower editors to do – make the right choices.


“Success is the sum of details” – Harvey S. Firestone


2015 will mark my 15th anniversary working in public relations. Cupcakes are welcome.

Prior to working in PR, I was a TV reporter with a CBS affiliate in northern California. My first beat as a general assignment reporter was covering agriculture. It was not unusual to file my reports knee deep in rice fields or chasing cows around a dairy farm…..but I digress.

In 2000 I exchanged one hat for another – and a pair of boots – and made the switch from journalism to PR. As career transitions go, the move is common, and my experience as a reporter has certainly proven helpful. There are numerous areas where the two disciplines crossover, but one stands out as the most valuable.

Details. Details. Details.

Looking back from my days working in the KHSL newsroom, alongside other staff hunched over IBM Selectric III typewriters (Google it), I fondly recall my news director reminding us, shouting over the click, click, click, to pay attention to the facts in our broadcast stories.

It was a simple directive then, and it holds true today in public relations. Using the incorrect spelling of a name or the improper date of an event kills a story’s accuracy, which ultimately reflects poorly on the credibility of the journalist and the PR professional.

Without credibility, there is no reliability. And without reliability, there is no integrity. It’s that simple.

In fact, the issue of credibility is currently playing out in a very public forum. Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly is being questioned for his assertion covering the Falkland’s War in 1982. Brian Williams, anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” has temporarily stepped away from his duties amid questions he misled the public with details of a helicopter flight he took in Iraq in 2003. Williams, who has been considered one of the most trusted people in the news business, is now the focus of an internal investigation at NBC to fact-check this story and possibly others. Will people ever trust Williams again?

In light of these recent allegations surrounding O’Reilly and Williams, people are clearly more skeptical of what “truth” is. For our industry, this presents a tremendous opportunity to establish honest credibility. For instance, in today’s environment PR has many more channels to reinforce a positive position and build a genuine trust. We have moved from “just” media relations, aka earned media, to embracing social media and crafting messaging seamlessly through all its platforms, providing content marketing, developing strategies and campaigns that engage all of our audiences and stakeholders.

While a lot has changed since my days as a reporter, the importance of truth, credibility and integrity in PR has never gone away, in fact it’s never been more important than it is today.




“You Are A Moron” and Other Things you May be Communicating Accidentally

At Water & Wall Group, we are animal people. Between the lot of us, we’ve had dozens of pets ranging from hedge hogs and boa constrictors to multiple breeds of dogs, cats, fish, rabbits and rodents. Take a quick peek at any of our inboxes, you will see “19 Samoyeds Who Will Warm Your Wintery Heart” between FundFire and client emails. Puppies, and some children, but mostly puppies.


So why do we love dogs so much? Sure, a dog will give you a happy woof when you get home from work, or howl when it’s feeling lonely, but that’s just the beginning of how they communicate. What about when a dog pulls his ears back because something has gone wrong? I think one of reasons humans feel so strongly about their furry (or scaly, prickly, fluffy) companions is because we’ve learned how to communicate with them in a non-verbal way that leaves little doubt as to how they’re feeling.

They’re not alone. A surprising amount of human interaction is done without words, like slouching in a meeting when bored, or pursing your lips when you don’t like what someone’s saying. Non-verbal communication is often more important than the spoken word. Anyone can say, “Things are fine,” but a raised eyebrow will indicate otherwise.

This is why during televised or recorded interviews, we advise fidgety people to keep something in their hands to avoid using them too much. We also recommend keeping good posture to radiate confidence and poise, an important aspect of being considered an expert on a topic.

Ultimately, the best way to control non-verbal communication is to relax. By managing stress, you can limit the twitchy movements that we’re are all guilty of from time to time. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are a few of our top tips to alleviate pre-interview/presentation stress, especially for those not used to being in the limelight:

  1. Prep! Usually a TV producer will schedule a prep call where you’ll be briefed on the questions. Draft answers and use those to guide your on-air answers. When you’re underprepared, you lack self-confidence, which may show itself in fidgeting, ear-touching, darting eyes, and other nervous behavior.
  2. Sit tall to radiate authority; lean in to show engagement.
  3. Bring along lip balm to avoid constant lip-licking. This behavior might be interpreted as nerves, and we don’t want anyone to think you’re nervous about what you’re saying.

Our pets understand our moods and feelings. They know when we’re upset, when we are happy, and when we’re scared. By being unaware of how you reveal yourself, you’re probably alerting others to your feelings as well. Be conscious of your non-verbal communications and you’ll be well on your way to building alignment between your words and actions.


One Lesson that Forever Changed my Writing


I’ll never forget the greatest lesson I learned to become a better writer.

In my sixth grade English class, baseball player Nomar Garciaparra’s poster was hanging up front, depicting him holding a stack of books and encouraging us to read. Our desks were in a horseshoe shape; my desk replete with a spiral notebook and SpaceMaker pencil case. Mrs. Gees, my teacher, handed out a sheet of paper numbered 1 through 25. Her instructions were to write a short story, but to make sure each sentence began with a different word.

Grammar was a meaningful part of this exercise, but her rule of beginning sentences with different words has stuck with me and it’s one I try to live by today. Although it seems simple and somewhat intuitive, it is a practice that many of us fail to follow. Press releases, even from prestigious brands, are plagued with too many sentences beginning with the same personal pronouns. Being mindful of the first words in your announcement can make that ordinary statement something a little more appealing to your audience.

Naturally, being a sixth grader and writing a story without a lot of pronouns was difficult. One way Mrs. Gees guided us away from our bad habits was, instead of telling the story, describe the story. Jack and Jill can go up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but what did they see along the way and what were they feeling (especially when they fell down)? Creativity soon followed.

For companies, remember that ‘telling’ can get boring fast, so describe your announcement. What does this new initiative or employee hire achieve for your company? Who will benefit? Is this part of a larger plan or has a new direction for the brand begun? Convey a story and your audience may thank you.


When Corporate PR becomes Personal PR, and How to Navigate it

A few weeks back, we, like much of the investing community, were “glued” to the TV, watching the Delivering Alpha conference, waiting to hear what the best and brightest had to say about the economy, the markets, and their predictions for what’s to come. Despite differing on the economy, Fed policy or promising stocks, all the “talking heads” had one thing in common: their brands exceed those of their firms.

Being a business “celebrity” can have its benefits. In the long-term, however, it can sometimes be hard for businesses to continue beyond the celebrities who run them. We saw this take place when Tim Cook assumed the helm at Apple. With larger-than-life Jobs seen as the genius behind Apple’s success, media quickly predicted Apple’s demise as soon as Cook was appointed.

Tying brands and personalities together is natural. In general, businesspeople work hard to build something about which they can feel accomplished. Often times, though, the personality becomes even more center stage than his or her business. Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn, and Sir Richard Branson are just a few examples where one doesn’t even need to name the company. Yet, can the company be successful without the leaders who’ve come to personify them?

More specifically, take a look at hedge funds, who often are called upon to defend the chances of their survival beyond their leaders. Institutional Investor magazine covered the topic some two years ago, and raised questions key to investors looking for long-term assurance that the tiger won’t change its stripes on them overnight. Ultimately, the solution lies in making public a bench of “celebrities” and their protégés, so that over time, they become synonymous with one another.

Hedge fund or not, multiple spokespeople demonstrate that the company doesn’t only lead intelligently, but that it hires intelligently too, populating itself with future leaders.

For those men and women who appeared at Delivering Alpha, it’s an excellent way to deliver your message. The question is, is it your message or the firm’s message? Failure to distinguish this can make the difference as to whether your firm will be there when you’re not.


America’s Next Top Model: Water & Wall

After many requests (read: Bully begged us), the Water & Wall team has added photos to the “About Us” section. Huzzah! Now you can better picture our smiling faces when you call us to chat (except Andrew – he wasn’t over the Rangers loss yet.)

Of course, none of us were pleased with the results. After sifting through the “linebacker” and “neighborhood creep” photos, we selected the ones we posted to the site. More importantly, we learned a few lessons we thought we’d share.

Always have an elevator pitch ready. When we first met our photographer, he immediately asked us to tell him about ourselves. Sure, he’s a photographer and not a financial reporter, but you never know where a connection will lead, so it was important for us to have an intro ready. This is true for everywhere you go – what you ate for breakfast isn’t exciting (sorry, Instagram), but your company’s objective is.

Serious faces can be scary. Either in photos or on TV, try to relax while speaking with a journalist. If you look too serious, you may come off as angry and unapproachable, which won’t endear you to the audience. Be as friendly and amenable as possible, and your points will find the audience.

The photographer is your friend. As previously stated, not every photo was a “glam” shot. We learned that the smiling-while-not-smiling-and-not-being-creepy pose is tough. We can’t imagine having to get the look right while being under the pressure of questioning!  Our biggest lesson: the camera man is the expert, so take the advice seriously.

Account for warm-up time. Listen as much as you can to the people directing you; they are only trying to help you improve. But even with great advice, it still takes time to warm up and look right. Make sure to have a break between a meeting and a journalist interview – 5 minutes to focus and run-through your ideas will have a big impact.

Take a look for yourself! We think we are a pretty handsome bunch.  That said, we’re hoping this won’t happen again for a while.


Who’s that new hottie on the block? Oh it’s the WSJ!

Have you read a story in the WSJ recently and felt like it belonged in BI or Buzzfeed? It’s not just you. Between a fake story to get you out of work for the USA-Belgium game and an opinion piece titled “Hooray! The War on Women is Back,” The Journal seems a little more hip.

Illustrator Kevin Sprouls created the now iconic hedcuts in 1979.

Illustrator Kevin Sprouls created the now iconic hedcuts in 1979.

Why is this a big deal? It wasn’t so long ago that the Journal printed its first image, the now iconic hedcuts. That move, designed to steal eyeballs from competitor USA Today, was decades after its competition had been employing images. The fact that a publication this traditional is quickly going contemporary means these experiments are ones to notice.

While shocked by the headlines, we can’t say these moves are surprising. The paper has been able to increase readership as many long-standing publications crumbled, so leadership is clearly thinking creatively. As click-bait publications like UpWorthy and Buzzfeed take a greater share of even the business audience (remember, CEOs are people too!), leadership had to take notice of what’s working.

What does this mean for you? If publications are looking for 2.0, then your stories and pitches need to lean that way as well. Editors care increasingly about time on the website and social shares, so if your story doesn’t have a click-worthy hook and visual, it’s time to start creating them.


What Samsung learned from Elvis


“I’ve been getting some bad publicity, but you got to expect that.” Elvis Presley

With the negative press surrounding Samsung’s presidential selfie, you may think its PR team would be trembling. But look a little deeper – part 2 of the “Samsung Selfie” is getting the brand’s name – and the quality of its phone camera – in the public eye in a way of which publicists can only dream. Even better, the stunt was just a fraction of the cost of the previous Oscar gig.

For those out of the loop, last week, Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz posted a selfie with President Barack Obama while being honored at the White House. All was well for the moment of genuine joy – until Samsung said they were proud to make it happen. Piggybacking on the famous star-studded selfie snapped by Ellen DeGeneres at the Samsung-sponsored Oscars, the mobile company revealed that they had a contract with the baseball star, but insisted that the picture itself was completely organic.

The ensuing media frenzy is exactly what Samsung wanted to achieve. The photo, and more importantly, Samsung cheekily taking credit for it is water cooler discourse de jour. To the obvious delight of the phone maker, the Obama/Ortiz photo was retweeted more than 41,000 times. This raises the question, is all publicity good publicity? Well in Samsung’s case, yes. No one has called for people to boycott the company and there is no #StopSamsung hashtag trending on Twitter.

The American people haven’t vilified Samsung in the same matter as the media has. The worst backlash has been from reporters labeling the move “sneaky.” Additionally, the White House is considering banning all selfies with the president. While that’s not the best endorsement, it did make the product stay top news, trend on Twitter, and be on everyone’s minds long enough for them to at least consider the quality lens.

Why wasn’t there as much media animosity towards Samsung after the Oscars as there is now? Samsung paid millions of dollars to sponsor the event, making their product placements predictable and acceptable. No one was surprised when Ellen DeGeneres consistently used the phone to take photos and live-tweet them. The Red Sox being honored by at White House was an event of a different breed. It was not sponsored by Samsung, yet they were still able to take advantage of the opportunity and work their phone into the happening.

Samsung is no stranger to over-the-top marketing, but this product placement has been met with significantly more backlash than the Oscars selfie. Why? There are strict rules governing commercial endorsements, especially for those that try and rope in the leader of the free world. My guess as to how Samsung is responding to White House anger? “That’s Alright.


What you need to know about The State of Media

newspaperThis week Pew released State of Media News 2014, giving us insight into the industry we work with every day at Water & Wall. The report is chock full of interesting figures as to how people are crafting and consuming the news, but alas, it can be a bit… long. A few highlights:

Paid content –AKA native advertising – is growing rapidly.

Or rather, your ad dollars might be best spent creating stellar content that reads more like a story than an ad. In the same way you need a story to pitch press, when you are playing press there needs to be intrigue. You may be able to work with news outlets to better position your message, but if the content isn’t resonating with their audience, you won’t be asked back.

Most outlets are still keeping editorial and advertising separate (though at NYT they now sit together), but the walls are eroding.

Media is rebuilding its global staff.

News outlets see the world as a big place, and they’re looking to triangulate stories. We regularly see US stories translated for a foreign audience, which means editors are going to look for stories that impact the global citizen.

VIDEO watching is up 44%.

While people can’t get enough videos, there are only a handful of video producers. Consider making video part of your marketing. Despite the extra production time, it’ll be worth it to stand out. Additionally, this means TV interviews are especially pivotal, since they provide your marketing team with more video fodder.

social-mediaPeople are reading their news on social media – even when they don’t intend to.

Almost everyone is viewing news on social. However, most of these eyeballs are focused on content shared by friends, not brands. As cracking the social algorithm gets tougher and more expensive, it’s critical for your content (see #1!) to speak to people enough to share. The good news? While business ranked as the least-read type of news on social, 31% of Facebook users still see business news there. However, users who read news on social are less likely to interact than those going directly to the website.

Fox is kickin’ it.

CNN and Fox increased their daytime viewership, and at night Fox has more viewers than CNN, MSNBC, and HLN combined. This makes sense, because Fox has been pouring money into talent and content recruitment. So a mention on Fox gets you an extra snap.

Washington Post had more views than Buzzfeed.

Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Similarly, despite years of dwindling ad revenue, the media industry is still making a greater profit than Google. #thereishope

Print isn’t dead.

It seems everyone is calling print dead, but apparently it still accounts for 71% of news circulation. We’re a little skeptical of the methodology (delivering a paper does not mean the paper is read), but it’s still worth pondering.

Events are hot.

Live events can bring together an outlet’s editorial, circulation, social, and ad staff to create a power-play for readers. More outlets are catching on to this concept, but they’re newbies. Be on the lookout for an increase in media-sponsored events – and consider lending your own expertise to the right one.



The Reality of Social Media in Finance

Social media has been covered thousands of times and seems to be the primary topic of discussion among tech enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. One minute I’ll be talking to a friend who will say it’s the future and its unrealized value is endless. The next minute I’ll talk to another friend who will say they’d rather be a waitress than a social media coordinator (true story). But both friends will say it’s a topic overdone. And I agree.

shutterstock_151589798Luckily for you, this time is different. Sort of.

An inspiration for this post was a Gorkana event I attended this week, “Rules of Engagement: Leveraging Social Influence in Regulated Industries.” It was a fascinating panel with great speakers and an engaged audience, and after an hour long discussion that dug into every corner of corporate social media in finance and law, the simple conclusion might as well have been consolidated into a 16 character Tweet. Ready to have your mind blown? Here it is: Use common sense.

I can hear some of you whinging – “common sense” is too basic of a solution for this topic – but let it sink in and let’s remember what every professional social media user should ask themselves before posting on Twitter or LinkedIn: “What are my goals for using this platform, what am I trying to gain right now and what risks should I be aware of?” Simple stuff for sure, but if everyone asked themselves these questions before posting online there’d be a lot fewer social media disasters in the corporate world (though some of them can be rather hilarious).

People use social media for different reasons. Journalists use it to break news and interact with sources/readers. Students use it to look for a job or interact with other students on timely issues (or stalk that pretty girl in Econ 101). Professionals in finance have their own reasons, but regardless of the social media platform the strategy is usually the same: if you share a variety of interesting and diversified content that’s of genuine interest to your followers (easier said than done), engage with them (many of whom might actually be paying clients), and actually listen and respond to them, then more times than not your efforts will help enhance your firm’s reputation and earn your followers’ trust and respect. As an extra bonus, if you’re good at it and continue to always focus on your followers rather than yourself, then you might win their business as well.

Again, common sense. Sounds simple enough but very often the most effective business strategies are.

Other key takeaways from the event:

-It’s not all about you: One of the biggest complaints people have about professional social media sites is that the content is too one-sided. So your CEO was profiled in Barron’s this weekend? Congratulations. That’s worthy of a Tweet, but make sure to go beyond spamming us with your media coverage feed. Share content that your followers will actually want to see: white papers, interesting articles, survey results, infographics, photos, etc. If your social media presence looks too much like an ad, you’re doing it wrong.

-Don’t Hide: If Joe the Plumber wants to know why these “enormous” fees are being taken out of his 401(k), do you answer? Absolutely, and do so in a quick, honest and straightforward manner. There’ll always be angry customers. You can never win over each one, but at least you can’t be accused of ignoring them and hoping the problem goes away. Joe may not like your answer (who wants to pay fees?) but at least he’ll know that his bank/401k provider is responsive and professional. And if you treat him with respect and don’t ignore his problems, you might end up keeping his business

-Nothing is Private: Don’t believe me? Just Google Anthony Weiner. Case closed.

-Take it Seriously: Whether you work for a small community bank or a global investment bank, don’t think that social media doesn’t hold the same weight as a live conversation. In fact, in today’s day and age, it might hold even more. So act appropriately and use common sense. Your compliance and legal department will thank you, and so will your CEO.

If you want to continue a discussion, feel free to reach out over LinkedIn or Twitter


What’s the Best Public Relations Campaign in the Last 400 Years?

shutterstock_137502698The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Who can argue with a holiday that has burgers, beer, and debauchery as its staple traditions? Everyone has their own memories of marching in their hometown parade or lighting off fireworks from their backyard, enjoying the beginning of summer with family and friends. The day is filled with celebration, all because 56 men pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create a country free from oppression.

I know what you’re thinking – Here we go with another cliché “let’s not forget our Founding Fathers” mantra. I agree, too much of that splashes the front pages of different publications each year. However, let’s put a different lens on this topic (naturally, from a communications standpoint). Could the Founding Fathers be PR geniuses? Let’s consider it: They held public prominence in their communities, earning them their positions in the Continental Congresses. They forged an identity (or brand, if you will) for a new nation and created a public document addressed to the King of England that served to not only declare our independence, but also serve as a model for a number of other people looking to change the political process in their own countries. Pretty inspiring, right? Of course. It may also be one of the best public relations campaigns of the last 400 years.

If we think of the United States as a startup, or a new product launch, the founders did a masterful job with execution. The public had a need (frustrated by taxation without representation; assaulted in the northeast with the battles at Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord, etc.) They needed a resolution, even if that meant something drastic. The colony had to move forward in order to continue to grow, build its brand, and market itself to the world. The founders met this need with a public decree that announced the colonies as a new, independent nation, seeking to guarantee the inherent rights every man is entitled to.

A successful public relations program requires the mastery of three important areas when building their own brand. Three of our most famous founders each mastered one of these areas, creating a trifecta public relations force that even the British Crown couldn’t defeat.

Benjamin Franklin – Master of Public Image

Whether you’re a Franklin fan or not, you cannot argue with his panache and international reputation in an age where communication was sluggish. His public engagement began as a teenager when he disguised his identity in letters he wrote to The New England Courant, posing instead as a middle-aged widow, Mrs. Silence Dogood. These letters illustrate his humor and wisdom at an early age and earned a swell of attention and praise from Bostonians, becoming Franklin’s first success and spawning what was perhaps the first viral campaign of its time. From there, he moved to The Pennsylvania Gazette where he became editor, wrote renowned articles, and built his social standing in Philadelphia. His personal brand rose with the newspaper’s brand, and the publication quickly became one of the most read in the colonies. Although life in Philadelphia was far from the Appalachian frontier, he never failed at maintaining the frontiersman persona that the French swooned over. It’s with this favor from important French diplomats that he was able to negotiate our military alliance with France and the ultimate victory sealed with the Treaty of Paris.

It’s not a coincidence that this public relations expert always remained tight with the press to leverage his own ideas and public image. He understood the value of media and how it could help accomplish his goals, as seen in many instances where his public influence can be traced to articles and pamphlets he distributed. Brands should look at how Franklin successfully worked with the media to convey his brand and how they can use the press to deliver their own. Tactical and well-articulated pieces hold sway and can shape public opinion, but it’s important to keep one other bit of Franklin’s philosophy in mind: “We must not in the course of public life expect immediate approbation and immediate grateful acknowledgment of our services.” Humility and a realistic approach never hurt in the public sphere.

Thomas Jefferson – Master of the Pen

shutterstock_52266859If Jefferson leaves any legacy behind, it would be his written word. Not only is he the lead author of the Declaration of Independence, for which we celebrate this holiday, but he produced a number of other works that helped shape early American philosophy and debate. His thoughts on paper combined much of the popular thinking of his day, including that of Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau, and set a tone for the beginning of philosophical application as we set out to embark on a new political experiment.

It’s crucial to articulate your own company’s messages in a purposeful and masterful way, as Jefferson did. It’s also important to ask yourself, who is your audience and what is your communications goal? Jefferson understood that this would not only be read by King George, but two other important groups: his compatriots, who needed their feelings articulated in an eloquent and comprehensive way, and loyalists, who may sway with the new nation or be provoked to flee in allegiance to the old country. He articulated the colonies’ grievances for all, and his chosen words continue to stir emotions today.

George Washington – Master of Thought Leadership

I think you’d be hard set to find someone who doesn’t think Washington is the ultimate American hero. You can’t go to an American town without finding a Washington Street and I work only a few blocks from beautiful Washington Square Park here in New York, where a triumphal arch is dedicated in his honor. He achieved this lofty position in America’s minds and hearts through his tremendous success in war execution and political morality and neutrality.

His innate ability to lead was unquestionable, and with this he organized a nation that continues to aspire to his ability. Behind Washington is a massive amount of evidence that backs up his genius. He created war strategies that won the crucial battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, remained neutral during European conflicts that could have wiped us out, and implemented presidential traditions like the cabinet and inaugural address. Every president since then has aspired to his reputation of thought leadership, or at least some semblance of originality and honor. You see this in every presidential library that’s ever built. Exhibits in these monuments painstakingly build former presidents into idols; convincing you they led brilliantly by their own wisdom (or at least as best they could, considering the historical context of their terms).

Demonstrating thought leadership is crucial if any brand wants to establish third party credibility. Your information has to be excellent, innovative, “out of the box,” and, needless to say, correct. Washington benefitted from early victories; it’s important you get your message out early too. As a brand, think about what the conversation is in your industry and what hasn’t been said. Is it time to change the conversation? Perhaps. If you have a new message, say it. Reporters and, more importantly, the public, will listen.

So this holiday, enjoy your franks and frank relatives, sip your Budweiser by the pool and enjoy the warm sun. However, if you can spare a moment, think about what our Founding Fathers can teach you about public relations. After all, if they weren’t as popular, or as learned, or as tactfully brilliant, we may not have the freedoms we afford today.


Do You Want to Hear a Story?

“We’re entering the golden age of journalism.”

This was said by Henry Blodget, editor and CEO of Business Insider, at yesterday’s Future of Media event, hosted by I Want Media and in conjunction with Internet Week New York.

That line really resonated with me, and not just because it was the closing comment. You see, for the last few years the PR industry has been bombarded with blog posts and happy hour conversations about how journalism is dead. “Newspapers are dying, the old media guard missed the boat on digital, no one wants to pay for content, we’re all journalists now, etc.”

This is all true. Everyone and their grandmother knows that newspapers have had a difficult time adapting to the rapidly changing times. People have opted not to pay for content because there’s so much free news available at their fingertips. And social and mobile have turned all of us into glorified correspondents. You only need to look at how the recent Boston bombings unfolded online to see that the news cycle is vastly different (and better) today.

But if you think The New York Times or CNN are going out of business, you’re out of your %*#@*^ mind.

Before I go further, it’s worth pointing out that the only “traditional” media presence on the panel was Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times, so it’s not as if this was a roundtable full of old print folks crying about their declining ad dollars (and for the record, The Times is doing some really cool multimedia stuff and their iPad app is as good as any). The rest of the panelists were all from the new wave of media outlets, including HuffPost Live, Buzzfeed, and Business Insider. These companies are all using technology to deliver a level of news that didn’t exist a few years ago and they’re now household names in the media world.

I expected everyone to talk about the demise of journalism and gang up on Mark (which occasionally they did, though it was all in good fun and he more than capably answered their jabs). Much to my surprise, though, they did the opposite. They all had a slightly different view of the industry, naturally, and everyone agreed that the way we consume news has changed forever, as is the type of news we consume. But at the core of the entire discussion was the value of good reporting.

Yes, minute-by-minute Twitter updates gives consumers a news experience they’ve never had before, and it can be compelling, exciting and eye-opening in a way most media outlets can’t compete with (almost everyone agreed that Twitter is the first place news breaks). But the fact remains that consumers still want good content and good content is produced by good journalists working for good media organizations. My friend’s Instagram photo of a TEDx event might be cool, but it doesn’t summarize who was there, what was said or why I should care. Yes, I want to see his picture, but I also want to see a video of the event, glance at its hashtag stream on Twitter and have access to an article written by a credible reporter. The photo filters and hashtags tell part of the story but not the whole thing.

Blodget said a great word yesterday, something I haven’t heard in years and something that perfectly exemplifies what I’m trying to say here: “storytelling”. How great is that word? How many fond memories does it stir up inside you? Do you remember being in Kindergarten and listening in awe as your teacher told you the greatest story ever, and then running home to your parents to tell them? Can you visualize that schoolroom from 25+ years ago with the painted hands on the wall and the frayed carpet?

The communications field has been so focused on adapting to “disruptions” the past few years that many of us have forgotten how important storytelling is. After all, isn’t that what we want, a great story? Whether you’re watching a video on your iPhone, catching up on Twitter in the elevator or sitting down at your computer, we just want to see, hear and experience a great story, just as we did as children.

I didn’t expect to attend an event about the future of media and walk away feeling optimistic about the journalism industry, but I did. So think of this the next time someone tells you journalism is dead. It’s evolving, as it always has, and it’s stronger today than ever.

Agree/disagree? As always I’d love to hear your thoughts:, @WaterWallPR, @AndrewHeals


The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy, and the Tired

If you’ve walked into Brooks Brothers, watched television, or stood waiting for a bus recently, you’ve noticed that America is somewhat steeped in Gatsby-mania once again. Although you may disagree with director Baz Luhrmann’s unabashed freedom with the score and other elements of the story, Fitzgerald’s work remains a cornerstone of American literature. Adolescents and aged readers alike find messages that resonate, even nearly a century after they were first published.

shutterstock_137291939Upon first reading this book in high school, one quote has stuck with me all these years:

“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: ‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.'”

Take a moment to “unpack” this quote, as my college professor would instruct. Within the context of the book, this quote is referring to the specific characters, but certainly has an intended value outside of Gatsby that can apply to the people and companies you know in your own life.

In fact, we encounter these four types of clients often at Water & Wall Group:

• The Pursued: The pursued are those who are high profile, dynamic figures who have established a reputation for industry prowess that are guaranteed to attract an ample audience. Their value is unquestionable for the media and pitching their name and story is essentially unnecessary. Many of the pursued take a reserved stance with communications, and decide on their opportunities selectively. A targeted approach with a narrow and controlled message is their strategy.

• The Pursuing: The pursuing are those who seek to one day be the pursued. This is the bulk of any agency’s clients – the ones who shoot for the moon and hope that one day their reputation precedes them. They understand that there is unquestionable value to the bottom line for those who successfully garner positive attention from the appropriate media outlets. Their messaging often touches on a number of topics for several types of audiences. They are more apt to use social media as a channel and will often participate in and hold conferences to discuss their expertise. Success is being everywhere.

• The Busy: The busy are those who focus on doing well for their clients. They’re the ones that focus on the job at hand and know their investors and clients are always right. Often times, this group will neglect to pursue opportunities that will push their brand, such as conferences and media interviews. It’s important for this group to maintain focus and to continue to think outside of the box.

• The Tired: The tired are a broad group. It may be the career veteran who is focused on mentoring the next generation or someone who is not seeing the results they’re pushing for. It is important for this group to also maintain focus. What’s missing that will push your company into new territory? Show your audience you’re in the game for a reason and demonstrate your edge.

Spring, a season of renewal, provides you the opportunity to rethink and, perhaps, restart your communications approach. Ask yourself, “Am I taking the right approach?” Am I tired and should I now pursue? Am I busy and should I refocus? Am I pursuing enough? Have I achieved my goals and am I now pursued? Assess the goals of your firm or corporation and how media may be able to assist you.shutterstock_100647751

For those who are sitting back, is this the time to pursue?

I’m currently going through my own mini-renewal. Aside from my new position here at Water & Wall, I’ve started to read “How to be a Man” by Glenn O’Brien. It’s a book that’s pretty enjoyable for those who are still striving to be a gentleman, but need an author with a little more humor than Emily Post.


The Need to Unwind

Last week I took my first vacation in almost three years. While some people might perceive that as bragging (“Look at me, I work really hard and I never take off work, blah blah blah”), I assure you that’s not the case. Quite the opposite, and in fact, I’m embarrassed about it. While I’ve always had a strong work ethic I’ve always maintained a very healthy work-home balance. Work is important to me and I’m fortunate to do something that I love, but work is not my life, and it never will be. That may sound like treason to some people, including some of my friends and industry colleagues, but it’s a fact. Work is part of my life, not the other way around.

But that all changed when I launched my own agency last year. Whereas I previously used to focus all my time and energy on my clients (client interaction is by far my favorite part of the job), now I have to think about clients AS WELL as paying rent, meeting payroll, picking the best health care plan for my employees, deciding when to make a hire, etc. I experience every single emotion every single day and after a while I feel like I’m going crazy.

Water & Wall is part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but as many new business owners can attest there’s a thin line between working “a lot” and working “too much.” There are countless studies that aim to identify what makes people productive at work, and “everyone” talks about the value of having a proper work/life balance. Sounds fairly simple, but in the post-2008 economic environment, I think it’s safe to say we all work more than we did five years ago and with much less job security. How many of you have wanted to take a vacation, only to put it on hold out of fear that your boss may hold it against you at some point?

So why take a vacation in an uncertain economic environment and while my business is still in its infancy? Because doing so was for the greater good of myself, my business and my clients. I’m 31 years old and I’ll be damned if I work 24/7 and not take a step back from time to time. I’ll put my work ethic against anybody’s, but everyone needs to recharge their batteries from time to time and we’ve all hit a place at work (and in life) where some quiet time away would do wonders.


 (This basically sums up my trip)

Though I continued to think of work while on vacation and check emails occasionally, I didn’t obsess over it as much as I normally do. The resort we stayed at didn’t offer WiFi on the beach or by the pool (NO WIFI!?!?), and while I cursed that at first, it was a blessing in disguise. I was on vacation to unwind with my wife and have a good time, not to check emails or see what the markets are doing.

And having planned our getaway months in advance, I was able to prepare my colleagues/clients for my absence and do everything I could to ensure the office would continue to plow ahead as it normally does. Much to my surprise, they all wished me well and they were pleased to see me enjoy myself.

Now that I’m back I’m recharged and ready to throw myself back into my work with a sense of excitement and calm that I seemed to lose for a while. In my first week back I’ve already signed on a new client and had to say goodbye to another, so the emotional rollercoaster is still there, but I smiled through it all and can’t wait to go away again next year.

Agree/disagree? Love to hear your thoughts.

What I’m reading now: Wool, by Hugh Howey. It’s a sci-fi series, which really isn’t my thing, but it has a very cool premise. And what really drew me to it was the story of how the author eschewed traditional publishing “rules,” did things his own way and is now happy and successful. I love stories like this.